Warcry of Hallatern
The corridors and staircases were deserted as Alicia made her way down into the ship's hold. All the hijackers and passengers seemed to be concentrated nearer the bow of the ship, which suited her fine.
A wall display screen had told her the location of a waste incinerator, in one of the cargo compartments. She'd needed to use her master datakey to get that information out of it, as passengers weren't usually privy to the secrets of the running of the ship.
Alicia was a little surprised that the Doctor had made no attempt to stop her. He'd warned her about the dangers of the ship's depressurization; but after that, he seemed quite happy to let her go off and destroy the incriminating files. If he was an investigator, he certainly wasn't looking into the Conglomerate's business practices. Just as well - she was still puzzling over the compunction that had made her confess the truth to him. The Doctor had saved her life, and she'd felt some debt of gratitude. It had been foolish, but there was no real harm done. If he ever tried to repeat what she had told him, she would just deny it. Once the data files were destroyed, there would be no proof to back up his allegations.
Alicia opened a door, and stepped through into the hold. The smell assailed her nostrils, the combined odours of lubricants, metal ore, rotting foods - the residue of the many different cargoes that had been stored here in the last few years. It was far removed from the purified air that she was used to.
She tried her best to ignore it. She wouldn't need to be here long. The waste incinerator was on the far side of this compartent. She could see it from here, a huge circular opening in the wall, like the gaping mouth of a hungry beast. Alicia hurried across the floor of the hold, spattering lubricant oil over her shoes and stockings. From her pocket she removed the case of data blocks, and tipped them into the incinerator.
Suddenly, she heard a movement behind her. She spun round to find a petty officer running towards her, a carbine slung over his shoulder. He grabbed her by the arm, and threw her to one side. Alicia stumbled and fell on her knees, covering her dress with muck and slime.
She turned and looked up at the petty officer. He was reaching into the incinerator's opening, rummaging through the refuse contained inside. Alicia said, "Another Canaxxan? How many of you are there?"
He glanced at her. "Enough to do what we have to," he said. "We shall stop the rape of our homeworld. These files prove your guilt."
"You're a fool," said Alicia. "You don't think the forces of commerce will be stopped by your whining protests, do you?"
He turned away from her dismissively, and continued to search the incinerator. His fanaticism had consumed him. Alicia took advantage of his distraction, to reach into a hidden pocket in her dress. Her fingers closed around the butt of the miniature pistol she kept there - so small it could be practically concealed in her hand, but it was a powerful weapon at close range. In her position, it paid to keep a little insurance at hand.
She pulled out the gun, and fired up at the petty officer. She would be the first to admit she was no crack shot, but she couldn't miss at that range. She hit him in the arm. He was twisted to one side, staggering away from the incinerator opening.
Alicia scrambled to her feet, and ran to the incinerator. She pressed the master switch on its control panel. A metal hatch closed across the opening, and a mighty roar of flames came from inside the mechanism.
His arm bleeding, the petty officer lifted his carbine. He was too slow. Alicia shot him again, this time in the wrist. He dropped his own gun, and it hung limply on its strap. Alicia started to run towards the door, pushing past him. She turned, and fired again, hitting him in the leg. Then she was out through the door, and running along the corridor.
The petty officer let her go. He was in no state to go after her, and besides she was an important hostage. He couldn't risk harming her. He blamed himself for his injuries. He should never had taken his eyes off her, but he had not expected her to be armed. He had been too concerned to save the data files.
And now they were destroyed. With his good hand, he reached for his
MacBride listened to the petty officer's report in alarm. If the data files had been destroyed, the hijack had been for nothing. He didn't know what to do. He wished Ryder were still alive, because he would have had a solution. With this latest setback, MacBride began to doubt the wisdom of continuing with the plan after Ryder's death. Without Ryder, their cause was robbed of so much of its purpose. The only thing to do, MacBride decided, was to seek advice from their benefactor. It would not be long now.
He lifted the communicator. "Are you badly wounded?" he asked. "Shall I send someone to help you?"
"I think I can make it," came the petty officer's reply.
"Fine," said MacBride, and put down his communicator.
"Bad news?" asked Captain Berlitz sarcastically, looking up from the duty monitoring console.
MacBride ignored him.
The Captain turned away. It was just a matter of biding his time. He had seen another compartment give way to the vacuum. MacBride's plan seemed to be falling apart around him. It was obvious that Krau Newstead's files had been important to him - Berlitz had seen clearly his anger and horror at the news they were destroyed. With the ship slowly dying, how much longer could he go on? The Captain glanced again at Mendelssohn - the slowly rising panic was plainly written there on the young purser's face.
Berlitz looked out of the observation window, contemplating the calm beauty of the starscape. His attention was caught by a grey shape, tiny and insignificant, slowly moving across the starry background. A few moments passed before he realized what it was - another ship, gradually approaching the Greyshadow. She appeared to be a light cruiser.
Turning, the Captain glanced casually at MacBride. The first officer returned his gaze squarely, and then indicated the navigational display beside him. The blip of the approaching vessel was registering clearly. "So you've seen her," MacBride said. "I wouldn't raise your hopes. That's our benefactor coming to collect us."
"Benefactor?" repeated Berlitz.
"The man who organized this entire operation. Without whom, none of this
would have been possible."
Paluzzi turned to Mitchum and the others. She gestured for one of the captive hijackers to join her - a technician who had been part of Tyler's party.
Paluzzi said, "Now, you know what you have to do?"
The man nodded. They were one corridor away from the small arms locker. Paluzzi needed the technician to distract the guards MacBride had posted there - or even persuade them to surrender peacefully.
"You will be sure to note my co-operation in your reports," he asked, "won't you, sir?"
Paluzzi smiled to herself. It was clear he knew the hijack was over, and was trying to redeem himself - doubtless in an attempt to get his sentence reduced. She said, "I shall report everything, exactly as it happened."
The technician turned, and started to walk along the corridor. Paluzzi moved after him, and kept her carbine trained on his back. Behind them, Mitchum deployed his men across the corridor to set up an ambush.
The technician disappeared around the corner, out of Paluzzi's sight and her line of fire. Now, she would discover whether he was really co-operating with her - or if he intended to betray her, and warn his compatriots. Paluzzi found she was holding her breath. She heard the technician talking casually to the men outside the small arms locker, and then footsteps coming towards her. She ducked back into an alcove.
The technician came back round the corner, with three men carrying carbines. They stopped dead when they saw the pistols that were trained upon them - they had no chance to even raise their own guns.
Paluzzi stepped out of her hiding place. "Throw down your weapons," she ordered.
The three hijackers did not take long to comply. Mitchum ordered men forward to take them prisoner. Then he joined Paluzzi at the small arms locker. The electronic lock had been broken, and the door forced from its frame - the only way the hijackers could get into the locker, since Paluzzi held the only datakey.
Mitchum started to take carbines from the locker, handing them out to his men. "Now we're a match for them," he said.
"Yes," agreed Paluzzi. "But remember, we want to force them to surrender, not kill them. Our concern is for the passengers, and they won't be helped by a gun battle being fought around them."
Mitchum nodded. "What's the next move?"
"Boat deck. It's time to uncover the lifeboats."
"Should we really start evacuating the passengers? We don't know what state the ship's in yet."
"It's a sensible precaution," Paluzzi replied. "Especially with MacBride
and his cronies around. If it turns out to be a false alarm, we can always
bring the boats back in."
Tyler rushed along the third class corridors, the two quartermasters behind her. They were making their way down towards the forward holds, where the ship's docking port was located. Third class was largely deserted of passengers. They had all crowded onto the upper levels, trying to get to the boat deck. The hijack attempt was falling apart. Still, it didn't matter. The steerage passengers weren't important.
A heavy reverberating clang rang through the Greyshadow, accompanying a juddering vibration. Another ship had docked. Tyler led her two men down a staircase, and came to a halt before the airlock hatch.
Beside the door was a screen, on which were displayed the results of atmospheric seal tests. When the monitoring computer was satisfied that the seals were secure, it disengaged the locking mechanism. The airlock door slid open. In the metal chamber beyond stood two ranks of armed men, clad in black combat fatigues, brought to swell the ranks of the hijackers. With these reinforcements, they would soon have the ship back under control.
The troops parted, and from their midst stepped the man who was the Canaxxans' great benefactor. Tyler had only met him once before, but the fine, handsome profile of Trau Morrissey was impossible to mistake. Just to see him was a relief - it meant they had been right to carry on after the death of Ryder. She stepped forward to greet him.
Morrissey turned towards her, and asked, "Where is Ryder?"
"Dead," Tyler replied.
"That's unfortunate. Who's in charge now?"
"MacBride. He's up on the bridge."
Nodding, Trau Morrissey turned towards the staircase. He signalled to his troops, who marched out of the airlock to accompany him. They were the Conglomerate's men, persuaded with suitable cash inducements to transfer their loyalties specifically to him, bolstered with a few experienced mercenaries.
Tyler called after him, "Shall I show you the way?"
"No, thank you," Morrissey replied. "You've done quite enough already. Are the crew safely under lock and key?"
Glancing awkwardly down at her boots, Tyler said quietly, "It hasn't quite gone as planned. The second officer and the purser are still free, and many of the crewmen are following them."
"What are they up to?"
"They'll probably try to evacuate the passengers," Tyler guessed.
"Well, we don't want that. Not until Krau Newstead and Trau Osterberg are safely aboard the Panther." Morrissey turned to one of the soldiers, whose uniform bore a silver insignia, denoting his rank of Lieutenant. "Pierce, take two squads and keep the crew occupied," he said. "Don't kill them if you can avoid it. I just don't want anyone to get in my way."
Morrissey motioned some of his men to precede him up the stairs, to
clear the route of any obstructions - particularly those that were armed
The first class section was just ahead. Rhonwen had passed through several of the doors at the corridor intersections. She had seen nobody. She supposed that everyone would be rushing forward, to the third class boat deck. Her own designated lifeboat station was the aft boat deck, reserved for first and second class. But if the ship had been damaged, as Krau Paluzzi said, it might no longer be accessible.
Rhonwen stopped at another closed door. She had to find the Doctor. She didn't know whether he was still held prisoner by the hijackers - or even whether he was still alive. And if he was dead, what would happen to her?
She couldn't think about that. She pressed the control to open the door. She had decided to try their stateroom first. If the Doctor had escaped from the hijackers, he would surely have gone back there - it was, after all, the place they had agreed to meet up.
The door refused to open. A light started to flash on the control panel, and a computer generated voice said, "Warning. Decompression alert. This door is sealed against an atmosphere leak in the adjacent compartment. Access is not permitted without level A clearance."
Her way into the first class section was blocked. Rhonwen thought for a
moment, and then turned back along the corridor. Perhaps there was another
way through on the opposite side of the ship.
Paluzzi and Mitchum led their battered group of crewmen through the corridors of third class. They had encountered one or two straggling passengers, but most of them seemed already to have gone forward to the boat deck. That at least would make the evacuation easier to organize.
Paluzzi was uneasy. They had all felt the vibration run through the Greyshadow as another vessel had docked. If it was a ship coming to rescue them, they had seen no evidence of it so far. Her suspicion that it was in fact reinforcements for the hijackers remained uppermost in her mind. She wouldn't let go of that fear until she had definite proof to the contrary. She felt safer that way. Suspicion kept you alert, and kept you alive.
At the corridor intersection ahead, the door started to open. Paluzzi signalled the men to take up a firing position. They trained their carbines on the door, which opened to reveal the tweed clad figure of the Doctor. He raised his eyebrows, and stepped nonchalantly through the door, seemingly oblivious to the gun barrels pointing at him.
Relaxing, Paluzzi told her men to put up their weapons. She approached the Doctor, who regarded her sternly. "Is this the way you treat all your first class passengers?" he asked, in mock indignation.
Paluzzi smiled. "Trau Smith, what's happening forward? Where are the other passengers?"
"On the boat deck," the Doctor replied. "Most of them. I'm afraid they're starting to panic. Word has got round that the ship is doomed."
"That may be true."
"Have you got the pressure bulkheads closed yet?"
"We've had no chance," said Paluzzi. "There are only a handful of us, and we need to watch out for the hijackers. We'll consolidate our position and try to get the bulkheads closed across the bow section at least. That should give us plenty of time to launch the lifeboats."
The Doctor nodded.
"You should go up to the boat deck, Trau Smith," Paluzzi warned.
"Ah no," muttered the Doctor. "I have to find Rhonwen. I don't suppose you've seen her?"
"Yes, earlier. She was looking for you. She went back towards first class."
"Oh no," said the Doctor. "Most of first class is open to space."
"Have you seen the damage at first hand?" asked Paluzzi. This was her first real chance to appraise the danger the ship was in.
"I was almost sucked out. I would say you've lost at least four of the compartments - probably a few more by now - extending through several decks. The pressure on the internal walls will be too strong. If Rhonwen's gone back there, she could be in the next compartment to blow out." He started to move off along the corridor, dodging through Paluzzi's men. "I must look for her," he called. "Excuse me."
"Yes, of course, Doctor," Paluzzi said to his retreating back. But he didn't seem to hear her.
She turned, and walked through the open door ahead. Mitchum and the others started to follow her. They crossed the intersection, and went through the door into the next corridor.
Suddenly, there was movement behind them. Gunshots started to strafe the corridor. Paluzzi dived for cover, throwing herself at a door, which burst open under her weight. It was a storeroom. Her men scattered in all directions, seeking refuge in alcoves and cabin doorways.
Mitchum landed heavily beside her. His right arm was wounded in several places, and blood oozed out over his uniform sleeve. Paluzzi grabbed his good arm, and helped haul him further into the storeroom. Then she used the door frame for cover, as she took aim with her carbine.
She realized that their assailants were not members of the ship's crew, but strangers dressed in black combat fatigues - professional soldiers, from the confident and precise way they handled their weapons. She recognized their uniforms at once, and found herself confronted with an inexplicable puzzle.
Six of her men lay dead in the corridor, and several more were wounded.
There were only five of the enemy, but they had good cover, behind the
frame of the door at the corridor intersection. And they had moved swiftly
and silently, coming up behind so unexpectedly. Paluzzi realized her group
was effectively pinned down.
The Doctor hid himself behind a corner. He had reached the next section of corridor when the shooting broke out behind him. Cautiously, he peered around the corner, and took in what was happening. He saw the five gunmen, firing through the doorway into the corridor beyond. He could see several dead bodies lying on the deck, and Paluzzi's men caught behind inadequate cover and trying desperately to hold off their attackers.
He decided he ought to do something to help. Looking up, he saw a heat sensor mounted on the wall, part of the ship's fire prevention system. An idea started to form in his mind.
Rummaging in his pockets, the Doctor produced his pen laser. He adjusted the beam, and directed it straight at the heat sensor. After about ten seconds, an alarm started to blare out, and a dense white gas began filling the corridor, spreading like a thick fog.
The Doctor realized it was becoming hard to breathe - the fire
suppression gas absorbed oxygen from the air. Even with his exceptional
lungs, this wasn't the best place to be. He started to run back towards the
first class section - or what was left of it.
As soon as the fire suppression gas started to flood the corridor, Paluzzi scrambled to her feet. "Can you move?" she asked Mitchum.
"Yes, I'm all right," he replied, and managed to pull himself upright with his good arm. "What's going on? Is there a fire?"
"Who cares? It's our chance."
A few shots were being fired along the corridor, but it seemed as if the attack had broken off. The soldiers would find it difficult to breathe. Paluzzi was starting to feel a little fuzzy herself. She shouted to her men, "Fall back! Quickly! Make for the boat deck!"
She sensed rather than saw them emerging from cover, stumbling blindly in the dense gas. They had to get out of here while they could still breathe - once in the next section, they could get a door shut between them and the gas.
Some more bullets were fired along the corridor, aimed seemingly at
random. A man near her staggered and fell. Paluzzi returned fire, whilst
making her way forward to the next corridor section.
Rhonwen used an access corridor, passing through the first class galley, to cross from the port to the starboard side of the ship. She made her way back towards the first class cabins, hoping to find another way to her stateroom - perhaps to find the Doctor.
From ahead, she heard a voice. She realized that it was a computer generated message warning that a depressurized compartment had been sealed - which meant someone was trying to open the door of such a compartment.
She peered around the next corner, and saw a man pressing the door control repeatedly, as if in angry frustration that it would not open. Hadn't he heard the warning? She watched, with mounting horror, as he started to pound the door with his fist, and actually caused a dent to appear in the metal. What was he trying to do, kill himself?
Suddenly, the man spun round and looked straight at her, and Rhonwen realized that it was Vardek. He started to move towards her, and there was a blank expression in his eyes. He didn't seem to recognize her. He didn't seem to see anything at all, as if a veil had been drawn over his mind. She realized he was suffering from the neurovirus, his reason replaced with a murderous hatred.
Rhonwen started to back away. She didn't want to make any sudden moves, in case she antagonized Vardek in some way - but she knew she had to get out of there. Vardek could infect her with the virus as easily as look at her.
The side corridor back through the galley was just a few yards behind her. Vardek continued moving slowly towards her, but his expression was blank, his eyes unseeing. Rhonwen seized her chance, and turned to run.
His voice called after her. "Wait! Please!"
There was a hurt, pleading tone to his words. Rhonwen found herself pausing at the door of the galley. Even with the fear she felt, there was a part of her that couldn't ignore a cry for help. She turned round slowly, but she kept one hand on the door handle, in case she needed to make a quick exit.
Vardek came on towards her, but he stopped a few yards away. There was something recognizable in his face now - some trace of personality, not the blank mask of hatred that had been there moments ago. He raised his hands as if to placate her. "I mean you no harm," he said slowly.
"I'm sure you don't," Rhonwen replied carefully. "But you might not be able to help yourself. It's the virus."
Vardek threw back his head, and let out a long, plaintive moan. He staggered, and slowly sagged to his knees, clutching at the wall for support. "It doesn't control me," he cried. "Not yet!"
Cautiously, uncertainly, Rhonwen took a step towards him. Vardek looked up at her, pain written across his face. His eyes suddenly seemed to go blank, and he lunged up at her, grabbing her tightly by the arm. Rhonwen screamed in fright, and try to pull away, but his grip was too strong.
Then, just as suddenly, Vardek let her go. He curled up into a ball on the floor, burying his head beneath his arms. It was becoming more difficult to control the infection. Every moment he spent with Rhonwen was a danger to her. He slipped so easily into the murderous rage of the Kreilen.
He raised his head, and saw that Rhonwen had backed off again. She hovered at the door of the galley once more, but the look on her face was one of fear and distrust. "Leave me," Vardek shouted. "Save yourself. You're right, I can't help it."
But still she hesitated. "Listen. Let me fetch the Doctor. He might be able to help you."
Vardek sank to the floor once more, shaking his head. "No," he muttered. "It's too late. It doesn't matter any more. It will soon be over."
"But it can't be that bad yet," Rhonwen went on. It was true. Apart from a few lapses, Vardek was hardly the uncontrollable killer that the neurovirus was supposed to make him. Maybe he had some sort of resistance to it? Perhaps the Doctor could use that to find a cure?
Before she could say anything more, Vardek suddenly leapt to his feet and ran straight at her. Rhonwen jumped back through the open door, into the galley. She crashed into a rack of silver cutlery and knocked it over, sending the utensils clattering across the floor.
But Vardek didn't attack her. He moved past the galley door, and ran off along the corridor. Rhonwen watched as he disappeared through the door at the next corridor intersection. Then she turned and made her way back through the galley.
She had to find the Doctor. There seemed to be no way through into the first class section. She could only assume that he had managed to get out before the hull was damaged - she had to believe that, for the alternative was too horrible to contemplate. As their stateroom was inaccessible, she tried to think where else she might find the Doctor. She couldn't begin to fathom how his mind worked, or whether he'd go somewhere obvious to wait for her. For that matter, where was somewhere obvious?
The isolation ward seemed her best bet. The Kreilen's body was there,
and it was the only place she knew definitely that the Doctor had been
Pausing momentarily in his course, the Doctor slipped into the communications room. His eyes slid quickly over the control panels, in their state of semi-repair - he didn't need more than a glance to know that the ship was incapable of sending any messages.
In the vast ocean of space, the Greyshadow's tiny lifeboats would drift without hope, unable to summon assistance, until their air supplies ran out. No one would find them, because no one would know they were there. Even the Greyshadow herself wouldn't be reported as missing for another two days, when she failed to turn up at Androzani.
Thinking quickly, the Doctor ripped open one of the control panels, and started to pull out components. He couldn't repair the communications system, not in the short time left, but he had an idea of something he could lash up.
He didn't have much time. And he still needed to find Rhonwen.
The sound of gunfire had reached them from the lower decks. Since then, things had gone quiet. Berlitz kept his eyes on the indicator lights - they warned of the spread of decompression. The fire suppression system had been activated in third class, but there was no indication of a fire actually breaking out.
He glanced at Conrad, still bound and gagged in the corner. If he was to make a break for it, he'd have to find some way of freeing the third officer. He didn't want to leave Conrad behind as a hostage.
He looked up at MacBride and Mendelssohn. "Well, nothing's happened," he said. "I don't think much of your precious benefactor."
"It's early days yet," said MacBride.
"It sounds like Paluzzi's put up more of a fight than you thought. I'd give up now if I were you."
"Please don't try my patience, sir."
Berlitz kept his eyes fixed on the barrel of Mendelssohn's gun. Just one
slip, he thought. Just drop your guard for a moment, and I've got you.
Clutching her pistol firmly, Alicia moved slowly along the corridor. She was looking out for any of the hijackers, but she had seen none so far. Since her little encounter in the hold, she had seen no one else - maybe they had given up looking for her now the files had been destroyed.
From time to time, she heard the muffled reports of gunshots from the direction of the bow. And just occasionally, the ship would jolt slightly, which she imagined to be the result of the damage to the hull increasing. Ideally, she knew she ought to move forward, to try and get into a lifeboat. But there was something important she had to do first.
She hunted Vardek. She wanted the virus from which he was suffering - it would not be difficult to pay him off. She could offer him the best medical treatment available in the Galaxy. Surely, in his present condition, it was something he couldn't refuse.
She guessed that he wouldn't be among the other passengers. If the virus was making him behave like the Kreilen, then presumably he'd be hiding in dark places, only coming out to kill at opportune moments. She searched the corridors heading back towards the damaged first class section.
Alicia realized she was taking something of a risk. She had no idea how
much control Vardek could exercise over his infection, or whether it had
taken him over completely. What if it was simply impossible to reason with
him? Well, she reassured herself, that's what she had her gun for. Just in
Rhonwen slowly pushed open the door of the isolation ward, unsure of what she would find on the other side. She believed the Kreilen was dead, but she could manage without the sight of its partially dissected body following the Doctor's impromptu autopsy.
But all she did find was the Doctor hunched over a work bench, his jeweller's eyepiece screwed in place, tinkering with some complex electronic components.
"Oh, Doctor," Rhonwen breathed in relief. "You're alive."
He got to his feet and took out the eyepiece, slipping it into his pocket. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Rhonwen nodded. She looked around the room in some trepidation. "Where's the Kreilen?"
"It's in one of those freezers," the Doctor said, gesturing towards the metal hatches set in the far wall. "So are Baines and Ryder."
Rhonwen didn't need reminding of Ryder's death, so she deliberately concentrated her mind upon the object of fear rather than grief. "Is there any danger from the Kreilen now?"
"It's dead," replied the Doctor. "Of course, that's no guarantee."
"What do you mean?"
"As long as the Kreilen's body exists, there's a chance its evil will survive." The Doctor paused for thought, frowning. "It's possible that Vardek's energy weapon would have broken down the chemical composition of the body, and distorted the DNA pattern - which would make it worthless. But then again, there might be enough of the original genetic structure left for someone to salvage - maybe with the aim of cloning it."
"But that's ridiculous," said Rhonwen sensibly. "Why would anyone want to preserve something so terrible?"
"Because there's money in it. The secrets of Hallatern's genetic engineering could revolutionize military technology. Between them, the major powers already have enough weapons to wipe out all life in the Galaxy a thousand times over. Missiles that can turn planets into dust. Biological weapons that can kill off an entire race in hours. But it's not enough. If there's a new advance, they all want it. And the Kreilen's neurovirus is something they'll pay for. Whoever controls it, makes a fortune."
Rhonwen thought of the nuclear arms race in her own time back on Earth. She had some naive hope that the "Ban the Bomb" movement would be successful, but hundreds of years later people were still living under the threat of absolute armageddon. She could remember when she was fourteen, lying awake in bed as Russian ships bore missiles towards Cuba, and the human race teetered on the brink of extinction. After a shock like that, you'd think people would try to work for peace. Was there no hope for the future?
"I imagine," continued the Doctor, "that Krau Newstead had just that idea. She must have put the Kreilen in the freezer. Personally, I'd have left it here to rot."
"Shouldn't we do something to get rid of it?" asked Rhonwen.
"It'll be destroyed soon enough. The ship won't last much longer. When this compartment blows out, that'll be the end of the Kreilen. Which just leaves the neurovirus to deal with."
Rhonwen placed her hand on his arm. "I ran into Vardek," she said slowly.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, and regarded her closely. "What happened?"
"Nothing. I thought he was going to kill me, but he stopped himself."
"And you didn't feel anything?" the Doctor demanded urgently. "In your head? Any pain?"
"No," Rhonwen replied. She looked up in sudden alarm. "You don't think he infected me?"
The Doctor shook his head. "I think you'd know if he had."
"You see, I don't think the virus is as bad as you made out. Vardek was in pain, but he was fighting it. I could see it - he was definitely fighting it."
"It's possible, I suppose." The Doctor rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "The Hallats created the virus. They could also have created some kind of immunity, or at least a resistance to it. Where did you find Vardek?"
"Back in the first class section. He was trying to open one of the doors into a depressurized compartment."
The Doctor nodded. It was conceivable that Vardek was attempting suicide. Whilst he suffered from the neuroviral infection, the threat of the Kreilen lived on. The only way to complete his mission would be to destroy himself, before the virus was allowed to spread.
"After I spoke to him," Rhonwen went on, "he seemed to lose control again. I thought he was going to attack me, but he just went running off."
"There's a battle being waged inside his mind," the Doctor said. "Between the dedicated, honourable man he is, and the murderous evil he's inherited from the Kreilen. I imagine the increased neural energy is too much for his control computer to handle, so his behaviour's bound to be a bit erratic."
He reached into his pocket, and drew out Baines's argonite case. Removing the kaprihal crystal, he held it up. Periodically, a bright light flared briefly inside it. "That probably represents the effects of the neurovirus. The crystal is responding to the increase in neural energy."
"I'm not sure exactly. But the crystal must register the neural energy output of the Kreilen and generate a reciprocal signal. That must be what the Kreilen homes in on. The energy that the neurovirus is creating in Vardek's brain is on the same frequency, so the crystal's reacting to that as well." He delved into another pocket, and produced the red cylinder of the etheric beam locator. "If I can link the crystal to this, it might enable me to track Vardek."
"What are you going to do when you find him?" asked Rhonwen.
"Well, you said yourself that he was fighting the neurovirus. It seems the least I can do is try to help him."
"But you said the ship would be destroyed," Rhonwen protested.
"Yes," said the Doctor. "There's very little time left." He reached for the chain around his neck, on which hung the TARDIS key, and held it out to her. "You'd better take this. In case I don't come back."
Rhonwen looked at it wonderingly. It wasn't an ordinary key, but an elongated metal shape, with strange patterns etched into it, like some kind of medallion. The TARDIS door had an elaborate security mechanism. She had seen the Doctor open the ship many times, but she still wasn't sure how to work it. And he'd told her that if you got it wrong, you'd melt the lock.
She looked up at him. "Even if I could get inside," she said, "I don't know how to work the TARDIS. What would I do?"
"Yes," replied the Doctor. "I'm sorry." He took the key back and replaced it around his neck. "But listen, if I don't make it back, you must go to the boat deck. Get into one of the lifeboats. It won't be your own time, but at least you'll be safe."
The thought of finding herself stranded in a strange time, with nothing more than the clothes she stood up in, was far from appealing to Rhonwen. Even if she could get back to Earth, there would be nothing there she'd recognize. How would she live? Where would she go? All her family and friends had been dead for centuries. "Why can't I come with you?" she asked.
"No, Vardek's too dangerous in this state." He saw she was going to
protest again, so he got in first. "Two of us would just confuse him. If
I'm alone, he can concentrate upon me, and maybe keep his mind clear."
The desire to kill was his only reality. To kill anything that was different. The corridors of the ship went past in a blur. Vardek didn't see them. All he could see was the way ahead - towards new targets. He had to destroy the enemies of Hallatern.
Suddenly, he stopped. A figure came into his field of vision. Quickly, Vardek took stock of the target. A middle aged man dressed in white, he carried no obvious weapons. He did not appear especially strong. His destruction would be an easy task.
As the man came closer, Vardek saw that he walked unsteadily, stumbling and shuffling his feet. There was a wound visible across the man's balding head, from which blood had been lost. He took another couple of steps nearer, and then stopped.
Vardek's presence, standing still in the middle of the corridor, served as something of an anchor for Steward Escott. He'd come round just a few minutes before, with lightning flashing through his skull. Hauling himself unsteadily to his feet, he had started along the corridor, looking for someone to help him. It didn't matter who. If it was another Canaxxan, he would be safe. If it was one of the crew, he would give himself up. He merely wanted to be looked after.
The corridor span around him sickeningly. He fixed his eyes upon Vardek, and tried to concentrate, to resolve the image. He saw a third class passenger, dishevelled and unkempt. At least, it wasn't one of the crew. Escott moved towards him. Even in his dazed condition, he could handle this situation. The passenger would be scared, and easily intimidated.
"What are you doing here?" Escott demanded.
Vardek did not reply. He waited until the steward was standing in front of him.
"Did you hear what I said?" asked Escott. He reached out and grabbed Vardek by the arm, as much to steady himself as to impose his authority.
Vardek pulled his arm free, and grasped Escott's wrist. He snapped it downward with such force that the steward was thrown from his feet to land in an unceremonious heap on the floor. His wrist broke with an uncomfortable crunching sound.
Vardek took hold of Escott by the sides of his face, and twisted his
head round suddenly to break his neck, killing him in an instant. The
steward's body hung limply in his grip, and Vardek smashed the head
repeatedly against the corridor wall, until he cracked the lifeless skull
and reduced the face to a shapeless pulp. The enemies of Hallatern had to
be destroyed, and destroyed utterly.
The door of the bridge opened, causing Mendelssohn to take his eyes off the Captain for a second. Berlitz saw his chance. He launched himself forward, and seized Mendelssohn by the gun arm, forcing the weapon down to point at the floor.
MacBride reacted fast, swinging his own gun round to cover the Captain. Berlitz hit Mendelssohn in the stomach, knocking him off balance, and wrested the gun from him. He snapped Mendelssohn round by the arm, so that he stumbled into MacBride, upsetting the first officer's aim.
Keeping a firm hold on Mendelssohn's gun, Berlitz ducked behind one of the control consoles, seeking cover there until he could consolidate his position. In the doorway, he saw black clad figures - security troops employed by the Sirius Conglomerate. So, help had finally arrived. MacBride had been wrong about the approaching ship.
Berlitz got to his feet, keeping his gun on MacBride and Mendelssohn. "Cover them," he called to the soldiers. "Who's your commanding officer?"
"I am," replied a distinctive, velvet toned voice. A tall, imposing figure strode between the two soldiers, dressed in a well cut tunic. He possessed finely proportioned features, the best that money could buy, and a few hints of grey in his dark hair that only added to his air of authority.
Berlitz looked at him in surprise. "Trau Morrissey," he said lamely. "I'm glad to see you."
"I was just passing," Morrissey said. He looked around the bridge, and his eyes settled on MacBride. "It seems I arrived at just the right time."
MacBride nodded. "The ship is yours, sir."
Berlitz watched the exchange in disbelief. "You mean-" he stammered.
"Yes," said MacBride. "Allow me to introduce our benefactor."
Turning to Morrissey, the Captain asked, "You're responsible for all this?"
"I facilitated it," replied Morrissey carefully. "Let's say I was persuaded that there was a just cause to fight for. The least I could do was help out."
"The cause of my people," put in MacBride. "The future of my world. Canaxxa is being torn apart, her very soul cut out by the sacrificial knives of profit and armaments. We could not stand by and watch her suffering. We had to act. Trau Morrissey gave us the means to do so."
Berlitz looked at Morrissey. "Are you trying to tell me that my first officer is a Canaxxan?" he demanded.
Morrissey smiled. "I'm sure if he'd let you feel his neck, you'd find two tell tale bulges there."
"But that's ridiculous. Most Canaxxans can't perform simple menial tasks, let alone run the operations on a space freighter."
"Well, they can plant bombs and blow up mines," Morrissey replied sardonically. "But I take your point. However, MacBride here is no ordinary Canaxxan."
"Most Canaxxans are primitives," MacBride said. "But not all. We are the link between past and future. Our ancestors left Canaxxa millennia ago, when the others descended into primaeval savagery. The world was ravaged by evil and terror, and by pestilence. We scattered among all the inhabited planets, when the Galaxy was still young. Before your civilization had risen on Earth, we walked among you. We lived alongside you. We took your names. We talked and acted as though we were of your race. But in secret we kept our culture alive. When the Sirian colonies were founded, we came out here, to return to Canaxxa, to restore the culture to our people. We have spent centuries gathering, ready to reclaim our homeworld. But the mining operation there has forced us to speed up our plans."
"And so arose the need to hijack your ship, Captain," added Morrissey.
"But what possible bearing can that have on the mining operation?" asked Berlitz.
"Because when the time was right," said Morrissey, "I sent Krau Newstead to Canaxxa to collect certain files. Files which proved the mining there was being conducted outside of legal parameters. It was evidence that would force the Federation to treat the Canaxxans' cause sympathetically. Krau Newstead would travel back to Androzani aboard this ship, so I made sure that the right people were here among the crew."
"I don't believe it. There's been no major change in the crew manifest."
"On the contrary," replied MacBride. "Crewmen are rotated out regularly. You scarcely pay much attention to the changes on the lower decks. That is, after all, my department."
"Some were here already," said Morrissey. "Some have been transferred over in the last five months or so. It was done quite slowly. But it's paid off. Now, Captain, I think you should give me that gun."
Berlitz looked from him to the two soldiers in the doorway. Their weapons were trained not on MacBride, but on himself. Behind them, he could see more troops filling the corridor. Trau Morrissey had clearly come prepared for trouble.
"Please," Morrissey added.
The situation was hopeless. The Captain held out the weapon to Morrissey, who calmly took it from him.
"Listen," Berlitz said. "At this moment, I'm not interested in your reasons for doing this."
"You should be," MacBride interjected.
Berlitz ignored him. "This ship is severely damaged, and her hull's integrity is uncertain. I would like to evacuate the passengers as a safety precaution. Trau Morrissey, you have a ship. I would like you to help me. Whatever this hijack's about, it can't be worth the loss of so much life."
Morrissey regarded him for a few moments, seemingly amused. Then he said, "I'm not interested in that. When I've got what I came for, you can launch your lifeboats."
"There might not be time for that," the Captain insisted. He stepped out from behind the control panel, and walked towards Morrissey. "What use will your hijack be with the hostages dead?" he demanded persuasively. "I'm sure your cause will be looked on favourably if you help out now."
He took hold of Morrissey's arm, trying to impress upon him the urgency of the situation. One of the soldiers, trained to guard Morrissey from any and all threats, raised his gun and fired. The bullet punctured Berlitz's skull and passed effortlessly through his brain. The force of the impact jerked the Captain back, away from Morrissey. He was already dead as he came to rest against the control panel, and slowly slid down to the deck.