Warcry of Hallatern
Lying sprawled out on the floor of the service duct, Paluzzi peered out through a tiny aperture - it was an opening, less than an inch across, which allowed power cables to be connected to the main circuit that ran inside the ducting. She was afforded a very limited view of the corridor below. She could see the Conglomerate troops firing towards the entrance of the boat deck. Mitchum had succeeded in keeping them at bay, but they had still managed to advance some distance towards him, finding cover in open doorways. They were now just a few metres aft of the pressure bulkhead. If she couldn't close it soon, there would be no point.
She looked back over her shoulder at the two technicians who had accompanied her. They had removed an access plate from the side of the metal shaft, and exposed the hydraulic release system for the bulkhead.
"Well?" Paluzzi whispered.
One of the technicians, a young red haired man called Bannen, nodded. "We've got it." Even whispering, his voice croaked painfully, testimony to the gas he'd inhaled back in the engine room. He indicated a large lever, and made pumping motions with his hand.
Paluzzi nodded her understanding. The lever was a manual pump for the hydraulic system. There was no room in the narrow ducting for all three of them to reach the lever. Paluzzi would just have to watch. She gestured for Bannen and his colleague to start pumping.
"When the bulkhead starts to close," Bannen wheezed, "they might guess there's someone up here."
"I know," said Paluzzi.
"They could riddle the ceiling with bullets. They'll probably kill us."
"We'll have to move quickly, then," Paluzzi replied grimly.
Nodding resignedly, Bannen pushed the pump into a new position. His fellow technician took hold of the lever as well, and together they pulled it back. They continued to move the lever back and forth, with Bannen keeping an eye on the pressure gauge beside it.
Paluzzi looked back through the tiny opening into the corridor. The Conglomerate troops had moved forward again, and were now just a couple of metres behind the bulkhead. It was taking a long time for the two technicians to build up the required level of hydraulic pressure. Any more delay, and their efforts would have been for nothing.
Bannen looked up excitedly, and gestured towards the gauge. Paluzzi nodded, and he slammed the release switch into position. The hissing of air through the hydraulic lines was followed by a loud rumbling sound as the huge bulkhead slid rapidly across the corridor. The security troops were caught completely off guard, and had no time to react before it clanged into position.
Paluzzi scrambled up onto her feet. There wasn't room to stand in the service duct - the best she could manage was a sort of crouching shuffle. She signalled frantically to the two technicians, and moved aft as fast as she could.
Suddenly, bullets were cutting through the metal floor of the shaft, fired by the soldiers below. Moving like lightning, Bannen was already right behind Paluzzi. But the other technician was hit, and fell heavily forward onto his face. The duct reverberated with the impact, drawing the fire of the soldiers below. They concentrated on that spot, and the bullets sliced through the technician's body like it was made of paper.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Paluzzi pulled Bannen towards an
opening in the side of the duct. It led through into a vertical shaft, with
a ladder leading upwards. It would take them up through several decks,
perhaps even as far as the bridge. They began to climb.
As the bulkhead slid shut across the corridor, Mitchum got wearily to his feet. He lowered his carbine, and breathed a sigh of relief. Turning, he surveyed the boat deck. Far too many of the passengers were still aboard the ship, cowering in corners to avoid being hit by the shots and ricochets. The evacuation had ground to a standstill, most of Mitchum's men being needed to keep the security troops pinned down under fire.
Quickly, the purser started to organize his men. Despite his trying to maintain some semblance of order, an air of panic descended upon the boat deck. Both the crew and the more experienced passengers knew that time was running short. Their objective now was to get people aboard the lifeboats as quickly and safely as possible.
Mitchum ordered men to stand on guard at the forward doorway, and the
entrances to the service ducts. The last thing he needed was the
Conglomerate soldiers attacking on a different front. He hoped that Paluzzi
had guessed right. As he started forward to usher passengers towards the
lifeboat hatches, he wondered whether the second officer would return from
her expedition. She'd got the bulkhead closed all right, but it was a long
way to the bridge and back.
Holding her tightly by the arm, the soldier flung Rhonwen back against the edge of the bed. More armed men had entered the isolation ward now, and she was held constantly at gunpoint. She looked towards the door as Trau Morrissey entered, and gazed at her impassively.
"So it is you," he said at last, betraying no sign of surprise at seeing her again. "And is Trau Smith around?"
"I don't know," replied Rhonwen. "And I wouldn't tell you if I did."
Morrissey smiled. "I like a woman with spirit. Not that it will do you any good."
He turned, and surveyed the charred bodily remains that were half sticking out of the air vent. "Is that the Kreilen?" he asked.
Rhonwen said nothing. Morrissey fixed her with a harsh stare, and repeated the question. When she refused to answer a second time, he nodded to the soldier who held her. Rhonwen's arm was twisted savagely behind her back, as the soldier forced her down onto her knees. He took out a pistol, and placed it against the side of her head.
"Normally I'm a reasonable man," said Morrissey, "but as you might suppose, I'm in something of a hurry at the moment. Is that the Kreilen?"
Rhonwen felt the pistol jabbed against her face. "Yes," she muttered.
"Good." Morrissey turned to the soldiers. "Pull it clear."
Laying down their carbines, three of the men crouched down and took hold of the Kreilen's body. Two of them pulled it roughly by the arms, as the third tried to extract its head from the opening.
"Careful," Morrissey admonished.
Darting along the corridor, the Doctor remained alert for another vibration passing through the ship. That would be a sign that the latest compartment had blown out - the nearest Vardek would get to a death knell.
He moved through into the next corridor section, which would lead him back past the isolation ward. Some instinct made him stop, and he ducked back behind the doorway. Peering cautiously around the edge of the door, he spotted the black shape of a Conglomerate security soldier, guarding the door of the isolation ward.
Obviously the Sirius Conglomerate, alerted perhaps by Krau Newstead, had sent these men to retrieve the Kreilen. The military potential of the neurovirus was worth a lot of talmars. His worst fears had been realized.
The terrible secrets of Hallatern's science couldn't be allowed to survive. Somehow he had to prevent the Conglomerate getting the chance to study the Kreilen. The Doctor reached into his pocket, and drew out the cube of kaprihal crystal, that contained the energy the Kreilen needed to live indefinitely. The ageing process might have been suspended, but the genetic change that achieved such a feat ate away at the body's life energy. It needed to draw continually on the crystal to replenish itself. Without it, the Kreilen would completely burn itself out in just a few years. So even if the body could be cloned, the secret of longevity would remain a mystery. It wouldn't age, but it would still die, and rapidly. Even so, that short time would be enough for the body to be subjected to scientific study - something he had to prevent at all costs.
A plan started to form in the Doctor's mind. He put the kaprihal cube away, and took out the rectangular crystal that Vardek had given him. Carefully, he placed it on the floor, against the foot of the wall. He had no real idea of what he was doing - he understood the basics of kaprihal technology, but he was about to cross into truly uncharted waters. It was however the only thing he could think of.
He stamped down hard on Vardek's crystal with the heel of his boot,
shattering it into several fragments. Aside from many tiny shards, he'd
created two larger chunks, more or less the same size. He picked up one of
these, and examined it. It was far from perfect, but it would have to do.
Fortunately, he would be dealing with men who knew even less about kaprihal
than he did.
The service shaft had taken them up to the officers' quarters, one deck below the bridge. There was no one in sight. Baigent's body was still lying sprawled on the floor, although someone had covered his face with a sheet from one of the cabins.
Paluzzi led the way to the emergency stairs - the lift was useless because of the power failure. She and Bannen climbed the final level, and emerged cautiously into the short corridor, their guns at the ready. But again, the place was deserted.
"They've probably evacuated," suggested Bannen.
"Maybe," Paluzzi said.
"That's what we should be doing. The ship's not going to last much longer."
"Well, we've made it this far. Let's get what we came for."
Paluzzi walked onto the bridge, and came stumbling to a halt in the doorway. Even in the present desperate situation, she hadn't expected the sight that now greeted her eyes. The Captain slumped against the base of the monitoring console, a bullet hole drilled through his forehead. Conrad sprawled on his face with an open wound in the back of his head, rope still binding his wrists - he'd just been trussed up and shot like an animal. And then MacBride, his brains spattered across the navigational displays.
Behind Paluzzi, Bannen looked on in morbid fascination. "Do you think he shot himself?"
"If he did," Paluzzi replied grimly, "he beat me to it." She drew a deep breath. "Come on, let's get it over with."
She went to the duty monitoring console, contriving not to look down at the Captain's corpse. Releasing two locking catches, she lifted up a panel. Inside was a metal framework, locked around a small black cylinder. Paluzzi pressed a control, and said, "Seal ship's log."
A computer generated voice spoke, faint and slurred as the power reserves for the bridge systems started to run down. "Authorization?"
"Paluzzi delta six five theta nine."
The metal framework split apart, and the black cylinder rose slowly out of the console. Paluzzi picked it up, and placed it carefully in her tunic pocket.
"All right," she said, turning to Bannen. "Let's see if we can get off
Under Morrissey's watchful gaze, the soldiers placed the Kreilen's body on one of the beds. Against the far wall, Rhonwen was held at gunpoint by the soldier who had first captured her.
Morrissey surveyed the burnt, shrivelled corpse. He hadn't expected it to be so damaged - especially as Brolan told him it had been recovered intact. He wondered whether there was anything here to salvage. Tissue samples taken from the body could probably be used to create a clone - but whether it would provide any useful information, he didn't know. He had to get the body back to the Academius Stolaris and see what Brolan's newly discovered crystal machine could make of it.
There had been a slight change of plan - the profits and proceeds from any discoveries made would be going straight into his pocket. Unless he raised some serious cash soon, he'd be sued into the ground by a group of angry Alpha Centaurans, and probably investigated for serious fraud.
There was a commotion from the doorway. Morrissey turned to watch as the Doctor pushed his way into the room, somehow contriving to walk straight past the guard outside, and to ignore the guns that were suddenly raised to keep him covered. Morrissey remembered his old tweed suit, as strangely out of place as the short skirt Rhonwen was wearing.
"Trau Smith," he said pleasantly. "This is a surprise."
"Is it?" the Doctor replied casually. Finding Rhonwen a prisoner here was unexpected, but he didn't let Morrissey see how worried he was. He would have to adapt his plan, so he could rescue Rhonwen as well as neutralize the Kreilen. Somehow he'd have to achieve both ends - because he didn't know whether he could choose which was the most important.
"You're an interesting man," said Morrissey. "For instance, you seem able to travel from Sirius Five to Canaxxa in just over a day. And you and I both know that's impossible."
"Quite impossible," agreed the Doctor.
"Unless you travelled aboard one of the fast military scout ships - and they don't usually carry passengers." Morrissey looked at him, smugly pleased with his deductions.
The Doctor realized that Morrissey too suspected him of being some sort of investigator. Perhaps that would enable him to bluff his way out.
"All right," Morrissey said, "I don't expect you to answer. But tell me, what are you investigating?"
The Doctor smiled to himself, but didn't reply. Morrissey signalled to the man who held Rhonwen, who once again put his gun against her head. "I have your companion as my hostage," Morrissey said. "I'm sure you'll be co-operative, won't you?"
Shrugging, the Doctor looked at the body of the Kreilen. "It's ironic that you've come all this way, and it's quite useless to you."
"What do you mean?" Morrissey demanded. "What do you know about it?"
"I know what it is. I know how you arranged to break the export ban to get it off Canaxxa. And I know what secrets you hope to get from it."
Morrissey looked up sharply at him. He didn't want to discuss this in front of the men. They didn't really understand how valuable the Kreilen's body was. If they realized they were dealing with the secret of immortality, they might be tempted to shoot him and take it for themselves.
"Let's talk," Morrissey said, gesturing towards the door. "Just the two of us."
"Wait, sir," called one of the soldiers. "You can't trust him. He might have a concealed weapon."
Morrissey waved away the suggestion. "If anything happens to me," he
said, nodding towards Rhonwen, "kill her. That'll ensure his good
Water danced laughingly over the rocks, swirling into white foam. Vardek lay gratefully on the bank, feeling the soft earth beneath him. The sweet scents of the grass and flowers filled his nostrils, and the low buzzing of passing insects soothed him like some gentle lullaby.
It felt strange to know these sensations, as if they had become alien to his nature. How could that be, when he had been here just last week? This was the happiest time of his life, when he didn't have a care in the world. He was filled with the strangest feeling that he ought to be somewhere else, doing something very important. Something about a promise. But then the moment passed, and he wanted nothing more than to lie here, enjoying the beauty of Hallatern, and basking in the sunlight.
Suddenly the ground beneath him was cold and hard, made of metal. A screaming sound reached Vardek's ears, like the cries of wounded animals. He looked up and saw a metal wall starting to bow outwards.
He didn't want to be here. The sun shone in his eyes again, dazzling him. He felt its warmth playing on his face, and breathed deeply to enjoy the heady air of a bright Hallatern summer.
A shadow fell across him. Vardek opened his eyes, but he was not angry. The fair features of Janifil smiled down upon him. He held his arms out to her, and she melted into his embrace.
He had never let her go. The smell of her hair was just as he remembered it, just as it had been yesterday. Let him remain here forever, and never go off on his foolhardy mission. Someone else would volunteer. The Kreilens were not his responsibility. He held Janifil close, and started to laugh to himself. This was all he wanted.
From somewhere distant, metal screamed in pain as it was buckled and
torn open. A savage wind started to whip past him. But it was no longer
real to him. He continued to laugh, living his final moments in the memory
of more pleasant times.
Morrissey led the Doctor along the corridor. They moved away from the door of the isolation ward, stopping when they were out of earshot of the soldiers. "All right," Morrissey demanded, "what do you know?"
"You're after the secret of eternal life," the Doctor said.
Morrissey did not bother to argue. "The Hallats conquered the ageing process. That Kreilen's over eight thousand years old."
"And it's dead," the Doctor added.
"It can still be cloned, reproduced. Especially if I make use of some ancient technology on Hallatern."
The Doctor nodded. So, some part of the Hallatern civilization had survived on Sirius Five. There had to be some mechanism there which had picked up the Warcry - it was that signal reception which the TARDIS telepathic circuits had registered.
"You're making one mistake," the Doctor said. "The Kreilen isn't the only factor in the equation. To halt the ageing process requires tremendous amounts of life energy - more than a single body can hold. Any clone you made would burn itself out in a few years. Somehow I don't think anyone's going to pay to have their lifespan drastically reduced, just because they'll be spared a few extra wrinkles on the way."
"You said there was another factor," replied Morrissey. "What is it?"
"Come on, Morrissey. You know the history well enough. How did Hallatern's technology work?"
"It was based around some sort of crystals. I've seen huge crystal machines. But I don't understand what you mean."
"If you examine that Kreilen closely," said the Doctor, "you'll find a small cavity in the top of its skull. That's supposed to house a crystal cube - which contains the life energy that's needed to keep the Kreilen continuously topped up."
"So you require the genetic alteration and the crystal?" mused Morrissey.
"But the one's useless without the other."
Morrissey slammed his fist against the wall in frustrated anger. Had all this been for nothing? If the Kreilen was useless, he might as well stay here and wait for the ship to disintegrate. Financial disaster and legal proceedings were all he could expect if he returned to Androzani. He wanted to believe that the Doctor was lying, deliberately trying to mislead him. But there seemed to be an air of absolute sincerity around the Doctor, that made it very hard to doubt his word.
"You do seem upset," the Doctor remarked sarcastically. "Things haven't gone too well for you today, have they? I suppose Krau Newstead was able to destroy her files in time?"
Morrissey swung round to look at him in wonder. "What do you know about that?"
"Well, let's see. The Sirius Conglomerate has been supplying arms to the Canaxxan terrorists. To make the situation so intolerable that the Federation will sanction the use of force to suppress them."
"You've organized this hijack in order to expose it," the Doctor said, sounding rather more confident than he was. He was guessing, putting two and two together. Morrissey was here, when he couldn't possibly know about the hijacking so soon - and his troops had been attacking the crew, which suggested he was trying to cover his tracks. "If the truth comes out," the Doctor went on, recalling what Alicia had told him, "the scandal will probably force Krau Needleman to resign. At the very least, share prices in the Sirius Conglomerate will drop steeply. Now, you're a major shareholder in the Conglomerate, so your actions seem like the financial equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot."
"Exactly," Morrissey replied. "Why would I do such a thing?"
"No doubt you plan to buy up shares when the prices drop, probably through your shell companies. With the intent of acquiring the controlling interest in the Conglomerate."
"You're quite wrong," said Morrissey coolly. "Mind you, it's an intriguing idea. I wish I'd thought of it." He tried to maintain a relaxed air, but inside he was shaken. So the Doctor was wrong about his motives, but otherwise he knew the details of the plan well enough. It was obvious that the Doctor had been investigating him for some time, and had probably amassed a lot of incriminating evidence.
A sudden flush of anger swept over Morrissey. He realized that he couldn't simply have the Doctor killed. If a government investigator turned up dead, there could be serious repercussions. For all he knew, the Doctor's death would be a final proof that would clinch the case against him. There was only one thing to do. He was a businessman, for God's sake. He would have to cut a deal. After all, he held all the best cards.
"Well," the Doctor said, "you must have some other reason for artificially manipulating the markets. Insider dealing perhaps."
"What can I say?" Morrissey replied, smiling magnanimously. "I admit defeat. So where do we go from here?"
"I don't understand," the Doctor said hesitantly.
"Then let me make it simple for you. I have your young companion - your niece, or whoever she is. I'm sure you want her to remain safe, don't you?"
The Doctor smiled to himself. Morrissey's attempt at blackmail might just give him the opportunity to put his plan into operation. He realized there was no way Morrissey would leave without the Kreilen. He might almost have believed that his arguments had convinced Morrissey of its uselessness - but in the end, Morrissey's greed and desperation made him grasp at the slightest of straws. It was just as well he didn't know about the immortality virus, otherwise he would probably have tried to kidnap Vardek and the Flamels.
"All right," the Doctor said. "I'm sure we can come to some arrangement."
"That's very sensible."
"I want you to release Rhonwen. In return, I will give you something you want desperately."
Reaching into his pocket, the Doctor removed a large shard of kaprihal crystal, part of Vardek's computer interface. "This," he said, "is the Kreilen's energy crystal. It was damaged a bit when the Kreilen was killed, but it should still serve its function. At least for a time. With this in place, your attempts to clone the Kreilen will meet with better success. After some additional research, no doubt you'll be able to reproduce the crystal as well."
Morrissey's eyes widened, a mixture of wonder and greed written in them. "I'm sure people won't object to having a small crystal implanted in their heads," he said, reaching out his hand for it, "not if it means immortality."
The Doctor deftly snatched the crystal back. "Do we have a deal?" he asked.
"Yes," said Morrissey. "Your companion's safety for the crystal. It seems a fair exchange to me." He held out his hand for the Doctor to shake. "You can trust me. Where business is concerned, I'm a man of my word. I always keep my side of a deal."
The Doctor nodded. He shook Morrissey's hand.
"Good," Morrissey declared. "Now, perhaps you'll place the crystal in the Kreilen's skull."
He indicated that the Doctor should precede him, and they moved back into the isolation ward. Still held securely in a soldier's grip, Rhonwen looked up in wild and desperate hope. The Doctor smiled at her reassuringly.
Morrissey spoke to his soldiers, whose guns covered the Doctor's every movement. "It's all right. We've reached an agreement."
"Not before time," said one of soldiers, who was studying a scanning instrument. "The damage to the hull has increased. This section will blow out in about five minutes."
"Plenty of time," replied Morrissey airily. He looked invitingly at the Doctor, who crossed to the bed and carefully lifted the loose skin on the Kreilen's head. Cleanly sliced open by the laser cutter, it peeled back neatly and exposed the top of the skull. Sure enough, there was a cube shaped depression in the crown. The Doctor took the fragment of Vardek's crystal, and pushed it into the cavity. Fortunately, it fitted smoothly inside, and made contact with the connectors inside the slot. The Doctor pulled the scrap of skin back over the top of the Kreilen's head. He'd got away with it. Now, he could only hope that his guess about the properties of the crystal would prove correct. If not, he'd just placed the secret of immortality in the hands of corrupt capitalism - not as sophisticated or painless as the virus, but still enough to irrevocably change the future of the Galaxy.
"Right," said Morrisey to his men. "Let's get it out of here."
Four of them picked up the body of the Kreilen, and placed it in the cargo pod that rested on the floor - the same one in which the Doctor and Alicia had moved it originally. They didn't bother to shut the lid, but activated the antigrav lifter on the pod's base. Morrissey signalled them towards the door, and they left, pushing the pod in front of them.
Turning to the man who guarded Rhonwen, Morrissey said, "Bring her."
The soldier twisted Rhonwen's arm tightly behind her back, and marched her towards the door. She turned to look back over her shoulder at the Doctor, fixing him with a desperate plaintive look. Then she was dragged away along the corridor.
"Let her go!" demanded the Doctor. "We had a deal."
"I know," Morrissey replied. "The crystal for her safety. Well, I have the crystal now, and I promise you she'll be kept safe. I always keep my word." He turned to follow his men. Two of the soldiers remained by his side, as an escort.
"What about your insider dealing?" the Doctor called after him. "What about this hijacking? You can't hope to get away with it all."
"Oh, my dear chap," Morrissey said, regarding him with amusement. "Do you think that worries me? With the secret you've just given me, I could buy off the entire Federation legal system. Who's going to prosecute the man who can give them immortality?" Smiling, he set off along the corridor with his guards.
Left alone in the isolation ward, the Doctor angrily kicked the grille from the air shaft, that was lying on the floor beside the work bench. It didn't make him feel any better. He should have expected Morrissey to double cross him, but he'd been so impressed with his own cleverness he hadn't seen it coming. Rhonwen was still held hostage, and who knew what danger she was in?
The Doctor felt another vibration shake the ship, and he was reminded of
the precarious state of the hull. It wasn't safe to remain here. Besides,
it was too soon to give up. He still had a few cards left up his sleeve,
and he knew precisely what Morrissey's next move would be.
Another vibration ripped through the ship, throwing Paluzzi off balance. She smashed her wounded shoulder hard against the wall. A dull pain throbbed in her arm and her side, but the shoulder itself didn't seem to hurt so much. She still hadn't got much of the feeling back around the wound. She looked round at Bannen.
"That felt close," he said.
Paluzzi nodded. "I don't think she's going to last much longer."
She opened the door to the next corridor section. They had to risk moving openly through the corridors - they didn't have time to go crawling through service ducts now. The pressure bulkhead had sealed off the direct route back to the boat deck, so they had to go through the lower levels of third class, right into the bow, then up to the top deck to enter the boat deck from the forward end. It was a race to get there before the Greyshadow lost her atmosphere completely. Paluzzi hoped that the Conglomerate troops, aware of the danger, would already have evacuated the ship.
They moved quickly along the corridor to the next door. Paluzzi opened it, and stepped through, her gun at the ready. There was movement at the end of the corridor, a number of dark figures moving quickly along towards the far door. She realized they were Conglomerate troops. Driven by vengeful anger, she crouched in a good firing position - and too hastily to take proper aim, she emptied the entire magazine of her carbine along the corridor.
Some of the soldiers turned, and returned fire. Paluzzi found herself very exposed. She threw herself to one side, tight against the wall, and snapped another magazine into her gun. Behind her Bannen, using the door frame for cover, added his weapon to her own. It was then that Paluzzi realized there were more than just soldiers ahead. She recognized the figure of Krau Jones, with her ridiculous short skirt, struggling against the grip of one of troops. And at the centre of the group, trying to keep his head down, was a distinguished looking man, dressed in expensive but plain coloured clothes - and even in such tense circumstances, managing to carry off an air of sophisticated style. Paluzzi was sure she knew who he was.
One of the soldiers found his mark. Bannen was hit in the head, and thrown back along the corridor, half his face blown away. Anger swirling inside her, Paluzzi started to fire indiscriminately into the group ahead. One of the soldiers fell heavily to the deck. Paluzzi kept firing. She realized that she could have hit Rhonwen, but at that moment she didn't care.
Suddenly, the Doctor appeared from a side corridor. He took a quick look around, and then started waving his hands frantically. "Stop firing!" he shouted. The distraction made Paluzzi stop for a moment, and the soldiers disappeared through the door at the far end, taking Rhonwen and the distinctive man with them. Now Paluzzi realized who he was.
She got to her feet, and approached the Doctor. "Why did you stop me?" she demanded.
"You might have hit Rhonwen."
Paluzzi took a deep breath, and nodded. "I'm sorry. But I got a bit carried away. I don't really know what's happening. Was that Trau Morrissey?"
"What was he doing here?"
"Well, he's the brains behind this hijacking," explained the Doctor. "He's trying to bring down the Sirius Conglomerate for his own personal gain."
"I don't see how he can do that."
The Doctor reached into his pocket, and took out a handful of triangular data storage blocks. He held them out to her. "These should help to make it clear. They're Krau Newstead's data files. I swapped them for some medical records I borrowed from the sick bay."
"Those records are supposed to be confidential," Paluzzi replied indignantly.
"Don't worry. No one actually read them. But I had to let Krau Newstead believe she still had her files intact. One data block is identical to any other, and the medical records were first things I could lay my hands on."
"What did you want with Krau Newstead's files?"
"Well, I knew the Conglomerate was up to something - and I wanted to find out what. I didn't think Krau Newstead would show me the files willingly, so I had to help myself."
Paluzzi slipped the data blocks into her pocket. "We shouldn't have let Morrissey go. He's got a ship. He can get away easily."
"Then you'll have to ensure the Federation find out about what he's done here," said the Doctor. "Besides, he hasn't won yet. I have some unfinished business with Trau Morrissey."
"Come on," said Paluzzi. "If we hurry, we might still make it to a lifeboat."
"You go," the Doctor replied. "I'll make my own way."
Paluzzi started to protest, but he waved away her concerns. "I'll be all right," he added reassuringly. "Don't worry about me. Just make sure you get the passengers to safety."
"Even if we get everyone off the ship, the lifeboats will run out of air long before any rescue ships arrive. We're still two days out from Androzani - no one will even know we're missing until then. We should have sent a distress signal." Paluzzi frowned. "A total failure of the communications system is supposed to be impossible."
"Oh, I was nearly forgetting," said the Doctor brightly. He dug into his pocket again, and drew out the device he had assembled earlier. "I lashed this up from the equipment in the communications room. Connect it to the locator beacon on your lifeboat."
"What is it?" Paluzzi asked.
"It's a hypercomm signal booster. More or less. It should enable you to get a message through to Androzani."
Paluzzi reached out for the makeshift device. "It'll never work," she murmured.
"Thank you for your confidence," said the Doctor pithily. "You'll just have to trust me."
Paluzzi shrugged. What had she got to lose? "Come with me," she insisted.
The Doctor shook his head, and started off along the corridor. "Get out of here," he said urgently. "While there's still time."
Paluzzi watched as he turned onto a staircase, and headed downwards into
the hold. Unless he came with her now, he didn't have a hope of getting off
the Greyshadow - and yet Paluzzi felt only a total conviction that
he knew exactly what he was doing. "Good luck," she called after him. Then
she began to run towards the forward third class compartments.
Rhonwen's arm, twisted roughly up behind her back, had gone quite numb. She was pushed, stumbling, through the airlock and into Morrissey's ship. Ahead of her, she saw the cargo pod with the Kreilen's remains being pushed away along a corridor.
She felt her heart sinking. Morrissey had won. He had got the Kreilen, he had got the secret of immortality - he had double crossed the Doctor, and he held her hostage. The situation could only be described as grim.
But, she told herself, the Doctor would think of something. Morrissey presumably was hoping to strand him aboard the disintegrating Greyshadow. Of course, Morrissey didn't know about the TARDIS - and as long as the Doctor could get back to his ship, the game was not yet over.
The soldier who held her turned to Morrissey for instructions.
"Take her below," Morrissey said. "Lock her up somewhere."
Rhonwen tried to struggle, but the soldier's grip was too strong. She was dragged away into the depths of the cruiser.
Morrissey remained at the airlock hatch with some of his men. He opened his mouth to speak, when another vibration rocked the Greyshadow's hull. The groan of tortured metal carried to him, and he realized that the clamps holding the Panther in place were being placed under tremendous stress.
It was too dangerous to remain here any longer. He turned, and started along the corridor into the depths of his ship. "Get that hatch closed," he called back to his men. "I'll get us under way."
"Pierce hasn't returned yet," one of the soldiers protested.
"That's his misfortune. He's had plenty of time to get back. He knows the risks as well as anyone." Morrissey continued on his way to the command deck.
Passing through a door, he emerged onto his observation gallery, a railed platform from which he could look down onto the command deck below. The chamber contained a semicircular control desk, around which crewmen sat, monitoring their different stations. They faced inwards, reporting to the deck officer, who stood at the radial centre of the semicircle.
Morrissey called down to him. "Is the hatch sealed?"
"All right. Disengage the locking clamps. Get us out of here."
Mitchum watched as the lifeboat hatch sealed. Indicator lights blinked, and the boat deck shook gently as the boat was launched.
He breathed a sigh of relief. The last of the passengers were away. Some of the lifeboats had left only half full, and two were still attached to their docking ports, empty. Before now, Mitchum hadn't realized how many passengers had been killed. Only two had made it from first class, and half the second class were missing as well. Not to mention three quarters of the crew. Most of the steerage passengers had been evacuated safely however.
The deck suddenly lurched beneath his feet. Metallic groaning sounds were carried through the hull - the death rattle of the Greyshadow. Mitchum couldn't help but feel sad. He'd been with this ship a long time. Breaking apart in deep space was hardly the sort of end he had envisaged for her.
He glanced across at Jasinski, one of the technical crew - the same man Tyler had dragged from the engine room in her attempt to gain his trust. Jasinski had more or less recovered from the effects of inhaling the fumes, and he stood at the forward doorway to the boat deck, watching for any sign of the Conglomerate troops.
They were the only two people left. Mitchum had sent the rest of the
surviving crewmen off with the lifeboats. He knew that he ought to have
gone himself - it was simply courting danger to remain aboard the
Greyshadow any longer - but he felt he couldn't leave without
Paluzzi. She had risked her life to close the pressure bulkhead, and
retrieve the ship's log - the least he could do was help her escape the
wreck. For all he knew she was already dead, but he had to give her a
chance. He would wait for her until the last possible moment.
The Doctor bounded down the stairs three at a time. His footsteps clanked on the bare metal steps. This was no grand staircase for the passengers, decorated in wood panelling and plaster and hung with paintings. It was a plain and functional stairwell, to allow the crew access to the lower decks. It was the quickest route he could find. He had to reach the hold. He wasn't sure if he was going to make it in time.
All around him, he could hear the tortured cries of the Greyshadow's hull, ripped apart by the explosive action of decompression. Even this compartment, which still retained its atmosphere, was thwart with dangers. The stresses placed on the ship's structure by the decompression damage were intolerable.
The Doctor continued to descend. Beside him, a wall tore like paper, the metal plates buckling and splitting apart. Pipes were severed, and clouds of steam billowed out into the stairwell. The Doctor closed his eyes, and plunged through. He couldn't afford to let anything halt him now.
He came to the next landing. Unable to see through the steam, he careered straight into the wall. Arms flailing, he managed to grab hold of the bannister and steady himself.
The whole ship seemed to lurch forward. The Doctor held on to the bannister rail tightly. He was surrounded by the high pitched squeal of overstressed metal. Then suddenly, the whole stairwell fell apart around him. The floor of the landing broke away from the wall, and the Doctor found himself falling into empty space.
The shaft of the stairwell had twisted with the movement of the ship's hull, rupturing the welding that held it together. The deck plates that formed the landing broke apart, tumbling down into the stairwell, and smashing some of the steps out of the brackets that held them.
Only the Doctor's grip on the bannister saved him. He was dangling over a drop of fifty feet to the next landing below. From somewhere came a dull booming noise. The wall of the stairwell shook violently, threatening to throw him off. There was an explosion below, and flames started to rise up the stairwell towards him, licking around his shoes as he hung helplessly from the bannister.