Warcry of Hallatern
The Doctor looked around frantically for some way to save himself. He recalled that there had been an exit from the stairwell on the level above. But there was no easy way to get up there.
Some of the steps that he had come down were still intact, although the brackets fixing them to the wall looked distinctly unsound. If he could reach the steps, he might just be able to scramble up them to the door - if they didn't give way under his weight first.
But the steps were six feet away. In his current position, hanging from a metal bannister over a raging inferno, he couldn't get enough leverage to try and leap across that gap.
Suddenly, the wall started to shake again. The Doctor felt himself slipping, and tried to tighten his grip. He was getting very tired. His arms were aching, stretched to their limit. He couldn't hold on much longer.
The shaft of the stairwell gave another lurch, and part of the wall above him split open. Electrical cables broke free from their mountings, and fell out into the stairwell, swinging free. One of them sailed past the Doctor, missing him by mere inches. He couldn't tell if it were still live or not.
The cable touched the wall near him. The Doctor braced himself, expecting it to electrify the wall and the bannister rail. He wasn't sure how much electricity his body could take, and he wasn't especially keen to find out. But he felt no shock - the cable was obviously dead. It swung back, and hung loosely in the stairwell in front of him.
He suddenly saw his way out. He let go of the bannister with one hand, and with all his weight suspended from his other arm, he reached out and grabbed hold of the cable. He gave it a sharp tug, to try and test how well its end was secured. The cable remained in place. Not a very scientific test, but the best he could manage in the circumstances.
Gambling that the cable would take his weight, the Doctor let go of the bannister. He dangled precariously over the raging flames, and swung towards the steps opposite. Stretching out his hand, he was just able to grab hold of the lowest step. He half expected it to come away with him - but despite an alarming groaning sound from its supporting bracket, it held in place. The Doctor managed to swing his leg onto the step, and then grabbed the one above to haul himself up.
Letting the cable drop, he staggered to his feet, and hurriedly climbed the staircase. He swayed alarmingly from side to side - each metal step seemed to be moving independently beneath his feet. Some of the brackets had broken loose, and the wall supporting them continued to bend and buckle.
Finally, he made it to the door, and pushed it open. At that moment, the step he was standing on broke free of its bracket, and clattered away into the depths of the stairwell. The Doctor almost went with it. But he lunged forward with a desperate effort, and grabbed hold of the edges of the door frame, hauling himself through into a service corridor.
Finding his feet once more, he started to run, not even allowing himself
a moment to catch his breath. That was a luxury he couldn't afford. Time
was running out, and he had to find another way into the hold.
The vibration of the hull was now continuous. The deck rocked beneath her feet as Paluzzi ran through third class. She knew the ship wasn't going to last much longer.
She was right beneath the boat deck now, but she needed to move forward through several compartments and find a staircase to take her up. Reaching the next intersection, she hit the control to open the door.
She kept moving forward through the corridors, pausing only for the short time it took to get each successive door open. The shaking of the hull grew worse all the time. She was thrown wildly from side to side as she tried to keep her footing on the unstable deck.
She opened the door to the next compartment. But even as she was passing through, it started to close upon her. Paluzzi threw herself forward, just clearing the frame as the door slammed solidly home. The emergency hydraulic system had activated, which meant that atmospheric pressure had been lost just two compartments back. The vacuum was now forward of the pressure bulkhead she'd lowered on the level above, which placed the boat deck itself in danger - it could blow out through the floor. She had very little time left.
She made it through the next two compartments safely, and found the staircase. As she scrambled up it, the ship seemed to pitch over, and Paluzzi fell flat on her face. She kept climbing, clawing at the steps with her fingers to drag herself upright. She wouldn't stop now.
Reaching the top of the stairs, she found the door to the boat deck open. Jasinski stood in the entrance. He stepped back to allow her to enter, a look of relief on his face. Then he turned round urgently, without waiting for orders - and Paluzzi watched as he went to the one of the two remaining lifeboat hatches and opened it. Like her, he was all too aware of the pressing danger. He couldn't fail to be - the boat deck was filled with the screeching sound of distressed metal, and a distinct depression had appeared in the floor. It would give way to the vacuum in a matter of minutes.
At least the crowd had gone - Mitchum had done his duty in seeing to the safety of the passengers. The purser himself was standing in the centre of the empty boat deck. Seeing Paluzzi, he started to move towards her.
She looked sharply at him, and said, "You shouldn't have waited for me."
Mitchum shrugged. "I had to give you a chance, Connie. Especially after what you've done for us."
Anger was written across Paluzzi's face, but she smiled. Suddenly, she reached for Mitchum and hugged him tightly.
But she could feel the floor literally bending beneath her feet. There was no time for emotions. She released Mitchum, and they ran for the lifeboat hatch.
Inside was a small passenger compartment with thirty seats cramped
together. The control cabin was visible through the door at the forward
end, where Jasinski had taken the helm. Panting for breath, Paluzzi closed
the hatch, and activated the release mechanism for the docking clamps. From
all around came the metallic scream of the boat deck ripping open. The
atmosphere rushed out into the vacuum below. The walls began to twist and
buckle. The lifeboat suddenly pitched downwards, thrown and twisted around
by the violent movements of the hull plates. Paluzzi realized that the
release mechanism had failed. They were still clamped firmly to the
Greyshadow's side, and likely to be crushed if the disintegration of
the hull got any worse.
The Doctor ran between the ore tanks, his footsteps echoing around the hold. He felt the floor shaking beneath his feet, reflecting the increasing instability of the ship's hull. Metal screamed in pain, stressed beyond its structural limits. The wall behind him was twisting and buckling, as the compartment fought the desire to explode out into the vacuum.
Slipping on a patch of oil, the Doctor stumbled. He managed to keep his balance, and found his footing again. He didn't have time for mistakes now. He had to get back to the TARDIS. The hold was going to blow out at any moment. It contained only four huge compartments - considering the layout of the ship, two of those were probably open to space already. Without the pressure bulkheads, it was only a matter of time before the other two compartments followed them. At least the decks above had their doors on every corridor intersection, which afforded a little extra protection.
The Doctor reached the door to the forward hold compartment. He opened it and passed through, surrounded by a shrill whining as the metal of the hull passed beyond its tolerance limits. Even as the door was shutting behind him, the previous compartment gave way, the rear wall ripping open. Air started to whip rapidly past the Doctor's face, until the door closed firmly in place.
Gulping deeply to get the air back into his lungs, the Doctor stumbled forward. He had to keep going. The single wall behind him wouldn't last long. He weaved his way through the ore tanks, running desperately towards the far side of the compartment where his goal lay. At last, the reassuring blue shape of the TARDIS came into view, and he hurried gratefully towards it.
He fumbled for the key, on its chain around his neck, and raced through the procedure to unlock the door. He could sense the compartment starting to fail around him, the rear wall bowing outwards.
Pushing open the TARDIS door, the Doctor hurried inside. As the door slammed shut behind him, the TARDIS engines strained into life, and her beacon started to flash rhythmically.
Then the compartment blew out. The roar of wind that rushed towards the
rent in the wall almost completely drowned out the protesting groan of the
TARDIS, as the police box shell faded from sight.
Paluzzi looked round desperately as the lifeboat pitched back and forth. There was no way to operate the release mechanism manually from inside the boat. She looked through the door into the forward cabin, where Jasinski was wrestling desperately with the controls. He was the only one who could save them now.
The section of the Greyshadow's hull to which they were clamped seemed to be crumpling inwards, dragging the lifeboat with it. In frustration, Jasinski fired a long burst from the lifeboat's rocket thrusters. The exhaust flames licked around the rear of the boat, but had no discernable effect. Then suddenly, the Greyshadow lurched once more. The side of the ship collapsed, but the sudden shock snapped the clamps, and the lifeboat was tossed free.
It took Jasinski a few minutes to stop the spinning and get the boat under control. Then he sent it towards the other lifeboats, huddled together a few kilometres off the Greyshadow's bow.
Mitchum slumped down in one of the seats, nursing his damaged arm.
Paluzzi looked back through the aft porthole. The Greyshadow drifted in space. She wasn't much to look at. Even when she'd been intact, the ship had resembled a bloated whale. But then, she hadn't been designed with aesthetics in mind. Ship to shore transmats meant that no one ever got to see the exterior of the hull. Except in dire situations like this.
A few lights were still shining, in some of the forward compartments, but as Paluzzi watched, they slowly went out. The last of the ship's emergency power systems had failed. If anyone was left aboard, they would soon be dead - without power, the life support systems would pack up.
The damage was plain to see. There was a huge hole in the side of ship, situated in the area of the reactors, and extending up through several decks of the first class section - right up to observation dome, where most of the toughened glass had shattered. An explosion in the reactors was likely to have burnt out the power distribution system, which would mean the pressure bulkheads couldn't be easily closed. That fact had spelt the end of the Greyshadow. After so many compartments had been opened to space, the loss of the remainder was inevitable.
Paluzzi turned and made her way forward to the control cabin. Mitchum got up, and followed her. She went straight to the control console beside Jasinski, and pulled open a panel to expose the transmitter for the distress beacon.
"No one's ever going to find us out here," said Mitchum, looking in through the doorway. "They won't even send a search ship for two days."
"And we'll be dead by then," Jasinski added.
"We're not finished yet," replied Paluzzi determinedly. She took out the device the Doctor had given her - three small cylinders joined together with masses of optical cable. It looked so crude and haphazard, she didn't think it could possibly work.
Nevertheless, she connected it to the distress beacon.
"What's that?" asked Mitchum incredulously.
"It's supposed to be a hypercomm signal booster," said Paluzzi.
"It looks like it was put together in a kids' science class."
Paluzzi didn't comment. The Doctor's device was the only hope she had left. Doubting it seemed like tempting fate.
"Do you think it will work?" asked Jasinski.
"There's only one way to find out," Paluzzi said.
The last shuttle had departed. The Academius Stolaris was deserted. Everyone - all the staff, all the visitors - had gone. He was alone.
Brolan walked through the empty corridors and galleries, stopping occasionally to look at one of the exhibits. He did not pretend to know much about art. That was what the experts were for. On the other hand, he knew what he found pleasing. This sculpture, for instance, an abstract shape in black stone, rather like a globe with holes drilled through it at irregular angles. Its curves and hollows had a strangely comforting effect upon him. He didn't understand why.
Shaking himself, Brolan turned away. It was not as fine as the glorious art of ancient Hallatern. He continued to walk through the deserted gallery.
He stopped before a painting. It was a landscape, a hill which seemed to sweep downwards into the foreground. The hill was oddly coloured - it seemed too garish to be an accurate depiction of the real thing. And the paint was slapped so thickly on the canvas that it qualifed more as sculpture than painting. Brolan didn't like it. And yet this was supposedly one of the most important works of art in the whole Academius.
Leaving his contemplation of the painting, Brolan turned his attention to the doorway beside it. He used his datakey to open the storeroom, and went inside. He opened the hidden door in the back wall, and started to climb down the metal ladder. He decided he would check that everything was ready for the arrival of the Kreilen.
The lack of any news, any communication from Baines or Morrissey, was
worrying him. If he threw himself into activity, he could prevent his mind
from considering the worst possible scenarios. He had come too far for
things to go wrong now.
Looking up from her aquarium, Marie Needleman regarded the glowing red sphere of the holographic projection. Reproduced within it was the tired, drawn face of General Lincoln, commander of the Federation forces in the Sirius region. His brown hair, cut short according to military regulations, was unkempt; his uniform tunic was ruffled, and the lines on his face bore testimony to the long hours he'd been working lately. The current security alert, with the renewed Dalek threat, had obviously kept him busy. The trouble on Canaxxa had done nothing to improve his temperament.
"I really don't see how I can help you," Needleman said.
"Well," Lincoln sighed exasperatedly, "it was your insistence that made me hold back from responding to the emergency on Canaxxa."
"For which I'm grateful. The Sirius Conglomerate is partly responsible for Canaxxa, so it is our duty to intervene there. Besides, it helps the Federation Council to view us in a good light."
"I was glad to go along with you," the General said. "Your Conglomerate has offered the military a number of concessions, which have helped our supply situation no end."
"One likes to do one's bit," said Needleman, who knew well the value of making influential friends, and keeping them happy. "Especially at times of political tension."
"Quite so." Lincoln frowned. "But the situation is starting to get out of control. There's been a distinct lack of news from Canaxxa, which leads me to believe that our citizens there may be in grave danger. I can only assume that the natives have seized control of our buildings and communications equipment. I need to get troops on Canaxxa with all haste."
"I'm sure Trau Morrissey will be there soon. His ship is one of the fastest civilian vessels in the system."
"That may be. But I've been unable to reach the Panther these past two days. I wanted to discuss the situation with Trau Morrissey, to make sure he knew what he was doing when it came to handling restless natives. The military has the most powerful hypercomm transmitters in the Galaxy, so I can only assume that he's deliberately not responding."
"He was scheduled to rendezvous with the freighter Greyshadow," offered Krau Needleman, "to get a report on the situation from our Krau Newstead."
"I'm aware of that," said Lincoln. "However, the Greyshadow has also disappeared. We cannot raise her at all."
Krau Needleman sprinkled some fish food into her aquarium, and watched as the gumblejacks broke the surface, jostling each other as they snapped at the flakes. She didn't want the General to realize she was in any way flustered. But she couldn't shake the feeling that Morrissey was up to something. Since he was a major shareholder in the Conglomerate, she didn't trust him an inch. The loss of contact with the Greyshadow might have any explanation, but the fact that Morrissey was supposed to have met the ship made it seem more than a coincidence.
"Anyway," Lincoln continued, "I'm really calling to inform you that I can't wait for Trau Morrissey any longer. I'll be landing troops on Canaxxa within the next few hours."
"Very well," shrugged Needleman, paying more attention to her fish than to the holograph.
"Just a moment," Lincoln said abruptly.
Krau Needleman looked up, and saw him speaking in whispers with one of
his officers. Then he turned to face her once more. "We've just picked up a
distress signal from the Greyshadow. They've been forced to abandon
ship. I'm diverting the nearest Federation patrol. Hopefully, it will reach
the lifeboats in time."
The ship's brig was a small and cramped space. There was a bunk against one wall, but it was barely long enough to lie flat upon. The space in front of the door was just about adequate for Rhonwen to stand up, and take a couple of paces around.
All in all, prisoners were treated very badly on this ship. She'd been locked up in here for hours, and no one had given her even so much as a glass of water. They'd obviously never heard of the Geneva Convention in the thirty fifth century.
The door opened to reveal Morrissey. He stood in the doorway - there wasn't really any room for him to come inside. Rhonwen sat up on the bed. Behind Morrissey, she could see two soldiers standing on guard in the corridor. There was little chance of escaping - not that she had anywhere to escape to.
"My dear," Morrissey began. "How are you? Comfortable?"
"Not really," Rhonwen replied.
"Well, there's nothing I can do about that. Still, it won't be for very long. We shall be arriving at Sirius Five some time tomorrow."
"And then what?" demanded Rhonwen.
"And then nothing," Morrissey said calmly. "I promised the Doctor your safety, and I guarantee you will remain safe. Believe it or not, I'm a man of my word."
Rhonwen snorted contemptuously. "I'm sure Johann Ryder wouldn't say that if he were here. Nor MacBride."
"Now there you misjudge me. I gave them all I promised, and more. They could have achieved everything they wanted. It's not my fault they botched it up so completely."
"But how did you join up with them in the first place?"
"What is this?" Morrissey asked in amusement. "Are you interrogating me? I suppose you want to make a full report to the Doctor."
"I don't know what you mean," Rhonwen said.
Morrissey laughed. "Yes, you do. I know the Doctor is an investigator. I'm not sure if he's been checking up on me or the Conglomerate, but either way he's stumbled upon my little scheme."
"Maybe," replied Rhonwen cautiously.
"You seem to have forgotten that you're my prisoner," Morrissey went on. "I'm here to ask you some questions."
"About you and the Doctor. Who are you working for?"
"What makes you think we're working for anyone?"
"Come now. The Doctor couldn't deny it. In order to move so quickly from Sirius Five to Canaxxa, you must have travelled aboard a military scout ship. Nothing else could make the journey so quickly."
Except the TARDIS, Rhonwen thought, but Morrissey couldn't possibly know about that. She was careful not to give anything away. "You've got it all worked out already," she remarked.
"Yes, I have. The only thing I don't know is who precisely you're working for. Obviously you could be from Federation Security. But then again, money talks - the Sirius Conglomerate could have arranged for a scout ship to transport you."
Rhonwen said nothing.
"Oh, how tedious," muttered Morrissey. "I'm only asking out of curiosity. A man likes to know who his adversaries are - especially when he's defeated them so utterly. But if you don't tell me, it won't make my victory any less sweet."
"You haven't won yet," said Rhonwen.
"Who's going to stop me? The Doctor?"
An expression of hope crossed Rhonwen's features. She couldn't help it. She realized she had absolute faith that the Doctor would find a solution.
Her reaction was not lost on Morrissey, who started to laugh. "Well, you're loyal. I have to admire that. It's a pity it's so misplaced."
"What do you mean?" asked Rhonwen cautiously.
"You needn't think the Doctor's going to come rushing to your rescue. I
left him aboard a ship that was about to disintegrate. I'd be very
surprised if we ever see him again."
The fabric of space ruptured, and with her engines crying out in mechanical pain, the TARDIS clawed her way through into reality. The shape of a police telephone box solidified in the art gallery of the Academius Stolaris.
The door opened to allow the Doctor to emerge. He looked up and down the long hall of the gallery. There was no one in sight. Reaching into his pocket, the Doctor drew out his etheric beam locator, and studied the dial intently. He was monitoring very faint energy patterns, similar to those of Vardek's kaprihal crystal.
Sweeping the detector around him, he tried to get a more precise fix. He had recalibrated the detector against the bounced signal monitored by the TARDIS telepathic circuits.
He couldn't seem to fix the direction accurately. Looking up, the Doctor cast another glance around the art gallery. The TARDIS had materialized beside the Van Gogh landscape he had been admiring before. Beside the painting was the door of a cleaners' storeroom.
With sudden realization, the Doctor pointed his detector straight down at the floor. The dial started to spin round. It was obvious really. The new built on the ruins of the old.
He examined the lock on the storeroom door. It was a simple receiver array, operated by a transmitting datakey. Reasonably secure, but nothing that a determined locksmith couldn't get into. He prized the end off his etheric beam locator, and adjusted a few of the circuits inside to turn it into an energy transmitter. The lock was bound to have a emergency operating frequency, which could open the door without the need to input the datacode that had been used to lock it. It was simply a matter of adjusting the energy output of the locator until he hit the right frequency.
After a moment, the door slid open. Beyond, the Doctor found a small cupboard-like space. It contained a floor polishing machine, and some shelves bearing bottles of cleaning fluid - all very innocent seeming. Maybe he'd been wrong. But Brolan and Morrissey had definitely emerged from this little room.
The Doctor retuned his detector, and pointed it at the floor once more. The signal was now stronger than ever. He was definitely on the right track. He stamped his foot on the floor a few times, but it sounded solid enough. He tapped upon the walls of the storeroom, and produced a hollow reverberation from a panel in the back wall. Establishing the size of the panel by tapping, the Doctor felt around its edges, and pushed. The panel recessed back into the wall, and then slid upwards out of sight.
There was a dark, empty space behind. The Doctor fished his pen torch from his jacket pocket, and shone it into the hole. It appeared to be a roughly hewn shaft in the rock, leading vertically downwards. At the bottom was a vague glimmer of light. Bolted into the side of the shaft was a metal ladder. The Doctor grabbed hold of the topmost rung, and started to descend.
Reaching the bottom of the ladder, he found himself bathed in a dull glow. The light was coming from an archway ahead. Stepping through, the Doctor entered a cavern carved out of the rock, its walls covered with shimmering crystal. His eyes swept over the columns arching to form a five pointed star at the highest point of the roof, and the pillars that rose from the floor to form a perfect pentagon. He knew enough about Hallatern to know that this chamber was a huge energy circuit built from kaprihal crystal. Its purpose he could only guess at, but he had his suspicions.
Moving into the room, the Doctor stooped to examine the pillar that stood in the dead centre, beneath the point of the star. He noted many tiny variations, or maybe flaws, in the surface of the crystal. He couldn't decide if they were the product of age and decay, or some intricate part of the mechanism.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" said a voice.
The Doctor turned to face Trau Brolan, who had emerged from one of the corners. His glasses glinted in the light that diffused the chamber, that seemed to shine out from the crystal itself.
"This is an unexpected pleasure, Trau Smith," he went on.
"Well, I just couldn't keep away," said the Doctor, straightening up.
"That much is evident. Considering the building has been sealed, the transmat stations closed down, and no ships have been within ten thousand kilometres of the planet, I'm very impressed with the tenacity you've shown."
"Ah well," replied the Doctor, sweeping his arm around the chamber, "I just had to come and see this. I'm surprised you haven't tried to publicize your discovery. This must surely be the archaeological find of the century."
"I would say so. And that's the precise reason I've kept quiet about it. As you know, the Academius is a centre for learning and scientific study. A find like this can hardly be investigated with hordes of tourists trampling all over it. Once a detailed examination has been made, then I'll start selling tickets."
"You know," the Doctor murmured, looking him straight in the eye, "I might almost have believed you. But if you were telling the truth, your experts would be here to conduct a proper research programme. And yet there's no one about. You and I are the only people in the whole Academius."
Brolan smiled. "What is it you want?"
"Well, since I'm here, I think I ought to volunteer my services, and help you with your investigation."
"That won't be necessary," said Brolan firmly. As far as he was concerned, the discussion was over.
"Now don't be like that," the Doctor replied, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the argonite lined sample box, and removed the cube of kaprihal crystal from within. Brolan's eyes settled upon it, in a mixture of amazement and awe.
"I take it you know what this is?" the Doctor enquired.
"Where did you get it?"
"Oh, I picked it up somewhere. It's not important." Slipping the stone back into his pocket, the Doctor started to stride absent mindedly about the chamber, as if taking a great interest in the tiniest details of the crystal walls.
"Not important?" Brolan snapped, darting after him. "How can you say such a thing?"
"Come on," the Doctor said, "a single kaprihal crystal. Probably the energy regulator from a dead Kreilen. What possible significance can it have today? Not when compared to all this."
"Maybe you're right," replied Brolan cautiously.
"When does it arrive?" asked the Doctor suddenly.
"The Kreilen. I imagine Morrissey is bringing it straight back here."
"I don't know," said Brolan calmly. He didn't seem surprised that the Doctor should possess such knowledge. "I understood he had to go on to Canaxxa. To sort out the terrorist attacks there on behalf of his employers."
"I think there's probably been a change of plan," the Doctor said. "We
can expect Trau Morrissey in another day or so."
She was surrounded by darkness. Awareness came to her only vaguely; her mind was going numb, her senses fading away. Life support capability was failing. Not enough oxygen left in the air mixture to keep them alive. Gently drifting into a narcotic stupor. Not a bad way to go, really.
Peaceful calm settled upon her. Death wasn't so hard to accept. Better this way than being blown out into space, or shot. Paluzzi found herself rocking with silent laughter. She couldn't actually get the sound out. Silly to have to put any faith in the Doctor's gadget. Foolish hope in desperation, really clutching at straws. It didn't matter now anyway.
She didn't know how much time had passed. She tried to work it out from the amount of oxygen in the lifeboat's storage tanks. It was no good. She couldn't concentrate long enough. Several hours had gone by, at least. Maybe twelve.
It was too tiring to think. She didn't need to know. Just let it go, she thought. Close my eyes, and drift away. She'd given it her best shot.
There was a rumbling sound somewhere, far away. Too far for Paluzzi to care about.
Then someone was moving near her. She wondered if it were Mitchum, or Jasinski. Stupid thought. They'd be in as bad a condition as she was. What were the symptoms of oxygen starvation? Light headedness? Hallucinations? That was the explanation. She was imagining it all. Next she'd see angels come to guide her to her rest.
Suddenly, she found herself bathed in a bright light. A shimmering figure appeared, looming over her, and reached out its hand to her. Worried thoughts began to race through Paluzzi's mind, and she wondered whether she should have gone to church more often. She wasn't exactly prepared to meet her maker. It had been fifteen years since her last confession.
Then a voice called out, "She's starting to cyanoze."
Through the haze that obscured her vision, she saw a plastic shape descending towards her face. It clamped over her nose and mouth, a suffocating mask. Then fresh, pure oxygen forced its way into her lungs, and her body started to burn with new vitality.
Paluzzi lay back, and allowed herself to recover. The fog slowly started to lift from her mind, and her vision resolved into something coherent. The darkness was stabbed by beams of light, which she realized were not a heavenly visitation, but the torches of the rescue party. The shimmering angel was a Federation soldier in a survival suit.
Feeling her strength had returned, Paluzzi struggled to sit up. One of the soldiers came to crouch beside her, holding her gently by the arm to steady her. Paluzzi removed the emergency oxygen mask from her face, and sighed in relief. There was oxygen in the cabin again, that had come through the open boarding hatch. Beyond she could see the airlock chamber of a Federation scout ship.
"Are you all right?" the soldier asked. He lifted his helmet visor to reveal a young, keen face. The pips on his shoulder showed that he was a Lieutenant.
Paluzzi nodded. "I thought you were a near death experience."
"Any longer, and we probably would have been. It's lucky we got your distress signal."
Other soldiers were moving around the cabin, helping Mitchum and Jasinski.
"How are they?" Paluzzi asked.
"Oxygen starvation," said the Lieutenant. "They ought to recover. The young chap's all right, but the officer's been hit harder. He's also been wounded in the arm. They look like gunshots."
"They are," said Paluzzi.
"And your shoulder doesn't look too good either. What's been happening to you?"
"I'll give a full report later. What about the other boats? Have you rescued the passengers?"
"Don't worry," the Lieutenant soothed. "It's all in hand. Do you know who the senior surviving officer is?"
"Yes, it's me."
"Then you'd better come and speak to our captain." He helped her to stand up, and led her through the airlock chamber and into the scout ship. They passed two more soldiers, who were carrying a stretcher, probably for Mitchum.
The Lieutenant took Paluzzi along a corridor, narrow and functional as military ships always were. Pipes and valves jutted out at awkward angles, and cables hung from the ceiling - unlike a passenger ship, where the machinery was hidden away behind a façade of luxury.
They passed through a doorway, into a small dining area. Paluzzi guessed it was the officers' mess, from the relatively opulent furnishings and regimental trophies that covered the walls. The furniture had been pushed back to the sides to create as much space as possible. The room was filled with the Greyshadow's surviving passengers, some standing, some sitting on the floor, huddled in silver heat conservation blankets. Federation soldiers moved amongst them, administering first aid where necessary.
When they saw Paluzzi, some of the miners started to crowd around her, firing a barrage of questions at her. She didn't have the answers for them.
The Lieutenant gently pushed them away, and guided her through the crowd. "You're safe," he announced to the miners. "Just be thankful for that." He led Paluzzi towards a door at the far end.
In one corner of the room, Paluzzi saw the Flamels huddled together. They seemed distraught by all that had happened. She nodded encouragingly to them, and got a weak smile back from Perrenelle.
Then she followed the Lieutenant into another corridor. More of the Greyshadow's passengers and crew were sitting here, slumped against the walls. Paluzzi offered a few words of comfort and encouragement as she passed them.
The Lieutenant led the way to another door, which opened onto the bridge. It was a cramped and poky chamber, with crewmen seated uncomfortably close together at their control positions. Space was always at a premium aboard these scout ships.
The captain stood to one side, next to the navigational computer display. He looked up as they entered, and took a step towards Paluzzi. "I'm Captain Drake," he announced. "Welcome aboard." He was a dark haired man in his forties, with a swarthy complexion. His face was pockmarked, suggesting that he'd seen action on one of the rimworlds where the space plague was still rampant.
"Commander Paluzzi, second officer of the Greyshadow."
Drake looked at her apologetically, and said, "I must ask you officially to confirm that your ship has foundered." It was standard shipping procedure - a senior officer had to confirm the Greyshadow's loss before Drake could log it. It was no more than a formality, especially as the wreck of the Greyshadow could be clearly seen on his bridge display screen.
Paluzzi nodded. "Yes, sir. She went at..." She trailed off. She didn't know what time the Greyshadow had been lost. She didn't even know what the time was now.
"What exactly happened?" asked Drake.
"We were hijacked," said Paluzzi. "Several of the crew were organized by the first officer, MacBride, to seize control of the ship."
"They claimed to be supporting the cause of freedom for Canaxxa. However, it became clear that the hijack was being controlled by Rupert Morrissey."
"That's a serious allegation," replied Drake, his eyes widening. "Especially as Trau Morrissey is a major shareholder in the Sirius Conglomerate - and therefore, effectively your employer."
"Nevertheless, he came aboard the Greyshadow with Conglomerate troops, who murdered several of the crew." Paluzzi reached into her pocket and removed the cylindrical log recorder. "This is the ship's log. It should provide you with the necessary evidence. It would seem that Morrissey was acting for his own gain."
"Well, this matter will have to be investigated thoroughly." Drake took the log recorder, and fingered it uncertainly.
"That is my hope, sir," Paluzzi said. "I want to see justice done." She removed a handful of data blocks from her other pocket. "These files relate to the activities of the Sirius Conglomerate, and they should shed light on Morrissey's scheme."
"Very well," said Drake. "I will turn all this evidence over to the
Federation Trade Commission. They can decide whether to proceed with a
prosecution. At the moment, some of your people need medical treatment -
for oxygen starvation and for gunshot wounds. You look like you could use
it yourself. We don't have adequate facilities aboard." He turned to the
helm officer. "Lay in a course for Androzani Major."
Perrenelle clung to her husband's arm. They sat in a corner of the officers' mess, leaning their backs against the cold metal wall. All around them, the room swarmed with third class passengers. Some were resting, trying to recover their lost strength; others were angry and aggressive, firing questions at the Federation crewmen who were trying to administer first aid. The crewmen didn't seem to mind - they must have realized that the passengers were confused and disorientated by all that had happened, and just needed someone to lash out at. Answering them with polite excuses, the crewmen contrived to ignore their interrogators, and get on with their task.
Perrenelle didn't have the energy to put up a fight. She felt tired and drained by all that had happened. If this was what mortality was like, it was a part she'd forgotten about in the last two thousand years.
Turning his head towards her, Nicolas spoke softly in her ear. "Are you all right?"
"I suppose," murmured Perrenelle. "Nearly dying of oxygen starvation isn't my idea of fun."
"Do you regret giving up our immortality, then?"
"It doesn't help you if you can't breathe."
"I know," Nicolas whispered. "It's just the irony. We haven't aged in two thousand years, and in that time we've managed to survive plagues and wars and accidents. But the minute we decide to live a normal life, to age again, we nearly get ourselves killed."
Perrenelle laughed. "We're just two lost souls out of time, my dearest. Maybe we're not equipped to deal with modern life."
"Then we'll just have to try our best," said Nicolas philosophically. "I'm sure we can adapt." He put his arm around her shoulders, and held her close.
"We couldn't go back now," said Perrenelle, "even if we wanted to."
"No, not without the Philosopher's Stone. And somehow I don't think the Doctor will give it to us again."
"So we're cursed with a mortal existence." Perrenelle snuggled against him. At least she still had her husband, and they were both alive and safe. The future seemed uncertain, but they would surely make the best of it. They had a fortune banked on Usurius - the proceeds of two millennia of alchemical transmutations - so their years of retirement would be comfortable enough.
"I'm not unhappy," she added.
It was late the next day before anyone bothered to look in on Rhonwen again. She'd spent the night on the hard and uncomfortable bunk, trying unsuccessfully to sleep. Tired and aching, she looked up as the door opened. One of the Conglomerate soldiers was standing there, holding a pistol to cover her. "Get up," he said.
Rhonwen stretched her stiff back, and hauled herself to her feet. She walked out into the corridor, and followed the soldier's gestured directions. He kept pace behind her, his gun levelled at her back.
They stopped at a door, which led onto the gallery above the command deck. Standing by the rail, Morrissey turned round as the soldier pushed Rhonwen inside. "Ah, my dear," he smiled. "Sleep well?"
Rhonwen didn't reply.
"Not that I really care," Morrissey added casually. "You'll be glad to hear that we've nearly arrived."
"You'll forgive me if I don't get excited," Rhonwen replied tartly.
Morrissey turned to survey the command deck below. "Remaining voyage time?" he demanded.
"Twenty minutes, sir," the deck officer replied.
Nodding in satisfaction, Morrissey turned back to Rhonwen. "You see? You'll soon be back at the Academius Stolaris. You'll be able to freshen up, and sleep in a proper bed."
"Do you expect me to thank you?"
"There's no need for all this hostility," Morrissey said. "It was expedient to take you hostage, but as I promised, you've not been harmed. I'm a businessman, not a terrorist."
"And what about the Doctor?"
"He had the same chance as everyone else aboard the Greyshadow," replied Morrissey. Which wasn't much, he thought. The damage to the hull had endangered everyone aboard - and beyond that, he had ordered Lieutenant Pierce to eliminate any survivors. Whether Pierce had carried out those orders after discovering he'd been abandoned, Morrissey didn't know. But in any case, there was little hope of the Greyshadow's lifeboats being picked up in time.
Rhonwen stared down at her shoes. She didn't want to reveal her feelings to Morrissey again. The picture looked gloomy, but she couldn't bring herself to concede that the Doctor might be dead. All he had to do was make it safely to the TARDIS, and he could be back on Sirius Five ahead of them.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden hubbub of voices from the command deck below. She looked over the rail, and saw that the crewmen were locked in agitated conversation.
Morrissey called down to them. "What is it?"
"We've just picked up a news report, sir," said the deck officer. "I think you ought to see it."
Sighing in exasperation, Morrissey said, "All right, switch it through up here."
He crossed to the far wall, in which was set a monitor screen. Images started to flash across it, of Federation battleships landing on Canaxxa. Ground troops and tanks started to roll through the dusty streets, hindered by the occasional firebomb thrown by a native. It was clear that the Canaxxans were no match for the Federation forces. Then General Lincoln was on the screen, giving a press briefing to a gathering of war correspondents.
Rhonwen moved forward to get a closer look at the screen. The soldier followed her, but he didn't try to stop her. She watched images of gun battles in the streets, and hundreds of native bodies sprawled on the ground. It reminded her of the Vietnam war which had been raging back in her own time. "Is that Canaxxa?" she asked.
"Yes," Morrissey muttered. "I was supposed to be taking care of it. Still, I've got more important things to do. General Lincoln seems to have it all under control."
"So much for your promise to Ryder," Rhonwen said angrily. "You just don't care, do you?"
"Of course I don't care. My involvement with the Canaxxans was again merely expedient. I needed to expose the fact that the Sirius Conglomerate was arming the terrorists. Of course, I couldn't reveal it myself. That would have looked most suspicious, and possibly have brought my business dealings under suspicion. I really couldn't afford that risk, so I needed someone to dupe.
"Then about five months ago, I went to a meeting of an environmental pressure group. Ryder was one of the speakers there, and naturally his topic was the exploitation of Canaxxa. I spoke to him after the meeting, and he told me all about his people."
"But I can't believe he'd just reveal everything," Rhonwen protested. "They've kept themselves secret for thousands of years."
"I wondered about that too," Morrissey admitted. "But I think Ryder was so impressed by the fact that one of the Conglomerate's top executives was willing to oppose their policy, that he dropped all his barriers." He laughed. "You see, Johann Ryder considered himself to be the rightful King of Canaxxa, and I was the man offering him back his birthright. It's rather quaint, really, don't you think?"
Rhonwen shook her head in wonder. If Ryder believed himself the King of Canaxxa, that would explain his passionate commitment to freeing the planet from exploitation. Wasn't a King supposed to be one with his kingdom? She wondered if it were just a delusion he had, or whether he had any real claim to the title. The Canaxxans had kept their culture alive, in secret, for nine thousand years - it wasn't so hard to imagine that they had also preserved a royal line of succession.
"The others followed Ryder blindly," Morrissey went on. "Even if they had their individual doubts, they couldn't bring themselves to disobey their King. It was easy to control them after that."
"Until Ryder died," Rhonwen remarked.
"Yes. That's when MacBride started to be difficult. After I arranged for
him to get the first officer's job as well. That's gratitude for you."
Shrugging his shoulders, Morrissey turned away from the monitor. "None of
that matters now. My Canaxxa strategem was a failure, but I've come out of
this with something far more lucrative."
The Doctor completed his examination of the central pillar. The tiny variations in the crystal, subtle changes of colour and flaws in the patterning, were probably intentional. He suspected they might be some kind of controls, perhaps designed to draw mental energy directly from the operator, so the machine could be controlled by the power of thought.
He looked up, to see Brolan watching him thoughtfully. The Doctor said, "What about sharing your initial findings with me?"
"Oh no," said Brolan lightly. "I'm no expert. I'm just the curator here - nothing more than an administrator and a businessman."
The Doctor regarded him shrewdly. If what he said was true, sending his academic staff away at such a time made little sense. On the other hand, he was clearly expecting Morrissey to bring the Kreilen to him, and he had good reason to keep that secret. But still, to make a proper examination of the Kreilen, some sort of scientific knowledge would be needed. He suspected that Brolan was being a little modest about his accomplishments.
"What about your own findings?" Brolan asked. "You've been examining the mechanism for some time. What theories have you formed?"
"Well," said the Doctor brightly, "the five outer pillars form a pentagram, which is the ideal shape for an energy transfer circuit. This machine would be used to manipulate natural forces. Kaprihal can alter any kind of energy, but I'd suggest this chamber is designed to work with life energy. For the purposes of genetic manipulation."
Brolan nodded sagely. "That would certainly tie in with our historical knowledge of the ancient Hallats. They were supposed to have been able to halt the ageing process. If this machine operates as you suppose, it could well be that which created the Kreilens."
He didn't know what to make of the Doctor, who possessed knowledge that far exceeded what any normal historian could be expected to know. He could theoretically have made ancient Hallatern his special area of study, but it seemed strange that he hadn't mentioned this when he first visited the Academius. Brolan thought back to their conversation a few days ago on the terrace. The Doctor's words and manner had evinced his total belief in the truth of the Hallatern legends. How was he able to speak with such certainty?
"You are a man wise beyond your years," Brolan said.
The Doctor smiled. "It depends how old I am, doesn't it?"
Suddenly, it all seemed so obvious. The Doctor could be so sure of his facts only if he spoke from personal experience. Was he a survivor from ancient Hallatern? Perhaps one of the hunters assigned to track down the escaped Kreilens? Yes, that would explain everything. Clearly, the Doctor knew about Morrissey's involvement, and the plan to bring the Kreilen back here, which suggested he had been tracking it in the hope of destroying it.
Brolan had never thought to meet one of the hunters. He had supposed they would all be dead by now. He decided he would have to watch the Doctor very closely indeed. Simple common sense suggested it would be better to kill him, but that was quite impossible now. If he really was who Brolan thought he was, it was only fitting that he lived long enough to see the conclusion of the plan. The ultimate irony.
A chiming sound came from Brolan's tunic pocket. He removed a small metal warning device, and shut the alarm off. Then he looked up at the Doctor. "That's Morrissey's ship entering orbit," he announced. "We ought to go and meet him."