Authors: Brian Hayles
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
Penley’s eves glanced quickly behind Jan. She shook her head.
‘It’s all right—I’m alone.’
‘Well, now you’ve followed me here, what do you want?’
She had moved farther inside; the screen fell back across the doorway.
‘Elric...’ It was months now since anyone had called him by his first name. Jan had been his equal then: a genuine friend who showed some understanding of and sympathy for his clash with Clent—but not, he remembered bitterly, a fellow protester. Miss Garrett was too ambitious for that.
‘You haven’t forgotten my face then, Miss Garrett,’ he said politely. He glanced at her lapel. ‘No orders of merit yet?
Not even for trying to cope with that stupid machine.’
‘You’re the only one who ever understood it,’ she answered bluntly. ‘We’re in desperate trouble—help us!’
‘Us? Does that include Clent?’
‘He doesn’t know I’m here.’
‘I was going to say—he’s the last person to need
! All he needs is a mirror—preferably rose-tinted and of the magnifying sort’
‘He’s ready to admit... that you have the knowledge he requires. He needs you—it’s the only way he can be sure that the Ioniser will be permanently stabilised.’
‘I’m surprised it hasn’t already run wild, to tell the truth. Especially when I heard the evacuation broadcast.
Some fluke saved him, I suppose?’
‘A stranger came. He’s eccentric—and infuriatingly like you. He doesn’t think much of computers,’ she added.
Penley smiled as he remembered the clownish intruder he’d met over Clent’s unconscious body. ‘Good for him!’
‘But he doesn’t know it all!’ protested Jan. ‘Only you know all the imperfections of Ioniser theory—even this stranger says it needs an expert!’
‘And what does Clent say?’
‘You know how proud he is. But his back’s to the wall.
Sooner or later he’s going to have to make his report to the World Authority...’
‘So sooner than have to admit failure, he’d like back so he can produce a scapegoat! No thanks—let him face the music himself!’
‘It was never easy. It’s ten times worse now. Arden’s made a fantastic discovery in the glacier.’ She took a deep breath and stared at Penley. ‘Aliens.’
To her surprise, Penley didn’t even smile. He leant forward, his eyes keenly interested. ‘Of course!’ he exclaimed.
‘it must be alien! That thing could never be an earth hybrid or a throw-back!’ He saw her look of surprise. and explained,
‘I’ve seen it, you understand, at close range—working at the ice face, blasting great chunks free!’
There was a small silence before Jan spoke again; this time her voice sounded strained. ‘We think there may be an alien spaceship buried inside the ice,’ continued Jan, ‘and if it contains a nuclear power source...’
She didn’t need to say any more. But Penley’s brutal answer shook her.
‘Then Clent’s got no option, has he? He daren’t use the Ioniser any more. He’ll have to evacuate!’
Jan’s anger flared. ‘You know what’s at stake! Five thousand years of civilisation! Clent won’t give that up—none of us will! Even you can’t deny what we’re here for!’ She paused, trying to control her anger. ‘Doesn’t our civilisation mean
‘I know what it means to Clent!’ replied Penley sharply.
‘It’s a computerised ant heap! Well I’m a man—not a machine! I’d sooner live with the Ice Age than with
sort of robot universe!’
He paused for breath. Jan took out her tranquiliser gun and pointed it straight at him. ‘You most be desperate,’ he remarked. ‘But it’ll do no good. You’ll never manage to carry me even as far as your airsled.’
‘I’m willing to try,’ she said, then yelped with pain as Storr knocked the weapon sharply from her numbed hand.
She turned, stared at Penley’s savage-faced companion, and drew back nervously, holding her wrist. ‘Who... are you?’ she whispered.
‘A friend,’ said Penley, picking up the gun before Storr could reach is ‘You’ve said enough, Jan. Now leave us in peace. I’m not coming back with you—that’s final.’
Storr turned on Penley. ‘You’re not letting her walk out of here just like that! Once she gets back there, she’ll have this place swarming with security!’ Desperate for a weapon, Storr snatched up a knife—but Penley’s voice brought him to a halt.
‘Storr—no!’ The gun was pointing at Story now. He dropped the knife back on to the table.
‘It’s the only way!’
‘It’s not my way—or yours.’ replied Penley calmly, then switched his gaze to Jan. ‘She won’t give us away. I’m sure of that.’
‘I give you my word...’ Jan said quietly.
Storr turned array, disgusted by Penley’s weakness. ‘I don’t trust any of them,’ snarled the burly hunter, ‘whatever they say!’
Penley pointed to the door with the gun. ‘Return to Base, Miss Garrets’
‘And wait for Doomsday,’ she murmured with a resigned shrug of her shoulders. She gave him one last look, then moved to the door while Penley held the screening skin to one side. For a brief moment they were out of earshot of Storr, and Penley took his opportunity quickly.
‘If you still have trouble from the Ioniser,’ he murmured, handing Jan back the gun, ‘look up my notes on the Omega Factor. Good luck...’
He pushed her outside into the snow, and returned to the warmth of the stove. Storr was standing by it, his face unusually thoughtful.
‘These aliens,’ he brooded. ‘They really exist, then...’
Penley was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to wonder at the fact that Storr was expressing such interest in what was, after all, a scientific supposition.
‘Yes,’ declared Penley firmly, shrugging on his snow garments, ‘and I intend to find out more about them.’ With hardly a glance back, he shuffled quickly outside, and began his uphill trek to the glacier.
Somehow, Victoria had managed to snatch a few hours of fitful sleep. Every time she had woken up, Varga had been moving from one melting block of ice to the other, almost willing the creatures inside back to life... At dawn she awoke fully, and, shivering with cold, stared towards the glacier face in numb disbelief. Only two blocks of ice remained, and these were rapidly disintegrating as the creatures inside strove to break out—almost like dragon-men from monstrous frozen eggs, she thought. Their comrades stood around them, urging them into life with a chorus of hissing. Frightened yet fascinated, Victoria began to notice the differences between them: Varga’s bearing and style of helmet and reptilian armour seemed of a superior nature to the others. He seemed to delegate more and more of the physical tasks to a second-in-command—whose name, Victoria gathered, was Zondal.
He was just as gigantic in stature, but his whole aspect was fiercer and more repellent; and he snapped at and bullied the others. The remaining four warriors, including the two who had at last broken free of the ice, were less elegant and more clumsy than Varga, whose majestic bearing, seen in daylight, fitted all Victoria’s ideas of a warlord. Zondal was harshly ordering the warriors into a simple formation, ready for inspection. Varga turned and, seeing Victoria crouched and awake, strode over to her.
‘You see?’ He proudly gestured towards his warriors. ‘It has worked! All my crew are alive! The ice is our friend!’
‘Then you don’t need me,’ replied Victoria. ‘Let me go back to my own people, please!’
The Martian warlord stared at her coldly. ‘You will stay here with us,’ he hissed. ‘If you value your life, obey—and do not anger us!’
‘But I’m no use to you!’ protested Victoria. ‘You don’t need me —you have your warriors now.’
Ignoring this plea, Varga turned and summoned his second-in-command. ‘Zondal!’ As the warrior approached him and saluted in the Martian fashion—clenched fist to left shoulder—Varga continued, ‘You will locate our buried spaceship without delay!’
‘That will not be difficult, Commander,’ came the harsh reply.
‘You will then gain access to it by excavating into the glacier...’ Varga paused. ‘The cave that you will form will also act as an efficient trap. Proceed!’
Zondal saluted again, turned, and began to place his men at key points facing the glacier. Victoria had overheard Varga’s strategy; her eyes were wide with alarm. ‘But you don’t need a trap. No one wants to attack you!’ His grim face was implacable. She pleaded desperately. ‘If you let them, they may be able to help you. You’ve only got to ask.’
The warlord looked down at her distraught face proudly. ‘We do not need help. We are superior!’
Victoria protested, close to tears. ‘You’d still be dead and frozen solid in there,’ she cried out, pointing at the glacier. ‘if it wasn’t for us humans!’
‘You are a child!’ he sneered, then turned to watch Zondal organise the other warriors. Victoria wasn’t going to be put off that easily.
‘But what are you going to do with me?’
‘A trap needs bait,’ hissed the warlord. ‘You will be the bait that draws your friends towards us.’
‘No!’ cried Victoria, in dismay. But there was no appeal against the cruel decision.
‘Be silent!’ ordered Varga. The violence in his voice quelled his prisoner completely. She huddled silently close to the snow crevasse, sullenly watching Zondal and his men.
At Varga’s command, the sounding sensors on their breastplates glowed and pulsed—just as his own had done when he set out to locate his comrades. Zondal then strode forward, marked out a target area on the ice face, and gave the order.
‘Sonic destructors at the ready!’
The four warriors raised their forearms in unison. The four tubular devices, pointed towards the target area.
‘Set to wide impact,’ Zondal paused briefly as his men made the necessary adjustments. ‘Fire!’ The effect of the combined sonic weapons was devastating. The ice face crazed, shattered and erupted into fragments under the impact of the invisible beams, which clawed their way deeper and deeper into the heart of the glacier. Inside minutes, the once jagged mark on the ice had been gouged hollow—then it became a cave, and still later a massive crystalline cavern...
Victoria was not the only amazed observer. Hidden by an outcrop of frozen snow, Penley was taking in the scene from below. What the purpose of this task force was, he had no way of knowing—hut they were armed, and had a human hostage! He looked towards the girl. Rescuing her was not going to be easy. Until the opportunity arose, he could only watch, and wait...
Clent stood in the doorway of the medicare laboratory, and nodded his head in disbelief. The area that had been assigned to the Doctor was no longer a neat and tidy desk unit—it was almost buried under an untidy mountain of torn and crumpled paper. And the Doctor—totally unaware of C1ent’s presence—was on his knees, searching desperately for the vital scrap of calculation... Clent moved forward until he was standing almost directly in front of the scavenging Doctor.
But he still wasn’t noticed—until the Doctor came to the particular piece of paper that Clent was standing on. ‘Excuse me...’ he murmured, and snatched it up. Suddenly his face broke into a broad grin. ‘Ah! I thought so! Of course! Reverse the sequence and it gives a density ratio to the power of ten!’
he exclaimed gleefully, throwing his arms into the air and discarding the items that he had just been grovelling for so diligently—and at the same time seeing Clent for the first time.
‘Genius at work, I see,’ remarked the Base Leader drily.
‘Wouldn’t it be simpler if you used our computer?’
The Doctor paused in his frantic scorrving about. and, catching sight of a marker scribe in Clent’s lapel, snatched it with a smile.
‘Just the thing!’ he exclaimed, and started writing an extended series of calculations at shoulder height all along the nearest bare wall. Suddenly the Doctor stopped, bit his lip thoughtfully, and shook his head. ‘Its not right!’ he muttered.
At that moment, Jan Garrett entered, carrying a small sheaf of notes. She handed thetn to the Doctor. He took them eagerly.
‘Your instructions were to help the Doctor, Miss Garrett,’ said Clent coldly. ‘Where have you been?’
‘Obtaining these notes from Scientist Penley’s file.’
‘You had no authority—’ Clent ranted. But the Doctor cut short his angry reaction with a cry of triumph.
‘That’s it!’ he blurted out, elated. ‘The Omega factor!
Clever chap, your friend Penley. Why did you ever get rid of him?’
Clent was too preoccupied with checking the formula to react to this sharp observation. As he reached the final equation, his face smiled in admiration and pride.
‘It’s amazing! And it was staring us in the face all the time...’
Jan hadn’t the same theoretical training as Clent or Penley. She had been trained to rely on the computer for formula analysis. ‘Will it work?’ she asked Clent anxiously.
Clent quickly copied down the essential numbers. ‘I’ll run it through the computer myself!’ the Leader exclaimed.
and hurried out, followed by Jan and the Doctor. The Doctor, turning to Jan, sighed and shook his head disapprovingly.
‘It doesn’t need running through a computer,’ he complained, ‘its perfect!’ He glanced mischievously at Jan, as they hurried along the corridor leading to the control room and the computer. ‘I deserve an apology,’ he said, and then added, ‘Penley, too. Thank you for digging out his notes.’
‘I thought they might help...’ murmured Jan, leading the way across to ECCO, where Clent was studying the computer print-out He was completely absorbed. his eyes glued to the machine. He made no sign of hearing the ensuing exchange between the Doctor and Jan.
‘Pity Penley turned traitor...’ remarked the Doctor innocently. Jan’s reaction was immediate, and angry.
a traitor! He’s the most brilliant scientist we have, and if you—’
The Doctor cut her short and smiled gently. ‘I’m glad he’s still got some friends here at Base. I needed to know—’
‘It works!’ cried Clent. ‘The computer says it works!’
Suddenly, the static-distorted voice of Arden crackled out from the video-communicator. The geologist’s hooded face showed fuzzily on the videoscreen. and he spoke urgently.