Authors: Brian Hayles
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
World Director, Ionisation Programme. to all sectors. The new
control equation originating from Brittanicus Base will be adapted to
conditions prevailing each sector, and linked to World Central
Control. On central command pulse, a concerted intercontinental
attack on the glaciers will commence in six hours exactly. Report
readiness in three hours. Leaders to confirm status report one hour to
zero. Message ends.
Jan tanned desperately to Clem. ‘We can’t do it!’ she cried hopelessly.
Clent’s face was stern; like a soldier taking orders in the face of imminent destruction, he knew instinctively that he must act without question. ‘If we don’t act, the world plan must fail! We have no choice, Miss Garrett!’
Jan was too well trained to defy her superior, but she clutched desperately at one last straw... ‘The computer
be told,’ she insisted firmly, ‘as a matter of procedure.’ As Clent started to protest, she added quickly, ‘With the fresh directive from World Control, it may be able to resolve our local situation.’ She was relying desperately on Clent’s addiction to the rule book and, to her relief, he nodded in reluctant agreement.
‘Very well, Miss Garrett, feed the relevant data to ECCO, if you must.’ But at the back of his mind he instinctively knew what the computer would say in answer to the grim dilemma. There was only one reply it could give—
and that answer would save no one. Seconds later it gave its response.
As instructed, set up all circuits to the new equation. No action
to be taken until further data available regarding potential nuclear
explosion. Prepare to notify World Control in event of unresolved
emergency. Repeat, take no action!
’ The machine fell silent.
Clent looked across at Jan. ‘It’s what we both expected, isn’t it,’ he commented wearily. ‘But the computer must be obeyed. We must wait.’
‘In five hours from now, you have to report that we are in emergency status!’ exclaimed Jan. At least we have that at much time!’
Clent studied her tense face, and saw she didn’t understand. ‘Miss Garrett, you still don’t realise the logic of the computer’s decision not to act, do you?’
Puzzled, she shook her head. ‘The computer can only ever be logical. It hasn’t enough facts—it told us so a moment ago.’
Clent’s reply carried an undertone of despair. ‘We have just asked the computer if it is prepared to commit suicide. If we use the Ioniser and we explode the alien reactor, the Base—and the computer—will be destroyed. If we do not use the Ioniser, the glaciers will advance and destroy the Base.
Either way, its survival is at risk—and one of its prime directives, programmed as a vital part of its basic circuitry, is to survive! Now do you see the dilemma?’
Jan was silent. It wasn’t only the computer’s dilemma, she realised; it was Clent’s as well. Whatever he did, failure was staring him in the face.
‘We can at least evacuate,’ she said quietly, knowing what his reaction would be. ‘There’s still time...’ Clent was shocked, and angry. ‘Retreat? Throw in the towel? Perhaps you would be happy to face world opinion afterwards, Miss Garrett. I would not!’
‘Is that all that matters? It isn’t only your reputation at stake. There are the lives of—’
Jan stopped in mid-sentence as the picture of Walters flashed on to the video screen. His brisk message startled both Jan and Clent into action.
‘Security to Leader Clent. Two emergency arrivals, sir.
I’ve had them both brought to the medicare centre for treatment. One of them’s Scientist Penley!’
Zondal was supervising the removal of the sonic cannon from its usual mounting inside the spaceship to a traction unit in the cave outside. Varga turned to the Doctor.
‘As you can see, Doctor, we have more than just personal destructors!’ He pointed to the weapon on his arm, and Victoria shuddered, remembering vividly the horror of that deadly gun. ‘This can destroy a man in an instant—but the sonic cannon is capable of wiping out whole cities!’
‘What’s it to be used for?’ asked the Doctor.
‘It is an ultimatum,’ hissed Varga. He laughed brutally.
‘An ultimatum that accepts only one kind of reply—an agreement!’
‘But why?’ asked Victoria bravely. ‘You’ve already got us as hostages!’
‘Yes.’ agreed the Doctor. ‘What else do you want?’
‘Information,’ said Varga. ‘You have asked enough questions. Now you will provide answers..?’
‘I’ve already told you all I know about the Ioniser,’
replied the Doctor. ‘You don’t need to worry—’
‘What is its power source then? Tell me that!’
Suddenly the Doctor saw the situation in all its clarity.
While he had been desperate to know what sort of reactor the Martians had on their space craft, they had realised that the Base aright be the source of vital fuel for their reactor! The truth was, they were as helpless as Clent and the scientists—
the perfect stalemate. But a distant groaning from the glacier outside reminded him of that one random factor. The moving river of ice was dependent on no one; unless it was stopped soon, the Ioniser Base would be swept away like every other man-made object in the glacier’s path.
‘So that’s what you need...’ he said shrewdly, looking past Varga into the engine complex. ‘Fuel—for your reactor.
Without it, you’ll never be able to break free! ‘
‘Answer my question!’ commanded the warlord, holding his sonic destructor close to Victoria’s head, ‘or the girl dies!
‘And if I tell you?’
‘We will take what we need, and use it to blast our way out of the glacier!’ came the fierce reply. ‘Speak!—’
The Doctor looked suitably dejected. He turned from the engine complex to face Varga. ‘Mercury isotopes—is that it?’
‘You have them?’ demanded the warlord eagerly.
Victoria’s face filled with dismay at the Doctor’s surrender to the Martian demands. ‘Doctor, you shouldn’t have told him!’
‘You’re more important, Victoria,’ murmured the Doctor, then spoke to Varga defiantly. ‘You won’t find Leader Clent so easy to persuade! He’s got a will as hard as granite!’
‘The sonic cannon,’ whispered Varga, ‘can be programmed to disintegrate the hardest rock. This man will do as we ask—or we will smash his installation to pieces!’ He pointed through the open doorway of the airlock.
There, at the entrance to the ice cave, pointing out over the hillside towards the Base, stood the sonic cannon. At Varga’s gesture, Zondal stepped forward to the control panel inside the main complex of the spaceship. A video-radar screen, with a fire-path already plotted, was suspended over the gun controls.
‘The weapon has only to be primed, and fired at my command,’ hissed the warlord. ‘Zondal is an expert bombardier. Let us hope he does not have to demonstrate his skills more than once!’
When Clent and Miss Garrett arrived in the medicare centre, Jamie was already encased in the computerised diagnostic chamber. Penley, who was overseeing its purring function, didn’t seem to hear Clent enter.
But when he did turn round to acknowledge the Leader’s sour greeting, his expression was one of deep relief.
‘So you’ve come back!’ commented Clent.
‘Of my own free will,’ replied the renegade scientist.
‘Largely because I was talked into it by that chap the Doctor—
and this young friend of his.’
‘Is that all you expect?’ jibed Clent. ‘Free medical treatment? Don’t think you’ll be reinstated! You’re an outsider—self-declared!’
Jan was examining Jamie. ‘What’s wrong with him?’ she asked Penley anxiously. He smiled in reply, appreciating that she didn’t share Clent’s anger.
‘He was shot by the warriors’ guns,’ Penley answered soberly, ‘when they killed Arden. I was afraid there’d be some neural damage, but the diagnosis says it’ll only be temporary—given the right treatment,’ he added challengingly. ‘Or will you try and put a stop to that, too?’
Walters, hovering in the background, looked uneasy. All the signs pointed to yet another row between the two scientists. Clent gestured Walters to remain.
‘Stay here, Walters,’ he ordered, ‘you may be needed.’
‘I’m not liable to be violent!’ snapped Penley. ‘I’m here to make sure that this lad gets the attention he needs—that’s all. Besides which, there’s this chap the Doctor—’
‘Where is he?’ asked Jan quickly. ‘We lost contact with him over an hour ago. Have you seen him?’
Penley nodded, then threw an acid glance at Clent, who glowered back at him fiercely. ‘He’s up to something inside the alien spaceship. Trying to save your skin, I suppose!’
Clent stiffened, but Penley continued. ‘What are you going to do about him then?’
‘There is nothing we can do,’ announced Clent. ‘The computer has given its instructions.’
Instantly, Penley flared into anger. ‘You haven’t changed have you? Can’t you ever think for yourself? It won’t fall apart because you tell it to mark time for a couple of hours!’
Clent’s reply was cool and smug. ‘We
marking time—at the request of the computer itself. For once.’ smirked Clent, pleased to score over Penley’s incessant jibing at the computer’s authority, ‘you and the computer are in agreement!’
‘In that case, something’s badly wrong. Has it got digestion—or mumps even?’ he asked hopefully. Jan replied, trying desperately to keep the peace. If only these two would sink their petty differences and cooperate, she thought, their problems would be solved in no time!
‘The spaceship may contain a reactor system that could explode under the effect of the full Ioniser impact,’ she said simply. ‘We daren’t use it. But World Control have ordered us—’
‘I know about the spaceship’s reactor,’ Penley replied.
‘Didn’t anybody have the sense to work out the time needed for isotope degeneration? For all we know, it may be perfectly harmless...’ He turned to Clent, no longer joking. ‘Now there’s a sensible job for your computer, Clent.’
Clent almost snarled with rage. ‘I have no intention of diverting the Base computer from its official programme!’ he shouted. ‘Least of all for something so trivial and irrelevant!
The computer’s judgement is quite clear—’
Penley started shouting back. ‘Clent—you’re a fool! Not even a man—just a slave to that stupid machine!’
‘We all know your sort of freedom, Penley!’ replied Clent savagely. ‘Freedom to run away: from responsibility, from loyalty, from service to the community.’
‘At least I have a mind of my own! I dare to act—but you dare
!’ He grasped hold of Clent’s arm. The gesture wasn’t in any way violent, but Clent tore himself free and shouted at the security sergeant:
‘Walters Use your tranquilliser gun! Shoot!’
Instinctively and swiftly, Walters obeyed. The numbing drug took effect almost immediately. Penley slumped, unconscious, to the floor. As Walters holstered his gun and lifted the limp body on to a near-by bed-trolley, Clent caught Jan’s look of disgust.
‘I had no choice!’ the Leader protested, ‘You saw him grab me!’ Jan said nothing. Everyone present knew the truth—including Clent. He turned to Walters, defensively.
‘Strap him down,’ he ordered. Clent ushered Jan towards the door. ‘We have work to do...’ he declared. But Jan stood fast, her face cold and determined. She pointed towards Jamie, still unconscious and cocooned inside the diagnostic unit.
‘What about the boy?’ she demanded, her tone daring Clent to ignore his condition. Clent glanced towards Jamie’s helpless form; his face softened slightly. He stepped to the control panel of the machine, and pressed a brief sequence of coloured, illuminated tabs. The machine took on a new hum of increased activity, and a status panel now read TREATMENT IN PROGRESS,
‘The machine will do the rest,’ said Clent calmly. ‘We must go back to the Ioniser Room and wait.’ As she and the others left the laboratory, Jan threw one last glance back at Penley, drugged and pinioned. She couldn’t help feeling that with he and the Doctor out of action, all hope had faded...
Varga’s voice rasped harshly from the spaceship’s loudspeaker system, bringing Zondal and his prisoners sharply alert.
‘I am at the perimeter of the Earthling Base! Prepare the sonic cannon for firing!’
Zondal’s mighty fist touched the response switch.
‘Pulse amplifier in operation now,’ he replied to his unseen master.
Unseen by Zondal, the Doctor mimed a tearful face to Victoria. She responded by bursting into tears. As the Doctor drew the sobbing girl to his shoulder in gentle sympathy, Zondal turned briefly to them, and sneered.
‘It’s all right, Victoria,’ murmured the Doctor comfortingly, ‘you mustn’t be afraid...’
‘When Varga, our warlord, returns in victory,’ declared the Ice Warrior proudly, ‘then you will have cause for weeping!’ He turned back to the complex process under his control, having no inkling of the furtive conversation which was being carried on behind his back. The Doctor handed a large handkerchief to Victoria. In its folds nestled one of the phials he had dialled from the Base dispenser. She looked surprised, but continued to sob aloud.
‘Come along, my dear, have a good blow,’ said the Doctor, then continued in a whisper, ‘When I give the word, throw this stuff into Zondal’s face!’
‘What is it?’ Victoria asked between sobs.
‘Ammonium sulphide?’ Victoria blinked. ‘But that’s what they use for making stinkbombs, isn’t it?’
‘I can see you’ve had a sound English education,’ the Doctor commented. ‘You’re quite right in fact, it’s a minor poisonous gas. Unpleasant, but harmless to humans.’ He threw a quick glance at the hulking Martian. ‘But to aliens—
quite possibly deadly.’
The shrill whine of power had reached such a pitch that it was now virtually inaudible to human ears. Zondal activated his radio-link, and reported. ‘Pulse amplified and held,’ he hissed. ‘Ready to fire.’
‘Good, Zondal,’ replied Varga. ‘I will now contact the scientists. On my command, you will fire—once. Do you understand?’