Authors: Brian Hayles
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
‘Absolutely charming,’ he said, with a smile. ‘Shall we go in?’
Clent stood before the electronic chart that dominated the Grand Hall of the Base HQ. Beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead as he watched the line that represented the glacier flow minutely forward... With the Ioniser now operating at less than half power, the ice could barely be held in check. And if it failed completely, there would be nothing to stop the glaciers’ advance to the Channel, and beyond.
What is more, his own career would be in ruins. ‘Leader Clent!’
Miss Garrett was hurrying towards him, her face alert and, for once, pleased.
‘We’ve made contact with Scientist Arden!’ she announced.
Clent strode to the nearest video point, and Miss Garrett channelled the call through to him. In spite of interference and atmospherics, Arden’s goggled face was plainly visible.
‘Arden’—the Leader ordered firmly—‘you must return to Base immediately!’
‘Sorry, Clent,’ replied the geologist, ‘but we haven’t finished yet. Another hour, and then we’ll be back.’
‘Now!’ insisted Clent. ‘The Ioniser is close to breakdown—you know what that means!’
‘Chilly weather ahead,’ joked the grinning face on the interference-flecked videoscreen. ‘I wonder if Penley’s ears are burning?’
Stung into anger, Clent barked out his reply. ‘I’m giving you an order, Arden. You’ll return now—and no arguments!’
‘I’ve got good reason to delay,’ replied Arden without flinching. ‘A fantastic discovery in the ice—’
‘Your task was to replace a probe!’ Clent’s anger boiled over. ‘You are not there to indulge in amateur archaeology!
Do you hear?’
Arden was unimpressed. ‘Even when the discovery is a man?’
Jan, standing at Clent’s shoulder, could see he was surprised, even impressed, but his reply was typically crushing.
‘Congratulations—it makes a change from pottery fragments! Now leave it and return—as ordered!’
‘As soon as I’ve got the body loaded on to the airsled,’
commented the grinning geologist. ‘I’m bringing it back with me, Clent. These blasted glaciers owe me that much!’
Clent fumed. He was helpless—and Arden knew it.
‘There will be a full disciplinary enquiry!’ he snapped.
‘Can’t hear you, old chap... too much interference see you shortly.’
The screen went blank.
At the same moment, the computer warning system went into Phase Three—Red Alert.
The door from the stable courtyard led directly into a passageway connecting the servants’ kitchens with the main body of the house. There was no sign of life as yet—except the distant repetition of the warning relay. Leading the way, the Doctor paused at the heavy door. He placed his ear against it, and listened intently. Victoria was gazing round, wondering whether she was in a dream—the house so much resembled the Victorian mansion that had once been her home!
‘It’s a lovely old house,’ she sighed. Jamie, like the Doctor, was more concerned with the possible dangers ahead.
‘What’s that they’re saying, Doctor...?’ he queried. The Doctor could only frown and shake his head. He opened the door a fraction, so that the warning voice could be heard more clearly.
Phase Three. Red alert. Evacuate. Evacuate. Transport
section leaders report to loading bays. Phase Three. Evacuate!
‘There’s something wrong...’ the Doctor murmured.
‘It looks peaceful enough to me,’ commented Victoria.
‘Come on. Let’s see if we can find out.’ The Doctor opened the door into the broad main corridor beyond. For a brief moment, they stood alone in the deserted corridor: then, as though summoned by a bugle call, a small group of grimly determined men erupted from a corner passageway and charged straight at the Doctor and his young friends. With no possible chance to run or hide, they stood resigned to being captured—the Doctor even going so far as to raise his arms above his head in surrender.
To their astonishment, the task force ran straight past them, down the corridor, and disappeared out of sight.
Almost disappointed, the Doctor called after them half-heartedly, ‘I say, could you tell me the way to...’ His voice trailed off, and meeting the puzzled faces of his young companions, he shrugged. ‘It’s, all very strange...’
Another man ran up from the opposite direction, but, like the previous party, his face looked determined and set.
The Doctor smiled and tried to catch the runner’s eye. He stretched out his hand. ‘Excuse me, old chap—’
The only response was a shove in the chest as the runner dashed past, that sent the Doctor staggering into Jamie’s arms. Victoria could only stand and giggle as the Doctor, a look of bewilderment on his face, set his hat straight.
‘They don’t seem to think much of you, Doctor...’
‘I can’t understand it,’ muttered the Doctor. An attractive girl now walked up to them and, without uttering a word, briskly attached numbered plastic tags to their lapels.
She had finished the job and moved on before Jamie had recovered sufficiently from his surprise to call out to her—but she paid no attention.
The Doctor smiled. ‘She doesn’t want to know, Jamie...’
Victoria had twisted her tag so that she could read it.
‘It says we’re on Evacuation Flight Seven!’
‘Not very hospitable, is it,’ commented the Doctor.
‘We’ve only just arrived.’
‘Hey, and have ye seen
!’ Jamie showed them the reverse side of his tag. ‘It says we’re scavengers! I’ll not have that—I’m no beggar!’
Victoria couldn’t help laughing at the insult to his Scots dignity, but the Doctor had moved to a nearby doorway and was listening intently to a faint sound coming from within.
‘Shush a minute, Jamie lad,’ said the Doctor.
At that moment, the relayed warning call drowned the sound from beyond the door as it repeated its ominous broadcast.
Phase Three, red alert. Evacuate immediately. Flights One to
Five now on departure circuit. Flights Six and Seven, stand by. Phase
Three, red alert...
When the warning had ceased. the Doctor beckoned Jain and Victoria back to the door. They could hear vague humming—but nothing they could identify.
‘What is it, Doctor?’ asked Victoria, intrigued.
The Doctor looked thoughtful, and not a little worried.
‘I’d say its electronic machinery of some kind—perhaps a computer—but there’s something badly wrong with its pitch...’
‘It’s no ours—let’s leave it’, suggested Jamie. He knew all too well from past experience where the Doctor’s curiosity could lead them—usually into trouble. Victoria agreed.
‘It could be dangerous,’ she pointed out.
But the Doctor had already made up his mind, and quietly opened the door. ‘Stay out here if you like,’ he murmured. ‘but I’m going in.’
In the Ioniser Room, the tension was electric. Jan Garrett was standing poised over the main control deck; Clent strode nervously from monitor to monitor, noting the figures presented by each. At the door leading into the Grand Hall, stood two security guards, their backs to the library interior.
Because of this, the Doctor—followed reluctantly by Jamie and Victoria—was able to enter unnoticed. While they paused to take in the bizarre contrast of the ultra-modern electronic gadgetry and the antique library setting, the Doctor moved stealthily behind Clent, and began to jot down the monitor readings on his shirt cuff. His face grew more and more disturbed.
‘Still our of phase...’ muttered Clent, unaware of the bizarre onlooker at his shoulder. ‘Seven two point four..
‘Seven two point four?’ repeated the Doctor to himself.
‘We must balance those readings, Miss Garrett!’ declared the Leader. ‘Seventeen degrees off the norm!’
Jan heard, but could do little; her eyes remained glued to the control panel.
Clent paused anxiously before the final monitor screen; he mopped his brow with his handkerchief and whispered the desperate figures to himself.
‘One three seven nine already... If it reaches fifteen hundred...’ He took a deep breath. How long could they last?
‘One three seven nine!’ echoed the Doctor, his face expressing equal alarm. Unable to keep quiet any longer, he tapped Clent on the shoulder. Jamie and Victoria held their breath. What was he doing?
‘Excuse me,’ said the Doctor politely, ‘but I’m afraid you’re in serious trouble here, old chap...’ Clent turned on the Doctor. The sight of the oddly dressed, obviously non-scientific intruder brought a flush of justifiable anger to his face.
‘Who the blazes are you?’ he demanded. Without waiting for a reply, he shouted an order to the security guards. ‘Get these scavengers out of here—quickly!’
‘I’m trying to help!’ protested the Doctor as he and his young friends were expertly bundled towards the corridor.
‘Get them on to the next available flight out of here!’
shouted Clent. He turned back to the control panel dismissively.
‘In two minutes thirty eight seconds,’ cried the Doctor, as he was pushed out of the door, ‘that Ioniser is going to explode. The readings say so. Why don’t you do something about it?’ The effect on Garrett and the guards was startling; even Clent froze in shocked alarm.
‘You can’t possibly know that!’ he snapped. ‘I haven’t even processed the figures through the computer yet!’
‘My dear chap, I don’t need a computer!’ replied the Doctor.
For once, Clent paused, unsure of himself. Garrett flung a look of grim desperation at her leader. ‘If he’s right, it’s already too late to escape,’ she stated icily. The security men, uncertain what to do, made no attempt to check the Doctor as he slipped quickly back into the room.
to happen. If you’ll just allow me...’ he said brightly, his hands already hovering over the controls.
‘Don’t!’ shouted Clent. But his cry came too late. The Doctor had gone into immediate action—and as though mesmerised by the stranger’s personality, Miss Garrett was actually helping him!
‘Uncouple the stabilising circuits and the reactor link for a start,’ the Doctor directed, his eyes taking in the monitor readings. Jan obeyed automatically.
‘Raise the density phasing to par... quick as you can!’
Miss Garrett frowned. ‘There isn’t enough power—’
‘Then we’d better produce some, hadn’t we? A short burst from the reactor link—now!’
Without arguing, Jan switched on a heavy duty connector; there was an immediate hum of power.
‘Now off!’ commanded the Doctor. Then, without waiting for her to complete the action. he snapped home a series of switches. ‘Tie in each of the circuits to the reactor link...
bring in the computer stabiliser...’ He paused, then smiled to himself, obviously pleased. ‘That should hold it, I think...’
He turned. Clent and Miss Garrett were looking at him in sheer amazement. That a ragged clown could perform such a miracle! Remembering his earlier brusqueness, the Doctor began to apologise.
‘Not a perfect job, mind you...’ he murmured genially.
‘You ought to get an expert in really...’
Clent, remembering his position as Leader of the Base, snapped out of his reverie and tried to reassert his authority.
‘It was all bluff, wasn’t it—that business about two minutes thirty-eight seconds to destruction?’
The Doctor looked modestly pained, but spoke quietly.
‘Not in the least. It was near enough correct—give or take a second or two.’
‘Rubbish!’ snapped Clent, irritated by the thought that a human being could be the equal of his beloved computer.
The Doctor looked offended and angry.
‘Check it on your precious computer then—go on!’
Clent stared at hint, then smiled arrogantly.
‘Miss Garrett,’ he ordered, ‘process those figures, please.’
Jan activated ECCO and read out the relevant figures, while Clent hovered over her, smiling smugly.
‘Ioniser fall rate—seven two point four... Ion compensator—minus seventeen degrees... Ion flow rate—one three seven nine. Assessment, please.’
The computer’s reply was virtually immediate. As it spoke, the smirk was wiped from Clent’s face, and he stared at the Doctor with something akin to respect.
’ announced the computer. ‘
minutes thirty-seven seconds, the reactor will suffer feed-back and
explode! Action must be taken—
Miss Garrett ended its panic, and looked towards Clent.
It was a long time since she had seen him accept another scientist as his equal. Would he reject this one, as he had rejected Penley and so many others before him?
‘I apologise for the odd second,’ muttered the Doctor modestly. ‘But we can’t all be perfect, can we...’
‘Leader Clent,’ interjected Jan, barely restraining her excitement, ‘it’s steady on half power now. We can hold our own!’
Its oscillators steady, the machine’s operating purr was soft as silk—the healthiest it had been for weeks. This stranger certainly knew what he was up to... Clent frowned.
‘Even Penley couldn’t have done better,’ he admitted.
‘But where on earth have you sprung from?’
The Doctor threw a sharp look back at Jamie and Victoria, and raised his eyebrows. Then he turned bark to Clent, smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t want to have to enter into a full explanation—and fortunately Clent was in no mood for it. In spite of being desperately tired, he was elated. Perhaps they could still win! He clapped the Doctor on the shoulder, and then read the details on his plastic tag. His mind was made up.
‘Flight Seven, eh?’ he repeated. ‘There won’t be any need for that. Come with me to the laboratory—I think there’s something we need to discuss...’
At last the great block of ice stood free from the glacier face! Arden gazed in excitement; even Walters and Davis were impressed. And within it: the massive figure of an armoured man, which looked like a monument to some ancient king...