By Terrance d.i.c.ks.
1. A Candidate for Death
In the gloomy, cavernous underground Hall of Learning, the a.s.sembled Gonds were waiting. They stood in ranks before the huge, outward-curving silver wall that formed the far end of the Hall. In the centre of the wall, a ramp led up to a closed sliding door.There was a hush of expectation in the shadowed Hall. When the ceremony was concluded, one or two privileged students, the brightest and best, would pa.s.s through that door, achieving the greatest honour known to the People of the Gonds.They would become Companions of the Krotons - and they would never be seen again.Selris, Leader of the Council of the Gonds stood waiting impa.s.sively by the message-place in the silver wall, the gleaming breastplate of his office making him stand out from his fellow Gonds in their drab one-piece coveralls. His craggy, weathered face and steel-grey hair showed him to be somewhere in his mid-fifties. Yet for all his years, Selris stood as hard and ma.s.sive as one of the rock pillars that supported the roof of the Hall. A mild man until roused to anger, he was still perfectly prepared to defend his authority with the stone fighting-axe that every adult male Gond wore at his belt.The little round door of the message-place opened silently and mysteriously like a metal eye. Selris reached inside and removed the message-sheet and the round door closed.Selris opened the scroll and studied it for a moment Then his deep voice boomed out into the tense silence. 'Cla.s.s three one nine six of the First Grade. The names of the two selected candidates are... Male: Abugond.'A murmur arose from the crowd. Abu, a slender, serious faced young man looked down, modestly accepting the congratulations of his friends.The low murmurings died away, as Selris spoke again. 'The second name is... Female: Vanagond.'All eyes turned to Vana, a slender fair-haired young girl. Somehow, her outstanding beauty made it hard to believe that she was among the most gifted of her generation of students.Vana looked delighted, astonished, and a little apprehensive all at the same time. But Thara, the tall, handsome young man standing beside her looked both horrified and afraid. 'No!' he murmured. 'No!'Selris spoke again. 'Abugond and Vanagond, alone of your fellows you have been chosen to receive the highest honour that can befall a Gond. Soon, you will be Companions of the Krotons. If you will now step omard, you will be invested in your robes of honour.' Selris turned to a dark, smooth-featured man at his side. 'Eelek...'Eelek stepped forward, a silver cloak over his arm. He nodded towards Abu, who came out of the ranks of the Gonds and stood before him. With ceremonious care Eelek draped the silver cloak about Abu's shoulders. He took a cresent-shaped silver pendant and hung it about Abu's neck...While this was going on, Thara and Vana were arguing in low voices. It would be Vana's turn next for the invest.i.ture. She attempted to move away, but Thara was gripping her wrist.She struggled to free herself. 'Please, Thara!''You can't go!' whispered Thara fiercely. 'I won't let you.''I must.''Look, Vana - we can run away. There's still time... ''You know that's not possible. We must obey the Krotons.''Why?' demanded Thara fiercely. 'Why must we obey?'A big hand clamped down on Thara's shoulder and his father's voice said, 'Because that is the Law of the Krotons.'They turned. Selris was looming over them. Thara was about to speak, but Selris shook his head sternly, indicating the silver wall. There by the ramp Abu stood waiting, draped in the silver robe with the pendant about his neck.The door slid silently upwards. Slowly Abu climbed the ramp, and went through the door into the darkness beyond. The door came down behind him.Behind the City of the Gonds there stretched an area known as the Wasteland, a dead poisoned landscape of rocks and gravel, its monotony broken by the occasional withered plant or petrified tree. Evil-smelling vapours drifted across the bleak terrain.Since nothing lived there, the area was usually silent, except for the melancholy sighing of the chill wind that haunted the Wastelands.Suddenly that silence was broken by a strange, wheezing, groaning sound. The square blue shape of a London Police Box materialised at the foot of a steep, rocky cliff.The door opened and a man emerged. He was on the small side, with a thatch of untidy black hair and a gentle, rather humorous face. He wore baggy checked trousers, a vaguely disreputable-looking frock coat, a wide collared shirt and a scruffy bow tie. All in all, he was an odd, rather clownish figure. But the little man, like the Police Box behind him, was considerably more impressive than he seemed to be. He was, in fact that wandering Time Lord known only as the Doctor, now in his second incarnation. The Police Box was the TARDIS, an extremely sophisticated s.p.a.ce/time craft. Unfortunately, the behaviour of the TARDIS, like that of the Doctor himself, was often erratic in the extreme. Consequently, the Doctor frequently had very little idea as to where, or indeed when he was.It was this matter that was preoccupying the Doctor's two companions as they followed him from the TARDIS. The first was a brawny youth in Highland dress, complete with kilt, who stood staring around him with his usual air of truculent disapproval.James Robert McCrimmon, Jamie for short, was a young Scottish piper who had joined the Doctor during the Time Lord's visit to Earth at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1746.Jamie had been the Doctor's companion through many adventures, and could never make up his mind whether the Doctor was a magician, a madman, or something between the two One thing Jamie was quite sure of was that the Doctor wasn't safe on his own and needed someone sensible, such as Jamie himself, to keep him out of trouble.'The Doctor's second companion was Earth, though from a time many hundred years after the eighteenth century. A very small, very neat, vcryj precise girl with short dark hair, Zoe Herriot had been a computer operator on a s.p.a.ce station before stowing away on board the TARDIS. She wore the simple, functional clothes of her time, a short skirt, blouse,! waistcoat and high boots, all in gleaming plasti-cloth.Like Jamie, she was never quite sure what to make of the Doctor. Zoe was so intelligent and so highly trained that she was a sort of human computer in herself, and she consequently found the Doctor's erratic scatter-brained approach to life and its problems disconcerting in the extreme.When the companions emerged from the TARDIS all three reacted in their own different ways. Gazing interestedly around him, the Doctor stretched and said happily, 'Lovely, lovely, lovely!', bestowing upon the bleak and hostile landscape the benign approval he accorded to almost everything in the cosmos.Jamie glared about suspiciously, alert for enemies, and sniffed the drifting vapours. 'Bad eggs! Let's try somewhere else.'Zoe looked thoughtfully about her, trying to gather evidence for some kind of rational decision. 'Just a minute, Jamie. Where are are we, Doctor?' we, Doctor?''Och, you don't expect him him to know, do you? to know, do you?'Let's explore, shall we?' said the Doctor happily, ignoring, as usual, the doubts of his companions. 'Just a moment.' He popped back inside the TARDIS and emerged carrying a rolled black object.Jamie looked at it incredulously. 'Your umbrella?'The Doctor closed the TARDIS door, opened the umbrella - and pointed skywards. 'Twin suns. Bound to be hot.'Zoe looked up. Two fiery b.a.l.l.s hung in the sky, doing their best to glow through the overcast clouds. The Doctor was right, thought Zoe. The climate was both dull and oppressive at the same time. The twin suns settled one thing - they weren't on Earth. Doctor set off apparently at random across the landscape. Resignedly, Jamie and Zoe followed.'I don't think I like it here much,' said Zoe. 'It looks - dead.''Aye, and it smells dead too.''Sulphur, isn't it?' Zoe looked at the Doctor. 'Could be poisonous.''Nonsense. The TARDIS instruments would have warned us. It's just a mixture of ozone and sulphur. Very bracing.'They trudged across the featureless landscape for some time. Looking round, Zoe saw that they were in a kind of enormous crater. The ground began to slope gently upwards as they neared the low rise that formed the crater's edge. Suddenly the Doctor stopped and picked up a gleaming shard from the ground at his feet.'What's that?' asked Jamie.'A most interesting mineral formation. Magnesium silicate.''He means mica,' explained Zoe.Jamie grunted, none the wiser.Doctor scrambled to the top of the rise, and waved his umbrella triumphantly. 'Aha! All dead, is it?Zoe came to join him. Beyond the rise the ground sloped sharply downwards again into a kind of natural hollow. Inside the hollow, and filling it almost completely there was a city.Perhaps city was too grand a word, thought Zoe as she studied it. It looked more like a village, a settlement or a colony. It consisted of a cl.u.s.ter of low stone buildings on either side of a broad shallow river, the banks of which were lined with luxurious vegetation. The largest building of all seemed to be built into the ridge on which they stood.'Yes, fascinating architecture,' said the Doctor. 'It's more typical of a low-gravity planet, but as far as I can tell this is fairly close to Earth-normal.' He jumped up and down experimentally.Zoe studied the city thoughtfully. 'An Inca-type culture, perhaps. That big building below could be a temple.''Yes, very possibly...They were interrupted by a shout from behind them. 'Hey, Doctor, down here. Come and see!'The Doctor turned. 'Let's see what Jamie's found. Careful, Zoe.' Taking Zoe's arm, he helped her to scramble back down the slope.They found Jamie a little below them and some way to their right, standing in front of a huge dully gleaming section that seemed to bulge out of the side of the ridge.'What is it, Jamie?' asked Zoe.Jamie shrugged. 'I dunno. Look, there's a kind of ramp.'And indeed, before the gleaming section, the ground sloped upwards with unnatural smoothness.'There's a door too,' said Zoe.Set into the centre of the area was an oddly shaped door, a kind of diamond shape with the upper and lower points cut off by horizontal lines.Studying its position, Zoe realised that it could well be some kind of back door to the temple-like building on the other side of the ridge. Though if that was the case and the building stretched clear through through the ridge it must be enormous... the ridge it must be enormous...'Do you think it's some kind of wall, Doctor? Because if it is -'I 'No, I hardly think so, Zoe. Not a wall, exactly.'The Doctor walked up the ramp and peered at the dully gleaming surface.Jamie sniffed, 'That bad egg smell's a lot stronger here.'The Doctor was busily scratching at the surface with the ferrule of his umbrella and muttering to himself. 'Hmm, how very fascinating.'Zoe followed him up the ramp and Jamie came to join them. This bit here - it's metal, isn't it?' Zoe nodded. 'Covered in moss and lichen, though.' Which meant, thought Zoe, that it had been here for a very long time.The Doctor was holding the flat of his palm against the dully, gleaming surface. 'Metal? Would you say so?' All at once he leaped back. 'I think we'd better go.By now Zoe's scientific curiousity was aroused. 'But why, Doctor?' 'Because this isn't a wall or a building. It's a machine!'The door began gliding smoothly upwards. The Doctor grabbed his two companions and almost dragged them behind the shelter of a nearby boulder. They watched fascinated from their hiding place as the door slid fully open.After a moment a young man emerged. He wore a silver cloak and a pendant, and his face was utterly, terrifyingly blank. He stood there for a moment staring vacantly, as the door came down behind him.Jamie stared hard at the young man, puzzled by his odd manner. 'What's the matter with him?'The Doctor too, was watching intently. 'Sssh!'Circular hatches slid open in the wall on either side of the door and twin nozzles appeared. The Doctor was about to shout a warning, but already it was too late.Vapour hissed fiercely from the nozzles, forming a thick cloud engulfing the young man completely. There came one terrible scream - then silence.The cloud dispersed, drifting away.The silver-cloaked young man had disappeared and all that was left of him was the pendant that had hung around his neck.The Doctor and his companions emerged from their hiding place. Everything was silent.Before the Doctor could stop him, Jamie ran up the ramp and picked up the pendant. It crumbled to nothingness in his hands.'Poor man,' said Zoe softly. There was nothing left of him, she thought. Nothing at all.Jamie said wonderingly, 'What happened to him, Doctor? What is that thing?'I'm not sure,' said the Doctor grimly. 'But whatever it is, I think we'll do well to keep away from it.'He led the way back up the ridge.'Where are we going?' called Zoe.'To that temple place. We shall try approaching this problem from the other side!'In the Hall of Learning, Eelek was helping Vana into her robe. He hung the silver pendant about ner neck. She moved forward, and stood waiting before the door.
2. The Rescue
As Vana stood by the door, waiting, as Abu and so many others before, to become a Companion of the Krotons, Thara was arguing furiously with Selris.'Father, please, give the order that she doesn't have to go. You're our leader.'Selris looked not unsympathtically at his son. Tall and strong, jaw jutting determinedly, Thara was, in many ways, a younger version of himself. But Selris's duty was quite clear. 'The Krotons have chosen Vana. It is a great honour.' And that, Selris's manner implied, was that. The matter was closed.The Krotons!' snarled Thara. 'Why do we obey their orders? We don't even know if they exist!'He sprang forward, placing himself between Vana and the door.Vana was shocked by such blasphemy. Thara! You mustn't say things like that!'Eelek tried to push Thara aside. 'Get out of the way!'But Thara was taller and stronger than Eelek. He refused to budge. 'She is not going into that machine.''She has to,' said Eelek flatly. 'No-one defies the Krotons.' Once again he tried to thrust Thara aside.'All right!' said Thara grimly. Grabbing Vana's arm he swung her behind him, then drew the axe from his belt, glaring defiantly at Eelek. Come on, then!But Eelek was a politician not a fighter. 'Dont be stupid,' he said wearily, and beckoned to the Learning Hall Guards.'Stop, Thara!' shouted Selris, fearful that his would be injured, perhaps even killed.Eelek turned to the approaching guards, 'Disarm him!'Thara brandished his axe. 'Keep back!'The guards hesitated. Like his father, Thara was a skilled and powerful fighter. They would overcome him in time but some of them would die doing it.At this precise moment, the Doctor, Jamie and Joe appeared at the top of the broad stone steps lead down into the underground hall.They had found the city itself deserted, naturally enough since most of the Gonds were packed into the Hall of Learning for the ceremony. The temple too had appeared to be deserted. Attracted by the sound of voices they had made their way to the steps that led down into the Hall of Learning. Only now did they find themselves discovered and opposed, as astonished guards moved in to surround them. The guards were armed with long savage-looking pikes with gleaming diamond shaped blades at the tip.'What if they're not friendly?' asked Zoe worriedly. 'Just let me talk to them.' The Doctor stepped forward with a friendly smile. The guards raised their pikes and the Doctor stepped back hurriedly. 'We are friends!' The guards didn't seem impressed. 'Don'tbe afraid,' he said encouragingly. 'We're not going to hurt you.' Still no response.'I think we're in for trouble, Doctor,' warned Jamie cheerfully. He seemed to be looking forward to it.At last one of the guards, a brown fierce looking fellow and obviously some kind of leader, stepped forward and said, 'Who are you?''Never mind that,' said the Doctor impatiently.'Tell your men to let us pa.s.s.''Answer me. Who are you are you and where are you from?'The Doctor sighed. 'We haven't time for explanations now.''You're not Gonds,' said the guard accusingly, as if this in itself was a crime. 'Your clothes, the way you're dressed .'Look,' said the Doctor, 'I a.s.sure you that we are friendly.'Jamie squared up to the guard captain. 'Are you going to let us by or not?'Zoe meanwhile had been watching events at the far end of the crowded hall. 'Doctor, look!' she called.At the other end of the hall another group of guards was closing in on Thara, who was standing protectively in front of Vana.Thara glared at the nearest guard, his axe raised to strike. 'I'm warning you, one step nearer...'Eelek turned to Selris. 'He's your son. Do something about him.''Eelek's enjoying this,' thought Selris bitterly. He had long been a rival for the leadership. He would do anything that could bring Selris and his family into disrepute.'Thara, be reasonable,' shouted Selris. 'The Krotons have sent for Vana.''She's not going. n.o.body ever comes back from there...' Thara broke off. The slight distraction had enabled one of the guards to slide closer. Suddenly the razor-sharp edge of a pike-blade was inches from Thara's throat.He could dodge and kill this one pikeman, thought Thara but the others...He felt Vana struggling to pull free. 'Let me go, Thara. She pleaded.He felt Vana struggling to pull free. Let me go, Thara ' she pleaded. 1 don't want them to hurt you.'Realising that unless he surrendered he would be probably cut down before Vana's eyes, Thara released her and stepped back, returning the axe to his belt.The Doctor and his companions were watching all this from the steps. 'What's happening to that girl?' asked Zoe.Jamie said, 'She's wearing robes just like that man who we saw killed!'Zoe turned to the Doctor in horror. 'Is she going to be sacrificed?''Oh, I hardly think so, Zoe. These people are too civilised for that.''Whatever it is, we ought to stop it,' muttered Jamie.The Doctor raised his voice commandingly. 'Wait!' he called. 'Wait a minute.'Scandalised, the guard captain ordered, 'Do not interrupt the ceremony!' He turned to his men. 'Take them!'Jamie glared at him. 'You wouldn't talk so brave without your guards behind you. Why don't you have ago?'The guard captain held up his hand to halt his men. 'Wait - get back!' He swung round on Jamie. I am Axus! I accept your challenge!''That's just fine with me,' said Jamie happily.'Now, Jamie,' said the Doctor reprovingly, 'there's no need to be rash.''Don't worry, Doctor. I'll soon deal with this laddie.'At a sign from Axus, one of the guards offered Jamie his axe. Scornfully, Jamie waved it away. 'I'll no' be needing that'. If he couldn't have his trusty claymore he preferred to trust his bare hands rather that risk using an unfamiliar weapon.Arms outstretched like something between a boxer and a wrestler, Jamie squared up to his opponent. Axus lashed out with his axe. Quickly, Jamie ducked and stepped back.'Look out Jamie!' called Zoe.Axus sprang forward, his arm raised to strike, and Jamie stepped inside the upraised arm and grabbed Axus's wrist, holding the axe-arm high.The two fighters were locked motionless for a moment, their strength almost perfectly matched. I Then, slowly, very slowly, Jamie began forcing the captain's axe-arm downwards. With a final heave and thrust, Jamie wrenched the axe from Axus's hand and gave him a shove that sent him flying to the ground. Seeing that the fight was over, and Jamie unhurt, Zoe looked back across the hall. 'Doctor, look'.' she called. 'The girl... 'The door in the silver wall was sliding upwards. Vana gave Thara one last agonised look and then walked slowly up the ramp and disappeared into darkness. The door slid down behind her.Pushing past the confused and distracted guards, the Doctor and his friends made their way to the other side of the Hall.Eelek stared haughtily at them. 'Who are these people? What is going on?''The very question I was going to ask,' said the Doctor indignantly. 'What is happening here?*The guard captain picked himself up, recovered his axe and came hurrying across the hall.'They forced their way in here, Eelek.'Selris was looking at the strangers in amazement'Who are you? Where do you come from?''Oh, I'll explain that later, said the Doctor hurriedly.Jamie said, 'Believe me, you wouldn't understand if we told you.''We come from another planet, another world,' Said Zoe - and realised immediately from her listeners' reaction that Jamie had been right. ^'That girl,' said the Doctor, 'Would you mind telling us where she's gone?''How can you be from another planet?' growled Selris.Jamie said truculently, 'Look, we're wasting time! Where's that girl gone, that's what we want to know.'>'And what's behind that wall?' asked Zoe. 'They've sent her to join the Krotons,' said Thara despairingly.Zoe stared at him. 'What are the Krotons?''You really don't know?' asked Selris. Thara said impatiently, 'How could they - if they really are from another planet.' He turned to Zoe 'The Krotons live in that machine - so we are told.' Selris said patiently. 'Vana is joining the Krotons. It's a great honour for a Gond to become a Companion of the Krotons.''Honour!' said Thara scornfully. 'She didn't really want to go. No one ever wants to disappear into that thing.'Eelek looked disparagingly at these oddly dressed newcomers. 'Who are you? Why are you asking all these questions?''Because,' said the Doctor, 'just a few minutes ago we saw a young man wearing a silver cloak like that girl - Vana, is it? Anyway, we saw him killed.''Abugond,' whispered Thara. 'It must have been Abugond.''Ridiculous,' sneered Eelek. 'How can these strangers have seen Abugond?'Abugond is with the Krotons,' said Selris solemnly.'Well, we saw somebody somebody killed,' said Jaime bluntly. 'He left the machine and he was -' Jamie hesitated, at a loss to find words to describe what had happened. killed,' said Jaime bluntly. 'He left the machine and he was -' Jamie hesitated, at a loss to find words to describe what had happened.'He was vaporised,' said Zoe.Jamie nodded. 'Aye, that's right. Outside just like this one, only round at the side of this thing.' He pointed, 'Out there!''You have been in the Wasteland?' wispered Selris.'You are contaminated,' said Eelek. 'n.o.body goes in the Wasteland.' He raised his voice. 'Stand back. They are contaminated.'The effect was sudden and dramatic. The encircling Gonds stepped hurriedly back, and the Doctor, and his friends found themselves isolated.'Why does no-one go into the Wasteland?' asked Zoe. ^'It is poisoned. Soon you will die.''Nonsense!' said the Doctor. 'It may have been poisoned at one time, but I a.s.sure you it's quite safe now.'Jamie tugged at his sleeve. 'Doctor, that girl. If she comes out the other side in the same way...' >The Doctor nodded vigorously. 'Quite right, Jamie. We must try to save her. Come on.'He hurried towards the steps and the others followed. No-one made any attempts to stop them presumably through the fear of contamination.Selris called after them, 'Where are you going?'Zoe's voice came back. 'To the Wasteland.''But you can't. It is against the law of the Krotons!'By now the Doctor and his friends were out of sight.'I'm going with them,' said Thara suddenly, and hurried towards the stairs.'Thara come back!' shouted Selris. 'If they can go to the Wasteland, so can I!''Come back, my son,' called Selris in anguish. 'You too will die!'The Doctor Doctor, Jamie and Zoe slithered down the rocks and came panting to a halt outside the oddly-shaped door set into the ridge in the Wasteland. 'Well, there it is,' said Jamie grimly. The Doctor nodded. 'Yes... I wonder how long we've got. I imagine there isn't much time.' He strode up the ramp.'What are you going to do, Doctor?' called Zoe 'You two stay back there, out of the way...They heard a pounding of footsteps and the youn man they'd seen protesting in the underground Hall came running to join them. 'Please, can I help you?'The Doctor said, 'Not really I'm afraid, Mr er...'I am Thara.'The Doctor was looking about him. 'Bring me a handful of loose stones, would you?'Thara gave him an astonished look. 'What? What for?''You want to help, don't you?' snapped the Doctor. 'Yes... yes, of course.' Thara hurried to a bank of loose stones and came running back with a handful of small rocks and pebbles.The Doctor selected two smallish, round ones and jammed them into the sockets from which the add vapour had emerged. 'Right! Now, get out of the way all of you. Over there somewhere, behind those boulders.''Be careful, Doctor,' said Zoe. 'I think I can hear something. A kind of humming, a vibration.''I know, Zoe, so can I. I'm nearer than you, remember!'The door slid slowly open and Vana stumbled out onto the ramp.There was little resemblance to the attractive, intelligent girl they had glimpsed in the underground Hall. Her steps were shambling, her face empty and vacant. Thara stared at her in horror. 'Vana! What have they done to you?'He jumped to his feet, but Jamie grabbed him and pulled him into cover. 'Keep down!'As soon as Vana was clear of the doorway, the Doctor darted forward, grabbed her around the waist and began hustling her down the ramp. Already a m.u.f.fled, hissing was coming from the blocked jets.'Quickly, Doctor,' shouted Zoe. The hissing sound grew louder and the jamming rocks began to vibrate.'Doctor, look out!' shouted Jamie. He jumped to his feet and ran forward. The pressure build-up forced the looser of the two rocks from its place. Corrosive vapour poured from the unblocked jet.The Doctor moved with astonishing speed. With one hand he thrust Vana forward off the ramp and in the same moment, touched the spring that opened his umbrella, swinging it over his shoulder so that it acted as a shield.Jamie grabbed Vana and pulled her clear. Seconds later, the Doctor too was safely out of range. The hissing of the jet stopped, as the corrosive spray died away.Jamie lowered Vana gently to the ground and Thara knelt beside her. 'Vana? Vana, what's wrong?'She opened her eyes and stared at him, with no sign of recognition.'What's happened?' whispered Thara. 'What have they done to her?'The Doctor was gazing indignantly at the tattered remains of his umbrella. The corrosive vapour had reduced it to a skeleton of warped metal struts and tattered silk. 'Vandals! Just look at that!''That could have been you,' pointed out Zoe.The Doctor sadly tossed the twisted remains away.Thara was almost frantic with worry. 'She doesn't know me, Doctor. She doesn't speak or anything.Jamie glared at the door, your Krotons have done something to her.'The Doctor was still testing Vana's reflexes. 'Hmm... almost catatonic! Dear me...''Isn't there anything you can do?' asked Zoe worriedly.'I am not a doctor of medicine,' snapped the Doctor - A little unfairly, since he was in fact a doctor of almost everything. 'However, as long as there's no tissue damage... She needs rest and quiet. Is there somewhere we can take her, Thara.'My father Selris's house is quite near - on the edge of the community.''Good. We'll take her there, then. Give her a hand, will you?'Thara helped Vana to her feet. Half-supporting, half-carrying her, he led her away.Slowly the little party made its way across the Wasteland. As they moved Zoe gave one last glance over her shoulder at the mysterious door.What happened inside there? What evil force turned bright, intelligent young people into stumbling mindless idiots, and then did its best to destroy them utterly?What kind of monsters were hiding behind that door?
3. The Rebels
Zoe swigged gratefully at the liquid in the earthenware mug. She wasn't quite sure what she was drinking - it was fiery and fruity at the same time. But together with the simple meal of cheese and fruit provided by Selris, it had refreshed and revived her after their ordeal in the Wastelands and the journey back. Even Jamie had admitted that whatever the drink was, it was, 'No' bad at all!'Selris, newly returned from the Hall of Learning, had been shocked by their story, and horrified by Vana's condition. Even now he could scarcely take it in. 'It's almost impossible to believe. The Krotons have always been our friends - our benefactors.'Zoe said, 'Well, you've only got to look at what they've done to Vana.'Selris nodded, looking across to the curtained alcove on the far side of the simply furnished room, where the Doctor was attending to Vana.At that moment the curtain was drawn back and Thara emerged. Jamie looked up, 'How is she?'Just the same.' Grim faced, Thara strode out of the room without another word. Zoe looked worriedly after him, wondering where he was going and what he planned to do.Jamie rose and looked inside the alcove where Vana lay streched out on the bed, her eyes open and staring blankly at the ceiling.The Doctor was leaning over her, in his shirt-sleeves, dangling his old-fashioned pocket watch on its gold chain in front of her eyes. The watch swung to and fro and Vana was following it with her eyes.The Doctor was speaking in a low, soothing voice. 'Now you are resting . . softly resting... your mind is empty... You are resting. You feel sleepy... soo sleepy, Vana... very sleepy... 'Jamie looked on in astonishment. Suddenly he found his own eyelids heavy and his head beginning to nod. Hurriedly he turned away. Some more of the Doctor's magic, he thought. Perhaps he was saying a spell. He went back to join Zoe and Selris on the other side of the big room.Selris was explaining things to Zoe. '...and so, at the appointed times our best students enter the machine to join the Krotons. They can't all have been murdered, surely?''It's just possible, you know. It they had, you wouldn't know because that poison spray just...She shuddered at the memory.'It dissolves everything,' said Jamie bluntly. 'And any case, you people never go into the Wasteland'But why have they done it? Why kill our best students?' asked Selris helplessly.Zoe looked round the room. It was painly and simply furnished with the basics of civilised living. There were chairs, tables, a bed, couches to sit on, scattered rugs on the floor. Basic comforts, but no really advanced technology. Perhaps the Krotons planned to limit the development of Gond civilization by creaming off the best brains...What are they like, these Krotons?''No living person has ever seen them. They never come out of the machine.''Never?''Not for thousands of years. Not since the beginning'Before Zoe could ask any more questions the Doctor came out of the alcove, shrugging into his coat.Zoe looked up. 'How is she?''Asleep at last.''Will she be all right?''I hope so. It's difficult to say.''She was one of our most brilliant students,' said Selris sadly.'The Doctor raised his eyebrows. 'Really? Compet.i.ton for you, Zoe!'Zoe gave him a quelling look. 'Apparently no-one's ever seen these Krotons, Doctor.'Jamie said, 'Aye, that's right. They never come out of that machine.'They both looked expectantly at the Doctor as if expecting him to come up with a solution to the mystery on the spot. The Doctor however decided he needed more information. 'How did all this begin, Selris?''According to our legends, great silver men came out of the sky and built a house among us. The Gonds attacked them and the silver men caused a poisonous rain to fall, killing hundreds of our people and turning the ground black.'Jamie grunted. 'That accounts for yon Wasteland.'Selris nodded. 'Yes, that is so. It was afterwards said that anyone who set foot there died in terrible pain... 'In the Hall of Learning, the Custodian moved reverently amongst the dark shapes of the Teaching Machines.The Machines stood in long rows, half concealed behind the pillars to one side of the stairs. The area was gloomy and shadowed, and the Custodian lit his way with a magic staff that was a gift of the Krotons. You touched a stud at one end and light appeared at the other. It was the badge of the Custodian's office and he carried it with immense pride.He was a slight, balding man with a beaky nose a bushy moustache. Not in fact a very imposing guardian, though this mattered little since his duties were purely nominal.The Teaching Machines maintained themselves and as for guarding them - well, who would dare to attack the Hall of Learning, the very centre of Kroton authority?Absorbed in the routine of his task, the Custodian failed to notice shadowy figures flitting between the pillars in the darkened hall.He checked the last teaching Machine, turned away - and suddenly strong hands caught him and threw him to the ground. Someone s.n.a.t.c.hed the torch from his hands and shone it on his face.The custodian struggled feebly, but he was held too strongly to move. He became aware of a handful of shapes looming over him.Who are you? he quavered. 'What are you doing here?' 'It is forbidden to enter the Learning Hall at this time. The Law of the Krotons clearly states...One of the shapes leaned forward menacingly.'Ah, yes! The Kroton's. You must know a lot about them?''What do you mean?''You're their servant aren't you?' accused another voice. 'You work for them'.I am only the Custodian of the Hall of Learning.'The first voice said mockingly- 'Yes, of course. Then you can tell us all we want to know.'I am forbidden to discuss the secrets of the Krotons.''We just want to know how to get at them. We want to see these Krotons for ourselves.'The Custodian was horrified. 'But no-one has ever seen the Krotons. Not for thousands of years.''You're sure they don't come out of that machine in the darkness when there's no-one here?''Come out? The Krotons? Never!''Then how do they give their commands? Answer me!''There are Messages, left in the appointed place. You must know that.''What else?''Sometimes there is a voice,' admitted the Custodian reluctantly.'But you've never seen them? There's no way inside the Machine?''Only the Companions of the Krotons may enter.''Yes,' said the voice bitterly. 'And now we know what happens to them. But you can summon the Krotons - can't you can't you? Answer!''It is not for me to summon the Krotons. I obey their commands.'There was a moment of silence, then the Custodian heard his captors muttering amongst themselves.The first voice said angrily. 'If we can't get inside the Machine, then we must fetch the Krotons out!''How can we do that?''By smashing their precious Teaching Machines.''Smash the Machines?' gasped the Custodian. 'You can't! The Krotons will destroy us all!'He made a desperate attempt to escape, and actually succeeded in breaking free for a moment before the many hands of his attackers pulled him down again. I 'Here, tie his hands,' ordered the leader. 'Careful I don't want him hurt. You'd better gag him as well.'As his arm and legs were bound with lengths of cord, and a piece of rag bound across his mouth, the Custodian realised with horror that the chief of his attackers was Thara, son of Selris, leader of the Council of the Gonds.'Go on, Selris. What happened after this war with the Krotons?' asked Jamie.'It was all so long ago. According to our legends, since then we have lived in peace. The Krotons never show themselves, but we learn from them, through the Teaching Machines.'Zoe's interest was aroused. 'Teaching Machines?''They are in the Learning Hall, where you were today. They fill the mind with knowledge.'The Doctor frowned. 'And does everyone use these Machines?''When they are young, yes. That is the Law.''Whose law, Selris?' demanded the Doctor.'Ours. The Council of the Gonds.''But weren't your laws also given you by the Teaching Machines - by the Krotons, hmm?''Yes, that is true,' said Selris, almost as if realising the fact for the first time. 'Our laws, our science, our culture, everything we have has come from the Teaching Machines.'Yes ... self Perpetuating slavery,' muttered the Doctor. 'And at regular intervals, the Kortons choose your most promising students to be their Companions?'Selris nodded, a look of dawning horror on his face.'Doctor, do you... do you think they all have been killed?'Well, we saw saw one killed,' said Jamie bluntly. one killed,' said Jamie bluntly.Zoe turned to the Doctor. 'Why are the Krotons doing it, Doctor? What's their reason?'I don't know - yet. But it's time it was stopped. High time!''How shall I tell the people?' asked Selris helplessly. 'How can I explain?''Explain what?' exploded Jamie. 'Just tell them the truth.''That they've been tricked? That for thousands of years our best students have been murdered by the Krotons.''Why?' asked Zoe. 'What are you afraid of?''Another war between your people and the Krotons, I should imagine,' said the Doctor.Selris nodded, the responsibilities of his leadership weighing heavily upon him. 'If I tell them, and if they attack the Krotons, there could be terrible bloodshed, as there, was before. Another ma.s.sacre. Another Wasteland here, instead of our community.''Selris!' A young Gond rushed into the room, taller and more slightly built than the rest they'd seen, with a thin, intellectual face.Selris smiled. 'Ah, Beta, I thought you'd be along to meet our guests.' He turned to the others. 'Beta here is our Controller of Science, and also my son's good friend.''That's why I'm here,' gasped Beta. 'Because of Thara. He was at the Hall of Students, talking to the others. He and some of his friends, all the hot-headed ones, have gone out to the Hall of Learning. They're going to attack the Krotons - wreck the Teaching Machines if they have to, to fetch them out of hiding. You've got to stop them, Selris. I came as quickly as I could, but they'll be there by now.''Then it's too late.'The Doctor jumped Doctor jumped to his feet. 'Not if we cut across the to his feet. 'Not if we cut across the Wasteland Wasteland.'Beta gave him a look of astonished horror. 'The Wasteland? But it's poisonous... ''Nonsense. It may have been once, but any poison wore off long ago.''That's right,' said Jamie, pleased at the prospect of a little action. 'We've been through your Wasteland twice today and we're just fine. Come on!'
Talking about attacking the Teaching Machines was easy enough, but actually doing it was quite another. Thara's fellow students had a lifetime of conditioning to overcome and he had to whip up their courage all over again before they were ready to take action.Axes in their hands, they stood around the bulky shape of the nearest Teaching Machine. All the Machines were exactly the same design - a console, a vision screen, a chair for the student, and a metal helmet suspended over the chair by a flexible arm.'Well, come on!' shouted Thara at last. Raising his axe high, he brought it smashing down on the console. A crack appeared in the smooth gleaming surface. The others waited aghast, expecting some unimaginable terror - a bolt of lighting, perhaps even an angry Kroton. Nothing happened.Emboldened, Thara raised his axe and struck again and again. The console began to splinter. With yells of triumph, the others ran to join him. Soon the console was shuddering under a rain of axe-blows.'Bound and gagged at the base of a pillar, the Custodian looked on in unbelief horror.'The great Kroton Machine, the one built into the Learning Hall, was alive.Not perhaps in the way that a living, thinking being is alive. But it was so elaborately programmed to serve the interests of its unseen masters, so well-equipped with various means of information-gathering evaluating, methods of attack and defence, that at times it could react with something very like intelligence.It was doing so now.In the control room at the heart of the Machine, instruments clicked and whirred, and spools revolved into life. A monitor screen lit up.An observation servo-mechanism, in essence no more than a black box with a lens, slid forward on a long extensible rod and peered curiously into the monitor.The Teaching Machine was a twisted pile of plastic and shattered circuitry. 'That should fetch them out!' yelled Thara.By now the blood of the little band of rebellious students was up. 'Come on!' screamed one of them, hitherto the most timid. 'Let's wreck another!'A voice boomed from out of the air. 'STOP!'It was a loud, booming voice, with a harsh, throaty grating to it. Thara and his little band of rebels froze instantly.THIS IS A WARNING. LEAVE THE HALL. ALL GONDS LEAVE THE HALL NOW!''The Krotons,' muttered one of the students fearfully.'LEAVE THE HALL. ALL GONDS LEAVE THE HALL NOW.'The students began edging away, but Thara had gone too far to be frightened off now. 'That's iust a voice,' he shouted. 'Don't be afraid''THIS IS A WARNING.'It was a warning Thara chose to ignore. Come out you Krotons! Come out and fight!' He attacked the next Teaching Machine.Thara's enthusiasm gave the others new courage. 'Murderers!' shrieked the timid student, now bold again. Together with the others he joined in the attack.Thara! Stop!'Suddenly Selris was there, shoving Thara away from the Teachine Machine. At the same time the Doctor turned to the excited group of students and shooed them away like a flock of hens.'Listen to me,' he shouted. This will do no good. No good at all. These Krotons must have enormous scientific powers. You can't defeat them with axes!'He s.n.a.t.c.hed the axe from Thara's hand and brandished it reprovingly at him.The picture on the monitor showed the little group of students arguing amongst themselves. At the centre of the group stood one smaller and dressed differently from the rest. He was waving one of the primitive weapons.With impeccable machine logic the servo-mechanism decided that this primitive was obviously the leader, inciting the rest to attack. Its data bank told it that when the leader was destroyed primitive attackers would usually flee.Transferring the Doctor's image to its memory bank, the servo-mechanism moved away to take the necessary action.Outside in the Learning Hall, the Doctor handed the axe back to Thara. 'Now, if this was an atomic laser it might be more use.''Atomic laser?' said Thara doubtfully. 'Is that better than an axe?''Look at the damage you've done,' growled Selris. 'Completely senseless.'Thara was unrepentant. 'Look what they did to our friends!''Destroying the machines won't revenge Abu, or help Vana, will it?''We can't get in there,' muttered one of the students. 'If we attack their machines... ''The Krotons will come out!' finished Thara.There was a whirring sound and a round hatch beside the machine door slid open.'I think something's something's coming out, right now,' said the Doctor worriedly. coming out, right now,' said the Doctor worriedly.And so it was. The 'something' was a gleaming, articulated metal snake, its whole head composed of a single glowing lens. The snake extruded from the hatchway and hovered, swaying in the air like a cobra looking for a victim.'Doctor, what is it?' whispered Zoe fearfully.'I don't know, Zoe, but whatever it is, we'd better keep well away from it.'Suddenly the metal snake seemed to spot the little group and it streaked through the air towards them. They backed hurriedly away as it hovered in front of them, swaying to and fro hypnotically.'What's it doing?' whispered Thara.Zoe studied the strange object thoughtfully. 'Doctor, it seems to be looking looking at us.' jS at us.' jS'How can it?' asked Jamie nervously. 'It's no' alive -is it?'The lens transmitted the information back. The face of the primitive leader was the face before the lens. It had found its target. Relentlessly, the metal snake homed in on the Doctor, singling him out from the others.'Doctor, it's after you! you! gasped Zoe. gasped Zoe.The Doctor backed away still further. Tripping over chunk of the broken Teaching Machine he fell over backwards...The snake zoomed forwards aiming directly for his face. Helpless, flat on his back, the Doctor threw up his arms in a vain attempt to shield himself...
4. The Genius
All at once the metal snake started to waver, as if it had lost its sense of direction. It began weaving to and fro in the air, almost as if it had suddenly gone blind.Still keeping his face covered, and peeping through his fingers the Doctor started to get up.'Doctor, don't move,' called Zoe.The Doctor got carefully to his feet. 'It's all right, Zoe. I'm quite safe!'Jamie wasn't convinced. 'I wouldna be so sure.''Look,' said the Doctor happily.He took his hands away from his face.The metal snake, still sweeping to and fro, checked its swing and zoomed straight for the Doctor.Calmly, the Doctor covered his face with his hands. Confused once more, the metal snake swung vaguely backwards and forwards, resuming its search.Suddenly Zoe understood. 'Pattern recognition!''Exactly, Zoe,' said the Doctor from behind his hands. 'And the pattern is obviously my face!'Selris stared at him. 'Then you mean that that thing was sent out to attack you - and only you?''So it seems. Flattering, isn't it?'Zoe said slowly. 'Then the Krotons must know who you are - or know what you look like.''Yes, so they must, Zoe. Therefore they must have a scanner in the hull of the machine somewhere. If We can find it, we may be able to make contact with them and -'In his excitement, the Doctor dropped his hands from his face. The metal snake spotted him at oncej and began zipping towards him. With a yell of alarm, the Doctor threw himself to one side.The timid student suddenly saw his chance for real glory. As the snake waved about in quest of the Doctor, he leaped forward, swinging with his axe.The metal snake froze, and hung poised for a moment, staring at him with its single glowing eye. Then a jet of corrosive vapour hissed out from a nozzle set just beneath the lens. The student gave one terrible scream...When the vapour dispersed he had vanished. All that remained was the axe, flung to one side by his dying hand.'Look, Doctor, it's going back,' shouted Jamie. The metal snake was retracing, sliding back into the machine. It grew shorter and shorter until the lens went back through the circular opening, and the hatch slid closed.Once again, the Doctor climbed to his feet. 'Yes... I'm afraid that poor fellow must have confused the attack mechanism.' Jamie stared at him. 'Eh?''It was programmed to kill once. One once. One person. person. Me Me! It must think it's succeeded - stupid machine!'Thara picked up his dead friend's axe. 'There's your wonderful Krotons for you, father!' With a yell of raee he hurled the axe at the machine. 'MurderersSelris grabbed his arm. 'Thara! Don't Provoke them!'Is that all you care about --- Not provoking them?''What can we do against such weapons as theirs, my Son?'The grating metallic voice boomed once more.'THIS IS A WARNING. YOUR LEADER HAS BEEN DESTROYED. ALL GONDS LEAVE THE LEARNING HALL AT ONCE.''No!' shouted Thara. 'Stay and fight!' But the death of their fellow student had taken all the fight out of the rebels.Selris shouted, 'All of you, leave the Learning Hall. Leave now!'The Doctor too added his persuasions. 'I think we'd all better do as they say, you know!'Thankfully the Gonds hurried to obey. For the moment at least, the rebellion was over.The Doctor was sitting on the bed in the alcove examining Vana's eyes with a kind of primitive opthalmascope.Switching the instrument off, he put it to one side and began feeling the unconscious girl's skull, probing gently with sensitive fingers.Zoe picked up the instrument and studied it, switching it on and off. It was large and clumsy, but perfectly effective. 'Where did this come from, Doctor?''That? Oh, I borrowed it from their scientist chap - Beta.''I thought the Gonds didn't know about electricity?''Well, they don't really. That thing works from stored solar energy. You know, Zoe, the Gonds are quite advanced in some ways. Wish they had an ETC machine though...''There are strange gaps in their knowledge. I suppose it's because they only know what the machines teach them.'The Doctor straightened up, and stood lookid down at Vana, who seemed to be sleeping peacefully.Yes.Precisely. And the machines are programmed by the Krotons Krotons. So those gaps must be very significant.'Jamie and Selris came over to them.Selris looked down at the girl. 'How is she, Doctor?''Slightly better, I think. Its difficult to be sure. Selris - do you think it would be safe to go back to the Learning Hall?'Since the attack on the Teaching Machines, everything seemed quiet, though Selris had taken the precaution of putting the Hall under guard. "I'm not sure, Doctor? Why do you ask?''Oh, Zoe and I want to have another look round, don't we, Zoe?''Do we?''Yes, of course we do. Hold your hand out, Jamie.' Puzzled, Jamie held out his hand. The Doctor took out a little phial and shook three brownish pills into his palm.'What's all this Doctor?''Just some pills I got from Beta.''I dinna need pills. There's nothing wrong with me.''They're for Vana. I want you to stay here and look after her.'Jamie looked mutinously at him. 'Why can't I come with you?''Because I want you to see that she swallows these pills the moment she wakes up. It's very important, Jamie. I need someone I can rely on.''Och, well, all right,' said Jamie, mollified.'I shall come with you, Doctor,' announced Selris.'My dear fellow, that's quite unnecessary.''I am the leader of the Gond Council. I must know what is happening.''Oh, well come along then. Goodbye, Jamie'Inc Doctor bustled out of the room, followed by Selris.Jamie put a hand on Zoe's arm. 'Watch him, Zoe. You know what he's like!'Zoe smiled understandingly. 'Don't worry, Jamie, I won't let him do anything rash!'She hurried after the others.The Doctor hurried down the steps that led into the Learning Hail, and came to a sudden halt, staring down at his feet. 'Aha!'Selris stopped too. 'What?'The big flagstone beneath the Doctor's feet had a metal ring set into the centre. 'What's this?'It leads to the Underhall.'What's down there?Selris shrugged. 'Nothing. It's never used.'The Doctor glanced over at the machine, then back down at the flagstone. 'Hmm, I wonder how far down... ' He looked hopefully up at Selris. 'Do you think we could just take a look?'Puzzled but obliging, Selris knelt down and heaved at the heavy flagstone. Muscles bulging with the effort, he lifted it up and moved it aside, revealing an open s.p.a.ce and the top of a steep flight of steps.'You stay here, Zoe,' said the Doctor. 'We shan't be long.' He disappeared down the ladder, and Selris followed.Left on her own, Zoe wandered over to the wrecked Teaching Machine. She studied its wrecked innards for a moment, trying to reconstruct its design and purpose.She moved on to the next Machine and studied the controls. Then unable to resist, she reached out and pressed what she jugded to be the 'On' b.u.t.ton. The screen ht up invitingly.On a sudden impulse, Zoe slipped into the curved seat, reached up and pulled down the metal helmet-set fitting it over her head. Imediately a sense of pleasurable antic.i.p.ation flooded her mind. She felt keen and alert, eager to begin.A circle of complex symbols appeared on the screen revolving in a clockwise direction. Inside it was another circle, revolving counter clockwiseZoe studied the complicated display for a moment. Her fingers flickered over the Keyboard, resolving the symbols into a logical mathamatical equation. Immediately a tremendous sense of well being flooded over her. It was like being given a pat on the back from a favourite teacher.The equation vanished and an even more complicated display appeared. On the side of the machine there was a calibrated dial. Its needle began climbing...The dial was reproduced in the control room inside the Kroton Machine. The servo-mechanism glided forward, registering the score...The Doctor looked round the vast and gloomy Underhall. He saw three shining pillars, spreading out from the ceiling overhead and disappearing into the walls and floor.He stared thoughtfully at them. They reminded him of something...His face stern as he turned to Selris. All right, I've seen enough.'As he followed the Doctor up.the ladder, Selris said, 'I told you there was nothing down there, Doctor''But there was, Selris - something rather curious.'Those pillars are just the foundation of the Machine.'The Doctor wasn't listening. 'Zoe!' he called. 'What do you think you're doing?'He ran towards her, Selris close behind him.Zoe was still sitting at the console of the Teaching Machine, hands flickering over the keys. There was a blissful smile on her face.Selris pulled the cap from Zoe's head, and the Doctor heaved her bodily out of the chair. She smiled vaguely at him. 'You're soon back, Doctor. I was just trying the Teaching Machine.''You ought to know better than to do a thing like that,' scolded the Doctor.'But it was all so easy, Doctor - and so pleasant. The Krotons were very very pleased with me.' pleased with me.''Pleased with you?' with you?''Well... I felt felt they were... ' they were... 'The Doctor clapped his hands very hard in front of Zoe's face, so she blinked and jumped back.'Zoe, whatever these Krotons are, they are not benign and friendly. We know that, don't we?''Yes... yes, of course,' said Zoe, remembering.'They use these machines not only to teach but to programme - to plant impressions on the mind.' The Doctor turned to Selris. 'That's how they've enslaved your people all these years.' aSelris was staring at the console in astonishment. 'Just look at that score dial, Doctor.''What about it?''It's amazing. Even our very best students register less than half that score.''Well, Zoe is is something of a genius, of course. It can be very irritating at times!' something of a genius, of course. It can be very irritating at times!'Zoe smiled.
Jamie was almost dozing off when Vana began twisting and muttering agitatedly.She tried to sit up. Jamie forced her gently back on the pillows. 'Now then' he said gruffly- 'Dinna' worry, you're all right now Vana.'Vana's face was flushed and her eyes were wild. 'The ball,' she muttered. 'The burning ball... Its over my head swallowing me up... 'She flattened herself against the bed staring above her in terror.'No Vana, there's nothing. There's nothing here...'I saw it' She screamed. 'I saw it!'. She sat up again, writhing in terror.To Jamie's vast relief Thara came hurrying over. He cradled Vana in his arms soothing her. 'It's all right. There is nothing here Vana. You're safe.'Vana's face twisted in terror. 'It was flashing.' she babbled feverishly. 'All the lights... burning my mind... the lights!' burning my mind... the lights!' She gave one final convulsive heave and slumped back exhausted.' She gave one final convulsive heave and slumped back exhausted.'Thara stroked her hair, 'Vana you're all right now. You are home.'Her eyes,widened and she looked vaguely at him. Thara, is that you?''She recognises me,' said Thara delightedly. 'Vana, listen, nothing can hurt you now. You're going to be all right.'She clutched his hand. 'I went into the Machine, Thara... 'Jamie leaned forward. 'Did you see the Krotons?'She stared blankly at him. 'Krotons? There was just the fiery ball, flashing, coming down on me.'Her voice rose in panic, and Thara held her tight. 'It's all right, Vana. You're safe.'Belatedly Jamie recollected his duty. 'Here, you'd better take these. Come on, it's medicine, swallow them down. Get her some water, Thara.'Between them they managed to get her to take the pills and she soon sank back onto the pillow, her eyes closing in sleep.Thara looked worriedly at her. 'A flashing ball, coming down on her, burning her mind... What did she mean? Is it another of the Kroton's weapons?'Jamie shrugged, I canna' tell. You stay with her, Thara. I'm off to find the Doctor.'The Doctor was sc.r.a.ping at the shining surface of the door of of the Kroton Machine with an old Boy Scout jack-knife. A little way away, Zoe was doing the same thing with a nail-file. 'It's crystalline!' the Kroton Machine with an old Boy Scout jack-knife. A little way away, Zoe was doing the same thing with a nail-file. 'It's crystalline!'The Doctor had come to the same conclusion. 'Very hard, but not brittle, I've never seen anything like it.'Zoe nodded towards the flagstone. 'What was it like - down there?''Hmm? Ah yes, I saw what Selris calls the foundations. And do you know what, Zoe? It was like a root structure. root structure.'A root structure? But that would indicate... ''Yes... That this so-called machine is organic in structure. Quite so.'Is that possible?''Why not? Some crystals do resemble simple virus forms. I wish I could get a fragment to a.n.a.lyse.''But if you're right Doctor,' said Zoe slowly, 'then this whole machine is a sort of living thing!''All life doesn't necessarily have feeling, you know,' began the Doctor.He was interrupted by the boom of a gong. The Doctor winced. 'Great jumping gobstoppers, what's that?'Selris came hurrying forward. 'It's the Krotons' signal. It means they have a message for me.'He hurried to the circular hatch beside the door and waited. Seconds later the hatch slid open and Selris removed the inscribed plastic tablet, staring it in amazement.'Well,' said the Doctor impatiently, 'what does it say?'Slowly Selris read aloud. 'Cla.s.s three one nine seven... Selected: Female - 'Zoegond.''Zoegond?' The Doctor s.n.a.t.c.hed the tablet from Selris and studied it. He looked up appalled. 'Zoe! They mean you!'Selris looked gravely at Zoe. 'They have chosen yuo for a Companion of the Krotons.'
5. The Companions
The Doctor glared indignantly at Selris. 'A Companion of the Krotons? Yes, well, we all know what happens to them, don't we?''Oh, Doctor, what shall I do?' gasped Zoe.'Well, Selris?' demanded the Doctor. 'She doesn't have to go - does she?'Selris hesitated.'Well? Does she or doesn't she?'Reluctantly Selris said, 'I'm afraid she must, Doctor. Complete obedience is the First Law of the Krotons. If we fail to obey them, they have threatened -'To destroy you all, as they did before?'Selris bowed his head. 'If you do not obey them, we shall die.'Zoe sighed. 'Oh dear... ''See what you've done?' snapped the Doctor. 'Fooling around with that ridiculous machine!''But I'm not a Gond!''Well, that stupid machine doesn't seem to know the difference. Oh well!'The Doctor strode over to the Teaching Machine and Zoe hurried after him. 'What are you going to do?''Take the test of course. Can't let you go in alone. Now, what do I do?Zoe saw he was determined. 'First you sit down' The Doctor sat. Then you put this on.' She fitted the helmet over his untidy mop of hair. 'Now press the "on" b.u.t.ton.'The Doctor didn't move and Zoe realised that with the helmet covering his ears he couldn't hear her 'Press the b.u.t.ton!' she shouted.'All right,' said the Doctor irritably. 'No need to shout! Now go away and don't fuss me - no, come back. What's this? It's all right, I know!'Muttering crossly to himself, the Doctor settled himself before the console. 'Right, fire away. I'm ready.' Nothing happened.'The "on" b.u.t.ton!' mouthed Zoe.The Doctor glared at her and pressed the b.u.t.tonThe screen lit up. The Doctor stared indignantly at the circling symbols and began stabbing at the console. The symbols gave a final swirl, broke up and vanished.'Doctor, you got it all wrong!' said Zoe. She glanced at the score dial, which was at its lowest reading.'Oh dear, I was working in square roots,' grumbled the Doctor.He leaned forward, addressing the screen. 'Can I have that again, please?''They don't give you a second shot, said Zoe. 'Press the b.u.t.ton again!'The Doctor pressed the b.u.t.ton and another even more complex circle of symbols appeared on the screen.As the Doctor worked frenzedly at the console, Selris leaned forward and whispered, 'This is the most advanced Machine. Perhaps he can't answer the questions?''Of course he can,' said Zoe loyally. 'The Doctor's almost as clever as I am.'Selris looked doubtfully at the score dial. 'Is he?'Zoe leaned forward to watch the Doctor's progress, just as his second equation broke up and disappeared. 'Oh, Doctor,' she said reproachfully, 'You divided instead of multiplying. You must concentrate.'He gave her a distracted look. 'I am, Zoe, I am.Frowning ferociously, the Doctor stabbed at the b.u.t.ton once more. 'Ah, that's better.' He settled down to work.Inside the Machine the duplicate score dial began climbing to the highest total yet achieved.The Doctor sorted out the last and most complex equation in record time, pulled off the helmet, and sat back with a sigh of contented relief. He got out of the chair, and looked at the dial. 'I rather think I've beaten your score, Zoe.''You answered more questions. Anyway, it's not supposed to be a compet.i.tion.'The Doctor rubbed his temples. 'Very clever the way they make out you're pleasing them, isn't it?'Zoe nodded. 'Perhaps they aren't as bad as we think?'The Doctor nodded dreamily. Then he frowned. 'What?' he shouted and slapped himself hard on the head with both hands. 'Of course they are!'It was diabolically clever, thought the Doctor. Obviously the Teaching Machines stimulated the pleasure centre of the brain so that learning was not only easy but enjoyable, and the 'approval' of the Krotons a much-desired reward. 'Well, Selris, what happens now?'The Krotons will be waiting for Zoe.''Well, they can wait. We're going in there together.'Normally the names don't come through for some little time.''Mine did,' pointed out Zoe.Selris nodded. 'Perhaps your performance on the Teaching Machine impressed them.'Suddenly the gong note sounded again.'Sounds a bit like a dinner gong,' said the Doctor. Selris hurried to the message hatch and took out the plastic square. He read out the contents. 'Cla.s.s three one nine eight. Selected: Male - Doctorgond.''Doctorgond!' shouted the Doctor. 'Idiots!''It means you anyway.' said Zoe. There was a humming sound and the door slid upwards.I The Doctor drew a deep breath. 'Well, Zoe, are you ready?''I suppose we really do have to?''We started this, so we'd better go through with it. We've got to get to the bottom of this somehow, and to do that we have to get inside.'Its all my fault,' said Zoe miserably. The Doctor patted her shoulder. 'Oh, cheer up. I expect it will allbe quite interesting really.'Selris bowed his head. 'I am sorry this had to happen, Doctor. My people will always remember you.''What?' said the Doctor sharply. Then he realised. Selris was saying a final goodbye. As far as Selris was concerned they were already dead.'Well thats very nice of you,' said the Doctor ironically. 'Stay close to me, Zoe.'He took Zoe's hand and together they went into the Kroton machine. The door slid closed behind themJamie came tearing down the steps into the Learning Hall. 'Doctor! Doctor, come back!' But it was too late.He ran up to Selris. 'What's happened! ISelris raised his hand to hold Jamie back. Then he laid the hand on Jamie's shoulder, and gave a look of grave sympathy. 'Your friends are gone. They have become Companions of the Krotons.'The Doctor and Zoe moved along a darkened corridor. Every so often, a door opened before them, so that there was always only one way they could go.The last door slid upwards, and they found themselves in a huge control room. The place was in semi-darkness, with strangely designed instrument consoles lining the walls. The only sound was the faint humming and ticking of instruments.The Doctor had a sudden impression that the whole place was on standby. Waiting. But for what? For them, perhaps.Zoe looked round. 'It's a s.p.a.ce craft, isn't it, Doctor?''Yes, I think so, Zoe. But no crew apparently.' He raised his voice. 'Hullo! Anybody here?'Suddenly a spotlight shone down from somewhere on high. It made a little pool of light, in the centre oil which were two simple, functionally designed chairs.'I think we've just been asked to sit down,' said Zoe nervously. They sat.The Doctor took his watch and chain from his pocket and handed one end of the chain to Zoe. 'Hold one end of this, Zoe.''What for?'The Doctor pointed upwards. Suspended above their heads was a transparent cone, packed with electronic circuitry. 'That's a forcefield generator up there. The chain might help to equalise the power load.Zoe looked up apprehensively, 'What are they going to do?'Suddenly the cone began descending towards them. It glowed fiercely into life, bathing them in an almost intolerable glare.'Doctor, I can't move,' called Zoe. 'No,' gasped the Doctor. 'Force field. Try and... relax.'The revolving cone grew brighter and brighter until it seemed to turn into a great ball of fire suspended directly above their heads.The Doctor and Zoe writhed against the constraints of the force field, their faces twisted and distorted by the strain...'Why?' demanded Jamie. 'Why did you let them go?''The Krotons commanded.''Och, the Krotons! They just give an order and everyone jumps, don't they? Well, I'm no' just standing here! I'm going to find a way into this box of tricks.'Jamie began battering on the door.Inside the Kroton control room, the pressure on Zoe and the
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