AND THE MUTANTS.
By TERRANCE d.i.c.kS.
It was a planet of jungles. Hot, dense, steamy tropical jungles, filled with a thin, choking mist that drifted eerily between knotted tree-trunks, festooned with dangling vines.An old man came bursting through the undergrowth.' He was thin and wiry, dressed in ragged white robes. His chest was heaving as he sobbed for breath, his staring eyes full of panic as he looked back over his shoulder. From behind him came the crashing of booted feet. He was being hunted.He could hear voices now as his pursuers came closer. Savage, exultant voices, like the baying of hounds on a scent.'Over here! Move in this way!''The river... he's heading for the river.''After him! Cut him off! Mutt! Mutt! Mutt!' The voices seemed to come from all around. The old man paused, confused, unsure which way to flee. Then, panicked by the ever-nearing voices, he dashed blindly on. As he ran, his thin sweat-soaked robe clung wetly to his back. His spinal vertebrae were distorted, almost reptilian, running in a row of enormous k.n.o.bs down his back. Crouching insect-like, the old man staggered on.He broke through into a clearing, then stumbled to a halt. Someone was standing there, motionless, as if waiting for him. The old man's dazed eyes took in the bulky black-uniformed figure, the cruel, heavy-jowled face with its tiny eyes, and his head bowed in hopeless resignation.With a smile of savage antic.i.p.ation, the Marshal of Solos raised his blaster.Nearby in the jungle, Stubbs and Cotton, the Marshal's aides, bodyguards and general henchmen, heard the shot and exchanged looks of weary disgust. They had served with the Marshal for many years and were used to his brutal ways. But this new pa.s.sion for hunting down and exterminating the Mutant natives, 'Mutts', as they were called, was getting out of control.Cotton adjusted the oxy-mask beneath his helmet. 'Mutt mad, he is,' he muttered. 'It's like sport to him.' Cotton was a tall lean man whose ebony features indicated African ancestors back on faraway Earth.Stubbs, shorter and more thick-set, had spotted something on the trail ahead. 'He's even dropped his mask!'They heard the Marshal's bellow. 'Stubbs! Cotton! Over here.'Stubbs picked up the mask. 'Come on-before he pa.s.ses out.'They found the Marshal standing triumphantly over the body of the old man. It looked spindly and frail beside his ma.s.sive bulk. Cotton grimaced under his mask. 'Wonder he doesn't want his picture taken- with his foot on its chest,' he thought. He decided he'd better get a grip on himself. That kind of idea had been popping up rather too much lately-and the Marshal had unpleasant ways of dealing with critics.Gauntletted hands on hips, the Marshal glared at them. He jabbed the old native's body with his boot. 'Get rid of this disgusting mess. Make out the usual report.' s.n.a.t.c.hing the face-mask from Cotton, the Marshal strode off, well pleased with his morning's work.Cotton watched him disappear into the jungle. 'Stinking rotten planet,' he grumbled. 'Can't even breathe properly. Should have given 'em independence years ago.'Stubbs clapped him on the shoulder. 'Cheer up, soldier. Not long now.' He took the communicator from his belt. 'Stubbs to Skybase. Marshal's party now returning. Have dealt with Mutant native alert, area seven. Mutant tracked and found dead. Cause of death-unknown.'The tall white-haired man in the ruffled shirt and elegant velvet smoking-jacket sat hunched over the complex piece of electronic equipment. A very small, very pretty, fair-haired girl sat perched on a lab stool next to him.The Doctor was working absorbedly, his long fingers manipulating a maze of complex circuits with delicate precision. Jo Grant, his young a.s.sistant, looked on rather forlornly. Things were quiet at the British H.Q. of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce -UNIT for short. For the time being the Earth seemed to be free of attacks from outer s.p.a.ce. This meant that the Doctor, currently serving as UNIT's Scientific Adviser, should have had very little to do. However, someone of the Doctor's many interests could always find a way to occupy himself. He'd been working for hours now, and showed no sign of wanting to stop. Jo heaved a sigh, but the Doctor didn't even notice. Reproachfully she said, 'Doctor, are you going to be much longer?''Nearly finished, Jo.''What are you doing anyway?'The Doctor looked up. 'I'm making a minimum-inertia Superdrive,' he explained-or rather failed to explain. Jo's blank face made it clear she was none the wiser. The Doctor grinned and went on with his work.Jo felt a sudden pang. 'For your information, Doctor, it happens to be long past lunch time..." She broke off. Something was appearing, materialising out of thin air, on the lab bench in front of them. It was a small black box.The Doctor heard Jo's gasp of astonishment, glanced up, and caught sight of the box. 'Oh dear,' he said. 'Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!'Jo looked at the Doctor then back at the box. 'Lunch?' she asked hopefully.'I'm afraid not, Jo.'Jo backed away. 'A bomb?''Nothing so exciting.''Then what is it?''An a.s.signment. A little job for me.''Then it is something exciting!'The Doctor looked sourly at the little box. 'This thing is a kind of despatch box-from Them.'Jo knew he was referring to the Time Lords, the mysterious, all-powerful rulers of his own race. They had exiled the Doctor to Earth for some unknown offence. The TARDIS, apparently a police box, but in reality a ship that travelled through s.p.a.ce and Time, was no longer working. But this didn't seem to stop the Time Lords using the Doctor as a kind of secret agent.Jo nodded towards the box. 'Aren't you going to open it?''I'm not supposed to open it,' said the Doctor crossly. 'Couldn't even if I wanted to. It's only meant for one person, or creature... and it will only open for one person..."'Or creature?''That's right. I'm just the messenger boy!'Jo heard the resentment in his voice. 'Why not just refuse? Don't touch the thing.''I can't, Jo. The Time Lords' code. They only use this system in a real emergency. It's like a three-line whip in your Parliament. I've got to go.''Where?'The TARDIS door swung open of its own accord and a strange wheezing, groaning sound filled the air. The Doctor's face lit up. Jo could see that even in these circ.u.mstances he was overjoyed to be on his travels again. 'I think my destination's already been decided,' he said. He grabbed his cloak from a peg and made for the TARDIS.Jo ran after him. 'I'm coming with you.''Out of the question. Bound to be difficult. Probably dangerous too.''All the more reason, Doctor. You know you need me to look after you.''Sorry, Jo. The answer's no, and that's that!'The Doctor disappeared inside the TARDIS and the door began closing behind him. Jo sprinted across the laboratory and jumped through the fast-narrowing gap just in time.Inside the huge, brightly-lit control room of the TARDIS, the Doctor was already checking over the instruments on the many-sided control console. He looked up in some astonishment. 'Jo! Get back in the laboratory at once!'Jo gave him a cheeky grin and pointed to the glowing transparent column in the centre of the console. It was rising and falling rapidly. 'Too late, Doctor. We're already on our way!'After what seemed a very long journey, the TARDIS landed. The door opened as mysteriously as before, and Jo and the Doctor stepped outside.Jo had been expecting something alien and exotic, and her first feeling was one of disappointment. They were in a small, dusty, metal-walled room. It had a round window, a closed door, and that was all. 'Well, where are we?''I'm not sure, Jo. But wherever it is, we seem to have arrived at the tradesmen's entrance. Where's the red carpet, eh? What kind of reception is this?'Jo crossed to the porthole on the other side of the room. 'Doctor, come and look. We're flying!'The Doctor looked. Far below them in s.p.a.ce hung the mist-shrouded shape of a planet. 'Not exactly flying, Jo. We're in planetary orbit. We must be on some kind of---''Skybase One. This is Skybase One,' boomed a smug-sounding metallic voice-as if finishing the Doctor's sentence for him. 'Duty personnel to reception and transfer section. Clear visiting party, escort through bacteriological decontamination.'The Doctor noticed a speaker grille set high in the wall. 'Well, well, well! Maybe we are expected after all!'Jo was still trying to make sense of the announcement. 'Escort through bacterio-what?''Put less scientifically, Jo-de-lousing.''Cheek!' said Jo indignantly.For once the Doctor was mistaken. The loudspeaker announcement had nothing to do with himself and Jo. As yet no one on Skybase One was aware of their presence. The reception committee in the arrival area was awaiting very different visitors.It was a strangely mixed party that stood by the line of materialisation cubicles. Dominating the group was Varan. War Chief of Solos, he was a tough-looking figure in his forties. His ceremonial robe left his brown chest bare, and his short, curved battle-sword was, as always, at his side. Two similarly dressed Solonians stood by him. One, a fierce-looking giant of a warrior, was Varan's bodyguard. The other was his son, a younger version of Varan himself. They made a colourful and barbaric trio against the austere metal setting of the transfer area. Standing a little behind them were two black-uniformed Skybase guards, hands close to their blasters.Varan shivered as he watched the empty cubicles before him. Despite his long familiarity with the Overlords, their magic never failed to impress him. Soon the people now standing in similar booths on the surface of Solos would shimmer and vanish, reappearing almost instantaneously, here on Skybase. Varan had used the matter-transmitting beam himself, many times, feeling the eerie tugging sensation as the molecules of his body were dispersed, transmitted and rea.s.sembled. To him it was magic, and always would be.(Absorbed in watching the cubicles, Varan failed to notice that something was wrong with his bodyguard. The giant warrior was shivering and sweating. He was making a desperate attempt to conceal his illness and he kept his left hand always hidden beneath his cloak.)There was a hum of power. More Solonians appeared in the transfer cubicles. Their leader, slim, dark and fierce, stepped from the cubicle. His name was Ky, and he too wore the colourful robes of a War Chief. Ky was much younger than Varan, still in his early twenties. He and Varan bore no love for each other. For one thing their tribes were hereditary enemies. The Solonians had a long tradition of war amongst themselves. But even more important issues were dividing them now. Varan was a supporter of the Overlords, the Earthmen who had ruled Solos for so many generations. Ky was a revolutionary, sworn to overthrow the Overlord regime.For a moment, Ky and Varan confronted each other. Then Varan said ironically, 'Greetings, Ky!'Scornfully Ky returned the salutation. 'Greetings, Varan! I knew you would be here-at the heels of your Overlord masters.'Varan restrained his anger. The Overlords would permit no brawling here on Skybase. 'And why are you here?''I was summoned-as you were.''You will attend the Conference?''Conference!' said Ky bitterly. 'More lies from the Overlords, more promises of freedom-that never comes.'Varan looked hard at him. 'Yet still you came, Ky. Why?''To demand that the Overlords cease from murdering our people!'Ky was referring to the mutations that were sweeping through the people of Solos like some strange disease. First the fever, then the terrifying bodily changes. The Overlords had p.r.o.nounced that the mutations were caused by a plague, and were ruthless in wiping out all those affected. Varan, as chief native administrator on the planet, had taken a considerable part in this grim work. Yet he was patriotic also, and took no pleasure in the destruction of his own people. His face darkened with anger. 'The Mutants are cursed. They must be rooted out. They are evil, diseased---''Who tells us they are evil?' interrupted Ky.'My eyes tell me...''No, Varan! The Overlords-tell you! They tell you to kill-and you kill!'(A shiver shook the giant figure of the bodyguard and he clamped his cloak-covered left hand closer to his side. Locked in angry confrontation, neither Ky nor Varan noticed him.)'My people are warriors,' said Varan hotly. It is honourable to fight!''Where is the honour in hunting down those who are ill and unarmed?''They are diseased. It is a duty.'Ky launched into an angry speech. 'If it is a disease, what has caused it? Once we were farmers and hunters. Then the Overlords came, poisoning our planet and calling it progress. We toiled in their mines. We became slaves-and worse than slaves! Like you, Varan!'Varan's hand went to his sword. 'Liar!' he shouted. Ky's hand was already on his own sword hilt. 'Murderer! You have nothing left to hunt, so you hunt your own kind-Overlord dog!'With terrifying speed the razor-sharp battle swords flashed from their sheaths. The Sky base guards had their blasters drawn almost as quickly. There was a moment of tense confrontation. Then Stubbs came into the area, summing up the situation at a glance. He sighed wearily. Touchy lot, these Solonians, always at each other's throats. And that young Ky was the worst of the lot. Stubbs waved to the guards to put their blasters away, and stepped casually between the drawn swords. 'Arrived at last, have you, Ky?'Ky glared at him, then gave a sudden, unexpected smile. There was something almost comic about Stubbs' matter-of-fact tone. He sheathed his sword and gave an ironic bow. 'As you see, Overlord. We come meekly when we are called.'Stubbs gave him a sceptical look. 'Well don't hang about making speeches. Get through Decontamination. Varan, the Marshal wants to see you-now!'Ky bowed again and moved through a nearby door, followed by his entourage. Varan's son followed them. Sheathing his sword, Varan moved off in the opposite direction. Automatically, the bodyguard started to follow. Varan waved him back. 'Wait here.' He strode off down the corridor.Stubbs turned to the two guards. 'You-come with me. You, stay here till you're relieved.' Followed by the chosen guard he disappeared after Varan.The remaining guard looked warily at the giant Solonian. He was newly posted to Skybase and these wild sword-waving Solonians still made him nervous. He stepped back suddenly as the bodyguard lurched menacingly towards him. But the Solonian staggered past, cannoned blindly into the wall, then slumped to the floor. The guard pulled him roughly to his feet. The bodyguard began struggling wildly, and his left hand came out from beneath his cloak. But it was no longer a hand-it was a huge, reptilian claw!Mutant on the Loose!The guard jumped back in horror. His fellows had already filled his head with horror stories about the mysterious disease that was sweeping Solos. He'd heard that sufferers sometimes went into a kind of berserk rage, killing everyone in their path. He grabbed for his blaster, but it was too late. A savage blow from the huge reptilian claw clubbed him to the ground.Tossing the crumpled body of the guard into a cubicle, the Mutant bodyguard lurched off down the corridor.The Doctor and Jo were still waiting impatiently for the arrival of their non-existent escort. 'Taking their time, aren't they?' grumbled the Doctor.'Are you sure we're in the reception area? Looks more like a broom cupboard to me. And where are we anyway-timewise ?'The Doctor shuddered. 'Please don't use those expressions. According to the TARDIS instruments, we're somewhere in the late thirtieth century Empire period,''What Empire?''Your Empire, Jo. Earth's Empire. Great colonists, the Earthmen. Once they'd sacked the solar system they moved on to pastures new. Solos is one of them. Ever read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire}'Jo grinned. 'No, but I saw the film.''Well, this is like that. Empires rise, empires fall.' Suddenly the Doctor got very cross. 'And if this is their idea of a reception, well it just isn't good enough!' He went over to the door, but it was locked. In no mood to be delayed, the Doctor promptly produced his sonic screwdriver and began dismantling the control panel. 'It's simply a matter of breaking the circuit...'There was a sudden shower of sparks and the door slid open. 'You see? Come on, Jo.' Clutching the precious Time Lord despatch box, the Doctor set off down the corridor.The metallic voice spoke again. 'Attention! Computer confirms door malfunction in Storage Area Three. Security to investigate please.'Nervously, Jo said, 'You realise that's us, Doctor.''I know. I don't think I care for being described as a malfunction. Let's try this way, shall we?'Stubbs and Cotton heard the announcement in the recreation area on the far side of the base. They were immersed in a particularly interesting game of chess. Cotton looked up. 'That's us, Stubbsy. We're on Security stand-by.''Go all the way over there for a dodgy door? Seems a bit pointless.''Ah, leave it till morning,' grunted Cotton. 'Only just got back after that Mutt-hunt, haven't we? Bet you don't find him rushing about tonight.'Stubbs studied the board. 'Who?''His Nibs. Our beloved leader. The Marshall'Huge, lavish and highly luxurious, the Marshal's office was his pride and joy. He was leaning forwards over his magnificent desk, whispering urgently to Varan. 'It must be someone we can trust absolutely. Here, he'll need this pa.s.s.' He handed Varan a strip of electronically coded plastic. 'And the Overlord weapon?'I'll give you that later-at the last possible moment.'Varan was satisfied. 'It is good.'The Marshal chuckled. 'Yes, isn't it? By the way, Varan, I shall want to see this man you've chosen- afterwards.'Varan looked puzzled, then nodded. 'You wish to reward him? I will send him to you.'Varan went silently from the office. The Marshal watched him go, still smiling. What a trusting fool the man was.The Doctor and Jo moved along the seemingly endless metal corridor that ran round the outer rim of Skybase, making no attempt to conceal their presence. On the contrary.'h.e.l.lo, h.e.l.lo!' shouted the Doctor. 'Anyone there?' His voice echoed hollowly. 'This is ridiculous. Are we going to wander round all night without anyone even noticing?'A locked door across the corridor blocked further progress and Jo looked on resignedly as the Doctor produced his sonic screwdriver yet again. She hoped their unknown hosts weren't going to be too touchy about all this damage.She heard a deep, hoa.r.s.e panting somewhere behind her and turned. A huge, fierce-looking native in a tattered robe was moving straight towards them. His right hand clutched a huge curved sword-and the left was a giant claw...Jo was so terrified by this sudden apparition that she couldn't even scream. She managed to croak, 'Doctor... look!'Still absorbed in his work, the Doctor didn't look up. 'Just a second, Jo... there!' With another shower of sparks, the door slid free. 'Now then, Jo, what...'With a terrifying scream, the giant native raised his sword and charged. 'Look out, Doctor,' yelled Jo.The Doctor saw the menace and reacted instantly. He slid the door open, shoved Jo through the gap and jumped after her. The sword clanged down against metal in a blow that would have split the Doctor in half.Once on the other side of the door, the Doctor started trying to slide it shut again. Since he'd just destroyed the locking mechanism, there was no way to keep it shut. A giant claw appeared round the edge of the door and began slowly forcing it open...'Check,' said Cotton and sat back from the board in satisfaction.Stubbs was still frowning in concentration when the loudspeaker boomed, 'Second door malfunction in Storage Area Three. Security investigation please. Computer estimates possible emergency.'Stubbs stood up. 'Come on. We should have gone the first time.'Cotton nodded. 'Two malfunctions... don't like the sound of that, Stubbsy.''Come on, then, we're in enough trouble already.'Strapping on their blasters they set off. Stubbs really wasn't too bothered by the interruption. He'd been losing the chess game anyway.Palms flat against the metal door, the Doctor heaved with all his strength. It was hard to get a grip on the smooth metal, and their clawed opponent was amazingly strong. Inch by inch the door was sliding open. Jo lent her weight to the struggle, but as her weight was nothing much to speak of, she wasn't much help. 'Get ready to run,' gasped the Doctor. 'Can't... hold it... much longer...''What is that thing, Doctor?''Don't know... but it isn't... friendly!' They heard pounding footsteps and two uniformed men appeared from behind them. Since the Doctor's body blocked the claw from view they a.s.sumed the two strangers were trying to escape. Both drew their blasters. Politely, the taller one said, 'Get away from the door, please.'The Doctor tried to warn them. 'No-we can't...''Away from that door-move!' snapped the second man.The Doctor moved, pulling Jo with him. The door clanged back and the native charged through screaming, sword raised high above his head.'Mutt!' yelled Stubbs. Both men fired by reflex, and the double impact smashed the Mutant to the ground.Stubbs pulled the communicator from his belt. 'Stubbs and Cotton reporting. Investigated malfunction Storage Area Three. Mutant native found and destroyed. Two other non-personnel detained. Message ends.' He turned to Jo and the Doctor. 'Will you accompany us to reception, please?'The Doctor couldn't help smiling at the formal tone. 'Certainly-though I don't suppose we have any choice.''This way, sir.'The Doctor paused to look at the body of the native. It lay face down and beneath the thin robe, huge reptilian vertebrae were clearly outlined. 'Mutant native, you said?''That's right, sir,' agreed Stubbs politely, and ushered them along the corridor. He spoke quietly to Cotton. 'You tuck these two away, and I'll report to the Marshal. He isn't going to like this-not one little bit!'The Marshal didn't. 'A Mutt-on my Skybase,' he screamed. 'How? Why?'Standing rigidly to attention on the other side of the enormous desk, Stubbs said, 'He came with Varan, sir-his bodyguard. What about the strangers, sir?''Oh, keep them in custody, I've no time for them now...' He broke off as a tall, grey-haired man came into the room. 'That'll do, Stubbs.' Stubbs saluted and marched thankfully away. The Marshal turned, an expansive smile on his face. 'Ah, there you are, Administrator. Just a little local difficulty, all cleared up now.' The Marshal had no intention of admitting anything was wrong, not in the presence of this distinguished visitor from Earth Council.The Administrator frowned. 'I hope you're right, Marshal. After all, on the very eve of the Independence Conference... By the way, I understand Varan arrived here some time before the other Solonian delegates. Why wasn't I informed?''I saw no reason to trouble you, sir. Varan had a confidential report to make. He's been keeping an eye on Ky's activities...''Spying for you, you mean?'The Marshal made a mighty effort to keep his smile in place. 'All a part of security, sir.''Good heavens, man, we're not at war with the Solonians. We're giving them independence.''Yes, of course, sir. Eventually, eh? Eventually!'The Administrator had been putting off this moment for some time. But now the Marshal had to be told. 'No, not eventually, Marshal. Now. Total and absolute independence. We're pulling out.''You can't be serious, Administrator.''Earth is exhausted, Marshal. Politically, economically, biologically. We cannot afford an Empire any longer.'The Marshal's mind was racing as he tried to absorb this staggering news. 'We can keep Skybase here,' he suggested. 'Take over the planet completely.''Impossible. What about the atmosphere-and the Mutant Solonians?'The Marshal said eagerly. 'Both are problems that can be solved. I've been working on atmospheric modulations. We've fired several ionisation rockets already, and the atmosphere is definitely changing...''So I hear. Ky has been making constant protests to Earth Council about your efforts-and their results. He says that you caused the Mutations.'Angrily, the Marshal stood up. 'There is no proof that my atmospheric experiments are in any way connected with these outbreaks.''Perhaps not. But the Mutations did begin soon after the start of your experiments. Ky's been making political capital out of that fact ever since.''Ky's nothing more than a troublemaker. As for the Mutants, they're a menace. They must be wiped out! Exterminated!''And that's your alternative to independence- ma.s.s murder?'The Marshal returned to the central issue. Ky, the Mutants, the atmosphere experiments, these were all minor problems. What really mattered was this lunatic decision by Earth Council. 'I tell you, Administrator, we can't give these people independence. They'll starve to death without Earthmen to look after them.''Indeed? They managed before we came.' The Administrator's voice hardened. "In any event, Marshal, they shall have their independence, whether they're ready for it or not. Not for their sakes-for ours!'Slowly the Marshal sat down. 'But I a.s.sumed the Conference would follow the usual line,' he said pleadingly. 'Fob the Solonians off with promises, a few minor concessions. It always worked before.''This time I shall concede all Ky's demands. Total independence. You will hand over in the shortest possible time and then return Skybase to Earth.'The Administrator moved towards the door. The interview was over. The Marshal looked up at him. 'I've put my life into this planet,' he whispered. 'My entire career... what will happen to me-after?'The Administrator had never really liked the Marshal. In his opinion the fellow was an uncultured oaf, unfit for his high position. 'Ah, well, I'm afraid things are going to be a bit tricky for ex-colonial officials. We're cutting down everywhere, you know. But don't worry, old chap, we'll find you something. The Bureau of Records, perhaps. Something- clerical?' Well pleased with this parting shot, the Administrator left the room.Alone, the Marshal looked round the enormous office with its ma.s.sive semi-circular desk. He looked at the mural behind it, showing Earth dominating a cl.u.s.ter of lesser planets. The Marshal loved his office. It was the symbol of his power. He had come to Solos many years ago as a lowly security guard. Step by step he had fought his way to the position of Marshal, with supreme power on Solos.Now he was to lose it all at one blow. Back on crowded, polluted Earth he would be a n.o.body, one of a crowd of unemployed officials, without powerful friends or academic qualifications to help him. He would be a n.o.body. As he looked round the lavish office, the Marshal realised that there was nothing, nothing he would not do to prevent that happening.He touched a b.u.t.ton on his desk. 'Is Varan there? Send him in immediately.'Varan hurried into the room, his face filled with fear. 'Lord, in the matter of my bodyguard, I swear I had no idea...'The Marshal waved his hand. 'Forget him, the matter is closed. The situation has changed, Varan, I have new instructions for you. Listen carefully.'Varan listened. As he took in the details of the Marshal's new plan, his face slowly filled with horror.a.s.sa.s.sination!Jo peered out of a porthole and called to the Doctor. 'Look, you can see the planet in daylight now.'The Doctor rose from his chair and joined her. Far below them hung the mist-shrouded shape of Solos. Jo frowned. 'Not a bit like Earth, is it? It's all grey and foggy.''The Earth these people know is even more grey,' said the Doctor sadly. 'Land and sea, all grey. Grey cities linked by grey highways across a grey desert. Ash, clinker, slag-the fruits of technology.'After a hurried pa.s.sage through the decontamination area, the Doctor and Jo had been brought to this place and simply left. It wasn't a cell exactly, more likely disused quarters for one of the crewmen. A guard had brought them a simple meal, but he'd refused to answer any of their questions.Jo turned away from the porthole. 'How much longer will they keep us here?''Till they've got time to deal with us, I suppose. I've a feeling we've turned up in the middle of a crisis.'The door opened and a tall, grey-haired man entered, followed by one of the two guards who'd first found them. It was Stubbs, the shorter, broad-shouldered one. Jo thought he had rather a nice face, for all his obvious toughness.The tall man was frowning impatiently at them. 'I am the Administrator.''Good morning,' said the Doctor politely. 'I'm the Doctor, and this is Jo Grant, my a.s.sistant.'The Administrator didn't care for this interruption. 'I happened to see this guard's report. You will kindly tell me what you're doing here-as briefly as possible, please.''Typical bureaucrat,' thought the Doctor to himself. 'Hates anything to disturb his nice routines.' Out loud he said, 'We've come from Earth...''Who sent you?'The Doctor struggled to remember Earth's political set-up in this period. 'Earth Council.''But the Council has no further interest in Solos.''Indeed? Well it had when we left. I've a very important message...'The Marshal marched in, two security guards behind him. In the rush of preparations for the Conference, not to mention certain secret preparations of his own, he'd forgotten all about the two intruders. Alarmed to hear that the Administrator had decided to question them, the Marshal had come hurrying to find out what was going on. He interrupted the Doctor with brutal abruptness. 'This man is lying. He's got no pa.s.s and there have been no shuttle landings on Skybase for some time. Apart from your own, that is, Administrator. I a.s.sume you didn't bring them- or did you?'The Doctor had summed up the Marshal even quicker that he had the Administrator. A brute and a bully, with the temper of a rogue elephant-a very dangerous man. 'Does it matter how we arrived?' He produced the despatch-box. 'This is why we're here.' He handed the box to the astonished Administrator. To the Doctor's surprise, the box didn't open. 'Ah. Well, it appears it's not for you.'The Marshal s.n.a.t.c.hed the box and examined it suspiciously. Still nothing happened. 'Nor for you, either,' said the Doctor. He tried to take the box back, but the Marshal s.n.a.t.c.hed it away.'Is this some kind of joke?' asked the Administrator peevishly. 'What is this object, anyway? For whom is it intended?'The Doctor said, 'It's a kind of container. And I must confess, gentlemen, I still don't know who it's for...''Open it,' ordered the Marshal.'I can't. It will only open for the person for whom it is intended.''We'll see about that!' Before the Doctor could stop him, the Marshal tossed the box in a corner, drew his blaster and fired. The box glowed brightly in the energy flow. Then the glow faded and the box was as before, quite unharmed.The Doctor picked it up. It wasn't even charred. 'You see?''They were found with the Mutt,' bl.u.s.tered the Marshal. 'They're spies, saboteurs.'Scornfully the Doctor said, 'If we were, that thing would probably have been a bomb. Thanks to you, we'd all be blown to smithereens by now.'The Marshal choked with rage. Before he could actually reply a guard entered the room and saluted the Administrator. 'Sir, the Solonian Conference delegates are waiting for you.''Thank you. I'll come at once.' The Administrator paused in the doorway. 'Whatever all this is about, it'll just have to wait. I have a Conference to attend.'When he was gone the Marshal moved closer to the Doctor and Jo, his huge bulk looming menacingly over them. 'Now perhaps you'll let me know what's really going on?''We already have,' said Jo.. 'The Doctor's telling you the truth.'The Marshal didn't believe her. 'Who are you really, eh? Secret Agents from Earth Council, sent to check up on me?'The Doctor waved the box at him. 'If you really want to find out what's in here, take it to this Conference you're having. It could well be intended for someone there.'The Marshal couldn't make the Doctor out-and what he didn't understand he didn't trust. 'I've got more important things to worry about.' He turned to the suard. 'Stubbs, I'm putting these two in your charge. Don't let them out of your sight.'Stubbs saluted and the Marshal strode from the room, taking the other guards with him.So large was the Marshal's office that it could easily double as a small conference hall on occasions such as this.By the time the Marshal arrived, the room was already crowded. Small groups of Solonian delegates in their colourful robes were scattered about, Ky's supporters in one group, Varan's in another. The chairs for the Administrator and his party were ranged behind the Marshal's desk. A raised dais served as a kind of platform for the official party. Uniformed security men lined the walls and guarded the doors.The Marshal made his stately way across the room, bowing and smiling at the delegates. When he came to Varan he paused, motioning him to one side. 'Which is your man?'Varan was tense, almost pale beneath his dark skin. 'Over there, by the door.''Does he understand the instructions-the new instructions?''He understands, Lord.''Is he reliable?'Varan nodded proudly. 'He is Vorn-my son!''Your son?' For a moment the Marshal frowned. This was an added complication. Then he beamed. 'Excellent, Varan. Give him this! He slipped a gleaming metallic object from beneath his tunic and pa.s.sed it to Varan, who concealed it under his robes. Shouldering his way through the crowd, the Marshal took his seat behind the desk. Varan started edging his way across the room towards his son.An aide called loudly, 'His Excellency the Administrator.' The official party rose, the Solonians ceased their low-voiced chattering and stood in respectful silence. Impressive in his official robes, the Administrator entered through the main doors, flanked by his aides. The Solonian Independence Conference- the last Independence Conference-had begun.Stubbs lounged against the door, keeping no more than a casual eye on the Doctor and Jo. He didn't expect any trouble. The girl was no more than pocket-sized for a start. As for the Doctor chap, he must be getting on a bit, what with that lined face and mop of white hair. The old boy seemed pretty spry for his age, but Stubbs was sure he could handle him. There was a small monitor screen mounted on the wall beside the door and Stubbs switched it on. 'Direct line to the Conference. Might as well see what's going on, eh? Being broadcast all over Solos, this is.'Stirring martial music came from the screen's loudspeaker and a voice boomed, 'This is an official Overlord telecast, direct from Skybase.'The Doctor winced. 'Bit bombastic, isn't it?'Stubbs shrugged. 'Impresses the natives down on Solos.''Does it? I wonder.'The pompous voice boomed on. 'In a few minutes His Excellency the Administrator will begin his speech to the Delegates of the Solonian All Peoples Union... Among those present are Paramount Chief Varan, Chief Vorn, his son, Chief Ky...'Stubbs winced. 'We know all that, mate.' He reached up and switched off the sound.The Doctor looked curiously at the crowded scene on the monitor. 'What's your view on all this, Stubbs?''Independence? Sooner the better. Then we can all get off home.''Ah yes, quite so.' The Doctor looked at jo and nodded imperceptibly towards Stubbs. Jo realised he wanted her to keep the conversation going.Brightly she asked, 'Have you got a family back on Earth, Mr Stubbs?'Stubbs grinned. 'I hope so, miss. It's so long since I've seen them...''I expect you hear from them though?''They send the odd video-tape...''No letters?''Letters, miss? What kind of letters?'The Doctor smiled to himself-Jo didn't realise that in this century the hand-written letter was a thing of the past. He strolled across to the monitor, on the pretext of taking a closer look at the screen. Stubbs, absorbed in his conversation with Jo, who was explaining what a letter was, failed to notice that the Doctor was slightly behind him. Suddenly the Doctor said, 'Sorry about this, Stubbs, old chap.' His hand flashed out and Stubbs slid unconscious to the floor.'Well done, Jo,' said the Doctor.Jo looked down at Stubbs. 'Pity you had to do that. He seemed rather nice.''Did he?' said the Doctor absently. He grabbed the despatch box. 'Come on, Jo, we've got to get to that Conference.'The Administrator was getting into stride now, droning his way through a rather flowery summary of the long history of Earth-Solos relations. Varan and the pro-Earth Solonians listened respectfully, but Ky and his supporters were becoming steadily more impatient. Ky began making rude and intentionally audible comments. When the Administrator blandly ignored him, Ky began a chant of 'Freedom now! Freedom now! Freedom now I' His supporters took up the cry and soon the Administrator's voice was almost drowned out by the chanting.By the time the Doctor and Jo reached the Marshal's office, the noise was clearly audible in the corridor outside. They tried to go straight in, but an armed security guard stopped them. 'And where do you think you're going?''To the Conference of course,' said the Doctor loftily.'Got a pa.s.s, have you?''Well, no, but it's all been cleared with the Administrator. I've an important message...''No one goes in without a pa.s.s. Extra security. Now then, let's have a look in that box.'The Doctor sighed. The chanting from inside the room grew steadily louder.Inside the room the Administrator was battling on, trying to make himself heard. 'If only you would listen to me. We have no need to quarrel! My friends, Earth Government is prepared to concede...'His voice was lost. Ky was on his feet, shouting. 'We have had five hundred years of oppression and slavery. Now you plan to take from us the very air we breathe!'The Marshal jumped up. 'Guards,' he bellowed, 'Arrest him!' Desperately the Administrator tried to raise his voice above the din. 'Friends, I beg of you... Listen to me-we have no need to quarrel. Earth Government is prepared to concede your demands. If you would only let me finish..."His voice was drowned. Ironically, Ky and his friends were making so much noise that the Administrator was unable to tell them the one thing they; had waited so long to hear.Guards plunged into the milling crowd and tried to arrest Ky. But he was protected by the struggling crowd of his supporters. Fighting broke out, and the Marshal watched the chaotic scene with satisfaction. He caught a glimpse of Vorn, Varan's son, by the door and muttered, 'Now, you fool, now!' As if in obedience to this unheard command he saw Vorn slip a hand beneath his robes...Over by the door, Vorn felt the cold metal of the dart-gun his father had pa.s.sed to him. It was stubby and compact, easily concealed in the hand. He drew it out and looked longingly at Ky. To kill Ky, his father's enemy and his own, that had been understandable. But this... For a moment he hesitated. But his father's new instructions had been clear. And he must obey. Raising the gun Vorn took careful aim at his new target, and fired. There was a soft 'pfft' of compressed air.On the other side of the room, the Administrator reeled and fell, clutching at the tiny dart embedded in his neck. Vorn slipped the gun beneath his robes and lost himself in the milling crowd.As soon as the Administrator fell, the Marshal bellowed, 'Ky has killed the Administrator. Arrest him!' More security guards plunged into the fray.Ky heard the Marshal's bellow and immediately realised his danger. 'Out, all of you,' he yelled. 'This is some Overlord treachery. Back to Solos!' Ky led the dash for the door.The Doctor was still arguing with the guard, when the doors burst open. A milling crowd of Solonians poured out, Ky at their head. For a moment the Doctor and Ky were jammed together in the crush, the Time Lord despatch-box wedged between them. To the Doctor's astonishment the lid of the box started to open... He stared at Ky. 'It's for you,' he shouted. 'The message is for you!'Ky thrust him aside. 'Out of my way, Overlord,' he snarled. He ran off down the corridor towards the transfer cubicles.'Wait,' shouted the Doctor. 'The box is for you. I've got to talk to you!' He tried to follow Ky, but the tightly packed mob of guards and Solonians blocked his way.Jo saw a chance to be useful. 'All right, Doctor,' she called, 'I'll fetch him back for you.' Thanks to her small size she managed to wriggle through the crowd and set off down the corridor after Ky.The Marshal, a squad of guards behind him, rammed his way out of the doors. 'Get after Ky,' he roared. 'He is an a.s.sa.s.sin-he must be stopped!' The Doctor found himself caught up in their head long rush.Ky was some way ahead by now, Jo close behind him. She followed him down the corridor and around several corners. At last they reached an open area with a row of cubicles; not unlike telephone boxes, Ky paused and Jo caught up with him. 'Please wait,' she panted, 'I've got to talk to you.'They heard the sound of pursuing footsteps coming after them. Ky grabbed Jo and dragged her into a cubicle. Jo struggled wildly. 'What do you think you're doing?''You are my shield,' explained Ky grimly. 'They will not fire on an Overlord.''But I'm not an Overlord. I want to help you!'The Marshal and his guards, blasters levelled, appeared round the corner--the Doctor was close behind them. 'Stop them,' yelled the Marshal. 'They must be stopped.'Jo tried to free herself, but in the confined s.p.a.ce of the cubicle Ky held her easily. She glimpsed a row of controls with a printed sign above them. 'Have you got your Oxy-mask?' She saw Ky's hand reaching for the controls.By now half a dozen blasters were trained on the struggling pair in the booth. 'Shoot, you fools,' screamed the Marshal. 'Shoot before they get away.The Doctor forced his way to the Marshal's side'No, you can't...'The Marshal sent him reeling with a brutal shove 'I said fire. That is an order!'Obediently the guards opened fire. The transfer booth exploded in flames.
Hunted on Solos
As the smoke cleared, the Doctor rushed forward, examining the shattered wreckage. To his immense relief there were no bodies amongst the twisted metal and shattered gla.s.s. Ky must have reached the transfer b.u.t.ton just in time.The Marshal reached the same conclusions, and reacted with furious rage. 'Alert Solos ground station. Guards, get after them!' He turned to the Doctor. 'Pity about your young friend, Doctor. I'm afraid she won't get far without a mask!'As Ky's finger stabbed the controls, Jo felt the tug of the transfer beam, a moment of utter disorientation. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them it seemed as if nothing had happened. She was still in a cubicle, Ky beside her. She looked out and saw that the Marshal and his guards had vanished. Outside was just a bare concrete-walled corridor. She was on Solos!Ky was shaking her roughly. 'We're going outside. Better put your mask on.'Jo looked blankly at him.'You must have a mask,' said Ky impatiently. 'All Overlords carry them.''That's what I keep telling you. I'm not an Overlord! Anyway, what do I need a mask for?''During the hours of daylight the atmosphere of Solos isn't healthy for humans. That's why all Overlords use oxy-masks.''What am I going to do?''You'll have to stay here. I'm going to make a run for it.'Jo thought hard. It was clear that Ky was a vital part of the Doctor's plans. She felt it was her job to stay with him, whatever the risks. 'I'm coming with you. The Marshal was shooting at me too, you know. You'll just have to get one of these masks for me.'Ky stared hard at her. 'I warn you, my life is more important than yours. Not to me, but to Solos, to my people. I may have to leave you...' He broke off, listening tensely. 'Someone's coming...'The duty guard on the ground transfer station had just been alerted by the message from Skybase. He came to the row of transfer cubicles and looked around. Everything seemed normal. But a light above the end cubicle was still glowing red-which meant the cubicle had just been used.Drawing his blaster the guard moved forward. The cubicle seemed empty, but as he got closer, he saw a small, strangely-dressed girl crouching down inside. He reached in and pulled her out. 'All right, where's the other one?''Here, Overlord,' said a voice behind him.The guard spun round and Ky's fist took him beneath the jaw. Ky checked for a mask, but the masks weren't needed indoors and the guard wasn't carrying one. Ky grabbed Jo's hand, and they ran off down the corridor.Seconds later another guard appeared. He saw the unconscious body of his mate, drew his blaster and set off after the fugitives.Jo and Ky heard running footsteps behind them. There was a shout of 'You two-come back!' A blaster-bolt sizzled over their heads. They ducked round a corner, ran down a shorter wider corridor, the end of which was blocked by a heavy metal door, Ky began heaving it open. Behind them the running footsteps came nearer. With a final heave Ky opened the door enough for them to get through. He bundled Jo outside and then followed her, slamming the door closed behind them.Jo found herself outside a low concrete building, dense jungle all around. A thin, white mist floated" eerily through the air. Ky was already disappearing into the jungle, and Jo ran after him. The drifting mist seemed to catch at her throat, making her cough.Communicator to his ear, the Marshal was listening to a report from Solos. Flanked by guards, still clutching his precious despatch-box, the Doctor stood in front of the desk.The Marshal switched off the set and slammed it down angrily.'Bad news?' inquired the Doctor politely.'For you, Doctor, yes! Your friend has escaped onto the surface of Solos-without a mask. We shall find her eventually, of course-or her body.'The Doctor leaned forward. 'Kindly explain yourself, sir.''Didn't you know? During the hours of daylight, no human can travel on the surface of Solos without an oxy-mask. There's a nitrogen isotope in the soil, of a kind unknown on Earth. The ultra-violet rays of the sun produce a poisonous mist.''How poisonous?' demanded the Doctor.The Marshal shrugged. 'It depends on so many things... your friend's const.i.tution, the thickness of the mist, how far and how fast they travel in daylight.' He paused. 'I could intensify the search.''Then do so at once!''Or I could call it off altogether. Let her-escape.''Let her die, you mean! You can't possibly do that!''I can do as I please, Doctor. Since the a.s.sa.s.sination of the Administrator, Earth Council has authorised me to place Solos under martial law. My law!' The Marshal pointed. 'You tell me that box contains an important message for Ky. I want to see it before he does.''That would be quite unethical---''Then I shall be forced to recall the men searching; for Miss Grant, Doctor,' said the Marshal sadly. "We're; stretched very thin, here on Skybase.'The Doctor knew he was being blackmailed, but; there was nothing he could do about it. "Very well. I'll try to open it. I'll need laboratory facilities.'The Marshal beamed. 'And you shall have them, Doctor. If you'll come with me?'At first Jo found it fairly easy to keep up with Ky. But as they ran along the misty jungle trails, it became harder and harder for her to breathe. She began coughing and choking, gradually falling behind. Finally she slumped to the ground.Ky hesitated, then turned back. 'Come on. They're after us!''Can't,' gasped Jo. 'You go on.'Ky looked down at her, and something about the tiny figure stirred his compa.s.sion. He heaved her up, slung her over one brawny shoulder, and ran on down the trail.At the head of a squad of guards, Stubbs and Cotton emerged from the jungle transfer station and looked disgustedly round at the misty jungle. Stubbs took a bio-detector from his belt and checked the reading.'Something over that way...' He pointed. "Very faint, though. And there only seems to be one reading. Cotton said slowly, 'Maybe the girl's already -Maybe. Better get after them and find out.'Stumbling along the trail, Ky paused. His jungle; trained ears could hear faint sounds. Many men were! moving along the trail behind him. He moved Jo's head close to his ear. She was hardly breathing at all now. Ky hesitated. Leaving the trail, he plunged deeper into the jungle.The Marshal showed the Doctor into a surprisingly well-equipped laboratory and waited proudly for his reaction. Although the Doctor was considerably impressed, he was determined not to show it. 'Adequate,' he said disparagingly. 'Not quite what I'd hoped for-but adequate!'So enormous was the Marshal's vanity that he couldn't bear any part of Skybase to be criticised. 'I'll have you know this is the finest laboratory it was possible to build. Earth itself has no more advanced equipment.'The Doctor wandered round examining the rows of dials and meters, the complicated control-consoles that lined the equipment-filled room. 'I need a particle-reversal set-up, to turn the box inside out. All this stuff seems geared to atmosphere modulation. What are you doing here, weather control?''Something like that,' replied the Marshal evasively. 'Now then, Doctor...'The Doctor spotted a reading climbing dangerously high. 'Well, this is about to overload for a start!' His hands flicked over controls and the reading dropped to below the safety margin.Immediately, a tubby moon-faced man in the eternal white coat of the scientist rushed angrily into the laboratory. Untidy grey hair stuck up wildly, and his accent was so thick as to be almost incomprehensible.'Who has been tampering with the circuits?' demanded the newcomer angrily.'I'm afraid it was me,' admitted the Doctor. 'You were about to overload.'The newcomer turned angrily on the Marshal. 'My experiments have reached a crucial stage, I work alone and against time... and you lay on some stupid guided tour!''That's enough out of you, Jaeger,' rumbled the Marshal.'You give full priority to atmospheric regeneration, then expect me to...''Jaeger!' The warning threat in the Marshal's voice was unmistakable, and this time Jaeger subsided. The Marshal took him by the arm. 'I want you to switch priorities for the moment to another little problem.' He tapped the Doctor's box. 'The Doctor here will explain.'The Marshal's communicator set bleeped and he took it from his belt. 'Yes?''Varan's son is waiting in your office, Marshal.''Good. I'm on my way. Give the Doctor every help, Professor Jaeger. Doctor, you keep me informed about your progress-and I'll keep you informed about Miss Grant.'The line of guards pounded along the trail, Stubbs and Cotton at their head. As they pa.s.sed a particularly dense clump of bushes Ky sprang silently forward, crooked an arm round the last guard's neck and pulled him down. The rest of the squad ran on, not realising they were now one short. There was a brief thrashing in the bushes, then silence.'Why have I been brought here a prisoner?' demanded Vorn angrily.'A prisoner?' cried the Marshal in mock surprise. 'Of course not, my dear Vorn. See, I send away my guards.' He dismissed them with a wave of his hand.Once they were alone Vorn said in a low voice. 'It was on your orders I killed the Administrator. You told my father he was an enemy of our people.''You have done well, Vorn, and you shall be rewarded.' The Marshal held out his hand and Vorn handed over the little dart-gun. The Marshal smiled. 'Now for your reward.'Varan strode angrily towards the Marshal's office, furious at the news of his son's arrest. Guards barred his way at the door.The dart-gun seemed tiny in the Marshal's enormous hand. 'Useful little device,' he chuckled. 'And most efficient.' The smile disappeared from his face, he raised the gun and Vorn backed away, his eyes widening...'Let me pa.s.s,' demanded Varan. 'My son has been arrested-I must see him.' He charged like an angry elephant, smashing the guards aside.Just inside the doors, Varan paused in unbelieving horror. The Marshal stood by his desk, dart-gun in hand, Vorn's body at his feet.Slowly Varan walked forward. The Marshal looked up. 'First he a.s.sa.s.sinated the Administrator,' he said sadly. 'Then he tried to kill me. He must have been in league with Ky all along.''You lie, Overlord,' said Varan hoa.r.s.ely.'The Marshal smiled. 'Earth Council will believe me.' He raised the dart-gun.Varan sprang to one side, scooped up a heavy chair and flung it at the Marshal's head. It took him on the shoulder, knocking him off his feet. Outside the office guards were just picking themselves up when Varan hurtled into them, sending them flying again. He disappeared down the corridor.The Marshal struggled to his feet, rubbing his bruised shoulder, and reached for his communicator. 'Attention Skybase. This is the Marshal. The Solonian Chief Varan has gone Mutant. He is at large on Skybase armed and dangerous. Do not attempt to capture. Shoot on sight.'He flicked the communicator on to another circuit. 'Marshal calling Solos. Stubbs, Cotton, come in.'Stubbs and Cotton stood by the trail, looking down at the unconscious body of one of their guards. Realising Ky was no longer ahead of them, and that one of their men was missing, they had sent out patrols to search and then turned back. As they returned along the trail, Cotton had noticed a boot protruding from the bushes...Stubbs was talking into his communicator. 'Come back, sir? But we're almost on them. I've sent the lads out on patrol.'There was a pause, then the Marshal's voice crackled from the set. 'All right, one of you up here immediately to hunt down Varan, the other stay and organise the search for Ky. Marshal out!'The set went dead. Stubbs and Cotton looked at each other.'You stay here, all right?' said Stubbs.Cotton nodded sourly. 'Thanks a lot. Hey, Stubbsy, someone's pinched the poor bloke's oxy-mask.''Yeah, I noticed. I'll send the medics down to pick him up. See you.'Stubbs disappeared down the trail. Left alone, except for the unconscious guard, Cotton looked uneasily round the misty jungle. Ky could be anywhere out there, waiting to spring...He reached for his communicator and started checking the patrols. Soon reports were coming in... Ky and the girl had been spotted... moving towards the mines...
The Doctor and Professor Jaeger were hard at work. It wasn't a happy collaboration. Jaeger resented having to give time to the Doctor's concerns. His resentment was worsened by the high-handed way in which the Doctor had appropriated several of his valuable pieces of equipment, cannibalising them and linking them together in an incredibly complicated electronic lash-up, its purpose, if it had one, defeating Jaeger completely. Reduced to the status of a lab a.s.sistant, he sulkily linked circuits and tested connections under the Doctor's direction.The Doctor seemed to be in a sunny mood, chatting idly as he worked. 'Can't think why you people ever came to Solos in the first place.'Jaeger grunted. 'Thaesium, Doctor. Solos is one of the richest fuel sources in the galaxy. Or rather it used to be. The deposits are exhausted now.''So you plan to colonise the planet in earnest-if you can change the atmosphere?'Jaeger frowned suspiciously. 'That's my concern, Doctor, not yours.''The Solonians, too. It's their planet.''It was their planet. Doctor-you did say Doctor, didn't you?'The Doctor checked the circuit Jaeger was working on, found the connection was faulty, moved Jaeger aside and finished the job himself. 'There, that's better,' he said reprovingly. 'We'll need that to hold the Proton beam steady-Professor.'Jaeger said sourly, 'This whole thing's a waste of time. No one's ever achieved particle reversal-it's still only theory...'The Doctor made a few final adjustments and stepped back, studying his creation with satisfaction. The final effect was rather like a giant microscope. 'On the contrary, old chap, I find it a very useful research technique.' He took the box and put it on a small raised platform in the centre of the apparatus.Jaeger looked scornfully at the ramshackle a.s.semblage of equipment. 'And what do you hope to achieve by all this?''I expect the particles to reverse,' explained the Doctor patiently. 'What is outside will be on the inside, and what is inside will be on the outside-where we can see it!''Rubbish!'The Doctor grinned. 'You'd better come over here and see for yourself.' He moved to the on/off switch, which he had prudently rigged up at some distance from the apparatus. The Doctor threw the switch and, to Jaeger's astonishment, he saw the box glow, shimmer, and dissolve into a pile of ancient-looking scrolls and dusty parchments. There was a bang, a flash, and a puff of smoke. One of the circuits blew and the box was a box again.The Doctor sighed and moved over to the apparatus. Gingerly he touched the blackened circuit. 'Ah well, always a snag or two at first!''But it worked,' said Jaeger incredulously.'Well of course it worked. Did you see what was inside?''I got a glimpse of some kind of ancient doc.u.ments... But the process, Doctor. It actually worked.'The Doctor nodded. 'All over in a flash, you might say!'They were interrupted by the Marshal. He marched into the laboratory, Stubbs at his heels, and glared round suspiciously. 'Have you seen any sign of Varan?'The Doctor looked blankly at him. 'Have I seen who?''Jaeger-have you seen him? Varan-the Mutt. We've had reports he was seen heading this way.'The Doctor's scientific interest was aroused. 'A Mutant? Here on Skybase? I'd very much like to see him.'Impatiently the Marshal barked, 'Well, Jaeger?'Jaeger was still studying the Doctor's apparatus, trying to fathom its secret. 'No, I haven't seen Varan, I've got more important things to worry about.''Like the Doctor's mysterious box? How are you getting on?'Before Jaeger could answer, Stubbs' communicator bleeped. He listened, then turned to the Marshal. 'They think they've spotted Varan in the Seed Propagation Arqa, sir.''All right, Stubbs, you know what to do.'Stubbs was about to go when the Doctor said, 'Just a moment. I'd very much like to join on this... hunt.''Out of the question,' barked the Marshal.Jaeger intervened. 'I'm sure the Doctor would find it most interesting, Marshal. And I'd like a word with you.'The Marshal looked hard at him. Clearly Jaeger wanted the Doctor out of the way. 'Very well, you can go, Doctor. Keep an eye on him, Stubbs.'Stubbs rubbed his neck meaningfully. 'Don't worry, sir, this time I will.'When the Doctor and Stubbs had gone, the Marshal swung round on Jaeger. 'Well?'Jaeger moved closer and whispered excitedly. 'With the Doctor's help I could have the atmosphere regeneration project operational within a week.' Briefly he described the Doctor's experiment. 'He built a particle reversal set-up from the odds and ends- and it worked. With that kind of scientific knowledge, and with particle reversal, we can short-cut the entire process.''Then we must make sure he continues to co-operate.' The Marshal smiled. 'His a.s.sistant is the key-we must find that young lady, Jaeger-and quickly.'Jo awoke to find herself in semi-darkness. Something smooth and plastic was being pressed gently to her lips. Eagerly she breathed in the life-giving oxygen.Ky took away the oxy-mask. 'Steady, not too much at first.''Where are we?' whispered Jo. 'Is it a cave?''A man-made cave. It's an abandoned mine, that runs beneath one of our mountains.'"Jo looked round. In the dim greenish light that filtered from the entrance to the shaft, she could see rough rock walls, and pit-props supporting the roof. They were just inside the entrance of a long, square-cut tunnel that ran slantingly down into darkness.Ky looked thoughtfully at her. 'You are from Earth-yet you say you are not an Overlord... why did you come here?''We came to help you. The Doctor says-''The Doctor-he is the Overlord with the box?''For heaven's sake-we're not Overlords!' said Jo exasperatedly.'I'm sorry. My people know Earthmen only as Overlords. It is difficult to think otherwise. Why did this -Doctor try to give me the box?''There's something inside that's intended for you. That's why I followed you, to tell you.''What is it? Weapons?''I don't know. You'll have to ask the Doctor.'Ky smiled ruefully. 'How?'Jo looked around. How indeed, she thought. Hopefully she said, 'The Doctor will find us.'Ky nodded, but he didn't look convinced. 'Perhaps. We must stay in hiding for a while. If the Doctor comes, my people will tell us.'Ky began questioning Jo about Earth, but since her account of twentieth century Earth didn't fit in with all he'd heard about Earth in the thirtieth century, Jo hurriedly changed the subject. She asked about the Mutants.Ky explained that in recent years a strange disease had been spreading through the Solonian people. The victims suffered horrifying bodily changes -mutations. Their hands turned to claws, their spines grew curved and k.n.o.bbly, and finally they changed into a creature that looked like a giant insect. Ky and his supporters believed that pollution from the technology Earthmen had brought to Solos was responsible-that, and some mysterious experiments in atmosphere-changing being carried out by the Marshal.Jo shuddered. 'What happens to people-after they've changed to Mutants?''The Marshal has declared the Mutations are a disease-a plague. He and his men hunt down the Mutants and kill them. Mutts, they call them... Mutts! Those who escape hide in darkness-in places like this.'From the darkness further down the tunnel there came a scuttling.The Doctor followed Stubbs down the endless metal corridors of Skybase. The place was enormous, he realised, a city in the sky. Since Earth had been running down its forces for some time now, much of Skybase was unused. It wouldn't be easy to find just one native in this maze of corridors and empty rooms. 'Sure you want to come?' asked Stubbs. 'Could be dangerous.' He paused outside a heavy metal door. The Doctor nodded. 'After you, Mr Stubbs.' Stubbs touched a control and the door slid back. They entered a huge echoing chamber, very hot, dimly lit with a greenish glow. All around were rows upon rows of tall green plants. The dripping of water echoed hollowly in the semi-darkness. It was like an indoor jungle-a natural hiding place for Varan.The Doctor looked round. 'What's this place for- seed propagation, did you say?'Stubbs nodded. 'They were trying to adapt Earth crops for Solos. Never worked. All abandoned now, of course.' He drew his blaster and they advanced into the shadowy darkness between the long rows of plants. Stubbs began calling, 'Varan? Come on out, old son. May as well get it over quickly. We know you're here...'There was no reply. They moved deeper into the plant-rows.'What do you mean, get it over?' whispered the Doctor. 'You're not going to shoot him in cold blood?''Only way, Doctor. You haven't seen what they turn into.'The Doctor looked hard at Stubbs, but said nothing.Stubbs moved on. 'Come on, Varan. Make it easy on yourself. Come on, Varan, answer me!'Stubbs got his answer sooner than he expected. Varan hurtled over a row of plants, sword in hand, landed on top of him, and knocked the blaster from his hand. Stubbs went down grappling desperately with Varan's sword-arm. The Doctor jumped over their struggling bodies and grabbed for the fallen blaster.Varan was gaining the upper hand. He pinioned Stubbs to the ground, and wrenched his sword-arm free. 'Varan is no Mutt, Overlord,' he snarled. 'I am a warrior! Now die!'Varan raised the sword for a killing blow and the Doctor shouted, 'No wait! Let him go!' Berserk with fury, Varan paused and glared wildly at the Doctor. He raised his sword again. The Doctor fired, blasting the sword from Varan's hand. The shock seemed to bring Varan to his senses. Releasing Stubbs, he climbed slowly to his feet.Stubbs got up too. 'I'll take that blaster, Doctor.' The Doctor hesitated. 'Hand it over,' said Stubbs grimly. The Doctor seemed to fumble with the blaster and almost dropped it. Stubbs s.n.a.t.c.hed it from his hand, and levelled it at Varan.'Dqn't be a fool, Stubbs,' shouted the Doctor. 'Look at him. Do you see any signs of mutation?'Stubbs looked. Both Varan's hands were normal, and there were no tell-tale Mutant ridges along the spine. Slowly Stubbs said, 'But the Marshal said he'd gone Mutant...''The Marshal murdered my son,' bellowed Varan. He sprang forward, s.n.a.t.c.hed the blaster and levelled it at Stubbs' head. 'Now you shall die, as my son died,' he shouted-and pulled the trigger.Nothing happened. The Doctor stepped quickly forward and took the blaster from Varan's unresisting hand. 'I put it on safety. There's been too much killing already. Now I think you'd better tell us your story, Varan. We're your only hope.'Varan's berserk fury collapsed as swiftly as it had come, as he stumblingly told the story of the Marshal's schemes. In the dank silence of the huge plant room, the Doctor and Stubbs listened to the horrifying tale of treachery and murder. 'At first the plan was to kill Ky. Then it was changed. The Marshal told us that the Earth Lor
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