Doctor Who_ Robots Of Death Part 1

DOCTOR WHO.

AND THE ROBOTS OF DEATH.

By TERRANCE d.i.c.kS.

1 Sandminer

Like a city on the move, the Sandminer glided across the desert sands.Not quite a city, a mobile factory perhaps. There were storage holds, control rooms, laboratories, living quarters, food stocks, a recycling plant... The Sandminer was completely self-contained, able to range the deserts for years at a time before returning to base. Powered by its mighty hovercraft mechanisms, the Sandminer glided over the fine s.h.i.+fting sands, a ma.s.sive metal crab on an immense, multi-coloured sea of sand.It was about to become a s.h.i.+p of death.Inside the Sandminer robots were everywhere. They stalked silently through the long metal corridors on mysterious errands, they laboured in the engine-rooms and the storage hoppers, they worked on the vast, complex control-deck.There were three kinds of robot. Simplest and most numerous were the D cla.s.s, or Dums, programmed to obey orders and carry out simple repet.i.tive tasks. The more sophisticated Vocs could not only obey but respond with speech as well, and even exercise a certain limited independence. Finally there were Super-Vocs, robot commanders, to control their fellows, pa.s.sing on the orders of the human masters.Robots were manning the control deck now. V.14 stood watching the huge central screen of the radar spectroscope set high in one wall. It was alive with a swirling vortex of colours. V.32 was poised at a nearby control-console.'Turbulence centre, vector seven,' said V.14. The robot voice was calm, measured, completely emotionless. All the robots sounded very much alike. With practice the human ear could detect the minute differences between one robot voice and another... if anyone cared to take the trouble.'Scan commencing-now,' replied V.32. A complex pattern of radar traces began flowing across the screen.In the recreation area most of the human crew were resting. What else should they do? All the routine work of the Sandminer was carried out by the robots.The recreation area formed an astonis.h.i.+ng contrast to the rest of the Sandminer. It was softly carpeted, warmly lit, furnished with scattered couches and low tables, ornamented with colourfully glowing tapestries and ornamental statuary.It was a room for humans.At this particular moment, the humans in question were off-duty. Luxuriously robed, faces elaborately painted, they were pa.s.sing time in a variety of ways. Commander Uvanov was playing three-dimensional chess with a Voc-cla.s.s robot, V.9. Uvanov was older than the others, with a lined, weary face. As if to compensate, his face-patterning was more elaborate, his robes and head-dress even more fas.h.i.+onably ornate than the rest of them. His thin face was decorated with a wispy, pointed beard. He was frowning in ferocious concentration, although he knew that the robot was, by definition, unbeatable. Playing against a robot, the most you could hope for was a draw.Neat and precise as ever, more soberly dressed than the others, Dask stood watching the game. With quiet satisfaction he saw Uvanov had already lost-he just hadn't realised it yet.The two female members of the crew sat on adjoining couches. Zilda was studying some charts, her dark-skinned, beautiful face set in a frown of concentration. Toos, equally attractive, older and more sophisticated, lay back nibbling crystallised fruits from a silver box. Ca.s.s, young and muscular, dark-skinned like Zilda, sat close to the two women, dividing his attention between them.Then there was Borg, his burly figure stretched out on a couch while robot V.16 ma.s.saged his shoulder with delicate metal fingers. The sly, round-faced Chub sat looking on. As usual, he was pa.s.sing the time by tormenting Borg. 'There was a robot ma.s.seur in Kaldor City once, Borg... Specially programmed, equipped with vibrodigits, subcutaneous stimulators, the lot. You know what happened?' Chub paused artistically. 'Its first client wanted treatment for a stiff elbow. The robot felt carefully all round the joint, then suddenly, it just twisted his arm off at the shoulder!' Chub chuckled. 'All over in two seconds...'Borg scowled. 'I never heard that.'Chub nodded. 'It happened-in Kaldor City.'Dask looked up from the chess board. 'What was the reason?''Reason? It went haywire! I wouldn't let a robot work on me for all the zelanite in this s.h.i.+p.''Shut up, Chub,' growled Borg. But all the same he waved the robot away.'A Voc-cla.s.s robot,' said Dask precisely, 'has over a million multi-level constrainers in its control circuitry. All All of them would have to malfunction before it could perform such an action.' of them would have to malfunction before it could perform such an action.'Toos popped another fruit into her mouth. 'That's your trouble, Dask,' she said indistinctly. 'You take all the magic out of life.'Chub looked resentfully at Dask. He was spoiling the joke.'They go wrong, my friend. It's been known.'Dask shook his head. 'Only when there's an error in programming. Each case on record shows-''Well, this was a case! It pulled his arm off!'Zilda joined in the teasing. 'I heard it was a leg!'Poul came in, a medium-sized, quietly self-contained man with an air of constant watchfulness. 'We're turning!' he said. 'Anybody noticed?'No one had, and no one cared. The robots were running the Sandminer. That was what they were for, after all.V.9 made his final move, springing a long-prepared trap. 'Mate in eight moves, Commander.' There was no trace of triumph in the calm, pleasant voice.Uvanov threw himself back in his chair in disgust. 'Never!''I will check, Commander.' There was a moment's silence. V.9 said placidly, 'Mate in eight moves. The computation is confirmed.''d.a.m.n!'Dask smiled. 'They are are unbeatable,' he said softly. unbeatable,' he said softly.There was a beep from the communicator at Uvanov's elbow. Glad of the distraction he snarled, 'Yes?''V.14 on scanner, Commander,' said a robot voice. 'We have a storm report. Scale three, range ten point five two, timed three zero six. Vector seven one and holding.'Uvanov leapt to his feet. 'Full crew alert, V.14.''Full crew alert, Commander.'Suddenly the whole place was bustling with movement.'Chub, break out an instrument pack,' ordered Uvanov. 'The rest of you with me! Let's hope this one's worth chasing!'It was time for work. If their luck held good, a fortune was rus.h.i.+ng towards them at a thousand kilometres an hour.Meanwhile another kind of craft was spinning through the s.p.a.ce Time vortex, simpler in appearance, infinitely more complex in design. From the outside it looked like an old-fas.h.i.+oned blue police box of the kind used for a time on the planet Earth. Inside, it was a s.p.a.ce Time craft known as the TARDIS.In the control room, which was dominated by a many-sided central control console, a tall s.h.i.+rt-sleeved man with a mop of curly hair was brooding over the controls. Beside him, a girl in a brief costume made of animal skins was making a flat wooden disc climb up and down a length of string.The girl's name was Leela, and she had just become the Doctor's travelling companion, choosing to leave her own planet and accompany him on his wanderings through Time and s.p.a.ce. She had joined the Doctor in the hope of adventure-and this wasn't what she'd expected. Apart from anything else, her arm was getting tired... 'Doctor, can I stop now?''What? Well, of course you can if you like.''It won't affect all this?' With her free hand Leela gestured around the control room.'Affect it? It's a yo-yo-a game. I thought you were enjoying it!'Indignantly Leela tossed the yo-yo aside. 'You said I was to keep it going up and down. I thought it was part of the magic!'The Doctor frowned reprovingly at her. 'Magic, Leela? Magic?'Leela sighed. 'I know. There is no such thing as magic.''Exactly,' said the Doctor grandly. 'To the rational mind, nothing is inexplicable, only unexplained.''Then explain to me how this-TARDIS of yours is larger on the inside than on the outside.'For a moment the Doctor was taken aback. Far more sophisticated minds than Leela's had been baffled by the Time Lord technology that had produced the TARDIS. 'Well, it's because inside and outside aren't in the same dimension.'Leela looked blank.'All right, Leela, I'll show you.' The Doctor rooted inside the storage locker set into the TARDIS console and produced two boxes, one large, one small.The Doctor held up the boxes, one in each hand. 'Now, which box is larger?'Leela pointed. 'That one.'The Doctor nodded, put the smaller box on the console in the forefront of Leela's vision, and carried the larger one to the far side of the control room, holding it up in line with the first. 'Now, which is the larger?'Leela pointed to the box in the Doctor's hands. 'Still that one.''But it looks looks smaller, doesn't it?' smaller, doesn't it?'Leela looked. The small box, perched on the console just before her eyes, seemed to loom larger than the more distant box in the Doctor's hands. 'That's only because it's farther away.'The Doctor came back to her side. 'Exactly! If you could keep that box exactly the same distance away, and have it here...' He tapped the box. 'Then the large box would fit inside the small one!' He beamed triumphantly at her.'That's silly!''That's trans-dimensional engineering,' said the Doctor severely. 'A key Time Lord discovery!'There was a sudden wheezing, groaning sound and the centre column of the control console stopped moving. The Doctor rubbed his hands. 'This is the exciting bit!''What is?''Seeing what's outside. We've landed, Leela!' The Doctor switched on the scanner. A blank metal surface filled the screen. They could just get a glimpse of a corner and another surface stretching away. 'It's metal,' said the Doctor. 'We've landed inside something metal!''How can we?'The Doctor waved his hands. 'Well,' he said vaguely, 'you know, one box inside the other. I've just explained it to you!''Not very clearly!''Well, it's a very dull subject,' said the Doctor dismissively. He shrugged into his coat, put on his hat, and began winding an immensely long scarf around his neck. 'I wonder where we are.''You mean you don't know?''Well, not precisely, no...''You cannot control this machine?''Of course I can control it,' said the Doctor indignantly. An innate streak of honesty forced him to add, 'Nine times out of ten...' He considered. 'Well, seven times... five times... Oh, never mind, let's see where we are.'He touched a control, and the doors began to open.Leela s.n.a.t.c.hed up the crossbow she had brought from her native planet. 'You won't need that,' said the Doctor confidently.'How do you know?''I never carry weapons. If people see you mean them no harm, they never hurt you.' The Doctor paused. 'Nine times out of ten,' he added thoughtfully, and went out into the darkness.Obediently, Leela put down the crossbow, but she stroked the hilt of the knife that nestled rea.s.suringly at her hip. Leela had been brought up as a warrior in a time of constant war. She had none of the Doctor's faith in the good intentions of strangers.Leela was right. Once outside the TARDIS, she and the Doctor were to become involved in an adventure that came very close to costing them their lives.

2 Murder

The little knot of elaborately robed humans swept into the big control-room like a multi-coloured whirlwind, pus.h.i.+ng past the robots, who were calmly going about their duties.Toos hurried over to the big radar-spectroscope screen, Uvanov hovering at her shoulder. 'How does it look, Toos?' he asked eagerly.'Tell you in a moment.' Toos studied the swirling patterns on the screen with an experienced eye, trying to judge the proportion of valuable mineral elements in the approaching sandstorm.Uvanov went to pester Zilda, who had taken her position at the tracking console. 'Right tracking?' he demanded anxiously.'Clear and running, Commander.''Left tracking?''Clear and running.'Toos looked up from the screen. 'The storm's pretty small. Scale three point four, not building.'Uvanov shook his head in disappointment. 'What have you done with all the big ones?''I don't make the storms, you know!'Zilda studied her instruments. 'Range four point one six two. Running time three point three zero, ground centre zero, zero one.'Toos checked the Sandminer's position on a map-screen. 'That's something, we don't have to chase this one. It's heading straight towards us.'V.32 said quietly, 'As yet we have no instrument pack report, sir.'It was the Commander's job to check on things like that, and in his excitement Uvanov had forgotten. But robots never forgot anything, they were incapable of error. That was what was so irritating about them.Angrily Uvanov snarled, 'Where's Chub? That's supposed to be his job. Get after him, someone.''All right,' said Poul soothingly. 'I'll go.'He hurried from the control room.Uvanov was still seething. 'How am I supposed to run a Sandminer with amateurs?'Zilda kept her eyes on her instrument-banks. 'Chub's all right,' she said.'Why, just because he's one of the Founding Families, one of the Twenty?' sneered Uvanov.There had been twenty families in the Earth expedition that had colonised this desert planet many hundreds of years ago. Since then, other colonists had followed in their thousands, but the descendants of those original Founding Families still enjoyed a kind of aristocratic status-profoundly irritating to a self-made man like Uvanov. His family had been one of the last to arrive .. .Zilda sighed. ' I I didn't mention his family, Commander.' didn't mention his family, Commander.'But Uvanov was well away by now. 'You know, it's amazing the way you all stick together. No, it's not amazing, it's sickening.''I hope you're watching the cross-bearings, Commander.'Angrily, Uvanov turned his attention back to the controls. 'Don't worry about me me doing doing my my job, please Zilda,' he said with exaggerated politeness. 'What's this one got for us, Toos?' job, please Zilda,' he said with exaggerated politeness. 'What's this one got for us, Toos?''Spectrograph readings aren't too clear. Could be some zelanite, keefan, traces of lucanol...'Uvanov rubbed his hands. 'Aha! Money in the bank.' He turned to the dark girl. 'Cheer up, Zilda, I'll make you rich again.'Zilda scowled at him, fully aware of the hidden jibe. Her family was distinguished, but it was impoverished too-otherwise she wouldn't be a technician on a Sandminer, shut away for two years with people like Uvanov...A robot moved silently along the corridors. Its eyes glowed red, and although, strictly speaking, a robot could feel no emotion, its positronic brain burned with something very close to fanatic determination. A new truth had been revealed. It was on its way to strike the first blow for freedom...In the storage bay, Chub heaved angrily at the instrument pack. It seemed to have got wedged in the rack. Chub did what everyone did when faced with a difficult task.'Robot!' he yelled. 'Robot!'The reply came so suddenly it startled him. 'Yes, sir?'Chub glanced up at the tall figure in the doorway. He didn't even bother to check the collar, to see which robot it was. What did it matter? Robots had no individuality anyway. 'Where have you been? Get that instrument package down for me!'The robot did not move.'Well, get a move on,' said Chub irritably. 'I've got to launch it before they seal the hatches.'Still the robot did not move. Chub was becoming uneasy. 'Did you hear what I said?''Yes, sir,' said the robot politely. 'I heard what you said.''Get on with it, then!'The robot began moving towards him. 'Not here-over there, you metal moron.' Chub pointed to the equipment-racks. The robot ignored him and moved steadily forward, bearing down on him. Chub backed away. 'What are you doing? Look, just stop, will you, stand still!'Still the robot came on.'No,' yelled Chub. 'Get back. Get back!'Even now, Chub wasn't really alarmed. Obviously the robot had malfunctioned in some way. It would have to be deactivated, probably dismantled. The whole thing was a great nuisance, but the robot wasn't dangerous, it couldn't be. No robot was capable of harming a human being, everyone knew that...It wasn't until metal fingers closed about his throat that Chub realised how terribly wrong everyone could be. The last thing he saw was the red glare in the robot's eyes...Poul came hurrying down the corridor, on his way to the storage bay. He'd looked for Chub in his quarters and in the crewroom. Not finding him, he'd a.s.sumed that Chub had already gone to fetch an instrument pack and had run into some kind of problem.A terrifying scream echoed down the corridor, stopping suddenly as if someone had flicked a switch.Poul started running.A metallic chime rang through the Sandminer. 'Attention everybody, this is the Commander. All checks complete, all systems clear and running. Security robots commence hatch lock sequence.' Uvanov turned to Toos. 'How's it bearing?''Range two, running time point four three, ground centre zero, zero, zero.''Coming straight down our throats. We'll really be able to suck the pay-stream out of this one.'V.32 said, 'Monitors indicate obstruction on forward scoop deck, Commander.'Uvanov sighed, wondering why robot efficiency had to be unaccompanied by any trace of initiative. 'Then get it cleared, V.32, get it cleared!''Yes, Commander.'The Doctor and Leela emerged from the TARDIS to find themselves inside an enormous shadowy chamber with high metal walls. It was rather like being an ant inside a biscuit-tin, thought the Doctor, though the metal surface wasn't smooth and s.h.i.+ny, but scarred and pitted, scored as if by the impact of thousands of diamond-hard granules.He slipped a jeweller's eye-gla.s.s from his pocket and used it to study the nearest wall.Leela watched him. 'What is it, Doctor?''Some kind of specially hardened alloy, scored all over. It must come in under a lot of pressure.''What must?''Whatever they fill this thing up with ..A dim light was seeping into the chamber from the far wall. The Doctor and Leela began moving towards it.(As they moved away, a hydraulic grab slid smoothly down from the darkness above them. It picked up the TARDIS in an enormous metal claw and lifted it silently out of sight. V.32 had removed the obstruction.)Leela tensed, sensing rather than hearing the faint vibration of the machinery. 'Doctor!''What?''I heard something, back there.'Leela glanced over her shoulder, but the area they'd left was shrouded in darkness. The Doctor was still striding towards the light. 'Mmm?' he said absently, and kept on going.Leela followed, and found him gazing in fascination at the end wall of the metal chamber. It was pierced by a series of slits, like tall thin doorways, running almost up to roof level. Through them filtered a murky, yellow light.'This is very interesting,' he murmured.'Doctor,' whispered Leela fiercely. 'I heard something, back there.'The Doctor gazed up at the long row of slits. Beside each one was a folded-back metal shutter. Obviously the gaps could be opened and closed. 'It comes in here!''What does?''Whatever it is!'Leela sighed.'Range point three eight seven,' said Toos. 'Running time, point one three, ground centre zero nine three.'Uvanov cursed under his breath. 'It's veering away from us.' He touched a communicator b.u.t.ton. 'Borg, where's that power? We've got to get after it.'Borg was down in the drive area, supervising the build-up of the ma.s.sive atomic motors that could send the huge bulk of the Sandminer scuttling across the desert like some great crab. His voice came from the speaker. 'Power's coming, sir.''So's old age, Borg, but I don't want to spend mine sitting in this desert waiting for you to do your job.''Switching to motive power now- sir. sir. ' 'Uvanov studied the screen. 'We may just catch the edge of the storm, but we'll have to chase to stay there...'Intent on the readings, he didn't see Poul come into the room. 'Commander?'Uvanov didn't look up.'What is it?''Chub's dead.'There was a shocked silence.'Dead?' said Zilda unbelievingly.Uvanov stared stupidly at Poul. 'Are you sure?''Of course I'm sure.'Uvanov rubbed a hand across his eyes, his attention moving back towards the screen. He'd never liked Chub very much anyway. 'All right, then, he's dead. First things first. There's nothing we can do for him now.' 'He's been murdered, Commander.' 'He's been murdered, Commander.''How do you know?''Because people don't strangle themselves.''Strangled?''That's right. He's in one of the forward storage lockers.'Toos said, 'You'll have to abort this one, Commander.'Uvanov was outraged. 'What? And lose the storm? We're almost on it.''Poul's talking about murder murder , Commander.' , Commander.''I'm talking about money money ,'said Uvanov simply. 'We're going after that storm.' ,'said Uvanov simply. 'We're going after that storm.'The Doctor and Leela were right up to the metal wall now, peering through the nearest slit.Leela looked in astonishment at the vista before her. Sand stretching away in all directions, s.h.i.+fting, seething multi-coloured sand, that flowed and disappeared beneath them as they moved across it. There was a low moaning sound of distant winds. 'Where are we?''It's a desert,' said the Doctor cheerfully. 'Either that or the tide's gone out!''Where are the trees?'The Doctor shrugged. 'There's no water, so nothing grows. No life at all by the look of it.''It's beautiful,' whispered Leela.The Doctor looked at the bands of coloured sand, gleaming red, purple, black, gold in the dim yellow light of a distant sun. 'A bit garish for my taste...'Instinctively Leela was scanning the horizon. 'What's that, Doctor, over there?'The Doctor looked. There was a swirling, multi-coloured cloud on the horizon growing steadily larger. It was moving towards them just as they were moving towards it. 'Looks like a dust cloud... No, it's a sandstorm. Come on, Leela, we'd better get out of here!'Leela was staring in fascination at the swirling cloud. The distant howl of wind grew steadily louder-and closer.The Doctor grabbed her arm. 'Come on, Leela, come on. This is a Sandminer, and we're in the forward scoop.''What does that mean?''The sandstorm's travelling at thousands of kilometres an hour, and we're heading straight towards it. As soon as it reaches us a sizeable chunk of it will come pouring through those vents. Unless we get back inside the TARDIS the sand will cut us to pieces first, then suffocate us!'They began running through the echoing darkness. Behind them the sound of the storm winds rose like the howling of a thousand angry demons.They reached the corner where they'd left the TARDIS and skidded to a halt. The TARDIS had gone. 'We've been robbed!' shouted the Doctor.'I told told you I heard something.' you I heard something.'The Doctor ignored her. 'The shutters!''What?'The Doctor raised his voice above the howling of the storm. 'We've got to close those shutters, Leela, or we're dead!'

3 Corpse Marker

On the Command Deck the argument was still raging. It was Poul who ended it, an unexpected edge of command in his voice. 'You must must abort, Commander. You have no choice.' abort, Commander. You have no choice.''This time,' muttered Zilda.Uvanov gave her a quick glance, and turned to the communicator. 'This is the Commander. Close scoops. Trim vents. Crew stand down.' He looked round the control room. 'Satisfied, everyone?'The Doctor and Leela ran frantically back the way they had come, back towards the long line of open vents at the front of the scoop. The storm was nearer now, its howling louder. Outside the Sandminer the whole horizon was dark with its approaching fury. Already fine grains of sand were swirling through the vents on the hot wind, stinging their faces.The Doctor ran up and down the walls of the scoop, looking for a control console, an inspection hatch, anything that would enable him to get the gaping vents closed.There was nothing.The Doctor looked around him in despair. They could gain a little time by running to the back of the scoop-but only a little. Soon the fine, hot sand would pour like water through the vents, rising higher and higher in a hot choking tide that would eventually suffocate them...With a rumbling, grinding sound, the shutters began to close.'Perhaps somebody heard us moving,' whispered Leela.Baffled, the Doctor shook his head.The Doctor and Leela stared at each other in the hot, stifling darkness. They were trapped inside a giant metal box, but they were alive.Uvanov gazed gloomily down at the huddled body of Chub. As Commander he'd felt it was his duty to visit the scene of the crime, but he wasn't sure what to do now he was there. 'He was like this when you found him?'Poul nodded. 'Just a little fresher.'Uvanov knelt to examine the body, and then straightened up. 'You said you heard a scream?''Yes.''But he was strangled.''The scream-stopped!'Uvanov reached out, took hold of a dangling arm. There was something on the back of Chub's hand-a glowing red disc. Uvanov peeled it off and held it up. 'What's this?''No idea.'Uvanov sighed, his efforts at detection at an end. 'Crew all a.s.sembled?''They should be, by now.''Come on then, let's get this thing settled. Sooner we get it sorted out, the sooner we can get back to work.' Uvanov gave the body a last disgusted look, as though it had died just to annoy him. 'Tell the robots to clear up in here.' He turned away. 'Government scientists! I should never have let him on board.''He'd probably agree with you!'Uvanov was already striding down the corridor. 'Poul!''Coming, Commander.' With a last thoughtful look at the body, Poul followed Uvanov from the room.By methodically feeling his way around the walls of their metal prison, the Doctor had located the outline of some kind of service hatch. 'This must be the way out-though whether we can get it open...' He began fis.h.i.+ng in his pocket for his sonic screwdriver.'I do not like this metal world, Doctor.''Well, we can't get out of it until we find the TARDIS...''Watch out!' screamed Leela suddenly.The Doctor jumped back as the service door slid open, revealing a group of tall figures on the other side.Leela stared at them in astonishment. They wore quilted trousers and tunics in some silvery material, with high, polished boots. At the throat each wore a square metal collar-badge bearing letters and numbers. The most astonis.h.i.+ng thing about them was their faces. They were made of metal, smooth and statue-like with impossibly regular features like a stylised human face. Their metal hair swept back in sculptured waves, their wide, staring eyes were curiously blank.It wasn't what Leela saw that worried her, it was what she felt felt . The creatures were human yet not human, alive and not alive. Her knife was already in her hand, and she crouched to attack. . The creatures were human yet not human, alive and not alive. Her knife was already in her hand, and she crouched to attack.The Doctor put a hand on her arm. 'It's all right, Leela, they won't harm us, they can't. They're robots!'The crew of the Sandminer formed a scattered circle in the recreation area. Uvanov marched in, Poul close behind him, and stared importantly around him. 'All present?'Dask said, 'Kerril's not here yet.''Why not?''He's on his way,' said Toos soothingly. 'He was in the rear section, it'll take him a while to get here.'Uvanov nodded. 'Right, we'll make a start then.' He gazed round the circle of faces, some hostile, some suspicious, some just plain puzzled. 'Now, you all know Chub is dead. One of you killed him.''One of us us , surely,' objected Zilda. , surely,' objected Zilda.Uvanov stared irritably at the dark girl. 'That's what I said.''No,' said Poul. 'You said "one of you you ".' ".'Uvanov saw the distinction. He'd unconsciously left himself out of the group of suspects. They were putting him back in.'All right, then, one of us us . The question is, which one?' . The question is, which one?''And why?' added Toos.Uvanov shrugged. 'Well, this is a two-year tour. Maybe Chub was beginning to get on somebody's nerves?' He stared accusingly round the little group as if hoping for an instant confession, his eyes fixing at last on Borg. The burly crewman realised everyone was staring at him. 'Me?'Zilda gave Uvanov a thoughtful look. 'He was certainly getting on your your nerves, Commander.' nerves, Commander.''You all know where I was,' said Uvanov. 'In the main control room.'They all looked at Borg. 'I was on the power deck,' he protested. 'Dask was with me.'Uvanov pounced. ' All the time? All the time? ' ' 'No,' 'No,' said Dask. 'Not all the time-I went to check the synchro relays.' said Dask. 'Not all the time-I went to check the synchro relays.'Everyone was looking at Borg again. He jumped angrily to his feet. 'Now look, I had nothing against Chub. Okay, he talked too much-'Zilda said excitedly, 'Poul heard the scream-'Ca.s.s interrupted her. ' Says Says he heard the scream. We've only his word.' he heard the scream. We've only his word.'Poul stared at him. 'Why should I lie?'Uvanov gave Ca.s.s a reproving look. 'You interrupted Zilda, Ca.s.s,' he said, in mock horror. 'Founding Family people never interrupt each other-do they, Zilda?'Poul made a twisting gesture. 'Somebody interrupted Chub-with both hands.'Still in the same tone of mock-reproof, Uvanov said, 'Please, Poul, we're waiting for Zilda.'Sulkily Zilda said, 'I was simply going to say that the scream could have been-arranged.''How?''A recording.''What would be the point?'Zilda gave him a look of triumphant hatred. 'To provide an alibi, Commander. You You sent Poul to look for Chub. You could have arranged it all, made sure you were on the control deck when the body was found. We still don't know when Chub was actually killed.' sent Poul to look for Chub. You could have arranged it all, made sure you were on the control deck when the body was found. We still don't know when Chub was actually killed.'Toos said, 'You're suggesting the poor man was already dead when Poul heard the scream?''Nice try, Zilda,' said Uvanov sardonically. 'A bit far-fetched, though, isn't it?' He held up a glowing red disc. 'Now, does anyone know what this is?''It's a corpse marker,' said Dask.'A what?''A Robot Deactivation Disc. They use them in the robot construction centres. If ever you used the Stop Circuit, and turned off all our robots, they'd have to go back to the Centre for renovation. Each one would be marked with one of those discs to show it as a deactivated robot. The technicians call them corpse markers. It's a sort of joke,' he concluded lamely.Borg took the disc from Dask's hand. 'Not just a murderer, then. Seems like one of us is a maniac as well.''Use your brains, Borg,' said Ca.s.s scornfully. 'We'd know if one of us was mad.'Borg's hand flashed out and slapped the disc onto the back of Ca.s.s's hand. 'Ah, but we don't-do we?'In contrast to the angry wrangling in the recreation area, all was calm and order on the Command Deck-but then, of course, robots not humans were in charge.V.14 was studying the spectroscope screen. 'Storm approaching, scale sixteen, range nine point eight, timed two zero one, vector seven two and holding.'SV.7 turned. 'Very well, fourteen. Full crew alert.'A steady insistent chime began sounding through the Sandminer.'All but the two new humans in the rear section are accounted for,' said SV.7 placidly. 'The Sandminer is now under complete robot control. Begin the check sequence.'The Commander's cabin was large and comfortable, even more luxuriously furnished than the rest of the human quarters. The Doctor and Leela entered, ushered in by a robot with V.9 on its collar badge. Leela threw herself down onto a couch, while the Doctor started wandering curiously about the room, looking at the hanging tapestries, the statues and pieces of sculpture, the soft couches and low tables. There was a curtained-off sleeping-cubicle in one corner.Leela looked at the robot in the doorway. 'Doctor, how do you know the mechanical men aren't hostile?''Robots are programmed to help people, not hurt them.' He wandered up to the tall figure in the doorway. 'You won't hurt us, will you?''Please wait here,' said V.9 impa.s.sively. It stepped out into the corridor, and the door closed behind it. Immediately, the Doctor tried to reopen the door. It was locked.Leela looked round, wondering at the contrast between the luxury of the cabin and the stark metal corridors they'd pa.s.sed along to reach it. 'What is this place, Doctor? What's it all for?''Mineral extraction,' said the Doctor. 'Much of the surface of this planet is a sea of fine sand, several miles deep and constantly moving. It must contain valuable mineral elements, otherwise they wouldn't be going to all this trouble.'Leela looked blankly at him, and the Doctor went on with his lecture. 'I've seen a similar operation on Korlano-Beta. The miner moves over the surface searching for useful ores. Naturally the heavier elements tend to sink in the sand, so a really good storm's a bonus, stirs things up.''Sometimes you speak like a Tesh, Doctor!''Thank you.''It was not well meant. And these creepy mechanical men, you're sure they're feeling friendly?''Robots don't have feelings of any kind, Leela. It's the people they serve we have to worry about.''Perhaps there are no people here?'The Doctor sank into a comfortable chair. 'Look at this place, Leela. Robots don't need comfort, let alone luxury. They don't even sit down, so they don't need chairs. Certainly not padded ones, like these.'Leela grinned. 'Because they have no feelings, you mean?'A robot entered, a different one this time, the letters SV.7 on its collar. 'Please identify yourselves.'The Doctor sprang to his feet. 'Well, I'm the Doctor, and that's Leela. I wonder if it's possible for us to see whoever's in charge? I'd like to thank them for saving our lives.''I command here,' said SV.7 levelly.'Ah! Well-thank you for saving our lives.''What are you doing here?' said the inhumanly placid voice.Leela played for time. 'The other mechanical man told us to wait here.'There was no impatience in the robot voice. 'What were you doing in the scoop?''Trying to get out,' said the Doctor cheerfully.'Please wait here,' said SV.7 and disappeared into the corridor. The door closed behind it.'Talkative chap, isn't he?' The Doctor tried the door again, found it locked, fished out his sonic screwdriver and began attacking the control panel beside it.Leela watched him in alarm. 'Doctor, the mechanical man said we should stay here.'The Doctor had never liked being told what to do, particularly by a machine. Besides, not knowing where the TARDIS was always made him feel insecure. He cross-connected a circuit and stepped back in satisfaction as the door slid open. 'First we find the TARDIS, then we have a little scout round. We'll be back in here before they know we've gone!'Cautiously, they slipped out into the corridor.

4 Death Trap

'Right,' said Uvanov exultantly. 'Hold them in custody until further orders!' He turned to the others. 'SV.7 has captured two intruders. Well, that settles that I imagine.'Ca.s.s laughed. 'Didn't I say so?' He gave Borg a derisive look. 'So, one of us is a maniac, eh?'Uvanov headed for the door. 'Come on then, let's all get back to work.'Poul stood up. 'Just a minute, Commander.'Zilda joined in. 'Yes, don't be so hasty. What do you mean, that settles things?''You heard SV.7, didn't you? There are two intruders, a man and a woman. Obviously they're the murderers, and we've got them safely locked up.'Borg joined the revolt. 'Why are they obviously obviously the murderers? I don't see that.' the murderers? I don't see that.''You don't like to admit you're wrong, that's why,' jeered Ca.s.s.'n.o.body's proved I am am wrong yet,' said Borg stubbornly. 'I mean, who are these people?' wrong yet,' said Borg stubbornly. 'I mean, who are these people?''Ore raiders,' said Uvanov. 'Chub caught them at work, and they killed him.''Ore raiders!' Borg was scornful. 'There's no such thing, hasn't been for years.'In the early days of the planet's history, when all kinds of adventurers were scrabbling for the desert's mineral wealth, ore hijackings hadn't been unknown. But now, with the establishment of law and order under the rule of the all-powerful Company, they'd long been a thing of the past.Uvanov was in no mood for debate. 'Now listen, all of you. We're sitting in the middle of one of the biggest storms we've seen since we started this tour, and we're wasting time.'Borg said, 'The robots are mining. They'll have started automatically as soon as the storm reached us.''Robots do not have instincts instincts ,' said Uvanov furiously. 'We'll be lucky if they get half what we can get. We're not stuck out here in the middle of this desert for pleasure, we're here to make money, so get on your feet and get to work!' ,' said Uvanov furiously. 'We'll be lucky if they get half what we can get. We're not stuck out here in the middle of this desert for pleasure, we're here to make money, so get on your feet and get to work!'n.o.body moved.'That is an order!' shouted Uvanov.Borg yawned. 'Then give it to a robot.'Toos said calmly, 'We really ought to find out more about these people, Commander.''After all,' added Poul, 'there could be more of them.''Makes sense,' said Ca.s.s persuasively.Only Dask came to Uvanov's support. 'If there are are any more of them they will certainly be caught. The robots will see to that. Meanwhile, I think the Commander's right. We should return to our posts.' any more of them they will certainly be caught. The robots will see to that. Meanwhile, I think the Commander's right. We should return to our posts.''Why?' demanded Zilda. 'Nothing's changed. Until we know more about these mysterious intruders ...'Uvanov sighed. 'All right, Zilda, all right.' He returned to the communicator. 'SV.7, are you there?''Yes, Commander.''Bring the two intruders here.''I was about to inform you, Commander,' said the robot with infuriating calmness, 'they have just escaped.'The Doctor and Leela were slipping silently along the metal corridors. So far they'd seen no one, not even a robot. They pa.s.sed the entrance to a storeroom, and the Doctor glanced inside. Rows of shelves stacked with various kinds of stores and spare parts. The Doctor moved on. Leela paused, her curiosity aroused by something the Doctor seemed to have missed.There was a trolley in the far corner. On it lay a long shape covered with green plastic sheeting. Leela looked thoughtfully at it. Even in this strange metal world, she knew a dead body when she saw one. And death meant danger.Leela entered the storeroom and went over to the trolley. She grasped the edge of the plastic sheeting and was about to pull it back when she heard footsteps in the corridor outside-and they weren't the Doctor's footsteps. Leela ducked into hiding behind one of the racks and froze.Someone came in, and walked steadily towards the corpse on the trolley.Absorbed in his surroundings the Doctor wandered on, unaware that he was now alone.The corridor led into a hall and he found himself facing a row of storage hoppers, giant tanks set along one wall. Beside each was a gauge to show how much it contained. Each one had an entry hatch at its base.But the big metal room held something far more interesting than the row of hoppers. There in a corner stood the familiar square blue shape of the TARDIS.The Doctor wasn't particularly surprised. He knew they'd have to put the TARDIS somewhere, and he'd been confident that he'd find it if he went on looking long enough. He had a kind of homing instinct where the TARDIS was concerned.He wandered across to the police box and gave it an affectionate pat. 'Ah, there you are! Hullo, my dear old thing!'Satisfied the TARDIS was unharmed, the Doctor went over to the row of hoppers, trying to work out their purpose. The sand was sucked into the Sandminer through the scoops. The ore had to be separated from the fine sand, and then the various kinds of ore had to be separated and sorted, since some kinds of ore were far more valuable than others.Still lecturing the absent Leela, the Doctor said, 'Ore comes in under pressure from the separating plant you see, Leela, and they store it in these tanks. I wonder what kind it is? Leela?' He turned and realised he was alone. 'Leela! Leela, where are you? I do wish she wouldn't wander off like this.'Deciding that Leela would catch him up when she was ready, the Doctor turned back to the row of tanks. There was a rus.h.i.+ng sound, and the gauge beside one of the tanks lit up. The Doctor went across and studied it. The rus.h.i.+ng sound went on and the gauge rose steadily. Clearly the tank was being filled from somewhere above. 'Wonder what it is?' said the Doctor to himself.He noticed that the inspection hatch on the tank on the end of the row was standing open and went along to take a closer look. He bent down to look through the hatch, and saw a metal chamber with high, smooth walls. He also saw a dead body huddled in the corner.Instinctively, the Doctor ducked down and squeezed through the hatch, bending to examine the body.Before he could even turn it over, the hatch slammed shut behind him, and he heard the sound of locking-bolts being slid home.There was a rus.h.i.+ng sound, and a fine gravel-like substance began pattering down upon him from above.The Doctor rushed to the storage hatch. It was firmly locked. The inside offered only a smooth metal surface with no handle or grip of any kind.The ore was still rus.h.i.+ng into the tank, faster and faster now. Soon it covered the, entire floor-and its level began to rise.The Doctor watched the fine grains rising higher and higher. In a matter of seconds they covered his shoes. Soon they were rising towards his knees. At this rate it wouldn't be very long before the ore level had risen above his head.The Doctor considered the irony of his position. He was in the middle of a desert, thousands of miles from water-but unless he thought of something very quickly, he was going to drown...

5 Captives

The Doctor stood absolutely still, ignoring the ore as it poured into the storage tank, rising steadily towards his waist. He was following one of his most important rules. In any kind of emergency, the first thing to do is think think . Wrong action can be worse than no action at all. His mind was sorting through the possibilities at computer-like speed. Open the door with his sonic screwdriver? No time. Call for help? Again no time, and little chance of being heard. While the Doctor's mind was busy, his hands were busy too, sorting through the incredible jumble of objects in his pocket for something that might be of use. . Wrong action can be worse than no action at all. His mind was sorting through the possibilities at computer-like speed. Open the door with his sonic screwdriver? No time. Call for help? Again no time, and little chance of being heard. While the Doctor's mind was busy, his hands were busy too, sorting through the incredible jumble of objects in his pocket for something that might be of use.Meanwhile his mind was breaking the problem down. His basic priority wasn't to get out of here-it was simply to go on breathing. Just as he reached this conclusion, his fingers touched a coil of plastic pipe. He took it from his pocket, uncoiled it, put one end in his mouth and held the rest of the pipe so that it projected above his head like the periscope of a submarine-or a diver's snorkel.The Doctor stood absolutely still, conserving energy, as the ore flowed waist high, chest high, neck high. He clamped his mouth shut and closed his eyes tightly. The ore rose up to his neck, over his chin, and finally closed over his head.Leela watched from hiding as two robots entered the storeroom, lifted the body from the trolley, and carried it away. Once the robots were clear, Leela slipped out from behind her rack and hurried after them.Ca.s.s was almost out of the crewroom door when Uvanov's voice stopped him. 'Where are you off to, Ca.s.s?''To search, of course. We've got to find those two killers.''The robots can handle it.''So can I!' said Ca.s.s and disappeared.Borg started to follow him. 'Where do you think you're going?' demanded Uvanov.'To help Ca.s.s. He's right you know, Commander.''You stay where you are!' yelled Uvanov. But Borg was already gone. Silently Poul got up and followed him.'Maybe it would be quicker if we all went?' suggested Toos.Uvanov looked at the cool, elegant figure in exasperation. 'We are not armed. There are two killers loose on the s.h.i.+p, maybe more.'Dask nodded. 'Quite right, Commander. The robots can deal with the situation more efficiently than we can.'Toos shrugged. 'All right. I just thought you were in a hurry to get back to work.''And so I am, Toos. But I am not not in a hurry to get myself killed!' in a hurry to get myself killed!'SV.7 came into the ore storage area and walked along the row of tanks, checking the gauges. When the robot came to the last one it stopped, and stood thoughtfully studying the gauge.After a long, long pause, SV.7 reached out and touched a control.Inside, the storage tank was full to capacity. The ore came almost to the ceiling. An inch or two of plastic pipe projected from the smooth, grey surface.Grilles opened in the bottom of the tank, and there was a rus.h.i.+ng sound. Slowly the ore level began to drop, to reveal the Doctor's hat, and then his head, with the other end of the pipe clamped firmly between his teeth. As the ore-level fell below his chest and down to his waist, the Doctor opened his eyes and drew a cautious breath. The air was hot, dry and dusty, just like the life-giving air that he'd managed to suck down the pipe.The ore-level sank to his knees, his feet... Suddenly the tank was empty and he was free. A square of light appeared as the hatch opened, and a silver hand stretched through it. The Doctor reached out and took it, and a smooth powerful grip drew him out of the tank and into the storage hall.Blinking, the Doctor straightened up, dusting the ore from his clothes. 'Thank you,' he gasped. 'Thank you very much.''Why were you in the storage tank?''Don't ask silly questions. Anyway, how did you know I was there?''When I arrived, the gauges showed a high percentage of impurity. I therefore checked.''Some of that impurity was me-and the rest was the dead man I found in there. He was murdered-strangled.'SV.7 peered into the tank. 'That is Kerril.' The robot emerged. 'Nearest Voc, priority red, section five.' The blank, silver face turned to the Doctor. 'Commander Uvanov has ordered that you be restrained for questioning. Please do not try to escape again.'The Doctor looked thoughtfully at the robot. Somehow its placid, neutral tones carried an unmistakable air of authority. 'Is the robot command circuit routed only through you?''That is so. I am the Co-ordinator.'Another robot entered, clearly summoned by SV.7's command. SV.7 turned to the newcomer. 'Restrain this person, V.17.' V.17 took the Doctor's arm in a grip that was gentle, but immovable, and began to lead him away. 'Easy now, easy, don't get excited,' said the Doctor hurriedly. But he knew as he spoke he was talking nonsense. Robots never got excited. They just obeyed orders.Leela crept cautiously into the Commander's cabin and looked around.The robots carrying the body had disappeared into another room, the door closing behind them. Leela had waited for a while, then when nothing happened, she'd gone looking for the Doctor, though without success. Now, remembering the Doctor's words, she had returned to the Commander's office, hoping the Doctor would be there ahead of her.The Doctor was nowhere in sight, but there was a curtained sleeping-alcove on the other side of the room and the curtain moved.Leela padded silently towards it. 'Doctor?' she called. 'Doctor, there is danger here. I found a dead body.'There was no answer from behind the curtain. Leela drew her knife. It might be the Doctor-but it might not. Still talking, she edged closer to the curtain. 'Two robots picked up the body and took it to a special place...Leela sprang, knife poised, whipping back the curtains with her free hand. But it was not the face of an enemy that confronted her. It was the face of a corpse.A man was kneeling on the bunk, his face contorted by death-agony into a leering mask. As Leela watched, the body toppled slowly towards her. She leaped back, and heard movement behind her. She spun round. A robot was reaching out for her.Before Leela could move, one silver hand flashed out and gripped her arm, and another came up to cover her mouth. 'Please do not call out,' said a calm, emotionless voice. 'It is important that I am not found here.'Leela twisted her head aside. 'Obviously!''If I had killed him, would I not now kill you too?' Releasing Leela's arm, the robot moved forward and knelt to examine the body.Leela watched it warily. 'That still doesn't explain what you're doing here.''You have not explained what you you , are doing here.' , are doing here.''I was just looking for-' Leela broke off. 'I don't have to explain anything to you. You're just a mechanical man, you're not real real ...' ...'The robot held up the dead body's hand. On the back was a red disc. 'Do you know what this is?''No.'The robot rose. 'I must ask that you tell no one about me,' it said placidly, and moved towards the door.Leela jumped out of its path. 'Is there anyone left alive to tell?'The door slid open. Suddenly the robot slipped round behind Leela and grappled her arms. She struggled furiously, without the slightest result.A bearded thin-faced man in elaborate robes and head-dress came through the door, stopping at the sight of the robot and its captive. 'So, we've caught one have we?' He saw the body sprawled face-down on the bunk. 'Not soon enough, though!' He stepped forward and slapped Leela back-handed across the face. It was a mistake. Leela's hands were held, but her feet were still free. One of them flashed out and took Uvanov in the pit of the stomach. He staggered back, gasping for breath.'I didn't kill that man,' shouted Leela. 'Ask this thing.'Uvanov straightened up, rubbing his stomach tenderly. 'You'll have to do better than that! Now, who are you?''Leela. Who are you?''Why did you kill Ca.s.s?''I didn't.'Uvanov raised his hand to strike her again and Leela hissed, 'Try that again and I'll cripple you.''Why did you kill him?''I didn't.' Leela struggled to look over her shoulder. 'Tell him, you.'Uvanov said, 'That is D.84, a single-function labour robot, D cla.s.s. The D is for Dum. It can't speak!''Has anyone told it that?'Uvanov moved closer to Leela-taking care to keep out of range of her feet. 'You have cost me and the Company a great deal of money,' he said, producing his main grievance first. 'In addition, you've killed two people. Can you think of any reason why I shouldn't have you executed on the spot?''No, but you can, otherwise you'd have done it.''Don't get clever with me,' said Uvanov threateningly.Poul came hurrying in. 'We've caught the man too, Commander. Apparently he killed Kerril, stuffed the body in one of the storage tanks. They're taking him to the crewroom.'Poul moved over to the body. 'Poor Ca.s.s!' He looked at Leela. 'You must be stronger than you look.''You must be stupider than you look if you think I did that!'Poul examined the red disc on the back of the dangling hand. 'Why do you use these things?'Leela glared at him. 'I don't even know what it is.''A robot deactivation disc-otherwise known as a corpse marker. There was one on Kerril too.'Uvanov gave a sigh of disgust. 'You fool, Poul, what did you have to tell her that for?''I a.s.sumed she knew!''If we could have got her to admit she knew what those corpse markers were, we'd have been half-way to a confession!''Half-way to two confessions, you mean. It was Dask who told us about them in the first place.''Which rules him out,' said Uvanov triumphantly. 'Don't you see? If he was responsible for the murders, he'd never have admitted he knew what the discs were.''Ever hear of the double bluff?''You're very keen to spread suspicion,' said Uvanov exasperatedly. 'Could it be you've got something to hide?'Poul smiled wryly. 'We've all got something something to hide-Don't you think so, Commander?' to hide-Don't you think so, Commander?'Uvanov pointed a shaking finger at Leela. 'Bring- that that to the crewroom,' he ordered, and marched out. to the crewroom,' he ordered, and marched out.Poul paused to examine the body, paying particular attention to the head, and the area round the throat. He stood up, shaking his head. 'No,' he muttered. 'Pity, but no.'In his own mind, Poul was quite certain. Whoever had killed Ca.s.s, it wasn't the girl-which made it at least a possibility that the man hadn't killed Kerril.So, the murderer was still at large...

6 Suspicion

The Doctor was sitting on a table in the crewroom, a circle of hostile faces around him. He felt in his pocket and fished out a crumpled paper bag, offering it to Borg. 'Would you care for a jelly-baby?''Shut up!' snarled Borg, and smashed the bag out of his hand.The Doctor picked it up and stuffed it back in his pocket. 'A simple "no thank you" would have been sufficient,' he said, reprovingly. He studied the people around him, the elaborate robes and head-dresses, the complex designs of the face paint. It was a form of dress typical of a robot-dependent society, in which no human needed to perform any manual labour.Uvanov marched in. Behind him was Leela, still held captive by D.84. Poul was close behind them.'Return to normal duties, D.84,' said Poul. The robot released Leela and moved away. Leela glared round, rubbing her arms. Her face lit up at the sight of the Doctor. 'Are you all right?'The Doctor smiled rea.s.suringly. 'I'm fine.'Uvanov looked at the a.s.sembled crew. There was the elegant Toos, the dark-skinned Zilda, sitting bolt upright and glaring at him, the heavy figure of Borg, the lean, muscular Ca.s.s, and the neat, precise Dask. Poul lounged casually in the doorway, watchful as ever, and the Co-ordinator Robot SV.7 stood on guard. Its handsome metal features were incapable of expression, but something about the tilt of its head showed keen attentiveness. Uvanov folded his arms. 'There's been another murder,' he announced. 'Ca.s.s is dead!'Leela edged closer to the Doctor. 'That one's ready to kill,' she hissed, nodding towards Uvanov. 'He attacked me-I had to discourage him. What's the matter with these people?''They're frightened, Leela. That's why they're dangerous.'Borg advanced threateningly on Leela. 'So you murdered Ca.s.s, did you?''How do you know Ca.s.s was murdered, Borg?' asked Poul quietly.Borg paused, baffled. 'Well, it's obvious.''You marked Ca.s.s for death,' said Zilda suddenly.'What are you talking about?''You did put a corpse marker on him,' said Poul quietly. 'Right here, in this crewroom.''Well, yes, but it was a joke. I didn't mean anything by it.'Dask, precise as always, wanted more details. 'Was Ca.s.s killed in the same way as the others?''Yes, exactly the same.' Uvanov swung round on the Doctor. 'Who are you?''I'm the Doctor. I a.s.sume you're in command?''Yes. What are you doing here?''I'm standing talking to you!'Uvanov's face twisted with rage, 'I'd be very careful if I were you!' he screamed.The Doctor looked at the elaborately dressed figure before him. There was something pathetic about Uvanov. A middle-aged man pretending to be young, a weak man trying to be strong. Almost dismissively the Doctor said, 'Yes, no doubt you would.'The indifference in the Doctor's voice drove Uvanov wild. 'What are you doing on my Sandminer?' he shouted.The Doctor sighed. It was always difficult explaining the arrival of the TARDIS, and in circ.u.mstances like these it was almost impossible. 'Well, we're here by accident actually.''Oh, I see,' sneered Uvanov. 'A million square miles of uncharted desert, and you just stumbled across us?'The Doctor smiled. 'Well, it's a small world, isn't it?''I suppose it's a coincidence that just as you arrive three of our people are murdered?'The Doctor said nothing.'Well?' screamed Uvanov.'Oh, I'm sorry, I thought that was a rhetorical question. Yes, it is just a coincidence.''Look, why are we wasting time?' said Borg impatiently. 'We know they're guilty.''We don't know anything of the kind,' snapped Zilda.'We just hope hope they're guilty,' said Poul. 'Otherwise it's one of us!' they're guilty,' said Poul. 'Otherwise it's one of us!'Borg pointed accusingly at the Doctor. 'He was hiding Kerril's body in that hopper, and got trapped in there when it was turned on. Now that's a fact.''No,' said the Doctor with sudden authority. 'That's an inference. I wasn't hiding that body, I was finding it. And I'd say it was put there for precisely that purpose. The real killer wanted me dead, the body was the bait in the trap.''The others were all strangled,' Poul pointed out. 'Why should you be treated differently?''Because the murderer wanted to cast suspicion on me.''Why bother? You're a stowaway, Doctor. What could be more suspicious than a stowaway?''A dead stowaway,' said the Doctor grimly. 'Accidentally killed, automatically a.s.sumed guilty, unable to defend himself.''It's possible, you know,' said Zilda thoughtfully. 'He could be telling the truth.'Toos looked up. 'It's certainly pretty feeble for a lie-so perhaps it is the truth after all.''Ever hear of the double bluff?' said Uvanov.'Well, yes, now you come to mention it,' said the Doctor chattily.Uvanov turned to SV.7. 'Put a guard on them.''Nearest Voc, priority red two, section six,' said SV.7.'I agree with the Commander,' said Borg aggressively. 'They're obviously guilty.''Well, you would, wouldn't you?' said Zilda. 'It gets you out of a very awkward situation!''Why don't you shut your mouth, Zilda?''Why don't you shut yours, Borg,' said Toos wearily.'What? When she's accusing me of murdering my friend?''You never had any friends, Borg,' sneered Zilda. 'Have you all quite finished?' yelled Uvanov. There was silence. 'Right, listen. Either one of us did the killings, or they did. Now, which do you think's the most likely?''There is one other possibility you seem to have overlooked,' said the Doctor helpfully.'Shut up!' bellowed Borg. 'We've heard enough out of you.'The Doctor looked thoughtfully at Borg's hulking figure. 'You know, you're a cla.s.sic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain-'The Doctor's insult was cut off by Borg's big hands, clamped around his throat. 'You stinking murderer!'Dask pulled Borg away. 'Calm down, Borg. It doesn't matter, we've caught them now.'Robot V.8 entered and stood waiting for orders.'Lock up the two strangers, V.8,' ordered Uvanov.SV.7 took hold of the Doctor's arm, V.8 took Leela's and the two prisoners were led away.Uvanov looked round. 'We'll decide what to do about them later. Meanwhile, everybody back to work.'Poul rubbed a hand across his face. 'I still don't like it'You don't have to like it, Poul. Just do it. Now move, all of you.'As they began to file out, Uvanov said, 'We'll all have to work extra s.h.i.+fts. Still, now there's fewer of us, we each get a larger share, that's one consolation.'Toos gave him a scornful look. 'No, Commander, it isn't a consolation.'Zilda was the last to leave. Uvanov reached out and touched her arm. 'Tell me, Zilda, why do you hate me? I don't hate you. We could be friends...''You flatter yourself, Commander,' said Zilda coldly.'By the time this trip is over I'll have more money than you ever dreamed of. I could restore your family fortunes, Zilda!'The dark girl pulled away. 'May I go now, Commander?' Without waiting for an answer, she hurried from the room.In the ore separation hall, a robot stood waiting patiently by the hoppers. Its head turned at the sound of human footsteps.The human held out a red disc. 'Zilda is next.'The robot's eyes flared red as it took the disc. 'I will kill Zilda.'Not far away, in the storage area, the Doctor and Leela stood with metal bands round necks, hips and ankles clamping them to the wall.Leela was struggling furiously. 'These metal straps, they're thin but they won't budge ..The Doctor stood calm and relaxed within his bonds. 'Of course not.''But the robots bent them as if they were leather!''They've locked the molecular structure,' explained the Doctor. 'Result, bonds as solid as steel.'Leela slumped back against the wall. 'It's hopeless!''Oh, I wouldn't say that!'The Doctor was standing very still, his eyes closed.'What are you doing, Doctor?''Concentrating!' said the Doctor mysteriously. 'What's locked can be unlocked, it's merely a matter of thinking out the right molecular combination.''How long will that take?''Oh, no more than two or three weeks.''Three weeks weeks ?' said Leela appalled. ?' said Leela appalled.'Well, there are several million possible combinations to work through, you see.''You don't seem to be taking this very seriously, Doctor!''I'm taking it very seriously, I a.s.sure you. I have the uncomfortable feeling that if the murderer doesn't kill us, the Commander will. a.s.suming of course that they're not one and the same person!'The Command Deck had returned to its normal pattern of activity, though the tensions between the human crew members swirled in the air like ocean currents. Impervious to all human dramas, the robots moved quietly and efficiently about their tasks.Dask and V.8 stood beside a computer read-out screen, checking navigational co-ordinates, in an attempt to track the storm, which had veered away during the crisis.'Project those figures, V.8,' ordered Dask. A flow of symbols began moving across the little screen.Toos looked up from some calculations of her own.'We're nearly 50 per cent under target for the first third of the Operation.''Tell the Commander,' suggested Zilda maliciously, remembering Uvanov's boast of his coming riches.Hovering over the spectrograph screen, Uvanov caught the sound of his name. 'Tell the Commander what?''Unless we find a rich vein soon, Commander, we risk taking the Sandminer back half-empty,' said Toos bluntly. 'You'll barely cover your operating costs.'Uvanov went pale, but said bravely, 'Don't worry, Toos, I've never gone back to base with an empty miner yet.''This trip could be different.''It's certainly been different so far,' said Zilda pointedly. 'I'm taking my rest period now, Commander.''Oh are you?''If you don't mind, Commander,' said Zilda sweetly, and left the control room.'I think I'd better rearrange the duty schedules,' grumbled Uvanov. 'One hour on deck and she has to go and rest!''Rest time is an ent.i.tlement, Commander,' Dask reminded him primly.'Maybe it is. But now the miner's undermanned, we're not going to make our quota unless everyone-'He broke off as V.16 said, 'Lucanol stream, bearing two four.'Lucanol was the rarest and the most valuable of the minerals found in the desert sands. Uvanov rushed eagerly to the spectroscope screen. 'I see it, V.16.'Toos was intent upon her scanners. 'Stream veering left!''All right, Toos, relax.' At times like this, there was something curiously impressive about Uvanov. Whatever his other faults, he was the complete professional when it came to his job.V.16 was immune to the excitement affecting the humans. 'Ground centre veering seven two x zero, running time four point one.''We're losing it!' said Toos.Uvanov shook his head. 'Centre right four degrees, V.16.' He looked at Toos. 'For your information, I've never lost an ore stream yet. Centre right two degrees.'Skilfully, Uvanov manoeuvred the ma.s.sive Sandminer into the path of the storm.'Someone's coming!' whispered Leela.The Doctor had heard nothing, but Leela seemed to be able to sense the approach of danger.Sure enough the door slid open. They heard footsteps approaching them. The storeroom door was just out of their eyeline. Clamped to the wall as they were, it was impossible to turn and see who was coming.Leela remembered the Doctor saying that the murderer intended to kill them. He would never have a better opportunity. Unable to move, the Doctor and Leela waited.The footsteps came closer...

7 The Hunter

The owner of the approaching footsteps came round in front of them. It was Poul.He looked thoughtfully at the two captives, and moved closer.Leela began struggling furiously again.Poul realised his arrival was causing some alarm. 'It's all right. I only want to help you.''You could start by unfastening these clamps,' suggested the Doctor.'Back in the crewroom-you said there was one possibility we'd overlooked. What is it?''Be careful of him, Doctor,' said Leela fiercely. 'He is not what he seems!'Poul looked hard at her. 'Why do you say that?''You move like a hunter. And you watch-all the time.'The Doctor smiled. 'Are you a hunter, Poul?''Never mind about me. What matters to you is Commander Uvanov. I know him, and it's only a matter of time before he decides it's a waste of food and water keeping you two alive.''And that concerns you?'Poul nodded towards Leela. 'I don't think she killed Ca.s.s. He was young and strong. Even she couldn't have strangled him without knocking him out first, and there was no sign of that. So, tell me what you know, and I'll try to help you.'The Doctor said,

Receive SMS and Send Text Online for free >>

« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»

Novel »
Next  »