Chapter 3

The Mentiads

In the underground chamber, the shrouded figures were again standing in a circle, facing inwards. In the vision globe an astral image of the Doctor formed. The leader looked to the others.

‘We have an intruder - and wait!’ The globe shimmered, and an image of Romana appeared. ‘There is another. We must act.’ The astral image slowly dissipated. ‘Act at once. The vigil of evil is accomplished. The one called Pralix must be harvested. The time of knowing shall be soon and fast upon that shall follow the time of vengeance - vengeance for the crimes of Zanak!’

‘Vengeance for the crimes of Zanak!’ the others echoed through their thoughts. They began to file from the chamber and begin the long trek under the mountains and across rolling hillsides towards the planet's main settlement.

Balaton and Mula were trying to make sense of Pralix's illness.

‘Poor Pralix,’ said the young woman. ‘Why? What does it all mean?’

‘Why should it mean anything; it's just the way life is - accept it,’ replied her gloomy grandfather.

Balaton's comments incensed Kimus. Like all citizens of Zanak, he respected Balaton for his age and the wisdom it was meant to carry, but the young man despised his do-nothing, survival-at-all-costs philosophies. Kimus whirled round and verbally attacked Balaton. ‘Oh yes, we can have anything we want - except the freedom to think for ourselves. I like to know what I'm accepting, old man.’

‘You young people nowadays, you're all spoilt, that's your trouble. Everything comes too easily for you,’ grumbled Balaton.

‘For all of us,’ Kimus retorted. ‘That's just it, isn't it? We can have anything we want - apart from the freedom to think for ourselves. To look for answers.’

‘Who ever dressed himself in answers, eh? Or filled his stomach with them?’ Balaton approached his accuser. ‘I remember when I was a lad, now things were very different then. You think you have no freedom now; you ought to have been here under old Queen Xanxia.’

A cry of pain from Pralix stopped another row starting, and Mula stepped between the two men to separate them. ‘Shh, both of you. Think of poor Pralix, he must have quietness.’

‘Quietness?’ scoffed Kimus. ‘Come on, Mula, my love. You know as well I do that no amount of quietness can save him.’

Balaton walked away into the main room, not really looking at the wild yellow and green jungle mural which cascaded across its walls. I feel old, he thought. I have lived so long and still I have no peace, no quiet. He held up a wrinkled, bony hand to his face and found it shaking uncontrollably.

Kimus stormed after the old man, unaware of Balaton's despair.

‘We've all been quiet for too long - and for what?’ he demanded and grabbed the luxurious cloth of the old man's robing. ‘Pretty clothes? Pockets full of useless trinkets?’ Kimus went back to Mula, imploring, ‘That isn't what life ought to be about.’

Now Balaton threw off his musings and turned on the younger man. ‘Kimus, you are a dangerous fool! Don't listen to him, Mula. If you love your brother you must shelter him, hide him, protect him from the Mentiads. Remember what happened to your father.’ The elderly citizen bit his tongue immediately after mentioning this, but it was too late.

‘My father didn't fall into the hands of the Mentiads - he was shot by the Captain's guards!’ exclaimed Mula.

‘To save him from the Mentiads,’ insisted Balaton. ‘At least he died a clean death. It was an act of mercy by the Captain.’

‘Oh well, thank you, oh merciful Captain for so kindly having Mula's father shot down in the street like a dog,’ retorted Kimus. He was enraged that Balaton could bring that up and try to twist it for his own purposes.

Kimus had been just a child when his father and Mula and Pralix's father were both stricken with the Omens illness. The Mentiads had entered the settlement and tried to take the pair away - both men were executed in front of their families by the Captain's guards before the Mentiads could get to them. Mula was too young at the time to have any recollection of the tragedy, but she had been told about it. Kimus was not so fortunate - images from that terrible day still haunted him, giving him the courage in his quest for freedom.

Balaton approached the young man, with a wild look in his eyes. ‘Listen, Kimus, let me tell you this - I would cheerfully strangle Pralix with my own hands to save him from those - those...’ the old man collapsed onto a padded bench, his whole body shaking.

Kimus just stared down at Balaton, aghast at this murderous confession. He looked up at Mula and saw the shame in her eyes. This evil regime is tainting even the innocent, thought Kimus hollowly.

Monsadi was ambitious, impatient and bored. The second class guard was on patrol in the settlement, an assignment he considered well below his abilities. Watching over the witless citizens of Zanak gave him little job satisfaction, so when he saw one walking smugly through a courtyard close by, he decided to have some sport with him.

Enak almost jumped into the air when suddenly accosted by the curt guard. Instinctively he tried to conceal the handful of sweets he had received from the strangers.

‘Where did you get those?’ barked Monsadi.

‘Err - b-back there, sir,’ whimpered the scared citizen.

The guard confiscated the offending items (which proved quite tasty), and sent Enak about his business. From the citizen's description, there were two very odd characters nearby - capturing one or both could earn the guard a way out of this unwanted assignment. Monsadi set off eagerly in search of the strangers.

The Doctor was still determinedly trying to seek information from the citizens. Romana sat quietly, perched on K9's back observing her companion's futile efforts.

The Doctor was pacing alongside a man as he hurriedly crossed the town square. ‘Excuse me, have you seen Calufrax?’ the Doctor inquired. ‘It's a sort of planet...’

The man turned and dashed away.

The Doctor halfheartedly pursued the fleeing citizen, shouting, ‘...About fourteen thousand kilometres across, oblate spheroid...!’

No sooner had the Doctor come to a halt than he spotted two more citizens, a man and a woman, wandering through the square. He hurried over to them. ‘Ah, excuse me; I'm looking for a planet that's called Calufrax. It's about fourteen thousand kilometres across and it's an oblate spheroid and it's covered in ice...’ Once again, the citizens hurried away, desperate to give the Doctor a wide berth.

Frustrated at his lack of success, the Doctor tried shouting rhetorically into the air. ‘Has anybody seen a planet called Calufrax?’ The silence that followed was deafening. ‘Funny, nobody's seen it.’

A cry of pain came from a nearby dwelling. ‘The life force is dead! The life force is dead!’

‘Well, at least someone's around anyway,’ observed the Time Lord.

‘We're all murderers! Murderers!’ continued the shouting.

‘It came from over there,’ observed Romana.

‘You stay here,’ the Doctor told Romana and K9. ‘I'll go and see.’ He disappeared in search of the source of the shouting.

Lacking anything more interesting to do, Romana took the Doctor's brass telescope from her belt and began to survey the mountainous horizon. She had noticed a strange black structure on high earlier. She soon found it again - it seemed to be composed of three upright cylindrical structures alongside each other, set into the side of the highest peak. I wonder who uses that, thought Romana, and for -

Suddenly the telescope was snatched from her grasp by a gauntlet-clad hand. She found a burly, sneering man in military uniform looking at her. He began to circle her slowly and closely, clutching the telescope.

‘This is a forbidden object.’

‘Why?’ asked Romana, having developed an immediate dislike of this person.

‘That is a forbidden question,’ he replied unhelpfully. ‘You are a stranger?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘Strangers are forbidden! Where are you from?’

‘I'm from another world. A different planet.’

‘There are no other worlds, it is a forbidden concept! How did you get here?’

‘I came with the Doctor,’ said Romana, but instantly regretted her rash words. It would have been better if the guard thought she was alone - then at least one of them might stay free.

‘Who is -’ began Monsadi.

Romana cut him off quickly. ‘Ah, now don't tell me. Doctors are forbidden as well.’ Her sarcasm succeeded in distracting him.

‘You are now under arrest - come!’ he ordered, jabbing her viciously in the back with the butt of his energy weapon. One outsider in custody would meet his purposes, he reasoned. Let someone else risk their neck trying to capture the male - he was probably more dangerous anyway.

K9 observed Romana's detention and was about to emerge from behind a pillar to stun the guard when Romana called out, ‘No K9, you mustn't!’

Monsadi was mystified at this sudden outburst, not having seen K9. ‘What did you say?’ he demanded.

‘What I said was - no K9, you mustn't - fetch the Doctor.’

The guard thought it best to ignore this idiocy. ‘You're mad - move!’ he bellowed, and gave her another jab for good measure.

Unnoticed by Monsadi, K9 moved quietly off in the opposite direction.

Balaton was wailing at his wits' end. ‘We're done for - they must have heard him. They must be nearly here. They'll take him just as they took Komnor, just as they took Tralakis, just as they tried to take your father.’

Mula and Kimus were trying to restrain Pralix, who was thrashing about incoherently on his bed.

‘We must hide him,’ the young woman said.

‘You can't hide him forever,’ replied Kimus.

All of them heard the sound of the bead curtain at the dwelling's entranceway being pushed aside and the heavy stomp of boots coming into the main room. Was it the Mentiads or the Captain's guards? Balaton looked fearfully at the entranceway and was bewildered to see neither. Instead a tall, shambolic figure filled the archway. A mass of curly hair surrounded a mobile face with the wrinkles of many smiles. The man's garb marked him as an outsider to Balaton's eyes.

‘Excuse me,’ asked the arrival. ‘Are you sure this planet's meant to be here? '

Kimus could see the old man was too stunned to answer, so he stepped forward to question this strange visitor. ‘Who are you?’

‘Ah, now that's a bit tricky. Most beings I encounter usually find it easiest just to call me the Doctor, actually.’

‘The Doctor - are you a healer?’ asked Mula hopefully.

The man's face broke into a wide, beaming smile. ‘Well - I've saved quite a few things in my times - people, planets, entire populations, that sort of thing. What seems to be the problem here?’

Balaton guessed what was coming next, and tried to stop his granddaughter by putting a hand on her shoulder, but she shook it off and stepped closer to the stranger. ‘It's my brother - he's terribly ill - could you have a look at him?’

‘Of course! Where is he?’ asked the Doctor. While Mula and Kimus brought Pralix into the main room and lay him down on a padded bench, the Time Lord glanced around the dwelling and winced at the garish decor. Then he crouched by the feverish young man and made a quick check of his vital signs. ‘He's in a state of shock.’

‘He does this every time the Captain announces a new golden age of prosperity,’ explained Mula.

‘What - every time?’

‘Well, the last two or three times, yes.’

Balaton stood back from the stranger, nervously wringing his hands. Could this person be trusted? Did they even have a choice? The old man realised the Doctor was approaching him.

‘Tell me about this Captain - pleasant sort of chap, is he?’

‘We've never seen him,’ Mula offered.

‘But he is great and good,’ said Balaton. ‘He looks after us and makes us rich.’

‘He makes us his fools,’ said Kimus bitterly.

‘Really? That's a very interesting observation,’ noted the Doctor. He was approaching Kimus to quiz him further when a cry from Pralix halted him.


The Doctor paused. ‘Mentiads? I've heard that somewhere before.’

The Captain sat in the com, speaking in a murmur. ‘We're surrounded by incompetents, Polly, you and I... incompetents and fools...’

He was talking to Avitron. The mechanical parrot was perched on the edge of his private console, cooing soothingly at its master. The Captain had created the deadly toy as a diversion for himself. He was in constant, searing pains from wounds sustained during his arrival on this world, and the huge exoskeleton that kept the remains of his human body alive in stasis also preserved his private agonies.

So he created the Polyphase Avitron. As a Black Star buccaneer in an Agran pirate fleet he had been fascinated with tales of the original pirates on the planet Terra and modelled himself after these mythic figures. For an elaborate joke he had built the robot parrot to match the pets chosen by many of the original pirates. The bionic bird had an extra purpose - it served as his executioner when someone failed the Captain, and was a useful deterrent against others who would do the same.

‘You're my only true friend,’ the Captain told Avitron. ‘But never mind, Polly - not long now. Not long now before it's finished. We'll be free.’ His sensors detected an approaching presence and he swiveled to receive the latest bulletin from Fibuli.

‘Captain, Captain, sir, the Mentiads are marching, sir.’

‘Vultures of death - ghouls!’

‘They must have located another rogue telepath,’ said the deputy.

Fibuli had a withering ability to state the obvious, thought the Captain.

‘Channel 21, sir,’ Fibuli added helpfully. ‘Sector Five.’

The Captain activated a view screen suspended over the Bridge's entranceway, and it displayed the rambling renegades striding resolutely across rolling, green hillsides towards the planet's largest settlement. The Captain linked his vocal output to the communication systems fitted into every guard's helmet. ‘Sector Five. The Mentiads are heading towards Sector Five. The telepath must not be taken. Find him and destroy him - or by all the suns that blaze, I'll tear you apart.’ He paused, ‘Molecule from molecule,’ he cackled maniacally.

Rusoh was terrified but determined not to show it to the four other guards under his command. The quintet was crouched at the bottom of a hill in sector five, waiting for the dreaded Mentiads to appear. All his life, the guard (first class), had been taught to hate and fear the Mentiads, been told about their terrible mental powers. He had even been present when two young men were executed by guards to stop them being spirited away by the zombies for their own, evil ends. Now Rusoh had to lead a cadre of troops against the Mentiads on the march.

He glanced at the faces of his comrades and saw similar feelings etched into their features. They had all been diverted from watching over the old entranceway and lift-shaft to the mines to intercept the Mentiads before the zombies could reach the settlement. The bitterest irony of it all was that Rusoh was not a particularly violent person. He had only joined the guards because it was a comfortable life and - except for the Mentiads - revolt on Zanak was unheard of. So much for a comfortable life, he thought ruefully.

Suddenly the Mentiads began appearing over the brow of the hill, marching relentlessly onwards in their yellow, loose-fitting robes. Rusoh stepped forward directly into their path, but the zombies did not pause or change direction. He raised his energy weapon and fired. He felt the energy bolt flash from the weapon but it deflected harmlessly away from the Mentiads.

The guard first class felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as the air about him began to crackle with psychic energy. The Mentiads were now all focusing their attention on him, and he felt like he was at the end of a long tunnel with something very terrible rushing towards him. He braced himself but still was not ready when the telekinetic jolt hit his body, flinging it across the hillside and crushing the life out of him.

Rusoh lay crumpled and still as the Mentiads marched past. The other guards cowered beside him, but he moaned just once and then all was darkness...

An enraged Captain and his deputy watched all this on the Bridge view screen.

‘Idiot! Brainless fool!’ bellowed the Captain before overcoming his anger. He spoke again to the guards through their helmet communicators. ‘All guards - the Mentiads are heading towards Sector Six. Find the telepath. Find him and destroy him.’ The Captain and Fibuli watched on the viewscreen as the guards converged on Sector Six. As the minutes passed, the Captain grew ever more impatient ‘Find him!’ he bellowed into the communicator again. ‘Find him and destroy him. Search Sector Six.’

‘Er, Sector Seven,’ noted Fibuli, who had rechecked the sensor readings.

‘Search Sector Seven!’ the Captain ordered. He touched some controls, and the view screen image flickered several times, then paused at a courtyard within the settlement. A squat grey shape seemingly made of metal could be seen gliding through a courtyard in Sector Seven.

‘What in the planet's name is that?’ questioned the Captain of no one in particular.

The Polyphase Avitron turned its head with a faint whirring noise, and appeared to intently study the robot dog displayed on the monitor.

As they watched, the dog entered one of the dwellings. ‘Search that house!’ the Captain ordered.

Kimus was amazed - the strangest thing he had seen in his young life was gliding through the bead curtain at the entrance to Balaton's dwelling. It was a squat, grey shape, like a series of dull metallic panels assembled in a vaguely animalistic form. The thing seemed to have a life of its own. It made a whirring noise and a box at its front that Kimus thought could be the head moved upwards. Most amazing of all - it spoke!

‘Master,’ stated a grating voice.

Balaton was terrified, and leapt from the path of this latest apparition. ‘Save us, Captain, save us!’ the old man cried out involuntarily.

Mula shrank back onto a bench near Pralix, ready to protect his brother from this thing. Kimus was fearful too, but determined not to show it. He stood his ground and realised the curious arrival was probably connected to their previous curious arrival. ‘What is it?’

The Doctor glanced about their fearful faces, then beamed broadly. ‘No, no, no, it's all right, it's all right; he's a friend of mine. Aren't you a friend of mine, K9?’

‘Affirmative, master - friend,’ replied the grey object.

The Doctor immediately ignored his robot companion and looked to Kimus and Balaton. ‘Now then - tell me about the Mentiads.’

Balaton was even more unsure than ever of this stranger, but spluttered a reply.

‘They are evil z-zombies, they have terrible powers.’

‘Master -' K9 tried to interrupt.

‘Mentiads - they're coming!’ cried out Pralix.

‘Mistress is in danger,’ continued the mobile computer, but was ignored by the Doctor, who was now crouched by Pralix, whispering at the young man.

‘What do the Mentiads want of you?’

Two guards toting energy weapons appeared in the front archway. Mula saw them first. ‘Kimus, Kimus!’ she cried, and ran to his side. The senior guard saw the feverish Pralix and recognised the signs of a telepath from previous executions.

‘That's him - shoot!’

Both guards raised their weapons, but were instantly cut down by a beam of pure energy from K9's snout as the robot dog acted to protect his master. ‘How long have you stunned them for, K9?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Indefinitely, master.’

‘Good, good.’ The Time Lord cast a dismissive glance over the two slumped figures. ‘Evil zombies? Terrible powers?’

‘They're not Mentiads, explained Kimus. ‘They were the Captain's guards.’ He was developing a healthy respect for this person who had a servant that stopped the seemingly invincible soldiers with such ease.

‘The Mentiads!’ Pralix cried feverishly.

The Doctor hurried to Pralix's side, and whispered, ‘The Mentiads, Pralix! Pralix, what is it?’

Pralix's condition provoked a wail from Balaton.

‘Hide him - we must hide him! They must be nearly here. Oh, the Captain's way was best,’ sobbed the old man, sinking to his knees.

Mula went to her grandfather's side. ‘They're coming. There's no way that we can hide him.’

‘No, you're cowards, both of you,’ said Kimus. ‘We must fight. We're not going to be pampered, frightened vegetables any more!’ His bravado was cut short by the silent arrival of the yellow-robed zombies they all feared so much.

The Doctor was continuing his attempt to help Pralix. ‘Pralix, can you hear my voice?’ The Doctor eventually realised the others had stopped bickering, and stood up to find a group of sunken-eyed strangers in the front archway. ‘What is it? Hello! Are you by any chance the Mentiads?’ he asked cheerfully. He continued after a stony silence, ‘Well, it's just that you look like Mentiads to me.’

The group turned as one and regarded him. A yellow beam of energy surged out from their eyes and slammed the Doctor against the nearest wall, forcing the breath from his body. K9 shot a full force energy beam at the attackers, but it dissipated harmlessly before it could reach them.

The Doctor recovered enough to gasp out a few words, ‘Well, you see, what I thought was that ah -’

He was cut short by another surge of power pouring from the Mentiads. His body crumpled and he fell to the floor, seemingly lifeless...

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Epilogue