Chapter 8

The Uprising

The off-worlders were being told about Zanak's long history.

‘So Zanak was a happy, prosperous planet?’ summed up the Doctor.

‘Yes, until the reign of Queen Xanxia,’ said Pralix.

‘Yes, may her spirit be accursed,’ spat out Kintha vehemently.

‘She had some kind of evil powers - the legends say she lived for hundreds of years,’ said Pralix.

‘Come on, that's not necessarily evil,’ objected the Doctor. ‘I've known hundreds of people who've lived for hundreds...’

‘Shh! Doctor!’ Romana told him.

‘What?’

‘Please carry on,’ Romana said to Pralix.

K9 whirred into life as his sensors detected something significant. ‘Master.’

‘Shh, K9, shh,’ said the Doctor, and turned back to Pralix. ‘Please carry on.’

Pralix continued, ‘Queen Xanxia staged galactic wars to demonstrate her powers. By the time she'd finished, Zanak was a ruin. When the Captain arrived, there was hardly anyone left.’

‘Just a few, miserable nomadic tribes,’ added Kintha.

‘Tell me - how did he arrive?’ the Doctor asked.

Mula took up the narrative. ‘My grandfather speaks of seeing a giant silver ship falling from the sky one night with a mighty crash like thunder. Craft often fell to the ground about this time, he says.’

‘The Captain was one of the few survivors,’ said Kintha.

‘Hmm. And needed pretty extensive surgery by the look of him,’ said the Doctor. ‘I wonder who did that, hmm?’

‘I don't think anyone knows,’ said Pralix.

K9 tried again to get his master's attention. ‘Master.’

‘Not now, K9, not now. Shh! Go on, Kintha.’

‘The Captain took charge of Zanak. He persuaded the people to work for him, creating the mines and building strange machinery. The best of our scholars were taken to become technicians and helped create the Bridge, while the strongest men became guards. Then the golden ages of prosperity began.’

‘They were stupid fools to listen to his promises. Golden Ages of Prosperity! Pampered slavery, more like,’ interjected Kimus bitterly. Mula silenced him with an elbow to the ribs.

‘Maybe, but you wouldn't have done any different,’ Pralix pointed out. ‘Particularly when the wealth started to flow. Everyone was deliriously happy.’

‘Not everyone,’ Kintha reminded him.

‘No,’ Pralix agreed.

‘For some of us, terrible agonies of the mind began,’ Kintha said.

‘Yes, well they would for someone who's telepathic,’ agreed the Doctor.

‘Why, Doctor, do you know?’ asked Pralix, eager to learn about his new condition.

‘Yes, yes, I do,’ replied the Doctor. ‘You were absorbing what you would call the life force from the plundered planets.’

‘What is the life force?’ asked Pralix, mystified.

‘Well, it's, err, it's quite difficult to explain in simple terms, but basically... Romana?’

Romana smiled, happy to display her vast learning and show up the Doctor simultaneously. ‘Every atom of matter in the universe has a certain amount of energy locked inside it. Now with something the size of a planet, there's an enormous quantity -'

‘Oh, enormous!’ chipped in the Doctor.

‘So every time Zanak crushes a planet, it releases all that energy. Now, some of it will be on psychic wavelengths.’

‘Right,’ the Doctor agreed.

‘So every time it happens there's a fantastic blast of psychic energy, enough to smash open the neural pathways of anyone with telepathic abilities, like you Mentiads.’

The Doctor chimed in, ‘That's right. You Mentiads were absorbing all that power into your brains.’

Kintha grasped the central element of the complex explanation. ‘So each planet as it dies, adds to that power - the power by which it will be avenged!’

K9 finally managed to get a word in edgeways. ‘Master!’

‘What is it K9?’ the Doctor inquired.

‘My seismograph detects enormous increase in mining operations around the planet. Every mining machine is now working at full pressure.’

Kimus was agog. ‘But that's madness - the machines simply aren't capable of maintaining that level of operation. It would empty the mines by tomorrow!’

Romana raised an interesting inference from the new development. ‘It seems the Captain is in a rush to finish operations on Calufrax and jump again.’

‘But why?’ asked the Doctor rhetorically. ‘Why this sudden rush? And which world will be the next victim of the pirate planet? We need to do some planning...’

Fibuli hurried up to the Captain. ‘All the plant is now working at maximum capacity, sir. We will soon have the Voolium and Madranite 1-5 crystals,’ he reported.

‘Excellent, excellent,’ replied the Captain. ‘Mr Fibuli...’

‘Sir?’

‘I shall prepare the apparatus myself. Fetch me the equipment.’

Fibuli scurried away, and soon returned laden with circuitry and electronic devices. He stacked the materials in a pile on the console in front of the Captain.

The Captain immediately got to work, building the complex psychic interference transmitter with clearly demonstrated great skill and knowledge. 'Alpha suppression signal triggering 338.79 microbits. Neuro-wipedown circuit operational, lobal derangeamatic feedback, parallel with the corticold simulacron. Excellent. By the left frontal lobe of the Sky Demon, Mr Fibuli, I used to be one of the greatest hyper-engineers of my time.’

‘Of all time, Captain,’ offered the deputy. ‘Your reconstruction of this planet is proof of that.’

‘A makeshift job Mr Fibuli, the best that could be done with what was to hand. Oh, it's not scale that counts, but skill. Now - the ship from which most of the major components for this structure were salvaged - the Vantarialis - now there was a ship! The greatest raiding cruiser ever built, and I built it, Mr Fibuli! I built it with technology so far advanced you would not be able to distinguish it from magic.’

‘I heard my great-grandfather speak of it with awe in his voice and tears in his eyes.’

‘Your great-grandfather was a fine first mate on the Vantarialis, daring, loyal and vicious...’

‘And proud to be, Captain, as I am proud to be first mate on this planet.’ The deputy pressed his point. ‘All the same, sir, this must be one of the great engineering feats of all time - a hollow, space-jumping planet...’

The Captain became enraged at Fibuli's superficial ego stroking. ‘This planet! This vile, lumbering planet! You presume to compare this ugly lump of blighted rock with the greatest, sleekest, most deadly ship that ever dared the star ways!’

‘Well it doesn't have the performance sir, but...’

‘Devil storms, Mr Fibuli, you are a callow fool.’ His remarks about Zanak could just as easily have been about himself, and subconsciously, the Captain knew they really were. He began striding about the Bridge, waving his both his human and android arms about and punching them into the air at vital points in his self-pitying rhetoric. ‘Do you not see how my heart burns for the dangerous liberty of the skies? Plunder, battle and escape!’ His voice dropped from a shout to a sob. ‘My soul is imprisoned, bound to this ugly lump of blighted rock, beset by zombie Mentiads and interfering Doctors.’

‘But what can they do to you, Captain?’

‘Enough! They shall die - by the flaming moons of Hell, they shall die.’ Logic overtook emotion again. ‘Find me those crystals, Mr Fibuli,’ he hissed.

‘Aye, aye, Captain. As soon as we can, sir.’ The deputy scampered off to see how the mineral rape of Calufrax was proceeding.

‘I shall be avenged,’ the Captain muttered to himself.

A voice light of tone but heavy with sarcasm and menace filled the Bridge. ‘Oh good, I see you've found some occupational therapy. It's a good thing not to let your old skills die.’

The Captain turned and saw -

...The angel blazed white, aflame with fury. ‘Die, you fool, die!’ she screamed and...

- his tormentor had returned to the Bridge, mocking him again. He looked straight into the blinding face. ‘I assure you, my old skills are very much alive,’ he said cryptically.

Kimus and the Doctor walked back into Zanak's main settlement after the long trek from the Mentiads' dwelling in the mountains. After considerable debate it was decided that they would try to ‘borrow' another aircar and use it to gain direct access to the Bridge structure. Then their task would be to somehow disable the engines overnight to stop further space jumps before tackling the Captain himself. Meanwhile, Romana, Mula and the Mentiads would wait overnight and then set out for the Bridge cross-country, starting out in the dim, early light. It had been suggested that they could retrace their steps through the mountain tunnels and then up the lift shaft, but investigation showed the tunnels around the mine shaft swarming with soldiers. The journey by foot would be difficult and with light fading fast, the assault on the Bridge was safer left to the morning.

Once in the settlement, Kimus insisted on going to Balaton's dwelling to try and persuade the old man of the danger he faced from the Captain. Just as they approached the house, Enak accosted them.

‘Kimus - thank goodness I've found you! Do you know where Mula is? Her grandfather was murdered by the Captain's guards; I saw it myself!’

‘Balaton - murdered?’ said the young man disbelievingly - how would he tell Mula?

‘Yes, it's true. The council debated for a long time before deciding what to do. The members have just requested a meeting with the leader of the Captain's guards mid-morrow - it's being held in the central courtyard,’ said Enak.

‘Good, it could prove a useful diversion,’ decided the Doctor. ‘Come on, Kimus, we've got work to do!’

‘All right. Now, Enak, be very careful at the meeting - the guards are utterly ruthless and not to be trusted. Take care,’ said Kimus before hurrying off after the off-worlder.

The two fugitives returned to the courtyard where they had ‘borrowed' the first aircar. Again, the same guard was dozing in the pilot's seat of an aircar.

‘Well they say you can confuse some of the people all of the time - let's see shall we?’ The Doctor repeated his trick with the trail of sweets, and the guard obediently climbed out of the craft to follow the confectionery distraction.

The Doctor and Kimus climbed into the aircar. ‘I really must stop doing this. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.’

Just as the Doctor was about to start the aircar, a blast of concentrated energy fused the aircar's controls. The guard was not about to be fooled twice with the same trick.

‘Hold it! Hands up! Get out!’ he yelled.

‘Oh well, old Abe' was right - you can't fool all of the people all of the time,’ muttered the Doctor to himself.

Fibuli scampered excitedly onto the Bridge. ‘Captain, sir, Captain - they've caught the Doctor!’

‘Splendid, Mr Fibuli.’

‘He was trying to steal an aircar but one of our guards managed to immobilise it. We've sent another aircar to pick them up. Which means in the end -’

‘Trivia, Mr Fibuli, trivia,’ said the Captain, cutting short the babble. ‘Have the guards managed to open his vessel yet?’

The deputy's face fell. ‘Ah, no, sir, it's proving remarkably difficult. Nothing they can do will even mark it.’

‘Fools, incompetent cretins,’ said the Captain wearily.

‘But we have located a potential source for PJX 1-8.’

‘Ahh - better, Mr Fibuli.’

The deputy smiled again. ‘We can manage one more jump under our present conditions, sir. If we made it to that planet, we could mine it for PJX 1-8 and then make our own repairs.’

‘And we will mine it,’ bustled the half-man, half-robot. He was thinking only of getting another step closer to freedom and abandoning this charade of bluster and bombast. ‘Prepare to jump as soon as the Voolium and Madranite 1-5 crystals have been produced.’

‘I feel I should point out, Captain, that it is a heavily-populated planet.’

‘Remind me to catch up on my weeping one day.’

‘In other words, go ahead, sir?’

‘Show me the chart,’ was the grunted reply.

Fibuli unfurled a ready star chart, which the Captain peered at over his shoulder. ‘It's here, sir, in the planetary system of the star Sol - the planet Terra.’

The Captain was almost wistful for a moment. ‘Ahh, yes, a pretty planet.’

‘It looks a pleasant world, Captain.’

‘Then...’

...The angel blazed white, aflame with fury. ‘Die, you fool, die!’ she screamed and brought her...

‘... It will be a pleasure to destroy it!’ raged the Captain, shaking his head furiously.

‘Yes sir,’ said Fibuli hastily. ‘I will make arrangements.’ He hurried off.

The Captain felt a chill in his sensors - or was it his bones? Sometimes he could still remember the cold winds of Zanak tearing at his charred flesh that night the Vantarialis fell from the sky. He could still feel the pain, the numbness, the loss - his humanity died that night, along with his soul. Only hollowness remained now, matching the hollowness of this world he piloted across the cosmos in search of prey...

The wild white silhouette whispered to him, ‘Another planet, Captain?’

‘Another planet,’ he echoed.

‘Then the objective will soon be reached.’

‘It will... it will indeed.’

It was early, and the light was still dim in the settlement when Romana and K9 arrived. Taking the mobile computer cross-country and up the treacherous mountain path to the Bridge had proved impossible, so it was decided that Romana would go down to the settlement and put K9 into an aircar. She found one abandoned by the settlement's edge, its controls fused by blaster fire. Unbeknownst to Romana, this was the same car that the Doctor and Kimus had tried to ‘borrow' the previous evening.

‘I can repair the controls and pilot this craft to the Bridge successfully,’ K9 informed Romana.

‘All right, but if anything happens, go back to the TARDIS,’ she agreed. ‘I'm heading back to Mula and the Mentiads.’ Romana set off for the mountains again, wondering how the Doctor and Kimus were getting on.

The Captain was almost happy. The mining of Calufrax was virtually complete. Soon the crystals would be in his grasp, giving him power over the zombie Mentiads. And the off-worlder Doctor and one of his native accomplices had been captured and brought to the Bridge. Both were chained to a column in the control chamber, slumped forward unconscious. Slowly, the Doctor began to come to his senses.

‘Have I told you my plan, hmm? No more Janis thorns, no more Janis thorns! I think it should work really quite well...’ babbled the Time Lord. Suddenly he jerked awake and found the Captain staring at him intently. ‘Oh, well. Back to spontaneous improvisation. Good morning.’

‘So, Doctor, you have discovered the little secret of our planet.’

‘You won't get away with it, you know.’

The Captain almost laughed out loud. ‘And what makes you so certain of that?’

‘At the moment, nothing at all,’ replied the Doctor with disarming honesty, ‘but it does my morale no end of good just to say it. I've been tied to pillars by better men than you, Captain.’

‘Aah - but none, I dare guess, more vicious!’

‘Vicious? Ha!’ The Doctor looked about and then whispered to the still-unconscious Kimus. ‘Don't panic, Kimus, don't panic!’

‘I have programmed the Bridge computer to devise a suitable manner for you to leave us, and believe me Doctor, my computer has a wicked imagination. By the horny elbows of the Sky Demon I shall enjoy your death.’

‘The Sky Demon!’ exclaimed the Doctor. ‘I've got it! The pirate fleets of Agran! They used to terrorise and plunder the whole western sector of this Galaxy. The Sky Demon was the mythical devil that the souls of dead pirates were supposed to go to. I thought you were all destroyed in the Dordellis Wars.’

‘Silence! By the skies of hell, silence! You know nothing of these things.’

‘Oh, I thought I was doing rather well,’ retorted the Doctor. ‘Something that's been puzzling me, though, is how come you're still with us? Without wishing to be rude of course - it's all right for chaps like me. But a pirate? Two hundred years and more is overstaying your welcome, don't you think? The gnarled fingers of the Sky Demon must be tapping a little impatient by now.’

‘Doctor, I see you do not care to wait and experience the death my computer is preparing for you, you wish to die now,’ growled the Captain. ‘So be it.’

The Nurse appeared at the Captain's side. ‘Doctor,’ she observed haughtily, ‘I think you're being a little tactless.’

‘I know,’ the Doctor grinned. ‘I'm terribly good at it, aren't I?’

The Time Lord continued mocking his captor. ‘What are you doing it for, Captain? It doesn't make sense, and you know it. I can understand the life of a full-blooded pirate - the thrill, the danger and the derring-do, but this?’

The half-man, half-robot began to pace the floor in frustration, like a caged animal. His foe's words were like daggers, stabbing the truth into his mind.

The Doctor continued his verbal attack. ‘Hidden away in your mountain retreat, eating other peoples' perfectly good planets - where's the derring-do in that?’

‘Silence!’

‘You're just trying to shut me up. You can't kill me while I'm helpless.’

‘Can't I?’

‘No. You can't. Because you're a warrior and it's against the warrior's code. You should have thought of that before you tied me up.’

‘By the hounds of hell...’

The Doctor cut short the Captain's hoarse whisper of impotent rage. ‘Aaah, yes. Hard to listen, isn't it, Captain, when someone's got a finger on a nerve?’ The Doctor tried another line of attack. ‘What is it you're really up to, eh? What do you want? You don't want to take over the universe, do you? No! You wouldn't know what to do with it - beyond shout at it!’

The Captain could feel his blood boiling by this stage. He could hold back no longer - it was time for the Doctor to die. He raised his android arm to command Avitron to kill, but paused before transmitting the fatal signal. ‘Mr Fibuli!’ the Captain shouted.

Fibuli scuttled over to join the Captain. ‘Yes sir?’

‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘Mr Fibuli - release him.’

The deputy was shocked. ‘But Captain...’

The Captain had already marched from the room.

‘He said release me!’ hissed the Doctor.

Fibuli reluctantly used a sonic remote control to deactivate the bonds restraining the Doctor's arms. The Time Lord rubbed his wrists vigorously to try and restore the circulation from both his hearts. Then he strode off after the Captain.

At the settlement's edge, K9 had managed to reroute some of the less charred circuits in the abandoned aircar and bypass the worst of the damage. Using the sensor probe from his snout, the mobile computer activated the craft. ‘Contact!’ K9 announced to no one in particular, and the aircar was airborne. ‘We have lift-off. Engage full forward thrust... Course, three two zero...’

The robot dog piloted the aircar toward the Bridge, and landed the craft by the door into the mountain. ‘Most satisfactory,’ K9 reported smugly.

K9's self-satisfaction was short-lived, however. Arriving at the door into the mountainside, he discovered that it would not open for him. ‘You are a very stupid door... Open... I order you to open...’ K9 ordered. The door remained obstinately closed. K9 extended his eye probe to access the door controls.

Far below, Romana had rejoined Mula and the Mentiads and the group had just reached the base of the Captain's mountain.

‘It's a long climb up there,’ said Romana, looking up at the towering peak.

‘Don't worry - we'll make it,’ reassured Pralix.

‘We have to,’ added Mula. ‘I hope Kimus and the Doctor managed to break into the engine room without getting caught.’

‘We're in trouble if they haven't,’ Pralix observed.

‘The Doctor knows what he's doing,’ Romana assured them, showing more confidence than she felt.

The group began the difficult climb.

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