Stowaway

There was nothing left for him among his own people. His brother, his last surviving relative was dead, killed by the Marshmen, and there was no-one else on the Starliner that he could honestly describe as a close friend. For as long as he could remember, his mathematical talents had set him above his peers . . . Adric fingered the star-shaped badge he wore, the badge he had been awarded, nearly a year ago now, in recognition of those same talents. As he did so, he thought of the events of the last few hours, events which had begun with his decision to leave the confines of the Starliner and join up with Varsh and his band of misfits.

Varsh . . . Adric paused, remembering his brother, the one who had defended him when the two of them were young children, the one who had tackled those who, jealous of Adric's mathematical skills, had made fun of the younger boy. "Anyone who messes with my brother messes with me," Varsh had said once. But, somewhere down the line, the two of them had drifted apart; Varsh had started spending more and more time with his friends, Tylos and Keara, and less and less time with Adric.

Adric unconsciously reached down and touched the belt around his waist, the belt he had just inherited from his brother. Keara, who, only hours before, had called him a "dreamer", had given him that belt as they knelt beside Varsh's dead body. Adric had clutched the belt tightly, still too numbed by the shock of seeing his brother lying lifeless on the floor of the Starliner to weep for his loss. But it was in that same moment that he realised what he had to do, what his strange premonition that he would be leaving Alzarius, but not on the Starliner, meant. He was going to stow away on the TARDIS, the strange blue box which had arrived on Alzarius with the coming of Mistfall, and leave the planet with the Doctor and Romana, the two outsiders who had come in the TARDIS. After all, he no longer had any ties to his own people.

Keara was lucky; she had a father, Login, who loved her even though he was now a Decider and therefore expected to sever all family ties. Adric had never known his own father, who had died in a hunting accident several years before, and Varsh had barely been old enough to remember him. From his mother, Jendra (who had been pregnant with Adric at the time) he learned the man's name, Tarlec, but not much else. It was said she had never fully recovered from the loss, that she had only kept herself going for the sake of her two sons. But, when Adric was barely eight years old and Varsh was still a pre-teen, Jendra had been attacked by an unidentified predator in the marsh. She never recovered from her terrible injuries and, since she and Tarlec had both been only children, Varsh and Adric had spent the next few years being cared for by a succession of foster families, their only other relation being their grandmother, Arna, who was old and frail and died herself only a few months later. Now, Varsh too was gone and, with him, any reason Adric might have had for staying with his fellow Alzarians.


As he continued his exploration of the TARDIS corridors, still struggling to reconcile the sheer vastness of the craft with its small exterior dimensions, Adric recalled how Varsh had changed over the last few years. Whereas, when he was younger, Varsh had not been known for being a trouble-maker, he was soon being called before the Deciders at least once a month. Petty theft mostly, but he had also been summonsed three times for being outside the Starliner after curfew. At the same time, he, Tylos and Keara began truanting regularly, spending time they should have spent in the Schoolroom roaming unsupervised in the marsh. When they did bother to show up for lessons - almost invariably late - they had rarely attempted to do any work. Indeed, had Adric ever heard the Earth expression "going off the rails", he would have used it to describe Varsh's behaviour in the time before he, Tylos and Keara left the Starliner.

Looking back, Adric could not pinpoint the exact moment Varsh decided to leave. All he knew was that, one morning, he had woken up to find Varsh gone, plus a hastily written note on his brother's bedside table:

Adric

By the time you read this, I will be gone from the Starliner. Tylos and Keara too. We've all had enough of the Deciders and their obsession with "correct procedure". So we're leaving and we're going to live by our own rules from now on.

Do not attempt to follow me. We may be brothers, but the time has come for us to go our separate ways. Your place is on the Starliner and, besides, we have no use for Elites in the Outlers.

Goodbye.

And that was it; Varsh hadn't even bothered to sign his name. The Outlers, as he, Tylos and Keara had started calling themselves even before they left the Starliner, moved into a cave overlooking the Starliner. Presently, two others joined them and the five teenagers soon became notorious for stealing food supplies. Adric recalled how, when he attempted to join the Outlers, Tylos had challenged him to steal some of the river fruits, melon-like fruits which grew in the marshes of Alzarius. It was just as he was skirting the main settlement that Mistfall had begun . . .


Mistfall was the strange phenomenon which affected Alzarius every fifty years and which Varsh had always dismissed as a myth - until he witnessed it for himself. It began with the waters of the marsh bubbling, as thick mist rose from the surface. It was widely believed that these mists were toxic; indeed, this formed the basis for a popular game among the Alzarian children. One of them would shout: "Mistfall's coming!" and count to fifty, while the others raced to an area which had been designated as the "Starliner". Anyone who failed to reach the "Starliner" by the time the counter finished counting had to lie on the ground and pretend to be dead. The game went on until all the players were "dead" except one, who would then become the new counter.

Adric had now seen for himself just how deadly Mistfall was. Not because of the mists themselves (those were, in fact, harmless) but because of the creatures that rose from the swamps at the same time - Marshmen, highly adaptable creatures with a fierce hostility towards the humanoids in the Starliner. Ironically, it had turned out that the Alzarians (who had believed themselves to be of Terradonian descent) had, in fact, evolved from a group of these same Marshmen. Adric had overheard the Doctor explaining this to Deciders Garif and Login.

Thanks to the Deciders' policy of gathering everyone inside the Starliner for the duration of Mistfall, fatalities at the hands of the Marshmen had been rare on previous occasions. This time, however, five people had died. The first was Decider Draith, who had been dragged under the water as Adric looked on in horror; it was as he fled the scene that he first came across the TARDIS and met the Doctor, Romana and their robot dog, K-9. Next to go was Dexeter, the Alzarians' chief scientist, who had been experimenting on a young Marshman when it broke loose and killed him, moments before accidentally electrocuting itself. Then, Romana, her mind affected by a bite from one of the spiders which also appeared during Mistfall, had let the Marshmen into the Starliner, where they proceeded to wreak havoc. With the Doctor's help, they were eventually driven out, but, by then, Decider Nefred was dead, as were Varsh and Tylos.

Adric paused, recalling the last time he had seen Varsh alive. They had been fending off the Marshmen by spraying the contents of oxygen cylinders from Dexeter's laboratory, the Doctor having discovered that even the Marshmen could not adapt quickly enough to the increase in oxygen levels. When Adric discovered that his cylinder was almost empty, Varsh had told him to go back to the laboratory and get a fresh one. Adric had returned just in time to see Varsh being dragged through the door by a Marshman; he had tried to save his brother, but was unable to do so.

Adric had no way of knowing how long he had been inside the TARDIS now; even he, for all his mathematical talents, could not keep precise track of time when he couldn't see the outside world and there were no clocks around. But he guessed it had been a few hours. The funerals of those killed by the Marshmen (minus Decider Draith, whose body had been lost in the marsh) must be taking place by now. Under normal circumstances, the bodies would have been cremated on funeral pyres built a short distance from the Starliner. But, if anyone died during Mistfall (a time when the Alzarians could be confined to the Starliner for months, even years, at a time) funerals took place in a room set aside for the disposal of dead bodies should anyone die while the Starliner was in space, the bodies being placed in a vast incinerator and burned. Once that was done, the ashes would be placed in storage until it was safe to venture out again; they would then be scattered over the marsh.

Adric knew he should be there to say a final farewell to Varsh, but he couldn't face it. He couldn't bring himself to watch his brother's body burn; he still remembered standing with Varsh, watching as Jendra's body was consigned to the flames. At the time, Varsh had promised to look after Adric from then on, only to start neglecting his brother in favour of his friends soon after. Now, just when the differences between them had been reconciled, Varsh was dead. He had died so that Adric could survive.

In the end, it was the memory of Varsh's self-sacrifice that brought tears to Adric's eyes. He tried to fight it at first; he was too old to cry and had not done so since Jendra died. Presently, however, he sank to the floor and let his tears flow freely.


He did not know how long he stayed there, but, as his tears gradually subsided, he thought to himself that, though Varsh was gone, he, Adric, was alive. And his prediction that he would not be on the Starliner when it left Alzarius was about to come true. He would be leaving the planet, but on board the TARDIS with the Doctor, Romana and K-9. They were the first strangers he had ever met, but, though he had only known them a few hours, he knew travelling with them would help satisfy his innate curiousity in a way staying within the staid confines of Alzarian society never could.

But they must not know of his presence on the TARDIS - not yet, anyway. He would wait, staying out of sight until the TARDIS was safely away from Alzarius. Then, when he felt the time was right, he would reveal himself. And, with Varsh dead, there was no-one among his fellow Alzarians who was likely to be concerned by his absence. That thought almost brought on a fresh flood of tears, but, this time, Adric held them in check. Whatever happened, he was going to prove himself worthy of the belt Keara had given him . . .

At that moment, he heard a sound which was already becoming familiar to him, the strange whooshing and grinding sound of the TARDIS dematerialising.