Waking To Silence

"Are you sure you'll be all right on your own, Vicki?"

I looked at my father from where I lay on the bed, then nodded. I tried to sit up, but I was aching all over and my head was pounding unbearably. However, I was, at least, still capable of speaking. "Don't worry," I said, smiling in an effort to reassure my father. But I couldn't help feeling slightly disappointed. My father and the rest of the crew were going to meet the people of the planet Dido, the world on which our spacecraft had crashed a few hours earlier. I had never seen aliens before and would have liked to go with the others, but I'd been taken ill shortly before the crash. I knew my father would tell me all about it later, but it just wouldn't be the same.

My father must have seen my disappointment because he took my hand in his for a moment. "You just concentrate on getting well," he told me. "You'll have plenty of time to meet the Dido people when you're better." With that, he got up to go. "I'll be back to check on you later," he added, moving towards the door.

I managed to wave to him as he left my room, not suspecting that I would never see him again.

I don't know how long I had slept when I was woken by a boom from somewhere outside. A clap of thunder - or at least that's what I thought it was at the time. I used to love watching thunderstorms when I was a child; there's just something so . . . majestic about them, like a god banging a huge drum. Of course, I know there is a scientific cause, but that doesn't make the sense of awe any less.

Anyway, had I had the energy, I would have got up and gone to watch the storm. But I didn't, so I stayed where I was, listening for further rumbles of thunder; there were no windows in my room, so watching the lightning was out of the question. But no further sounds were heard and I eventually drifted off to sleep again.

Again, I don't know how long I lay there alone. I know I was, at best, only half-awake when I was awake at all; consequently, I had no idea what had happened outside, no idea what the sound I had taken to be thunder really was.

When I next woke up properly, the first thing I sensed was that something was very wrong, though I could not tell precisely what that was at first. But, as I lay there, it began to dawn on me just what was wrong; instead of the voices of my father and the rest of the crew going about their business, I could hear . . . nothing. The whole ship was silent, almost ominously so. Was everyone having a lie-in? Perhaps, but something told me that wasn't the answer.

"Well, I can't lie here all day," I said to myself. I sat up, swung my legs out of bed and stood up slowly. I felt much better now, so I decided the first thing I would do was get dressed, then try to find out what had happened, why everything was so quiet. I knew - or, at least, I had a feeling - that something bad must have happened, but I had no way of knowing what that was unless I went to see for myself. So, trying not to dwell on what might have become of my father and the rest of the crew, I got dressed, grabbed a brush from the table by my bed and ran the brush through my hair. Then, I went to the door, opened it and peered out.

"Father?" I called down the corridor. "Captain Wilson? Mr Bennett?"

No answer.

I tried again, calling the names of everyone on the ship. But the result each time was the same: nothing. No-one came in answer to their name, the ship remaining as ominously silent as it had been when I had first woken. For a moment, I wondered if everyone was playing some kind of practical joke on me, but, the longer I stood in the deserted corridor, the less likely that seemed. Where was everybody?

In the end, I decided I would just have to go and look for the others, starting by checking their rooms. For all I knew, everyone was still safe and my fears that something terrible had happened were just the product of an over-active imagination. So I headed for the room nearest to mine, the one belonging to my father, and cautiously pushed open the door. "Father?" I called. "Are you in there?"

The only answer I received was silence, deafening silence. The room was deserted and the bed didn't look as though it had been slept in.

Before long, I had checked the rooms of nearly everyone on the ship, with only Captain Wilson's and Mr Bennett's remaining. The result each time had been the same; the room's occupant was nowhere to be found and it looked as though they had not slept in their beds. The thought that I might be alone on an alien world terrified me, but I tried to forget my fears and continue the search. My father always taught me not to give up until you were absolutely certain that a situation was hopeless.

As I was heading down the corridor where Captain Wilson and Mr Bennett had their rooms, I heard a groan. I paused, my heart pounding with relief. A human voice! Mr Bennett's voice! It seemed to be coming from his room, so I ran in that direction as fast as I could and flung open the door. I found Mr Bennett, a bearded, dark-haired man of about my father's age, lying on his bed. He did not get up as I hurried towards him.

"Vicki," he said, looking at me as I drew level with his bed.

"Bennett, thank goodness! I was beginning to think I'd never find anyone! What happened? Where is everybody?" The words tumbled out of my mouth as fast as I could think them. I was so relieved that he was safe, but, had I known what I know now, I might have felt different.

"The Dido people happened," he told me grimly.

I shook my head, confused. "But I thought the Dido people were friendly. That invitation to meet them, that was supposed to be out of friendship."

"A lie." Mr Bennett coughed and sat up. "They planted a bomb and timed it to go off as soon as everyone was outside. They're treacherous people, Vicki; they even killed some of their own kind in the blast."

"But what about my father and the others?" The dread I had been feeling since I woke up to find myself on a silent spacecraft seemed to increase as I asked that question. Somehow, I knew what the answer would be, but I didn't want to hear it.

Mr Bennett shook his head in a way I didn't like; the last time I saw someone shake their head like that was when my mother died. "All dead," he said. "Your father, Captain Wilson, everyone. I was injured . . ." He groaned and tried to get up, struggling for several seconds before sinking back down again. "My legs," he said by way of explanation. "But I managed to get away and . . ."

That was as much as I heard. Tears welling up in my eyes, I ran out of the room.

I can't remember how I found myself outside the ship; I guess the shock of Mr Bennett's news affected my memory somehow, so the next few minutes are somewhat hazy. All I remember is running and running, tears of grief and despair streaming down my face, then falling to my knees and breaking out into sobs. Everyone was dead, apart from myself and Mr Bennett; I would never see my father again, never hear his voice, never feel his protective arms around me. The sound I thought was thunder must have been the bomb going off.

Then, as I sat there sobbing into my arm, I heard someone behind me. Startled, I looked round to see the most hideous creature I had ever seen in my life. It was about as tall as a man, with spikes all around its head and two eyes on stalks, a being of the sort I had thought existed only in the realms of nightmare. I screamed and tried to run, but the creature grabbed me with its clawed hand and pulled me closer to it.

"So one of you escaped," it said in a harsh voice which sounded more like the growl of an animal.

"Who . . . What are you?!" I had never been terrified of anything in my life before, but this creature was a monstrosity unlike anything I had seen before. Everything about it was hideous beyond imagining and I would have tried to escape had the . . . thing not had such a firm hold on me.

"I am Koquillion," the creature replied, loosening its hold on me slightly but continuing to threaten me with a strange weapon (somewhat similar to a large spanner) which it held in its other hand. "I am one of the native inhabitants of this planet and, unless you want me to hand you over to my people, you will do as I say. Now, tell me." Koquillion's voice lowered to a dangerous hiss. "Did anyone else survive our bomb?"

I did not reply, thinking it would be safer if I kept quiet about Mr Bennett. He was the only other human on Dido now that everyone else - I felt my tears, which had subsided somewhat, well up again at the thought - was dead. If anything happened to him, I would be alone on an alien world.

"Answer!" Koquillion raised the "spanner" as if to strike me with it.

Reluctantly, I complied; it was obvious Koquillion meant business. "Yes, there is one other back at the ship. A crippled man." I kept my eyes downcast and waited for Koquillion to reply.

"Then you will take me to him. And you will not try to escape."

Reluctantly, I escorted Koquillion back to the ship and pointed him (I had already begun to think of him as male) in the direction of Mr Bennett's room. Telling me to stay where I was and not try anything foolish, he disappeared inside, closing the door behind him. With nothing else to do, I sat down at a nearby table and tried to think about something other than my current situation. But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop thinking about how I had woken to find that everyone on the ship apart from myself and Mr Bennett was dead, how we were now at the mercy of a creature whose very appearance terrified me.

I don't know how much time passed before my curiousity got the better of me and I crept closer to Mr Bennett's door in an attempt to hear what he and Koquillion were saying. Finding myself unable to hear anything, I made to knock on the door, but, just as I did, Mr Bennett's voice called out: "You can't come in!"

Had I gone into the room anyway, I might have found out the truth about Mr Bennett and Koquillion a lot sooner than I did. As it was, I assumed they must be having a private conversation, so I withdrew to my own room, where I sat on my bed and waited until enough time had elapsed for Koquillion to be gone. When I judged he must have finished whatever he and Mr Bennett had been doing, I left my room and headed back to Mr Bennett's. This time, the door was open and I could see Mr Bennett lying on his bed.

"Are you all right?" I asked, hurrying over to him.

"Yes." Mr Bennett coughed and propped himself up on one arm. "Vicki," he added, "Koquillion gave me two choices: we either do whatever he says for the rest of our lives, or he will kill us."

"What are we going to do?" I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my life as Koquillion's prisoner either.

"Co-operate with him," Mr Bennett replied. "Or, at least, pretend to. You can radio for help, tell any ships out there what happened to us. They'll send a ship to get us off this Godforsaken planet - and wipe out Koquillion and the rest of his kind as well. But, whatever you do, you must not let Koquillion know you've called for help. If he finds out, you know what will happen . . ."

I nodded and hurried over to the ship's radio, which had escaped damage in the explosion. Sitting in the chair, I spoke into the microphone, telling any ships within range what had happened, that our ship had crashed on the planet Dido, that, though everyone on board had survived the actual crash, we had been all but wiped out by the native inhabitants. I waited for a reply, terrified that Koquillion might show up at any minute and catch me in the act of radioing for help. I didn't know if his people understood radio or any other form of long-distance communication, but I didn't want to take chances; he had already left me in no doubt what would happen if I defied him.

Then, very faintly, I heard a man's voice over the radio telling me that my transmission had been picked up and a rescue ship was being dispatched to Dido immediately. All I had to do was sit tight and wait until it arrived.

I don't remember how long I stayed on Dido, waiting for the rescue ship. I spent most of my time exploring and collecting rocks, while Mr Bennett lay on his bed, only occasionally staggering into other areas of the ship. I did not know how badly he had been injured, only that he could no longer walk without support (or so I thought) and often collapsed if he had to stand for too long. When that happened, I would have to help him back to his room, though he always refused to let me help him to his bed. Looking back, I should have been suspicious, but I didn't think anything of it at the time. Nor did I think anything of the fact that I never saw Mr Bennett and Koquillion together.

In time, I was rescued. Not by the rescue ship, but by three people who arrived on Dido in a strange blue box called a TARDIS, which, I learned, was a machine capable of travelling in space and time. Two of these people, Ian and Barbara, came from Earth in the 20th Century, the third member of the group being an old man who called himself the Doctor. The Doctor was the one who owned the TARDIS - or had "borrowed" it, at least. In any case, he was the one who discovered the truth about Mr Bennett and Koquillion, that Mr Bennett had murdered one of the crew and, when the ship crashed on Dido, engineered an elaborate plan to save his own skin. He had killed my father and the others and blamed it on the Dido people - and he had pretended to be Koquillion in order to make me fear them.

Anyway, Mr Bennett was killed by the real Dido people, not that I felt sorry for him after what I had learned. The Doctor then invited me to join him and Ian and Barbara in the TARDIS. Having no family left alive and lured by the Doctor's promise of "an abundance of adventure", I accepted eagerly. I'm tempted at this point to tell you all about the things I encountered during my travels with the Doctor - the giant insects on the planet Vortis; the Daleks, mechanical creatures which resembled oversized (and very dangerous) pepperpots; the beautiful, but ruthless, Drahvins . . . and many others. But I'm not telling my whole life story here, so I'll just say that I eventually made a new life for myself after I fell in love with the Trojan prince, Troilus, and left the TARDIS in order to be with him. I even adopted a new name, Cressida.

I've been Cressida for many years now, but, deep down, I still feel like Vicki, the young girl who woke up to find herself on a silent spaceship. Occasionally, I think about the Doctor and wonder what he's doing, where in space and time he is, who he has travelling with him now. But I haven't seen him since we parted company not long after the city of Troy fell.

Sometimes, however, I find myself listening for the distinctive sound of the TARDIS's engines. It's a sound which is difficult to describe in words, but, once you hear it, you never forget.