Chapter Eleven

Having obtained the services of Neron and his crew, the Doctor and Seth had accompanied the six men to their fishing village. The Doctor had hoped he might be able to get the villagers to raise an army against the Sontarans; true the Anethans were a peaceful race, but this was a fishing village and that meant there were probably a few harpoons and other sharp objects around. Objects that might come in handy for piercing a probic vent . . .

But, on arriving in the village, the first thing that struck the Doctor was how quiet it was; in fact, it was so quiet that he instinctively knew something bad must have happened. There were no people in the village square, no groups of women chatting to each other, no children playing. All was silence, giving the illusion that the Doctor, Seth and the fishermen were the only people left on the planet Aneth. For a moment, the Doctor was reminded of the time he had landed on 22nd Century Earth to find it in the grip of the Daleks; London, where the TARDIS had materialised, had seemed just as deserted as this Anethan village was now.

"Where is everybody?" asked Seth, voicing what all of them were thinking. "Do you think the Sontarans . . . did something to them?"

"Perhaps they haven't seen us yet," suggested the Doctor. With that, he walked up to the nearest house and hammered on the front door. "Hello!" he called. "Anyone at home? Don't all answer at once!" But there was no reply, not even an irritated voice telling him to "go away". The Doctor stepped away from the door and turned to Seth and the fishermen. "No-one home," he told them, though his words conveyed far more than this simple piece of information. Not only were the people who lived in this house not at home, no-one in the whole village was at home. The Doctor had an uneasy feeling about this, a feeling that made his hair curl - not that his current incarnation needed it.

A couple of hours later, a thorough search of the village had confirmed that it was completely deserted. Not only that, but none of houses had been locked up, suggesting that the people who lived here had been forced to leave very suddenly. The Doctor had an uneasy feeling he knew what . . . who had forced them out; the Sontarans' invasion of Aneth must have moved up a gear and that meant time was even shorter than he had feared. Add to that the fact that he had not seen Adric for some time and . . .

Just then, Neron's voice cut through the Doctor's train of thought. "Doctor, what happened here?"

"The Sontarans happened," the Doctor replied grimly. So much for raising an army to drive Vaak and his underlings off the planet. "Right, time for Plan B then," he added. Of course, he didn't really have a Plan B as yet, but, with his talent for thinking on his toes (one of the expressions which Adric often found puzzling) he should be able to work something out. Already, the faint outline of an idea was forming in his mind. "Seth, how far is Space Control from here?"

Seth led the Doctor and the six fishermen to the vast silver tower that served as Space Control for the planet Aneth. The Doctor hoped the people manning the tower might be able to, at the very least, prevent any more Sontaran ships from coming in. There were enough Sontarans on the planet already - more than enough, in fact. With their single-minded determination and obsession with achieving military glory at all costs, even a single Sontaran could threaten an entire planet. Somehow, whatever they had planned for Aneth would have to be stopped, provided it wasn't already too late.

But, the moment the eight of them arrived at Space Control, it became obvious that something was seriously wrong.

The first thing which greeted them when they entered the tower's main control room was a bank of computers with no-one operating them. The monitors were switched on, but all the work stations were empty; there was no sign of anyone watching the screens for signs of any untoward activity. And that instantly put the Doctor on alert; a place like this should be manned round the clock, so where was everyone? Like the fishing village, Space Control appeared to be completely deserted, though the equipment continued to function. It was as if everyone had simply popped out for a moment, but the Doctor instinctively knew there was more to it than that. And, if the Sontarans were involved, it could only bode ill for the people who should have been manning the tower.

"What happened to everyone?" Seth asked. He had never known Space Control to be left unmanned before; there was always someone keeping watch for any hostile craft approaching the planet. But all the posts were currently deserted and, he suspected, they had been deserted for some time. This must be how Vaak and the other Sontarans who had arrived since then had been able to land on Aneth unchallenged. But what had happened to the people who should have been monitoring the skies above Aneth? Why hadn't the palace been warned when Vaak's craft was detected?

But, when he and the others approached the monitors, he received the answer to his question. And it was far from pleasant.

Space Control had not been deserted at all; the men and women who worked there lay piled up in the far corner, pushed aside like a pile of rubbish waiting to be cleared away. Within seconds, the Doctor was kneeling beside one of the bodies, examining it to see if there was anything that could be done, though he doubted there was. Moments later, he looked up and shook his head, silently confirming what he had feared. Seth moved closer to the Doctor, then recoiled as he recognised the body the Time Lord had been examining. "Vando," he whispered. "He was part of the last tribute to Skonnos."

At the same instant, the Doctor also recognised the young Anethan man lying dead at his feet. He was indeed one of the seven young people he and Romana had met while exploring the old Skonnon battleship which was being used to deliver the tribute the Nimon demanded. Except for Seth and Teka, however, the two Time Lords had never really got to know any of the young Anethans; this was the first time the Doctor had learned any of their names. "I'm afraid nothing can be done for him now, poor chap," the Doctor told Seth, reaching forward and closing Vando's eyes. But, he added silently, at least something could be done to rid Aneth of the Sontarans - the question was, what?

"At least we now know why we weren't warned about Vaak," Seth said as he and the others left Space Control. "But what happened in there?" He recalled the empty workstations, the computers with no-one monitoring them, the bodies piled up in the corner. None of the corpses had shown any sign of how they died, but he knew people did not drop dead for no reason; something, or someone, must have killed them.

"Take one guess," the Doctor replied. He was about to toss the end of his scarf over his shoulder when he remembered that he had removed his coat and scarf before he and Seth entered the pipe which led into the Lake of Silence. He made a mental note to retrieve them both at the first opportunity. "I think," he added in a low voice, "you've got a traitor in your midst, someone who's been making it easy for the Sontarans to invade." He did not add that he suspected Lero was the traitor; aside from anything else, he had no evidence against the man other than a strong suspicion stemming from Lero's determination to prove Adric was responsible for Rilph's death. However, if his suspicions were correct - and they usually were - he knew Lero was bound to reveal himself sooner or later.

"But who would do that?" asked Seth. Surely no Anethan would want to see their planet conquered, especially when they had finally been freed from the tyranny of Skonnos only a few years ago. Even his father, cruel as he had been, would never have betrayed his people like this.

The Doctor frowned. There were rogue elements in nearly every race, but he knew it would be difficult for Seth to accept that one of his fellow Anethans could have sold out like this when they knew what planetary conquests generally meant for those on the receiving end. Slavery, denial of rights, possibly even genocide . . . The Sontarans were, the Doctor knew from past experience, capable of all three, though they would not move to wipe the Anethans out as long as they were of use to them. That, at least, should allow time to find out what the Sontarans were up to and, hopefully, work out how to stop them.

"Someone who's been promised a large reward," the Doctor said in reply to Seth's question. And, he added silently, whoever it was (namely Lero if his suspicions were correct) must have been gullible enough to fall for it. In his experience, traitors were generally in it for the promised rewards, rewards which they rarely lived to collect. The sort of beings who made deals with traitors were generally the sort who could be counted on to renege on that deal and kill the person with whom they had been dealing. Either that or the traitor got their just desserts some other way.

Right now, however, his main priority was finding out what the Sontarans' plans were. As he had once told Harry, the clone warriors never did anything that did not have some military purpose, particularly when it came to their endless war with the Rutans. They would never have bothered with Aneth unless the planet was of strategic importance, unless it contained something the Sontarans needed. All right, so what did Aneth have that a race of war-mongering clones might decide was worth exploiting?

"Seth," the Doctor said, looking directly at the young Anethan, "does your planet have anything that the Sontarans might be interested in? Anything that could be used as a weapon?"

Seth paused, frowning. "Well, there are the hymetusite mines. And hymetusite is a powerful energy source," he added, recalling how the Nimon had demanded crystals of the highly radioactive mineral, crystals which it had used to provide energy for the hyperspace tunnel linking Skonnos and Crinoth. And, if hymetusite was a powerful energy source, it could also be used as a powerful weapon. Just the sort of thing which might interest a race like the Sontarans . . .

"Of course!" The Doctor snapped his fingers as the pieces slotted into place. He should have guessed as much all along; building (or attempting to build) a hymetusite bomb was just the sort of thing the Sontarans would do, especially if they thought it might give them an advantage against the Rutans. And, with their single-minded determination to win their endless war with their old enemies, the fact that hymetusite was one of the most radioactive substances in existence would be of little concern to them. All they would be able to see was a chance to wipe the Rutans out once and for all; to a Sontaran, anything was justified provided it was done in the name of war.

Teka, meanwhile, could only watch helplessly as her people were forced to help the Sontaran war effort, put to work as slaves in the hymetusite mines. Right now, three of the Sontarans were giving her a "guided tour", escorting her around the mines at gunpoint. She could see men, women, even some children labouring to extract the highly radioactive crystals, none of them wearing the protective clothing which the Anethans normally used when mining hymetusite. As Teka and the three Sontarans drew level with one work party, a young man suddenly dropped the bucket of rocks he was carrying and sank to his knees, gasping for breath.

Teka knew what was wrong, though she had never seen it for herself. Hymetusite poisoning, the result of prolonged, unprotected exposure to hymetusite - and this young man would not be the only one to suffer its effects before the Sontarans were through here. Unless something was done, it would not be long before more and more Anethans began to succumb and there was nothing Teka could do to prevent it; if she intervened on her people's behalf, the Sontarans would know she was only pretending to co-operate with them. And that would endanger the lives of all the hostages, including Sopea, who were being held in the banqueting hall.

So she could do nothing but watch as one of the Sontarans marched over to the young man and pointed his gun at him. "Get up!" he barked. "Or are you Anethans so weak that you can't do a day's work?"

The young man groaned and struggled to haul himself up, only for each attempt to end with him collapsing once more. In the end, the Sontaran raised his gun and, with a well-placed blast, ensured that he would never get up again. At the same instant, Teka let out an involuntary scream at the sight of this callous act of murder, a scream which prompted all three Sontarans to glare at her.

"You didn't have to do that," Teka said, forcing herself to keep her voice level and resisting the urge to add that Seth would soon come and set everyone free. She was still supposed to be co-operating with the Sontarans and she was well aware of what would happen if they suspected it was all a pretence. She must not say or do anything that could, as the Doctor might have said, give the game away.

"I was merely eliminating a weakling," the Sontaran told her. "He was unable to do what was demanded of him - therefore, he was of no further use." A typical Sontaran attitude - the Anethans were only of use as long as they could provide the clone warriors with the hymetusite they needed to power their latest weapon. As soon as that weapon was completed and ready for transportation to the latest battle front in the war between the Sontarans and the Rutans, those who had been put to work in this mine would face the same fate as the young man who had just been shot. If none of them died from hymetusite poisoning first . . .

The Doctor couldn't help wondering why he hadn't thought of the hymetusite mines himself - perhaps he'd grown too used to Romana's flashes of brilliance. After all, an immensely rich energy source like hymetusite was just the sort of thing the Sontarans would try to exploit if they thought it could be used against the Rutans. And, if everyone had been conscripted to work in the mines, that would explain why the fishing village had been deserted. If the Doctor knew the Sontarans - and he had encountered them often enough to be familiar with their methods - they were almost certainly working on some kind of super-weapon. A hymetusite bomb . . .

"Doctor?" Seth's voice cut through the Doctor's train of thought. "What are we going to do?"

"Well, for one thing, we've got to put a stop to the Sontarans' plans," the Doctor replied. "If they got their grubby little hands on enough hymetusite, they could hold the whole galaxy to ransom." And that, he realised, meant he and the others would have to find a way of getting into the hymetusite mines, freeing the Anethans enslaved there and persuading them to join forces with him and drive the Sontarans off the planet. It would not be easy - the Anethans were not natural warriors - but there seemed to be no other way.

"But how?" Seth demanded. "There's only eight of us. There's probably a whole army of Sontarans here by now." To say nothing of the fact that all this would only add to his heroic reputation, a reputation he had neither asked for nor wanted. Right now, he felt about as confident as he had back on the Skonnon ship when he had confided to Romana how he really felt about his mission.

"Oh, there's always a way." The Doctor had succeeded against seemingly insurmountable odds often enough to know that no enemy was truly invincible. There was always some weakness that could be exploited - such as the Sontarans' single-minded obsession with military glory. Indeed, the Doctor had used that very weakness against Styre, challenging him to hand-to-hand combat; while the Sontaran was distracted, Harry had sabotaged his ship. However, Styre had been only one Sontaran; if what Seth said was correct, there could be a whole army of them on Aneth at present. "Trouble is, I haven't found it yet," the Doctor added, well aware that every second he and the Anethans continued talking wasted precious time.

Seth looked as though he was about to reply, but, before he could do so, something interupted him.

"Doctor! Doctor, the Sontarans have got me! They're going to . . ." The voice was cut off by an agonised scream, but not before the Doctor recognised whose voice it was. Adric - at some point since the Doctor left him with Meridda and Sopea, the Sontarans must have taken him. And, from the sound of it, one of the Sontarans was subjecting the boy to the same sadistic treatment that had been inflicted on Aigus. There was no time to lose; whatever the Sontarans' plans regarding the hymetusite were, they would have to wait. Saving Adric was far more important.

"Come on! Come on!" the Doctor shouted, hurrying in the direction the shouts were coming from, as the Anethans followed him. If any of the Sontarans harmed Adric in any way, the Doctor would see to it that they were made to pay for what they had done. Invading a planet because it had something the Sontarans wanted to exploit in their endless war against the Rutans was bad enough, but this was personal. The Doctor knew from past experience what the Sontarans were capable of and he was not about to allow them to hurt his companion. As Adric cried out again, the Doctor increased his speed; his one thought was to reach the boy before it was too late.

Presently, the Doctor, Seth and the six fishermen reached a small hut, which stood in splendid isolation on the top of a hill. The building was windowless, but the Doctor could clearly hear the sounds that were coming from within. Voices, mostly Sontaran, occasionally punctuated by Adric's call for help. There was not a second to lose.

"Seth and Neron," the Doctor said, after quickly assessing the situation, "I'll need you to help me get Adric out of there." K-9 and his nose laser might have been useful here, he thought to himself, but he would have to make do with what he had. "The rest of you, make for the palace - we'll meet you there."

The fishermen looked at each other doubtfully, before one of them voiced what they were all thinking. "What if we run into the Sontarans?"

The Doctor shrugged. "Oh, they'll be too busy with their plans; Sontarans, as I've said before, are very single-minded." Which should give the Anethans a slight advantage, provided he could organise them into a proper resistance movement. "But, just in case you do meet one, try to disable him with a blow to the back of the neck. That area is a Sontaran's only weak spot, but you're going to have to get in close. You think you can do it?"

"We'll try," the man who had spoken before said. But he still looked somewhat doubtful.

"Good - off you go then," the Doctor said, before any of the fishermen could raise any more objections. Time was of the essence here and could not be wasted. The Doctor watched as the five of them headed in the direction of the palace, then turned to Seth and Neron. "Right," he said, having made a quick examination of the door and noted that a good shove should be enough to get it open, "on the count of three . . . Three!" And, with that, he, Seth and Neron charged towards the hut, ready to break the door down. Seconds before he made contact with the door, the thought that this was a little too easy flashed through the Doctor's mind. But, by then, it was too late.

Bursting into the hut with the two Anethans following in his wake, the Doctor saw a solitary figure seated in a chair. Though the single room was only dimly lit, there was enough light to reveal that the figure was that of a male humanoid. Telling Seth and Neron to stay close to him, the Doctor moved closer, taking a small torch out of his trouser pocket and shining it in the direction of the person in the chair. It was then that he realised something was wrong, seriously wrong; the person in the chair was not Adric.

It was Lero.