The Doctor, Seth and Neron looked at each other in disbelief, then back at Lero who sat with a satisfied smile on his face. The sort of smile worn by someone who has succeeded in tricking someone else . . .
After a silence which seemed to stretch on to infinity, Seth spoke. "But that was Adric's voice we heard." He looked at the Doctor, silently asking the Time Lord to confirm that this was true, that they had not been hearing things. But, before the Doctor could say anything, a curtain at the far end of the hut was moved aside and three Sontarans (including Vaak) emerged, their blasters raised ready to fire. It took the Doctor a matter of moments to realise what had happened; somehow, Lero must have been able to imitate Adric's voice so perfectly that it was impossible to distinguish from the real thing. And that meant he had walked straight into a trap, dragging Seth and Neron with him.
Voice imitation - one of the oldest tricks in the book. The Doctor was no stranger to it, either; the leader of the giant spiders on Metebelis III had tricked him by pretending to be Sarah Jane. And it was becoming increasingly obvious that he had just fallen for it again. He should have checked first, asked a question which (out of all the people on Aneth) only the real Adric would know the answer to, instead of just rushing in blindly. What was that Earth expression? Fools rush in? Yes, that was it. Well, he was a fool and he'd just rushed straight into trouble - again.
"We've been expecting you, Doctor," Vaak said, levelling his gun.
The Doctor made no attempt to pretend he was pleased to see any of the three Sontarans. "Where's Adric?" he demanded. His voice was dangerously quiet, a sure sign that he was itching to unleash his fury on them; if they had harmed Adric in any way . . . "We heard his voice - now, where is he?!"
Vaak regarded the Doctor closely, then lowered his gun. "You heard your companion's voice, yes. However, it was not your companion speaking." He turned to Lero, who, the Doctor now released was wearing what appeared to be a microphone headset. "Show him."
And Lero spoke into the microphone - in a voice which matched Adric's exactly. "Doctor, the Sontarans have got me! They're going to . . ." Abruptly, the voice coming from Lero's mouth changed, taking on Vaak's clipped tones. " . . . lure you into a trap!" The effect was uncanny; it might have been Vaak himself, or at least another Sontaran, speaking. "And it looks like it worked," Lero added, removing his headset and speaking in his own voice.
Vaak stepped forward and took the headset from Lero. "As you will shortly die, you won't be able to use what I am about to say against me," he said, drawing himself up to his full height. "But this is a Voice Imitation Device. As you are no doubt aware, every sentient creature has a unique vocal pattern. However, as you just saw, the VID records these patterns, which can then be copied by anyone who speaks into the microphone. Thus, it is a useful device if you want to take advantage of your enemy's heroic nature. And it can be adjusted to fit the head of a Sontaran or a humanoid." He nodded towards Lero. "Such as this male."
Lero got up and performed a somewhat sycophantic bow in Vaak's direction. "Thank you, Lord Vaak." The Doctor gave a derisive snort as he heard the Anethan guard address the Sontaran Commander as "Lord Vaak", but Lero ignored it. "But I believe there's the matter of the reward you promised me," Lero added. "For helping you."
Hearing this left the Doctor in no doubt that his suspicions had been correct, that Lero had been working with the Sontarans. He must have killed those on duty at Space Command so that Vaak's ship could land unchallenged, so that most of the Anethans would not realise they were being invaded until it was too late. From what Lero had just said, the Sontarans must have promised him a large reward for helping them - and there was little doubt in the Doctor's mind what that "reward" would be. Sure enough . . .
"You want your reward? Then here it is!" And, with that, Vaak nodded to one of the other Sontarans, who turned his blaster on Lero, shooting him full in the chest. Lero staggered for a moment, then slumped to the floor of the hut and lay still, an expression of utter disbelief permanently etched on his face. The Doctor had seen that expression many times before, on the faces of those power-hungry or gullible enough to think they could become allies of races like the Daleks, the Cybermen or the Sontarans. There were races that could never be entirely trusted, races that only formed alliances as long as it suited their purposes. And anyone foolish enough to agree to such an alliance would find themselves dead once they had outlived their usefulness; races who formed false alliances generally had little, if any, respect for the sanctity of life.
"And now for the rest of you," Vaak added, as the Doctor, Seth and Neron looked down at Lero's body. The three Sontarans raised their blasters, but, before they could fire, the Doctor gave his sonic screwdriver a surreptitious squeeze. Immediately, a high-pitched note pierced the air, the same note the Doctor had used to stop the Sontarans from killing any more hostages. And the effect was the same as on that occasion; all three Sontarans were left clutching their heads, temporarily immobilised. The Doctor quickly snatched up the VID; the device might be useful later.
"Back to the palace! Come on!" he shouted, shepherding Seth and Neron out of the hut. Though his suspicions about Lero had just been confirmed, this trick had cost valuable time, time the Anethans could ill afford to lose. If his theory about the hymetusite bomb was true, the Sontarans would have to be stopped before the device was completed; once that had happened, the Anethans would be of no further use and would be dealt with accordingly. They might even be used to test the effectiveness of the bomb and that was something the Doctor could not allow. He could not allow an entire planet of innocent men, women and children to be sacrificed to the Sontaran cause, not if it could be avoided.
"Doctor," Seth said as the three of them made their way back to the palace, "what was that all about?"
"Well, for one thing, we now know the identity of your traitor," the Doctor replied, not mentioning that he had had his suspicions about Lero from the moment the Anethan accused Adric of killing Rilph. Lero had seemed a little too keen to pin the blame on the boy, as if he was trying to divert attention from his own double-dealing. The Doctor had no way of knowing how long the Sontarans had been preparing for their invasion of Aneth, but, if he knew the clone warriors, they must have been waiting until the time was right before they launched their attack. No doubt, Lero had been keeping them informed of developments on the planet.
"Lero? But why? He's been . . . I mean, he had been a palace guard for years."
The Doctor shrugged. "Make your own guess. But I'd say they must have promised him some sort of reward - and he was gullible enough to believe them." And, like most traitors, Lero had ultimately been paid in kind; Vaak, having no further use for him, had killed him with the ruthlessness typical of a Sontaran Commander. In the Sontaran's war-obsessed philosophy, Lero had never been anything more than a tool, a means to an end, something to be disposed of once he had served his purpose. Which, it seemed, had involved making it easier for the Sontarans to invade Aneth. The Doctor would never know what had motivated Lero to betray his people, especially when many Anethans still remembered what it was like to see your planet taken over by a war-mongering race, but that hardly mattered now.
What mattered was mobilising the Anethans to get the Sontarans off the planet before it was too late. That and finding out where Adric was . . .
Adric was currently being held in the cells, albeit not in the same cell where he and the Anethan Royal Family had been imprisoned earlier. This time, the Sontarans were taking no chances; Vaak had ordered that a guard be kept on the cell at all times to make sure the young Alzarian couldn't escape again. Though he could not see what was on the other side of the door, Adric had no doubt that there was a Sontaran out there right now, a bald-headed warrior clad in black space armour who lived only to fight.
He recalled being brought down here by the two Sontarans who had taken him from the banqueting hall, being forced to put on some sort of headset. One of the Sontarans had then pointed a strange device at him; he thought it was a weapon at first, but all it did was make it impossible to resist answering any question put to him truthfully. This, unfortunately, had included the fact that Teka was only pretending to co-operate with the Sontarans and, though he barely knew the young Anethan woman, he found himself wondering what the Sontarans would do to her now.
"It'll be my fault if they hurt her," he thought out loud. "I shouldn't haven't told them she was . . ."
He was interupted by the sound of the door being unlocked, followed by Teka being shoved roughly into the cell. "See where lying to the Glorious Sontaran Army gets you?" Even if Adric hadn't been able to see the Sontaran standing in the doorway, the clipped tone of voice would have given him away. "You'll stay here until Commander Vaak decides how to deal with you!" And, with that, the Sontaran closed the door and locked it, leaving the two young people in the cell to listen to the sound of his footsteps marching away from their prison. Sontarans never merely walked anywhere; they always marched or, if their rank was high enough, swaggered.
Teka and Adric exchanged glances.
"I'm sorry," Adric said after a pause which lasted several seconds. "This is my fault." And he told her all about the Sontarans who had taken him from the banqueting hall, who had forced him to put on "a sort of headset with a microphone attached", who had used some sort of device on him that made it impossible for him to resist answering their questions truthfully. "And then they locked me in here," he concluded.
Teka regarded him in silence. It sounded as though he was blaming himself for the fact that her pretence of co-operating with the Sontarans had been discovered. She had no idea what would happen to her, to all the Anethans, but, even now, her faith in Seth remained unshaken. "We mustn't give up," she told Adric. "Seth and the Doctor will get us out of here, you'll see."
"And if they can't?" Adric walked over to the cell door. "I don't know what the Sontarans are planning, but we've got to find a way of escaping by ourselves." But a quick inspection of the cell told them that escaping would be easier said than done this time. Unlike the cell they had been held in earlier, this one contained no pipe leading into the Lake of Silence, so, even though they did not have Sopea to consider this time, there was no way they could escape via the lake. That left the door, a door which they both knew had a Sontaran waiting on the other side. A Sontaran, moreover, who had doubtless been given orders to kill them if they tried to escape - and they both knew how seriously the Sontarans took their orders.
Vaak groaned as he came to his senses, then, remembering that he was a Sontaran Commander, snapped right back into military mode. Back on his feet within moments, he surveyed the scene before him, taking in the dead Anethan lying on the floor. "Fool!" he thought out loud, recalling how Lero had been prepared to sell out his own people for the sake of the reward which Vaak had promised. Of course, Vaak had conveniently "forgotten" to mention that Lero's "reward" would be finding himself on the wrong end of a Sontaran blaster. He had, quite simply, outlived his usefulness and had been disposed of accordingly. Quickly and efficiently - that was the best way to get rid of those who were of no further use to the Sontarans' cause, or who stood in the way of that same cause.
Speaking of which, the Doctor was still at large, having escaped another attempt on his life. That was a situation that could not be allowed to continue. "Get up!" Vaak ordered his two underlings, who still lay on the floor. His already small eyes were narrowed dangerously.
Bred to obey the commands of a higher-ranked Sontaran, the pair climbed to their feet and stood to attention as Vaak began barking out orders.
"The Doctor has evaded us again. General Stulve issued direct orders for his elimination, orders which have not yet been carried out! If we do not find the Doctor and make sure the next attempt on his life is successful, we will all die." And, to a Sontaran, the only death worse than execution for failing to carry out orders was succumbing to the feebleness of old age. To die by any means that did not further the Sontarans' cause was considered shameful, but those were the most shameful of all and Vaak meant to avoid them at all costs. He was going to do whatever it took to make sure his death would befit a Sontaran Commander; making sure Stulve's orders regarding the Doctor were carried out was only the first step.
The next was getting rid of Aneth's rulers. Though he had planned to keep Teka alive and use her as a puppet ruler for as long as the Anethans were of use, that was out of the question now. Under the influence of a Sontaran mind key, Adric had revealed that she had merely been pretending to co-operate with him; not only that, but the Doctor had put her up to it. That perfidious Doctor who had scuppered more than one of the Sontarans' past battle strategies - both he and Teka would learn the fate which awaited anyone who opposed the forces of the planet Sontar.
The Doctor, Seth and Neron had managed to reach the palace without incident and, along with Neron's men, were now faced with the problem of how to get inside. "How are we going to get past him?" Seth whispered, pointing to the Sontaran standing guard at the main entrance. A position which had until recently been occupied by Captain Rilph . . .
"Oh, the usual way," the Doctor replied. "Walk up to him like we own the place." He drew himself up to his full height and prepared to led the small party of Anethans towards the palace, the palace which, from the look of it, was firmly in Sontaran hands. The Doctor had no idea what he would find when he got inside, but he hoped it was not too late to put a stop to the Sontarans' plans. Thanks to the trick with the VID, he had already wasted valuable time, time which the planet Aneth could not afford to lose. Provided it was not already too late, he would have to mobilise the Anethans into some sort of fighting force, not to mention finding Teka and Sopea somewhere safe.
The former could be difficult; the Anethans were not a warrior race, so he would have to give them a reason to fight. As Ian had done for the Thals the first time the TARDIS landed on Skaro, the war-ravaged home planet of the Daleks. The Doctor, however, decided to cross that bridge when he came to it and concentrated on figuring out where Teka and Sopea - and Meridda if at all possible - would be safest. There was no question of them joining the battle, not because they were female but because they were too valuable to risk losing - not to mention that Sopea was far too young to fight.
Of course, the safest place of all was inside the TARDIS; once the doors were secured, it was virtually impossible for an intruder to break in. But the TARDIS was still surrounded by the force-field which Vaak had set up earlier, which ruled it out as a refuge for the time being. But the Doctor decided to dismiss the issue for the moment; it was all academic unless he could find Teka and Sopea before the Sontarans did something horrible to them. So he drew himself up to his full height and told the Anethans to "come on".
"Stop in the name of the Glorious Sontaran Army!"
The Doctor regarded the Sontaran guard closely. He was typical of his species, short and squat with, judging by the way he had drawn himself up to his full height, a overinflated opinion of himself. Not for the first time, the Doctor thought the Sontarans had a major Napoleon complex; it was hard to think of a more appropriate expression. Somehow, he would have to get the Sontaran away from the entrance and it didn't look as though the clone warrior was going to budge any time soon. Nonetheless, the Doctor had to try.
"Ah, good afternoon," he said, attempting a disarming smile though he doubted it would work. "Or is it evening now? I'm sorry to bother you, only I've been rather busy and I've rather lost track of time. I don't suppose you could be a good chap, nip inside and check the time on one of the palace clocks. I'm told Queen Teka has a rather magnificent timepiece in the royal chambers." He had seen the clock in question, a mantel clock made from a wood similar to mahogany, when he, Adric and the Anethan Royal Family took refuge in Seth and Teka's quarters. It had been a wedding present from the late King Aigus, though the Doctor didn't know that.
But the Sontaran was not so easily distracted. "I am Sergeant Stran of the Glorious Sontaran Army," he retorted. "I should be fighting the advancing Rutan forces, not degrading myself with menial tasks like guarding this hovel. And, for your information, the female called Teka is no longer queen of this planet."
Hearing Stran's words, the Doctor and Seth exchanged worried glances. Teka was meant to be pretending to co-operate with the Sontarans, acting the role of a puppet queen, stalling them until the Doctor could organise a resistance force among the Anethans. If what Stran said was true, it could only mean something had gone wrong - seriously wrong.