The Sylyx: Part One
The ancient spacecraft drifted through space, its crew long dead, drawing its energy from the stars to power it on its way. On the bridge, the desiccated corpses which were all that was left of the captain and his second-in-command were still slumped in their seats, a scenario repeated throughout the ship. The automatic life support system continued to function, but there was no living creature left on board to benefit from it. Except for the creature which lurked in the corridors . . .
The creature made a quick telepathic scan for signs of life - nothing. That wasn't surprising, however, as it had searched every inch of this craft and had claimed the life-force of everyone on board. There was no-one left and it knew that, in order to survive, it must soon leave. It must soon teleport out of here and find another spaceship to provide it with sustenance . . . Wait! It could sense something; another craft was nearby, though it could not tell what sort of craft it was, only that it was small enough to fit into one of the corridors. So there should be no need for the creature to teleport onto the craft it had just detected; all it had to do was teleport the craft in here. But was there anyone alive on board?
Pausing, the creature tried to detect life signs on board the smaller craft. It sensed four altogether, but its powers could not give it any more information, other than that two of the life-forms were male and two were female. Whoever they were, it would trap them and, then, it would do to them what it had done to the crew of this spacecraft. All it had to do was teleport their craft onto this ship which had been its larder . . .
A large blue box materialised in the corridor which led from the hold to the flight deck, a box which outwardly resembled a police box of the sort found on 20th Century Earth. Few who saw it would guess the secrets it contained. Few would guess it was really a machine capable of travelling in space and time. And few would guess that the interior was far more vast than its modest exterior suggested. Moments after the box had appeared, the doors opened and a fair-haired man with a stick of celery pinned to his beige coat stepped out, followed by three others: a young woman in her early twenties and two teenagers. The woman, dressed in a purple air hostess's uniform, was the first to speak. "Doctor," she said, glaring at the man with the celery on his coat, "you said you'd get me back to Heathrow. And this isn't Heathrow." She gestured round at their surroundings, obviously a corridor of some sort, though she could not tell where it was or where it might lead. And, quite frankly, she didn't want to know.
"Not to worry, Tegan," said the Doctor. "We've just been drawn off course." He pulled his sonic screwdriver, a small wand-like device, out of his pocket and held it in front of him, the device emitting a continuous high-pitched note as he activated it.
"Well, you can get right back on course," said Tegan, resisting the urge to call the Doctor every rude name she could think of. She did not want to be here; she was supposed to have started a job as a flight attendant and she didn't fancy having to tell her boss that she hadn't shown up for work because she had wandered into a spaceship disguised as a police box. "Look, you might enjoy gallivanting around, but some of us have got jobs to do."
"I'll get you on your flight," the Doctor told her, still taking readings. "Just as soon as I figure out where we are. Not to mention when," he added under his breath. At Tegan's request, he had tried to get her back to her own point in space and time, Earth in the year 1981, but the TARDIS did not always materialise where and when it was supposed to. The Doctor had gained a little more control than he had had at one point, when the TARDIS just seemed to materialise at random points in time and space, but it was still possible to program the machine for, say, the 20th Century and end up in the 10th, or in the 30th.
"This is a spaceship, isn't it?" The speaker was Nyssa, the other female in the small party of time-travellers, a young bio-physicist and the sole survivor of the Traken race. Unlike the more forthright Tegan, Nyssa had a much quieter nature, though she knew how to assert herself when she had to; she was also the most level-headed of the four. As the Doctor nodded in agreement, Nyssa added: "Do you know where it came from?"
"No," the Doctor replied. He had encountered many kinds of spacecraft on his travels, ranging from small scout craft to huge intergalactic transporters. This ship appeared to fit into the latter category, but he could not tell any more than that; its design was not something he had come across before. "But it would be interesting to find out," he went on, unable to resist the urge to go off and explore. This trait, this insatiable curiosity, had often put him at odds with his fellow Time Lords, most of whom were content simply to observe the Universe around them. But not the Doctor; he had "borrowed" an old Type 40 TARDIS and used it to go exploring space and time. "Come on!" he called to his companions, before marching off down the corridor.
"We'd better follow him," Nyssa said to Tegan.
Tegan had to agree; the Doctor was her only hope of getting back to her own time and, if anything happened to him . . . Before she could say anything, however, she suddenly realised something was wrong; one of their party was missing. "Wait!" she said. "Adric isn't here." She distinctly remembered that the young Alzarian had been with them when they left the TARDIS, so where was he now? And what were she and Nyssa supposed to do? Follow the Doctor or go looking for Adric and risk getting lost themselves?
"Keep calm," said Nyssa. "Adric must be here somewhere."
"But where?" Tegan demanded, though she could tell Nyssa didn't know the answer either. This was all she needed; not only had the Doctor materialised the TARDIS on an unknown spacecraft, instead of at Heathrow Airport like he was supposed to, Adric had disappeared. And that meant they would have to waste time looking for the boy, time the Doctor could have spent getting her home. Tegan sighed with exasperation as she realised what must have happened, that Adric must have wandered off to explore on his own. And she needed no-one to tell her that doing such a thing on an unknown spacecraft was, to say the least, foolish.
In the end, Nyssa decided they should follow the Doctor; at least they knew which direction he had gone, which was more than could be said for Adric. But there was always a chance that they might meet up with the boy along the way. Tegan, though she would much rather get out of here as quickly as possible, decided Nyssa's plan was probably the best course of action, the only alternatives being heading in a random direction or getting back into the TARDIS. The latter was out of the question anyway, since the Doctor had the key.
"Ah, Tegan and Nyssa," said the Doctor as his two female companions caught up with him. "I was wondering where you'd got to." He was examining something lying on the floor. Curious, Tegan hurried over to see for herself, only to recoil as she realised the thing the Doctor was examining was a human corpse - or humanoid, she reminded herself, recalling that, though the Doctor, Nyssa and Adric looked and sounded human, they were really members of three completely separate species. "Where's Adric?" the Doctor asked, straightening up from where he had been examining the body. "Isn't he with you? Well?" he pressed when neither Tegan nor Nyssa showed any signs of answering.
"That's what we came to tell you," Nyssa said, trying to avoid looking at the body, which was nothing more than a dried husk. She could not tell what had killed the person it had once been, but something told her that whatever had caused it was still on the ship, still looking for victims. "We think he went off somewhere by himself." There had, she recalled, been several side corridors branching off from the corridor where the TARDIS had materialised; Adric must have gone down one of them, but there was no telling which.
"Oh, that's all we need!" the Doctor said, rolling his eyes in response to Nyssa's news. "I've told him time and time again about wandering off." He sighed. "We'd better find him," he told Tegan and Nyssa, mentally preparing to give Adric the scolding of his life when he caught up with him.
Just then, a scream echoed through the corridors, causing the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa to look at each other with a start. The cry was that of a young boy - and, as far as they knew, there was no-one on board the ship capable of making such a sound except Adric. It was obvious what had happened; while exploring on his own, Adric had run into trouble and, if the Doctor knew the young Alzarian, he had tried to deal with it by himself, only to find that he couldn't. Somehow, Adric's foolhardy courage would have to be reined in before people got hurt, including himself. With that in mind, the Doctor told Tegan and Nyssa to follow him and the three of them began to run in the direction of the scream.
As they ran, they saw more of the bodies, but no sign of anything alive. It was becoming increasingly obvious that something bad had happened on this abandoned spacecraft. Not only that, whatever had caused it was still on board - and, it seemed, Adric was its next target.
They caught up with Adric in one of the side corridors, finding him backed against a wall, being menaced by a creature like nothing Tegan and Nyssa had ever see before. It was at least seven feet tall, with mottled grey skin which resembled that of an elephant. There were no visible limbs except for a single tentacle, with which the creature was slowly reaching towards the terrified boy, ready to pull him towards itself. The Doctor had a fair idea what would happen next; in fact, he had little doubt that it had already happened several times on this craft. But he was not about to let it happen to Adric. Whipping out his sonic screwdriver, he sent a burst of high-pitched sound in the creature's direction, startling it and causing it to back off with its tentacle just inches from Adric.
"Adric!" he shouted to the boy, who still stood with his back against the wall. "Get out of here!" The creature could recover at any moment - the effect of the sonic screwdriver was not permanent - and the Doctor knew it was important to get clear before that happened. Not least because he had recognised the creature as one of the deadliest in the known Universe - a Sylyx, a creature which fed by draining the life-force from any living being it encountered. Sylyxes lived in interstellar space, rarely visiting planetary systems; instead, they lay in wait for passing spacecraft, teleported themselves on board and systematically wiped out every life-form they could detect. There was little doubt in the Doctor's mind that the Sylyx had been the thing which wiped out the crew of this spacecraft and it would have to be stopped before it could claim four more victims.
Somehow, Adric found the will to move and he hurried after the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa as they ran back down the corridor which led to the TARDIS. The space-time machine was by far the safest place at the moment; when the doors were locked from the inside, the Sylyx would be unable to get at them - in theory. In practice, the Doctor had never encountered a Sylyx before and only knew about the creatures by repute; for all he knew, the Sylyx might somehow be able to break into the TARDIS. Either way, he would have to find some means of making sure it couldn't invade any more spacecraft.
But, as the four time-travellers reached the TARDIS and the Doctor unlocked the door, they were unaware that, in the side-corridor where they had encountered it, the Sylyx was beginning to stir . . .
As soon as everyone was safely inside the TARDIS and the doors were secured, the Doctor turned to Adric and gave the boy a look which let him know he was in serious trouble. "Adric," the Doctor said, not taking his eyes off the young Alzarian for a second, "what have I always told you about wandering off?"
Adric knew full well this was a rhetorical question, but the Doctor's tone of voice immediately put him on the defensive. "I just wanted to explore, that's all," he said, sounding like the petulant child the Doctor seemed determined to treat him as. He looked down at the floor, an action which reminded Tegan of an errant schoolboy about to receive a dressing-down from his headmaster.
"In that case, you should have waited for the rest of us and not gone off on your own," the Doctor told him. "Did you even think about how you were going to get back to the TARDIS?"
"Of course I did." Adric pulled something out of his pocket and held it in front of the Doctor's eyes. "Romana gave me this homing device - I could have found my way back easily." He remembered the day, on his home planet of Alzarius, when he had first met the Doctor and his then companions, a Time Lady named Romana and a robot dog called K-9. Romana had given him the homing device he was now brandishing before the Doctor to help him find his way back to the TARDIS when he went to warn his brother, Varsh, and his friends about Mistfall, a strange phenomenon which affected Alzarius every fifty years, but which Varsh had always insisted was a myth. Since then, however, Varsh had been killed, Romana and K-9 had left the TARDIS and the Doctor had regenerated, changing both his appearance and his personality. And, it seemed, this new Doctor had developed an annoying habit of treating Adric as though he was still just a child.
"But you didn't think about the dangers that might be waiting for you," the Doctor persisted, sensing that he was fighting a losing battle but determined to make his point. Then, as Adric opened his mouth to protest, he hurried on. "What you did was very foolish - you might have been badly hurt, even killed, if we hadn't found you. You may be a mathematical genius, but your common sense leaves a lot to be desired."
At this, Adric turned his back on the Doctor and muttered that he was "sorry" in a tone which sounded anything but apologetic. Tegan half-expected the Doctor to tell him to turn round and apologise properly, but, at that moment, Nyssa saved the boy from further scolding by asking the question which had been on the minds of all the Doctor's companions. "Doctor, what was that thing?"
"A Sylyx," replied the Doctor, who seemed to have forgotten that, moments before, he had been in the middle of giving Adric a severe reprimand. In answer to questions from his companions, he explained as much as he could about what a Sylyx was and how the creatures invaded passing spacecraft and drained the life-force of every living thing they encountered. "And you saw the results out there," he added, gesturing towards the TARDIS's doors.
"Doctor, there's one thing I don't understand," Tegan cut in, shuddering as she recalled the bodies she and the others had found. "How can that . . . thing live in space?" The idea was completely beyond her realms of experience; according to accepted scientific theory on Earth, a creature which lived in interstellar space should not exist. She was forgetting that the Doctor had far more experience in these matters than she did.
"Not all life needs a biosphere, Tegan," the Doctor replied, wondering for the umpteenth time why humans had such a narrow-minded view on what was and what wasn't scientifically possible. He knew there were living things out there in deep space, bizarre creatures that had evolved to exist in an environment which should have been totally devoid of life. Nevertheless, such creatures did exist and they did not only include the Sylyx. There was also the Wirrn, which the Doctor had encountered early in his previous incarnation; the "planet" Magla, which was really a gigantic amoeba with a crusty shell; a virus, found in the depths of Earth's solar system, which had had ideas way above its station . . . Just then, a sudden jolt sent all four members of the TARDIS crew tumbling to the floor.
Groaning, Tegan picked herself up, painfully aware that she had banged her hip in the fall. She glared at the Doctor, as though the jolt was somehow his fault - which it probably was. From what she'd seen of the TARDIS, it seemed the machine was one of the most unreliable pieces of junk she'd ever been a passenger on and, had the TARDIS not been her only hope of getting home, she might have been tempted to recommend a trip to a scrapyard. She did not know that the TARDIS had once spent several months parked in a scrapyard in 1960s London. In any case, she had no time to think about it before a shout from Adric distracted her.
The Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa turned in the direction the shout had come from. Adric was standing in front of the scanner screen, which showed a mass of mottled grey skin. The Sylyx was right outside the TARDIS - and it was trying to get in. It had been aware of the presence of the four time-travellers long before it encountered any of them and its instincts would not allow it to leave as long as there was potential prey in the vicinity. But this strange blue box was something it had never encountered before; it seemed to be a perfectly ordinary box, but there was something about it, something which was preventing the Sylyx from teleporting into it. The jolt the TARDIS crew had felt had been caused by the creature trying to break in.
"Doctor, get us out of here!" Tegan shouted, wanting to get as far from the Sylyx as possible. As far as she was concerned, the sooner she was back in her own time, the better. And it wasn't just because of the bodies she and the others had found, though that was part of it. It was all very well for Nyssa and Adric, she thought. Neither of them had any ties among their own people; in fact, Nyssa now had no people at all. But she had friends and family back in her own time, friends and family who must be growing increasingly worried about her, especially since her disappearance had coincided with the murder of her Aunt Vanessa. Not to mention that she was in danger of losing her job . . .
In response to Tegan's shout, the Doctor pressed the dematerialisation switch - to no avail. The TARDIS did begin to make the familiar thrumming sound it made when materialising or dematerialising, but it cut out almost immediately. The Doctor, muttering: "Come on, old girl!" under his breath, tried pressing the switch again, only to find that his second attempt to dematerialise was no more successful than the first. Tegan, Nyssa and Adric looked at him desperately, all three of them silently asking the same question. "It's no good!" the Doctor told them, giving the dematerialisation switch a third press, though he doubted it would do any good. "The controls aren't responding!"
"Another fault?" asked Adric, hurrying over to the console to see for himself. Of the four time-travellers, the Doctor was the only one who really understood the TARDIS, though Nyssa and Adric both understood some of the principles. As for Tegan, the fact that the one time she thought she was piloting the TARDIS, the machine had been on a pre-programmed course still rankled. It was another reminder that, for the time being, she was surrounded by intellectually superior aliens, one of whom seemed to enjoy belittling her.
"No, not this time," said the Doctor. He sighed as one of the switches came off in his hand. "Though it does need an overhaul," he added, imagining what Romana would say if she could see him now. Probably something about him falling behind with TARDIS maintenance. "No, it's something outside the TARDIS holding us back and . . ." He broke off as he realised Tegan was giving him what he had come to think of as that look. "What?"
"Something outside the TARDIS?" Tegan demanded, keeping her voice as level as she could under the current circumstances. "Doctor, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we check all over that ship?"
Nyssa nodded to back her friend up. "We did. And the only life-forms on board are ourselves."
"And the Sylyx," the Doctor reminded his three companions. Then, it dawned on him. Before a Sylyx invaded a spacecraft, it must somehow take control of it, overriding the controls and making it impossible for those on board to escape. And, if the Sylyx could take control of the TARDIS, that meant it was even more dangerous than he had realised. The TARDIS contained many secrets which only a Time Lord was supposed to know and, if the Sylyx gained access to even a fraction of that data, there was no telling what it might do. It might even end up disrupting the very fabric of space and time, something the Doctor knew must never be allowed to happen; otherwise, the whole Universe would collapse into chaos. As it had nearly done during his recent encounter with the Master . . .
There was nothing else for it. Somehow, the Doctor and his companions would have to find a means of dealing with the Sylyx before it caused any more harm than it had already. It was too late to help the people on this ship, but at least the four time-travellers could do something about the thing which had killed them. The only question was, how could they neutralise the Sylyx without it claiming at least one more victim?
But the only alternative was staying here for all eternity, something none of the four wanted to do, especially Tegan.