The Sylyx: Part Three

The Doctor's words did not inspire confidence in Tegan; being found by the Sylyx was exactly what she was worried about. Not for the first time, she bitterly regretted the curiosity which had caused her to venture into the TARDIS. Ever since then, it seemed she had been in trouble non-stop. She had hoped that, once the Master was dealt with, she would be able to go back to her own time and get on with her life. But it seemed things were not going to be as straightforward as she had hoped.

Having no other choice in the matter, other than to go back to the currently immobilised TARDIS, she sighed and continued down the corridor. Along the way, she passed more desiccated corpses (or were they the same corpses she had encountered earlier?) but saw no sign of the thing which had killed them. However, she knew the Sylyx was on board this ship somewhere, just waiting to attack. Was the Doctor really serious about being able to stop it with what looked to her like a souped-up record player?

Drawing level with Nyssa, Tegan took hold of the Traken's arm, slowing her to a standstill. "Is the Doctor mad?" she whispered, trying to avoid being overheard by the madman in question. She did not know that the Doctor's senses were much sharper than hers - and those were just the five senses shared by all four members of the TARDIS crew. "That thing out there could kill us all!"

Nyssa was the sort of person who could generally be counted on to keep a cool head in a crisis, in contrast with the more volatile Tegan. Indeed, despite the differences in temperament between the two females, they had quickly become such close friends that they were almost like sisters. Nyssa realised she would miss Tegan once the latter was back on Earth. Right now, however, it looked as though Tegan was on the verge of panic and Nyssa knew instinctively what she must do. Neither the Doctor nor Adric would be much use in this situation; the Doctor was currently preoccupied with his plan for dealing with the Sylyx and Adric had a habit of rubbing Tegan the wrong way, so anything the boy said might only make matters worse.

"Just trust him," Nyssa said, nodding towards the Doctor. "He knows what he's doing."

"Like he knew what he was doing when he landed us here instead of at Heathrow?" Tegan asked, still annoyed with the Doctor for failing to comply with her request. Especially when she had not asked to become a member of the TARDIS crew in the first place.

"That wasn't the Doctor's fault. He said something had drawn the TARDIS off course."

"The Sylyx?" Tegan's voice had the same edge it had had when she asked the Doctor about her Aunt Vanessa's fate.

Nyssa nodded slowly. "There's nothing else it could have been. Anyway, you can't blame the Doctor every time something goes wrong."

Tegan saw that there was logic in Nyssa's statement, but that did not lessen her annoyance. She sighed. "I guess not," she said. "It's just that he promised to get me home and . . ." She broke off as she noticed the tears welling up in her friend's eyes. "I'm sorry," she added. "I was forgetting your home isn't there any more." She recalled how upset she had been when she learned that her aunt had been killed, murdered by the Master. That had been bad enough, but the Master had also caused the destruction of the entire Traken race apart from Nyssa, as well as of Traken itself. Tegan could not begin to imagine what it must be like to know that the place you had grown up in was gone forever.

"I'm all right," Nyssa said, regaining her composure. "But we'd better catch up with the Doctor and Adric."

The Sylyx could sense that the Doctor and his companions were near - very near. And it could also sense that all four of them were moving in the same direction, with the two males in the lead. Good, that meant it wouldn't have to expend energy teleporting all over the ship in order to hunt them down. It had not fed since it cornered the last few surviving members of the ship's original crew and teleportation inevitably used up the energy it had absorbed. And then there was the Doctor; if it could force him to reveal even a fraction of the Time Lords' secrets, it would have the whole of space and time at its disposal. And that meant it could go anywhere and anywhen to get the energy it needed. It did not see its actions as evil; as far as it was concerned, it was simply doing what it needed to do in order to survive.

But, if it wanted to feed on the four time-travellers, it first had to catch them and that meant teleporting ahead of them. Teleportation used up energy, but it didn't have much choice. Sylyxes are not built for moving under their own physical power, having no need to do so in their natural habitat of interstellar space; instead, they have evolved the ability to teleport themselves. So it summoned up the energy it needed to transport itself into the corridor ahead of the Doctor and his companions.

And, moments later, the Doctor and his companions came round the corner.

"Oh, rabbits!" muttered Tegan as soon as she saw the mound of grey flesh that was the Sylyx. Her instinct was to run, but something told her that, if she tried that, she wouldn't get far. Instead, she gazed round at the others, noting their reactions. Nyssa had stepped back a pace when she saw the Sylyx, though Adric was too proud to show fear whether he felt it or not. But hopefully the memory of his earlier encounters with the creature would keep him from trying anything foolish. Knowing Adric, though, that couldn't be guaranteed.

As for the Doctor, he quickly hid the sonic amplifier he and Nyssa had built behind his back and stepped forward, flashing the Sylyx a disarming smile. Tegan was about to run forward and demand to know what he thought he was doing, but the Doctor spoke first. "Ah, good to see you. Maybe we can come to some kind of agreement." He made it sound as though he was willing to negotiate, but he had learned long ago that some races were not open to negotiation. And, from what he'd gathered, Sylyxes ranked alongside Daleks, Cybermen and other races that were impossible to reason with. At best, they might agree to your terms if it suited their purposes, but as soon as you were of no further use to them, you became just as disposable as you had been before you attempted negotiations.

The Sylyx ignored him.

"Look, if you're still after my TARDIS, I've already given my answer," the Doctor said, still keeping the sonic amplifier hidden behind his back. "And it hasn't changed. So . . ." He broke off as a dark-haired, yellow-shirted figure suddenly broke ranks and ran towards the Sylyx. "Adric! Get back!" Already he could see the Sylyx's tentacle reaching towards the boy.

Adric, who had in a moment of impulsive courage, attempted to tackle the Sylyx directly, looked round at the sound of the Doctor's voice. This was just the opening the Sylyx needed. Before the Doctor could stop it, it wrapped its tentacle around the Alzarian's arm and began to drag him towards itself. This time, it was not going to use Adric as a living puppet; it was preparing to absorb his life force and turn him into another desiccated shell.

Adric struggled to break free, but the Sylyx's grip was too strong. His mind was filled with memories of Varsh, who must have been just as afraid when the Marshmen attacked him, dragging him to his doom as Adric tried in vain to save him. The sight of the boy fighting to break free from the creature that had killed so many caused something to snap in Tegan. As irritating as Adric could be, she could not let him end up like the crew of this spacecraft, no matter how much his attacker disgusted her. She ran forward and grabbed hold of Adric's other arm, attempting to pull him away.

"You disgusting . . . thing!" she shouted at the Sylyx. "Let that boy go!"

But the Sylyx's only response was to tighten its grip on Adric. It was not going to be denied so easily; as soon as it was through with the young Alzarian, Tegan would be the next on the menu. And, unless the Doctor revealed the secrets that were known only to Time Lords, the Sylyx would then go after Nyssa. It could sense that the Doctor cared about all three of his companions and it was going to exploit that concern to its own ends. Adric's attempt to tackle it physically, thereby bringing himself within range of its tentacles, was an unexpected bonus.

The Doctor looked on in horror as he realised both the oldest and the youngest of his three companions were in danger because of Adric's recklessness. Had the boy learned nothing from his earlier encounters with the Sylyx? Surely even someone as lacking in common sense as him could see that attempting to tackle the creature directly would only get you killed. Not only that, but Tegan had risked her own life in an attempt to save him. There was nothing else for it, the Doctor realised; he would have to use the sonic amplifier.

He pulled the device out from behind his back and switched it on. It immediately began to emit a high-pitched humming noise, one which the Doctor and his companions could tolerate provided it didn't continue for too long, but which the Sylyx would find painful. Sure enough, as it had done when the sonic screwdriver was used against it, the Sylyx left off attacking as soon as it felt the vibrations from the amplifier. As the tentacle it had wrapped around Adric's arm went limp, the boy stumbled away, dragging Tegan with him. But, though his two friends were safe for the moment, the Doctor was not through yet; the Sylyx needed to be dealt with.

"Quick!" he shouted, preparing to crank up the volume. "Get your headphones on!"

"You mean these?" Tegan asked, picking up one of the pairs of headphones which Adric had dropped when he attempted to tackle the Sylyx.

"Yes, unless you want your eardrums to burst." The Doctor had used sound as a weapon before, such as the time he had used an amplified recording of Victoria's screams to get rid of the Weed Creature which had invaded a gas rig. And experience had taught him that it was generally a good idea to have some form of auditory protection when fighting an enemy with sound. There was only so much the humanoid ear could stand; even he, a Time Lord, would not be able to endure the noise of the sonic amplifier at full volume for long. Sooner or later, he would have to put himself into a state of total sensory withdrawal and he could not afford to be out of action right now.

Tegan could tell the Doctor was serious, so she put the headphones on and adjusted them to fit as the Doctor retrieved the second set of dropped headphones and placed them over his ears. Glancing at Nyssa and Adric, Tegan saw that both of them were already wearing headphones; no doubt the Doctor had warned them in advance that his plan would involve making a great deal of noise. Well, they had helped to build the sonic amplifier.

Satisfied that everyone's ears were adequately protected, the Doctor slowly turned the volume control on the amplifier up to maximum. The high-pitched noise the device had been making since it was first switched on rapidly grew into a deafening screech.

Or at least it would have been deafening had anyone been able to hear it. The Doctor's headphones were not just ordinary headphones; they completely cut out all external sound, effectively rendering their wearer deaf. Tegan found the sensation rather bizarre, like watching television with the sound turned down as low as it would go, though, had she come from just a few years in her own future, she might have compared it to pressing the Mute button on a remote control. You knew the sounds had not gone away, but you couldn't hear them. It was a strange, isolating experience.

But Tegan was not tempted to remove her headphones, even for a second; she knew doing so while the sonic amplifier was operating at full volume risked damaging her hearing permanently. And she wouldn't be much use as an air stewardess if she couldn't hear instructions from the cabin crew. Of course, that would be a moot point unless the Doctor could get her back to Heathrow and, if his next attempt was as successful as this one had been . . . In any case, presented with a choice between temporary and possibly permanent deafness, she decided she preferred the former.

The Sylyx, meanwhile, was beginning to suffer as a direct result of the sonic onslaught it was being subjected to. Since there is no sound in space, Sylyxes have no sense of hearing, but they are sensitive to vibrations especially those at the higher end of the scale. And the noise emitted by the sonic amplifier was piercing every cell in its body, disrupting every molecule, causing it to . . . Sensing what was about to happen to it, the Sylyx attempted to teleport away, only to find that the disruption to its body was so great that it could no longer use its powers.

The Doctor realised what was going to happen a few seconds before it actually happened. With the sonic amplifier still running, he shouted a warning to his companions, a warning none of them could hear thanks to the headphones they were using to protect their ears from the effects of the amplifier. Consequently, the entire TARDIS crew was caught directly in the firing line as the Sylyx's body began to shake and . . .

. . . exploded, covering everyone in green gunge. Tegan uttered several words not used in polite conversation as bits of Sylyx landed in her hair and on her stewardess's uniform. It was going to take forever to get her clothes clean, assuming the TARDIS even had a laundry. She had never thought to ask, having expected to be going home before she could get mixed up in another of the Doctor's bizarre adventures. But things hadn't worked out the way she had hoped and, as a result, she was now covered in Sylyx gunge. Her only consolation was that the Doctor, Nyssa and Adric were in just as much of a mess.

The Doctor switched off the sonic amplifier, then waited for the noise from the device to die down. Once he was satisfied that there was no longer any danger of anyone's eardrums being perforated, he flashed a thumbs-up signal to his companions to let them know they could remove their headphones. Having done so, the four of them stood looking at each other for several seconds before Adric broke the silence.

"It worked."

The Doctor looked at the spot where the Sylyx had stood moments before. "I knew it would in theory, but practice is another matter." He turned to his companions. "And now we'd better get back to the TARDIS and clean ourselves up," he added, apparently noticing for the first time the mess everyone was in. And it wasn't just himself and his companions; bits of the Sylyx were spread all over the corridor, not that it mattered now. With the danger removed, this craft (whose planet of origin he still didn't know) could be left to drift on through space.

"Doctor," Tegan asked, as she and the others began to make their way back towards the TARDIS, "what happened?"

The Doctor's reply was a long-winded explanation about the effects extreme sonic vibrations could have at a molecular level, especially for a creature that, rather than having a sense of hearing, was adapted to detect the vibrations made by auditory waves. "Or, to put it another way," he added, "this device made more noise than the Sylyx's body could stand, causing it to explode. Rather like how glass will break if you expose it to intense vibrations." In fact, that was why he had asked Adric to help with the sonic amplifier; he had needed someone to calculate the precise pitch at which the device would need to operate for maximum effect.

"In any case," the Doctor went on. "The Sylyx is gone and that means we should be able to move the TARDIS again."

"Doctor," Tegan said, a slight edge creeping into her voice, "make sure you move it to Heathrow this time."

"Well, I'll do my best," the Doctor replied. "But, as this experience may have told you, I can't always guarantee that we will end up where we want to go."

"You mean you can't even control your own TARDIS?"

"I can - to an extent. But it's an old model and that means it's not always reliable."

Tegan made no reply to this. Old and unreliable or not, the TARDIS was her only hope of getting back to her own time, so she resisted the urge to throw every insult she knew at the Doctor and followed him, Nyssa and Adric back to the corridor where the space-time machine had first materialised.

"Doctor," Nyssa asked, "what's going to happen to that spaceship?"

The Doctor and his companions were grouped around the TARDIS console, travelling through the Time Vortex. All four of them had cleaned themselves up so that no trace of the Sylyx remained on any of them; Tegan had berated the Doctor at length for getting everyone in such a mess in the first place. In reply, the Doctor had told her it was that or allow the Sylyx to gain access to the secrets it had wanted to know, secrets which could threaten the fabric of the Universe if they got into the wrong hands - or tentacles. Now, with the Sylyx neutralised, the TARDIS was on the move once more, though whether it would materialise at Heathrow as Tegan hoped was another matter.

"Nothing," the Doctor said in reply to Nyssa's question. "Apart from drifting through space for all eternity. Kind of like the Mary Celeste," he added, recalling the time the TARDIS had briefly materialised on the famous sailing ship. However, he, Ian, Barbara and Vicki had left before the Daleks, who were pursuing the TARDIS through time and space, arrived in one of their own time machines and frightened the Mary Celeste's crew into abandoning ship.

"What's the Mary Celeste?" asked Adric, whose knowledge of Earth - and of N-Space in general - still contained several gaps. Many of the things which Tegan took for granted, such as lighthouses and railway stations, had not existed on Alzarius and therefore meant nothing to him.

The Doctor glanced up at the sound of the Alzarian's voice, then quickly turned back to the console. "A ship from Earth's history - you can look it up in the library." Right now, he was concentrating on trying to get Tegan to Heathrow and did not have time for long explanations.

And, with that, the TARDIS continued its journey through the Time Vortex.