Authors: Malcolm Hulke
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
By MALCOLM HULKE
Based on the BBC television serial Doctor Who and the Frontier in Space by Malcolm Hulke by arrangement with the British Broadcasting Corporation
The year 2540.
Earth Cargo Ship C-982 slid silently through Space on its way back to Earth. Once a smart dull grey, much of its paintwork had been scorched away by countless take-offs and landings through the atmospheres of Earth and Earth’s many planet colonies. The dark shape of the spaceship was relieved by lights shining from the port-holes in its blunt nose. Inside the flight deck two men sat at the controls, both dressed in scruffy space overalls, both bored with the monotony of piloting their cargo ship through millions of miles of Space.
While Hardy made a routine check of the ship’s controls, the younger space pilot, Stewart, leaned back and stretched his arms. ‘You know what I’d like?’
Hardy drew a tick on his controls check list. ‘What?’
‘A job on one of those luxury space-liners. First Officer on the Mars-Venus cruise, that’d suit me.’
Hardy continued with his work. ‘You can keep it. Spit and polish, cocktail parties with the passengers...’
Stewart took up on Hardy’s theme, but with enthusiasm. ‘And a uniform with gold braid instead of these overalls, and all those beautiful space stewardesses! I’ll have that any time.’
The older man put away his check list, satisfied that the spaceship’s speed, direction and internal temperature were all in order. He started to pull on his safety belt. ‘The way things are heading you’re more likely to wind up piloting a battle cruiser.’
Stewart was quick to answer. ‘There’s not going to be a war.’
‘Didn’t you see the President on television last night? The Dragons have attacked two more of our ships. How much longer do you think we’ll stand for it?’ He used the slang word for Draconians. Of all the species and life forms on the millions of inhabited planets of the Milky Way Galaxy, two had become dominant—Earthmen and Draconians. Over the past century Earth and Draconia had competed to colonise other planets, until now both possessed vast empires in Space. Fortunately the two planets were far apart, in opposite ‘legs’ of the swirling galaxy. By tacit agreement they confined their colonising to their respective halves of the Milky Way and generally, though not always, observed an agreed frontier in Space between each other.
Stewart also pulled on his safety belt. ‘I’m a born optimist. They steal a few of our cargoes, we steal a few of theirs. But it’ll blow over. Neither side could afford an all-out war.’ He checked the hyper-space dials. ‘We’re ready for the jump.’
Hardy spoke to Earth Control on the ship’s transmitter. ‘Cargo Ship C-982 preparing to enter hyper-space at 22.17, seven two, two thousand five hundred and forty.’ He turned to Stewart. ‘Let’s shoot.’
Stewart touched the hyper-space lever and the spaceship leapt into speed faster than light. The sudden force riveted both men to their seats. Hardy was the first to notice the strange object spinning towards them on the monitor screen. ‘You see that?’ he shouted excitedly.
Stewart looked. ‘What is it?’
‘Dragons. They’re going to attack.’
Stewart tried to get the spinning object into focus. It looked like an oblong box and was coming straight for them. At one end of the shape a blue light flashed. ‘That isn’t a ship. I’ve never seen anything like it.’
‘Well, it’s going to hit us, whatever it is.’
‘That’s their bad luck,’ said Stewart. ‘But better pull out of hyper-space.’
Hardy had already seized the microphone. ‘Cargo Ship C-982, about to pull out of hyper-space now...’
For a moment the spinning object with its flashing blue light filled the monitor screen. Then, abruptly, as the spaceship slowed, the object vanished.
‘Fancy that,’ said Stewart, making a young man’s pretence that he hadn’t been frightened. ‘You’d better report it.’
‘They’ll never believe us,’ Hardy growled. ‘But you’re probably right.’ He spoke into the microphone. ‘Cargo Ship C-982 to Earth Control. Mysterious object sighted during hyper-space transition. Object resembled large blue box with flashing light at one end. Object vanished before collision. Present whereabouts of object unknown.’
In a gloomy corner of one of the spaceship’s cargo holds stood the TARDIS. It looked, as ever, like an old-fashioned London police box. But its appearance was deceptive, for the TARDIS was a highly-advanced Time and Space ship, designed and built by the Time Lords. Doctor Who, himself a Time Lord, stole his TARDIS because he desperately wanted to travel and see the wonders of the Universe. However, the one he stole had two major faults. For one thing he could never get it to go exactly where he wanted. It seemed to have a mind of its own. The other fault was that TARDISES were designed to change their appearance on arrival so as to fit in with the local background. On the Doctor’s first trip the TARDIS worked well enough to make itself look like a police box, but after that its appearance never changed again.
Though small on the outside, the interior of the TARDIS was huge, a very large and modern control room with the Time and Space mechanism in the centre.
Standing now in the corner of the cargo hold, the TARDIS looked very out of place. One of the doors flung open and a pretty young woman stepped out. Jo Grant was in a flaming temper.
‘I’m never going in that thing again,’ she shouted back into the TARDIS.
Jo Grant had always wanted to be a lady spy, and hoped that her uncle, an important Civil Servant, would help her achieve that ambition. Instead he had her employed by UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, where Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart seconded her as the Doctor’s general assistant because he couldn’t think what else to do with her. She still wasn’t used to accompanying the Doctor on his journeys through Space and Time.
The Doctor emerged from the TARDIS. ‘Now then, Jo, be reasonable.’ He smiled to show that being lost in Space was all part of a day’s work.
She fumed, ‘Honestly, only you could have a traffic accident in Space.’
‘Except that we didn’t,’ retorted the Doctor. ‘By a brilliant last minute course correction I’ve materialised the TARDIS inside the spaceship.’
She took in their immediate surroundings. The hold was filled with large packing cases. ‘What do we do now?’
‘If I’m going to get us back to Earth, I’d better find out where we are.’ He turned to go back inside the TARDIS.
‘But I thought we
on our way back to Earth?’
The Doctor paused. ‘To avoid hitting this spaceship I had to make a random jump into normal Space. I can’t reach a destination if I don’t know where I’m starting from. So I’d better check the instruments.’
‘Doctor,’ said Jo, matter-of-fact, ‘even when you
know where you’re starting from, you very rarely get where we want to go.’
He looked pained. ‘I try, Jo. I try.’ To avoid any further criticism the Doctor hurried back into the TARDIS.
Jo breathed a deep sigh. Then she curiously pushed back the lid of a packing case. It contained flour, plain ordinary flour. As she let some of the flour run over her fingers. a movement through the port-hole caught her attention. Jo crossed to the port-hole and looked out into the black emptiness of infinite Space. Millions of distant stars twinkled at her. The point of interest, though, was a small black spaceship, about half a mile away. It had no lights, no markings. Some instinct told Jo that this ugly black spaceship meant danger.
On the flight deck Hardy and Stewart were also watching the spaceship, on their television monitor screen.
Hardy murmured, ‘Maybe it’s a wreck.’ There were occasional wrecks floating in Space, ships punctured by meteorites when all the crew had been killed instantly through the sudden escape of their life-supporting oxygen.
‘Or maybe they need help,’ said Stewart.
Hardy pulled the microphone near his lips and tuned the radio transmitter to the inter-ship emergency wavelength. ‘This is Earth Cargo Ship C-982 in close proximity to you. Do you read me?’
Both men listened for a response over the flight deck’s loudspeaker. There was nothing.
Hardy tried again. ‘Do you read me? Are you in need of assistance?’
Again no answer.
‘We’d better enter it in the log-book,’ said Stewart, reaching for the records they kept on every journey. ‘How would you describe it?’
Hardy said, ‘Small, black spherical craft, no markings, no recognisable classification...’
As Hardy spoke they both heard the strange rhythmic high-pitched sound coming over the loudspeaker. The sound rose to a peak then died away. Neither man spoke while the sound lasted. When it ended they both blinked. Now as they looked at the monitor screen they could see a Draconian spaceship, a large battle cruiser bristling with heavy armament. The guns were pointing straight at them.
At the port-hole Jo also blinked when she heard the strange sound. She saw the spaceship blur in her vision, then form into a mighty ship with what might be heavy guns protruding through its hull. But the effect was only temporary. By concentrating hard and blinking her eyes rapidly, the ship resumed its original shape.
‘Doctor,’ she called loudly. ‘Come here!’
The Doctor was already on his way. ‘I think I know
we are, Jo, and I’ve got a pretty good idea about
...’ He stopped, realising he hadn’t got her full attention. ‘What’s up?’
Jo pointed. ‘Look out there.’
The Doctor peered through the port-hole. ‘Just a spaceship,’ he smiled. ‘I think we’re in the twenty-sixth century. Space travel is pretty routine by now.’
‘That spaceship changed shape,’ said Jo. ‘When I heard that sound.’
‘What sound? I was inside the TARDIS.’ The Doctor went on with his own thoughts. ‘Anyway, we’ll have to find the crew of the ship we’re on. I need to know the exact date for my calculations.’
But Jo wasn’t listening. ‘Doctor, look at that thing. It’s coming straight for us!’
Hardy was staring in disbelief at the oncoming battle cruiser. ‘Dragons! ‘
‘This close to Earth?’
‘They’re going to attack us! ‘
Stewart tried to hide his fear. ‘Then we fight back. How about getting the blasters?’
‘I thought you said there wouldn’t be war?’
‘I said they’d steal some of our cargoes and we’d steal some of theirs.’ Stewart swung round to the older pilot. ‘Whatever I said, get the blasters. You have the authority.’
Hardy remained in his scat. ‘We can’t take on a battle cruiser.’
Stewart knew he looked and sounded frightened now. ‘We can defend ourselves if they try to board us. For goodness’ sake, Hardy, get the blasters!’
Hardy nodded. ‘For what good it may do, I’ll get them.’ He went off down the corridor that led all the way through the length of the spaceship.
Stewart grabbed the microphone towards his mouth. ‘Emergency, emergency! Earth Cargo Ship C-982 on co-ordinate 8972-6483. We are under attack by a Draconian battle cruiser of the Galaxy class, equipped with neutronic missiles. We need immediate assistance.’
The spaceship’s blasters, guns that could stun or kill according to the user’s adjustment, were kept in a locked metal cupboard in the main corridor. Hardy swiftly unlocked the cupboard and lifted down two of the special guns. He was about to return to the flight deck when to his astonishment a tall man with a head of tousled fair hair approached him from the cargo hold. The man was dressed in the clothes of six hundred years ago—a long velvet jacket, frilly shirt, tight trousers.
‘How do you do?’ said the Doctor. ‘I’m sorry about this intrusion—’
As Hardy tried to gain his wits the strange rhythmic sound was heard again. Instantly the man standing before Hardy seemed to blurr and shimmer. Hardy blinked and tried to concentrate his mind. He knew now that he was facing a Draconian soldier and he was frightened. The appearance of the ‘Dragons’ was enough to terrify any Earth person. Their shape was basically humanoid but their claw-like hands, green dragon-shaped faces and tapered ears made an awe-some spectacle. The one now facing Hardy wore Draconian military uniform and carried a gun. Hardy aimed one of the blasters directly at the Draconian he believed he could see.
‘Filthy Dragon,’ he shouted. ‘On board our ship already, are you? Drop that gun!’
The Doctor looked at Hardy, presuming rightly that the space pilot had left his senses. ‘Gun? I haven’t got a gun.’
Jo came running up behind the Doctor. ‘I say, Doctor, don’t go prowling about on your own. Wait for me—’ She saw the gun pointed at the Doctor’s stomach and stopped dead. ‘What’s happening?’
As she spoke the strange sound was repeated. To Jo’s view, Hardy blurred and shimmered. Then, to her horror, he seemed to turn into a Drashig, the foul monster that she’d met on a previous journey with the Doctor. Of all the monsters Jo had encountered, the Drashig filled her with most terror.
‘Doctor,’ she breathed, unable to move from sheer horror, ‘it’s a... Drashig.’
The Doctor shook her by the shoulders. ‘Nonsense, Jo. It’s a man with a gun. Pull yourself together, girl.’