For a man born long before the invention of the microprocessor, Riley Davenport was becoming very comfortable with using a computer for purposes he could not have imagined. He happily closed his laptop after a long video conversation with his friend Colm, the Irish marine archaeologist. It had been quite a personal conversation, and Chrístõ had busied himself out of earshot on the other side of the TARDIS console room until it was over.

“I can see we’re going to have to take a few more trips to Earth in the twenty-first century,” he said when Riley came to join him, a smile still glittering in his eyes.

“Is that all right?” Riley asked, his smile fading into a frown of anxiety.

“Perfectly all right,” Chrístõ assured him. “But let’s give it a week or two. You don’t want to seem too eager.”

“Good point,” Riley agreed with a conspiratorial grin. “What shall we do in the meantime?”

“Oh, there’s always something exciting to do.” Chrístõ reached for the pre-programmed destination databank, but then abandoned that and moved to the communications console. Now it was his smile that faded as he recognised the urgency of the incoming message. “Oh… not what I’d call ‘exciting’ – at least not in a good way. I’m picking up a Mayday in deep space.”

“A distress call… from a ship… a space ship. They still do that in space the way we do on Earth for sea-going ships?”

“They do. And interstellar craft like ours have a duty to respond, just like the ships that turned from their course to try to reach the Titanic.”

Riley understood that reference, though he had only been a child when that disaster happened.

“What is the equivalent of an iceberg in deep space?” he asked.

“A rogue meteor is a pretty good analogy,” Chrístõ replied. “They’re known to cause problems in the busier sectors. I don’t know what this particular emergency is, yet, though. I only know that it’s in the Fronolian space lanes. Fronolians are basically humanoid people except for green, leathery skin and three eyes, two connected to the brain via the optic nerves giving them normal stereoscopic sight and one central eye in the forehead which gives them low level telepathy due to close proximity to an augmented pineal gland… the third eye believed by some of your race to be directly linked to the soul.”

Chrístõ noticed that Riley was looking a bit glazed. He had, admittedly, gone off topic.

“Most importantly to us right now, they are very keen traders. They carry a lot of valuable goods on their ships. Piracy is very possible.”

Riley considered that carefully. Where there was valuable cargo, on the sea or in space, piracy was certainly going to happen. He was a little puzzled by the preparations Chrístõ made for that eventuality. He gathered a large first aid kit together with bottles of water and other emergency supplies.

What he didn’t have was any kind of weapon. Riley queried him about that.

“Two of us wouldn’t be much use in a stand-off, anyway. But I’m fully expecting to find the pirates long gone and wounded people to look after. If there ARE pirates still nearby, then I would expect them to obey the intergalactic rules about not attacking unarmed medical personnel.”

“That’s… a lot more faith in criminals than I would have,” Riley admitted.

“In a cynical part of my mind, I agree with you. But the neutrality of doctors goes all the way back to the Red Cross in your human wars treating the wounded on both sides without prejudice. It’s one of the good things the Human footprint in the universe brought, and mostly it is fully embraced by all races.”

Riley nodded, but still a little uncertainly.

“I’m the one with both the medical training and the obligation as ‘captain’ of the TARDIS. If you prefer to stay behind I wouldn’t think any less of you.”

“I would think less of myself,” Riley argued. “I’m right behind you, whatever this is about.”

Of course, he was. Chrístõ knew that from the start. Riley had come to travel with him in less than auspicious circumstances, but he had proved loyal and courageous – everything he hoped to find in the friends he travelled with, especially the Human ones.

And knowing that Riley was going to move on, soon, to make his own adventures, left a little hollow in his soul that wouldn’t be easy to fill.

But just now there was a Mayday to answer and his personal feelings didn’t signify. He brought the TARDIS out of the vortex at the source of the emergency signal and looked carefully at the available data.

“This is odd,” he admitted. “That ship on screen is the one sending the Mayday. It is operating under emergency power, maintaining orbit around that lifeless asteroid you can see behind it. But look at the debris field…. The computer is reading all kinds of metals and polymers, and organic matter. There was another ship here not so very long ago.”

Riley looked at the vessel shaped something like a huge, metallic insect, catching a glint of light from a nearby star. Something he couldn’t quite identify worried him about that ship, as well as what Chrístõ had just told him about the second ship that was no longer there.

“Organic matter… you mean… people? A ship with people aboard blew up?”

“Or was blown up,” Chrístõ considered. His tone suggested that he didn’t like either scenario. He fully recognised that the ‘organic matter’ reduced to fragments floating in the vacuum of space represented a tragedy. He was using those impersonal terms to keep his own emotional response to the loss of life under control.

“So… is that ship…”

“I don’t recognise its design, and it isn’t transmitting any automatic identification that the TARDIS can pick up. I know it isn’t a Fronolian freighter. Those are at least four times as big.”

“Then it could be the pirate ship. They blew up the other ship after robbing it and are now in trouble themselves?”

Chrístõ reached for the dematerialisation switch and prepared to bring the TARDIS aboard the mystery ship. As they materialised again he slung the heaviest bag of emergency supplies across his shoulder.

“Whoever they are, the Mayday is coming from this ship’s communications array. I’m still obliged to respond, even though there is a possibility that the signal is a hoax to lure in another victim.”

That possibility had already occurred to Riley, but he grabbed the other bag as Chrístõ reached for the door release.

He had brought the TARDIS to the space-freightliner equivalent of the front vestibule, a small, metallic-walled, largely featureless room a little bigger than a large lift. The TARDIS was slightly to the side of the sealed outer bulkhead door where the crew would transfer from shuttle craft to the orbiting ship. An interior bulkhead lay in front of them. Chrístõ opened it and they stepped through, expecting to reach a service area.

Instead he and Riley stepped into an airlock cubicle. The lights turned several shades of primary colours as the two of them were automatically checked for organic contamination.

Chrístõ told himself he should have expected that. What he didn’t expect was the bulkhead door behind them re-sealing itself and the room where they had arrived venting its atmosphere.

“What made it do that?” Riley asked uncertainly.

“Decontamination,” Chrístõ answered, looking at a digital panel beside the door. “The TARDIS has been registered as cargo, but without any quarantine documentation in the central computer database. It’s automatically kept in a vacuum where bacteria can’t thrive. Scavenger vessels always have those sort of precautions. They never know what they might pick up. Their main cargo hold is probably permanently airless.”

“Does that mean….”

“We can’t go back that way until the room is re-pressurised and oxygenated. There’s no local override, either. We’ll have to look for a control room where we can do that. But finding survivors is still our first priority.”

With that aim, they stepped through the inner door of the airlock into a main corridor of the sort generally found on any sort of ship – a conduit to all of the more important areas.

Riley, despite having all the courage Chrístõ admired in him, couldn’t help a yelp of shock when he almost tripped over a body stretched across the floor. He stepped back as Chrístõ knelt to examine the body.

There was no outward sign of disease and no blood. This was, Chrístõ noted, a dark green skinned Yalurian, from the same space sector as the Fronolians. They weren’t known for piracy, but they did have a reputation as galactic scavengers, the first to claim salvage rights in any disaster.

The vultures of space coming along to pick the bones rather than the hyenas who made the kill. That changed the overall picture a little, but added even more questions. Was the space debris from a Fronolian freighter or from a pirate ship, or even both? Who had blown up the other ship? Yalurian ships had defensive shields and some short range guns, but no missiles capable of destroying another vessel.

The dead man certainly didn’t provide any answers. He had a broken neck. That could either have been a quiet but up close and personal murder or some sort of accident. Chrístõ couldn’t think how it could have been the latter in a corridor devoid of ladders or access panels to fall from but without any more evidence he couldn’t be sure one way or another.

“He was Security Officer Guillory Shandilla, Yalarian Merchant Fleet,” Chrístõ noted out loud. Putting a name to the body made him more than just an anonymous casualty. It went against all he had ever been taught about emotional detachment, but he had long ago decided he didn’t want to be emotionally detached. The day a death didn’t move him, it would be his own.

He searched the body further and found a side arm such as anyone other than a pacifist like himself might carry in uncertain parts of space. Until he knew whether Guillory Shandilla had died by accident or the deliberate action of another person, he knew he had to err on the side of caution.

“Keep it handy, just in case,” he suggested, handing the weapon to Riley. “I’ll try to keep my unarmed médecin-sans-frontiers status for a little while longer if I can. Meanwhile let’s find somebody we can report this death to.”

Riley looked to see how the space age gun - very different from the revolvers and pistols of his own time - actually worked. Satisfied he understood the basic principle he slipped it into his pocket.

“If there is anyone,” he pointed out. “Living people wouldn’t leave the dead just lying around like… discarded rubbish.”

“The TARDIS registered lifesigns. Some of the crew must be alive. It wasn’t quite precise about where they were, but this isn’t a very big ship. Apart from the salvage holds there will be a bridge, galley, sick bay, crew quarters, all in a fairly compact area.”

A panel on the wall displayed a digital schematic with the key in Yaluri and Universal Glyph - a simple pictographic language most sentient species could understand.

“Sick bay is right along here,” Chrístõ confirmed. “I’m not seeing any quarantine warnings, so there’s no transferable illness aboard. That’s reassuring. We’ll try there, first, anyway. We might be needed.”

He moved on down the corridor. Riley followed, one hand touching the gun he had taken charge of, wondering if he felt any safer with it. The previous owner had died without a chance of using it, after all.

The sick bay left him even less certain that carrying a weapon would do any good. He was also ready to question the TARDIS computer when it said there were survivors.

The only sounds inside the sick bay came from the automatic intensive care machines signalling with an insistent beep that the patients they were monitoring were beyond help. When Chrístõ reached the nurses station and turned it off the silence told even more insistently of recent tragedy.

“Two of the patients aren’t the same blue as the other one,” Riley noted out loud, for want of any other comment about what he was seeing. “They’re….”

“They’re Fronolian,” Chrístõ agreed as he confirmed with the touch of his hands what the machines had indicated and reached to close all three eyes as a mark of respect to the dead. “I’m guessing they were the last survivors of the ship that exploded. Intergalactic salvage law is the same as marine law on Earth in your time.”

“No salvage rights unless any survivors are first rescued and are prepared to surrender their own claim.” Riley looked at the dead Fronolians, then back at Chrístõ who was examining a pillow he had retrieved from beneath one of the beds. “If they killed the survivors…. Salvage rights are a lot like your medical immunity. They depend on honesty from those making the claim.”

“I don’t think it was about that,” Chrístõ answered. “All three patients, including one of their own who was in here recovering from a Yalurian equivalent of appendicitis, was smothered, very gently, but firmly, with this pillow. There is saliva from their mouths on the fabric and cotton threads from the pillowcase on their mouths. Somebody felt they would be better off dead and gave the coup-de-grace as kindly as they could.”

He put down the pillow and turned to examine two Yarians in medical scrubs who lay in crumpled heaps on the floor.

Both were stabbed with surgical knives. The same forensic mind that had led to his conclusion about the pillow told Chrístõ a terrible story about these men.

“The older one killed the younger, then himself, not very long ago. Maybe minutes before we arrived,” he concluded with a deep, sad sigh of one who had dedicated himself to saving lives.

“Murder-suicide?” Riley was as horrified as any sentient being with an ounce of empathy in his soul could be.

“Yalurians, for all their scavenger habits, have a principle among their medical corps much like the Hippocratic Oath that Human doctors maintain. For want of a better explanation I have to conclude that what happened here shatters that principle.”

“That’s terrible.”

“What makes it worse is a nagging suspicion that they did this because they were afraid of us.”

“We came unarmed, with medical supplies,” Riley pointed out. “How could they think we were a threat?”

“I don’t know, but… since we came aboard… have you felt… I don’t know… a feeling… just a niggling little sense… of dread?”

“Yes… but… we saw debris from another ship, and thought this one might have been the aggressor… then walked straight into a dead body. We have good reason to feel a bit… worried.”

“Yes, but I think there’s something deeper than that. I’m very worried about what we might find elsewhere in this ship... and I can’t get away from a feeling I’ve never had before….”

“What feeling?”


“Cowardice?” Riley stared at his friend incredulously. He didn’t think that word was even in Chrístõ’s vocabulary, let alone either of his hearts.

“Seriously… If the TARDIS was accessible, I think… I think I could just forget my duty to offer help to the survivors and run back to safety. I feel as if I want to put as much distance between me and this ship as possible.”

“YOU feel that?” Riley was astonished. “Chrístõ… you would never… it’s not in you. Everything I know about you, everything your friends know about you… I don’t believe it.”

“I know. That’s why I’m fighting it every inch of the way.”

“We both are,” Riley admitted. “I keep thinking I should have accepted your offer to stay in the TARDIS. And that goes against my principles as an Englishman of honour just as much as your Time Lord ethos.”

“We can’t go back to the TARDIS until we reach the bridge and repressurise the entrance.” Chrístõ focussed on the facts of their situation and forcibly suppressed those feelings to which he had so reluctantly confessed. “And we still have to look for survivors. We have to go on. We have to stay strong and resist the slide into despondency.”

That was easier said than done. The galley and the adjoining messdeck where the crew would eat and socialise was the next area they checked. They were faced by a tragic scene of bloody massacre that tested their resolve to the limit.

“Who did this to them?” Riley asked as he counted twenty bodies and realised there were at least ten more he hadn’t spotted straight away. “Are you sure pirates didn’t attack this ship, too?”

“I don’t think pirates have any part of it,” Chrístõ answered. “This is the same as the sick bay – murder-suicide. They did it to each other.”

He bent over a particularly sad part of the overall tableaux. A pair of bodies lay together in a loving embrace. They were both stabbed through the heart with steak knives. It didn’t take very much scene of crime analysis to realise that they had done it to each other, simultaneously.

“They were lovers?” Riley almost choked on the words. “They were… like me?”

“Two men who found a lifelong bond with each other,” Chrístõ confirmed. “And in extremis, chose to die together, one at the other’s hand.”

The prevalence of knives in the food area meant that most of the dead had throats or wrists slit or stab wounds. There was evidence that a whole group of young men and women had used the same knife, passing it around the table. In the galley the head chef had stabbed his assistants and then himself with a long carving knife.

Riley shook with grief, barely holding back his tears. Chrístõ managed to compose himself a little better, but the horror around him was too much. He fought to shake off the despair that threatened to fully overwhelm him.

“Riley,” he called out, snatching up a pair of palm held mini computers discarded on one of the tables. “Come on, we have a duty here.”

The mini computers were logged onto the main shipboard network. Christo found the crew register and reached to check the identity tag on the nearest victim.

“Ensign Tomoko Jorgen,” he said into the voice activated device. “Deceased, universal date 11-86-Delta-9.” On the register the name of Ensign Tomoko Jorgen was marked with those details and turned blue to indicate an inactive crewmember.

He checked the next body. “Ensign Treasa Jorgen, deceased, universal date 11-86-Delta-9.”

“Oh, God, they were related?” Riley asked.

“Brother and sister, I think,” Chrístõ confirmed. He was regretting his determination to reject emotional detachment. It would have been easier to cope. Doing his duty for the dead at least gave him a way to get through it.

“I know… I’m sorry, too. Their family is going to be devastated. I can’t begin to imagine their grief.”

“All of them....” Riley waved around the scene. “We came to help, but there’s nothing we CAN do. We’re too late.”

“We can help by logging each and every one of them. The Yalurian authorities will need to know that they are all accounted for. Their families, too. Alive looks like being a small miracle, now. But anyone missing and unaccounted for would be worse.”

“Yes, I understand,” Riley said. He reached for one of the palm computers and turned to the next victim. “Maegean Yajaira, Deceased, 11-86….”

He paused, trying to remember the date Chrístõ had already recorded twice.

“Delta-9,” he prompted. “You carry on in here. I’m going to go back to the sick bay to get the names of the dead we found there. I might have to register the two Fronolians as unknown. They’re not in the register. I shouldn’t forget Security Officer Guillory Shandilla, either. Will you be all right here?”

Riley looked as if he was about to protest. He didn’t want to be left alone among these dead Yalurians. But he swallowed his misapprehension. He couldn’t let Christo know how scared he was.

Chrístõ didn’t want Riley to know that he was most scared of something happening to him. Riley was safe among the dead. They couldn’t harm him.

Whereas there was something on this ship, something they hadn’t found, yet, that was very dangerous. He had to find it before anyone else was hurt.

That was why he had lied about going back to the sick bay. There was nothing new to be found there. Instead he went forward to the bridge. That was where he could repressurise the area where he left the TARDIS and where, he was certain, the explanation for all that had happened on this ship would be found.

The last victims were here. Three men and a woman with ID tags designating them as the most senior officers aboard the Yalurian ship SV Delgovia were found still at their posts. First Mate Izetta Chun and Communications Officer Yunh Raind both had broken necks while Navigator Vinita Dias had a self-inflicted gun shot wound. Captain Fermin Kohlek was clearly the last to die. His body was still swinging gently from the improvised noose attached to a ceiling spar.

Chrístõ laid the four bodies out and closed their eyes, then he sat at the main console. He opened the ship’s log and listened to the report from the beginning of the tragedy.

It began, of course, with the ship arriving at the scene of an intergalactic crime. Pirates had plundered a Fronolian deep space cargo ship. The Yalarians arrived in time to witness the pirates first blowing up the Fronolian freighter, then the self-destruction of their own ship. The only salvage left to find was an escape pod containing two Fronolian survivors.

Of course, the Yalarians rescued the two Fronolians, but it was then that their troubles began.

Chrístõ listened carefully and began to understand what had happened.

“They’re all dead!” He turned to see Riley standing at the door. He was holding the pistol in one hand and the palm computer in the other. “They’re all dead… except us.”

“Riley….” Chrístõ barely had time to react before his friend fired the gun. He felt pain explode through his body and looked up through a red haze to see Riley turn the gun on himself before black oblivion shut down his mind.

He was surprised when he regained consciousness lying on the floor of his TARDIS console room. Riley was sitting beside him, crying softly, the Yalarian pistol still in his hand.

“Let me see that gun,” he said. Riley handed it over wordlessly. Chrístõ examined it quickly and then set it down at arm’s length.

“Nobody ever told you, I suppose, that space age guns come with different settings, only one of which is fatal. Security Officer Guillory Shandilla had his set to the second level of non-lethal charge. He preferred to shoot first and be able to ask questions later. You had your phase on stun, as it were.”

Riley was still crying. Even if he hadn’t been, he would have missed the cultural reference. He did slowly come to understand why they had both survived, though.

“I felt... I felt that we both had to die… because we were infected by a terrible disease that couldn’t be allowed to spread to other species. I… killed you… at least… I thought I did. I shot myself, too. Then I woke up… I thought I was in Heaven at first. Then I remembered everything. I didn’t know why we were alive, but I knew we had to get off that ship. I brought you back to the TARDIS.”

“Yes.” Chrístõ sighed, deeply. “I found out why, just before you shot me. It is the Fronolians. They have developed a telepathic defence mechanism to combat piracy. If they are attacked they can make their enemies so very scared they actually start killing each other. The whole thing went wrong, though. Somebody on board the pirate ship launched a missile against the Fronolian ship before self-destructing their own ship. The only survivors from both craft were the two the Yalarians picked up in the escape capsule. They were injured and unconscious, and were still transmitting the fear factor. The Yalarians paid for their good deed with their lives. We would have suffered the same fate if you had ever seen Star Trek.”

“Seen what?”

“Never mind. It’s over. We survived. I’m sorry we couldn’t save anyone else. I’ll have to send a report to the Yalarian authorities, and one for the Fronolians, too. They really need to know how devastating their telepathic defence mechanism is. After that… We need some r&r. Where was Colm going to be working next?”

He was still shaken by everything that had happened, but slowly Riley started to realise that he had survived and that the future was full of warm, hopeful prospects. With that realisation his smile widened.