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Chapter





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The Raptor-Bird was in the process of docking with the Ellipsis, but on board it every eye, those of captives and captors alike, were fixed on its main screen. They’d just watched Krauzzen meet his fate, and were now staring wide-eyed at a grainy picture of the inert junk that had once been known as Zarbotan.

From his command chair, Xaaael regarded the image with amazed fascination.

‘There!’ Amy said triumphantly. She and the other prisoners stood behind him, still under the rifles of his henchmen. ‘You have to release us. That was the deal.’

Xaaael rose slowly to his feet. ‘Any deal the Doctor made with Lord Krauzzen died with Lord Krauzzen. The Ellipsis is now mine. Along with everything and everyone on board.’

‘You’re a liar and a cheat!’ Amy shouted.

‘Finally she understands how we make our living,’ he said.

‘The Doctor will come after us again.’

‘Not without his TARDIS.’ A vibration passed through the craft as they connected with the Ellipsis. ‘Get them aboard. Put them back in the holding cells.’

With much growling and pushing, the prisoners were herded into an airlock. Beyond this lay another passage made from billowing fabric. They tumbled down it, prisoners and gangsters together. Amy was last, and hung back. One of the gangsters hung back as well. It was Zalizta. He regarded Xaaael with deep scepticism.

‘You have a problem with me, Zalizta?’ Xaaael asked.

‘This takeover should be put to the syndicate,’ Zalizta replied. ‘It should be voted on.’

Xaaael’s lips tightened until they were livid white lines, but he nodded. ‘I understand that. And we will vote. But later. For now I’m assuming emergency command. Agreed?’

Zalizta still seemed unsure.

‘Now do as I say, and put her aboard.’

Reluctantly, Zalizta turned to Amy and grabbed her by the scuff of the neck – and was promptly shot in the back by Xaaael’s photon-pistol. The blast hurled him clean across the airlock, fusing him into its far bulkhead.

Amy gazed at Xaaael, stunned.

He levelled his pistol at her. ‘And I thought you people were slow on the uptake.’

With no choice, she allowed him to usher her along the gravity-free gangway.

‘I’ll tell your men what you’ve just done,’ she said over her shoulder.

‘You think they’ll care once they get their hands on the plunder I’ll secure with your teleportation machine?’

‘You are evil.’

Xaaael laughed. ‘There’s no such thing as evil on the Outer Rim. Just “winner takes all”.’

They alighted together in the Ellipsis airlock, which slammed behind them.

‘That means I take everything,’ Xaaael said. ‘This mothership, its crew, full control, full power, full responsibility for what was once called “the Krauzzen Syndicate”.’

‘Excellent news, Xaaael,’ a bass voice declared, as the muzzle of a photon-pistol was pressed into his right temple. ‘On the basis of which confession, I am arresting you for kidnapping and conspiring to murder Kalik Xorax.’

Xaaael was too stunned to respond. He watched dully as his own weapon was wrested from his grasp.

His captives now stood to one side, rubbing at their hurts, while all across the boarding area police officers in combat armour had their guns drawn. Most of his own men were already handcuffed and lying on the floor. Others were in the process of being cuffed. Xaaael glanced sideways – into a face that criminals of his ilk had once feared, and perhaps would learn to do so again: Kobal Zalu.

‘We can do this the easy way,’ Zalu said, digging the muzzle of his weapon into the back of Xaaael’s neck and forcing him across the deck to join his comrades. ‘Or we can do it the hard way. Something inside me hopes you opt for the latter.’

Xaaael still couldn’t quite believe what had happened. Through a viewing port he was astounded to see dozens of police cruisers in position around the Ellipsis. He and his men had been so busy watching the events on Gorgoror, they hadn’t noticed them as they’d approached.

‘Are you mad?’ he stuttered. ‘You know you can’t do this!’

‘Can’t I?’ Zalu holstered his weapon, and clapped one hand on the shoulder of Kalik Xorax, who treated Xaaael to a reptilian smile. ‘We have all the evidence we need right here. And before you say anything else, Xorax is about to disappear into a witness protection programme. So you and all your powerful political friends – assuming you have any left now Krauzzen has gone – will never hear from him again until he’s testifying against you in court.’

‘Xorax, you traitor!’ Xaaael spat, as his hands were twisted behind his back. ‘You were one of us! You swore an oath to Lord Krauzzen!’

Xorax shrugged. ‘Any oath I swore to Lord Krauzzen… died with Lord Krauzzen.’

Xaaael choked to hear his own weasel words used against him.

‘Take him away!’ Zalu roared. ‘Take them all!’

With much shouting, the mobsters were removed from the boarding area. Zalu turned towards the human prisoners, who still huddled together uncertainly.

‘You people must have put up quite a battle to have survived,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry we didn’t get here sooner. Did you incur many losses?’

Amy glanced at Sophie and Dora. Their eyes were still red-rimmed, still downcast.

‘Just one,’ Rory said stepping forward. ‘This is his family.’

Zalu regarded the women sympathetically.

‘I’ll miss him too,’ Rory added. ‘Harry was one of the best.’

Zalu’s expression changed. ‘Harry… Mossop?’

Rory was surprised. ‘You knew him?’

‘An ex-policeman,’ Zalu said, ‘who, even if he wasn’t armed, could probably talk a criminal gang into submission? In fact, he could talk anyone into submission?’

Rory and the Mossop girls glanced at each other, mystified.

‘Wouldn’t you say that was true?’ Zalu asked them.

‘It’s very true,’ Dora replied, ‘but I don’t understand…’

Zalu pointed along a connecting companionway.

Rory wasn’t sure whether he or the two women were the most stunned to see who was now coming along it, dressed in Torodon police armour and in company with a tall female officer.

‘Bridge secured, Chief,’ Harry said, throwing up a salute.

Dora and Sophie screamed in unison.

They hared across the boarding area together and leapt onto Harry, who almost collapsed beneath their combined weight and his own bellowing laughter. Only with difficulty did he manage to explain about the transportation device the Doctor had disguised as a deadly weapon.

Amy gave Rory a knowing wink.

‘Hello on the Ellipsis!’ came a familiar voice. ‘More to the point, I suspect… hello Kobal Zalu!’

They moved into an adjoining security cell, where a bank of monitors gave various views of the Gorgoror surface. One of these portrayed the viewing deck at the top of the control tower, where the Doctor stood looking up at them.

‘Can anyone hear me?’ he called.

Sergeant Xelos made contact with the Bridge, and the ship’s computer patched them through to the surface.

‘Hello Doctor,’ Zalu replied. ‘Good to see you’ve survived. Again.’

‘Ah, Zalu. I was hoping you’d get around to doing your job at some point.’

‘I’ve only half done it. Obtaining convictions on this space rabble will be a sight more difficult than arresting them.’

‘If anyone can do it, Zalu, you’re the man. Is everybody else safe and sound?’

‘We are, Doctor,’ Dora shouted. ‘Thank you so much. We owe you everything.’

‘Well…’ The Doctor shrugged. ‘Actually you owe it to your husband. I provided Zalu with the necessary legality to intercede on your behalf. But I suspect it was Harry who applied most of the pressure.’

Dora hugged her husband all the harder.

Harry smiled at Zalu. ‘I didn’t have to apply too much.’

‘I’ll send a shuttle down to pick you up,’ Zalu said.

‘No need. Amy flew the TARDIS before. I’m sure she can do it again. You all right with that, Amy? Same as last time?’

‘After what we’ve been through, it’ll be a doddle,’ Amy replied.

‘Just don’t forget your passengers. We’ve a few people to take home.’

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