Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Five

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Five

Jeri Massi

Breakfast was an uncomfortable meal. Kara could not take her frank gaze from Jo Grant's bruised eye, and Mike was ill at ease among strangers in a house of mourning. Mary still did not seem to approve of having a single young man and a single young woman upstairs, and her edginess, combined with her grief, made her silent and tense. Already, Mike had been apprised of the appearance of the Doctor and had run out to warn Benton, only to find out that Benton had also sighted the dark figure up by the church. But nobody had yet told Mary. It was impossible with Kara nearby.

Mary made them all a beautiful breakfast, but nobody ate much. At last, Kara broke one of the many long silences:

"Were you in a fight, Miss?" she asked Jo.

"Miss Grant fell yesterday when her car got stuck in the mud," Mary said. "Mind your breakfast, Kara, before it gets cold."

Jo had not exactly supplied these details to Mary, but she did not contradict the account. Alan shot her a look from under his dark brows but said nothing. At long last, Kara was excused, and as she went out with her mother, Mike spoke: "Alan, you said last night that you were not the only one to lose your daughter. What happened?"

"The beck over yonder flooded," Alan told him. "There was a great flash flood from the pouring rain and the runoff down the hill where the church is. The kindergarten class meets--met--in a little building on the other side of the beck, and yesterday they went down into the low fields for a picnic. The storm came up sudden. The beck was already swollen in the morning from the bad rains the day before, but it was that bright and clear none of us thought of any danger." He looked helplessly at Mike. "We haven't had a flood here in twenty years."

"How many were--were casualties?" Mike asked.

"All of them drowned," Alan said without lifting his eyes. Jo gasped. "Twenty-one, and the teacher, too. That makes it twenty two."

"And there was no warning of the storm?" Mike asked.

"D'you think I would have left my daughter to drown if I had seen a drop of rain?" Alan roared at him, face red. "Is there another stupid question you'd like to ask me?"

From the back, they heard Kara set up a wail of surprise at the sound of her father's shouting. Jo glanced worriedly at Mike, but Alan regained himself quickly. "I'm sorry," he said instantly. "I'm sorry, Captain. Please forgive me."

"It's all right," Mike said quietly.

"Dad!" Kara exclaimed from the hallway, peeking into the kitchen. Mary came up behind her and looked anxiously at her husband, trying, Jo thought, not to be reproachful in her bearing.

But Alan was recovered. "I'm sorry, Kara, Mary," he said, "And you, too, Miss Grant. Come here, Kara." She came to him and stood by his chair, and she rested her slender, finely boned hands on his massive shoulder and looked up at him. It was a gesture so natural and so filled with unconscious grace and tenderness that Jo's eyes became wet for a moment.

"Your old Dad's all right," he said. "Just stay here by me a moment or two." He looked at Mike and Jo. "There was no sign of rain at all, and then suddenly it became right dark, and I went straight out the door, thinking I'd better help get the children back before I went back out to the field. Next thing I knew, it was coming down so hard I couldn't see at all. PC Collins bumped into me, and we ran together down to the beck. But before we could find them, it was over for them. We waded way up the beck toward the kindergarten, and then we started to find them. At first we tried to revive them ourselves, and then the people from the village started coming after us and helped, but it was no good."

Kara put her head down on his shoulder, and he patted her hair. He couldn't look at Mike and Jo.

Mike stood up, resolute to meet the grief and sorrow with action. "Jo, the Brig said they've got the weather analysis for us. Radio in and get it, will you?" he asked. "The lines still aren't up. But I think you can get through on the portable radio base. I'm going to help Benton load those creatures. Alan," he said. And Alan looked up at him. "I'll be sending my men back with the cargo to my HQ, but I will want Sgt. Benton to stay here with us. He can bunk in with me if it's all right."

"Aye, it'll do well," Alan said. "Kara, you'd better go on and finish your room and chores, dear." He kissed the top of her head, and she padded out.

"All right, then," Mike said. "Once we get the creatures out of here, we've got to have a look round. If that was the Doctor this morning--"

"But the Brigadier said it wasn't!" Jo reminded him. "That's what the dispatcher told us! The Doctor is with him and his condition is still undetermined," she recited.

"Well then we have to find out what it was, and who else saw it," Mike told her. "But Jo," and he lowered his voice. "What if it was the Doctor, here, and the thing with the Brigadier is something else?"

"But how could that be?" she asked.

"I'd like to get a look at it," he said. "The Doctor is amazingly good at getting into all sorts of places where it's impossible to go."

* * * *

"Yes, this is extremely interesting, Brigadier," the Doctor said, looking through Osgood's notes. "The American satellite picked up the 1000 gigaHerz signal coming up through the sands.

"Thousand gigaHerz?" the Brigadier asked. "I say, isn't that an awfully high frequency?"

"Yes, extremely high," the Doctor said. "That's why it's able to get through several tons of sand above it. That thousand gigaHerz echo is nothing more than bounce back and reflection from a stronger signal. I'm sure that there's an incredibly powerful signal there that's being transmitted, but the satellite's picking up echoes and distortions that the sand is creating. Remember, sand is silicate. It will act as a poor semiconductor. And lucky for us it does. Without its distorting effects, we may never have picked up any signal at all."

"Doctor, if you have any theories about what is going on, I am extremely ready to hear them.," the Brigadier told him.

"Well, I do, but you'll be offended by them," he told the Brigadier. "You won't like what I'm about to say."

"You've picked a fine time to start worrying about my feelings. Just say what it is you have to say!" the Brigadier exclaimed.

"All right, then. Let me ask you a question, then," the Doctor said. "You are stranded on a desert island. You have before you a dog and a field of mice, from which you may choose any mouse or several. Which creature would you like to train?"

"The dog, of course," the Brigadier told him.

"Ah, but why?" the Doctor asked.

"Because a man cannot train mice to do anything!" the Brigadier exclaimed. "Nothing useful, anyway."

"Precisely. In fact, mice have a rather hard time in even realizing that we're around, don't they?" the Doctor pointed out. "The fact of the matter is, a mouse's method of processing information is so primitive, that to us they don't think at all. We simply cannot communicate with them. In fact," and he hesitated and then looked at the Brigadier. "If you were trapped on an island with this dog and these mice, what would you do with the mice?"

The Brigadier, annoyed at the protracted questioning, shrugged and then said, "Oh, eat them, I suppose, if there were nothing else to get."

"Yes," the Doctor said grimly. "And you could train the dog to help some. In fact, if you could directly access the dog's olfactory and aural senses, you could be much more successful in catching and cultivating mice for your use."

"All right, game over!" the Brigadier snapped. "What are we talking about?"

"We are talking about timelords and humans," the Doctor said. "One timelord among the colonies of humans, and one super intelligent creature trapped on this island called Earth."

"The Sphinx?" the Brigadier asked him, but the Doctor shook his head. "No, quite an inverse relationship there," he said. "I am the dog, and humans are the mice, but the Sphinx is lower still. The Sphinx is mere clay. But we are all for the use of this intelligent creature trapped among us." * * * *

Mike left directly after breakfast, and Jo spent the next hour and a half on the portable radio base. She set it up at the highest point of the house--the top of the stairs outside their tiny rooms. The phones were still out, but the airwaves were clear. Over the next hour, Osgood communicated the weather analysis to. It was tedious and frustrating work. She was not sure what she had expected in the analysis, but in and of itself it provided no clear indication of unusual phenomena.

"Right," she said at last into the microphone. "Anything else to report on your end? How is the Doctor?"

"Can't communicate on that," he said regretfully. "No specifics, anyway. But I can say that he is in this building and Track Leader is with him."

Track Leader was the Brigadier. Osgood's refusal to transmit information, even in code, was disheartening. Something was out of control, and the Brigadier would not allow reporting until the situation were back under control. Or perhaps the worst had happened, and the Brigadier did not want the remote team to find out about it over the radio. Perhaps the Doctor was dead.

"Well then, anything else on your end?" she asked.

"More reports on phenomena in the desert," he said. "Bill Yeats' pet has been seen, alive and well," he added cryptically.

"Bill Yeats' pet?" she asked. For a moment she was puzzled, then she got the hint. "Bill Yeats' pet is alive?" she asked, startled. "The birds or the--the cat?"

"The cat. It's gone down into his sandbox again, out of the sun. But yes, he was seen a second time, and there's no mistaking him. He's off his leash all right. Uncle Samuel is watching him from above."

Uncle Samuel was Uncle Sam, of course. All UN forces had some access to American communications satellites. The Americans must have picked up some sort of signal and were relaying the information to UNIT. But if Osgood were talking about the Sphinx, then how could a Sphinx send out a signal that a satellite could pick up?

"Not sure I follow you, Track Two," she said.

"Bill Yeats' cat has a long meow," he told her. "Uncle Samuel is somewhat overwrought about it. It's keeping him up nights. That's all. Track Leader wants one of you to stand by."

"Right," she said. She signed off, pulled off the huge ear phones, and listened absently for anybody downstairs.

Alan, Mary, and Kara had left earlier with the body of little Ruth. The memorial service was scheduled for that night. Over the silent and still summer morning she heard the incessant pounding of hammers as volunteers built the coffins.

She wanted to get away from that sound. She went downstairs. The house had been silent for nearly an hour, but Alan came back in just as she came down the narrow staircase.

"It's verified that your friend is still at your headquarters?" Alan asked her.

"Yes," she confirmed. "I just can't imagine who or what we saw this morning."

He sat down in a chair in the front room, as a man does when he has many things to do and does not really know where to start. "It's as though some great thing were attackin' us," he said wearily.

"Alan," she asked. "Do you believe in a devil?"

"Oh, aye," he told her.

She thought back to Devil's End and Azal. The Doctor seemed to think that there was no Devil at all, that everything attributed to Satan had simply been the work of Azal and his peers.

"Are you afraid of something?" he asked her, misreading her question and her silence. "We're not bein' attacked by demons, if that's what's worrying you."

Jo suddenly found herself telling him about Devil's End, about Azal, about the cavern under the church.

"Miss Grant," he said gravely. "Satan is a fallen angel of light, the accuser of the brethren, the roaring lion who goes about seeking whom he may devour, the one who stands by to resist those who seek the forgiveness of God. But he never yet has sported horns or a tail, except in some drunken artist's rendition of him. When you and your Doctor friend proved out that this Azal creature was no devil, all you did was prove the obvious. But that doesn't mean that there is no devil, no accuser, no roaring lion, no one who stands by to resist us."

"So you believe in the death and resurrection and all that?" she asked. "The whole Bible?"

"Yes," he told her.

She ventured the next question uneasily. "What about Yeats? Have you ever read Yeats?"

"Yeats!" he exclaimed softly, and in spite of his grief and weariness, a smile tugged at his craggy features. The slate blue eyes sparkled. "My family comes from Ulster, Miss Grant. Can you not tell from my poor accent? Aye, I've read Yeats. I must admit, I don't like his politics."

She looked at him quizzically, but he said kindly, "What ever brought William Butler Yeats into your head at a time like this?"

"He wrote a poem, a poem about the end of the Christian era," she said.

"Oh aye, `The Second Coming,'" he told her. "I haven't thought of that poem in years. I studied it a little bit in a course on apocalyptic literature."

"You don't think it was a prophecy?"

"Oh, he meant it as a prophecy," he told her. "But I don't take it quite as seriously as he did." And he smiled. Her conversation was taking his mind off his grief for a moment.

"Would you have a copy of it in the house?" she asked him.

"Aye, I think we do," he told her. He stood up. "Mary's got some collections of English and Irish poets." He stepped up to a shelf of books, selected one, and flipped through it. "Here it is." She stood up and took it from him.

Unexpectedly, he pursued a line of questions of his own. "This Doctor feller," he began. "The science advisor: was he the one who hit you, Miss?"

She turned at the question, startled. "How did--what made you think so?"

"You're so afraid of him," he told her. "Any time anybody speaks of him, you become frightened."

"He didn't mean to do it," she insisted. "He didn't mean it. Something got hold of him. He had a seizure. It was from him that we first heard the lines from Yeats. He gave us the first clue." She looked down at the page before her. She read four lines out loud for him:

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it,
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds,

"What does it mean?" she asked. "Does the Bible say anything about the Sphinx, Alan?" she asked. He shook his head.

"Do you think there could be such a creature?" she asked.

"Why," and he hesitated. "I dunno. I suppose. There's that wee monument to him over in Egypt. I understand that it was ancient even when the Egyptian civilization was still young," he told her. "And Oedipus Rex makes mention of the Sphinx. Perhaps there could have been some great creature like that."

He looked at her quizzically. "Why?" he asked.

"Just--just Yeats' poem," she said. "And look at this," she told him. She read two more lines out loud:

twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

"Twenty centuries vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle," she repeated. "What does that mean?"

"I think he was saying that for twenty centuries, the power of the Nativity, the power of Christ, has held the great Sphinx-like creature bound in sleep," Alan told her. "But all through that time, the wrath of the Sphinx creature has been building up, so that when we come to the creature's nativity, we'll experience all the wrath and terror and blood shedding that it's stored up in vexation."

"It's the end of Christianity, too," she said.

"Oh, aye, I think he's saying that from the very first line of the poem. The Sphinx creature will emerge, and the Christian reign will fly off in all directions." He came up alongside her and pointed to the first line of the poem. "That's what the gyre is," he told her. "Events move out of control. Christianity is no longer able to hold itself together. Everything flies apart, and up pops this new era."

She looked up at him. "But you don't believe that," she said.

"No, it's a great daft idea," he told her with a laugh. There was something reassuring in his good natured contempt. "All this theology's made me hungry," he said. "Would you care for a bit of tea?"

Her earnest questions had taken his mind off of his grief, and so she agreed to eat. She was no further along in her information gathering, but cheering him up seemed important at the moment.

* * * *

The Brigadier insisted on keeping sentries on hand at the lab.

"I'm sorry Doctor," he said in that exact tone that showed that he was not sorry at all, merely being business-like, "But I don't have much faith in that neck collar of yours. How am I to be sure that you won't go flying off the handle again? I'm still not convinced."

The Doctor was still too weary to argue. "All right, let them stay for all I care," he said. "What's the latest on that creature in the desert?"

"Came up for air earlier," the Brigadier told him. "About the same time that you were locking me in here."

"Do much damage?" he asked.

"Not out in the middle of the desert," the Brigadier told him. "But it's moving. Slowly, mind you.. The Jordanian military is following it closely, trying to see what it's made of before they try an attack."

"Attack a creature the size of a battleship?" the Doctor exclaimed. But he cut off his own protest. He suddenly doubled over and clapped his hands to his ears. The Brigadier stiffened, as did the two new sentries.

Painfully, the Doctor straightened up. "There's something wrong with this," he gasped. "It's not working as well as it should."

"Oh that's lovely," the Brigadier replied. "I don't see how it can. Your theory is that this . . . this thing transmits a signal at a frequency too high for man made devices to pick up or duplicate. Well, how can you be jamming it, then?"

"My collar is not a jammer," the Doctor told him. "It's a booster to my own high frequency brain waves. Look, the creature's intelligence operates above the one million gigaherz frequency range. Normally, mine does not, but I can boost my own organic defense brain wave frequencies to wall it out." He grimaced in pain. "But I'm not walling it out perfectly." He sighed and looked at the TARDIS. "I've got to go in there to make repairs," he said. "It's the only place where I dare take the collar off."

He rummaged around the workbench for his tools.. "And then what?" the Brigadier asked.

"Then we ought to go to Hoffshire," the Doctor said. "Any more word on those spectres of me?"

"They popped up this morning. I got the report on them at about the same time that the report on the thing in the desert came in. Almost synchronized, really. Could that mean anything?"

The Doctor shrugged. "Probably, but I don't know what."

* * * *

After tidying the kitchen for Alan and Mary, Jo rummaged through the book shelves in the front room until she found one of Mary's texts on the Irish poets. She had orders to stay by the radio, and it looked like it was going to be a long afternoon. Normally, Jo rebelled against missing out, and under other conditions she would have been complaining about an entire shift spent indoors or else she would have wheedled with Mike Yates to let her take a turn away from the radio. But her black eye and the welt worried her, and she preferred to stay indoors.

It had been an early morning for her, and though she had every good intention of using her time well in becoming expert on the poem by Yeats, she gradually became drowsy. She knew that the crackle of the radio at the top of the stairs would wake her, and taking a catnap seemed more and more like a good idea.

* * * *

The only way to load the birds was to bind them together with twine so that the wings could go easily into the sealed van. Tying up and moving giant birds that had been dead two days was certainly unpleasant. Benton backed the truck up to the basement door of the church, and Yates had one of the men stand guard up on the hill to keep the villagers away. He and the other men quickly and efficiently wrapped up the creatures. They picked one up like a log, hoisted it, and loaded it inside the back of the truck. The feathers brushed them, their clothing, even their faces. The whole thing smelled of and felt like death in their arms. After the first one was loaded they had to stop and rest. It had not been all that heavy, just horrible.

"What about a smoke?" one of the men asked hopefully, but Yates shook his head. "After we get the next one loaded," he said. "Let's not put it off--"

He was interrupted by a shout from the sentry. Benton was leaning against the truck, as far away from the remaining bird as possible. He hurried out first, and Mike and the others followed.

"It's the Doctor again!" Benton exclaimed as Yates came out into the bright sunshine.

At the bottom of the hill, a tall, dark figure hurried along the high bank side of the beck, making purposefully for the village.

"Sure it's him?" one of the soldiers asked. But suddenly, as though sensing their surveillance, the figure turned its head towards them. Though at a distance,. they all saw that it was the Doctor, no longer walking jerkily or like a puppet. In fact, he walked with the same long legged, smooth stride that they recognized as distinctly being the Doctor's own.

"He's headed for the house," Benton said softly.

""Come on!" Mike exclaimed. But the head start of the dark figure was incredible. It strode on its way up the lane and then across the flagstone walk. Before they had reached the bottom of the hill, it went into the house.

* * * *

Asleep on the sofa, Jo had not been dreaming of anything specific. Vague images of radios, of a satellite with "Uncle Samuel" painted on it, of Azal in the cavern, and the welcome sight of the Doctor coming down the stone steps into the cavern played through her mind. A tall man with glasses and a Dublin accent said plaintively, "Where's my little cat, then?" She smiled, and coming up from the depths of sleep, wondered what William Butler Yeats would say to being called Bill Yeats.

"How lovely you are in sleep, my dear," a familiar voice said. For a moment, she was instinctively happy to hear his voice: the Doctor. Then she opened her eyes, fully woke up, and realized her danger. He was standing over her, looking down at her. She thought to try to jump away, but then she stayed still.

"There's nobody nearby to hear you scream," he said. "But you may scream if you like. It gives me pleasure."

He suddenly leaned over her, one arm on the back of the sofa. One hand came down right alongside her head. "There is grief," he told her. "And misery, and pain. What shall I show you first?"

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