Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Six

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Six

Jeri Massi

For a long moment Jo did not move, and the Doctor looked down at her, his face motionless, his eyes dark. She felt that one motion from her would make him explode, trigger him off into the violence and rage she had already seen once. He leaned closer and contemplated her face. She shrank back as much as the sofa cushions would allow, but she did not take her eyes off of him.

"What do you want?" she asked him.

"I think that fire is what you fear most, as all these creatures do," he said. He ran his glance along the sofa. As though in response, thick white smoke came up in wisps from under the cushions. The heavy, acrid smell of smoldering upholstery filled the air around her. He was blocking her escape. But unexpectedly, he straightened up, giving her room to get away.

"Run," he said softly, invitingly. "Run."

Her instinct was to flee, yet she realized that she was in a contest for her life. For some reason he wanted her to run away. She rose up quickly but did not panic. As she stood, the flames suddenly engulfed the cushions. She backed away from the sofa. The flames ran across the wooden floor and found the draperies. She darted her eyes back to him. The fire positively roared along the wall. The dry wood of the house made the flames hot and bright, and the cloth of the furniture and draperies created billows of smoke. It came down on them both in stifling clouds.

"Do you fear fire?" he asked, unmoved by the veil of smoke surrounding them.

Even in her fear, understanding dawned. "You're not the Doctor," she said suddenly.

"I am the Doctor of the Great Year," he told her. "Not your Doctor, any more. But I am the Doctor." The draperies and the front wall were swallowed single sheet of flame. The draperies suddenly collapsed. Choking clouds of smoke pushed the air out. Her nerve broke, and she ran. She bolted away from him, around the end of the flaming sofa, and into the kitchen.

From the front room, he let out a great laugh, and just as she reached it, the kitchen sprang into flames. The heat and smoke nearly overwhelmed her.

"I'm coming for you, Jo!" he called, his voice closer. "You must choose between death from me and death from fire!"

Outside, Benton got to the door first and crashed right through it. Without even looking, he raced up the narrow stairs while Mike Yates ran into the front room. Mike caught sight of Jo, on her knees in the hallway to the kitchen.

"Jo!" he shouted.

"What's wrong with her?" One of the soldiers asked.

"Help me!" she shouted, not seeing them. "Mike, Alan! Help me! I'm in the house! Help me!"

* * * *

"You'll keep me posted on that creature's next activities?" the Doctor asked the Brigadier as he picked up several tools and fished in his pocket for the TARDIS key. "And about his appearances and disappearances-- You know, when he rises from the sands and sinks down again? I'll need times, conditions, everything you can think of."

"Right," the Brigadier said, still somewhat doubtful. "Look, how long will you be in there?"

"Not so very long," the Doctor assured him. "We've got to get moving. But it's no good if I can't hold out against this thing."

"I wish you would explain--"

"On the way to the village, Brigadier," he said quickly, trying to soothe the Brigadier's impatience but anxious to effect his repairs. "I'll tell you everything." "All right, all right," the Brigadier said.

The Doctor hurried into the TARDIS and closed the door.

* * * *

Jo couldn't stand. The heat and the smoke went into her throat like a knife. Smiling, the Doctor stepped into the hallway, where she had fallen onto the floor. She couldn't scream any more. She sobbed for breath and looked up at him. He smiled at her, pressed his hands against the burning walls, and made ready to bring the flaming ceiling down onto her.

Abruptly, he was gone. The flames were gone. But she had inhaled so much smoke that she didn't know if she could breathe.

She arched her back and struggled to pull air into her lungs. Voices were speaking rapidly and urgently somewhere nearby, but it sounded as though she or they were under water. She gasped in her breath again, and the voices became more distinct.

"Set the water down. She can't take it."

"--And tell him to bring oxygen if he's got any!"

"Her pulse rate is to the limit--"

"Jo, we're here with you. A doctor is on his way--"

She opened her eyes and saw Mike above her, with Benton crouched nearby and the two remaining soldiers behind them. Her stomach suddenly lurched, but her next long and deep breath eased it.

"Good girl," Mike said. "We've got you. There's nobody here but us."

Breathing was her most urgent need, but she realized that it was becoming easier to breathe. Her eyes checked Mike's face, Benton's, then quickly checked the walls. They were untouched, unmarred by smoke or flame.

"She's all in a muck sweat," Benton said ruefully.

"Here's water, Jo," Mike offered, holding the glass for her. "Can you drink it?" He glanced at Benton. "Let's get her to the sofa."

"No! No!" she exclaimed. She involuntarily knocked the glass away and would have tried to run from them, but they both caught her and Mike said, "All right, Jo. Not the sofa."

"Outside!" she pleaded.

By the time the village doctor arrived, they had her outside and were giving her water. He was a youngish man for being an MD, about 35 or so, and he ran across the village green with his bag. He checked her pulse and her eyes, checked her skin, and quickly pulled out the blood pressure cuff.

"Blood pressure?" Mike asked.

"One of you should make tea for her. Very hot and sweet."

"He's not the Doctor," she said wearily as one of the soldiers went to get tea. It was the first thing she'd said since they had brought her outside. Mike put his hand around her forehead. "We've got to get you taken care of before we worry any more about the Doctor, Jo," he said.

She looked at him as though he had not spoken. "He's not the Doctor."

"Quiet down, Miss," the village doctor told her.

He held the stethoscope to her inner arm and listened as he let the air out of the cuff.

"What is it?" Mike asked.

"She's not in any danger," the man said. "But she was. She needs rest and quiet for the next few hours."

"What happened to her?" Yates demanded.

"Two things: Highly traumatic struggle," he told Mike. "Blood pressure very high and coming down unevenly. Adrenal function exhausted. I would say that she's exhibiting the same effects seen in victims of multi-event terror: gang rape, kidnaping--you know, where the shock comes at intervals."

"But there was nothing there!" Benton protested.

"To her there was," he replied, unwrapping the blood pressure cuff.

Mike looked down at her, worried.

"There was a fire," Jo whimpered. "He made the house go on fire,"

"Why Jo," Mike said gently. "The house wasn't on fire at all."

"Leave her be. Somebody's done something to terrorize her. Rest and quiet," the MD ordered.

Mike looked at him, puzzled. "But I know there was no fire."

"I told you two things happened to her," the doctor said curtly. "Ah, here is the oxygen now." And he pointed to the village infirmary's ambulance, which came down the lane and pulled to a stop before the house. "One," he added, "has been great shock induced by terror."

"And the second?" Mike asked. "Smoke inhalation," he said. Then he called, "Give it over here!"

* * * *

"It's about time!" the Brigadier said as the Doctor at last emerged from the TARDIS.

"What time is it?" the Doctor asked.

"After seven--at night," the Brigadier told him. "If you wanted to get out to that village, you may want to wait until morning."

"Certainly not," the Doctor told him. "We're losing precious time."

"Get that collar thing fixed?" the Brigadier asked.

"Yes, I think so. What are the reports?" He started removing tools from his pocket and laying them out again on his work bench.

The Brigadier glanced down at a sheet of paper in his hand. "The creature in the desert's been photographed, anyway. The photos should be coming through shortly."

"Where is the creature now?" he asked.

"Back in the sands," the Brigadier told him. "It submerged again earlier today." He glanced at the paper again. "Several hours ago. About the time you started that repair work of yours."

The Doctor stopped and looked at him. "What time exactly?" he asked.

"Three-fifteen, our time," the Brigadier told him.

The Doctor looked down, thoughtful. The Brigadier interrupted his silence. "There's one other thing, Doctor," he said. "The spectre of you appeared again in Hoffshire. Did some damage this time."

"Damage?" the Doctor asked sharply.

"Yes, uh, well--minor injury. Miss Grant reported being cornered by it in a burning building. She escaped."

The color drained from the Doctor's face. For a moment he looked both horrified and as helpless as any human. "Jo?" he asked. He paused and then asked, "Was she burned?"

"No," the Brigadier told him. "Minor smoke inhalation, that's all. She didn't even--"

"When was the attack?" he demanded.

"Mid afternoon," the Brigadier told him.

"We need a time correlation," the Doctor said. "There's been lag times on the reports of the Sphinx's appearances. We have to mark exactly when it's come up out of the sands--when it has been active. And we have to correlate those times with the appearances of my phantom self."

"I'll get the paper work," the Brigadier said. "I can work it out while we're on our way if you like."

"Yes," the Doctor said. "We've got to take some of my equipment out there. What's the best way to get in?"

Lethbridge Stewart looked thoughtful. "The roads are closed up that way from flooding. As army personnel we can get through, of course. Helicopter would be easier, but if you have equipment to bring, it will have to be by truck."

"Make it a great durable truck," the Doctor said. "It better be a four wheel drive."

"Yates said that the roads were bad. They had to cross over some fields when they went in," the Brigadier said. "How did you know?"

"I didn't know," the Doctor told him. "I think I've got this collar tuned correctly to wall out that creature. But if not, it will sense that I am coming to fight it. And it will attack us."

"Hmm," the Brigadier said. Then he shrugged. "We're in for a jolly good fight, then. I'll get the truck req'd." He strode out.

* * * *

By nightfall, Jo was recovered. The three soldiers had taken the birds off on what they all now regarded as the long and perilous trip back to UNIT HQ. Mike offered to send her back with them, but she chose to stay. She was in an agony of worry over the Doctor, but she could not run out on her two friends, nor on the village itself.

The memorial service was scheduled to start at 8:00. The twilight seemed too dark, and she realized that new clouds were quickly piling up over the village again. No matter what the weather report said, she knew it was not natural.

The air was oppressive, dark, and still. She slipped her hand into Mike's arm as they trudged up the hill to the church. He glanced down at her, worried. He felt the same oppression, and though Benton only looked straight ahead, she could see that the same heaviness hung on him as well.

The sight inside the stone church made it worse. Though large compared to other buildings in the village, the church could not accommodate twenty-two coffins very easily. The mourners had to come in the side doors. The coffins were arranged side by side across the front of the church and down the middle aisle, with the seats closest to them reserved for the family members. The row of small white coffins going up the center of the church, and the accompanying row that went across the front, made up the most desolate sight that Jo had ever seen in her life.

All three of them were silent as they found places close to the far wall. They did not sit down. Nobody in the church was sitting. Most of the village was already there. The organ played very softly. She saw Alan and Mary and Kara come in, carefully dressed but haggard looking. They found places by Ruth's coffin, slid into the pew, and stood silently.

Boards covered the unglazed holes where one of the previous storms had knocked out the windows. But she could hear the sighing from outside that told her that the wind was becoming restless.

The choir took their places. It was a large choir for such a small village. They opened their mouths on some unseen cue and began the most familiar and most enduring hymn ever sung:

The Lord's my shepherd
I'll not want.
He makes me down to lie:
In pastures green,
He leadeth me,
The quiet waters by.

Though less than two years in service at UNIT, Jo had already seen death many times: the plastics factory killings, the prisoners in Stangmoor who had been caught by the Keller machine and those who had died when UNIT had seized control of the place, the scientists killed at the Nuton Power Complex--many others. Yet she had never heard the mourning for death that she heard there. It was the entire village. She had never heard men cry, had never seen stolid and stable English yeomanry break down, never heard women groan out loud and children wail as a single body. She huddled closer to Mike without realizing it, feeling small and vulnerable and alone with the coffins on one side and the storm coming in on the other. Even Alan, brought to face his daughter's coffin, was bowed so low that he seemed ready to fall, and she could see from the rhythmic heaving of the great broad shoulders that he was lost in grief.

Sgt. Benton, his great heart deeply affected by the array of small coffins, had his handkerchief out. While he did not quite break down and cry, he mopped his eyes continually. She did not really hear the sermon, or the prayers, or the readings. All she saw, heard, and felt, was the grief and the sorrow, and behind all of that, the ever present fear.

The service lasted nearly two hours. As the minister closed with prayer, she felt Mike give her a nudge. It was time to leave the villagers to their privacy and grief. The three of them made their way out of the sanctuary and into the vestibule, silent and barely composed.

It was only then that she realized that the rain had started again, the same fierce rain that had stranded her and Mike earlier. "I guess we'll have to run for it," Mike muttered as they came to the doors of the church. A few other people were leaving with them, while the majority of the people were still inside the sanctuary.

As those exiting opened the heavy doors and came down the steps, the night sky seemed to open up. People later called it lightning, but it was really more like a fire ball: a great sulfurous stream that went from heaven to earth. It hit a house down the hill close to the center of the village. Several people screamed. The house burst into flame. Those inside the sanctuary hurried out to see what new tragedy had struck. The sky lighted up again as another yellow streak blasted the roof of the pub and lit it up like a great candle. Flames quickly engulfed the pub, unaffected by the driving rain.

* * * *

"All right," the Brigadier said as they bounced in the great all-terrain vehicle over the pock-marked road. He had the overhead light on and was writing out calculations. "I've got it down. This column for the times when the Sphinx came up out of the sands; this column for the sightings of the spectre; and this column for the times when you were in your TARDIS." Getting information down into tidy columns satisfied him, but he shot a glance at the Doctor, who was driving the great vehicle and watching the dark road ahead.

"Now what?" the Brigadier asked.

"Correlate it," the Doctor said, not taking his eyes off the road. "I'm wagering that while I was in my TARDIS, there was no spectre sighted, and the Sphinx stayed in the sands."

"Hmm, we'll see," the Brigadier muttered doubtfully. He went back to work with the pencil.

"Here comes the rain," the Doctor reported grimly, switching on the windshield wipers.

"Wish I had a blasted ruler--by jove!" And the Brigadier darted his head up as the rain thundered down on the roof of the truck. "Looks like we're in for it, ey? Better watch out for flash floods." He went back to work on the correlation, but it did not take him long.

"You're right, Doctor!" he reported, looking up from the sheet. "In fact, the whole sphinx episode started just as you were going berserk. Still, I'm not sure there's a true correlation. It sank down into the sands a couple times when you were still outside the TARDIS."

"Yes," the Doctor agreed. "It was still being programmed. But when I was in the TARDIS, it had to be down in the sands."

"Yes," the Brigadier told him. "What's it all about?"

The Sphinx figures a lot in human folklore and mysticism, Brigadier," the Doctor told him. "But the fact of the matter is, that it was just a great wild, witless beast. Very stupid and passive, actually. Very solitary. When men first came upon it, they built monuments to it to appease it, offered sacrifices--human, I'm afraid. You humans are very easily impressed by size, you know," the Doctor added.

"Hmm, I'll make note of that," the Brigadier said. "But do go on."

"Well, that's probably how the Sphinx got so vilified in mythology," the Doctor continued. "But in reality, mankind was encroaching on its vast territories, so it went into a sort of hibernation."

"Down in the sands?" the Brigadier asked, amazed. "You mean it's been sleeping under the desert sands all these thousands of years?"

"They," the Doctor corrected. "You don't think there's just one, do you?"

"Well how many are there?"

"Only a few I'm sure," the Doctor had to shout over the increasing noise of the rain. "But only one has been awakened. It's been awakened, and that great passive, simple brain it has is being reprogrammed."

"Reprogrammed?" the Brigadier exclaimed. "Reprogrammed to do what?"

"To follow orders," the Doctor said. Unexpectedly, he jammed on the brakes, then hurriedly pumped them before the truck went into a skid. The back end slewed around.

"Blast!" the Brigadier exclaimed as the truck halted just before a great fallen tree that blocked the road.

"We'll never get that thing cut apart," the Doctor said ruefully as they looked at the great trunk fallen across the headlights' beams.

"Cut nothing," the Brigadier retorted, hastily opening his shirt. "This isn't some puny jeep we're riding, Doctor. Hang on." Without another word, he doffed his hat, pulled off his outer shirt, opened his door, and slid out.

"Where are you going?" the Doctor shouted. But he heard the Brigadier climb into the back of the truck. A few minutes later he reappeared alongside the truck, hauling a smaller version of what looked like a snow plow's front plate.

"No, stay in there!" the Brigadier shouted, and then waved him back in case the Doctor could not hear him over the rain. "I don't want that collar of yours shorting out. It won't take a minute to attach it."

It did take more than a minute, but not much more. The Brigadier, soaked to the skin, climbed back in. Without comment he pulled a flask from his boot. "Try it now," he ordered. He put his hat on and took a swig from the flask.

The Doctor gave a quick nod and pressed the accelerator. They slowly plowed into the tree. It was pushed before them, rolling towards one side. After a few dozen yards the Doctor had it far enough out of the way so that he could drive around it.

"Good job!" he exclaimed happily. "Something's going our way for once! Hand me that flask, will you?" Caught in the act of returning it to his boot, the Brigadier grimaced and handed it to him.

"You will keep your wits about you?" he asked.

"Brigadier, I always keep my wits about me," the Doctor told him. "Except when I'm over run by a creature more intelligent than I. And how often could that happen?"

They suddenly lurched forward as they rammed another tree.

* * * *

Morning found the exhausted villagers huddled in small groups at the foot of the hill near the church. A caravan made up of the village's two school busses, the church van, and several cars was lined up and ready.

Out on the green, Yates and Benton were hurriedly pounding long and thick wooden stakes into the ground, preparing them as supports for the lightning rod they would erect. Here and there across the village, other men were doing the same.

"Alan, this may be the worst choice of all," Mary said softly as Kara left them to lug her small suitcase over to the baggage van. "We've never been parted. We've never solved anything by separating."

He gathered up her hands, slender and beautiful, in his. "Darling, we've been all through this," he reminded her. "I cannot have the village come down around your ears." "It's not that I want to stay," she told him. "I want you to come with us." Like the rest of the villagers, her eyes were large from lack of sleep and from worry. Her hands in his were cold, and she was trembling. The yellow lightning of the night before had frightened all of them, and though the storm had passed quickly, nobody had slept well. The decision to evacuate the women and children had been reached before breakfast time. "Come, Alan," she pleaded. Why should you stay? There's others who don't have a wife and daughter."

"No, no, Mary," he said gently. "I have my duty as well. It's only a matter of time until an evacuation is forced, I reckon," he said. "But until then, the young Captain has asked for my help," he reminded her. "As a Christian man, I cannot refuse him, can I?"

She sighed, but after a moment she agreed. Kara came back from the van, her eyes as large as her mother's. The people were boarding the busses.

"You look after your mother, now Kara," he told her soberly. "You will, then, won't you, my dear?"

It took very bad times for Kara to cry from despair, but she clung to his neck as he stooped down and sobbed, "Dad, please come, too. Don't stay here!"

Her plea made his breath catch in his throat, but he caught himself and said quietly, "Oh, you're not afraid, are you? It's a big responsibility I'm giving you, to help your mother find us a place to stay until things are settled here." He hugged her to himself, reached into his pocket, and pulled out his watch. It was just a so-called "dollar" watch, with a buck engraved on the cover. She had always been enchanted with it. He handed it to her. "There now," he said. "You hold my watch for me. A big girl with a job to do needs a good watch. You keep track of the time, and help your mother, and it won't be more than a couple days before I see you again. I'll come as quick as I can." He kissed her face, hugged her twice, and stood up. Mary knew that he could not see when he stood, so she slipped into his arms, and he held her close for a moment, with nearly all his strength.

"You be careful, Alan," she said sternly. "No silliness."

He burst out with a short laugh at her lecturing. Then he was all right. He kissed her and saw them onto the bus.

Jo had been helping with the impromptu evacuation. She had radioed ahead for Red Cross assistance and had spent the last couple hours serving as liaison between the village and the outside world. News of the catastrophic storm and the flaming lightning strikes were now attracting real attention, but Mike had been able to order a black out on news reports, at least for the moment. She came from the luggage van, where she had been showing PC Collins how to keep a good tally of what was aboard and who it belonged to.

All set?" she asked Alan as several of the vehicles in the caravan started their engines. PC Collins hurried up. He had been commissioned to lead the way with the first bus, and he was unhappy about it.

"I still say that my place is here," he muttered to Alan, who was waving to Mark and Kara.

"Somebody in authority has to clear the way," Alan said. "You will take care of them?" he asked.

"Every last one of them," Collins assured him, sobered by Alan's concern. He shook hands with Alan and boarded the lead bus. In another moment, he started it up. The caravan pulled out while the few remaining villagers stood and waved them out of sight.

* * * *

Morning found the UNIT truck trundling slowly around the fallen bodies of great trees. The rain had stopped, but it had left its damage behind.

Stiff and soaking wet from having gotten out of the cab more times than he could count to move debris or check flooded roads, the Brigadier was doggedly working at the terrain map. The route from UNIT to Hoffshire lay from south to north, but the numerous detours, destroyed bridges, and downed trees had forced them to swing way around, and so they now approached the town from the north.

"Where is that blasted town?" the Brigadier asked. "It's supposed to be over this hill."

"Well, let's see," the Doctor said. "Ah, you were right! Very good!" They crested the hill and looked down into the sun drenched little village. "Good grief!" he added. "Looks like they've had some fires overnight!"

"In that rain?" the Brigadier asked, incredulous. "Could it have been lightning strikes?"

"At least it's clear now," the Doctor added. "Couldn't ask for a better day. Look, there's the house down at the other end of the village, near the church. That's where our people are bivouacked." In confirmation of his words, the UNIT jeep was parked on the grass before the small house. "They must be inside. Brigadier," he began, a little uneasily. "We have a lot to do. But I would like to see Jo right off. Get this--"

He was cut off as the clear, bright summer sky was suddenly split in half. A bolt of yellow shot from heaven to earth. It hit what looked like a flagpole on the village green and crumpled it in a molten heap. Two more bolts flew down in rapid succession. One hit the roof of the stone church on the next hill, scorched the roof and disappeared, and the third squarely struck the house at the end of the village. It was instantly engulfed in flames."

"Our people are in there!" the Brigadier shouted. "Go!"

The Doctor already had his foot stamped down to the floor. They roared down the hill. More of the fire bolts rained down.

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