Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Nine

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Nine

Jeri Massi

By noon, there was still no sign of the reinforcements from UNIT. The quiet that hung over the village had become ominous. The villagers who had been belligerent in the morning and ready to go out and make war gradually retreated back toward the church. They were silent, and nobody wanted to create the bustle and clatter that went with making lunch. Everybody watched the village below from the windows of the church.

"This is bad," the Doctor said to Jo as they sat on the very top step, under the shadow of the church tower.

She wished he would not talk to loud, so she didn't answer him at all. A great need to remain silent was pressing in on her from all around.

"I say, Jo!" he called. "You all right?"

"Yes, fine!" she exclaimed, an edge to her voice. He quickly glanced at her, then frowned as he saw her expression.

"Let me--" he said quietly, and he put his hand against her forehead for a moment. He quieted his voice. "You're as tense as piano wire, my dear; you as much as the others."

She nearly sobbed then, not knowing what was wrong.

"Are you dreadfully afraid?" he asked.

She nodded. He looked her in the eye with his eyes and said nothing else. But his gaze stilled something in her own eyes, a nervous darting back and forth of her glance that stopped as she looked at him. She drew in a deep breath and only then realized that she had been taking short and sharp breaths for several minutes. He put his hand to her forehead again and nodded, satisfied.

"We are running out of time," he said. "That thing is developing a sort of radar or sonar of its own. It's looking for humans now. It never stops learning, Jo. It never stops refining its technique for getting what it needs."

"What's it doing?" she asked.

"Sending out high frequency calls that affect light and sound wave transmission." He patted himself to find a bit of paper and pencil to draw her a sketch, found none, and then shrugged. "Human sensory organs are very delicate and are tied to emotional responses. It is possible to very slightly distort light and sound in such a way to create stress on the brain and nervous system."

She frowned. "I don't understand."

"Well, it's creating the perfect atmosphere to excite human brain activity to the lower threshold of frequency transmission that it can read," he told her. "Without exerting itself too much in creating more disasters, it can try to kick up everybody's stress levels so that it can read just enough activity to give it some sort of idea of how many humans are left in the area."

"Does it know you're here?" she asked him.

He shook his head. "That's hard to say. The creature seems to be very finely tuned to the responses that it expects, so my unexpected block against it may have forced it to reprogram itself to find me. I don't know if it has or not. Certainly, the intensity of its attacks have been almost nil since I got away from UNIT. The last it knew through its interface with me was that I was very nearly a prisoner there. And I'm content that it should think that."

He swung his head round and barked at the open church doors: "Brigadier, we're running out of time!"

As though appearing instantly when called, the Brigadier came to the door, well armed with his gun on his hip and a rifle hung on his shoulder. "We're ready, Doctor," he said. "We found the sink hole, and we think we can get a man down there, though it will be a tight squeeze."

At his words, the Doctor very nearly leaped to his feet, anxious to accomplish everything before the creature took its new bearings.

"So, you're very ready?" the Brigadier asked.

"Quite ready. What about Alan?"

"He's in the back room--the infirmary, collecting his things before he goes down."

The Brigadier led them through the church. "I've got it all set up," the Doctor said as they hurried through the sanctuary. "The controller for this collar is set up in the briefing room. We set up the sonic array this morning in the truck. Did Yates and the villagers do their part?"

The Brigadier threw open the door to the back room, revealing what looked like a gallows of some sort. Jo gasped, but the Doctor said, "Yes, that ought to do nicely."

A bar of pig iron cut diagonally across the far corner of the room. It ran right into the inside walls, and when Jo looked out the window, she saw it the stone walls had been drilled clean through to accommodate it. Steel pins had been fixed through the iron bar just where it came out the outer walls, so that it could not be pulled back inside. It was placed high: about nine feet above the floor. A loop of chains hung from it.

"It's too high," the Brigadier objected.

"It is too high!" Jo agreed.

"It's not too high! It's just right. I've got to be kept up on my toes," the Doctor reminded them. "You don't want me to get any purchase with my feet do you?"

"You're going to be dreadfully uncomfortable!" she protested.

"Jo, getting taken over by that creature is dreadfully uncomfortable!" he reminded her. "At least this way I'll be safe from myself and everybody else will be safe from me as well. This time."

"Miss Grant," the Brigadier told her. "Alan is in the other room. Would you tell him that we're ready to go."

She nodded and would have gone out, but he added, "Knock first, I should think."

"Whatever for?" the Doctor asked. Mike Yates came in.

"I believe he is attending to the sacrament," the Brigadier said. "But he ought to be finished."

"So bread is going to protect him?" And the Doctor laughed.

"Don't say that!" Jo exclaimed, and the Doctor instantly sobered. She looked at him for a moment with hurt and wounded amazement.

"I'm sorry, Jo," he said gravely. "I realize how that must have sounded."

She went out without another word to him. Mike turned quickly to the digital controller that was set up in the corner closest to the door, as far from the hanging bar as possible.

The Brigadier, however, was not embarrassed. "Mmmm, Doctor, " he said. "Won't need to chain your feet if you keep holding them between your teeth like that."

* * * *

Jo knocked on the infirmary and then cautiously poked her head inside. But Alan was matter of factly testing the light of a carbide lamp helmet. He glanced up at her and smiled as she entered.

"Wee Johnny lent me his spelunking equipment," he told her. "But he must be about half my size. Still, the helmet will do me good. That's the most important piece, and I think I can get it down around my thick skull." He set the hard hat onto his head and then rapped on it to set it in place. He smiled at her. But she was very sober.

"What is it, Bright Angel?" he asked her. "You remind me of my little Ruth. If I put her into the bed without her Bear, she would tiptoe back down the hallway, one eye out for me and one out for the bear."

"It's nothing," she said. "The Brigadier sent me to get you. Everything is ready."

"Ah, good! He picked up several odds and ends and hurried out, but he stopped at the door. "Thank you for everything, Miss Grant."

"You make it sound as though you won't come back," she told him.

"We may none of us come back to see the light of day after tangling with this creature," he told her. "But don't you worry for old Alan. I'm lookin' forward to this."

He led her into the next room, where a more constrained Doctor waited, along with the Brigadier and Mike Yates. Jo had the feeling when they entered that Mike and the Brigadier were snickering up their sleeves at the Doctor's discomfiture. But the Doctor could not have been warmer toward Alan. They shook hands, and the Doctor waved him toward the table where the digital controller sat.

"You needn't worry about that," he told Alan with a dismissive nod at the main machine. "It's these amplifiers that are your lookout." He gestured at three silvery disks that lay on the table. Alan picked one up.

"The children would have loved these," Alan observed. On close inspection, it was possible to see that one surface of each disk was actually a screen of very fine pores.

"The signal emits through this surface," the Doctor told him. "Hang them up with this side out. Don't spare on the putty."

"How can I be sure of my own accuracy?" Alan asked.

"You can't, except by eye, but I think the echo will be tremendous in there. There should be plenty of reflection. Just get out once you get them hung up. We can't go full blast on the signals until you're out of the way."

Alan nodded.

The Brigadier glanced at each of them. "Right then," he began. "Yates, you're here on the digital controller. Miss Grant, you're part of the distraction strategy. Doctor--"

"Yes, yes," the Doctor said.

"I've got Dr. Kirksey with me," the Brigadier added. "We'll go out to the remote station at the sink hole and run the sonic generator from there. Are you ready, Alan?"

"Yes, I am," Alan said. He shook hands with Mike, and then with the Doctor again, and then with Jo. He followed the Brigadier out.

"Come on, then, Doctor," Mike said. "If you're ready."

"Ready as I'll ever be."

Mike and Jo dragged wooden chairs up to the cross bar in the far corner. When it came right down to it, neither of them was very sure of how to effectively chain the Doctor to the bar. Their material was a clumsy chain that looked like it had been used on a block and tackle assembly or a winch. The links were large, and it was entirely possible that if the Doctor struggled, he might just slip his hands out.

"You'll just have to make it very tight," the Doctor said at last. "You mustn't be afraid of a little blood."

"I just don't want to hurt you," Mike objected, fingering the chain doubtfully and looking up at the cross bar.

"Young man, if you don't keep me locked up in here, I could be the death of all of us," the Doctor said severely.

They finally decided to have him stand on a pile of old magazines, giving him easy reach to the bar with his hands. Jo and Mike pulled the chairs to either side of him, climbed up, and dutifully wrapped his wrists to the bar with the chain. Mike pulled as tightly as he could to keep the chain tight, and Jo slipped the padlocks into place in the links and clamped them shut.

"That's a good job," the Doctor said.

The radio set crackled. "This is track leader, are you there, Greyhound Two?"

Jo took up the microphone. "We read you, Track leader. Are you ready?"

Out at the site, the Brigadier grimaced. They were in the middle of the woods, and the faint air coming up from the ground gave evidence that not all passages in the cave below were dead ends.

The cave mouth was little more that a hole in the ground, and he frankly wondered at Alan's ability to squeeze headfirst into such a trap, but Alan was holding the hard hat in his hand, waiting for the order to light the lamp and get moving.

Perched on the rim of the hole was a tripod, its legs as far apart as they would go, and perched on the tripod was a slim, needle-nosed machine that looked dangerously rickety. The Brigadier had passed it in the lab at UNIT dozens of times, always taking it for some bit of electronic rubbish that the Doctor refused to throw out. But the Doctor had been horribly offended at such a confession. He had called it a sonic destabiliser, and now all their lives were ready to be hung upon it. But Kirksey couldn't seem to get it connected properly to the power supply in the back of the truck.

"Tell the Doctor we're having a spot of trouble with the connections," the Brigadier said. In the background of the radio static, he could hear the Doctor barking out impatient directives. Jo came back on. "He says blue is input, yellow is output, green is live, and black is--"

"Yes, yes, Greyhound Two, we've got all that. It's not switching on," he protested.

Another pause and more furious directives in the background, then Jo again. "Track leader, he says to check ground."

"That's it!" Kirksey shouted from the back of the truck, and the generator suddenly kicked into life.

"Right!" the Brigadier exclaimed into the mic. "We're ready. Everything set on your end?"

"Just about," Jo reported.

Back at their temporary headquarters, she closed and locked the heavy door, while Mike slipped the magazine stack from under the Doctor's feet. The Doctor grit his teeth as nearly the full weight of his body was hung from his chained wrists. His toes touched the floor, but that was all.

"Doctor," she began.

"It's all right, Jo. You'd better get to your post," he said with a small gasp of pain. She hurried to her station alongside Mike. Her job was to watch the analog equivalent output of the digital controller.

"Remember," the Doctor told her. "If that sine wave height drops below the middle point of the screen, it's got to be boosted again. You've got to drop my blocker's signal only enough to allow the creature to find me and try to break in. If you drop it too far, the creature will be able to read all my thoughts, will know our strategy."

"And take you over again?" Mike asked.

"Yes. As it is, I have no idea what the physical effects of coming to grips with it will be."

Jo looked up from the screen. "It won't--it won't kill you, will it?" she asked.

The radio crackled. "Greyhound Two! We've got a storm building out here! Are you ready?" the Brigadier shouted.

"Go, Track Leader," Mike said. "We're dropping the signal frequency slightly lower."

* * * *

"All right then, Alan," the Brigadier said, but Alan was already swiping his hand across the lamp face to light it. He quickly donned the hard hat and went to the hole. At first it seemed that a man of such shoulder width would never get through the opening, but Alan got down on hands and knees, reached one hand forward as though grabbing a rope, and pushed himself through.

"It's fine past the first few yards as I recall," he said.

"Use your handset once you're inside," the Brigadier reminded him.

"Aye." It came out muffled, and then his feet disappeared from sight. They had a guide rope attached to him to pull him out if neccessary. Careful not to step on it as it slithered into the hole, the Brigadier got on the radio to him.

"Can you hear me?"

There was a long pause, and then Alan's voice said over the radio. "Yes. I'll leave it switched on in my belt. I don't see anything unusual in here."

The Brigadier switched channels. "Greyhound Two: What's going on over there?"

At the church, the Doctor hung with head down, in the attitude of someone patiently waiting some tremendous ordeal. "Sine wave is on target," Jo reported to Mike, who relayed the status. She lifted her head and sniffed. "Say," she said. "Do you smell something? Something burning, or overloading?"

Mike leaped up and checked the machines, but their casings and wires were cool. They glanced at each other, and Jo began, "Doctor--" But stopped as his head tilted over to one side in pain.

"The collar!" she exclaimed. On his neck, the collar was turning into a curling wrap of melted plastic and burned circuitry.

"It's burning him!" she exclaimed, and jumped up to pull it away from him, but Mike grabbed her arm and jerked her backwards, out of harm's way.

"Don't be stupid!" he shouted. "Don't go near him!"

* * * *

Out at the remote site, several minutes passed without narration. Then, Alan's voice came over the radio. "I'm down a good a way. Too many turns to count . . . . All moving downward . . . . There's something here." He sounded calm and intent. But the Brigadier had seen enough of the stable, solid farmer to detect that he was excited and confident that he had found the prey.

"This is Track Leader. What can you see?"

"It's bigger than the Doctor knew from the prison incident. About the size of a bear curled up in here for hibernation. Hard to be definite. Hard to see it rightly. I don't want to get too close yet."

"Can you stand?"

"No, not hardly. I can get on my knees. I'm fixing up the disks with the putty. I don't think it knows I'm here. But there's gossamer type stuff everywhere. It's a good thing the Doctor's keeping it busy. I think if it was to listen a moment, it would know I'm here from these webby things. They're like cat's whiskers for it, I reckon. Sensing vibrations and maybe heat and the like."

"Don't go in any further, Alan," the Brigadier cautioned him. "If you've got those sonic transmitters pointed at it from a distance, that will have to do."

"I'd ram one right down it's throat if I could find its throat, Brigadier," he said. "Don't you worry about me."

The Brigadier switched channels. "What's going on, Greyhound Two?"

There was no answer.

Just as Mike pulled Jo back, the Doctor groaned, and suddenly opened his eyes. He saw them and pulled his lips back, but nothing intelligible came out of his mouth. He tugged on the chains.

But suddenly the Doctor's voice--she was sure it was the Doctor himself--broke through. "Mind the equipment, you fools! It can still help me, even without the col--" He was cut off as he suddenly howled with pain and frustration. They hurried back to their places. "Indignant desert birds! Indignant desert birds!" he exclaimed. "This rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born! To be born! Born in me!" He jerked back with all his might on the solid chain. To their horror, the power of the fierce jerk of his arms brought out great wells of blood on his wrists, and the clumsy links realligned in their loops, affording him some slack. He could stand flat footed again.

"He's seeing only us," Mike whispered as they worked to maintain the sine wave levels. It was an indicationt hat the Doctor--at least on some level--was still holding the thing at bay. But just then the creature in the Doctor really did notice them for the first time.

"You insolent fools!" he cried. He stopped pulling against the bar but suddenly snapped his wrists apart from each other. Nothing happened. He tried again. The chain broke.

Yates jumped to his feet, fumbling to pull out his handgun.

"No!" Jo cried. "Mike, you mustn't!"

But the Doctor merely gave a flip of his gaze at Yates. The young captain suddenly fell to the floor in terror and pain. The gun clattered out of his hand.

"Jo!" he screamed. "Jo! Get them off me! Get them off me! They're all over me!" He screamed again and writhed in agony, clutching and ripping at himself.

The radio crackled, and she heard the Brigadier check in, but she didn't dare move.

Out at the site, the Brigadier tried several times to raise the temporary HQ, but gave up. He turned to the truck. Inside the back, Kirksey sat hunched over the controls. "HQ isn't answering," the Brigadier said.

"What about Alan?" Kirksey asked.

"He's found it all right. I told him not to get too close, but I think he's gone too close anyway." As though in confirmation, Alan's voice came over. The Brigadier adjusted the channel.

"I put one right before it's head--if it has a head. Go on and turn on that sonic thing."

"You've got to get clear," the Brigadier ordered.

"I am, man. Scurrying like a squirrel up a tree trunk. Hey!"

The Brigadier nearly echoed the exclamation as the ground suddenly shifted. A low and slow roar of grinding earth shook the woods. Kirksey protectively tried to cover the generator as the truck rocked from side to side. On its wide tripod, the sonic disruptor bounced around but remained upright.

"Power that thing up!" the Brigadier snapped to Kirksey.

* * * *

Mike's screams did not abate. Within seconds, he was ripping at his own skin and drawing blood, but other welts, caused by whatever nightmare had been brought home to him, appeared on him as well.

The Doctor seized Jo by the hair before she could try to get away. He swept the equipment off the table with one arm and pulled her right across it, into his grasp. The pain dazed her and flooded her eyes with tears of pain.

"I have been too lenient with you," he said. "How shall I repay your treachery?" He had one hand gripping her hair at the top of her head, and he gripped her shoulder with his other hand. "You are as finely structured as a bird," he said. "All light, fast heartbeat and fragile warmth. Have you ever seen a bird with its wings pulled off?"

She knew that the hands that could break apart handcuffs and chains could tear her limb from limb. He dug his fingertips into the joint of her shoulder. She groaned from the pain and tried to steel herself, when suddenly he screamed and collapsed on her. They both fell to the floor.

* * * *

"Aye, it's found me, Brigadier," the radio said. "The caves in here are flooding. The wee tremor you felt was a channel it opened up from the beck."

"Get out of there!" the Brigadier shouted. "Come out!"

"I cannot, and that's a fact. The water is cascading down from above. I'm in very deeply--"

"We'll pull you out! We've got the guide rope--"

"You'll do no such thing." The Brigadier could hear the thundering sound of water as it echoed in the warren of caves. "You'd pull me into the worst of it and still have a drowned man with two broken legs at the end of it. You'd never get me out against that water pressure. It's coming in here now. I'm up high on a rock shelf, but it won't last long."

"Alan," the Brigadier began. Kirksey stuck his head out of the back of the truck.

"I've cut my rope. You've got that signal on?" the radio asked.

"Yes," the Brigadier said.

"We've bearded the lion in its den, Brigadier, and that's worth a good deal. I don't want you to hear this, so I'm going to switch off." But they heard him laugh before he did. The radio went dead.

* * * *

The Doctor, awakened by the groans from Mike Yates, who writhed nearby on the floor, rolled onto his back and raised his head. On the other side of the closed door, the villagers were calling to them and knocking. The Doctor stifled a sound of pain as he involuntarily moved his crushed and mangled hands. But his eyes were clear, and his voice filled with a relief that Jo had seldom heard:

"It's dying; it's mortally wounded--" he gasped. "Mike!" he said weakly. "Yates! Jo!" He caught in his breath. The knocking became a pounding as the alarmed villagers tried to get in.

"Yes, yes we need help," the Doctor murmured, and he rolled up to a sitting position. "I'm coming Yates!" Suddenly, his voice changed. "No!" he exclaimed. "No--I won't! Get back! Leave me alone!"

Jo, who had been nursing her bruised shoulder, sat up at the terror in his voice. As he screamed, she instinctively grasped him by the upper arm, as though to hold him back from hurting himself.

"Jo, no! Get away!" he screamed. "Don't touch me!" She heard a faint humming, as of an electric field building up. It was a sound she had heard before, in her first encounter with the creature at Stangmoor: the sound it made when it transported itself.

The Doctor's face and voice suddenly changed. He seized her with his broken and bleeding hand. Just as he did, the door suddenly gave way, and a group of five of the men from the village burst into the room. The Doctor and Jo both winked out of the room.

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