Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Ten

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Ten

Jeri Massi

"Alan!" the Brigadier shouted at the microphone. He abruptly switched channels. "Yates! What's going on!" The radio remained obstinately silent. "Blast!" he exclaimed, but his shout was cut off by another ground tremor. The mouth of the sink hole collapsed on itself, and numerous fissures opened up around them. Kirksey tumbled out of the back of the truck and hit the ground. The Brigadier frantically groped for something to hold on to, but the field table collapsed, shattering the radio base. He fell to his knees.

Heedless of the complete darkness where they had transported, Jo's only thought was of the iron and bloody grip on her forearm. She pulled back from it, trying to twist her arm free. She could feel that his fingers were broken, yet the grip did not relent. She said nothing as she pulled to get away, and--as though dazed by their transport--he did not speak at first. But some command in his mind kept his grip locked on her forearm.

Suddenly as though stimulated by her struggle, the grip tightened, and it wrung a whimper from her. At the sound of her voice, his awareness returned, but it was the creature, not the Doctor. With a simple twitch of his hand, he pulled her closer and laughed. His other hand groped across the back of her head with a sinister and sure gentleness. Only then, her senses suddenly keyed by her fear, did she try to take in their surroundings. But it was impossible, for they were in complete darkness. She felt only a hard and jagged surface through her jeans, and a faint breeze stirred across them. But there was no light, and no sound from their surroundings. She felt the warmth from him, his breath on her face, and heard the occasional slide of cloth on cloth as he moved.

"Look at my eyes, Jo," he said. His breath, hot and suddenly rank, was right in her face, his own face only inches away, his teeth close to the frail flesh of her lips and cheeks and eyes.

"Look at my eyes," he said.

Desperately, she tried not to think of all the terrible things he could do to her. For he could read her thoughts, and she did not want to fuel his ideas with her fears.

"I can't see your eyes," she whispered. "It's too dark."

"Oh, I can fix that," he said quietly. The hand on the back of her head pulled back on her hair so that she lifted her face to him. In the darkness, his eyes became twin circles of coppery gold that intensified to green and phosphorescent rays. She didn't want to cry, but in spite of her resolve to stay calm through her fate, she felt tears trickle from her eyes and down her cheeks. She closed her eyes, but he jerked her hair with just a threat of what would come if she disobeyed him. She looked at him.

"Look at her, Doctor," he said quietly. "She's yours now, away from the restraints and laws of men." He paused, and then smiled, a faint line of his lips in the green glow that she could barely see. "Oh, but you won't harm her, not a hair of her head, will you?" he asked. "Shall I have my will, and let you witness the chapters you can bear? I shall take her terror, and you will console her grief. We could divide her between us." He paused again, letting his words sink in to her and perhaps, she thought, to the Doctor himself: To whatever part of his conscious mind was allowed to be aware of this. "I must undertake her instruction, now. She understands very little of the role I intend for her. But perhaps I shall let you comfort her in the intervals of the lessons I teach her. Shall I do that?" He laughed quietly and pulled her hair down her back so that her head was forced back and her chin up, exposing her throat.

A quick death, she thought. Terrifying, but fast, anyway. Expose her throat, tear it out and kill her quickly.

"No, Jo," he said. "Not a quick death." The hand on her forearm slipped down to her hand and unexpectedly grasped her forefinger.

"Have you read the writings of the ancient Chinese?" he asked her. "The Doctor's mind is a marvelous compendium of knowledge. Shall I tell you of the Death of a Thousand? The resourceful imperial torturers actually contrived a thousand steps to kill a man--or woman." He twisted the finger too far the wrong way, and she gasped as the pain streaked up her arm. The sudden realization of how such a small member could cause so much pain knocked down her last resolve to be brave.

"Please, let me go!" she begged.

"This is the secret to the Death of a Thousand," he added. "Categorize the human body into three hundred members--each knuckle, each joint, each fissure of nail to skin, each oriface, each pressure point, and then subject each to the three stages of annihilation: stimulation, laceration, amputation." He untwisted the finger, bent it deftly and curled it forward, and then pressed his thumb hard up into the surface of the finger nail. The pain, to her amazement, was excruciating. She jerked with her whole body to get away, but the grip on her hair held her in place, and her free hand flailed out and struck a rock wall on her right.

"Yes, we are entombed," he said to her. He pulled the finger backward again, and she heard it break at the knuckle. The pain sent a sickening stab into her stomach, and she dry heaved involuntarily. The sound, even more than the red hot pain, went through her with knife-like precision, stripping away the last of her hope and courage, skinning her down to all that she really was--alone and afraid. She fainted for a moment, a hazy red moment of realizing her helplessness, her inescapable fate. She came back to herself, sobbing.

"Oh, that's good," he murmured. "A longer struggle against me would have only wasted your strength," he added. "The Doctor sees you, you know." He released her injured hand for the moment and stroked her forehead. "Don't dare close your eyes. The eyelids, of course, will have to go, but I would rather do things in order. And now Doctor. What about it? Would you like to talk with her now? Go ahead." He hesitated, and then the grip on her hair loosened. The light in his eyes faded to mere pinpoints. He took a sobbing breath and gasped, "Jo?"

She brought her sobbing down under control. "Yes," she said faintly.

"Jo, where are we? Have I hurt you? I can't unclench my hand." His voice, nearly as distressed as hers, threw her all the way back to Stangmoor Prison. It had been the only place where she had ever seen him afraid.

"I think we're in the caves," she whispered.

He did not seem to hear her. "He's showing me things. Are they true? Things he's doing through me; things he's going to do."

"She took in her breath and then dared to ask, "What?"

"To you. I--I can't say it." He stopped, and then as he felt her trembling and heard her broken and fearful breathing, he suddenly sobbed. "It's true!" he cried. "What did I do to you?" When the Doctor broke, he broke all at once, and he broke completely. "I surrender!" he exclaimed. "I surrender! I'll do what you want! I'll re-write the Sphinx's intellect for you and adapt its respiratory system to survive. I'll do it! I'll do it!" He broke down into sobs of anguish and remorse. "Just don't hurt her. Don't frighten her any more, and spare the others until the last." And then he subsided into weeping; his broken hands let her go as though they were suddenly permitted to.

The instinct to flee contracted her muscles before she could think. Adrenalin pushed a strength through all her limbs such as she had never felt before. But all around was complete darkness, marked only by the stranger sounds of the Doctor weeping. But even this could be a cruel trick--make her choose to stay with him as he sobbed, only to show her that it was not the Doctor at all, that his personality was destroyed, and the creature was only toying with her.

Still, fleeing the creature was useless anyway. It could kill her anywhere, especially with the Doctor as its interface. She lifted her good hand, and though it shrank back instinctively, she reached up in the complete darkness, found his shoulder and then his thick hair. She took his head in her hand.


But he was beside himself, and all around them, she sensed that there was an intellect that was enjoying it tremendously, his abject humiliation.

"I will be your interface," he sobbed, unaware of her. "I will! I will! I'll rewrite its intellect and adapt its respiratory system to survive! I will! Just let her go. Let her go, and I will not fight you any more!"

The realization of what he was conceding struck her. "No, Doctor," she began.

He didn't raise his head in the darkness. "Jo, I'm sorry," he cried. "In the end I will kill you just the same, through the Sphinx, but I couldn't bear it this way. I couldn't watch it pull you apart with my hands. I'm sorry!" He drew in a great breath like a man does when he's about to lift something over his head or throw himself over a precipice. "Take me with you!" he shouted. "Take me with you and let her go! I will not fight you any more! I'll go! I'll do it! I'll re-write its intellect and adapt its respiratory system for the present day." She heard the hum of the energy field, and he gasped, "Good bye, Jo. It is the end. But I will die too, when it has finished with me. And I'll deserve it by then. I have betrayed mankind."

"Don't leave me in this darkness," she gasped. But suddenly the field built up, and he was gone. With him went the sense of the other being, the gloating, overbearing presence of the creature. She was alone in complete darkness.

The progress of the radio truck back to the village was unhindered by fire bolts or further ground tremors. As the Brigadier rushed into the church, he was greeted by the sight of the remaining villagers hurriedly working on Mike Yates at the other end of the sancutary.

"Have mercy!" Kirksey exclaimed, for the young officer was covered with welts and was breathing stertoriously. "Get me my bag!" he snapped to Miss Haverlea. "His throat is closing. And get ice!" She hurried out, and he called after her, "And bring boiling water! You three, get him into the infirmary! What happened?" They hoisted him up and hurried him into the other back room. The Brigadier followed, but Kirksey ordered everybody out except for his nurse.

"What about the DOctor?" the Brigadier asked as the infirmary door was slammed.

"We don't know where the Doctor and the young lady went," one of the men told him. "They weren't in the room when we broke down the door. Just the young man, rolling about and screaming about things all over him."

"Where's Alan?" another asked quickly.

"I need a few volunteers to go back out to the caves with me," the Brigadier said quickly. "Alan is trapped down in those caves."

"Alive?" one of them demanded.

"I don't know. He switched off his radio and broke contact. Who will go with me? We've got to try to get him out."

Caving equipment had been brought up earlier, more than enough. This surplus was quickly gathered, and four of the men hurried out with the Brigadier on a rescue mission.

* * * *

Using her good hand, Jo groped along the stone wall and the low stone ceiling. The creature had not been lying. She seemed to be entombed in stone, sealed in somehow. She spent several bad minutes reduced to despair and confusion and her own tears. More people had died than survived in the village, and her own death did not seem so very consequential in the broad scope of things. The Doctor had been conquered and taken. His own assessment was that the world was doomed.

But the breeze in the blowing cave suddenly caressed her face as she cried, almost like a cool hand on her hot face. She drew in a deep breath, a real deep breath, as she would draw in the open air. She rolled onto her stomach and clambered around to face the gentle stream of air. Careful of her injured hand, she shinnied forward on her stomach, keeping her head down because of the low roof. Apparently, it got lower. As she slid forward on her elbows, there came a point when she felt the walls and roof closing in on her, on the back of her head and along her shoulders. Going further forward meant wedging herself into a mere fissure, being forced to hope that it would widen further on.

But Jo did not have the nerve to go headfirst into the danger and blackness, not even with the promising breeze in her face. She lay on her stomach in the narrow passage, waiting and wondering what to do. Perhaps she dozed off; it was impossible to know in the perfect solitude, perfect blackness, and perfect silence. But suddenly a ray of pure light broke her out of a sort of reverie that she had slipped into.

"Hello!" she called without thinking.

The light, like a square in the blackness that slimmed to a cylinder and then widened over her, swept across her again and then shone in her eyes.

"Who's there?" a familiar voice asked.

"Alan!" she exclaimed. "Alan! Help me!"

"Jo Grant! How did you get down here?" His voice was amazed. The steady carbide lamp blinded her, and she covered her face with her arm. Unexpectedly, the light went out.

That's it, she told herself. I've imagined it. Now I'm going around the twist down here.

But his reassuring voice said, "I'm cutting the light to spare it. Don't be afraid to come forward, Bright Angel. It's like a bottle neck. Come over the rim, and it widens out."

Accompanying his voice, she heard a scrabbling not far ahead of her, and then felt a hand grasp the arm of the hand that was injured.

"No Alan, I'm hurt. Here." And she put her other hand into his. No human grasp had ever been of greater comfort. She stifled a sob and tried to come forward.

"Just keep your head down," he warned her. SHe heard him come closer. He pulled on her arm with a gentle traction to show her the way to come. Apparently he had gotten a godo look at how she was oriented in the passage, because as soon as he could, he got a better grip on her arm under the shoulder and heaved her through into the wider passage.

"How are you hurt?" he asked her. "How did you get here?"

"The creature brought the Doctor and me here together," she said with a sudden new rain of tears. "It was going to kill me, and he bargained with it. He surrendered to it. It's taken him away."

"I thought I'd gotten it," he told her ruefully. "But it opened up all the lower passages to water, and I thought I was a goner for sure. I was in water up to my neck. Still, it didn't matter, as long as I'd killed it. But I see I didn't. There was another earthquake, and the water drained out, mostly."

"Alan, is it really you?" she asked timidly.

For answer, she heard the scrape of the carbide lamp being ignited, and then she could see his face as he settled the hard hat onto his head. Corroborating his words, he was soaking wet, his clothing plastered to him, and part of his face was marred by an enormous red patch where he must have hit the cave wall.

"What's that thing done to you, Bright Angel?" he asked. "It took the DOctor, you say? Where?"

But she shook her head. She was in no shape to answer questions. He glanced around the narrow but high passage.

"I've got to douse the light again, Jo," he said seriously. "We're both lost, and we've got to conserve the lamp.

"All right," she said steadily. He put out the lamp, took her good hand, and showed her how to walk with the careful, creeping walk necessary in a cave. He led her to protect her from changes in the height of the roof. But it was not long before they were crawling thorugh narrow passages, and then wedging themselves into cracks and fissures to get through to the source of the air.

But he cheered up considerably as they progressed. He seemed to remember some of the passages and was confident that they were on a true path back to the sink hole.

She was weary and in shock. Things began to take on a quality of unreality. She felt herself clutching his boot ahead of her as they pushed through in single file through a particularly long fissure. He was talking, but his voice was turning into mere noise--the murmur of voices at the lab at UNIT. Mike and Sgt. Benton, both safe and well and holding mugs of tea, were talking to each other by the window.

"Now look here, Jo," the Doctor told her emphatically. He held up a stick, the sort of brightly painted stick sold in sets for children's building kits. He fitted it into a matching wooden ball that had several holes drilled into it. When she looked up at the workbench, she saw that he had built a rather impressive but spindly model with the sticks and balls. He added the latest piece at one end. "Don't you see?" he asked her. "Can't you see what it is? I made it just for you." He came around the table and took her by the shoulders, suddenly serious and emphatic. "Finish it, Jo. Finish it, and you can still save me."

"Jo! We're safe! We're safe!" Alan exclaimed. She blinked and came back to herself.

There was a light ahead, the welcome light of the earth and sky, and she heard rocks being pushed aside as the sinkhole above them was cleared of rubble.

Willing hands reached down and pulled Alan out first, and then at his hurried exclamations, they came and pulled her out. THe face of the villagers were a picture of wonder. Even the Brigadier was stunned.

"Is the Doctor down there?" he asked. "Has he been dashing about in that TARDIS?"

"Brigadier!" she exclaimed. "He's gone. It took him and left me behind!"

"The creature's not down there," Alan added soberly. "Somehow it's gone somewhere."

But then he turned quickly. "The young lady's in shock. Let's get her to the church and have her seen to. She can tell you the rest in due time."

And then, of course, willing hands brought out blankets for them, and she and Alan were both given sweet tea and made to sit huddled in the truck, and they were taken quickly back to the church, while the villagers scanned the sky above the trees for signs of fire bolts. But Jo was fairly sure that there would be no more strange lightning, not for a while, not until the Sphinx itself was ready. And then destruction.

Jo's grim reverie was interrupted by the Brigadier.

They held their debriefing in the conference room, in plain view of the shattered chains and the dribbles of dried blood on the floor.She thought at first that she would never be able to get through an account of all that had happened in the caves, but once she started talking, it was almost as though another person sitting next to her were telling the story. She reported her last communication with the Doctor as accurately as she could recall, but he interrupted her.

"Yes, how did you know when it was the Doctor and when it was the creature?" he asked her. "It might have been the creature all along."

"I didn't know," she said softly. "I was never sure it wasn't just a trick to raise my hopes and then crush them. Until the very end, when he shed tears and called for it to take him. Then somehow I knew it was the Doctor."

He shook his head doubtfully. "It could be a trick even now," he said. "Something to throw us off the real track."

"Brigadier, I don't think--" she began, and then she stopped. She glanced down at the splint on her finger. "I don't think the creature can mimick that well. It only takes forms that it recognizes--or that it knows we recognize. But it's never before especially tried to behave the way the Doctor behaves. It just wanted us to believe that it had stolen him away from us, that he couldn't resist it." She glanced up at him. "When it trapped me in Alan's house as the Doctor, it never tried to behave like he would behave."

But he shook his head again and changed the subject. "It's interesting to note that three times he claimed that he would rewrite the Sphinx's intellect and--what's that--adapt it's repsiratory system. Adapt it to what?" he asked.

They were interrupted by the last sound that she expected, the staccato thumping of a helicopter's blades. Forgetting him, she stood up and raced outside. The remaining villagers, already following the noise, got out ahead of her. They came out of the church in a huddle, eyeing the craft fearfully, waiting for the fire bolts to strike. But it swung its tail around and touched down on the flat green patch below the hill, unharmed.

"At last!" the Brigadier murmured, and she realized that he was at her elbow. Once again his old school training was asserting itself. Though the villagers were miserable and depressed, and though she herself was as utterly defeated in her mind and heart as she had ever known a human could be, Lethbridge Stewart had his eyes up, his expression steady and his jaw set.

"Ready to volunteer for a dangerous assignment, Miss Grant?" he asked her.

She very nearly protested about the Doctor, but when the Brigadier glanced down at her expectantly, she heard herself murmur, "Yes, sir. Anything."

"Escort Yates and Benton out of here," he told her. "They need to be airlifted out first thing. Yates needs an anti-venom, and Benton's burns are becoming infected. The flight may be dangerous. We'll need you riding shotgun for the pilot."

"I think the creature is gone," she ventured.

He continued as though she had not spoken: "As soon as they are able, give them these orders: they are to secure custody of the Master as soon as is possible. It will take Geneva a few days to process a custody request, so you can start the ball rolling as soon as you see to their medical care. Contact the Security Secretary in Geneva and make the arrangements."

"Yes sir."

She looked down, and he said, "Take heart, if you can. We may find him, yet." And then he looked away, grim. "I should have brought the Master into this as soon as the Doctor identified that creature. The Master knows the most about that thing. He's the one who brought it to Earth."

"He'll never tell us," she protested.

A look and a color she had never seen before flitted across his face. "We may persuade him," he said softly. He returned to the subject at hand. "Once you obtain custody, keep him under wraps at UNIT and wait for orders from me."

She was startled at his directive. "Aren't you going back to UNIT?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No, Miss Grant. I plan to do a thorough recce of those caves. And if that creature is gone, then I'm going to stake everything on a venture. It's relying on that Sphinx; that much is obvious. Destroy the Sphinx, and we may thwart the creature. Perhaps save the Doctor if he's still alive."

"You're going to Jordan?" she asked.

"To Bethlehem," he corrected. "According to Yeats, that's the Sphinx's ultimate destination. I must contact the Israeli government and set up liasion with the UNIT commander out there."

Two UNIT soldiers were racing up the hill from the helicopter.

"Let's get Yates and Benton out of here," he said. "If you can just get away from the air space over the village, you ought to be safe."

He stopped and offered her his hand. "Good luck to you, Miss Grant--Jo," he said. "I know this has been hard on you."

They shook hands and ran to meet the soldiers to get the wounded men loaded aboard. "Get their personal effects, what's left of them," the Brigadier called to her over the noise of the helicopter.

All that was left was their jackets. She ran into the empty sanctuary to collect them, and then stopped dead still. Brilliant sunlight threw itself through the stained glass windows, making stark shadows on the floor. The jumble of branches, thorns, and twigs etched into the stained glass around the figures of the saints and apostles fell into a network of intersecting shadow lines on the floor. At her first glance, they suddenly resolved themselves into order, the same network that she had seen in her brief dream: sticks joined to circles, forming a complex network of lines and hexagonal shapes. And under them, written in a legend of shadow lines that re-formed as soon as she glanced at it, two words: save me. The light through the stained glass windows abruptly faded, and the vision disappeared.

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