"Where are we?" he asked. He stifled a groan, mindful of keeping his dignity. At the wheel of the open jeep, Alan seemed almost jaunty. Wasn't quite proper to be less fit than his 2IC, or attache, or whatever his title was. So the Brigadier sat up straighter.
"About an hour and a half away from UNIT HQ in Tel Aviv, sir," Alan said. The reassuring smell of fresh air, mingled with petrol fumes and vehicle exhaust, gave evidence of being close to the city.
"We'd better radio in and let the general know we'll be late," the Brigadier said, eyes closed in a grimace.
"I cannot. We traded the radio to Shuri and Ali."
He groaned. "Oh, that will be a party to explain." He leaned over the side of the jeep and unceremoniously let loose some of his misery onto the spinning blacktop below. He straightened back up after he had finished. "I beg your pardon," he said formally.
Alan shot him a surprised glance, frowned in thought, and then said, "Oh, that's all right."
"What was that stuff they gave us?" the Brigadier gasped.
"Home made, I assume," Alan told him. "But you won their respect, anyway. Never saw a feller put it away like that and keep right on talking." Then he added, "Course, I had no idea what you were saying, by the end."
Lethbridge Stewart put his head in his hands a moment. "Did we get the pillbox?"
"Got the map in my pocket. Shuri marked it all out for us as prettily as you please."
"What did they get?"
"All our cash on hand, the plastic and vinyl cover of the jeep, the radio, the first aid kit, the repair kit, your pocket flask, the cartons of fags, the spare tire, the--"
"All right, all right!" the Brigadier exclaimed. "That underground bunker they mentioned. The General was not very forthcoming about it, was he?"
"Sir, if you want my opinion, General Iksaac thinks of us as the flies on a horse's rump, and he's the horse's rump."
"Extremely well put, Alan. Well, if we start yammering about that pillbox, he's going to want to know how we found out about it."
"He might be irritated to find out we know about the bunker," Alan added, shouting a little as the bustle of traffic increased. "But maybe once he gets over it, we can convince him it's for the best to give us the use of it. After all, it will get us out of his way. Being in an underground bunker in the desert would be almost the same as being locked up in a prison cell, wouldn't it?"
The question struck a somber note in the Brigadier, and he looked at Alan and frowned. "Yes, Alan, a prison. That's exactly what the desert is." He glanced with aching eyes towards the horizon. "One vast prison."
* * * *
"All right," Yates said as they waited for a car at the small airfield on the continent. "We all know our roles and our places. Everybody stay focused on what you have to do. People on an airplane are not expecting a kidnaping, and neither is the Chinese representative. We ought to be able to pull it off." He glanced at Markos. They had not been honest with the young UNIT soldier. He was now expertly made up to look like the Master, except for the wide and innocent blue eyes and the casual tweed jacket.
"Are you ready for this?" Yates asked him. "It will be a real test of nerve."
Markos nodded quickly. "I am ready, sir."
They shook hands all around and then went to collect the hired car. After a short drive, they reached the commercial airport. Markos took off his sunglasses and pocketed them, but Jo donned her own pair of oversized shades. She was wearing casual and rather drab clothes for the mission, her hair pulled loosely back. Benton had an all weather hat jammed down on his head, similarly drab clothing, and sunglasses. Yates alone was in uniform.
The concourses were busy with summer tourists. Snatches of conversations in French, German, and English drifted across the aisles. Jo and Sgt. Benton went through the security station and then straight to the appropriate gate and waited, leaning against the wall, heads down as though bored with travel. Markos stayed out of sight among the people. Yates hurried to the secured area near the first class lounge.
The sight of the Master, with the odd sunglasses locked on his head, still managed to send a chill through the young Captain. Dressed in black, a ring on one finger, his hair and beard neatly groomed, the Master did not seem to be doing too badly in captivity. But his right wrist was handcuffed to a short, slim army officer. It took Mike a moment to realize that the officer was not a man, but a woman. In the next instant, his jaw dropped. He caught himself.
"Captain Chin Lee," he said. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
Chin Lee, her manners still precise and abrupt, bowed slightly and said sharply, "I made special arrangements to bring the prisoner myself. I am personally responsible for his conduct to and from the British penal system, Captain Yates."
"I am at your service, Captain," Mike said formally. "If you do not object, I will take joint custody of the prisoner."
"By all means, Captain Yates."
Yates quickly snapped the handcuff onto his wrist and then held out his free hand to the Master. Even through the sunglasses, the Master's piercing gaze seemed almost tangible. But he surrendered his free hand to Yates, and Yates snapped on the handcuff bracelet.
"I would say it were pleasant to see you again, Captain," the Master said coldly. "If it were."
"Perhaps then I will be fortunate enough to hear your silence," Yates replied, and Chin Lee suddenly smiled, though the Master did not see her.
"When I heard that UNIT headquarters in Britain required the prisoner, I wondered if the Doctor were in need of my personal assistance," Chin Lee said sharply. "I am honor bound to assist him and will gladly do so."
Yates shot her a second, sharp glance. The Doctor himself had saved Chin Lee from the Master's control at Stangmoor. And he had interceded on her behalf with her own government for her to be spared from punishment.
"I regret that you cannot help the Doctor now, Captain," he said shortly, with a sharp, sideways glance at the Master, who ignored him.
They showed their weapons passes and boarded first, neither Mike nor Chin Lee glancing at any of the other passengers who waited in a cue at the gate. The Master did not seem to notice anybody.
Getting seated was slightly awkward. As they manuevered into the set of three seats, with Chin Lee at the window, the Master in the middle, and Mike Yates on the aisle, Yates shielded the Master's view of the aisle. The others boarded with the passengers. Benton and Jo took seats across the aisle and about five rows back from their target, and Markos had a seat at the very back, with two empty seats next to him.
After the passengers were on board and the seat belt light had come on, Chin Lee spoke again. Behind her sharp voice there was genuine concern. "I trust that the Doctor is well, Captain Yates."
"I would be lying if I told you he were, Captain," Yates said, his eyes fixed on the back of the seat in front of him.
Now the Master turned towards him slightly. "The Doctor, unwell?" he said conversationally. "Do go on."
Mike did not answer. After a very long wait he shot a glance at them. Chin Lee's face was troubled. Yates said no more.
Yates waited until they were halfway across the channel. Then he said, "I need to go to the back. He should come with me."
The Master turned with a scowl at him. References to any bodily functions apparently annoyed him, but connected to Chin Lee he had been somewhat hampered in relieving himself. She unlocked the bracelet that fastened him to her.
"Idiotic plan to keep me attached to a woman," he snarled as they stood up.
"I think it serves you right," Yates shot back. "You first."
Jo and Benton had their heads down in newspapers as captor and captive passed them. Yates dropped the snub-nosed .38 into Benton's lap as he passed him. As soon as they got back to the tiny, cramped men's room, Benton stood up and came back. Jo followed.
"You're really going in here with me?" The Master demanded at the doorway to the men's room. To his surprise, he found the muzzle of a very large, army-issue handgun in his face.
"If you say another word, I'll kill you here and now," Yates told him. "And take whatever comes."
Just then Benton came back and shoved the both of them into the tiny men's room. Yates closed the lightweight door with his heel.
"What are you--" Before he could think of what to ask first or which insulting remark to make, the Master found himself choked in a garrote. He grabbed at it uselessly with his free hand while Yates held down the other hand in the handcuff.
"Stop!" he gasped to Benton. "I surrender. "What do you want?"
"We've got what we want, Mister," Benton said. "Shut up and stand still."
He and Yates unfastened him quickly from the handcuffs, stripped off the outer coat and unlocked the sunglasses. Yates tapped the door with his heel and it opened a crack. He passed the items through to Jo and received back Markos' sunglasses and jacket.
"I think you've been in prison too long, old son," Benton said to the Master. He pulled a gun from one pocket and a battery operated electric razor from the other. "It's all right, sir, I've got him."
Yates nodded and stepped outside, closing the door behind him.
"You need a shave," Benton told the Master.
"This is outrageous--"
"Do you do it, or shall I?" Benton asked him. * * * *
Yates ushered his prisoner into the seats and then sat down.
"You were not long, Captain," Chin Lee observed, and Yates realized that they had performed their drill too well. It would have taken longer for two men handcuffed together to use the bathroom.
"We've been doing it all our lives, Captain," he said lightly. With the sunglasses locked down on his face, Markos looked almost exactly like the Master. But he was nervous. And Chin Lee was suddenly restless. She frowned, glanced at Markos, and then glanced at Yates. Mike affected boredom.
"We'll have to take a connector into Heatherow," he said conversationally. "Have you flown much, Captain Lee?"
Meanwhile, in the back of the plane, the Master, now clean shaven and draped in a loose olive colored sweater, his eyes masked in a new pair of sunglasses, stepped carefully from the men's room--Benton's gun in his back--to find himself face to face with Jo Grant, her eyes also covered by enormous sunglasses.
"Lost your ceremonial dagger this time?" she asked him. "Somewhat at a loss?"
She had her hand jammed into her pocket and pulled it out slightly to show a flash of nickle plating to warn him that she was armed.
"How did you get past security--"
"Shut up!" Benton ordered under his breath. Nobody was looking towards the rear of the plane, and he pushed the Master towards the back seats. Jo went in first, and then the Master, and then Benton.
"This is kidnapping--" the Master began. and he found Benton's. 38 jammed into his side. "It will be murder if you make a sound," Benton told him. "We've sworn a blood oath."
The Master hesitated. Then he asked, "Why? What do you want?"
"You thought it was pretty funny that the Doctor is in trouble didn't you?" Benton asked. "We heard you. We were listening."
"I was joking. It was just a jibe."
"You could finish the job with the garrote in the bath room and nobody would know until we land," Jo observed to Benton. "The seat belt light is about to go on."
"What's happened to the Doctor?" the Master asked.
"The same thing that's going to happen to you," Benton told him. "No international tribunal is going to save you at this stage."
* * * *
The plane touched down ten minutes later. The three of them stayed in the back until all of the other passengers, including Yates, Markos, and Chin Lee, had left. Only then did they get up and walk up the aisle, with Benton leading.
"Captain Yates--in on this?" the Master asked. "I can hardly believe it." They didn't answer him.
They took him down the steps and across the tarmac but avoided the concourse. Benton had examined the layout of the small airport the week before, and he led them through a maze of service hallways and out into a nearly deserted parking lot
"There's the transport," Jo said, nodding to a rental car and slipping her hand into the purse that hung from her shoulder, out of the Master's view.
"Where are we going?" the Master asked. He suddenly stopped and planted his feet, suspicious, as Jo passed the syringe to Benton behind the time lord's back. The idea that they must take a long trip just to kill him wasn't making sense to him.
"You're going to sleep, old sport," Benton told him, and plunged the syringe as hard as he could into the Master's backside.
Like the Doctor, the Master had a strong immunity to narcotics. They both grabbed him as he shouted and tried to get away, and the wrestling match that followed was a good deal longer than either had anticipated. But at last it was done, and their prisoner lay unconscious on the ground.
There was still some narcotic left in the syringe, and they injected the rest of it into him before discarding the needle. Jo pulled out the nickle plated object that she had shown the Master earlier. It turned out to be nothing other than a compact hand mirror. She hastily checked her appearance, then took hold of the Master by the ankles as Benton opened the back door of the car.
"All in all, not a bad way to ruin your military career," Benton observed as they loaded him inside.
"Not at all," Jo agreed cheerily. "What will you do after the court martial?"
"Oh, I've got an uncle in the used car business," he told her. "He's always wanted me to go into partnership with him. I might just take him up on it."
They closed the back door and climbed into the front. "How about you?" he asked her.
"My parents are always after me to find a nice young man and settle down," she said. "I might take a real try at it."
* * * *
The night flight to Rome was not crowded, and the entry onto the plane of a young UNIT sergeant supporting his uniformed friend did not raise too many eyebrows. Soldiers and officers plane hopping the bargain flights and drinking and dancing as much as they could in the international night spots was nothing new. As the one man staggered unsteadily with his drunk and unconscious friend's arm slung over his shoulder, the fumes of beer and cheap whiskey positively radiated from them. The young and pretty British girl who entered behind them stayed as far away from them as possible on the quiet flight to Rome. From Rome, the connector went on to Tel Aviv.
* * * *
"Lethbridge Stewart, I could place you under arrest--" Iksaac began.
"I wouldn't advise it," the Brigadier said coolly.
Iksaac whirled on him while the military aides in the office looked down at their shoes and Alan looked on in unimpressed interest, much like a farmer at a cow auction.
"Criss-crossing security areas at will, disregarding protocol, consortingwith and gathering unauthorized information from--from--"
"From Jordanians," the Brigadier added. "May I remind you sir, that we are officers of the United Nations, with a duty to secure world peace?"
"Do not presume to tell me my duty!" Iksaac roared. "If this trouble took you to Ulster, would you be so casual if one of your military peers ventured over to the IRA for information?"
"Our Jordanian friends are not terrorists," the Brigadier asserted. "Nor criminals--"
"Enough! You know nothing about them. With complete disregard--"
"I want that underground bunker," the Brigadier said. "I want full use of it, and I want it manned exclusively with UN forces."
"I don't know what you are talking about. Some story from those desert rats to get a radio and supplies."
"Then I will take a jeep out there myself and check. I have the coordinates of the location."
"Get out of my sight!" Iksaac roared. "You will do nothing! You will be given nothing! You are in Israeli territory and you will abide by Israeli law!"
"The only person who can help Israel is being held prisoner out in that desert somewhere!" the Brigadier roared back at him. "We've got to find him!"
"Get them both out of here!" the general roared. "I want them out of my sight!" The office door was flung open and two soldiers walked in, their faces impassive. Alan sighed, and the Brigadier grit his teeth and closed his mouth. They strode out of the office, escorted by the soldiers.
* * * *
"I ought to drive," Jo said. "I'd feel safer if you kept an eye on him."
"All right, Miss," Benton said. She climbed wearily into the jeep and slid behind the wheel. After 36 waking hours she felt shakey and unsteady, but all she had to do was look back over the seat at their unconscious passenger--now stripped of the army shirt--to harden her resolve to continue on thr last leg of their journey.
Benton checked to make sure that the time lord's hands were still firmly handcuffed behind his back, and then he checked the leg manacle. He nodded, gave a weary thumbs up to the rear view mirror so that Jo could see it, and then came around to the passengers side and climbed in. She pulled out from the small lot allocated for UNIT vehicles and navigated around the many traffic cones and diamond-shaped signs for the exit of the military base.
Their final flight from the commercial air port to the base had been aboard a twin engine army plane--flown by a young military pilot who had received their authorization via telephone from UNIT HQ in London. No questions had been asked about their unconscious and handcuffed prisoner. The kidnapping seemed to be a success, so far. But Benton had mistakenly attempted to shave while in the air and now had a welt on the bottom of his nose and half his face had been left undone because the shaver battery had died.
"Not long now," he said encouragingly to Jo.
"I still feel unsure about the Brigadier's decision," she admitted at last. "How do we really know that the Doctor--or that creature--is out here? There's been hardly a sign of the Sphinx for days."
Back at military headquarters, Alan was voicing the same doubt to the Brigadier.
Fortunately they had not been arrested, though it was clear that they were firmly and officially banned from the general's presence until he saw fit to re-admit them.
"He could be anywhere, sir," Alan said to him as they put their feet up in the Brigadier's comparatively comfortable quarters. The room was not air conditioned, but fans blew in three corners. One doorway led back to a tiny cubicle with a cot, mattress, and bath room. The front room had a desk and a couple of hard chairs. One cushioned straight back chair sat in a corner next to an upright and unadorned lamp.
The Brigadier opened a bottom drawer and pulled out a bottle of scotch and two clean glasses.
"Care for a drink?" he asked. "I think I could use one after our dismissal by the general."
Alan hesitated. He had never drunk hard spirits, but he nodded grimly. "Aye, it would be good to drink together."
"The Doctor never does anything without a purpose," the Brigadier told him. "Never says anything without meaning--especially in danger like that. He was trying to tell Miss Grant something." He unscrewed the bottle and poured equal amounts into each glass with a perfect eye.
"Are you sure, sir?" Alan asked. "He was powerfully overcome."
"I know he was, Alan," Lethbridge Stewart told him. "But he's not quite like us. He seems able to have two things going on at the same time in his mind. I can believe that he was overcome and horrified by the crimes the creature intended for him. At the same time, some part of him would still be strategizing--strategizing to his last breath to find a way to destroy it. He wants us to know where it is and how to fight it."
"But here?" Alan asked.
"The Sphinx is here," the Brigadier replied. "The Doctor referred to it too clearly to miss. The creature needs both him and the Sphinx. I'm willing to wager that it brought him right here as soon as it knew he would submit to it."
"Halfway around the world?" Alan asked.
"That creature can do anything," the Brigadier replied. "We can't make the same mistake again of thinking about its limits. We must accept and believe that it can do anything that it wants to. The one thing that the beating we got at Hoffshire taught us is that we dare not underestimate it." He pushed a shot glass toward Alan and lifted his.
"To your very good health, Alan," he said.
"And to yours, sir," Alan said, and they drank. Alan sneezed afterward. The Brigadier smiled and went to get him some water from the tap in the back. As he came out front with a carafe and water glass, he began, "If we can get UNIT heaquarters in Geneva to--"
A paralyzing image of an enormous black bird smashing into the window transfixed him.
"Alan!" he shouted.
Alan fell forward off the chair onto his knees, his head in his hands. The room was suddenly filled with ants--flying ants. They swirled out of the overhead light.
Alan leaped to the door. "Mary! Kara! I'm coming! I'm coming!"
The Brigadier dropped the items in his hands, leaped forward and tackled the young man, bringing him down.
"They're screaming!" Alan shouted. "What are you doing! They're screaming!
"They're dead! It's the birds! The heralds of the Sphinx!"
"Mary!" Alan shouted. He desperately planted a foot against the Brigadier's collar bone and shoved with his leg--catapulting the Brigadier into the swirling swarm of ants. It was a death too horrible for the bravest man to contemplate. Lethbridge Stewart screamed in agony as they descended on him. Alan fumbled with the door only to discover that the door knob was gone. The hinges were welded over.
Out on the highway, Jo was wishing they had procured something a little better for high speed driving than an open jeep. The wind, exhaust fumes from the truck in front of her on the busy highway, and heat in her face were giving her a headache. Unexpectedly, the truck ahead of her veered off the road, and she slammed on the brakes, then remembered to pump them before going into a skid. She hit the clutch and pulled them out of gear. Benton screamed, and then two cold and iron hard hands slid around her throat. She got one brief glance at Benton, fallen in the seat with blood down his shirt front. And then she felt the cold steel of the ceremonial dagger that she had seen at Devil's end. It pushed against her throat.
"You didn't think I would leave it behind, did you?" the Master asked in her ear. "Or that I would forget you, my dear? But you will not be for Azal. I shall take your blood myself. I have discovered the secrets of Azal, and the power of the creature is mine." He jerked her chin back with his free hand and drew the knife ready to cut across her throat. "And now the Doctor cannot save you. He didn't matter, and you do not matter, except as food for the gods."
Inexplicably, although he was already dead, she heard Benton cry out.
* * * *
The Brigadier rolled onto his back and clutched at his cracked collar bone. He could hear Alan sobbing. He felt a sudden heave in his stomach and throat and forcibly repressed it. Then he made himself roll onto his knees.
"Alan," he choked.
Alan was huddled against the door, weeping.
The Brigadier crawled over to him.
"Oh my wife and my daughter--I could not find the door," ALan sobbed. "All dead because I couldn't find the way to open the door."
"No Alan," Lethbridge Stewart said gently. "We're in Israel. We're not in the village."
He took Alan's thick wrists and pulled them gently away from the younger man's face.
Alan was rocking back and forth. "I heard them. I couldn't--"
"It's been an illusion," the Brigadier said.
"Oh my wife and my daughters; what shall I do without them? What shall I do?"
The Brigadier said nothing as he saw that Alan was re-oriented but grieving. He painfully pulled himself to a sitting position next to the other man and after a moment put a hand on Alan's shoulder.
"I'm sorry Alan. I'm sorry that we failed to save them."
Alan put his face on his knees. "Oh naught could save them if the Lord would not spare. Oh my own heart has He taken, but He has left me here."
"I'm sorry," the Brigadier said, more earnestly.
He sat and said nothing else as Alan gradually brought himself under control. Hearing him struggle not to cry made the Brigadier grimace and for a moment he wondered why those who had the most reasons to cry out loud felt the strongest obligations to repress it. But he was far too deeply trained in his own ways to say such a thing out loud. Somebody knocked. The two men glanced at each other, and then the Brigadier called, "Enter!"
A young officer came in and saluted. His face was stark white. "General Iksaac sends his compliments and begs the honor of your presence in his office," he said. "He believes that the underground bunker can accomodate you according to your wishes."
"We'll be there directly," the Brigadier replied coolly. "Thank you."
He struggled to his feet as the officer left and closed the door. Alan stumbled after him. The Brigadier passed him the bottle of scotch and let him take a good swig of it. He nodded his thanks and passed it back. The Brigadier found his hat and led the way out.
* * * *
"Just take it easy, Jo," Benton's voice was saying. "It's going to hurt."
She heard herself moan, and the sound of her own voice cleared the mists from her mind. "The Master!" she exclaimed, and she would have jumped to get away, but Benton caught her. In spite of his efforts to hold her still, knife-like pains stabbed through her sternum, her shoulder, and her face.
"Easy, Miss," he said. "The Master is still sound asleep."
She focused her eyes on him. "He killed you. He slit your throat. He--"
"No," Benton said. "No, Jo. He's asleep in the back of the jeep. We've all--it's been a horrible illusion. Everybody. Everybody on the highway. Everybody in the city, I think."
She realized that she was lying on her back on the scrubby grass along the highway.
Nearby, the jeep had plowed into the back of the truck that had been in front of them. Sgt. Benton looked down at her.
"You had your seat belt on, but you still hit the steering wheel a good wallop."
She groaned and writhed but made herself sit up. He helped her. "You might have broken bones--"
"No, no I'm fine," she gasped. "The seat belt caught me. It just bruised me." But her breath came in shudders of both fear and pain. She was shaking uncontrollably, and when she realized that she did not have the strength of will to stop herself from shaking, great tears welled up in her eyes.
"I've got to get you to a hospital--"
"Nothing doing! I tell you nothing's broken!" she insisted, and she let out one sob and then caught herself. "It just hurts. We've got to see if we can drive that thing. We've got to get to the Brigadier. That creature's on the move."
She could not drive. He helped her into the passenger side of the jeep, climbed into the driver's side, and successfulyl started the engine. He set the gear shift and they backed out of the rear end of the truck they had hit.
"Let's go," she said.
It was only later, hours later, that she and he would both realize that all around them had been the moaning and groaning of the people who had crashed their cars and been terrified by the mass illusions. Neither she nor he regarded them at all at the moment. They had become so used to the sound of people in terror and it pain that they no longer even noticed it.
They surveyed the ruined highway and the scattered, stopped traffic that zigzagged across the road and bridges and into the landscape in crazy patterns.
"Can you get us through it?" she asked him.
"I have to," he said, pulling onto the highway again. "I will." He passed her his gun. "Make sure nobody stops us."
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