Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Seventeen

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Seventeen

Jeri Massi

The Doctor's toiling up the slight incline towards the spine of rocks was interrupted by the sense of another creature or person nearby. He looked up to see a person--wrapped in white and gray furs--standing above him on his way to the rocks.

The person was completely muffled in the furs, but it--or he--raised an arm towards the Doctor and waited.

"I mean you no harm," the Doctor said, stopping. "I am looking for a young female, a child really. She's in terrible danger here."

The person did not answer but pointed back behind the Doctor, from the way he had come.

"Yes, there is another one like me," the Doctor said. "But not like me in intent. Please, the girl who I seek, she will die if she's not kept warm and given food and water."

The person pointed at him again.

"She begged me to keep her with me," he said. "I could not break my word to her. But some power removed her from my airship. I had no way to prevent it or even anticipate it." He stepped closer. "Did you take her?"

But the person made a sudden gesture, and the Doctor fell to his knees, unaccountably light headed. When he looked up, the person was gone. A quick inspection showed him that there were no tracks. Grimly, he wondered if the illusion had been the effort of a mind parasite--a first attempt to survey his mind and see how best to trap him. He fingered the device on his ear. No, it was still there, still in place.

* * * *

Jo slept again, longer this time. But when she woke up--to a brillaintly sunny morning--she was so hungry that she no longer felt her hunger--only weakness and an intermittent nausea.

In the sunniest part of the winter day, the People went to play and gather food, but Ootuk stayed near Jo, worried. He would not leave her shoulder. For the first time, she felt gentle, discrete Ootuk probing her mind through her pulses, searching her instead of trying to converse with her. She was too light headed to know much of what he was seeking. His gentle pad kneaded her ear slightly, calling her back to consciousness.

Onaugh and her cluster soon returned. Jo dimly felt Ootuk actually give a command to them, and for the first time she realized that--yes--the creatures also communicated on other levels, though pulse was the main one. He wanted Onaugh and her cluster and any of the others to stay back for the moment, though they felt an urgency to come closer to Jo.

Ootuk straddled Jo at the base of her throat, staying clear of her windpipe so that she could breathe. He reached his other pad to her right ear and covered it, encasing her hearing with his pulses. The result was a remarkable sort of closing in with him. He jammed his broad, soft footpads into her armpits.

Her eyes closed as she was momentarily overwhelmed by the pulsing and the revelations that came to her. For a moment, she understood the people completely. They were a nation, and they were responsible--they believed--to repeat the sacred knowledge. It shocked her to realize that their pulse communication was far more detailed than she had yet known.

But suddenly, Ootuk took on characteristics that she understood. He rested his chin on her face, and he nuzzled her mouth with his blunt, furry muzzle, caressing her, though the People did not of themselves understand mere touch. Instinctively, she lowered her face to his muzzle and let him rub his face against hers. She was weak, but she enclosed him with her hands, and he did not flinch. She stroked the broad expanse of his folds, and the firm, hard muscles of his small back.

In his comforting, she realized that she was in danger, that he could sense the breakdown of her tissues. Her sense of hunger returned, and she realized that he was amplifying it to her, showing her what was happening to her. She suddenly had an idea of something sweet and delicate, slightly damp, very nutritious.

Crickets. Crunchy, perfect crickets.

Ootuk rubbed his face along her cheek, much as a cat would, his warm, hard little head comforting her, the pulses from him on both ears surrounding her with the thoughts and the blood and the appetites of the People. Crickets, she thought. How she wanted crickets.

Ootuk signaled to Onaugh, and she stepped up to Jo on all fours, a cricket in her mouth. Ootuk carfully bit off the legs, swallowing some and letting others drop to the floor of the cave.

He gently took the cricket from Onaugh's mouth into his mouth and then, his pads still on Jo's ears, he lifted himself over her mouth and carefully pushed the cricket to her.

It tasted so good, she thought. He was so kind and generous to give it to her--the very best part, with no legs or other appendages: moist, delicious cricket.

She chewed twice, swallowed it, and opened her eyes to ask him if there might be more.

Oonaugh's cluster had come prepared. Tikalik came forward with her cricket, and Ootuk repeated the procedure. Five or six of the others followed, until Jo had the strength to look around her and know her surroundings again. Ootuk released her right ear and returned to her shoulder, his broad pad on her left ear sensing her relief at having her hunger sated for the moment.

She looked at him, but the brief influence of humanity was drifting away from him. He understood that her glance meant communication, but his response was to pulse to her ear through his pad. She would need more food soon, and they would feed her. They loved her, for under the flesh and strange thought and frightening hands, she was People, too. She was not like the Stranger, who they must by law reject. She was People, yet fleshed much like the Stranger.

She frowned, but Ootuk dismissed it. He wanted to soothe her, not tell her stories. The pad on her ear gushed warm blood and pulse to her--his happiness with her, satisfaction with her person, admiration that she had been crafted with blood like the people but flesh like the Stranger. Above all, he was pleased that she had eaten.

* * * *

For perhaps the tenth time, the Master pounded furiously against the closed TARDIS door. In frustration he kicked the cross bow across the room and again slid under the console, trying to determine why the door would not open. Time was slipping away from him. The Doctor had been gone for over a day. He quickly inspected the circuitry of the door control. Everything seemed to be in correct working order. But the obstinate doors would not open.

Night had forced the Doctor into a corner of the rocks, a cubbyhole with three walls, mostly protected from the wind. He had burned a great deal of energy toiling over the snow and rocks, looking for any sign of Jo, and though he usually did not need much sleep, he was weary. He put his head down on his knees, his back resting comfortably against the rock wall, and dozed, waiting for daylight.

In the cave--which had been warmed by the brilliant sun during the day--the People came and draped themselves protectively over Jo. She was now accustomed to them draping themselves on her, and she found it comforting, as comforting as the crickets that Ootuk gave her to eat, and as comforting as the reassuring pulses from him that guaranteed her acceptance with him and his People.

As she would have closed her eyes, he unexpectedly sat up. He did not look at her, for the People did not communicate with glances. But he gently formed a question for her to follow--the white one, the old one. She wondered if he were asking her about the Doctor, and her sudden throb of hope and worry startled Ootuk, and he hushed her through the pulses. But her response had told him enough. He assured her that the tall one was all right, but he was strong and perhaps dangerous. She was too overwhelmed by his wariness of the Doctor to communicate an adequate answer. Ootuk calmed her again. She did not follow his next promise very well--something about a dream that would prove the tall one. But Ootuk quieted her with his pulses, and under the living, breathing blanket of the People, she fell asleep.

In his cold camp, the Doctor stirred and realized that a fire was burning before him, a small camp fire. He looked up, and saw Jo on the other side of it.

"Jo,' he exclaimed softly. "You're all right."

She also looked up, slightly dazzled from the light of the fire, and then she ran to him. He caught her and quickly stripped off his coat. "Oh, you'll freeze," he said, wrapping it around her.

"What happened?" she asked. "What took me from the TARDIS?"

"I don't know, but I've got you now. How did you ever stay alive out here?"

But she shook her head as he would have held the coat for her to put her arms into the sleeves. "No, this is what Ootuk meant," she told him. "This is the dream."

"Dream?" he asked.

She looked up at him, one look of longing but peace of mind as well, and she said, "You've got to go that way." And she pointed down to the south, along the rocky spine. "A good long way." And then she was gone.

He jerked awake and realized that it was dawn on the planet. He was wearing his coat, and there was no sign of Jo.

* * * *

By noon, the hard bright sunlight of the brief day was at its height. With the People and Jo gathered together in the small cave, the air inside felt to her like that of a fine morning in the kitchen in early winter on earth: not bitter nor biting, just fresh and clear. Tiki passed a cricket up to Ootuk. He used quick nips of his mouth to remove the orange legs, and then he passed the better part over to Jo. She took it gratefully in her mouth. Now that she had overcome her ridiculous prejudice against the crickets, her hunger had seemed to double. Two crunches and it was down.

Matronly Onaugh led her cluster out to the clean snow to bring water for Jo. They returned to her with the clumps piled onto their hand pads, and they lined up patiently, their pads stretched as wide as they could go to make cups for her. She drank from Onaugh's pads first: left and then right, and then from Wati, and then from the laughing, energetic Riki-Tiki-Tavi, who knew she had devised a name for him and liked it, and then Ling. When Jo had finished, Onaugh touched a pad to Jo's throat, and the pulse told her that the human had drunk enough.

Ootuk took up another cricket from one of the precious females, removed its legs and swallowed them, and offered the rest to her. Ootuk preferred to put it directly into her mouth rather than have her reach for it. Though he loved her, and she knew it, and though he trusted her gentleness with him, her fingers and hands--when they reached towards them--shocked them all. Aside from grasping food with their mouths, the People had no concept at all of grasping or clutching each other or any thing, especially not with their pads, which they considered to be reserved for sacred uses.

She was content to lift her head to him, where he sat on her left shoulder, and take the cricket directly in her mouth. She did not immediately sense the ripple of the others as they lounged about in little interlinked clusters. But then she realized that something had interrupted the afternoon doze; a shadow had crossed the mouth of the cave.

She looked up and saw the Doctor. At the same time she felt the next incredible ripple go through her people. Several of the matrons fainted and rolled onto their backs.

The clusters all backed up behind her and Ootuk, touching the dazed matrons to warn them back as well. Ootuk did not separate from Jo's ear but held out his other hand pad and his left foot pad toward the Doctor, each pad out like a pancake or radar dish. The pulse in him through her ear was quick and puzzled. She had not thought these things about the Doctor--the way his blood radiated like sunlight melting snow, dazzling the People. The warmth and cold of the tall one were too much for the People. Ootuk tried to take it all in so that he might translate it to them and help them cope.

"Jo!" the Doctor exclaimed. Behind her, several more matrons fainted at his voice.

She swallowed the cricket and gestured quickly, her hands waving down to tell him to be silent. He entered the cave, mystified.

She mouthed the words: "Stop! Stop!"

Puzzled but seeing her distress, he stopped. But he had seen her eating the cricket and was stunned. He reached out towards her, and even she felt Ootuk stiffen and his pulse narrow like a stream reduced to a trickle as he watched the tall one make a move to grasp at her. But she let her gladness flow out to Ootuk, and he calmed himself as the Doctor hesitantly touched her cheek.

So that Ootuk would not see her reach, she slowly lifted her hand close in to her own body and took hold of the Doctor's fingers, and then his hand.

"Sit down, please," she mouthed to him, and he did.

Ootuk gushed his blood down to his pad on her ear, feeling the Doctor's presence through her pulse, reading her gladness and the Doctor's confusion. But his pulses kneaded against her ear in his own concern for his people. It was like having the sun come into the room. She must do something to subdue the tall one's incredible pulses.

The Doctor glanced back at the People, who were dazed and trembling and overawed. Most were prostrate. Fortunately, he was a much more seasoned traveler than Jo, and he deduced much more about them than she had on first meeting them. His eyes darted over them, at their large, unfocused eyes, their ear membranes, and the pads, all now reduced to tiny pegs to protect their minds from his pulses. He faced forward, gripped her hand reassuringly, and closed his eyes for a moment. She felt Ootuk relax after a moment, and even she seemed to sense the Doctor's many pulses reduce their intensity.

She suddenly smiled. It was somehow reassuring to know that the Doctor was a striking figure where ever he went. For the first time, Ootuk laughed. It was not audible, just a change in pulse, but she knew he had understood her. The idea of a creature haplessly stunning everybody he met was new to Ootuk, but he saw the humor of the situation.

The People were recovering, rolling to their feet and joining into their clusters. Onaugh, trembling as Jo had never seen any of the People tremble, went past the Doctor, alone and on all fours, looking very much like any wild animal as she hugged the wall and skirted around him. She went out to the entrance, found clean snow, and shakily stood on her hind feet, though she kept them as small as pegs. She seemed to be arranging herself to be presentable, gathering her wits after the flaming, cosmic pulses of this new visitor. Then she broadened her right pad to a dish, scooped up a small clump of snow, and flexed the pad into a curve to make it a melting cup. With the same expertise she had showed when nursing Jo, she rushed blood through the membranes of her cup, making the snow melt quickly from the heat exchange. She turned to come back to this new guest, but Jo could see that gentle Onaugh was still trembling as she slowly approached the Doctor on her pegged foot pads. To her, he was huge and strong, predatory with his hands that reached and grasped, yet of a cosmic mystery in his brilliant pulses, and she knew that he was deeply loved by Jo, whom Ootuk and all the People loved. The Doctor remained grave and gentle and quiet as the little matron approached him.

Trembling so that she could hardly walk in a straight line, the delicate white and gray creature climbed his knee unsteadily, almost spilling the precious water that she carried, looking a little like a waiter with an upright tray, trying to climb a hill as she got up onto his knee. Jo pressed his hand to tell him to keep still, but he understood. Onaugh perched on his leg and held her cupped pad up to him. The water itself shook ever so slightly as she stretched her short, furry arm to full extension. He inclined his head graciously towards Onaugh and with a certain noble delicacy, sipped the water from her cupped pad. Then he inclined his head further in a deep bow to offer her his ear.

Onaugh nearly fell over backward with fear and delight, but she steadied herself and then slipped her flat pad against his ear. As the contact did not strike her down into unconsciousness nor overwhelm her, and as he stayed perfectly still, his head and shoulders bowed, she hesitantly lifted her foot pad as though she were mounting a horse. After a little difficulty, she straddled his shoulder so that he could straighten up with her.

Eyes closed, breathing carefully and shallowly, he did. Onaugh's trembling gradually ceased. Slowly, the People came out, attaching first to Ootuk, reading Jo's gladness and tenderness to see the Doctor. They ringed her, left hand pads to right hand pads where they stood on level ground, and slowly they attached in a chain until Ling reached up to Onaugh's left foot pad and joined to her.

Just as Ling and Onaugh joined, Jo realized that the Doctor would now see her without the normal human defenses in place. The tranquillity of the people prevented her from minding too much. But she looked up at him, to let him know that she knew she was defenseless and open, that he would see her as Ootuk saw her and knew her. Then warmly through the ring of the People, feeling their wonder at him even with his pulses subdued, she sensed him as well.

He looked down at her, Onaugh pressed against him in quiet reverie, his eyes quiet, his respiration's still shallow to accommodate the People. It was like having something radiant and brilliant move of its own will through her blood--seeing all of her. She nearly fainted as she felt his life so close to her own, transmitted into her pulses. For a moment she was as fragile and trembling as Onaugh had been, for the truest revelation yet of the Doctor came through his pulses: all his greatness, she thought, every inhuman thing about him that made humans cling to him and want him and join him on his endless quests to know the universe.

Tears rolled unchecked down her cheeks as she looked up at him. He caught her, his eyes subdued and gentle. The People were prostrate again, reacting to her reaction. Dimly, she realized that she was acting as an amplifier. She must also cope with his pulses so that they could. She closed her eyes to partially wall him out. Ootuk tried to steady her with his own strong pulse. The Doctor helped. She sensed his pulse roll back again, and instantly she understood the remoteness that she saw in him on earth. So much of it was engineered to keep humans back for their own good, forcing them to stay independent from him. He could so easily let them be his slaves--many of them. They would gladly serve him.

She opened her eyes, and he leaned closer to her, careful of Onaugh on his shoulder. Jo trembled again as he came closer.

"Jo," he whispered. His voice partially restored her. She realized that she had been perceiving him as the People did. She struggled to return to a human perception of him.

"Their afraid of voices," she whispered instinctively.

"They can't hear us if we stay this quiet," he told her. "I have to get you out of here."

"Where do you want to go?"

"Earth, Jo. The mind parasite."

She hesitated, felt Ootuk's pulse lines contract slightly as she recalled the fears from Earth.

"Jo," the Doctor whispered again. "The Brigadier needs us. Earth needs us."

"I remember," she whispered, her eyes upturned to him.

"We have to get back to the TARDIS as soon as possible."

A cold wind puffed through the cave, and the People came closer, forming into the night time cluster. The Doctor would have given her his coat, but she shook her head slightly, so he carefully spread it on the floor of the cave. She instantly lay down and let the People cover her as the cave became colder with the fast falling darkness outside. The Doctor hesitated and then lay down as well.

His metabolism was not quite as precarious as hers in cold weather, and the People, of course, knew this from his pulses. But the warmth that he generated was precious as well. He and Jo rolled back to back, and the creatures blanketed them, their warm, flat bellies generating heat.

For the first time, Jo sensed awkwardness in the Doctor. Not all of his remoteness was assumed for the sake of human independence. Being covered with living creatures was faintly repugnant to him, no matter how beautiful they were. There was something about being silent and submissive and cared for that seemed infantile to him. But Onaugh knew her business, and--through Ootuk--Jo sensed the quiet, gentle admiration that Onaugh expressed to the Doctor through her gentle pulses on his ear, the trembling, shy fellowship that his gallant heart would accept. Jo did not know if he actually fell asleep, for the Doctor did not always need sleep. But she sensed him dozing under Onaugh's pad, surfacing to regard the little creature and communicate assurances back to her through his own pulses. Already, the Doctor had already found a way to effectively communicate.

* * * *

By morning, the Doctor was even more conversant with the People than he had been the night before. While Jo had slept, he had built up a reliable communication with them and was fairly fluent in sending and receiving messages. After a breakfast of water and crickets--which the Doctor politely declined--Ootuk directed that Onaugh at the Doctor's ear should join also to Ling, and Ling should join to Ra, who stood on Jo's knee, and Ra should join to Ootuk. He allowed the other clusters to stay nearby, but he sensed that the two visitors had great and dreadful things to say to him, and they might want more privacy.

Jo was reasonably sure that even with the Doctor's ability to communicate information back and forth to the People, that he was missing certain tenors from Ootuk that she could sense, but the Doctor did not seem to think so. Ootuk directed him to speak and explain their mission.

Speaking out loud in a whisper to help Jo perceive the entire communication, the Doctor told their story: "We have been terribly attacked on our home planet, many of our people killed, and some mysterious engine of this world threw my friend here from our air ship--" He stopped as though interrupted, and Jo found herself dazzled by the incredible pulse that went through her entire body from Ootuk: knowledge, recognition, and Ootuk's own sudden awareness of their perspective.

"He knows about the Master," she gasped. "And about the TARDIS!"

"Jo, quiet," the Doctor urged, but she was correct. The Doctor translated the details of Ootuk's response: "The ship you speak of lies a long walk from here. It is piloted by the Stranger. But he is wrathful for not being able to escape to the heavens. Nor can he open the ship's mouth to escape to the surface of my world."

The Doctor pursued the matter, puzzled: "How do you know of him--the one we call the Master?"

The pulse came back with a slight rebuke. Did the tall friend know so little of this planet? Ootuk was Master. Jo could clearly read this correction, and she realized before the Doctor did that Ootuk's claim was not merely titular. Somehow he was holding the Master prisoner in the TARDIS.

"I beg your pardon, Ootuk," the Doctor whispered, communicating regret.

Ootuk continued and the Doctor translated: "When the ship entered our sky and day from no where, we sensed the presence of the small one here, my beloved friend. We perceived that you and the Stranger are the same blood, but she was different, and female, and young. The Stranger has mistreated and horribly abused creatures not of his blood, so we took her. But our study was too quick to know that she could not endure the conditions of this planet."

"You took her?" the Doctor whispered, and Jo felt his pulses communicate awe and a certain new respect for Ootuk. "You took her from the TARDIS?" He did not need to translate Ootuk's quiet throb of affirmation, and the renewed warmth that the creature sent to Jo--apology for frightening her and causing her pain in the snow, and welcome to her as his honored guest.

Ootuk explained and the Doctor translated: "Our pulses when we unite ascend to the edge of our sky and present time, tall friend. No creature enters my domain, which is this world, but that I know of it before the day ends or the morning begins."

The Doctor glanced at Jo. "They're holding the Master prisoner," he said,

shocked. "Jo, these People are far more powerful than we had guessed--"

"Ask him for his help," Jo pleaded. "He'll help us. He must know the way to hold those things in check." She looked at Ootuk longingly, and her pulses instinctively called out her grief and distress. She was not good with technical communication with the People, but she knew how to cry to him for help, and she did. The Doctor felt her emotions and looked down for a moment. She had worked hard to be brave in front of him, but before Ootuk she acknowledged her fear, her bitter humiliation at what the creature had done to her through the Doctor, her horror and sorrow over the many people who had died.

Ootuk received this quietly, and Jo also sensed from the Doctor's pulses an affirmation of her distress and the grief he would normally have hidden under his brusqueness. Ootuk's pulse became very quiet as he sensed their trouble. After a moment he disengaged from Ra and took Jo's other ear, closing in with her again. She knew he was reading her, though his inspection of her mind did not make her consciously recall any of the ordeal back on earth. After a moment, he pressed his furry cheek across her face, and he gently pulsed a new admiration to her that startled her. He commended her for her faithfulness and courage.

He reconnected to Ra's handpad and directed his communication openly, with the Doctor translating again: "Yes, friends. We can help you. The way to resist the creatures that you fear lies near at hand, further down into the cave, where the air is warm and damp. The darkness may confuse you, for light is your pulse. We shall guide you down. And down there, tall friend, we shall give you the means to stay inviolate."

He wasted no time. He summoned Ling and Tiki, the two healthiest of the youthful People. Onaugh asked to come along, and Jo understood that the little matron was concerned about the Doctor. He smiled indulgently at her and tickled her under her chin. Though the People normally did not like fingers and hands, Onaugh submitted and expressed joy in his fondness for her. But Jo regretted his condescension, for she also sensed in a quiet pulse from Ootuk that the Doctor would encounter great fear down in the cave.

"Ootuk will allow me to come, too," Jo whispered. The Doctor nodded. "It will be nice to be in a slightly warmer environment," he said. Ling climbed to his shoulder and connected to Oonaugh, and Tiki came up on Jo's shoulder and joined to Ootuk. They joined pads across the gap to link the pulse line together. She and the Doctor automatically joined hands, partly to aid in communication and partly to avoid accidentally disconnecting their comrades from each other.

Perched on Jo's shoulder, Ootuk guided them to the back of the cave and down a wide passage that shelved steeply but had a smooth floor. The light dropped abruptly. Only for a moment did the darkness make Jo hesitate, and then Ootuk's pulses rolled over her and he opened his senses to her, navigating her as he would have navigated himself.

She could not see at all as they left the cave mouth behind, but she understood her environment. She walked carefully but without stumbling.

The cave was cool but warmer than the surface, with a slight wind blowing through it, and she began to forget her concern. It was almost invigorating, rejuvenating, to walk openly in darkness with the shield of Ootuk on her ear, at last in a world without predators, with only delicious crickets and clean snow and warm, mysterious, breathing caves. It startled her to realize that it was a paradise. And Ootuk was its master.

The Doctor startled her out of her pleasant reverie. He stopped abruptly.

"It's here!" and the horror in his voice threw her all the way back to Earth, to Hoffshire, to the caves, and the Doctor's surrender to the creature.

He swung round so hard that Ling was swept away on his shoulder, breaking the connection. Jo found and grasped his hand again.


"There's a creature here!" he exclaimed. "A mind parasite!"

Ootuk released a pulse so strong and profound that Jo nearly fell to her knees, stunned. Even though he had broken the physical connection, it was strong enough to silence the Doctor. Jo had a moment of vertigo, and the Doctor, silenced but less physically affected, caught her. Her senses were almost completely staggered. "Tell him I'm all right," she gasped. Ling and Tiki quickly reconnected as soon as they could reach each other.

"He's betrayed us," the Doctor whispered. "There's one of the creatures right here."

Ootuk opened her senses further so that she recognized through him what even the Doctor's senses had not perceived.

"We're surrounded by them," she whispered to the Doctor, and she felt the shock go through him. "There must be twenty or thirty all around us. This is their resting place. We're in their lair."

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