Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Eighteen

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Eighteen

Jeri Massi

"Ootuk!" the Doctor gasped in dismay. "Doesn't he know what I almost did to you on earth?"

On his far shoulder, Onaugh gently pulsed to him, a warm, comforting pulse that reminded him that the creatures had been here all along, since the day he had entered the cave, and no harm had been done to him. They were hardly even aware of him. Jo understood her perfectly. She also understood what Ootuk meant to do.

"If you want to be immune to the creatures," Jo whispered. "The People can bring you into contact with one and make changes in your--your mind. The way your mind instinctively responds when the creature tries to seize you. They will make you able to resist it. But they have to offer you to it first so that it tries to seize you."

The Doctor understood her, but Ootuk hastened to explain with a single brief flicker of a pulse just how brief the Doctor's unguarded contact with the creature would be. Then they would make him immune.

"Send the girl back," the Doctor ordered, then he remembered and pulsed it, but Ootuk declined. The way was too dark, and he did not wish Jo to wander unguarded in the caves.

"I nearly killed her when the creature took me--" he began but Ootuk silenced him again, though not as powerfully.

"Doctor," Jo whispered. "Please trust him. He won't let it hurt you--not who you really are. And he won't let anything hurt me."

"Do you think I'm afraid for just myself, Jo?" he whispered. "What if they're wrong? And what if it works here but not on Earth?"

"But it does work," she said. "Ask him about the Master--the Stranger."

The Doctor did. Had Ootuk given the Stranger his immunity to the creatures? Ootuk's reply was more complex than a yes or no. The Stranger had done strange and fallen things and twisted out the immunity from a precious young one of the People.

He had stopped her pulses and literally turned her inside out in his vile ship and examined her body parts and known them as no person had a right to know another. He had done all this out of the jurisdiction of Ootuk, taking his captured prisoner out of the planet's range where Ootuk could not direct the pulses of the assembled people to save her.

Jo actually felt sick and faint for a moment. Dissection. And to one of the People who had been a mere child, apparently. Ootuk steadied her and returned her to the concern at hand. But it certainly explained why he had been so quick to seize and deliver her from the TARDIS as soon as he had sensed the Master's presence in his world.

"There are rock shelves over there," she whispered to the Doctor, tightening her grip on his hand. Under Ootuk's guidance she led him over to the walls of the cave, where flat rocks, worn smooth by centuries of flooding but standing upright from the floor of the cave, made a perfect place for the People to stand.

"If you kneel down, you can rest your head on the stone," she whispered.

"And they can stand around you and make contact with you."

His hand fell on her shoulder, in the space between Tiki and her neck. "They've made you one of them, haven't they, Jo?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, but not the way you think," she insisted gently. "Do you think I couldn't disobey Ootuk? I could. And he wouldn't retaliate, Doctor. But he's good, and he's right. He hasn't lied to you. He's told you the exact truth of what you have to do to become immune."

The Doctor was silent. "Please, Doctor," she begged.

"All right," he said briefly. She squeezed his hand reassuringly, but he did not respond at all, and he suddenly quieted his pulses to a degree where--she suspected--even Ootuk could not read them without probing. She did not know if the Doctor was angry, or frightened and unwilling to let his fear be seen, or if he just felt betrayed and confused at realizing so suddenly that they were in the company of the gods of this world rather than its pets. But deep down they both knew that--in the end--he had to submit to Ootuk's command. For he had to assault the mind parasite again. And there was no other hope but a blind hope that Ootuk and the People could somehow assist them.

He knelt down and leaned his chest into the upright rock formation. Jo sat alongside him and felt Tiki leap lightly from her shoulder onto the flat surface of the rock. Ootuk's senses were her senses, and though she could not see the Doctor or the People, she knew when the Doctor rested his head on the stone, his left ear against the cold rock. Onaugh had his other ear, her body flattened against the back of his head to comfort him with the sensation of as many pulses as possible. Tiki rested a hand pad on his temple and slipped his other pad between the Doctor's forehead and the stone to reach his other temple. Ling squeezed between his shoulder and chin and found pulses on either side of his throat. Through Ootuk, she sensed them taking his pulses, ready to take his consciousness in full possession. Typical of the Doctor, whatever he may have felt, he yielded up entirely to them as he had agreed. He waited quietly.

Ootuk cautioned her to be calm and then detached from her, stepping onto the stone. Without him on her ear, she felt curiously abandoned and suddenly alone. The cave itself descended from being a warm, breathing place, to being simply a cold dark blowing cave, populated with ravening creatures that would prey upon her if they knew how. There was no comforting pulse to reassure her, but the Doctor suddenly drew her hand closer, folding her arm under his, forgiving her for trusting Ootuk so implicitly.

"Are you all right?" she whispered.

"Yes. Here goes. They're ready. Run if things go wrong." He would have released her hand, but she insistently clung to him, refusing to believe that Ootuk would be wrong.

His body suddenly went limp, and his arm dropped, his fingers slack in her hand. His breath went out in a sigh. The sound was horrible to her, but the People did not seem alarmed. In the darkness, a sense of time passing was almost impossible. It seemed that a long time went by with him not moving or responding. Then, instead of coming around, his body gave a convulsive jerk; his breath gasped, and she was sure that this was the moment when Ootuk guided the Doctor's mind directly into the mind of one of the creatures--making it aware of him and directing its appetites towards him and his incredible energy stores. Suddenly the Doctor stirred, and life seemed to come back into him. His muscles contracted enough to allow him to kneel of his own volition, and his hand unconsciously tightened on hers. But other than that he did not say or do anything. Another long period of time passed in the complete blackness. In fact, when Ootuk stepped onto her shoulder to resume his place at her ear, she had the feeling that she had dozed off.

"Is it over?" she asked into the darkness. Ootuk reconnected to her ear, and she felt the surge of warmth, awareness, beauty, of her environment again.

"Jo!" the Doctor exclaimed. His voice, which had sounded thin and tired since his rescue, was suddenly alive with happiness and relief, as though some burden had been taken away from him.

She was stiff from having sat still so long. But he stood and with a great laugh swept her up to her feet with Ootuk clinging to her. Both of them were happy--the Doctor confident and cheerful, and Ootuk glad with an almost solemn gladness. Ling and Tiki scrambled up them and made the connection across them, and the pulse from the Doctor made Jo laugh out loud--a sudden and helpless laugh as his emotions rushed through her, dazzling her and filling her with his sudden exuberance. She was helpless before it and collapsed against him, and he hugged her to his hearts as his happiness overwhelmed her.

"I'm sorry; I forgot," he said, and steadied her by rolling back his pulses. She gasped in her breath, panting as a person does who has laughed too loud and too long. "Are you all right, my dear?" he whispered, and she nodded against him while Ootuk steadied her with a slower pulse. But she sensed Ootuk's happiness, too.

The idea that the mind parasite on earth had wounded the Doctor had not really occurred to her before, but now she understood that it had. It had filled him with a sense of bleakness and fear and impending doom that his own strong will had battled ever since his rescue. But now he was well again, and the People knew it, too. Ling, Tiki, and Ootuk filled them with their glad pulses, so strong that she did not know if the Doctor hugged her again or not in his gladness. And far away, like bells that only faintly touched her inner sense of self, she felt the pulses of the People above. They knew, too, and were joining in on the happiness of the group below, almost like some choir, but she could only faintly sense them through Ootuk.

She at last steadied herself and stood on her own. "Jo," the Doctor said. "it's all right now. I've been a perfect idiot, but that's all right, too." He was confident, humble with a happy sort of humility, and eager to return to the battle. And so was she. At that moment she was perfectly ready to die if necessary, perfectly ready to do anything, so long as she could remain firmly on the side of Ootuk and the Doctor and everything that she loved and that was good.

"We'll destroy it, now?" she asked.

Without thinking about it, he stroked her feathery hair as though she were Onaugh, a rough, reassuring caress of friendship that almost made her laugh.

"I don't know if we'll live," he said. "I can't even say that we will certainly destroy it. But we can destroy it. We may win. That's more than we had before. Ling and Tiki and one of the others will come with us. Let's go back to the surface now."

* * * *

The first order of business was the trial and judgment of the Master, and Ootuk made it clear to Jo and the Doctor as they returned to the surface that he intended to stop the Stranger's pulses. By now both Jo and the Doctor knew that Ootuk was a powerful sovereign, possessed of the highest ideals. He would be stern to criminals and gracious to the weak and helpless.

The Doctor carefully pulsed concern to him over his decision. There were many on earth who needed the Stranger to live and undo some of his wrongs. Ootuk paid careful attention to this, but it distressed him that one so evil should have been allowed to live for so long. Jo intended to stay out of the discussion. She was not very good at communication on technical matters such as Ootuk's justice system, and part of her agreed with Ootuk, anyway. She had seen the Master kill by the score, and yet the image of him dissecting a child of the People horrified her more than all the rest of his crimes.

Ootuk surprised her by asking for her counsel, and she told him that she and two of her peers had been charged with the Master in captivity. He questioned her more closely--with the Doctor's help. But when he realized that she had taken responsibility for the Master's safe conduct from authorities higher than herself, he relented his decision. The Doctor translated Ootuk's final word on the matter for Jo in English: "He shall live then, but he shall still bear judgment for what he has done here!"

But as they came up to the surface, with the sun falling into the cave and warming it, Ootuk dismissed such grim matters for the moment. Soon the two friends must travel back to their world. They must be accompanied by a small company that would help them and safeguard their world forever from any more misplaced creatures from Ootuk's world. He appointed Ling and Tiki to go, and tried to choose a third. Gentle Onaugh instantly asked if she might go. The request startled Ootuk, for Onaugh was an older member of the People.

Instantly, the Doctor interceded and asked her not to. It was clear to him that she would go with a mind to comfort him if the battle should go against him and his friends, but the thought of tearing her--a mother and a grandmother--from her people, was unendurable to him. Onaugh did not argue. Indeed, there was no mechanism in the People for argument. Once the case was stated they said no more. Ootuk gently sided with the Doctor. Onaugh must stay. Ra would go instead. Then he excused the Doctor and Onaugh to say their goodbyes, and he directed Jo to come and sit where the sun had warmed the rock on the south side of the cave.

She sat down with him. He quietly soothed her pulses as he considered with her the battle that lay before her. She must be careful of recklessness and never be too far from the tall friend until the battle was over, for he needed her, and he would care for her and help her in death if death took her. And she must beware the Stranger, who was as dangerous to her as anything else that threatened her world. He became agitated for her sake. How, O how, had one so young and lively come into these matters? It startled Jo to have this alien ruler of another planet tell her that marriage and raising children would have been best for her.

For the first time, she soothed him. She was not good at communicating details, but she tried to make him understand the complexities of earth. Her tall friend would protect her youth and liveliness as much as possible, but both of them were determined to join with their comrades in the war now being fought. She tried to convey to him a sense of the Brigadier, of Mike Yates, Sgt. Benton, and Alan. Ootuk asked her permission and then probed her carefully regarding these friends. Sometimes it was easier just to let him look than to try to express it.

He nuzzled her face again with his muzzle, understanding and admiring her. She was as brave as Ootuk, he declared, and as gentle as Onaugh. It amazed him that one creature could house such varying pulses. But it saddened him that she should have so many friends on earth, and none of them be able to communicate except through sounds. For what, he lamented, could any creature really communicate with sound? She lived in a world of strangers, he thought. Jo did not dispute this.

Ootuk nuzzled her face again, sent a great single pulse that went through her from spine down to her feet, a goodbye from him, and detached himself from her. He sent a call to Ling, Tiki, and Ra, and the three People came and climbed onto Jo, the sturdy Ling attaching to her ear. The Doctor brought Onaugh in his hands and set her down. Then he sat by Jo and let Ra take his ear. Tiki joined them as the connector.

Ootuk and the others formed a single cluster, pad to pad. Though Jo and the Doctor's cluster was not physically joined to the larger group, they heard the warning from Ootuk to stay back. They slid further back into the cave, and the main group went forward.

There was a moment's silence, during which Ling and Ra shrank their pads to mere pegs. And then as the main group communed with each other, the TARDIS appeared in the playground before the mouth of the cave. Its doors opened, and instantly the Master burst out, a sledge hammer--filched from one of the Doctor's tool cabinets--raised over one shoulder.

He sighted Ootuk instantly. "Vermin!" he shouted.

A single pulse from Ootuk, and the Master fell face forward in the snow.

"Stop them!" he shouted at the Doctor, but the main group sent a line of creatures back to Tiki and connected in through Tiki's left foot pad.

The Doctor suddenly spoke out loud for Ootuk: "The two friends wish me to spare you for the sake of justice on their world, Fallen," he said. "But your manners are unfit for our presence. Get up!"

Certainly not of his own volition, the Master dropped the sledge hammer and came up on his knees, his hands clenched to his chest.

"Weasels!" he snapped at Ootuk, but Jo could see that he was puzzled and dismayed. Apparently he had guessed at some of their powers but not all of them.

"This is your punishment," Ootuk declared through the Doctor. "From now until your death, you will hear the outcries of my beloved little one, whom you slew with perverted barbarities in your ship--"

"Do you think I feel remorse or pity for a rodent?" he spat. Though it was the Doctor speaking to him, the Master kept his attention on Ootuk, knowing perfectly well who was doing the communicating.

"Whether remorse, or hatred, or merriment, it does not matter. I have planted her dying cries inside your mind. When you come to me on your knees, I shall remove them. But you will not come, O Stranger. Your pride and your hatred are your condemnation. You would rather endure torment forever than acknowledge what you have done."

The Master closed his eyes and for a moment a ghastly pallor crossed his face, as he felt the doom of forever having this unwelcome sound at the edges of his mind.

"I shall control it," he insisted.

"You shall have to," Ootuk said through the Doctor. "And that is its benefit, for it shall draw off some of your rational powers and slow down your fallen plans. But when you are weak and tormented, it shall rise unbridled and haunt you. You had no reason to do what you did to the child, but now I shall give you a reason to dread and loathe and fear the memory of her."

The interview was at an end. The Doctor stood up, and Jo followed. But before they disconnected, another word came from Ootuk, a command to the Doctor.

Jo and the Doctor stopped. Ootuk was upright on his hind legs, still looking at the Master, not remembering to turn and look at the humans he was addressing.

The Doctor again translated for him so that Jo would know what was begin said. "I know that you are a prince among her people because you have two hearts and many powers. But now--I have two hearts," Ootuk told him. "My beloved friend is my second heart, and I send her with you. As one prince to another, I charge you to care for her."

"She is very dear to me as well, Ootuk," the Doctor said, also conveying his sentiments by pulse. "But I shall obey your command for your sake as well."

"And listen to her," Ootuk told him. "She is not as knowledgeable as you, but neither is she so proud. She may yet protect and save you."

Jo smiled at this, and the Doctor said gravely, "yes, Ootuk."

"Go to your ship and be brave and victorious. We shall protect you until you enter the great nothing."

The line detached so that Jo and the Doctor, with Ling, Tiki, and Ra on their shoulders, walked past the Master and into the TARDIS. After a moment, the Master was permitted to rise, and he followed them, his face still a deadly pale color.

* * * *

It took only moments for the Doctor to reassemble the panel that he had ripped apart. As he worked, the Master leaned against one of the walls of the control room and then sank slowly to a sitting position on the floor.

"Speak now," the Doctor told him. "We'll go back out and you can ask forgiveness."

The Master sneered. "Do you think I cannot out think a badger, Doctor? Within an hour I shall have driven his ridiculous illusion out of my mind. Take us out of here. Even earth is better than this waste land."

Ling stayed attached to Jo's ear while Ra and Tiki carefully leaped from the console to the floor and explored the control room, looking again more like animals than rational creatures. Part of this illusion stemmed from the fact that their ocular senses were not very articulate. In fact, they had only very low perception in all their senses other than through their pads. So as they tried to focus their vision they tended to nose along the floor and in the corners--seeming as though they were scenting the place out, though they were not. They were actually trying to look at everything in the only way they knew how.

The Doctor got the central piston unit running again, and he stepped over to Jo and carefully detached Ling from her ear. Puzzled, Ling did not resist but slipped her pad over the Doctor's wrist to ask him what he was doing in detaching ehr from Jo.

"I think it's time for you to be human again, Jo," he said gently.

He set Ling onto the console, pulsing an answer to her. Momentarily uncertain, the gentle creature stood on hind legs--a posture the People sometimes used to express doubt or readiness--as Jo said, "What's wrong?"

"What do you want to eat?" he asked her.


"Oh, that's going to go over well back on earth." He stroked her hair back and looked at her eyes. "They meant you no harm, my dear, but you were embracing their ways too whole heartedly. They were re-writing your psyche. You were becoming one of them."

"But they're good!" she insisted. She would have stepped past him towards Ling. "I want to be one of them!" Gently, he prevented her, his hands on her elbows--not tight, but inescapably firm. The Doctor had an authority about himself that Jo was used to heeding. She didn't struggle to get away from him.

"I know they're good, Jo," he told her. "But you're from one planet, and they're from another. They must adapt to your ways, now." He made his voice persuasive and inserted himself into her line of vision, between her and Ling. "Just try it on your own for a few hours. Then you can join to them again if you want."

Her voice was almost a whimper. "But it's so silent. It's so lonely." Without the pulses being transmitted to her, she felt very exposed and yet also shut out from the great concourse of life. And she looked up at him, puzzled and confused. "Wasn't it better when we heard each other's pulses? We knew so many things without having to say them, Doctor. And we knew things that could never be said."

He smiled and nodded, took her chin so that she would look at him and also feel a touch. "If we were contemplative creatures like the People are, Jo, I would say that their ways are the best. But we are creatures of action, too. We are designed to be individual units so that we can fight and protect and build and do all sorts of things. You're going to have to be very fully human to do the things required of us in the next few days." He rested his eyes on hers, his hand still under her chin, and let her senses remind her of human communication and thought. "Do you still want to go with me all the way to the end?" he asked her.

"Yes, I do!" she said earnestly.

"Then I need you to be a creature of action." He held her eye, his own eyes quiet but also very earnest and serious. After a moment she nodded.

The piston unit stopped, and the Doctor opened the doors. Out in the hallway of the underground bunker, two soldiers were waiting, their eyes wide at sight of the TARDIS rematerializing.

The Master still looked seasick. He left the TARDIS without resisting. But as they came out into the hallway, the floor under them shuddered. THe lights flickered and then brightened.

"What is it?" the Doctor asked.

"Fire bolts, sir. We think the creature has found us," one of the soldiers said. "The fire storm started about two or three hours ago."

"Everything holding out?"

"So far, but it is impossible to get in or get out of the bunker now."

The Doctor frowned. "Have our materials come in?"

"Some, sir," the other soldier told him. "A group of Israeli and Palestinian scientists volunteered to join us here, as you requested. But we have heard nothing from them since they left the airport two hours ago. We fear they are lost."

"How long have we been gone?" Jo asked.

"The prisoner's entry into the blue box was logged at eleven thirty last night, Miss," the nearer soldier told her. "It is just 5:00 a.m. right now."

Jo was used to the idea of jumping forward and backward in time, so the idea that she could have been three days on Ootuk's world and return to Earth just six hours after leaving did not surprise her.

Ra, her hand pads wide and flat to catch pulses, came out of the TARDIS on her hind feet. On all fours, Ling and Tiki followed her. The eyes of both soldiers got big.

"Get me to my cot!" the Master snapped. "And keep me away from those things! You would do well to gas them."

"They are not to be harmed," the Doctor ordered. "They can sense the mind parasite and give us readings." He nodded at the Master. "Take him to his cell."

As the soldiers led him away, the floor shook again. THe Doctor glanced down at her. "Looks like we've come back just in time, Jo," he said. "The creature knows we're here, and now it's all-out war."

Go to Episode 19.

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