Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Nineteen

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Nineteen

Jeri Massi

Alan, coming up from a sea of troubling dreams, sat up on his cot and looked around. He found himself opposite a youthful, composed person, who sat on the edge of another cot, and whose expression was so very still, almost profoundly so, that he was not sure for a moment if the visitor was quite human. Then with a small jolt he realized that she was a woman.

She had gray eyes and just a hint of sharpness about her features, a certain, finely chiseled look that was winning without being beautiful in the conventional sense.

When she spoke to him, he did not quite understand the words, but he did comprehend that she had heard him somehow, that she knew he was in distress.

"Why, you see," he told her. "All my family and friends have been killed. I thought it was my job to be killed, too. I thought I would die for them--die for this cause that we're fighting for. But God won't let me. He keeps sparing me. I keep running headlong into it, but I survive." He looked down. "And now, I know I will survive." In spite of his instinctive tendency to be brave in front of a woman, he felt tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat. "How can I live? How can I go on? I could endure losing them all if I could just go with them, but I'm not allowed to go with them."

"They don't suffer any more," she told him. "If they died in drowning or fire, they aren't drowning now; they aren't burning now."

"But, you don't really know what suffering is, do you?" he asked her sadly, not looking at her. "I mean, what it's really like to be thoroughly cursed with sin and live among it and have it in you and see it every day. It's all suffering."

"I will know suffering," she told him. "I have chosen to know it. I've come to live among it and endure it. And when the selected time has run its course, I will die, too."

He hesitated. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment. "I've misjudged you."

She was silent, and at her silence, he started talking again. He told her about Mary, about when Kara was born, and the long night at the hospital. He talked as he had not ever talked--giving her every detail of Mary, and Kara, and Lamb. Instead of being bored, she was profoundly interested. She remained silent, yet he knew that she wanted details from him, and he struggled to think them through and provide them for her. He told her everything over and over again. At long, long last, he said, "That's all that there is."

"You've told me more than you know you've told me, Man of Song," she said. "And you have reason to be very sad and very lonely. Yet all the same, Truth has not ceased to be truth in the wake of destruction. And you have your role to perform, even as I have mine. But we will be great friends if you choose me." And she reached forward and touched his forehead.

Alan woke up, then, realized it had been some incredible dream, and suddenly realized that something really was touching his forehead. For a moment in his confusion he thought it was Mary; then he thought it must be her ghost; then he thought it was a stethoscope. Finally he realized it was none of these things, but rather a warm, gentle thing like a finger or a hand that somehow transmitted a frail and beautiful life to him. He focused his eyes in the dimness and saw a white and gray creature about the size of a long, slim cat, with folds like a flying squirrel. Its short arm was extended towards him, its flat hand resting warmly on the notch between his eyes.

He felt no fear--only profound surprise. "What the Sam Hill are you?" he asked it.

At his voice a great tremor ran through her, and he realized that he had startled her, and further, that she meant him no harm. Indeed, he understood that somehow this creature had known he was grieving--even in his sleep--and had purposefully sought him out. She moved carefully up to his shoulder. After a moment, he sat up on the cot, but she was at ease on her perch. She pressed one paw to his temple and another to his ear. He turned his eye to get a better look at her. She hesitated and then tried to meet his eye with hers. But he realized that she could not see well at all.

It had taken Jo--in her panic and coldness and fear--several minutes to figure out the rudiments of the People. Alan understood all in a jolt, and his heart thrilled, feared, and prayed all at once. "Lord, what have You made!" he exclaimed, and the poor creature fell off his shoulder in a dead faint. He caught her.

"Oh, oh, I'm sorry!" he whispered. "Oh Lord, have I killed Your creature?" He cradled the little female to his chest, as though she were Lamb. "Poor creature. I'm sorry." She stirred, and he saw that her paws were actually wide, fingerless pads. She slipped one between the buttons of his shirt and found his pulse under his heart. Afraid that he would hurt her again, he restrained his feelings, but he felt an assurance from her spread through him. She was all right. His lifetime of fervent devotion to prayer was new to her, for she had not yet sensed any such thing in anybody else of this world.

He understood her, but he did not really know how to communicate with her, not well. For a long moment she lay on his hands and wrists, connected to his heart, relaxed and listening. And then she sent another great pulse to him. Had it been in words, it would have been simply, "Friend," but with it came every association of giving herself entirely up in friendship to him, of seeking to help him through this current dark grief.

"But what is your name?" he whispered to her. That was no good. Sound obviously meant little to these creatures except to startle them. He looked at her in some puzzlement, and he sensed puzzlement back from her, though she seemed to understand what he wanted to know. But the human need to fix a name to everything was alien to her. She was the only one yet, she told him. On this entire world there were only three of her blood. And she was the only one he had met. But the reasoning did not make sense to him. He wondered what he should call her. At last--and in her pulse through her pad on his heart, he sensed that she found him slightly ridiculous--she transmitted a name that he would understand, a genuine human word: Ra. For so the beloved of Ootuk had named her.

He desperately wanted to communicate back to her, but apparently it took some skill. He could understand her, but clearing away all his feelings, thoughts, and pulses to say something was difficult. Another warm pulse from her spread through him. There was time; she would not leave him. He must relax, and soon he would pulse to her without even thinking about it. Hesitantly, he lifted her back to his shoulder. She resumed her place, put one pad against his ear, and allowed him to take her where he pleased. He wanted his breakfast, but for some reason he also found himself wondering where crickets might find haven in an underground bunker like this in the desert.

* * * *

"I don't care what happens in the rest of the bunker. Keep it dark for all I care, but we've got to have the full emergency power in here!" the Doctor insisted to the Brigadier as the lab shook again under the onslaught of another fire bolt. The lights flickered in response. The Doctor glared up at them

"That is completely unacceptable!" he exclaimed.

"The lights aren't wired in on emergency back-up like the critical facilities are," the Brigadier assured him. "The lab equipment should remain stable for the next several hours."

In the semi-dimness the Doctor brushed past Jo and muttered, "Next several hours!"

"Can you do it?" the Brigadier asked him.

"Do it?" the Doctor asked, ripping the lid off a plastic crate with his hands. "Do what? Mutate a virus so that it will create a flawed protease chain? Do that without any medical assistance or trained technicians--Jo, look for a package marked for microscopes, will you--and then make sure it will multiply in the alkali conditions of the desert?" He plunged his bare hands into a bed of dry ice and extracted several sealed petri dishes. "I could do it much more easily if people would stop pestering me with questions!"

From the floor, Tiki leaped up onto the table edge and held out a flat pad towards Jo.

"What the devil is that thing?" the Brigadier exclaimed.

"Our first line of defense. It's for you, Jo. See what he's got to say. "

Jo held out her arm to him, and Tiki nimbly scurried up to her shoulder and pressed her ear. Mystified, the Brigadier looked on.

"It's bad news Doctor," she reported quietly. The building quivered again.

"Let me guess--the creature is far greater than they foresaw," he said.

"Yes. Tiki says it is entirely focused on us--concentrating furiously." She glanced at the Doctor. "Maybe that means Bethlehem is safe for the moment."

"What the blazes is going on!" the Brigadier exclaimed. Startled, Tiki jumped and pulsed a warning to Jo that almost knocked her over. "Brigadier!" she exclaimed. She caught herself, and she gasped, "You have to stay quiet, sir. You mustn't alarm them."

Cocking an eyebrow but doing as he was advised, the Brigadier rocked back on his heels and waited, eyes fixed on the white and grey creature. Tiki calmed down and pulsed a question to Jo about the anger everywhere. She soothed him, but she sensed his distress and mystification at the alienation, impatience, and stress all around. She could neither explain nor defend this to him, but she quieted her pulses. After he was composed, he went on, and she translated.

"It is trying to destroy us," she said at last. "It knows--it knows you've used the TARDIS. It is willing to postpone its previous plans if it can wipe us out with its furious bombardment."

"So," And the Doctor continued to unpack the medical boxes without slowing down. "I gave us away. The displacement fields of energy from the TARDIS were enough to get through the silicate layers and reveal us."

Calmer, the Brigadier said, "It was a necessary risk." Loping on all fours, Ling entered the lab, leaped effortlessly onto the table, and then climbed up on Jo's shoulder.

"How, uh, how many of those creatures did you bring back with you, Doctor?" the Brigadier asked.

"Three," the Doctor told him. "Jo, where's Ra?"

"Tiki says that the three of them can protect our minds from the mind parasite but not stop the firebolts," she reported, not heeding the question.

"Does it know they're here?" he asked.

"No, Doctor, not yet. But it will if they directly engage it." She hesitated, following a question of her own to the People, and then reported, "It is afraid of something, Doctor. There is some confusion in it about where the TARDIS went and why it came back."

"What about telling us when the parasite will rest again; can they gauge its cycles? " he asked.

She hesitated. "I--I don't know how to ask that."

He left the boxes, joined her, and leaned towards Ling. Ling took his ear with her free hand-pad but stayed connected to Jo as well.

Just then Alan walked in with Ra on his shoulder--probably summoned by the others, Jo thought. Ra invitingly held out a pad towards the Brigadier. He missed or ignored the gesture.

The Doctor disengaged from Ling. "Well, the parasite can't keep it up forever," he reported. He gently disengaged Ling from Jo as well. To his surprise, Ling chittered at him in either protest or rebuke. "No," Jo said quickly, gently. "He's right, Ling." Ling instantly stopped. Jo gently lifted Tiki's pad from her ear and quickly set him down on the table and then turned away. Ling lightly leaped down to join him.

"I told you they would adapt to our ways," the Doctor said gravely, returning to his work. "As much as they can adapt. She understands your words." He attacked the next box. "Right! Keep Ling and Tiki and Ra on hand nearby to police the mind parasite. As soon as it has to rest, we'll make a break for it with the virus." He threw a glance at the Brigadier "See what you can rig up with shell casings--big ones, I mean, and something to act as a mortar or rocket launcher."

"I'm afraid that in another hour or so, it will be almost impossible to make a break for it, Doctor," the Brigadier told him. "The temperature on the surface from those fire bolts has turned the sand to molten glass. It's collecting and hardening above us. Even with cutting equipment, I don't know if we can break out--not before the air supply in here gives out. "

The Doctor looked more annoyed with the parasite than worried. "How much air have we got?" Summoned by Ra, Tiki and Ling climbed onto Alan and made introductions. They each took an ear, and Ra confidently climbed down his broad arm, sat on his hand, and slipped her pad into his shirt and against his heart. Jo glanced at them, and for a moment her face was unreadable. She hurried back to the job of unpacking the medical supplies.

The Brigadier frowned. "The emergency tanks are designed to provide for 72 hours on lowest output. We've used up about four hours so far."

"Well, it's going to take me a good forty hours or so to make up what we want. But don't worry. I have some equipment in the TARDIS that may help us break out in time."

Impatient to make a plan or do something, the Brigadier said, "What about the Master? Last I saw he was in his cell with his head in his hands. Let's get him out here to help!"

The Doctor shook his head. "Oh, he's no good to us, not for a while." He glanced around the dim room: Alan with the three people huddled on him, communicating; Jo hunting through the shipping crates in search of the microscopes, and the Brigadier impatiently glaring from Alan to the three visitors, and back to the Doctor.

Triumphantly, Jo, pulled a microscope from one of the plates. "Here we are, Doctor!"

"Good, good good!" he exclaimed, making shooing gestures with his hands. "Now get out of here, all of you. I have work to do."

"All of us?" Jo exclaimed.

"Yes, every last one of you. From the least to the greatest." And he afforded her a brief smile, but she could see his grimness under it. He wanted to get to work, and Jo knew him well enough to understand his deeply personal commitment to fight the creature and destroy it. He would not welcome help right now. That brilliant, isolated, autocratic part of him would not have peace--not even Ootuk's peace--until he had re-engaged the mind parasite and won this time.

They all went towards the doors, with the Doctor giving orders: "And Alan, don't go to far. I may need to monitor that thing through the three of them. They can keep a sort of watch on it."

"I'll not be leaving any time soon, Doctor."

Jo turned to him as she went out. "But you remember your promise to me. And what Ootuk told you," she asked.

"Yes, yes, yes. Just leave me now for a little while."

He got them all out into the hallway and then closed the door.

* * * *

In his cell, the Master sat with his elbows on his knees, his eyes fixed on the floor. As the Brigadier approached the cell, the timelord did not look up nor react at all to another presence, not even the presence of a person he had taken such pains to express contempt for. He sat as still and as fixed as a statue.

"That's how he's been ever since his return, sir," Sgt. Benton whispered to him.

The Brigadier nodded to one of the two Israeli sentries who stood outside the cell door. "Right. Open it up. I'll try to talk to him."

The sentry saluted, unlocked the cell door, and swung it open. They walked inside.

"All right, do you want medical attention?" the Brigadier asked.

The Master did not respond.

Lethbridge Stewart grimaced at the need to be generous to an enemy who had killed so many people, but it was a requirement of duty. And--much as he hated to admit it to himself--he found something pitiable in the figure before him. "Sedative?"

At the absence of response, both the Brigadier and Sgt. Benton shrugged slightly, defeated even in their attempt at kindness.

"Right. Bring him food if he requests it. I'll check him again in a few hours. And even in this condition of his, make sure that two of you are never in the cell with him at the same time." And the Brigadier nodded at the sentry's salute and walked out. Benton followed. The sentry paused to cast a glance at the Master, and instantly the Master shot a single glance back at him, and a slight nod. It was the briefest look, but the sentry met it with a look of his own of submission and confusion, and then left the cell. As he closed and locked the cell door and resumed his station in the hall, his partner noticed nothing unusual about him.

* * * *

Jo had already learned that a good deal of military and intelligence work involved nothing more spectacular than waiting. After the flurry of activity and changes during the last two weeks, she found herself suddenly stopped--not running, or fighting, or exploring, or even especially suffering (if one did not count the impaired air flow in the bunker), but simply waiting. The bunker remained dim, and at times it became so hot that it was stifling, and then a detail of men would go and work on the emergency tanks again. But even though the danger of running out of air hung over all of them, none of them felt especially frightened. The fire bolts came in storms and lulls, but after the first few furious bombardments, she paid little heed to them. The bunker would tremble, and the lights would dim even more, but it was apparent that they were too deeply buried for the mind parasite/Sphinx to incinerate them. It seemed to be trying to entomb them under a sea of hardened silicate.

But there was nothing to do until it had either exhausted itself or convinced itself that they could not escape to make war on it. Nothing could get out of the bunker until the creature entered its rest cycle, and it seemed to be determined to postpone that for as long as possible in favor of raining its fire bolts down onto them.

Yet all of these matters had to be pushed aside until the Doctor should emerge from the lab. And in the meantime, everybody had discovered a delightful past time. Protected by Alan and Jo from being treated like some sort of spectacle, Ra, Ling, and Tiki were showing an unexpected willingness to lose the solemnity that they wore on their home planet. Jo had forgotten that one reason Ootuk had chosen them was their youth, and--innocent and mystic as they were--there was every indication that they were young enough to want to play as much as possible.

It took a full day for them to realize that the human habits of reaching, grasping, and holding were not simply bad manners. But as soon as they realized that grasping was as natural to the humans as pulsing was to them, they tried to adapt to it. The result was that they made the best of it and collaborated with Alan and some of the soldiers on a truly beneficial past time--being thrown through the air.

Physiologically, with their light bones and folds of skin and extremely limber hips and shoulders, the People were even more adept at landing than cats. They lacked the musculature to jump as cats could, but with a good propelling throw, they could somersault and roll in the air and land on their pegged pads. The game advanced significantly when they realized that the soldiers made ideal landing posts and could even catch them.

This, to Jo, was the strangest part of the adventure. To stand at the very edges of the dim mess room in the sweltering twilight, hurling the people all the way across the room to soldiers against the far wall, laughing and calling and encouraging each other. All grudges evaporated. All sense of being foreigners was gone. The soldiers--from the youngest and most brash to the oldest and most hardened--treated the young creatures with gentleness. And somehow that attitude easily spilled over into every other relationship. Morale was high. Nobody would have chosen to leave, even if there could have been a breakout from the bunker.

Still, playtime had to be set aside so that the People themselves could rest. Having depended on Ootuk all their lives to regulate their days and nights, they were not very good at knowing the mechanics of finding places to sleep, or choosing times to eat, or even knowing when they were too tired from their athletic games with the humans. Alan quickly took on the role of being their guardian--a role that Jo sensed they had chosen for him, for it was obvious that there was some affinity between them. Somehow, she knew, they perceived his fondness for singing every morning as being similar to whatever it was that they did with their pulses when they communed with each other.

Foraging for subterranean insects (which required excavating the water pipes) was placed on the daily duty roster, and Ra, Ling, and Tiki always went along to supervise, offer advice, and give invitations to share. The People quickly found Earth-born equivalents for their food sources, and they occasionally nibbled at treats that the soldiers offered them. They seemed to tolerate small amounts of peanut butter and liked olives, but salt burned their tongues and so they disliked anything that came in the mess kits. Jo was relieved that it seemed difficult to poison them, even accidentally. She found herself advising the first insect digging party and very nearly accepted a gift from Ling but stopped herself just in time. And as more and more hours ticked by, she liked the idea of crickets less and less. At some moments she found herself envying Alan when she saw him in the company of his three new friends. In fact, in some moments it hurt her with a sharp twinge to see them all connected to him.

But she reminded herself that she had asked the Doctor, begged the Doctor, to let her go with him all the way to the end of this adventure. And she meant to keep her word. There were moments, especially when she looked at the closed lab door, when she felt that the Doctor had been right about her and her condition of being human: she loved the People and their ways, but she had chosen long ago to live a life where what she did counted, a life of action and not of contemplation.

As she and Mike Yates waited at the lab door on the third morning after Jo's return, bringing the Doctor tinned beef, biscuits and coffee for breakfast, Mike Yates said, "He's been holed up in there with Ra, Ling, and Tiki for a couple hours. Maybe the mind parasite is resting."

She nodded. She didn't want to discuss attacking the mind parasite with Mike because he would object if she accompanied the Doctor, and she knew it.

Yates went on, restless as the Doctor did not come to the door at their knock. "He's been working like a madman in there. He won't be content until he's evened the score with that thing. It's personal, isn't it?"

"It forced him to do things that he can't bear to think about, Mike," she told him quietly. "Things that his conscience can't endure."

"So he's not going to be at peace until he destroys it," Mike added. "But everybody knows what he did was against his will."

She felt a spark of annoyance at his glib assessment of what had happened in the caves at Hoffshire. And she was surprised. Though Mike had not witnessed the scene in the cave, he had seen the Doctor go mad in the lab at UNIT. It had been horrible.

"I can't rest either," she said. "Not until it's destroyed."

"Because of what it did to you?"

"No. Because of what it did to him. I never wanted to see him humiliated like that. It was worse, somehow, to know that it was making him do what he did. Worse than having those things done to me."

"I say, Jo, that's a bit hard for me to understand," he replied, almost annoyed with her. She suddenly remembered how Ootuk had lamented about all humans being strangers, and she just as suddenly realized that she should not try to communicate her feelings about this situation to Mike. She wasn't sure why, but she knew that he would disapprove of her bond with the Doctor, which had grown much closer since Devil's End, and closer yet since their meeting with Ootuk. When they had communicated to each other through their pulses in the cave, they had both been changed forever. It would be a very long time before either of them would be able to leave the other, before the normal alienation that guarded most rational creatures would once again guard each of them. And Mike still thought of her as the very loyal, very naive lab assistant desperately tagging along after the Doctor. He knew nothing of her plea to the Doctor to die with him, and she knew he would not like it. And he would never understand what had happened in the caves among the People. He would disbelieve it, or scoff at it, or think that something had surely happened that had not happened and never would. Not between her and the Doctor. So she said nothing else and knocked on the lab door again.

The Doctor pulled it open. "Ah!" he exclaimed. "Just in time!" Ignoring the breakfast, he gave orders: "Yates, get the Brigadier, and we'll need a couple companies of men." He flashed a look at Jo, confident and determined, but unsmiling. "It's exhausted itself, and we're ready with the virus."

Mike handed the tray to Jo and hurried away. The Doctor glanced at her, and before he could speak, she exclaimed, "I'm coming!"

He closed his mouth. Then at last he said, "Must you, Jo?"

She was insistent. "Ootuk wanted me to, and I want to."

Somewhat disgruntled at being told what to do, he nonetheless conceded. "All right then. But even with everything at last on our side. This may be the worst battle yet."

She pushed the tray at him. "Then eat a good breakfast, Doctor."

Go to Episode 20.

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