Blood-Dimmed Tide Episode Twenty

Blood-Dimmed Tide

Episode Twenty

Jeri Massi

"As you may or may not know," the Doctor said, quickly drawing a sketch of hexagonal rod and ball formations on the bare wall of the lab, "a virus is no more than a mimicry of a genuine genetic structure. What makes viruses so dangerous is that there are flaws in their structures, or their structures are not complete. Because a virus is so similar to that which exists in normal conditions, it can slip past a creature's immune defenses as an impersonator." He glanced over his shoulder at the knot of soldiers, small aliens, and attaches. They were crowded into the lab. The air was nearly stifling.

"The deadliest viruses multiply quickly inside their host, and when their populations exceed a certain level, they go off like time bombs."

"Can you be sure that this thing will go off like a time bomb, Doctor?" the Brigadier asked. In spite of sweat trickling down his face, he seemed cool as always.

"Well, it always has. I didn't create this virus, you know. Only modified it from what it was. It has certain well defined characteristics." The Doctor glanced around for more questions, then continued, pointing to one of the sections of the sketch. "This is a flawed protease chain--a chain that in normal conditions would contribute to the populating of a vital protein in a mammal's red blood cells. Blood undergoes continuous change in any mammal. Red blood cells are continually being broken down and re-manufactured in both the nutrient and waste cycles. If this virus succeeds, it will pass undetected through the Sphinx's virginal immune system, populate quickly in the liver, and be taken up as a component of the protein exchange necessary for blood processing. When it populates sufficiently, the Sphinx's blood will no longer be able to carry out its own functions. The flawed protease chain will break down the vital protein, the blood will break down, and every vital function should very quickly cease."

"How long?" the Brigadier asked.

"Depends on a few factors, but no longer then twenty minutes," the Doctor assured him.

Everybody gasped. "Twenty minutes?" the Brigadier echoed. "You've got a virus that is fatal to mammalian life in twenty minutes?"

"Well we don't want the Sphinx stalking into Israel as a giant carrier, now do we?" the Doctor retorted. "As long as it's alive, the virus is alive inside of it. It must die quickly."

"How do we get the Sphinx infected, Doctor?" Sgt. Benton asked.

"Bombing runs!" the Brigadier exclaimed.

"Never!" the Doctor snapped. "If that thing shot down a plane at a high altitude, the winds could carry the virus to human populations. No, we've got to get very close on the ground and hurl gas canisters at it from three directions--make the target the center of a triangle. The virus will expire in desert conditions in about thirty minutes, so that should protect nearby human populations."

"But the Sphinx is still underground," Yates said. "If the virus has a life of only thirty minutes, how do we know when to make our move?"

"We go to the points of triangulation and set up while it's resting," the Doctor said. "Remember, as isolated individuals, we are practically invisible to the mind parasite, now inhabiting the Sphinx. Eventually it can perfect the Sphinx's brain to home in on individuals, but I don't think it's had time to do that yet. When it emerges from the sands to resume its trek towards Bethlehem, we fire on it. Then it's a quick sprint back to the bunker. We'll carry air tanks to assure us of safety against the virus."

The Brigadier stepped forward and glanced over the assembly. "Dangerous assignment," he said. "Volunteers?"

"I'm with the Doctor," Jo said instantly.

"Sgt. Benton and I are ready," Mike Yates said.

Alan would have spoken, but the Brigadier said, "Alan, we need you here as liaison with the People."

Two of the Israeli soldiers spoke up and the Brigadier nodded. Then Yates said, "But how do we get out of here?"

The Doctor waved it away. "Oh, sonic equipment in my TARDIS will shatter a way out for us. We're housed in mostly glass, and that's brittle. A couple of you chaps come and stand by to get the equipment moved to the underground ramp. We'll cut a way out from there."

One of the soldiers got up and would have walked out, but the Brigadier said, "I say, where do you think you're going?"

"Sentry duty on the prisoner sir," he replied. "I split a shift with one of the others who has to maintain and repair the air tanks."

"All right, then."

The radio operator on duty entered just as the other man went out. He saluted smartly. "Brigadier!"

"What is it, man? Can't you see I'm busy?"

"A call has come through, sir, on the buried cable. The People's Republic of China have leveled accusations against the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce for the kidnapping of the Master from lawful custody!"

"Oh, what a bother!" the Brigadier exclaimed. "All right, I'll be right there. Yates, get a detail to help the Doctor!"

Jo consciously avoided glancing at Mike Yates, and he said smoothly, "Right, sir! You three and Benton, let's go!"

* * * *

The sentry entered the Master's cell with a tray of food and set it down. Though pale, the Master looked up at him with a quiet, powerful glance.

"Did you do it?"

"I--There hasn't been a chance, Master," the guard said, and glanced down.

"Look at me."

The man complied.

"I am the Master." The brown, burning eyes, not quite as steady as they normally were, nonetheless focused into the young soldier's eyes. "You will obey me. Israel will be saved from the Sphinx. Everything will be all right. But the Doctor's portable air tank must be drained."

The man hesitated, but only for a moment, and then he said, "Yes, I will obey you."

* * * *

In a short time, the teams assigned for the assault were assembled in the garage area. Three jeeps were pulled up. Each was equipped with a jury rigged canister launcher, three sealed canisters--each packed in a mortar casing--two sets of gas masks and tanks for thirty minutes of air, and the regulation firearms and desert survival gear.

Sgt. Benton and Captain Yates were busy checking the safety of the equipment, the dials on the air tanks, the fuel gauges, the gas and oil lines, the water cans. Jo was busy doing the same, and working alone while the Doctor and some of the men were out on the ramp with the sonic equipment.

"Yates! I want a word!" the Brigadier exclaimed, bursting through the door from the hallway to the bunker. His voice echoed in the big garage area. Everybody turned.

"I said I would handle this," Yates said in a low voice so that both Jo and Benton heard him. He strode over to meet the Brigadier, but just then the Doctor came in from the outgoing ramp, a protective visor over his face.

"Right, it's clear! Let's go!" he shouted, stripping away the plexi-glass visor and throwing it aside. The nearness of the confrontation had him tense, and under his outward air of command, Jo could see that he was excited and anxious to complete the mission. "Lethbridge Stewart, what are you two conferring about now! It's time we were out of here!" he exclaimed. Just then Alan burst out from behind the Brigadier and ran for Jo, the three People clinging to him on their perches.

"What is it?" Jo asked. Alan passed Ling over to Jo. "She says she needs to go with you," he said. The Doctor strode to the jeep. "We need the three people here so that they can act in communion!" he said. "They're more powerful when linked together." He turned and shouted again. "Yates! Get to your jeep man!" And then to Jo. "What are you waiting for? You wanted to go, so let's go!" And he went around and climbed into the driver's seat. Jo scooped up Ling, put her on her shoulder, and climbed in on the passenger side.

"Captain Yates, this matter is not yet over!" the Brigadier exclaimed as Mike ran to his own jeep while Benton took the wheel.

The Doctor passed the map to Jo, saw Ling on her shoulder, and snapped, "I said she has to stay here! Alan, come take this creature back into the bunker!"

"She says she has to go with you, Doctor!" Alan replied, staying back.

"That's an order, man!" The Doctor exclaimed.

"Link obeys Ootuk's orders," Jo translated. "She says she must come."

Before the Doctor could make reply, the Brigadier shouted, "If you're going, go!"

The Doctor threw the jeep into gear and pulled out with a jerk against inertia. "Willful to the last, Jo!" he exclaimed. "I can't make either a soldier or a scientist of you, can I?" And with that, they pulled out swiftly. The other two jeeps followed.

* * * *

"What did he say?" Benton asked as they smoothly skimmed up the ramp and drove through the glassy, white and amber tunnel cut by the Doctor's sonic equipment. They burst into the brilliant and hot sunlight.

Yates spread the map out on his knees.

After a long pause he said, "I didn't deny anything."

"How much does he know?"

"I told you I would handle this, Sergeant!" Yates snapped.

"That wasn't what you said when we started this, sir," Sgt. Benton said calmly as he veered away from the Doctor's jeep and made his own way across the sands. "If I choose to disobey orders or break protocol, I won't be bailed out in the end." And then he added, "sir."

Yates was silent again. Then he said, "There's no good point in all of us being ruined."

"Except that we all chose to do what we did."

"Have it your way, then. What was the Doctor getting in a pother about?"

"I'm not sure. Are we on the proper bearing, sir?"

* * * *

On Jo's shoulder, Ling pulsed to her soothingly. The tall one was too tense for his own proper balance; there was no need to be frightened or wear a wounded contemplation (The People had no concept of hurt feelings, but Jo understood what she meant.) Jo did not respond.

Ling pulsed again to her as they raced over the sands in the jeep. Did the Beloved of Ootuk not know the rightness of her own actions? Was that not enough for her harmony of thought? Perhaps the small one ought not be ruled so much by the sounds that the tall one made. Sounds, from Ling's brief experience, were very unreliable things, especially sounds that the ones (humans and timelords) made. These sounds indicated many things that never came to pass--even things that never really existed. The many ones of this planet would do best to heed sounds with half an ear.

Jo had to admit that this was good advice.

"Well if we've got this one along, we may as well check the status of the Sphinx," the Doctor shouted over the roar of the open jeep. "Ask her if it's resting."

Jo transmitted the question by pulse, and Ling pulsed back an affirmation. "Ling says that the two back at the bunker can keep it sleeping," Jo called back. "At the right time, they plan to awaken it so that it will surface, and we can assault it."

"That's nice to know," he snapped. "I wish they had contributed this information back at the bunker; we could be traveling without all these blasted water cans and rations!"

"Apparently, you forgot to ask them."

They drove in silence for a very long time.

The Doctor pointed ahead. "There's the pillbox where they found me. We'll take a position not far from it." He swerved the jeep around the pillbox and the assortment of shielding plates that had been discarded there, now half buried by sand.

She did not reply. Ling pulsed again, a gentle grief with her and the tall friend. Why did two who had shared pulses become so angry with each other, especially over mere sounds? Jo did not pulse back. This grieved the young member of the People even more. And Jo knew why. Ling could not understand anger within a community. Until she had come to Earth, she had never known what anger or resentment were. Involuntarily, as she reflected on this, Jo released a great pulse of concern and unhappiness: How could the People survive in this world? But Ling instantly consoled her: The People were the People, and no more was needed. And survival was not as crucial to them as it was to the ones. She surprised Jo by pushing into the side of her head, and pulsing a warm assurance to her. Ling feared nothing, not in the "ho-ho" (imitation of laughter) way of the soldiers, but in the way of the water as it went over the falls.

"Gamma, do you read me?" the radio asked. Jo reached for the radio, but the Doctor snatched up the microphone. "Yes. What is it?"

"The--uh--badgers report a psychic disturbance on this end."

"What the blazes does that mean?"

"It means your air tanks are empty!" the Brigadier's voice shouted back. "You've been sabotaged."

The Doctor pulled to a stop as they reached the proper place to set up their assault.

"I thought you checked those tanks," he said to Jo.

"I did!" Hands shaking, she fumbled in the back and pulled up one of the tanks. She held it so that he could see it. The gauge registered full. He loosened the valve, but there was only silence. "The gauges have been rigged," he replied into the radio as Jo checked the other one with the same result. "But it's all right. If we fire the canisters the proper distance, we can still outrace anything that the wind blows towards us. The air supply was just a safety feature."

"Are you sure, gamma?"

"Positive. Let's get on with it!" he snapped. He glanced at Jo. "Next time, check at the valves! Come on!"

They quickly hefted the improvised launcher from the back of the jeep and set it up. Jo dropped one of the canister's into the launcher's mouth, and the Doctor fixed the firing range and bearing from the last sighting of the Sphinx. Jo set up the field radio. It came to life. "Alpha checks in," Mike Yates' voice said. "Bravo checks in," the second company called.

"Tell them we're ready," the Doctor ordered. Jo complied. "Gamma checks in." Like the Doctor, she wore a canteen and a sidearm on a wide belt, and she did a perfunctory scan around them, but the desert was lifeless.

"All units stand by," the Brigadier's voice said. On her ear, Ling warned her that the others would now awaken the creature to an impending sense of danger. The Beloved of Ootuk must not be frightened, Ling told her, for though she was many strides away (about a half mile) she would see it in its glory.

Ling reduced her pad on Jo's ear to a mere peg as Jo crouched on the other side of the launcher. On his side, his eyes fixed ahead and his jaw set, the Doctor waited. In a moment, the ground trembled, and a sound like a rolling echo of thunder shook the air. Instead of fading like thunder, it became louder and more insistent.

As Jo's fear increased, she felt Ling spread her pad warmly over her ear. Some great shadow rising from the ground on the horizon thrust itself up, almost like a submarine coming to surface, but it was a great head, with great, vast eyes. The Doctor snatched up the handset.

"All units, fire!" He fired the first canister. Though her knees were trembling and her hands shaking, Jo scooped up the next canister and dropped it in. The great creature cast a long shadow that fell over them

"Keep firing!" the Doctor shouted. "Three rounds uninterrupted!" he fired again. She fell against the launcher, scorched one hand, but never hesitated as she hefted in the last canister and he fired it off.

"Let's go!" he shouted to her, and they leaped up. Just as suddenly, Ling was propelled off her shoulder as though some hand had swept her away, and the Doctor went sprawling.

"Ling! Doctor!" Jo shouted, and automatically scooped up Ling and ran to the Doctor. A great cry went through her entire body--a pulsed cry. She fell, overcome by it.

"Ling! Ling!" she shouted out loud. "Stop it!"

The Doctor also picked up the pulsed outcry, shouting it out in words, "Death! Death! But you have not won!" he screamed.

"Ling!" Jo cried.

Dazed and for a moment breathless and horrified, Ling rallied under the invasive cry that had come through her. She propelled it away from her own psyche. The Doctor writhed on the ground. "Death! But you will come too, time lord!" he shouted. "The rats cannot protect you from me! Not now! Not any more!"

And Jo understood in a blinding flash. Knowing it was dying, the creature did not have to expend any power at all on anything else but destroying its mortal enemy. It could kill the Doctor before it died.

"Now look at the face of death, rational creature!" the Doctor screamed. "Look at it, and solve this equation if you can! We plunge into perdition together!" She knew it was the creature that had him again. But this time it did not bother with her at all. There was no time to force him to torture her to death, and it would not benefit from her expended energies. This was purely personal revenge against the person who had at last destroyed it.

He writhed and screamed and was himself again. "I won all the same," the Doctor shouted at it. "You're destroyed--" But he cut himself off. He waved his arms in a terrible struggle, a horrible pantomime to fend something off.

"Oh Jo! There is a Hell! There is a Hell!"

On legs that trembled like something newborn, she got up and ran to him, but he could not see her. His flailing hand knocked her away. She fell back into the sand, stunned by the blow, but she pulled herself up and ran to him again, this time avoiding the swinging arms.

She had never seen the Doctor beg, certainly not from an enemy, but he screamed, and then he cried out, not seeing her but knowing she must be there, "Help me! Help me!" He drew in his breath, sobbed, and gasped, "Jo! Kill me! Use your gun! Stop it! Please stop it!"

She froze, transfixed by the plea.

"Please, Jo! Kill me! Use your gun!" He begged, his voice torn between screaming and crying. He rolled forward onto his face. "Oh, Jo, there is a hell! Now I see it! It's dragging me there! Use your gun! Use your gun!"

Ling pulsed a negative so powerful that Jo could not have reached for her sidearm, even if she had chosen to. She fell to a kneeling position by him.

"Use your gun! Use your gun!" the Doctor screamed. Ling leaped from Jo and attached to his ear. "Help me!" Then he sensed Ling. "Ling! Help me Ling!" he shouted. "Please, save me!"

Ling did not hesitate and quickly wrapped herself around him to close in with him, her pads over both his ears. "It isn't working! You can't stop it!" He cried, but after a moment his struggles stopped. Jo cast a terrified glance at the horizon. The great, mountainous shape was fallen, harder to make out. It struggled and rose up again, surrounded by an amber haze that she thought must be the clouds of gas from the canisters.

The Doctor panted and gasped, and then said weakly, "No, it's too strong. It will kill you, Ling. It will kill you!" He opened his eyes and saw Jo. "Jo, it's killing her rather than me. Stop her. Take her. She's too young--" Ling had hardened around his face and neck, the muscles of her back and small shoulders bunched and flexed, standing out from the furry folds of skin. She was refusing to be budged away from him.

Jo reached out to remove Ling and found that she could not. To her own dying day she would never know if it were Ling that stopped her, or Ra and Tiki from far away in the bunker, or if she simply--of her own self--could not tear Ling away and let the Doctor die in such torment instead.

"She's only a child, younger than you," the Doctor begged. "Don't let her die. Don't--" He stopped, cut off in mid sentence, and fainted. A great cry rolled out across the desert--louder than thunder and carrying in it sounds that human ears found almost unendurable. Jo threw herself onto her face and hid her head under her arms. For a long time she was lost in the great misery of that cry, it's terror, and a horrifying shame that completely swept over her. Some time later, the Doctor grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her up. "Jo! Quickly! The wind is shifting; the virus is still active."

"Ling!" she exclaimed, confused.

"She's dead, Jo; Come on!"

Jo would have rushed to retrieve the forlorn body that lay on the sands, but to her surprise the Doctor hefted her off her feet, threw her into the jeep, and climbed in. All around them, a pale orange cloud was gathering. She realized that she had fainted under the stunning death cry of the Sphinx.

He started the jeep, and they sped over the sands, but the cloud was all around them. Off on their right, the wind sent it skirting ahead of them.

"We won't make it," she said quietly, numb from shock. "It's going to cut us off."


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