Hounds and Hares: Episode Six
Hounds and Hares
"Jen! Chuck! Wake up! Wake up!"
The furious shaking of her shoulder brought Jennifer around. Bruce darted from her to Chucky. She bolted up from the chair and looked around. The Doctor and Sarah were gone.
"They left us!" She exclaimed in dismay. "How could they do that to us?"
"Look at this," Bruce told her, racing down to some lumpy object that he had spotted in the tunnel.
She quickly joined him. Rubbing his eyes, Chucky followed.
Bruce picked it up and handed it to her.
"Sawed off piece of pipe," she said. "Whew, it stinks." Clumsy welds on the crimped ends held them closed.
"What are those lines cut into it?" Chucky asked.
"Venting," Bruce said. He took the pipe from Jenny. It was rusted and old, a good six inches in diameter and two feet long.
"These vents were recently cut," he observed. "The pipe is old; the cuts in it are new."
"Hey!" Chucky exclaimed. "There's another one." He ran across the alcove to the tunnel at the other end and brought back another piece of pipe.
"Looks like they were both sawed off from a longer piece," Jennifer said.
"It's a kind of bomb," Bruce told her. "A gas bomb." He glanced at his two friends, worried. "I don't think they left of their own will. I think they were taken. We were all put to sleep, and they were taken away."
She threw a glance at her watch. "Eight thirty," she gasped. "No, it was just four thirty when we got down here." She looked at him in fear. "Could we have slept for four hours?"
"Or sixteen?" he asked. "We've got to get topside to know what time it is and what day it is."
"Wait hang on," she said. He and Chucky stopped and looked at her.
"Maybe it is time for the police now," she said. "I mean, nothing worse could happen, could it? Those Arctureans have captured them. The police can only help us, now."
Chucky nodded, but Bruce said, "No, Jen. The police won't listen to us. It's such a kooky story--and they would stop us from trying to find the Doctor and Sarah." Chucky thought about it, then nodded in agreement with Bruce.
She grimaced. "Well, if the police didn't stop us, our parents would."
"What would your dad--" he began, but she gave a quick shake of her head to stop the question.
"Look," she said after a pause. "I think we can get the cops to help us. We've been missing, too, remember? If Sgt. McKenna is worried about anything, it's us kids. If he thinks we've gone missing with the Doctor and Sarah, then he will look for them."
Bruce actually gasped in horror. "LIE to the police?" he asked.
It was a crime that even topped stealing an oscilloscope.
She shrugged. "In for a dime; in for a dollar," she said helplessly.
"Well what can we tell them?" Chucky asked her. "We can't tell them we are kidnapped because we didn't get kidnapped."
"I think we can," she said. "Because Bruce and I can stay kidnapped."
"Chucky calls the cops," Bruce guessed.
"Yeah, and only Chucky. And he tells them that the four of us got kidnapped but he got left behind." She went back to the chairs and started picking up odds and ends to make sure that nothing there could reveal that she and Bruce had not been taken. "Hey, look at this." She picked up a dark hat that had fallen to the ground. "At least one of them is still going around like a cop." She held the police man's hat out to her friends.
"Maybe all three," Bruce guessed. "It's a pretty safe disguise. It allows them to go anywhere without raising suspicion."
"Until a real cop sees them," she said with a smile. "But it makes a good story, doesn't it Chucky?"
"What?" he asked.
"You tell them we three kids got kidnapped from the haunted Miller house and brought here," she instructed. "We met the Doctor and Sarah here, and they were prisoners, too. Then we all fell asleep, and when you woke up, the kidnappers had taken us and left you behind."
"Okay," Chucky said confidently.
"Three guys dressed as cops," she told him. "They kidnapped us."
"It's going to be hard if Sgt. McKenna starts asking him a lot of questions," Bruce objected. "And you can bet he's going to ask him a lot of questions."
"I never get away much with lying," Chucky admitted.
"These three words, Chucky," she said sternly, "`I. Don't. Know.' If they ask you anything else, any details, you just say `I don't know.'"
"Or `I don't remember,'" Bruce added.
"I can cry, too" he suggested.
"Good idea!" Bruce exclaimed, finally warming to the idea. "Just be hysterical." He looked at Jenny. "The more hysterical and confused he is, the more they'll rely on what they find down here for clues. Might help them find the Doctor and Sarah."
Chucky brightened. "This sounds like fun," he said. He had always liked acting.
"Give us ten minutes to get away through the maintenance shed," she told him. "Then you take that tunnel back up to the closet upstairs and go to the front desk in the hospital lobby. Make it look good."
"Go up the steam tunnel alone?" he asked. Then he changed his mind from the fear. "Okay, I can go alone."
"Let's go," she said.
"Wait!" Bruce held up his hand.
"What?" she and Chucky asked.
"The Doctor told me they always shake hands. I think it's a good idea."
They shook hands all around and then she and Bruce ran down their tunnel toward the shed exit.
"English people sure have a lot of manners," she admitted as they hurried to get away. "What about those pipes?"
"I recognized them," he said. "They've been sitting outside for a long time, oxidizing."
"Rusting?" she asked.
"There's a whole pile of discarded piping outside of that abandoned American Oil gas station," he told her. "It's been lying there for months."
"The one by 413?" she asked. "Near the McDonald's?"
He nodded. "It's got vacant lots on one side and woods on the other," he added. "And at night there's never anybody around there, because it's not residential."
They got to the ladder. She started up first, and he came quickly behind. They came out into the maintenance shed, did a quick check, and then left quickly. It was bright morning. Traffic was heavy, and so they had to stay on back roads and in the little patches of woods that adorned suburban Forsythia.
"Outside power lines, too," he added as they jogged along. "They run right to a pole by the old gas station. So a smart electrician could do a power bypass and tap as much electricity as he wanted."
"Enough to use power tools to cut up some pipe?" she asked.
"Will the cops figure that out?" she asked.
"They should, if they see the spent gas bombs down in the steam tunnel."
"What if the Arctureans killed them already?' she asked, worried. "That one Arcturean that I met--they're really cruel."
"Yet they didn't kill us," Bruce observed.
"They'll do anything to carry out this game of theirs," she said. "I guess anything else is beside the point."
"Or maybe they get a higher score by coming in to the terrain unnoticed, pulling it off, and getting away again," he guessed.
They hurried on in silence. They had explored every corner of their neighborhood over the years, and by habit they fell into single file when necessary, Bruce leading in the slippery places, Jennifer leading where underbrush was thick as they took shortcuts through hedges or across the short parks that dotted Forsythia here and there. They jogged along the back streets as quickly as they dared, each one keeping an eye out for truant officers or police cars. But they were now in very familiar territory. All the houses were nearly identical, the streets laid out like gridwork, even the trees planted in a pattern of uniformity. In an instant, they could have dashed off through yards, hopped fences, and gotten away from adult pursuit.
"I'd like to know how those guys found us," she said.
"The Doctor said they were expert trackers," he reminded her. "He was right. They're really good, even if they do have the advantage of following scents."
"Look, we've got to avoid the schools," he said. "No one should see us, and that's where everybody is right now--in school."
"Okay, let's cut through across the lawns," she advised. She glanced at her watch. It was quarter to nine. "Come on, we've got to hurry."
"Have you thought about what to do when we get there?" he asked her as they increased their pace. The residential streets were nearly empty at this hour--men gone to work and house wives having that second cup or just beginning to organize their day. She realized with a slight surprise that nine o'clock on a weekday morning would be an ideal time to commit a crime in the suburbs.
"I mean," he added, "I guess it's a foregone conclusion that we are not going to wait for the police if we find any clues--or the Doctor and Sarah."
"The police think the Doctor's as much of a criminal as the Arctureans," she reminded him. "We can get a peek into the gas station and get a look inside. We can decide what to do when we find something," she said. Then she added sort of as a prayer, "Oh, please don't be dead."
"We're in so much trouble, Jen," he muttered. "How will we ever explain all this?"
"Your mom will just cry and reason with you," she declared. "I don't know what I'll do when my dad finds out. Just grit my teeth," she said, leading him to one of her short cuts. They burst into a copse of trees, and then stopped short.
A low cloud of cigarette smoke hung everywhere, and a ring of people occupied the small clearing.
"Go, Bruce!" she yelled, but it was no good. In an instant the air seemed to be full of raining fists and feet, and Bruce had no better a chance of escaping than she did. It was the Fissingers. All of them. Skipping school.
* * * *
The Doctor could feel Sarah Jane trembling behind him. After effect of the gas, or genuine fear, or both, he decided.
"I wouldn't move if I were you," he said quietly. They were back to back, so he could not see her, but he could see what was in front of him, suspended from the ceiling, and it prompted him to stay very still.
"I see it," she said. "Is there one facing you?"
"Looks like some sort of metal sash," she said.
"Yes, sharpened," he added. "Feel the rope around your neck?"
"Looped around your neck and then my neck and leads to our wrists," he told her. "If either of us moves, those sashes will swing down and decapitate us. Very ingenious of them."
She rolled her eyes upward. She could see the makeshift pulleys directly above them that led to the sashes.
"How did they do this?" she asked. "How did we get here?"
"Gas infiltration," he said briefly.
"I mean, how did they find us?"
"They are universe-class trackers," he said. "I underestimated them once, but I won't do it again."
"No," she said. "I suppose you'd better not."
"Don't be bitter. I'm taking off the gloves now," he told her with great confidence in his voice.
"Really going to let them have it, eh?" she asked.
"I have been far too passive," he observed with conviction. "Comes from getting a hundred thousand volts. Leaves you too passive. Ever noticed that?" he asked.
She did not answer.
"Sarah Jane," he said gently.
After a long pause when he wondered if she was shedding a few tears of pure frustration and perhaps some fear, she said, "Do you think they killed the children?"
"No," he assured her. "No, I don't think so. We were their objective, not the children."
"Then why are we alive?" she asked.
"They need the collars," he told her. "We've bought ourselves some time by popping up without them."
"My collar wasn't down in the steam tunnel?" she asked, startled.
"Goodness, no. I have better sense than that, even after a hundred thousand volts. I hid your collar as soon as I got it off you."
She took in a great breath of relief and happiness.
"Well don't be too happy," he said. "Our heads may make a suitable substitute."
They were interrupted by the sound of an old and warped wooden door being pushed out of a door jamb and popped open. Neither of them felt confident of moving their heads much, and so they glanced over with their eyes to see an Arcturean closing the door carefully behind himself.
Sarah wasn't sure how one could tell an Arcturean, except that now that she had been around one, she could see the difference between Arcturean posing as human and a genuine human. It wasn't as though the Arctureans were stilted or stiff. In fact, in human guise and human garb, the Arctureans remained energetic. But there was a sort of over energy that they put into it. And after a short while they took on an over exerted or over energetic appearance. Somehow the Arcturean interior started to show through.
"Just remember he's quite young," the Doctor whispered. "Inexperienced."
He walked up to them warily. He was dressed as a Middletown Township police officer, but his gait was wrong. Perhaps he could have passed as a human, but it was obvious that he was not a police man. He walked as though his shoes pinched.
"Hello officer," the Doctor exclaimed. "Come to let us off with a slap on the wrist?"
"You've done me great honor by your stratagems, Doctor," he said. "And I thank you for the honor and wealth you have bestowed on my family name and crest."
"You're grateful?" Sarah Jane asked. "You're going to let us go?"
"No," the Doctor sighed. "No, he's not, Sarah."
"We have a custom to thank the quarry before we make the kill," he explained. "If it is possible."
"Oh," she gasped, then added, "Well, in that case, you're welcome. Let us go, and we'll see what we can do about adding more stratagems and honor and all that."
"If you will tell me where the collars are, and how you managed to break out of them, my mission will be complete," he said.
"Sorry," the Doctor told him. "Trade secret."
"Do you not see that the game is over?" he asked.
"No, not until you get the collars," the Doctor told him. "That's your payoff, isn't it?"
"We have never seen the quarry separate itself from the collars," he conceded. "Truly you are unique humans."
"Human?" the Doctor echoed, indignant. "Well, you don't need to hit a fellow when he's down."
"Oy!" Sarah exclaimed at him.
The Arcturean sighed, perplexed. In human form he did not seem very young, but his hesitation revealed his inexperience. He had been taught that the game went one way and one way only.
"Look," the Doctor said. "Where are your fellows? Perhaps you should confer with them."
The Arcturean seemed to swell with pride. "I took you myself. It was ingenious."
The Doctor gave a slight nod. "Certainly was."
"Don't you know where your country men are?" Sarah asked.
"No; we can contact each other if we will to," he told her. "But I do not will it. We all agreed that the first attempts must be made individually." He looked troubled for a moment. "But two of my comrades have failed to respond to routine checks. Perhaps they have encountered difficulty."
"Perhaps," Sarah said lightly.
"I must know where the collars are," he said.
"Sorry," the Doctor told him. "Our lives are tied to those collars."
"But your life is over, Doctor," the Arcturean said. "All that is left is the collar--a testament enough to your skill and courage. You have lasted many days."
"I would like to last a great many more," he said.
"The first prizes require that I return the collars," he said, almost to himself. "We do not normally bring the dead back with us."
"Look," Sarah suggested. "Why not let us go, and then we'll tell you where the collars are, and everybody will be happy? You'll have the highest stakes prize, and we'll just go on our way."
"That would be dishonorable--cheating," he said with a gasp of surprise.
"And killing two bound people is honorable?" she asked.
"You are the quarry," he told her. "You've proved my ability. I will kill you with honor, I promise you."
The Doctor remained silent. It startled him when the Arcturean stepped up close to him, so close that if the sash came down, it would have nicked the Arcturean a good blow across the back. The young fool was so sure he'd won that he was slipping.
"Tell me where the collars are!" he ordered.
"Oh blazes!" the Doctor snapped. "Track them down yourself!"
The Arcturean quickly stepped back, out of the line of danger. He was not angry, but at a loss.
"It is very hard to bring anything big through the gateway," he said. "But I will call upon my masters. They may allow other evidence of the catch and award me the highest stakes."
He strode out.
Sarah let out her breath. After a moment she said, "He's not so bad--I mean, personally."
"Well next time he comes in, you can lay stakes on it yourself that he'll mean business," the Doctor told her.
"What's the gateway thing he mentioned?"
"That's how they travel," he told her. "We were both a bit--uh, distracted when they landed us here, but they did it through a gateway that they've developed. It allows for brief jumps through time and space. It's very energy intensive for them to use it. The lightweight collars would be a lot easier for them to transport back than to have to lug our bodies back through space."
"They don't need a whole body to prove death," she said.
"No they don't," he agreed.
* * * *
"Let us out! They're going to be killed!" Frustrated and in tears, Jenny threw herself at the wooden door of the shed and pounded on it. Bruce caught her and pulled her back.
"Calm down!" he exclaimed. "Jennifer!"
The shed had a dirt floor and no light. It smelled rankly of gasoline and grass clippings.
"What are we going to do?" What are we going to do?" she sobbed. She stopped struggling
"Oh for crying out loud," he whispered, not letting her go for fear she would attack the door bare handed again. "There must be a hundred ways out of here, Jennifer. Just calm down."
At his words, she abruptly stopped and looked back at him. He let her go.
"A hundred ways out?" she asked.
"Sure. Leave it to the Fissingers to find the stupidest place in the world to take us prisoner."
"But they've padlocked us in."
"Oh big deal." They could hardly see each other in the darkness. Under the door, sunlight peeped through, and the corners of the hand built shed emitted a few rays of light, but that was all.
She heard him and saw his form move to the back wall. "Maura said the cops wanted us," he told her. "So we can thank the Arctureans that the Fissingers didn't beat us up worse. I think that Arcturean you saw traced the bike back to them and convinced them to help him."
"It just figures that the Fissingers would be helping the Arctureans," she said sullenly.
"Sure, what did you expect?"
"What are you doing?"
"When they pushed us in here I noticed this wall was hung with tools," he said. "Do you ever get tired of the Fissingers thinking they've got the only license to destroy private property?"
"Tools?" she asked. "Sharp tools?"
"Extremely sharp tools. Ah, here it is!" He slid something off the wall and brought it back to her. "Nice big ax," he said. "Anyway, I don't think they know they're helping Arctureans. I just think that they think that at last they've got a great chance to get us in big trouble with the police."
He walked over to the door.
"What if there's a Fissinger on guard out there?" she asked.
"Oh heck, they'll get too bored actually standing guard," he said. "That shouldn't last too long." He put his eye to the crack. "Nope. All clear."
He swung the ax with quick strokes and soon there was a gaping rent that allowed much more light. He passed the ax to her and let her attack the door for a few turns, widening the hole. Then he took it and with one last blow knocked away the latch and padlock, now visible at the bottom of the hole they had made. He pushed the ruined door open, and they hurried out.
"What about the ax?" she said.
"Let's hang onto it," he told her. "I want to have something to swing in case the Fissingers come back."
* * * *
"Look," the Doctor said as the Arcturean entered again. "Let the girl here go. I'll take you to her collar and you can do what you like with me."
Without answering, the Arcturean set down a paper sack. He had obviously been shopping. He drew a long knife from the sack, came over to Sarah Jane, and took her by the hair.
"Tell me where the collar is, and you will die quickly," he said. "Otherwise, I am to take your head back with me."
Sarah didn't know what happened next until it was over. There was a roar from the Doctor, a shriek of friction as wood scraped wood, and the Arcturean let out a cry of surprise and pain. She found herself sitting a good four feet closer to the wall she had been facing, her bound arms trembling. The Arcturean was dead on the floor, the metal sash sunk across the back of his neck.
For a moment everything was so still that she thought the Doctor had sacrificed himself for her, that he was also dead, his head severed. Then he spoke.
"You all right back there, Sarah?" he asked.
She let out a sob of relief and nodded, forgetting he could not see her. His hand gripped her fingers for a moment, reassuring and alive and warm.
"Hang on a moment, and we'll see about getting out of this," he said.
"What did you do?" she asked.
"Simple push," he told her while he struggled with his ropes. The jerking pulled painfully on her wrists, but she was too numb to say anything or to think to object.
"I pushed you deeply into the trajectory of that sash that was ready to swing down on you," he said. "Because I knew that he was standing right in the way. It pushed me out of the trajectory of the sash that was aimed at me. Pretty close, actually, but a miss is as good as a mile, I suppose. There we are."
She felt the ropes go limp. He untangled them both and then came around and offered her his hand.
"W-what's in that bag he brought in?" she asked.
He helped her up, throwing off the last of the ropes, and glanced at the bag. "Rock salt," he said.
"Rock salt?" she asked.
"I suppose he had to pack our heads in something," he said cheerfully. She gasped in surprise.
"It's all right, now," he told her. "We've got to get his communication device." He knelt down by the dead Arcturean, but just then a booted foot splintered open the door.
"On the floor!" a voice shouted.
The room swarmed with men in blue, each one of them armed, each weapon out, pointed at them. Rough hands jerked on their necks, forcing them face down to the floor.
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