Hounds and Hares: Episode Nine

Hounds and Hares

Episode Nine

The new sun at last sent pink and watery light across the small, close cut lawn in front of the police station. Sarah watched it through eyes that felt tired and dry, eyes that had been open too long. Was this what it was like to worry about one's children, she wondered. It amazed her that she had never been a parent. She felt like one; she felt like she had been worrying about children all her life, now. One moment children were people in their own rights, egos to be negotiated with, questioners of everything, wits that could surprise with quick humor or sudden bravery. And the next dark moment, they were vulnerable, helpless--merely children--and taken away. All night long she had winced in pain at every thought of them, at every thought that either of them could be killed or--worse--had already been killed

The most maddening thing was that no call had come through yet. The Doctor had expected an almost immediate offer of a trade, but the telephones had remained obstinately silent all night long. She had sensed that even McKenna was puzzled by the silence. But at least the gruff and bull-like sergeant had dropped his distrust of the Doctor. There was no more talk of kidnapping or of arrest. Jennifer's father and Bruce's mother had been a more delicate thing to handle, and McKenna would not allow the Doctor or Sarah to see either parent. "I'm not goin' to outright lie to them," he had told the two time travelers, "but I'd be a hung dog if I told them half of what's been going on in this town today."

She glanced at her watch. 6:20. Something was pulling at her mind again. It was only natural to string together all sorts of unlikely plans to rescue the children, to recall all sorts of meaningless details about the Arctureans and find meaning in them. But there it was again, something nagging at her, something about the Arcturean warriors she had already encountered.

The door to the office opened, admitting the tall, dark figure of the Doctor, his face and eyes nearly back to normal. He was followed by the shorter, broader McKenna.

"I thought you were going to sleep, Sarah," the Doctor said gently as McKenna closed the door. She was sitting on a two-seat sofa that they'd pulled into the office, but she had not slept--had not even bothered to stretch out on it. All night long, while he had been in the morgue with the dead Arcturean, she had sat and watched out the window, waiting for the phone to ring, trying to guide in that elusive and disturbing sense that the perfect plan to rescue the children and get away to the TARDIS was right in front of her.

The Doctor's face, in spite of not being as swollen or bruised as it had been, was unmistakenly weary, and almost by instinct he crossed to her and held out his hand for her to take in a gesture of greeting and solidarity. She did, clasping his hand in both of hers.

"No word," McKenna said dully, glancing around the office. "Aye the sun's up," he observed. "Things will happen shortly. They always do." He took the coffee pot from the top of the low filing cabinet and went out with it.

"You should have rested," the Doctor said to her again. It was his way of communicating his own grief and worry to her. She looked up at him.

"What did the autopsy of the Arcturean show you?" she asked. "Anything useful?"

"They're remarkably hard to kill," he told her.

"Did you get a look at the communication device?" she asked.

He nodded. "It will take some adapting, but I can jury rig it to send a call to the TARDIS." He glanced at her. "If I need to."

"You will let me go with you, won't you?" she asked. "When the Arctureans offer to trade?"

"You know what they plan--"

"They'll kill the children if only one of us shows up," she reminded him. She met his eye as she said it, and he thoughtfully held her gaze with his for a long moment. She knew that he could see that she was frightened to go. Exactly how much the Doctor could read of her thoughts was never clear, but he would know both her fear and her resolve in this. "You know they will kill them if we don't both surrender," she added.

"Yes, I know." He looked down. "Still, we could--"

"Doctor." She meant to sound firm, but her voice shook. The worst part was thinking about it. If he would only agree, she could put off thoughts of what was ahead.

He stopped.

"It's my fault after all," she said, trying to sound steady, but her voice did shake as she confessed it. "I brought them into this whole thing. If they die, I'll have killed them."

"No!" She found her face suddenly taken up in his hands. "The Arctureans did this," he told her, making her meet his eyes. "From beginning to end. If they hadn't jettisoned us here in this barbaric game of theirs, the children would be safe. They told us that nobody else would be harmed during play, but that's impossible in the long run. It's not your fault. It's their fault, Sarah Jane."

She scarcely heard him. That nagging thought was suddenly gone. Light was dawning on her thoughts, even as the sun was rising in the reflection of the wall clock.

"They're cheating!" she exclaimed. "We've got them! They're cheating!"

* * * *

It was a long time before Jennifer could get the strength and nerve to say anything. In the first dreadful moment when some gesture or glance of the police matron had betrayed it as an Arcturean in disguise, she had screamed. But most of her capture had been carried out with both her and her captors in silent but deadly earnest. In the past, she had invented many stories of fine captures, kidnapping, and rescues to tell Chucky and Bruce, but she had never guessed at what it was really like.

From being bodily carried out of the station, thrown down and locked into handcuffs, and then thrown into the back of a police car, she had suffered more inadvertent blows of concrete, the hood of the car, the door of the car, and then Bruce thrown down onto her from behind than she ever had in her father's worst beatings. Kidnapping, she realized, was painful. It took your breath away because there was always something you were slamming into. And for some reason, you got thirsty right away.

Now that they had been dragged into the basement of what seemed to be a partially destroyed building, and left alone, she got her breath and dared to speak.

"Bruce?" she asked.

"I'm sorry I hurt you," he whispered.

"When was that?"

"When they threw me onto you like that. My jaw hit your head."

"Oh, I don't even remember."

He was lying with his back to her. Neither of them dared to move, even to look at each other. It felt better to be back to back, looking out at their separate perspectives of the darkness around them.

"Where are we?" she asked.

"This is the basement of St. Anne's," he told her. "On Pond Street. In Bristol. I thought you would recognize it. Doesn't your Grandmother go here?"

"Yeah," she told him. "But it's not my parish. That's how it is with us Catholics. We get divided up geographically into parishes. I don't go to her church, and she doesn't go to mine."

"It's sort of that way with Jewish people," he whispered. "I think the whole idea started with the early Jewish synagogues."

She craned her head back to get a look at him. "No, it came from the Roman form of local government."

He painfully shifted and then rolled over to face her. "Are you sure?"

Then they both sighed as the reality of their danger hit them.

"Can you sit up?" he asked.

"Everything hurts," she said. "We're less than a mile from my Dad's office on Radclliffe Street--over by the river." She let her eyes rove the dark basement. "Why here?" she asked him.

"The church is being remodeled," he reminded her. "This part's the old rectory. It's going to be torn down and the basement filled in for the church yard."

"Cemetery," she gasped. "That's why we're here. They can kill us and leave us here."

"Jen, they're going to trade us for the Doctor and Sarah," he told her. "I'm sure of it. We're hostages."

"Shhh," she hissed as footsteps on the creaking stairway warned them of their captors.

They fell silent as the two Arctureans, the one with his face enclosed in a cloth bandage, came down the patchwork of stairway framing and loose boards that made up the steps. Neither of the teen agers said anything. The two Arctureans stopped in front of them and looked down at them.

"We are Arcturean warriors," the bandaged one said. "We have not made war with you, and you are unfit to be trophies. If the quarry will trade for you, you will not be harmed."

Neither Jennifer nor Bruce said anything.

"But if they hesitate, we will kill you," the other added. He nodded at Jennifer. "You first. If you die, it will be bitter to the Doctor, and the blue soldiers will no longer wish to protect him."

"They're not protecting him; they're arresting him," Jennifer protested.

"They will expel him," the Arcturean told her. "And he will come to us willingly rather than suffer another death."

They leaned toward the two humans and jerked on their handcuffs. Jennifer yelped in pain and Bruce winced. The two Arctureans straightened up and looked around, satisfied. The basement of the old rectory was completely underground. There were no windows at all. It was an extremely old structure, and the floor was dirt, the walls concrete that had aged to a yellowish gray color. There was no way out, except the stairs. The Arctureans walked away from them and carefully picked their way up the ramshackle steps.

As soon as the heavy door at the top of the stairs slammed closed, Jennifer spoke. "What do we do? Even if we get traded away, they'll kill the Doctor and Sarah." She grimaced. "And take their heads back to their planet for that reward of theirs." She pulled on the handcuffs, hurting herself but not accomplishing anything. "It's no good," she mourned. "We can't get free."

"We can get free," he told her. "There's a bolt cutter right over there. The workmen must have used it when they took the church yard fence apart."

She craned her head to follow his nod. "What's a bolt cutter?" "Looks like hedge clippers," he told her. "It will cut through the handcuffs."

"But how can we use it? Our hands are behind us," she said.

"With great difficulty," he told her, and he struggled to his knees. "It will take a few tries, but I think I can cut through yours. And when you're free, you can cut through mine." He grinned at her. "I guess the Arctureans are too advanced to remember how a few crude tools are all that's needed to remove a few crude restraints like handcuffs."

She rolled around so that she could look at him. "You think they don't use handcuffs where those guys come from?"

"Jennifer, these clowns travel through space and time for fun," he told her.. "I'm sure that all the restraints that they use are electronic--and unbreakable. They wouldn't even know what a bolt cutter is."

"I don't travel through time and space, and I didn't know what one was, either," she said with some satisfaction. "Nice to know I'm as stupid as the best of them."

Using with the bolt cutter proved to be a good deal more difficult than even Bruce had expected. Once he and Jennifer had started wrestling with the clumsy tool with their hands behind them, he had actually come to the point of doubting if it would do them any good. They were both bleeding and sore before he got her handcuffs off. And then once she got her hands rested up, it still took her as long to get his cut as it had taken him to free her, even with her hands in front of her.

But finally they were both free, even though he was nearly rolling in pain from how much it had pulled on his lacerated wrists, and she was in pain from how hard the handles had bitten into her hands when she had finally snapped through the links of the handcuffs. For a good ten minutes they simply said nothing and rested.

At last, when she whispered, "I am so thirsty," he knew that he had to do something to keep her mind occupied and optimistic.

"Let's search through the stuff in the workman's pile over there," he said hopefully. "We might find some useful stuff. I have an idea." But he wondered, really, what they could possibly do, even with their hands free.

* * * *

"Don't you remember--oh, how could you? It wasn't really you," Sarah Jane interrupted herself.

"What?" the Doctor asked. McKenna was studying her with doubtful interest as she talked.

"The first Arcturean--he attacked Jennifer in the old mill because he thought she was looking for him. But once he realized that she was looking for you, he let her go," Sarah said.

"Of course," the Doctor agreed. "It suited his plan."

"Yes, but he could have eliminated our combined resistance against him if he had killed her as soon as she took him to the old house where we were hiding," she said. "But he didn't. And when he came up the stairs, I was the only person he attacked. He did nothing to Jennifer or Bruce, even though he had better opportunity to overpower them before he ever got to me." She hesitated, thinking it out. "Yes, of course. "If he had attacked Jennifer down below, then gotten Bruce when Bruce went to meet him on the stairs, then come and gotten me, I would have been helpless."

"Are you saying he was stupid?" McKenna asked.

"No, don't you see?" Sarah asked back. "He didn't harm the children because he couldn't harm the children."

"Sarah," the Doctor said softly. "Rules. The rules of the game!"

"And that's why that Arcturean who gassed us didn't touch the children," she said. "Even though the children could have gotten the police onto his track down in the steam tunnels."

"The Arctureans did tell us that they don't harm the environments where the games are held," the Doctor said. His eyes lit up. "I wondered how that one in the service station could have missed Jenny and Bruce hiding in the closet. I suppose he did know that they were there."

"It would have to be against the rules," Sarah exclaimed. "Otherwise, all they would have to do is burn out their quarry."

"Yes," the Doctor agreed. "Kill everybody for miles around, and then take their leisure and find the bodies with the collars. Hardly a sporting game, so interfering with the non-participants must have been made illegal long ago." He looked thoughtful. "That means that other one was cheating as well," he said. "The one who tried to force Jennifer to tell him where you were."

"We don't know that for sure," Sarah pointed. "Maybe he just couldn't kill her. And you said he didn't want to, even when he thought he was about to get caught. He went for you, not her. Maybe he never intended to kill her at all." She looked thoughtful. "I think they had some room to follow the children as leads: you know, to let the children lead them to us just like they would follow any trail. But using the children as hostages, or killing them to get them out of the way, I think that's out of bounds. Otherwise, there would never be any challenge to this thing. The Arctureans would always be able to force somebody to help them, and the game owuldn't mean much."

"All right, then, they're cheating, now," McKenna said. "Where does that leave us?"

"In a better bargaining position," the Doctor said. "And it tells us that these young males are nearly as victimized by these games as the quarry are."

The phone rang. For a moment, nobody moved, and then McKenna dived for it just as the Doctor neatly plucked it up.

McKenna glared at the Doctor, but the Doctor shot him a stern glance that actually did quell the police sergeant for a moment.

"We know it's you," the Doctor said before anybody could speak on the other end. "And we know that you've forsaken your honor to do this."

McKenna hissed--a signal that the Doctor must not give away his guesswork so quickly, but the Doctor ignored him. Sarah looked on, riveted by the Doctor's sudden command of the situation. He was backing her theory to the limit.

There was a pause, and then he said, "You heard me, and it's up to us, now. You've cheated." There was another brief pause, and then he added, "Oh don't be so stupid. I know you're lying, now. If we figured it out, how long do you think it will take the judges to figure it out? Do you think they won't ask a report on how you got us? You've been reporting to them all along."

He waited again. McKenna walked out of the room. At first Sarah wondered where he could possibly be going, but then she realized that he would get on and listen over an extension. This time the hesitation was a long one, and then finally the Doctor said, "We want to make a deal with you. You can save face, win the game, and we get the children back and go free."

This time the pause was extremely brief, and he said simply, "Oh, very well, then. And good luck trying to get the scent of their blood off your hands. Because you won't do it. You've doomed yourselves to dishonor." He very nearly did hang up, and then took up the receiver again as the being on the other end called out to him.

"Look, I'll guarantee you the return of the collars. I'm sorry about the one, but it was just about destroyed. The other one's in good shape"

Sarah waited, looking at him as he listened. He was intent, but he seemed completely relaxed. Could the end be this easy?

"Yes," he said. "We can meet at dark. No, none of the constables will be there. I intend to be armed, and if those children are harmed, I'll bring you to the same end that I brought to your three friends."

She afforded herself the humor to arch her eyebrows at him in mock admiration at his tough talk. He actually winked at her as he listened. His face became puzzled suddenly, then grim, then--to her surprise--almost sad. "Yes, we can bring food with us. Haven't you chaps eaten in a while?"

That was a twist, all right. The Doctor had already guessed that this was a high pressure rite of passage for the young warriors, but she realized that one reason that the Arctureans had tracked them so quickly, even without collars, was that the Arctureans had not allowed themselves the luxuries of food and sleep. It would also explain why there had been such a long wait for the Arctureans to telephone them. Sleep may have become a priority for them once they had secured the trump card of holding the children hostage. For a moment she saw as clearly as a picture the image of the five desperate young Arcturean males fanning out in the competition of their lives--hiding where they could, gathering clues, reporting their progress to the judges, tracking the disappearances of each other as--one by one--three of their number had been snuffed out. The last two had teamed up at the end, only to have one of the wounded by Bruce's wild ax swing. It had been as tough on them as it had been on the Doctor and Sarah.

"Yes," the Doctor said. "We'll meet you at the power station at ten tonight. Don't harm them, or I'll give you death and dishonor as well. All right."

He had barely had time to set the phone down when McKenna stormed in. "Look here, Doctor," the police officer stormed. "You had no right to make those arrangements. This is a police matter. Ten o'clock tonight? Are you daft? They'll have the children dead and buried by then."

"They could have had them dead and buried by now, if it came to that," the Doctor said mildly. "I think they're afraid of being captured. I told them we would come alone."

"I forbid it," McKenna said. "Them fellers kidnapped two children and have raised who knows what other havoc. If you think I'm letting them walk out of Forsythia untouched--all because you say so, you'd better think again."

"Don't be foolish, man," the Doctor snapped. "You've seen the Arcturean physiology up close now. You know they're not human--"

"I don't care what they are," McKenna insisted. "We're bringing them in. We'll take them at the power station." "You'll endanger everything--"

McKenna pressed the front of the intercom. "Barry, get in here," he said. "It's time to take the prisoners back to their cells."

The Doctor had been sitting on the edge of the desk, and Sarah was on the sofa. They both stood up in shock and dismay.

"You can't mean this!" Sarah exclaimed.

"I told you once that you presented a danger to this community," McKenna said to them. "Your idea of carrying out this trade and letting them two fellers get away shows a shocking want of concern for human life."

"Do you mean to prevent us from going?" the Doctor asked. "The Arctureans will surely kill the children if we don't show up."

"You'll go," McKenna said. "But in my custody, and under my guard. We'll set up an ambush."

The door to the office opened. "Take them down, Barry," McKenna said, turning away. "No calls."

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