"Well Doctor?" the Brigadier asked, entering the Doctor's lab. "What have you discovered?"
"Almost the same as you," the Doctor said. "You were there when I questioned him. You questioned him yourself."
"And got no where," the Brigadier said impatiently. "Do you mean to tell me we've got him locked up; we've got one of his victims alive and well, and we can't deduce what devilment he's been up to?" He paced the floor impatiently and then stopped before the film projector that the Doctor had set up on the workbench. He looked at it without noticing it. "That bomb then," he said. "What if there are thirty more like it somewhere? In thirty different places? What if they have not been exposed to that magnetic field of his?"
The Doctor sensed his frustration and said, soothingly, "I said `Almost the same as you, Brigadier,'" he reminded him. "Have a look at this. Jo, will you get the lights?" he asked. She clicked off the lights and joined them at the workbench.
The Doctor started the film.
"What have you been filming?" the Brigadier asked.
"Space," the Doctor said.
"Through the TARDIS," Jo chimed in.
The Brigadier let out his breath impatiently in a sound that was just short of being a snort. "You're filming space while we've got that madman here on earth?" He demanded. On the white wall, which was doubling as the screen, a large orb hove into sight. "What's that, the moon?"
"Venus," the Doctor told him.
"What's that huge array of lights on the one end?"
"That's exactly what it is," The Doctor told him. "The array."
"It's beautiful," Jo said.
"Ah," he said appreciatively. "Very true."
"Trick of the sun?" the Brigadier asked.
"No, not at all. Actually a rather sophisticated life form."
"On Venus?" The Brigadier exclaimed. "Spread out all over that side of her? I don't think I like that!"
"They've been there since before Galileo ground his glasses and saw the moon up close," the Doctor told him.
"Where did they come from?" Jo asked.
"Mercury," he said. "Their native planet."
"Come now, Doctor," Lethbridge-Stewert chided him. "They had to get to Mercury some way."
"All right then, Brigadier, they got to Mercury the same way humans got to earth," the Doctor told him. "I'll leave you to figure it out."
"But if they've always been in our solar system, why haven't we discovered them before this?" the Brigadier asked.
"No earth satelite or telescope would register the array as anything other than a band of lights," the Doctor told him. "And my telescope has adjusted their light band to make them more visible over the distance." The film ran out. For a moment in the dimness it flapped against the machine as the wheel turned, and then he switched it off. Jo turned on the lights.
The Doctor looked thoughtful. "The array has never been a threat to earth," he said uncertainly.
"Are they intelligent, Doctor?" Jo asked.
"Ah, another good question," he said. "And one that has no exact answer--"
"Doctor--" The Brigadier began, annoyed at not getting a straight answer.
"Intelligent, no," the Doctor said with sudden decision. "Dedicated to certain things, yes."
"That helps," the Brigadier said sarcastically.
"The array is a colony," the Doctor said.
"Like bees," Jo guessed.
"More like yeast," the Doctor told her. "If you're going to try to draw an analogy. One single cell of the array is short lived and extremely poor at adaptation. But get several together, and they begin to form a collective being." He clicked the rewind button on the projector. "In fact, it's probably not correct to call it--or them--the array until the cells have reproduced and grown to the state in which the entire colony can go through the full life cycle of a healthy array."
"Which is?" the Brigadier asked.
"In the feeding cycle, the array has volume but no mass," the Doctor told him. "It lives off the direct light of the sun. Very easy on the home planet of Mercury, since Mercury is the planet closest to the sun. During that phase of its life cycle, it will always stay on the side of the planet facing the sun--another reason that earth has had so little awareness of them."
"And then?" the Brigadier asked.
"It goes into an expansion phase," the Doctor said. "The array converts the energy it has stored and enters a new phase of life by developing mass. Not much, mind you. This is the phase that concerns me," he admitted. "On Mercury the phase is extremely brief and is used by the array itself to allow die-off of older cells and prepare for influx of newer cells."
"A rejuvenation phase," the Brigadier said, interested in spite of himself.
"You could view it that way," the Doctor told him. "On Venus, the array produces chlorine and ammonia gases in this phase. It has to, to survive. Venus is much further from the sun; but the chlorine and ammonia atmosphere of Venus magnifies the sun's energy by means of a greenhouse effect. And in essence, the chlorine and ammonia that the array produces boosts the greenhouse effect on Venus, preserves the Venusian atmosphere, and ensures that the array can continue its cycles."
"So it all works out," Jo said.
"Yes," the Doctor agreed. "The array's third and final stage is its reproductive cycle. It returns to its non-mass state and the existing cells split and multiply into more cells. Older cells that for some reason no longer split are reabsorbed into the stronger cells. But in an environment that is conducive to growth for the array, it will nearly double in size in its reproductive cycle."
"It doesn't seem dangerous, really," Jo ventured.
"I think I would be hard pressed to call it evil, Jo," he said patiently. "The array is simply dedicated to its own survival."
"Yes, but it is intelligent?" the Brigadier asked.
"Certainly it does not follow our rules of intelligence," the Doctor said. "It has a nature of its own that is far removed from human nature."
"How did it get from Mercury to Venus?" Jo asked. "Can it travel through space?"
"It cannot break out of a plantary atmosphere," the Doctor told her. "My guess is that with Mercury's close proximity to the sun, solar eruptions literally pushed cells of the array to Venus, where it colonized successfully."
Jo took in her breath. "So it will come here to earth, next," she said.
"No, my dear," he told her. "The solar flares and solar eruptions are far, far weaker at this distance from the sun. They are not able to push the array from the atmosphere of Venus."
"So we're safe," Jo said.
"What is the danger if the array should make it to the earth, Doctor?" the Brigadier asked.
"Well, it can convert energy into poison gases," the Doctor said. "And it is almost impossible to destroy such a creature. After all, how do you battle a creature that has no mass most of the time? It would be like trying to fight an X-ray."
"So it would fill the atmosphere of earth with chlorine and ammonia gases," the Brigadier said.
"Yes," the Doctor told him. "It would create a greenhouse effect to magnify the energy of the sun so that it could absorb the maximum amount."
"But we're safe from it," Jo said.
The Doctor nodded. "I would have assumed so. But it is apparent from the film that the array on Venus is ready to enter a reproductive cycle. It is rejuvenating now, and given an opportunity, it will expand into new territory."
"But you said it can't cross space," Jo said.
The Doctor sighed. "Unless someone builds it a bridge."
His two companions looked at him. "A bridge through space?" the Brigadier asked.
"It would be very easy," the Doctor assured him. "For someone who knew how."
* * * *
"Well Diana, you have been very clever," the Master said.
"The sergeant will have to look away from the window to open the door," she told him. "It will give you about three seconds to hide this somewhere. Can you?"
He seldom looked startled, and he recovered quickly. "You wish to help me?" he asked her.
"Yes," she said. "I'm afraid of you, but I'm more afraid of the loneliness. But there's no time. Can you hide the gun?"
"Yes. Signal to him to come back in," he instructed.
She glanced over her shoulder at Benton, and even as he moved away to swing the door open, she passed the gun to the Master. He made as though he would have stood and fell over the leg irons again, falling away from the sergeant, but face down, hiding the gun under him. As he got to his knees he slipped the weapon into his tunic.
With an effort to look as though he were regaining his dignity, he stood up, straightening the tunic.
"It is my right to do as I please with humans," he said haughtily to Diana as Benton entered. "But as I told you then, I got no pleasure from what I attempted. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, my dear. That's all."
"It was a risk," she said. "Risks make life interesting, anyway." She glanced back at Sgt. Benton. "You're right. It's no good. Please take me away."
"Yes, miss, of course."
* * * *
The cool summer night was falling across the grounds at UNIT. Alone in her room in the UNIT medical wing, Diana looked out of the window, waiting. She had dozed earlier, but now wakefulness had returned. She had not seen her father since early morning when she had managed to slip the gun out of his briefcase. The Doctor had promised to come back to see her, but he had either forgotten or business was detaining him. She was not surprised. She was used to being forgotten.
The risk of what she had done was weighing on her. She knew him better now, now that she had met his counter part, the Doctor. He would escape the cell, given enough time. There was a chance that he would simply leave, too, like the others. There was a chance that he would visit her and repay her help with another assault on her life. And yet there was a chance that he would do as she had asked--take her with him, fill up her empty, starving mind with knowledge, her empty days with something, anything. Slavery to him was better than the long and empty days at the Ringed Beeches. Even death was preferable, but at the moment, it was a frightening prospect.
The room had become dimmer, and she did not turn on the light. But she heard the door open, almost silently. She heard the quiet footsteps cross the linoleum floor. She looked down into her lap. She was more afraid than she ever had been in her life, but suddenly she was also willing to take whatever consequences of her actions came.
"I've found you, Diana," he said, his voice low.
"Yes," she whispered, not turning toward him.
"Are you afraid of me?" he asked.
"I'm not going to scream," she told him.
"I know that," he said, approval in his voice. "`You don't scream.'" he quoted. "Look up at me, my dear." He put his finger under her chin and lifted her head to look at him in the dimness. He had something in his other hand, something metalic and dark. "You need not be frightened of me, Diana. I am pleased with you. I erred in my calculations when I laid my previous plans. You are too valuable to be used as bait in a trap."
"Will you let me help you?" she asked.
"I am a dangerous companion," he warned her. "Driving, irascible, insatiable. No human has ever wished to stay with me very long."
"You're the Master," she told him. "I know that; I've seen your mind. When it's your will to kill me, or leave me, you simply can. Nothing can stop you. But in the meanwhile, I want to go with you."
"I complimented you before on your spirit," he told her. "And I still admire it. I find humans to be an odorous, dim-witted, driven sort of people. But you are different from the others, aren't you?"
"If you make me different," she said hopefully.
"But you must walk," he told her.
"Master, I can't."
"Yes, Diana, you can," he said softly, but firmly. She saw that the metallic device in his hand was not the gun as she had first assumed, but some sort of device with a long and sharp spine; it tapered down to where it was no thicker than a metal hair. It looked terrifically sharp.
Just then a siren cut through the night. She started. "They know you've escaped!"
"It's all right. I have a ready made hiding place all picked out," he said.
"Can't you transmaterialize out?" she asked, fearful for his safety.
"No, they confiscated my equipment from the wine cellar," he told her. "It's all down in the Doctor's laboratory, where I retrieved this. It's all right. I have the time worked out. I'll be all right."
He crouched down in front of her. "Put your arms around my neck."
"What is that?" she asked, nodding at the device.
"What I designed from the beginning for you," he said. "It will make you walk."
"No, I don't want to," she said with a small sob of fear, then instantly changed her mind and put her arms around his neck. "I'll do anything you ask."
He stood up with her holding on to him, lifting her to her useless feet. She felt him straighten out both his arms for a great blow, and he drove the metal spine into her spine.
In surprise and pain she cried out, but he covered her mouth with his gloved hand. "You mustn't scream," he hissed.
She nodded and groaned through her clenched teeth.
"This is my will, Diana," he said in a low voice. The metal guided itself deeper into her tissues. She felt the blood vessels start making pathways down into her legs. It hurt. It was like fire. But she nodded and kept her teeth clamped together. Tears of pain sprang from her eyes.
"You mustn't be afraid to walk," he said, preventing her from falling over, forcing her to keep her weight over her legs. "You will need your legs to serve me, and your legs will be stronger than any mere human's legs. The implant will teach you to walk. It includes a memory of motion that it will transmit into your nervous system."
The sharpest, worst part of the pain began to subside to a continuous aching. Outside, she realized that men's voices were shouting to each other, and floodlights were hastily being set up. Genuine fear for him replaced her own fear. "You--you've got to get to safety," she gasped.
"It's all right," he said. "I have time yet."
"How shall I serve you?" she asked. "What do you want me to do first?"
He let out a soft laugh of admiration. "Wait for me," he said. "I am dangerous, irascible, and insatiable, but I will let you recover from this. Just stay in the wheelchair. Don't let them see you walk, once you can."
"Yes, all right." She was nearly fainting. He lowered her into the wheelchair and hesitated as she continued to struggle against the pain. "I'm all right, Master. I'll be all right," she gasped.
"You must not betray me, Diana," he said softly.
"I haven't betrayed you yet," she said faintly. "I never will."
* * * *
The Brigadier was not having a pleasant evening. First the American Project coordinator and his staff had proved completely unwilling to tell him where their experimental satellite was. Flourishing the credentials of the United Nations and NATO had not impressed them much. Wilmer was similarly unwilling to oblige him by returning in the evening to the UNIT HQ for a briefing.
Lately the Doctor's jibes about England's reliance on guns and soldiers had begun to annoy Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart, but tonight when he dispatched four men to bring Dr. Wilmer back to UNIT, in handcuffs if necessary, the Doctor showed only approval. They were seated in the Brigadier's spacious but worn office, and the Doctor's silent approval of the orders given to Mike Yates had been a pleasant surprise.
"None of these science boys seem to appreciate what a danger some of their pet projects can prove to be to the rest of us," The Brigadier commented as Yates saluted and left to carry out the retrieval.
The Doctor stood and began to pace, his eyebrows knit together. "I'm sure Dr. Wilmer would be very skeptical if we were to tell him about the array."
"Yes, and I'm sure he's already none too pleased that we confiscated all his materials this morning," the Brigadier added. He pressed the intercom on his desk. "Get some dinner for us, will you, Jenkins?" He glanced up at the Doctor. "Well sit down, man. I'm sure it will be at last half an hour before Yates gets back."
The Doctor flopped down into one of the office chairs, thoughtful and pensive.
"Give me facts on that laser bridge idea of yours," the Brigadier said. "I don't see how one prototype laser tuning crystal could pose a threat to us."
"The array will travel in light," the Doctor said. "Right now it's in a state of not having mass, and so a laser light bridge could siphon much of it off from Venus like a straw." Without thinking, he swung a long leg over an arm of the chair. "Direct laser beam from here to Venus would have to be over half a mile wide to reach Venus without severe dispersion effects diminishing its luminescense."
"No government that I know of has a device that could do that."
"If that American experimental satellite is in the proper place," the Doctor warned him, "And if the Master can access its control frequencies, he can set the reflection devices on it to point at Venus. If he can do that, then all that he needs to do is shoot a pencil thin laser ray from here to the satellite. The satellite's refractor's will intensify the beam and bounce it to Venus. It will make a perfect light bridge for the array to come over."
"The entire colony?" the Brigadier asked.
"No, probably not. It will probably split into two entities by instinct," the Doctor told him. "The same way any organism of that type starts a new colony. But if enough cells come over to this atmosphere, it will be unstoppable."
"What if only a few get over?"
The Doctor offered a slight shrug. "Might do some damage. But if it couldn't adapt or force an adaptation in our ecosystm, it would die off from lack of energy. The array needs direct energy from the sun. I'm not sure if it could find an adequate substitute for that."
The Brigadier leaned forward in his desk chair. "How--" But he was cut off by the sudden scream of the alarm.
"Is that a fire?" the Doctor asked.
"That's an escape!" the Brigadier shouted. "Come on!"
* * * *
"Diana! Diana! Are you in there?" the Doctor called, knocking. "I'm coming in!"
He swung the door open to see Diana, alone in the dark in her wheelchair.
He flipped on the light switch. "Are you all right, my dear? Are you well?"
She looked up at him, and her face seemed absolutely drained of all its color. She had been pale the last time he had seen her, still recovering from the shock of her ordeal, yet know she seemed far worse. He quickly checked her pulse and her forehead. The pulse was rapid but not weak. Her skin was cold and clammy. One of the medical attendants hurried in after him. "Bring her tea," he said over his shoulder, and the attendant hurried away.
Holding the girl's hand reassuringly in his, he sat down in one of the plastic chairs alongside her wheel chair.
"It's all right, my dear," he said. "Did the alarms frighten you?"
"What's happened?" she asked, instead of answering him.
"I'm sorry to say that the Master has escaped," he told her. "Shot his guard, picked the lock, and got away."
"Killed the man?" she asked suddenly, and he felt the sudden tightening of her fingers in fear and alarm.
"No, and we may be thankful," he said. "It's serious, but the man is alive."
She let out her breath in relief. "Oh, I hadn't thought--" and then she stopped herself and didn't speak.
"Now, now, it's all right," he said briskly, as the attendant came in with mugs and a plastic tea carafe on a hospital tray. "We'll have a cup of tea together," he said kindly. "I'll stay right here to make sure you aren't disturbed. I'm sure the Master is far away by now."
She had covered her eyes with her hand for a moment with her free hand, but at the Doctor's words she moved the hand away and looked at him. "Do you?" she asked.
"Of course, my dear. You have nothing to fear. But I'll stay right here until we're sure." He glanced at the infirmary nurse. "I'll wait outside while you help her get ready for bed."
When he came back in, the tea had been poured for him. Diana, propped up on pillows in the hospital bed, seemed a trifle more composed.
"Ah, this is nice," he said with a smile, sinking down into the more comfortable chair by the bed and stretching out his long legs so that his feet rested on the plastic chair. He took an appreciative swig of his tea. She had already half finished hers, and her face had the look of a young girl ready to fall asleep.
But in their amiable silence she looked at him, and she suddenly asked again, "Doctor, please, one last time I ask you, let me stay with you here at UNIT. I will serve you forever. I know now that I can help you."
"My dear girl," he said kindly. "You know it wouldn't be allowed. Perhaps when you're older--"
"Yet I understand that you've broken the rules before and gotten by with it," she said.
"Of course, Diana. I don't consider myself to be under all the rules that govern humans. But I do respect the law, and as a---a resident here, I am bound by it in many ways," he told her.
"But I suffer at home," she told him. "My father has starved me for human attention and knowledge. He wants to keep me locked away. Please help me."
And she took his hand. Her plea was a moving one, and for a moment the Doctor did not know what to say. He grasped her hand and looked at her for a long moment. He had already seen enough to know that she was being accurate, that she was a very distant second to Dr. Wilmer's work and professional life.
At last he said, "Diana, I can't take you away from your father, but I can come to you. We won't leave you in stir," he promised. "I'll come to see you. I'll bring Jo."
She shook her head. "No, it's no good," she said. She withdrew her hand. She finished her tea silently and closed her eyes. He waited until she was sleeping, then went out into the hall for the attendant. "I need Miss Grant up here first thing in the morning as soon as you can locate her," he said. "I'll stay with Miss Wilmer until then."
* * * *
True to his word, the Doctor did not leave Diana's room until the Brigadier came to notify him that the Master had made a clean escape. By then it was another morning. The Brigadier knocked on the door for him, and as the time lord went out in the hall to have a quick conference, Diana, called, "Oh Doctor, could you see what's keeping the breakfast tray, please? I'm so hungry."
"Certainly," he promised, smiling as he closed the door behind him and met the Brigadier in the hall.
"The devil of it is that we have no idea where he's gone," the Brigadier told him out in the hall by Diana's closed door. "He could still be on the base somewhere, hiding."
"That's a good possibility," the Doctor agreed. "After all, we've got all his equipment here, as well as all of Dr. Wilmer's things. He can't leave for long until he gets some of his own back."
"Wilmer's got some private hunting lodge not so very far away," the Brigadier told him. "Might be the best place to spirit the young Miss Wilmer to until we've got the Master safely locked up again."
"Where ever we put her, we've got to get her off site," the Doctor told him. "Having her in close proximity to all that equipment is too dangerous. We're literally offering him a hostage to take along with the equipment if he tries to steal it. It would be the perfect plan for him. He could snatch her and hold us at bay while he gets the rest."
Lethbridge Stewart nodded. "We'll keep her under guard at her father's house until we can arrange safe transport to the hunting lodge."
"I'd like to send Jo along with her," the Doctor added. "A bodyguard might be a good idea."
"Think Miss Grant can handle it?"
In spite of high marks from the training school in Surrey and a keen ability to get out of any confinement she was placed in, Jo Grant's petite size and huge innocent eyes still made her somewhat hard to take seriously. Unlike Diana's stoic silence in the face of danger, Jo Grant usually greeted danger, capture, or captivity with loud volleys of protests. However, this assignment was ideal for her. "She's young enough for Diana to talk to," the Doctor added. "And I know Jo well enough to know she will call on us if she sees anything unusual or suspicious. As long as there's a phalanx of men around the house, I would feel very confident having Jo stay there as a companion to Diana."
The Brigadier nodded. "I'll see to getting her a radio," he said.
"I'd better run down and check on Diana's breakfast," the Doctor said. "She seems in better spirits this morning."
As soon as he and the Brigadier hurried off in different directions, a dark figure slipped into the room they had just left.
Several miles away, children on their way to school came across the horrible sight of one of the local police constables, sprawled across the boot of a car, his ticket book in his hand. Inside the car, body askew in death as well, the lone driver slumped back in the driver's seat, head hung back and mouth open, as though in the act of dying he had seen something above him that he did not understand. The car sat on the eastern corner where two roads met, bathed in brilliant morning sunlight.
* * * *
"My father has a lodge--a hunting lodge," Diana whispered to the Master. "If you could get there, I could meet you there later."
He nodded. "It's a good plan. How are the legs?"
"Not hurting," she said. "I want to try them. I feel I can walk, but the Doctor's been here all night."
"I know. He's very conscientious, isn't he?"
"I'm dead sure they're going to send me back home," she said. "If I can get away, I can meet you at the lodge. You could use me as a hostage, you know."
"That may not be necessary," he told her. "When they dismantled my equipment, they inadvertently released the small colony of the array that I brought with me. I feel fairly certain that soon enough the array will be causing a nice diversion. All we need is a vehicle for an escape."
"I can't drive," she confessed. "My Dad's got several cars, but all locked up and I can't drive them." She thought for a moment, then brightened. "The Doctor wants that girl to stay with me, that Jo Grant," she said. "I can get her to drive for me."
* * * *
The Doctor had expected that Diana might protest her departure for the Ringed Beeches, but she did not. Perhaps, he told himself, the consolation of having Jo along as a companion made up for having to leave the UNIT HQ.
Yet he felt pensive and restless as he watched the UNIT truck roll down the drive toward the highway, loaded with Diana Wilmer, Jo Grant, and eight soldiers assigned to guard the house. The problem with battling the Master was that sometimes it was possible to think you knew what he was up to, and then to find out that all along you had been in the dark, that nothing was what it had seemed, that you had just sent your dearest friends into danger and death. He shook off these feelings and went to re-examine the wealth of equipment that had been confiscated.
* * * *
By nightfall, half the attendant soldiers were bedded down in impromptu sleeping quarters on the basement floor, while the other half were out on patrol around the house. Dr. Wilmer did not come home. He had rooms at the university, and Jo suspected that he had simply decided to bypass the furor and stay there. He was still sharply annoyed that so much of his work had been locked up at UNIT.
Jo had to maintain a call-in schedule every hour around the clock. She had anticipated difficulties in keeping Diana entertained, but Diana had proved to be unusually silent and mopey once they'd arrived, and she had gone to bed early.
HQ gave Jo a break from eleven PM to six AM and phoned her every hour, allowing her to doze until the telephone awoke her. She wished that the Doctor would take a turn and call her, tell her the latest updates, let her know what he was finding in the mass of instrumentation he was checking, but he was obviously busy or else also resting, and she had to make due with the UNIT dispatcher. She had not been given a room in the great house, and she was too tired to hunt up better sleeping arrangements, so she made due with a wide easy chair on the main floor.
At a little after one, she dreamed that she heard footsteps on the staircase, slow footsteps that were irregular, but as they moved along they became more regular. In fact, in her dream, the footsteps went down the stairs, then up the stairs, then back down, then back up, and so on.
She jerked awake and looked around. The house was silent. But the sense of having heard steps was too strong to shake off. She kicked off her own shoes and quickly and silently went up to check on Diana.
Without knocking, she slipped open the bedroom door and poked her head inside. For a moment her heart froze in fear as she saw that the bed was empty. The wheelchair, alongside it, was also empty. "Diana!" she exclaimed, and flipped on the light. That was when Jo saw her, standing by the window, a tall and erect Diana.
Jo was speechless. Diana seemed speechless for a moment, and then, clincing to the wooden sill as though in pain, she said, "Help me, Jo," so quietly and urgently that Jo, in spite of the stunning surprise of seeing her standing by her own power, rushed to her. She took the hand that Diana reached out to her.
Next thing Jo knew, her own hand was twisted up behind her back, and a hefty carving knife from the kitchen was at her throat, with Diana at her back, leaning most of her weight onto Jo, lest she try to wriggle free.
"Thank you Jo. You made it very easy," she said. "I was willing to die a second time for my Master, but it seems now I won't have to."