With his nose bleeding and his face bruised, the Doctor was hauled backwards to his knees and then dragged up to his feet.
The police constable that gripped him by the back of his collar was flesh and blood: a Tark who had picked up a smattering of human language and was using it as he thought appropriate. Apart from the tiny golden badge to the side of the sinewy pectoral hands that sprouted from the Tark's chest, the four-handed humanoid was dressed in Tark native clothing: woolly breeches that went down to the knee, and a short, woolly vest that allowed his inner hands full use. His only concession to law enforcement work was that his long, curly Tark hair, normally worn in a shoulder length cloud to invite others to grab it and attack him, was tied back in a bushy pony tail.
He gave the Doctor a shake with his outer hands that rattled the Doctor's teeth.
"Kindly release me, you badged ruffian!" the Doctor exclaimed. "I was trying to get my property back from that metal nitwit!"
"Plenty of time for that! You can explain it at headquarters!" And the Tark hauled him away by the collar. The Tark was no nonsense, and in spite of the wealth of insults and verbal abuse that the Doctor hurled at him, he simply hustled the Doctor along, sometimes nearly dragging him.
The Doctor was taken to less pleasant streets where a very conventional looking concrete building made a sharp contrast to the gleaming structures on Main Street. The Tark hauled him up a set of six steps and pulled him through heavy wooden doors that opened by an electric eye. They swung closed behind him with a dreadfully final sound.
For the first time, the urgency of the Doctor's business, and the plight of Sarah Jane, made him hesitate in his barrage of angry words. It might just be time to be more conciliatory.
But by this time, his Tark captor had endured quite enough. He marched the Doctor through an iron gate that slid back to admit them and then clanged closed as they entered. He found a row of empty cells, and he threw the Doctor into the last one and slammed the grilled door closed.
"Stay in there and calm down!" the Tark exclaimed.
"Wait a minute!" the Doctor shouted. He swiftly came to the bars to plead with his captor, but the Tark, disgusted, strode away. "I'm looking for a missing young woman!" the Doctor shouted. The iron gate rolled back to let the Tark out, and then it slammed closed.
* * * *
The enormous, appetite-driven creature called Dhunlup had shouted that Sarah Jane would not get through the hole she was digging. And Sarah herself had thought that she would not squeeze through, at least not in time. But she did. She dived in head first, her left arm outstretched and her right arm holding the pack to her shoulder by its strap. In a great heave, she got her head, shoulders, and most of her chest through, and then a fearful blow pinned her down, and sent sharp, cracking pain through her ribs. She thought she was stabbed by the spear, and with instinctive terror she pushed forward as she felt the weapon pull back. And then she was slithering through, face first down a short slope of dust and stone. Cold wetness rushed over her, but she nearly laughed out loud. The spear had stabbed into the tough pack and impaled a water cartridge. The blow had hurt her but not pierced her.
There was no time to revel. She released the pack as her sliding stopped, and she wriggled around to prevent him from pursuing her.
The hole was far too narrow for the voracious and fat creature. He slammed his tusks into it, his face blocking what little light there was, and Sarah Jane took up a jagged rock and smashed it at the outline of his head.
He ducked back, cursing. She was on a slope made of breakdown. Without hesitation, she began to heave up the largest stones that she could hold and push them into the hole to block it up.
He was foolish enough to try to stop her with one huge hand that he pushed through the hole, as though he would have caught the first great stone. She flipped the flat stone right over his hand and smashed hand and stone down on the rim of the hole as hard as she could.
He whisked the injured hand away. Even as he was cursing and yelping, she seized another great stone and rammed it into the hole. Overcome with rage, he pounded at the stones with his other fist and his booted feet, but Sarah Jane, small as she was, was still strong enough with inertia favoring her, to swing the stones into place and hurt whatever appendage he used to strike out.
He took up his spear and would have rammed it through the remaining open space, but even as she ducked sideways to avoid this threat, he thought better of it. If she were to wedge the spear in place with stones, he would lose it, perhaps even break it. The last that she saw of him, he was stepping back, spear in his massive hand, his jaw and snout working violently, an expression of frustration and anger.
"I'll bury my tusks into you yet!" she shouted at her. "And taste your blood for myself!"
She blocked up the hole. This safeguard, she knew, was only temporary. She turned and looked around.
Even on sliding in, she had realized that the cave she had found was not perfectly dark. Now, as her eyes adjusted, she realized that she was on a slope of breakdown and slag, but at the foot of the breakdown there was a uniformly cut, level tunnel. The floor had been hewed out in orderly fashion.
Cautiously, Sarah Jane crouched down and then slid on her backside to negotiate her way down the treacherous pile of rocks. When she was down on the tunnel floor, she saw that the light was slightly better. She groped forward and found her pack.
As she slung it onto her right shoulder, she gasped and for the first time felt the great pain of the blow she had suffered from the ravenous alien. She fell under the force of swinging the pack onto her own shoulder, and just caught herself from landing on her knees on the hard rock. She quickly set the pack down and caught her breath from the pain.
But they would be coming for her. With much greater care, she gingerly took up the pack and slung it over her left shoulder. She had to hurry away, and she did her best, walking to favor her tender side, moving towards the source of faint light that just barely prevented the tunnel from being perfectly dark. Her eyes hunted for any niche in which she could hide, but the walls were smoothly cut, and the few piles of breakdown that she saw were small. Some intelligent hand had come through here and made this a passageway suitable for mining, though it seemed little used now.
After a short walk, when she heard no sound from either in front or behind, she stopped and lowered the pack to the floor of the tunnel. The place where she'd been struck was throbbing with pain. She reached inside the pack and inspected its contents. One of the water cartridges was burst, and she pulled it free and shook it out before returning the wrapper to the pack. The other cartridges, the few that remained, were intact. Several of the compressed food bars were squashed but usable.
She pondered her best chances. There was no thought now of hoping for rescue. If she did not disappear immediately from these ravenous and savage creatures, she would die before the sun set. And surely they knew these caves well. From what she had observed, they were running some sort of mining operation here. Where ever there was any type of light, surely that area was known to them. But to go deeply into the dark part of the tunnels was madness. She could fall over a precipice in the pitch blackness.
And yet there were no hiding places. As she tried to think this predicament out, the shimmering, faintly lit cloud that was the Insider, which must have seeped through the fissures of the hole she had blocked up, approached her. Then it turned and moved purposefully down the tunnel, away from the light.
It had saved her once, and she knew what it was communicating to her. It could take her away from the hunters. She could see by its faint light, and broken bones did not figure in its plans for her death, so it would probably do what it could to save her from a fall. It had certainly brought her here to begin to die, but to begin to die of starvation, or thirst, or these accursed mites. It needed her to be slowly dying from a cause that would not significantly damage her nervous system. What better way, she thought, than for it to lead her into a maze of caves and tunnels and let her slowly diminish her strength in confusion and exhaustion?
Then again, it was almost certain death, and death right now, to venture to the lighted sections. There simply were no hiding places here. She had to get away, and it had to be deeper in the tunnels, in the darkness.
With new and grim resolution, she carefully set the strap of the pack on her left shoulder, and she limped after her temporary guide. But she timed herself. Her wristwatch had a luminescent dial, and though it was of limited use on this foreign planet, she gave herself twenty minutes of walking and then stopped. The Insider, glimmering faintly, continued without her until it had disappeared, and she was in complete blackness.
By this point in her walk, she was in naturally formed tunnel that had not been hewed. It was littered with heaps of breakdown and slag. She strongly suspected that there was nothing living down here. These mites, whatever they were, had killed all life on this planet long ago. The tusked creatures that hunted her were on rations themselves: travelers, not natives. And her presence had puzzled them. They were mining this place, and obviously using some type of slave labor. The mites did not effect their tough hides, she thought, or they had found a preventative against them, or else the Insider had simply concentrated the mite attack on her, and she was suffering an unusually severe case. The Doctor had said that this odd creature could manipulate insects and take them over.
She groped around in the blackness and found a crevice under slags of breakdown where she could slip down and hide herself from all but a minute exploration of the tumbledown stones.
She was hungry and thirsty, and she carefully ate and drank, taking long pauses between each swallow to listen, not daring to make a rustling noise unless she knew that she was alone. She wanted to cry, but she was so tired, and the tears hurt her eyes so much, that she stopped thinking of her predicament. It was necessary simply to switch it all off. She had to focus only on the next moment. That was all that she could do. Very soon, she was asleep again.
* * * *
The Doctor put his chin in his hands and resentfully counted up his grievances against the Street Orders who had started all of this. He had forgotten how the painfully inefficient Interplanetary Federation had finally spruced itself up by employing robots to handle most of the low level tasks. And robots were certainly efficient. Just not open to reason. And employing Tarks in the police force! No wonder the city was so clean and peaceful.
But as he sat in his cell, the gold-badged police officer who checked him was Salafian, and the house coated female who brought food for him---which he did not touch---was a pudgy little Rule who regarded him with bright, curious eyes but did not speak to him. He, for his part, scowled at her. It was actually a fully integrated police force. By his own bad luck he had drawn a tough, impatient Tark.
But he knew, deep down, that this was his fault. He could have nipped inside the TARDIS before it was impounded, and worked things out from there. He could have at least retrieved enough money to bribe every flesh and blood creature at hand and then hired somebody to tow the TARDIS to a suitable place.
The long day slowly passed, and he wondered what was happening to Sarah Jane. His memory was returning, and he felt more self assured about navigating the TARDIS once he got it out of impoundment. But he still had no idea where that Insider had dropped her off.
At last he closed his eyes, but almost as soon as he did, he heard a pert, piping voice that was doing a very bad imitation of a cockney accent.
"Sure, I know the chap. He been hit one too many times in the head if you catch my drift, but he's harmless. Been a good chap in his day. Helped me on one of my cases right smart. Maybe you read that one, THE CURSE OF THE BODY PIRATES."
The Doctor opened his eyes and leaped up. "Mags!" he exclaimed.
The galaxy's premier detective, clad in the familiar black jumpsuit that was her trademark, grinned at him. The visor hid her eyes, but he could see that she was delighted to see him.
"Now then, Major!" she exclaimed, her voice all business. "Me friend Kubak here tells me you been a bit of a rabble rouser. Was you really vandalizing a Street Order?"
"They were taking my TARDIS away!" he exclaimed.
The Tark policeman looked down at her in questioning puzzlement.
She looked up at the big Tark, extracted a cigarette from a pocket of her tight sleeve, and lit it. "You must have impounded a right big blue box," she said in her excruciatingly bad imitation of a cockney accent. "It's 'is. He's got a neurosis on it. Strangely attached, you might say. Quite a mystery, but I'm workin' on it. I'll pay 'is fine, guv, if you'll put him in my custody and hand over the TARDIS thing."
"He makes a lot of noise for a crazy old man," the Tark officer said. He squinted in disfavor at the Doctor, but it was clear that he had a great deal of respect for Mags Hardbottle.
"Well, he does that," Mags allowed. "But I'm tellin' you, mate, he done a lot of good to a lot of folks when his brains was still intact. It's a pity, ain't it? But I can't let him suffer in lock up. He's really 'armless. Makes a lot o' noise but don't hurt nobody."
The Tark unlocked the cell door with a magnetic card, and the Doctor stepped forward. He gave Mags only a grateful smile and tried to behave as though thoroughly subdued and harmless.
"Now Major," she asked loudly. "You will do as I say and not wonder off again?"
"Yes, of course," he told her, playing along. "Sometimes my mind wanders a bit. I really meant no harm. But I would like my TARDIS back."
"Well let's go see about that. Gimme your hand, Major, so I know you won't go off on your own."
He obligingly took her hand, and as the Tark led them up to the gate, she flashed a look of pure happiness, welcome, and merriment up at the Doctor. As far as she was concerned, the good times had just begun.
* * * *
When Sarah Jane next woke, her eyes were glued shut from the infection. It was so difficult to pry them open, even with her fingers, that she had to grope into the pack and open a cartridge of water to use the liquid to help. Even then, it was painful and difficult. The darkness was so complete that she did not know at first if she had lost her vision or not. The luminescent wristwatch, when she looked at it, was blurry. She drank what was left of the water.
She had slept for several hours. Surely, she thought, night had fallen again, and the hunters were asleep. This might be the best time to search for a way out.
Moving painfully, she crawled out from her hiding place. The bruised place on her back and ribs had stiffened up and was very painful. She suffered pain when she relieved herself, and she realized that she had been injured, even though not pierced, by the spear. She wondered if there were blood in her urine, but there was no light to see. And she had to keep going. She retraced her steps in the complete darkness, moving cautiously, trying not to fall into inattention. She sometimes had to get down on hands and knees to find her way. What had taken twenty minutes to cover on her way in---with the light from the Insider----now took over and hour to retrace on her own.
Her eyes now streamed with tears continuously, and the skin of her upper face was sore and itched. But her hands were busy, searching for a safe place to step, and she did not even think to rub at the soreness.
As she knelt and searched and cast about, a slight puff of air struck her sensitive face, causing a stronger flow of involuntary tears. For a moment she had to look away as the breeze stung her, but her curiosity drew her. This was something she had missed when she'd been following the Insider. The breeze was low, close to the floor.
She crossed to it and explored with her hands until she found a flat shield of stone. The breeze emitting behind it let out a very faint whistle as it came around its edge. On her knees, she reached around the shield of stone with her left arm. There was an opening back there. A person of her size could slip around the stone if she knew the fissure were there. Groping with her hands to make sure the way was clear, Sarah Jane used the sensation of the air on her face as a guide, and she peered around the long, flat stone. Through her blurred vision, she saw a faint light.
Her eyes were too damaged to show her anything clearly, but she thought that she had found a possible exit to the upper world. The light did not have the flickering quality of torch light, nor the artificial quality of battery powered light.
She pulled her face out of the air flow, sat back on her heels, and pondered the dangers of coming into a lighted place. What if somebody were out there?
Suddenly, her left shoulder was jerked back by the strap of the pack. A matted fist caught up her hair at the top of her head. The pain was so severe that Sarah Jane did not hear Dhunlup's triumphant and mocking words, but she felt a sudden terror as he pulled her to her feet and then stripped the pack away from her shoulder and flung it behind him.
"My food!" she exclaimed.
"You're my food!" he shouted at her. His hot breath was on her.
Dhunlup, she had seen, wore mostly leather-like garments: loose, with no armor. Before he could plunge his tusks into her, she blindly seized the tusks in either hand, and she rammed her foot directly into his leather kilt.
This did not produce the crippling pain that a human male would have showed, but he recoiled, cursed and would have struck her, except that she released one tusk, thrust her hand along his snout, and pinched his tiny, pig-like eye as hard as she could.
He cried out and for an instant released her. He tried to scoop her up again as she fell, but---guided by the air--- she whisked towards the fissure, leaving the precious pack behind. She started to scramble through the light of the opening. His enormous arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her back. He had been angry, but now he laughed as she struggled to get away from him. Playing with her, he let her slip free and then caught her by the hair and pulled her back.
"Why do you run? Let me give you a quick cut and then end your pain. Who wants to die as a blind and toothless old hag from these mites? We'll remember you instead for what you were." He jerked her back into the crook of his thick arm and pinned her between his forearm and bicep. His heavy, hairy hand stroked her throat. "Calm down, chicken."
Sarah Jane surprised him by wriggling free. She was a smaller creature than he was used to subduing, and more agile. He cursed and snatched at her, but she slipped through the opening, skittered on hands and knees around a short tunnel of rock that was faintly lit, and came into an enormous underground cavern. It was brilliantly radiant with sunlight and glittering walls. But the first thing that she saw, high above, filled her with such longing and pain that she would have forgotten her terror of Dhunlup if he had not shouted at her as he squeezed through the opening in pursuit.
Sunlight, pure and bright, and a patch of clear blue sky like that of earth shone through an enormous fissure at the top of the cathedral-like ceiling of the cavern. Sarah Jane gave it a glance and then ran as Dhunlup came after her. But she could not outdistance him on the straightaway. He tackled her and brought her down on her face to the level stone floor.
"Now for business!" He got astride her back and gripped her garment at the collar, either to cut off her breath, she realized, or to pull it down her and bind her arms from struggling so that he could slaughter her. But suddenly there was a sound like a sandbag being hit. A shower of blood covered Sarah Jane, and a shadow fell over them both.
She struggled to get away, heard a single outcry that was both shout and scream, and had a confused impression of a rod-like weapon that streaked over her head like an arrow from a bow.
Blood and something like sodden bits of hail rained around her. She regained her feet as the weight fell away and toppled off her body. Just as she got her balance to run again, a heavy sack hit her and knocked her down. It was Dhunlup's fat, ungainly body. It swung crazily and was instantly flung high. The shadow receded, and the light showed a vast creature, the size of an airplane, six legged, multi-sectioned. It flung what was left of Dhunlup high into the air and dashed the body against the wall furthest from Sarah Jane. The body exploded into blood and fragments against the cave wall.
The vast, spider-like creature shot the rod-like weapon out from its mouth, and Sarah Jane realized that it was a tongue, but a tongue coated with a hard surface, and one that could move with bullet-like speed. The rod shot past her into the rock crawlspace. There was a crack of shattering stone, and the opening collapsed in a shower of debris and rock.
She realized that she was being trapped, and she ran across the wide cavern, frantic to get away. But she only came to another rock wall. There was no opening. The great shadow fell over her just as she stumbled against the stone bulwark. Sarah Jane went to her knees, clinging to the rock. Death had at last found her. There was no escape from this.
She had never been more than momentarily religious, but the terror of what was coming was too much. "Oh God," she whispered, panting. "I'm so afraid. Help me. Have mercy on me as I die. Make it kill me quickly!" She closed her eyes and clung to the wall, waiting for the great blow, praying almost without words in her fear, terrified that she would not die instantly but would know when the creature devoured her. "Have mercy, have mercy on me," she pleaded.
The shadow slowly receded. Sarah Jane waited. She heard the great feet step, felt the wind as the creature moved, but after a moment she realized that it was stepping away from her. She turned. The spider-like creature had turned entirely away from her. It bent over the place where most of Dhunlup's remains had fallen, and the enormous spider lowered itself and crouched over the spot. Sarah Jane looked away, sickened, and then gathered herself together. She got to her feet and ran along the wall, looking for a way out. A grave-like opening in the flooring caught her attention, and she dropped into it.
She had thought that it would be dark, but light from the high cavern roof poured down at just the proper angle for her to see that she had found a wide, shallow culvert that ran deeply under the overhanging rock. The niche formed a shelf into the rock that was about twenty paces long, but the roof was too low to allow her to stand. It was not a way out, but it was a shelter and a place of refuge. The missile-like tongue might bombard the open part of the trench into which she had dropped, but it could not strike with any type of speed further back into the niche, under the low roof.
Sarah Jane crawled on hands and knees to the very rear of the long niche. With the day at its height, the sunlight was reflected well enough inside the cavern to make the furthest part of the recess dim but not dark. It was empty, and there was no sign of any other creature having ever inhabited it. She turned back, crawled back to the trench into which she had dropped, and raised herself to a crouch. She peeped up over the rim of the trench. The creature was not devouring Dhunlup but rather pushing the body and its fragments into a back corner. It sent its tongue up on the high place where it had smashed him. And even Sarah Jane could see that though the creature was using its tongue and saliva to clean the blood away, it was not drinking it.
She actually forgot her terror as she watched. The spider-like creature finished its work and then finally crouched low over the remains again. As it remained very still and intent, Sarah Jane thought that it might be eating him after all, but at last as it stepped away from him, the breeze kicking up from the movement of that vast body, she saw that it had covered him in some waxy substance, sealing his remains away.
Perhaps this was some type of larder method that the monster maintained---seal up the carcass so that it would stay undisturbed until its killer was ready to eat. Or perhaps it was a preliminary stage of digestion. Sarah Jane had read that spiders, rather than drinking solely the blood of their victims as many people supposed, injected them with digestive enzyme to liquefy their edible parts. Everything was then sucked out. Was this the same thing, but only one step removed: Coat him with something to break down his body and then drink the resulting remains?
The question remained unanswered. But the spider-like creature had to stay alive in here somehow. And now it had caved in the entrance to this place. Whatever it intended for the remains of Dhunlup and for Sarah Jane herself, Sarah Jane knew that she was trapped with it, entombed. A wall of rock and a vigilant, deadly sentry were between her and her precious pack. As her thoughts began to turn to despair again, she saw the shimmering light, barely discernible in the bright stone cathedral, as her nemesis found her again. The Insider seeped through the cracks of the destroyed entrance and stopped, hovering in place. All it need do, she realized, was wait for her decline to take its course. She had no food, no water, and no way to escape this place's dreadful guardian.
The spider-like giant did not heed the Insider at all. Sarah Jane stayed down in the trench and watched, but the giant, many-legged creature retreated to a back corner of the great, cathedral-like room, crouched down, and seemed either to be sleeping or else watching for her to make a move from her hiding place. There was certainly no escape this time, and no hope of rescue.