“What’s happened to them?” Sarah exclaimed. Her voice sounded grief stricken and frightened, an outcry from sudden abandonment.
Liz emerged from the small study. Behind her, Alistair was stooping before the old grate, lighting the papers.
“Sarah dear, what is it?”
Sarah found herself without a voice for a moment, unable to let go of the front door, and unsteady on her feet. Liz was instantly at her side, holding her face, looking into her eyes. “Sarah!”
And then she could speak. As Alistair hurried to join them, Sarah said, “I don’t know. I think I may have spooked myself. Perhaps that’s all. It was just so still outside. I think I frightened myself.” She was trembling.
“Oh you’re white. You look ready to faint. Come in, in to the sitting room. Help us, Alistair.”
“Yes of course.” He closed the door and helped her take her jacket off. She could hardly undo the fasteners. Liz helped Sarah into the sitting room. “Isn’t that better?” Liz said at once, her voice soothing, as they entered. She smelled the fragrance that Sarah could not smell.
Alistair came back from hanging her coat in the closet. He shot one look at Sarah’s face. “You know, I think I will just touch base with Benny and Jo,” he said. He hurried out. As a relic herself, Sarah Jane still relied on an outdated home setup to make calls, but Benny would be wearing a “bud,” the modern equivalent of a cell phone. Even Jo sported one, when she remembered to wear it. But at Sarah’s house, one still had to place calls from a handset that sat in a charger.
“Are you better dear?” Liz asked.
“I don’t smell the fragrance Liz,” Sarah said. “Not always. Not now.”
This revelation dismayed Liz, but at once she said, “All right then. We’ll make you comfortable. Alistair will check with Jo and Benny. Everything will be all right.” She made Sarah lie on the sofa and rested her hand on her forehead.
“He’s taking a long time,” Sarah whispered.
“Sarah, whatever happens to any of us, there is a mercy guiding us,” Liz said softly. “Don’t be afraid. At the very least, don’t be afraid yet. It may be a waste of your energy, for everything may be perfectly safe and well.” She threw her glance to the door, but Alistair did not re-enter with cheerful news.
Sarah heard her own breathing: unsteady. After a moment, another great wave of fear washed over her. She could feel it down in her stomach. She tried to inhale more deeply to calm herself.
“It’s all right, dear. It’s all right,” Liz said, now anxious for her.
At last, Alistair entered, his eyes concerned. “No answer, I’m afraid.” His glance fell on Sarah. Then he became puzzled, for she was becoming more agitated, not less, in the very room where they had all been calmed and restored. He stepped closer. Liz threw a helpless look up at him.
A sudden inspiration seemed to hit him. “Sarah Jane,” he said quietly. “Do you know anything secret? Do you know something we don’t know?”
The idea that he thought she may be keeping a secret was like a dash of cold water on her. “No, Alistair!”
She would have protested her innocence further, but he shook his head at once. “No dear, I know you would never keep secrets. I mean do you know anything—anything revealed to you? Can you see what’s wrong? Are you being shown a secret? Right now?”
Liz looked from him to Sarah Jane with new wonder in her eyes. And suddenly his hypothesis seemed reasonable to Sarah, too. This was a message, or perhaps the same mercy, acting differently upon her than it had in the past. She pulled in her breath.
“It must involve great fear,” she gasped. “I—I’m lost. I don’t know where I am.” She sat up again. “Like abandoned. Or—or taken away.”
“Dear, you’re here with us, in your own home,” Liz said at once.
“No, I know. But the weight of it on me is like being taken away. As though I’m being taken away. I’m cut off from everybody, even ordinary people. That’s what it is. Isolated and afraid.”
“If she’s communicating,” Alistair said. “If this is communication, it could be two way. Sarah—“
But Sarah shook her head. After a moment, when she felt herself begin to perspire, and the perspiration became cold, she tried to explain as much as she understood about her own gift. “Mercy is an emptiness, in a way. A receiving. You transfer what comes to you as bounty and pass it on without trying to hold onto it.”
“Yes,” Liz said quietly. “That was in your book. You wrote that, long ago.”
The cold perspiration was trickling into her eyes, and she used the back of her wrist to wipe it away. “This is a receiving as well. If it’s Jo, she’s suffering. Whoever it is, or whatever it means, it spells out suffering. It’s coming to me, and if I puzzle over it too much or resent it or try to get away from it, it will go away. So I can’t. This is Mercy too.”
“She’s going to faint,” Liz said suddenly, and caught her.
“No, I can’t fall asleep if it’s important!” Sarah gasped, but she felt the sleep sweeping up her. It was like a wave. She heard Liz, at a distance, say something about towels and blankets to make her comfortable, and then the fear, the oppression, and the coldness of her sweat drifted away, and she was in warm darkness, safe and dry. Her last conscious thought was dread that she had failed to understand a message, and her obstinate body had given out on her before she could get it right.
She saw a white, van-sized Zip, with a tiny pink smudge on it, close to the back. The smudge was blood. And dark dots raced after the Zip as it sped along on its magnetized cushion. They were like hornets. They eddied around each other whenever the long Zip turned, and then they fled after it again.
Then she saw lights, like light bulbs, a rarity these days. But from what Alistair and Liz had told her, light bulbs were still used in places that employed torture. They could be focused or dimmed more efficiently than overhead lighting. And then a black snake came at her through the air. Just before it struck her, she realized it was not a snake but heavy black rubber—real rubber. She felt no pain, but her stomach lurched as she saw more pink, a pink spray, fleck the black snake as it reared back to strike again.
She saw a face, not Liz’s or Alistair’s, but not distinct. He was telling her he was Satan, the devil. She had not felt the pain of the blackjack, but she felt such keen fear of him that her stomach knotted up. A great deal of time passed. And then the black dots were everywhere. They were attacking everything in the room except for her. But the light bulbs, as she looked at them, were fading to darkness. The entire room was going dark.
“Somebody please help me,” she heard herself say, her own voice, and there was Liz, patting her face with a hand towel, and the room was dim with the dimness of early evening in autumn.
“Jo’s coming!” she heard herself exclaim. “She’s hurt!”
Alistair had been by her side. He jumped up and went through the kitchen to the side door. “Make way for Jo, make way for Jo,” Sarah shouted trying to get up, but her rebellious stomach was knotted in pain. “Oh Liz, please help me,” she whimpered, and she was mortified with herself for crying over her own stomach ache when she knew that Jo had been badly beaten.
“Here is a hot pack right here,” Liz said instantly. “And when Jo comes we’ll take care of her. Lie back. Alistair,” she called. “Is the water hot?” Sarah felt the hot pack slide across her stomach. It checked the tightening pain.
He re-entered. “Yes. There’s no sign of Jo yet.”
“Put in the pinellia for Sarah,” Liz said. “You’re not afraid of acupuncture, Sarah?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Try to relax. Is the fear gone?”
Sarah nodded. She felt sleep tug at her, and she didn’t fight this time, because she thought the vision might continue. But she saw only darkness and felt the tiny stings as Liz inserted acupuncture needles into her wrists and arms. And then Liz lifted and turned back her blouse and swiftly and precisely inserted the needles around the edges of her abdomen.
“Alistair, you’ll keep watch out there?” Liz’s voice asked, and, from the kitchen, he said yes. Liz stood and left. But she returned quickly. Sarah didn’t open her eyes. Under the heat and the tingling from the needles, the pain in her stomach loosened enough to let her breathe. She opened her eyes.
“Is Jo alive?” Liz asked quietly, at her side again.
“Yes, but something terrible has happened.”
“All right,” Liz whispered. “Let the needles work.”
Liz asked no more. Several minutes passed, and the knots of pain loosened enough for her to relax and breathe regularly. Liz swiftly removed all the needles, covered her again, and helped her sit up. “I’ll take the chair,” Sarah said. Liz helped her to one of the overstuffed chairs.
“You’ll have tea,” Liz said, and poured her a cup of the steaming, muddy tea. Sarah drank the tea, felt her stomach unkink further, and still there was no sign of Jo. Liz stayed crouched down in front of her, watching her.
“Get ready for Jo,” Sarah told her. “She’s hurt. He hurt her.”
Liz’s voice was calm. “We’re all ready for her.”
“There’s Benny now,” Alistair called from the kitchen. They heard him exit through the side door to meet Benny and Jo.
Liz straightened up, and Sarah stood.
“Are you all right?” Liz asked.
“Yes.” Sarah nodded. She felt drained, but an enormous wave of the dread was rolling towards her. But it was not dread any more; it was grief. And then, suddenly, the fragrance of the room burst around her like a shower. But not for her, and she knew it. Men’s voices: Benny’s urgent and anxious, and Alistair’s shocked but controlled, came with the wave of emotion.
Alistair and Benny, carrying Jo between them, hurried in, moving sideways through the doorway. Jo’s arm hung down, but she was whispering something.
“Liz,” Alistair said. “What can you do?”
“She can’t see,” Benny exclaimed, and he sobbed.
Liz, smaller than both of them, suddenly took command. “She’s alive and that’s enough. You mustn’t let the sight of blood frighten you. Bring her here to the sofa and set her down carefully. Then Benny, you go into the kitchen and have Alistair see to you.”
They did exactly as she said. Sarah saw that Benny had made an effort with a towel around Jo’s face to contain the blood. But her own heart quaked as she saw the swollen skin and the blood over Jo’s eyes and forehead. Liz was as cool as though Jo merely had a splinter. “And Alistair, bring the full home kit. We should have had that ready.”
He hurried out. Liz gently peeled away the bloody towel. “You mustn’t let these men frighten you, Jo.”
“It’s the pain,” Jo gasped. “And I can’t see.”
Liz glanced at Sarah Jane, and Sarah, with no prompting, stepped up to the head of the sofa and carefully set her hands on either side of Jo’s face. Jo knew her touch. “Sarah can you give me my sight?” Jo asked.
“Darling, I’ll give you everything I can,” Sarah whispered.
“And your eyes are intact, Jo,” Liz said at once, peering at her, “Tremendous swelling around them. You were beaten with—“
“A blackjack,” Sarah said without thinking. “Around the head and face.”
“The pain is still bad,” Jo gasped.
Alistair set the heavy home kit down on the floor and passed Liz’s bag, cobbled together from donations supplied by Benny, over to her. Liz threw her glance to the kitchen to tell him to take Benny out. He nodded and did.
“No nannites,” Jo gasped.
“No,” Liz said. “A shot of something in liquid form.” With the expertise Sarah had seen a century ago, Liz extracted a disposable syringe, stripped off its wrapper, and removed a tiny, sealed bottle from the leather bag. She did a quick calculation and loaded the syringe. “This will work in a minute or two. It will lessen the pain.” She swiftly administered the injection into Jo’s arm.
“He beat me in a secret room. How did you know?” Jo gasped.
“A--a vision, dear,” Sarah said. “Don’t talk yet, Jo, try to relax. We’ve got you.”
For the next several minutes, as Sarah shifted her hands carefully to allow Liz to work on the bruised and torn skin around Jo’s eyes and nose, they were silent. Only Jo’s breathing, now torturous around her nose and mouth, filled the room. But the injection, and the fragrance, began to work. Jo’s jaw, which had been clenched from the pain, slowly relaxed. And Liz became more intent on cleaning and examining the extent of the damage.
“The nose wasn’t broken,” she said after several moments. “He struck mostly to the side of the head and face.” She continued. “Teeth are sound and jaw is intact. I think she’s sleeping now.”
“Her eyes,” Sarah began.
“Yes, that requires electronic analysis, and we can’t use nanites.”
Liz afforded her a brief glance. “Because once you’re registered by the Tech Sweeps---once they decide they want to make you disappear or take you captive, they get your DNA, and any nanites that you take in will identify the DNA and transmit a find back to them. It’s a secret function in all nanites that are released to the general market. And who knows what other research they transmit back. Now that Jo’s been seized and treated as a criminal, she cannot be exposed to the nannites. Neither can Alistair and I.” She rummaged in her bag. “Fortunately, Benny has hoarded up all kinds of gadgets and materials that are considered obsolete. The protection society for the elderly has maintained its own secret store of medical supplies that are nannite-free. But it’s not as effective, especially at diagnosis.” She withdrew a device that Sarah had not seen in decades: an ophthalmologist’s tool.
“Will you hold her head so that the light falls on her face, Sarah?”
Sarah did, and Liz peered through the lens at Jo’s right eye. Jo didn’t react, even when Liz pulled back the swollen, purple and red eyelid for a better look. For a long moment, Liz said nothing as she studied the eye. Then she switched to the left eye. When she had finished, she set the small tool aside and readjusted Jo’s head so that Jo would be more comfortable.
“Her breathing sounds better. The swelling has subsided from the sinuses, at least a little. Let me take your hands, Sarah.”
Sarah didn’t object as Liz guided her hands onto Jo’s face. “Very gently,” Liz said. “just gentle, without pressure.” Liz guided her, and Sarah thought that Liz might be guiding her to touch acupuncture points over the bruised flesh, but she didn’t ask.
Jo stirred and took a breath of relief. “Thank you,” she whispered. In a moment, instead of the stupor that the drug had induced, she seemed to fall asleep more deeply and naturally.
When Liz felt that they had finished, she said quietly, “Will you brew strong tea for her, please? Strong, but cooled. We’ll soak a bandage in it.”
“Ordinary tea?” Sarah asked.
Liz nodded. “I’ll be in, in a moment, to adjust it with herbs. We’ll make a poultice to cool the inflammation around her eyes.”
Sarah knew that Liz wanted her hands on the ingredients. So she nodded and went to the kitchen. Benny, looking worn out himself, his right hand battered across the knuckles, his face sickly white, leaned against the kitchen table. Alistair stood by him, silent. Men, Sarah Jane had learned a long time ago, could be made more heartsick by the sight of suffering, especially the sight of a woman suffering, than women.
“Jo is asleep,” Sarah said kindly. “I’ll put on hot water, and then I’ll look at your hand, Benny. But Jo will be all right. Whatever happened, you got her out.”
“I may have ruined the plan,” Benny said. Sarah turned to retrieve a sauce pan from the cupboard. “I used the hornets,” he told them.
Sarah turned again, startled. ”I saw hornets. Something like hornets.”
“Saw them? When?” he asked.
“Sarah had a vision of sorts,” Alistair said, “But she didn’t mention that part.” And now his voice was concerned. “Benny, the whole fleet?”
Benny tried to meet Alistair’s eye but could not. “I had to get her back.”
“Of course you did, son,” Alistair said. “Any one of us would have done the same.”
Sarah drew the water for the tea and pondered this cryptic conversation. She had supposed that part of her dream had been her own imagination, released by sleep, interfering with the real details of what had happened. Apparently not.
She set the water on, and it boiled quickly. She slid the pan off the conductor pad, dropped in two tea balls, and then turned to him. “Let me see your hand.”
“We ran it under cold water,” Benny said, offering the battered hand to her. He was not a fighter, she realized, as she touched the hand. Benny was boney and awkward. He seemed bigger than he actually was because he lumbered and slouched and never knew quite how to stand easily. But the hand was soft, and she could see that he had punched furiously but without real skill.
Her touch surprised him. “Well that feels better. Just from having you look at the gashes.”
“How’s the wrist?”
“It didn’t hurt until I got her here, but now it hurts. I think I may have sprained it.”
“Yes, it’s not used to punches, especially punches that connect.” She wrapped her own hand around his wrist. “But you did damage to the other person. His blood is flecked on your knuckles.”
“How do you know it’s his blood and not mine?”
She looked at him with good natured resignation. “I just know.”
“She says she can’t see,” and he choked.
“You have to calm down about that,” Sarah told him. “Liz will tell us the extent of the damage. But after a beating like that, it’s normal that she can’t see.”
And then he started to cry. Like everything else about him, it was awkward and heartfelt. He blubbered, not able to stop himself and not able to cry as most adults would cry, with restraint. “Come on old son,” Alistair said. “Let’s get some air.” And he gave a short nod to Sarah and led Benny outside.
Sarah soon realized that, in addition to being the source—real or imagined—of blessing and strength in food, water, and clothing, she was now the newest thing in wireless. Benny had an urgent sense that he must leave and take care of some mysterious part of his tasks, tasks that were secret from Sarah herself. But he asked her if she saw any danger for him. She told him no, but her warning that she was not a person with second sight went unheeded. He left, much less fearful than when he had come. And even Liz and Alistair wanted to know if she thought they were safe enough at the house. She had no idea, and she told them she had no idea.
“But did you see anybody approaching the house?” Alistair asked her. “In your dream, I mean.”
“No,” she said. “But more to the point, Jo was captured on the fly. They spotted her out on the street and snatched her. And she didn’t reveal anything to them. They probably don’t know, at least not yet, about this place.”
Liz was exhausted, and Sarah sent her with her husband up to bed for a few hours. Jo was resting more comfortably, and even Sarah could smell the comforting fragrance that filled Fomalhaut’s room. She sat on the edge of the sofa and rested her hands on Jo’s face, cupping the swollen eyes. “Have good dreams,” she whispered. She stayed there. Indeed, she dozed that way, not nodding or swaying, just still and upright, her mind listening to the sounds of Jo’s breathing through the bruised sinuses.
And then, some hours later, she heard Jo whisper for her.
“Yes dear. It’s Sarah.”
“I can’t see anything,” Jo said.
“Liz said that’s normal, even if your eyes aren’t seriously damaged. Are you in pain?”
“It’s better. They caught me. They pushed me into the side of their Zip, like a lorry.”
“Yes, they bloodied your nose, I saw the blood on the van in my dream—“
“I did that. For the hornets. To get the hornets.”
“The hornets? I saw them, but why—“
I butted my nose into the side to make it bleed, and spit as much as I could. To leave my mark. The hornets know me. They’re a device I saw decades ago. Like the nanites but bigger, clumsier. Research on them was abandoned by the tech sweeps because they’re too susceptible to magnetic pulses.”
“You mean, they’re mechanized—not real hornets,” Sarah said.
“But they can attack. They’re barbed. We wanted to use them to jam the security systems of the research site, for the attack. But I had to escape before I was forced to say everything. You heard Alistair and Liz. They broke. Everybody talks sooner or later.”
“And the hornets are programmed---“
“Benny can give them commands from a distance, a short distance. They can match my DNA and find it. He sent them after me once he realized I’d been taken. They signaled him, and he had them follow. Then he had them attack, but they could follow an exception command and not attack me.”
“They got into the research facility?”
“No, I was taken to another place. I don’t know where, but Benny will know. Just a place to hold people in custody.”
“What did they ask you?”
“Where Liz and Alistair are. And who my colleagues are in the Protection Society. They think I snatched Liz and Alistair as part of the Protection of the Elderly. They don’t know who I am.” She paused and then tried to laugh. With her face swollen and her eyes blind, it was pitiful and just a little ghastly when she tried to laugh. “That’s why they put me in that little jail-type building. That’s why he beat me around the eyes. He had no idea how valuable I’d be for ROR.”
“No,” Sarah whispered. “If they’d known about you, he’d have whisked you into the research compound.” And, she thought, they would never have gotten Jo out. For now, after the swoop and carry rescue of Alistair, the research compound would be impenetrable.
“They’ll put up defenses against the hornets,” Jo whispered, her tired voice heavy with emotion. “All they need are one or two to understand how to stop them.”
“It’s all right,” Sarah said quickly. “One battle at a time. The hornets saved you, and in saving you, they saved the rest of us. We’ll find another way to get Liz and Alistair in.”
Jo let out one small sob of remorse and two tears trickled from her swollen eyes, but they must have smarted terribly, for she didn’t shed any more tears. Sarah took the tears up on her thumbs, gently lifting them away.
“Oh, you’re like the Doctor,” Jo whispered. “His hands could diminish pain.”
Sarah rested her hands around Jo’s eyes again. “He could? I don’t remember that.”
“Yes, not as well as you.” Jo stopped, suddenly thinking, remembering. Then she added, “But as I trusted him more and more, it was like he could see more and more of my mind, even the parts that regulated pain. He could calm me, ease pain, even make me understand more than I’d ever been able to understand before.” She smiled. “He’d rest that great big hand of his on my head and say, ‘Jo, listen to me’, and then he would diminish my fear or ease my pain or explain some great big idea to me.” She paused. “I miss him.” And she smiled again, calmed by the memory of that cherished friendship, a friendship that had never backfired on her, as far as she believed.
“All right dear,” Sarah whispered. She marveled at how Jo could still feel such profound warmth, trust, even reverence, for the person who had sentenced them to this. But she didn’t want conflicting emotions in her to dampen the effect of mercy. Mercy, she knew, operated by letting go, and everything had to be let go, even the lingering grudge she sometimes felt against the Doctor. And yet, she thought, before she dismissed him from her mind, Jo had always been more openly, sweetly trusting of him than she. Sarah had demanded equality with him, even when he was protecting her. He had come to her far more tender and gallant than he had come to Jo. For Jo had been the one, as the Brigadier remarked over a century ago, that “broke him in to be bearable most of the time.”
And in his second version, the second that she knew, he had been electric, fun, whimsical, but not so often that kindly, patriarchal version of him that had, at times, doted on her when she would let him. She suddenly felt regret. But she had to banish thoughts of him, let him go, to help Jo now.
She felt her hands cooling, and she rested them flat on the sides of Jo’s face, high, around the eyes and forehead, her thumbs on either side of the swollen nose, cooling the inflamed sinuses, generating a slight energy to move the blood along as it traveled in its repair work. “Do you want water? Or tea? Anything to eat?”
But Jo was dozing, the whites of her blind eyes glimmering in the dimness, half open. Sarah gently closed them, her fingers light as gossamer. She wished she had paid better attention to the way Liz had guided her. But at least she knew how to cool the heat of the welts and bruises. And she knew that indefinable presence that came with the scent, which she did not sense but knew that Jo sensed it, would console and comfort her.
I don’t deserve this gift, she thought for perhaps the twentieth time since Liz, Jo, and Alistair had come to stay with her. But at least, she thought, she didn’t enjoy her own gift as much as they did. She had become much more its vehicle than its recipient, and she did not object to this change. She felt that it was just.
She stayed as she was until her stiff back protested and sent shafts of pain down into her hips and legs. The night was almost over. She stood and let the blood flow down her legs. By now, Jo was sleeping peacefully and deeply. It was hard to judge in the deep dimness of the room, but Sarah thought that the swelling was down and the bruising somewhat cleared. Liz would check her.
Sarah pulled the cushions from the chairs of the room onto the floor and arranged them into a makeshift bed. She lay down and wondered what would happen to all of them.
“I told you I was Satan,” the man said to her. He had closely polled hair, a clean cut, smooth face. Almost boyish freshness to his skin. And then the black snake came at her through the air, and she saw more pinks, flecked with bits of white skin, fly up. Part of it flecked him, his smooth face and immaculate uniform.
She heard her voice, Jo’s voice. “It’s not lucky to hurt little old ladies, lad.” Jo, doing her dotty old street lady act.
She saw what Jo had not noticed under the pressure of maintaining her own bravado. The cheerful contempt in her reply startled him, though he masked it quickly. He used a back swing and brought the black jack across the side of her face again, by the edge of her right eye. “We know he’s your nephew. We picked it up while you were talking.”
“Oh yes, Satan would be an eavesdropper. No manners. But that’s the devil for you,” Jo’s voice said through her.
His free hand grabbed her throat savagely. It cut off the air. “What will you do when we bring him here?”
“Serve tea?” Jo choked.
The air abruptly flowed back into her throat. Then the blackjack exploded against the other side of her face and the vision in the left eye simply winked out. She felt the thrill of fear that Jo felt, magnified by her own horror. And behind that, she wondered that Benny might really be a great, great, great grand nephew to Jo. How like Jo. Sarah had known that Jo Grant actually came from a very privileged family that had served the former Crown for centuries. They were just the sort to preserve the family secret that one of their aunts was just about immortal.
His face loomed up in the vision of her remaining eye. “Like being in a tunnel, isn’t it?”
“Except tunnels don’t have bad breath,” Jo’s voice gasped. The blackjack struck her over her head, on the right side. It stunned her. His free hand grabbed her throat again and cut off her air. The blackjack struck, and her right eye dimmed, as though the lights had been turned down. And then, like a flood of inky blackness, the hornets swirled into the room. They were coming in under the door and through an air vent, pouring in. They swarmed onto him, a tight cloud around his face, and she realized only then that there were other men in the room.
She wanted to sit up and see what was going on, but the body of Jo betrayed her and fell forward. The good eye closed, and then she felt spinning motion and heard Benny’s voice, sobbing, and all around them, men yelling and screaming as the swarm of hornets hit like torrents of bullets into their faces, blinding them.
“My eye is going,” Jo’s voice whispered, now frightened. “The light is disappearing.”
Sarah jerked awake to see bright morning sunlight.
She turned and saw that Jo was still asleep, the swelling reduced, her face still bruised but recognizable again. Somebody had covered Sarah with the blanket from her bed upstairs. She struggled with it for a moment as it tangled her up, and then she got free and got to Jo.
She smelled the fragrance of the room, increasing. She rested one hand on Jo’s forehead and then gently covered her eyes.
Liz, dressed for the day and carrying a tray of tea and toast, entered and stopped behind the sofa. “She was awake earlier,” Liz said.
Sarah Jane mouthed the words, afraid to say them out loud. “Could she see?”
Liz shook her head and soundlessly said, “No.”
She carried the tray to the small end table at the head of the sofa. She set it down without a sound and came around the sofa. “May I help you?”
“Yes, please.” And once again, Liz guided her hands so that her fingers settled on specific points on Jo’s face.
“You don’t have to hold your breath, dear. It’s working. She’s much better this morning.”
“Will she see again?” Sarah whispered.
“She may.” Liz’s voice was calm, neither hopeful nor gloomy. She guided Sarah’s hands again. “You could have wakened me. Were you up all night?”
“I’ll rest this morning.”
“All right. And Alistair,” but Liz’s voice trailed off, her eyes now concerned. Then she said, “We must make a new plan. He’s had some ideas.” And Sarah realized that this plan of theirs, this mission to go back into their former prison and destroy the information that had been seized from them by force, was very much on Liz’s mind.
“More people will suffer,” Liz said softly. “People are suffering now. We have to do this.” But she stroked back Jo’s gold and gray streaked hair. “The end will be harsh for all of us who go inside. This may have been for the best.”
“Why?” Sarah Jane asked.
“So that you’re not left alone. If Jo cannot go in, then you won’t be alone after it’s all over.”
“But what if I’m supposed to go in, too?”
“It seems that a person with your gift would do greater good out here. Out where there are people who need you more.” Liz hesitated and then looked at Sarah Jane. “You’ve been happier having people here, haven’t you? It’s been a bit easier with all of us here, I expect.”
“Yes,” Sarah said at once. “I don’t want any of you to go back into that place.”
“I know.” Liz lowered her eyes. “You’re a merciful soul. But at the very least, I wouldn’t want you to go into that place, and I wouldn’t want you left here all alone again after we go.”
“I’m not a merciful soul, Liz. A gift of mercy has come onto me. I’m just like you, or Jo, or Alistair, except this gift was given to me.”
Liz, eyes down, nodded, almost like bowing her head. “Yes, all right, Sarah.”
Oh, it was useless, Sarah Jane thought. They wouldn’t argue with her, either. Just then Alistair entered from the kitchen. “All right?” he asked quietly.
Sarah and Liz stood. Sarah Jane nodded.
* * * *
Later, up in her room, the smaller room that shared a bath with Jo’s room, Sarah Jane crawled onto the bed and stared out at the sunny sky. She felt the fear of that man who called himself Satan. He was looking for Jo, she was sure. And she knew that, given any samples of the mechanized hornets (and there were sure to be plenty) left from the attack, he would quickly deduce that Jo was not merely a representative of the Protection Society. Those people might launch the odd illegal foray to re-capture an elderly person from custody, but never with a tech weapon, and never with such a coordinated response. For Jo had swept in twice to rescue Alistair and Liz. And Benny’s rescue of Jo had been immediate, entirely unexpected, and strategically brilliant.
No, Sarah Jane thought. He knew, now, that this little old lady with the streaked hair and saucy tongue was far more than a social worker. She was, in every sense of the word, an agent.
Please, Sarah Jane prayed, Make him think she’s an agent for one of the other research companies.
A research war might devastate the economy. It could halt the progress of technology. But it would spare the four of them from being found out. And it might just siphon off enough time and energy from the research companies themselves to force them to spare their elderly research subjects until peace was made.
But if nothing distracted this man who called himself Satan, she knew that he would find Jo. He would never stop looking. He didn’t really want information or new technology. He simply wanted to make people suffer, to cause the pink and white spray to jump out from battered flesh and bone. He would do it to Jo, and he would do it to Liz, and to Alistair, and to Sarah herself, if he should find them.
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