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by Jeri Massi
Set after The Three Doctors.
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"Lethbridge-Stewart!" the voice on the other end of the line barked with just that right mix of whine, pomposity, and forced anger to set the Brigadier's teeth on edge. This was going to be worse than any alien invasion.
"Why Mr. Chin, what a surprise to hear from you again," the Brigadier said.
"It hasn't been so long since the Axos incident Brigadier," the voice barked at him. "And I have not forgotten the indignities, indignities mind you, that the British people suffered at the hands of the UN forces during that time. UN forces under your governance, Brigadier."
"If you mean we tried to prevent you from hoarding an unknown and dangerous substance away from public scrutiny, sir--"
"I mean the unprofessional and nearly criminal manner in which you conducted your forces, Brigadier, not to mention the presence of that unclassified, unprocessed, unmannerly clown in the fancy dress costume--"
"Ah, that would be the Doctor, the one who finally got the Axonite off the planet, I believe."
"I have at last succeeded in convening a board of enquiry into the manner in which you are running a United Nations military organisation on British soil, Lethbridge-Stewart--"
The news hit like a thunderbolt, and for a moment Lethbridge-Stewart was thrown off his stride. "You did what?"
"Expect us Tuesday of next week. I shall look forward to it."
The line went dead. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart gently cradled the receiver of the telephone and stared for a long moment at the intercom. Ever since the Doctor had gotten his TARDIS operational again, he had been taking it out on test runs, repairing numerous small bits and pieces of equipment that had needed overhauling. The Brigadier devoutly hoped that he would stay away until after the enquiry.
* * * *
"Mmmm." Jo Grant closed her eyes and inhaled. "And mind you, don't turn me over until I'm medium well done on one side."
"If you wanted to cook out here, you should have worn something appropriate for sunbathing," the Doctor said. "Instead of corduroy slacks and a heavy sweater."
"I don't understand how the sun can be so warm but the air so cool here," she replied, eyes closed. "And then, down here in the grass, it's like being, I don't know--held in somehow."
He had a ledger on his knee and was sitting up in the slender, rush-like grasses while she lazed nearby.
"The grasses are shaft-like," he said absently, studying the diagram he had sketched out. "Insulators. They hold in the warmth from the sun like a blanket over the topsoil. Is that what you mean?"
"No, I meant lying in the grass is so warm and safe--it's like being held by the arms of this world. Mother Earth and all that. Except this isn't Earth. So it's Mother-something-else." She suddenly sat up on her elbows so that she could see him. "Say, you are sure there are no ants or fleas on this planet?"
At her sudden motion, two quilae that had been browsing nearby bounced through the grasses, only their small backs visible as they leaped away in long bounds. The Doctor smiled after them. "You're frightening our shy hosts, Jo," he said. Then he added, "No ants whatsoever, my dear. Just grass, a sort of dust mite too small for you to take note of, and the quilae. The quilae eat the grass. Their waste products keep the soil fertile, and their digging keeps things nicely aerated. It could go on like this for another ten million years." He sketched in a few more lines of his diagram. Satisfied, she lay back down into the dry warmth below the crisp air.
"A world with no predators," she mused, closing her eyes again. "Is that why it feels so safe? Are we the first people here, Doctor?"
He flipped a page over and started a revision of the diagram. "Oh no," he said. "In fact, this place used to be teeming with visitors. Or invaders, depending on your perspective. Once upon a time."
"Farmers?" she asked. "Colonists and the like?"
He let out a rueful laugh at her innocence. "Hardly. More like fur traders. The quilae were once considered an extremely valuable natural resource." She got up on her elbows again. From far away, where the grass was young and short, the two quilae stopped, sat up like miniature kangaroos, and watched her with wary, sparkling eyes. The dry wind ruffled their deep, plush fur and made their long whiskers tremble.
"Those little things?" she asked.
"Their fur is more dense and softer than the chinchilla of earth, Jo. In fact, they were hunted nearly to extinction here. As the planet had no legal system governing it, not much was done to protect them."
"Poor little creatures." She lay down and turned towards his voice, but she could not see him through the high grass. "What saved them?"
"You know, I'm not really sure. There was probably a glut on the market, that sort of thing." He paused from his sketching to look up at the two small animals, now several yards distant, only their eyes and ears visible above the undulating waves of grass. "It seems that I recall some stories about some fur traders never coming back--a few misadventures that were never quite clear. Stories of ghosts and what have you."
Apparently deciding that they were far enough away from the strangers, the quilae disappeared below the gently waving grass as they went back on all fours to continue their breakfast.
She got up on her elbows again, and he smiled as her head popped up out of the grass, her eyes big. "You are sure there are no predators here, Doctor?"
"Lie back in the arms of the good earth, Jo," he assured her. "Fur traders are remarkably well known for inventing horrific stories about planets that they want for themselves. I never took them seriously. The quilae are all of about one pound each, with the teeth and guts of herbivores. There are no predators natural to the planet. If there were, we would see evidence of killed and devoured quilae, and there is none. They all die of old age--sometimes starvation in the cold months."
She lay back down. "What do the quilae eat?"
"The grass--the seeds and roots mostly. Grub up the soil. Natural compost makers."
"Seeds are awfully good to eat," she admitted.
"Certainly," he agreed. "If you're a quila."
She fell into a doze. After a few minutes he leaned way over to check her, but she was peacefully asleep. "Well, now for a bit of work with no questions," he said to himself. "See if I can't get this improved pump properly designed."
He was fully able to lose himself in his work, as deeply as Jo could lose herself in sleep. It wasn't until dimming light from the waning day interrupted him that he looked up again. He had a crick in his neck and slight eye strain.
"Heigh ho, Jo," he called. "I suppose we better call it a day. Might want to pop back in to UNIT after all. I don't like being away until I have the hydration backup system refitted in the TARDIS." She did not answer. "Jo!" he called again. "Wake up."
As there was still no response, he leaned over again to find her.
The indentation that her body had made in the grass was plain to see. A narrow path of grasses pushed aside showed where she had either crawled or been dragged away from him.
Ledger of sketches forgotten, the Doctor leaped up. "Jo!" he called.
Crouching so that he could see the faint signs of where the grasses had been bent and pushed apart, he followed the track of her journey. It led him to a rocky plain, where there were no tracks at all.
Night was covering the waves of grass and rocky plains of the landscape. The planet had no moon. The Doctor jogged back to the TARDIS for an electric torch and the first aid kit.
* * * *
It took him nearly an hour to retrieve the items he needed and retrace her track. Searching a barren, rocky plain in almost total darkness was a grim task. He walked back and forth in a series of sweeps, gradually moving further and further up the projected trajectory of her original path. After many hours the plain became more rocky, and short, high, outcroppings of rock stumps got in his way as he searched. The terrain was uneven and hilly. There were now draws and shallow ravines to explore.
At one point he stumbled upon a ghastly sight: a small ravine choked and crowded with tiny skeletons. Carefully, he shone the flashlight beam onto them, but they were bleached and old: the remains of quilae left by fur traders, to judge by the intact frames but missing tail bones. He spent several minutes at the site, scanning them for some clue, but they seemed to have been undisturbed for years.
At last he moved on and continued his search. Further up the slight ridge he discovered something more unexpected: the skeletal remains of a humanoid figure. Like the quilae remains below, it was old and had been bleached by the sun and wind, but otherwise was undisturbed. The long, slender hands lay flat against each other under the side of the skull, and the body was curled as though in sleep. Certainly the person had either curled up and died in his sleep, or he had been killed and made to look like he was asleep. In the darkness, the Doctor walked around the skeleton several times. Wasted and rotted boots on the feet were typical of those worn by explorers and professional traders. But there was no telltale knife nearby, no other ornaments or gadgetry--not even a compass.
The bones showed no trauma, not even the skull. However the person had died, he had not been struck any hard blows.
Eventually, the Doctor could conclude nothing and continued the search. An hour later he found a second skeleton, much like the first, except of a slightly different species. This one had no boots left, no ornamentation, not a remain of cloth or leather or synthetic fiber anywhere. It had been here longer than the other.
"Did they die unarmed?" the Doctor asked out loud. But if this one had been stripped of weapons either before or after death, the remains showed no sign of violence. The left hand still pillowed the skull, the right lay palm up as though it had rested against the upper leg. Every indication was that the person had died in his sleep.
Dawn was breaking on the bleak plain. The Doctor moved on. He wished he had brought food and water with him, for Jo would need both when he found her. But just as he debated with himself to go back to the TARDIS and return to the search better equipped, he spied Jo's sweater lying above, higher on the ridge, half hidden in a tiny nook in the rock.
He switched off the torch and scrambled higher.
She lay comfortably curled up in a deep niche, and as soon as he got close enough to see her face, he saw that she was still alive, though her face was now very dirty with smudges of earth, especially around her mouth. But she seemed well, and the deep niche would have sheltered her from the coolness of the night.
"Why Jo," he said gently. "Why did you leave me like that?"
He stooped over her. Jo's eyes popped open, and before he could say or do anything else, she let out a single, high-pitched exclamation and darted away from him with astonishing agility.
The ridge suddenly became alive with the tiny quilae-all of them in full flight from him as they emerged from niches and holes and scampered away.
"Jo!" he called. The tiny animals were either following Jo, or she was following them. They all disappeared over the top of the ridge, and he followed.
The far side of the ridge was almost a precipice, and he winced as he saw her racing down it pell-mell. For a moment he thought she would break her neck, but with a sure-footedness not normally given to humans, she negotiated her way down at a full run. A grassland opened down below, and she and the milling, frightened quilae disappeared into it.
* * * *
She ran for a long time before the others made consent to stop. The bright, hard eyes of the predator had instilled a deep, abiding fear in her. It knew exactly what it wanted and had the power to deliver its will on any creature. Distant, pack memories of similar creatures with death in their hands haunted her. This one did not bear the same scent as the others from the past, but it had the same eyes-eyes of will. It took possession of others, and it could kill.
In spite of her terror, she was tired and famished and instantly fell to on the tough roots of the grasses. Already she knew that it was best to look for young grass, but there was no time to be choosy. She had not eaten enough the previous day, and she was now desperately hungry. Yet the grass itself resisted her. If she ate too fast, she retched it back up. Yet even when she ate slowly, she was never full. Her only instinct was to keep eating.
The scent of the predator was gone, and the sentries transmitted safety back to the pack. She remembered the bright eyes filled with knowledge and will, and the others knew that her fear and dread lingered. This was her first confrontation with a predator, and she had met the dreaful creature full facing, its terrible, direct eyes marking her out and selecting her with their stare. But she had escaped, and in the early morning the pack was too busy eating to give her fear much heed. The sentries were now alert and careful, for the memory of the pack understood the predators. And the pack was good at running away from death.
Just after midday, when the others were dozing in the warmth and she was still industriously pulling up grasses and eating the seeds and bulbs from the roots and younger shoots, she sensed the sentries' alert that the predator was returned. He was maintaining a distance. The sentries crept closer to examine him while all the others waited in breathless stillness. Hungry as she was, she dropped low into the grasses and waited as well, as still as a statue.
The sentries transmitted their observations back to the pack, and she understood them: the scent was something like a predator's scent but not a predator they had ever known before. Clearly, by the smell of it, it ate meat. It showed no aggression at the moment. It was male. The consensus was to keep eating but to move away if it came closer. The predator did not come any closer.
The day waned, and she napped briefly, but when she awoke she was hungry again. She ate as much as she could before twilight, and then she crept away with the others as the day faded to night. She crawled away on her elbows and legs, as close to the ground as she could get, for she knew that the predator would use his eyes to hunt. The sentries reported that he was not following. After about thirty minutes they reported that he was following, but at the same distance he had kept all day. She would not go to the rocks, where he might see her, but remained in the grasses, even though the grasses became cold at night.
On the morning of the second day the predator maintained his watch from a distance, and some of the sentries regarded him as a stranger rather than a predator. But she remembered the eyes that possessed will and intent. In the night, hunger and cold had troubled her, and she had been sick twice from undigested grass eaten much earlier. Before dawn of the second day she crawled down to water and drank heavily, for she had missed water the day before, and her stomach trouble had dehydrated her.
By midmorning she was weak and unhappy. She tried to nap, but her fear woke her in fits and starts. Yet the predator did not move any nearer. She felt a little better as the day progressed, for the sunlight helped her and comforted her. By afternoon she was eating again, now more accustomed to hunger and patient with it. She ate slowly and methodically and purchased a half hour of rest for herself in the late afternoon, and then she grazed until dark.
The pack again moved to the rocks as night covered the terrain. There were many niches where she could curl up and trap her own body heat to stay warm until the sun came back. But she feared the exposure of the rocky ridges. He had discovered her there before with his eyes.
Still, knowing that the predator was following the pack, the sentries were now alert and watchful. And she had learned the night before the misery of trying to sleep in the cold grass. At last she gave in to her longing for warmth and found a niche in the rocks. She curled up into a tight ball and slept deeply, untroubled and undisturbed through the dark night. But she woke up in great pain, too hungry to bear it. Before the pack was really moving about, she hurried to water and then to the grass.
Just after dawn, the sentries sent out an alert, but it was a new kind of alert. Something was in the air, some new scent from the stranger. It was utterly foreign, but better than grass, and better than the new seeds, and better than anything else. The message moved through her mind and right to her stomach. It was food, a new food, though some forgotten part of her memory recognized it.
The pack crept closer for a better inspection, and she crept along with them. Her own range of scenting out items was limited, but she knew the details from the pack mind. The scent was sweet, and the food value alerted her entire nervous system. She stayed on her stomach in the grasses but crawled forward, until even she could smell the food. Low in the grasses, hugging the earth, she quickened her pace, following the scent on the morning breeze until she was so close that if she dared, she could have looked through the grasses and seen the predator where he sat in an open place on a wide, flat rock.
He had fire such as predators used, and was making the scent flow everywhere from his food. She identified the smell of water and something else--sweet and nutritious, which she knew by instinct would take away the painful hunger and nausea inside her.
She at last made herself peer out from the grasses at him. But he sat with head bowed and eyes down, not predatory now. At long, long last he spied her in the grasses, peeping out at him, wishing he would go away from the food.
But he did not go away from it. Instead, he flipped something from the pot in front of him high in the air, caught it, and ate it. He waited a long time, and then he did it again. The third time, he flipped it much too high, and it came down in front of her. She snatched it and ate it. It was warm and comforted her stomach immediately, but it made her crave another one. It was not nearly enough.
He flipped another one to her, and she ate that as well and watched him hopefully.
He took the pot off of the fire and made the fire stop. After several minutes, he got up and walked away: a good safe distance. The sentries did not know what to make of this. But the braver among the males were ready to go and take the food, and she knew that her life hung on it, so she went first. She scurried to the pot in a low crouch and quickly removed the bits of warm food from the water, swallowing them as quickly as possible.
She turned as soon as she had finished, but the landscape was suddenly blurred. She tried to scurry away, but her legs were heavy and she fell forward. She rolled onto her back to find the sun and orient herself, and then she saw the predator coming for her, striding with slow deliberation through the grass. The others scattered and raced away, for he had become a creature of will and power again. She struggled against her own inert limbs and paralysis, but before he came close enough to touch her, the black wave of helpless and complete unconsciousness washed over her.
* * * *
She woke up suddenly. As soon as she opened her eyes, she knew that the sun was gone. Another kind of light illuminated the room where she woke up. She had been cleaned and her clothes changed, though she hardly took note of that fact. There was no sound of the pack in her mind, not the faintest echo of them or their senses. She was utterly alone, cut off from the pack. In a single bound she escaped the bed and tried to hide against the wall. Her hands searched for an opening through which she could escape. She desperately ranged in her thoughts for some indication of where the pack could be, strained to sense some echo of their senses, but there was nothing.
Then she heard the predator. She darted a look over her shoulder. He stood across the enclosure, eyes down, waiting, not like a predator. She frantically searched her end of the room, but there was no opening. He moved to another corner, and she kept the distance between them, moving to stay opposite to him. At last her hands found the outline of a doorway, and her distant memories told her that it should open somehow. She tried to dig her fingers into the narrow fissure of its outline and pull it open, but it would not yield. She tugged and pulled, desperate to get away.
Something made a sound behind her, a crinkling sound, and she looked over her shoulder again. The predator was setting more food down, on the raised place where she had lain. It was the same food she had eaten before from him, the food that had filled her up and taken away the pain of hunger and nausea. She knew that it tasted good, and her mind made no connection between the food and her inexplicable loss of light, awareness, and freedom.
He backed away, and she bounded to the food, snatched up the pieces, and swallowed them quickly. The last time, there had been more, and these were not enough. She backed away, heard the crinkle again, and he deposited more down for her, but this time he did not move as far away. She took one step closer and waited for him to move back, but he did not. Neither did he become predatory. He waited, eyes down, but he would not move away.
She waited and then called in her mind for some warning from the sentries, but there was only silence. At last she dropped to the floor and crawled up to the bed under its lee, so that it would be harder for him to attack her. But he did not move at all. She peeped up at him from across the bed, and she quickly snatched the food and ate it. Then she retreated to the closed door.
They stayed this way for a long time. She wanted water, but there was none. He settled down to a sitting position on the floor and busied himself with items she recognized but could not identify: The ledger from four days ago. But she knew that he was not paying attention to her, so she sat down, as far from him as possible, and waited, listening for some indication or sense of the return of the pack.
The crinkling sound woke her up, and she opened her eyes to see him much closer. His long arm was extended, offering the food to her, so close that she could reach out and take it.
"Would you like some more figs, Jo? " he asked in a quiet, gentle voice.
She waited for him to set them down, but he would not set them down. At last she reached for them, but her fingers encountered some clear non-food thing wrapped around them, and she snatched her hand back.
"Oh, that's just the bag," he said softly. He shook a fig out of the bag and offered it. She took it carefully in her fingers, her dark eyes fixed on him, but his eyes were now very gentle, filled with longing rather than strong will. He gave her the figs one by one, and she ate them. Then he held out something else to her, but it was not food, and she was not interested. He saw this, and he held out his other hand, and then turned the object onto it. Water poured from it onto his cupped hand. Without thinking, she leaped forward and pushed her face into his open hand to get the water, for she was very thirsty. He let her drink it from his hand, and he offered the object to her again, but it was not food or water, and she was still not interested in it. He poured water from it into his hand again, and she took the water that way. He stopped trying to thrust the object at her and instead let her drink from his hand. As she drank, she suddenly felt a softness on her cheek, and she stopped and looked down. For a moment the fear of aloneness had subsided. She hesitated and then put her face into the small bit of water in his palm, and again she felt the softness like the closeness of the pack touch her cheek. She stopped and glanced at the arm of the predator.
"Do you like the cuff of my jacket?" he asked softly, for the soft edge of the sleeve of his velvet smoking jacket had caught her attention as her cheek had brushed against it. His words meant nothing to her, and after a moment she drank again. He gave her all the water, a few swallows at a time, from his hand.
* * * *
Two days later, the lab at UNIT HQ was quiet when the Doctor cautiously poked his head outside the TARDIS door. He glanced back inside the control room and gestured that the person inside should wait before following him out. He darted out and made a beeline for the lab doors, to lock them. But he was moments too late. Just as he nearly had his hand out with the key, the left door swung open and the Brigadier strode in.
"Doctor! Back from your test run already?" he asked. "How's the pump, eh?"
The Doctor jumped back and backed up all the way to the TARDIS.
"Needs a bit of work," he said quickly. "Look, Brigadier, I'm in a bit of a mess, and I really need to close off the lab--"
"What are you so jumpy for?" the Brigadier asked, striding after him. "Where's Miss Grant?"
"Oh, just inside the TARDIS, finishing up a few figs--" He placeded himself in front of the open TARDIS door, blocking it.
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow. "Figs? Is she fond of figs? Look here, Doctor, I can't do much if you want to go gallivanting off 'round the universe, but we do need to talk about Miss Grant. She has been assigned to UNIT, and I'm answerable for her safety."
In spite of the pressures of the moment, the Doctor became indignant. "What do you mean? She's perfectly safe with me. I look after her very well." Something crinkled. The Brigadier looked down.
"I say!" the he exclaimed. "There's a hand in your pocket!"
"What's that?" the Doctor glanced down at his jacket pocket. A slender, careful hand coming from behind him was cautiously extracting a bag of figs from it. "Cause and effect reasoning at last," he muttered. Impulsively, the Brigadier leaped forward and seized the wrist of the trespassing hand.
"Miss Grant? What are you about? Come out at once!" he ordered.
"You mustn't do that." The Doctor caught the Brigadier's wrist. "Let her go. You'll frighten her."
Jo peeped out from behind the Doctor, frightened, and tried to slip back into the TARDIS. She pulled to escape the grip on her wrist. Surprised, the Brigadier released her. She whisked out of sight.
"Congratulations. Your name has just preceded mine on her predator list," the Doctor said.
"What's happened to her?"
The Doctor turned his head and crinkled the cellophane bag in his pocket. "Do you want the figs, Jo?" he called softly. "Come out. Don't be frightened."
She glanced out at them warily, and then darted to safety behind the Doctor. She peered at the Brigadier from behind the time lord. The Doctor let her use him as a barricade. "Yes, it's quite all right," he told her. She touched her cheek to the upper sleeve of his jacket, just a brief touch. "She does that to reassure herself," he said quietly. "I think the velvet makes her feel like the pack is near her." As the Brigadier remained still, the Doctor slipped the bag of figs to her. Without another glance at either of them, she took the closed bag, moved out of sight behind the Doctor, opened the bag, and ate the figs.
"Two days ago she could not reason her way clear to open the bag," the Doctor said. "She's trying to re-orient herself. For Pete's sake, keep your voice low, and don't look at her directly."
"What's happened to her?" the Brigadier asked.
"We visited a planet where there's nothing but these little furry creatures called quilae. They're very shy, very gentle little things. I always wondered how it was that when they were threatened with extinction they bounced back from it. Well, now I know--"
Finished with the figs, Jo dropped the bag and spied the enormous window in the lab. She darted towards it, leaping up on the workbench and running down the length of it.
"Jo! That's a pane of glass!" the Doctor exclaimed. He winced, for he knew she did not understand his words, and chasing her would have driven her into it. But she saw her reflection as she got close and stopped short of bashing into the glass. She climbed onto the narrow window sill and pressed herself against the window. She turned and looked back at him, pleading, wanting to go outside where the sunlight was real.
"Can you sit down?" he asked her. "Here, try this. Help me Brigadier." They pushed the workbench up against the window so that she had room to sit down, but she stayed where she was, every inch of her longing to be outside.
"What the blazes does this mean? Does she think she's one of these furry little things from that planet?" the Brigadier asked.
"She doesn't think she's a quila, but she's thinking like a quila," the Doctor told him. "Any creature hunted long enough either finds a way to survive, or inadvertently survives, or it is destroyed. The quilae originally were slightly telepathic with each other. They generate their basic impulses: food, rest, danger and so forth as telepathic signals back and forth. Well, over time when they were being hunted down for their pelts, their numbers were drastically reduced. The need to maintain contact with each other must have grown enormously. My guess is that as there were fewer and fewer quilae, their telepathy got more and more powerful as a final protective barrier to keep the packs intact. So there came a point when it became powerful enough to over write the thinking of the more intelligent hunters. I don't think it was a conscious strategy. I think it just happened."
"So you're saying that these furry little watchamacallits can make rational, two-legged creatures start thinking--"
"And behaving," the Doctor added. "Thinking and behaving like members of the pack. We were only there for a few hours. Next thing I knew, Jo had gone back to the wild. I found the remains of other humanoids here and there on the planet's surface."
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow at him. "Remains?"
"Yes, well, the quilae are perfectly adaptable to sharing their lives with other species, but the other species don't do too well. I think that the humanoids starved to death trying to live off the grasses that sustain the quilae. Jo certainly was not able to subsist eating their natural food. That's how I finally caught her. She couldn't resist a pot of boiling figs, which I'd laced with knockout drops."
The Brigadier looked from her to him. "Well now that she's away from those things, won't she snap out of it?"
"She should. I thought that coming home might help her along," the Doctor said. "Also, I need to get some human brain wave emission charts to use as a basis of comparison. I might be able to help her mind's functions re-set themselves." He walked over to the sink, ran the water from the tap, and found one of the chipped, battered mugs they often used for tea. He filled it with water and took it to her.
"Do you want water, Jo?"
At his voice, she glanced at him, took the mug in both hands, and drank from it. He turned to Lethbridge-Stewart. "When I first recaptured her, she couldn't reason the use of a container of water or a bag that contained figs. I had to give everything to her directly. But now she can open bags, explore containers--"
"Pick pockets--" the Brigadier added wryly.
"It's a tremendous step forward," the Doctor told him. "Because the quilae cannot do those things. So she's coming back to us. But I would like to speed things along." Finished with the water, Jo dropped the mug before the Doctor could catch it. It hit the window sill and rolled onto the table. The Brigadier scooped it up before it hit the floor.
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck. "Mmm. We may want to use paper cups."
"Look, how long is it going to take for her to snap out of this?"
"Well." The Doctor considered and then shook his head. "Too long. Even a week is too long. If she were to get away from me, she could be killed or seriously injured. I can't tie her down or leash her as if she were an animal, because she's not an animal. But she doesn't have any more awareness of the dangers of traffic and burners and acids and chemical poisons than an animal would. And she's only half tame, even with me. I think I can rig up something here in the lab to get her back to normal."
"Well, you've got an added incentive to return her to normal as quickly as possible, Doctor." The Brigadier let out his breath. "You do remember our friend Mr. Chin, don't you?"
"That disagreeable chap from the Ministry who jumbled things up so much in the Axos incident. Well, he's leveled innumerable complaints against UNIT, and against you and me in particular. We've got a board of enquiry coming in tomorrow morning, and frankly, things would go a lot better if you simply were not here!"
"Well I like that! I risked my life and my TARDIS against Axos, you know."
With a glance at Jo, the Brigadier checked his voice. He spoke more soothingly. "You know we are all very grateful to you, Doctor. And you know that there are few people I despise as heartily as I do Mr. Chin. But the fact remains that these investigators will not be pleased to find a young woman, the niece of a cabinet minister, climbing on the furniture in search of nuts and berries! You've got to keep her under wraps, and you've got to make yourself scarce."
The Doctor's reputation regarding high officials and the administrative buearacracy was legendary. He understood the Brigadier's wariness and decided to agree rather than be insulted.
"Then let me lock myself in the lab, and don't disturb me," he said. "Maybe within a few hours I can have Jo back to normal."
"You do know what their verdict will be if they come into contact with her," the Brigadier said with a warning tone. The Doctor looked at him, puzzled. "Chin will have her whisked down to a mental institution in no time, and even if we get her out of it and she gets back to normal, that's the end of her career with a top secret organisation like UNIT. Not to mention how traumatic it will be for her to be taken to a place like that." He stepped away from the Doctor and looked at Jo, who had her face pushed into the window, her eyes fixed on the world outside.
* * * *
She did not like the big, loud room with the odd smells and clattering noises everywhere. The white-haired other ignored her for most of the day, busying himself with making noise across the room with the objects that he found here and there. Several times he went rummaging in various compartments in the big room. This rummaging action alerted her to the possibilities of food being available. She would leave the window to join him and scrabble with her hands in the drawers as he did. Unlike the males from the pack, he did not snap at her for searching for food too close to him. But she never found anything to eat. And the hard and sharp objects in the compartments hurt her hands. At last after she had searched and rummaged a drawer, he would rummage with his hands again and would sometimes find a fig, which he would give to her. And he would touch the sleeve of his jacket to her cheek. This satisfied her. But eventually he stopped looking for food and went back to making his banging noises. She did not like the noise, and so she returned to the window.
At last as darkness came, she left her station at the window and accepted more food from the other (who no longer behaved like a predator at all). She searched along the walls for a place to curl up to sleep. The other found a dark niche for her under a spiral staircase in one corner of the room. She liked the softness of his cape and waistcoat, which were similar to the softness of the pack all curled up together. So he carefully folded his cape on the floor for her, under the steps, and then he walked away and resumed his tapping and clicking noises among the objects. She curled up on the impromptu bed and soon felt safe enough to close her eyes. But just as she was becoming drowsy, the other came and fastened something bulky around her neck. She cried out and tried to get away from this unexpected invasion, but it was too late. The heavy collar was fastened before she could escape. She tugged and tugged on it and suddenly found her voice. Up until then she had remained silent when frightened. But now she made sharp exclamations and gasps of fear to let him know her discomfort.
The other spoke softly to her and tried to comfort her with figs, but he would not remove the weight. She pulled and clawed at the collar, but it would not come free.
He spoke again, very gently, and tried to move her hands away from it. Tears forced themselves out of her eyes, and she gave voice again to her distress.
He stood up and hurried to another part of the room, as though he had forgotten her completely. She followed and patted at him, at his soft jacket and waistcoat, pleading with him to remove the weight from her neck. The horrible, heavy collar suddenly hummed, as though it were a living creature, and she cried out and tried to run away from it, behind the TARDIS. It hummed again, and she ran away again, but she could not run away from it. It clung to her throat and hummed at her. She blindly ran around the large room, bumping into things and making them clatter, knocking herself over a couple times when she ran into things that would not yield, but taking to her heels again immediately, panicked by the thing at her throat. She suddenly ran right into his arms, and he spoke again and removed the collar from her. He would have offered her food, but the crinkling paper had no attraction for her. Freed from the horrible collar, she whisked out of sight from him, under the workbench, but that was too open. Heavy machinery was stacked everywhere in the big room, especially in the corners, and she ran along the wall in a crouch until she found a narrow squeeze-way behind a great, unused card-feed computer. She got into the tiny recess behind it and hid from him.
He came and sat on the other side of the great barricade and spoke to her, very soothingly, but she sobbed out her indignation and fear and refused to come out. He brought her the soft cape and passed it through the tiny opening to her. She snatched it, pulled it in, and huddled her face into its comfort. He'd run out of figs by that time, so he left her water and raisins within reach of the opening, but she would not touch them while he was close by. For a long time he stayed on the other side of the great machine and spoke to her. Finally, as she refused to come out, he went away.
* * * *
In the morning, Lethbridge-Stewart sent Sgt. Benton down to the lab to warn the Doctor that Chin and his committee of enquiry were due at 9:00 a.m. Benton unlocked the lab door with the keys from the Duty Officer key ring, and poked his head inside the lab.
"Doctor?" he called.
In her hideaway, Jo woke up.
"Doctor?" he called. There was an imposing array of machinery on the workbench, a complete setup of some kind, though Benton had no idea what it was supposed to do. He came into the lab and knocked on the left TARDIS door, which was slightly ajar. Behind him, somebody whisked by, hurrying out of the room, but he barely noticed. The Doctor instantly appeared at the TARDIS door, and he let out a loud exclamation.
"You let her out!" he shouted. "She's gotten away! Quick man, get after her! What are you doing in here? Never mind that! Just get her! Stop her!"
"Right sir!" Benton ran out with the Doctor hard on his heels. "Is it Miss Grant, sir?"
"Yes, you young fool! If she gets out of the building we may never find her. She could be hit by a car or get hurt in any of a dozen ways. Get the place sealed off!"
"But Mr. Chin is coming--"
"Blast Mr. Chin! Do as I say! You get the place sealed off and then go to the top floor! I'll check the ground floor!" The Doctor darted away.
* * * *
At first Jo meant to find a way out to the sunlight, but there were predators everywhere, mostly male. For the most part they had their eyes down and did not seem aggressive at the moment, but she did not like roaming in their territory. She wanted some place quiet. She stayed along the walls of the hallways and kept her eyes down as she hurried along, searching for other exit paths. A tired old female passed her, pushing a wheeled cart. It caught Jo's attention. Various odors rose from it--sweet smells. She followed it down several hallways to a great echoing room that she did not like at all. But the female went through the room and into a smaller room crowded with many smells. This room was nearly deserted. The woman left the cart in a corner and wandered away. Jo crouched down behind the cart and waited.
She had found UNIT's cafeteria kitchen, a place suited for serving mostly pastries, muffins; sandwiches at lunch, and occasional fancier fare for special teas. The morning service was just finishing. After a short while, the room emptied out, and Jo went exploring. She found the wide, step-in pantry, the source of all the odors, and climbed up the shelves.
For twenty minutes or so she forgot about the dangers all around, about her hurt feelings over the collar trick, about her strong desire to be in sunlight and grass. She pulled open the great cereal boxes, rummaged through them, sampled most of them, and filled her pockets with their treasures. Then she dropped them on the floor. The greatest treasure was the five pound canister of confectioner's sugar. She spilled it over herself as she tried to get it down from the very top shelf. The resulting shower of sweet, choking dust was brand new to her, both horrifying and delightful. It filled the enclosed pantry with a cloud of white dust.
Coughing and choking, she had to climb down and go back outside the pantry to breathe. Experimentally, she licked her right hand, which--like the rest of her--was liberally coated with the dusty sugar. The first lick told her that she would never clean herself this way, but that the white powder was much better than figs. She went inside, fell to hands and knees, and attacked the pile of sugar on the floor. It came up her nose and got into her eyes each time she bit into it. She coughed and sneezed and had to crawl outside again. That was when Benton spied her from the cafeteria outside. He shouted out loud in surprise and then called to her.
With a wordless exclamation of dismay, she took to her heels and darted away in full flight. Benton ran after her, shouting for the Doctor.
Being pursued by a predator was the absolute worst of her fears. She leaped and bounded down the stairs, the precious food rattling out of her pockets, leaving a trail for her pursuers. Where ever she bumped or brushed against the walls or railings, she left a white streak. She heard him calling and coming after her, and in desperation her eyes searched for a hiding place.
Meanwhile, the Brigadier faced the difficulty of chairing a meeting whose sole purpose was to question his abilities as a UN appointee working on British soil. He faced the inquisition with a certain lofty and courteous disdain, which he knew would appeal to some of the board members.
"This entire institution," Mr. Chin was saying. "Requires a firm hand to keep it in line with British law and with legal military operating procedures. It can not be left under the sole jurisdiction of a single commanding officer."
"I quite agree," the Brigadier said as Chin dropped his portly mass back into a chair at the foot of the table. "This is why UN Headquarters in Geneva has maintained a series of inspections since the founding of UNIT. I assure you, the highest standards of professionalism and dignity in service have always been observed here at UNIT in London. We are a model of perfect order."
Just then a diminuitive figure, coated with white powder from head to foot, her eyes wild with emotion, raced into the room. Several of the board members shouted in surprise.
Jo realized that she'd run into a trap. There was no exit at the back, and the room was filled with male predators, all of them in black it seemed, except for the one she had seen yesterday.
She raced down the side of the room as Sgt. Benton burst inside and chased her. As this little white ghost streaked around the room, several of the visitors leaped up from their table. Sgt. Benton tried to restore order.
"Don't panic sirs, nothing to worry about!" he exclaimed, hoping his words might have some effect. As Benton came around the table from one end, Jo skirted the other end and darted out the door again.
"Benton! You are to restore order at once!" the Brigadier bellowed.
"I knew this was a mad house!" Chin exclaimed. "Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, your methods of military discipline are substandard! Absolutely substandard!"
Jo wanted nothing more than to find her safe haven in the lab, but she could not orient herself. There was no sun to help her, and the hallways confused her sense of direction.
"Jo! Jo!" a soft voice called, and the Other stepped around a corner up the hall. He opened his arms. She suddenly understood the gesture, and recognized the gentle, inviting gaze. She ran to him, no longer afraid of him. The Other caught her to himself and put his arms around her protectively. She pushed her face against his soft waistcoat and tried to express her fear of the hideous thing chasing her. Benton came clattering up the hall behind her, and the Doctor raised a hand to tell him to stop. The sergeant instantly obeyed.
Trembling to have a fierce predator so close, she glanced at it over her shoulder. The Other spoke, and the predator put its head down in submission and backed away to a safe distance. She was safe. The Other stroked her sugar crusted hair and touched his sleeve to her cheek. She again pushed her face into the softness of his waistcoat and jacket and tried to express her relief at finding him.
The Other spoke to her gently, and she knew from his voice and his eyes that he was glad to see her again. At last as she stopped trembling and as strength came back to her legs, he led her away, back to the lab. She wanted to go with him. The world outside was too big, too confusing, and too filled with predators.
Benton followed at a distance, walking almost on tiptoe.
In the lab, the Other showed her the collar and spoke to her seriously. She knew he wanted her to wear it again, and as soon as he set it down, she pushed it away, unhappy. He stroked her stiff, sugar-coated hair and spoke. She didn't understand the words, but she knew he was pleading with her and that he had a reason for what he was asking. At last she turned her head away and lifted her chin slightly to let him do as he liked.
Benton entered and softly closed the lab door.
"Is she quite all right, Doctor?" he asked. "She doesn't seem quite herself." She looked at him warily, but he maintained a safe distance.
"No, not yet," the Doctor said quietly. He took up the collar and fastened it around her neck. "I took a reading on her last night with this signal enhancer. It showed an interruption of her normal brain wave function."
"Can you fix things for her?"
"Oh, easily enough," he said lightly. She looked at the Doctor again with unhappy eyes. "It's all right, my dear. Just two hums, and everything is over," he said. "Sergeant, just go over to that end of the workbench and throw that switch will you? I've got the discharge unit set up for her signal pattern. We may be able to restore normal function just by giving her brain a sort of template for a few seconds."
Sgt. Benton complied. Jo shrank away from the humming in the collar, and then hid her face against his waistcoat. The Doctor put a steadying arm around her. She was suddenly unable to see for a moment, and then her vision cleared, and there he was, looking down at her with a faint smile. For a moment he was simply the Other, powerful, and direct with his gaze, and equipped with food for her. Then, like a picture coming into focus, she recognized his face, and his eyes took on all the good natured humor, the quietness, the expressions of restless intelligence and mercurial temper that were all the Doctor.
She was suddenly surprised. "You've got white stuff all over your waistcoat," she said.
"Do I?" he asked. He unfastened the Velcro fasteners on her collar and removed it. "What's that?" she asked when she saw it. Then she saw her own arms and hands. "I've got white stuff all over me!" she exclaimed. She rubbed her face. "I think it's powdered sugar! What's happened?"
Benton looked up from the workbench and at the Doctor's nod he switched off the signal generator. "You got into the pantry, Miss," the sergeant said.
She looked at Benton for a moment in dumbfounded amazement; then she frowned and said, "I do remember being in a pantry. I was up high--" She looked back at the Doctor. "What's been going on the last few days? Where have we been?"
"You've had some amazing adventures," the Doctor told her. "And I'll explain them all to you. But for your own sake, we've got to get you cleaned up in a hurry. Mr. Chin from the Ministry is here today, and he's going to want to look in on us."
She instantly grasped the implications of a visit from Chin. "All right. I've got spare clothes in the TARDIS."
"Right. Here's a lab coat as well. It belongs to that technician, Rolands, but he's off-site today." The Doctor quickly rummaged in one of the lockers and passed her a lab coat. "And use the high speed cleaning jets in the TARDIS to get cleaned off."
* * * *
The interruption of the opening session of the board of inquiry had Chin in an uproar, demanding an explanation. The Brigadier shuffled aside the protests by saying he would get a copy of the final report of the incident to Mr. Chin as soon as possible.
"I know that whatever devilry was afoot, that scientific advisor of yours was behind it!" Chin exclaimed. "I am authorised by the British government to inspect these facilities, and I insist on being taken to the science labs right now!"
The Brigadier did the best that he could, starting with a tour of the electronic supply rooms, but Chin hurried him along. The committee men did not object to this. They were more reticent than Chin to find fault, but they were certainly curious about what other oddities might turn up here.
At last the Brigadier led them through the closed doors of the Doctor's lab, into the timelord's domain. The committee entered to find a white haired scientist, with a lab coat on over his clothing, taking readings on a bit of diseased bovine sampling. He jotted his notes down in a memo book.
As they entered, a young, fair-haired girl, also clad in a lab coat over her clothing, stepped from the doors of an old police call box. She had a sheaf of papers in her hands. Her hair was neatly pulled back and pinned up in place, and she wore black horn-rimmed glasses. "Here are the reports you requested, Doctor," she said to the white haired man.
"There she is!" Chin exclaimed. "That's the girl!"
"Oh hello," Jo said. She spoke uncertainly, as though not sure why this man was pointing her out. "Mr. Chin, isn't it?"
"It was you that went rushing around our meeting all in white!" he exclaimed.
Jo's eyes widened. "I beg your pardon?" And the Doctor looked up from his microscope. "Whatever are you talking about? My assistant has been working with me."
"Oh really, Mr. Chin," the Brigadier said gruffly. "This young woman is nothing like the half witted vagrant that invaded our meeting. Do go about your duties, Miss Grant."
Jo obeyed and would have sat down at a typing station, but Chin strode over to her and parted her heair with his fingers, looking for traces of white. Jo leaped up. "Mr. Chin!" she exclaimed.
The Doctor raised his voice. "Here now! What are you doing?"
Chin looked to the other committee men for support, but they had no idea about the identity of their mysterious visitor.
Chin regained his composure and stalked right up to the Brigadier. The Brigadier was the taller of the two. "I know what I saw," Chin said. "This young woman---coated with sugar---interrupted out meeting. Whitehall shall receive a full report on the matter."
"Do send me a copy," the Brigadier said.
"So sorry to not be able to spare you more time," the Doctor told the committee. "I've got to get this report out. Urgently needed by British farmers."
The men uttered their apologies and backed out of the lab in a hurry. The Brigadier closed the door behind them, but he paused to shoot a questioning glance at the Doctor, who nodded. Jo turned from the typewriter with a smile, and the Brig offered a thumbs-up. He was a champion at smoothing things over, and he could take care of the incident in the morning, especially by assuring that the intruder was never identified.
After he had closed the door, the Doctor turned to Jo. "Well done," he said. "Are you hungry?"
She removed the reading glasses and returned them to the pocket of the borrowed lab coat. "I could just die for fish and chips," she told him. "I've got to get the taste of figs and raisins out of my mouth."