Sarah Jane slammed into the door with her shoulder and hand. There was no resistance as it was smashed back into proper place, and the lock automatically clicked home. Whatever was on the other side leaped back in time to avoid being hit. When she peered through the crack at the threshold, the shadows of the two feet were more distant., and then two smaller shadows plopped down with them---hands, she thought, or claws, or paws. Suddenly she was not certain that whatever was there was human.
The temptation to cry out niggled at her, but she was also afraid of the people that housed her. She had heard of abuses in the lockups, and she was not certain that the intruder had not been a member of the police force, using a skeleton key to get in. She was still on the floor, her legs tiring from her crouch, and so she sat on one leg, and pressed her shoulder and weight into the door.
She listened, and as she did not hear anything, she lowered her head and looked under the door. The shadows were either too far away to be seen, or the would-be intruder had abandoned his mission.
* * * *
"He's still not getting enough air. He's got to be taken to UNIT Headquarters," the Doctor said as the two attendants, with the Brigadier firmly buckled onto a stretcher, lifted the unconscious man into the back of their medical van. Lethbridge Stewart's breathing was still laborious, though he seemed stable at the moment.
"He's got to go where we're told, mate," one of them said. On the stretcher, Lethbridge Stewart had a breathing mask strapped to his face, the air canister resting on his neck and shoulder. The skin of his face was mottled, not from asphyxiation, but with small clots of blood. His hands were also marked with the faint red sheen and mottling.
The Doctor climbed in after them.
"Right!" the one at the head of the stretcher yelled He knocked on the medical cabinet that partially obscured the driver's head. "Let's go!"
The one at the feet was just pulling the ambulance doors inward, to close them. The stretcher legs were locked onto metal clasps to keep it steady.
"Hai!" the Doctor shouted, and he slammed his foot into the backside of the man who was off-balance at the doors. The kick propelled the attendant into the doors before they engaged. They burst open, and he flew out, just as the medical van moved forward. The Doctor nimbly pulled the Brigadier's sidearm from its holster, still strapped to Lethbridge Stewart's belt.
"All right, let's have no more of this nonsense!" the Doctor said. He leveled the weapon at the attendant. "Don't argue." The driver saw the situation in the rear view mirror.
"He's still in danger," the Doctor said. "And you chaps can't help him." He shouted so that the driver understood. "Take us to UNIT!"
"It's on your say-so," the driver said, and they pulled out. He switched on the siren.
* * * *
"Sarah," a voice whispered. It was a voice, she thought, with no blood or moisture behind it. A voice from a dry grave.
She was tired from pressing her weight against the door.
"Come to where there is no labor. No struggle."
"Where?" she whispered.
"They make you suffer. They fill you with fear. They warn you and threaten you and chase you. They ask you questions. Come to rest. Come to rest in me. Feed me. Restore my life."
"Where?" she whispered. As far as she knew, she was in her cell, though it was now quite dark. She could see nothing. But she could feel the cold door against her shoulder and the side of her face.
"Inhale," the voice told her. She did. A fragrance was coming up all around her. She knew it at once. It was the heavenly, sweet smell of flowers that had attended her on the planet of Fomalhaut.
"How did you know about that?" she asked.
"I did not create it. It's on you. It's your sweet smell."
"No." She understood the error. The Doctor had smelled that fragrance on her for weeks after her encounter with the strange being of Fomalhaut. Even after Sarah no longer noticed it on herself, he would still remark on it. And while it had been strong, before it had worn off, everybody had been much nicer to her, much more kind and yet subdued and polite. And she had noticed that people had simply liked being near her. On the planet, it had become the signal to her that she would be cared for, fed, comforted, answered, and protected.
"That's the smell of Fomalhaut," she whispered. "The person who saved me. That's her smell."
"She gave it to you. She put it on you. It's a part of you now."
"Nobody can smell it."
"I smell it. You know what it means."
She inhaled. She liked the idea that the smell still lingered on her. And now, in her dark cell in this miserable place, she took comfort in the smell. Some great, compassionate, good natured, and mystic creature had taken thought of her out there---way out there in the vast universe. When she thought of all the unpleasantness here, especially March's face as he had told her that he didn't like her and was going to make it hard for her here, she liked the sweet smell of Fomalhaut's complete forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance.
"You know what it means," the dry, bloodless voice said.
"It means mercy, I think," she said.
"It means food and sustenance. It means being the salvation of another."
The smell was extremely comforting, and it was making her sleepy after all her fear. "All right."
The smell diminished, and the disinfectant-and-urine smell of the jail came back to her. This roused her from her doze.
"That's why you can no longer smell it on yourself," the voice told her. "You are meant to be the salvation of another."
This claim on her awoke her even more. "Who?" she asked. "How can my smell save somebody?"
"Find me. Come feed me and sustain me, Sarah Jane Smith."
She did not find the voice especially appealing. But anything that explained the significance of what had happened in the Fomalhaut system had a claim on Sarah Jane. She even sensed that she might fear the owner of this voice, but she brushed that consideration aside. The claim of Fomalhaut was a claim on her deepest sense of duty.
"I don't have any food for you," she said.
"You must feed me and sustain me," the voice told her, as though she had not spoken. "You'll know."
She hesitated, but as it did not speak again, she said again, "I don't have food for you."
"I must consume you. Transform me and end the transformations. Be my food and sustenance."
She jerked awake and found herself sitting against the door. The cell was dim but not entirely dark.
* * * *
"All right Alastair, no talking. Not this time. Just breathe and be thankful we got out in time," the Doctor said.
Lethbridge Stewart seemed perfectly inclined to comply with these directives. Breathing assistance tubes ran to his nose, but he was no longer intubated. His lungs were working, though the sound of his breathing was accompanied by a rattle from his chest His dark eyes followed the time lord's hands as the Doctor reached over to a collapsible stand alongside the bed and pressed the button of some type of printout device. Slender wires ran from the Brigadier's chest and neck into this printer. The Doctor tore off a large sheet of paper, held it before his eyes, and scanned it with a judicious expression.
As the Brigadier, normally impatient and curious, made no sound but only watched, the Doctor glanced down at him. And now the concern was evident in the Doctor's eyes.
"For some reason, certain stabilizing components of your blood were abruptly dissolved. It was a sudden thing: a sudden chemical conversion like I've never seen before. And even though we are different physiologically, I should have been at least somewhat impaired as well. I was standing right next to you."
There was still no real response to this, though the recovering man's eyes were fixed on him, all attention. The Doctor showed him the indecipherable printout. "This is an analysis of your blood. I've done what I can for such an unusual condition, and we've got a few pints of your old stuff here on layaway." He pointed up at the hanging red bag that was slowly draining into the Brigadier's arm. "That's some of your old stuff. The blood donation plan for the soldiers is a good idea."
For the first time, a flicker of light passed across Lethbridge Stewart's eyes. Having the lads cue up to give a pint of blood every six months was a UNIT security directive. Every man had his own back up blood supply. But it was always a task that everybody hated, and there were innumerable whingers and even a few crafty dodgers who could put off the task almost until the next donation was due from them. But now, it had come out right, and this always pleased him. Undoubtedly, amidst the head ache of getting all the men to give their pint, the Doctor had twitted him about the plan, so now it was a point for the Brigadier.
"Oh yes." The Doctor made his voice good natured. "You were right about the blood bank. I always own up when a man is proved right." He set down the paper, and he smiled faintly. "You know I'm the first to admit it when I'm wrong."
He took up the Brigadier's wrist and felt the pulse. "But you're still not ready for anything more than bed rest. It will take several hours to replace the blood that was lost, and the blood inside you is not doing its work with good efficiency. The new blood will help it repair itself, and your body will build the components that were destroyed. But all of that will take time. And if you try to stir, you'll compromise your own recovery. Your liver is managing the task for now, but the medical doctors here are keeping an eye on it. As am I." He set the wrist down. "A moment longer of exposure, and your liver would have started to dissolve inside you. And then nothing could have saved you." And his eyes became grim.
"Cole," the Brigadier whispered.
"I'll get down there and look at the body," the Doctor said. "Now that we know what to look for, we may see the same thing." He folded the printout in half and slid it under the collapsible stand. "It might also explain why Sarah Jane saw blood on her own hands. Either Cole's or her own. But it wouldn't explain why she was not more seriously harmed, nor why she cannot remember what happened."
He glanced up at the clock on the wall in the small infirmary room. "It's nearly morning. I'll run down to the lockup and see if I can get her into UNIT custody."
The Brigadier, with some effort, grasped the Doctor's wrist. "Enemy," he whispered.
"What's that?' the Doctor leaned forward.
"Person." He touched his own chest. These actions exhausted him, but his eyes were expectant and hopeful as he looked up at the time lord.
"You think it was a person who attacked you? Went right into your blood and your lungs?"
The Brigadier nodded.
"You sensed a body? A personality there?"
Again, Lethbridge Stewart nodded. He couldn't speak again. There was not enough oxygen to spare inside him to talk or move.
"All right," the Doctor said. He rested his hand on Lethbridge Stewart's shoulder. "Recover. I'll be back as soon as I can, old boy."
* * * *
All that about Fomalhaut was just a dream, Sarah Jane told herself. She sniffed at her own forearm as she crawled back onto the cot. No sweet smell, not any more. It had worn off weeks ago. She was no longer mindful of the door. Whoever had been there had retreated, and she supposed that if it had been a person from the police force willing to abuse his privileges with a woman in a cell, he had gone to find a more willing inmate. She was very sleepy, and so she lay down on the cot, pausing only to wish it were not so hard, and then she fell asleep.
She gradually became aware of the smell of hot, fresh coffee, and the murmuring sound of glad voices around her. Bacon was frying. Real country bacon, raised on grains, the kind you could get only out in country resorts. She opened her eyes and saw the thick, heavy beams of a country inn's roof above her. Her bed was still hard. Oh I do hope I haven't missed breakfast, she thought wistfully.
"Yes, this is perfect," she heard one of the other guests saying. She didn't really see anybody move into her line of vision, but a hand was placed upon her head. "Food and medicine at the same time. That's what real food is. Heals disease. Stops the cycle of transformation from spiraling downward."
"Food and medicine, yes I see," somebody else repeated. And a child's voice asked. "Will she feel it?"
"Not much," somebody said. "And it's what she was made for. It's a transformation of her own, you see."
The hand on her forehead moved over her nose and mouth, cutting off her breathing for just a moment, and then moved aside. "You see, this is how she brings air in. She uses the air to carry out her functions and live. A delicate operation, a delicate, highly refined balance."
"Well I hope the chef can do justice to her. It's got to be done just right or she won't be any good."
"He's very skillful." The hand stroked her cheek. "He'll require a proper look at her, but then he'll know what to do."
"And it won't hurt much?" the child's voice asked.
"Only enough so that she knows it's happening to her. But behind that pain is pleasure. She was made to be consumed. She was made to be the excellent repast that ends the cycle of transformations."
She didn't know whether to be afraid or charmed by these words. But, certainly, she knew that she had not missed breakfast.
A tray rattled, and a voice from the corridor spoke with a certain sharp, demanding, and false cheeriness. "Wakey! Wakey! Here's breakfast!" She sat up. From outside the door, she heard the sound of a new day in the lockup. Men were walking about and calling to each other as the shift changed to start the day. Doors were opening and closing.
* * * *
"You going to see to Miss Smith, Doctor?" Benton asked him as the Doctor strode for the double doors that led to the car park.
"Probably still a bit early to get her out," the Doctor said. "They demanded 24 hours. That lives me with another four or five before I can claim her." He smiled ruefully.
Benton looked slightly perplexed. "The thing is, Doctor. With the Brig down, and I'm Warrant Officer, well, I can send a car down for her if you like. Or leave it with you. But I thought I ought to check."
"Did you get the police away from that house?" the Doctor asked.
"Yes. We cleared out the neighborhood. We've made a perimeter around the yard with our patrols. But nothing has stirred."
"And nobody's gone in?"
"No. But if you've got a mind to go in, I'll go with you."
This offer, carefully made to sound off-hand, brought a smile to the Doctor's face, but he dismissed it. "So I can pull you out, half dead? No Mr. Benton. I think I'll go it alone this time."
"Are you sure that's wise, sir?"
The Doctor understood the concern. "Whatever happened in there last night missed me," he said. "Perhaps I have a certain immunity."
"Or maybe whatever happened didn't have a chance to spread to you."
"The Brigadier says it was a person who attacked him. A being. Why him and not me?"
"Might have just been because he was the first one it got to. Like a bloke can only punch one chap at a time, but he'll get to everybody sooner or later if he's given the chance."
"As it is, we've got several people missing, one man dead who ventured into that house. Blood everywhere. And Sarah Jane Smith linked in with it somehow. I think she was there, and if she was, she was spared. And I escaped untouched. I'm best suited to go back. Perhaps I can make some sort of contact with it."
Warrant Officer Benton did not like this at all. But he made no further objections. "Well, if I don't hear from you, then, I'll send a car after Miss Smith in a few hours."
"That's good of you. Goodbye." And the Doctor strode out.
* * * *
March's eyes were cold and round and ready to pounce. He entered the interview room where the woman PC was already stationed, and he switched on the tape recorder. "Another new day," he said, his eyes fixed on Sarah Jane's eyes. He sat down. "And did you have a nice breakfast, Miss Smith?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Her voice was even and hard, unfrightened. No blubbing today. She was past that.
His eyes reflected a flicker of surprise. "Nothing. Just a question. Testy are we?"
"Whatever you like." But her voice was still hard, and she met his eyes. She knew what she had to do. She had to find out from him where she had been.
"So do you remember where you were night before last?"
"No, but it had to be where James Cole was. I want to go there."
He leaned back, and he was, clearly, surprised. "Oh you do?"
"I have to. I have to know what happened. Isn't that what you want? Take me there. Maybe it will come back." And then she said the only thing she knew. "There was blood on my hands. Why didn't you test my clothing? Then you would know if it were my blood or his blood."
"We tested the wool coat. There was no blood. None." He was now cautious.
"And my car?"
"None. Not a speck. We plan to investigate it more thoroughly."
"Then take me to where he was."
"You know where he was. We found the address in your belongings." March folded his short, thick arms across his chest.
"Can we go there?"
"What's got into you? Yesterday you just wanted to be left alone," he said. "Wanted me to feel sorry for you and let you go."
She leaned back and caught her breath. She had become tense, but not with fear. She had to know what had happened. Something had tracked her. Something had said things to her that she had never before considered. She could not write it off as dreams. This matter required the Doctor, but she knew that if she asked for him, then March would make it a point to bar her from the Doctor for as long as possible, so she did not ask.
"If you really want to sort this out," she said. "Let's go to that house and have a look round."
"We can't!" he exclaimed. "Your UNIT friends have nicely sealed it off from us. They say one of their people was attacked in there. Then they commandeered an ambulance and took him back to UNIT." He did not add that the sentry PC has agreed that something had happened in the house, and that the fallen UNIT man had been breathing out his own blood before the ambulance came. But he watched Sarah Jane.
"Who?" she asked. "Not the Doctor."
"I couldn't say." He abruptly stood up. "But we've finished our questioning of you."
She was startled. "I'm free?"
"You can pick up your things at the desk where you left them. Do let us know before you leave town." His voice was acidly polite.
"Certainly. And do let me know if I spell your name wrong in my next article, Superintendent," she said.
And so it was, a few hours before the mandated 24-hour period was up, that Sarah Jane found herself out on the London sidewalk, her purse, coat, and belongings returned (except for her car). She hailed a cab and climbed in.
More than anything, she wanted a hot bath with lots of soap, a plate piled high with toast, butter, and jam, and a leisurely morning in her robe and slippers, feet up, with the morning crossword before her and the telly going in the background. Home, safety, and the familiar. The address of the house had been returned to her purse. She withdrew the chit of paper and passed it to the driver. "Can you take me here?"
"That street's closed off, Miss," he told her.
"As near as you can get then," she said. "Without being seen by anybody in a uniform."
Just then there was a rap on the rear passenger door of the cab. She turned and saw two faces peering in: youthful, hopeful, and strangely familiar. One was red haired and fairly tall, and the other slender, short, and blond.
"They want to share the cab," the driver began.
"Go on! Quickly! I'll make it up to you!" she exclaimed. "Quick! Drive on!"
He instantly obliged and stepped on the gas as he turned the wheel. They slipped into traffic. She stared back at the two figures on the sidewalk. She recognized them, but she could not place them.
"That would have been another fare. You said you'd make it up to me," the driver reminded her.
* * * *
"All right." The Doctor straightened up from the corpse of the dead police Inspector. He nodded to the attending police pathologist.
"We already noted the liver damage," the pathologist said. For his part, he did not approve of UN soldiers interrupting a police investigation, and he did not like this oddly dressed magician barging into his case, getting access to the body, and making all sorts of grand pronouncements about the cause of death.
"But you don't know what caused it," the Doctor said. "And the charring---"
"The charring occurred after death had taken place---" The pathologist's voice betrayed his contempt for this white haired wizard from UNIT.
"By what means?"
"No trace of an inflammatory accelerant, but it looks as though there were one---a racing, hot fire that burned itself out quickly. That sort of burning is usually caused by dousing the body with gasoline or lighter fluid and touching a match to it."
"Like a quick attempt to disguise the corpse. Make it unrecognizable."
"If you like. We cannot move ahead on supposition."
The Doctor nearly said something and then stopped, but now the pathologist asked a question. "So your commanding officer was struck down in a similar way."
"But not you."
"I'm looking into that. I'm going back to the house now." The Doctor strode to the door, opened it, and then stopped and looked at his rival. "Seeing as how the police are unable to shed any light on the matter." He strode out.
* * * * *
But as he swiftly drove to the crime scene, he became thoughtful. He pulled in along the line of UNIT transports, and after he climbed out, he reached into the back and pulled the protein sniffing device from the rear seat. He had not dropped it when he had carried Lethbridge Stewart out over his shoulder, and one of the UNIT men had returned it to Bessie and returned Bessie to the UNIT car park for him. Carrying the sensor device, he strode up to the loose cordon of soldiers who were keeping an eye on the place. The rest of the street was silent and deserted. UNIT had forced an evacuation.
By this time, Benton was at the scene of the action, which was usually where Benton liked to be. He approached the Doctor. "Quiet as a tomb, Doctor. Need a hand?" He glanced at the sensor. "What's that thing?"
"Ideally, it's a protein detector, Mr. Benton." The Doctor hefted the detector into both hands. "But yesterday, I think it did double duty as a death-repellent."
"You think it shielded you from that chemical conversion that affected the Brigadier's blood?"
"Quite possibly. It emits several frequencies, none of which are commonly used on earth. Perhaps I struck a nerve in whatever assaulted the Brigadier."
Benton gave a nod. "Useful device. Shall I go in with you?"
"For the second time, no, Mr. Benton. Just make sure nobody else goes in. For whatever reason," the Doctor said. "If I'm attacked by something or have my blood thinned, there's no good purpose served in anybody else joining in. Stay out here."
Benton nodded. "All right."
For a moment their eyes locked, and then the Doctor gave a curt nod, turned, and strode up to the house.
He opened the door and entered, and when he closed it, the bang was as loud as a gunshot.
The back of the house faced east, and so from the front room he could see down the first floor hallway, into the kitchen and through the kitchen to the small sitting room beyond. In that room, at the other end of the house, the sunlight was actually quite bright and cheerful. He had intended to go directly up the steps, but as the door clapped shut, there was an answering sound from the sunny room in back. For a moment he wondered if somebody were back there. He switched on the scanning device to activate the frequencies, and he cautiously walked across the front room, down the short hallway, through the kitchen, and into the sitting room, where he saw the back door in one wall. The windows were filled with sunlight. But between them, with her back against the wall, stood Sarah Jane, her face white, her body rigid.
"Sarah Jane!" he exclaimed. He crossed to her. She opened her eyes at his call, but her fearfulness did not diminish. "Sarah?"
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I came exploring. I thought you were in lockup. They told us you wouldn't be released for 24 hours."
She caught in her breath, forcing herself, he realized, to relax and be coherent with him. "Was it perfectly awful?" he asked. "You didn't run away, did you?"
"No, they let me go. Superintendent March said somebody from UNIT was hurt---"
"The Brigadier. He'll pull through."
Something was dreadfully wrong with her. He crossed to her and looked down at her, but she didn't move off the wall.
"You've got to get out of here. How did you sneak past the soldiers?"
"On my face. Face down on the grass." She caught in her breath. "I was here. I was here, Doctor. Cole was killed here. Upstairs. I was supposed to go up next, but I ran away."
"And his blood was on you?"
"No. It caught me. It held me to the door post." She looked at the wall where she had pressed her back, but she easily stepped away from it. "Like fly paper. It hurt so much. But I was so afraid I got away."
"But your hands are unmarked," he said. He gently lifted her hand and looked at it, front and back, then he wrapped his great hand around it. "Don't be frightened, Sarah Jane."
"Do you know all about it?" she asked. "Is there really a chef? I mean, is it really eating like we eat?"
"What?" He squinted at her.
"Or is it you?" she asked. "H-How did you become what you are? Did you transform from something else?"
"I was made a timelord," he told her, his voice grave. "I was made by genetic engineering, from an artificially composed zygote. My appearance has changed at times, but never my nature. I have always been a timelord."
She put the palm of her hand up on the breast his velvet jacket, and it seemed as though this action restored some clarity to her memory and thinking. She became calmer with him. "Yes. My mind was so full of what he wants, I forgot the rest---the rest of my life."
"Sarah Jane, what happened in those police interviews?" he asked. "What did they say to you? What did they do to you? Didn't they let you sleep?" He released her hand and lifted her face by the chin. But her eyes, though they evidenced her fear, were clear. Within whatever framework she had made for herself, she was being rational.
He made his voice paternal and certain. "Let's get you out of here."
But she pressed herself back against the wall and spoke quickly in protest: "No because I would only have to come back!" she exclaimed before he could move her towards the back door. "If it has to happen, or if it doesn't have to happen---if it was all just a night of bad dreams----I have to find out here. Up there." She looked at him, and her eyes were sharp and clear. "Do you know what killed Inspector Cole?"
The Doctor answered her directly. "He was subjected to an incredible chemical change in his blood that broke down certain stabilizing compounds. His blood was ultra liquefied, and his liver almost completely destroyed, as well as his heart."
"Was that what happened to me?" she asked.
"There's no evidence that it happened to you," he told her. "If it had, you would have died, too."
Her eyes were certain. "I know I was trapped and started to bleed everywhere. But I don't know why it stopped. I think that was when he realized I was----" She cut herself off.
"You were what?"
"Not from around here." She abruptly became brisk and business-like, very much like her old self. "Look, it's simple, really. I want to go up the steps with you. I have to do that. If you stop me now, I'll just come back and do it. I'll keep trying."
He rested his hand on her shoulder. "I'll say yes on two conditions."
This surprised her, and her lip trembled slightly as she realized she could do the fearful task she had insisted upon. "What then?"
"After we're finished here, you come back with me to UNIT and stay nearby---"
She nodded, her eyes now expressionless.
"And second, that you operate this sensor device as we go." He put the protein sniffer into her hand.
She took it in both hands without argument. "What's it do?"
"I'm not sure that it will do anything, but I'm hoping for a stroke of good luck. Are you ready?"
She turned it in her hands so that the plate pointed at the floor, and she could walk comfortably with it. "And I'm going to keep you close by," he said. He put a hand on each of her shoulders, and he fell into step with her so that she walked within the span of his cloak. They walked back to the front room.
At the foot of the steps, she stopped and looked up at him. Now her voice was quiet and chastened. "I know you would never do that to me, what he wants to do. Not for any reason. I'm sorry."
He still had no idea what she was talking about, but he smiled down at her, his eyes warm. "That's all right."
"I think it somehow set its sights on me. I think it knows about me. Where I've been. It's calling to me."
"Then this should be the last place you'd want to be. If there is a person or entity here, it's cruel and heartless. It's most likely killed several people. It very nearly killed the Brigadier." His eyes were grim and concerned.
"I had to come and find out. I just had to." She hesitated, and then added, "I'm glad you're here, though."
He flicked his glance to the door behind them.
"It's not too late to change your mind, you know. There's the door. I could go up and then come back and let you know."
She shook her head at his offer. "Let's go," she said.
He nodded, and they started up the steps, into the darkness of the second floor.