The Doctor and Sarah reached the top of the narrow, steep stairs and looked around.
"Unfinished," he said. She was trembling so much that he thought her legs might fail her. He put his arm around her, an apparent gesture of assurance, but he wanted to catch her if he had to.
At last she spoke, and though her voice shook, it also showed her resolution to make herself be calm. "Yes." She stared at the large empty room. "Nobody about."
"Come on." But he also sensed that the great, open upper level was empty. Harmless.
One reason for the darkness was the absence of lamps or light fixtures up here. And the gabled windows were small. The ceiling peaked overhead, allowing a roomy walkway, but the roof slanted down as a person approached the walls. The flooring was sound, but there was no partitioning of the space, and no dry wall or paint.
They cautiously walked out onto the floor. He had his eyes down, and he saw up here the more obvious indications of blood stains on the flooring: puddled black stains and spatters. The sensor that she carried started to trill, emitting several variations of its signal, indicating that it was detecting several different samples of blood.
"How much do you remember about Inspector Cole?" he asked her.
She was staying close by, but now she was calmer. "I mostly remember a pain in my hands. I was stuck by my hands to the door post."
"You said something about ambulance men, and police cars," he told her.
"Yes." But her voice was preoccupied, as though she were thinking of other things.
"Where? Here? In the street out there?"
She returned to his line of thought. "I thought so. But I don't remember them all that well. Just that the pain was gone, and there wasn't any more blood, and we never seemed to go to the hospital. But I didn't mind because the pain and blood were gone."
"And the police?"
"I thought it was police. Because of the lights. White headlights. Like globes of light. The round globes of head lights."
"Perhaps that was other traffic. A car park."
"Well, the lights were sort of piled on each other, like cars in a cluster, with lights on their dashes and roofs, too, all of them all close together, like police cars come up to a scene to block it off." She hesitated, and then, in a smaller voice, because it sounded so ridiculous, "The lights were good lights. From the good people. That doesn't make sense. But they were part of the rescue. I'm sure that I was rescued."
"I thought you said you pulled yourself away."
She nodded. "I don't know how it all fits together. Both are true, I think."
"Were there sirens?
She shook her head. "I don't remember sirens. I don't remember colored lights, either. Just white. Like head lights."
He kept doubt out of his voice and spoke kindly. "Did you actually see any vehicles, Sarah Jane?"
"I--I can't say."
Her trembling had stopped, and she seemed more her old self, though she was troubled by her confusion. She wanted to reason this out now, and she wanted him to question her and help her figure out it. But her face was deathly pale, and her eyes were large and yet very weary. She had been emotionally exhausted by her ordeal.
"Let's go back to the lab," he said. "You said you would stay with me."
"Yes, I want to." And without preamble she buried her face against him, overwhelmed. He took up the protein sniffer in one hand so that she could hold onto him. "There's something out there looking for me. I feel it."
He put his other arm around her shoulders and stroked her hair. "I think there's something out there, too. But you'll be safe with me."
She looked up at him. "But it's coming into my dreams."
"Then we'll find a way to protect your dreams."
* * * *
There was a marked look of relief on Warrant Officer Benton's face when the Doctor emerged from the house. But the soldiers were amazed to see his companion.
"Miss Smith!" Benton exclaimed as the Doctor and Sarah Jane trudged down the short driveway towards the high hedge. He approached them, his face surprised. "Where did you come from?"
"You'll want to tighten your security, Mr. Benton," the Doctor said briefly.
"Oh, right sir." The young man was embarrassed, but he addressed the matter at hand. "Did you find anything?"
The Doctor turned to him. "Nothing. There's nothing up there. Whatever infected the Brigadier or attacked him, it either spent itself up, or it fled."
Benton was amazed. "So it's a wild goose chase?
"No, there's plenty of blood everywhere. Not huge pools of it, mind you, but stains from several victims. I'd still consider this site a high security risk, and I would advise not approaching it without some sort of variable frequency device," the Doctor told him. "Whatever was here, it may come back to roost.." He shook the protein sniffer. "For protection, you'll want something that generates a field of varying frequency signals. I'll knock out a prototype at the lab that can be batch produced, so you lads will each have one handy." Then he passed the device to Benton. "In the meantime, keep this handy, especially if you need to approach the place."
"Right Doctor." Benton cast one concerned glance at Sarah Jane Smith, but he said nothing further.
* * * *
They had to stop at Sarah Jane's flat to pick up an overnight case for her, but Sarah Jane--by this time--lived her life in terms of knowing the Doctor, and she had a case ready for quick travel. She added some clothing, and they departed for UNIT.
She was, he realized, too tired to do much else other than sleep. During her own tenure, Jo Grant had established what Mike Yates had jokingly christened "the Women's Barracks," which was a supply closet close to the women's wash room that Jo had cleaned out, painted, and furnished with one of the better cots, a shelf, a bedstand, and a hanging bar for clothing items.
Now that UNIT was keeping up with the times, there actually were proper quarters for women soldiers and agents, but the remade supply closet would give Sarah Jane more privacy.
"What about rest first," the Doctor asked as he piloted them up the long drive to the main HQ.
"Yes, all right. I think I could rest now," she said.
After they parked, he led her inside, through the main wing to the east wing, up one flight of steps, and to the small room. It was unlocked, and Jo had left the key on the shelf inside. They retrieved sheets from the supply clerk, but Jo had also left a cover of her own on the shelf, folded neatly and wrapped in plastic to be kept dust-free. When Sarah unwrapped it and shook it out, she saw that it was a cheerful patchwork of squares, a nice touch of comfort in the military austerity of this place.
"I've got to get to the lab and analyze some blood samples," the Doctor told her. He strode to the door. "And get that prototype built. Will you be all right?"
"Yes, I just want to sleep." She smiled and closed the door after him.
The room still smelled faintly of Jo's cologne and powder. Sarah liked it. After two and a half days in the same clothes, she felt the need for a shower and clean clothes, but she was too tired to do anything other than lock the door and change into the thick cotton pyjamas she'd brought along. She felt perfectly safe at UNIT, safer than she would have felt at her own flat. It was heavenly to undo the heavy, wrinkled clothing of two days' wear and just step out of them, leaving them in a heap on the floor under the shelf. And the cotton fabric of the pyjamas was clean and fresh against her skin. She probably didn't smell very good after a stint in the lockup, but the strong detergent and conditioners that had been used on her night clothes made her feel more fresh.
The windowless room could be made completely dark when the door was closed and the powerful overhead light switched off.. But there was a small, low wattage lamp on the tiny stand by the cot, and with this switched on, the door closed, and the overhead light off, the room took on a familiar and home-like quality. The lamp shed a gentle glow on the squares of the bed cover. Jo Grant, Sarah realized, had enjoyed a good ability to assemble comfort from small pieces.
She climbed onto the cot, much softer by comparison than the one in her previous cell, and she drew the clean white top sheet and the soft bedcover over herself. Then she lay down and let out her breath. The glow from the small lamp created a small halo on the wall behind it. The bed cover was a soft and comfortable weight.
Sarah let the sense of cleanliness, safety, comfort and hospitality seep into her, and she relaxed with it. In jail, she thought, you immediately started to lose yourself. You just didn't matter there, because it was a place where everything hung on what you might have done. On an action in the past. Even if there had been no Superintendent March to mock her tears and harangue her, it would have been a dehumanizing experience: the stern, vacant eyes of the matrons and guards, the inflexible routine, the isolation. Apart from March, nobody had really been unkind, but they had with held kindness: all the little dignities that people usually offered each other.
Now I'm all right, she thought. I was losing my grip. But it's all right, now. I'm quite safe.
She reached over to the lamp and switched it off. The darkness was complete and impenetrable. After the miserable and unceasing half light of the night before, it was welcome to her. And surrounded by the softness of the fresh sheets, inhaling the faint scent of cologne, powder, and laundry soap, Sarah Jane fell soundly and deeply asleep.
* * * *
The Doctor was glad to hand over the prototype of the personal variable frequency generator. It had taken him several hours to construct, and he gladly passed it over to the soldier who was acting as courier. "Get that over to the lads in the materials department, and see that they build the duplicates as exactly as they can. I'm not sure if it's frequency range or variation that has an effect, so we must have both being continually generated."
"Right Doctor." The young man took the small plastic box, which housed the complex transistors and power supply, and hurried out. Just as he exited, one of the shift men entered. "The Brigadier has sent me for you, Doctor," he said.
The Doctor lifted both eyebrows. "Lethbridge Stewart should be doing nothing but resting!"
"We've been put on alert." Before the Doctor could offer a retort, the young man quickly added, "A new alert. Something about a school, and several dead bodies. He wants you right away."
"Right then." Voice subdued, the Doctor hurried out. The young soldier followed.
* * * *
Sarah Jane became aware of the complete darkness and the complete numbness of her limbs. Sleep did that to a person. A heavy net would do the same thing, and she gradually realized that she was very comfortably but very firmly bound in a net, her arms folded on her chest. Her head was free. She turned and saw a square yellow and red glow as a wood-fired stove was kindled to life. It made a silhouette of the grated door that was swung all the way open. Somebody, the powerful figure of a man, bent over, hoisted something up, and then crammed a block of wood into the waiting stove's interior. He bent down with a slight grunt and pushed in a second large block of tough wood. Then he closed the heavy iron door, though she could see the light of the fire through the thin slits. From his motion, she thought he was adjusting the dampers. It was actually a massive oven and stove, wood fired, like at those specialty restaurants that served beef and hickory smoked pork.
There was a slight rattle, and then a light over the stove was switched on. The room was illuminated further. He was wearing a pristine white smock, somewhat marred by a dingy apron around his waist, but she realized that he was opening the shop, and he would not want to ruin the smock and clothing beneath with smudge from the wood or the fire.
He had the attitude of a man just getting accustomed to a new day. He patted a flat, broad hand on the edge of the vast stove. There was a heavy wooden plank between him and Sarah Jane, a structure called an "island" in kitchen architecture. She was lying on a long wooden counter top.
His back still towards her, he opened and closed cupboard doors around the stove, verifying that tools were in place. She realized that she was surrounded by other items. Not items. Creatures. Two rabbits side by side, and several squirrels. They were all very still. Close to her head, a large fish lay on his side on a plate, his bulbous eye fixed on her. He had been scaled, but he was still alive, though slowly suffocating from being out of water.
The man at the stove turned around and noticed her.
"Look at this," he said. He came around the wooden island, his eyes curious and somewhat impressed. "What an elegant little thing. Where did you come from?"
With the attitude of a man taking a measurement by eye, he reached around her head and framed her cheekbones. "Perfect. What symmetry. And the eyes are bright---very healthy." Then as his face was close to hers, he stopped and sniffed, surprised. He leaned even closer and sniffed her hair. When he straightened up and looked at her again, his eyes were faintly puzzled but gleaming, with the look of a man who has discovered a great treasure. He rested his hand across her forehead and sniffed at her arms and neck.
She was repulsed at his touch and the sniffing, but there was an expression of genuine fascination and amazement in him that puzzled her.
He spoke to her directly, his voice low, "Who sent you to me? From what ocean were you drawn?"
She didn't have an answer. "What is the proper way of preparing you---is it by filet and searing, or should you be roasted with your blood on low coals? How can your fragrance be preserved?"
He was truly asking her, wanting to know, and she did not answer. Her silence neither angered nor offended him.
"We'll get this net off you and the clothing, and see you in your skin," he said. "Nothing must mar you until I know the recipe." He walked away and disappeared into a large pantry.
Sarah Jane looked at the fish.
"Does it hurt?" she asked.
"Yes," the fish gasped, but its voice, though quiet, was not especially emotional. "The scaling was agonizing, but the pan searing will be worse." Its single eye (for the other was beneath it, as it lay on its side) roved over her. "You won't have to be scaled, anyway."
"Then what?" she asked.
"I don't know. I've never been consumed. I think the searing will be bad enough."
"When they scaled you, couldn't you ask for mercy?" she asked. "Couldn't you tell them how much it hurt?"
The man came back. He had a long knife in one hand, and a pair of cable cutters in the other. He returned and set these down by her. He rested a hand on her forehead, his eyes judicious and yet admiring as he inhaled her scent, and then he turned his head and called over his shoulder: "When's the milk coming in? We'll need extra cream today and the unsalted butter. A vinegar soak will never do for this one; I know that much. This one likely wants a butter wrap if the fragrance is to be preserved." He looked down at her. "Is that right?"
As nobody answered him about the milk delivery, he grumbled to himself and walked away, out through a door that was opposite the pantry.
The fish answered her. "Pain is part of it. Part of being consumed. And food doesn't stop being food just because it doesn't want to be food. We are food. We don't tell them how to prepare us. They simply prepare us. They consume us because they have the right to consume us." He was running out of breath, slowly dying. Maybe, she thought, he would die before he was seared.
But the cook came in with small plate on which sat a flat square of butter. "Here's the last of yesterday's lot," he said. He flipped the butter onto the hot surface of the oven, then came around the island, grasped the fish quickly by the tail, and with deft expertise flipped him from the plate onto the sizzling grill. He took up a fork and swiftly turned it back and forth. She could see that it lived for several seconds as it was turned. She had to close her eyes.
Suddenly his voice was right over her, and she was gathered---in her net---into his arms. "You mustn't listen to a fish," he said. He lifted her. " I know what I'm doing. There are better ways for you. You require special handling. That was just a fish." He set her down on the wooden island. Using the cable cutters, he began to cut away the heavy net. The cables of rope were thick and resisted him.
"Will it hurt me?" she asked.
"It will hurt as much as is required for you to know you are being consumed," he said. "Tell me the proper ingredients. What do you require to preserve the fragrance seasoned into you?"
"But that will hurt a lot. That's death."
He took up her head and set it in the crook of his arm so that he could keep her head still and cut away the heavy links of rough rope around her neck. "No the flesh should not be bruised, not at this stage. You were treated too roughly," he said. "I'll be more careful until you're ready. But Death is a transformation, and a transformation should not be painless. You need to know what you are giving up, what I am taking, so that you can better understand your own transformation."
He stopped his work, his cutting hand obviously tired, and looked down at her. "There is a pleasure behind all the pain," he said. "The pleasure of being consumed. You will heal me. You will sustain me. You're the only one who can. You were made to be the final transformation for me---the life that heals me."
A sudden and unexpected pleasure washed over her fear. His eyes were on hers, his face intent but neither cruel nor kind. He was simply hungry, she thought. And in all that he was telling her, there was an invitation.
His voice was low and urgent. "Tell me the ingredients and the method to gain my recovery from you. I have great skill. Be consumed. By consenting you will reach through the veils of pain and find the pleasure and the purpose."
* * * *
Lethbridge Stewart was sitting up when the Doctor entered the room. In spite of the open pyjama top that revealed the multiple electrodes fastened to his chest, he was very much himself. A trifle pale, perhaps, and his voice not all that loud, but he was sure of himself, and he was on top of the situation. Anyway, he was as on top of it as anybody could be.
"I've had to split the manpower to cover a new situation," he told the Doctor.
"A school?" the Doctor asked.
"Yes, but before classes started. Only a few people inside. But everybody within the building, quite horribly dead. The police and rescue are still combing the place."
"No, it's a matter for UNIT. The bodies are---strange---dried out. Like paper."
This startled the Doctor. He had expected that a conventional emergency would be an explosion or fire. And part of him had expected that if it were not a conventional emergency, it would be a replay of the death of Cole and the attack on the Brigadier.
"So it's something new," he said.
"And much more deadly. Whatever has been going on in that house, it gets people one at a time," the Brigadier said. "But this thing is massive. The entire school--the structure I mean---has been effected. Like a great heat wave passed through." He hesitated. "I'll need you to get out there as quickly as you can."
"Yes, of course." For once, the Doctor did not argue.
"Superintendent March is coordinating the scene. Tread carefully."
The time lord let out his breath. But perhaps he might get back some of his own on behalf of Sarah Jane. This thought was obviously readable even to a mere human, for the Brigadier's mouth twitched slightly, but he only asked, "How is Sarah Jane Smith?"
"Sleeping in the old Woman's Barracks that Jo made." The Doctor frowned. "I don't want to disturb her. But once she's up and around, don't let her leave. I mean, you ought to try charm and persuasion---"
"Doctor, I'm the soul of charm and persuasion!"
"Yes, well, use it to good account then, and keep her here."
"You think the police will swoop down on her?"
The Doctor let out his breath. "I think she may do herself a mischief. I'm not sure what happened while she was in lockup. But she appears to be in some sort of shock."
"Some sort of post hypnotic trauma?"
This was an amazingly perceptive guess from the Brigadier, and the Doctor guiltily realized that he had not even considered that idea. But he acted as though he had.
"Certainly not. Anyway, not solely. Just keep an eye on her, and keep her safe at UNIT. She might try to go back to that house!"
* * * *
Once again, the Doctor found himself speeding down the drive in Bessy. Normally he was impatient to get on the scene where ever anything was happening, but as he prepared to turn onto the public thoroughfare, he cast one regretful eye back at the east wing of the HQ. But helping Sarah Jane track down the history of the last few days would have to wait. He resigned himself to the task at hand.
The school was a long concrete building, single story, with panes of windows down each side, all closed against the chilly day. The design was efficient for moving students along quickly: a wide central corridor with classrooms on either side. Double doors at either end, and in the exact middle. These were heavy double doors, and most had been locked in the early morning hours when the inexplicable tragedy had occurred.
At the moment, there were police cars, rescue vehicles, and several agents of the press about, though this latter group had not yet been admitted. The Doctor strode up the concrete walk and met Superintendent March almost at the front door.
"What's this?" the Doctor asked. "Tired of breaking down young women?"
March let it pass. He was somewhat pale and tight lipped. "Go in if you like." But his voice was not friendly. "It takes a strong stomach."
The Doctor started past him, then stopped and said, "Though you might like to know, I've found multiple blood samples in that house of yours. Inspector Cole was the last of four or five victims to shed their blood in there." The Doctor's eyes were unfriendly, but he added, "I'll get a report to you as soon as I view the scene here. I do hope you won't be calling Miss Smith back in to question her on all the blood samples."
March didn't take the bait. Instead, he said, "As a matter of fact, we've discovered several more bodies, all charred like Cole's; all dumped in the same garbage tip where we found him. Whoever was up there was knocking them off one by one. But nobody saw anything."
The Doctor stopped. "There are other houses being built out that way."
"Yes we know. And one of the crews keeps a big truck bed up on wheels for carpentry refuse and the like. We figure that the bodies were put there at night, and the lads who hauled them to the dump site never knew they were in there."
"I do assume that you have deduced that Miss Smith would find the carrying of dead bodies to a truck bed to be quite an arduous task."
"Look, I only wanted to know how Cole got her camera," March said.
Now he had the Doctor's full attention. The time lord easily straightened up to his full height and locked his eyes on the police superintendent's face. "I don't know what you chaps did to her in lockup," he said quietly. "But if you come near her again, Superintendent, I will destroy you."
His eyes were not easily deflected, and March found himself speechless for a moment, locked in that stare of cold, intense command.
"I'll get to the bottom of it when I have time," the Doctor said, his voice subdued almost to a whisper. "But you would do well to be afraid of me."
And then he turned on his heel and strode into the building.
* * * *
There was a shower stall in the women's washroom. Hot water, soap, and shampoo revived Sarah Jane's mood. It almost felt like the entire experience could be washed away.
If only the dreams would stop, she thought. She let the pounding spray rinse down her upturned face. It helped her relax after the vivid dream. She still felt sorry for that poor fish. But she had already firmly resolved to explain the dreams to the Doctor and let him analyze them for her.
It's from March, she thought. I'm reacting like a little girl. It's like he's an ogre or something, and I was trapped in his castle. Right in the kitchen.
Truthfully enough, when she remembered his round, cat-like eyes as he prepared to pounce on her statements, and when she considered how he had hammered her with reminders that she was helpless in nick, that he could force her to admit what he thought she knew, that he had full control over her now: all of that was like being in a net, captured for a giant's dinner.
I mean, it went on for hours, she told herself. How did the people in World War II withstand it from the nazis? It went on for days for some of them. And some of them never broke at all. They were tortured to death in interrogation, and they took their secrets with them to the grave. She felt a sudden, profound respect for such people. You had to believe in something with every ounce of your being to suffer like that and refuse to compromise it.
I don't think I believe in anything that much, she thought. This troubled her. The shower stall was protected with a rubber curtain, and she reached around it and took her bath towel off the hook on the wall.
She held the towel to herself for a moment, letting the thick terry cotton absorb the water from her chest. She stepped out to dry off where she had more room. Her fresh clothing was waiting, hung by wire hangers on the hook on the other side of the shower curtain.
She saw herself, towel gathered at her throat and chest, reflected in the mirrors over the sinks against the far wall. Her arms were slender and slick with water. Even her shoulders looked delicate. Sarah Jane knew that she was a pretty young woman, but she had never regarded herself as fragile or delicate.
Yet now, as she lowered the towel and saw her throat, slender and long, with a slight curve in it, she saw that she was graceful and petite. Elegant in form. She had never thought of herself as especially graceful when she tried to be graceful, but in these automatic actions of taking up a towel, drying off, or sliding back the shower curtain, there was an unconscious grace about her, all the way to her fingers. A certain refinement had been bestowed on her. She looked down at her bare feet. They suddenly seemed delicate, too. Like a lamb, she thought. Or a lark. Frail. Beautiful. Prey.
She dried herself off, eyes averted from the mirrors, and she changed into her clean undergarments and outer clothing. And she wondered what made some creatures highly desired as prey, and others less so. Lizards and frogs were plentiful, and elephants would certainly return a great deal of food for proper care and feeding. But what people wanted for gourmet dining was pheasant, partridge, antelope, gazelle.
Oh nonsense, she told herself. There are cows, pigs, and chicken. All of them lumpy or scrawny or homely. And that's what we eat the most of. But she knew that wasn't what the connoisseurs selected. Make it a doe or a bird or something rare and exotic: large eyes and defenseless hooves, a brilliant array of plumage. Peacocks were even served with their tail feathers stuck back on. Like a trophy. Eat what's beautiful. Somehow that makes you more of what you are.
"That can't be true!" she said out loud. She caught herself. Her hair was still wet, and her hair dryer was in her bag.
She leaned against the frame of the shower stall. "It was just Superintendent March," she said out loud.
She straightened up, seized the pistol-shaped blow dryer from the bag, and found a power supply in the wall near the sinks and mirrors. She tilted her head over and switched on the hot air.
I'll give myself a few days before I write about it, she thought as she ran the hot jet of air through her wet hair. I'll recover more. In a few days I'll get my perspective back.
She finished drying her hair, and she brushed it back into the short, pert style that she favored. A touch of hair spray, and then everything back in the bag. She felt better. She looked presentable and felt clean.
Something out in the corridor brushed against the door. She jumped and dropped the bag. There was a soft rap. But Sarah didn't move. Why would anybody knock on a woman's washroom door? She thought to bravely ask who was there, but she didn't. The rap was repeated, and then she heard a sharp question as a woman approached from up the hall. Her heels clicked on the floor of the corridor. A soft, respectful voice answered the sharp question, and there was an equally sharp answer, and a sturdy looking woman in a UNIT skirt and tunic abruptly pushed open the door.
"Oh hullo!" she said. "Bloke out there wanted to do a maintenance check in the middle of the day. Showed his list to me. I told him to be on his way. Can't help it if he's behind schedule. Maintenance is for off hours."
Righteous and sure, she marched into a stall and closed the door. "Right," Sarah said.
She gathered up her bag and towel and went out.
* * * *
Several medics and rescue personnel were scattered up and down the long central corridor. They had carried in all of their gear from the medical vans, and one of them had quickly set up an emergency station, which was obviously useless. Now they were carrying out a room by room inspection of the building, tallying the dead.
The Doctor saw a few bodies prone in the corridor ahead of him, but they had been checked already, and even from a distance he could see that their skin had undergone some sort of radical change. Before he examined them, he stopped at the side wall and examined it closely. The inner wall was made of concrete block and mortar, then painted over with a thick, water and stain resistant paint: something designed to sink into the pores of the blocks and seal them.
He put the side of his face against the wall and squinted at the layer of paint. It had bubbled up ever so slightly. He knelt and checked at a lower level on the wall, but the bubbling was less prevalent. Then he stood on tiptoe and did the same, also noting that the distortion in the paint was even less noticeable at a greater height.
At last he strode to the body closest to him, what had been a man wearing a suit and tie, but the cloth of the suit was now nearly a layer of string and ash. The tie had fared slightly better, especially at the knot, where the material was at its thickest.
But the body was oddly parched. The head was reduced almost to its skull, with the skin that clung to it papery, the eyes hardened to pebbles. One eye, in fact, has detached from the optic nerve and socket and lay on the discolored floor just below the jutting cheekbone.
The head had taken the worst of the disintegration effect, but the body itself, where the chest and shoulders were thickest, still had some mass under the layer of ashes that had been the suit coat, but he hesitated to touch it. One of the medics saw him and approached. He was youthful, obviously troubled, but not inordinately shaken. The sheer mystery concerned him now.
"Are you the UNIT pathologist?" he asked the Doctor.
"I am the UNIT scientist," the Doctor said.
The young man crouched down on the other side of the body. "Every time we tray to move them, they come apart at the heads and hands. Sometimes the legs." He frowned. "We've been given orders to wait until a better method can be devised. We don't want to ruin them for their families."
How odd, the Doctor thought. Ruin them for their families. But he said nothing.
"Do you have any idea how it happened?" the medic asked. "Is there some sort of warning that should be issued?"
The Doctor glanced at the discolored floor and noted three black marks, one after the other, in a straight line approaching the dead body's scorched leather shoes.
"Whatever passed through this corridor came up from that way in a wave," he said. He nodded down to the exit doors. "Any people down that end probably got it first. This chap ran up this way. Those are marks from his shoes as the floor heated up as he ran. He was felled quickly. And he went this way." The Doctor held out his hands from his chest. "Not grasping at his heart of lungs. Not trying to break his fall, either. The wave of energy that hit him caused him sudden pain and shock. I'd say death was pretty fast." He spread his hands out from himself as a man does when he is hit by surprise or with a sudden blow. Then he pointed to the wall. "Something effected the paint. The wave was at its most powerful at about chest level."
The young man was puzzled. "What sort of wave?"
Something that sucked out all the moisture in the air, from the flooring, and from these bodies," the Doctor said. "I don't know what generated it."
The Doctor scratched the side of his nose. Actually, that was not a bad guess. "No," he said at last. "Not nuclear radiation. And--" He glanced up and down the hall. "If it were released by something or somebody who wanted to wreak havoc, then the person or persons deliberately chose a structure that may have amplified the effect. This building would act as a giant kiln or oven. Very little ventilation, and lots of insulation. Straight shot for an energy wave, right up this corridor. No blocking or shelter."
Just then, Superintendent March entered from the doors down at the end.
The young man's voice took on a wry tone. "I guess you'd better tell him that, then. He's been all over us for answers, like we've ever seen anything like this before."
"There are quite a lot of things I would like to tell Superintendent March," the Doctor said.
* * * * *
In the infirmary cot, Lethbridge Stewart was asleep. He had asked for Sarah Jane to visit for a half hour or so, but he had nodded off almost right away, still weak from what he had suffered. Something new was going on, but he had passed lightly over that, simply saying the Doctor would be back shortly. But Sarah Jane, once he had explained what had happened to him, knew that he might be able to help her recall her own misadventure. She hoped he would be forthright with her when he awoke. There had been blood the night that Cole had died, her own blood, and the Brigadier's experience might in some ways reflect her own.
But he was weak and tired, and so she let him sleep. She sat back in the chair and then pushed it against the wall so that she could rest her head on something.
"Look at this," the man said to Sarah Jane. He had not yet managed to cut through the heavy net that bound her. She realized that this labor tired him. The net was wound around her several times, so that she could not possibly escape, but it was also very difficult for him to untangle it and get to her. By now, the room was hot from the fire in the oven, and she could feel the sweat on his arm on which her head lay. His square, shaved face was also starting to sweat. But he was accustomed to this. In his other hand, he held up a silver cube.
"There is no other spice like this in all the world," he said. "But your fragrance is better and sweeter. You were drawn from a rare ocean. Perhaps I will work this into you, all through your flesh, inside and out. But I must know that it will not harm the flavor or obscure it." He set it down and looked at her directly, his eyes persuasive. "If you could be a masterpiece of perfection, wouldn't it be worth the transformation and the pain? If you were made to be eaten, at least you can satisfy and please a wise palate." He stroked her chin. "Where does it all go anyway? Into the mouth of the grave. The grave devours as well, and it never even knows what it consumes---not the dainty from the dross." Now his eyes were intent again. "You have to be in your perfection to be of any benefit. What are the proper ingredients? How must you be consumed to deliver your essence properly? Otherwise, I cannot be healed."
This is just from Inspector March, she thought.
He was looking at her eyes, his eyes wanting her to consent, to yield to the cutting away of the net without trying to escape, to tell him what he didn't understand, and then to relax under the knife and the spices and let him transform her. He read the thought, and she saw that it surprised him.
"You think this is only the workings of an exhausted mind?" A selfish, angry rage like a child's pout flashed across his face, and in that instant, he gave himself away, for she knew it had nothing to do with the perfection of making her a masterpiece before he devoured her. He only wanted to consume her. Whoever eats the peacock get the honor of having eaten peacock, but it's not really the peacock that mattered. Just the eating.
"I will kill Superintendent March," the cook said to her. "And then you will know this is not your exhausted dreams. You will come to me, and be delicious for me to devour, and I will consume you and be healed."
She jerked awake.
* * * * *
"Look, I need you!" March shouted to the young man. "We've got to try to take the first one on the list down to pathology. We're going to try to ease him onto a sheet and lift him that way."
The Doctor let out a breath of commiseration, but he said nothing.
"Right!" the young man called to March. He cast a rueful glance at UNIT's scientific advisor. "Thanks, mate."
As he stood and walked away, the Doctor turned to his careful regard of the body before him. There would have to be an intervention from UNIT, for the police would not be equipped to do a proper post mortem evaluation. They had almost no spectrographic equipment to look at density of the remains and evaluate what had been precipitated out or converted in the remains.
Reluctantly, he stood. Cooperation this time would be strained.
A blast of hot air struck his face, and he heard the rattle as a sudden suction pulled the doors against their frames.
The young medic, now far down the corridor, perceived the danger first.
"It's come back!" he shouted.
There was no time to waste. The Doctor sprang towards the entry doors, for the wave was coming up from the other end of the building. He heard March scream, and then the young man, who was also pelting in the correct direction for safety, screamed and fell.
There was no time to get to the doors. The Doctor got as far as the temporary first aid station as the heat hit him bodily. He dived into the array of portable equipment. Death was not quite as fast as he had supposed, for the men at the opposite end were still screaming before they died. And the wave was on him, rippling a stripe of paint halfway up the walls as it reached him, and he scrambled for some weapon to fend it off.