The centaur and Sarah Jane walked for about fifteen minutes. At first the terrain was level, and the forest interior was cool and dim, though there was not a sound of wildlife, nor any insects, lizards, or crawling animals. Then the trees thinned out. The land began to ascend, and black boulders that looked like great chunks of obsidian appeared in outcroppings. The trees and heavy foliage stopped, and as she and the unearthly creature ascended higher the terrain became a grassland made of the kinked, soft grasses. The grass was rather dark, but the tiny wildflowers were so bountiful that in patches they formed a deep sea of colors. The path had been a track made by his hooves and the feet of others, but now it turned into a more engineered walkway, paved with flat stones. These then became a series of steps that had been cut into the earth and overlaid with broad, flat stones. A small groups of these steps, interspersed with flat walkway, led them higher, onto a flat, grassy terrace on the side of the small hill. The grass here was short and fine and looked like earth grass. He pointed and showed her the mouth of a cave. From within, the sounds of Achernar and Nitham talking and working reached them. The cave mouth had been enlarged to allow him to enter, if he stooped low enough, but now he waited outside and Sarah Jane entered.
The walkway was soon high enough to allow her to stand, and though the interior was not so bright as the day outside, it was not dark. She could easily see. The entryway went straight back for about 15 paces, then curved off to one side. It formed a front hallway that exited through another opening in the rock. Off of this main hallway, four rooms had been cut, and these were the source of the light, for these had windows hewn into them through the rock. Some of the window ledges were several feet thick, so that they were actually tunnels to let in light. But they led to sheer drop offs on the other side of the hill, so their only purpose, clearly, was to illuminate this stone building.
Sarah Jane explored this, and just as she would have entered the last room, Nitham emerged from it. "I'm preparing a bed for you now, dear Sarah," she said. "The master says you may sleep here if you like, for you are more accustomed to being in a shelter at night."
"Thank you," Sarah said, and she glanced inside the room to see that Achernar had carried in heavy boughs and was laying them out to build a bed frame. "This is wonderful" he said as Sarah Jane peered in. "In the days when we bring forth young, we shall make our little ones to sleep in beds this soft and fine."
"What do the little children sleep in now?" she asked. "Other people's children, I mean."
He was puzzled. "There are no children, Sarah Jane. Nitham and I shall be the parents when the world is transformed and we come to maturity."
From out front, Toliman let out a call, and Sarah Jane realized that he was calling to her. She went out to meet him.
While she had been exploring, he had gathered some materials. He had two gourds of water at his hooved feet, and a broad leaf on which herbs and wildflowers had been gathered. As she approached, he took up what looked like a very conventional sponge. The sight of this amazed her, and she touched it to ask him if she could take it. He allowed this, and she saw that it had been cut from a stem, a vegetable plant, but it was soft and absorbent. She handed it back to him. He added some of the herbal contents to one of the gourds of water, and then he dipped the sponge into the mixture and carefully applied it to her back, through the shirt.
The relief was great, and she realized that he had not meant her any harm in his earlier attempt to look at the wound. She had hit the paving across the shoulder blades, and though the great brush burn had bled and stung, the worst part was the ache from the impact of falling. After Toliman had sponged the blood away, he used his hands on her shoulders to turn her to face him. Then he picked up her right hand and put it on her left shoulder. He lifted her right elbow to point straight at him, leaned down towards her and put his arms around her just below her ribs, and then he hugged her with a quick jerk of his muscles, her raised elbow firm against his neck.
She heard an amazing crack like one would hear from knuckles popping, only much louder, and then the ache was gone, and the muscles of her back relaxed.
"Oh my!" she exclaimed. But her freedom to move was restored. "Thank you!"
She stepped back and looked up at him in some wonder. His face was still unreadable. And still incredibly ugly.
"Look," she said. "What do you want from me? Who called me here?"
He gestured at himself, and then after they stared at each other for a moment longer, he spread his arms to indicate the entire landscape.
"But what do you want?' she asked.
He spread his arms to show her the landscape, and then he uttered a single call to get her attention. Far down the hillside, on a level plain, there was a great burned patch of terrain.
"Looks like a great fire burned there," she said. He lifted a crooked forefinger to the clouds in the opaque sky and stabbed the finger down. Then he did it again.
"Lightning?" she asked. "Lightning struck down there."
He tossed his head, and for the first time, she saw expression in his face. Some great event had happened down there. He wrung his hands together. She remembered his earlier reference to the flower.
"Did lightning destroy the flower?"
He stamped a forehoof and bowed his head: a clear sign of No.
"But lightning destroyed that burned patch?"
He tossed his head. Then he hooked back his right arm like a man about to hurl a spear. He followed through. Then he repeated the finger stabbing gestures to illustrate lightning.
"There was a war down there?" she asked.
He tossed his head.
"And you fought the lightning?"
This brought forth a No.
He illustrated hurling a spear, and she took his meaning. He was boasting. "You hurled the lightning bolts?" she asked.
He tossed his head.
"I see." She tried to make her voice sincere, as though she really believed him, but the great eyes suddenly fixed on her, and Toliman became completely silent and still. He knew that she did not believe him. She began to be afraid. He pointed to the sky with the full length of his arm, and he slowly and deliberately drew his crooked forefinger down towards the burned place far below. A streak of lightning shot from sky to ground along the line he pointed. There was a flash that lit up the expanse of land from horizon to horizon, and the impact point exploded and arced blue for a moment.
"Oh!" She covered her face with her arms.
* * * *
The difficulty about fighting a zombie, the Doctor thought, was that you did not expect that you could defeat it. You assumed that it could kill you because it was dead. As though death gave it power. Desperate, he locked his hands together and brought his arms down full force on the hands at his throat.
To his complete and utter surprise, One of the Inspector's arms dropped off from the blow, and the dead man snatched his other arm away, nearly overbalanced backward, and had to back pedal to catch himself.
"Your arm fell off!" the Doctor exclaimed. He felt his own throat.
"I'm wounded from the attack I suffered," the dead man said. "But I must do my duty. Where is Sarah Jane Smith?"
"Out of town old boy." A sudden light of realization dawned in the Doctor's eyes. "You know what? I'm going to box you." And the Doctor put up his fists and came up on his toes. "Right then. Round One!"
Before the ghastly figure in front of him could do anything, he struck it a left jab, right cross combination directly in the face. The first punch knocked the lower jaw over to the far right side of the dead man's face, and the right cross shoved its nose up under the far corner of its left eye.
But the dead man touched the Doctor on the chest with its remaining hand. With a yell of surprise, the Doctor dropped to the ground. His face went stark white, and for several moments he could not draw in breath. The body that had been Inspector March pulled its jaw back into proper alignment and tried to fix its nose, but the nose fell off. He pulled the soft, putty-like skin over the hole and smoothed it out. When he spoke, his voice came out with no air, like a man would speak while holding his nose clamped shut. "Where is she?"
But the Doctor could not answer. The dead man leaned down to touch him again, but suddenly Benton appeared in the doorway and entered. As the figure of March turned, Benton opened his mouth in surprise.
"Don't let him touch you!" the Doctor choked just as the monster reached for the young warrant officer.
Benton swung the Doctor's medical valise up like a bludgeon and slammed it into the side of the dead man's head.
The head flew off, and March's body shuffled after it to retrieve it. Benton followed up with a hard kick into its backside, and the body was catapulted into the concrete wall. As Benton slammed his shoulder into it to pin it to the wall subdue it, the body was crushed and came apart.
Gasping, the Doctor rolled back and forth on the floor. At last the air was coming back to him.
"What happened?" Benton asked.
"That was our monster," he said. "Using chemical conversions. He opened up the potassium mechanisms in my cells all at once. Stopped one of my hearts from beating. It would have killed a human at once."
He sat up and Benton crouched by him, concerned. Just then, one of the remaining bodies sat up on its stretcher. "I will bargain with you," it said.
* * * *
For several minutes, Sarah Jane was too overcome to look up. Part of her great dismay was her awe that he could call down lightning so easily. And part of the dismay was the strangeness of the place, and her complete isolation in it. She was at this creature's mercy, and he was both ugly and terrible. At the gesture of his hand he could wipe out miles of terrain.
He made a softer noise in his throat, a sort of crooning, and he touched her head.
"But what do you want with me?" she asked. She finally dared to look at him. "Why did you send them to bring me here?"
He softened his voice again and touched her head. She realized that he meant to calm her.
"Are you going to hurt me?"
He pointed to his own wound.
"Are you going to wound me, like that?" she asked. "Do you think I did that to you? I didn't. Or if I did, I never meant to!"
Her frightened voice brought Nitham and Achernar from their work. They hurried down to her and Toliman. And little Nitham, up until then so child like, ran directly to Sarah.
"Sarah Jane, Sarah Jane, don't be afraid!" she exclaimed. "He won't strike you down! He's good." She was wild and beautiful, and she put her arms around Sarah Jane, suddenly very motherly and gracious.
"Oh Master, there is nobody like you on her planet!" she said. Toliman inclined his head at her plea for understanding. Nitham was not quite as tall as Sarah, but suddenly she was very matronly and wise. She held Sarah's face for a moment and then touched the soft wool of her cream colored forearm to Sarah's eyes. "You need not cry, Sarah. You need not fear him. You know what suffering is, don't you? Toliman knows as well. He won't strike you down."
Toliman allowed this without interrupting Nitham, and now Sarah felt a little bit silly. They were all silent and concerned.
"I'm afraid I don't understand your ways," Sarah said. Nitham lowered her arms, but for a moment the merry little satyr had been a regal, wise, and compassionate woman.
The great centaur hesitated, then stepped forward. Nitham stepped back but looked at her hopefully. Toliman offered her his hand again. Sarah Jane took it, and he led her away from them, down the path towards the forest.
The objective of this journey was more practical and less informative. He found a wide, low plant with enormous leaves and used a single claw to snip a leaf free. The leaf was slightly larger than a cloth dinner napkin, though more sturdy, of course. He passed this to her and took one for himself. He showed her how to fold up the sides to make a closed funnel, and then they walked on. After a moment he stooped and selected a single berry from a bush. He showed it to her and dropped the berry into the funnel that she carried. As they continued on, and he selected other flower blossoms, berries, and even scrapings of bark, she realized that this was a food gathering mission. And it would take much time, because even though the landscape looked healthy and vibrant, the trees and plants offered very little fruit and produce. Apart from the tiny wildflowers, nearly everything was simply in leaf. The berry bushes offered only two or three berries at most. Everything was healthy, even luxuriant, yet also stilted and stunted.
As they walked, she realized that they were quite alone on this world. No other intelligent creatures were in sight, and even the wild creatures were extremely few. Once she saw something like a gopher or hedgehog lift a curious snout from a bed of the finely petaled flowers. It stayed where it was, watching them with a sort of affable and indolent curiosity, and Toliman was too busy to regard it.
* * * * *
"What sort of bargain?" the Doctor asked the corpse.
"Only Sarah Jane Smith. Give her to me, and I will leave your planet."
"Nothing doing!" Benton snapped.
"You won't find her. And if we had her, we wouldn't give her to you," the Doctor told it sternly.
The corpse swung its legs off of the cot and with an uneven, ungraceful motion, got to its feet.
"You don't understand. I'm on the verge of perfection, the verge of taking into possession and reviving an entire planet. She is not perfection, but she holds the essence of that which perfects me. If I consume her essence, even she---in one sense---attains perfection. The only perfection she can know is to be consumed by me."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow. "That's a fairly oblique and very painful form of perfection."
Benton had been backing away from the stretchers. The magnetic pulse puncher that he had carried in the sweep of the building was still clipped to his belt. He suddenly reached for it, and just as quickly the glassy-eyed corpse collapsed.
"Fire!" the Doctor shouted. "It's free!"
But their unearthly visitor did not attack them. The lights dimmed for a moment, perhaps from the magnetic discharge, and then there was silence. March's body, abandoned from its host, had degraded into mere dust. The corpse that had stood and then fallen was in almost as bad a condition. But the Doctor was heedless of them.
"Where did it go?" Benton asked.
"I don't know. But I know where it wants to go. Like a fool I told it too much. It may realize that Sarah Jane is off the planet. Now she's in very great danger. I've got to go get her."
"In the TARDIS, of course. I know where she is, at least what star system. I've got to jury-rig a quick fix in the TARDIS, and then I'm off."
"You need help, Doctor?"
The Doctor glanced at him. "I need a few of those magnetic pulse devices. And about thirty minutes of peace and quiet to effect the repairs to the TARDIS console."
* * * * *
As the day wore on and their foraging continued, Sarah Jane saw that her host suffered a marked decrease in his strength. His right foreleg had never stopped bleeding since she had met him, and though the flow was not heavy, she wondered that the creature that had been so quick to clean and comfort her injury did not tend to his own. As the slow twilight of the planet began to fall, his steps became quite labored, and the journey back to the high terrace was difficult for him. Sarah carried his leaf funnel for him, careful to hold it with the narrow end closed so that their precious food did not spill out. As they reached the path and walked uphill, he rested his left hand on her shoulder, and she did not mind at all, though she was filled with a certain wonder at him.
As they stepped onto the broad, flat terrace of grass, Achernar and Nitham met them. Achernar nodded and took the funnels of food.
"The room and bed are ready for our guest, Master," he said. He turned to Sarah Jane, and there was a hint of graciousness in his voice that was almost lofty. "We've put down flowers and boughs for your rest, Sarah Jane. You must let us know anything that you need to be comfortable." He was holding a white strip of cloth hung over his wrist, and after a moment Sarah Jane realized that it was her scarf, which she had lost several days ago. Toliman saw it and shook his head. He waved at his chest and stroked imaginary lapels with his hooked thumbs.
"Yes, I'll get it," Nitham said, and she scampered into the caves and then returned with one of the white shirts that had been worn under the UNIT tunics. She brought it to Sarah Jane, and Achernar said helpfully, "Your shirt is ruined. Wouldn't you like a new one?"
"Why yes, thank you," she said. But she hesitated. Apparently they expected her to change right there. Toliman uttered a short sound, and both Achernar and Nitham nodded and ran to the cave again. He looked down at her. Then he put his hands over his eyes. He peeked through the fingers with one eye and glanced at the shirt in her hands and then covered his eyes again, respecting her need for privacy and telling her to hurry up.
She quickly unbuttoned her shirt, removed it, and slipped her arms in the white shirt from Nitham and buttoned it up. By then her other two hosts were returning with the water gourds and a leaf filled with shredded plant matter.
"We gathered these just moments ago," Achernar said to Toliman. "Here is the sponge." And he handed a new sponge to Sarah Jane, much to her surprise.
Toliman took the used shirt from her and handed it to Achernar. The great centaur pointed to the faint blood stain and made a grasping and ripping motion with his hands. Achernar nodded and ripped the shirt apart, separating out the material that had blood on it.
"Shall I put that on the fire?" Nitham asked.
Toliman grunted an assent, and Achernar said cautiously, "Keep it on a rock until it's burned, my Nitham."
"Yes, I'll be careful." She trotted away to a cleared place where they had assembled a very small pile of twigs and branches. She began to work with the tinder, sorting through it to find pieces for starting a fire.
Toliman made another sound, and Achernar said, "I'll go sort the food. Does Sarah Jane eat the same things?"
This simple question brought forth a longer answer than Sarah would have thought necessary, but Toliman pointed at her feet, then her chest, then her hands. He bunched his hand together and pulsed it in a clenched fist, like a heart. He inhaled and exhaled several times and pointed at her again, obviously illustrating the working of her lungs. It dawned on her that he was explaining her physiology to Achernar, but the young, wooly coated male nodded gravely like the senior student in a science class. "Yes Master," he said. "Nitham and I shall find those wood bulbs for her tomorrow. She'll like those. But the red clusters will be sweet to her, yes?"
And Toliman clearly assented with a toss of his head.
Achernar went to see to their supper. Then Toliman turned to Sarah Jane, and he was limping, favoring the wounded leg. Now the massive creature folded his hands together towards her and bowed at the waist. He inclined his head, bowing, and he softened his voice to a gentle sound of pain. He pointed to his wound. This was clearly supplication.
"You want me to clean it up for you?" she asked.
He nodded and tossed his head, and now in the dying light she saw that the expressionless eyes had a look of pain and hope in them. He offered her his front leg and waved the hoof gently over the ground.
"You'll have to help me," she said. He tossed his head again. This gesture, by now, was reassuring to her, as it indicated his agreement and understanding.
The action of cleaning his wound almost appealed to her just because it needed tending so badly. But she feared that she might cause him pain. Yet as soon as she gingerly put her hand on his muscular and hairy thigh to steady it and apply the sponge, he nodded, and he swished his tail. He let out his breath in a gasp, as though her touch alone relieved his pain.
"Like this, let the water rinse it first?" she asked. He nodded and made a sound of agreement.
Just the cleaning of his wound seemed to give him great relief. He gestured to show her how to bind up the shredded herbage into the torn shirt and make a poultice. She tied this over the wound and then wet it the cloth from the sponge. Toliman tossed his head and then surprised her by turning in a tight circle and prancing. He danced up on his back legs. This display of innocent happiness surprised a laugh out of her. Up until that moment, everybody had been very business like.
But at her laugh he stopped. He peered at her more closely and then more slowly pranced back to give her some room, and then he easily came up on his back legs and came down gently. It was as though he were showing her there was nothing to be afraid of. Then he pranced and turned again.
"Toliman, if we were on earth, I'd say you're nothing but a great big baby," she told him, her tone friendly. "You just want some looking after and sympathy." At her voice, he swung up his arms, slapped his muscular chest, and waved his hands in circles, then came down on his front legs kicked out his back feet. She laughed again.
Again, he stopped and turned. He cocked his head. Achernar was at her shoulder. "Are you well, Sarah Jane? Toliman is only rejoicing because you made his leg feel better."
"Yes, I'm just laughing. I'm not afraid. He seems to be lots better," she said.
The red coated youth was puzzled. "Laughing?"
Toliman suddenly seemed to understand. He tossed his head, pranced up onto his back legs a couple more times, and then came down and extended his hand to Sarah Jane.
"It's supper time," Nitham said.
* * * * *
The Doctor had his head under the console when Warrant Officer Benton cautiously entered the TARDIS. Sarah Jane flitted in and out of here all the time, but Benton was always a bit wary about those doors closing. He had been in the TARDIS before and had even traveled in her, but he was a bloke who liked the familiar.
"I've re-charged these magnetic punchers, Doctor," he said to the legs sticking out from under the console.
"Just set them down," the voice said.
Benton did so and squatted down. "Look, what do I tell the Brig when you turn up missing?"
As usual, the Doctor did not give the thought of his absence any serious consideration. "Oh nonsense. I can return the exact same moment I left."
"All the same, just in case---" Benton was persistent.
The Doctor sighed and slid out from the console. He looked at the young Warrant Officer. "The two creatures we had in custody were extra-terrestrials. They were able to literally walk off this planet with Sarah Jane, and they did. I saw them. I don't know how they did it with no equipment whatsoever, but to move themselves and her through space like that, they would have had to hyper-compress space. That type of energy transfer leaves a trail, which I intend to follow. I am going to find Sarah Jane and bring her back. I should return exactly one second after I leave."
Benton nodded patiently. "And what about that thing that's floating around here?"
"My hunch is that he's gone too. He wants Sarah Jane."
"But how can he leave the planet?"
This question irritated the Doctor. "The same way he came, I imagine."
"Didn't somebody say he was wounded?"
As always too many questions annoyed the Doctor to the point he refused to answer them. "Mr. Benton, if he cannot leave the planet, you will have to deal with him until I return. If he can leave the planet, he has gone after those two young emissaries. He plans to catch and devour Sarah Jane, and I must try to stop him. Now let me see to it!"
* * * * *
Darkness fell as the four of them gathered around a tiny fire in front of the cave. Sarah was given one of the broad leaves, filled with the herbage. The taste was excellent, and it agreed with her stomach, but she realized that there was not much of it, and she sensed that Nitham and Achernar had given her preference in the berries, bits of fruit, and tastier pieces while they settled for the bark scrapings and more fibrous things. There were gourds of water for drinking. They had piled up a heap of foods: grasses and clusters of stalks with heads of seeds on them, that the three of them would have found unpalatable but that Toliman munched on with a happy, sedate concentration. To join them, he came down on his knees, folding his good leg under him and extending the injured leg.
"Master, it's so good to see you at night time, able to sit with us and fellowship," Nitham said. "It's so sweet to see you feeling better even when night falls."
Toliman tossed his head by way of thanks, and he swished his tail up.
"Has the wound been very bad?" Sarah Jane asked. "How did he get it?"
"In the battle against Alphard," Achernar said. "Some days it lays him very low, and he's in terrible pain, but ever since we brought you here, he has been improving."
"But why didn't you wash it for him?" she asked. "You seem to understand the herb lore to make medicine." She looked at Toliman. "Or couldn't you clean it yourself? It's in easy reach." Toliman, chewing on that planet's version of hay---which was sticking out from either side of his mouth---gazed at her with a sort of indolent blandness. He was, quite plainly, enjoying his food and was not much interested in conversing.
Something in her suddenly found him funny again, but in a more endearing way. His supplication of her almost made her want to reassure him, for the sincerity of his joy at her care somehow made him vulnerable. Their relationship had suddenly deepened.
"Are you listening to me?" Her voice was pert, and for a moment she wondered if it sounded too pert. She tried to correct her tone. "I'm just saying you could look after yourself better."
He swallowed, surveyed her as the firelight flickered on him, and then bowed his head and shook his horns at her. Then he looked at her with that same indolent blandness and picked up another great bundle of hay in both hands and took it into his mouth so that the ends stuck out on either side and he chewed from the middle. As calmly as a cow, he started chewing and watched her. Neither Achernar nor Nitham understood him, for it should have been a gesture of anger, but he was not angry.
Sarah Jane realized that he was teasing her. "Oy!" she exclaimed. "You better watch yourself, mate. I'll show you!"
Now he ducked his head at her more insistently and shook his horns at her. He swallowed, lifted his head, and beckoned her to come closer if she dared, then he shook his horns again.
"Oh awright. I'll teach you a lesson!" She jumped up and for a moment they eyed each other, his face still very bland. Then she seized him by the horns and pulled. He caught her in his massive hands as she fell over backwards, and she quickly wrapped her legs around him at the waist and used all of her weight to pull full strength on the horns. This, of course, was nothing to so great a creature, but he let out a "whuff!" sound and stood up with her still clinging by her legs around his waist and hanging on to his horns. "Now I've got you!" she shouted. "And don't try to get away!"
"Whuff!" he said, and he lightly pranced as though in distress, as though it really were a struggle.
Neither Achernar nor Nitham had comprehended this confrontation, and it had frightened them a little. But suddenly at the ridiculous sight of Sarah Jane hanging on for dear life by her legs and tugging on the massive head, the young king of the planet burst out with a laugh. "It's for laughter!" he exclaimed.
The massive hands were under her to prevent her from falling, and so she risked slipping one leg free and trying to hook it around Toliman's thick neck. This looked so funny that both Nitham and Achernar fell backward on the grass laughing. Toliman pranced back and forth in the light of the fire with Sarah Jane struggling to wrestle him into submission as he carried her, and the two young satyr-like creatures held their sides and laughed.
"No more! No more!" Nitham gasped. "Oh Master! What makes it work that way?"
Toliman bucked so that Sarah Jane was flipped free, and then he caught her in his great arms and set her on her feet on the grass. This left her a little breathless, but he trotted in a circle as his two young friends slowed their laughing and calmed down. Then he trotted back to Sarah Jane and clasped her head in his hands, a gesture of affection. They went back to their places at the fire.
"Now you have taught us laughter," Achernar said.
Toliman spoke with a few short grunts, and Achernar translated. "We shall do this when we have children."
"And the Master will play with our children," Nitham said. But Toliman raised his hands and broke them apart.
"He cannot," Achernar said. Toliman grunted and Achernar added, "The Transformation will prevent it."
* * * *
The repairs took longer than the Doctor had anticipated. As he worked, he thought that he heard Benton enter again. Exasperated, he shoved himself out from under the console. "Look, what is it this time?" he asked. But the control room was empty.
Yet the lights in the corridor to the back rooms flickered or else had a shadow pass in front of them. He stood up and walked across the large control room to the entrance to the corridor. Nobody was about in the long hallway. He took a few steps further, but the TARDIS was silent.
"I've no time for this," he said. Then he noticed the magnetic pulse punchers sitting on the control room floor. "Oh good!" Supposing that Benton had entered a second time to drop them off, he took them up and stowed them in one of the lockers.
Then he returned to the console and put the power systems back on line. He operated the controls to close the doors. He switched on the controls, and for a moment, nothing happened, except that the lights flickered. The engines strained and seemed to let out an anguished cry. He almost shut down, but then suddenly the rotor engaged, the engines returned to normal, and the TARDIS was underweigh.
He had the overwhelming sense that he was not alone, and a flashing red light on the console alerted him. There was a warning of trouble in the core of the TARDIS. "Better look into that," he murmured. "We'll just run a diagnostic, old girl." But the light suddenly went dark, and the diagnostic verified safe operation. With a slight jolt, he realized that they had landed.
"Well this is where the trail led, anyway," he muttered. He glanced at the coordinates display. "And this is the Toliman system."
* * * *
Gentle sunlight poured into the deep window cut into Sarah Jane's room. She opened her eyes. Her sleep had been dreamless. The bed was soft and fragrant with the tiny wildflowers. She felt better than she had felt in days, and her thoughts quickly turned to breakfast. As she stood and looked around, she heard voices from out front. Nitham and Achernar were returning from some errand---perhaps collecting food. The previous night they had mentioned gathering some items that she would find sustaining.
She came into the hallway and stopped to run her fingers through her hair to make herself presentable. Unthinking, Nitham was speaking loudly enough for Sarah Jane to hear her.
"But when will the Master tell her? When is it made known to Sarah Jane?"
Achernar's voice was cautious. "She has to be made to understand all of it first, little Nitham. Toliman says she will not like the plan and will not wish to have it done. Everything must be timed properly."
"She will be afraid of the pain.. Pain is dreadful, Achernar. We will have to help her be brave."
"Yes, and she will fear losing her blood. And the final act of death will horrify her, or at least disgust her. She may refuse unless we act wisely."
"What is death? We saw it on her planet, but I still don't understand. It seems dreadful, yet the Master is so determined about it. Why?"
"Death is the gateway to transformation. That's why we need Sarah Jane. We had better speak more softly. She will awaken soon."
They were coming to awaken her, and so Sarah quickly ducked back into her room, heart pounding, to pretend that she had not heard. She could fool them, but she would never fool Toliman. As soon as he saw her, he would know that she had overheard their horrible plans for her.