The Christmas 2000 Story
by Jeri Massi
Well, I know this is a dream, Jo thought comfortably as she gazed up at two eyes that were staring at her in the darkness. Voices spoke in very quiet whispers, and she didn't know the language, but she understood what they were talking about: Her. As much as she'd been surprised to find a pile of smoldering wood out on the pack ice, these creatures were astonished to find a young woman speared like a beautiful and innocent young seal.
They were leaning in a group so close over her that their bodies blocked out any faint light that the ice and snow might have allowed. She could see only eyes: one pair of rather large, female eyes, and several smaller pairs of eyes. Eyes in wrinkled faces, all of them. There was something youthful and filled with wonder about them, and yet also something old: something plain and simple and hard working, without much genuine imagination. She thought she smelled the residue of tobacco.
The female eyes seemed to be of the opinion that Jo was best left as she was, for setting her free out on the pack ice would be very dangerous for her. But there were questions from the other eyes. They were concerned that she was already in quite enough danger, and was she in pain from tiny spear that had struck with such speed?
She remembered that she had been shot with a tranquilizing dart, and her side did, indeed, hurt very much. She tried to move and then heard herself groan. Then she realized that she might be dreaming, or she might really be surrounded by a band of foreign creatures. Either way, she needed to wake up to deal with the situation. The female pair of eyes wanted to prevent more harm until He was ready to look into the problem. She was concerned about somebody else, not just Jo. Apparently the person who made the command decisions was not immediately present or was very busily seeing to something else, and the female eyes weren't sure what to do but was falling back on the idea that they must hold things together until he came back.
Jo heard herself groan again. Part of her felt perfectly calm and warm, and yet another part of her was becoming more and more alarmed as she fought the effect of the tranquilizing dart. She wanted to wake up, to find the Doctor, and to get to a place of safety. Not from these startled but unthreatening eyes, but from whoever had darted her.
"Please help me," she tried to say, and even though the words were barely audible, they brought her around. She forced her eyes open, saw the shell of dark night above, thick with cloud cover, and tried to lift her head. The effort made her gasp with pain. Her right side was inflamed from hip to underarm, bruised from the powerful dart.
"We should throw them into the lead over there," a voice said. It would look like they fell in by accident."
"It doesn't work if we have to come back to them with questions. If we just let them freeze, there's no indication at all, and after an hour or so, they'll answer our questions just to be let into the tent for a minute. You don't know what this cold can do to people."
"Then let's strip them."
"Don't be an idiot. They'd die too fast. It's all right, this way. I've done this before. You just leave them for an hour. Two hours, if they're hardy. Let them struggle over the ice for a bit. It's good to let them exhaust themselves. They'll either die, or if they linger too long, we can finish them off when they're too weak to fight. Suffocation won't leave marks."
She tried to sit up. The pain in her side raged in protest. "Don't Jo," the Doctor's voice whispered. "There's no need to. It's pretty hopeless." He was behind her but was already sitting up.
"Let her get up. She's all right," a voice called to him. "Might as well tell her the worst."
There was a very small, battery operated lamp set upright on the ice about twenty yards away, and Jo could discern the silhouette of a man who stood behind its glare. He had some type of weapon pointed at them. It was like a rifle, but much more slender and light weight. Further back, made more indistinct by the glare focused on him from the lamp and the over riding dimness of the terrain, another man stood with that same enormous type of back pack that Jo had seen before. He was struggling into it, adjusting straps and buckles. She squinted and tried to make sense of it. It was far longer than a conventional backpack. It was almost like a rectangular tree with an odd round canopy that hung over his head.
"What is that?" she asked.
"I'll check for their friends, but I think we got them far enough away," he said to the man that was covering them. "Put that thing down! They're too weak to do anything." And then the man rose straight up into the air, silently, his ascent made slightly uncertain by the wind that tilted him as he rose. He appeared to be operating controls on a pair of hand rails to stabilize himself.
She was amazed. She had seen futuristic stories of jet packs and rocket men, but this was real, and yet not quite what the stories had depicted.
"Yes," the Doctor said, sensing her wonder. "It's a personal hover mechanism. More like a miniature helicopter than a rocket. And it's silent. That's why we never heard them."
The man in the air ascended higher still, trying to get above the wind current, until only a few reflective stripes on his sleeves and the faint shimmer from the silent, wide blades in the whirling canopy over his head indicated where he was in the night sky. The unending night was now dark and overcast, and so Jo didn't get a good look at what happened next.
There was streak of motion directly over her own head that moved in a perfect, blindingly fast arc across the low, dark cloud cover. She had a momentary impression of twin trails of faintly gold or bronze colored streaks along the bottom of it, and then there was a tremendous crash as loud as a thunderclap. The streaking object in the sky, uninterrupted in its journey, disappeared over the western horizon, and the man in the air toppled all the way to the snow.
His companion shouted and rushed over to him. Jo was also horrified. But she heard the Doctor take a sharp breath, and she sensed him tense. Now they had only one captor.
Jo's mask, scarves, cap, and goggles had been taken, but the Doctor had unfolded her thin hood and drawn it over her head to protect her. She looked up at him. He looked very sick indeed, and she wondered if his unique metabolism had found the tranquilizer more debilitating than a human would have. But at her glance he circled his arm, thick with all the insulation of his snow suit, around her. He had apparently decided that they were in no shape to risk a fight. Not yet.
"You all right?" he asked.
She nodded. "What was that? A meteor?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. It came up from the horizon over there. An earth to air missile? But who launched it?" He looked up at the sky. "It was moving east to west."
"It couldn't have been a missile. It never exploded." She looked at their remaining captor. He was kneeling over their fallen comrade. The thin, rifle-like weapon was in his hand, propped on the snow like a staff. She realized that it was a single barrel dart gun. Such a dart gun, as far as she knew, could only accommodate a single shot.
But the Doctor's mind was on whatever object had streaked across the sky. "Picked him off right out of the air," the time lord muttered. "Simply ran over him in flight. Perhaps it was an accident. Maybe he simply bumbled into its flight path." He let her go and with a great effort and some wavering, he got to his feet. "Come on. Perhaps we can do some good."
Though weak himself, he helped her up, and they shambled on unsteady legs towards the fallen man.
"Stay back!" their captor exclaimed. He jumped up. "Or I'll give you another!" He pointed the long, slender, black weapon at them.
The Doctor held out his empty, gloved hands. "I'm a doctor, for goodness sake! Perhaps I can help him!"
"You can't help him, mate. He's dead." The man shook the weapon at them. "What was it? What did they launch?"
"I don't know what it was," the Doctor told him.
"I couldn't get a decent look at it," Jo added.
Like the Doctor and Jo, the armed man wore a dark snowsuit, heavy gloves, and boots. Jo saw her own hat and scarf dangling in his belt, like a trophy. Scalps taken in the Arctic Circle were made of wool.
"What now?" the Doctor asked. "What do you want with us?"
"We wanted your equipment. I don't want anything of you. You're free to go. Go on. Start walking."
It was clear that he didn't know what to do. He had no idea about what had run over his companion in the air, and he had only one dart in the gun. He seemed reluctant to use it. To do so would certainly leave him weaponless.
But the Doctor was astounded. "Go?" he asked. He gazed around the vast, dark terrain. Their captor's snow mobile was a few yards away. There was no sign of the heap of smoking wood, no sign of the ice breaker, and no sign of their comrades. "Go where?"
"Go where ever you like. You won't get far."
"And this way we'll likely die without a mark on us," the Doctor said. "Is that it? Who are you?"
"I can see that you're a doctor from how smart you are. Start moving, or I'll dart you again and leave you here."
The Doctor quickly put an arm around Jo's shoulders and turned her away from them. "Come on," he said.
"Where?' she asked.
"Out there. We've no other choice."
As he led her away from the glow of the lamps, they heard their captor drag the body and the mangled hovering contraption across the ice and snow. Moments later, they heard snow mobile engine start up.
"Who are they?" Jo asked.
"The people who infiltrated the NATO security net," the Doctor said. "And those hovering machines are their means of entering high security perimeters unseen with powerful photographic equipment. They make no noise, and they can come in low under radar detection. With powerful telescopic lenses, they can get the pictures they want and get away before anybody can trace the infrared flashes and strobes they use."
"But why kidnap us?" Jo asked.
"Perhaps they stumbled onto us," he said. "Dr. Henry noted that the victims of that collapsed wooden structure may have lit the fire to force their attackers back to the scene. Maybe when they hovered in, they didn't expect to see us there. But once they were that close, they had to spirit us away to get the equipment."
"So they darted us and carried us away to their own snow mobiles, and then dragged us out here," Jo said. "Another mystery for NATO security if we freeze to death. They'll be left wondering how we got out here."
He changed the subject. Their captor had sped away, and they now seemed to be alone. "The best way to survive is to burrow into the snow," he said. But she kicked her boot into the snow cover. It was thin, and the wind that whipped down the face of the ice pack was getting stronger as the night deepened. It was scouring away the loose snow. They could not build adequate cover from snow alone. She slipped her gloved hand into his, and his grip was firm. He did not release her. The cold was already seeping into her, in spite of the snow suit. The hood was much better than nothing and made the difference between life and death, but it was designed to be fitted over insulating head gear. She was losing heat through her head, as was he. And the wind was whipping their precious body heat away. Even if they should hunker down together in the snow, they would not be able to keep each other warm, not in the wind.
Walking while wearing the layers of insulation was the best way to stay as warm as possible, for walking was a slow, low-energy, and regular way of generating body heat. But within a few hours calorie deprivation would worsen their experience of the cold, slow them down, and fatigue them even more.
"Can we survive through the night?" she asked.
"Yes." His voice was decisive. "If we help each other and are careful."
What this really meant is that he would help her, for Jo already knew that he could survive this, but she could not.
* * * *
The dense cloud cover lifted to permit some star light and moon light in one square patch of the sky. It actually formed an opaque and silvery block that was reflected in the white terrain. But the cold intensified. The time according to their polar day, Jo reckoned, was now just past seven at night: early evening. But in Greenwich, children would be sitting down to an early supper, and in London, lunch would be just ending for some people, and just beginning for others.
She was already cold from having lain inactive and stupefied on the ice. Sleeping dropped body core temperature by several degrees, and now it was difficult to restore it to a suitable level, especially as the wind continued to blow. The Doctor interrupted their trudging to remove his soft inner gloves. He arranged them as packing around her cheeks and ears and tied her hood down around her face in a small oval to keep them in place. They made for good insulation, all the way down to the top of her neck, and the warmth of his hands was still in them.
"What about you?" she asked.
"My hands will be all right in these big gauntlets," he told her, his voice loud over the wind. He gave a nod at his outer gloves. "I won't be doing any finely detailed work out here."
She nodded gratefully.
He put his arm around her and they trudged along. At first she thought that he merely meant to be kind, but then she realized that she had been dragging her pace, slowing down. Yet they had been walking for only a quarter of an hour. I'm not that cold yet, she thought. And then she realized with dreadful understanding that she was that cold, and she was tired. He was helping her along.
The wind picked up fine particles of the snow and flung the particles in eddies, blinding as dust, into their faces. It was scouring off the ice pack, obliterating any trail they might leave.
"Come on, Jo," his voice urged her. And she realized that she had slowed all the way to a halt against the wind. His arm was tighter. He pulled her along. She began to forget the urgency of the need to move and to wish he would stop pulling her.
"But where are we going?" she called up at the black oval of his face in his hood.
The hood above her gave a nod towards the west. "The ice breaker is that way."
He had an excellent sense of direction when there were no winding roads with illogical turns to defy him. She knew he was right about the way to go. "But how far?" she shouted.
"I don't know. Far, I should say." He pulled her along with more insistence, and she half slid and half trotted to keep up.
"But can we get there?" she asked.
"We shall never get there if we don't try to get there," he exclaimed. "Focus your mind on going further. Don't think about your legs. Just focus on what's ahead in the terrain!"
She obeyed him. She let him pull her along, and she did her best to move. But it was becoming much more difficult, and she was becoming more cold in her extremities. Her feet were now numb.
She had to keep her eyes half closed against the stinging, whipping particles of snow. Oddly, she felt warmer with her eyes half closed. It was almost like a slow and ponderous waltz with him, his strong arm around her, guiding her along. They adopted a sort of rhythmic rocking gait as he accommodated to her short strides. Then she realized that she wasn't using her legs, and yet she was still moving forward. She was on his back, piggy back, but the cold was cutting through her own back and her hood. At last he swung her back down to the ground, and she just barely managed to stay on her feet. Her arms and hands, she realized, had become chilled as he had carried her.
"Let's try this," he said, but his voice was coming from far away. He untied his hood and unzipped his snowsuit. She understood. She let him wrap it around her, and she put her arms around him, inside the heavy, insulated suit, so that his body heat would warm her.
He closed his eyes and covered her head with his head. The Doctor, she knew, was able to control his hearts and his breathing through self-hypnosis and deep concentration. Apparently he could raise his own body temperature as well. With her shoulders and head wrapped in his arms and nested inside his snowsuit, she came back to herself. Her feet ached, but as she rested against him, hidden from the wind, he felt as warm as a generator. Her ability to easily breathe returned, and the knot of pain behind her eyes relaxed. Her arms and hands regained their strength.
The Doctor, she realized, actually could withstand the cold well enough to walk all the way back to the ice breaker, even if it were miles and miles away. But she could not. No human could.
Jo had often wondered if he could read her thoughts. As she had come to know him better, she had guessed that within herself there was an ability---operating apart from all human reason----that allowed him some view of her feelings and fears: most often when she was distressed. She never consciously threw the switch that opened the view for him, but she was sure that, ultimately, it was she who allowed him into her thoughts. He didn't trespass.
So she wasn't surprised when he covered her head with his hands and whispered in her ear, "We'll both get through. I can manage us both. Don't let fear hinder you, Jo. And don't worry about me. We'll both be home in time for Christmas."
She wanted to tell him that she thought she couldn't go much further, but there was no point in saying it. If she collapsed ten paces further on, then he would figure out what to do. But for the moment, for this present moment, she had to consent to keep fighting to go forward.
"I can go on," she said. She withdrew her head from under his arm and looked up at him.
"Say that right to my eyes," he told her.
His eyes were steady, ready to accept her fear without lecturing her. She confidently looked at his eyes, and---as he held her gaze---the cold did not really abate, but her dread of it, her self doubt about fighting her way forward, the burdensome oppression of the desolate landscape, all flickered down. She became calm again, and she felt a new confidence. It was true that if she collapsed from the cold, he would find a way to move her forward. But all she really had to think about was the very next moment and the very next step. And she could take one more step on her own, and she could face the next moment.
"I can go on, Doctor," she whispered.
He re-packed the soft gloves around her face and retied her hood. Then he zipped up his jumpsuit, circled his arm around her, and they resumed that odd waltzing of theirs across the ice.
But the wind that was hitting them was progressively more icy and less snowy. She hardly noticed the change from tiny flakes to tiny daggers, but suddenly he pulled up short. She had stopped seeing more than one exact step ahead, and now she looked at the terrain before them.
It was frigid black water: a vast expanse of it. Far across this slowly freezing channel was the opposite bank of the ice pack.
"This isn't just a lead," he said. "This is the path from the ice breaker. We're a couple miles downstream of her," he said. "We've got to back track. This section of the ice pack will be flimsy. It's just frozen over in the last day or two."
They heard a sound that filled them both with dread: a single snowmobile engine. The whine reached them as the wind ceased for a moment. They turned.
With its cone of light flitting ahead of it on the snow, a sleek gray snowmobile, unmarked, pulled to a stop about thirty yards from them. A lone man, clad in the familiar navy blue jumpsuit, got off of it. He withdrew a rifle, a real rifle, from the foot trough and pointed it at them.
"I thought you didn't want any marks," the Doctor called.
"Not if I can help it. But more than that, I want the girl," he called back. "For questioning. You can have her when I've finished with her. I'll bring her back."
Jo didn't argue. After the first second of realization, she stepped forward.
"No!" the Doctor shouted. He sprang forward and seized her hand to stop her. "Isn't it enough that you've sentenced her to die out here?"
Their enemy raised the gun. "Don't be stupid! Do you want to see her die in front of you? She'll go first!" And he pointed the rifle directly at Jo.
"I've got to!" Jo hissed. "I'll try to persuade him to let me come back to you."
But even as she spoke, she saw movement at the snow mobile. A flitting shadow at the back of it. And then she saw another one at the front of it. The shadow in the front was keeping just out of the cone of light from the single head lamp. It appeared to be a small figure of somebody kneeling, kneeling and peering under the snowmobile, or perhaps working on something.
She squinted and then tried not to stare.
"I'll come with you!" she called to the man with the rifle. "I'll answer your questions. When you've finished with me, will you bring me back to him?"
"Anything you like, Love. And at least it'll get you out of the cold for a few minutes. I've got a tent all ready."
"Jo, no!" the Doctor exclaimed. He came after her as she slowly stepped forward another pace or two. "He'll kill you as he said earlier, because you're too weak to resist. And then come back for me just the same."
"We don't know that. Not for sure. And he'll kill me now if I won't go," she said quickly. She raised her voice. "Is it just you, then?" she asked the man with the rifle.
"I ask the questions! Come on, then!"
"They've been hunting for us," she said to the Doctor without turning to him. "It was going to come to this from the first moment."
"Come on!" The stranger ordered. "Tell him to stop or he gets it!"
She stopped and turned to the Doctor. "Stop!" she said, her voice like iron. If you're shot, then I'll die as well. I'll go with him. Don't make it worse than it is! If I keep him busy, maybe you can think of something, or Cap will find you."
He abruptly shut his mouth, and with a pang she saw that he was truly torn with grief and fear for her and a belief that this horrible man would never bring her back to him. In all likelihood, her captor would kill her as soon as he had done as he liked with her.
But she made herself turn again, and she started towards their enemy. Both the shadows were bobbing at the front and back of the snow mobile, and then somehow they receded. She wasn't sure how they did this. They had never been that distinct, and they seemed to move further back and then were hidden by the snow mobile itself from her puzzled gaze.
The man with the rifle stepped back and gestured with the rifle for her to keep moving towards his vehicle. "Come on then, since you've agreed."
"All right," Jo said. In the end, this was all there was, and she may as well face it with as much dignity as she could muster. Without turning back or pleading, she walked forward to meet him. But part of her realized that he would never simply let her go. For a man like him, killing her would be part of the thrill. And yet she went, because there was nothing else she could do.