Christmas With Friends;Liz Shaw;Caroline John;Doctor Who;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jeri Massi
Christmas With Friends
by Jeri Massi
Their captor shouldered the weapon and then fell atop the Brigadier and hit him with his fists. After that stunning blow to the side of the head with the rifle butt, Lethbridge Stewart was not able to defend himself.
"Stop it!" Liz shouted. "Leave him alone! What has he done?"
She rushed forward, but when the olive skinned man looked up at her, his eyes alight with a cold flame behind them, she stopped dead. He would, she realized her, beat her, kill her, do anything he chose.
As she took an involuntary step back, he punched his fist two more times into the Brigadier's chest, and then stood up. As he backed away from his victim, Liz rushed forward again, but their captor caught her by the shoulder and jerked her back.
"You go in there," he said. He pointed to the small lab's utility and storage closet.
"What about hi--- What about my husband?" she asked.
"Now!" He shoved her, hard, towards the door and then came right after her. He pulled open the door and pushed her inside. The storage room was freezing cold, untouched by the heat in the main room. The door slammed closed.
Liz ran to it, pressed herself against it, and listened. It was thick, solid wood, but she heard several terse commands from their captor. Either the Brigadier was not answering, or he was speaking so quietly that she could not hear him.
She heard the front door open. One of the others was coming in from the snowy hillside. There was a good deal of banging, and some discussion, directives from the leader to his subordinate. Her fear increased. They were setting something up---not the equipment. What made it worse was the silence of the Brigadier. Suddenly, there more of the same explosive yells, and more pounding of fists. They were torturing him. Each of the loud, hoarse outcries, was abruptly chopped short, some with a strangling sound. She knew what they were doing: hanging him against the front door with a noose of cord around his neck. One man behind the door would pull it taut while the other hit the prisoner and questioned him.
This session actually lasted for along time, punctuated with long moments of silence when they let their prisoner get his breath back so that they could do it all again. Liz realized that she was sweating, and she was nauseated. And then she realized that it had never even occurred to her that he would tell them that she was actually Liz Shaw, that he couldn't answer their questions about the System because he didn't even know the answers to their questions. He would die, she knew, before he would betray her.
After yet another long pause, the session started again.
"Stop it!" she shouted. "Stop it! Let him alone!" She pounded on the door. The urgency of telling them that she was Liz Shaw nudged at her. And with it came doubts that they would believe her. And she also felt a fear of them more profound and stark than she had thought fear could be. She did not doubt, if they felt inclined to do so, that they would torture her as well.
At last there was silence, and then their captor spoke, giving orders. She heard the equipment being shifted. Whoever else was in the room was setting it up. This would not be difficult, for the UNIT men had more than half done the job, and the connecting points were obvious.
For a long moment, there seemed to be nothing but the occasional sound of tools being laid down or equipment pushed into place. But then she realized that the Brigadier was speaking in a low voice. He was telling them something at great length, explaining something. Of course. If these men wanted anything done to the Pleaides system, they would have to wait until it was in the proper place to receive a signal. The Brig had allowed a couple hours for her and him to complete the set up and run some preliminary tests and repairs. He would have to explain that to them.
She glanced at her watch. The satellite would not be in place for well over an hour---nearly two.
Abruptly, the door jerked open. She jumped back. Her captor, face expressionless, seized her by the collar. His hand deftly unzipped her parka and jerked it open.
Liz pulled away, and she heard the Brigadier's voice, as though at a distance.
As she struggled to get away, she came out of the heavy outer garment. The stranger pulled it off of her and threw it back through the doorway, into the front room. Then he took one step closer, grabbed her hair, and as she raised her hands, he plucked off the insulated gloves. Then he struck her, once, with an open hand blow. He strode out. A moment later, the Brigadier was hurled inside, and the door slammed closed.
Liz's legs were trembling. There was a knot of fear in her midsection. But they'd only wanted her coat and gloves, she realized. It was a means of slow torture, to leave them in the cold room with inadequate covering.
The Brigadier tried to brace himself against the wall, and she hurried to get under his shoulder. He had already shed his coat, and his sweater was in tatters. His right eye was swollen shut, and there was blood flowing freely from a gash over it.
"Did he hurt you?" he asked her. His voice was ruined, raspy and very low.
"It's all right; it's all right," she whispered. He was collapsing against her to the floor, and she eased him down to it. There were ligature marks around his throat, confirming her assessment of what had been done.
"They're out there, for now," she whispered. "Do you know where you are?"
"Yes. In the store room," he said. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. I've got to see to that eye. Let me make you more comfortable."
The floor was cold concrete, and for the first time, she looked around to take stock of her prison.
The store room was fairly deep. It had a center aisle and two sets of shelves on either side. From where they were, close to the door, she could see cleaning supplies for the lab sink and the windows. But there were other bits of small equipment and several small bottles and containers on the shelves.
Her eyes alighted on sheets of folded over black material.
"There's a tarp of some kind here. I'll get it."
She left him and retrieved the tarp. It was dusty, but not very dirty. She did not want to make a great deal of noise, so she shook it out carefully to free it of some of its dust.
The cold, she realized, was penetrating the concrete store room, with only slight warmth radiating from the heated front room, through the seams around the door. She did not want to make his bed up in a direct path from the doorway, though that was where the air was least frigid. So she laid out the tarp to the side of the direct path, and she helped him onto it. Moving was difficult for him, and he settled onto his right side.
"Can you hear me?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"I need to look after you. Let me check the shelves. There might be something useful."
He managed a slight nod. After a moment's consideration, she pulled off her own sweater and draped it over his shoulder and chest. On him it looked small, almost silly, a useless measure against the penetrating cold.
"No---" he began.
"Yes, you need it more. I'll think of something." She made her voice stern, a tone that he would recognize. "I am a scientist, Brigadier."
He said no more, and she made a tour of the four sets of shelves. The heaviest equipment was in back: a petrol-powered portable generator---a required piece of equipment for remote sites like these---a few large spades in the corner, an aging acetylene torch. The blade for a snow plow took up a large section of the back wall. There were large battery powered torches as well. But two significant items distracted her from the rest of her inventory: a row of three waterproof mackintoshes hung on hooks near the snow plow blade, and a very conventional box marked with a large red cross: a first aid kit, and a good one. She seized these items and returned to her charge.
"You've got to get away, Miss Shaw," he said as she knelt by him and draped the first mac over him.
"Nonsense, there's no way out," she told him. "Do stop giving orders for once and let me get a proper look at you." But she smoothed back his hair, which was matted in front with blood, and looked at his injured eye.
"I can make out a light," he gasped. "On the back wall. Isn't it a window?"
"Certainly. Very small and very dirty and painted closed. If we should pry it up or smash it open, our jolly hosts up front will hear it. And even if I should squeeze out in time---with no coat by the way---there are men posted on the hillside. Can you roll onto your back, sir?"
He had been lying on his side, evidence of favoring the ribs on his left side. And when he moved onto his back, he did so with so much evident discomfort that she knew the ribs were broken, and she wondered if the men had hurt his kidneys.
The first aid kit was of the larger sort, designed for use in areas far from hospitals. It had telescoping splints and large bandages and tourniquets and even a small cartridge of insulin, but no stethoscope. She laid aside the sweater she had given him, pulled aside the tattered remains of his won sweater, and unbuttoned his shirt. She then leaned against him, put her ear to the thin vest over his chest, and listened.
"Can you take a deep breath?" she asked.
He tried, and she heard the catch as he did so. It might just be from mild trauma, she thought, a reaction from the lungs to the hard percussions of the blows, and they might clear up within a day. But there was no doubt that he had fluid accumulating in at least one lung---the left, near his broken ribs. Had they punctured his lung?
She straightened up, unaware that her sudden silence would communicate her concern to him.
She reached into his shirt, ready to palpate the left side, but his hand---remarkably strong in spite of his injuries---caught her wrist.
"Just clean me up," he whispered. "There's no use seeing to the rest. It doesn't matter."
It didn't matter, she thought. Their captors were prompt with killing.
She buttoned up his shirt, covered him with the rags of his sweater and with her sweater, and pulled the mac up. She draped the other two macs over him, opened up a bottle of antiseptic, and began to clean the gash over his eye.
He did not flinch. Though his voice was hoarse and low, he tried to make his tone slightly ironic. "When you call me sir, I know I must be a mess," he told her as she worked.
She could see the ligature marks around his throat. A sudden banging of a cabinet door out front made her jump. His strong hand came around her wrist again, a grip of comfort. "It's all right. They'll give us an hour. They want you to convince me to do what they want."
"Who are they" she asked.
"I honestly don't know. They know something about Pleaides, but I'm quite at a loss." He hesitated as she carefully cleaned the gash. It was wide but not deep, a typical cut made from a fist that tears the skin. She fished in the box for a butterfly bandage. "This was not supposed to happen," he said at last.
"No, I rather thought not," she said.
"You don't understand---" But before he could speak further, she asked, "What do they want? Control over the Pleaides system?"
"What will you do? You don't even know how to direct it. We'll have to tell them the truth."
"I can operate the controls on that set up perfectly."
This reply amazed her. The few times that he had been present when she had been working on the system controls, he had seemed familiar with the theory of the navigation but not skilled in the actual execution. He had never taken the controls as far as she had ever seen.
But if the Brigadier said he could operate the system, then he could.
"It's not that," he told her.
"You won't then?" she asked. It seemed obvious to her, that if he at all could, Lethbridge Stewart would refuse to cooperate. So then it really became a question of how long she could hold out. For, she knew, sooner or later, they would turn their attacks onto her, just to coerce him, and the fate of national security would be in her hands. If she did not resist to the end and cooperated with them, she would be placing a powerful spy tool into the hands of an enemy nation. And she was realistic enough to know that whether or not she complied, they would kill her anyway. The both of them were looking at certain death. Unless they could escape.
His breathing was becoming labored as he lay on his back. She helped him roll onto his side again.
"You don't understand. It was a rabbit trail," he said.
"Yes all right. Don't talk."
"I have to. It was a rabbit trail. All a rabbit trail. There was no official test today."
She stared down at him.
"We made it up. The Doctor and I. It was a ruse to get you away from London."
In spite of her fear, her pity for his condition, and the numbing cold, she had room for a warm surge of indignant anger. "What on earth for?"
"You were in danger. We didn't want to frighten you. I had it from our agents that you'd been picked as a prime target: no proper sense of security, a good deal of skepticism about the operation, and fully informed on the entire project."
"So bringing me to the middle of no where was your answer?" she asked.
"According to the official reports---" He had to stop to catch his breath for a moment. There was a faint wheezing each time he worked his lungs. The wheezing suddenly turned into coughing. She lifted his head on her arm and held up one of the flaps of his torn sweater. He coughed out blood. Then he stopped and the coughing turned back to wheezing, and then it became quieter. He spoke in his hoarse voice: "According to the official reports, you're still at UNIT HQ, on assignment. The only people who knew you were coming out here today were the people who actually came. And apart from the Doctor, the others didn't know until they got onto the truck for the drive out."
"But I was notified of the assignment to come here," she said. "Yesterday."
"Somebody went through the dust bins in the labs. Last night. It must have been."
"All this trouble, and you would have done better to have left me on my own today."
"No. At least this way, I'm Liz Shaw. You're safe---at least from their method of convincing people to cooperate."
Without thinking, she stroked back his hair from his forehead. "You shouldn't talk. You need to catch your breath and let your lungs work." She put her hand against his neck. The pulse was steady. Skin was becoming cool, slightly damp. He was in shock.
"Can you hear me?" she asked.
"Yes." But he was slipping into unconsciousness.
"Brigadier, you must stay with me."
His voice suddenly became very proper and polite. "If you're frightened, I'll stay as long as I can," he said. "It's no trouble at all."
"Brigadier," she said more loudly, into his ear. He opened his good eye more fully. He was aware that he'd been slipping away. His hand would have grasped her wrist, but she caught it with her own hand. His grip was still strong, and she firmly clasped his hand. "You must stay with me, sir."
"Don't know who they are. They must have staged a coup on the agents. They don't know what they're about."
"They don't know that Liz isn't a man's name," she agreed. "They're not native to an English speaking country. Fairly distant, I'd say."
"There was a coup," he said again. "There must have been. Sort of like information bandits---letting the professionals do most of the tracking and then swooping down on them, unexpected." He came up on his elbow, his eyes closed. "Now see here," he said in his most military voice. "I want you to get Miss Shaw away."
She put her arms around him to prevent him from trying to get to his feet. "It's all right," she said. "Lie down, Brigadier. We're safe for now."
Something at the window made her jump against him, and he collapsed gently to the tarp. But she had her eyes fixed on the window. It was only a small, dusty pain of glass, very thick. But for a moment, something has blotted out the light. And then it crossed the window again: a huge, manlike form, brown and bulky, like some apparition of a Yeti.
Just as it passed by again, the door to their prison burst open, and their captor stood framed in the doorway, his rifle at his shoulder, pointed at them. He trained it onto Liz.