The Michaelmas Phantoms
A Death in the Meadow
"So, what do you think?" asked Sonia.
Saunders and Wells were busy in the control room, and she had grabbed this opportunity to hold a conference with her team in the ante-chamber. Starling stood at ease beside the door to the corridor. Rhonwen was perched on the table, swinging her legs. Sonia was not happy about her presence. The girl was not a member of UNIT and had no security clearance. But the Doctor refused to exclude her from the discussions.
"I think there's something very wrong," the Doctor said. He was standing by the door to the control room. He didn't seem to be looking at anyone or anything, just staring into space.
"You think there has been sabotage?" Sonia asked.
"No, I think the accelerator does what it's supposed to. That just isn't what Saunders expects."
"Doctor," said Sonia, "this is a very important, very expensive project, and I think it would help me if you didn't speak in riddles."
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor. "I can't tell you more because I don't know. I have some suspicions, but I need more evidence. I want to see the results of the test run tonight. I need to get a closer look at the equipment. And there are some tests I have to make." He turned to Rhonwen. "Can you go back to the TARDIS, and fetch the temporal vector scanner from the laboratory?"
Rhonwen slid from the table. "All right," she said. She started towards the door, but she found Peter Starling blocking her way.
"Surely you're not sending Miss Jones by herself, Doctor?" Starling asked. "It's starting to get dark outside."
"I don't understand," the Doctor replied.
"Of course," said Sonia, "you won't have heard the news. It isn't safe for people to go around alone."
"There's some nutter on the loose," added Starling. "He's killed five people already."
"Sergeant," said Sonia, "go with Miss Jones."
For a moment, the Doctor thought that Rhonwen was going to protest. She did like to be independent. But clearly she saw the sense of a military escort on this occasion.
"Right," said Sonia, "let's snap to it." She turned and went through the door into the project control room.
Sergeant Starling opened the door to the corridor, and gallantly indicated that Rhonwen should precede him.
Rhonwen hesitated. "I'll catch you up, Sergeant," she said.
Starling looked between her and the Doctor. He could tell they wanted their own private conference. "Right you are, miss," he said. "I'll wait for you at the top of the stairs." He went out.
Rhonwen turned back to the Doctor. "Do you know what's going on?" she asked.
"I have a shrewd idea," said the Doctor. "I need the temporal vector scanner to detect disturbances in the time lines. There's something wrong with the structure of the vortex in this area."
"That turbulence that hit us in flight?" Rhonwen guessed.
"Exactly. That's the reason we materialized under Magdalen Bridge, and not in Sonia's office."
"Is it linked to the particle accelerator?"
"Very possibly. Saunders is messing around with things he doesn't understand. But I don't think he's the real culprit here."
"Who then?" asked Rhonwen.
Before the Doctor could answer, another voice spoke. "Hello, I don't believe we've met. I'm Colin Dicken." A young man was standing in the doorway, a stack of books and papers cradled in his arms.
"I'm the Doctor, and this is Rhonwen."
"You're from UNIT, right?" said Colin.
The Doctor nodded.
"Well, there's a very impatient looking Sergeant Starling standing on the stairs. Is he anything to do with you?"
The Doctor turned to Rhonwen. "You'd better go," he said.
Rhonwen nodded. "I won't be long," she said, and made her way out.
"You two don't seem like soldiers," said Colin, dumping his books on the table. "I take it you're the civilian end of the outfit?"
"That's right," said the Doctor. "I'm the scientific adviser." He found it rather interesting to be talking to Colin Dicken, especially so early in his career. His Nobel Prize had to be at least another thirty years off.
"You could be the very man I want to see," said Colin. "I have some grave doubts about this project. I don't think Professor Saunders will listen to me, but you might."
"Well, what is it?" the Doctor asked.
"Charles Wells," said Colin. "I don't trust him. I think it's too convenient the way he turned up on this project, with the very device that the Professor needed to build the accelerator."
"You think Wells is a charlatan?"
"We've got no proof that his box of tricks works. Saunders won't take it apart to check it. If Charles says it's all right, he just believes him. I'm not so sure. If you want to find out why this project's a failure, I suggest you start by examining the chronon injectors."
"I'll bear that in mind," the Doctor said.
"Ah, there you are at last." Saunders came in from the control room. "Did you get my papers?"
"Yes," said Colin, gesturing to the stack on the table, "all except one. It has to be taken out of the reserve collection. You should get it tomorrow."
"Very well," said Saunders. "Doctor, shall we begin the test?"
Chief Inspector Keane looked out across the car park. It was dark outside, but in the light of the security flood lamps, he could see that only a few cars were left. Most of his colleagues had gone home.
Keane had neglected to turn on the light in his office. On his desk were laid out all the notes and papers pertaining to the case. There was nothing in them he didn't already know by heart. His attempt to find something new to go on had come to nothing.
A map of Oxford was unfurled upon the desk, barely visible in the glimmer of light from outside. The end of the map was pinned down with the ashtray, so that it wouldn't roll up. The cleaners hadn't been round to empty the ashtray yet, and the day's dog ends were still in it. Keane couldn't quite believe that he had smoked so many, a couple of packets at least. He was supposed to be giving up. This case was getting to him.
The door opened, and the light came on, flooding the room and dazzling Keane. Constable Brennan came in. "I thought you'd gone home, sir," he said.
Keane turned to face him. "I don't know what to do," he said. "If we don't get a result soon, they'll call in the Yard and I'll look a right idiot." He made it sound as if he was only concerned for his own prestige, and that wasn't the case at all.
Brennan seemed to understand. "Want to go over the facts, sir?" he asked.
"What facts?" said Keane. "Four mysteries, that's what we've got. Three women dead, and now a couple. We don't even know how they died."
"You're discounting the psycho theory then?"
"I don't believe any psycho could do this. This is something new."
"What did the autopsy show?" Brennan asked.
"The same as the others," said Keane. "No help there."
Brennan referred to his notebook. "We got an ID on the woman. Angela Martin. She was his girlfriend."
Keane recalled the post mortem examination. "She was pregnant, poor girl." He recalled Jackson's surprise. The foetus had been just as withered and lifeless as the mother.
Keane glanced again at the case documents on his desk. Then he shook his
head, and picked up his jacket from the back of the chair. "This isn't
helping," he said. "Come on, I'll buy you a pint."
The hum of power from the accelerator room was becoming intense now. Colin read the figures from his computer screen. "Fifty five."
The Doctor turned to Saunders. "You use normal electromagnets to contain the chronon stream?" he asked.
"Not normal," said Saunders. "The most powerful in the country. We're only working within very narrow limits. There shouldn't be any danger of a containment field rupture."
"I hope not," said the Doctor.
"Fifty six," called Colin.
"At sixty, the magnetic field is stable," Saunders explained. "Then we inject the chronons."
"And then accelerate them up to the speed of light?" asked the Doctor.
"Mathematically, it ought to be possible, at which point we should start to receive the predicted output energy. But so far the results have not lived up to the theory. That's why I started to think that the power was being drained from outside."
"I do not see how that can be possible," Wells put in.
"It's a closed system," added Colin. "Fifty nine."
"Well, let's just see what happens this time," Saunders suggested. "Ready?"
"Sixty and stable," announced Colin.
"Begin injector cycle," Saunders said.
Crabtree looked at the building before him. It had a tapering tower, and stood in its own grounds, which were decorated with slabs of standing stone. Crabtree believed the building to be a place of religious assembly, and the stones funerary monuments. The deceased were apparently buried beneath the ground. Why the people of this era did not simply recycle their dead for the raw materials and chemicals in the corpses, he did not know.
A movement caught Crabtree's eye. He looked back to where he had left the Wolseley. Gates was half leaning out of his door, waving urgently. "I have the signal," he called.
Crabtree started to hurry back towards the car.
Thomasine stared into the empty coffee cup. It was well past closing time now. She had thrown the last of the borrowers out of the library some time ago. Then she had put her head down on the desk for just a moment, and fallen fast asleep. She was feeling more awake now, although she thought she could feel another headache coming on.
She was about to get up and call it a day, when she caught sight of a piece of paper lying on her desk. It was the docket that Colin was supposed to have signed. It stirred a memory in Thomasine. "Oh no," she said aloud. "Doctor Leckford."
Thomasine pulled open the desk drawer, and started to root amongst the papers and empty pens that had been crammed into it. Eventually she turned up the bunch of keys she was looking for.
She took the keys and started towards the doorway. A sudden thought occurred to her, and she returned to the drawer to find a torch. She recalled that the lights weren't working on the top floor.
Suitably equipped for her expedition, Thomasine left her office, and
started to climb the stairs.
Rhonwen had led Sergeant Starling across the city, and descended into Angel Meadow, from where they could get beneath Magdalen Bridge.
"I don't know why the Doctor had to land so far away," Starling said.
"Turbulence in flight," Rhonwen explained.
"Well, he could have moved the police box to the Major's office afterwards."
"No, I don't think the TARDIS is very good at short hops. Come to think of it, I don't think the Doctor is very good at them either."
There were within sight of the bridge now, but it was too dark to see the shape of the TARDIS beneath.
Suddenly, Starling stopped dead in his tracks, and started to look around him keenly, with a soldier's finely honed instincts.
"What is it?" Rhonwen asked.
"I heard something," Starling said.
"I don't know. It sounded like some kind of animal." Starling drew his service revolver. "Just in case," he said. "There is a killer on the loose."
He was about to take another step forward, when he caught the sound
again. He looked at Rhonwen. She nodded. She had heard it as well. It was a
low animal sound, a sort of drooling. After a second, there was another
sound, like a cunning snarl.
The noise from the accelerator seemed to have reached its maximum peak. In fact, it was starting to tail off. The Doctor read the output figures over Saunders's shoulder. Quite clearly the accelerator was not behaving as it was supposed to.
"We're starting to lose power completely now," said Saunders. "What do you think?"
"It doesn't make sense," the Doctor told him. It would not make sense
until he could check up on a few anomalies.
Crabtree heard a puzzled sound issue from Gates's lips. "What is it?" he asked.
He was driving the Wolseley as fast as he dared, without attracting too much undue attention, trying to follow Gates's directions.
Gates said, "I am detecting multiple signals. There is more than one break in the normal pattern of the continuum."
Crabtree made a quick decision. "Direct me to the nearest," he said.
They had more chance of catching that, he supposed.
Thomasine fumbled with the keys to open the door to the reserve collection. It was freezing cold on the top floor, where half the exterior wall had been ripped out by the builders and covered over with tarpaulins. Her headache seemed to be getting worse.
She got the door open and went inside. Thick layers of dust stirred as she entered. She reached for the light switch, but as she had suspected, it didn't work. It was lucky she'd thought to bring the torch.
She shone the beam of light over several rows of shelves. She needed to find the index. In a tiny moment of horror, she realized that the index would still be on file cards. The long process of transferring the library's classification and storage records to computer had not yet extended to the reserve collection.
She started to look around for the card index, moving further into the room past the shelves. Her torch lit the way.
She rounded a corner and the beam fell upon an incongruous shape at the far end of the room. For a moment, she didn't register it, because she couldn't believe it was there.
It was a large white globe, about six feet across. The surface appeared
to be totally smooth and featureless. Thomasine stared at it in disbelief.
Starling tried to tighten his grip on the revolver - he wasn't helped by the fact that his hand was sweating. The animal snarl came again, from somewhere close by this time.
"Did you hear it?" he asked.
"Yes," said Rhonwen. "What is it?"
Starling shook his head. "Do you really want to find out?" he said. He was judging the military situation. He was one man, with a single weapon, with an unarmed civilian to defend, and an enemy he could not yet see. He looked around, but there was no sign of anywhere it could be hiding. It didn't leave him a lot of options. "If we run, do you think we can make it to the police box?" he asked.
"Maybe," said Rhonwen.
"It's our best hope," said Starling. "When I give the word." He gave Rhonwen a moment to get ready. "Run," he shouted.
He tried to move, but found he was rooted to the spot. He couldn't get his legs to move at all. He tried to turn to Rhonwen, to see if she was in a similar predicament, but he couldn't even turn his head.
"Rhonwen, I can't move," he said.
"Neither can I," said Rhonwen.
They were both fixed in place. Suddenly the noise was back, advancing on them. It seemed to sniff and grunt, like a predator assessing its prey.
"It's right behind me," Starling said. Then he screamed. From where she was standing, Rhonwen could just see his body crumple to the ground, lifeless.
The sound came again, sniffing, grunting, snarling. It was coming towards her. She could feel the presence now, of whatever it was, coming closer and closer.