The Michaelmas Phantoms
The Better Mousetrap
The police had already left by the time the Doctor arrived in Angel Meadow. The sun had not yet risen, and a dull glimmer of early light was just crawling across the dreaming spires. The meadow bore no sign of what had transpired during the night, save the trampled ground where the police had set up their cordon.
The Doctor did not pause for long in the meadow. Peter Starling had died here, but there was little left to show for it. His concern now was to remove the threat, and he couldn't do that by stopping to mourn. At least Rhonwen had survived - from her story he now had a fair idea of what he was dealing with.
The Doctor hurried beneath the bridge, towards the reassuring shape of
the TARDIS. He had to collect the temporal vector scanner, and a few other
bits and pieces.
Sonia McIntyre took the cup of coffee that Constable Brennan offered her. It would help to keep her awake - she hadn't found much time for sleep last night. After making her report to UNIT Headquarters, she had tried drafting a letter of condolence to Sergeant Starling's family. After three attempts she had given up. What could she say?
She looked across the desk at Inspector Keane's drawn face. It was clear that he hadn't got much sleep either.
Keane said, "I've just had the post mortem report from Jackson. It doesn't tell us anything new. I'll get you a copy for your files of course - since he was one of your men - but it doesn't help the investigation."
Sonia looked down at the bundle of papers resting on her lap, copies of all Keane's reports and notes for this case. "So there's still no medical opinion on the cause of death?" she asked.
Keane shook his head. "Maybe we are looking for a ghost," he said, "like your Doctor suggested."
"Maybe," said Sonia.
"Is he really your scientific adviser?" Keane asked. "I assume he's fully qualified in pathology and forensic science?"
"I'm sorry," said Sonia, "all information about the Doctor is classified."
Keane grunted. Typical, he thought. He was getting fed up with UNIT already. Late last night the Home Office had called him back and told him to co-operate fully with Major McIntyre. For Keane, co-operation was a two way process, but the Major seemed determined to tell him nothing.
"Well," he said, "may I enquire the extent of the UNIT presence in Oxford? How much manpower have you to spare for this investigation?"
"Just one womanpower," Sonia replied. "Sergeant Starling was the only member of my team, and I don't intend to bring anyone else in until I know it's safe to do so."
She had thought hard about this last night, whilst on the phone to Headquarters. They had offered her reinforcements, but she didn't believe she had a tangible military target to use them against. For the moment, she hoped the Doctor would suffice.
Keane was about to protest, but then thought better of it. Let the Major judge military matters, he thought. Personally he didn't want UNIT here in the first place, so he was hardly going to encourage her to bring more of them along.
There were other issues he needed to clarify. "The Doctor mentioned that he was working on a project at the University. Does that have any bearing on the case?"
"I'm sorry," said Sonia, "but that has to remain classified for the moment as well. Perhaps I'll be able to tell you more this afternoon."
They had already arranged to meet again in her office, later in the day. By then she ought to have spoken to the Doctor.
Sonia looked at the list of dates on the top of her stack of papers, the dates of the murders, that the Doctor had been interested in. She could see now what he might be thinking. He would be able to confirm her suspicions.
Keane could tell that he wasn't going to get anything more out of her before that afternoon. "Right," he said, "I think we've covered everything for now."
"There was just one thing, sir," piped up Constable Brennan.
Keane looked puzzled for a moment, then remembered. "Oh yes," he said.
He turned back to Sonia, who had stood up to leave. "Whilst searching the
meadow, my men found an old police telephone box under the bridge. It
doesn't belong to us. I wonder if you know anything about it?"
Rhonwen tucked into a full English breakfast. The Doctor had told her how unhealthy so much fried food was, but she had always eaten it and she wasn't going to stop now. Besides, a good solid breakfast was what she needed after the shock she had received last night.
She noticed that the Doctor didn't practise what he preached. His own plate was piled high with bacon and sausages and fried eggs. Maybe having two hearts made him immune to the alleged health risks.
"Did you go to the mortuary?" she asked.
"Yes," nodded the Doctor. "They had the two most recent bodies there, and then they brought in Starling as well."
Rhonwen suppressed a shudder. The thought of Peter Starling's death, and how close she had come to the same fate, filled her with dread. She looked down at the fried breakfast. Suddenly it didn't seem so palatable.
"Did you find anything out?" she asked.
The Doctor shrugged. "The pathologist was stumped, but it's something he's never come across before. All he could say was natural causes. But if the life essence was drained, it would look natural. No sign of foul play, just a completion cessation of life."
"And that's what you think happened, is it?"
The Doctor nodded. "We're dealing with something that feeds off life itself," he said. "I thought at first that it might be the Fendahl, but thankfully it's not as deadly as that. Anyway, I'm pretty confident that the Fendahl was destroyed. This is something more limited in power and range. But for the short time it lasts, it's still just as deadly to whichever victims happen to get in its path."
Rhonwen didn't have a clue what the Fendahl was, but she understood him well enough.
"It's some kind of psychic projection," the Doctor went on, "but it seems almost to have a life of its own, at least temporarily."
"It doesn't seem possible," said Rhonwen.
The Doctor seemed to sink deep in thought, absent mindedly moving his food around the plate with his fork.
Rhonwen looked around. This little restaurant was in the basement of an hotel, entered by descending steps into the area. Very little light managed to claw its way down through the area windows, so the only illumination was from some subdued lamps. They cast dark looming shadows over the Doctor's face, which was immobile and placid, as if he had gone into a trance.
When finally he spoke, it was not to her. "To make one's thoughts flesh, even ectoplasmic flesh, would require tremendous power. More than can be found in the human mind. Even if the energy came from without, to be able to shape it like that would require vast mental powers."
"So, it's definitely an alien?" asked Rhonwen, fearing the worst.
"Without a doubt," said the Doctor.
Colin looked down at the sheet of calculations before him. He didn't know why he was even bothering to check them. He had done this so many times before, and he knew there was no mistake in the maths.
He looked across the study at Saunders, still busy going through all of his notes. The Professor didn't seem to be tired in the least. He was kept going by his desire to make the accelerator work.
Colin was exhausted. It was too much to expect him to get up this early in the morning, especially when he had worked the night before. He was too soft, that was his trouble. Saunders could always talk him into helping out.
"I wish the Doctor hadn't gone rushing off like that last night," Saunders said. "He never had a chance to look at the accelerator properly."
"I think he had other things on his mind," said Colin. "Miss Jones obviously had a very nasty experience. If I were him, I'd be concerned." He remembered taking Rhonwen back to her room. She had still been shaking, even then.
"I suppose you're right," said Saunders.
"Besides," Colin added, "I think he probably saw all he needed to."
"You think he knows what's wrong with the accelerator? But he only took a look at Charles's chronon injectors. That couldn't possibly be enough to make a detailed analysis."
"Why not?" said Colin.
Saunders tried to think of an answer. He couldn't see what Colin was driving at. A sudden thought struck him. "Where is Charles? I thought he'd be here by now."
"Exactly," said Colin. "I don't think we'll be seeing him again."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, come on, Professor. Charles is a fraud. The Doctor must have seen through him at once. Why do you think he ran off like that, as soon as our backs were turned?"
"But the chronon injector," said Saunders. "It's a remarkable piece of invention."
"Do you understand how it works?" Colin scoffed. "I think it's a bit suspect that Charles just happens to turn up with a gizmo that does exactly what you need it to."
"Well, he'd been working on a similar project," said Saunders.
"Then why hadn't you heard anything about it? Why didn't he publish anything? It's a bit too much of a coincidence, if you ask me. You don't even know where he came from."
"It was a university abroad."
"Where?" Colin demanded.
"I don't remember," Saunders stammered.
Colin said nothing. He felt he'd made his point.
"But look," Saunders said, "his paperwork was in order. The University would never have accepted him if there was anything amiss. You know how strict they are."
Colin nodded. It was the one real flaw in his theory. But he was fairly convinced that there was no other explanation for their failure with the accelerator.
"How long have you had these suspicions?" Saunders asked suddenly.
"Quite a while," Colin admitted.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't think you'd listen. Charles comes in here with a device that looks like it was made on Blue Peter, spouting a load of pseudoscientific nonsense, and suddenly you're lapping up every word. What chance was there you'd listen to reason?"
Saunders could not protest, for at that moment the door opened. Without even the courtesy of a knock, the Doctor strode in and sat down in the nearest empty chair. Rhonwen followed him, with an apologetic smile.
"Doctor," said Saunders, "do you have any clues?"
"Yes, a few," the Doctor replied. "I need to make some more investigations."
"Can you give me an initial appraisal? It might help to know which area you think the problem is in."
The Doctor looked up, seemingly puzzled for a moment. "Oh, you mean the accelerator," he said. "Sorry, I've been too busy with other matters."
Colin suppressed a laugh at the Professor's sudden look of indignation. Saunders couldn't conceive of anything being more important than his project.
Colin looked at Rhonwen. "How do you feel this morning?" he asked.
She smiled. "Fine," she said.
The Doctor nodded. "Yes, you were lucky not to come into contact with it. I think just the briefest touch would cause a lot of damage to the human body."
Colin suppressed a shudder. He thought of Thomasine, and what might have happened if she'd been menaced by an invisible monster. He wished he had seen her last night.
"Do you know what it was?" he asked. "Some sort of animal?"
"A psychic projection," the Doctor said, "at least that's the basic pattern. I've never come across anything like it before. But that's why it was invisible. Visual images are the hardest to make manifest. Sound and a tangible presence are relatively easier."
As strange as the tale sounded, Colin couldn't help believing it. The Doctor and Rhonwen sounded so sincere, and he knew that UNIT got mixed up in some pretty weird stuff. When he should have been revising for his finals, he had been reading lurid paperbacks about London invaded by silver giants, shop window dummies coming to life, dinosaurs walking the streets of the capital, the Loch Ness Monster swimming up the Thames, and a Concorde jet disappearing without a trace. There were too many witnesses for it all to be imagined.
"What does it want?" Rhonwen asked.
"I don't know," said the Doctor. "The problem needs to be isolated. I want to ensnare one of these projections, so I can study it."
"Can you do that?" Colin asked.
The Doctor shrugged. "I won't know until I've tried," he said. "I need to rig up some equipment." He turned to Saunders. "I wonder if I might raid the Faculty's electronic spares store?"
"I suppose that could be arranged," Saunders replied sulkily.
"And I'll need Colin's help," the Doctor added. "If you don't mind, Professor."
Saunders nodded reluctantly. "What about the accelerator?" he asked.
The Doctor paused for a long moment. He wasn't really sure how to put this. "This is more important," he said. "For the time being, the accelerator will have to wait."
He could see that he had hurt Saunders's feelings. It was so difficult to know what to say to humans, without upsetting their delicate emotional balance. They let such small concerns become important to them.
It was probably not the best atmosphere into which to drop his next request. "I want your assurance," he began, "that you won't run any more tests on the accelerator until I permit them."
Saunders opened his mouth to protest, but the Doctor quickly cut him off. "Please," he added, "it is important."
Saunders was clearly not convinced. "Surely," he said, "just a basic test of the electromagnets could do no harm. I wouldn't even try injecting chronons."
The Doctor nodded. "All right," he replied cautiously, "but nothing more than that. Not unless you want to see further deaths."
He caught Saunders's look of astonishment at this Parthian shot, but was
already turning towards Colin. "Shall we go?" he asked.
Thomasine looked around her office on the ground floor of the library. In the day time, it seemed a more cheerful place. The deep shadows were banished, even by the frail light of the autumnal sun that crept tentatively through the windows.
Yet she could still remember her fright of the night before. She did not know what to make of that. She supposed that the man had been a genuine visitor, who hadn't realized that the library was closed. And it was her fault that the door had been left unlocked.
Thomasine tried to think back over her actions of the previous evening. She could almost see herself putting the key in the front door and turning it. But she couldn't be certain. It was something she did every night, so the image was bound to come to mind when bidden.
Well, she was all right, and nothing had happened to her. It had just been a momentary scare. Perhaps if the rest of the staff had been around, she might have told someone, but it didn't seem worth making a fuss about now. She might mention it to Colin next time she saw him. He would mumble a few words of reassurance, and that would be that.
The thought of Colin reminded Thomasine that she had promised him a paper. She had forgotten to get it down from the top floor last night. Then she recalled the mysterious white sphere she had discovered there. Her fright had driven it entirely from her mind.
It was getting on for lunch time. She would have to go to the Science Faculty offices and make some enquiries, she decided. Someone would know what it was.
She opened her desk drawer to extract the keys for the top floor. They were not there. She was absolutely certain she had put them back there before leaving last night. Either she was starting to imagine things, or else something very strange was going on.
She went to the stairs, and quickly climbed them, until she came to the door sealing off the top floor. She tried it, but sure enough, it was locked. She couldn't have left her keys up here, then.
Thomasine started to descend once more. Things now appeared in a different light. Maybe she had locked the front door last night, after all. Suddenly everything seemed too improbable - and suspicious. Locked doors suddenly open, missing keys, a fat man appearing out of nowhere, and a spherical enigma hiding upstairs.
She discovered a few students waiting to take out books. Almost in a daze, Thomasine checked the books out, and the students left. The library was empty now. It wasn't long until lunch time, so she decided to close up early and find someone to talk to.
She was aware of how strange her story would sound, so it was probably best not to go to the Faculty offices. She would seek out Colin and have lunch with him. She had missed him last night. Doubtless he would be able to suggest a simple solution to it all.
Thomasine picked up her coat, and left the library, making sure she
locked the door behind her.
Charles Wells peered out from beneath a corner of the tarpaulin that covered the open wall of the library's upper storey. He watched Thomasine walk down the path and out through the gate.
This was far from an ideal place to be hiding, he thought. The sealed floor had seemed a good enough place to secrete his capsule, but it was unsuitable for his personal refuge. He could not very easily get out to acquire food. The library was fairly busy at most times, so there was a chance that he would be seen.
He also wondered whether his accidental meeting with the librarian last night would have any repercussions. If she told anyone, there might be suspicions aroused. If she told Colin, then the game could be up.
Wells was starting to feel desperate. He now knew definitely that the Silencers were closing in. Perhaps the Doctor would have been able to help him, but there was no time now to even try and convince him.
There was only one thing he could do. He would attempt to repair the
transfer capsule on his own. In the areas where his knowledge was scant, he
would just have to guess and hope for the best. He would either manage to
reach some period where the technical help he needed was more readily
available, or he would scatter his molecules from one end of time to the
other. It was a gamble, but then gambling had been successful for him in
The Doctor sat at the tiny work bench in the corner of the electronics store. Strewn before him were hundreds of components, which Colin and Rhonwen had scurried about to fetch from the rows of metal shelves.
His jeweller's eyepiece screwed firmly in place, the Doctor was starting to assemble the components into a black metal box, the size of a biscuit tin. Colin could not fathom what he was doing. He had never seen a circuit connected in such a way before.
The Doctor had also taken some weird and exotic objects from his own pockets. He was wiring these into the device as well. Colin couldn't even begin to guess what those were for.
Rhonwen emerged from the depths of the storage shelves with several boxes of capacitors. "Are these what you wanted?" she asked.
The Doctor cast a quick glance over them. "A bit basic, but they should serve," he said. "Just put them down on the bench, will you?" He returned to his work.
"What are you doing?" asked Colin.
The Doctor looked up for just a second. "Building a better mousetrap," he said.
"What will it do?"
"Well," said the Doctor, "hopefully the next time one of these psychic projections appears, I'll be able to catch it in here."
Stopping work for a while, he started to explain the principles. "I believe that the projection will only survive as long as there is energy to sustain it. This device will contain it in a force field and so cut it off from the outside world. At the same time, a simple neutron flow loop will generate a small amount of energy to feed the thing. Enough to keep it alive within the force field, but not enough to let it claw its way out."
"But why do you want to keep it alive?" Rhonwen asked. One of these psychic projections had almost killed her, and she had no desire to be in close proximity to another, even if it was caged.
"If I've got it where I can see it," the Doctor replied, "I can examine it. And hopefully I can find out why it's so interested in human life essence."
"You think that all the recent murders were the work of this psychic projection?" said Colin.
"But they occurred in different parts of the city. How will you know where to set the trap?"
"That's the clever part," said the Doctor, with obvious pride in his invention. "It's my guess that the projection is somehow coming through a break in the fabric of the space/time continuum. Now, I've incorporated the temporal vector scanner into the trap, so I'll be able to track the projection when it appears. Then, by modifying the pulse signals of the scanner through that modulation circuit, I should be able to generate the force field and contain it. The pulse signals create an interference pattern with the time distortion of the projection. That would ordinarily repel it, forcing it back through the tear in the continuum. But by reversing the polarity, it will be sucked into the force field and contained." He paused, looking a little uncertain. "At least," he said, "that's the theory. I have been forced to make a number of assumptions, but I'm fairly confident it'll work."
He turned his attention back to assembling the device. But even as he worked, he spoke again, this time not looking up. "Colin," he asked, "what happened to Wells?"
Colin snorted contemptuously. "He went off last night. He should have come in this morning, but there was no sign of him. I didn't think there would be."
"Well," said Colin, "after you spoke to him last night, he must have realized the game was up. You must have seen him for the fraud he is."
"No," said the Doctor, "his chronon injector is a fine piece of machinery. Of course, I don't think he built it himself, as he claimed, but it does what it's supposed to."
"That's ridiculous," stammered Colin, not expecting his pet theory to be shot down in flames. "If the gadget works, why doesn't the accelerator function according to the specifications. I know full well all my data checks out, and I trust the Professor to make sure of his area. Wells has to be the weak link."
The Doctor looked up and smiled. "I said it did what it was supposed to," he replied. "I didn't say it did what Saunders thinks it does."
"You mean Wells has been using the accelerator for his own ends?" asked Colin. "Stringing the Professor and me along? Is that why he did a bunk?"
"No," said the Doctor, "he was quite prepared to discuss the matter with me. What panicked him was Rhonwen's tale of the men in black."
He snapped shut the metal box, and took out his watch. It had
automatically adjusted itself to a twenty four hour day the moment the
TARDIS had landed. "I'm supposed to be meeting Major McIntyre shortly," he
said. He got to his feet, tucking the trap under his arm. With Rhonwen and
Colin in tow, he started towards the door.
Chief Inspector Keane lit another cigarette. He looked down despondently at the dog ends crowding the ashtray. This time he couldn't hide behind the excuse that the cleaners hadn't emptied it. It wasn't even lunchtime.
Having UNIT involved with the case just seemed to make things worse. Before he'd had nothing to go on, no clues, no evidence, no theories. Now he had the Doctor telling him that a ghost was responsible for the deaths. Keane wasn't sure how you snapped handcuffs onto a phantom.
The door opened, and Brennan came in. "Everything all right, sir?" he asked.
"Do you ever feel redundant?" Keane asked.
"I'm not sure I understand, sir."
"We're just sitting here waiting to go to a meeting with our UNIT friends," said Keane, "and when we get there, I've got this terrible feeling they'll fob us off with some far fetched story, pat us on the head and send us home."
"Well, maybe this is more their province, sir," said Brennan.
Keane sighed. "You could be right. We haven't been making much progress." He stubbed out his cigarette angrily. After a few moments, he started to light another.
"What I don't understand," said Brennan, "is what UNIT is doing here in the first place. That Major just kept quoting the Official Secrets Act."
"The Doctor said something about a project at the University."
Brennan thought for a moment or two. "Do you think there could be something in that?" he asked. "Perhaps some project's got out of hand, and they're trying to keep it quiet. If UNIT have been called in, it must be pretty bad. They could have unleashed some virus, or some new form of radiation, or something. We don't know the half of what they get up to there."
"Yes," said Keane cautiously, "I suppose it's possible. That would explain why they don't want to tell us anything. That Doctor certainly seemed to know a lot about what was going on."
"What was he like?" asked Brennan.
"A bit eccentric, if you ask me," Keane said. "Still, Major McIntyre
seems to swear by him." He stubbed his cigarette out again, and adopted a
brisk manner. "Right, at this meeting, we'll have to pin them down. The
Doctor appears to have the answers. If there's something dangerous at
large, I want to know about it."
Sonia handed a sheet of paper to the Doctor. "Does this mean what I think it does?" she asked.
The Doctor skimmed through the list of dates on the paper. "Yes," he said. "This confirms my suspicions."
Sonia glanced around her office. Rhonwen was standing just behind the Doctor's chair. Colin Dicken was by the window. The Doctor had brought him along. His presence disturbed Sonia, especially as what they had to discuss would probably upset him.
Turning back to the Doctor, Sonia asked, "What do you want to do?"
"The first priority has to be investigating the psychic projections," said the Doctor.
"But what about the accelerator?" Colin piped up. "The Professor needs your help."
The Doctor turned to face him. He didn't know how to tell Colin that he had no intention of helping Saunders with the accelerator. Some of the theoretical work had been extraordinarily perceptive, but Saunders clearly couldn't make it work in practice. That was the way it must stay. It was not, the Doctor told himself emphatically, his place to tamper with humanity's technological development. The project had only advanced as far as it had because of outside interference. His task now was to repair the damage that Wells had done.
"I think the saving of lives has to take priority, Colin," the Doctor said quietly.
Colin nodded. "You're right," he said. "I'm sorry."
He was silent for a moment. He sensed that there was something they weren't telling him. "Doctor," he began cautiously, "you told Professor Saunders not to run the accelerator."
The Doctor caught a warning glance from Sonia, but after considering the matter, he decided he would have to tell Colin the truth. It would be better to have one of the scientists on their side, and he felt Colin would be most likely to believe him.
"Until I'm sure it's safe," he said, "I don't recommend any more tests."
"But," said Colin, "you were suggesting that there was some connexion between the accelerator and these deaths."
The Doctor handed him the sheet of paper. "What do you make of that?" he asked.
Colin quickly scanned the list. "It's the dates when we ran tests on the accelerator," he said.
Sonia took a deep breath. "Those are the dates of the deaths," she said, "as estimated in the pathology reports. In most cases, the body was found the next morning."
Colin was confused, and couldn't think of anything to say.
The Doctor said, "The energy required to create the psychic projections is tremendous. I thought at first that we were dealing with an intelligence that could generate such energy itself - but this suggests that it is simply utilizing the energy of the accelerator. The temporal distortion involved confirms that the energy derives from a stream of chronons."
"But, even if you're right," said Colin, "how does whatever it is get hold of the power from the accelerator? The only output line is the one to the National Grid, and we know that's not carrying anything. It couldn't even be tapped somewhere down the line."
"No," replied the Doctor. "I'm not talking about output power anyway. The chronon hasn't been split. This power is being taken directly from the chronon stream, before it is accelerated."
"But that's impossible. The unsplit chronon doesn't constitute a sufficient source of energy."
The Doctor shook his head. There was still much he needed to work out. One thing was certain however. He said, "I need Wells. I think I know what he's done, but I have to know why. Colin, is there anywhere he might have gone?"
"Well," said Colin, "he had a workshop in the Theoretical Physics building. He used to do a bit of tinkering there, I think."
The Doctor jumped up from his seat, picking up his trap from the edge of Sonia's desk. "Can you show me?"
"All right," said Colin.
The Doctor turned to Sonia. "I hope to be back soon," he said. "It depends whether we find Wells or not. It's essential that we don't allow any more psychic projections through until I'm ready for them."
"Can you stop them?" asked Sonia.
"I think all we need do is deny them a source of energy. We should be safe until this evening."
"And after that?"
The Doctor frowned. "Saunders wants to conduct a test on the accelerator. I've warned him against it, but I'm afraid he may get carried away. If I'm not back by this evening, use whatever means you can to stop him. Seal the accelerator off if you have to."
"Leave it to me," said Sonia. She watched as the Doctor left with Rhonwen and Colin. She hoped he'd be back in time to give Saunders some convincing arguments. She believed the Doctor knew what he was talking about - but he wasn't the one sticking his neck out. If Saunders complained to the Ministry, she could find herself in a lot of trouble.