Authors: Gary Russell
The Shansheeth were closer now.
‘Well,’ Sarah Jane said brightly. ‘It was just a coincidence the first time. We were both investigating something and –’
‘The first time?’ cut in Jo. ‘It was more than once?’ She smiled slightly, to hide her disappointment. ‘He must have really liked you.’
Sarah Jane said nothing.
Jo carried on, thankfully changing the subject. ‘Funny thing is, Sarah Jane, I always had this notion, this thought, that if the Doctor died, one day, even if he was on Metebelis Three, or Solos, or another universe, I’d feel it.’ She touched her chest. ‘Here. In my heart.’
And Sarah Jane’s hand was over her own heart, and she was nodding. ‘That’s exactly what I thought! But I didn’t feel a thing.’
‘Nor me. Not a peep!’
Sarah Jane suddenly got animated and after a glance at the curiously-way-too-close Shansheeth, she looked Jo straight in the eye.
‘Do you think the same as me?’
‘That he’s still alive?’
Sarah Jane nodded furiously. ‘Yes. Yes, he has to be. Because if anyone would know he wasn’t, it’d be you and I!’
And the Shansheeth backed away slowly.
Clyde had been watching all this and at that point, he leaned over to Rani. ‘She’s not letting it go, is she?’
Rani shrugged. ‘Maybe she is right, after all.’ Rani nodded slightly towards the obsequious Shansheeth now returning to their places. ‘And they give me the creeps.’
‘Ooh,’ Clyde smiled, ‘what happened to not judging them?’
Rani frowned. ‘I’m serious, there’s something weird and –’
Rani and Clyde were cut off by the guy who’d turned up with Jo Jones sitting behind them.
‘Sorry,’ he whispered. ‘But everyone else is about a hundred years old in here. Fancied talking to someone who might smile occasionally.’
Clyde liked him immediately and offered his hand. ‘Clyde Langer, mate.’
Rani introduced herself as well.
‘My name’s Santiago, and that’s my Gran,’ he said, pointing at Jo.
‘Good name,’ Rani said.
Santiago grinned at the compliment. ‘It’s where I was born. In a caravan at the foothills of the Andes.’
‘Should’ve called you Andy,’ laughed Clyde and the other two smiled at this.
Then there was a noise from Azure who was now back right in front of the teenagers.
‘With respect,’ he intoned pointedly, ‘the Cradle will continue. Binding you all in sorrow.’
Rani pulled a face. ‘I think he’s telling us to behave.’
Clyde nodded. ‘Like your Dad at school assembly.’
Santiago shrugged. ‘Wouldn’t know. Never been to school.’
‘No way! You are officially the luckiest bloke on Earth,’ said Clyde. ‘How come?’
‘We’re always travelling the world.’
‘Nah, exactly the opposite. But Mum and
Dad – and they got this from Gran – spend their lives going from country to country.’
‘Doing what?’ asked Rani.
‘Protesting, mainly.’ Santiago seemed so enthusiastic, so obviously proud of his parents, his eyes glinted passionately as he talked. ‘At the G8 summit, Mum chained herself to the railings. And at the Climate Change Conference, Dad got arrested. Twice! Mum’s in Japan right now, on a little boat, stopping those whalers.’
‘Whoa!’ Clyde was impressed. ‘Serious life.’
Santiago nodded. ‘Just to get here today, Gran and me, we were on the Southern plateau of Tierra del Fuego, so we had to hike to Buenos Aires, get a boat to Las Malvenas, then a cargo plane across the Atlantic to Dublin, then the ferry to Wales.’ He smiled at the memory. ‘It was fantastic. Where are you guys from?’
‘Ealing,’ Clyde and Rani said simultaneously. And slightly apologetically.
At which point, the Cradle of the Lost Chords was strummed again by the red-bejewelled Shansheeth, and so the Service of Remembrance began.
The cradle sings
The service was over and most of the dignitaries had either left or returned to whatever meagre bedrooms UNIT had provided.
For Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani this was the small cramped room Colonel Karim had shown them earlier.
But right now they were in Jo and Santiago’s room which was, if possible, even smaller and more cramped, with a bunk bed shoved up against one wall, opposite just another blank, featureless wall with a ventilation shaft in it. There was barely enough room for more than one person to stand in the room, so as Jo and Sarah Jane sat on the bed to discuss the service and their belief that the Doctor just couldn’t really be dead, the three teenagers realised they needed to get out to give them space.
‘Right,’ said Rani, practical as ever. ‘We’ll head off and find the canteen. Cups of tea all round?’
‘Ooh,’ Jo said, diving into her humungous carpetbag and pulling out a sachet. ‘Just hot water for me, sweetheart. I’ve got some powdered Lapacho –’ and Jo stopped and smiled at Sarah Jane. ‘The Doctor took me to a planet once. Peladon. And the smell of Lapacho is just like the royal palace there.’
Sarah Jane breathed in, as if smelling it herself. ‘I went to Peladon.’
‘You never did!’ laughed Jo.
Sarah Jane nodded enthusiastically. ‘With the Great Beast, Aggedor.’ Sarah Jane put her hands into claws and roared, and Jo giggled.
And Clyde eased Rani and Santiago out of the room. ‘Okay ladies, laters!’
Sarah Jane watched the door close behind them, then reached into her own bag and pulled out a notebook and pen. ‘Right, we need to make a list. Because we need to work out who’d fake the Doctor’s death and why.’
And Jo nodded, but her mind seemed to be elsewhere. ‘I often think about the people we met,’ she said. ‘Whatever happened to them after we got back in the TARDIS? There was this planet we went to once, waaaay out in space. And there were these funny little people with a sort of peepshow device, with scenes of aliens in it, and they got loose and we sorted out that problem and dealt with these awful bureaucratic toffee-nosed people in charge, but…I sometimes look up into the sky at night, at one of the stars, and wonder if it’s that planet, and what it’s like now.’
‘I do that, too,’ Sarah Jane admitted. And sighed at the memories, her list forgotten.
Back in the Funeral Chamber, standing by the Doctor’s lead coffin, were the three Shansheeth. Amaranth was still strumming the Cradle of the Lost, his musical instrument, now loudly enough that the sound travelled out of the room via the solitary, very small, air vent nearby. Almost as if the sound was being aimed towards that vent deliberately…
‘Brothers of the Wing,’ said Amaranth, ‘I have filleted the Cradle to find the most powerful memories.’
‘With the results?’ said Aureolin.
‘As we were told, it is the two women. They remember the Doctor most vividly of all. So very strongly…’
And Amaranth played his instrument while Azure and Aureolin unfurled their massive wings and reached across the coffin to one another and held clawed-hands, bowing their heads as their associate strummed the Cradle again.
And the air around them shimmered and a hologram blurred into view, getting more crystal clear with every strum.
Azure hummed in time to the music and then spoke.
‘The Cradle sings! Surround them with song. Tempt them with days long past – the memories must grow, if we are to succeed…’
The music flowed into the ventilation shaft as the three Shansheeth watched the hologram showing them Sarah Jane Smith and Jo Grant sat on the floor of Jo’s tiny room. She had laid a pretty Tibetan rug down and they were sitting on each end of it, a variety of candles placed around them, the various aromas both clashing and combining to produce an atmosphere the two women found relaxing and freeing.
The Shansheeth too breathed in, as if the scents were coming through the same vent as their music was travelling down towards the women.
Jo and Sarah Jane had closed their eyes as the sounds from the Cradle wafted almost imperceptibly into the room.
Eventually Sarah Jane whispered to Jo that she could hear it.
Jo just nodded. ‘It reminds me of another world the Doctor took me to,’ she said. ‘It was called Karfel and they had this Leisure Garden where the plants sung to you at night, like lullabies…’
And above the hologram the Shansheeth were watching another image blurring into clarity, showing a lush, beautiful garden, surrounded by beautiful reflective buildings, adorned with paintings and images. People in netted hats tended the gardens and insects and birds and…
‘He took me to Italy,’ Sarah Jane was saying. ‘San Martino it was called, in 1492. I remember this magnificent grove – it smelled of oranges and vanilla…’
And the image the Shansheeth were watching changed, this time into a Mediterranean orange grove, on to which the sun was shining, and a handsome young man was plucking an orange from a tree…
‘Deeper,’ Azure hissed as Amaranth’s music grew louder. ‘More memories…’
And in response words began falling from Sarah Jane and Jo, and the images the Shansheeth witnessed changed each time…
And a massive multi-eyed reptile tore its way through marshland in Jo’s memories…
‘Cybermen,’ said Sarah Jane as an image of Cybermen in an underground cavern took over…
‘Axons,’ Jo said, as beautiful golden people shimmered into view, replaced by a large ape-like creature with a gun as she said, ‘Ogrons...’
Sarah Jane spoke of Zygons and Kraals and Raston Warrior Robots…
Jo mentioned Autons and Draconians and Sea Devils…
‘Daleks!’ both women said at the same time.
And the Shansheeth stared as the rapidly ever-changing memories being projected before them showed the galactic tyrants both women had faced – and helped defeat – more than once.
Azure’s eyes blazed with victory at his associates. ‘The trap has worked! Such excellent and sorrowful memories…’
Some minutes earlier, Clyde, Rani and Santiago had been disappointed to discover that this particular UNIT base didn’t have a canteen and they hadn’t even found a small kitchen to make tea in.
‘Even a vending machine would’ve been nice,’ Clyde complained.
Rani just threw an arm around her best friend. ‘Cheer up, think how much more you’ll look forward to one of Sarah Jane’s cuppas when we get home.’
Clyde grimaced at the thought, and he explained to Santiago that Sarah Jane was the only person he’d ever met who could actually burn tea.
‘How is that even possible?’ Santiago asked.
Rani shrugged. ‘Luke tried working that one out for months. Somehow, she manages it.’
‘So we never let her near the toaster!’ Clyde added. ‘How many times have the fire brigade turned up?’
They laughed and then stopped. ‘Poor Sarah Jane,’ Rani said. ‘Here we are larking about, talking about tea, and she’s heartbroken about the Doctor.’
‘She and my Gran didn’t seem exactly heartbroken just now,’ Santiago said. ‘I don’t think they believe he’s dead at all. I never met him, but always wanted to – maybe take a trip in that TARDIS Gran’s always talking about. Now it’s probably too late.’
‘I wish he was here right now,’ muttered Clyde, staring at his hand.
‘Yeah, me too,’ said Rani.
But Clyde shook his head at her. ‘No, I really wish he was here. Cos then maybe he could explain this.’
And he showed them both his right hand, which once again was surrounded by crackling blue energy, sparking off in all directions.
Rani glanced around, checking if any security cameras could see them. ‘Clyde! It’s happening again!’
‘I know! Has been on and off since we left Bannerman Road! But I can’t say anything, can I? UNIT’d lock me up, dissect me or something.’
Santiago frowned. ‘Hang on guys. You said “again”?’
Clyde nodded. ‘Last time we met the Doctor we got stuck in this time loop thing, and the TARDIS was phasing in and out of reality. I touched it and got zapped with this Artron energy – that’s what the Doctor called it. Like I was part of the TARDIS.’
Santiago tried to lighten the mood slightly. ‘Wow, and you two thought my life was good!’
But before Clyde could respond, a voice at his knee started muttering.
‘Smelly getting stronger!’
It was the little blue Groske from earlier.
‘What do you know about this stuff?’ Clyde showed him his hand, which was getting a bit less sparkly now.
The Groske just shrugged and turned away. Then it looked back at Clyde and jabbed a finger upwards. ‘Closer and closer!’
And it suddenly started running, really fast.
‘Oi, come back here, Blue Boy,’ Clyde shouted, following.
Santiago and Rani exchanged a look, and then headed off after the other two.
They caught up with Clyde around the corner, staring into one of the ventilation shafts at the foot of the wall. Clyde was starting to clamber into it, regardless of how tight a squeeze it would be.
‘Clyde?’ Rani exclaimed. ‘What are you –’
Clyde cut her off. ‘He’s like a mouse in the skirting board.’
And Rani realised that the Groske must have dashed in there first.
‘You two coming?’ Clyde asked as he vanished into the ducting.
Rani started to follow, then looked back at Santiago.
‘It’ll be okay. We do this sort of thing all the time.’
Santiago was almost pushing Rani in and followed, grinning widely. He winked a big blue eye at her. ‘My Gran once handcuffed herself to Robert Mugabe. This is nothing. I’m loving it!’
And all three teens followed the Groske in.
The metallic ventilation ducting was square, long and every so often jutted off in either left or right turns, meaning that every room in the base was probably linked to this central duct. Trouble was, each was identical and it was probably going to be very easy to get lost or confused if they took too many turns.
Clyde was at the front, Rani in the middle, Santiago bringing up the rear, all of them on all fours, palms and knees being the only way they could crawl forward, although the shiny metal surface made it quite quick to get along.
A few odd arrows stencilled on to the walls pointed in various directions, with numbers beneath them, but as they didn’t know the layout of the UNIT base, they weren’t much help.
And they’d lost sight of the Groske.
‘Typical,’ Clyde muttered. And then bellowed, ‘Oi, Groskey, where are you?’
Rani slapped his bum from behind. ‘Hey, your voice is probably echoing throughout the whole base. We don’t want UNIT shooting us as spies!’
Although turning around wasn’t possible, Clyde was able to turn his head and give Rani a look. ‘Did you just hit my bum?’
‘You were making noise,’ she hissed.
‘Don’t hit my bum, okay?’
‘Keep quiet then, “okay”?’ she replied, trying not to laugh. Then she realised Clyde had stopped by another ventilation grille – a tiny one, not much bigger than his hand. ‘Oh, and now all I can see is your bum. Thanks.’
‘Shh a minute,’ Clyde said.
‘What is it?’ asked Santiago.
But Clyde’s attention was gripped by what he was seeing through the tiny grille.
It was the Funeral Chamber. With the three Shansheeth. And a hologram image floating in the air, showing Sarah Jane and Jo fast asleep on the floor of Jo’s room. Or unconscious. Or…
‘The women are named Smith, Sarah Jane and Jones, Josephine,’ Azure was saying to the others.
Amaranth was away from his precious musical instrument now, and was standing next to Aureolin, staring at the image.
‘We must drain their minds completely.’
Amaranth nodded. ‘What of their bodies?’
Azure flexed his massive wings. ‘They will die.’ Then he gave what Clyde could only guess was a laugh. ‘Fortunately there are excellent undertakers on hand.’
And all three Shansheeth laughed.
Sarah Jane had been right all along about them. And if she was right about them, perhaps she was right about the Doctor.
And if the Doctor was alive –
He never finished the thought, as suddenly the blue crackling energy chose that inappropriate moment to reappear around his hand, sending spectacular shards of blue light everywhere, lighting up the inside of the ducting.
Sure enough, Azure spotted it. And Clyde. ‘We are witnessed!’ he screeched.
Clyde yelled loudly now, any pretence at secrecy given up.
‘Back up, back up,’ he yelled.
‘There’s no room to turn around,’ Santiago called back.
‘Then shuffle backwards,’ Rani suggested, and Santiago did as he was told, as fast as he could.
‘Faster!’ Clyde yelled, ‘Shuffle for your life!’
At which point the ventilation grille where he’d been hunched a moment before was ripped away by Azure’s beak, and tossed back into the Funeral Chamber with a clang.
The savage head was just the right size to ram through, so with eyes flaring in fury it saw the backward-shuffling teens.
‘Stop!’ Azure screamed. ‘Stop the children!!!’