a Doctor Who story
by James Bow and Patricia Bow
Dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Fayette clutched at her swirling cloak, an ankle-length sweep of pale golden wool, airy as a cloud, from the goats of Corboda 2. It was far warmer than any fur coat from Earth, but the bitterly cold wind still found its way in. Grains of snow bit at her cheeks and forehead. She pulled the hood down around her face.
"Papa, have you got us lost again?"
The Doctor didn't seem to hear. Perhaps he couldn't. The wind was rising to blizzard strength, screaming in her ears. He trudged ahead of her through the horizontal streamers of snow, his only concession to the weather the fact that he'd done up the buttons and belt on his trenchcoat.
Fayette looked back at the dense grove of pines where they had left the TARDIS. In the deepening dusk she could barely see the spot. She shivered. Right this minute she might be snug in bed, sweltering a little under thick quilts which were not really necessary for warmth but which were comforting to the soul. She could be sipping at a hot mug of cocoa and reading a good book.
Instead she was following the Doctor across what looked like a sub-arctic waste. From here to the hilly horizon, not a gleam of light showed anywhere.
This was certainly not anywhere in North America in the earth year 2035. Where were the cities, the pollution? She wondered how long he would hold out before being forced to admit he was wrong.
He was almost lost in the snow and the twilight, and she had to run to catch up. "Papa, where is this friend of yours?"
"Not far now, Fayette. We're almost there."
"What is his home, a hole in the snow? Is he a polar bear, this friend?"
"That's probably it now." He nodded forward.
A yellow light showed in a band of trees far ahead. Soft, muted light, very homey-looking to Fayette's eighteenth-century eyes. She felt reassured. At least there were people living here.
"But the year must be wrong. You will see."
She put her head down, clutched her cloak around her and marched on across the snowy field. It seemed endless. Her toes were growing numb even inside her fleece-lined boots when they came up against a second sign of human habitation.
"Aha! Papa, look at this fence! This is primitive, non?" The fence was made of long, weathered logs, crudely finished, piled on top of each other and held in place by other logs set in an X at intervals.
"Call it a survival from many years ago," he said.
Fayette smiled as he helped her scale it. It was a game between them, one they had played before, to see how long he could put off admitting his mistake, while she pointed out sign after sign that they had in fact arrived in the wrong place or time.
He was wearing that smug smile which meant he was convinced he was going to win. The game raised Fayette's spirits and warmed her blood. When they found the third sign, she laughed out loud.
"Now, Papa! Don't tell me this is the year 2035." Fayette stood gazing up at the old stone house that jutted out of the hillside above her. Even in the growing darkness she could tell it was ancient. Massive and low, built of big, rough stones to withstand the elements and perhaps the assaults of men as well, it looked somehow very familiar.
She shook her head. "This cannot be any later than... oh.... 1800. And we are perhaps in France." The Doctor only smiled.
They had approached the house from the back. The light they'd seen from across the field shone out from a small window that was set too high for them to see in. A cat sat on the sill inside, looking down at them, the warm light of the room behind glowing through the edges of its orange fur like a nimbus. Fayette was charmed.
"Let's go round to the front, like normal visitors," said the Doctor. He started along the side of the house. Fayette took one more glance up at the cat, and suddenly flinched back.
The animal that had been watching her so calmly was arched in a pose of fear and fury. It was looking down into the room. Then something leaped into view, snapped at the cat's neck and snatched it off the sill. The window frame was empty. Fayette stood staring, frozen with horror.
A moment later a dog's head rose over the sill. A large, furry brown dog, much like a collie. The cat's body hung limply between its narrow jaws. It gazed at Fayette out of strangely lustreless eyes, then dropped from sight.
"What are you doing?" The Doctor was at her side again. He looked at the empty window, then in puzzlement at Fayette's stricken face.
"Just now I saw a dog eat a cat," she said weakly.
"Oh, dear. But I'm afraid that happens sometimes."
"But there was something horrible about it... "
"Come on, let's get you indoors." He offered her his arm, and together they struggled along the side of the house, where the snow had drifted deeply. A window cast a shaft of yellow light through the driving blizzard. Fayette stood on tiptoe to peer in between heavy drapes. She got a glimpse of bookshelves and picture frames, and an impression of a lot of richly coloured and polished wood.
Then something hard poked her in the back. The Doctor's hand tightened on hers.
"Don't make any sudden moves," said a cold female voice. "Just turn around, slowly."
They turned around and Fayette revised her ideas about the date. The tall figure was encased from head to foot in what looked like thin grey silk, which certainly meant, in this climate, advanced thermal fabric. She was pointing at them something short and black which Fayette didn't recognize, but it certainly wasn't any eighteenth century weapon. Papa had found trouble, as usual.
"The gun isn't necessary." The Doctor smiled engagingly. "I'm a friend of Dr. Jerome's. What's he been up to? Last time I saw him, he didn't employ a bodyguard."
"I'm his daughter." Only the eyes were visible behind a half mask, and they looked distinctly chilly. "And you are going to leave at once. If necessary I can provide an incentive." She raised the weapon.
The Doctor didn't move. "Glynnis!" He sounded delighted. "But you were just a little thing -- well, not so little. Fifteen, just starting to bloom. How nice to see you again!"
"You don't impress me. Of course you'd have the biographical details down pat."
"Nevertheless, do you suppose we could come inside so my daughter could thaw out?"
"Oui!" Fayette said resentfully. "Do you treat all visitors this way?"
"No. We treat all spies this way, though."
"Spies! But -- " Fayette felt the Doctor's hand tighten warningly on her arm. She fell silent.
A second figure crunched through the snow from the back of the house. "Might as well bring them inside, Glynnis," a man's voice said. "Neil wants to question them."
"Good," said the Doctor. "Tell him to pour out a couple more glasses of his famous hot punch."
"His punch!" the woman sounded surprised. "How would you know about that?"
He smiled. "Well, it is Christmas Eve, isn't it?"
They plodded through the drifts to the front of the house and climbed a short flight of steps to the front door. Glynnis kept the gun trained on them the whole time, but the Doctor didn't seem to mind. He walked cheerfully into the house as if he were a welcome guest.
It was a favourite ploy of his, Fayette thought wryly, to try to carry off an ugly situation with brass and a pleasant smile. It didn't always work, though.
The entrance hall was small, narrow and dark, floored with stone and roofed with heavy beams. It smelled of old wood, lingering smoke and wax polish. To the left was a darkened archway, and beyond it a stairway leading to the upper storey. To the right an open doorway spilled a flickering yellow light into the hall. Drawn by the promise of warmth, Fayette darted ahead of the others into the room.
A fire was burning in a massive stone hearth. The walls were finished in golden-brown wood, and polished to reflect the firelight. It was worlds away from what she would have expected to find on Earth in the year 2035. This wood-panelled, firelit nest reminded her pleasantly of the modest house in Paris where she'd grown up.
A man sat comfortably in a brown-upholstered chair before the fire, his feet up on a hassock. He turned his head as Fayette walked into the room, then got up and came to meet her, his face wide open with surprise.
"You don't look like the usual -- " he began. Then his gaze went past her. A grin of delight lit up his face. "Doctor!"
Fayette relaxed. So he'd been right all along. No doubt he'd rub that in thoroughly, later on.
"Neil! Good to see you again." The Doctor shook him vigorously by the hand, then held him off by both shoulders to get a better look at him. "You've put on a few pounds. Don't tell me you finally learned to cook!"
"It's all Glynnis's fault. She took charge of my diet when she left school. I get three squares a day, whether I want them or not." He gave the Doctor a narrow look. "You haven't changed much. How do you do that? Or shouldn't I ask? Here, let's have your coat."
Dr. Jerome was a dark, stocky man in his late forties, with rather ugly but mobile features that showed every nuance of his feelings. Under heavy black brows his wide, pale green eyes shone with pleasure.
"And this is my adopted daughter, Fayette Calonne. A native of Paris." The Doctor put his arm around her shoulders. Jerome squeezed her hand warmly.
"Poor girl, you're half frozen! Come to the fire. Have a glass of punch." He urged her into the armchair he'd been sitting in and went to a heavily carved sideboard where a huge ceramic punchbowl stood. As he ladled out cups of steaming cherry-red liquid he added over his shoulder, "You came at the right time. The Doctor can tell you I make this punch once a year, on Christmas Eve. The recipe is my only claim to fame... so far."
"Father, you might have told me you were expecting visitors!" Glynnis had put away her gun, and was in the process of stripping off her cold suit.
"We weren't expected." The Doctor saluted her with his cup of punch. "All the same, the gun was a bit surprising."
"Not if you knew... Well, never mind." Glynnis smiled at him rather coolly and swept fine silver-blond hair back from her brow with a slender hand.
Fayette was reminded of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The mask had concealed delicate features and a porcelain complexion. Under the cold suit her tall, slim figure was draped in tunic and trousers of rich blue satin, the sleeves full and flowing, the neck fastened high around the throat with gemlike buttons. The two men were more sombrely dressed in pants and high-necked shirts of silky browns and greys.
Evening dress of 2035? Fayette wondered. Feeling warm at last, she threw back her fleece cloak and settled into the armchair. The punch was delicious, tasting of lemon and strawberries, and very strong.
"Glynnis looks after me in all kinds of ways. Some of them unnecessary." Jerome winked at his daughter. Then he waved the third man forward. "This is my associate, Dr. Isaac Hoffman. Also a kind of watchdog."
Fayette had almost forgotten the younger man was there. Medium sized, with ashy colouring and forgettable features, he seemed to fade into his surroundings when he wasn't in motion. When he met Fayette's eyes, though, his face lit up with a whimsical smile that she couldn't help liking.
"Hardly a watchdog, Neil," he protested mildly.
"Ha! Izzy's paid for by my sponsor," Jerome said to the Doctor in a stage whisper. "To keep an eye on me and make sure I don't sell the secret to anyone else!"
Izzy cleared his throat and blushed. Glynnis moved forward abruptly. "Father, you haven't introduced us properly. You haven't even told us the Doctor's name!" She sat down in a chair facing the Doctor and gave him a penetrating look.
"She's still suspicious," Jerome whispered loudly.
"And, Father, I think you've had quite enough punch."
"The night is young. So, Fayette, you're from Paris? Is that the latest couture, and did you dress up just for me?"
"Ah -- when I left -- oui, it was quite new." Fayette smiled brightly to cover her confusion, and smoothed the skirt of her long white muslin dress. Her sash this time was a wide ribbon of gold-coloured satin. She didn't think it necessary to add that she'd left Paris in 1789.
"Goodness!" Glynnis looked her over with interest. "Well, as they say, everything old is new again. It does suit you, though. You've even done your hair in an old-fashioned way."
"I have? Uh -- thank you! But your outfit looks so much more practical. And chic, as well."
Glynnis smiled briefly, then swung her attention back to the Doctor. "We still don't know our visitor's name."
A tense silence fell. Then Neil laughed and drained his glass. "Still going by the old sobriquet, eh, Doctor? Tell me, what became of Ace?"
He knows, Fayette thought. He's covering for us.
"We parted company some time ago. Ace and I paid a visit to Neil about ten years back," he explained to Fayette. Then he looked at his friend. "But that was in New York. What are you doing in the backwoods of Quebec?"
Jerome opened his mouth, but Glynnis cut him off smoothly. "We're on vacation. Father's been overworking."
"Vacationing here, in the middle of winter?" The Doctor didn't bother to hide his incredulity.
"We ski, snowmobile, and ice fish," she said briskly.
Dr. Hoffman cleared his throat. It seemed to be a nervous habit of his. "I'd like to know what the Doctor's field of study is. Did you two become acquainted through professional channels?"
"My expertise is varied," the Doctor said with a smile. "I've studied at Oxford and in Tibet, among other places."
"I," said Glynnis, standing up, "would like to know how the Doctor found out our location."
"Was it a secret?" he asked innocently.
"You know it was. Come on, let's not play games."
Dr. Jerome shifted uncomfortably. "Now, Glyn, these are our guests. The Doctor's an old friend. Sit down, relax."
"Be realistic, Father. You haven't seen this man for ten years, and suddenly he turns up here. How did he know where to find you? Where's his vehicle? You're not even too clear on his background, and he can't identify himself. It all adds up to one thing."
"That I'm a spy." The Doctor raised his eyebrows at Jerome. "This sounds serious. What are you up to?"
"Father, I think we'd better call the police."
Jerome looked helplessly at the Doctor. "Well, I tried. You are hard to explain, you know."
"I know." The Doctor dug in one pocket after another till he came up with a plastic card. He handed it to Glynnis. "Perhaps this will reassure you."
She stared at it, then at him. "This is dated 1997."
"It's still good, I believe."
Izzy looked over her shoulder and whistled softly. "You are well connected!"
"If you'll phone that number, I think you'll find they'll vouch for me."
"I'll do that." Glynnis rose and left the room.
"So you do know what we're doing here," said Izzy. He looked worried.
"No, this is a personal visit. Don't imagine that the government is taking a hand."
Dr. Hoffman looked relieved. Then Jerome said quietly, "But why now, old friend?"
"I just had a feeling," the Doctor said vaguely. Then he smiled. "Besides, I missed your punch."
"Well, it's a strange coincidence. If it is a coincidence. I've often thought that with you, the word has a special meaning."
"That might well be so." The Doctor looked thoughtful.
"It's strange, though, that after ten years you should drop in on me just at the greatest moment of my life. You recall the line of research I was pursuing, back then?"
"You were investigating problems in matter-energy transfer, weren't you?"
Glynnis came back into the room and handed the Doctor his card. "I guess I owe you an apology. You're certainly not a commercial spy." But she hadn't warmed up.
"He's not a government spy either," said Jerome. He stood up and grinned down at the Doctor. "Come on, I'll show you what we're working on."
"Father! Is this wise?"
"Yes, it is," he said firmly. "You too, Fayette." He led the way out of the room and along the hallway towards the rear of the house.
At the far end was a swinging door, which Fayette guessed led to the kitchen. Behind it someone was stirring something in a metal bowl. A high soprano was crooning in French, "D'ou viens-tu, bergere, d'ou viens-tu... " An indescribably delicious fragrance wafted into the hall.
"That's Lise Fourier in there," said Jerome. "She's whomping up a genuine Quebecois Christmas feast for us. You'll stay overnight, of course, both of you. You wouldn't want to miss Lise's tourtiere!"
The hallway made a sharp left turn at the kitchen door and ran for another twelve feet. The walls here were panelled in pine, like the rest of the house, but appeared much newer. The only door was at the end, and this was very different from all they had seen so far. It was made of a single sheet of steel, and had no knob or handle.
Dr. Jerome's fingers danced over the buttons of a metal plate set in the pine wall. "Entrance to the new wing," he said. "Well secured, as you can see." The door slid sideways into the wall, revealing a white-walled corridor beyond. Its bright, cold illumination dazzled Fayette's eyes after the mellow firelight of the living room. It smelled aseptic and faintly chemical.
"I suppose the whole house is secured." The Doctor was the second to enter. He watched as Glynnis, bringing up the rear, closed the door and operated the locking control. "And that's how you happened to notice our arrival."
"We virtually saw you coming," she said. "Everything within a hundred yards of the house is scanned. We're screened against all electronic surveillance, too, thanks to our sponsor. A spy would have to be right inside the laboratory to find out what we're doing. And nobody can enter here without our cooperation." She gave her father an exasperated look.
The Doctor laughed. "Typical of Neil to cast aside all caution, isn't it?"
"It certainly is!"
At the end of the white corridor a second controlled door opened into a large, high room. Fayette turned in a circle, taking in the floor to ceiling instrument banks, a gleaming network of stunning complexity. There were no colours here, only white, black, grey and the shine of metal. A muted hum filled the room, overlaid by the faint hiss of ventilators. She sniffed. Instead of wood smoke, the smell of plastics, metal alloys and other artificial materials tinged the air.
"I can almost believe we are in a different world!"
"You are, Fayette," Jerome said gaily. "Back of that door we were in the past. Quebec, 1810. Here we're in the future. And -- potentially at least -- we're wherever we want to be. This is the jumping-off place for Timbuktu, Mars and Alpha Centauri!"
"He exaggerates." Dr. Hoffman coughed behind his hand.
"All right. Our limit right now is fifteen hundred kilometres. But that's only a beginning." Jerome gestured grandly. "Look over there, Doctor. Those two unpretentious-looking objects are really a pair of magic carpets. Some day they're going to carry mankind to the ends of the universe."
The centre of the floor was dominated by a dull grey hemisphere six feet in diameter. It had no visible features. Towards the side of the room stood something that puzzled Fayette, because she couldn't compare it to anything she'd ever seen before. A booth about ten feet high, oval in cross section, with the front open and the back enclosed. Its floor, set on a base about ten inches high, was a thick plate of what looked like frosted glass. The back wall was a series of vertical black panels, while the canopy consisted of a flat spiral of thick wires.
"Magic carpet?" Fayette echoed. Had this professor invented a TARDIS?
The Doctor's face was alight with interest, but she sensed a hidden uneasiness. He walked all around the booth without touching it, then looked at the hemisphere. "What's in there?"
Glynnis moved forward abruptly. "Really, I think -- "
"Now, Glyn, it's all right."
"Father, I don't think it's all right to give out that information! That's... " She bit her lip, aware she'd said too much.
"That's the heart of it all, of course." Jerome laid his hand fondly on the dull grey side of the dome. "This is where the magic starts. See?" He swung open a triangular panel. Inside was a web of intricate circuitry, surmounted by a metal rod. On the tip of this rod, near the top of the dome, rested a small sphere that gleamed like polished silver.
"A transmitter... connected to... " The Doctor bent to peer in at the circuitry. "...to a very powerful focussing device." He straightened up and looked at the booth. "Feeds to that, obviously. And that looks just the right size for an individual to stand in."
"Got it yet?" Neil Jerome grinned at him as he closed the panel. They were like two schoolboys playing guessing games, Fayette thought. In many ways they were remarkably alike. Perhaps that was why they were such friends.
"I could make a guess, but it'd sound incredible." The Doctor held his friend's eyes. "You were always a dreamer, Neil, but surely even you wouldn't play around with matter-energy transport. Not with live cargo, anyway."
"I'm right, then?"
Dr. Hoffman coughed, and Glynnis sighed. Neil laughed at them. "You see, there's no use trying to keep it from him. Much better recruit him to work with us. How about it, Doctor?"
"Is that why you're showing me this?" The Doctor shook his head. "It's unsound. Even dangerous. I wouldn't have anything to do with it, and I'd suggest you stop what you're doing right now."
"Stop? Impossible!" Izzy looked appalled. "Don't you know what's at stake here?"
"Of course he does," Glynnis said dryly. "What doesn't he know?"
"Well, I do not!" Fayette was tired of being the only one left in ignorance. "What is this all for?"
"It's a new means of transportation." Dr. Jerome turned to her eagerly, glad of a fresh audience. "Less complex than T-mat's use of the space-time continuum, and therefore potentially more problem-free. And cheaper than T-mat, which requires stations at both ends of all routes. With M/E transport, all you need is a sending station. When the traveller wants to return, or to go someplace else than his starting point, he uses a simple communicator to lock onto any sending station. That cuts your costs in half right there. That, of course, is why we've got the financial backing of the Starbridge Corporation. They paid for all this." He nodded around at the twinkling, humming control machinery. "And for Izzy too, of course."
Izzy didn't smile. "It's also why every other communications outfit on Earth is scrambling to find out what we're doing. They know something big is in the wind. We've tried to isolate ourselves here, but inevitably we've been tracked down. They don't know the details yet, but not for want of trying. You're not the first unexpected visitors we've had."
"Starbridge sees the day when M/E will make T-mat obsolete," Glynnis said with satisfaction. "Then Father will finally get the recognition he deserves."
"And Starbridge will make billions," murmured the Doctor.
"And humankind," Neil said quietly, "will have taken the first step towards complete freedom of movement. That's what it means to me."
Fayette was still bewildered. "But, travel how? That box, does it move?"
Neil slipped her arm through his and walked her over to the booth. "The technical end is hard to explain, but what actually happens is simplicity itself. Say you're a traveller, Fayette, bound for... where?"
"Tau Ceti?" She sent a mischievous glance at the Doctor. Only he and she knew that they'd visited that star system not long ago.
"Excellent choice!" Neil laughed. "Tau Ceti is lovely this time of year. All aboard, Mademoiselle! Take your place on the magic carpet."
Fayette stepped up into the half-enclosed booth and turned around. She felt unaccountably unsafe on the translucent floor, under the spiral grid. Glynnis looked on sardonically, her arms folded, while Izzy sent her an encouraging smile. The Doctor looked worried.
Neil beamed up at her. "Now I, the operator, do a few useful things with those controls." He waved at the complex instrument banks around him. "The dome, there, focuses on your destination, makes sure of your safe landing, and off you go. Poof!"
"Poof?" She didn't like the sound of this.
"You disappear from the transporter pad and almost instantly you reappear at your destination."
Fayette looked skeptically at the walls of the booth. He made it sound like magic, and her strong vein of rationality was offended. "How?" she persisted.
"Oh, dear. Well, it is hard to explain to a non-scientist..."
"What happens," said the Doctor clearly, "is that the matter of your body is disassembled and transformed into pure energy. This energy is beamed through space. Then at the end of the trip it's changed back into matter."
"Disassembled? Destroyed, you mean?" She was aghast.
"Transformed," Izzy said quickly.
"You will take me apart and put me together again someplace else? Mon Dieu! What if I am put together wrong?"
Glynnis' smile was just patronizing enough to be annoying. "It doesn't happen, Fayette. We've experimented extensively on lab animals. Domestic pets, too. They all arrived at the other end with their ears and tails in the right places."
"But surely -- what you describe sounds to me like being killed!" Suddenly she felt very unsafe in the booth. She jumped out and moved away from it.
Neil looked glum. "I'm afraid we're going to run into a lot of that attitude at first."
"The public will need to be educated," Izzy agreed. "There's always some resistance to any new technology. But in time they'll accept it."
They found a light meal of sandwiches set out for them in the dining room across the hall from the parlour. In this part of the world, it was traditional to celebrate Christmas with a feast right after attending midnight Mass. The sandwiches were meant to stave off hunger till midnight, without blunting a healthy appetite.
Glynnis and Izzy returned to the lab to carry on with their computer studies of the M/E process, while Neil and the Doctor pulled armchairs closer to the parlour fire and started reminiscing. Fayette looked at the littered dining table and thought it unfair that all the housework was being left to one poor servant. She loaded her arms with dishes and carried them into the kitchen.
Lise looked up from the pastry she was rolling and smiled broadly. "Oh, merci, Mademoiselle! But that was not necessary. I have my cart, you see, for carrying." She wore a brown overall in some fabric that looked like linen: the house dress and apron of this era, Fayette guessed. Her blunt, fair features were flushed with heat and exertion.
"What is this pastry you're making?" Fayette asked in French. She spent the next ten minutes contentedly hearing about the finer points of savoury pie construction. After the unsettling conversation in the lab, this kitchen was a reassuringly normal place, full of delicious smells.
"The Professor, he knows good food," Lise said happily. "And never does he forget to praise the cook! I have been preparing this feast for days. Come into the pantry, Mademoiselle, let me show you." She dusted flour from her hands and beckoned. "To surprise le Docteur Neil, I have even bought venison and made a galantine!"
She opened a door on the right side of the kitchen and flipped a light switch. Fayette, following right behind her, felt her stiffen, then caught her as she shrank back. Lise was staring and inarticulate with horror.
Fayette set her aside from the doorway and stepped into the small, shelf-lined room. She was prepared to face a family of mice or a large spider at worst. She wasn't prepared for the sight of a dog crouched over a furry half-eaten carcass.
The dog looked up at her with flat, hostile eyes and growled warningly. Blood and fragments of flesh clung to its jaws. Fayette recalled the cat she'd seen in the window, and the way the dog had stared at her with the limp body hanging from its jaws. She stepped back and closed the door, feeling sick.
Lise was pale but she'd pulled herself together. "My poor Minou! How could Capitaine do such a thing?"
"You were fond of the cat? Poor Lise!"
"Fond, yes. But more, I am worried. Those two animals, they lived together ten years, since Minou was a kitten, and always they were friends. I don't understand it! Unless... unless it was my fault. But even so... "
"Lise, explain. How was it your fault?"
"With all the preparations, I forgot to feed Capitaine this afternoon. He must have been terribly hungry."
"But you mustn't blame yourself. These things happen."
"No. It wasn't natural." Lise frowned. "Capitaine would not eat Minou no matter how hungry he was. He would come to me and tell me he wanted his dinner, as always."
"Not in words, of course. But he had his ways of communicating. After twelve years together, Capitaine and I, we understood each other. He is... he was a very gentle dog, very polite. Never, never... " She looked at the pantry door and shook her head. "I should not have let the Professor put my poor Cap in that machine."
"So le Docteur Jerome processed Capitaine?"
"Yes. I would not agree, only he promised faithfully nothing bad would happen to the dog. Only a little surprise, he said, when Cap finds himself in a different place. He had me travel to Saint-Adolphe, a few miles from here, and then he sent Cap to me there. I saw no change in him then, but since... "
"This was how long ago?"
"Four days. I don't know much, Mademoiselle, I'm not wise like the Professor, but I know my dog. He is changed, and that machine changed him." She sighed and rolled up her sleeves. "And now, if you will excuse me, I must take that dog to the cellar and then I have a pantry to clean."
"I'll help you." Fayette spotted a bucket and carried it to the sink. "And when we're finished, Lise, you and I are going to speak to your Professor."
"But Lise," said Neil gently. "We had the dog vetted, remember? He's very healthy for an animal his age. There can't be anything wrong with him."
"No, not in his body, Monsieur. It is inside, where he is changed." Lise looked uncomfortable, though Neil had made her sit down beside the fire with him and had offered her a glass of punch. The Doctor stood with one elbow propped on the mantelpiece, watching with interest. Fayette stood at Lise's shoulder, sensing she needed encouragement.
"You know, Lise, we tested lab mice repeatedly and we've observed them for nearly a year. We noticed no change in their health or behaviour."
"Mice! But a mouse is not a person. This change in Cap, it is in the... " She groped for the right English word. "Inside... in his soul." Then she crossed herself hastily. "Yes, I know a dog has no soul, so says Monsieur le Cure, but whatever it is that makes a person and not a stone, Cap had that. And now," she faltered, "now he does not have it."
"Perhaps if I explained to you again exactly what happens in the process -- "
"Non, Monsieur, I would not understand. All I know is, something happened to my Capitaine. He ate his best friend. He doesn't come to me any more when he wants food or company. He doesn't know me."
"Couldn't it be his age? He's really quite old."
She shook her head doubtfully, then got to her feet. "Well, I must finish making my tourtieres, then I shall prepare rooms for our guests." At the door she added, "I will leave early for Mass, because of the weather."
As if to underscore her words, a blast of wind shook the windows and sleet rattled on the panes. "Surely you're not going out in that!" protested Neil.
"Monsieur, I have never in my life missed Mass on Christmas Eve and I will not miss it now. Will anyone else be going with me?"
"Oh, I doubt it... "
"I will," said Fayette quickly. Despite her enlightened upbringing, the Church was still very much a part of her background. Her father had been a man of moderate views, not rabidly anticlerical as some of the reformers had been.
They listened to Lise's footsteps recede down the hallway to the kitchen. Neil grimaced. "I'm afraid that's another sample of the response we're going to get to the M/E. Lise is a sensible woman, and not stupid. Yet even she isn't free of superstitious notions. You watch, some idiot is going to start preaching about the process stealing people's souls!"
"Well, it is an interesting question," said the Doctor from his station at the mantelpiece. "As I recall, you said the trip is 'almost' instantaneous, so -- "
"I only added the qualifier because as a scientist I try to be precise. The time span is so infinitesimally small that it hardly exists."
"Hardly measurable, that's true. But what do you suppose happens in that flicker of time, when the body has been -- for want of a better word -- destroyed?"
"I wish you would find a better word." Neil frowned. "You must know that nothing is ever actually destroyed, only transformed."
"That happens when we die, too," said Fayette.
Neil smiled at her. "And what happens to your soul then?"
She sensed he was only half serious in asking the question, but she tried to answer it seriously. She gave it a long minute's thought, and at last shrugged. "I do not know. I only know, it does not stay with my body. I don't think it just -- poof! -- like a candle flame. So it must go somewhere else." She bit her lip worriedly. "I wonder if that happened to poor Cap?"
"But he didn't die, Fayette. He's still with us."
"Lise is sure a part is missing," she said stubbornly. "His -- quoi? -- his personality, his spirit. Maybe you did not notice this in the mice because you did not know those mice the way Lise knew Capitaine."
"Hmmm." Neil rubbed his jaw. "You know, if I'd ever given the question much thought, I'd have supposed the spirit -- consciousness, I'd call it -- would tend to re-attach to the body as soon as that body reassembled. There must be a certain affinity, wouldn't you think?"
"But what if the body is reassembled many miles away? How would the spirit find it?"
"Does distance matter to a non-material spirit, Fayette?" He grinned as if he'd scored a point. Then he looked quizzically up at the Doctor. "This is a strange conversation for a couple of scientists to be having, isn't it? More a matter for theologians or psychologists. What do you think, Doctor?"
"What -- a scientist interesting himself in questions not relating strictly to his own field? What on earth for? Is there any more of that excellent punch?"
Fayette was irked. Why was the Doctor being so uncaring? The question was important, couldn't he see that?
Then she saw the thoughtful look on Dr. Jerome's face. The Doctor was smiling faintly, but his eyes were dead serious.
At ten-thirty Lise, now dressed in her best black silk dress under a metallic thermal cloak, set out for Saint-Adolphe with Fayette. Neil's all-terrain vehicle was kept in a garage attached to the house, so they were able to avoid the full fury of the weather.
But as the vehicle emerged from the automatic doors, the storm hit them like a wall. The wind pounded and jolted the metal shell around them. Fayette felt terribly small and helpless, and strangely alone, as if only the two of them existed at the centre of all that raging whiteness.
Lise muttered a prayer half under her breath, gripped the wheel and drove on up the lane towards the road. There she braked and hesitated. The headlights were two cones of swirling silver. Nothing else was visible, not even the posts on the shoulder with their reflective patches.
"Ciel!" she said. "I can't go on. I can't see to drive." Labouriously, she turned the car until the lights of the house showed dimly through the murk. She sighed deeply as they drove back. "This is a very bad sign, Mademoiselle. The first time I have ever missed Mass on Christmas Eve. I feel very unlucky tonight."
As they came back into the kitchen, a mournful sound met their ears. Capitaine was howling in the cellar.
"He is hungry again?" Fayette suggested.
"Yes," Lise said grimly, "but for what?"
The midnight feast was set out on the long table in the dining room, buffet style. Fayette hadn't seen such an elaborate array of food since leaving France with the Doctor: feasts and other luxuries had not been a regular part of their life. There were all sorts of fresh sweet breads and pastries as well as the savoury meats and pies, and ruby-red wine sparkling in crystal glasses.
But somehow, the celebration rang a sour note. Perhaps it was Lise's unhappy expression that dampened the atmosphere. Or perhaps it was the noise of the blizzard. These thick stone walls were a secure shelter, but you could hear the wind howling like a demon even above the recording of traditional carols Glynnis had put on.
They carried their wine and plates of food into the living room, and drew chairs close to the leaping fire. Ah, Fayette thought, this is perfect. But it soon became obvious that this nest of scientists were unable to set science aside, even for Christmas. Even before they sat down they were arguing.
"Admit it," Izzy said with a smile. "You've been toying with the idea for weeks."
"Well, haven't your bosses been on your neck about it?" Neil retorted. "You were on the phone to them today, telling them how well we're doing. Frankly, I'm surprised you haven't been pressuring me."
"Uh... yes." Izzy cleared his throat. "Starbridge are eager to start testing on human subjects. You can see the commercial advantage to them, to begin operations as soon as possible. I told them, though, that it's too early for human testing. We ought to test on another high primate first. They're going to send us one."
"Oh, nonsense! What would another long round of tests tell us that we don't already know? I have absolute faith in my process and I'm ready to put myself through any time. This minute, even." He half rose from his chair. Glynnis reached out, grabbed his jacket and jerked him back down.
"You'll do nothing of the sort. How dare you even consider it!" Her eyes flared with anger.
"Why not?" he demanded.
"Because you're the head of this operation. We can't risk you."
"But I tell you, there is no risk!"
"You're also my Dad. If anybody tries it, it'll be me, not you."
Fayette smiled. She'd heard of females protecting their young with tigerish ferocity, but this time the situation was reversed.
"Absolutely not!" said Neil.
"I agree," Izzy added quietly. He reached out and touched Glynnis' blue satin sleeve. "As the sponsor's representative, it should be me."
"No." Neil set down his wineglass with a clink. "I won't let anybody else take a risk that I'm not prepared to face myself."
"Thought you said there was no risk," the Doctor put in. He'd been standing by the window, gazing out at the swirling storm. Fayette hadn't seen him eat or drink much.
"Oh, well." Neil waved a hand. "Nothing is one hundred percent certain. But I'm as sure of my process as anyone can be of anything. And, Doctor -- " He jumped out of his chair and crossed to the window. "More than anyone else I know, surely you have the imagination to understand what this means to me. I've been working towards this point for half a lifetime. I'm getting impatient!"
"A scientist can't afford impatience," Izzy put in.
Neil ignored him. "Doctor, I'm sure you've taken risks in a good cause. You'll sympathise with me. And what cause could be better than this? Think what it would mean to the human race. The ability to move about the universe at will! What could be more godlike? Instead of crawling over the surface like worms, or buzzing through space like houseflies -- to beam from place to place like light!"
"Think how it would solve settlement problems," said Izzy. "How it would painlessly relieve overpopulation."
"And travel is so broadening, isn't it?" said the Doctor cheerfully.
Neil gave him a perplexed look, then laughed. "That was my next point. Think how it would change us! Instead of being stuck in our age-old world-entered view of things, we'd all be citizens of the cosmos. We'd have to stop being narrow-minded perforce! The whole universe would be within our reach and we'd be virtually forced to open our minds to understand it."
"The modern Prometheus." The Doctor smiled.
Neil raised his eyebrows, obviously rifling through his memory for the reference. Then he grinned back. "Exactly!"
Fayette recalled the story from her schooldays. "But Prometheus... didn't he die horribly in the end, punished by the gods?"
"A small price to pay," Neil said, "when you consider that he succeeded in bringing fire to mankind. He stole a treasure of the gods, Fayette, in order to make men -- women too, of course -- godlike. May his name be ever blessed!"
In the hall sounded a clatter of dishes as Lise wheeled a steel trolley out of the dining room. She glanced into the living room and shook her head as she went by. After the kitchen door closed Glynnis said dryly, "I can just imagine what Lise thinks of such talk. I'm sure she calls it blasphemy. No doubt she thinks some dreadful disaster will come of it."
Fayette was nettled. "If she thought in terms of hubris instead of blasphemy, would that impress you?"
"Not really." Glynnis rose gracefully from her chair and turned away, dismissing Fayette. "We haven't settled the question, Father. I still say if we begin human testing, I should be the first."
Neil yawned widely. "Let's sleep on it."
Capitaine woke from an uneasy sleep to find himself shut in a black box. A week ago he would have recognized the place by its smell, as a room where his beloved Lise often came to get things from shelves. Some of the things were containers of soft, sweet food for which he'd had a special weakness. Sometimes Lise let him have a little of the sweet as a reward for being good.
Now he remembered none of that. No loved faces or memories of pleasure lit up his mind. He only knew he was in darkness, alone and hungry. Without understanding why, he was afraid.
Lise stirred in her small bedroom off the kitchen. The sound of howling penetrated her dreams. She woke and lay listening, grieving for a lost companion. She too was afraid, without understanding why.
Neil Jerome lay rigid under his quilt, too keyed up to sleep. A distant howling roused his curiosity, but it soon blended into the fury of the storm. The darkness before his eyes was a backdrop on which wonderful scenes played themselves out. In his imagination, men and women soared across the starry void like angels.
He gave only passing thought to the glory that would come his way once the process became public knowledge. He would be a rich man, too, but he welcomed money only as a means to finance his research.
The modern Prometheus, according to the Doctor. Neil chuckled, then wrinkled his nose. Poor Prometheus had ended up chained to a rock with an eagle feeding on his liver. Had he thought his sacrifice was worth what mankind gained?
Yes, Doctor, I know you're trying to tell me something. And yes, it would be worth it. So long as the gift was truly worthy.
A small man in a white cold suit struggled through the blizzard towards the house. From the road the place was barely visible, which was good, because it meant that from the house he in turn would be even less visible. And the electron shield that moved in front of him would confuse any scanners. He wouldn't register on any screen.
Without hesitation he walked straight up to the front door. He swung his backpack to the ground, selected his tools and went quietly to work. Two minutes later the door swung softly open. He'd even done the owners a favour by oiling the lock and hinges.
A previous survey had determined the layout of the building. He knew exactly where to go, and went there without placing a foot wrong or bumping into unexpected pieces of furniture. The infra-red visor was standard equipment, of course. He wasn't the best-paid operative in the business for nothing.
The electronic locks on the security wing gave him some difficulty. He stood still a moment to compose his mind, then went to work again with another carefully chosen device. Five minutes later he was inside the laboratory. He wasted no time in gaping about, took a series of photographs, then opened the computer. This was where the real meat would be found.
Neil lay in bed till he couldn't stand it any longer. He got up and began to change back into day clothes. Very quietly, so as not to wake anyone.
The Doctor hadn't changed at all, since he didn't expect to sleep. He had been lying on his back in bed, his mind racing. Everything he knew about matter-energy interaction was wheeling through his brain. As it went by he sifted and picked at the stream of data, looking for something that would help him understand exactly where Neil's M/E process was heading. He couldn't shake a deeply uneasy feeling about it. And he knew a hunch was usually his mind's way of nudging him towards action.
His sensitive hearing picked up the sound of someone moving around on the ground floor. Lise, no doubt. Then he heard nearer sounds. Someone on this floor moving towards the stairs... then down the stairs.
That uneasy feeling nudged him again. He got up and walked softly out into the hallway. Reaching the head of the stairs he looked down. He caught a glimpse of Neil pulling on an overcoat, and simultaneously moving towards the back of the house.
Neil going out in this storm? The Doctor frowned. He slipped down the stairs, arriving at the kitchen door just in time to see the door to the new wing slide shut. Now, why would Neil wear an overcoat into the lab?
The small man in the white cold suit raised his head. A silent alarm beat a tattoo against his wrist. Someone was coming. Without wasteful haste, he escaped the interesting program and shut down the computer. Then he crossed the room to the hiding place he had already selected, just in case: a large storage room lined with shelves. The caged mice hardly noticed the intruder. He left the door open a mere crack and placed his eye to it.
The Doctor's hunch was mushrooming into anxiety. He had to impose calm on his brain before picking what he needed out of his memory. How Neil's fingers had danced over the buttons of the steel plate set in the pine wall. The exact sequence... The Doctor closed his eyes and let his fingers replay the memory. The door slid aside into the wall. He dashed along the short white corridor and operated the second lock.
For a moment he thought he'd been mistaken. Nobody was in the room. But the mechanism was alive, data sequences twinkling across the instrument banks. A steady hum filled the air. Its note rose higher.
The transporter booth!
The Doctor crossed the floor at a dead run and fetched up in front of the booth. Neil was already shimmering around the edges. He waved gaily.
"Jump!" The Doctor yelled. "It's not too late!"
"You can't stop me now. This is my Christmas present to the human race!"
His solid form became a flat outline filled with broken light. Then he was gone, like a firework dying in the sky, leaving only a few sparkling embers that quickly vanished.
The Doctor groaned. Neil Jerome had never outgrown a certain theatrical streak.
He had also, characteristically, not even left a note to say where he'd gone. Or hadn't he? His course would be plotted in the computer. The Doctor turned towards the console, then paused. What was that noise in the storage room? Somehow he didn't think Neil would be content with beaming himself into a cupboard a dozen feet away.
The storage room seemed empty when he looked in and flicked on the light. Somebody could be crouched on the other side of the central table, though, and he knew better than to go chasing around corners after burglars who might be armed. He listened intently, holding his breath for what was, even for him, an uncomfortably long time.
There, at last: someone breathing. The Doctor smiled, closed the door, and walked away. There was only one exit from this wing. He could keep an eye on it from the front hall, while he roused the house.
As soon as Izzy heard about the spy, he was all for questioning him. "It's vital that we find out how much he knows. A leak at this point could be disastrous!"
"Never mind that! First we trace my father. Oh, when I get my hands on him... " Glynnis was white with anger and fright. She was unaware that in her tightly sashed ivory robe, with her silver-blond hair tangled from sleep, she held Izzy's eyes like a magnet.
"Was that not someone at the door?" Fayette asked. But in the hubbub nobody heard her. They hadn't heard the faint knock, either. She shuffled down the hall in the borrowed slippers that were too large for her, pulled snug the front of the borrowed robe, and unfastened the locks on the front door.
The others noticed what she was doing and hurried forward just as she swung the door open. A torrent of snow blew in on them. Outlined against the storm, his hair rimmed with light from the lamp that hung above the door, Dr. Jerome sagged against the jamb.
"Well, I'm back," he said, and collapsed across the doorstep.
"Dad!" Glynnis darted forward. The Doctor gently brushed her aside, picked up his friend's limp body and carried it into the living room. Fayette forced the door closed against the screaming gale. Swirls of snow melted on the stone floor.
Neil was already recovering as the Doctor lowered him onto the sofa. He insisted on sitting up. "No, I'm all right. I feel fine." He stared around rather blankly at the ring of anxious faces.
Izzy was losing his anxious look, though, and instead began to beam quietly. "It was rash, of course, but you did prove your point. The process works. Where did you go?"
"Into the field behind the house. Then I walked back." He yawned. "Tomorrow we must all do it. Now I'm tired."
"Dad." Glynnis knelt before him, holding his hand in both of hers. She no longer looked angry, and for once she didn't try to hide how completely she worshipped her father. "Dad, you've done it! You've made it all come true -- all those years of working and planning. I'm so proud of you!"
"Yes, I have been successful, haven't I?" He blinked down at her. Then his eyes closed and he began snoring gently, still sitting up against the sofa cushions.
Glynnis sat back on her heels, looking worried. "Strange. It's his big moment. I'd have expected him to be high as a kite. He's hardly reacting at all."
"Obviously a form of transit fatigue." Izzy peered at him. "I'll start working to eliminate that, first thing in the morning."
The Doctor carried Neil up to his bedroom, where he woke up long enough to change back into pajamas and climb into bed. He was snoring again within seconds. The Doctor stood for a moment, studying his friend's unconscious face. It looked curiously blank, wiped clean of all feeling, but that of course was how people did look when asleep.
All the same, a cold foreboding stirred in the pit of his stomach.
Fayette was sitting curled up on the bottom stair, with her head leaning against the newel post. He tousled her hair in passing. "Go to bed!"
"Oui, when things are settled. How can I sleep with a spy loose in the house?"
"We'll deal with him in very short order," Glynnis called from her station at the mouth of the secured wing. A moment later Izzy joined her. His mild features looked grimmer than Fayette had thought they could look.
"I've checked the computer. He's been rooting around in it, just as we feared."
"I'll call the police. We'll have him arrested for illegal entry." Glynnis headed for the alcove under the stairs, where the telephone was kept. Izzy stopped her.
"No! He knows far too much. What do you suppose he'll do, as soon as he gets to a phone?" He watched her frown, and nodded. "That's right. He'll unload everything he knows to whoever's employing him."
"And then the knowledge can never be contained," the Doctor muttered.
"We'll be going public soon anyway," Glynnis said uncertainly. "Now that we know it works."
"Nevertheless," Izzy said, "Starbridge wants the secret kept for at least another day or so. Twenty-four hours at least. There are business reasons: deals to be finalized, investments to be completed, that sort of thing. Glynnis, we can't let the man out of this house."
"But we can't just lock him up! That would be illegal!"
"Dr. Hoffman's right," the Doctor said. "There are all kinds of reasons why you don't want this to get out."
"But... " Glynnis made a face. A stickler for the rulebook, Fayette noted. Izzy, for all his inoffensive manner, was willing to bend the rules when it suited him.
To the Doctor, of course, rules didn't mean much at all.
Glynnis picked up the phone with a decisive gesture, listened a moment, then hung up. She looked relieved. "It's moot now. The lines are down. We'll have to hold him here till the storm is over."
Izzy and the Doctor went into the lab together to confront the spy. A show of strength wasn't needed, though. The little man was a thorough professional. Once he was discovered, his work was over. He obeyed directions without question, content to wait for his release. He wasn't being paid to risk his life in any reckless escape attempt.
They marched him down to the basement, where Lise pointed out a disused root cellar. It was clean and dry, though rather cold and smelling of old turnips. She found blankets for the man and offered him a cup of tea, which he accepted with quiet thanks. Lise had been making pots of tea and coffee since the beginning of the disturbance, to calm her nerves.
Fayette and the Doctor were the last to go back to bed. They stood in the dim front hall, listening to the storm battering the house. "Each hour it gets worse," she said.
"Yes, there won't be any question of anyone going to town tomorrow to fetch the police. We're quite effectively cut off. Just as well, perhaps."
When Fayette woke up next morning she felt disoriented for a few moments. She couldn't remember where she was or when. It was an experience she'd had more than once while travelling with the Doctor.
The ceiling of the room was low, the walls painted white. All the furniture was made of polished pine, and red cotton curtains hung at the windows. A pleasant, old fashioned room. Now she recalled the time and place.
She squirmed out of bed and went to the window. The light that came through the panes was thin and cold, with a bluish tinge to it. Snow still choked the air and hid the distance, but the wind no longer raged. The storm was beginning to ebb.
And it was Christmas morning. Fayette hummed a carol to herself as she threw on the borrowed robe and shuffled in the too-large slippers to the bathroom. Back in her room a few minutes later, she tossed the robe and nightgown onto the bed, then slipped on her camisole and petticoat, tying laces and fastening hooks with the ease of long practice.
As she was tying the ribbon at the top of her camisole she felt the prickly, uneasy sensation that meant she was being watched. It came so strongly that she stopped what she was doing and spun around. Her door was open an inch or so. Something moved beyond the gap.
Fayette strode to the door and flung it open. She blinked with surprise. "Dr. Jerome! What is the matter?"
He didn't answer, just stood there and stared at her. He was unshaven and still wearing pajamas, and his feet were bare. A predatory gleam came into his eyes and a furtive smile twisted his mouth. She remembered she was wearing only her underclothes and felt threatened and repelled.
"How long have you been standing there?" she demanded.
His smile widened wolfishly. "Long enough."
She slammed the door in his face. Then, listening through the panels, she heard the creak of floorboards as he moved away along the hall.
Five minutes later, fully dressed, she burst into the Doctor's room. He was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. She had to call him twice and shake him before he returned from whatever cerebral region he'd been visiting.
"A nice man, your friend Dr. Jerome! He is a peeping Tom, un voyeur!"
"What?" He sat up.
"He peered through my door while I was dressing!" Anger overcame her embarrassment as she described the incident. "If this is the way he treats his guests, I want to leave!"
"Calm down, Fayette. Are you sure you didn't misunderstand? The sort of thing you're talking about is quite out of character for Neil." He patted her hand soothingly. It only made her angrier.
"I know that look when I see it, papa! He is a wolf, that one."
"Not a bit! I've known him from way back, remember. He teases, but really he's the soul of courtesy. Couldn't it have been innocent, after all? Perhaps he just came to tell you breakfast was ready."
Hurt, she pulled her hand away. "Why are you taking his part?"
"Maybe I'm trying too hard to believe he's still the same." He stared out the window and seemed to be speaking to himself. Then he looked at her apologetically. "I believe you, Fayette. But, do me this favour. Don't make an issue of it, hm?"
"Well... only to please you, Papa." She sat down beside him and he gave her a quick hug. She added, "When can we leave?"
"I'm not sure. You'll have to bear with me. There's something off key in this whole situation."
She sighed. "And you must put it right, as always."
Fayette was still simmering when she sought out Lise in the kitchen, for company. Breakfast was set out on covered warming trays in the dining room, but nobody else was about and she didn't like the idea of being caught alone when Neil came downstairs.
Lise was listening to the radio and worrying out loud about the weather. "We are short on milk and eggs. The visibility is still too poor to go to Saint-Adolphe for supplies, even by snowmobile. I hope everyone will be careful to share, and not take too much."
"I will take my coffee black," Fayette said agreeably.
Lise looked up. "Ah, bonjour, Monsieur."
Neil had just walked into the kitchen. Fayette flushed and looked away, but to her surprise he didn't even glance at her. He opened the refrigerator door and looked inside. "I'm thirsty," he announced.
"Please drink water, Monsieur," said Lise. "I am very sorry, but we are short on milk."
Neil lifted a quart container of milk out of the refrigerator and squinted at it. "Nearly full." He sloshed it. "Sounds like a lot to me."
"Yes, but between six people -- seven, if you count Monsieur the Spy down stairs... Monsieur!"
Neil had upended the quart of milk and was steadily drinking it down. When he finished he put the empty carton back into the refrigerator and walked away, leaving the door open.
Lise burst out of her chair and placed her sturdy body between him and the kitchen doorway. "Monsieur, how could you! After I explained we were short!"
Fayette guessed that Lise was very close to the end of her tether. Otherwise she would never have dared to accost her employer this way. Neil gazed at her out of eyes that were wide and lucid with astonishment. "I was thirsty," he said simply.
What a strange man, Fayette thought. Very like the Doctor at one of those times when his attention was busy elsewhere or elsewhen. It was as if only a small fraction of him remained to speak to you. Indeed, there were times when Papa was infuriating, and only the deepest affection excused him.
"And we now have no milk at all," Lise said.
"Then you must get more."
"You have a means, Monsieur?" She was grim.
His strangely wide, blank eyes shone with a sudden light. "Do I have a means! Come on, Lise, I'll have you in Saint-Adolphe in no time!"
"But how? Even the snowmobiles -- "
"I'll beam you there." He grabbed her by the wrist and started to hurry her out of the kitchen. Fayette sat up and stared. Why was he being so rough? Lise suddenly dug in her heels and forced him to halt. He turned and glared at her, and he didn't let go of her wrist. "What's the matter?"
"You want to send me through the machine, like Capitaine? Non!"
"Yes! It's essential that we continue human testing!"
"Monsieur, please let go. I don't want this."
"I want this." His expression grew crafty. "I'll give you money if you go."
His face twisted with sudden fury. He started for the door again, pulling Lise after him. Fayette jumped up and flung herself at the struggling pair. She pried Neil's hand loose and caught Lise as she fell backward. The two women tumbled into a heap on the floor.
"Well," Fayette said breathlessly, as she pushed herself to a sitting position, "now do you know what it means, the word non?"
The spasm of rage smoothed out of his face. He gazed owlishly down at them as they climbed to their feet. Now, Fayette thought, comes the right moment for the apology. She smoothed her dress demurely and waited.
"I'll find someone else," he said. Then, as if he'd dismissed them from his mind as soon as they'd stopped being useful, he turned and walked out of the kitchen.
"Sapristi!" Fayette fumed. "How can you stand working for this man?"
Lise shook her head as she watched him go. "He has never been like this before. Always he is the most kind, the most considerate employer. This morning he is like a different person... " Her voice trailed off. Capitaine was howling in the cellar again.
Fayette helped Lise carry breakfast down to the two prisoners. She wrinkled her nose as the door to the storage cupboard was opened.
Lise clucked in annoyance. "All we need is this! Cap has forgotten his house training!" She set a bowl of dog food on the floor. He flung himself onto it and bolted the meat down as if he'd been starving. Lise clucked again and turned away hastily, swinging the door shut.
"He is not himself," she muttered.
The spy accepted a dish of buttered toast, muffin and coffee with a nod and murmured thanks. "I regret I can give you no eggs," Lise said. "We are short."
"I don't eat eggs. High cholesterol. Thanks anyway." With a brief smile he added, "What I would like is a word with your boss on the subject of unlawful confinement." Then he started in on the toast.
"Er... yes. I will tell him."
As they crossed the cellar towards the stairs Lise gave a little cry. "Cap -- he is out!" The door of the cupboard was ajar. "My fault, I forgot to latch it. Now, where is that fichu chien? I must find him, and just when I'm so busy with preparations for dinner!"
"Let him go, Lise. What harm can he do?"
"No, he must be found." Lise with her brown overall and plump, pink cheeks was a pillar of stolid determination, but Fayette was close enough to see the fear in her eyes. Her hands were tight knots.
"I will find him." Fayette waved away the older woman's thanks and started on a search of the ground floor.
"But, Father. Yesterday you wouldn't let me go. You were absolutely against it. Why have you changed?"
"I thought we were agreed. Further testing on humans is essential. I can't get Lise to go, so it must be you."
"Are you sure you feel well? You seem so different." Glynnis' voice betrayed her anxiety. The Doctor held Izzy with a touch on the sleeve. The two men stood in the inner doorway of the secured wing, listening to the dialogue of the pair who stood in front of the transporter booth, unaware of their audience.
"I processed myself and I'm fine, isn't that so? Now you must do your part. It's essential!"
"Well... all right. I'll admit I'm not feeling too brave, Dad, but just to please you... "
"Good. In you go, then."
Neil sounded brisk and cool, even ruthless. Quite a change from his usual mellow manner, the Doctor thought.
Izzy's arm stiffened under the Doctor's hand. Evidently, whatever the confidence the younger scientist might have concerning the process he'd helped to develop, he still wasn't happy about Glynnis taking the plunge.
"You're quite right," the Doctor said to him, aloud. He strode forward into the room. Glynnis had stepped up into the transporter booth and Neil was busy at the controls. Another two seconds and it would have been too late. That characteristic hum was already rising in the air.
The Doctor scanned the flickering control banks as he crossed the room. He saw want he wanted, darted forward and stabbed a particular button. The hum stabilized. His fingers hopped over the nearby controls and the hum died. Glynnis stepped down from the booth. She looked pale, even against the pastel beige of her day tunic.
Neil swung forward to face him, teeth slightly bared. "How dare you interfere!"
"Lots of practice." The Doctor smiled charmingly.
Izzy put in quietly, "I must register my reluctance to use Glynnis as a test subject, Neil. But if you really feel you must have a volunteer, I'll go."
"All right -- "
"No." The Doctor's voice rang with authority. "The Neil Jerome I knew wouldn't have been so carefree with other people's welfare. I think we should look into that. Let's put it on the table. Glynnis, Izzy? What about it? Has he changed, and if so, what's responsible?"
The silence was charged with tension. At last Glynnis said, "He's a bit hyper, that's all. Not enough sleep and too much excitement."
"Then you admit a change?"
"Yes, but... "
"Doctor," Izzy said with a smile, "are you saying he's changed as a result of the M/E process? If so you have absolutely no evidence."
"Are you really willing to take such a chance with millions of human lives?"
They stared at him, taken aback. Only Dr. Jerome didn't seem to be impressed. He wasn't even listening: he was playing with the computer again. This, thought the Doctor with a sinking feeling in his hearts, was almost proof positive.
"If you really need evidence that he's changed beyond all recognition," he said, "come with me. Fayette has something to tell you."
They were gone. He was alone, with nothing but this overwhelming drive to fill the void in his mind. It was the last thing he recalled thinking last night before he beamed out. The gift is worth any sacrifice. And the corollary, Human testing is essential.
Any sacrifice... but there were so few subjects within reach, and fewer still who seemed willing to make the sacrifice. The list of names slipped down the calculator of his mind.
And one more. One who had no name, but of course names were irrelevant. He wondered briefly why he hadn't realized that before. His own name was almost forgotten.
He left the laboratory and hurried through the kitchen towards the cellar stairs.
"I don't believe it," Glynnis said flatly. She stared with undisguised hostility at Fayette, whose flushed cheeks were the only brightly coloured thing in the grey and white landscape. They had pulled on thermal cloaks and joined her as she poked among the half-fallen-down sheds back of the house. The Doctor had brushed aside her story about the dog and called on her to retail her experience with Dr. Jerome that morning.
The result, he thought in exasperation, was what he might have expected. Glynnis was too devoted to her father to ever accept a stranger's word against him. Izzy looked sceptical too.
"I wonder," Glynnis said slowly, "why you're really here. I don't think you have my father's best interests in mind after all." Under the silvery hood of her cloak, her eyes were hard with suspicion.
The Doctor felt weary. He could foresee how this debate would end. "Why am I here, then?"
"That remains to be seen." She turned and strode back to the house. Over her shoulder she added, "I think you'll find you won't be staying much longer."
"Don't tell me you don't think he's changed!" he shouted after her. The door slammed.
Izzy gave the visitors an embarrassed smile. "Well, what did you expect? She's adored her father from babyhood. They've been each other's closest friend since her mother died. Glynnis has never tolerated a word against him."
"Which doesn't leave much room for you, does it?" The Doctor pinned him with a direct look. Izzy flushed, but didn't deny the implication. "Don't give up, though. She may need you before long, if things go the way I fear they will. Of course, I could be wrong," he muttered to himself. "But I doubt it."
They returned to the house, shook snow from their cloaks and split up. Fayette went to the kitchen to help Lise prepare Christmas dinner, which was already filling the air with the aroma of roasting turkey and sage stuffing. The other two headed for the laboratory.
They found Glynnis standing at her father's elbow, watching him enter data into the computer. She turned her head and gave Izzy a worried look and he quickly crossed the room to her. The Doctor joined the group unobtrusively. Neil seemed unaware of the crowd he'd drawn.
Izzy peered at the screen, then blinked. "You've beamed someone out. Who?"
"The fellow in the cellar." Neil went on punching in data. Izzy, still watching the screen, drew a quick breath and exchanged a glance with the Doctor.
"Did he agree to go?" the Doctor asked gently.
"No. But he was just a little man. I had no real problem with him."
"Dad, you -- you mean you forced him?" Glynnis looked for a moment as if she was going to be sick.
"Why, no!" He looked up, surprised. She let out a breath of relief. He added, "I hit him on the head."
"It's even worse than that," Izzy put in. "Look where he's sent him."
She stared at the screen, her face whitening. Neil sat back in his chair. His face was strangely bland, but it had a satisfied cast. "The farthest ever. 1,523 kilometres."
"Right into the middle of Ungava Bay," Izzy added.
An appalled silence descended. The complex mechanisms twinkled and hummed softly around them. Neil stared at the screen with fixed, blank eyes.
Glynnis pulled herself up. "Dad, did he have a communicator?"
"Then how will he get back?"
Neil blinked slowly. "I didn't think of that. I guess he won't."
"He won't even be able to tell you whether the trip went well," Izzy commented. His look at Neil was quizzical. "So, strictly from a practical point of view, it wasn't a very well-conducted test, was it?"
"I guess it wasn't." A frown crept over Neil's forehead.
"Dad." Glynnis was visibly holding herself in, forcing an unnatural calm over her shaking voice. "Don't you understand what you did to that man?"
"I beamed him."
"You killed him. He's probably drowning right now. Unless -- " She stared around wildly. Izzy caught her by the arms and led her away from the console.
"I know what you're thinking. There's nothing you can do."
"But there still may be time!"
"To do what? Beam after him with a life jacket? First of all, we don't have any -- "
"And second," the Doctor put in, "do you really want to risk the process now?"
"The process isn't responsible!" she snapped. "It's overwork. If you'd watched him these last few years, you'd know. He never let up on himself. His willpower was the only thing that kept him going sometimes. And now, it's finished -- and he's just collapsed."
"A nervous breakdown?" the Doctor retorted. "He doesn't even realize what he did to that man. He doesn't have the faintest notion how wrong and cruel it was. Is this the Neil Jerome we know?"
"Well, who else is it?" She turned her back on him and crossed the room to where her father still sat, apparently mesmerized by the glowing computer screen. "Come on, Dad." She dropped a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Take a break. It's Christmas, after all."
"I'm hungry," he announced. He stood up, ignoring her hand, and walked out of the room. She gazed after him with a look of distress on her face.
Lise was mashing turnips and Fayette was sipping coffee when Neil walked into the kitchen. They watched him warily. He stopped in the middle of the big room and looked around.
"I need to eat."
"Dinner will be ready very soon, Monsieur. In the meantime, there are some hors d'oeuvres." She pointed to a tray of crackers and cheese on the table. Neil hardly glanced at it. His attention was rivetted on the lit window of the oven. Inside, a big turkey was slowly turning a rich golden brown. He walked over to it and pulled open the oven door.
Lise stared in astonishment. When he stuck in his hands to grasp the roasting pan, she shrieked and dropped her masher. Fayette jumped up from the table. Neil yelled and sprang back, shaking his hands. He scowled at the oven and sucked his fingers. Then he looked around again. Seeing the pot holder in Lise's hand, he crossed the room and took it without a word. Lise gave Fayette a frightened look.
Neil used the potholder to haul the roasting pan out of the oven by one end. It crashed to the floor. Lise watched, with her hands over her mouth, moaning a little. He yanked the bird out of the pan, splattering hot fat across the stone floor. Then he knelt and began to tear it apart at the joints. Hissing as the hot meat singed his fingers, he stuffed his mouth. Grease ran down his chin. The two women watched in horror.
"Just like Capitaine," Lise whispered.
They heard Glynnis' voice outside. The door swung open. "Lise, have you seen my fa -- " She stopped short and gasped. Her father was crouched on the floor, tearing with his hands and teeth at a ragged carcass. Her face worked as if she was going to cry, then she straightened her shoulders and cleared her throat. She manufactured a smile.
"Dad, why don't we put that on the table?" As she bent over him he shrank back, putting a protective arm over the half-eaten turkey. His eyes narrowed and his lips curled back in a snarl. She flinched away from him. Izzy had just walked in and he put his arms around her comfortingly.
"Best leave him alone," he whispered.
The Doctor stood in the doorway, watching with a look of pain and pity on his face. Suddenly Dr. Jerome dropped the drumstick he was holding, climbed to his feet and headed for the door. He didn't seem to be aware that his face and hands were shiny with turkey fat, or he didn't care.
"I need to sleep," he muttered. The Doctor followed him out and watched him walk down the hall and turn left into the parlour.
Back in the kitchen, Glynnis was explaining to Lise in a careful voice about Dr. Jerome's breakdown. "I think we can do without the Christmas feast. I'm sorry all your work was for nothing," she added, and turned away.
After checking that her father was sound asleep on the living room sofa, Glynnis shut herself up in the secured wing. Fayette thought she was like a child climbing into bed and pulling the covers over its head: she was using her work to hide from her own distress. Izzy followed her like a devoted shadow.
"I think," said the Doctor, "we'd better find Capitaine. He's a loose end, and at this point I don't think we can afford to let any ends hang loose. The fabric is unravelling badly, Fayette."
"No doubt in your own good time you will explain," she commented dryly.
"Soon I won't have to."
They didn't have far to look for the dog. He was in the living room, crouched with his belly to the rug and his eyes fixed on the sofa where Neil was stretched out. The animal didn't notice their silent presence in the doorway. Fayette started to move forward, but the Doctor held her back with a hand on her arm. He mouthed at her: Watch!
Capitaine inched across the carpet towards the sofa. As he crawled, his head sank lower. His movements were chillingly stealthy, and Fayette suddenly realized what was happening.
The hunter was stalking its prey. The human being on the sofa was nothing to Capitaine but a potential food source. He stopped crawling and bunched his muscles for the attack. His lips wrinkled back over the long, sharp tearing teeth, his legacy from a lupine ancestor. Teeth capable of tearing a victim's throat out.
The Doctor moved at last. "Neil!" The man was instantly awake. The dog sprang. Neil shot up and caught the animal as it landed on his chest. His hands tightened around its throat.
Fayette shrank back against the doorframe, horrified. The two faces strained close together, sickeningly alike, distorted by snarls of rage. "Papa, stop them!"
"It's already over," he answered grimly.
The dog went limp. Neil flung the body to the floor, then looked down at it musingly. He prodded it with his foot. "No," he said dully, "I'm not hungry." He stood up and stretched, then walked past the watchers out of the room.
Fayette edged away as he passed. Her frightened eyes met the Doctor's. "This is no nervous breakdown," she whispered. "He has gone mad!"
"It's worse than that." He stood for a moment gazing at the wall. Then he shook his head. "He was a good man. Kind and clever and funny on top of it. He had so much to give." He brooded for a moment, then looked around. "Now where's he gone?"
They found him outside the secured wing, his fingers moving over the locking panel. The Doctor noted that he hadn't forgotten the correct sequence. Whatever else had failed him, nothing was wrong with the mathematical working of his brain.
But halfway through the sequence, his hand fell from the panel and he turned away from the steel door as if he'd simply lost interest. He wandered back towards the front of the house and up the stairs, moving, Fayette thought, like a man who has no purpose left. Or as if he lived in a waking dream.
"My poor Cap," Lise mourned. But after she'd shed her tears, she looked more peaceful. "He is better dead, than alive in that unholy way," she told Fayette.
When Glynnis found out about the latest incident she dropped all pretense of being absorbed in her work and devoted herself to taking care of her father: or trying to. She brewed a cup of peppermint tea and carried it up to him. "An old favourite of his," she told the Doctor on the way up, with a determined smile. "He always says it reminds him of mother."
The Doctor watched as Neil downed the drink thirstily, then curled up on his bed and slept. He hadn't said anything about the tea. "This isn't like him, he never naps like this." Glynnis clucked over him like a mother bird over an injured chick. "His patterns are all skewed."
"Eating, sleeping and self defence," the Doctor said. "The layers peel away. We're getting down to basic survival behaviour."
Izzy darkened the room and tried to guide Glynnis towards the door. "You could do with a nap as well. You've had a bad night."
"No." She pushed his arm aside. "I'll stay here."
"But what good can you do?"
"None, maybe." But she drew up a chair to the bedside and settled into it. Izzy gave the Doctor a long-suffering look and found another chair. The Doctor nodded approvingly.
He spent the rest of the afternoon at a terminal in the lab, scanning all studies he could find of the process, right back to the preliminary tests and the theoretical models. An ocean of data filtered through his brain and he absorbed what he needed from it, like a sponge sucking up nutrients.
"What exactly are you looking for, Papa?" Fayette broke a half-hour's silence, more to hear the sound of his voice than for any real hope of an explanation. She had decided to stick with him for company. Without him, this old house no longer seemed cozy and welcoming. It had become dark, brooding and full of fear.
"Trying to get some clue that will suggest what happened to Neil," he said shortly.
She fell silent again and sat back against the lower wall of the console, clasping her knees. The mindless hum of electronic equipment vibrated through the air, the lights twinkled like a Christmas tree. In this windowless room you couldn't see or feel the winter storm. It was like being in a jewelled cave deep in the heart of a mountain. A workshop of busy dwarves, perhaps. But the workers had all decamped, leaving behind their mysterious tools.
The Doctor sat back suddenly. "Someone's trying to make a connection." His screen was streaming with data, and the nearby instrument banks were flashing. A stronger, purposeful note joined the hum in the air.
"But how is that possible?" Fayette scrambled to her feet. "The process is not yet in use. Who could it be?"
"Let's find out." The Doctor sprang to the transporter controls. His fingers flew. "Trouble," he said. "Our visitor's got a bad line... " The hum rose to a whine.
"Papa! The booth!"
A figure was forming in the alcove. It shimmered inside a vaguely familiar man-shaped outline, then disintegrated. The Doctor muttered encouragement to himself as he manipulated the controls. The figure formed again, wavered, began to stabilize.
"Can't tell... where he's coming from. Seems to have no source!"
"He is almost here, Papa." The outline was filling out into the third dimension. It still wasn't solid, but now its features were visible. Fayette's mouth opened in astonishment. "Mais, Papa!"
The Doctor's eyes widened, but he didn't seem all that astonished. "Just to be sure, Fayette, nip upstairs and see where Neil is and what he's doing. I'll open the doors for you from here." His hands were a blur as he dealt with both functions at once. Fayette left at a run.
"Out of the everywhere into the here," the Doctor said to the imperfectly formed figure in the booth. "Trailing clouds of glory?"
A minute later Fayette ran back into the lab and the doors closed automatically behind her. "He is in his bed, Papa, sleeping. The others are with him."
The figure stopped shimmering. "No he isn't. He's here," said Neil Jerome.
"Doctor, I need your help."
"I thought you might. Where were you?" The Doctor had revised his first impression of Neil's solidity. If you looked closely you could see the vertical seams of the back panels of the booth through his body. His voice had a slightly tinny sound, as if it was being mechanically amplified. And the amplification wasn't all that reliable.
"Don't lose me," Neil said, as if he'd read the Doctor's mind. "You and the process are all that's holding me here."
"But you are upstairs!" Fayette burst out.
Neil smiled at her in the old, teasing way. "Yes and no. There's a basic flaw in the M/E process. Luckily I was the first to discover it. Nobody else will fall victim. Doctor, you've got to destroy it all -- all the records, the data, my lab journals, the equipment... this booth... everything... " His voice grew fuzzy. They could hardly make out what he was saying. His form started to shimmer again. The Doctor's hands danced over the control, bringing the figure back into focus.
"The process must not become known," he was saying. "It's worse than flawed, it's deadly."
"Can you remember what happened?"
"Very little. And it's indescribable. You've seen fireworks? Well, try to imagine being the fireworks. I was everywhere and nowhere, I was changed and lost. Shut out of my body. God, it's lonely... "
The Doctor groaned under his breath. His fingers danced, keeping up with the figure's unstable pattern. "Can we get you back together?" he called.
The head shook back and forth. The faint shimmer around it gave it a haloed effect. "No. Been too far away, too long. And yet I can't separate fully. That's the hell of it. I didn't actually die. I guess you'd call me the better half of a divorced couple." His wry laughter echoed oddly through the room. "The disembodied spirit and the undead body... Not a pleasant fate, Doctor."
Fayette's throat closed up.
"Tell me what to do." The Doctor's voice was very quiet, but she had never seen him look more implacable.
"Can't get free so long as the body's intact. You'll have to destroy it. Quick as possible, please. Fire's the best way... completely break it down... " The figure flattened, the outline wavered. The voice came through strongly for the last time. "My friend, I'm begging you. Set me free." Then the booth was empty, except for a broken afterimage.
The grate in the living room was a chilly black cavern. A bleak end-of-day light filled the room. The emotional temperature was even cooler. After the Doctor finished speaking, Fayette only had to glance at the other two faces to gauge their reaction. An incredulous grin gave Izzy's mild features an unusual animation. Glynnis' lovely face was set in lines of cold contempt. The Doctor sighed and went to the window.
"Storm's nearly over," he said.
"Good." Glynnis' voice was icy. "You'll be on your way."
"You don't believe me." That was stating the obvious, Fayette thought.
"I believe," Izzy broke in, "you came here with one purpose. You're in the pay of the T-mat companies, one or more of them. You're here to sabotage the M/E process."
"It goes way beyond that, Izzy. They were colleagues once. But who's ever heard of this Doctor since? Obviously he's so eaten up with jealousy that he'd do anything to bring Father down. Maybe he is in the pay of the competition, but spite is what drives him."
There was no reasoning with them. Fayette reflected that Glynnis would never be able to accept the Doctor's story because it was just too horrible. To face the truth would break her mind and heart. Izzy, of course, was simply a materialist with no belief in immeasurable things like disembodied spirits.
All the same, the Doctor tried once again to reason with them. As he paced about, listing all the evidence of radical change in his old friend, Fayette put her nose close to the window and studied the sky. The snow had thinned to a gossamer veil across the east, and a few dancing flakes in the middle distance. But the air had grown much colder, crusting the window with a jungle of frost ferns.
In the west, the edge of the cloud bank lifted free of the horizon and a shaft of sunlight stabbed across the land. The vast sweep of white blushed pink. The frost ferns glinted like carved rose quartz.
How lovely, Fayette thought. She touched her fingertip to the pane, then quickly pulled it free. Her skin had briefly frozen to the glass. That blushing warmth was an illusion. She abandoned a plan to persuade Papa to go tobogganing.
"You're trying to tell me my father is a monster." Glynnis cut across the Doctor's arguments.
He gazed at her with growing despair. "There's no easy way to say this. The man you saw in the doorway last night was only part of your father. Everything you'd consider the real man -- his personality, his sense of humour, of honour -- his ability to reason at the highest level -- his ability to recognize other people as human souls like himself -- empathy, love, intellectual enjoyment... " He gestured widely as he paced in front of the cold grate. "They're all gone."
"Where?" Izzy inquired, with a smile.
"If I could tell you that, I'd be superhuman. Surely you can accept what your senses tell you! Didn't you see how he changed from hour to hour, how he deteriorated?"
"That's another thing. If the process did this to him, caused this separation, why was the change so gradual? Explain that, if you can."
Glynnis sniffed. "Excellent point."
"I can only speculate that what you saw at first was a sort of print of the personality on the organism. Almost like an afterimage left on the retina when a light goes out. With nothing to sustain it, it gradually faded. First the higher functions went, the qualities we'd associate with emotional and spiritual maturity. Then the intellect started to flatten. He lost interest in his work as that fixed idea about testing died away. Now he's reached the level of the survival instinct. As a purely organic being, nothing matters to him any more but the basic life support systems. That drive to survive is all that remains."
He took a deep breath. "Considering what he once was, yes, I think you could call what he is now a monster."
"This is a waste of time." Glynnis stood up. "I'm going to see that my father gets the therapy he needs. We'll soon have his old self back again."
"You still don't see it!" The Doctor sounded desperate. Fayette guessed he was thinking of that lonely figure in the transporter booth as it begged for deliverance. "His old self is gone for good. Gone, but not free. This organic part of him has to be killed!"
He had come down the stairs in search of food. Always, now, he was hungry. It was as if a terrible emptiness grew and grew inside him and he could only satisfy it by feeding his flesh.
The voices behind the closed door reminded him briefly of faces he'd known long ago, but the memory faded before it had even formed. He no longer had a sense of what "long ago" meant. There was only now. Only hunger and fullness, fatigue and sleep. Darkness and light he recognized, without guessing their source.
These other beings which moved beyond the range of sight, if not hearing, were at once food sources and potential dangers.
But he still knew what some words meant. When he heard the voice say that he had to be killed, he reacted instantly. There were too many of them to fight, so he must run away. Safety first, and then more food.
Silent on bare feet, he ran. Through a swinging door. A woman stood in his path, her mouth wide open with terror. She was no threat, so he struck her casually aside and ran on. Another door. Then he was in a dim, cold place full of machines. He stared wildly about. Some of the things were for travelling across the snow. His hands remembered the feel of the handles, his legs and torso still held the memory of speed.
Over Glynnis' furious voice Fayette heard the faint cry from the direction of the kitchen. She left the room and hurried along the hall. In the kitchen she found Lise struggling to her feet, holding her head.
"What happened? Did you have a faint?"
"I'm all right. A small blow on the head when I fell. It was that poor man, mon pauvre Monsieur Neil. He has run out into the snow in his bare feet and pajamas." Lise sank onto a chair, still holding her head.
Fayette hesitated. She ought to tell the Doctor at once. But the runaway husk of Dr. Jerome could freeze his feet within moments. Which way to go? Then the buzz of a motor broke out. It faltered, spluttered and died. Then revved up again. Fayette made her decision.
"Lise, go tell the others. Right away! I will stop him." She ran out the kitchen door into the garage.
He had opened the outer doors and straddled one of the snowmobiles. Fayette knew nothing of the things beyond what she had read in current Earth magazines. The scooter-like vehicle, with caterpillar treads and runners instead of wheels, didn't look all that powerful. Certainly she should be able to stop Dr. Jerome from going anywhere before the others got here. She planted herself firmly in the doorway, put her hands on her hips and made herself look immovable.
"Non, Monsieur. You shall not pass."
Unshaven, his greying hair hanging in a wild tangle over his forehead, dressed in rumpled pajamas, he looked pitiable. Like a confused patient strayed from his hospital bed. Then the blank, flat, oddly innocent eyes measured her. They gleamed suddenly with an intent look which made her think of a sleepy domestic cat turned hunter. She hoped the others would get here quickly.
Without warning he revved the snowmobile. It roared straight at her and she jumped aside at the last moment. An arm scooped her up and dragged her across the vibrating metal waist of the machine, head downwards. The snowy ground streamed by inches from her eyes. She fought frantically until a knee jerked forward and caught her hard on the temple. Then she went limp.
The Doctor burst into the hall with a streamer of people behind him. Izzy nervously questioning, Glynnis shouting, Lise flushed and breathless in the rear.
"What are you doing?"
"Going after them, of course."
"If you hurt my father -- "
"That's not your father!" he snapped. Then he was out the kitchen door.
Glynnis headed after him, looking grim and frightened at once. Izzy caught her by the arm and pointed at the coat closet. "We won't get far without proper gear. Put this on." He helped her into her cold suit, then reached for his own.
"Hurry! We'll lose them!"
"There'll be tracks, remember?"
"That's right. Oh, Izzy! How did I ever get along without you?" Her porcelain face softened for a moment as she gazed at him. Then she was off at a run.
"Well, it's a start." He started after her, then darted back, grabbed Fayette's fleecy cloak from the closet and made for the kitchen door.
Where, the Doctor wondered, could they be heading? The quarry was already out of sight. But his tracks were easy to follow even in the failing light, a crisp double line across the new snow of the field behind the house. They led past the grove of pines where the TARDIS stood hidden -- a glance showed a blue corner among the dark green -- then through a broken place in the old log fence and into the valley beyond.
Between the forest-darkened ridges of the Laurentians, the vast sweep of snow was a phosphorescent blue under the twilight sky. There were no fences here, nothing to interrupt the desolation but the occasional stand of trees and outcropping of granite. The wind whistled past the Doctor's ears and bit at his hands, but he didn't notice the frigid temperature.
He wondered exactly where the village of Saint-Adolphe was. Why hadn't he been more meticulous in checking out the surroundings before this visit? If Neil found his way into a populated area, there was no telling what might happen.
The Doctor would have enjoyed this ride at any other time. The speed, the solitude, the pure air and crystal landscape, what could be more exhilarating? But all he could think of was Neil (what else to call the body that had been his shell?) throttling the dog. And Fayette was in that monster's power. It might kill her just to keep her quiet, or decide she'd make a nice appetizer...
He'd felt the deepest compassion for it -- him -- till now, but no longer.
Fayette came back to consciousness slowly, stupefied by the roar and vibration so near her head and by her upside down position. Totally disoriented, she thought she was caught in some bizarre nightmare. In front of her eyes a glinting bluish surface streamed and streamed endlessly.
Then memory flashed through her and she knotted up with terror. A hard hand was tangled in the back of her dress, holding her in place. She forced herself to lie limp. If only she could take him by surprise...
She tensed, then took a deep breath and rolled abruptly against his hand, at the same time trying to find something to grasp. He grunted inarticulately, then the machine swerved and something hit it from below.
Then Fayette was in the air. A moment later she was half buried in a snowdrift. She floundered out, spluttering snow, wiping ice crystals from her eyes.
The snowmobile lay on its side near a rock shelf that slanted out of the snow. Something had killed its motor, and with that silenced, the quiet of this bleak valley seemed to expand infinitely. Fayette felt very small, alone, and -- now that the adrenaline was ebbing -- freezing cold. She tried to warm her bare arms with her hands, while the wind shook her like a grass blade. Her muslin gown flattened on her body, useless as nothing at all.
I must find shelter soon, she thought, or I will die. She turned in a circle, searching for a light, but saw none. She braced herself with the assurance that Papa would be coming after her, and soon. Best to start walking back.
She took a step, then stopped. It was so quiet, except for the wind, that she'd almost forgotten about Dr. Jerome. Had the accident killed him? When she spotted his huddled form, she started towards him with a cry of dismay. Then he stirred and sat up. He'd only been dazed. He looked so helpless that she forgot her fear of him.
"Poor man, you have no shoes. You will get frost bite! I wish I could help you."
The man climbed to his feet, shook himself, and fixed his eyes on her. She took a step back. She had never seen such eyes in a human head. Pitiless, almost mindless. Burning with hunger.
She wondered briefly what he hungered for, and decided she didn't want to know. Could she reason with him? Fayette took another look into those feral eyes and stopped wondering. She turned and ran for her life.
She couldn't hope to outrun him. Already the cold was making her clumsy and slow. It was hard to place your feet when you couldn't feel them. Her only hope was to reach that wooded hillside before he caught her. There, maybe, he would lose her trail in the thickening darkness.
The snowmobile lay on its side like a dead insect. Its motor was still warm, though. The Doctor stood up and stared across the footmarked snow. They couldn't have been gone long, and by the look of those tracks, Fayette had been travelling -- fast -- under her own steam. He could catch up to her in minutes.
By the same token, so could Neil. The Doctor jumped back onto his own machine and started the motor. He headed across the valley towards the hills just as the third machine arrived. Izzy called out something. "No time to stop and chat!" the Doctor yelled over his shoulder.
The tracks led up a steepening slope and finally disappeared into the tangled underbrush of the forest. The Doctor shut off his motor and slipped from the machine as it coasted to a halt. From here the chase would have to be on foot.
And it would be a rugged climb. The steep slope was almost impassible in places, overhung by giant boulders and choked with evergreens. Could Fayette possibly have gone up there?
The other two caught up with him as he was bent over, studying the ground. Glynnis swore with frustration. "If only we'd thought to bring a light! How can we possibly track them now?"
"Plain as day, if you look," said the Doctor. Then he realized they didn't have his night vision, and pointed the way. "See? There's Fayette's prints. Neil's are overlaid, though he went straight through the brush in a few places, where she detoured." He bit his lip, worried. That probably meant Neil was gaining on her. Might even have caught her.
"I can't see." Glynnis peered at the ground. At her side, Izzy spoke up. "Doctor, you came out without any protective gear. Here's Fayette's cloak, you must be frozen."
"No, I'm fine." He waved off the cloak impatiently. "But don't lose it: she'll need it. Come on!"
Fayette was lost in the darkness. The cold had numbed and stiffened her muscles so that running was beyond her. She could only creep, and the slower she moved the weaker she became. The hope that Papa would find her before she froze to death had long faded. She no longer feared Neil: she doubted even a madman would keep up this chase under such conditions.
Her greatest shock came when she realized he was still behind her. He was stumbling, breathing hard, but he was moving. Ahead of her the slope rose like a wall. Above that high horizon was nothing but indigo sky winking with icy stars.
Only to get that far. To the top of the ridge. Then over. Beyond, maybe, would be a house, a farm... With a new surge of hope, Fayette scrambled upward on hands and knees which no longer felt the scrape of snow crusts and jutting rocks. When the summit was within reach she grabbed on and pulled herself up. The effort drained the last of her strength. She clung there, gasping, gazing downward.
A deep valley lay beyond. And yes, there was a farm, she could see the golden glow of its windows. A Christmas tree stood in front of the farmhouse, glittering with coloured lights. A postcard picture, idyllic, almost unreal.
It was also unreachable. It might as well be on the moon. Between her and the valley yawned a sheer drop of a hundred yards, at a guess. There was no way down short of suicide.
And up the slope below her came Neil, crawling on all fours, a grin widening across his teeth.
Glynnis flung up her arm and pointed. "There they are!"
The Doctor's hearts thudded with anxiety. In the starlight the two were plainly visible, at least to him. To Glynnis and Izzy they must have been just an outline against the sky. But even they could see the struggling movement. Neil had his hands on Fayette's throat.
The Doctor hurtled upward, shouting. The struggling pair froze. Then Fayette slipped from Neil's grip and slithered limply down the slope till a narrow rock shelf caught and held her.
Neil scrambled down towards her as the Doctor scrambled up. Neil reached her first and crouched over her, snarling, making a cage of his arms over her body. Protecting his prey from the competition.
She stirred and groaned. Alive... New strength flowed back through the Doctor's body.
"Father! How could you?" Glynnis was right behind him, gasping and crying.
Neil's snarl rose in pitch. His head lowered between his shoulders as he showed his teeth to the newcomers. Glynnis moaned softly. "Oh, Dad!"
"Speak to him," Izzy urged. "He'll recognize your voice. Calm him down, then he'll respond to reason."
"No he won't," said the Doctor, without taking his eyes off Neil's. "He won't respond to anything. Except maybe to this... "
He took a deep breath to swell his chest, raised his shoulders, made himself look bigger. His lips drew back in a hideous grimace, exposing his teeth. His eyes narrowed. Deep in his throat he manufactured a menacing rumble, the voice of a hunting lion.
Neil screamed back like an angry cougar. But he knew he was no match for the powerful intruder. He backed away, careful not to expose his vulnerable nape to the other's grip. There would be other prey, easier than this. Now to escape with his skin in one piece. Next, find warmth.
Shrill voices followed him from down the hill. Two figures were stalking him, waving hands that looked capable of clawing as they clutched. He retreated to the ridge top.
Trapped. They still came on, the two with the harsh voices. He especially feared the one in front, smaller but shriller. She radiated fierce emotions which he couldn't understand, only that their intensity frightened him.
"Careful," the Doctor called. He stood with Fayette in his arms, holding her close to the heat of his body. "Don't spook him!"
Glynnis ignored him. She stepped forward, hands held out. Her father shrank back against the slope. "Dad, it's me, it's Glyn. Come on home, Dad."
He attacked her without warning. As she staggered back, screaming, Izzy sprang forward and struck the beast hard across the neck. It pulled back then and crouched to face them both.
Two of them. Too many. One way out.
He turned, stumbled upward to
the crest, and leaped. For a split second he was outlined like a black eagle against
the stars. Glynnis' scream echoed from the ridge.
Smoke rose towards the dusky sky from a big bonfire in the middle of the field near the TARDIS. They had agreed on the bonfire because there was too much material to be disposed of in the fireplace. It was the Doctor's suggestion, but Glynnis had agreed readily, seeing it was the easiest and surest way of making certain that nothing remained on record about the M/E process.
She had come to the decision yesterday, after the cremation service in Saint-Adolphe. They'd emerged into the frigid brilliance of the winter afternoon and she'd announced abruptly that the Doctor had been right all along.
"The M/E process killed my father. No, Izzy, let's not kid ourselves. Before he went through he was tired, but he was himself. After... he wasn't. It damaged his brain in some way."
"We could work on it together, correct it," Izzy began.
"Could we? And if we lose control of the process, how many other brains will get burnt out? No, I won't chance it. And it's my right, as his heir, to dispose of his work as I wish."
"The sponsor -- "
"Can sue me. Izzy, I thought you'd back me up. Don't you care for me at all?"
That settled it. They returned to the farmhouse and began the chore of dismantling the equipment, erasing the computer programs and collecting together all written material. Neil had kept everything, stored in dozens of cartons. It had taken till sunset on the day after the cremation to burn it all.
"Well, here's the last box." Izzy dropped it onto the trampled snow beside the Doctor's feet and pulled open the flaps. He tossed a handful of papers onto the flames. Fayette used a poker to keep them in place as they kindled.
Glynnis' mouth twisted bitterly. "Now there's nothing left of him. All his work, gone up in smoke. It's as if he never lived."
"Oh, I wouldn't agree." The Doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. "There's his recipe for punch. That's -- "
He broke off, because she'd turned on him furiously, arm swinging up to strike. Izzy caught her wrist. "Glyn, he wasn't being flippant -- were you, Doctor? I think I know what he was trying to say."
"Well?" She lowered her fist, but didn't unclench it.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," the Doctor said gently. "I only meant, he was a man who loved life. That's what I'll never forget about him."
Her face crumpled. "I'm sorry I doubted you, Doctor." Then she scowled. "I can't stand to watch this." She turned and crunched away across the snow towards the house, where lights were beginning to twinkle through the dusk.
Izzy started after her, then turned back. "She needs me to be with her, now that he's gone. Can you finish this yourself?"
"Certainly. Then we'll be off, I think."
"Where to? No, forget I asked the question. I have a feeling I won't get much of an answer. I wonder where your vehicle is... " He looked around.
The Doctor smiled. "Not far. Goodbye, Dr. Hoffman."
"Goodbye, Doctor... whoever you are."
Fayette warmed her hands above the flames as she watched him go. "What a nice man!"
"And with a lot more character than you'd guess at first glance."
"Glynnis, though, she is a bit of a dragon, non? And she will always love her father best."
"Yes... poor Izzy. Neil will never die so long as Glynnis is alive."
In the Doctor's memory, of course, Neil would live much, much longer.
"All the same, it is such a waste. A good man lost, destroyed. And for what?" Fayette held out her hands again to the fire.
The Doctor fed in another sheaf of notes and watched the flames bite down greedily. The same thought had crossed his own mind more than once, these last two days. Neil had been Prometheus, born to bring mankind the gift of fire. Instead he'd only brought a dangerous failure. His sacrifice had been meaningless. How to comprehend this?
"I don't know if you recall something Neil said during our conversation on Christmas Eve." He folded her chilled fingers inside his warm hands. "He said nothing is really destroyed, only transformed. For him it was simply a tenet of science. Do you know what he meant?"
"Like when the paper burns," she answered. "It isn't gone, it turns to light and heat. It only changes."
"That's right. But it can mean much more, if you think about it."
"And it means... what?" Her dark eyes fixed on his face expectantly. In the teeth of his grief he laughed.
"I don't have all the answers, Fayette. That's one you'll have to work out for yourself."
He'd suffered too many losses in his life. If he couldn't believe that nothing good is ever really lost, no death meaningless, he would have gone crazy aeons ago.
The last of the papers blackened and flared up. The essence of Neil Jerome, his words and ideas, burned fiercely bright for a few minutes in the middle of that desolate landscape. The Doctor watched, then turned away. Fayette followed him across the field to where the TARDIS stood hidden. Moments later, a white light flashed in the pines and an unearthly and indescribable engine sound broke the silence.
The fire sank and a bitter wind blew the ashes across the snow.