With a piercing clang, the soldiers at the front entrance drove crowbars hard into the doorframe, twisting the metal and cracking the cement. A growl of approval went up as the entire door swung sideways off a single remaining hinge, hanging drunkenly in the frame and opening the way into the Sanctum.
Rifles were gripped tighter. They had been told that resistance was unlikely but possible, and that no one really knew what they would find when they penetrated the building. Their eyes, accustomed to the daylight, peered dully into the gloomy interior. The swimming shapes which rippled across the floor towards them either passed unnoticed or were dismissed as a trick of the half-light.
* * * * *
The Doctor knelt uneasily on the grass outside the main gate, Crombie sitting alongside him with his nose still running and his eyes streaming, blinking furiously and dabbing at his eyes with the Doctor’s handkerchief. They both lifted their heads sharply at the piercing scream which rang out across the enclosure, the broken, desperate howl of a man locked away with a million nightmares clawing at his mind.
“What was that?” asked Crombie, straining to see through his pink, smarting eyes.
The Doctor pushed himself up onto his feet and straightened his coat. “Would you believe that’s the sound of my plan working perfectly? Now that’s a scary thought.” He gave Crombie an absent-minded pat on the shoulder. “Stay out of trouble, Sergeant.”
His long, lean figure ran lightly through the gates and then slowed as he approached the carnage around the front door. Except for the lack of blood, the scene was as though a bomb had exploded. Men writhed on the ground, hands clutching at the gravel beneath them or at the air, their faces twisted in agony, their eyes wide, staring circles or squeezed tightly shut. Many were weeping, some were kicking at things that weren’t there, others cried out; to their mothers, to friends, lovers and enemies, pleading for help, for forgiveness, for comfort.
The Doctor averted his eyes, knowing that there was nothing he could do for them while the forcefield remained deactivated. His lips thinned to see that the shimmering mist was still flowing unabated from the open doorway, swirling out onto the gravel, half submerging the struggling soldiers and spreading out like a living, growing thing across the grass.
“Come on, Angela,” he muttered. “Don’t do this to me.”
He hesitated, indecisive for a few moments longer, shuffling back to keep his feet clear of the ever-expanding swirl of grey cloud, then he sucked in a deep breath and glared across at the open doorway as though at an enemy.
“All right, all right. I get the message.”
He licked his lips, knotted his fists, and poised himself like a distance runner waiting for the starting pistol.
“Come on, Doctor, you’re supposed to be a Time Lord. You can do this. It’s just pictures. Nothing but old memories. Can memories hurt you? No. No more than they already do, anyway. So let’s get this over with.”
He didn’t move straight away, but swallowed, his pale face looking, if anything, paler than ever, before he clenched his teeth and plunged into the cloud, through the door into the interior of the Sanctum.
* * * * *
Down on the Sanctum floor, Angela clutched at her hair, gasped for breath and stared at the things that loomed up in her vision, the small voice yelling at her that they weren’t really there becoming fainter with each passing moment. Scientific fact fled from her and she knew they were real. The leering faces, the mocking voices drumming it into her that she was and always would be a blonde girl with big blue eyes and sweetly kissable lips. Born to look pretty and keep her mouth shut. The science, the career, the ambition, all just childish contrariness, a pointless and futile attempt to run from her calling in life. She clapped her hands over her ears and tried to shout back, to drown them out, but her voice was so soft and weak. They closed in on her from all sides, laughing at her for her failure, telling her they knew all along she would be no good.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
She said it to all the people she had disappointed and let down. Her parents who had wanted nothing more than that she should find a nice man, settle down and produce grandchildren. Her teachers who had been dismayed when she had joined a military organisation dedicated to the pursuit of the paranormal. Colonel Stark who had treated her with respect and whom she had first failed and then abandoned. The Doctor...
The Doctor who had trusted her to do this, and who hadn’t cared how she looked. As though he was standing in front of her, she saw his thin, hard, intense face and heard his quiet, sharp voice telling her... something or other about mistakes, with the assurance of someone who knew first-hand what he was talking about. His chilly, unsympathetic figure was like an iron post in the storm of her nightmares, something to grasp onto and steady herself. The keyboard was right there, she realised, she just needed to press the Return key to enter the line of code she had already typed in, and the task he had given her would be done. For the Doctor. Because he’d trusted her. Slowly, feeling her way with her fingertips, moving as though for the first time in a month, she stretched out her arm and tapped the key.
* * * * *
For the Doctor, making his way one deliberate step at a time along the corridor with his arms spread out to the sides to feel his way, his face taut and drained of blood, staring fixedly into the distance, it was a few minutes before he became conscious that the intensity of what he had been experiencing was starting to lessen. It was like the sound of screaming becoming slowly quieter, the pain still there but the relief incalculable at its gradual withdrawal. He sagged against one wall of the passage, his legs half buckling beneath him, and allowed himself a crooked little smile.
“Angela. Thank you.”
He allowed himself a few seconds’ rest, eyes closed, his lean frame draped loosely against the wall before shaking his head briskly and drawing himself up straight. The mist thinned about his feet till it was mere wisps and his stride grew more certain with every pace he took. Then something lurched from a side passage and the Doctor’s collar was yanked sideways, sending him staggering into the far wall.
“What did you do? What did you do to my men?”
The Doctor regained his balance and looked up tensely at Colonel Stark’s deathly white face and red-rimmed eyes, his face haggard and mouth gaping, the pistol in his hand shaking but levelled firmly enough to kill. He straightened carefully, making no sudden movement which might cause a tight-strung trigger finger to snap shut, his eyes not leaving Stark’s face.
“I have to congratulate you on getting this far, Colonel,” he said. “None of your men even got through the front door.”
“Switch it off!” Stark snarled. “Whatever’s doing this, switch it off!”
“It is off,” said the Doctor patiently. “Surely you noticed, or did you just think your force of will had overwhelmed it?”
Stark merely bared his teeth like an animal and grabbed him by the collar again, shoving him on down the corridor, the gun trembling in his fist all the while.
* * * * *
Angela sat on the floor by the computer terminal, every muscle limp, her head hanging down and her hair tumbling forward over her face. Dimly she was aware of Hazelbrook, his hair in chaos and his moustache a drooping mess, picking himself up off the floor and of the technicians slowly returning to some form of self-possession, dumbly seeking out their friends to check that they had survived unhurt.
“That was... that was...”
Hazelbrook groped dazedly for words and then abandoned the attempt, shaking his head and staring bleakly at the floor.
Angela nodded. “Yes. I know.”
Stiffly, as though she had forgotten how and was remembering the movements one muscle at a time, she started to climb to her feet. She leaned on the desk and then with a gasp her head snapped upright.
Stark stood not ten feet from her, the gun wavering in his hand, the Doctor standing ullenly with one arm in the Colonel’s grip. “Switch off these machines,” Stark ordered.
Angela held up her hands placatingly and spoke as though to a child about to do something dangerous. “Colonel, we can’t do that...”
“Switch them off!” he bellowed, spittle flying from his mouth, his gun arm straightening to full length. “Switch them off, or I shoot!”