“Where is he?” The smile had comprehensively vanished from Hazelbrook’s face, his features paling with anger as he turned on Colonel Stark. “This is completely unacceptable, this is private property and you are here by my permission, your people do not have the right to wander round exploring as they see fit.”
Stark drew himself up to his superior height, glaring down at his shorter, rounder antagonist, but visibly reined himself in and responded with gruff courtesy.
“I’m aware of that, your Lordship. Wherever the Doctor’s gone, it wasn’t at my instigation. I assure you I have every intention of conducting this investigation in accordance with the law.”
“I’m relieved to hear that! I’d regret the necessity to call the police and complain of trespassing and harassment. Now I suggest that we track down this Doctor fellow before he can cause any real trouble.”
He led the way from the room, his bulky frame thumping along with short, angry strides. Max followed, subdued by the sudden chilling of the mood. Stark walked behind them with no expression in his narrow eyes. Angela was bringing up the rear when a hand tapped her on the shoulder.
She jumped, and whirled around. Large as life, the Doctor stood there, and for a crazed moment she thought the whole controversy of his disappearance had been an absurd error, that he’d been standing there all along and they’d somehow missed him. Seeing her about to demand an explanation, he raised a finger to his lips.
Angela was tempted to shout at him anyway, but with a quick glance behind her at the departing backs of the others, she controlled herself.
“What are you doing?” she whispered. “Where were you?”
He pointed a finger. “Behind the chair. I don’t think I could have slipped away without being seen anyway. Whatever stories you may have heard, I don’t actually have magical powers.”
Angela clenched her teeth, aware somewhere at the back of her mind that the proper thing to do would be to run after Colonel Stark and tell him the truth. “I just can’t believe you,” she hissed. “The Colonel let you come along on this investigation and the first thing you do... the first thing... is cause trouble for him. How could you do this?”
The Doctor dismissed the accusation with a flap of his hand. “The Colonel won’t learn anything doing it by the book. Do you think Hazelbrook doesn’t have all his answers prepared and rehearsed? Our best chance of finding out what’s happening is to take an unchaperoned snoop round.”
He instantly stalked towards the closed door at the far end of the room. Angela hovered, torn between the alternatives which the two doors represented. The Doctor paused with his fingers on the handle and threw her an impatient look.
“Come on. Don’t pretend you’re going to scurry off and tell on me to Hazelbrook. Let’s go.”
There was a moment’s conflict, but he was right of course. As much as she didn’t want to get mixed up in this idiotic adventure, the idea of being the kind of well-behaved sneak who would go running to the teacher was even worse. She sighed grumpily and followed the Doctor.
“Fine. Perhaps I can keep you out of trouble.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said, striding away. “Though you may find that’s more difficult than you anticipate.”
* * * * *
Down one concrete passageway after another, Angela hurried to keep up with the Doctor, whose long legs carried him along at deceptive speed. They passed an office and she expected him to suggest searching it, but she soon realised that what he was looking for was a way down. A steep flight of metal steps set deep into the wall led them into a half-lit area with a scent of damp in the air. His eyes scanned the heavy pipes clamped to the ceiling.
“Whatever they’re doing in here, it’s using a lot of power. Hence the deliveries by all those petrol tankers.”
“How did you know about...” She rolled her eyes. “Right, of course. You found that out when you broke into my room and hacked into my laptop.”
“Exactly,” he said, apparently oblivious to her accusing tone. “So, a large private generator. Something to provide vastly more power than ordinary domestic voltage. Whatever it’s powering, that’s what we’ve got to get a look at.”
He found a steel internal door in the far wall, got it open somehow, and led the way deeper into the building. Angela followed him, her mind following his reasoning at the same time.
“This thing that needs all the power... if you’re right about that... it seems like they built this bomb-proof concrete bunker to house it.”
“Mm.” He nodded. “Discouraging thought, isn’t it? A thing like this...” He slapped the rock-solid concrete wall with his palm. “... gets built out of fear. Whatever it is they’re hiding, they’re afraid of it. Afraid of its power.”
She hesitated, still reluctant to talk about confidential information with him, but she was becoming resigned to the idea that he knew everything already. “Hazelbrook’s been buying a lot of expensive stuff lately...”
“High-tech hardware,” he confirmed. “Heavy-duty cabling, blast shielding, and enough computer chips to run a mission to Mars. Another factor which doesn’t engender happy thoughts.”
“And his recruits,” she went on. “Whatever he’s doing he needs the rich ones to pay for it, and the scientists to build it and run it.”
Following the route of the ceiling pipes down a shoulder-squeezing, barely-lit passage towards another steel door, the Doctor paused. He turned and gave her a strange smile which curved up one side of his face, the skin around his eye crinkling like paper.
“You see?” he said. “I knew you got it.”
He strode on, and she let him lead her, struggling not to feel pleased with herself at the praise, if that was what it was. The room on the other side of the door was cramped and so criss-crossed with pipes and cables that there was barely space to slip between them. The sound of machinery which had been a faint hum out in the corridor rose to a roar which filled the confined space and hammered in her ears. She winced, and concentrated to hear what the Doctor, apparently unaffected by the sound, was saying.
“Look at this, Angela.” Dimly she wondered how long he’d known her name. “We’re obviously close to the generator. This here is modulating the power.”
She followed him to the bank of dials and switches he was indicating, the readouts almost invisible in the half light. He continued to talk.
“What’s interesting is that it’s not just keeping the flow steady. It’s constantly adjusting it in response to some other input. Isn’t that interesting?”
She squinted closer, still having to strain her eyes to see the tiny dark numbers, her focus impeded by her unneeded spectacles. Eventually she lifted her hand, hesitated, lowered her hand again, then raised it and with an air of decision she snatched her glasses off. Blinking, feeling exposed, she gave the Doctor a suspicious glare.
“If you say I’m beautiful without my glasses, I’ll kill you.”
He nodded equably. “Fair enough.”
She looked back at the dials and started to take in what they were showing her, but she had only seconds before she was interrupted. The pipe above her, shuddering with the force of the nearby engines, gleamed with a light beyond what the dim electric lamps in the room would provide. It shimmered silver-grey, and then began to bleed a substance into the air, something which shone and floated in ethereal wisps. A high-pitched hiss, almost beyond the range of the human ear, made Angela look up and she tensed to see the cloud of glowing matter building and gathering above her head. As she stared, it spread, and she felt suddenly short of breath, the blood pounding noisily in her ears, and within the silvery mass she saw something beyond the clouds, something growing and coming near. Something that could have been a face, screaming and wide-eyed, or a skull bleached of its flesh and yet alive and staring right back at her.