The Bellicosian Flask
Good progress had been made at the dig on Cransford Downs. Professor Rumford, pausing for a cup of, by now, lukewarm tea from her flask, nodded in satisfaction as she looked over the site. Lines of string marked the dimensions of the site and divided it into squares. The turf, which had been removed at the beginning of the dig, was stacked at one side and a team of archaeologists and students was hard at work clearing earth from the remains of what appeared to be a Roman villa of significant size. The first week had been spent in establishing the extent of the buildings and the layout, but now the team was beginning to recover artefacts, some fragmentary, but some, excitingly, complete. The finds were carefully labelled, their position noted on plans which corresponded to the string grid, photographed in situ and then placed in containers for detailed examination, either in the trailer that formed the site office, or at the university.
The Professor replaced her flask in her satchel and was about to return to the fray when a voice hailed her.
“Amelia! Here you are then!”
Professor Rumford turned to welcome her guest.
“Yes, Lavinia, here we are. And how are you?”
“Me? Oh I’m well enough. How are you getting on here?”
Professor Lavinia Smith was a little taller than her friend, with greying fair hair pulled back from her face in a bun. She settled herself in a nearby folding chair and fished in her bag, drawing out cigarettes and a lighter. She lit a cigarette and then waved airily, cigarette in hand.
“Don’t worry about me, Amelia, you carry on!”
“Thank you!” replied Professor Rumford, tartly. She liked Lavinia, she wouldn’t have invited her to see the dig otherwise, but she could be trying at times. She had a habit of appearing out of the blue and expecting the universe to adjust to her presence, which, most of the time, it did, possibly from surprise. The professor’s train of thought was interrupted by a shout from the other side of the site. She looked up in time to see one of the student volunteers give another a vicious shove, which sent him sprawling in the earth. Professor Rumford hurried across the site, calling to the rest of the team “No! Stay where you are!”
When she reached the students, the one who had done the shoving was bending over his colleague with his hands around their throat, while the shovee struggled and kicked wildly in attempt to get away. The Professor gripped the aggressor by the collar and yanked him back with surprising strength for her size and build, then shouted.
“Stop it! Both of you! Now!”
The students stopped and looked at her. Suddenly one of them lunged forward as if to grab her. Professor Rumford stepped back sharply and the student fell face down on the grass. He lay still for a moment, then rolled over and sat up, clutching his head, with a bewildered expression on his face. His colleague, seeing him fall, leapt out of the trench and made for his victim but then stopped dead, with the same confused expression. The professor looked at them both, then spoke in a quiet tone that had made grown men shiver in their shoes.
“Right. Now you two have got that out of your systems, suppose you tell me what the Dickens you think you are doing behaving like this on my site. I should send both back to campus and fail you immediately, but I’m prepared to listen, provided you don’t waste my time!”
The student on the ground ran a hand through his hair.
“I … don’t know,” he began. “We, we both saw something and Phipps bent down to look and then…”
“Well, Mr. Phipps?”
“Like he says. We saw something, in 3H (he pointed to the grid square) and I was about to lift it out, it looked like silver, maybe, then suddenly..”
His colleague took up the tale again.
“He just went for me. I was just trying to look and …”
“I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t thinking of anything, just to get it out of the ground and I put my hand out and then… and then I just knew that he was my enemy and I, I wanted to kill him!”
The student named Phipps sat down on the grass and put his head in his hands.
“It was so strong, I couldn’t resist, I just had to…” he broke off, sobbing with the reaction. His colleague put a tentative hand on his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t, I wouldn’t…”
Professor Rumford approached the edge of the trench. As she leaned forward, she could just see the object that the students had mentioned. It did, indeed, look like silver and was about 6 inches long. From what she could see, the object appeared to be a kind of bottle, or canister, it had what looked like a body and lid, and a clear panel in one side which was possibly made of glass. It was smeared with earth, so no sign of the contents could be seen, even through the glass panel, but the professor could see that the lid had been crushed out of shape. Fascinated, the Professor stepped forward and bent her knees to get a better look. Suddenly, she felt a rush of anger, unlike anything she had felt before. The blood pounded in her head and her breathing became fast and ragged. She leapt back in shock and, almost immediately, she felt the rage ebb away. She clambered out of the trench, and saw the students looking at her with concern. She spoke at once to reassure them.
“It’s alright, gentlemen, I believe you. I don’t know what caused this temporary insanity of yours (“And mine,” she added to herself) but we’ll keep this part of the dig closed until we can get the soil examined. There may be some pollutant down there and we’ll be safe rather than sorry, I think. Now, Mr. Phipps, you and Mr. Wilson go and get yourselves cleaned up and have a cup of tea. I’ll get some more barriers put up and let the others know to stay clear. Dr. Ainslie” she called to one of her recently qualified colleagues, “bring some more stakes and twine please, oh and the mallet.”
Dr. Anislie put down her trowel and brush and climbed out of the trench she had been working in. She went back to close where Professor Smith was sitting and gathered up an armful of thin metal stakes, a mallet and a ball of twine. Professor Smith looked at her with interest, then got out of her chair and followed her across the site. Professor Rumford turned as they approached and held up a hand in warning.
“No, don’t come any closer, we’ll need this whole part fenced off, from about four feet away from the edge.”
Dr. Ainslie began to knock stakes into the ground and Professor Rumford seized the ball of twine and began to run it between the stakes. Professor Smith followed her.
“Amelia, what is happening?”
Her friend looked up and then handed her the twine.
“If you’re here, you can make yourself useful. Take this and go twice round the stakes.”
She picked up another stake from the pile and pushed it into the ground, ready for Dr Ainslie to drive it in more firmly with the mallet.
“As to what’s happening, I don’t know, but something in that hole caused two of my students to try and kill each other and then attack me, and I want whatever is in there out of my dig as soon as possible. In the meantime, we must make sure nobody else goes near it.”
“In there?” Lavinia Smith looked over at the trench, “but what on earth could have done that?”
“I don’t know. Not exactly. Some sort of pollutant, perhaps, chemical fumes, who knows. What I do know is that two affable young men were literally at each other’s throats and when I stepped into that trench I suddenly felt so angry I could hardly stand.”
“I see,” Professor Smith looked thoughtful, “some kind of pathogen, perhaps?”
“Perhaps,” Professor Rumford cut the twine with her penknife and fastened it off, “But whatever it is, I don’t want to risk anyone else getting caught by it. Thank you Dr. Ainslie.”
“Ok, Professor, I’ll get back to D7?”
“Yes, it’s getting late though, we’ll call it an evening in about half an hour, I want to get back to Campus and get on the phone to the police and the council.” She paused, “And the Biochemistry department.”
“Do you not have a phone in here?” asked her friend.
Professor Rumford snorted.
“Theoretically, but you could count the times it has worked on the fingers of one hand. But I suppose I can try.”
The Professors walked back towards the site office, both looking thoughtful.
Ben Phipps and Robert Wilson had made their way to the pump and tap at the rear of the office trailer. They took it in turns with the cold tar soap, trying to get as much earth off their arms, hands and faces as they could. Robert dried his hands and arms on a towel that had definitely seen better days. He threw the towel to his fellow student.
“Here you are.”
Ben caught the towel, but seemed distracted.
“You alright, mate?”
“What?” Ben looked up, then down again at his hands. The skin was red where he had chafed them under the cold water, but there was also a small discoloration on the ends of the fingers of his left hand, a darker red, that he hadn’t seen before. Ben dried his hands and put his left hand in his trouser pocket. He looked up again and saw that Robert was still looking at him with a worried expression.
“Oh, I’m fine. Really. Come on, they’ll be clearing up for the night.”
He clapped his colleague on the shoulder and lead the way back round the trailer.
As the team set about clearing the site for the night, Professor Rumford emerged from the trailer, looking relieved. Professor Smith noted this change of expression
“Did you get through?”
“Yes, by a miracle. The police are coming up first thing tomorrow morning and they are going to get on to the Council about possible pollution or dumping.”
“Yes. And now as we seem to be all set?” this to Dr Ainslie who approached and nodded, “then I suggest we get home. Are you driving, Lavinia?”
“Yes, I hired a car, it’s parked in the lane. Can I run you back?”
“No, I’ve got my bicycle, that will do me, besides, I don’t want to leave it out overnight. Where are you staying?”
“Oh, I’m being put up on Campus, the conference starts early and finishes late, so I expect they want us all where they can see us!”
Professor Smith looked at her friend.
“What is it, Amelia? You’ve done what you can, surely you can leave the rest to the police?”
“I know, I know, but… there was something in that trench that I’ve never seen before. I don’t know what it was, but it certainly wasn’t Roman.”
“Someone has been sneaking around the dig and dropped it?”
“Possibly, but it had been crushed, it looked as if it had been there as long as the other artefacts, but the markings on it…” She stopped
Professor Smith looked thoughtful. “You know, that sounds just the kind of thing that my niece is interested in. Sarah? the journalist?”
Professor Rumford roused slightly from her thoughts.
“Oh yes, I remember, how is she?”
“Oh, fine, I think. I was saying that this is just the kind of thing she would be interested in. She doesn’t talk about it much, but she has let slip that she worked with UNIT for a while a few years ago.”
At the mention of UNIT, Professor Rumford roused fully.
“Really? That is interesting.”
“Yes, she seems to have got about a lot in a short space of time. Not sure how she managed it to be honest. Then there’s this friend of hers, she calls him the Doctor, he sounds quite a character, not sure what the criteria for recruitment to UNIT are…”
That was it. If Sarah Smith had met the Doctor and worked at UNIT, then Professor Rumford wanted to meet her. Trying not to show too much excitement, she asked
“But would she be able to come down here at such short notice?”
“Oh I don’t see why not!” Professor Smith’s attitude to last minute arrangements also seemed to apply to her relatives, “I’ll give her a … no, tell you what,” she rooted around in her bag, pulled out a notebook and pencil and scribbled some numbers on a page, then tore it out and passed it to Professor Rumford, “you phone her, then you can give her all the details. Now, where can she stay?”
Professor Rumford folded the paper and put it in her pocket.
“Oh, she can stay with me, I’ve got a spare bed.”
“Oh?” said Professor Smith, surprised, “what about, what’s her name, Vivien?”
“Vivien has.. ah.. moved away.”
“Oh. Don’t want to talk about it? Fair enough. Right, I must go if I’m to be ready for dinner. See you tomorrow sometime!”
With a final wave, Professor Smith started her car and pulled away down the lane. Professor Rumford looked after her, a thoughtful look on her face. Vivien’s actions still stung, it was true, but it was more that she thought her friend wouldn’t believe the circumstances of the departure that had stopped her from sharing them. Lavinia was broadminded, but it would be a broad mind indeed that could accommodate bloodsucking stones, interdimensional villainy and robotic talking dogs. Amelia Rumford sighed and pushed off on her bicycle. She would phone Lavinia’s niece as soon as she got home, she decided.
At the police station, Inspector Strang was drawing up a plan of action for the morning. He couldn’t spare anyone to guard the site that night, he would have to hope that the fence and locked gate would be enough to deter thieves or snoopers. Strang phoned the lab and asked them to be ready with their kit and protective clothing and then left a message for the environment officer of the local council to call him ASAP. As that was all he could do for the time being, the Inspector picked up his briefcase and headed for the door. On the face of it, the Professor’s story seemed far-fetched, but his experience with the Rudhollys hoard had taught Strang to respect Professor Rumford’s word. If she said a thing had happened, it had happened. The Inspector locked his office door and walked slowly to the exit, having a last word with the desk sergeant before he left.
Ben Phipps stood in front of the basin in his room and looked down at his left hand. The red marking had spread down his fingers onto the palm of his hand. The skin seemed coarser and thicker, somehow and even his fingers seemed to have become shorter and broader than before. He parted his fingers with an effort and gasped. In each of the gaps between his fingers, a small, hard point had appeared, as if the bone was forcing its way to the surface. Ben sat down on the edge of his bed, his mind racing. What was that thing? What had it done to him? He tried to clench his fist, but, even with all his strength, he could only move his fingers slightly. He should tell someone. But who? Would they believe him? And could they help him? Shivering, Ben laid down on the bed and pulled his blankets over him. He closed his eyes. Perhaps it would be gone in the morning. Perhaps.
Sarah Jane Smith added the latest sheet of paper to the pile next to her and sighed. The book was coming on, but progress still felt achingly slow. The only other thing she had to work on was writing up the transcript of an interview with an earnest, but dull actor and, at that particular moment, she felt no desire to do that either. As if in answer to an unspoken prayer, the phone rang.
“Hello, Sarah Jane Smith speaking?”
“Ah, Miss Smith, my name is Rumford, I’m a friend of your aunt Lavinia”
“Yes? (what has she been up to now?)”
“Lavinia gave me your number, she, we that is, I was hoping you might be able to help us out. Something very odd has happened at my dig site today.”
“Oh, but I...”
“I’d be so grateful, Miss Smith, I feel sure that someone who has worked with the Doctor...”
“What? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. You know the Doctor?”
“We met once, briefly, a couple of years ago. It was certainly a most interesting experience.”
Sarah was speechless. Apart from UNIT, she hadn’t met anyone who had known or worked with the Doctor. She was tempted to go, even if just to meet the Professor. She glanced at her desk and the pile of manuscript pages decided her.
“I’d be delighted to come, whereabouts are you?”
“You dear girl! Thank you.”
The Professor gave Sarah Jane her address, phone number and directions to her cottage. Sarah hung up and looked thoughtfully into the middle distance. Well, she had accepted the invitation, she couldn’t back out now. In any case, her inquisitive nature, which had served her so well in her career, had been roused. She stood up and began to gather notebooks, pens and her Dictaphone from her desk. A whirring sound made her turn round. K-9 trundled into the room, his ear dishes moving from side to side.
“Hello K-9, I’ve got a mystery to investigate.”
K-9 appeared to consider this.
“I shall accompany, Mistress.”
“Oh, I don’t know if Professor Rumford...”
K-9’s memory whirred and buzzed.
“Professor Amelia Rumford. Archaeologist. Met Master, Mistress Romana and K-9 mark 2 in the case of Vivien Fey and the Ogri. Place of residence Cornwall.”
Sarah Jane stared at K-9.
“How do you know that?”
“I have memory banks of both K-9 mark 1 and K-9 mark 2.”
“Oh, I see. Well if the Professor has met you, or at least one of you, then you might as well come too.”
K-9 trundled away and Sarah followed him out of the room and went to pack her bags for the next day.
Night had fallen at the dig site. The trenches looked eerie in the moonlight and the hoot of an owl was the only sound to be heard. A figure approached the fence on the opposite side to the gate. It was dressed in dark clothes, with a hood over its head and a small rucksack on its back. The figure knelt down and took off the rucksack. After putting on a pair of thick gloves, he, for it was a he, took a pair of wire cutters from the rucksack and carefully snipped an opening in the fence. He peeled back the edges of the opening, pushing part of it aside like a door and pushing his rucksack before him, carefully crawled through. Once inside, he picked up his bag and headed for the nearest trench. The would-be thief removed his gloves. There was no chance of leaving finger prints on the soil and his buyers wouldn’t be impressed if he damaged the goods by fumbling around with gloves on. No point in trying to break into the office, the trick was to get in and out and take stuff they either hadn’t noticed, or wouldn’t miss for a while. He stepped carefully over the rows of twine, wondering briefly why there was twice around this particular area, and climbed down into the trench. By the light of a small torch, the thief found some fragments of pottery and glass. These he wrapped in cotton wool and put in the rucksack. As he made another sweep with the torch, something glinted and caught his eye. What was this? He squatted down and brushed some soil aside with his hand. Silver! It had to be. What luck! The thief reached out and touched the object, then jumped as if he had been stung. Unreasoning anger swept through him. He made as if to stamp on the object, but stopped and, instead, clambered out of the trench and ran for the fence. As he ran, he felt the anger drain from his body, to be replaced by fear. He crawled through the hatch he had cut in the fence, not caring that his clothes snagged on the sharp wire, and then took to his heels across the fields.
The university clock had just struck 9 when Robert Wilson tapped on his friend’s door.
“Ben? You’ve missed breakfast. The Prof will be raging if we’re late. Ben?”
He tapped again and listened. A strange noise, half yawn, half growl came from within. Robert stepped back, startled. As he did so, the next door along opened and Ben’s neighbour stuck his head out of it.
“D’you know what’s wrong with him? He’s been groaning and growling all night. I tried knocking but he didn’t hear.”
“Oh. No he was alright, yesterday, at least…”
Robert cast his mind back to the events of the previous day. Perhaps whatever had affected them was still working on Ben. Whatever the case, something was clearly wrong. Who should he tell? He looked out of the corridor window, seeking inspiration. At that moment, he caught sight of Professor Rumford, wheeling her bicycle towards the History building. The Prof! She would help! Muttering something noncommittal to his fellow student, Robert ran to the stairs and careered down them.
Professor Rumford had got to the site early and had been met by the Inspector.
“I’m sorry Professor, we have had to close the site.”
“oh, all of it? Could I not just…?”
“I’m sorry. It seems there was a break in last night. One of my officers found a hole in the fence and the ground has been trampled near where your students found that object.”
“My goodness. If someone else has touched that object, or been infected with whatever is in that trench. Inspector, this could be extremely dangerous.”
“Quite so, Professor, we have found some traces and we will work as fast as we can to find whoever it was broke in. In the meantime, we are sealing off the site. It’s a crime scene now, you understand.”
Professor Rumford sighed.
“Yes, I understand. I do hope you can find this person before any harm comes to them. Or to anyone they meet.”
“We’ll do our best.”
With that the Inspector closed the gate and, feeling herself dismissed, The Professor got back on her bicycle and made her way to the university. Sarah Jane would not be arriving until late that afternoon, so there was time to call into her office and see to some paperwork before then.
As Professor Rumford made her way to the history building , deep in thought, she was intercepted and nearly knocked over by the speeding person of Robert Wilson.
“Oh… Professor… I’m sorry…”
“Mr. Wilson. Control yourself. Breathe.”
The student bent double, hands on his thighs and struggled to get his breath back. After a moment or two he straightened up again.
“That’s better. Now, what is the reason for this extraordinary haste?”
Robert gasped, breathed in deeply, and let out a long, slow breath.
“I’m sorry, Professor. It’s Ben.”
“Ben? Mr. Phipps? Is he unwell?”
“I don’t know. He’s been odd since, well, since yesterday. His neighbour says he has been making noises all night and when I knocked on his door just now, he didn’t answer.”
“Hmm. That does sound worrying. Did his neighbour say what kind of noises he heard?”
“He said groaning and growling. When I knocked I heard the same. It didn’t sound like Ben at all.”
Professor Rumford thought for a moment, then nodded.
“Right. You go back to Mr. Phipps’ room … one moment, which room is it? Ah, thank you (as Robert gave her the floor and room number) I will fetch one of the porters with a key and alert the health centre. I expect it is nothing serious, but we will be safe rather than sorry I think. Off you go!”
Having sent her student on his way, the Professor went to the porter’s office and, after using the telephone there to call the University surgery, explained to the man at the main desk that one of her students was unwell and that the door to his room would need to be opened as he was too ill to open it himself. This was an unusual, but not unknown occurrence, so one of the porters willingly accompanied the Professor to the hall of residence. When they reached the corridor, they saw Wilson and his colleague with their ears pressed against the door.
“Has he answered you?” asked Professor Rumford as the porter sorted the key from the bunch on his belt.
“No,” Robert turned a pale and worried face to the Professor.
“Right, excuse me, gentlemen.” The porter stepped forward and banged on the door, then called “Mr. Phipps? Is everything alright? I’m going to open the door now.”
From inside the room there came a series of crashes, accompanied by a yowling, roaring sound. The porter looked at Professor Rumford.
“Has he got an animal in there?”
“Not that I am aware of.”
The porter turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open. As he did so, there was a final splintering crash. He stood for a moment in the doorway and then ran to the window.
“He’s jumped out!”
The neighbour, whose name was Jim Barnes, ran back into his room, followed by Wilson and the Professor. Together they looked out of the window, craning to see some sign of Phipps. There was none. Looking down from their position, two stories up, Robert could see some pieces of broken glass on the ground, but there was no sign of a body. Then, not far away, a voice could be heard, screaming. The porter appeared in the doorway to Barnes’ room.
“There’s no sign of him, I must report back and call the police.”
“Yes, as quick as you can. I believe Mr. Phipps may have been exposed to, ah, to contaminated soil at the dig and suffered a terrible change of personality. He may be a danger to himself and to others.”
The porter ran to the end of the corridor to the internal phone, while the Professor and her students went to look at the damaged bedroom. Robert Wilson was about to cross the threshold, when his tutor put out her hand to stop him.
“No, we must touch nothing. The police will want to take photographs and gather evidence. Then there is the risk of infection.”
“You really think that whatever got to us at the dig made him do… this?” Robert gestured at the scene before them. The bed had collapsed on one side and the bedclothes were torn. The mirror over the basin had been smashed and the light fitting torn out of the ceiling. Shards of glass jutted from the window frame, some bearing traces of blood. The three onlookers turned away, appalled. Robert spoke again
“And how could he? We are two floors up! How could he?”
The professor took his arm gently and led him away from the doorway.
“I don’t know, Mr. Wilson, but I hope that the police will help us find out. In the meantime, you and I are going to have a cup of coffee and wait for them to arrive. Mr. Barnes?”
“Will you wait here until Mr. Armitage returns?” Armitage was the name of the porter, who was still having an animated conversation with his colleague over the phone. “I think we might pull the door to, but if you could steer any inquisitive people away?”
Barnes nodded and took up station near the door.
“Thank you. We will be in my office.”
Barnes nodded again and Professor Rumford, with her hand still on her student’s elbow, steered him down the corridor and out of the hall of residence. Once inside her office, she put the kettle on and made two cups of strong, instant coffee, laced with some brandy from the bottle in her desk drawer, and presented one to Wilson. He took it silently and sipped, then coughed. The professor sat down behind her desk and balanced her cup on a pile of books.
“There! That’s better isn’t it? Now, did you speak to Mr. Phipps last night when you returned to campus?”
“No. At least, not really. Some of us were going to the bar, but he didn’t want to come, so we just said goodnight and left him to it.”
“Professor? What do you think has happened to him?”
“My dear Mr. Wilson I really cannot say at this point. What is clear is that he has undergone a violent change of personality. We must hope that the police can find him.”
Wilson sipped his coffee cautiously. There was silence in the office. Professor Rumford left her student to pull himself together and checked through the messages in her in tray. The phone rang, startling Robert. The Professor picked up the receiver on the second ring
“Amelia Rumford. Yes, ah, yes, thank you Mr. Armitage, we will be with you shortly.”
She hung up and turned to Robert.
“The police have arrived, we must go and give them our statements,” as she saw his frightened expression, “there is nothing to worry about. You must simply tell them exactly what happened, from yesterday afternoon to today. Now come along.”
They left the office and the Professor locked up behind them, then student and tutor made their way back towards the hall of residence. The Professor was relieved to see Sergeant Baines waiting for them, accompanied by two constables and a scenes of crime officer, who was taking photographs of the scene of destruction. Professor Rumford shook hands with the Sergeant and introduced Robert Wilson. The Professor was then escorted by one constable to the floor’s small kitchen, and Robert by the other to Jim Barnes’ bedroom, to make their statements. That formality completed, Professor Rumford looked at her watch, gasped, explained that she had to leave because she was expecting a guest and departed at some speed, leaving the bemused police constable to report back to his superior officer.
In a well-appointed study, a slim, elderly man sat behind an imposing desk and carefully turned the pages of a large volume. Each page had a delicate, detailed illustration of a Roman artefact, hand-coloured and exquisite. The man sighed as he examined each illustration in turn, taking up a magnifying glass to check the tiniest details. The telephone bell interrupted his reverie. With a grunt of displeasure, he put down the glass and picked up the receiver.
“It’s me.” The voice was hoarse and laden with fatigue.
“Burnley? I told you not to call me here!”
“Relax. I’m in a call box. They won’t be able to trace the call.”
“Oh. Well. What did you get? What do you want?”
“Not much. A few bits of pot and glass, but something…” there was a pause and a quiet gasp, as if of pain “I saw something, silver, a silver bottle and…” he broke off.
“A sliver bottle? What are you talking about, man?”
Another gasp and Burnley spoke again, each word came slowly as if a massive effort was needed to get them out.
“I told you. A silver bottle… I. Touched it. And … aaah! It did something … something to me.”
The man at the desk stood up. “What are you talking about? Have you been drinking?”
“No! No … I… ahhh”
There was no reply. The line was open, but Burnley didn’t answer. The man at the desk hung up and thought quickly. The nearest call box to the site would be… where? He fetched an OS map from a shelf and spread it out on the desk. Ah! Yes. Burnley sounded as if he had spent the night sleeping rough, if he was in a bad way he wouldn’t have got far. The man unlocked and opened one of the desk drawers and took out a revolver, then pressed a button on the intercom next to the phone
“Get Dawkins to bring the car round, please Anna, I need to go out for a while”
The man put the revolver in a shoulder holster, which had been concealed by his jacket and left the room. A sports car was parked on the drive and a uniformed chauffeur handed him the keys.
“Thank you, Dawkins.”
As he pulled away from the house, which, with its portico and pillars, could almost be called a manor, and onto the main road, the man in the car settled his course of action. Burnley was in trouble, that much was clear. From the sound of it he was either drunk, mad or seriously ill, all of which made him a liability. And he had no time for liabilities. His train of thought was interrupted by the sight of a police car and a constable stepping forward to stop him. He braked as requested and as the constable approached, recognised him as one of the local bobbies.
“Is there anything wrong, Constable Flyte?”
“Sorry to trouble you, Colonel Jackson, Sir, we are looking for a missing person.”
Outwardly calm, the Colonel raised his eyebrows
“Yes, Sir, one of the students from the University. We think he is in a bad way, may be dangerous to others or to himself. Can I ask if you’ve seen anything unusual?”
Colonel Jackson pretended to consider.
“No, I can’t say I have, sorry.”
“Not to worry, Sir, if you do see or hear anything?”
“I shall contact the station directly.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
The constable stood aside to let the colonel drive away. As the police car disappeared from his rear view mirror, Colonel Jackson let out a long breath. So, a missing and dangerous student? Oh well, that was nothing to do with him, although it could be useful if he needed someone to take the blame for Burnley’s unfortunate demise. A grim smile edged his lips as he drove. Yes, that could be very useful indeed.
Professor Rumford had not long been home when Sarah Jane’s car pulled up outside her cottage. She opened the door and came out to greet her guest.
“Miss Smith, how good of you to come.”
“Oh, Sarah Jane, please, Professor.”
“In that case you must call me Amelia as your aunt does. Do you have much luggage?”
Sarah opened the rear door and took out a holdall, then pulled a blanket off what looked like a bundle on the back seat. Professor Rumford stepped forward, astonished.
“But, K-9? Is that you? How did you get here?”
K-9’s front panel glowed red as he answered.
“Negative, Professor. I am K-9 mark 3. K-9 mark 2 travels with Master and Mistress Romana. Master sent me to assist Mistress Sarah Jane.”
“Oh, I see.” The professor looked bewildered for a moment, but soon recovered herself. “Well, which ever mark you are, I’m very glad to see you. Both of you. Come inside and unpack. Your aunt will be joining us for dinner later on.”
Sarah Jane gave her bag to the Professor and lifted K-9 out of the car. As they made their way up the path, she said,
“I hope you haven’t had to go to too much trouble for dinner?”
The Professor turned and grinned, suddenly seeming much closer to Sarah Jane’s age.
“Oh no, my dear, I asked your aunt to collect some fish and chips on her way over!”
Sarah laughed and followed her hostess into the cottage.
It hadn’t taken Colonel Jackson long to reach the call box. The box was on a small patch of short grass, near a high hedge, beyond which a neglected garden faded into woodland. Jackson put on a pair of gloves, got out of the car and went up to the box. The door was open, and the receiver was hanging at the end of its cable. He replaced the receiver on its hook and put out a hand to close the door, then stepped back in surprise. The door was not only open, but hanging by one hinge, the top hinge was broken and the component parts bent and twisted as if the door had been wrenched aside. Jackson looked at the door. Long scratches scored the glass and paint on the inside. Surely Burnley couldn’t have done this? No. Of course not. It had probably been vandalized after Burnley left. A sound from behind the hedge made him turn away from the phone box. The leaves and branches shook as if someone, or something, was forcing a way through. Jackson drew his gun and retreated closer to the road.
“Burnley? Is that you? What are you playing at man?”
The noise got closer and louder, then the hedge split in a shower of leaves and uprooted plants as a creature burst through and onto the grass. Jackson backed away in horror as it approached. It was at least 7 feet tall, and would have been taller had it been standing fully upright. It was almost as broad as it was tall, with a muscular chest and shoulders, it hunched forwards on legs which ended in clawed feet. The arms were long, and the hands were more like paws, short fingers had claws curving between them. Tendons stood out on either side of the thick neck, as the creature’s head moved to and fro, seemingly searching for a scent in the air. The face was contorted into a snarl, exposing sharp teeth in a wide mouth below a short, dog-like muzzle. The eyes were deep set and seemed to glow red under the beetling brows. The whole of the creature’s body was covered in smooth, dark, hair, which gleamed with the iridescence of a starling’s wing. All this Jackson took in in seconds as he backed away and the creature came forward. He raised his revolver, but, before he could fire, the beast sprang and the gun was knocked from his hand as he fell. His scream of fear and pain faded to gurgles as the teeth closed around his neck. After a few seconds, the creature raised its head, pointed ears alert to the slightest sound. It stood, motionless, then turned and ran back through the hedge with loping strides, bending forwards so that its paw-like hands nearly touched the ground.
Professor Smith had indeed arrived at her friend’s cottage bearing fish and chips. She had also, to Sarah Jane and Professor Rumford’s surprise, brought Sergeant Baines. Over the course of the meal, the Sergeant explained that the Inspector had decided to ask Professor Rumford to assist with the investigation, and, once Sarah Jane and Professor Smith had been properly introduced, they were included in the invitation, particularly when Sarah’s work with UNIT had been mentioned. Dinner over and the plates cleared as far as the sink, the Sergeant spread out photographs from the dig and from the student residences.
“This is the object from the dig,” she pushed forward a photograph, “the lab have got it under controlled conditions and nobody goes near it without protective clothing.”
The photograph showed a slim, slivery cylinder. Some of the soil had been removed, and markings could now be seen along the edge of the transparent section. The top of the object had, as the Professor had remarked, been crushed and a screw thread could just be seen where the edge of the top had lifted. Through the transparent section, a reddish brown substance could be seen, not quite filling the cylinder. Professor Rumford leaned forward, fascinated
“How interesting. Well, it certainly isn’t Roman. Look at the shape of it, this part here (she indicated the markings and the transparent section) and it’s got a screw top!”
Sergeant Baines made a note.
“Thank you professor, it’s good to have that definitely confirmed. The next question is, what is it and how did it get into your dig site.”
“Ah” the Professor took a sip of coffee, “I’m afraid I can’t help you with that. It was definitely buried, we found it at the same level as actual Roman artefacts and the ground did not seem to have been disturbed before we started, so, if it was buried more recently as a prank it was a very elaborate undertaking.” She pulled the photograph towards her. “Look here, where the top has been crushed, and here,” she pointed to a crack in the transparent section, “I don’t know what this is made of, but it seems to have been damaged by some considerable pressure.”
“You think it might have been buried for some time?” asked Sarah Jane.
“It seems likely from its appearance. And I take that whatever is inside escaped through here,” she pointed again to the crack.
“Yes, we think so. We’ve taken soil samples from around where it was buried and the lab has taken samples from the thing itself, inside and out, but there isn’t any news yet.”
“No,” put in Professor Smith, “that sort of analysis may take some time. But I think we can confirm a couple of things.”
“Yes?” Sergeant Baines looked at her hopefully.
“Well. If it was the substance in this … flask shall we say? … yes, flask, affected Amelia and her students, we can perhaps deduce that it was fumes of the substance that caused them to lose their tempers so violently, and contact with the substance that caused, well, that caused whatever has happened to the unfortunate Mr. Phipps. You didn’t touch the thing?” this to Professor Rumford.
“No, and I don’t think Wilson did either.”
“There you are then, you two suffered mild symptoms, while those experienced by Mr. Phipps were much more serious. Has he been found, by the way?”
“No.” Sergeant Baines looked up from her notes “We have a witness who saw ... something and we’ve had some people following tracks, but no news yet.”
Sarah Jane spoke up again. “what did the witness see?”
The Sergeant turned back a few pages in the notebook.
“She said she was walking towards the hall when the window broke. She looked up and saw a large dark shape jump down, then run towards her. She froze, understandably, and whatever it was charged on past her. She said it moved fast so she didn’t get a good look, but that it was big and she had the impression of something almost like a giant gorilla, but with claws.”
“Heavens!” even the unflappable Professors were startled by this. Professor Smith recovered first.
“But how did such a thing get into a student bedroom? How..” she stopped and looked at Sarah Jane and her fellow academic. “you aren’t suggesting that that creature was the student?”
“I think we have to consider it, Aunt Lavinia, “said Sarah, carefully, aware that she and Professor Rumford had experiences that made this explanation seem more likely. “We don’t know what this stuff is, or where it came from. We do know that the window was broken from the inside (she looked at the Sergeant, who nodded) and that Mr. Phipps was locked in his room all night, apparently alone. If Amelia and Mr. Wilson could be affected as badly as they were just by fumes, what could touching the stuff do to a person?”
Sergeant Baines looked concerned.
“Then there’s another question. You see these marks here on the edge of the trench and near the fence? We think that was the person who broke in. They must have climbed down carefully, but then scrabbled to get out. The marks were fresh when we arrived, and whoever it was went out through this hole, leaving some threads from their clothes on the wire.” She unearthed a close up of the hole in the fence, showing dark threads caught on the sharp edges. “If he touched the flask, will the same thing happen to him that we think happened to Phipps? Because if so, we have an even more serious problem.”
At that, the telephone rang. Professor Rumford got up to go and answer it, and Sarah turned to her Aunt with a question that had been nagging at her mind all afternoon.
“Do you think this stuff, whatever it is, might be infectious? I mean, could one person touch it and be affected and then pass that on to other people?”
Professor Smith frowned in thought.
“Obviously without knowing if the substance is biological or a synthesised chemical makes it rather difficult to say, but, given the evidence I would say probably not, or else Mr. Phipps would have passed the effects onto his friend, and, at least up till now, this doesn’t seem to have occurred.”
“Right, well that’s something.”
While Lavinia was speaking, Professor Rumford had come back to the kitchen to summon Sergeant Baines to the telephone. As the Sergeant went off to take the call, the Professor sat down again at the table and looked enquiringly at her friend and at Sarah.
“What’s something? Have we made progress?”
“Aunt Lavinia was saying that it looks as if the stuff might not be infectious, that if you are affected by it, it won’t spread from you to other people.”
Professor Rumford sighed.
“If that’s true it’s a blessing, I suppose. Now we just need to find out what it is, and find poor Phipps and the fool who broke into the site and try and help them, if we can.”
Silence fell as they all considered the problem and how far off a solution seemed. Sergeant Baines put her head round the door.
“Sorry, I’ve got to go.”
Professor Rumford turned in her seat
“Possibly. There’s been a report of a large animal attacking livestock at Drawbridge Farm and a body has been found by a wrecked phone box on the outskirts of Withyrise.”
“No. One of the local ‘characters’ (the tone in which the Sergeant said this told her listeners all they needed to know about her opinion of this person) Colonel Jackson”
Professor Rumford snorted “Reginald Jackson? Man’s a crook!”
“You know him?” asked Sarah Jane.
“Yes, at least,” the Professor got up to show Sergeant Baines out, “one moment and I’ll tell you all about him.”
Professor Smith and Sarah Jane looked at each other.
“Hmm. Seems as if this gentleman was not in Amelia’s good books.”
“No. The animal attack seems likely to be connected, but a murder? I suppose it depends on the circumstances.”
“Yes, I’m sure we will learn the details in due course. Ah! Amelia! Tell us about this Colonel of yours!”
Professor Rumford snorted again.
“He isn’t ‘my’ Colonel, Lavinia, not by a long chalk. Shall we move to the sitting room? We’ll be more comfortable and we can show the evidence to K-9.”
Seeing the sense of this, Professor Smith and Sarah gathered up the photographs and followed her to the sitting room, where K-9 had been recharging himself. Professor Rumford settled in her favourite chair and Sarah and her Aunt took the sofa. Amelia Rumford steepled her fingers and sighed.
“Where do I start? ‘Colonel’ Reginald Jackson moved to Withyrise about three years ago. He was always very cagey about which regiment he served with, I saw him in at least two different regimental ties, so I suspect his rank was as bogus as the rest of him.”
“But how did you meet him?” asked Professor Smith, “Withyrise isn’t that close to here.”
“No, oh, county stuff, you know,” the Professor waved her hand, “committees, can’t seem to avoid the damn things. Anyway, he hadn’t been here long when word started to get round that he had made a packet black marketeering in the war and that he had been chased out of at least two other places for running investment scams. Just gossip of course, but I didn’t like the fellow and had as little to do with him as I could.”
Sarah Jane couldn’t help herself.
“Quite, although a number of females did fall for his bluff, mustachioed swagger. I was immune of course. He tried it on a couple of times because he is, was, potty about Roman history.”
“Really?” Professor Smith asked, “That seems unlikely.”
“Oh his interest was genuine enough. It seems a man can be a total bounder and have an eye for beauty. Anyway, there have been a few digs in the area over the last few years. Some of them small beer, some, like ours, on a larger scale. At each one, there has been at least one attempt to break into the site and all with the same modus operandi. Nothing that has been recorded is taken, the thief or thieves concentrate on recently opened trenches, so, even with photographs, it’s difficult to tell exactly what has been taken or what the value might be.”
Sarah was intrigued.
“And you think this Colonel Jackson might have been behind the thefts?”
“I think it’s likely. Not that he would do it himself, he’s not that kind of person, but I think he is, or rather was, definitely the kind of person who would be prepared to pay someone else to do it, or to buy things and not be fussy about where they came from.”
A bleep came from beside the sofa.
“Mistress. Request data.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, K-9, we’ve got a bit ahead of you.”
Sarah Jane explained the latest developments to K-9. Professor Smith had taken the news that her niece owned a robotic computer dog with her usual calmness. She passed Sarah a photo of the flask to show to K-9.
“Thank you. Do you recognise this, K-9?”
K-9 whirred and clicked as he accessed his memory banks. Eventually he said;
“Affirmative. Markings on object identified as numerical system of Bellicosia, country located on Hephaestia, land mass located at north polar area of Mars.”
“Mars? But I thought the Ice Warriors…?”
“Negative, Mistress. Bellicosian civilization predates Ice Warriors. Bellicosians and Ice Warriors have been at war since development of Ice Warrior civilization.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
Professor Rumford leaned forward in her seat.
“You mean this thing came from Mars?”
“Affirmative, Professor. Evidence indicates object is of Bellicosian construction.”
Professor Smith broke in;
“But it has been buried for centuries!”
“Affirmative. Bellicosian civilization developed prior to Earth civilization, by at least two thousand years.”
“So at the time the Romans were here, the … the… Bellicosians would have been capable of space flight? And they came here and dropped this?”
“Evidence suggests this was the case.”
“I see.” Professor Smith sat back against the cushions. “But why would they want to come here, and what is that thing? Some kind of weapon?”
K-9 whirred again as he considered the questions.
“Bellicosian civilization noted for research and application of biological weaponisation. Use of genetic and biochemical alteration to enhance combat capabilities of soldiers. Bellicosians known to have travelled to other planets to locate materials for research and development.”
The professors looked puzzled, but Sarah gasped.
“You mean, they used science to change the soldiers bodies? To make them better fighters? And they travelled to find … to find things from other races they could use on their own people?”
“Affirmative. Conclusion, object contains results of Bellicosian research, designed to increase aggression and physical stature of troops.”
“But turning them into animals? Why would they want to do that?”
“Intended effect impossible to ascertain, Mistress. Effect on Bellicosians different to effect on humans.”
Professor Smith had caught up.
“Ah, so the effect would be different on human beings, it might not be meant to do that at all.”
“But can we cure it? I mean, can the process be reversed?”
“Insufficient data available, Professor. Substance analysis required.”
“Of course. But I don’t see how we can do that, the police have the stuff under lock and key.”
Professor Rumford frowned.
“We can ask, I suppose. Lavinia, at least, has expertise in that area, more or less, (Professor Smith rolled her eyes at her friend), don’t look at me like that woman! But I don’t see how we can get K-9 past the police. Unless… unless they would be prepared to release some of the stuff to one of the University labs, but that stuff is so dangerous I can’t see them doing so.”
The others were forced to agree. In the end it was decided that, risky though it might be, Professor Smith would have to ask for access to the police lab and try and smuggle K-9 in under cover. That settled, Professor Rumford stood up.
“I will call the Inspector in the morning. He has enough to do this evening with the … ah.. manhunt and murder. You had better be getting back to Campus, they will be closing the gates soon.”
“Ha! Yes! It would be unseemly for me to be caught climbing in.”
Despite the tension, they laughed at this picture and the Professor went to her car to drive back to the university. Sarah Jane retired to bed and Professor Rumford sat for an hour or two longer, marking papers with K-9 for company, before the clock struck eleven and she finally called it a night.
At first glance, the darkness in the woods seemed complete. However, the moon cast just enough of a glow through the branches of the trees for Arnold Midwinter to set his snares without needing his torch. He had been a poacher for so long, he could probably have set them blindfolded. Snares set, he retired behind a tree for a dose of brandy from his hipflask and waited. For a few minutes, nothing stirred, then there was a sound. The poacher froze behind the tree. Footsteps. But, there was something strange about them. The sound coming from between the trees didn’t sound like boots or shoes. Midwinter risked a look from around the tree, and froze again. Standing in the clearing was a huge, dark shape, shoulders hunched, head turning as it sniffed the air with its snout. Hanging from its jaws, Midwinter could just make out what looked like shreds of meat. He didn’t dare to breathe. After what felt like an eternity, the beast seemed almost to sigh and moved on. The poacher waited until the sound of footsteps had faded before he moved. Then, snares forgotten, he grabbed his bag and ran for his life.
Despite her late night, Professor Rumford was up early and had just finished her first cup of tea of the day when the telephone rang.
“Professor? Strang here.”
“Inspector, I was about to call you, has there been any news?”
“I was going to say, very little, until the early hours of this morning. About four o’clock the local poacher ran into the station, scared out of his wits and told the sergeant he’d seen a werewolf in the woods!”
“Really! Is he a credible witness?”
“Ordinarily I’d say no, but for a man like that not only to willingly come into a police station, but also demand to be locked up for his own safety … whatever he saw clearly scared him.”
“I see, and where did he see this creature?”
“In a clearing, not far from Drawbridge Farm, I’m sending some men over with dogs later to see if they can pick up any traces. Did you get far with the photographs?”
The Professor explained some of the progress they had made, skirting round the extra-terrestrial nature of the flask. To her surprise, the Inspector agreed to give Professor Smith access to the laboratory.
“We are stretched to the limit at the moment, and any assistance a specialist like the Professor can give us, what? Yes I know it probably isn’t virus, but it may be a biological weapon. She’s welcome to bring any equipment she thinks appropriate.”
“Thank you, I will let her know, she will be with you this morning. And may Miss Smith and I be of assistance?”
“Sergeant Baines is going back to the University to take some more statements and finish off in the bedroom. Perhaps you could accompany her? The students might be more prepared to answer if one of their tutors is present.”
Professor Rumford nearly answered that, if he thought that, the Inspector clearly didn’t know students, but instead she agreed that she and Sarah Jane would go with Sergeant Baines.
“Excellent, she will pick you up in a couple of hours.”
“Thank you, Inspector, we will be ready.”
The Professor hung up, then dialed the number for the hall of residence where her friend was staying for the conference. A tiny smile edged her lips as she dialed, Lavinia Smith was many things, but a morning person she definitely was not! Eventually a sleepy voice came through the receiver.
“Amelia, what the Dickens do you mean by calling at this ungodly hour?”
“Nonsense!” Professor Rumford said, briskly, “I’ve been up for hours. No… stop moaning and pay attention! The Inspector has given the go ahead for you to go to the lab, I told him you would be there this morning, so you’d better get moving.”
“Oh, very well. I’ll be over shortly, you’d better have breakfast ready!”
Professor Rumford laughed as she hung up. A sound on the stairs told her that Sarah Jane was up and about, so she went through to the kitchen to make a start on preparing breakfast. Professor Smith arrived in time to join her friend and her niece at the breakfast table, where bacon, eggs, toast and mugs of coffee were the order of the day. Sergeant Baines arrived shortly afterwards and gratefully accepted some coffee. Between them, the others brought her fully up to date on their hypotheses and introduced her to K-9. They had discussed the matter beforehand and Professor Rumford’s opinion, “you can trust that girl, she’s got a good head on her shoulders and should go far, if there’s any justice” made up their minds. The Sergeant had not expected to start her morning with interstellar bioweapons and robot dogs, but took both things in her stride. The stories she had heard about UNIT from Miss Hawthorne had prepared for the unexpected, to an extent and, after all, they were already dealing with the possibility of a substance that had changed two men into ravening beasts. After breakfast, the Sergeant lifted K-9 into Professor Smith’s hired car, covering him with a dust sheet – this had seemed the most appropriate cover for a piece of equipment – and then she, Sarah and Professor Rumford headed for the University in her unmarked car.
Inspector Strang met Professor Smith outside the Police Station. The Professor parked in the place that had been reserved for her, got out, hitched her handbag up on her arm and opened the rear door to get K-9 out in his dust sheet disguise. She refused the Inspector’s offer of assistance;
“Oh, no, thank you, he, that is it, isn’t as heavy as it looks, if you could just close the door?” and made her way into the station, the front door being held open for her by an amused looking constable.
Once inside, the Inspector led the way to the laboratory and showed the Professor where she could find protective clothing and breathing equipment, the police were taking no chances. Strang began to explain how the equipment was to be used, but the Professor waved him away.
“It’s quite alright, I’m an experienced diver, why only last year I was diving off the coast of Madagascar...”
“Ah, good,” the Inspector cut off what looked as if it might be a long anecdote, “I’ll leave you to it then.”
Professor Smith looked after him as he walked briskly away.
“Strange man. Oh well.”
She shrugged and got into the protective suit, covering her eyes with goggles and tucking the breathing mask that came with the oxygen tanks under the transparent shield on the front of the suit’s hood. Thus attired, she carried K-9 into the lab and set him down on one of the benches, then removed his dust sheet. She brought her handbag in with her, and tucked it under the bench, as far as they had established, the substance was only dangerous if inhaled or touched, so there was little risk of general contamination in the lab. She opened the fume hood that contained the flask and drew the dish in which it lay out onto the surface of the bench, then used a scalpel to scrape a small amount of the substance off the surface of the flask and put it in petri dish on a stand. K-9 extended his probe and began to analyse the substance, his motors clicking and whirring as usual as he worked. While this was going on, Professor Smith began to examine slides bearing traces of the blood that had been recovered from the hall of residence. She tutted to herself as she looked through the microscope eyepiece and made a note on her pad. The cells in the sample were warped, they didn’t resemble human blood cells, but were not quite animal either. Looking at the contorted cells, she imagined that the process of change must have been appallingly painful. The Professor sighed and reached for a slide containing a larger sample. To her right was a selection of antibiotic and other drugs, ready to test, but that must wait for K-9 to finish his analysis or she would be shooting in the dark. Eventually, K-9 beeped, said “Analysis complete” and printed a strip of paper with the molecular breakdown of the substance from under his muzzle. Professor Smith took the paper and read over the results. Some of the components were completely unknown to her, but some were familiar, so she could at least begin to work on a method of counteracting those. She thanked K-9 and began to select possible drugs from the phials on the bench, while K-9 turned his attention to the flask and to computing possible methods of counteracting the components that were unknown to the Professor.
They worked on in silence, with the occasional beep or whirr from K9 and grunt from the Professor.
At the University campus, Sergeant Baines and Sarah Jane were in Professor Rumford’s office, interviewing students. The Professor herself was also there, working through a heap of paperwork. The Inspector’s hypothesis had been proved to be correct, the students, seeing Professor Rumford sitting quietly, working away, felt calmer and more willing to answer the Sergeant’s questions. Sarah Jane was taking notes and, between them, they had managed to interview nearly all the students and archaeologists who had been present at the dig, including Robert Wilson, who was well, but still pale and jumpy. They were waiting for Dr. Ainslie to join them when the telephone rang.
“Hello Professor, Strang here. There’s been a development. We’ve got a lead on the thief.”
“Really. One moment, Inspector,” the Professor pressed the speakerphone button and replaced the receiver, “go ahead, we are all ears.”
“Ah, good. We’ve had a call from a Mrs. Burnley. Her husband hasn’t been home for a couple of days and she’s worried. He was going on a ‘job’, apparently, she says she doesn’t know what it was, which may be the case, but she also said she knew it was ‘dodgy’ and had told him not to work for ‘that bloke’ again.”
“I see,” said the Professor, thoughtfully, “and do we know who the bloke in question is?”
“It turns out it was none other than our Colonel.”
“Yes, Mrs. Burnley wasn’t going to call us, given her husband’s occupation, I can understand why, but she saw about the Colonel’s death in the paper and that seems to have put the wind up her properly. She is convinced that her husband is in hiding from gangsters who had Jackson savaged by giant dogs.”
“Ah, I see,” the Professor spoke again, “you said his ‘occupation’? Is he, ah, known to you?”
“You could say that. We’ve had him in a few times in connection with burglaries. If he was working for Jackson, he could have been the one targeting the digs. I got her to give me a description of what he was wearing, it’s not much, but the jumper she described is similar to the threads we found on the wire.”
Sarah Jane spoke up.
“Did you tell her..?”
“No, I didn’t give her any more details. After all, we haven’t definitely established that it was him at the dig, or, if it was, what has happened to him. I told her we’d be in touch when we had any news.”
“Do you want me to come back, Sir?” this was Sergeant Baines. There was a pause, then the Inspector replied,
“No, stay there for now, Baines and finish the interviews. I’m sending some of the dog unit over later to try and track Phipps, so it’d be good if you’re on hand to brief them.”
“Right, Sir. Er, any news from Professor Smith?”
“Not yet, but she’s got her work cut out so I’m not surprised. Will let you know as soon as there is.”
“Thank you, Inspector,” said Professor Rumford, sensing the conversation was at an end, “goodbye.”
“Goodbye Professor, Miss Smith, Sergeant.”
The Inspector hung up with a bang, leaving the trio in the office considering his words. Sarah spoke first.
“So could it had been Burnley that killed the Colonel? But how would he know where to find him?”
The Sergeant frowned as she pieced together the evidence, “Hang on a minute. Jackson was armed. We found his revolver, he must have had it in his hand, but he didn’t get a chance to fire. Supposing he was going to find Burnley?”
“But.. how..” the Professor was about to object, but Sarah interjected;
“Yes! Sorry, Professor. Look, we know that the phone box was damaged, we saw the pictures and we know that whatever happened to Phipps didn’t happen straight away, yes?”
Professor Rumford saw what she was getting at.
“Of course! You mean the same thing happened to Burnley. Let’s see, he went to the dig, touched the flask, got scared, ran off and … what… called Jackson from the box?”
“Yes!” this was Sarah Jane again, “we know that Phipps must have felt terrible that night, think of what his neighbours said about the noise he was making. Suppose the same thing started to happen to Burnley? He’d be terrified and he would want answers.”
“So,” the Sergeant had been following their reasoning intently, “he gets to a call box, calls Jackson and tells him, what? I suppose that doesn’t really matter, it’s enough that Jackson gets jumpy and decides to silence him.”
“Would Burnley have told Jackson where he was?” asked the Professor.
“Possibly, or he might have worked it out, there aren’t that many call boxes in that area. So, Jackson drives to the call box, we know he was stopped on the way, so that would have held him up a bit, and by the time he got there…”
“Burnley was transformed and attacked him.”
“Yes, that must be it. So we do have two creatures out there, I’d better tell the Inspector.”
“Please,” the Professor indicated her telephone, “ah! (at a tap at the door) that will be Dr. Ainslie, I’ll just ask her to wait a moment.” She went to the door and spoke to her colleague, then closed the door and came back to her desk. Sergeant Baines had got through to the Police Station and gave her report as quickly as she could. She hung up then informed Sarah and the Professor that their instructions hadn’t changed. They were to wait for the dog unit to arrive, unless any further developments occurred.
“Then we had better have Dr. Ainslie in.” said the Professor, moving to the door once again.
The others took their seats and Dr. Ainslie was ushered in, before Professor Rumford sat down at her desk and turned her attention back to her paperwork.
In the laboratory, K-9 had almost finished his analysis of the flask and its contents. He whirred in a manner that suggested satisfaction. Professor Smith, in contrast, was running out of options. She had tested samples, both with individual and combinations of drugs, and nothing had had any effect. She could only hope that K-9 would have a solution. She glanced at the gauge on her breathing equipment, about an hour left. Not long. The Professor looked down, in search of inspiration. In the top of her handbag, she saw a small, brown, glass bottle with a screw top lid. Well, why not? She had tried everything else. Professor Smith reached into the bag and pulled out the bottle, then removed the lid and looked around for a pestle and mortar. Not finding one, and silently cursing whoever had equipped the laboratory for their lack of foresight, she tipped two pills from the bottle into a petri dish and used the end of her propelling pencil to crush them. She then squirted in some distilled water from a bottle on the end of the bench to dissolve, or at least suspend, the powder and used a pipette to drop some onto the last slide.
“Professor. Analysis complete. Professor?”
But the Professor appeared not to hear K-9. She was gazing intently at the slide. Finally, she took the slide out from under the lens and held it out for K-9 to scan.
“Analysis complete, mutation reversing. Substance neutralized. Detecting active agents ascorbic acid and AG 47.”
Professor Smith was nonplussed. But K-9 spoke again.
“Query. What is the material of writing implement?”
Light dawned. Impeded by her breathing apparatus, the Professor seized the pencil and wrote “Silver” on the note pad.
“Affirmative. Analysis of flask confirms outer shell constructed from steel, inner shell constructed from silver. Active ingredients of substance, 9 parts Hephaestium to one part Arnolfinium. Hephaestium neutralized by … Ribinerium, known on Earth as Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C. Arnolfinium neutralized by silver. Therefore, silver lining intended to render substance inactive to protect carrier of flask. Crack in glass caused substance to reactivate.”
Professor Smith nodded.
“Suggest conference with Inspector.”
The Professor nodded again and replaced the flask, the petri dishes and the slides behind the fume hood, then lifted K-9 down from his perch. She opened the door and he trundled out, leaving her to pick up her handbag and then exit, closing the door behind her and making her way to the changing room to remove her protective clothing. The Inspector, coming to see if Professor Smith had made any progress, was startled to see a robot dog in his station, but, as very little else about the case had made any kind of logical sense, he filed the appearance of K-9 under “things to worry about later.”
The Professor emerged from the changing room and stepped forward briskly.
“Ah Inspector. We have been able to reverse the effects of the substance. It can be neutralized and it may be possible to save the victims.”
“I’m very glad to hear that Professor. We?”
“Yes, this is K-9 my niece’s… computer.”
It talks, thought the Inspector, of course it talks. Not for the first time, he wondered exactly what went on at UNIT (where he assumed K-9 had come from) but then decided he would rather not know. Instead, he led the way to his office, K-9 drawing curious glances from officers who passed them in the corridor. Inside the office, the Professor and K-9 explained their findings. The Inspector fidgeted with a pen, a sign that he was thinking hard.
“Vitamin C and silver?”
“Yes, if we can administer a sufficient amount, we may be able to reverse the effect.”
“But how will you know how much to use?”
“That is a concern, but K-9 will calculate the dose and we can rely on his calculations.”
“Affirmative,” said K-9, slightly smugly, thought the Inspector.
“And silver? How will you get silver into them?”
“That is a question. Hmm.” The Professor considered for a moment, then her face lit up. “I have it! Inspector, do you have any tranquiliser guns?”
“Er, yes, for dangerous animals, but?”
“If we could fit the capsule of a tranquiliser gun with a sliver needle...”
“I see what you mean. But where would we get a silver needle to fit the capsule.”
“I’m sure the department of engineering at the university could oblige, if not we will need to apply to the art school for a jewellery maker.”
“Caution, Professor. Suggest needle constructed of steel with silver coating,” put in K-9.
“Ah, you mean the silver might be too soft?”
“Yes, I see what you mean. Very well then, a silver plated needle. In either case, Amelia Rumford should be able to start the ball rolling for us I think.”
Inspector Strang drew his telephone towards him across the desk and began to dial.
Dr Ainslie’s interview was almost at an end when the Inspector’s call came through. Professor Rumford picked up the receiver and gestured to the others to continue, which they did, but, after hearing her greet the Inspector, while straining their ears for possible clues. As Sergeant Baines thanked Dr Ainslie for her time, the Professor hung up, looking slightly concerned.
“Well, Lavinia and K-9 have cracked it, it seems.”
“Good! What did they find out?” asked Sarah.
The Professor told them what had been discovered and what the next stage would be. Dr. Ainslie, temporarily forgotten, stayed in her seat and listened intently, hoping that nobody would remember she was there, at least for the next few minutes. Professor Rumford dialed the number for the Department of Engineering. While she waited for an answer, she explained that the Inspector was sending over tranquiliser guns and capsules to be used as templates and, eventually be fitted with the special needles. K-9 was calculating the correct dosage, based on the available evidence, “and I hope to goodness it’s accurate, oh I know (as Sarah protested) but supposing the evidence is inaccurate. We don’t want to kill those unfortunate men with the cure!” and Professor Smith would prepare the solution for injection. It then remained for the police to locate the creatures and administer the dose. While Amelia Rumford spoke to her colleagues in engineering, Sarah asked Sergeant Baines how the police might set about tracking the creatures. After the poacher’s revelations, no more reports had come in, so it was assumed that the creatures had gone to ground, at least for the time being, presumably in the woods, which were dense and would offer good cover. Pieces of torn clothing, found near the call box, and sheets from Phipps’ bedroom would be used to try and give a scent to the sniffer dogs, and, once a likely location was found, meat would be used as bait to try and draw the creatures out into the open. This had been the plan before the neutralizing agent had been discovered, so it was likely to still be the Inspector’s chosen course of action.
“I see,” said Sarah, thoughtfully, “and how many firearms officers have you got?”
Sergeant Baines frowned. “That’s just it. We’ve got four, at least, more of us have been trained, but with small arms, not rifles. We may not get many chances, so they’ll need to be accurate. I hope it’s enough.”
“Oh. Well, I can use a rifle, if it’s any help.”
“So can I.”
The two women turned and looked at Dr Ainslie in surprise. Professor Rumford, having finished a complicated explanation to her opposite number in engineering and instructed them to await the arrival of the guns requiring modification, hung up just in time to hear her younger colleague speak.
“My dear girl! Use a rifle? I should say you can! Ladies, may I introduce last year’s all-England Universities shooting champion?”
“My word,” said Sarah, looking at the tall, slim figure who was now blushing furiously, “well, Sergeant, if the Inspector will allow it, you’ve got two more guns here.”
“Excellent. Under the circumstances we’ll need all the help we can get.”
“So what do we do in the meantime?” asked Dr. Ainslie.
“Well,” said Professor Rumford, before the Sergeant could speak, “as you girls have finished your interviews, and there seems to be little point in us doing anything until the Inspector tells us what it is we are to do, I suggest we repair to the Buttery. It’s still relatively early and they do an excellent line in bacon sandwiches!”
Although they hadn’t thought about it before, her listeners suddenly became aware that a bacon sandwich was exactly what they needed, so they followed her out of the office eagerly. The Professor left word of where she could be found with the departmental secretary (whose number she had already given to Inspector Strang) then led the way to the Buttery, where savoury aromas gave promise of tasty joys to come.
Inspector Strang, having spoken to Professor Rumford, detailed two of his men to assemble all the tranquiliser guns they had in the station and get them over to the campus. K-9 and Professor Smith had already departed, the Professor preferring to work in the biochemistry labs at the University as they were “no offence, Inspector, considerably better equipped than yours!” The Inspector went to the briefing room and was joined there by Sergeant Mayhew of the firearms unit. Together they studied a map which had been marked with the locations of confirmed or possible sightings of the creatures, and began to draw up a plan of attack. All that remained to do after that was to brief the officers who would be taking part in the operation, and wait for word from the university that their equipment was ready.
That news arrived mid-afternoon, and the Inspector and his team set off for the University. The main body of the force waited in cars, while the Inspector was joined at the Science and Engineering block by Professor Rumford and her party, who had been summoned from her office where they had been following a sandwich lunch with cups of the Professor’s eye wateringly strong coffee. Sergeant Baines introduced Sarah Jane and Dr. Ainslie, and explained that they had offered their services as markswomen. Inspector Strang was, understandably, cautious, but eventually decided to take up the offer on the basis that they were clearly competent and that he could use all the help he could get, as the area to be covered was wider than had been expected. Safety demanded that the marksmen and women be sent out in pairs, so having two extra guns would be welcome. The tranquiliser guns were brought out on a trolley by Professor Watson of the engineering department, and Professor Rumford managed, with unusual tact, to prevent him from giving a full and detailed description of the work his department had undertaken. The Inspector thanked him briefly and departed with Sergeant Baines, Sarah Jane and Dr. Ainslie to the Biochemistry lab, leaving the Professor to soothe her colleague’s ruffled feathers, which she did with her usual brisk kindness. Once the capsules had been filled with the vitamin c solution and the needles fitted, the guns were distributed and Sergeant Mayhew took over. Propping a map on a small easel, he indicated the search area. The dog handler’s and their canine companions readied themselves and were primed with the materials taken from the bedroom and the call box, then sent off into the field. Following them were pairs of officers carrying meat in insulated containers. Once the dogs had located the creatures, they would be withdrawn and the bait placed. The armed officers and the two volunteers, were sent off in pairs behind the dogs, to start around the perimeter of the search area and gradually converge on their quarries. Sarah found herself paired with Dr. Ainslie, or Kate as she shyly introduced herself, and the two of them walked round the perimeter of the campus to a point close to the hall of residence to begin their progress towards the woods. Not really knowing what to say to each other, the two women walked on in silence. They had been issued with a police radio, but, apart from the occasional crackle, that, too remained silent. Suddenly the sound of barking was heard in the distance. Sarah and Kate looked at each other and quickened their pace. The radio crackled
“All units, all units, possible target located, bait placed, proceed with caution, over.”
Sarah pressed a button on the side of the radio to acknowledge the message and they walked on. They caught sight of their fellow marksmen as they neared the wood and the circle closed. The barking had ceased as the dogs and their handlers withdrew and the armed officers and volunteers took up station on the edge of the wood and waited. All was quiet, save for bird song from the trees. After a while, even this noise stopped. The air was still, not a breath of wind and an eerie silence settled. Suddenly there was a rustling in the trees and Sarah and Kate shouldered their rifles in anticipation. A deer burst through the bushes and careered across the field. The women relaxed and Sarah opened her mouth to speak, but the words froze on her lips as she saw what the deer had been fleeing. The creature was almost as tall as some of the trees from which it emerged. The muzzle was lifted as it sniffed the air, then lowered as it caught the scent of the meat. It moved slowly, cautiously towards the bait as if suspecting a trap. Sarah wondered how intelligent it was. Had the human capacity for reasoning been retained within that warped and monstrous form, or had that, too been consumed? The creature raised its head again, and she could see part of the carcass of a sheep in its jaws. Suddenly the trees behind it shook and the second creature emerged and charged forward, springing with claws outstretched. The ground shook as the creatures fell and rolled on the ground, snapping at each other. The marksmen opened fire, but the first darks missed the moving targets, whistling through the air and falling to ground. Then, the first creature, trying to free itself from its assailant, stood almost upright and Kate fired. The dart struck it in the chest. For a moment, it looked as if nothing would happen, the creature howled, tried to knock the dart away and took a few steps back towards the wood. Then it fell, writhing and howling as the drug took effect. Kate snapped open the rifle to reload as the second creature rose and looked at the first and prepared to spring. A dart struck it on the shoulder but at an angle and the creature swatted it away and turned, growling, in the direction of the shot. It began to run with long strides, gathering speed as it went, heading for the marksmen closest to Sarah and Kate. Sarah tried to hold her rifle steady, not daring to breathe, waiting as the beast closed. The police marksman fired, but again the dart missed the now fast moving target. The two officers dropped their guns and ran, but the creature was still gaining. Then, with Kate’s voice ringing in her ears telling her “Now, Sarah, NOW!” Sarah fired. The dart struck the creature in the neck. It turned, howling and changed course towards the two women. They stood as if frozen, as if some inner voice had told them it was pointless to run. The creature readied itself to spring, then fell to the ground as if made of stone. The ground shook as it landed. At first it was still, then it began to writhe on the ground, howling and moaning just as the other had done. Sarah and Kate approached, then Sarah put out a hand to stop Kate going any closer. The police officers came forward too, guns raised. The creature began to change before their eyes. The limbs shortened and straightened. The claws retreated and the mouth and muzzle shortened. The ears shifted as the face seemed almost to melt and reform, and the growling was replaced with moans of pain that were recognizably human. The dark hair that had covered the body began to shrivel and fall away. Finally, the body of a young man, wounded and shivering , lay on the grass before them. One of the policemen grabbed his radio and called for a stretcher and ambulance. The call was answered swiftly and the two men were wrapped in blankets and taken to the isolation ward of Withyford hospital. Sarah Jane and Kate handed over their weapons and returned to the University, neither of them really sure what they should do next, but not wanting to be in the way. They were met by Professor Rumford, who after seizing both their hands in turn, looked them over appraisingly and announced that, as far as she was concerned, this situation demanded cocoa and toasted teacakes and Sarah, laughing with relief and reaction, replied that she couldn’t think of anything better.
The teacakes had been consumed and the cocoa was still being sipped when Sergeant Baines and Professor Smith arrived. Both accepted a hot drink and sat down to bring the others up to date with the latest developments. Phipps and Burnley had been sedated and seemed to be resting comfortably in the hospital. They would be given regular doses of a vitamin c solution intravenously, through silver needles, until blood samples showed that they were free of the mutation. By a miracle, they had sustained no serious injuries from their fight and the cuts and slashes had been stitched and treated with antiseptic. The flask, after being flooded with the vitamin c solution, had been resealed in a new container, made by the engineering department. That done, it had been locked away in the lab at the police station, from where it would be removed a few days later by two men in UNIT uniforms. Sergeant Baines took statements from Sarah Jane and Kate, and asked them to call in at the police station to sign copies later that day, then made her excuses and left. Kate Ainslie finished her cocoa and stood up.
“Well, I must go, I’ve got to finish marking my first year’s essays by tomorrow.” She paused, then laughed, “That sounds very mundane, doesn’t it?”
Sarah Jane smiled, “I’d make the most of it, if I were you!”
Dr. Ainslie shook hands with Professor Smith and Sarah and left the office. Sarah set down her mug and sighed.
“I’d better pick up my bags and get to the police station, then I can go straight on from there, I’d like to miss the traffic on the main road.” Then she laughed too, “which also sounds very mundane.”
Professor Rumford got up from behind her desk.
“In that case, I had better come with you, or you won’t be able to get in! Coming, Lavinia?”
“No, I’ll stay here. The final dinner of the conference is tonight and I want to get packed up ready to leave the next morning before I go out for the evening.”
“Very well,” Amelia Rumford opened the door and held it open, “after you, K-9?”
“Affirmative.” and K-9, who had been waiting by the door, trundled out into the corridor, ready to accompany Sarah Jane to the police station and to whatever adventures the future had in store.