(Part 2 of 2)
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Soon enough, they were mostly dry again. The TARDIS was pleasantly free of slime or any other remnants of the attack, although they would have to let it air out for a few days before going on any lengthy journey. The Doctor nodded in approval. Everything always worked itself out in the end, and the absence of a second attack by the mushroom was encouraging. He motioned toward a haggard-looking Kapila, and they exited cautiously.
The Doctor jumped up and down and clapped his hands together when he saw what awaited them. “Yes, yes! My suspicions are confirmed!” Kapila just gaped.
Before them, a gigantic deer some twenty-five meters tall at its head was bent over the chewed-up remains of the giant mushroom and taking casual nibbles, its eyes closed in satisfaction as its tongue swept up the slime that was oozing across the ground. As it ate, several more deer appeared. Further away, he saw a deer grappling with another giant mushroom, darting in and nipping at it, ripping off chunks of its membrane before backing away out of the reach of the fungi’s fangs.
“But they will not approach the village,” Kapila said. “The giant deer are known to us, though we understand few of their habits. Nevertheless, they prefer the forest and the trees to the grasslands.”
“Ah, but we could lure them closer! They seem to enjoy the mushrooms, but there are other delicacies deer enjoy as well.” The Doctor peered into the horizon. “Yes, yes, indeed, there are more further away, enough appetites to eliminate maybe the entire field in hours.”
“But what do they enjoy? You know more than us about these deer.”
“Hmm, well, on Earth, I remember feeding deer with salt licks, you know, giant cubes of salt, but we had to manufacture those, and it’s not like we can just put together enough salt to tempt even one of them. The quantities we’re talking about would have to be enormous.”
“What are you talking about, Doctor? You mean salt as in the white salt we use to season meals with?”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
“But Doctor, salt grows on trees!”
“I, yes, yes, my dear... excuse me, you said what?”
“It grows on trees. These cubes you were talking about. Look!” Kapila pointed, and the Doctor followed her finger to one of the trees looming overhead. Its trunk looked like a thousand vines woven together into one thick mass and was probably twenty meters in diameter. The trunk extended up some hundred meters before exploding into a canopy of leaves. Amidst the leaves, hanging off of branches by some spindly growths, there were small, square-ish white splotches that the Doctor would never have recognized as salt had Kapila not said so.
“You’re sure that’s salt?”
“Yes, we harvest the fallen cubes at times to use on our food. It’s quite a delicacy and very difficult to obtain.”
“Well, I can see why.” If he could see the cubes at this distance, they had to be massive, probably larger than the deer themselves. Well, at least size wouldn’t be a problem.
“Oh no, do you mean the distance? We wait for the cubes to fall.”
“Still, it must take teams to move them.”
“No, the cubes fracture upon impact and are quite easy to carry.”
The Doctor wondered if she was deliberately being contrary now, but knowing she was not, he began to feel uneasy. “Then why exactly is it difficult to obtain?”
“Because the slugs guard the trees.”
“Oh no, it begins!” Kapila said, grabbing the Doctor and pulling him closer to the TARDIS so they could escape at a moment’s notice.
Out of the grasses, a herd of slugs slid into view. The one leading the pack was significantly larger than the others and shimmered with a multitude of colors, like a fluorescent deep-sea squid. Whenever it let out a call, it would expand and contract, forcing air through its skin to call out, “QUEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAA!”
The ground gave way before their bodies like loose dirt before a glacier, and they left glimmering, iridescent trails of slime in their wake. Their movement sounded significantly soft and mushy, and after their run-in with the mushrooms, the Doctor was glad they weren’t closer; he’d had quite enough slime to last him several centuries. He had a nagging feeling this pleasant arrangement wouldn’t last long, though.
At least fifty slugs were now gathered about the base of the tree, their feelers swaying in coordinated patterns as though part of some ritual. The leader puffed up almost twice its original size.
The Doctor frowned. “It sounds like a flatulent, deaf children’s choir. What are they doing?”
“I do not know, but they try to drive off any who approach the salt trees. Only the bravest of our citizens dare make salt runs, for almost always someone on the team returns injured, and several die each year. I would forbid the practice altogether, except my people love their salt too much.”
“You should tell them too much salt is bad for you. It’s true, my dear. Unfortunate, but true.”
As the Doctor thought about the situation, he unconsciously licked his wet lips. He was surprised when they tasted salty. Looking across the plains between the grassland and the forest, he saw the massive craters the TARDIS had left as it rolled into the water. He pointed. “Kapila, do the salt trees always grow around water?”
Kapila considered the question for a moment. “Not around every body of water--that would be unfortunate, as the slugs would be everywhere. But yes, they only grew near water.”
The Doctor brightened. “That’s it! Of course, it all makes sense now! You’ve never seen salt trees by a freshwater pond, have you?”
“Don’t you see, my dear? The ecosystem here is somewhat different from other planets I’ve been to, but it’s close enough to one called Earth that I think all comparisons are valid. Almost all living land-bound organisms need freshwater, not salt water, but those that cannot obtain fresh water must needs create their own or evolve to adapt to the salt water. Clearly these trees are from a salt-water environment, and over the years, they did both. Evolution made them incorporate salt as part of their biological processes, so they need to grow near salt water, but all the excess salt they take up is filtered out and expelled through a secondary branch system up in the canopy. As for the slugs, they’re worshipping the trees! Slugs can’t take salt; any amount they come into contact with will kill them, so the trees hold the power of life and death over them. Their activity suggests they are least semi-sentient, and therefore they would worship the trees as gods. When they are good, the trees extract salt from their environment, and when they are bad, it rains punishment down on them from the skies!”
“Doctor, that’s brilliant!”
“Why thank you, I’m rather proud of my theories myself.”
“But if, as you suggest, the snails worship the trees, how are we going to get the salt? They will protect it with all the zeal of religious fanaticism! We will be committing ultimate sacrilege in their eyes!”
“Well, that’s where the TARDIS comes in again.”
Kapila crossed her arms. “Is that a good idea? Look where it got us last time.”
“Yes, well, mushrooms don’t grow on trees, do they?” The Doctor paused and eyed her suspiciously. “They don’t on this planet, do they?”
“No, no,” she reassured him. “Er, not that I’m aware of, anyway. It’s rather high up. So I suppose it’s safest to say mushrooms don’t fall from trees here.”
“Oh, crumbs. Well, no use in delaying, my dear. Let’s go.”
When they re-entered the TARDIS, the Doctor changed his assessment and decided it needed a little more than some airing out. Thankfully, he knew a great cleaner about 10,000 years from now who did good jobs for a very reasonable price.
He programmed in the new coordinates, hoping they were accurate enough, but the branches were so wide he figured they wouldn’t have any problem. He hit the lever, and the TARDIS began rocking.
A few seconds later, they were standing a hundred meters up and looking down on the slugs below. It was disconcerting that only now did they look remotely the correct scale, but thinking in Earth terms only skewed his depth perception and made his mind trick him into thinking he wasn’t high up, and he hated to think he could fall prey to visual illusions so easily.
“Oh look, there’s a salt block just ahead,” he announced.
He went back into the TARDIS and retrieved a long length of rope. “This should do the job quite nicely.”
The salt blocks were some fifty meters on each side and suspended by a secondary network of vines that enveloped the branches. It looked as though the network extended into the cubes themselves, like the core of an apple, allowing the salt to accumulate to such sizes. The cubes were connected to the vines via one central braided stem.
Attaching one end of the rope to the TARDIS, the Doctor took the other and carefully worked his way down the vines to the top of the cube. The block was surprisingly sturdy and solid, though grains of salt shifted beneath his shoes as he made his way across the surface.
“Be careful!” Kapila warned. “We have observed the cubes with our magnifying devices, and this one looks ripe.”
“Ripe? What do you mean--” He heard a creaking noise. “Oh dear.”
He took one flying leap and grabbed the vines as the salt cube shuddered and broke loose, the stem fraying and snapping into a thousand whirling strands that threatened to pull him down with them. One flew right past his leg but missed, and then the cube was rapidly shrinking from sight.
“MOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” one of the slugs bellowed as the cube landed on it. “Mroaaaaawwwrr?”
There was a wet popping noise as the slug exploded. The Doctor paused in his efforts to climb back onto the branch to stare. “That’s curious. Salt’s sort of supposed to desiccate slugs.”
“I guess our worlds are not so alike after all,” Kapila answered, helping pull him back up.
“Oh my,” he said, wringing his hands. “I didn’t mean for them to get hurt.”
“It serves them right!” Kapila stamped her foot.
The Doctor looked at her in shock. “My dear, we have killed an innocent creature.”
“I think not,” Kapila said scornfully. “These are the big slugs, larger than most. Every half moon, they raid villages to steal people and throw them into the great salt lakes. If you are right, then they were sacrifices to the salt tree gods.”
“Oh dear,” the Doctor said.
“We are more fortunate than most, since we are in the grasslands and far from the trees, but every so many moons, we lose a child to them as well.”
“I suppose that gives us the moral high ground, then. Well, we must not delay. Let’s try to get another one, a little less ripe this time, please.”
They found one a little ways further down the branch. It was smaller than the first, but not significantly, and the Doctor managed to get the rope tied around it. Then he retrieved a blowtorch from the TARDIS and cut the stem. There was a brief, concerning moment when the rope reached the end of its slack and threatened to pull the TARDIS off the branch, but the TARDIS was heavy enough to hold its ground.
“Now let me show you what else the TARDIS can do,” the Doctor said. He activated a second set of controls, and the TARDIS gently lifted into the air.
“Oh, I like this method a lot better,” Kapila said.
“Now this will require a lot of fine-tuning, so why don't you operate the controls and I can guide you from the door?”
Kapila backed away. “No, no, I wouldn’t begin to understand--”
“Oh, it’s easy! See this, just push it in the direction I tell you: forward, backward, left, or right. I’ve fixed the altitude so it won’t go up or down, which should be fine since the ground here is flat, though if you must make adjustments, you just push this knob up or down.”
“That’s it?” she asked dubiously.
“Yes, my dear, see, you’re a natural!” he cried when the TARDIS responded smoothly to her touch. He rushed to the door. “All right, now first we must lure the deer, so we must move a little further into the forest.”
He guided her slowly toward the herd of deer, then put two fingers between his lips and whistled shrilly. All the deer perked their heads up, their ears swiveling around to identify the source of the noise. Then they saw it, and he could feel their attention focus on the salt cube, but none moved.
“All right, they’ve noticed us, but we must move a little closer. Come on, forward a little, yes, now right, right, oh, left a bit, now right a little more, yes, yes, perfect! Oh no, it’s running away. Forward! Forward! No no no back!”
“Make up your mind!” Kapila yelled. Then the TARDIS shook, and the Doctor winced. The salt cube swung forward in a deceptively slow arc and slammed into the terrified deer.
“OOOOOOOOOOAAAAARRR!!!!” it said as it flew into the air. Kapila’s jaw dropped as the deer soared past the open doorway, its eyes wide open and its mouth foaming in terror. Then there was a loud thump as it hit the ground again.
“It’s ok!” the Doctor announced. “It’s getting up. It’s all right.”
Now all the deer were approaching out of curiosity, which did not bode well for the species’ long-term survival, but things looked quite good for the Doctor, anyway. One of the deer finally approached the salt cube and licked it tentatively. Its ears perked up, and it was about to try a second taste when the Doctor yelled, “BACK!”
Kapila hit the controls and the TARDIS soared away. The deer took only one moment to ponder this development before it took off after them. The others noticed and quickly followed behind, and soon there was a stampede. Then the Doctor noticed a problem.
“Kapila, up!” Nothing happened. “Up!”
“What? Up? Oh up!”
After the first slug exploded from the falling cube, the others had broken from the ritual and scattered, but now they were regrouping and the TARDIS was headed straight for them. Even worse, the salt lick was low enough that it would likely hit a slug. The Doctor didn’t know how the deer would react to an exploding slug, but he didn’t want to take any chances. They needed to get this done so he could find Jamie.
“Doctor, it’s stuck!”
“There’s a safety! The green button next to the lever.”
“There’s six green buttons!”
“The moderately large-sized one!”
“Oh no,” the Doctor managed before he fell out through the doorway. There was a great glurp, and he was hit full on by a wave of slime as he plummeted toward the salt cube. He landed on its surface with a loud, “Oomph” and quickly stood up to grab hold of the rope. The cube was now swinging wildly, and he could hear Kapila screaming back in the TARDIS. The deer were now trampling through the slugs’ territory, and the slugs were retaliating by slamming their bodies into the deer and trapping them with slime. Before long, however, one of the slugs let out a long, lowing cry and as a unit, the group turned and began chasing the TARDIS.
“Doctor, what do I do?” Kapila cried.
“Fly us back to your village! Can you do that?”
“I think so! Should I go up?”
“No, the deer are still following! Keep going-- AGH!” He ducked as a slug went flying over his head. The cube caught it as it swung into the slug’s downward arc and there was a huge explosion.
“What happened?” Kapila yelled.
“The slugs are after us, that’s all. They seem to be intent on punishing religious blasphemy.”
“We’re not luring the slugs back to my village!”
“I’m afraid you have to, my dear!”
The TARDIS banked sharply right, and the Doctor nearly lost his grip as the cube began swirling in erratic circles. “Try to drive a little more carefully!”
“MOOOOO!” The cube slammed against one of the slugs and flung it into the face of one of the deer, whereupon it promptly exploded. The deer reared upward and kicked the TARDIS.
“AAAAAAAAH!!!” Kapila flew out through the doorway and landed next to the Doctor.
“Who’s driving now?” the Doctor asked. Kapila gave him an incredulous look. “Hold on tight!”
They pressed themselves against the rope as the cube slammed into one of the deer. Massive strands of fur tugged at their clothes before the deer soared away. Then they screamed, “AAAAAAAAAAAH!” as the cube swung the other direction and plowed into a slug.
Overhead, the TARDIS began spinning madly, and though the altitude lock was still holding, it was beginning to lurch drunkenly, unable to follow a straight line. The cube began spinning as well.
“Oh no!” the Doctor cried. Their feet lifted off the cube as they began spinning with the TARDIS round and round and round.
“EEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” Several slugs got caught up in their tornado and their remains went spinning out in all directions. Then the TARDIS let out an erratic sequences of bleeps and bloops and began losing altitude. Thankfully, through the blades of grass that were slamming into their faces, the Doctor could make out the village growing larger up ahead.
“Well, this will work out nicely! Hold on!!!”
They closed their eyes as the cube struck the ground. Massive clods of dirt exploded into the air as they plowed a furrow through the grass. The rope went taut, then made a creaking sound before it snapped. The TARDIS went flying off into the distance and slammed into the ground with explosive force.
“Let go, let go!” the Doctor yelled as the cube began flipping over. He and Kapila both let go and went flying ahead of the cube. They landed just as it flipped upside down, but then they realized they were still in its path.
“YAAAAH!” Kapila covered her face with her arms. The cube struck the ground, bounced up over them, then landed beyond her and kept rolling. It began fracturing, and by the time it reached the village, it had shattered into thousands of pieces.
“Look out!” the Doctor cried.
Kapila rolled over just as a giant hoof came down on where she had been. The Doctor stood and ran to her. Then he had to push her out of the way as an enraged slug, glowing bright red, glided past.
“My village!” she screamed.
“Mushroom!” the Doctor screamed.
The two of them jumped out of the way as a giant mushroom buried its fangs into the ground. It pulled up, and let out a rumbling roar. As one, giant mushrooms reared their heads all over the grasslands, and the deer paused, looking around. Then they turned from the village and began bounding toward the mushrooms.
“Yerk?” the offending mushroom said. Then three deer tore it apart.
“Ha ha! It worked! It worked!”
“Oh, oh dear, oh my,” the Doctor said, wringing his hands.
The slugs were tearing at the buildings on the outskirts of the community, and terrified villagers were running into Kapila’s own home for shelter. The Doctor and Kapila ran up.
“Don’t you have any weapons or anything?” Kapila demanded.
“I don’t... let me think...”
“Oh my, I-- oh look.”
The Doctor pointed at the closest slug. It had stopped attacking, and colors were swirling through its skin in a pattern of confusion. “QUUUUUUUEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeooooooo.”
Water began seeping through its skin in greater and greater quantities, and then it simultaneously expanded and imploded. Slime went flying through the air as the slug exploded.
“Yes! Of course! The salt, my dear, the salt!”
A fine sprinkling of white crystals was falling from the sky, pieces of the cube that had burst upwards on the first impact. Now they rained down on the slugs, and one by one, each exploded. Soon, the village was covered in slime but safe from any further attacks. In the surrounding area, the deer were making good work of the fanged mushrooms, and the Doctor grinned.
“Oh, this will take forever to clean up,” Kapila said, but she was smiling too.
In the village, people were exiting from the central dwellings and looking around in wonder. Then they began cheering, and the young man who had brought the news of Jamie’s capture ran up to them.
“Thank you, Kapila! Thank you, Doctor!” he said. “And look!” He picked up a handful of slug from the ground and put it in his mouth. “It tastes salty!”
Kapila and the Doctor exchanged glances, but at the boy’s prompting, they each took a bite. Kapila nodded in surprised approval. “It tastes good!”
“Well, looks like you won’t be starving any time soon,” the Doctor said, chewing thoughtfully. “Hmm, tastes like chicken.”
The boy took their hands and led them back to the village. The other villagers surrounded them, jumping up and down in excitement, and there was talk of a feast, but the Doctor held up his hands and requested silence. When the village had calmed, he announced, “Today’s developments are indeed great news, but the struggle is not over. Now that your village is safe, I must rescue my friend and make sure the mushrooms do not return.”
Several villagers stepped forward. “We will accompany you and make sure you are safe.”
The Doctor glanced at Kapila who nodded, so he accepted their offer gratefully. “Thank you, but we must leave immediately.”
“That won’t be a problem,” a brawny man said.
Kapila brushed some slime off his sleeve. “Surely you will want to get clean.”
“If I remember correctly, I heard a stream when we first arrived. Is there one between here and the castle?”
“I’m sure fording it will get me quite clean, then.”
Kapila nodded. “You are a great man, Doctor. Good luck!”
The Doctor grinned and bowed. “At your service.” Then he ran for the castle, slime sloshing between his feet and the soles of his shoes. This wasn’t quite the relaxing vacation he’d had in mind, but he had to admit this adventure had a sort of unique charm to it.
Jamie was led forcefully into a brightly lit room. He didn't bother struggling against his captors. After all, even if he did manage to escape--which was unlikely, given their ridiculously strong grips--where would he go? He doubted he could even find his way back to the stairwell.
The room was large but had a slightly low ceiling. This posed no problem for Jamie, being a little short, but the leather creatures were tall and had to stoop. The room was featureless and devoid of any objects, except for the monstrosity in one of the back corners. The room was dominated by a giant glass jar, the sort pickles might come in, but instead of pickles it held what could only be described as a giant, greenish brain floating in a clear substance. There were wires coming from the lid that connected to some kind of speaker.
It became immediately evident that the speaker was the brain's way of communicating.
"Ahhh, so this is the boy! He does look delicious," the brain said, its voice female and soothing, but also with an undertone of quiet static.
"Ye're a brain? Ye're responsible for all these beasties? How?" Jamie asked, aghast. He struggled futilely against his captors for a moment.
"The inhabitants of this planet are weak. It takes so very little psychic influence to change the plant life." If a brain could grin, this one would be doing so now. The gentle female voice took on a distinctly prideful tone.
Jamie was terrified, and desperately trying not to let it show. Monsters and aliens and robots he could handle, but what was he supposed to do against a giant psychic brain in a jar? It seemed pretty helpless to look at, but who knew what it could really do? Even the Cybermen were preferable. At least he understood them to a degree.
"How do you like my boys? They looked so very much like you, once upon a time." The brain mused. Jamie was horrified.
"Wha' did you do to them?" he asked, not sure he really wanted to hear the answer. The brain laughed.
"Oh, I just enhanced them. Made them stronger, faster, more durable. They're just shells now. I had to get rid of their will so they'd do my bidding. And, of course, I dressed them. Aren't they lovely?"
"No! It's sick!" shouted Jamie, disgusted.
"Ahaha, and what would you know of it, you tiny--" The brain stopped mid-sentence and let out a deafening, echoing howl. "Intruders! Intruders! How did they get here?!" it bellowed. "Go, take care of them! Leave the boy. I'll deal with him." The minions obeyed instantly, letting go of Jamie's arms and stalking out the door.
Jamie sunk to his knees and rubbed at his arms, relieved to have full circulation returned. It's the Doctor, he thought. It's got to be!
"The mushrooms are gone! Why should we have to go in there? I feel it is a sinister place," protested Lani, one of the villagers who had volunteered to come with the Doctor. Lani was little more than a boy, but very fit and light on his feet. Kapila had assured him that Lani was an excellent warrior.
"Because," the Doctor explained, "if we don't stop the source, they will just come back. Also, I am sure that Jamie is in there and I must get him back." Now that his mind was no longer occupied by an immediate problem, the worry and fear for his friend that had been shoved into the back of his mind had surfaced and was filling him with dread.
"What are we waiting for, then?" asked Guida, a large, burly man who was Lani's opposite in almost every way. He didn't speak often, but everything about him was big and loud. He even breathed loudly.
"It's always better to assess the situation before barging in," the Doctor said. "But it looks quiet enough to me. In my experience, that's usually a bad thing, but I suppose there's no way to find out what's in there without seeing for ourselves. No sense in waiting any longer." Despite his calm tone and words, every fiber of his being longed to charge in; every nerve felt on fire, and adrenaline surged through him. With considerable effort, he forced himself to remain outwardly composed.
The final member of their little party was a short, stocky, bald girl named Qu. She was a good friend to Kapila and her self-appointed protector. She didn't say much unless necessary.
They approached the castle, doing their best to stay hidden, even though there didn't seem to be anyone to hide from. It was definitely a foreboding structure. Despite it being broad daylight out, the castle was lit as though it were the middle of the night and overcast to boot. It made an extremely surreal image.
"This doesn't belong here," the Doctor said in wonder, pressing the palm of his hand to the cold stone. "In fact, I'd guess that it isn't, in any real sense, here at all. That's why the sun doesn't appear to shine on it. I suspect it's really somewhere else, somewhere where it's currently nighttime."
"That doesn't make sense! I can see it! It's right there! I can touch it!" Lani whined.
"Yes, well, I'm afraid I don't really understand it either. It's all speculation on my part. I've really never seen anything like this; it's quite fascinating." He pulled himself away and turned to the large double doors. "Shall we go in?"
"Uhh..." Lani began, but Guida and Qu each grabbed a giant iron ring and pulled open the massive wooden doors, then stepped briskly in. The Doctor followed and after only a moment's hesitation, Lani did as well.
They found themselves in a giant foyer. There were several doors on either side of them and a short half-level staircase at the end. Curiously, sunlight streamed in through the high windows, though it cast more shadows than it dispelled, and the Doctor wondered exactly how much of the castle was here and how much was elsewhere. Above them hung a very, very old chandelier. The Doctor moved forward a few steps and beckoned for his companions to do the same, not trusting the rusted metal hooks to keep the chandelier above them instead of on top of them.
There was hushed quiet, but it didn't stay that way for long. With no warning, doors on either side of them burst off their hinges and a tall, leather-clad humanoid stepped out of each. They both held whips which they cracked menacingly.
"Run!" the Doctor shouted, recovering first and pushing the others forward towards the stairs. "Find a room!" Qu threw open the first door, then slammed it shut again. The Doctor found another and opened it to reveal an empty room. "In here!" he called, and all four ducked through. The Doctor slammed it shut and turned the lock, and Guida shoved an old, rotting dresser in front of it.
"Well, that won't hold them for long," Guida noted.
"We have to find a way of getting rid of them!" the Doctor said, pacing and trying desperately to think.
"Why don't we just fight? There are only two of them," Lani suggested, bouncing on the balls of his feet, itching for a fight.
"Oh, I very much doubt that would work," the Doctor said. "They are far faster and probably far stronger than any of us. No, we need a plan." The door shuddered from an outside blow, but held.
"The door at the top of the stairs," Qu began, "It leads to a cellar of some sort. The door is much heavier than this one, and there's a bolt lock."
"Simple but brilliant! If we can lock them down there, they might not be able to get out," said the Doctor excitedly.
"Okay, but, if they're out there, how do we get out of here?" asked Lani. The Doctor paused and thought for a moment. The door looked close to giving.
"Okay, here's what we're going to do," the Doctor said. "They're obviously mostly just drones, which means they're not too intelligent. If we stand against the wall on either side of the door, then when it opens and they come running in, we can slip out behind them. Guida, I'm going to need your spear." Guida looked doubtful, but handed it over anyway. "Good, good," the Doctor continued, and then went about explaining the rest of his plan.
Two minutes later, they were all pressed against the wall, waiting breathlessly. It didn't take long. One final blow and the door and dresser both came away, and the creatures burst in. There was a moment of confusion when they found the room seemingly empty that the Doctor and his companions used to slip out. They raced down the hall and the Doctor hauled the door open. It was perfect. Unlike the other doors, this one was extremely heavy and reinforced with what looked like iron. It was still made of wood, but it was at least six inches thick. It took up over half the hallway, and all four of them had no trouble hiding behind it. At the last moment, the Doctor threw the spear down the stairs.
The creatures dashed out of the room and, hearing what they thought in their tiny minds was their prey running down the stairs, ran down themselves. The Doctor waited a moment and then slammed the door shut, turning the lock and throwing the bolt. Then he sagged against the door, relieved. The relief didn't last long, however. He shot back to his feet.
"Jamie!" he said, and started to rush off, then paused when he realized he had no idea which direction to go.
"What?" asked Guida, confused. "What's the rush? Isn't that it? Didn't we get them?"
"Oh, no, no. Those were just drones! They're being controlled by something, or someone. And besides, we only locked them in the basement! That may hold them for a couple days, but it won't hold them forever unless we get rid of their controller." A thought struck him. "Oh dear, what if Jamie was down there?" He wrung his hands worriedly.
"Over here!" Qu shouted, having found another set of stairs with quick and efficient competency.
"Right, right, yes, that's a good idea," the Doctor said, and followed her up.
They're going after the Doctor! I have to help him! Jamie thought, panicking. He forced himself to stand up, ignoring the aching in his arms as the blood flow returned. The gash he'd suffered earlier was throbbing and the bandage felt loose, but he ignored that too. He had to get to the Doctor.
He made a dash for the open door, but it slammed shut in front of him. He tugged at it futilely, then whirled around.
"It won' open! Why won' it open?" he asked wildly, hating the feeling of helplessness that came from not being able to reach the Doctor.
"Psychic, remember? A mind this large, my masteries don't stop at telepathy!" boasted the brain.
It's a giant brain in a jar, Jamie thought frantically. Wha' do I do? How do I kill a giant brain in a jar?
"Wha' do ye want with me? Why no' just kill me?" he asked, stalling for time so he could think. Thinking wasn't his job! That was what the Doctor did!
It's a brain! In a jar! his mind supplied helpfully. Wha' am I good at? Fighting. Just fighting, and getting into trouble. I can't fight this! I can't even get to it! It's in a jar!
"Is it not obvious?" the brain was saying. "I wish to turn you into another one of my beautiful boys. Do you like to be whipped? They love to be whipped. You will love it as well, shortly."
Jamie wasn't really listening to it, which was probably a good thing. His train of thought had come to the obvious conclusion. Wait! I can get to it! It's just in a jar! It's made of glass! I can break glass! And if I break the glass...
He lunged. He threw his whole weight at the jar, his shoulder slamming against the glass. Nothing happened. Then the brain started laughing, loud and long.
"You didn't really think that would work, did you? You can't break this! No amount of battering will shatter this glass." The brain continued laughing, but Jamie ignored it and looked around for something to hit it with. Now his shoulder ached as well, and he regretted his rash attack.
The stones in the walls and ceilings and floors were old and crumbling, and there were bits of rock sitting all over. Most were too small to do any damage to anything, but a few were larger. He ran for one, picked it up, and hurled it. Without pausing to see if it did anything, he grabbed another one and threw it as well.
He glanced over at the brain as he ran for another stone. There was not even a scratch as far as he could see. Refusing to give up, he hurled another stone. Nothing. He searched for another stone large enough to possibly do any damage, but there weren't anymore. Everything else was just pebbles and dust.
Jamie thought frantically. The awful laughing noise the brain was making was driving him to distraction. He covered his ears, but there was nothing. No ideas were coming. There was nothing he could do. And the Doctor! What was happening to him without Jamie to protect him?
The Doctor flew into the room. Jamie's head snapped up, and he fell right on his ass in surprise.
"Doctor!" he cried. Three other people followed him in. Jamie paid them no attention at all.
"My word! This takes "mastermind" to a whole other level," said the Doctor, then walked over to Jamie.
"Jamie, I'm so glad you're all right! Are you hurt?" Jamie shook his head mutely. The Doctor gave him a brief hug, and then stood.
"Doctor, what the hell is that?!" shouted one of the men the Doctor had arrived with. It quickly occurred to Jamie to warn the Doctor.
"What is this invasion? Where are my boys?" the brain roared in furious confusion.
"Doctor, it's psychic! It controls people," he said urgently, standing up. The Doctor's face lost a little of its color and he spun around, barking orders to the people behind him.
"You three! Get out of here, now! Get back down and wait for us outside! If we don't come out within the hour, just run for it. Do not argue, there is no time for it, just do as I say." There was only a slight hesitation from the three, then they rushed out. The Doctor slammed the door behind them and locked it.
The brain had fallen silent. The Doctor turned and froze. Jamie approached him, cautiously.
"Doctor, wha's been happening? How do we beat this thing? I tried to break the glass, but it's a wee bit too strong for me." The Doctor didn't acknowledge him, instead staring at the massive jar. Jamie placed a hand firmly on his shoulder. "Doctor, why are you all wet?"
"Ah ha!" the Doctor suddenly cried victoriously. "Never mind that now, Jamie," he said quickly, then addressed the brain again. "You think your pitiful telepathic skills are any match for me? You cannot take over my mind!" The brain let out a soundless bellow of fury.
"If I cannot have yours, then I will certainly have the boy’s! He does not have the mental guards you do," the brain said. Jamie cast a panicked look at the Doctor, his right hand tightening on the Doctor's shoulder and his other falling to grip his arm. The Doctor just gave him a friendly, reassuring smile. The brain let out another chilling roar.
"I cannot see his mind! What is this block? He is primitive! None such as he should be able to block me!"
The Doctor stepped forward and out of Jamie's grip. All the friendliness from a moment ago was gone from his posture and his expression. When he spoke, his voice was cold and frightening. He was nothing like the kind, silly Doctor Jamie knew.
"No," he said, "you cannot see this boy's mind, because he travels with me. My ship protects him, and nothing so powerless and insignificant as you shall have any hope of breaking that barrier. Now I offer you a choice. You return to wherever it is you came from, or you die right here." The brain laughed at him.
"I may not be able to penetrate you, but neither do you have any hope of killing me. Your boy already tried!"
"So you will not leave?"
"Never! I am invincible!"
"Oh, but you are not." The Doctor looked truly sad and regretful. He turned to look at Jamie. "You tried to crack the glass already?" Jamie nodded.
"Aye, but I couldn't. There isn't anything in here to hit it with, Doctor. How do you plan to--" He trailed off. The Doctor smiled briefly at him and pulled his recorder out of an inner pocket on his jacket.
"Where physical force fails, Jamie, specific sound waves can crack even the hardest of glass." Jamie clamped his hands over his ears just in time as a loud, clear, shrill noise rang out. The brain screamed, for the first time in terror. A crack appeared in the glass of its jar, which quickly grew. Smaller cracks branched off from the first. Above them, the glass of the windows cracked as well. Abruptly, the Doctor stopped playing.
"Get down, Jamie, now!" he shouted and lunged to shield his friend as Jamie instinctively obeyed. Then the windows shattered and a rain of glass shards fell all around them. Moments later, the glass jar followed, spilling a watery liquid out all over the floor. The speaker shorted out, silencing the final terrible sounds of the dying brain.
After a minute, the Doctor carefully stood, picking bits of glass out of his hair and shaking off his jacket. Jamie stood as well, doing the same.
"Not injured, are you, Jamie?" the Doctor asked kindly. Jamie shook his head, staring at the giant brain oozing out over the floor. He wrinkled his nose.
"Let's get out of here, Doctor. That smells," he complained. The Doctor began to agree, but stopped short when the entire room flickered.
"Oh no, Jamie! We have to get out of here at once! With that thing dead, there is nothing keeping the castle here! It's going to collapse in on itself!" They both sprinted for the exit, careful not to slip on any of the glass covering the floor. The Doctor swiftly unlocked the door and they bolted out.
"I hope you know which way you're going, because I don' ken I remember!" Jamie yelled.
"I hope I do too, Jamie!" the Doctor yelled back at him. The floor beneath their feet was shifting in and out of existence in some places, and they were having to be inconveniently cautious not to step on any areas that didn't exist. They found the stairwell and raced down it, then bolted for the exit. The doors were already open, and they shot out together. Behind them, the entire castle flickered, gave a giant groan, and then disappeared for good.
They both paused to catch their breath. The large, burly man hurried up to them. "That's it?" he asked.
"That's it," the Doctor confirmed with a happy smile. The man nodded.
"Lani and Qu went back to the village. I'll take you there now. Kapila will want to thank you.
"Ah, well, we are grateful for the offer, Guida, I'm sure, but would you be so kind as to take us back to our ship instead?"
"You don't wish to stay?" Guida asked.
"I'm dreadfully sorry, but we'd really better not. We must be getting on our way," the Doctor said. Guida looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded.
It wasn't actually that long of a distance to the TARDIS, and the trip was pleasantly free of feral fungi. Guida was actually only able to take them as far as the place they'd sprung the trap, but they thanked him and the Doctor was able to find his way to where it’d crashed with reasonable ease; he only had to follow the giant scorch marks in the earth.
“Why’s the TARDIS upside down?” Jamie asked.
“Oh, never mind that, Jamie. In you go!”
"Och, I'm beat," Jamie said with relief as he entered. The Doctor followed him in, watching him fondly. “It’s a wee bit smelly in here, isn’t it?”
"Oh, I’ll get it cleaned, don’t worry. I think I had better take a look at that wound on your arm, Jamie," he said. "All that activity couldn't have been good for it, and it wasn't properly taken care of to begin with." Jamie rolled his eyes, but didn't bother arguing.
As he stepped forward to allow the Doctor a look, he tripped over an inconveniently placed shoe. With a shout of surprise, he began to topple over. He threw his arms out to protect himself, as he saw the Doctor make a belated movement towards him out of the corner of his eye. His hands caught the control panel, and he gripped it to stop his fall. One hand slammed down on the coordinate controls, and the other grasped and pulled a lever.
"Oh, no, Jamie! What have you done?" the Doctor exclaimed. The sound of the TARDIS dematerializing filled the air. "Random coordinates! We could end up anywhere!" Jamie removed his hands from the console as if it burned and stared in shock.
"Doctor," he said slowly, "what do you mean, anywhere?"
To Chapter 4: I Can See Your BRAIN
Back to Interlude: Part 1
Summary: Part 2 of the interlude, because it was also too long to fit in one past. Hmm, we are sensing a trend here, perhaps?