Previously, in 'Revenge of the Cybermen':
DOCTOR: "I'm needed back on Earth."
SARAH: "How do you know?"
DOCTOR: "I left the Brigadier a space-time telegraph system and told him not to use it unless he had a real emergency on his hands."
SARAH: "And he's used it?"
DOCTOR: "He has. Come on, you two."
HARRY: "I say, what about the Commander? Aren't we going to stop and say cheerio?"
DOCTOR: "Come on!"
SARAH: "Don't argue."
[Sarah drags Harry into the Tardis just before it dematerialises.]
Part One: Lindos
"Well, I just hope the Brig'll give us time for a hot bath and something to eat before he puts us to work," Sarah Jane Smith tiredly remarked as she opened the TARDIS door…and then stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of what lay beyond it.
He'd done it again.
"Strike that," she called, reflecting that once upon a time she might have been surprised. "I hate to say it, Doctor, but I don't think this is Scotland."
Harry Sullivan, UNIT's medical officer and current travelling companion of Sarah and the enigmatic Time Lord known only as the Doctor, came to look over her shoulder. "Definitely not Scotland," he agreed, catching her eye with a look that was both rueful and resigned.
"Not Scotland?" Pottering around over at the TARDIS console still, his outrageous scarf trailing along the floor behind him as usual, the Doctor peered at his instruments, fiddled with a couple of switches and then scowled. "High time I took the old girl in for a service," he loftily declared, before frowning suspiciously at Harry. "You haven't touched anything, have you, Harry?"
"Certainly not," Harry retorted. "Are you sure you know how to steer this thing, Doctor?"
"This 'thing'? Do I know how to steer this thing?" the Doctor indignantly echoed. "Do I know how to steer this 'thing'?" Cramming that floppy old felt hat of his down over his riot of bushy curls with a grouchy and very pointed 'harrumph', he stalked out of the TARDIS in a huff.
Sarah exchanged philosophical glances with Harry as they followed, stepping out of the TARDIS into an exotic landscape of blue-tinted hills and heathland beneath a brilliant green sky in which an orange-red sun hung low and hot, while two enormous moons loomed large, clearly visible even in daylight and breathtakingly close. It was quite possibly the most obviously alien-looking planet she'd ever set foot on and she gazed around in wonder, drinking it all in – the oppressive heat of that alien sun, the sound of alien insects buzzing in the bushes nearby, the heady scent of alien flowers carried on the breeze, the sight of multiple moons in an alien sky.
This was something she could never grow tired of. Travelling with the Doctor, it sometimes seemed there was danger lurking around every corner, scarcely so much as a moment to draw breath, but then on the other hand…there was this. And it was beautiful.
The Doctor was standing stock still, surveying their surroundings. "Sarah, you're right," he announced, wrinkling his nose. "This isn't Scotland."
She rolled her eyes. "No, I thought not."
"Lindos, I believe," he declared, gazing all around. The word didn't mean anything to Sarah.
"What's a Lindos?"
"This planet – that's what it's called. At rather an early stage in its history, I'd say, judging by the landscape – skyscrapers everywhere last time I was here – but I'm almost certain. Just look at that sky." Striding over to a tall, bushy shrub nearby to examine its vividly blue leaves and enormous bell-like flowers in more detail, he launched into a detailed monologue on the subject of the electromagnetic spectrum, gas molecules, stratification, refraction and atmospherics. It was all so much Greek to Sarah, but she latched onto the point that seemed most pressing.
"You're saying that the sky looks green because this planet has a different kind of atmosphere than Earth? So is it safe? For us, I mean." In theory he'd have rushed them back into the TARDIS by now if he thought the air was dangerous, but in practice it didn't always occur to him to be cautious until it was too late. A few deep breaths drawn in experimental fashion suggested that the air was thin but breathable, at least as far as she could tell – the Doctor was the expert, though.
"Oh yes, of course," he confidently stated…and then stopped and took a few deep breaths himself, as if sampling the air to be sure, before nodding again. "Yes, there's nothing harmful in the mix. Slightly lower oxygen content than Earth, perhaps, but not enough to be concerned about, you'll barely even notice after a while. Look at the pigmentation of these leaves, fascinating…"
He was away again, this time rambling on about chlorin, chlorophyll, atmospherics again and the bio-chemical composition of plant life on this planet, Lindos. Sarah caught Harry's eye and shrugged; there was no stopping him when he was in this mood.
Harry was apparently willing to give it a go, though. "Er, Doctor," he interrupted. "I'm sure that's all very fascinating and what-have-you, but you mentioned something about an emergency. In Scotland, you said."
"Emergency?" The Doctor was the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, which meant he'd been hoping they'd have forgotten about that.
"Yes, the Brigadier sent for us, remember," Sarah reminded him, knowing perfectly well that he already knew and this big show of ignorance was a put-on.
"Rather urgent, by the sounds of it," Harry added.
"Bah." Unable to deny it any longer, since they were ganging up on him, the Doctor pulled a disgruntled face. Then he shrugged expansively. "Oh, come on, we're here now, we might as well have a look around. It won't take long. See that rock formation over there…"
"But the Brigadier –" Harry began to insist.
"The Brigadier will still be there when we arrive, and so will his emergency," the Doctor blithely dismissed. "Stop worrying, Harry – you humans have such linear minds. The TARDIS is a time machine, remember. We can explore a little and still be in Scotland five minutes ago. Come along."
He was already marching off toward the rock formation he'd indicated, his over-sized coat and scarf billowing in the breeze.
"Stop worrying," Harry muttered. "It's only my career."
It was the closest he'd ever come, in all their adventures, to complaining about having been effectively shanghaied; he usually took life with the Doctor so much in his stride it was easy to forget that, unlike Sarah, he hadn't actually chosen to come along for the ride.
Personally, Sarah thought that spending some time in a quiet, peaceful place like this before plunging headlong into the Brigadier's new emergency sounded like a good idea; after everything they'd been through lately, since leaving UNIT for a 'little trip to the Moon and back' that had turned into anything but, she was sure they could all do with the rest. It was easy enough to understand why Harry might feel a bit twitchy about ignoring a direct summons from his commanding officer, though, even just for a little while. The Brigadier's message must have come as an uncomfortable reminder that he was technically absent without leave – after all, there was no chance now that they could return to the same day they'd left, not if they'd already been away long enough for the Brigadier to send for them because a new emergency had cropped up.
"Oh, the Brigadier will understand," she reassured him, reaching out to rest a hand on his arm. "He knows what the Doctor's like. Speaking of which, we'd better not let him out of sight, come on."
She paused to quickly pull the TARDIS door shut to keep any local wildlife out before turning to follow the Doctor, and by then he'd already disappeared over a nearby ridge.
Sarah headed after him, Harry at her side…but as they topped the ridge they came to a standstill because there was no sign of the Doctor, or of which way he might have gone – the terrain was rugged enough that he could have gone in almost any direction and they wouldn't see him. The only way he definitely hadn't gone was toward that rock formation he'd been interested in, because the path leading there was both completely visible and completely empty.
So much for not letting him out of their sight.
"I say," Harry perplexedly exclaimed as Sarah slowly span on her heel to look in every possible direction. "Where's he got to now?"
The Doctor had been distracted from interesting rock formations by the brilliant plumage of a passing bird almost as soon as he topped the ridge. He promptly changed direction to wander after it in hopes of a closer look, relishing a rare moment of pure exploration for its own sake before plunging into whatever it was Alistair wanted him for now; UNIT's continued reliance on him was chafing more than ever since this new face, high time they learned to stand on their own feet.
"Very sophisticated people, the Lindosians," he recalled aloud as he weaved his way past bushy thickets and outcrops of rock. "They'd made some quite remarkable technological advances the last time I encountered them…" He tried to remember when that had been. "Oh, a long time ago now…or a long time still to come, rather – still no sign of any civilisation here, we might be even earlier than I initially thought…"
It was only when he heard Sarah shouting his name from somewhere back along the trail that he noticed his human friends weren't with him and therefore weren't listening, and a moment later he came to an abrupt halt as he realised he'd inadvertently wandered straight into the path of an approaching off-road vehicle.
The first sign so far of civilisation on the planet, the vehicle appeared to be some kind of cargo-hauler, heavily armoured and remarkably silent, propelled along atop a cushion of high-pressured air not unlike the hovercraft found on Earth. This vehicle was rather more advanced, however, evidence of a superior technology that seemed quite out of place in this supremely rural setting – it certainly wasn't Lindosian.
"Hmm. Curious," he murmured to himself, wondering if he dared hope the occupants of the vehicle might be friend rather than foe. He encountered so many of the latter, as a rule, the odds were rather against him, but he always preferred to hope for the best until proved wrong. Raising his hands, he offered a beaming smile of the variety that he fondly liked to think of as his friendliest and called out a cheerful "Hullo there," as what was unmistakeably a guard, and non-Lindosian at that, stepped out of the vehicle. Well, it was always worth a try – keep them talking whether friend or foe, find out a bit more about who they were, and so on.
The guard promptly aimed a weapon at him and his hearts sank. Why were they always hostile, right from the off? And what was this alien species doing on Lindos at such an early stage in the planet's development? It wasn't a species he was familiar with. Roughly humanoid, it had a long, narrow face with leathery yellow skin stretched taut over its bald head and prominent brow ridges, while a beak-like protuberance took the place of nose and mouth and there were hollows where the ears would normally be. It was a rather fierce-looking creature, all told – or perhaps merely somewhat annoyed that he was in its way. After all, it didn't do to judge a new species by appearance, even if it was brandishing a gun at him on a planet that wasn't its own.
"I mean you no harm," he called. "I wonder if you could tell me –"
Even as he spoke, another of the unidentified beings leaned around the open door of the vehicle, growling, "We don't have time for this, bag it," and the first nodded and fired.
Point blank range, almost – no time to move, no chance to duck. Enveloped in a blinding flash of energy that paralysed every muscle and every nerve, as the Doctor fell he found a moment to be glad that Sarah and Harry didn't seem to have followed him…and then the side of his head cracked against a rock as he hit the ground, and he knew no more.
Instead of grass underfoot, the ground was carpeted with a strange kind of thick, blue moss-like vegetation that was far too springy to hold any footprints that might have indicated which way the Doctor had gone.
Harry straightened from his examination of the ground just in time to be almost deafened as Sarah cupped her hands around her mouth and bellowed, "Doctor!" right into his ear.
There was no reply.
"Oh, this is just typical," she grumbled, and Harry had to agree. The Doctor was a remarkable chap, but he really could be the absolute limit sometimes, wandering off and leaving them in the lurch like this within minutes of landing on a strange planet, with no idea where they were, still less if it was safe – probably not, if past form was anything to go by. And with the Brigadier expecting them back on duty, as well. Be lucky not to end up on charges for going AWOL, intentional or not, if –
"I say, what was that?" There'd been a sound, faint but distinct. A sound that was almost familiar – couldn't quite put his finger on it, though.
Sarah looked alarmed. "Was that weapons fire?"
That was it – sounded just like those energy weapon thingies the Daleks and Cybermen used, and it had come from, "This way."
He started to run, Sarah at his heels, because the Doctor's disappearance followed by the sound of gunfire could only mean one thing: he was in trouble, again – already…which, of course, meant that they were all in trouble, again – already.
In the time he'd known the Doctor – only a short time, really, although it felt more like a lifetime – being in trouble seemed almost to have become routine.
That moss underfoot was strangely slick and Harry almost slipped more than once as he sprinted around the rocks and bushes, with unexpectedly thorny fern-like fronds catching at his ankles along the way. He ran through a cleft in the hills that surrounded them, and then skidded to a halt at the sight of a vehicle, some kind of hovercraft, it seemed, disappearing off into the distance. Seemed strangely quiet for such a large, fast-moving craft – almost no engine sound at all; if he hadn't seen it he'd never have guessed it had been there. No tyres to leave tracks, either.
There was also no sign of the Doctor, except for… "Look." Sarah caught at his arm as she pointed. "There's the Doctor's hat."
As she stooped to pick it up, Harry noticed something else and crouched to take a closer look. It was blood, smeared over a half-buried rock near to the discarded hat.
"What is it, what have you found?" Sarah had turned to see what he was looking at.
"Ah…er…" For two pins he'd have tried to spare her the sight. Not much point, though, in the circumstances, and she wouldn't thank him for it, he knew her well enough to know that. It was already too late, anyway. "Doesn't look good, I'm afraid, old thing," he admitted – remembering too late that Sarah didn't like him calling her that. She didn't appear to even notice this time, though.
"Something's happened to him." She was made of stern stuff, Sarah, but she was starting to look a bit scared now – and Harry was feeling more than a little uneasy himself. "That craft – do you think they've taken him?"
"Certainly looks that way – well, whoever 'they' are." Harry straightened to gaze after the vehicle, which was already out of sight; no chance of catching up, the speed it had been going. Could be anywhere by now, the Doctor with it, presumably, and if he was injured, he wouldn't be able to help himself – which rather begged the question of just what they were supposed to do now.
There was a particular kind of sinking sensation, deep in the pit of the stomach, that had become uncomfortably familiar since Harry's fateful first encounter with the Doctor, back at UNIT, in what felt almost like another life now, it was so impossibly far away. He felt that sensation now, full force. They were supposed to be returning to their lives on Earth. The Doctor had seemed in such a hurry after receiving the Brigadier's message. Strange how fast a situation could change, from the reassurance of a promised return home to the creeping uncertainty that came of being stranded on an alien world, exhausted at the very thought of the new ordeal that surely lay ahead.
They had to find the Doctor. Had to. But how?
There was a skittering noise somewhere behind them, the sound of feet slipping on loose stones, and Harry span around just in time to catch a flash of movement – someone hiding behind an outcrop of rock nearby.
He gestured silently for Sarah to stay back while he investigated, no sense in risking both of them, but she promptly shook her head and mimed that they should try to approach the hidden observer from opposite sides, then started to edge around the rock before he could argue, calling out, "Who is it? Who's there?"
Well, there was nothing else for it but to take advantage of the distraction she was creating, so Harry moved quickly to creep up on their secret observer from the other side, and then pounced.
"Hallo, what have we here?" He hauled the creature out from behind the rock, wriggling and yelling. It was small and light, startlingly easy to capture, and when he got a proper look he almost dropped it in surprise and had to redouble his grip before it could run away.
"It's a child!" Sarah gasped. "An alien child."
If it were a human child, Harry would have pegged the boy at no more than 12 or 13, perhaps. Skinny and ragged, his skin was an odd grey colour, with strange markings across the face, wide eyes with vertical slits for pupils, rather like a cat, and a shock of brilliantly silver hair sticking out in all directions as if he'd stuck his finger in an electric socket. He seemed absolutely terrified, whimpering and crying and cringing at being manhandled, and Harry was mortified at having such an effect on a mere child.
"It's all right, it's all right." He relaxed his grip, gave the child an awkward pat on the shoulder and shrugged helplessly at Sarah. "We're not going to hurt you."
"That's right, don't be scared. Everything's going to be all right." Sarah bent to look the boy in the eye, her tone soothing. "Can you tell me your name?"
The boy stared at her for a moment and then looked up at Harry, wide-eyed and breathing hard, shaking like a leaf. "You aren't sky raiders," he whispered with wonder in his voice, as if he scarcely dared believe it.
"Sky raiders?" What the dickens was a 'sky raider' when it was at home?
"No." Sarah looked puzzled as well. "No, we're not sky raiders. My name is Sarah and this is Harry. Who are you?"
The boy seemed calmer now. He looked down at the hand Harry was still loosely gripping his arm with, poked at it with a finger and then tugged experimentally at the fabric of the jacket sleeve with a curious expression. "What are you?" he asked, all innocence, head tilted to one side in quizzical fashion.
It was a fair enough question, Harry supposed – still felt rather odd, though, to be the alien on someone else's world. "Well, we're…er…visitors, I suppose you might say."
"Visitors from the sky, you mean – from space?" Well, that was one way of putting it. "I suppose so, yes," he bemusedly agreed.
"What are you doing here?" the boy asked, still very wary but interested, his curiosity overriding his fear now that he was satisfied they weren't 'sky raiders', whatever those might be.
"We're looking for our friend." Sarah folded the Doctor's hat and tucked it into her belt. "Have you seen him? He looks a bit like us."
The boy shook his head. "Is he strong?" He peered up at Harry again as he added, "You look strong," and then hung his head and shuddered, fearfully. "They take everyone who's strong. They'll take me soon."
He was rather a scrawny little thing, in fact, so probably didn't need to worry about that just yet, but the point was taken: they would need to be on their guard.
"So you're saying that these sky raiders capture people who are strong – people who are fit enough to work…or to fight, perhaps?" Sarah turned worried eyes toward Harry as she added, "So they would have taken the Doctor, if they'd come across him," before swinging back to the child. "Do you know where they take these people?"
The boy was huddling into himself now, shaking and shivering, his eyes big and wide and fearful, welling up with tears. "I don't know. They take everyone," he whispered. "I was chasing…"
And suddenly Harry noticed that the knees of the child's breeches were torn, his hands scraped and bleeding – the blood was a strange greenish-grey sort of colour, but recognisably blood nonetheless. "I say, you're hurt," he exclaimed and the boy started to cry in earnest, the broken, hopeless sobs of a child at the very end of his tether.
"I fell. I was chasing and I fell…"
"Er…" Distressed children were rather a long way from being Harry's area of expertise. With the boy clutching at his arm, he looked helplessly toward Sarah for assistance – women understood how to handle these things, didn't they? She rolled her eyes at him rather eloquently, but came to the rescue anyway, making appropriately reassuring noises as she encouraged the boy to sit down on a nearby rock.
Tending to minor injuries, on the other hand, was well within Harry's bailiwick, so while Sarah soothed, he turned his attention to the boy's cuts and scrapes – and was rather taken aback when the child instinctively flinched away as if fearing a blow. "Er…it's all right. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm a doctor," he awkwardly offered by way of reassurance.
"Doc-tor?" The boy didn't seem familiar with the word, but he watched solemnly as Harry examined his injuries, which were superficial, and then a smile of sudden comprehension lit up his face. "A healer? We have no healer, not for many seasons now," he confided.
"Taken by the, er, the sky raiders, was he?" Harry dug a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and looked around for a source of water he could use to clean dirt out of the boy's grazes, but there was nothing in sight. "I say, what's your name?"
He wasn't really expecting an answer, since Sarah had already asked that question twice with no response, but this time the boy replied, "Roba. I am Roba."
"All right then, Roba, I don't suppose there's any water hereabouts, is there? We could do with cleaning out these wounds of yours."
"There is a stream," said Roba with a sniffle. "At the encampment."
"Is it far?" It couldn't be far, not if he'd had been chasing that vehicle – even an Olympic athlete would have struggled to keep up over any real distance – and a shake of the boy's head confirmed it.
"Who did they take?" Sarah gently asked. "Who was it they took today, that made you chase them this time?"
Roba was trembling again and his voice was no more than a whisper. "My mother. They took my mother. They take all the mothers, all the fathers – everyone…"
Sarah threw an arm around him and turned anxious eyes toward Harry. "What are we going to do?"
He could only shrug. "Well, what can we do? We're going to have to find them."
Emera huddled with the others in the gloom of the sky cart and knew that she would never see her home or her children again. So many before her had already been taken, but none had ever returned and so neither would she.
It had been so long since the last raid, they had almost allowed themselves to hope that there would be no more, that the sky raiders would know their people were used up, not worth returning to, and would leave them alone. But no. The sky raiders were as inevitable as the seasons, and as merciless. Already there were so few of them left, struggling to keep the last remnants of their community alive for the sake of the children, but now even these last few had been taken – so what hope was there for the children left behind?
What hope had there ever been?
And what hope was there for the young ones among those who'd been taken with her – like young Olos, with barely 16 summers behind him? Those taken were younger each time, and although the gods of Lindos had long since abandoned their people, still Emera thanked them now that her own boy was not yet big enough to be of interest to the sky raiders. She knew, though, that the day would come when he too would be corralled into the back of a sky cart like this one, never to return.
And for the first time since the sky raiders tore her away from her children and bundled her into the back of this sky cart, it occurred to her to wonder just where they were going, and why.
A low moan nearby made her jump and she nervously huddled back against the others as the strange creature the sky raiders had thrown in here with them suddenly started to move, rolling onto its back and groaning as if in pain. Able now to see it clearly for the first time, she stared in fascination at its strange pink skin and hair the colour of bark, and the outlandish garb it was wearing, so unlike anything she'd ever seen before.
The others shuffled further away and made sounds of distress as the creature began to pull itself up onto its elbows, but Emera stayed where she was, unable to take her eyes off it as it looked all around, taking in their cramped and gloomy prison before fixing its eyes upon their sorry little group.
"Oh, hullo there," it said, and again the others huddled away in fear.
Emera was afraid also – she was afraid of many things – but this strange creature seemed to her to be the least of their concerns at this time. What it was and where it had come from were unknown, but it was a prisoner just as they were and she could see that it was injured, the side of its head sticky with blood that was redder than the blooms of summer wildflowers. So how dangerous could it possibly be?
"Hello," she softly called back, ignoring the feeble protests of the others at such daring, and was rewarded by a weak but beaming smile.
"Hallo, who are you?" the creature asked.
Scarcely knowing what she was doing, Emera shuffled closer. "Emera. My name is Emera."
"Charming to meet you, Emera," said the creature. "Now, I need to ask you a question, it's very important."
It leaned toward her and lowered its voice to hiss in a confidential tone, "Where are we?"
"Do you not know?" she asked in surprise.
"Ah, now there's the thing." Wincing, it pressed a hand against the wound at the side of its head and then peered at its bloody palm with some dismay. "I know rather a lot of things, Emera. I know who won the finals of the Alpha Centauri table tennis championship in the galactic federation year 4297. I know how to calculate epsilon coordinates standing on my head – and all the words to La Vie En Rose. I know that the navigational stabilisers are out of kilter and the oscillations are feeding back and throwing the helmic regulator out of whack, that's how we ended up here, you see, and I really must see about a few repairs some time. I know that I should be in Scotland at this very minute. My old friend the Brigadier will be quite put out if I'm late and I'm afraid it rather looks as if I will be. I also know that this crate we're in appears to be moving: at least forty miles per hour, if I'm any judge – which I can assure you that I am. However I do appear to be rather fuzzy on a few points, such as just where exactly we are and why we happen to be sitting in this crate. I'm sure there are all kinds of good reasons as to why one might wish to travel by crate, but I can't seem to come up with any off the top of my head. Perhaps you would care to enlighten me?"
A dazzling smile followed this lengthy monologue. Emera could only stare in utter bewilderment. Perhaps the others were right after all to be afraid of this incomprehensible creature which babbled such nonsense.
One thing she had understood, however, was the question at the heart of the prattle. "You were taken," she told the creature. "All of us were taken."
She shuffled a little closer again, all but whispered the words. "The sky raiders came, they took us. Then they took you."
"I see." The creature followed her example by leaning closer still and whispering its next question. "Where are they taking us?"
Emera shivered. "I don't know."
So this was what happened when proud but primitive nomadic tribes-folk had their herds slaughtered and their population decimated by alien invaders and were then left to rot in between raids, their spirit completely broken.
Gazing around, Sarah decided that the worst thing about the encampment was all the evidence of how vibrant it had once been – tents and wagons that had once been bright and gaudy, decorated all over with brilliant murals, now as faded and broken as the people who lived in them.
Or maybe the worst thing was how tiny Roba's community was, a population composed almost entirely of children, the elderly, the sick and the infirm.
Or perhaps the worst thing was how readily these people accepted the arrival of aliens in their midst, too downtrodden and shell-shocked to even react, almost. They'd been visited by aliens before, on too many occasions, and so their only reaction was relief that Sarah and Harry didn't seem inclined to attack them like those others.
"We arrived here by accident," Sarah explained to the elder woman who'd come to talk to her – the honorary leader of the tribe, it seemed, in the absence of anyone else willing or able to take on the role after the depredations of the sky raiders. "And then our friend went missing and we saw some kind of vehicle moving away – we think it must have taken him."
The old woman, Caran, nodded sagely. "It is what the sky raiders do. Always they take."
"Well, then we ran into young Roba." Sarah glanced nervously at the sombre little crowd that had gathered to listen to her story, wishing that Harry had stuck around to help her out instead of disappearing off somewhere to doctor Roba's injuries. "And, well, here we are."
Caran smiled sadly. "There is little enough we can offer you, visitor, but such as we have, you are welcome."
"Oh, no – no, we don't want anything from you," Sarah hastily explained. "Only we do need to find our friend, so we'd be grateful for anything you can tell us about the sky raiders. Do you know where they take your people, after a raid?"
"Would it help you to know?"
She was surprised by the question. "Of course. If we can find out where they've gone, we can go after them and find our friend – maybe even help get your people back."
It hadn't occurred to her to even consider any other options – the Doctor had been taken by these sky raiders and they had to go after him; that was all there was to it – but the old woman was shaking her head. "It is not possible," she sorrowfully stated. "Many have tried. None have succeeded. The attempt leads only to ruin."
"But we have to do something!" The prospect of going after these mysterious sky raiders in search of the Doctor was overwhelming – so much for that rest and relaxation Sarah had been hoping for – but she refused to simply give up and just accept that there was nothing they could do and they were stuck here, instead of doing whatever they could to help him when he needed them. Not that they'd be stuck for long, if the sky raiders came back, since she and Harry both fitted their target demographic to a 't' – which gave her another idea. "How soon do you suppose the sky raiders will come back, Caran? Perhaps if we hide, we might be able to stow away somehow. If we could make it back to their base without being seen, maybe we could –"
"No." The old woman shook her head again. "Even if it were possible, the sky raiders will not return now for many seasons – they have taken all who could serve them and must wait until the young ones are grown."
It was a dreadfully grim statement to be made with such resignation. Sarah looked at the defeated faces of the people gathered around them. "You can't go on like this," she murmured and Caran nodded her agreement.
"It is true. Our people are worn out. Soon they will be done with us."
"And what happens then?"
She almost wished she hadn't asked; the old woman looked so crushed. "Then," Caran said, "The last of our people will die and there will be none left to keep alive the memory of our ways."
"But you can't just give up like that." Sarah knew that she couldn't even begin to understand what these people had been through, but she was determined not to be infected by their hopelessness. "Isn't your freedom and your future worth fighting for?"
The flash of anger that came into Caran's eyes was a welcome relief from the all-pervading atmosphere of defeat. "You think we have not fought? When the sky raiders first came, when we were still strong, we did all that was possible to hold them off. But what use are arrows and spears against sticks that bark fire, that paralyse? How can a bull-wagon outrun carts that fly through the air like clouds, faster than wind? No." She looked very old and very tired, yet there was an air of dignity about her that was almost heart-breaking. "We fought and we were defeated and in time we will die."
"I'm sorry," Sarah whispered. "I truly am. I'm sorry for everything that's happened to you, for all the people you've lost…but I can't just give up. I won't. So please – can't you tell me anything at all that might help me find where they've taken my friend?"
She found herself shrinking away from the searching gaze Caran directed at her during the long pause that followed, and had all but given up hope of receiving any support at all when at last the old woman reluctantly replied, "Long ago, when the sky raiders first came, scouts were sent to track their movements. Few ever returned…"
"But some did." Sarah eagerly seized on that detail. "So what did they say? Is there anything that can help us know where to begin?"
She was subjected to another of those penetrating stares. "To go after the sky raiders is to court death. Do you truly wish to follow this course?"
"Yes." She couldn't – wouldn't – just give up on the Doctor like that.
Caran looked sad but resigned. "Then perhaps I might show you…"
After her conversation with Caran, Sarah went looking for Harry and found him sitting alongside a fairly sizeable stream bandaging the scrapes on Roba's knees. Hands waving around to illustrate some point, the boy was chattering away nineteen to the dozen, more animated than she'd seen him yet – the resilience of youth, she supposed – while a whole gaggle of smaller children had gathered around.
"Ah yes, I see," Harry was saying as she approached. "I suppose if you stick to the riffles, look out for obstructions…"
"Yes. And where the bank overhangs the water," Roba eagerly agreed. "That is a good spot."
"You look like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, Harry. What on Earth are you talking about?" Sarah bemusedly asked.
"What on Lindos, I think you mean, old thing," Harry lightly retorted, and she poked her tongue out at him, both for being facetious and for the 'old thing'. The children giggled and Harry grinned. "Fishing, Sarah. We're talking about fishing."
Whatever she'd been expecting, that wasn't it. "Fishing?"
"Well, Roba here's been telling me that's how his people keep themselves going, these days."
"Yes," Roba eagerly explained. "Once we had many herds and we travelled the length and breadth of the plains…but then the sky raiders came. They burned the wagons and killed all our animals…" His voice faltered and he hung his head unhappily.
"So these days, it seems, they mostly live on whatever they can catch from the stream here," Harry finished for him, and she could see how that conversation might have led into a discussion of technique, men being men. It had certainly broken the ice.
"Fish supper tonight, then – you know something about fishing, do you, Harry?"
"Quite a bit, actually – my grandfather used to take me every Sunday, when I was a boy." It was the first time she'd ever heard him mention any part of his family. "All right, I'm finished here, Roba, off you go," he added, and then waited for all the children to scurry away before turning back to her, looking very serious. "You've finished talking to the old girl, then, have you?"
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Yes, thanks for all your help with that."
"I was just on my way over. So do they know where the Doctor might have been taken?"
"Sort of." She let out a heartfelt sigh as she found a flattish rock alongside him to sit down on. "Caran was keen to talk us out of going after him, though – she seems to think it would be certain death to even try."
"Well, we'll see about that," said Harry, and his optimism felt very reassuring after Caran's pessimism, even if Sarah knew only too well that he always tended to strike a positive tone, whether he knew what he was talking about or not. "Chances are he'll have freed himself and meet us halfway, wondering what all the fuss is about."
It was a nice thought. If only! "Well, let's hope so, because if he doesn't we've got a very long walk ahead of us! Caran gave me a sketch, a kind of map." She pulled out the scrap of rolled hide to show him. "It shows the way to the mountains – that's where the sky carts go after a raid. She doesn't know if they carry on further after that, no one's ever tracked them beyond that point, but it's a start, at least. She's going to have some provisions packed up for us, if we're really determined to go."
The grim resolve in Harry's expression assured her that he was every bit as determined as she was. "To the mountains it is, then," he said, "And the sooner the better, really, if we don't want to lose the light."
"I want to come," a small voice unexpectedly piped up, and Sarah span around to see Roba standing behind them, looking very anxious and very earnest.
"Oh no, I don't think that would be a good idea," Harry hastily demurred and she agreed wholeheartedly.
"Why not?" demanded the boy, eager and resolute. "No one else will go, they say there's nothing we can do, but you say there is. You're going after them, no one ever goes after them – let me come too. I want to find my mother. I can help you, I promise."
"No, Harry's right," Sarah gently told him, alarmed at the thought of having to take responsibility for a child, on top of what they were already facing. "We couldn't possibly take you with us. It's far too dangerous –"
"But I'm not scared, I'm a man now," the boy insisted.
"That's right," Harry promptly agreed. "You're the man of the house now, aren't you – and someone has to look after those sisters of yours, eh, old chap. That's your job now."
"But my mother…" He looked almost desperate.
"Your mother would want you to look after your sisters, I'm sure," Sarah quickly assured him, taking Harry's word for it that there were sisters to be looked after. He was the one who'd been talking to the boy. "And I promise you – an absolute promise, Roba – I promise we will do everything we can to find your mother and bring her home to you."
She only hoped they would be able to keep that promise – both for him and all the other orphaned children in this encampment.
The foggy confusion of the Doctor's first awakening had given way at last to clarity, which was something of a relief. He did so hate to be muddled.
It didn't take long to explore the confines of the haulage vehicle in which he and a group of very frightened and very primitive Lindosians were imprisoned. The deadlock seal on the rear doors was rather dispiriting, but the sonic screwdriver would no doubt make short work of the hinges…if not for the fact that jumping out of a fast-moving vehicle at an unknown altitude might not be the ideal solution to their predicament. It certainly wouldn't resolve the problems of Lindos long-term.
He chose instead to wait and see where they were taken, and used the time to discuss the general situation on Lindos with his new friend Emera, who appeared to be the only one of the bunch with any spirit left at all. She was certainly the only one willing to talk to him.
What she told him was very worrying indeed. Alien incursions at this early stage in the planet's history – that wasn't something he'd been aware of previously, which meant something would have to be done about it, if these people were to stand any chance of developing into the noble and highly advanced race he'd previously encountered, thousands of years in their future.
Something would also have to be done about finding Sarah and Harry at some point, as well, of course, but he was confident they'd be able to look after each other well enough in the interim. First things first. Cessation of movement told him they'd reached their destination. It was time to start finding out just who Emera's 'sky raiders' really were – and what they were up to.
Well, it was a good idea in principle. The sky raiders themselves seemed to have other ideas. As the rear door of the vehicle swung open and the terrified Lindosian captives cowered back in fear, the Doctor donned his sunniest smile and opened his mouth to offer a witty greeting…which died on his lips unspoken as his captors grabbed him roughly by the lapels before he could utter a word and unceremoniously hauled him away.
Sarah was as bad as the Doctor for finding a cause to latch onto wherever they went, Harry wryly reflected as they picked their way through a particularly rocky stretch of the hills in the gathering gloom of dusk. The plight of the natives certainly had her all fired up – she hadn't stopped talking about it since they left the encampment. "It's as if their spirit is completely broken – there's just no fight left in them at all. So if they can't fight for themselves any more, we're just going to have to fight for them and get rid of these alien invaders."
"Whoever they are," he interjected, wishing there was any way it could be as easy as she made it sound. He felt sorry for the natives as well, but there were only the two of them.
Still, they would be three when they found the Doctor, and he was easily worth a whole army. And they had promised the boy Roba, after all.
"I know the Doctor will agree, when we find him…" That 'when we find him' was Harry's primary concern just at the moment, but it was pushed back into second place by the way Sarah's voice trailed off as she peered around rather furtively, not for the first time.
"What is it?"
"You know, I'm sure we're being followed."
The anxious little glances she kept darting over her shoulder were starting to make Harry feel uneasy now, so he listened carefully, but, "I can't hear anything."
"I didn't say I'd heard something," Sarah argued. "But I am sure we're being followed. Can't you feel it?"
He couldn't. They'd been making much slower progress than they'd hoped since leaving the encampment, the terrain proving rather difficult to navigate with only that map the natives had given them as a guide – it was a dreadfully rough affair, to put it kindly – but in all the time they'd been walking they'd encountered nothing more than a few strange-looking insects and birds, and one large, toothy rodent about the size of a cat, which had fled the moment it spotted them. They'd been warned that wild animals prowled the hills at night, but there'd been no sign so far of any such thing – or of much else at all, for that matter.
"I suppose it's just my imagination," Sarah glumly conceded and they trudged along a little further in silence, before she brightened up all of a sudden. "Hey, look! There were two moons earlier – I can see four now. Look, you can see them now it's getting dark."
Harry gazed up at the sky to see that she was right: there were more moons visible now that dusk was falling. Quite a remarkable sight, really – it certainly reinforced just how far from home they really were…not that such was needed. It was something he was never able to forget, wherever the Doctor took them, each step of each journey seeming only to lead ever further away. Real life, back home on Earth, seemed farther away than ever now, just when their retrieval of the TARDIS and the Brigadier's summons had allowed him to hope that he might be returning to it at last.
Probably best not to think along those lines though – certainly not while the here and now was so pressing. Their situation was what it was and that was all there was to it
"Well, I should say the local sailors must have a jolly rum time of it, that many moons," he observed aloud. "Just imagine the tides!"
Sarah snorted. "Trust you to think of that." Then she let out a heartfelt sigh that Harry concurred with wholeheartedly. "I suppose we'll have to stop soon and find somewhere to sit it out until first light, if we don't want to break our legs stumbling around these hills in the dar – what was that?"
This time it definitely wasn't her imagination, Harry had heard the sound too – the sound of something large moving around in the scrub nearby. He span around in alarm, fervently hoping it wasn't one of the sky raiders they'd heard so much about…or one of those wild animals the natives had mentioned, for that matter.
All seemed quiet again – but something had made that sound. With Sarah clutching at his arm, Harry took a step forward, squinting in the half-light trying to make out whatever might be out there, and called out, "Hello? Who's there?"
A moment later, a dark shape came looming out of the shadows and Sarah let out a piercing scream.