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Doctor Who Missing Internet Adventure #22 - "Verdant Carnage"


Chapter 5
"Jane"
by Mary Hyde


---


The flies descended with their burdens and landed softly on the floor of the cavern. They seemed to bow, splaying their upper appendages in front of them, and backed away slowly into the shadows.


       Jane and Wolsey exchanged another glance between them. Jane whispered to Tegan, "Didn't that cricket say 'Little Mother' as in singular?"


       Tegan nodded wordlessly, her eyes transfixed on the two sets of enormous blue compound eyes staring down at her. She felt as if she were a bug about to get squashed by someone's foot. The larger of the two queens unfurled a metre-long black tongue and touched Tegan's stomach tentatively. She could almost feel the bile surging up her throat.


       Where the tongue touched was a warm and wet feeling that lasted for a moment before the tongue withdrew in a hiss of dissatisfaction. The queen turned to the other queen and buzzed unintelligibly. It turned back to the small group. Through a maelstrom of buzzing that filled up every recess of the cavern it boomed, "Alien Zzzzcum, how dare you invade here!"


* * *


The expected electric sizzle never came.


       Instead, the Doctor was caught up by a green blur that shot from the glowing foliage and clamped its teeth into his upper arm. "Oh, not again," he muttered as the gnoorr dragged him into the underbrush. Behind him, he could hear one of the Ngvoe Mining Corporation's Scout Team members commenting that being eaten alive was a terrible way to die. That was just before the growling and screaming and shooting began.


       His rescuer crashed through the thick growth with him, pushing deeper and deeper into the jungle. At last, the creature paused in small clearing. It sniffed the air, then apparently deciding it was safe, dropped the Doctor at the base of a smooth-barked tree and sat back on its haunches, watching him with unblinking purple eyes.


       Stunned that the great tiger hadn't already torn away a chunk of his flesh, the Doctor, keeping one eye fixed on the gnoorr, sat up and assessed his injuries. "Well, the punctures are fairly deep," he said conversationally to the cat. "But the bleeding's stopped. It looks a great deal worse than it really is."


       A wave of patient humour swept over his thoughts and the Doctor stared at the gnoorr. "Oh dear! Those feelings and memories I experienced before... You *are* sentient, aren't you?" A feeling of affirmation followed. "But are you empathic only, or can you send more complex thoughts, I wonder?"


       The cat yawned and stretched, emitting a squeaky mew that reminded the Doctor of a newborn kitten. Then it plopped down amidst the leaf litter, staring back. And waiting.


       "Ah, well then," the Doctor began cautiously, "I am the Doctor. And do you have a name?" An image of the tiger's face flashed behind his eyes. "No. Well, nouns and I are rather old friends, so I think I shall call you..." He squinted at the creature, looking for a suitable discerning feature. The giant cat squinted back, and as the light caught its eyes, they glinted gold.


       "Amber-Eyes it is," he decided. The gnoorr growled in short, sharp bursts like laughter. It apparently thought his actions were hilarious. "Yes, perhaps naming things is funny. At any rate, I'd much prefer you were amused, rather than..."


       The foliage around them suddenly began to rustle and a pair of bright green cubs the size of full-grown cocker spaniels burst into the clearing, snarling and leaping on each other playfully as they rolled through the leaves. Gradually, soundlessly, more of the gnoorr emerged until they ringed the clearing, looking on. For a moment, the Doctor remembered his first meeting with the pack and had to struggle to keep his fear from showing.

~~Not fear. Not prey.~~


       The Doctor looked around at the tigers he could see, unsure from which the thoughts had come. "I... I'm very glad to hear it."


       ~~Tasted. Blood. Life. Talk. Not prey.~~

He glanced at his torn jacket, the fawn-coloured fabric soaked with his blood, and frowned in confusion. "You've tasted my blood, my life, and now we can communica--"


       ~~Beloved of Nature.~~ The feel of the thoughts was soft, gentle, like a tender caress against his mind. ~~WE...~~


       And at once, the Doctor could feel the inclusiveness in the word — the gnoorr pack; the trees and plants of the forest; himself; certain others. He realized that the sensations weren't coming from just one member of the pack, but from all of them. And from more. He rose to his feet, knowing the words that would come next. His arms held out, he whispered them.


       ~~WE are Ba-kai.~~


* * *


The queen's tongue whipped out again to flick against Jane. To her credit, the woman managed to hold completely still, but her fear showed in her crunched eyelids and tightened lips. She exhaled with relief as the huge bee finished her inspection.


       "Invaderzzz!" the queen snapped again. "ZZZcum!"


       "Invaders?" Tegan yelped. "But we were brought here against our will!"


       The cricket guard stepped forward to silence her, but at a furious buzzing from the queens, fell back. "You have dezzzecrated the zzzacrednezzz of the protected zzzection!" Despite their insectoid features, Tegan could hear an almost human fervour in the queens' voices. "You are contaminantzzz!" The chamber filled with the click and buzz of agitated insects' mandibles and wings.


       The renewed noise woke some deep instinct and Tegan shivered in fear. "We didn't mean to intrude," she stammered, backed away and bumping into the solid figure of Ben Wolsey.


       He stepped in front of the two women. A man of the soil, Ben understood better than most the connection between farmer and insect. Some, like the bees, were helpful, but to be respected. Others were mere nuisances that had to be planned for and worked around. "We do beg your pardon, ma'am," he said, executing a small bow toward the queens.


       The furious buzzing in the room died down slightly as the larger queen extended her long tongue toward the man.


       "Of course!" Jane said abruptly. "They must be a collective!"


       "How's that?" Tegan turned toward the woman, dragging her gaze from Ben and the queen's examination of him.


       "Little Mother doesn't refer to a particular individual, but to the collective of sub-queens." Jane grabbed Tegan by the shoulders. "Think of it! An anthill or beehive has a dominant queen who is the egg-layer. But if something should happen to her..."


       "They always have replacements ready." Tegan nodded as she recalled her Biology lessons from school.


       "Correct!" Jane beamed as though at a favoured student. "And in a Hive ruled by an intelligent Queen, the sub-queens would need to know everything that she does, in order to take over smoothly."


       "Are you saying these things are telepathic?"


       "Oh, it needn't be anything so elaborate as that," Jane stated. "Insects on Earth use chemical signals, dances, even touch to pass on information. Why shouldn't these..." Her face suddenly went deathly pale and she shrieked, jumping backward to land sprawled against the guard, Malvux.


       Tegan spun around. A large yellow spider had descended from the ceiling of the chamber and held Ben in two of its legs. The man's body had gone rigid like a board.


       "Ben!" Tegan ran forward, hammering against the spider's exoskeleton. It ignored her attack completely as it twirled Ben around, coating him with a long strand of sticky thread. "Stop it! You're killing him!"


       "Nonzzzenzze!" The smaller of the two sub-queens was addressing her. "He izz not an egg-layer. Thizz will prezzerve him."


       "Then he's not dead?" But even as she asked, Tegan could see Ben's chest slowly rising and falling under the casing of tangled silk.


       The sub-queen turned the blue hemispheres that were her eyes toward the human male. The spider had apparently finished cocooning the man and was fixing his still form to the wall. "He'zz zzzimply unconzhiouzz. And imprizzoned."


       "Please." Trembling in Malvux' grasp, Jane could barely stand, her eyes flicking back and away from the spider and its grisly task. "Please, let him go," she pleaded.


       The two sub-queens buzzed at one another, antennae touching and stroking. "That izz not permitted," the larger one finally said, "but becauzze you are egg-bearerzz, you will be allowed to zzztay alert." Then with a roar of wind, the flies carried their 'little mother' back to the top of the mountain of green egg cases.


       A moment later, at a signal from Captain Sarniac, Malvux pushed the women from the chamber.


* * *


The guards pushed open the door and forced Turlough and Andrew back against the far wall. Then the body of Will Chandler was dumped into the cell.


       Turlough barely spared the fallen figure a glance, but from his position in the doorway, Friar Mabmi noted with some satisfaction that the Elder, Andrew, was fussing over the boy.


       "What have you done to him?" he demanded, turning Will over gently and checking for broken bones.


       "We seek only to ascertain the truth of this matter."


       "How does beating a young man into this condition..." He frowned, brushing aside the ragged fringe of hair from the boy's forehead. A large goose egg of a bruise had begun to form. "If it's the truth you want, a bit of kindness might get you a great deal closer to it than torture will."


       The Friar's yellow eyes blinked, once, twice. "What sort of kindness?"


       Andrew looked up suspiciously. "Well, bandages and warm water, for a start."


       Mabmi allowed it and the supplies were brought. "Kindness," he stated, watching as the Elder cared for the injured young man. "That will enable you to tell us where the blue 'magic' box is located."


       "What!" The old man paused, and then resolutely continued binding the boy's arm. "You did this just to..." He shook his head. "I would gladly tell you where that blasted box was, if I knew! But we got lost in the forest..."


       "And now you have forgotten," Mabmi finished, nodding solemnly.


       "It's all just so frustrating, isn't it?" Turlough was leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest and his face twisted into a sneer.


       Mabmi sighed sadly and glanced at the guards. "Yes, it is," he said as Turlough was grabbed and hauled away, clawing and yelling, for interrogation.


       The door shut with a soft click and silence returned to the room. "I did warn the young man about that poor attitude of his," Andrew commented to the unconscious Will.


* * *


Malvux marched them down the passageway, stopping before an opening not much bigger than a rabbit hole set midway up the wall. "Go inside," he insisted, gesturing with his gun.


       "We can't possibly fit..." Tegan began to protest. She jumped as Jane grabbed her arm and hauled her toward the hole.


       "You get over there, Tegan," the woman insisted, "and you crawl through that hole!" She glanced at Malvux nervously. "Now!"


       A surge of panic rose as Tegan looked into Jane's fear-filled eyes. Without another word, she dropped to her knees and forced her shoulders, and then with more difficulty, her hips through the hole. She slithered into a small spherical cell, managing to bang her head on the waxy ceiling as she stood up. A moment later, she heard Jane struggling in behind her.


       Malvux looked in through the hole. "We will bring you nutrients and water at the appropriate time."


       But as he backed away, Tegan called out, "So what happens to us now? You just lock us up?"


       The guard's face reappeared. "The Great Mother has not decided your fate yet. You will remain here, where you cannot contaminate others."


       "Sir, if I may ask," Jane said, having regained a measure of her composure, "this protected area of yours...what is it? Why is it so important?"


       Malvux buzzed, seemingly confused by her question. "There is the Forest, the Place of Pollination. It is protected, by the Barren Places and the Star Lands."


       "So the Forest is being protected from harm," Jane reasoned. "A Preserve of some sort."


       The insect's voice rasped, almost like a sigh, and he explained further in short, clipped syllables as though she were a simpleton. "The Forest will be destroyed, the creatures scattered, until the subsequent Time of Pollination. Thus has it always been; thus will it always be. This is the way of the Hive." He abruptly withdrew his head from the opening.


       A moment later, a bee-like creature appeared, and began to cement the hole over with wax.


* * *


The Doctor strode through the cool shadows of the deep forest with the gnoorr pack, the twin cubs nipping at his feet and legs. He'd always been fond of cats, but this might be taking things a bit too far, he mused, rubbing ruefully at his damaged shoulder.


       He had spent most of the journey thinking of names for them, even though the gnoorr found this to be incredibly funny, their feline laughter filling the air with rumbles and purrs and growling chortles. He had tried to force himself to simply envision their faces to designate which one he was taking about, but his mind insisted on labelling them, if only for ease of identification, and he had finally given in.


       He looked around at the gnoorr closest to him. There were the cubs, Dee and Dum, now resuming their game of tackle in the long brush; Old Chipped-tooth, with his broken upper canine; Lithe little Swirly-stripe, her black and green patterns running in graceful loops and whirls down her flank; Green-feet, newly adult, but still bounding along on his dark jade-coloured paws like a cub; and Amber-Eyes, whose purple eyes flashed golden and with whom he was currently walking.


       Abruptly, the forest changed. The brush grew sparse, and then not at all. Stark tree trunks rose out of soil covered in thick layers of dead leaves. The pack and the Time Lord crunched through the devastation. "What has happened here?" the Doctor whispered.


       ~~Community.~~


       He frowned and shook his head at Amber-Eyes, not understanding.


       A sensation like a sigh flowed over him. ~~Black pelt. Yellow-eyes. Kill forest. Grow wrong plants.~~ Then as if in answer to everything. ~~Not Ba-kai.~~


* * *


"I'm very sorry, Tegan." Jane hunched down against the rounded wall and pulled her cardigan about her. "I shouldn't have snapped at you like that."


       Tegan shrugged, accepting the apology. "You were obvious afraid."


       "I was terrified," Jane corrected. "After all these years of teaching, you'd think I'd be used to all the little creepy-crawlies the children hide in my desk."


       "Spiders," Tegan realized. "You're scared of the spiders."


       "I read somewhere that knowledge conquers fear," the schoolteacher lamented, "but in the case of spiders, it hasn't done anything to help me." She shivered. "I still can't stand them."


       "And Ben..."


       "The rigidity of his muscles, increased perspiration, lowered respiration," Jane shook her head sadly. "He's been injected with a powerful neurotoxin of some sort."


       "We've got huge awful spiders in Australia," Tegan told her. "Live under big rocks or alongside a house's foundation. Dangerous blighters. A male can kill a grown man with one bite."


       "Funnel web spiders," Jane replied. "Yes, I've read about them." She lowered her head into her hands. "Oh, Ben," she murmured.


       "The 'little mother' said that he was only being preserved."


       Jane's eyes grew very bright as she looked up. "And why do spiders preserve their prey?"


       Tegan began to feel sick. "To eat them later?"


       Jane nodded soberly. "Spiders predigest their prey so they can drink the tissues." She began to unbutton one of her vest pockets. "But there's still a chance, if we can get Ben away from here. His body will be trying to neutralize the poison. Now if only his nervous system hasn't started to shut down, or necrosis set in." She pulled something red and chunky from the pocket and tossed it toward Tegan. "Here." The younger woman caught it easily. "I confiscated this from one of my students. Let's see if we can't get that door open."


       Prying open one of the blades on the pocket-knife, Tegan attacked one side of the waxy lump blocking the opening while Jane set to work on the other with a set of keys.


* * *


"Amber-Eyes", the Doctor addressed his question to the tiger, "who are the Others? The Ba-kai who aren't here with us?"


       He saw a vision of a tall, brown antlike creature; then a dark humanoid female with an owl's round eyes; a stately insect similar to a bee; another of the black-skinned, yellow-eyed people, old and wrinkled; in quick progression, more images flashed before his eyes.


       "Ah, I think I see," the Doctor said. "These Ba-kai are all among the Community and the Hive?" An affirmative sensation verified his guess.


       "But why..."


       ~~The Time of Pollination.~~


       Like old 16mm film footage, a shaky, streaked motion picture replayed in his head of a queen bee's mating flight. The bodies of the rejected drones fell from the sky, bursting into flame as they hit the forest canopy. The fire caught, and spread, sending great clouds of smoke up to engulf the intertwined bodies of the queen and her new mate. Her wings buzzed in triumph.


       Flaming foliage dropped into the shimmering underbrush, giving the fire yet more fuel to consume. The little creatures of the soil burrowed deeper and deeper, away from the intense heat. Panicked flyren and gnoorr tried to flee the greedy conflagration. Those who managed to do so escaped from the jungle into the cold, dark star lands or the dryness of the barren places.


       There was the feeling of much time passing, and a new forest arose from the ashes of the old. A very few of the flyren and gnoorr returned from their exile, lured by the promise of ample food and shelter for their young.


       Again and again, the cycle repeated itself -


       The Sweezon came. The plants burned. The animals fled. And the Forest died.


       Then the trees grew again. And the most cunning and skilled and intelligent of the forest's creatures came back.


       ~~Even though adversity should destroy us, we are made strong. Stronger and wiser.~~


       The Doctor felt the truth in this thought. He could sense it in the intelligence and will of the Ba-kai. He also knew that this time, when the Sweezon came to mate, the Forest did not intend to die.


* * *


Turlough was howling, hands clutched to his head. "No!" he screamed. "Not that! Not again! Please!"


       He gasped, his body jerking against the warriors' firm grip as though he had been shot. "Nooo..." The cry trailed off to a rough whimper. "Stop!" he pleaded. "You don't need to do this! I'll tell you anythi--"


       A voice came from above him. "Where is this magic box the boy spoke of?"


       Instead, Turlough jumped again, and then again. "No, no, no!" He wrapped his arms around himself, crumpling with shock and loss. But after only a short time, his narrow face hardened, all angles and hollows, and he sat up. "That was very foolish," he announced to the air.


       "Tell us where to find the box!" the voice insisted.


       "I might have, once, but now you've got nothing more to bargain with!" Turlough glanced over his shoulder at something only he could see. "Oh yes, it always comes down to this, doesn't it? Well, my desire for self-preservation isn't what it once was." A haughty, mocking smirk touched his lips. "You've lost your chance, so just get it over with."


       Friar Mabmi looked on, frowning. This one was facing the vision of his death with arrogance and strength, not the absolute terror that most felt. Was he not human then?


       "This isn't working." He signalled to his warriors, and they hauled the young man to his feet. "We'll have to try something more..."


       "Hullo there!" The Friar and his men looked up in stunned amazement to see a fair-haired, blood-smeared, dishevelled man running toward them, arm waving above his head as one of the giant gnoorr loped along at his heels.


       "I'm the Doctor!" the man panted, sliding to a halt as he neared them. The befuddled guards continued to stare in horror at the gnoorr as it settled at his feet, cleaning its claws. They were certain that it was far too late to reach for their weapons.


       "Ah, I see you've met Turlough. Good, good." The Doctor stepped forward, wrapping a friendly, and protective, arm around his companion as he peered at the tar-coloured men. "Now there's no time to lose," he stated affably. "So which one of you is in charge?"


* * *


The two women had managed to whittle a tiny hole all the way through the wax and were desperately slicing off bigger chunks with the pocket-knife. Tegan paused, holding up a hand as she listened. "I hear something coming."


       Jane took one of the larger pieces of wax and stomped on it, flattening it into a thin, wide disk. Quickly, she pressed the disk against the opening.


       Footsteps clattered by, not pausing as they passed. When the noise had faded away, the women looked at each other with sheepish smiles and let out a collective breath.


       "We have to hurry," Jane whispered. She ripped aside the disk and continued carving, handing the pieces to Tegan. After only a few more minutes of feverish work, she folded up the wax-coated blade and tried the hole.


       It was more than a tight fit, and Jane had to angle her hips back and forth in order to get through the narrow space. She was thankful that she had maintain her trim figure, although she was also certain that she had left several layers of skin behind as she slid past.


       Tegan followed and once her torso was clear, Jane grabbed her under the arms and dragged her free. "Come on," she whispered. "Ben is back this way."


       They had managed to evade the security patrols and work details, hiding in empty cells, crawling once inside a thick trail of slug slime, and even camouflaging themselves in a pile of discarded carapaces. They had clambered into yet another empty cell, when Tegan suddenly gasped and stopped short.


       In front of them stood the TARDIS, almost filling the hollow space completely with its bulk. As the skittering footfalls of worker ants marched past, the women hid behind the boxy shape.


       Silence descended once again, and the women slid away from the relative safety of the timeship. Slipping quietly through the passageway, they eventually reached a cell just down the passageway from the sub-queens' chamber.


       "Now how do we get in?" Jane wondered aloud as she peered around the opening to watch the parade of workers and soldiers passing in and out of the chamber.


       Tegan studied the flow of traffic. "Give me a few minutes, then go. If you can get Ben free, meet me at the TARDIS."


       "Can you get in?"


       "Uh, no," Tegan admitted. "The Doctor hasn't given me a key yet." Then with a note of desperate hope. "But maybe they won't think to look for us there."


       Jane gave her a sceptical look, and then shrugged. "Well, since I can't think of anything better, I agree." She glanced back out into the corridor. "Whenever you're ready."


       With a quick, obviously terrified smile, Tegan slipped from the room and scampered back in the direction from which they'd come.


       A minute or so later, Jane heard a distant shout. "Just what do you think you're doing?" Rapid footsteps rushed past from the queens' chamber. "Let go of me! And don't you dare get any of that slime on me!" Tegan's voice trailed away, still protesting. "You said we'd get some food and water. I was just checking when you were..."


       There was a moment of silence and Jane dashed toward the chamber. Amazingly, only a few workers were in the huge space, skittering to and fro over the egg casings.


       Jane slid into the shadow of Ben's cocoon. Watching the doorway, she pulled the pocket-knife from her pocket and eased the largest blade out.


       "Benjamin Nathaniel Wolsey," she whispered to the encased man as she sawed at the strong strands binding him. "You big, thick-headed fool. You had better still be alive in there, after all the trouble you've put me through." The figure inside the webbing shifted ever so slightly, and Jane nearly cried out in relief. With renewed determination, she continued her attack on the cocoon.


---
To be continued...



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