‘I wish I’d brought my umbrella,’ said the Doctor. ‘I remember I used to have one.’
Sam stopped walking. The Doctor must have heard her feet scuffing behind him, because he turned back to see what she was doing. She was dripping. Big fats blobs of water ran through her short blonde hair, over her shoulder, down the sodden arms of her shirt and onto the dry earth of the tunnel. Sam studied the growing pool of water at her favourite pair of Caterpillar boots in the sharp light from her thick black torch. ‘I hope you’re kidding,’ she said slowly. Then she leaned against the wall so that she could pull off one boot, which she emptied theatrically in front of him. A dribble of dark water poured from the heel and onto the ground. ‘When we were leaving the TARDIS, you said we wouldn’t need an umbrella. And when I saw the clouds, you said they were alto sopranos which — ’
‘Altocumulus,’ stressed the Doctor, ‘and the nimbostratus was blowing high in quite the opposite direction.’ He grinned at her like a dog expecting a bone.
Sam dropped her boot to the ground, and wiggled her wet sock back into it. She examined the hand she had propped on the wall with studied distaste, and brushed the dirt off on her trousers. Where it stuck. ‘Doctor, you have an excuse for everything. And that’s the worst excuse for forgetting your umbrella since excuses were invented. Well, you can go on making excuses until you’re blue in the face… Oh great, you’re making me sound like my mum.’
The Doctor had come back down the tunnel towards her. ‘Well,’ he said solemnly, his face level with hers, ‘for that, I apologise most sincerely.’
Sam looked at his eager expression, lit from below by his torch. His dark curls were plastered down over his forehead, his ears were sticking out, and his jutting chin and angular nose threw huge shadows up over his long face. She thought of Halloween lanterns, and had to laugh.
The Doctor smiled at once, and blew a drop of water from the end of his nose. Then he straightened up and spun on his heel. ‘It was very strange the way those clouds seemed to change direction so suddenly,’ his voice filtered back to her as he strode off again. ‘I wonder if they have rudimentary climate control here. Cloud control, eh?’
‘The only clouds,’ muttered Sam as she squelched after him, ‘are in your memory. You promised me a leisure break, not a hike in a force ten gale through a ploughed field.’ The tunnel was narrowing, and she was watching her footing on the uneven ground and so bumped straight into the back of his green velvet coat. His wet, green velvet coat, which seemed to be steaming slightly in the torch light.
‘Where’s your spirit of adventure?’ he demanded brightly.
‘In its box alongside your umbrella.’
‘Well, at least let’s explore this archaeological excavation until the weather turns, eh?’
Sam fixed him with her special glare, the one she practised in front of the bathroom mirror. ‘You promised me leisure, luxury. All the Lindt chocolate I could eat. You showed me the brochure: Kursaal, the Pleasure Planet of a Thousand Worlds. “You deserve a break,” you said. “I know just the place,” you said, “imagine Disneyland meets Babylon 5”. ‘ She looked around with ill-concealed contempt. ‘You’re going to tell me this is the Alice in Wonderland ride, I suppose.’
Uh-oh. He was giving her the half-smile that he reserved for when he was trying to cajole her into something. His estate agent look. Yes, his lips were pursed as he tried to find the right sales pitch. ‘Well… we have definitely arrived at Kursaal.’
‘What is this, the off-season?’ she snapped. ‘I hope you booked a return flight.’
‘We’re just a bit early.’
She stared. ‘How early?’
‘Couple of years. Er, maybe five?’ He looked forlorn.
Sam brushed past him, muttering back at him as she moved further down the tunnel. ‘I am wet through and fed up. We’re at least thirty minutes from the TARDIS, I refuse to walk another step in that downpour, and I don’t intend to stand here in the damp and dark until my boobs freeze.’
‘Sam,’ he called after her in a hurt tone.
‘Let’s find your archaeologists and get some dry clothes from them. Maybe air our pants over their open fire while singing “Kumbaya”.’
‘I think you may have taken a chill already,’ said the Doctor as he hurried to catch up.
* * *
Sam followed the passageways which led down. At a couple of junctions she chose the route which seemed to have the sharpest descent. The tunnel walls narrowed to less than a metre at times, and she could feel sharper rocks in the floor pushing into the soles of her boots. Her feet were killing her.
She couldn’t remember when she’d last had a good sulk. Probably the time her mum had thrown away the Greenpeace magazine clippings at the bottom of her knickers drawer, perhaps, and replaced them with wallpaper off cuts — ‘so much nicer as a drawer lining dear, don’t you think?’ Now she knew she was once again enjoying being miserable. Well, she owed it to herself once in a while.
The Doctor seemed content to trail after her contritely. On the few occasions she looked back, he gave her brief smiles which were probably supposed to encourage her. Then she’d feel the damp material of her shirt and bra against her skin, and stamp ahead faster, shivering.
After ten more minutes, the Doctor had caught up with her and placed his jacket around her. She had tried to shrug it off irritably, but he had held it gently and firmly on her shoulders, and she had relented with ill-grace. ‘I’m still seriously fed up with you, you know that?’ she said. The Doctor nodded. ‘So where are we really? And what’s that dreadful smell?’ She sniffed at his coat on her shoulders, and he threw her a pretend insulted look.
‘I thought we might have landed in one of the Discovery Theme areas,’ he confessed. ‘But the state of the entrance, the lack of nearby transport facilities, and the complete lack of, erm, predictable climate control suggests that this is a real archaeological dig. Started at the same time that they were building Kursaal. Did you notice the striations in the mud and rock outside the tunnel entrances?’
Sam shone her torch straight at him, but relented when he squinted sideways. ‘Those huge grooves, the ones running parallel to the line where the fir trees started further up the mountain?’
‘Yes, they look to me like the markings of an excavator.’
Sam whistled. ‘Big digger. Each of those was the width of my house.’
‘Put three of them together, and you have some idea of the size of the excavator scoop,’ said the Doctor. ‘They’re not building sand castles here.’
‘I learn something new every day with you, Doctor,’ she replied sweetly, trying not to sound too impressed.
The Doctor made a grand gesture, which looked odd in the narrow space. His torch flared wildly over the tunnel roof. He was obviously off on one again. ‘See the universe, discover alien cultures, learn other languages.’ He sounded like the prospectus for the sort of school her dad approved of. ‘You couldn’t pay for this kind of education.’
‘In your case,’ she retorted, ‘you’d need to guarantee full refunds if not satisfied. And travel insurance.’
‘I was once told that you can’t teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself.’
Sam started back down the tunnel again. ‘Now you sound like my mum. After she gets back from one of her evening classes. My dad just rolls his eyes, and says it’s all pre-war Freudian mumbo-jumbo.’
‘Well, early seventeenth century mumbo-jumbo, at any rate,’ said the Doctor, sniffing. ‘Galileo.’
‘You met the guy who discovered America?’ said Sam, wide-eyed.
The Doctor looked up with a reproving look, and saw her grinning wickedly in the light of her own torch. ‘Now you’re just teasing me.’ He sniffed the air again. ‘I’m rather afraid it could be some sort of wild animal. Perhaps we should take our chances in the rain after all.’
They turned and started to make their way back upwards, Sam grumbling that she used to think the Doctor was indecisive, but now she wasn’t so sure. Then they came to the fork in the tunnel. Sam couldn’t remember seeing it, it must have been a branch which doubled back and up beside the tunnel they had originally taken. ‘Suggestions?’ There was a rustling sound, which she realised was the Doctor shaking his head. ‘I thought you never forgot a route that you committed to memory,’ she grumbled.
‘That assumes that I remember to commit it to memory in the first place,’ he said glumly from behind her.
She mentally tossed a coin, and indicated the left-hand route with a confidence she did not feel.
The tunnel had a sharp rise, but soon narrowed considerably, and she began to remember that their route down had not been so claustrophobic. The roof dipped lower a couple of times and scraped her wet head painfully, so she focused her torch upwards, and slid her feet along the ground to avoid tripping on protruding rocks, feeling for them with the toe of her boots. The Doctor said something about Wilson, Kepple and Betty, who she assumed had once been his travelling companions.
Ahead, Sam could see that they were coming to a narrow gap in the tunnel, no more than a few inches wide. There was no way they would get through there. She half turned to tell the Doctor.
Just before she fell over the body.
She twisted, landing heavily on her bum, her legs still stretched behind her over the soft form. Her jeans pressed against her calves, and she could feel they were still wet through. Behind her, the Doctor hunkered down and lowered his torch light to see her. ‘Oh dear,’ he said softly. Too softly.
She looked, the light from her torch wavering.
It had been a man, late teens, maybe early twenties, the shadows made it difficult to judge. His light brown eyes were staring at her in mute accusation, startling her. She thought at first he was wearing a red turtleneck. Then she saw the shreds of flesh below the chin, the sticky pool of red that had seeped into the dirt of the tunnel floor. It was on her trousers now, too.
‘Gordon Christ,’ she shouted, and pulled her legs away. For a dreadful moment, she thought the dead man was moving his hand to grab her, pull her back, and she gave a sharp cry. But it was just her foot dragging his arm across his body. It was almost severed at the shoulder. It had a watch on it, with a wristband made of interleaved gold and silver links.
Still seated, she pushed herself away, hugging her knees to her chest. The musky animal smell was stronger here on the ground, she realised, and then she could smell the blood on her trousers. With a little noise of disgust, she straightened her legs, pushing herself further back from the body, pressing herself against the wall, pressing hard. ‘Gordon Christ!’
The Doctor picked up his coat from where it had fallen. ‘Are you hurt?’ When she shook her head tentatively, he placed the coat over Sam’s legs.
‘The blood…’ she said. He waved her objection away, and tucked the sleeves in under her knees. Then he turned back, putting himself between her and the body. ‘I’m sorry about the language, Doctor…’ She didn’t know what else to say. She wanted words to tumble out, to fill the terrible silence in which she could think only about blood on the ground, on her legs, on the young man’s tunic, on his throat… on his neck. She put her hand up to her own neck. She was taking short gasps of air, as though she was shivering, so she tried to breathe deeper, more steadily.
She stared at the Doctor’s back. She could see his shoulders moving, and studied his long hair, still sodden and plastered to the stained silk on the back of his waistcoat. The sleeves of his shirt were scraped with mud from the tunnel walls. When he spoke, his words died in the air. ‘Sit still, Sam, you’ve had a bot of a shick. I mean, a bit of a shock.’ He laughed. ‘Words are tricky, aren’t they?’
‘The worst thing I ever heard my dad say was “oh cripes”,’ she said eventually. ‘I never even heard him say “bastard”. Except in Latin, y’know: nil illegitimi carborundum when people were getting at me. I don’t suppose he had the same provocation. But I doubt he’s ever seen that much blood spilled all in one go. Even when he was with the Blood Transfusion Service. One of the few things I did that I remember him approving of was when I went down the community centre and gave blood, without being asked nicely first.’ She could hear a quavering note in her own voice, so she tried a half-hearted laugh. ‘Melissa Donoghue fainted when she first gave blood. Fell off the couch, and dragged the bag onto the floor. It squirted all over the lino. And dad said “oh cripes”.’
The Doctor’s shoulders moved again as his hands worked beyond her line of sight. ‘What’s the word you find most difficult to spell?’ he said in a light tone.
She closed her eyes, and smiled, leaning her head back against the cold tunnel wall. She recognised his technique. ‘Haemoglobin,’ she said provokingly.
‘Hah!’ snorted the Doctor as he realised she wasn’t going to play his game. Now he turned back to her, smiling a tight smile and blinking in the light of her torch. Just as she lowered it out of his eyes, she noticed that they weren’t smiling too. He reached out and grasped her shoulders gently, looking her full in the face. His tone was calm, conversational, with that lilting intonation he used when patiently explaining things to people. ‘Sam, it looks like this poor fellow was killed by an animal. He had a name tag. He was called Osram.’ He paused, thinking briefly. ‘Rigor mortis has not yet set in, and so we must assume that the animal that did this could still be nearby. Can you stand?’ She nodded mutely, colder than ever. ‘We should get out of these tunnels.’
© Peter Anghelides 1998