“Nobody else move,” Sarah Jane called out. She, herself moved quickly. All the others saw was the light from her sonic lipstick as she ran across the room. Clyde followed her by the light, despite her injunction. He saw the shadow at the window, an alien creature, long and thin, coming in where he had stupidly left the shutter open. Then he saw a laser beam shoot from the lipstick and sear the creature in half. It screamed and one half of it fell back while the other half fell forwards onto the landing.
Sarah Jane ran to the window, stepping over the half of an alien creature. She looked out. Clyde followed her.
“I told you not to move,” she said to him.
“I’m stupid,” he answered. “I even forgot to close the window. How am I supposed to remember not to move? Anyway, what’s the situation? What’s out there?”
“Aliens!” Sarah Jane said. “Dozens of them. They’re climbing up the walls. They’re everywhere.”
Clyde looked. She was right. He saw the long, thin creatures, whatever they were, climbing up the walls, slithering along, finding holds where their thin arms could get a grip, moving quickly. They looked like giant locusts, Clyde thought, and shuddered.
“Sarah Jane!” Maria’s voice called from the bedroom door, shining a torch onto the landing. “Mr Lumsden says he has a back up generator in the cellar. But somebody has to go down there and throw the main switch because the automatic system seems to have failed.”
“WHY has it failed?”
“He doesn’t know. But we need power. We can’t sit in the dark while…. SARAH JANE! LOOK OUT!”
Maria screamed the last urgently. Sarah Jane turned around in time to laser in half another creature that had made it to the window. She slammed the window shut and used the sonic lipstick to seal it again, then she turned to Maria, stepping over the two half bodies of aliens, one bottom half, she noted, and one top half.
“All right, I’ll go down there. Clyde…”
“I’ll come with you, Sarah Jane,” he said. “Let me help, to make up for being stupid with the window.”
“Just what I was going to suggest,” she answered. “Can we borrow your torch, Maria?”
Maria looked reluctant to part with it, but she did so. Sarah Jane thanked her and headed down the stairs with Clyde. Maria went back to the bedroom. Martha had a small novelty torch on her key ring. It gave them a tiny bit of light, just enough to avoid falling over anything. But it wasn’t going to last long.
“Do we have another torch?” Maria asked. “Until Sarah Jane gets the power back on?”
“Candles,” Mr Lumsden said. “Through the door behind you.” Martha stood up and went to open the door that she had assumed led to an ensuite bathroom.
It didn’t. It led to a little chapel or chantry, shrine - she wasn’t sure of the right word, exactly. There was a little altar with a crucifix on top and candles. There was a small statue of the Virgin Mary one side of the crucifix and the other, a photograph of a smiling woman. Even without the black crepe around the frame she would have guessed it was Mr Lumsden’s wife.
There was a votive light, one of those squat, hard, compact candles that lasts for hours, burning safely in a glass bowl in front of the crucifix and other candles in holders around waiting to be lit. On a shelf near the altar table were boxes of candles and tapers. She picked them up, then looked at the altar. She used the taper to light the other candles on the altar as well as one for her to carry back to the bedroom. And she left the door open as she came back.
“Theresa was more religious than me,” Mr Lumsden said. “But I always keep the candle burning in her memory. And once a month the priest comes to give me communion. I try to hold on to the idea that there is more than just an anti-transmat array protecting me.”
“Quite right,” Martha said. As she lit more candles they all tried not to hear the obvious sound of something crawling over the shuttered window outside. Mr Lumsden clasped his hands and began to pray. Martha and Maria sat either side of his bed and did the same. Luke wasn’t sure what to do. He understood about religions but they had never had anything to do with him.
Sarah Jane and Clyde made their way down the stairs.
“Where is the cellar?” Clyde asked.
“Door in the kitchen,” Sarah Jane answered. “It’s going to be locked, of course. But I’ve got the sonic lipstick.”
“You know, it’s getting warm and stuffy without the air conditioning working.”
“Don’t worry, we’re not in any danger of suffocating. It just might not feel all that pleasant.”
They reached the kitchen. Clyde held the torch while Sarah Jane used the sonic lipstick on the cellar door.
“This is tricky. There are three locks on it. Mr. Lumsden is SO security conscious.”
“You mean paranoid,” Clyde answered. “Yes, I know. The aliens are real. But WHY would they want to get to his CELLAR?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Sarah Jane answered. “Maybe… Oh, please, stop messing about, Clyde. Shine the torch on the door.”
“But Sarah!” Clyde replied in a scared voice. “The alien…. The dead one… It’s GONE.”
Luke waited quietly, still unsure what to do, as Mr Lumsden, Maria and Martha said prayers.
“It is taking mum and Clyde a long time to get the power back on,” he noted. “I calculate two minutes to get to the kitchen. Three more to unlock the cellar door, I do not know how long it would take to turn on the emergency generator….”
“I don’t know,” Martha said. “Maybe it took longer to unlock the door. Maybe they can’t get the generator on.”
“It should not be difficult,” Mr Lumsden said. “It is a solar powered system. They only need to pull a very large switch on the front of the panel. There is reserve power for up to eight hours. More if we conserve it. I don’t think we’re going to be watching much television or using my exercise bicycles tonight, so we may have enough light and air conditioning until…”
“I hear something.” Luke interrupted him. “I’m sorry, I know it is rude to speak when an adult is speaking. But….”
They all heard it. A slithering sort of sound. Maria grabbed one of the candles and ran to the door. Luke copied her. They both were in time to see the two halves of the two dead aliens on the landing morph into two live and FULL aliens. The top half one grew a lower torso and legs. The bottom half one grew an upper torso, head and arms. Both stood and started to move towards the bedroom. Maria yelped in terror and backed away, pushing Luke back into the room and slamming the door.
Clyde shone the torch on the place where the alien had been lying. There was a pool of its congealed blood, but no alien. He shone the torch around the kitchen, then something, he wasn’t sure what, a noise, a shadow that moved wrongly, made him shine the torch at the ceiling.
Clyde’s scream was louder than Sarah Jane’s as they saw the alien clinging to the light fitting on the ceiling by its legs and reaching down towards them with its scrawny hands. Sarah Jane started to change the sonic lipstick’s setting to laser. She wasn’t exactly panicking. She didn’t PANIC. But she was rushing, and as so often happens when anyone does something they know perfectly well how to do while RUSHING she fumbled and dropped the lipstick. As she bent to pick it up, the creature swiped at Clyde. He ducked out of the way, but the torch was swept from his hands and smashed on the floor.
“Sarah Jane!” Clyde yelled. “Where are you?”
“I’m here,” she said as she grasped at her sonic lipstick. Its red light shone in the darkness and she grabbed it and aimed the laser where she thought the light fitting was in the middle of the ceiling. The laser beam illuminated the midriff of the alien and she moved it, slicing the creature in half. There was a screech and then two thuds as two parts of the alien fell to the floor.
“Let’s get this done,” Sarah Jane said, and she used the laser to simply cut through the three locks. She would pay for a new door later, if she had to, she decided. She pushed the door open and slowly descended the cellar steps while reverting the lipstick to simple penlight mode.
The cellar was obviously a workshop where Mr Lumsden, who had designed and built electronic components that saved lives in hospitals all over the world still invented things. There was a table scattered with plans and blueprints and half-finished devices. In one corner was an oxy-welding kit with a protective visor resting on top of the gas tanks. There were drawers and cupboards of equipment.
One end of the wide cellar was taken up by a large example of his genius. The solar powered generator. Most of the bulk was the batteries that stored up the energy from the panels on the roof, among the anti-transmat dishes. Much of the power went into keeping those devices working, so he had to rely on the National Grid for his ordinary household electricity, but there was enough stored energy for an emergency like this.
“Do you think that’s the on switch?” Clyde asked as the penlight fell on a very big lever at the front.
“Yes, I think it is,” Sarah Jane answered. “Let me see… yes.” She pulled the lever and the generator lit up. LED panels indicated that it had shifted from low power mode to Emergency mains power.
“She did it!” Martha said with a relieved laugh as the lights came on. “She did it! Fantastic.”
“Yes, now we can SEE the aliens trying to break down the door!” Maria answered her as she jammed a chair against the handle. “And how do they get back to us? They have to get past TWO aliens.”
“I don’t get how they did that,” Martha admitted. “You said Sarah Jane cut them in half.”
“Like a common earthworm,” Luke explained. “They can survive being cut in half and become two full worms.”
“So every time we kill one of them we get TWO aliens?” Martha exclaimed.
“Perhaps if we stopped killing them,” Luke suggested.
“We need to kill them completely,” Maria pointed out. “Like… I don’t know, disintegrator ray….”
“I’m afraid my technological advances were in medical science, not weaponry,” Mr Lumsden said, apologetically.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Martha told him. “It’s not YOUR fault we’re in this. No need for you to apologise.”
“I got all of you mixed up in this. Sarah Jane – you, these children.”
“It’s what we DO,” Martha replied. “Sarah Jane and me, we’re experts in aliens. And these kids are good, too, from what I’ve heard about them.”
She looked at the door. It was an ordinary internal door. Within Mr. Lumsden’s fortress there weren’t many defences. His plan depended on the enemy being kept out. Now they were in and they were trapped in this room.
Sarah Jane and Clyde turned to run back up the steps. They stopped when they saw two halves of the alien at the top. They saw both halves regenerate – Sarah Jane searched her mind but couldn’t find a better word, as much as she wanted to – into two whole aliens. The same earthworm analogy that Luke had come up with occurred to her.
“SARAH!” Clyde darted towards the oxy-welding equipment, pulling on the visor.
“No,” she said. “It’s too dangerous. You don’t know how…”
“I’ve used kit like this in metalwork,” he answered as he picked up the torch part and noted that it had the ‘rosebud’ nozzle that was used for heating up large areas of metal for welding. “Get behind me, Sarah Jane,” he told her. He turned the valves and pressed the ignition. The torch lit up. He stepped forward as the two aliens came down the steps and aimed at the nearest one’s face.
The creature howled in agony as the superhot flame burnt it. Clyde turned up the pressure and increased the flame as he moved closer. The first creature’s whole head was burning before he turned the torch on the second one. It, too, screamed as he waved the welding tool in EXACTLY the way he was NOT allowed to do in the safety conscious metalwork classroom. Flames engulfed the two aliens.
He wasn’t a cruel boy. He didn’t do bad things to animals or bully younger kids. And he took no pleasure in causing pain to these creatures who seemed to take so long to burn to death as their skin bubbled and seared away and the raw flesh beneath was ravaged. But Sarah Jane was behind him and upstairs there were Maria and Luke, and Martha and old Mr Lumsden and he knew that causing pain to these aliens to save them was the only thing he could do.
“You know,” he said to Sarah Jane over the sound of the torch and the scream of the dying alien creatures. “If I was American I’d need a fortune in trauma therapy after this.”
Sarah Jane laughed. She wondered how much she might have spent on such therapy if she was a different sort of person. She wasn’t enjoying this, either. If the creatures had just exploded or melted or disintegrated she might not have minded so much. But they were dying slowly before her eyes and it was sickening. She wished they were NOT in so much pain, even if they WERE evil.
Finally, the two creatures collapsed on top of each other in a charcoaled heap on the stone floor of the cellar.
“I think you can stop now,” Sarah Jane told Clyde and he turned off the nozzle and locked off the safety valves. He put the visor and torch back in place as Sarah Jane sprayed fire extinguisher foam over the still smouldering creatures. It left a horrible mess, but she was certain they were dead.
She and Clyde went up the cellar steps and through the kitchen to the hall. At the foot of the steps they looked up. They could hear a slithering noise and a crash as if something was trying to break down a door. They both heard the alien voices, though Sarah Jane understood the words. They were encouraging each other to throw themselves at the door, telling each other that behind this feeble wooden barrier was the “Keeper of the Secret” and his protectors. And they would all be dead in minutes.
“If only the torch was portable!” Clyde whispered.
Then they both heard a noise that disturbed them still further.
The front door was unlocking.
They heard the sound of the security code, then the door swinging open. As Clyde stood at the foot of the stairs wondering how to help his friends, Sarah Jane ran to deal with this new threat.