After supper at the end of that pleasant day of winter sports, Sarah Jane and Rani both wanted to try out the sauna room. Sky decided to follow them. The men stayed in the lodge. Pieter and Luke started up a long game of chess that Clyde lost interest in after a few moves. He knew that the two intellectuals could go on for hours with a game like that. He made himself comfortable at the window with his portable easel and charcoals, drawing the silhouette of the snow-covered Roten Berg peak and a silver moon in an inky black sky full of stars that weren’t blotted out by light pollution as they were in London. Sitting in a warm place and looking out on a cold one through a double-glazed window was a pleasant occupation. He was perfectly content.
Then something disturbed his contentment. He put down his charcoals and easel and looked out at the scene to be sure he wasn’t dreaming.
“What are those lights over there?” he asked.
“It’s the Dower House,” Pieter replied without looking up from his game. “That doesn’t belong to our family, either, now. We sold it in my grandfather’s time. An elderly lady lives in it with two servants. She used to be a famous actress in the 1950s, but these days most people have never heard of her. I think she’s a bit barmy, living in the past, sort of thing. The house is full of her movie posters and things like that. The servants come down in a van about November to buy groceries to last through the winter and nobody sees anything but lights in the windows until spring. My father says somebody ought to check on her more often.”
“Somebody should,” Clyde said. “What if the servants decided to bump her off and live on her money or something? But I didn’t mean house lights. I can see them. I meant the weird coloured lights above the house.”
“Weird coloured lights?” Luke left the game and came to look. “Where? I can’t see anything.”
“You’ve been sitting under the table lamp. Your eyes need to adjust to the dark outside properly,” Clyde told him. “But just look carefully… over there…. It’s like a night time rainbow – all the colours of the spectrum but subdued.”
As his eyes became accustomed to the dark Luke saw what Clyde meant. It wasn’t exactly a rainbow. It was more like arcs of light rising up rapidly into the night sky. The colours were, as Clyde described them, subdued, but at the same time iridescent.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Luke admitted. “Pieter, do you know what it is?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I do. It’s the start of something I was expecting…. Except… I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next…”
“What do you mean?” Clyde asked him.
“Remember Christmas… my diary that had my year written ahead of me…. It got blanked out when Mr Smith did… whatever he did. At first, I could remember some of what was written. But later I found that it had been wiped from my mind, too. Except I KNOW that something is meant to happen this week. And my diary…. Well, look. And bear in mind I’ve been playing chess with Luke since the ladies went out to the sauna.”
He reached for the leather bound diary and opened it on today’s date. In neat, small handwriting, was a concise account of meeting everyone at the airport, driving home, then coming up the mountain to the lodge. The last line of the diary entry mentioned that Clyde saw strange lights in the sky.
“That last bit wasn’t there before. It’s writing itself as it goes along. But I knew, sooner or later, something was going to happen tonight that would start it all off. I just don’t know what happens next, or how it all turns out… except I am pretty sure we all came out of it alive. I think I WOULD have remembered reading something like that.”
“So we’re predestined to have an adventure up this mountain, but we’ve no clues at all about what we might be in for.”
“None at all.”
“So, we know something weird is going on, but we don’t know what, or who’s doing it, or why,” Clyde summarised. “Well, that’s nothing unusual, is it? Question is, what do we do about it?”
“We don’t tell mum,” Luke decided. “She was looking forward to a nice, ordinary holiday. Let’s not tell the girls at all. Let them enjoy themselves. Whatever it is, we’ll sort it out, the three of us.”
“Why not? Pieter knows the mountain. We know how to deal with weird things. Between us, we’re a team without bringing mum and my sister and Rani into it.”
“Rani will kill us for leaving her out,” Clyde pointed out. “So will Sky. And Sarah Jane will kill us for going off doing dangerous things without telling her.”
“So we’re three times dead from the people who like us!” Pieter said with a grin. “If there is anything dangerous out there it can’t do anything worse to us.”
“They’ll probably want an early night after their sauna,” Clyde added. “So we go out after midnight and check things out without them knowing.”
“K9, you guard the ladies tonight while we’re out,” Luke said. “And don’t tell them anything about this. Especially don’t tell them that I told you not to tell them that we’re going out to find out about the strange lights in the sky. Don’t tell them ANYTHING about what we’re talking about at the moment.”
“I understand, Master Luke,” K9 answered in his most servile manner. “I will not inform Sarah Jane, Rani or Sky anything about your nocturnal activities.”
“I shall not alert them to your absence at any time.”
“Not at any time,” Luke added. “Shush, now. They’re heading back from the sauna.”
The female half of their party came hurrying into the lodge, commenting on how cold it was outside after the balmy warmth of the sauna and wondering why it wasn’t built onto the lodge itself to save the trek through the snow. Pieter laughed and made them all German style coffee to warm them up again and they enjoyed them before deciding an early night was called for. Pieter and Luke wished them goodnight and returned to their chess game. Clyde added some finishing touches to his night scene as they waited for midnight.
“They should be asleep now,” Luke said as the clock in the drawing room struck the hour. “Let’s get going.”
They moved quietly as they donned outdoor clothes and ski goggles. Pieter opened the kitchen door quietly and they slipped out. The ski equipment was in an outhouse with a slightly squeaky door, but they thought they’d got away with it. They crept through the snow on foot, boots sinking deep, until they were out of sight of the bedroom windows, then they put on their skis and got ready to cut across the side of the mountain at speed.
There was a frissance to skiing after dark, even without the possibility of something alien or supernatural going on at the end of the trip. The excitement kept them from noticing the biting cold of the night as they swept across the snow, going downhill slightly and around a stand of pine trees that Pieter said marked the western boundary of the Dower House grounds.
An eight foot high brick wall formed a more substantial boundary around the house and its gardens. They studied it carefully and contemplated the possibility of climbing over it.
“That tree, there,” Luke said. “The overhanging branch. We could climb it and then drop down on the other side.”
“We could,” Clyde agreed. “If there’s snow on the other side to cushion us. I’ll go first and have a look. I’ve got more experience of tree climbing than either of you.”
Neither Luke nor Pieter argued the point. They both watched as Clyde found a foothold on the tree trunk and pulled himself up onto the thick, strong bough that hung over the wall. He shimmied forward carefully and then dropped down on the other side. The other two heard a muffled ‘oof’ that told them that it had been a safe landing if not a dignified or graceful one. Luke went next. Climbing trees was not something he knew a lot about. He was already too old for that sort of thing when he was ‘born’ and Clyde’s efforts to bring him up to his level hadn’t been entirely successful. It took three goes before he managed to climb up onto the bough and he moved very gingerly along it. Pieter watched until he dropped out of sight, and heard his yelp as he landed then he reached up himself. He was a good two inches taller than either Clyde or Luke and although he hadn’t been a tree climber as a boy he was strong and agile. He followed the others easily, dropping down into the snow piled against the inside of the wall. Clyde and Luke had already landed in it before him, so there was less to break his fall, but he landed safely enough.
“We should have had white snow-suits,” Clyde pointed out. “Like James Bond has when he’s in the Alps or whatever. We’ll be visible to anyone on the look-out from the house.”
“We’ll have to take that chance,” Pieter said. “Look….”
He pointed at the sky above the house. The strange multi-coloured light was rising up from the red-tiled roof that, unlike any other building on the mountain or down in the valley, was free of snow.
“Either that house is badly in need of loft insulation or that weird light creates heat, too,” Luke commented. “It’s a pity we couldn’t have brought K9. He could probably have told us if it’s some sort of radiation, and if it’s dangerous or not.”
“He’d have slowed us up, and besides, he can’t climb trees,” Clyde pointed out. “Come on, let’s get closer. We’re going to have to risk being seen.”
There was at least a hundred yards of slightly overgrown garden to cross to reach the house itself, including snow covered rose beds with thorny branches that ripped at the ankles of their ski pants and a frozen over pond that Clyde stepped on, slithering dangerously before finding his balance again. By the time they reached the lee of the house itself, they were feeling as if they had already survived an ordeal.
“So how do we get in?” Luke asked. “It looks like all the windows are locked up tightly.”
They moved slowly along the wall testing the windows to see if they could prise one open.
“You know this is breaking and entering,” Clyde pointed out. “Maybe….”
Then he suppressed a yell. Something hard hit him on the forehead and bounced off into the snow at his feet. He bent to pick it up. Pieter looked up and thought he saw a hand withdraw inside the window of one of the third floor rooms.
“It’s… a key, wrapped in a piece of paper,” Clyde almost let go of the paper. Luke caught it before a gust of wind snatched it away. He had noticed that there was something on it.
“It says ‘helfen sie mir’,” Luke said. “That means ‘help me’.”
“Gerta Krause,” Pieter said. “The old lady, the actress. She must be a prisoner.”
“This is a mortise key,” Clyde pointed out. “It must open a door. Let’s get inside and find out who needs help.”
They moved around once again until they found a heavy, solid door with a mortise lock. The key fitted. The sound of it turning was disturbingly loud. So was the creak as it opened.
“What’s that noise?” Luke asked as they stepped into a stone-flagged kitchen that looked like it had been trapped in a timewarp since about 1955. Everything was clean and well kept, but it was decades out of date, from the top opening washing machine with a mangle attachment to the old fashioned round pinned plug on the electric iron.
“It’s the sound of somebody asking ‘what’s that noise’,” Clyde answered.
“No, I can hear something,” Luke insisted. “A sort of vibrating sound… I think it’s coming under the floor.”
“He’s right,” Pieter agreed. “It must be from the cellar. This house is as old as the castle. There will be a cellar below where food and wine was stored before refrigeration. The way down will be somewhere near the kitchen.”
“You two go and look,” Clyde said. “I’m going upstairs to see if I can find the old lady. That way we can sort two mysteries at once.”
That seemed logical enough. Clyde headed through a dark, narrow passageway where his shoes echoed on more stone flags before reaching a threadbare carpet in a hallway. There was a wide staircase going up to a landing and turning left. He could see by the moonlight coming through a window on the landing. He crept up the stairs slowly, aware of every creaking step, wondering about the two servants who were supposed to be here. Where were they? Were they responsible for the thing that vibrated in the cellar? Did that cause the strange lights in the sky? And why did the old actress, Miss Gerta Krause, need help?
There was no answer to the questions on the first landing by the window. That was just where the stairs turned. On the next landing there were doors leading into what he assumed must be bedrooms and possibly a bathroom. A huge, heavy sideboard was cross the far wall. A window let in moonlight that was reflected back in the mirror at the back of the sideboard. Clyde saw by that light that a narrower set of stairs went up to the top floor. Once, he supposed, servants would have lived up there and the family who owned the house would have the bigger rooms on the first floor. Now, it seemed that the lady of the house was confined to the top floor. That didn’t seem right at all.
He knew which room it was. There was a dim light under the door and the sound of somebody humming a song quietly to themselves.
The door to the cellar was partway along the stone-flagged corridor from the kitchen. Luke and Pieter didn’t need a torch to see by as they descended cautiously. There was a light down there – a brilliant multi-coloured light as if somebody had trapped a rainbow.
And the humming was getting louder and louder.
Clyde tried the door handle. He was surprised when it opened easily. He had assumed the old lady was a prisoner up here.
“Hello,” he said as he entered and saw the elderly woman sitting on a cushioned wicker chair by the window. “Don’t be scared. I’m here to help. I mean…. Sorry, I don’t speak very much German. Ich bein….”
“All German girls learnt English after the war,” the old woman answered in a voice that might have been soft once, but was now cracked with age. “The Allied soldiers who came…. German girls hoped to marry an English or American officer.”
“Oh… er… I see.” Clyde drew closer. “You threw the key down. And the message….you wanted help.”
“There is not much anyone can do to help me. I am old. My days are short. But if they are not stopped, death will come to the young and vigorous as well as to the old.”
“If who aren’t stopped?” Clyde looked at her face in the moonlight. It was so lined with wrinkles it was impossible to imagine her as a young, beautiful film star. He tried to guess her age. If she was twenty in 1955, then she would be seventy seven now. That was old. But after all, there were Hollywood actresses nearly as old, Joan Collins, Tina Turner, Jane Fonda, Cher, and they didn’t look anywhere near as ancient as Gerta Krause did.
Of course, they had plastic surgery to fall back on. Even so….
“No, the years have not been kind to me,” she said, almost as if she knew what he was thinking. “But this… this isn’t just the years…. Those Ungeheuern have taken what I had left. And they want more.”
“Ungeheuern....” Clyde didn’t know exactly what the German word meant, but the tone was unmistakeable.
“My servants…. My captors… my doom. They are not of this world. They are teufel... dämonen... unmenschen... from another place.”
“You mean aliens… from outer space?”
“You think I am a mad old woman?”
“No,” Clyde assured her. “Absolutely not. If you think your servants are aliens, I’ll go with that. But where are they? And what are they doing?”
“Down there…. Terrible experiments. Terrible, terrible things that will doom all humanity if they succeed.”
The fact that the two beings in the cellar were not Human was obvious to both Luke and Pieter as they crouched behind one of the huge alien computers that was installed down there. They WERE alien computers, and they were being operated by two aliens wearing the uniforms of a butler and a housekeeper. They were a humanoid shape that allowed them to wear such clothes, with a head, two arms and two legs, but their skin was leathery red and their eyes reflected in the computer screens were glowing orange. The alienness was completed by long, leathery red tails that poked out of the back of their clothes and flicked as they talked in an alien language that seemed to be made up of popping and bubbling noises.
At least that was what it sounded like to Pieter. To Luke, who had once travelled in The Doctor’s TARDIS, and therefore inherited the ability to hear alien languages translated into English in his head, the popping and bubbling was a sinister commentary that revealed the full horror of the plan.
“They’ve been conducting their vile experiments for three years… ever since they came to my house, pretending to be servants. They built their foul machines in the cellar. I didn’t suspect anything at first. But I started to feel dizzy and weak… always at the same time of day. My doctor couldn’t find any reason. But every day, at the same time, I was ill. Then... one evening I went down to the kitchen. I couldn’t find either of the servants, but I heard the noises. I went to the cellar… and saw those unmenschen... those... geschöpfe... in their true form. When they saw me... they made me their prisoner, here. And then I knew what their experiments were for. They were taking my life... little by little. Three years.... look at me. I have aged ten times as much. They have taken my life... and feed upon it. They and the other teufel in the sky.”
Luke and Pieter hurried back up the cellar steps. At the top they closed the door and leaned against it, their hearts beating fast as they contemplated what they had just seen.
“The lights in the sky...” Luke whispered. “They’re not just lights. They’re Human lifeforce. They’re draining it from the old woman… the actress lady who lives here. She’s their test subject. But they’re almost done with her. They’re ready to… turn up the heat. They’re going to drain the life out of everyone in Bavaria… everyone in Germany… then Europe… eventually the whole planet.”
“What for?” Pieter asked.
“They feed on it. Their species feed on other beings. They consume them. But they don’t invade planets en-masse like… I don’t know, locusts or something. They drain the lifeforce into a sort of huge ‘battery’ aboard a cloaked ship up there in space. But for some reason they can’t just take it without calibrating the battery to the particular lifeforce of the planet. Each species is different. So they send an advance guard. They test a sample….”
“You mean the old lady… she’s just a… a sample... to them?”
“Yes,” Luke answered.
“How DARE they!” Pieter forgot to whisper in his outrage. “How dare they come to this world and take an innocent old woman… who never harmed a soul… and… and….”
“Hush!” Luke reminded him. “They’ll hear. Don’t forget nobody else is meant to be here.”
“Let them hear!” Pieter responded. “Let them come up here and fight somebody stronger than one old lady. I’ll… I’ll….”
“Hey!” Clyde’s voice silenced him. “Give me a hand. We’ve got to get Fräulein Krause out of here.”
She was thin and frail, as if the very substance of her body had been drained, but even so, carrying her down the three flights of stairs had about done him in. He needed help to carry her the rest of the way. And they had to move fast. There were footsteps on the cellar stairs. The aliens were coming to investigate the noise.
“Let me take her,” Pieter said, lifting the old woman into his own arms. She was nearly fainting with the effort of simply being carried out of her room. He clung to her and spoke gently to her in German. She replied trustingly. Then he ran with her through the kitchen and out through the door they had unlocked earlier.
“Lock the door behind us,” Luke said. “Lock them in.”
“I doubt that would help,” Clyde pointed out. “They’re aliens. They can probably melt the lock. Come on. We need to find somewhere close by to hide. Fräulein Krause needs to rest.”
“There’s a gatehouse at the front,” Pieter said. “It hasn’t been used for ages, but it has a roof, at least.”
He started off as fast as he could run with the old woman in his arms. Clyde and Luke followed him. They knew they were easy to spot in the snow-covered garden. They had to hope that the aliens were too busy searching the house for the Fräulein to look out of the windows.
They reached the gatehouse. It was locked and shuttered, grey wood that hadn’t been tended to for years, but was still surprisingly sturdy.
They were puzzling over how to get in when they heard an engine noise. Strong headlamps lit the scene. They all turned to see the snowcat. Sarah Jane was climbing from the driver’s seat. Rani and Sky jumped out, lifting K9 over the snow-covered ground.
“You weren’t supposed to tell them,” Luke admonished the robot dog.
“He didn’t have to,” Sarah Jane told her son. “Everything you were up to was in Pieter’s diary – including your decision not to tell me because you thought I needed a worry free holiday. As if I wouldn’t be worried, waking up in the middle of the night to find the three of you missing and K9 playing dumb dog.”
“We were wrong to do that,” Pieter said contritely. “But never mind that, now. Unlock the gate, please, Fräulein Smith. Fräulein Krause is cold and frightened and needs to rest. Let me put her into the Cat.”
“K9, melt the lock,” Sarah Jane ordered, deciding that recriminations could wait. K9 did as instructed. Pieter carried the old lady to the Snowcat and made her comfortable on the wide back seat. Luke and Clyde, meanwhile, brought Sarah Jane up to date on what had happened in the house since she finished reading Pieter’s diary.
“Those aliens sound like Teufellux,” Sarah Jane said. “I’ve read about them on Mr Smith’s alien database. They’re very dangerous.”
“We have to stop them, mum,” Luke told her.
“Yes, but you’ve done enough. Stay here. K9, you come with me.”
“Mum, you can’t go in there on your own,” Luke protested. “They’ll… they’ll use YOU as their test subject. They’ll turn you into an old woman just like Fräulein Krause. They’ll….”
“Let them try,” Sarah Jane responded fiercely. Sky, watch your brother. Don’t let him try to follow me. Rani, you keep an eye on Clyde and Pieter.”
Sarah Jane strode away across the snow-covered garden, right up to the front door of the house. K9 followed. The snow on the driveway was at least a foot deep and he had to make his own path through it, but he caught up before she reached the door and unlocked it with her personal sonic screwdriver. She lifted him over the threshold. Luke and Clyde stood at the gate and watched the house, ready at any moment to disobey Sarah Jane’s orders and rush in to rescue her from the Teufellux.
“Funny that,” Clyde commented. “The German word for demon is teufel. Fräulein Krause called them that when I was talking to her. Funny that their own name for themselves is so similar.”
“Mum explained that once,” Luke answered. “The Doctor told her, years ago. It’s about synchronicity of language. All over the universe, there are words that sound the same and describe similar things. Teufel… demon… they looked pretty demonic, all red with the glowing eyes and the tail….”
Thinking of the Teufellux just reminded Luke that Sarah Jane was in the house with only K9 for protection. He really wanted to run to help her. Exactly what help he could be against such creatures he wasn’t sure, but he wanted to try.
“It’s all right,” Sky said, slipping her hand into his. “Mum knows what she’s doing. She really does. You should have told her from the start, instead of going off on your own. She was really cross when she noticed you were all gone. Then when she saw Pieter’s diary she was really worried. Now she’s cross again, but at the aliens. I think they’re going to be really sorry they messed with anyone on this planet.”
“I think she’s right,” Rani added, coming to stand beside Clyde. “Look….”
They all looked up into the dark sky. There was another series of night rainbows, but these were inverted and they were coming down towards the roof instead of rising up from it. The roof was starting to glow as the energy was reabsorbed into the house.
“Mum!” Luke yelled. Moments before the iridescent glow was fully absorbed, Sarah Jane stepped outside, carrying K9 over the threshold before putting him down in the track he had made on the way. He put on his top speed and kept pace with Sarah Jane as she ran towards the gate.
“Wow!” Clyde exclaimed as a bright point of light appeared high in the sky and then exploded like the most brilliant firework display he had ever seen – except the lights took so much longer to fade away than firework sparks.
“Everyone duck,” Sarah Jane shouted, throwing herself down into a snowpile. Luke was slow to react, still poised like a coiled spring ready to run to help his mother. Sky pulled him into a snow-covered bush. Rani dragged Clyde down behind the gatepost. Pieter jumped from the Snowcat and spread-eagled himself like somebody making snow-angels as an iridescent ray of multi-coloured light shot out of the open house door and streaked across the garden, through the gates and enveloped the vehicle. It disappeared in moments, but it was a little longer before anyone dared to stand up.
“Fräulein Krause!” Clyde and Pieter both called out her name as the lady stepped down from the Snowcat. She looked very different, now. The lines of extreme age were gone from her face. She was still old, but she wasn’t frail and thin. She was sturdy and healthy looking with long blonde hair hanging loose around her face. She smiled warmly at the two young men who both reached to take her hand.
“The lifeforce… it came back to you?” Clyde said. “All that they had taken from you….”
“It… seems so,” she answered. “I feel… so much better. So thoroughly alive. But what happened?”
“Mum happened,” Luke answered. He grinned as he saw Sarah Jane stand up and walk back towards the house. A minute later she came back out holding two small creatures by their leathery red tails. They were about a foot long each and they were squirming and squealing loudly.
“K9, stun mode, please,” she said. K9 obliged. The creatures went still. She brought them back to the snowcat and locked them in a box used to keep snow shoes in. “Fräulein Krause, I’m glad you’re all right, now. Since you haven’t got any servants to look after you now, I suggest you come on back to the Lodge for the night.”
Pieter added his own voice to the invitation. Fräulein Krause was too overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers to refuse. They made her comfortable again in the Snowcat. Sky lifted K9 in while everyone else found their seats and fastened their seatbelts. While Pieter drove them across the snowfield to the warm, inviting lodge Clyde and Luke told Sarah Jane the whole story of how they came to be fighting aliens in the middle of the night.
“But what happened to them?” Fräulein Krause asked. “My servants… the Teufel…. What did you do to them, Fräulein Smith?”
“Something a very clever man always used to do,” Sarah Jane answered. “I reversed the polarity of their lifeforce harvester. It drained that battery up there in space and pulled the reverse polarised energy back down here. Some of it came back to you, Fräulein Krause. That’s why I had to warn the kids to get out of the way. If they’d been hit by it, they’d have been reduced to babies just like the Teufellux.” She laughed. “I wouldn’t object to raising Luke or Sky from babies again. But I’m not going to look after a pair of Teufellux infants. There’s a division of U.N.I.T. in Munich. They can take charge of them. Or if they’re not interested, there must be a German equivalent of Torchwood.”
“Serves them right, either way,” Pieter said as he stopped the snowcat outside the Lodge. “Hot chocolate with extra large schlag is in order, I think.”
“Then bed for everyone,” Sarah Jane insisted. “And if anyone has any ideas about getting up before breakfast, K9 has orders to stun them, haven’t you, K9?”
“Affirmative, Mistress,” he replied.