“Noooooo!” the witch screamed. “No, you’ve ruined it all.” And she raised her hand. In the middle of her palm was a glowing yellow-orange light. Sarah Jane pushed Maria and Luke to the floor a moment before a blast of energy scorched the wall behind them. Clyde ducked as she aimed a second bolt at him. Then she mounted her broomstick and flew up into the air. There wasn’t a lot of room for it. The ceiling was not very high, and there was the funnel contration, but she was able to fly across the big table, firing bolts that incinerated cream buns and melted ice cream.
“She’ll hit the children,” Maria cried. And although she DID seem as if she was trying not to, these were just warning shots to scare them, there WAS a possibility of her accidentally hitting them.
“Permission to fire, mistress,” K9 said.
“Yes,” Sarah Jane answered. “Yes, do that. But be careful.”
K9 extended his nasal probe and raised his head. He took careful aim and fired at the brush part of the broomstick with his laser. As it burst into flames the witch gave a screech and fired back, but K9 whirred out of range. In any case, controlling her broom was her problem now. She was running out of warehouse. The broomstick smashed against the outside wall and she slithered down it almost in slow motion, exactly like a cartoon person who has hit a wall at speed. Sarah Jane almost expected her to have a flattened face when she groaned and tried to pick herself up from the floor.
“Stay right where you ARE,” Sarah Jane told her, aiming the sonic lipstick at her. It was in penlight mode and couldn’t harm her, but she didn’t know that. “Rosetta Lupo, I presume? Keep your hands flat on the floor. I’m making a citizens arrest.You’ve got some explaining to do to the police.”
“What do I care about your Human laws!” Rosetta Lupo spat back at her. “I am not of this world.”
“No kidding!” Sarah Jane answered. “You fly, you’ve got lasers in your hands… show me those, by the way. Slowly. But you can still go to a Human jail. One with a good solid roof on it.”
The woman lifted one hand. Close up, Sarah Jane saw that the lasers weren’t IN her hands. They weren’t part of her anatomy. They were on a sort of leather strap around her hand. She reached and removed them both and passed them to Clyde who put them on. He held up one hand and aimed at the wall and left a burnt patch.
“They work by the tiniest flex of the hand,” Sarah Jane guessed. “I think you’d better give them to me, carefully. As for her, she has a lot of explaining to do yet.” Clyde reluctantly gave the lasers back. Sarah Jane pocketed them. When they weren’t next to skin they were safe.
“You’ve ruined everything,” Rosetta Lupo moaned. “You’ve destroyed him and me!”
“Who’s him?” Luke asked, a question Sarah Jane was about to ask.
“Sarah Jane!” Maria called to her from the room beyond the party room. You’d better come and look at this.”
“Get up,” she said to Lupo, waving the sonic lipstick as Clyde moved into position with one hand raised. “Come with us.”
Rosetta Lupo walked in front of them. K9 kept his laser on her, too. There was little danger of her trying to escape, and without her broom she seemed firmly fixed to the floor like the rest of them.
The next room was even stranger than the party room. And Sarah Jane realised there was something a bit alien going on, because assuming there was a shop front with aisles of toys in this building, and possibly some sort of storeroom for stock, then there wasn’t SPACE for this as well. She stared around at what looked like the central control room of a very hi-tech space ship, but gutted and set up in this room. No wonder there were power spikes. All of this plugged into the National Grid?
“Relative dimensions,” she said. “I have a friend who knows about this sort of thing. He’ll be interested to know how you came by that sort of technology.”
“That’s not the weird thing,” Maria said and Sarah Jane turned to see what was up against the wall between this control room and the place where the children were.
It was a sort of cabinet. Cryogenic cabinet, Sarah Jane immediately thought. She’d seen something very like it before, a long time ago, when she was with The Doctor. But this was more than that.
Because the body inside the cabinet was glowing with the same yellow-orange with sparks of red that had surrounded the children. Or it was. Even as she watched it seemed to be dissipating. The supply had been cut off at the source. Now it was running out and she could see that the body was that of a child, about the same size as the ten year olds in the other room. A boy.
An alien boy. His flesh was pale white with blue mottles, and his hair was pure white. He was dressed in a sort of all in one bodysuit of stretched fabric except for his hands and feet which were bare.
Definitely alien. But not in a cryogenic sleep. Sarah Jane was far from an expert, although she was certainly the best qualified Human of the 21st century on such matters. She had been in a cryogenic sleep herself once and woken up. This didn’t look right. She opened the cabinet and touched the boy. His flesh was cold. Not cold as in cryo sleep, but cold as in lifeless, without blood warming him.
“He’s dead,” she said. “He was dead before he was even put into the chamber, wasn’t he?”
“Yes.” Answered Rosetto Lupo in a sad, plaintive tone. “He died of Bellic Fever. That’s what caused his hair to turn white and his skin to look like that.” Sarah Jane backed away. Everyone else took a step away from the chamber, too. “Oh, there’s no fever now. He was cured of it, but his heart was weakened and he could not wake. He died in my arms. He was ten years old. My own son. We have so few children on Jacitta X. Only one in a thousand are fertile. And I was one of the lucky ones. I had a son, just the one. And then he was taken from me. I could not… I put him in the cryo chamber. I preserved his body. And I searched for a way to bring him back to life.”
“Oh, my!” Maria exclaimed as she looked at Rosetta Lupo. They all looked at her as they realised just what she had been trying to do. “You took the children… to use them… to bring your own child back to life.”
“Can that be done?” Luke asked. “I thought that dead was dead.”
“It should be,” Clyde said. “It is on this planet.”
“On mine, too,” Rosetta Lupo admitted. “But I would not accept it. I tried… I tried for many years. And at last I found a way. But they would not let me. They said it was immoral and they said I was insane. They would not let me….”
“Well, no kidding. like who WOULD!” Clyde interjected.
“They said the children of Jaccitta were too precious to be used that way,” Rosetta Lupo continued. “They said I had to accept that my son was gone. But I would not. I took a ship… I took my boy… and I searched for a place where children were plentiful… where they would not be missed.”
“Lupo?” Maria laughed hollowly. “Loopy more like. You really thought you could come here and…”
“You took children…”
“Only a few,” she said. “I chose them carefully. Only the ones who were ten years old, like my boy. Only ones who had siblings. I only took enough… enough to give a little lifeforce each to my boy. They would not be harmed permanently. They would be sick for a little time, but they would have served their purpose. My boy would be alive.”
“Not harmed?” Sarah Jane was appalled. “Those children were being DRAINED. You were draining their life. They were DYING!”
“What if they were?” Rosetta Lupo answered. “There are millions of children on this planet. Parents have three or four each. I had only one… What would it matter if these parents had one child less? I had only one son…”
“Wow, lady!” Maria exclaimed. “You REALLY don’t get it, do you? You think just because people have big families they wouldn’t miss one of their kids? You’re nuts. Totally nuts.”
“My son…” she moaned.
“Your son is DEAD!” Sarah Jane told her. “VERY dead,” she added as she turned back to look at the cryo-chamber. The body was decomposing rapidly. “Just how many years WERE you looking for a way to revive him?”
“MANY years,” she answered. “I was young when he died. Now I am old.”
Everyone looked, horrified yet unable to turn away as the body continued to decompose rapidly, as if time was catching up. Soon it was a dried husk like a mummy, the skin was like grey-brown leather pulled tight over the skeleton. The eyes were empty sockets and the lipless mouth a sad grimace.
Rosetta Lupo screamed a terrible, heart-rending scream and tried to reach the chamber. Sarah Jane tried to hold her back, tried to comfort her, because as wicked and terrible as her deeds were, as insane as she was, she did sympathise. She didn’t ENTIRELY understand. She had never known what it was to lose a child. She had never even been a parent until Luke came along, as a package deal, already a teenager. She had never known the anguish of watching her child die. But then again she had never suffered the horrible, aching terror that the parents of those children in the other room must be going through now, either. So while she sympathised with the grief of Rosetta Lupo, she didn’t excuse what she had done.
“You DID that,” she screamed, her grief turning to anger as she began to hit out at Sarah Jane. “YOU KILLED MY SON!”
“You STUPID woman,” Sarah Jane answered her, fighting her off. “HE WAS ALREADY DEAD! Accept it. There was nothing anybody could do. He was DEAD long ago and you have no right to hurt other people, to take OTHER children to make him live. He is DEAD. And you… you’re going to prison. I don’t care if you’re an alien. You look Human enough. There are places for people like you.”
“I won’t!” she cried. “I won’t live without my son. And too late Sarah Jane felt her lunge for the pocket where she had put the lasers. She grabbed one and slipped it on her hand. Sarah Jane stepped back away from her and ducked, but she wasn’t trying to kill anyone else. Instead she pressed it against her own heart. She glowed yellow-orange for a moment and then fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. Sarah Jane approached her cautiously and felt for a pulse. There was none. She was dead.
She stood and looked around. Maria looked as white as a sheet. The boys were shocked, too. She reached out and gathered them all together and hugged them tightly.
“Sarah Jane…” Maria said after a while. “Breathing is starting to be a problem here.”
She let them go. She was trembling herself. She breathed deeply for a long while, gathering her thoughts.
“She really WAS nuts,” Maria said.
“Lupo loopy!” Clyde added.
“Very strange person,” Luke commented.
“A very sad person,” Sarah Jane said. “A terribly, terribly sad woman. I don’t think anyone could have helped her.”
“What next?” Maria asked. “What about the children?”
Sarah Jane went to the door and looked. The children were still sleeping. She turned and looked at the machinery in the control room. Some of it looked like a fairly standard transmat machine.
Fairly standard! She laughed at the thought. But that was something else she was all too familiar with once. Though not any more, she thought as she looked at the controls and realised she couldn’t do what she wanted to do on her own.
“K9,” she said. “Can you interface with this machine. I want to select a location for transmat.” She looked at the others. “Can you go and put the masks back on the children. The lifeforce drain doesn’t work now, but the masks identify them for the transmat.”
Luke, Maria and Clyde went to do as she asked. By the time they were done, K9 was ready. A screen lit up. It had a schematic of the local area. She just has to select a co-ordinate. She selected one and pressed the button. In the other room there was a brief flash of white light and the children were gone.
“Where did you send them?” Maria asked. “Back to where they were taken?”
“No, it’s nearly midnight and they’d be all alone. I sent them all to the foyer of the multiplex. It’s warm and light and there’s a soft carpet in case it’s a bumpy landing and people who can call the police.”
“Good idea, Maria agreed. “And what about all this? What about them?” She watched as Sarah Jane gingerly reached to take the long dead body of Rosetta Lupo’s son and laid it beside her on the floor. Then she turned to K9 again.
“Can you set the computers to blow up, start a fire…”
“If I reverse the polarity of the transmat machine it will overload explosively,” he answered. “I will also disengage the sprinkler system so that the fire will spread before I disconnect my interface.”
“Do it quickly,” Sarah Jane said. “Don’t get stuck in here. We need you.”
“Affirmative, mistress. Suggest leaving the building now.
Sarah Jane took the other hand laser out of her pocket and threw it away. It wasn’t the sort of alien artefact she wanted to collect. There WAS something she thought might be useful, though. She picked it up on the way out through the empty party room. They were at the car before they saw K9 following them across the car park. There were sirens coming closer, police and ambulances headed for the multiplex. Their sounds were joined by the sound of the fire alarm going off inside Rosetta Lupo’s Toy Store but it was several minutes before there was the sound of a fire engine racing to the scene. By then the fire had taken hold. There would be nothing but the metal and concrete shell of the retail unit left by the time they put the fire out.
They watched as the fire burned through the rope and the balloon witch went sailing up into the air and drifted away. They got into the car and went home.
They ate the pumpkin pie as a very late supper as Mr Smith relayed to them the police report that said all the missing children were comfortable in hospital and their parents informed that they were safe.
Sarah Jane sat on her sofa and looked at the broomstick she had picked up on her way out of the building. It wasn’t JUST a broomstick of wood. It was a quite sophisticated anti-gravity machine disguised as a broomstick. K9 had shorted it out when he set fire to the tail, but she might be able to fix it with help from Mr Smith.
“You’re not thinking of going out flying are you?” Maria asked.
“No,” she answered. “I thought it might be used to help K9 get up and down the stairs. Or… I don’t know… when I’m a bit more old and decrepit than I am now, maybe I’ll use it to get ME up and down the stairs. You never know.”
They all laughed. And after the night they’d had, she was glad they could laugh.