Sarah Jane was heading for her car just as Maria, Luke and Clyde reached the drive. She looked disconcerted as she remembered she had made plans with them for tonight.
“Are you going out?” Maria asked, trying not to sound disappointed. “I thought we were putting up the Christmas decorations in your house tonight?”
Usually, Sarah Jane didn’t bother. She was known for being the only house that didn’t have decorations. On her own she had never seen the point. But now she had Luke and he understood about Christmas now, and she had to make the effort.
Sometimes, Maria thought, Sarah Jane was even less in touch with the real world than her adopted son, Luke, who was created in a laboratory and born as a teenager. She needed other people around to remind her about ordinary life.
But tonight she seemed to have forgotten about it again.
“We’ll do that later,” she promised. “But right now I have to go somewhere. It’s an emergency. I…” She sighed. “Look, ok, come on with me. But… Oh, never mind. I’ll explain on the way.”
“Where are we going?” Luke asked as they fastened their seatbelts in the back of the green Nissan Figaro. They were only just secured when she put her foot down on the accelerator and the car swung out into Bannerman road. Maria leaned forward and noticed that the speedometer showed them only just under the speed limit for a built up area.
“What’s the emergency?” she asked.
“Arnold Lumsden,” Sarah Jane answered.
“Who?” Luke asked.
“Loony Lumsden?” Clyde queried. “The rich bloke who lives in that house over the park all by himself, with all the high walls and shutters on his windows and weird things on the roof.”
“That’s him,” Sarah said.
“You KNOW him?”
“Yes,” she answered and then went quiet. In the back of the car her passengers all looked at each other. WHAT was bothering Sarah Jane? And how was a nutty old man everybody talked about but nobody actually KNEW anything about an emergency for her?
“He’s NOT a loony,” she said eventually. “Let’s get that straight right from the start. If you’re going to be there, then… he’s not a loony. He’s a very nice, sweet man who believes that aliens are after him.”
“And just why is that funny?” Sarah Jane snapped, just a little harder than she meant it to be.
“Well… you know… LOONY.”
“No,” Sarah Jane insisted. “It ISN’T. Because aliens ARE after him.”
“Well, why would that be so strange?” Maria pointed out. “We’ve had aliens in our school, running pop factories, kidnapping kids. Then there was Miss Marsh at summer camp. Was SHE not from this planet or what?”
“Yes,” Clyde conceded. “But AFTER someone? That’s just a bit too X-Files.”
Sarah Jane sighed. No matter how much strangeness they saw, something in Human minds made them try to rationalise it. Most of the adults had forgotten about the alien space ship over London and the Cybermen and Daleks who destroyed Canary Wharf had been turned into five inch action figures that you could buy in Woolworths. There was talk of an animated series! She thought the children at least would be more open, and most of the time Maria and Clyde were. But sometimes even they could be nearly as closed-minded as everyone else.
It was a defence mechanism, of course. They didn’t WANT to know there were things out there that wanted to kill them or control them or take over the planet. Sarah Jane knew that was the reason. It had been that way ever since she and The Doctor had faced dinosaurs in the streets of London or the Loch Ness Monster – which was really an alien creature - swimming up the Thames.
She understood it. But it still annoyed the hell out of her.
Mr Lumsden WAS kidnapped by aliens once,” Sarah Jane said. “He escaped, but ever since he has been frightened of them coming back. So he lives alone, behind locked doors, steel shuttered windows. He talks to almost nobody directly. He has ‘strange things’ on his roof. They’re anti-transmat devices. He feels safe as long as they’re up there. And what’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, I guess,” Clyde conceded. As she was forced to stop at a set of traffic lights Sarah Jane reached in her pocket and looked again at the preset message on her mobile phone.
As soon as the lights turned green she put her foot down on the pedal, again keeping just within the speed limit until they reached the House of Arnold Lumsden.
"Something is definitely wrong,” Sarah Jane said as she saw the gate. The fact that the gate was swinging open was one very big example of ‘wrong’. The gate was a high, metal one, set into an even higher wall with barbed wire and shards of glass along the top. The impression was one of a rather exclusive and high class prison.
The gate had a special code to open it. A very few people had the code. The people Mr Lumsden trusted. Apart from Sarah Jane Smith, they included the delivery man from Tescos who brought the food he ordered by internet. He always had the SAME delivery man, one who had been vetted by his solicitor before being trusted with the code. He had the same pizza delivery man who had also been vetted. Likewise people from the stores where he bought everything he could possibly need by internet. The same postman always delivered.
A CityLink delivery van was parked in the driveway. Sarah Jane parked her car behind it and got out. She walked slowly, cautiously, up to the very unusual front of the house.
It used to be a beautiful Victorian villa, set in its own grounds and admired by those who passed by on the top of double decker buses and got the best view of it. Now it looked like a house would look if the cybermen had decided to turn it into a cyber house but were stopped halfway through the job. There were steel shutters over all of the windows and the roof did, indeed have a whole array of what looked like satellite dishes and highly sophisticated aerials all over it. All across the front of the house was a sort of porch or annexe made of steel and bullet-proof, strengthened glass on three sides. On the fourth side there was the front door, but it was a strong metal one, locked from inside. The electric and gas meters for the approved and vetted meter readers were next to it, as was a letter box for ordinary mail, the narrowest one it was possible to imagine, with the mail falling into a strong metal box inside. There was also a receptacle set into the wall where parcels and food deliveries were put. The receptacle swung around to receive the goods like a night deposit safe at a bank. By the side of it was a window with a swinging panel such as banks and post offices have. There the delivery men would leave the forms to be signed and Mr Lumsden’s hands would be seen signing them and returning them, always with a generous tip, because whatever else Mr Lumsden might be, he was a generous man who rewarded those who did these services for him.
There was a box with a Citylink sticker inside the annex, but there was no sign of the delivery man.
“What’s that?” Clyde asked, pointing to the parcel receptacle. There was something wedged in it, half hanging out. Sarah Jane reached and pulled the receptacle open. She tugged open the piece of reflective yellow jacket that seemed to be folded up inside. It slipped to the floor at her feet.
She yelped in fright. So did Maria and the boys.
“Eurgghh,” said Luke, summing it up for them all.
It wasn’t just a jacket. It was a whole CityLink driver’s uniform, and the driver was still in it.
Or at least his SKIN was.
“It looks like another Slitheen,” Maria said as she studied the remains.
“No,” Clyde answered her. “Can’t be. This guy was thin even when he had insides.”
“Not Slitheen,” Sarah Jane concluded. “They use zips to get in and out of the skins. This is ripped… like it was only meant to be used the once.” She caught her breath and realised what she was saying. An innocent man must have been killed for this skin. She put it down gently and stood back.
“The alien got in through there,” Luke said in a matter of fact tone as he observed the way the receptacle worked. Sarah Jane nodded. Yes. It must have done. She wasn’t quite sure how. The space was big enough to take parcels up to the size of, maybe, a portable television. But an alien that has fitted into a grown man’s skin couldn’t….
“Stand back,” she told them all. “I’m going to open the front door. Turn around. You’re not allowed to see how it’s done.”
Clyde looked as if he was about to argue. Sarah Jane gave him a hard stare. He turned away. They all did. Maria, though, was right behind her and she could see what she was doing in the reflection in the glass. She saw her press a panel in the wall beside the door. Inside there was a code entry system. She keyed in a code. The door opened.
“Ok, come on,” she said as she stepped into the house.
They all, especially Clyde who had speculated far more than any of the others about the ‘Loony’ man’s house, had expected something dark and unpleasant. They envisaged something a bit smelly with thirty years of old newspapers and rubbish lying around.
In fact it was a very beautiful, well kept house. Mr Lumsden didn’t let other people in, so he did all his own cleaning. But he did it thoroughly. The rooms were bright and clean and full of very good quality furniture. They was no natural light, but the energy saving bulbs seemed to be a special kind that looked a bit like sunshine.
There was a really nice drawing room, a library with books, CDs and DVDs in it. There was a room full of exercise equipment. There was a study with a desk and computer….
What they didn’t find as they checked each of those rooms was Mr Lumsden. Sarah Jane bit her lip worriedly. The house was too quiet. Usually there was music playing or television, something. Mr Lumsden didn’t like it quiet. He said it reminded him of how alone he was. So he always had something, if only in the background.
“Sarah Jane!” Maria yelled as she checked out the kitchen. Sarah Jane turned and ran. The boys came after her.
They all saw Mr Lumsden lying on the floor, in a pool of blood.
“Is he dead?” Maria asked as Sarah Jane bent and checked his pulse.
“No, he isn’t,” she answered. “He’s alive. He’s…. “ Maria was already moving towards the telephone mounted on the wall by the kitchen door. “No, we can’t call an ambulance. He is afraid to leave his house. If he wakes up on the way or in hospital he’ll be distressed. Give me the phone. I know who to call.” Maria passed her the phone as she finished examining the unconscious man.
“This isn’t HIS blood,” she said with relief. “This isn’t Human blood.”
“I think maybe it belongs to THAT…” said Clyde. He had wandered around the marble-topped ‘island’ in the middle of the kitchen floor and had found something that was concealed by it. Luke and Maria came to see what he was looking at.
“Sarah Jane,” Maria managed to say. “I think Mr Lumsden killed the alien that was after him.”
To Be Continued...