Luke woke up in a strange bed. It was a warm, comfortable bed with clean sheets and a thick duvet that he pushed back as he woke and looked around him. But it was a strange bed in a strange room.
It looked like a hotel room. It was furnished with good but basic furniture. A bed, carpet, dressing table and wardrobe, waste paper basket. There was a plain white roller blind over the window. There was also a desk with a computer on it, but nothing else. There were no pictures on the walls. There was nothing personal in it at all.
It wasn’t his room.
A wave of anxiety hit him as he remembered why he was there. He remembered the police and Miss Summers coming to take him away. He remembered about his mum being arrested and Miss Summers saying she was going to look after him. He remembered being ushered into the back of the police car with Miss Summers at his side.
What happened after that? Things seemed vaguer after that. He remembered turning around and looking back to see Maria running to the end of her garden and her dad running after her. Then Miss Summers had told him to sit forward and fasten his seatbelt. She had given him something. A sweet. It tasted of peppermint. He didn’t really want a sweet, but it would have been impolite to refuse. And she was trying to help him, after all. She talked so gently and nicely to him, promising that it would all be sorted out in the morning and he had nothing to worry about.
It really did get harder to remember after that. He thought he recalled Miss Summers telling the policemen something. An address to take them to. Or… no, not exactly an address. It almost seemed like a code. But the policemen seemed to know what she meant. The one driving said something in reply – something like, ‘at once, madam.’
And that was all he could properly remember at all. The rest was just vague sensations of being in the car. Glimpses of street lights passing by, a darker road with just cats eyes that blinked on and off, the car stopping, a cold night breeze on his face. But by then he must have been so very tired. He remembered somebody carrying him inside.
Somebody must have put him to bed. He was in a pair of pyjamas. Plain blue ones. He couldn’t see his own clothes. Perhaps they were folded away.
He stood up and went to the chest of drawers. But it was empty. He turned and looked at the window. But when he rolled up the blind he found that the glass was thick and frosted. He could see nothing through it.
He tried the door. It was locked.
Why had Miss Summers locked him in the room? He didn’t understand that.
He didn’t bother to bang on the door or shout. There probably wasn’t much point. He went to the computer and switched it on. It was a good one, with lots of hard drive and he noted that there were hundreds of useful educational programmes on it. Especially scientific ones. But it had no internet connection.
That would have been useful. He could have sent an email to Maria to tell her he was all right.
He turned off the computer and went back to sit on the bed. He thought again about what had happened. He missed his mum. He was worried about her. Arrested for breaking into the school. That was serious. Of course, she often did that sort of thing, to find out about aliens and things. But she had never been arrested before.
The door opened. Miss Summers came in. She was carrying a tray with a delicious cooked breakfast on it. Luke didn’t really want to eat anything. But she put the tray on the beside table.
“You need to keep your strength up,” she said in the same kind voice she had used last night in the car. “Don’t worry, Luke. You’re quite safe here. This is a nice room isn’t it? you can play on the computer after breakfast. Here... plug this into it.” She gave him what he recognised as a wireless broadband receiver to plug into the port. “You can send a message to your friends. Let them know that you’re happy here.”
“But… I’m not happy,” he answered. “What about mum? Why can’t I go home?”
“Your mother is in a lot of trouble, Luke,” Miss Summers told him. “It is better that you stay away. Come on, now. Eat your breakfast. At least drink this. It’s a special milky drink with fortifying minerals. You really are quite thin for your age. I don’t think Miss Smith has been feeding you properly. This will be good for your body and your mind. It will help you think better.”
He drank the cup of liquid. It tasted like a peppermint milkshake. Then he pulled over the tray on his knee and ate his breakfast. It was nice food. He enjoyed it. He couldn’t think why he was so worried about it before.
“I suppose it will be all right to stay here for a few days while mum is away. I’ll email Maria and Clyde in a bit and tell them not to worry about me. Then I think I’ll have a go at the physics simulation programme.”
“Good boy.” Miss Summers said. She patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll take your tray now you’re finished. I’ll have another milky drink brought in to you later. It’s very good for you.”
Luke didn’t reply to that. She turned and went out of the door and locked it behind her. Of course, she reflected. If the drug in the peppermint shake worked as it should she could have left every door in the building open. The boy wouldn’t even think of wandering. It was clever stuff. It suppressed anxieties and made the mind pliable and open to suggestion. He believed that staying in that room was the best thing for him. He wouldn’t be any trouble at all now.
If only she could put it in the water supply for London, she thought. A whole city doing as they were told. That would be something. The whole country, even.
But it didn’t work on everyone. She had put it in the tea and coffee at the parents meeting and some of them had still been troublesome. The formula needed more work. By the time Luke had been drinking it for a day or two, he would probably be willing do it for her.
Another few days with the emotional side of his mind suppressed and he would have forgotten he even has a mother. He would be hers to do as she pleased!
All the same, it would be as well to take some precautions. She stepped into another room along the corridor. A man in a blue policeman’s shirt, the uniform jacket and cap lying on top of the filing cabinet behind him, sat at a computer terminal.
“He’ll be trying to email his friends. Intercept the messages, of course. Give it a couple of hours then send replies to say they’ve been too busy to reply and they hope he’s having a nice time. Something that makes it seem as if they don’t really care where he is.”
“No problem,” the man answered. “What about… her?”
“I’ll deal with her,” Miss Summers answered. “She won’t be emailing anyone, anyway!”
Maria had eaten a bit of breakfast cereal. Her dad made her. He didn’t want her to be ill from worrying. But it tasted like cardboard in her mouth. She was too worried.
He was on the phone now. Brendan had called to say he had got into the railway station and was taking a cab straight to their house.
“There’s no good news,” Alan told him. “I rang the police this morning. They told me that Sarah Jane had been moved from their custody to a secure psychiatric unit. Apparently she was making a fuss about the headmistress being an alien. They thought she was unhinged. I don’t know what else to do. I mean… if she really did say that, then no wonder they thought she was mad. If I didn’t know… I’d think she was mad, too. I just don’t know what we can do.” Alan listened as Brendan replied to him. “All right, well, see you in a bit.”
He ended the call and turned to Maria.
“I am sorry,” he said. “There’s nothing else I can do.”
“Sarah Jane isn’t mad. There ARE aliens. Even if Miss Summers isn’t one of them. And there must have been some reason why she was suspicious of her.”
“I know. But they just see her as a lunatic who broke into the school.”
“And what about Luke? WHY did Miss Summers have custody papers for him? How did she do that so late at night? Isn’t that a bit strange? As if this was planned all along?”
“Now you’re sounding as daft as her. Inventing conspiracies.” Alan said.
“No, dad,” Maria replied. “Don’t say that. Next you’ll be saying that Sarah Jane has been a bad influence on me. Dad, you know it’s not true. Sarah Jane is innocent. She’s been framed somehow.”
Alan looked at her daughter. In his heart he believed her. He trusted Sarah Jane. They had all seen enough odd stuff that she sorted out. But when he thought about it logically, it just seemed as if she was a conspiracy nut who had gone too far. And the sensible thing would be to keep Maria well out of the sorry mess.
“I’m calling your mum,” he said. “You can go and spend the weekend with her. Do some therapeutic shopping, get your hair done, have a nice normal time.”
“No, dad. No. Please. Don’t tell mum about this. She’ll be unbearable. You know she doesn’t like Sarah Jane.”
Sarah Jane woke groggily and looked around at the dimly lit room she was in. It wasn’t a police cell. That much was obvious. She had been arrested at the school by what looked like policemen, but it became obvious that they weren’t anything of the sort even before one of them put a chloroform soaked pad in front of her face.
The room was sparsely furnished. A bed with grey blankets and a pillow with no case, a bedside table, a chest of drawers. There was nothing on the walls. A window had a plain roller blind over it. The were two doors. One was open and led to a very basic looking toilet with a hand basin. The other was closed and, she was willing to bed, locked.
She got up and went to the window. The glass was very thick and frosted. There was nothing she could possibly use to break it. Her shoes and handbag had been taken. So had her watch. There was a plastic water jug with some stale water on the bedside table, and a plastic beaker. Those wouldn’t do to get through such toughened glass.
The door was locked. She didn’t even bother to scream or shout or hammer on it. The people who brought her here wouldn’t care about that. There was no appealing to them. She certainly wouldn’t get a phone call!
She sat on the bed and thought about what had happened last night.
The school meeting had been very well attended. When they were mingling, and drinking tea and coffee before it began she talked to several parents who were anxious about what Miss Summers was doing with the students. When the meeting itself began, though, most of them seemed to have been swayed by her argument. Miss Summers talked at length about the failure of the Comprehensive System and then announced that this school was going to be at the forefront of a new style of education which would divert the best resources of the school to the most gifted, the best fitted to be the future leaders of the nation. The rest, the average students, the below average, those who had neither the aptitude nor the inclination to strive for the best, would receive the necessary education to fit them for the workforce. After all, there would still be a need for cleaners and typists, factory workers. But the elite would not be dragged down or held back by the dullards and slackers.
Sarah Jane expected an uproar. There was none. A few people did protest. Julia Khan’s father was outraged. He said he was going to the education department to complain. When Miss Summers assured him that she had the full backing of the Minister, he said he would go to his solicitor and sue. His child had been put through undue stress that was detrimental to her health.
“Your child, Mr Khan, is a weakling and a drain on society. Why should we waste resources on such as her?”
A few other parents had been upset by those comments, but only a few. Most of them sat and said and did nothing. Afterwards there were almost no questions from anyone and they went home quietly.
Sarah Jane didn’t. She had been outraged by what Miss Summers had said, too. But she had only half listened to the words. She had been listening to her actual voice. A voice she thought she knew, although the face didn’t match it. The longer the meeting went on, though, the more she heard that voice, the more convinced she was that there was something to investigate. She decided to slip away and wait until everyone had gone and investigate the headmistress’s office.
Harriet Summers! Even the name worried her.
A man brought in a rather unappetizing breakfast. Lumpy, cold porridge in a plastic bowl with a plastic spoon. She didn’t eat it. She wasn’t hungry. The man himself interested her, though. She was sure he was one of the so-called policemen last night.
A little while after that, the door opened again. Miss Summers stepped into the room.
“Sarah Jane Smith!” she said in a cold voice.
“Harriet Summers!” Sarah Jane scoffed. “For somebody who claims to be such an intellect, that was actually a bit lame. Harriet – Hilda – Summers – Winters. Hilda Winters. Thinktank, the Scientific Reform Society. All that nonsense about the elite ruling and everyone else doing as they’re told. The only thing I don’t get is your face. You should be about seventy by now. But… you don’t look more than forty-five. And don’t try to tell me it’s plastic surgery.”
“Of course, not,” Miss Summers answered. “You might as well see. You’ve guessed most of it, already.”
The woman with the voice she knew as Hilda Winters reached up and pushed back her hair. Sarah Jane stifled a scream as she saw a zip fastener underneath. Was Miss Summers – Miss Winters – was she a Slitheen? Sarah Jane pressed herself back against the wall as the face of Miss Summers began to peel away.
To Be Continued...