The woman with the voice she knew as Hilda winters reached up and pulled back her hair. Sarah Jane stifled a scream as she saw a zip fastener underneath. Was Miss Summers – or Miss Winters - a Slitheen? She pressed herself back against the wall as the face of Miss Summers began to peel away.
She was almost relieved when what was revealed beneath the fake face was not a glowing, green, slimy face of a native of Raxacoricofallapatorius, but the face of Hilda Winters, her adversary from so many years ago. She was older now. She had spent very many years in prison, and those years had not been kind. Yet Sarah Jane still recognised in the tired, lined features, something of the woman she had crossed paths with in the 1970s, when she herself was young. And she quite obviously recognised her.
“Oh, my god!” Sarah Jane exclaimed. “It is you. I knew that voice. But… but… you killed somebody and took her face to wear?”
“Killed?” Hillary Winters scoffed. “Still the wild imagination, Miss Smith. But don’t be so macabre. It’s synthetic skin. The same technology as the android faces. You always underestimated me, didn’t you, Miss Smith. You and your friend, The Doctor. You thought I was finished. But you were so very wrong. I’m here. And I intend to destroy you.
“You’re going to kill me?”
“I would do that in an eyeblink. But it would achieve nothing. No, said I intend to destroy you. First I am going to take your son. He is already halfway to being mine. He’s sitting in his new room, now, playing what he thinks is a computer game. He isn’t even worrying about you. He’ll soon forget you’re his mother. He’ll accept me as his guardian and do as I tell him to do. Meantime, your life as you know it is over. Your friends believe that you’ve been taken to a secure mental unit raving about aliens. By the time I’ve broken you completely, of course, that’s exactly where you will belong. Oh, yes, I intend to make your life such a misery. It isn’t my main objective, of course. Call it a sideline. Luke, bless him, is helping me to achieve my first and primary goal. He doesn’t even know it, but he is. Meanwhile, knowing he is mine now, will be the first step to your ultimate destruction.”
“You’re the one who’s mad,” Sarah Jane responded. “And Luke will never love you. Never.”
“I don’t need him to. What use is love? Foolish emotions. He will learn discipline. He will learn to respect me. And he will learn to use that clever brain of his to its full potential. No more wasting it with those stupid, ‘average’ children you allow him to hang around with, playing games, going to the cinema, the park, listening to unsuitable music. It’s a wonder his mind hasn’t addled already. But I think I got to him just in time to ensure he will take his place as one of the elite… one of the brilliant, logical thinker who will rule this planet when the fools who believe in equality and egalitarianism, all those useless ideas that hold us back from true greatness are finally brought down.
“Mad,” Sarah Jane replied. “Completely mad.”
“Carry on thinking that way, if you wish,” Miss Winters said. “It hardly matters since you are going to remain in this room until I am done with you. Nobody will hear your opinions.”
She reached and began to pull the synthetic face back on. Hilda Winters vanished. Harriet Summers was restored. “You are alone, Miss Smith. You have nobody left. Nobody cares about you. There is nobody to listen to you. Even if they did, they will dismiss you as a mad woman. The official records show that you have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. You are delusional. Even if you were to escape from here, nobody would believe you. They would put you in a worse place than this, forever. So do us all a favour and don’t even try to escape.”
She turned and left the room. Sarah Jane heard the sound of the door closing and knew it had locked automatically. She was a prisoner of a mad woman and she had no obvious means of escape even if what Miss Winters had said wasn’t true.
“Oh, Luke,” she whispered sadly.
Luke spent the day happily engaged in a sophisticated computer game intended to teach advanced sciences. It had been very easy to begin with, presenting parts of formulas and asking him to fill in the blanks and complete the equations. Level one was easy and he progressed through levels two, three and four with increasingly more complicated formulas to complete. Level five was one big formula in three parts, with only a small fragment of each one available. He knew it would take him days just to complete the first part. It was a challenged that thrilled him. He was glad to have the time to work on it without interruption. He didn’t even need to break for meals. Miss Summers had brought his lunch and tea to him on a tray with more of that mint flavoured milk that was supposed to help him to think. He wasn’t sure if it worked or not. He had spilled half of the glass at tea time, and he didn’t think he felt any less clever or focussed without it.
It was six o’clock and starting to get a bit darker outside when Miss Winters came in with a tray with his supper on it. He turned and looked at the tray. It was a nice, appetising meal and he remembered he did feel hungry. While he was working he hardly thought about it at all. He turned and saved the work he had done so far before he moved from the computer to the window table where he could eat.
“Have you had a nice day, Luke?” she asked.
“yes,” answered. “A very nice day. I have really enjoyed that programme. It’s not like the games you get in shops. It’s more like a real physics project. I’ve even sort of worked out what it does. It’s a theoretical formula for extending the life span of a Human being.”
“Clever boy,” Harriet said with a beaming smile as she looked at the work still displayed on the screen. “Very clever, indeed. When you have it completed, don’t forget to save it. I want to see the finished formula.”
“It is only a simulation, Miss Summers,” he reminded her. “It’s not real.”
Miss Summers seemed a little disconcerted by that. Then she rallied as she answered him.
“I will still be proud of your achievement. My clever, clever boy.”
“I’m… not… your boy…” Luke said with an effort as if he had to remind himself of the fact. “Miss Summers, can I see my mum tomorrow, do you think? Even if she is in trouble, I still want to see her. Can we go to where she is?”
“No,” Miss Summers replied a little too sharply before moderating her tone. “I mean… no, not yet. Maybe next week, once her medication is stabilised and she is less irrational. Seeing you might be bad for her until then. And it would only upset you.”
“I suppose you are right,” Luke conceded.
“Come along, now. Eat your supper and don’t forget your special milk.”
“I won’t,” Luke promised, “Thank you, Miss Summers.”
“Good boy,” she said in a soothing tone. “Bedtime is nine o’clock. Early to bed, early to rise. Plenty of sleep is good for the brain cells. I’ll bring you a nice hot drink and a bun before lights out.”
She slipped out of the room and closed the door. Yes, she thought. Two more milky drinks this evening. He still had some ideas about his mother. But those would go away by the time he had slept with the drug in his system, and tomorrow he would have nothing else on his mind but the formula.
Luke waited a few more minutes to be sure she was gone, and then picked up the milky drink. He took it to the bathroom and poured it down the sink then swilled it away. He washed the glass and poured himself a clean glass of water. He drank that with his food. As he ate, he thought about things. Without the drugged milk, it was all starting to clear up in his head. He looked towards the computer and that partially completed formula.
What was it that it reminded him of? It was what had triggered his thoughts and made him realise he shouldn’t drink any more of the milk.
Yes, that was it. A formula that was intended to extend the Human life expectancy.
Project Methuselah! He remembered The Doctor talking about it. the very dangerous formula that was held in three separate places to prevent it being stilen.
Thinktank were involved in the attempted theft. Most of them were arrested. But their leader escaped.
Harriet Summers had to be their leader.
Yes, the drug in the milk really was clearing, now. He was starting to piece things together.
It all tied in. it was all part of the same plot that began with the andtoid that had tried to get K9 and Mr Smith to break into U.N.I.T.’s computer for Project Methuselah. It was part of the same crazy plan that had led to Sarah Jane being kidnapped by the android policemen.
He went to the computer and looked at the project he was working on. He examined the fragments of formula that had been there at the start. They looked like random pages that might have been ripped from a book containing an original hand written copy of the formula. It was far from complete.
And Harriet Summers knew, now, that she could not get the rest of it. Even if Torchwood and U.N.I.T. could be infiltrated, The Doctor’s TARDIS certainly could not. Nor would Jack Harkness or Brigadier Benton or The Doctor give in to blackmail, no matter how many people she had kidnapped.
But the formula had been devised by a Human being. It was not impossible that an equally clever Human with nothing else to think about could reconstruct it.
That was why he was here.
Did she really think he was clever enough, at 15, to replicate the work done by an adult scientist? He shivered with the enormity of the notion. He knew he was clever for his age. But was he really that clever? Clever enough to do something like that?
Did he want to be that clever? Did he really want to be responsible for something so momentous, something that actually could change the nature of the Human race.
No, he answered himself. Even if he could, he wouldn’t. Quite apart from the fact that Project Methuselah was an official secret and what he was doing was technically treason, he had many reasons not to do it.
Harriet Summers had practically kidnapped him, and locked him in a room to do it, for one thing. It was a nice room. He had good meals brought to him. But he was, ultimately, a prisoner. He could only guess what would happen if he refused to do what she asked him to do.
And besides, he wanted to be fifteen. He wanted to learn to skateboard as good as Clyde did. He wanted to ride a BMX bike and play football, for fun, on the park. He wanted to listen to pop music and go down town with his friends.
He didn’t mind being clever. But he really wanted to be an ordinary boy who just happened to be clever.
He wanted to be fifteen.
He didn’t want to do this, even if it was for a good reason. He certainly didn’t want to do it for a criminal like Miss Summers so that she could use the secret to do terrible things.
He went to the door for the first time all day. He looked at it carefully. He paid particular attention to the lock. It was one of those that were often found on the staff only entrances in shops or on office doors, with a keypad of 10 numerals and a reset button. It was more sophisticated than any yale or chub lock, but ultimately it was still about tumblers and cylinders and a physical bolt that shoots into place to hold the door shut.
Usually those sort of locks had an ordinary catch on the inside so that people could get out without the code. This one didn’t. there was a blank panel of metal over it, screwed down tight with four screws.
Just four screws, he considered.
But he didn’t have a screwdriver. He looked around the room. there were very few things that he could improve with. The cutlery from his meal was all plastic. It would never do for such strong, tightly driven screws at that.
But it might do for something not quite so tightly screwed down, he considered. He looked at the computer. He turned the stack around. Yes, there were a couple of blank panels where plug and play hardware could be slotted in. They weren’t very tightly screwed in. he selected he knife from his meal and very carefully, slowly, unscrewed one of the panels. It was a strong, thin piece of metal with lugs on each end that held it in place. It might do.
He returned to the door and slotted the end of the computer plate into one of the screws on the panel over the lock. He slowly turned it. the screw resisted at first then gave. It got easier as he turned it two or three times. Finally he could pick the screw out. He put it into his pocket and started on the next one. Slowly, steadily he unscrewed all of the screws and removed the panel, putting that aside, carefully, too. He looked inside. There was the back of the keypad, a metal frame with the keys clipped in place so that they would depress inwards. There was the bolt that could only be opened when the correct numbers were depressed. There was a blue plastic coated electrical wire that was soldered in place beneath the keypad and disappeared into the wall.
He knew what that was. These sort of locks were always alarmed, so that if they were broken into somebody would know.
But all he had to do was cut the wire to disable that. He retrieved his dinner knife. It was plastic, but the serrated edge was quite strong, and it was just soft copper wire inside the plastic casing. He rubbed the knife across it carefully but quickly until he was rewarded by two cut pieces of wire that he didn’t have to worry about any more.
But he still needed the code to open the door. He knew that. he returned to the desk and found what he needed. A few minutes later he returned to the door. He carefully coated the backs of the keys with ink that he had got out of the ink jet printer cartridge that he had prized open with his makeshift screwdriver. Then he placed a piece of folded printer paper up against the keypad frame and a couple of screwed up pieces of paper behind to hold it in place. He put the panel back in place and loosely screwed it on. He looked at his handiwork. There were inky fingerprints all over it. He got a flannel from the bathroom and cleaned it off and then washed his own hands thoroughly, otherwise it would have been a giveaway.
Then he went back to sit at the computer. Hr opened up the computer programme again and read the formula he had written already. He made a few small changes that nobody would recognise as significant, but which would make the formula useless even if somebody did manage to finish it. Then he continued pretending to work on it until nine o’clock. On cue, Miss Summers came in with a hot milky drink that smelt of peppermint and a toasted currant teacake with jam on it.
“Time to put the computer off and go to sleep,” she said. “You can carry on tomorrow. I’m glad you have had a nice, constructive day.”
“Yes, Miss,” he said. “Thank you for letting me stay with you and do such exciting, wonderful things.”
“That’s my boy,” she answered him. “Goodnight, Luke. Sleep well.”
She turned and went out of the room, closing the door behind her. He heard it lock again automatically. He waited a few minutes and then went to door. He unscrewed the panel and opened it up. He took out the piece of paper. The ink marks on it were not perfect, but he could see which of the keys had been depressed. 2… 8… 9… 0.
That part of the plan worked perfectly.
The next part could wait a few hours until Miss Summers and anyone else who might be in the building had gone to bed. He lay awake, quiet and still, counting the minutes in his head, keeping such perfect time that K9 would be impressed, and never losing count.
When he judged it to be after midnight, he rose up and went to the door again. He opened the panel one last time. He took a small magnet from his pocket – he had extracted that from the speakers of the computer’s sound system. He used it to make the correct keys depress themselves in towards him. He heard the audible click as the bolt was released. He pulled open the door.
The landing outside was quiet, dark and empty. He closed the door behind him and crept along it, looking for stairs. He couldn’t see very well, but he felt his way along.
He touched another keypad like the one that locked his bedroom door. He knew he probably should have been thinking about getting out of there, but it occurred to him that somebody else might be locked in a room. Some other boy working on Methuselah.
Would the same code work? Would it be too much hassle to have different codes on each door? He tried it, knowing he would set off the alarm if he got it wrong, prepared to scuttle back to his own room and pretend to be asleep.
It worked. The door opened inwards. He looked around at the pitiful room, a cheerless contrast to his own ‘prison’. This one really did look like a cell.
The occupant of the bed looked up as the door opened. At first she had not cared who it was. Another guard, another visit from Miss Summers to taunt her some more.
Then she recognised the silhouette as he stood over her, reaching to touch her. She sobbed with joy and hugged him tightly.
“Mum!” Luke cried.
“Luke!” Sarah Jane replied. “Oh, Luke.”
To Be Continued...