The Glittering Storm, by Stephen Cole, read by Elisabeth Sladen

A BBC Audio Book, released Nov 2007

(The Sarah Jane Adventures opening theme composed by Murray Gold, over which Elisabeth Sladen gives the voice over:)
The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Glittering Storm, by Stephen Cole. Read by Elisabeth Sladen.

It started with a bump in the night.
I woke sharply, and sat up straight in bed, my heart thudding hard in my chest. I wasn't really afraid, not then. After all that I've been through and all that I've seen, I don't frighten easily. No, I was just listening. Listening in the dark , trying to work out what had woken me, wondering if I should get up and investigate. I mean, that's what I do, it's who I am. Sarah Jane Smith, investigative journalist and expert on night terrors. But then suddenly I remembered. After all these years, I don't live alone any longer. There's Luke, my adopted son, just across the landing. He must have made the noise, getting up in the night fixing himself a snack or whatever. I suppose you could say I've come to motherhood rather late in my life, but then that's fitting, as Luke only came into Lukehood rather late in his own life. It's complicated. Everything about my life is complicated, and as I lay there, my mind started dwelling on that, the bump in the night forgotten. Until I heard it again, carrying through the dark quiet of the house. Furtive noises - a drawer opening, a creak of a hinge, the fall of keys on a carpet. Burglars? I thought. Or something else. Heart quickening, I jumped out of bed and scrambled silently into my dressing-gown. In a house like mine, a house full of secrets and miracles the likes of which few people on this planet could dream of, if someone breaks in - well, it could have disastrous consequences. Because, let it be known for the record, I know about visitors. Extra-terrestrials. Aliens. All about them. I travelled with one for a time. Oh, such a wonderful, wonderful time. I could never settle for a regular life after that, and I'm glad to say, I haven't had to. With his help, and with borrowed technology and resources, I've been able to continue our work, defending Earth against threats from the stars. Helping creatures who've lost their way, and hindering those who've found a way to thrive at human expense. Anyway, I'm sure you can understand that when I hear noises in the night, a burglar with an eye mask and a sack labelled SWAG isn't exactly the first image to flash into my mind. Even so, I padded down the stairs, wielding a musical instrument from some distant world that looked vaguely like a weapon. Then, taking a deep breath, I burst into the living-room, snapped on the lights ... and stared.
A mousey, middle-aged woman stood in the middle of the room, dressed in jeans and a jumper, holding a crowbar in one hand. She looked more like a librarian than a housebreaker. Except I could see bits of jewellery dangling from her stuffed pockets.
"I - I'm so sorry to disturb you." she said at last.
I stared at her. "I thnk you're the one who might be disturbed. What do you think you're doing?"
"I need gold," she said. "I'm terribly sorry to break into your home, but I can't go back without gold."
"Go back where?" I demanded.
"Give me whatever gold you have," she hissed, and there was a threatening look in her eyes now. "Give it to me."
"The only thing I'm giving you is thirty seconds to leave by the same way you got in," I told her calmly."Then I'm calling the police."
The woman started to advance on me, raising the crowbar like a bat. I raised the instrument in my hand. "Don't force me to use this."
Then suddenly Luke entered the room behind me, his dark hair mussed up with sleep, a confused look on his face. "Mum?" he said. "What's happening?"
The woman hesitated. Then she gasped, dropped her weapon and clutched her forehead. "Our ... thoughts ... shine," she rasped. And with that, she turned and ran away into the kitchen. I ran after her, but she'd already made it outside through the same window she'd jemmied open. Breathing shakily, I put down my improvised gun.
Luke appeared at my elbow. "I'm glad she didn't force you to use that thing," he said. "I've heard you play."
I half-smiled as I grabbed him in a very big and very relieved hug.
He wasn't making a joke. He really meant what he said. Luke hasn't quite got the hang of typical human social interactions. You see, aliens grew him. Distilled him from a study of thousands of children. He wound up with the knowledge of a genius, the innocence of a lamb, and all the experience of a mayfly. It's not a combination that makes for the easiest of lives, but it's a very easy one to love.
"Should we report this matter to the police?" Luke asked me wide-eyed. "Normal people would, wouldn't they?"
"We are not normal people," I reminded him, "and neither was that woman. I wonder if she's going to try and break into somewhere else?" I sighed. "Can't risk her clobbering anyone with that crowbar. I'll leave an anonymous message for the police, warning them to patrol the area." I frowned. "Hey you, it's school tomorrow."
"It's school today as well," he agreed, "in three point two hours."
"So go back to sleep," I told him firmly.
I tried to follow my own advice, but it was no good. I lay stubbornly awake as the rising sun through golden light through my curtains.

"Hi, Maria!" I called as I stepped out of the front door with Luke.
Maria Jackson lives across the road, but she's a lot more than just a neighbour to me. She's a partner. Got a wise head on her shoulders, that one. It's a pretty one, too. She helps watch out for Luke at school, and she helps me watch out for ... well, for things that go bump in the night, and my own little nocturnal encounter was still very much on my mind.
"Hi, Sarah Jane!" Maria trotted across the street, her school uniform just crumpled enough to be cool without drawing too many boring remarks from her teachers. "How's it going?"
"Our house was broken into last night," said Luke quite matter-of-factly.
"No way!" Maria looked concerned. "Did they take anything? Was it aliens?"
I explained what had happened. "It was like the woman was under some kind of influence," I concluded.
"Oh, my God." Maria gave me a strange look. "Have you seen the local paper?"
I shook my head. "Luke, it's on the kitchen table, I think. Unless it's been taken."
Luke brought it back, and the front page headline hit me between the eyes.
"I thought it was a wind-up," said Maria, taking the paper from me and scanning the article, "but look, it says here, Mrs Sheen, seventy year old grandmother of four ignored the more expensive jewellery and concentrated on gold chains, pendants and bracelets, fuelling police concerns that she was stealing to order, particularly in the wake of a series of unsolved burglaries in the West London area ."
I frowned. "Maybe the woman I disturbed last night is building up to breaking into a jewellers herself."
Then Maria's father, Alan, appeared at the end of their drive.
"Still here?" he called actoss, eyes twinkling as they do. "Only I had this crazy idea it was a school day today."
"My fault," I called back, and then lowered my voice. "Can you keep an ear out in the playground for talk of any other weird burglaries in the area?"
"Will do," Maria assured me, and Luke nodded too. "Catch you after school."

Maria didn't let me down. She told me later that she'd run into Clyde Langer in the playground. Clyde's one of those carelessly cool people who can't help but gravitate to the centre of things. Unfortunately with me around, that sometimes involves gravitating to the centre of big alien trouble. But he's proved himself a capable kid in a crisis, and a good friend to Luke and Maria. Anyway, apparently she heard Clyde busy bragging to his friends about a scheme to spy on the girl's changing rooms. You can imagine Maria's reaction to that. And once Clyd had finished backing away in alarm, with his hands guarding his vulnerable areas, he quickly justified himself.
"I'm not being a perv." he protested. "Just want to catch the thief. A load of things went missing from the changing-room lockers last night during the girls' netball match." 
"What sort of things?" Maria wanted to know.
"Just necklaces and rings and stuff," Clyde told her, but sadly for him it turned out that a stake out of the girls' changing rooms was not required.
At lunchtime, Maria overheard some girls in the next year talking in the toilets. A girl called Julie Price was being comforted by her friend, because it seemed her own mother was the thief of the changing-rooms. Julie had found gold rings and jewellery in her mum's handbag and didn't know what to do.
"Seems like gold fever's taking hold around here," I said to Maria after school. "Did you say anything to this Julie?"
"How could I?" Maria protested. "She was really upset. Apparently, her mum's been going out by herself at really weird times, even in the middle of the night."
"Maria pointed out Julie Price at home time," Luke put in. "There 's a strong resemblance between her and the woman we surprised in the house last night."
"Breaking into houses, stealing from kids?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "She needs to see a doctor."
"She already is," said Maria confidentially. "But according to Julie, that's when her problems began - when she started seeing this doctor at some special clinic."
"Oh? Which clinic?" I asked.
Maria frowned. " I couldn't exactly pop my head over the loo door and ask her, could I?"
"No, I suppose not," I conceded. "I only ask because I decided today to visit the granny who robbed that jeweller's shop - Mrs Sheen. Popped along to the hospital where the police have her in custody waving my Press card, only to find that Mrs Sheen had gone. She'd snuck off along with some jewellery she'd pinched from her fellow patients."
"Gone where?" Luke wondered.
"She was picked up early this afternoon, quite well but without the jewellery, just outside a private clinic in Hounslow. The Auriga Clinic. A specialist there is performing cutting-edge work with back pain and muscle stiffness, and Mrs Sheen has been treated there for three months."
"My back is killing me after netball this afternoon," said Maria, wincing. "I think I may have strained it."
"Cheer up," I said brightly. "This sounds to me like the perfect chance to find out if Julie's mum's been going to the same clinic as Mrs Sheen."
Oh, Maria. If only I'd known how things were going to turn out.

I figured an advanced private clinic taking a technological approach to muscle fatigue wouldn't be convinced by me faking a backache, but that by taking a child along, I might seem less suspicious. Devious. Oh yes, I can be devious when I have to be It was while checking the clinic's details online, I realised that the man who owned and ran the place - Doctor Francis Augur - was someone I had profiled for Metropolitan magazine back in the Nineteen Eighties. It only took some cheek, a phone call and an awful lot of holding muzak to get an appointment with Augur himself the very next day, and the promise of close attention for Maria's poorly back. I dug out the article I'd written in Eighty-Seven about this up and coming maverick young specialist tipped for greatness in the future. Certainly not my best work - I'd spent too long exploring his passion for protecting the environment than focusing on his work as a doctor, but even then, Augur had stated he was experimenting with medical applications of gold.

I collected Maria after school that afternoon and we went along together. The Auriga Clinic was pretty much as I expected it would be, very swish, very clean and white, very professional.  Augur had agreed that while I interviewed him, Maria could be examined by one of the doctors there, and while I kept the Big Chief talking, I hoped Maria might be able to do some discreet examining of her own - peeping behind the odd closed door, that sort of thing. Especially when I recognised the woman talking to the receptionist when we arrived, the same person who'd broken into my house. She gave us a vague smile as she wandered out, not recognising me in the slightest, and I saw written in the receptionist's appointment book, 'Gaynor Price.'
"So this is where Julie's mum's been coming," Maria muttered.
"See what else you can find out," I whispered, as Francis Augur emerged, all smiles as he escorted me to his minimalist office. He hadn't changed much in the twenty years since I'd written about him. A little broader and greyer, but still the same intense powerhouse of a man.
"When we last met," I began casually, "you were experimenting with medical applications of gold. Did that research pay off for you?"
"I couldn't have founded this place without it," Augur admitted. "I'm working to eliminate stiffness and fatigue from the human body."
I raised my eyebrows. "With gold?"
"Gold and titanium, to be precise. It is believed that such fatigue is generally caused by an increase in the amount of positive ions in our bodies, interfering with our blood circulation. When an electric charge is run through the two metals ..."
"Excuse me, Doctor Augur, but I don't imagine many of my readers are biophysicists," I told him gently.
He smiled. "Put simply, the pain is lessened by the warmth generated between the two metals, and the balance of ions restored. Here at the Auriga Clinic we do not use patches. We inject microscopic particles of gold and titanium that target areas of the body far more precisely."
"You inject people with metals?" I frowned. "Is that safe?"
"Gold has been used in medicine for thousands of years," said Augur, toying with what looked to be a snuff box on his desk. "It is non-toxic, easily traceable, and does not react with other chemicals, and that's good news, not only for the human body but, as I intend to demonstrate, for the wider environment."
"The environment still means a very great deal to you, then?"
He nodded. "Protecting it is my passion. For instance, my researches suggest that treated gold particles can eliminate certain pollutants in rivers and oceans."
"There's gold in seawater, isn't there?" I said, remembering a piece of trivia I picked up long ago. "Is that why you want to protect the oceans?" I meant it as a joke, but Augur stiffened just for a moment, then turned on that easy professional grant-winning grin.
"Gold comprises only one or two parts per billion in seawater, I'm afraid. It has never been commercially viable to extract that gold from the oceans, and so there alas it must remain."
I smiled and nodded. "Even so, these gold treatments can't be cheap. If Maria is given a course of your gold particles, how much?"
"Oh, my fees are remarkably low, if a little eccentric. We actually ask our patients to pay their fees with gold. Trading like for like, you could say."
"What?" I stared at him. "You make your patients swap their jewellery for treatment?"
"Come, Miss Smith. Gold has been a standard of barter and exchange for at least four thousand years," he told me. "I am running many experiments for which I need a good supply of gold - all types and carat. Were I to demand actual money, I fear few of my more elderly patients could afford my treatments, treatments that are transforming the quality of their lives."
"And transforming them into burglars," I said bluntly. "In the case of Mrs Hilda Sheen. I assume you knew she tried to rob a jewellers then escaped custody to come here yesterday?"
Augur looked irritated. "Mrs Sheen's mind is clouded by old age which, alas, no-one is able to treat."
"Well, what about Mrs Price?" I persisted. "She comes here too, doesn't she, and I believe she's tried to steal gold."
"Really, Miss Smith," he began, then his voice dropped to a low whisper as his hand closed around the snuff box. "Our ... thoughts ... shine."
Alarm bells started ringing. The woman I caught breaking in had said just the same thing. "Doctor Augur, are you all right?"
With fumbling fingers, he took a small square of sticking plaster from the snuff box, and pressed it against his neck. He closed his eyes tightly, heaved a deep shuddering breath, then his eyes snapped back open. "I am quite well, thank you," he said, flashing a confident smile as if nothing had happened.
"I thought you said you didn't use patches at this clinic." I nodded to the plaster on his neck. "That is a patch, isn't it? A piece of material impregnated with a drug, worn on the skin to allow gradual absorption."
"This is a rapid action patch," he said curtly. "Even doctors must undergo treatment sometimes."
"For what?"
"It is a private matter. Now, if you will excuse me, Miss Smith, but our interview - I'm afraid it will have to wait." He suddenly seemed irritated. "I have a good deal to do."
"Well, what about Maria?" I said. "How much gold would you want from me for a course of treatment for her?"
He shook his head and opened the door, inviting me to leave. "I do not think it would be appropriate, Miss Smith."
Maria was outside in the waiting-room. "Come on," I told her. "I'm afraid it seems you won't get any treatment here."
"But ... I've already been given the treatment," she said.
"What?" I saw the cotton wool taped to her arm. "They injected you?"
Maria nodded, and I glared at Doctor Augur.
"Without my consent?"
"And without charge - as mentioned, I do not think it would be appropriate," he said. "Your niece will soon be feeling much better. Consider it compensation for my being unable to grant you an interview. Goodbye, Miss Smith."
I stood there speechless with anger as Augur breezed back into his office.
"It's all right, Aunty Sarah," said Maria, smiling. "It didn't hurt."

I took Maria straight back home feeling angry and impotent. "How dare they treat you without discussing it with me first?" I railed. "I'll get the Medical Council onto them."
"How did he know?" said Maria suddenly. "Doctor Augur - I mean, he told you payment for my treatment wasn't appropriate. How did he know I'd even had it?"
It was a good point, and one that - if I hadn't been so furious with myself for putting Maria in possible danger - I might have thought of myself.
"Afraid I couldn't find much out," Maria went on. "I managed to ... accidentally open one door, and it was more like a workshop than a doctor's clinic. All this welding gear, moulds, even a blast furnace."
"I suppose Augur and his team need to smelt the gold they're given to get rid of impurities," I reasoned, trying to calm myself down.
"Before I could have a proper look around though, a nurse came in. Oh, and then he said a funny thing. 'Our thoughts shine.' What do you think it means?"
A shiver ran through me. "Doctor Augur said the same thing. So did the woman who broke in. And they both seemed to be in pain as they said it."
"So was my nurse. Funny," Maria mused. " Our thoughts - like there was more than one of them. Anyway, soon after that, the nurse took a posh syringe - a kind of jet injector thing - and stuck it in my arm."
"Well, the moment we get home, I'm having Mr Smith give you a full physical examination," I promised her. "'Gold is easy to trace within the human body,' says Doctor Augur. Well, we'll find out just how easy."
[NOTE: she says "the moment we get home" but earlier on she says "I took Maria straight back home."]

Luke was full of questions, as he often is, when Maria and I arrived back home. The three of us trooped up the stairs.
"Mr Smith!" I called. "I need you."
Mr Smith's not my husband, by the way. He's a computer. Incredibly powerful and sophisticated, occasionally a little infuriating, but I wouldn't be without him.
Mr Smith slid out of the wall with his usual grind of gears and flashing of light, and I told him what I wanted. Mr Smith hummed and hissed and cogitated over Maria for a few moments.
"Well?" I asked.
"Yes, she is." Mr Smith replied. 2The only thing I would not expect to see in Maria are microscopic traces of pure gold and titanium in her bloodstream."
"Well, that's apparently how Doctor Augur treats his patients," I explained.
Maria forced a smile. "I'm officially valuable."
"Can we get that stuff out of her bloodstream?" I asked Mr Smith.
"Sensors suggest the metal particles will pass naturally from Maria's body within seven days," Mr Smith informed us. "There is no way to speed up the process."
"You're certain there's nothing else inside her?" Luke was worried for his friend. "No unusual chemicals, no pathogens, nothing alien?"
"There is nothing," Mr Smith insisted.
"That's a big relief," I said.
"You're telling me," Maria agreed.
Maybe everything was all right after all, I thought. I allowed myself to relax a little.
Stupid, stupid mistake.

I was so relieved to learn that Maria was all right that I only half-listened to Luke as he told me what he and Clyde had decided to do on their way home from school. Clyde, it seemed - though thwarted in his attempts to stake out the girls' changing-rooms - still had the urge for surveillance in his blood. He had suggested to Luke that they buddy up, and keep a boys-only watch on the clinic that night. It wasn't far from where he used to live in Hounslow so, he knew the area.
"No," I told Luke flatly. "I'm not having you out all night watching the place. Quite apart from anything else, London streets at night
"But statistically I've demonstrated many times that I'm able to look after myself." Luke argued.
"I've already risked Maria's well-being," I told him, "I'm not risking anyone else's. But don't worry. I'm going to find out more. Tomorrow I'll speak to Mrs Sheen, see what she has to say for herself. Provided she hasn't evaded the police again, of course. So, promise me - no nocturnal visits to Hounslow."
He nodded. "Okay. I promise."
And of course, Luke being Luke, he felt that come the first sniff of daybreak, a trip to Hounslow would no longer be a nocturnal visit, and he could join Clyde for the Auriga clinic stakeout with a clean conscience.

Clyde still had plenty of friends in Hounslow, and had told his mum he was staying with one of them, when in fact he was hiding inside a bin with his mobile, taking pictures of anyone who passed by the building, and logging any incidents with the Memo function. Luke got there a little after five AM, and Clyde played back his evidence.
"Ten thirty-six PM, couple stop outside Clinic and start snogging. Ten forty-seven PM, still at it. Get a room, guys. Eleven oh three, cat passes by. It is ginger. Poor cat."
Luke looked at Clyde. "This information doesn't sound very useful."
"Oh, it gets jucier," Clyde promised, skipping ahead through the playback. "Proper SAS stuff. Listen. One forty-seven AM. Julie Price's mum turns up and lets herself inside Auriga Clinic, looking well shifty."
"Well shifty?" Luke frowned. "Is that a technical term they use in the SAS?
"Course." But Clyde's smile soon faded. "Looks like we've found out where Julie's mum goes at night - here, to get info from the mad doctor about what places to rip off."
"Did anyone else go inside?" Luke wondered.
"I counted about eight or nine of them, men and women, maybe even more."
Luke frowned. "Don't you know for sure?"
"I fell asleep," Clyde admitted. "But then, when I woke up, I saw something."
"What?" Luke asked.
Clyde called up a photo on his mobile and held it under Luke's nose. "That."
The image showed a murky, bulky shape caught in a low-resolution blur as it moved down the side of the clinic building - dark, but somehow agleam.
"I think it was a robot," said Clyde.
Luke stared at the picture. "A golden robot?"
Then suddenly Clyde ducked out of sight and urged Luke to do the same. The clinic door had opened. "Five twenty-four," he breathed, recording another memo into his phone. "Subject leaving the building. Subject identified as ..."
"Maria," said Luke, standing up and gripping Clyde's arm. "It's Maria. While you were asleep, Maria got inside that clinic."
"She must have had the same idea as us," Clyde agreed. "Oh, she's a sly one, keeping it to herself."
Luke waved to her. "Maria? Over here."
But Maria didn't answer. Luke and Clyde ran after her. She didn't turn at the sound of their footsteps on the quiet street, didn't even react as the pair of them stood in front of her blocking her way.
Maria seemed to stare right past them. "Our ... thoughts ... shine," she breathed. And then she pushed past them and kept on walking.

And me? I was too busy dwelling on recent events to even realise Luke had snuck out, but he and Clyde gave me a rude awakening when they piled into my kitchen to tell me about Maria. I thought they were joking at first, until Clyde showed me the evidence on his phone. I wasn't so impressed by the grainy blur that was meant to be a robot, but I was so floored by the sight of Maria outside the clinic I even forgot to tell them off for acting irresponsibly. Considering that it was down to me that Maria had been  'treated' by Augur in the first place, I wasn't exactly feeling at my most responsible myself.
"Maria seemed to be in some kind of ... cataleptic state," said Luke anxiously. "Not fully aware of her environment, and unable to respond to stimuli."
"Dunno about that," Clyde grunted. "Was more like she was in a trance or something. Phooh, 'our thoughts shine.' she said."
I almost grabbed him by the shoulders. "What?"
"Morning, you lot." Maria breezed into the kitchen. "Door was open. Hey Clyde, what are you doing here? You look as if you've been up all night."
Of course, we all stared at her as if she had two heads, and she frowned.
"What's wrong?"
"Nothing." I said firmly, recovering myself.
"Er, I just called for Luke," said Clyde. "Hi, Maria. Long time no see."
Her frown deepened. "Yeah, yesterday afternoon was like forever ago. Did you miss me?"
Luke opened his mouth to speak, but I shook my head warningly.
"Maria, has the post been?"
"I'll check," she said, and ducked back into the hallway. "My back's feeling so much better."
"I don't want her to know anything's wrong," I told Clyde and Luke quietly, "not until I've found out more about what's going on."
"Gotcha." said Clyde. "I just hope she's not going mental."
"Of course she's not," I hissed.
"No post yet," Maria reported, coming back into the kitchen. "God, you lot look miserable."
"Double French first, isn't it." Clyde joked weakly. "Come on then, let's get it over with."
I watched the three of them go, my mind racing, my heart slowly sinking in my chest.

I sat brooding most of the morning. It all came down to gold. Unique among metals in the desire it arouses and the greed it feeds. A long time ago, I'd walked inside an asteroid made of the stuff.
[NOTE: She probably means Voga, from the Doctor Who story, Revenge Of The Cybermen.]
I knew that it could be used to make weapons as devastating as its beauty, and I knew that right now, the tiny amount in Maria had altered her. It could only be the gold, treated in some way. And yet Mr Smith had scanned her and found nothing untoward. 'Our thoughts shine,' Maria had said. Like Mrs Price. Like Augur. Our thoughts. People, thinking the same. Not acting like themselves. Was that it? What if we were dealing with something that could influence gold, or control others through it? Mr Smith had scanned Maria for alien substances as I'd instructed, but not for alien thoughts over-riding her own. Something that could take control of her whenever it suited them. I went upstairs.
"Tonight, Mr Smith, I will ask you to analyse Maria again," I announced. "But this time, I also want you to scan for psychic frequencies, energy wavelengths - that kind of thing. Is that feasible?"
"Naturally," came the reply.
"But whatever you find, say nothing to Maria," I warned him. "Say she has a clean bill of health, and tell me your findings when we're alone. I don't want her to know my concerns because" "It might tip off the entity controlling her that you are onto it." Mr Smith concluded.  
"That too," I agreed. " But first and foremost, because I don't want to scare her to death."  I took a deep breath. I couldn't keep beating myself up over Maria. I had to try and do something about it. "Mr Smith, can you scan for alien spacecraft in Earth's orbit?"
"Accessing." He set his systems to the task, gears grinding, humming with power. "No spacecraft," he returned at length, "but I've accessed the image feed from a reconnaissance satellite."
The screen showed a blizzard of stars. "What am I meant to be looking at?"
"There is a small metal artefact hovering thirty thousand miles above London, with no obvious method of propulsion or weaponry system. It is made of solid gold, mixed with certain minerals and circuitry not of Earth origin. Boosting visual feed."
On the screen, one star grew brighter and more golden than the rest as Mr Smith zoomed in. It looked a little like a golden potato.
"The device is currently receiving signals from deep space," Mr Smith went on. "It seems likely the golden device is some kind of communications hub, possibly for scrambling, descrambling or boosting a transmission."
"Can you decipher?"
"It should be possible. Wait. The signals are being rerouted to a location in West London. The Auriga Clinic."
A tingle ran down my spine. "Then it must be aliens who are the real backers of Doctor Augur's work. Aliens that can change people's personalities, some of them in the dead of night, and make them do things against their wills. But the big question is - what do they really want?"

It was a slow, frustrating day spent waiting for school to end. I found that Mrs Sheen had lapsed into a catatonic state and was under police guard in hospital. No visitors. I couldn't get hold of Julie Price's mother, and when I called at her house there was no reply. I wondered if she was out robbing again, fetching Doctor Augur a little more stolen gold for his experiments. Finally home-time came round, and Luke and Clyde escorted Maria back home. She seemed fine and untroubled. I asked her to go upstairs and let Mr Smith scan her as he had the day before.
"Just a precaution," I assured her. "She's acted normally all day?" I asked quietly.
"No weirdness," Clyde agreed. "That was supplied by Julie Price's mum. People are saying she's disappeared. All the kids in the year above are teasing Julie that her mum's ran away from home, 'cause anything's better than looking after her.
"She's got to stay with an aunt," Luke went on. "That has made her unhappy. I heard she's told the police, but they're not taking her seriously."
"Well, we are," I announced.
Maria soon trotted down the stairs. "Clean bill of health," she reported. "Actually, I feel great. Must be down to the treatment, I guess. All my ions have been properly balanced. I feel full of energy."
"I wish I did," said Clyde. "Almost fell asleep twice in Double Maths."
"You often do," Luke reminded him.

While Luke, Maria and Clyde watched TV in the living-room, I went up to get the low-down from Mr Smith.
"I scanned both physical and metaphysical changes," he explained, "and I believe the gold particles within Maria have received some kind of signal."
"The alien signal you picked up before?" I asked him.
"Similar, but not from deep space. Transmission was from a local source. The Auriga Clinic." He paused. "Furthermore, I believe this transmission to have been a priming signal. Yesterday the gold particles were lodged in Maria's spinal area. Now they are shifting position, gathering behind Maria's eyes, around the optic nerve."
"Her eyes? Why? Why are they doing that? Unless ... This signal. If the gold particles are receiving a signal, could they also transmit one?"
"It is quite possible," Mr Smith conceded.
"Then what if this alien presence is planning to hack into Maria's eyesight, just as you hacked into that monitoring satellite's visual feed?" I put to him: "Something wants to use Maria as a spying device, seeing through her eyes."
"I would point out that there is no signal being transmitted by the gold particles within her," Mr Smith told me.
"That only means that they haven't switched her on yet." I felt sick. "Continue to scan Maria, Mr Smith. I want to know the moment that signal switches on, and whatever's receiving that signal, I want you to pick it up too."
"Understood," said Mr Smith.
Clyde didn't stay long after school, so worn out after his long night's dustbin vigil. Maria went home soon after to get some homework done, asking me to text her with news of any developments. I smiled and nodded, but of course I couldn't tell her anything, and I felt so lonely without her, my confidante, my friend. Thank goodness Luke was with me, ready and willing to let me offload my guilt and discuss my theories while we waited for word that the alien signal had activated.

Mr Smith piped up a little after eleven PM. "Sarah Jane, the gold inside Maria is resonating with signals. One received, one being broadcast. Accessing outgoing signal." He paused. "Signal translated. Visual data as you hypothesised. No audio track." I felt Luke's fingers grip my own as a view of the dark street outside resolved on Mr Smith's screen. Pools of orange from the street lamps coming and going, the occasional car passing ... it was like someone was walking down the road with a camcorder, and I was seeing through the viewfinder. Except the images were tinged with a sickly yellow sheen, and I knew I was seeing all this through Maria's own eyes.
"Should we go after her?" asked Luke.
I sighed. "I'm dying to, but there's a bigger picture, and ... if we're really going to help Maria, Mrs Sheen, Mrs Price, all of them, we've got to uncover more about what's going on here." I led Luke upstairs. "Now he's hacked into the alien signals, Mr Smith can see whatever Maria sees. Whoever's behind this won't know that."
"Then we could end up with a virtual tour of the alien's headquarters," Luke marvelled.
"I only hope Maria comes back again," I murmured. "Mrs Price didn't last night, she must have been ... needed?" But even as I spoke, I saw Mrs Price on the screen, slack-jawed and vacant, sitting in a parked car. She opened the passenger door for Maria to get inside, then as she started the car, we watched her mouth three familiar words. 'Our ... thoughts ... shine,' and a gleam of gold shone faintly in her eyes as she drove Maria away into the night.
Luke and I sat glued to the screen, and while we could certainly see what Maria was seeing, making sense of the images was another matter. She and Mrs Price had entered the clinic, and passed through the workshop she'd discovered on our first visit there. It was a lot busier now. We saw steam and a searing red glow, figures moving around with welding masks. We glimpsed a large angular shape moving at the very edge of Maria's vision.
"That could be the construct Clyde saw on surveillance," Luke whispered.
"Perhaps we'll find out for sure," I murmured, as Maria entered a large laboratory.
There were people there, wearing not your typical white lab coats, but everyday dress, gathered round some kind of high-tech circular vat that was filled with churning liquid. A man and a woman were shining weird lights over it, while an old lady was inserting some weird rod-like device into the fluid.
"What do you think it is, Mum?" Luke wondered. "Acid? Poison?"
"Looks like ordinary water," I observed. "But I can't see aliens getting over-excited about a bit of H2O, can you?"
I frowned as Maria turned her transmitting eyes to a control panel marked with readouts and gauges and weird symbols I didn't recognise, and there her gaze remained, her fingers making swift and skilful adjustments to dials and switches.
"Mr Smith, do you have any idea what task Maria is performing?" I asked.
"Insufficient data. But it seems likely the fluid is being subjected to some kind of electrochemical or microbial treatment."
"Clear as mud," I sighed. "There's only one way we're going to find out more. I didn't see any guards on the door of that clinic when Maria went inside, so let's get down there and see what we can find with our own eyes." I'd had enough waiting around to last me a lifetime. "Hang in there, Maria," I whispered. "Just hang in there."

There was little traffic at that time of night. We reached the clinic without incident. Luke decided to text Clyde with an update.
"Should I tell him that if I don't show up at school he should call the police?"
"Even if they believed him, a bunch of police officers blundering in could get people hurt." I pulled up around the corner from the Auriga Clinic and took a deep breath. "For now, we're in this alone."
We peered through the hedgerow that sheltered the Clinic's small front garden. I caught the gleam of moonlight on something round and glassy, topped by a winking red light.
"A security camera," I breathed. "Probably so the receptionist can see who's calling before buzzing them in."
"Then chances are no one's watching it." Luke whispered.
"Let's not take any chances. Not yet."
I pulled my sonic lipstick from my jacket pocket. It's a useful gadget for getting past doors and surveillance equipment. It whirred as I twisted it, and the red light went off. We hurried down the path, and I soon had the front door open.

The reception was dark. No one was about. We crept through the clinic, following the same path Maria had taken. Soon we arrived at the door to the workshop. Perhaps we would find out whatever it was, and peeped inside. It was hot and smoky, lit eerily by a couple of anglepoise lamps. We slipped inside.
The workshop was empty.
Except for the robot. Golden, gleaming, silent, it came tilting towards us from out of the smoke. It was bigger than a man, and bulkier, encased in a kind of golden lattice that glowed with strange energy. It looked like it should have been slow and clumsy, but it moved lightly with the pose and grace of a trained dancer, skittering past us to block off the door, then its powerful arms reached out towards us. In place of hands, it had golden stumps bristling with probes and clamps and blades. I tried to push Luke out of its reach, but tendrils extended, flexing like rats' tails, catching round his wrists and binding them tight. And more tendrils were snaking out towards me, glittering in the smoky light. I twisted aside desperately, turned the sonic lipstick on the thing. It seemed to have no effect.
"Mum, get out of here!" Luke yelled.
"I'm not leaving you," I shouted, trying to circle round the thing to get to him. Then I felt a sinuous strand brush against my ankle. More of the golden tendrils were lashing out from the robot's feet. I scrambled over a lab bench, sending beakers and flasks flying, and then - the lights snapped on. The robot froze as if dazzled. Luke struggled to get free, trying to jam his mobile phone under one of the tendrils, but they still held him tight. I crossed to help him, but already we could hear footsteps coming closer. Moments later the door was flung open, by Doctor Augur, his clothes crumpled and his face bathed in sweat.
"What ... what is the meaning of this, Miss Smith?" he said angrily. "You and your young friend have ruined an extremely important experiment in motor control, and could have gotten yourselves killed. How dare you intrude here."
"And how dare you intrude in the lives of the patients in your care," I retorted. "Or rather, allow your masters to do so."
He looked stunned for a moment. "I don't know what you're talking about."
I gestured at the gold robot. "You think I'm too stupid to appreciate this is a piece of alien technology? Or that you've been placing gold inside people like Maria, gold that allows some alien intelligence to take control of them, exactly as it controls this robot thing?"
Augur looked stunned. "The Caratin guide us," he said more quietly, "and only so their work will be completed more quickly. They are my partners."
"I've heard that one before," I said. Although the name Caratin was a new one on me.
"It's true," Augur insisted. "And - you are wrong about the exo-suit, Miss Smith. I was in control of it, not the Caratin." He ran his hands through his thinning, sweaty hair. "Extraordinary, isn't it? A marvel."
"And are you in control of Maria too?" I asked icily.
Augur looked away. "You had better come to my office."
"And if I don't?"
He pressed a small gold disc to his forehead, closed his eyes, and the robot moved smoothly into life, grabbing hold of me with the tendrils of its other hand, I shouted out as the grip tightened.
"I'm sorry," Augur said quickly. He snatched the disc from his temple and the robot stopped. "I am tired. The process of psychic control is a draining one. It ... it would be better for you to accompany me without force. Better for you both, and for Maria, don't you agree?"

Luke and I followed Augur from his office, the robot tiptoeing along behind us.
"You have seen how agile and responsive the exo-suit is. Imagine what a boon it would be to humanity. Animated remotely by a skilled operator, it can perform complex tasks under conditions that would prove lethal to humans in any environment. It can handle radioactive waste, contain chemical spills, replace soldiers in war zones, save lives."
"It sounds incredible," said Luke earnestly.
"Too good to be true." I agreed. "Which means it probably is. The Caratin have given you this boon to humanity out of the kindness of their hearts I suppose, Doctor Augur?"
"No," he said evenly. "They need to perform certain mineralogical experiments here on Earth, which I have made possible. In exchange, they are helping me to create a prototype that will revolutionise the robotic world."
"And this is why you've been taking gold off your patients?" I realised. "Why they've been stealing it for you?"
"Petty offences. They mean nothing in the face of such a great purpose." Augur took a jet injector from the pocket of his lab coat. "With that gold, I am redesigning the brain interface of the exo-suit so that human minds can control it."
"Seems to me it's human minds that are being controlled," I said, with a pointed look at the jet injector. "Is that to keep us in line, to let the Caratin think for us?"
"I trust it will not be necessary for me to use it."
"You trust a great deal, don't you, Doctor Augur - or are the Caratin making you trust?"
"My mind is my own," Augur insisted. "True enough, the Caratin have an incredible affinity for gold. It conducts and amplifies their psychic impulses. Being unable to speak our language, they place gold in us so they can communicate with us, but I have developed a means of blocking that communication whenever they become too ... enthusiastic."
I suddenly remembered his strange behaviour when I'd visited before. "That patch in the snuff box that you press to your neck."
"The patch contains a highly absorbent compound of lithium citrate. It counteracts the influence of Caratin gold pulses on the human mind for several hours."
"Then you don't trust them," Luke realised.
"I'm a scientist," Augur snapped. "For my research to be meaningful, I had to be absolutely certain that the Caratin weren't controlling the exo-suit instead of me. They understand that, they respect that. Sometimes they don't mean to influence us, but their wills are so powerful, their enthusiasm for the project so great."
"Have they convinced you that they aren't duping you," I wondered, "or have you managed to convince yourself?"

We had reached Augur's darkened office. "The Caratin are extremely convincing," he said softly as he opened the door.
Luke and I hesitated, but the so-called exo-suit propelled us inside. I felt bile rising in the back of my throat. Squatting on his desk in the dim light was a vast brown slug-like creature with long clawed arms and a huge misshapen head. Gleaming gold implants were set around its slimy head, like a technological crown. Its crimson eyes pushed towards me on swaying stalks, and fronds around the base of its body rustled and agitated. I put an arm round Luke's shoulders.
"Don't be afraid," Augur told us. "I know - I was frightened when they first came to me eight months ago. They studied our world, you see, knew of my pioneering work with gold, knew of my ambitions."
"And what of their ambitions?" I whispered, meeting the monster's crimson eyes. "What's in that vat of fluid in your secret laboratory?"
"Simply seawater," Augur said. "You said yourself there's gold in seawater. Humans cannot extract it, it serves us no purpose, but the Caratin can remove it. Why shouldn't we barter it for their knowledge?"
"Who's the 'we' in all this?" Luke sounded as angry as I was. "I don't believe you're doing this for Earth, you're doing it for yourself. Why else would you allow innocent people to be controlled by the Caratin? People who trust you to help them."
"They are not being controlled, but directed," Augur countered. "It is simply a means of overcoming the language barrier."
"Of course," croaked the Caratin. "That is all they are."
I gasped, and Luke took a step backwards. Augur stared at the creature in disbelief. "But ... you said ... you couldn't speak English."
"Idiot," the slug-like creature hissed. A small gold wire shot out from the crown around its head, and lashed into Augur's neck. "A fresh injection of filaments will negate the effects of your precious patches."
Augur dropped the injector, struggling to free himself. "No!" he shouted. "You don't need to do this."
As it spoke, the Caratin quivered like a scaly blancmange. "There is nothing further to be gained from concealing my motives from you, Augur. I needed your co-operation because to control you completely would require too much energy. But now my work here is almost at an end."
Augur clutched his sides, his face contorting in agony, then he sank to the ground, and the gold wire retracted.
I made a rush for the office door, but the exo-suit was blocking it. With Luke's help, I heaved the thing aside - but not before two more of the gold wires snaked out from the Caratin's crown and hooked into the nape of our necks. For a moment I felt a searing pain go through my shoulders, then Augur's office seemed to fade away. I could hear voices and static, hear the slosh of seawater, I saw dials and readouts, just as I had on Mr Smith's screen, only this time I was seeing them with my own eyes. I heard Mrs Price's voice, reading out a chemical formula that seemed almost to make sense to me, and I saw an old lady I knew to be Mrs Sheen holding a pipette in her unsteady fingers, releasing drop after drop into the grey water, staring down blankly as it churned. I could see it churning too through her cloudy eyes. I began to feel dizzy as the viewpoints kept switching, as if my mind was channel-hopping, and yet building inside me was a sense of excitement - a cold, calculating, inhuman glee. A crimson-gold tinge was darkening the picture. I saw things to come - hundreds of exo-suits marching across some alien landscape, dancing, agile and golden with bloated slug things locked inside them. I saw gleaming warships bristling with weaponry. I saw golden bombs exploding against enemy craft, and all of it seemed wonderful to me. The visions piled on, each fresh image superimposed upon the last, swamping my senses.
The angry cry seemed to come from miles away. It took me a while to realise that the voice I could hear was my own.
"No, I won't let you take me."
"Come now, my carrier." The Caratin's gloating voice seemed to crackle through my head. "You must join the others, taking my creations to the key positions. Augur will have his staff book your flights and cruises, and then"
I felt like I was trying to wake from a nightmare that refused to let me go. My knees stung as I fell to the floor, but the pain was actually good - it helped cut through the Caratin influence, allowed me to see ... what?
Someone was moving around on the floor in front of me, crouching over Doctor Augur.
"Where are they? Come on! Come on!"
It was a voice I was hearing with my ears, but not my mind. A familiar voice.
"Clyde!" I gasped. "Clyde, is that you?"
I felt something cold and damp pressed against my neck. I opened my eyes, saw the room spinning, and above me, the dark slash of the Caratin's maw as the creature slithered over the edge of the desk ready to smother me. I cried out, rolled clear as it started to fall. My senses were my own again, and now Clyde was dragging Luke over to the door.
"I've given him one too," he gasped. "Help me."
I was already grabbing Luke by the wrist, half-carrying him into the corridor outside. Clyde banged the door shut.
"I wasn't expecting the cavalry to call," I admitted groggily.
"I wasn't expecting a giant slug with googly red eyes," Clyde retorted. "Although, guess I should have. This is you we're talking about."
"Where did you spring from?" I asked, trying to wake up Luke.
"Luke texted me and woke me up. I conked out after last night. Luckily, I conked out round my mate's house up the road, where I should have been last night. Came down here, found that jewel thief granny heading for the clinic."
"Mrs Sheen," I nodded, remembering my jumbled vision. "Yes, I saw she was here."
"Luke didn't reply to my texts, so - I thought maybe you were both in trouble," Clyde went on. "I stepped inside the clinic after Mrs Sheen, just about to start looking for you when my phone went. It was Luke, letting me listen in on everything that doctor bloke was telling you."
"Oh, clever," I murmured to Luke as he opened his eyes.
"Called him just as Doctor Augur caught us in his workshop. I got Clyde's text saying he was coming, but I had no way of knowing if he was here or not."
Clyde grinned. "Oh, I'm just glad that doctor had his magic patches in his pocket, or I'd really have looked ..."
"Stupid human dross!" growled the Caratin, smashing open the office door. "You congratulate yourselves prematurely."
"Run!" I yelled, as the monster slithered after us with horrible speed.

We piled around the corner, and ran onto Reception.
"It's feeling so smug," I panted. "It's made some kind of breakthrough." I turned to Clyde. "How many more of those patches have we got left?"
Clyde checked the snuff box. "Five."
"We've got to reach Maria and the others." I took the patches from him. "With these, we can block the Caratin's hold."
"But only for a short time," Luke reminded me.
"Then we'll have to be quick." I tried to remember the path Luke had taken to the lab through the Clinic's shadowy corridors. "Oh, think, think!"
"Come on!" Clyde urged me. "That thing will be here any minute."
Luke frowned. "There's no sign of it."
Then next moment, a door crashed open behind us, and the Caratin slithered through with a triumphant hiss. It had circled around - it knew this place a lot better than we did.
"Split up!" I shouted, dodging its hooked claws. I almost slipped in its slime trail, but managed to make it through the same door it had come through. 'This is the way to the lab,' I thought, 'I'm sure it is.'
But the Caratin wasn't following. It was going after Luke and Clyde instead, and the two of them had just run up against a sealed fire door that wouldn't budge.
"Oh great. Dead end," Clyde panted. They started to run back, but it was too late. The heavy, slobbering, dragging sound of the Caratin was carrying from around the corner.
"We're trapped," Luke realised, trying to stay calm. "All right, let's see if we've got anything useful. Turn out your pockets."
"You sound like the Head," Clyde muttered, holding out his haul. A phone, a used tissue, an empty sweet bag - and a small shining disc.
Luke stared. "That looks like the thing Doctor Augur used to control the robot thing you saw last night. It must have been on manoeuvres in the gardens."
Clyde looked shifty. "Well, found it in his pockets while I - I was looking for the patches. Thought it might be gold, worth a bit."
"It might be worth everything," said Luke, taking it from him. "If we can ..."
"Too late," said Clyde, hoarsely. The Caratin had shuffled into view around the corner. Luke pressed the disc to his forehead as he had seen Doctor Augur do it earlier, closed his eyes and waited for something to happen.
"Oh, come on," he breathed. "What am I doing wrong? Come on! "

I ran through the corridors of the clinic, panting for breath. My heart quickened as I recognised the door to the lab and slammed it open.
Stupid. I was expected.
Mrs Sheen stood on one side of the doorway, a middle-aged man on the other. They were both stronger than they looked - I couldn't break free. I heard Mrs Price reciting her chemical monologue into a gold wire mesh built into the wall, and saw Maria advance on me, a yellow glow in her eyes, and a jet injector clasped in her hands.
"Do you know how much gold the humans have mined out of this planet, Sarah Jane?" she asked quietly.
"You're being controlled, Maria," I shouted, staring round the room. "You all are."
"Can't be more than eighty-eight thousand tonnes over sixty-six centuries," Maria went on. "And now, we will seize twenty million tonnes of gold in less than a day."
"You're going to take it from the oceans?"
"We're going to take away the oceans," Maria confided. "Seawater contains only one or two parts of gold per billion, but it accounts for over seventy per cent of the surface of your world."
I watched helplessly as she raised the injector towards my arm.
"By releasing chemosynthetic bacteria into key areas of swift current, we will begin an electrochemical reaction. The oceans shall boil away in a matter of hours. Huge agglomerations of gold shall line the parched, cracked sea beds for collection by our fleets."
I shook my head, trying frantically to pull my arm away. "You'll leave the Earth a dead world."
"So?" Maria smiled. "The gold will enable another hundred platoons to continue our conquests."
I remembered the visions in my mind of the golden fleets, the exo-suits carrying Caratin off to war, the bombs pushed through space by the power of thought. Their technology hinged upon gold. They used up so much. How many worlds had they stripped bare of the stuff to further their war effort? Now it was Earth's turn.
Maria put the point of the injector against my forearm ... and then the door smashed open behind me. My captors went tumbling, the syringe fell from Maria's grip as I was hurled towards her. Behind me, the exo-suit blundered into the lab, pummelling the air as it stared around sightlessly. Since gawping in amazement wasn't really the order of the day, I scrabbled in my pocket for a patch, and pressed it against Maria's neck. Her back arched and she yelled - then lay still in my arms. The other workers in the lab were coming for me. I scrambled up, yanked myself free of the hands clutching at my ankles, pulling at my hair. Mrs Price had stopped reciting her chemical formula, but I pushed a patch against her neck regardless and dragged her away from the golden mesh she'd been speaking into. Once I'd done so, the exo-suit sprang into life once again and smashed the controls with a swipe of its chunky golden fist. Fierce yellow sparks danced about its form, scoring blinding reflections in the lustrous armour. A collective scream went up from the Caratin workers, and they collapsed, even as the exo-suit tottered forward and crashed to the floor, now as rigid as a statue. I checked the fallen workers. Out cold.  Feedback, perhaps, from the controls shorting out. I didn't have time to dwell on it for long. I glimpsed movement behind the shattered door.
"Doctor Augur?" I called shakily.
"No, it's us," said Luke. He followed Clyde into the smoking lab, and a small circle of gold fell from his fingers.
"You!" I grabbed him in a hug and beamed at Clyde. "You did this!"
"Clyde had taken the exo-suit's control disc and I used it," Luke agreed, clinging on to me tightly. "I had no choice. The Caratin was coming straight for us. First time I tried, nothing happened."
"But he soon brought that big gold robot running," said Clyde proudly, kneeling beside Maria as she began to stir. "It trampled the slug. Then we jumped over it and followed golden boy all the way here."
"Oh ... Is the Caratin dead?" I asked, gently pulling away.
Luke shook his head grimly. "Only hurt. It was screaming threats at us, started to follow."
"But then it gave up," Clyde said triumphantly. "All sluggy mouth, no trousers."
"Why didn't it follow you here?" I mused as I knelt beside Maria myself, glad to feel her pulse beating strongly beneath my fingertips. "Why not follow me when we split up? I had the patches. I could do the most damage."
Clyde nodded. "Come to think of it, why use humans to do its experiments? Why not get its own hands dirty?"
"Because it can't." Luke stared at us, wide-eyed. "Of course it doesn't want to come near here - it's like a large slug. And what kills slugs?"
"Salt," I breathed. "So the salt in the seawater there would be lethal."
"There are samples in the store cabinet there," said Maria suddenly, opening her eyes. I wanted to hug her, but the urgency in her look suggested there was no time for a tender reunion. "We have to get after it. Mrs Price completed the chemical formula, and recited it into the recorder. The Caratin's got a communicator in Augur's office. He's going to transmit the formula to a Caratin ship waiting out in space."
"Then they can still come and boil away the oceans," I realised.
"Do what!" Clyde boggled.
"Help me!" I shouted, crossing to the store cabinet and throwing open the doors. "It's time we ended this, once and for all."

Leaving a baffled Mrs Price to look after the others as they began to stir, the four of us hurried away armed with nothing more than jars of salt water. Not much of an arsenal, not with a world at stake. And if we were wrong about that vile creature's weakness, then it would simply laugh at us before destroying our world. We soon picked up a fresh slime trail leading to Augur's office.
"It could be there already," I realised. "Come on."
We quickened our step, burst into the office. Doctor Augur still lay there unmoving on the floor, but our eyes were riveted to the Caratin, its slimy bulk scored with welts from its run-in with the exo-suit. Its claw-like hands twitched as it operated a glittering alien apparatus hidden behind a false wall. The communicator.
"Get away from that!" I shouted, raising the jar of seawater.
"Pathetic," the Caratin sneered. A golden cord lashed out from the crown around its head, and knocked the jar to the floor. "Your meddling has achieved nothing. I shall reassert my control over my carriers, and distribute the chemosynthetic bacteria as planned."
"We'll destroy your samples before you can do that," said Luke defiantly.
"So?" the Caratin snorted. "The bacteria's genetic formula has been mapped out and recorded. I shall transmit it to my tech ship, and we shall recreate it at our leisure, then return and take your gold."
"We've got salt water here," said Maria, unscrewing the lid of her own jar. "It'll kill you."
The Caratin hissed, "You cannot stop us."
"And you cannot stop talking when you should really be getting on with things." I pulled out the sonic lipstick and dived towards the communicator. The Caratin reared up as I approached, raising its claws.
"Warned you," shouted Clyde, and he hurled his jar of seawater over the creature. It didn't so much as twitch!
Desperately, I jammed the lipstick up against the golden housing, and gave it a good sonic blast. Sparks jumped out from the controls, and a slimy claw thudded into my chest, sending me tumbling to the ground. Luke and Maria emptied their own jars over the Caratin, but it simply roared and flowed towards me, anger burning in its blood-red eyes. But even as its slimy bulk loomed over me, a hand stabbed out towards it, a hand clutching a jet injector. The needle pierced the blubbery flesh, and the Caratin shrieked. Dazed, I turned to find Doctor Augur on all fours, white-faced, staring hatefully at the creature as it thrashed its lumpy arms and frothed at the mouth.
"The salt water couldn't penetrate its hide," he said hoarsely, holding up the broken jar he'd dropped, "but, when injected into the bloodstream ..."
I looked away as the creature bubbled and croaked, its skin cracking open, watery fluid leaking through the splits.
"Wow! That's what I call an assault," Clyde quipped.
"I ... helped it," said Augur softly, the syringe slipping from his fingers. "Gave it shelter and co-operation. Convinced myself that the end justified the means."
"I don't know," said Maria, shuddering as the Caratin's hate-filled eyes closed forever. "Just here and just now, maybe it did."

There really isn't a good deal left to tell. We left Doctor Augur in his clinic, as shattered as his dreams. I called some friends to take care of him and his exo-suit. Old friends at organisations better placed to deal with that sort of thing than I am. But Luke and I destroyed the bacteria personally. I wasn't about to entrust the disposal of a weapon like that to anybody else. The possessed workers and would-be robbers have come to their senses, with only hazy memories of the ordeal they'd gone through. The gold has passed naturally from their bodies. Julia Price has her mother back, one who stays in at night. Maria is right as rain again. Oh - and a few pulled strings saw charges against Mrs Sheen withdrawn. A few more saw her being allowed to keep enough of Augur's workshop gold to afford a round the world cruise. I hope that the waters she'll cruise on will be calm. At least they won't be boiling away just yet.

Back at my home, Mr Smith confirmed that the sonic signal I'd pumped into the Caratin communicator burnt out the booster relay. No information ever reached the tech ship. That will leave a question mark over the Earth's rightness for gold extraction. Chances are the Caratin may follow up to learn what happened to their scout, but with luck, they will write off Earth's gold as too high-risk to harvest. Just in case, we're watching out for any golden lights in the skies, or sinister slug sightings - Mr Smith, Maria, Luke and Clyde and me. In anyone's book, a team like that has got to be worth it's weight in ... well, you know.

(The Sarah Jane Adventures closing theme composed by Murray Gold, over which Elisabeth Sladen gives the voice over:)
The Glittering Storm by Stephen Cole was read by Elisabeth Sladen, it was produced by Kate Thomas, and is published by BBC Audio books.

BBC Broadcast 60 minute version transcribed by David Tait, extra 11 minutes from CD added by Great Aunt Chrissie

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