Trumpkin;Doctor Who;Jo Grant;Katy Manning;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jon Pertwee;Jeri Massi
In a bog peppered with swampy water holes, a stocky but nimble young man in a UNIT uniform carefully ducked under the boughs of a struggling willow and skirted the exposed knees of a cypress as he wended his way up a scant path.
"Rogers!" he whispered. "Rogers!" He paused and for perhaps the tenth time listened carefully. A faint sound of singing came through the trees.
A girl who's fat is a lovely wife
Keep you warm for the rest of your life.
Her arms are soft and her kisses, too.
A fat girl will take care of you!
A girl who's skinny is yankee born;
She wears blue jeans and her hair is shorn.
Can't make biscuits or simmer a stew---
But a fat girl would take care of you!
Now listen young man to my advice:
Get a fat girl to be your wife.
Treat her right and swear to be true,
'Cause a fat girl will take care of you!
He sniffed and caught a whiff of fresh tobacco smoke. Accurate as a beagle, he followed the scent to a dry hillock of earth and stone, barely big enough to accommodate two men. A slightly stockier young man, also in uniform, was re-lighting a pipe. He looked up and grinned around the stem as he took in a couple of draws to keep it lit. At last he removed it from his mouth and spoke. "Why, hey, Corporal Stehart!" With the habit of a person raised around woods and trees, he shook out the match, broke it, and carefully poked it into the earth with his finger.
The newcomer approached with a frown. "You're takin' your life in your hands with all the methane that's sittin' around this swamp, Rogers."
"Gotta' do somethin' to kill the reek, boy. Sit down and take a load off. What's your tally today?"
Corporal Stehart, shook his head. He pulled a worn 10 cent memo book from the shirt pocket of his uniform and consulted it. "The reading yesterday evening from this sector was higher than background," he said. "Way higher. We almost went to Level One alert. And then today it's way lower." He flipped the memo book closed and pushed it back into his pocket. "Don't make sense."
Rogers took the pipe out of his mouth. "Sendin' us out here without the right gear is what don't make sense." He thoughtfully scanned the enclosing fringe of cypress, scant pine, struggling willow, and the numerous tufts of wild grass and other weeds that poked up from the soggy ground. He very gently touched Stehart's knee and nodded to the west. A white tail deer, its ears huge and sensitive and doubtful, was staring at them from a distance, trying to determine if they had moved. Both young men stayed absolutely still. After a cautious moment, the doe went to browsing on the grass and foliage.
"Ain't it purty though?" Stehart murmured. Then he returned to business. "Radiation can't fluctuate like that. It ain't supposed to be that high, but if it gets that high, it can't just disappear. In fact, it ain't even up to background levels now. I sure would like to know what's going on."
Rogers removed the pipe from his mouth and studied it. "Morgan says we measured with too low of a cloud cover. Says it was just radon and trapped stuff."
"Morgan's a blamed liar. And DOE keeps him on because he's so good at lyin' for them." Stehart's voice was savage. "The sky was clear and the clouds high yesterday and the day before. What did he think was trappin' the radon?" He stood up, ill at ease. The sudden motion startled the deer, and it sprang away with sure footed agility. "There's somethin' in this swamp, Rogers, something radioactive and dangerous."
"Well if there is, it ain't contaminatin' nuthin'." As though to contradict his words, the tiny badge that he wore around his neck began to beep. Rogers let out an expletive, and both men ran from the hillock. They left the path and ran through the swamp on the shortest route to their jeep. But halfway there, the curious amulets that they wore suddenly stopped their warning signals. Stehart halted and looked down. The thermoluminescent dosimeter that he wore, usually called a TLD, was now inert. Rogers, sweating far more than a man would from a run through the swamp, looked at him.
"Thunderation, Stehart, are we dead men?" he gasped.
"No, I think we're okay. Unless these blamed things are broken." Stehart frowned at the TLD and then shook his head. "Come on. We've got to get the readings off the machine and get a full body scan."
They jogged the rest of the way to the jeep. It sat parked on a double-rutted dirt road. Stehart reached into the back and pulled up a sturdy, lead encased machine, and Rogers pulled up the accompanying rucksack of batteries. They connected the machine quickly to the power source and set it on the hood of the jeep. One after another, they passed their TLDs into the mouth of the machine. Stehart took the readings first, and then Rogers verified.
"Normal," Stehart at last confirmed. "We're normal."
Rogers let out a gasp of thanksgiving. But then he steadied himself and said, "But both of us heard both of our TLDs go off. We were exposed to high levels of radiation. We should be radioactive. The swamp should be radioactive."
"And now," Stehart confirmed. "Nothin'. We might have been a hundred miles from here for all the radiation these TLDs are showin'."
"I'm not goin' back in there," Rogers told him. "Not today anyway."
"Come on. We still have to get the whole body scan just to make sure." Stehart climbed into the driver's seat of the jeep and let his partner stow the equipment in the back.
"We ought to be suited up to go in there," Rogers told him.
"All right. Next time we will. No matter what Morgan says." Stehart waited until his friend had climbed in, and then he started the jeep. "We're outta our league," he said at last, not pulling out. "And DOE knows it. We need help."
"Come on, let's go," Rogers said. His friend nodded, released the clutch and they pulled out. "There's no help," Rogers told him grimly. "All the best nukular scientists are with DOE. Nobody wants to admit that there's somethin' in this swamp. They won't act until Johnston or Aiken gets radiation signals."
"And then it'll be too late," Stehart muttered. "I know of a scientist who might be able to help us. And he works for UNIT over in England. Anyways, I think he does. Let's talk to the Cap and see if we can't get him over here."
* * * *
Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart paused on his way to the lab. He had been striding at a swift pace, anxious to pick up the Doctor's finished report on the incident at the Nuton Power Complex. Though there was abundant evidence that London's crack UNIT team had saved the planet from a disastrous worldwide parasite, millions of pounds had been lost in the destruction of an entire wing of the complex, thousands of homes were still without regular power, and a dangerous criminal had escaped from their custody. Bill Filer had quickly soothed the American government, but Whitehall was not entirely pleased. Yet another inquiry was on the books.
Still, though the Brigadier had much on his mind, his attention was distracted as he saw Jo Grant emerge cautiously from a store room on the main floor. He paused. Head down, peering the other way, she had not yet seen him. He studiously looked along the doors as though looking for the right room number and stepped loudly enough to give himself away.
Jo jumped and whisked back inside the store room.
As though oblivious of her, the Brigadier walked past and then clattered down the side stairway. As soon as he was gone, she pulled her hands from behind her back and looked down at the bundle of alligator clips and 70 mm wiring that she'd stolen from the store room
Down in the lab, the Doctor was moodily inspecting the dematerialization circuit from his TARDIS, a sketch pad near at hand.
The Brigadier burst into the lab. "Doctor---"
"Go away," the Doctor said. "I don't have time for your nonsense now."
The Brigadier strode right up to him. "That's what you think. If you don't get out of here right now, I may not be able to save you from arrest."
This news startled the Doctor right out of his study of the circuit. "What are you babbling about?" he demanded.
"Oh, and by the way, your assistant is upstairs stealing more supplies for you---"
"I do not tell Jo to do that. She's taken it upon herself."
"Only to please you!"
The Doctor set down the circuit and glared at him, ready to take up the glove but sensing a more serious undertone in the Brigadier's words. The two of them crossed swords often, but each of them knew when the other was pushed to his limits.
"Did you come down here to arrest me for letting Jo steal spools of wire for me?" he asked. "Or is there another point you were trying to make? Who is going to arrest me?"
"There's another inquiry scheduled over the Axon incident," the Brigadier told him. "Several of the ministers are demanding to know who you are." He was suddenly embarrassed, ashamed of his countrymen. "Doctor, I don't know that they won't perceive you as a threat. I mean, if it should all come out, there are men in government who may look upon you as a sort of loose canon." He became more firm. "It's best for you to disappear for a while. I can make arrangements."
Lethbridge-Stewart had expected the Doctor to become angry at the prospect of being interrogated, but the time lord paused and then said, "Well, there's nothing you can do about human, beaureacratic narrow mindedness. And we both know that many elements in British government are very keen on controlling UNIT."
"Anything to count coup," the Brigadier agreed. "Including detaining you."
The Doctor took up the sketch pad and then threw it down. He rubbed the back of his neck. "What about Jo?"
"Take her along, by all means. Have her brush up on her petty larceny skills."
Just then, Jo---certain that the Brigadier would be gone from the lab by then---bounded in from the hallway, her hands filled with the small circuitry paraphernalia. At sight of the Brigadier, she instantly put her hands behind her back and tried not to look startled.
Doggedly appearing unaware of her plunder, the Brigadier said, "Right then, Doctor. I'll just see to the arrangements for the both of you." He gave a nod to Jo Grant and then strode out.
Jo peered out the door to make sure that he was well away before she spoke. "I thought I would raid the store room upstairs," she told the Doctor. "But the Brigadier nearly caught me." The Doctor's numerous requisitions for circuits and electrical gadgetry were often ignored or delayed by UNIT's parsimonious supply clerk, who took a dim view of the scientific advisor's ability to burn up equipment faster than any other department.
This problem of inadequate supplies had stumped the Doctor and Liz Shaw, but Jo had solved it by going to other store rooms on site and stealing supplies for the Doctor to use. The other gophers and clerks simply requisitioned replacements for the items that she took. As long as she spread her raiding out across several departments, the chief supply clerk, Campbell, never caught on. Though every now and again a few people mentioned small items missing, as yet she had not been caught red handed. Except by the Brigadier, who worked very hard at not seeming to notice.
The Doctor suddenly smiled at her. There was certainly something refreshing in his young assistant's ability to get things done for him. Though meticulously honest about herself and her own business, she had no conscience whatsoever when it came to getting him the items he needed. She did what was necessary.
She laid her treasures down on the workbench and beamed her happy smile up at him.
He picked up the spool of the 70 mm, low-resistance wire. "I appreciate it, Jo," he told her. "But I think our work here is about to be interrupted."
"More missions for the timelords?" she asked, half hopeful and half nervous. Jo was getting a little more accustomed to traveling with the Doctor. She had just accomplished her third extra-terrestrial mission with him for the High Council of the time lords. And though it had been far less pleasant than her first foray to help a group colonists combat a big mining corporation, or her second jaunt when a young prince had fallen in love with her, she was becoming more comfortable with the idea of going into the absolute unknown with the Doctor. For one thing, he was far less moody and unpredictable when they traveled, and he was much better at explaining things to her. The ethics of being a good traveling companion made up a big part of his mentality, much more so than the ethics of being a good and well-behaved exile while stuck on Earth.
"No, the high council of the timelords seem to have finished using me as their errand boy for a while," the Doctor said, his voice rueful. "In fact, I believe that the appropriate term for the next journey is something like 'legging it,' if I'm not mistaken." He suddenly smiled down at her and tweaked her nose.
"Taking it on the lam?" she asked brightly. "Doing a bunk?" The idea obviously appealed to her.
"Seems that the chaps in Whitehall are still taking a rather dim view of what happened at the Nuton Power Complex."
"Still?" She was amazed. "You did save the planet!"
"Yes., but ruined the budget!"
"Well, blowing up a wing of the largest power complex in Britain was rather expensive." She leaned against the workbench and folded her slim arms, an unconscious imitation of him. "Where to?" she asked. "And how soon? I'm coming too, aren't I? After all, I'm your accomplice." She looked at him anxiously, suddenly worried that she might miss out.
"Yes, the Brigadier says you should get away, too. Sooner or later somebody would figure out that you've been my assistant, and we can't have you sitting locked up somewhere for questioning." He tugged on her chin, smiled again at her upturned face, and then leaned against the table alongside her. He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully and folded his arms. "I think Lethbridge Stewart has something in mind. But meanwhile, you'd better get packing."
* * * *
It was early evening in the swamp. A lone Wackenhut Security guard, armed with a heavy .357 Magnum handgun in his belt, a radio, and a flashlight, walked down the path between the fermenting mounds of last years foliage on either side. He had the radio in hand. The TLD hung around his neck dangled quietly, showing no sign of radiation.
The radio crackled. "Alpha-Charlie, Alpha-Bravo. You see anything?"
Lifting it to his mouth, he spoke, "Negative, Alpha-Bravo. No tracks that I can make out-" A snake slithered towards him, realized he was in its way, and abruptly darted into the heavy growth. Up ahead, foliage rustled as other small wildlife scuttled away. "Hang on," he said. "There might be something ahead of me." He set the radio in its holster on his belt and drew his flashlight. The day was ending rapidly in the swamp. Out on the highway, the pale sky would still be giving back some light, but under the fringe of trees, the path was dim.
He shone the light ahead, up the path. Moving as though heedless of the path, a tall, silvery figure stood motionless. As the flashlight beam hit it, it moved slowly out of the light.
"Hey, you!" the guard exclaimed.
The silvery-white figure, what looked like a man clad in a radiation suit, doggedly moved out of the flashlight beam. The box-like structure around the head prevented it from being recognizable.
"Stop right there! Don't move or I'll shoot! You're trespassing in a top security zone!"
Matching his words, the guard pulled his gun. He wore a microphone extension of the handset, which was clipped to his collar. He pushed the side of his face into it to open the mic. "This is Alpha-Charlie! There's an intruder in the swamp!"
"Where are you, Charlie? We're 10-19 that area. Give us your landmarks."
"I said stop!" he shouted, disregarding his microphone and coming down into the classic policeman's crouch for firing. "Stop or I'll shoot! You are on top secret government property!"
But the figure was disappearing into the trees and underbrush of the swamp.
Shooting an unarmed man was daunting to anybody, but the security training to protect the country's premier tritium plant allowed for no options. Terrorism and espionage presented very real dangers in a work site loaded with radioactive materials and explosive chemicals.
The figure would disappear in the dim swamp within seconds. The guard aimed, took account of the path of the moving target, and fired two shots with deadly accuracy at the box-like protective head covering of the fugitive.
Instantly, a clear light like the liquid flame of an ethanol burner flared out in every direction. The guard fell dead to the ground.
* * * *
"Savannah River Plant?" The Doctor barely refrained from slapping himself in the forehead. "Why don't you just let Whitehall have me arrested? At least in prison I would be safe from the radiation, chemical poisoning, and mosquito infestations of that place!"
It was past midnight, but the Brigadier's was hosting a quick meeting of the Doctor, Jo, and Mike Yates. Captain Yates was leaning on the edge of the typewriter table in the Brigadier's office. He looked interested. "Is it really as bad as all that, Doctor?"
The Doctor glared at him. "Worse, Captain Yates."
Keeping his expression patient, the Brigadier told him, "Look, the UNIT chaps over there are in a bad way. The US Department of Energy keeps hindering their investigation into unusual radioactive phenomena in one of the circulation pools out there. They really think that something dangerous is going on, and they need some support."
The Doctor threw himself down into a chair and motioned for Jo to sit alongside him. "Look, DOE rules that place with an iron---albeit ignorant---hand. How can we help a UN force that's sitting right in the heart of American paranoia and cold war extremism? We're just a bunch of foreigners to them." The Doctor shot her a rueful smile. It was an attitude in British government that he had often complained about. But she could see that he was really concerned. She wondered what sort of place this Savannah River Plant was.
The Brigadier became dismissive. "I'm only asking that you take a look 'round, Doctor. If you don't think you can do anything, then you can come back here. Take a couple weeks to do some surveys, and by that time the Whitehall thing will be gummed up in conferences again. You needn't really get involved if you don't want to."
"I say, isn't Savannah River Plant just next to Augusta, Georgia?" Yates asked. "That's where they play the Masters Golf Tournament every year."
Jo was puzzled. "You mean it's not in Savannah?"
"No," the Doctor said gruffly. "The first sign of mismanagement. They name it Savannah River Plant, and it's two hundred miles from Savannah!"
"It sits on the Savannah River," the Brigadier said soothingly. "It's bordered on the East by the Savannah River, with Augusta Georgia just across the river. On the north it's bordered by a very tiny town called Johnston, in South Carolina, but the city North Augusta is just above that, and you'll be staying there. On the East side, it's bordered by Aiken South Carolina, where some very famous race horses have been bred and trained."
Jo brightened. "Rolling hills, green meadows, and white fences?" she asked hopefully.
The Doctor snorted. "Tremendous swamps, board shanties, and cockroaches the size of your fist once you get into the swamps. Oh, you'll love it!"
"I've got a radiation technician going with you," the Brigadier said. "He's from Barbados originally, but he spent two years as a security observer at the Hanford site in Washington state in the USA. He should help to keep you all out of danger." The Brigadier dropped a forefinger to his intercom switch. "Send in Sgt. Cornwallis. Benton, we need you, too."
The door almost instantly opened, and the big, quiet Sgt. Benton entered with a smaller, slender man in UNIT uniform. "Sgt. Cornwallis, sir," Benton said.
The Brigadier made introductions all around. Cornwallis had smooth skin the color of black coffee, and his educated, Caribbean accent revealed an upbringing in the Barbados school system.
"So you were at Hanford site for two years," the Doctor said gruffly after they had shaken hands all around. "Then you know what we're in for?"
"Oh yes!" Cornwallis offered a quick grin of enlightened cynicism. "The Department of Energy will welcome us with open arms, sir! They love a good investigation!"
"I don't get it," Jo said. "We are talking about nuclear plants. Would DOE really be so opposed to an investigation of radiation?"
"I think so, Miss Grant," Cornwallis told her. "The USA is notorious for confusing science with politics. They believe that the nuclear plants are essential for security, and so anything observers say to suggest that their plants are badly run comes across as un-American or as left-wing politics."
"And yet," Mike Yates added. "Their nuclear navy is a model of safety and efficiency."
"That's because the Department of Defense runs the navy," the Doctor told him. "It was a sad day for nuclear safety when Hanford Site, Savannah River Plant, and Oak Ridge were moved into the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy. It's been a twenty year history of bungling, bad management, pay-offs, kickbacks, and radiation leaks."
"Well I'm ready to go, sir!" Benton announced.
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow. "Something about radiation charms you, Sergeant?"
"It's just that I've never seen the East Coast of the United States, sir," Benton told him. "I'm willing to put up with things."
"All right, you're on the short list anyway. Doctor, I expect you'll have some equipment to take along. The plane leaves first thing this morning, so you'd better call down to the shipping clerks and make sure they make a smart job of it."
* * * *
Jo staggered into the lab, her arms laden with a heavy pile of rag wadding that came up past her chin. "More packing materials!" she exclaimed.
"Precisely what we need!" The Doctor bounded over to her as she laid her burden onto the cluttered workbench. He fingered the long strips of blue and red cloth wadding. "Where ever did you find this?"
"Best not to ask." She rubbed her eyes. "Let's just say that at two in the morning, nobody was guarding any of the supplies very well. We'll both end up in the pokey if anybody catches on." She pulled open one of the heavy wooden crates that lay on the floor. "What's first?"
He hefted a lightweight but long and flimsy instrument from the bench. "Wrap this in plastic sheeting first, will you?" he asked her. "This is a directional radiation illuminator."
She obediently pulled a great sheet of heavy plastic from the roll, set the long instrument onto it, and started wrapping. "What's it do?"
"It can detect radiation and bounce light waves around to show us the path of dispersal," he said. "Very useful gadget. If there is radiation leaking into the circulation pools, we can trace it to its source."
There was already a good layer of packing material in the bottom of the crate. Jo lay the wrapped instrument into it and then started packing the wadding around it. "Look," she said. "I know we're busy and all that, but can you tell me what a circulation pool is, Doctor? I mean, I would like to know what the problem is."
"All right." His tone was patient as he hurriedly tried to assemble a small machine at his end of the work table. He had his jeweler's glass screwed into his eye. "The nuclear reactors at SRP use water circulation as part of their cooling and insulation processes. The reactor core and part of the piping system is enclosed by water. The main tanks are encased in concrete that is at least 24 inches thick. The piped reactor water is enclosed in lead pipes." He straightened for a moment and then bent over the machinery again. "Those water pipes are filled with radioactive water, but that water remains enclosed at all times, shielded so that the radiation doesn't escape."
"So that water is in a sort of continuous system?" Jo asked. "It's never poured out anywhere?"
He nodded his head. "Never. However, that water itself can get superheated, and so a second water system, called the water cooling system, actually flows around sections of the piping to cool it. That circulation water acts as a heat exchanger. It flows around the superheated pipes and is then pumped outside into big open cooling pools. The architects of the system tried to make it part of the local ecosystem, so it actually forms a water system outside: ponds, lakes, swamps, streams."
"You've got to be joking!"
Again, he shook his head. "No, in theory, that water should be perfectly safe. It's only job is to act as a heat exchanger, and supposedly it never comes into contact with radioactive materials. And the cooling pools have spawned an incredible habitat of deer, alligators, even the odd panther now and then. The water goes through the swamps and eventually drains back into the inlet pipes of the interior cooling system, where it goes through the cycle again." He finished his work, removed the jeweler's glass, and pushed the small machine to her to wrap. "Somebody at some point in the design of Savannah River Plant really wanted to build a safe, secure, and environmentally healthy place. The whole enormous place is a mixture of the best in science and technology and the worst in beaureacratic bumbling, pork barrel politics, and gravy train ethics."
"And what's this then?" She nodded at the small machine that she was wrapping.
"Part of a larger piece of equipment," he told her. "Ground water sensor. A mechanized divining rod."" And he grinned. "It should tell us if there is any seepage around. May give us a clue if there are leaks in the radioactive system water piping."
She taped the sheeting closed and gently hoisted the packet up and lowered it onto the wadded packing materials in the crate.
"It would be loads easier if we just took the TARDIS," she grumbled.
"The packing clerks won't think so. They hate heaving it around."
"You don't trust the Americans, do you?" she asked.
Instead of becoming annoyed, he became more thoughtful. "I don't trust DOE," he said hesitantly. "If Whitehall is ready to declare me a dangerous alien, then I think I'll leave the old girl safely in the background, under the Brigadier's protection. Just in case things catch up to us in America, I'd like to have as few of my goods and possessions confiscated as possible." He suddenly smiled, not wanting her to worry.
* * * *
"Are you sure there's no reading?" Cpl. Picket looked up from the dead Wackenhut guard. Two other men were bringing up the heavy sheeting to wrap the body before moving it.
"Nothing. In fact, levels are below background," the tech told him, watching the face of his detection counter. Floodlights that had been set up along the path showed that the grass and more fragile foliage in all directions was withered and brown. But the trees and hardier bushes seemed normal.
"Dead chipmunks here," one of the guards said, kneeling by the edge of the path. Out in the deeper part of the water, something flipped into the pool. Something out there was alive and well, probably an alligator getting away from the noise and lights.
"We'll do a full survey as soon as dawn comes," Picket ordered. He looked down at the shriveled corpse. "I'd swear from the looks of him, he got caught in a nuclear explosion. This place should be setting off every warning device between here and Charlotte. Okay, come on."
The men came forward and began their grim job. They were wearing protective clothing for handling the body, but the dead man's TLD showed no dangerous level of radiation. And as they handled the corpse, their own TLDs remained dormant.
Picket pulled out his radio and spoke. "10-21 the UNIT operatives. Tell them there is no radiation leak. There is no radiation in this area. I'll 10-25 for verification as soon as I can. I want them to stand by and stay clear of this area. They are to wait for me at their HQ."
The radio sputtered. "Ten four, alpha." It went silent. Keeping his eyes grim and serious, Picket walked away from the scene. "You boys heard me. I'm going to head off another invasion from the UN people. This investigation is a security matter, so no discussion."
* * * *
Sgt. Cornwallis and the Doctor both showed up at the airport wearing khaki slacks and short sleeved shirts.
"You're going to roast in South Carolina wearing that sweater," the Doctor told Jo as they took their seats on the transatlantic plane. "I hoped you packed cooler things."
"A few." She beamed up at him. "It will give me a chance to go shopping! They say there's loads of mills and clothing stores in the South!"
"Bright yellow fabrics," he told her. "Very much the rage now. The American women all look like ducks."
"You're teasing me!"
Yates and Benton were also in heavy shirts and flannel slacks for the trip, and took their share of remarks from Cornwallis. The three of them sat together ahead of the Doctor and Jo. Jo had been up all night packing the last of the Doctor's precious gadgets and then seeing to her own packing arrangements. The time lord was not very surprised when she settled down in the semi-reclinable middle seat and went to sleep.
Forgetting the others, he looked down at her. On their last adventure, she had left the Doctor's side to venture out after a freedom fighter, following the escaped fugitive down to the poisonous atmosphere of his home planet. Her sudden brave and impetuous decision to leap unassisted into danger had startled the Doctor. Both doggedly determined and yet sometimes too tender hearted, she was slowly showing more independence, more of an ability to trust him and yet act separately from him.
But now, as surely as the minutes ticked by, she was unconsciously nestling closer and closer to him, leaning her weight on his arm, her head just touching his shoulder. The seats did not really recline enough to be comfortable for sleeping. But besides that, the Doctor was used to his personality affecting the people around him, especially Jo. In her sleep, she would instinctively curl against him, the deepest parts of her mind sensing a protection in his presence and gravitating towards it. It used to annoy him, and when they had gone ghost watching at Sir Reginald Styles' great manor, he had directed Jo to a separate easy chair to prevent her from encroaching on him while she slept.
But now he opened his arm and drew her in under his shoulder, settling her so that her weight shifted onto him and she could be comfortable. The adjusting did not awaken her. He decided that he might as well doze, too. Ahead of them, Mike Yates glanced back to say something, and then quickly looked away.
* * * *
The UNIT barracks at the edge of Z area was nothing more than a long board hut, perched between the wall of trees and the grassy field where the storage building squatted, half underground, filled with radioactive sludge ready for processing. The barracks was equipped with a few rough bunks, a couple tables in the front, and a manual typewriter. A large wooden cabinet stood by the doorway and housed slickers, gum boots, rifles, and provisions. The glassless windows down both long walls were sheathed in mosquito netting, as was the slender wooden front door. Naked light bulbs hung in an orderly row down the long single room.
From outside, Picket called a hallo to the front door and then swung it open. He entered the barracks, letting the door bang closed behind him.
Stehart got up from behind the small table and type writer. "Hey Picket," he said.
"Hey Stehart." The Wackenhut officer nodded at Stehart's partner. "Rogers."
Rogers nodded back and then asked cautiously, "Y'want coffee?" Stehart sat down again.
"Yeah, if you're makin' a pot."
Stehart fished in the single drawer of the table and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Smoke?"
Picket showed his own pack in his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette. "Take a light if y'got one."
Stehart kicked a chair away from the table so that it slid out a few feet. "Sit down," he said amiably. "No need to stand in this heat." Picket sat. Stehart pulled out his pipe and tobacco, filled the pipe, and then struck a match. He lit the other man's cigarette and then lit his own pipe and took a luxurious draw on it. He dropped the match into a stained saucer by the typewriter and pushed the saucer towards his guest. For a moment, both men smoked in silence while Rogers made coffee.
"We've had a severe casualty," Picket said. "Top secret. No radiation. I got three men keepin' the area clear. Down in C area, near the pools you been patrollin'."
"Yeah, we got the phone call a few minutes ago. No radiation you say. So we're not involved," Stehart replied, taking the pipe stem into his teeth and squinting at the Wackenhut man. "You come all the way out here to tell us that?" He hesitated, then he added, "We're much obliged. We hate to waste our time, and there's no point in goin' out there if Wackenhut won't let us through."
"Yeah, I agree with your reasoning." Picket leaned back, stretched out his legs, and folded his thick arms. He was older than the youthful Stehart and Rogers, heavier, with a full brown mustache. His short hair was full and thick on the sides but thinning up top. "How do you boys like it here?" he asked. "Pretty rustic."
"Not so bad," Stehart told him. "Bugs is a nuisance, and we had a coupla opossums either matin' or fightin' under the floorboards a few nights ago. We see deer most days at sunset. Heard a panther once."
Picket speculated on these observations for a moment. He inhaled and held it for a long moment. At last he exhaled, his eyes thoughtful and looking straight ahead, and said, "Say, how do you know if opossums are matin' or fightin'?"
"Why Corp, if you see little opossums runnin' around in about six weeks, you can bet your boots they was matin'."
With a smile, the taller, more slender Rogers brought a straight-backed chair up from the other table. "You take sugar, Corporal Picket?" he asked. "We ain't got no milk or cream or nuthin'."
Rogers nodded. In a moment he returned with the steaming coffee in a chipped and battered mug that had the remains of a HUDDLE HOUSE logo half scratched off it. He set it down by Picket. He returned with a mug for Stehart and one for himself and sat down.
In spite of the heat, the three men drank the coffee. "Why, this is nice of you," Picket said after several minutes of drinking coffee and smoking. He slung one booted foot up over his other knee, stubbed out the cigarette in the saucer, and said, "I got me a dead man tonight. Dead as a rock, and husk-like."
Stehart drew on his pipe. "Dreadful sorry, Corp."
"Sounds like radiation," Stehart's face was relaxed, but his eyes did not waver from the other man's face.
Picket went on as though Stehart had not spoken. "And I got three silly young boys out there on guard duty. And I already know that one of 'em's going to go out for coffee, clear back to the gatehouse in C area at about 2 a.m. when things are quiet and dead."
"Mmm, that's a security problem," Stehart agreed.
"The way I figure it, anybody with half a brain could sneak past that perimeter, hang around until end of shift, and give the swamp a good scouring during shift change and get away before we could spot them." He stopped and pulled out another cigarette. Stehart slid the matches to him, and Picket lit it himself. "Thing is," he said, shaking out the match. "If I did catch somebody. Anybody. I'd have to arrest 'em. That's what Morgan would want, sure 'nough. But if they were smart and pretty wood-wise, they could do a neat survey and get away. No job for fools, though."
"No, sounds like it would take some skill to get past you," Stehart agreed. He waited for several moments, and then he said, "You tell Morgan yet?"
"Not yet. I'm still fillin' out the report."
"Your men search the area?"
"Can't search the swamp at night without ruinin' the sign. When we search it, we'll have to turn anything we find in to Morgan. Like droppin' it down a black hole."
Picket uncrossed his legs and stood up. He stretched and looked at both young men. Neither were quite as tall as he when they all stood.
"Whatever made you two draw duty out here?" he asked.
"We go where we're ordered, Corp," Rogers told him.
"Well now, the word is you boys called for reinforcements," Picket said.
Stehart's jaw dropped. "How'd you know that?"
Picket shook his head. "There's really nothin' you UNIT fellers do that we don't know," he said. "Except if we choose to look the other way. Y'got a hard choice in front of you. Morgan's ready to meet those folks at the airport in a few hours and put them right back on a plane to England. Or detain them some other way." He hesitated. "So, if you had business in the swamps for the next several hours, you'll have to trust those UNIT people from England to look after themselves. Otherwise, you'll have to get to the airport in time to intercept them. And that means you won't be searchin' the swamps for anything tonight."
He turned away. "Thanks for the coffee. Good night, boys."
Without another word, he walked out. Rogers glanced at Stehart. The shorter, stockier man carefully knocked the ashes from his pipe into the saucer.
"Nuthin's more important that surveyin' that swamp," he said quietly. "Picket's givin' us our only chance to see what's goin' on. Those folks from UNIT in London will have to fend for themselves."
* * * *
In Atlanta, Georgia, there was only a slight wait aboard the plane as some passengers disembarked and a smaller group came onboard. Within minutes, they were taxiing down the runway and taking off for the small Augusta airport.
The strategy for flying from Atlanta to Augusta was to rocket skyward, and then descend every few minutes until the plane touched down in Augusta.
Jo woke up during the steep ascent. It startled her to see the front of the plane at such an angle. "What is it?" she asked sleepily. "Where are we?"
"Final leg," the Doctor said. She didn't like it, and she didn't like the unearthly floating feeling she had when the pilot cut the engines and let the plane float down. "Oh, It's making me sick,!" she gasped. She hung on to him.
"It will be all right," he said gently, but he fixed his eye on the paper bag in the seat rack in front of him. The Doctor covered her eyes with his big hand and stroked her head as the plane descended. Half of motion sickness, he knew, was the problem that what one saw did not match what one felt in terms of motion.
Twenty minutes later, they were taxiing in to the small concourse in Augusta. They were all stiff from the long flight, but fully recovered, and Benton and Yates were amazed at the small rolling staircases that the attendants rolled up to the airplane. Compared to Heathrow, the Augusta airport was like an antique, a sort of toy airport.
The heat was smothering and intense. "This is awful!" Jo gasped, putting a hand to the collar of her sweater. "It's never been this hot!"
"We'll get our things and get right to our rooms," the Doctor said. "You can change in no time."
They hurried across the tarmac and entered the air conditioned building. Just inside, uniformed men milled around, and to the Doctor's surprise, a gray haired, unsmiling man stepped right up to him. "Are you Doctor John Smith?" he asked.
"I am the Doctor. How do you do?" the Doctor asked.
The man nodded to two of the uniformed men. They stepped up and immediately turned the timelord to the wall. "I beg your pardon!" the Doctor exclaimed.
"I am a chief administrator of Savannah River Plant," the man told him. "I am having you placed under arrest as an unfriendly alien entering this country with false papers."
The Doctor was handcuffed quickly and the two burley men pulled him back by his arms.
"Now see here--" Yates began.
"He was asked to come here!" Jo exclaimed.
Cornwallis did the only sensible thing. He stepped right in front of the Doctor before the two men could push the Doctor forward and take him away. "Who are you?" Sgt. Cornwallis asked the gray haired man. "What authority do you have to do this?" Oddly enough, though he was the most junior member of the group, his Barbasian accent and dark, dark skin gave him a slightly exotic air. He seemed confident of his own authority.
"I am Alfred Morgan of Savannah River Plant Administration," the man said. "And Doctor Smith is being intercepted by US Customs at my suggestion. Now get out of the way!"
A third uniformed man came up and almost casually pulled Cornwallis out of the way. The other two men pushed the Doctor forward. "Take him away," Morgan said.
"But where are you taking him?" Jo exclaimed.
To her surprise, Morgan simply walked away. The Doctor was pushed forward into the concourse, the two men behind him, and then they pulled him through a doorway. The door was slammed closed, and he was gone.
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