Trumpkin;Doctor Who;Jo Grant;Katy Manning;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jon Pertwee;Jeri Massi
UNIT USA Episode Two
At the flimsy UNIT barracks on the backside of Z Area, two grimy figures peeped out of the trees. "All clear," Stehart whispered, and he and Rogers quickly stole up to the front door of their primitive HQ. They carried a bulky, squashy package between them. They dropped it behind the type writer table, and Rogers peered anxiously out the screen of the front door. Stehart quickly unbuttoned his wet and muddy shirt, threw it down, and peeled off an undershirt turned brown with mud and swamp water. His broad bare chest was pale, as though he had been in the bath too long.
"We gonna wash first?" Rogers asked.
"We better. Just in case Wackenhut decides to check where we been the last three hours. I want to look high and dry for them, like we just got up."
Rogers nodded and started to strip off.
"I'll put this in the locker," And Stehart scooped up the squashy, plastic and rubber radiation suit that they had found in the swamp. He pushed it into the bottom of the big cabinet that housed their rifles and heavier equipment, and then he locked the cabinet. "I'll be right back!" Pulling off his trousers as he went, he made a bee line for the single shower that was housed in the back. Rogers finished undressing down to his boxer shorts. He piled up their soiled clothing and pulled fresh clothes from footlockers that each had at his bunk. As soon as Stehart emerged, the slender, younger man ducked into the shower and toilet area to take his turn. Stehart dressed quickly, often casting anxious glances out the front screens. But nobody approached. He scraped off his rubber boots, rinsed them in the sink, and scraped them again. Then he dried them with paper towels. He found his leather uniform boots and slid his feet into them.
Rogers emerged from the shower and dressed just as quickly. While Stehart took their clothes to rinse out, Rogers turned to the single electric ring that was their kitchen equipment. He plugged it in, and as it turned cherry red, he set a cast iron skillet onto it. He dropped in a dollop of Crisco, and then added several slices of dried country ham. As soon as it started to hiss, he mixed up powdered eggs and water in a clean tin can and put them on. Then he plugged in the coffee pot.
By 7:00, the two of them were sitting down to breakfast as they always did before start of shift. Neither said a word about what they had found, and they both watched out the front door as they ate, expecting Wackenhut to show up at any moment. But apparently they had escaped unnoticed in their daring raid of the swamp.
At last, both men pulled out their pipes. It was not until they were having a second cup of coffee each and comparing smoke rings that Rogers ventured a word. "I think we're in the clear."
Stehart nodded. "Seems so. I reckon Morgan's too busy harassin' our reinforcements to think on us." He moodily surveyed the swaying grasses of the field in front of the barracks, his brown eyes lost in thought. "What do you make of it, Rogers?"
"Seems like there was two men killed in the swamp last night," Rogers ventured. "That's a sure enough bullet hole gone through the helmet of that suit."
"But no body," Stehart muttered. "And if somebody wanted to take the trouble to tote the body away, why leave the suit?"
"You're forgettin'," Rogers reminded him. "No blood, either. Even shut up in a clean suit, a man would spatter blood every which way if he got shot in the head."
Stehart stood up. "That plane's just touchin' down by now. One of us better go take a look at the airport," he said. "And the other stand guard here. Take your pick."
Rogers grinned. "I'll let you handle Morgan."
Stehart was about to make reply when something clapped against the front wall of the barracks. They heard the thump of a weight falling to the ground.
"Get ready," Stehart ordered, and he went out the front door. Rogers was on his feet, ready to go to the gun cabinet, but Stehart exclaimed. "It's book!"
The stocky young man nimbly jumped from the stoop and retrieved an old, slightly worn book with a cover whose heavy edges were frayed. "Why, it's a school book! A grammar school book for young'uns!" He brought it inside and set in on the table. Rogers peered at it alongside him.
"The whole front folio's all ripped out," Rogers said. "See that?"
They looked at the first extant page.
"See Spot run," Stehart read. "Run Spot run. Spot has run away." He flipped the page. "Go John go. Get spot. Run John run. Spot must come home." He looked at his partner. "Who the blazes would come all the way out here to thow a book at us?"
Rogers didn't answer. Instead, he went out the front door. Stehart followed. "Let's look for some sign!" Rogers called back to him. "Whoever threw it at the barracks didn't make no noise comin' up to us!"
Head bent to earth, Rogers surveyed the muddy patches in front of their hut, but there were no tracks.
"Lookee here, Rogers!" Stehart swept his arm across the expanse of grass. "If a vehicle come up here, it would bend the grasses. But nothin's been disturbed."
"Well, dangnabbit!" The slender, wiry Rogers straightened and reached for his tobacco. "If a ghost come all this way to haunt us, wouldn't he have picked a better book than a first grade reading book?"
"I gotta get to the airport," Stehart said. "You don't mind stayin"?"
Rogers shook his head and re-lit his pipe. "Dang ghost ain't got no more sense than to thow books at me, I ain't scared of him."
* * * *
"You know, aside from the fact that you have not charged me with anything, these handcuffs are really quite ridiculous," the Doctor said as one of the uniformed men pushed him down into a chair.
"I have it on good authority that you have been known to use violence, Doctor, and to use it quite effectively," Morgan told him. The room was bare except for a table, the hard chair in which the Doctor sat, and a window in one wall that was obviously a two-way mirror.
"Oh? And what authority told you that a scientist who has been of service to the British government and the United Nations would possibly run amuck in the USA?"
"The same authority that told me this scientist neatly blew up a wing of a British nuclear facility under guise of saving the world from some sort of cosmic fungus."
The Doctor's temper blazed out. "That is a lie! I did not blow up anything. The wing of the Nuton Power Complex was blown up when the Axonite in the reactor fed the power back through the power circuits into the particle accelerator in an attempt to destroy those inside the particle accelerator lab!"
"Jibberish!" Morgan exclaimed. "My only concern is whether to keep you locked up until I determine your real identity, or to send you off nicely wrapped to your cronies in London. Maybe that will teach them to stay out of US security matters!"
"You don't think that huge clouds of radiation are a matter of worldwide security?" the Doctor asked.
"Do the detection devices in London show that any radiation has escaped from SRP, Doctor?" he asked.
"Well, no more than the usual high amounts," the Doctor admitted. "And we've gotten rather used to that."
Morgan bristled on this insult. "SRP has never had a radiation emergency!" he exclaimed.
"Never a documented emergency," the Doctor snapped. "Of course, there was that time you left the spent fuel rods buried in a pile too close together and nearly touched off a low-grade nuclear reaction only 20 feet underground!"
"Who told you that? It's a lie!" Morgan shouted. "That story is a false account! Trumped up by---"
"By enemies of the US and those who hate democracy? Oh come now. Anybody with decent worldwide monitoring equipment saw the hotspot."
Morgan was a powerful man with wide, broad shoulders. He suddenly flung the table out of his way. The Doctor's passport and letter of introduction from the Brigadier fell to the floor "You have a lot to learn about having respect for those in power over you, Doctor. Your safety and well being are entirely in my hands."
The Doctor's eyes were steady and intent but showed no alarm. "You have no power over me."
They were interrupted when the door suddenly opened and a middle-aged man with jet black hair and incredibly bushy eyebrows entered. "What is this?" he asked.
Alfred Morgan became much less overbearing all at once. "This man is an unfriendly alien. I'm sending him back where he came from."
"Is this the Dr. Smith I've been called about?" The newcomer was not as broad as Morgan, but there was a certain military calmness and ruggedness in his bearing. "Not the Dr. John Smith who wrote the paper on Climate and Weather Influences on Radiation Detection over Long Range Distances?"
The Doctor inclined his head slightly. "The same, sir."
"And the paper on Observations of Sub-mil Air pocket Formation During Emergency Coolant Shutdowns?"
The Doctor nodded, pleased in spite of his handcuffs and imprisonment to find somebody who had read his papers. "The one and the same!"
The newcomer made a noise of disgust at Morgan and the two Customs officers. "Release this man! He is an internationally known expert on radiation and nuclear reactor construction!"
Morgan looked both abashed and resentful. The two men in uniform hesitated.
"And you are, sir?" the Doctor asked.
"I am Sanchez Emil, head of Security Administration for SRP. Got a call from a Sgt. Cornwallis that the wrong man had been arrested . . . once again!" And he glared at Morgan. He gestured impatiently to the Doctor and barked at the uniformed men. "Unlock him! Unless you want an international incident on your hands!"
One of the men quickly unlocked the Doctor's handcuffs."
The Doctor rubbed his wrists and looked at his benefactor. "Thank you."
Emil turned to Morgan. "Give him his papers, man, and you'd better hope the Brits blow this one off, because it's your butt in the sling!"
The Doctor stood up, retrieved his papers from his former captor, and followed Emil out the door. Emil led him down hallway after hallway in the administrative section of the airport offices.
"It was good of you to respond to Sgt. Cornwallis so quickly," the time lord ventured.
Emil turned to offer him a grin. "Cornwallis was one of my trainees up at Hanford site," he said. "Not everybody at DOE is riding the gravy train, Doctor. Some of us would like to come up to par with the nuclear navy. But it will take time."
"Were you a navy man?" the Doctor asked.
Emil nodded. "Before Hanford site. For 20 years. There's quite a few of us around here." He let out a sharp sigh. "It's not like the navy. You can't just give the orders that make things right. There are politics and things that get in your way. Here we are!" He threw open a door to a small waiting room, inside of which the Doctor's entourage waited, their faces drawn and patient.
"Oh Doctor!" Jo ran to him. "They wouldn't even tell us where they had taken you!"
"You all right, Doctor?" Yates asked, standing from the plastic chair.
"Right enough! Thanks to Mr. Emil, here!"
"It is good to see you, sir!" Cornwallis exclaimed. The slender Barbadian, his eyes alight, shook hands with his former mentor.
"The same, the same!" Emil exclaimed. "Good thing you were sent along, to clear the way." He turned to the group. "Well, I'll leave you to your job. I'm not going to stick my oar in too far if I can help it, but if you get caught in a bind again, call me."
He nodded to them and strode away.
"We had better find our luggage," Cornwallis said. "And then get through the heat to our digs."
"Is the hotel far?" Jo asked.
"Not a hotel or motel, Miss," he said. "I understand they are not very nice in Augusta. The American UNIT people have us booked into a bed and breakfast in North Augusta. We shall have the run of the place during our stay."
"Good thinking," the Doctor said. "Right then! On our way!"
They found their way to baggage claim. By the time they had retrieved their baggage, they had been on American soil for nearly two hours. As they trudged past the entryway of the small airport, looking about for signs of an airport limo or taxi service, a young man in a wrinkled UNIT uniform pulled up in front of the glass doors, parked his jeep illegally, and bounded out.
"Looks like one of ours!" Yates said with relief.
The newcomer's eyes settled on Jo first, and his mouth opened slightly in surprise. He pulled off his cap and addressed the group. "How do you do? I'm lookin' for Doctor John Smith---"
"You've found him," the time lord said, shaking hands with the flustered young man. "Doctor will do. This is my personal assistant, Miss Josephine Grant."
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he said in a softer voice, shaking her hand. "I'm Robert Lee Stehart, at your service."
Jo beamed at him. She was used to being the unexpected member of a band of soldiers, but the American's surprise seemed to be a positive one.
Stehart quickly turned to the others, and they all saw him give a start of surprise at sight of Cornwallis, but he held out his hand quickly. "How do? Robert Stehart!"
"Elwin Cornwallis," the young black man said. "My platoon commander, Captain Yates!" Stehart smartly saluted, but Yates shook hands with him and introduced Benton
"Let's git your stuff stowed and I'll drive you to your rooms," Stehart said. "I got a lot to tell ya on the way. There have been more developments, and we're right stumped!"
Outside, the wall of heat was undiminished. In the open jeep, even with Stehart keeping up a brisk speed, the three heavily dressed UNIT member sweltered in the broad glare of the Georgia sun. They passed several impoverished looking motels and several city blocks that looked as though they had been burned out and gutted. Stehart turned off the highway, wound a track through several smaller streets where the buildings were old but restored. They housed offices, small eating places, and occasional shops. He soon pulled onto another highway.
The jeep picked up speed again. Nobody spoke over the rushing air. Stehart turned, and they shot straight out on a long bridge over a wide gash in the earth. Far below the bridge, there was green, vile looking water flowing in a languid current. The Savannah River. They crossed it into South Carolina. They passed a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on the right and then the ground rose sharply, taking them up out of the draw. At first the buildings alongside the highway seemed as dirty and shabby as those on the other side of the River, but soon the city became more pleasant. The ground leveled off briefly, and they drove up a main street flanked by brick buildings, white fire hydrants, and flower boxes alive with color. In spite of the heat, the sight cheered them. This was North Augusta, a city in its own right.
The hill again ascended very steeply. Up above, they saw a graceful old house that to their British eyes looked like a plantation house from the cinema. It sat on a sparkling green lawn, in a wide knoll right in the broad fork where the highway split. White pillars adorned the wide, wraparound porch, holding aloft an ornate frontispiece of the roof.
"Here we are!" Stehart exclaimed. There was parking allowed on the street. He pulled in. "Lemme tote your bags for you, Miss Grant. Y'must be boilin' in that sweater."
"This is where we're staying?" she asked.
"Sure! Best bed and breakfast in town. A sight better'n those motels down by the river."
A little stiffly, everybody climbed out of the jeep. "I should say so!" Yates exclaimed. They unloaded their bags and trudged up to the house.
At the door, a man in his late thirties met them, his face wearing the look of professional hospitality, ready to be pleasant. Like Stehart, he gave a noticeable start at sight of Cornwallis. But his reaction was much more like outright shock. "Who are you?" he asked.
"Sgt. Elwin Cornwallis, at your service sir!" And Cornwallis held out his hand to shake. Their host pretended not to notice.
"I didn't know you were coming!" he blurted.
"Is there a problem?" Yates asked. He was trying to get in behind Cornwallis. The heat was stifling and they all wanted to change into light clothing.
The Doctor was already inside. Impatient, he turned back to the others and snapped, "Of course there's no problem! Let him in, man! We've got work to do!"
The time lord's voice and authority were enough to make their host step aside, and Cornwallis passed through with his bags. Yates and Benton followed.
Jo was engaged in looking at the vast, comfortable front room of the house, but she had time to hear their UNIT ally say in an urgent voice, "Jamie, it's all right. It's like an international thing. He's a soldier for cryin' out loud."
"With a white woman too!" the man named Jamie hissed.
"She's the old feller's assistant. Come on. They're tired. Show 'em to their rooms and stay outta their way, and it'll be all right."
"It ain't gonna be all right, but it's done now!" And their host came into the front room. But when he spoke to them, he was friendly with that same professional hospitality. "We got air conditioning piped to all the rooms. Let me show you around."
Their host, Jamie, lived in the master bedroom suite in the back. Jo was given a spacious, airy room across the hall. The Doctor and the others had rooms upstairs.
She would have enjoyed a long shower and a decent hour or two of sleep in the cool room. White sheer curtains covered the long windows and filtered the light in, making the glare more gentle. The double bed was a huge structure, the sort of bed a person had to climb into, perfectly clean, but the headboard was old and well varnished.
But there was only time to change into summer clothes, wash her face, and then join the others in the front room. The Doctor was waiting for her. He nodded with a gesture of invitation to a tray of tall ice tea glasses that their host had brought them. Jo took a glass. The front room, or sitting room, was carefully furnished with aged wooden rocking chairs, a couple easy chairs, and a new sofa upholstered to look rather Victorian. Antique dolls adorned some of the bookshelves, and there were flowers at a couple of the long, elegant windows.
The tea was so sweet that all she could taste was the sweetness, but it was fluid, and it was cold. She sank onto the cushions.
"You look worn out, Jo," the Doctor said. "Is the heat hard to get used to?" He stroked the top of her head with the broad palm of his hand, a gesture of gentle comfort, but also his way of determining if she were hot from the long drive in the sun.
"Oh, I'm all right," she said. "And we're just getting started. I can't drop out now."
He smiled down at her. She was pleased to see that even though they were still on earth, his journeying mentality had kicked in, and he was conscientiously looking out for her. Just then there was a clattering of boots on the wooden staircase, and the three UNIT men entered, all of them now in uniform. Stehart came in from the back hallway, bearing a tray of sandwiches.
"Jamie and his wife'll see to your breakfasts each day," he said. "But I had him lay in a store of stuff for your lunches and dinners. Here's some food for you. Ain't much."
They took seats in the rocking chairs or in straight-backed chairs, grouped around the food. As they ate, their American ally explained all that had happened, including the radiation suit that he and Rogers had found, and the bizarre episode of the book being thrown at their cabin.
"Ugh! It sounds so creepy!" Jo exclaimed.
"We'd better get right out there," Yates declared.
"And do what, Captain Yates?" the Doctor asked.
Cornwallis spoke up. "Put recording devices out in the swamp, for one thing, Doctor. We can measure the radiation ourselves and record it." He looked doubtful. "But it sounds to me as though there is no real radiation surge occurring out there. Something else is setting off the TLD badges."
"It wasn't something else that killed that Wackenhut fella'," Stehart said.
"Yes, and one death is quite enough," the Doctor added. "You couldn't safely go out there for long periods unless you were suited up properly and equipped with breathing apparatus, and in this heat, you wouldn't last long in such an outfit, and you certainly wouldn't be able to do much!"
"Well, we came out here to do something, Doc," Sgt. Benton ventured. "We can't just sit here."
The Doctor stood up. "We shall do something, as you say, Sgt. Benton. But nothing rash, not when we're dealing with radiation. I want to go have a look at this radiation suit they found. Until I examine it, I think we should stay out of the swamp area. The suit itself may tell us all that we need to know. Are you ready, Corporal Stehart?"
Jo also stood, ready to go. The Doctor dropped a hand to her shoulder. "Stay here, Jo. There's no need for you to come along." His voice was gentle.
"I want to," she began, but she knew that her own eyes were betraying her.
"I may need you here." He glanced at Stehart. "Is there radio or phone contact with your HQ?"
"Radio," Stehart said.
The Doctor turned to her. "Radio duty. I may call in with instructions or a list of supplies that we'll need."
Jo knew exactly what RT duty meant: a chance to catch up on sleep. She felt she should protest, but she was actually relieved.
"What about us?" Yates asked. "We can't just sit about!"
"Let's get some transport. And then I want you to get to know the territory," the Doctor told him. "We may very well be on our own for electronics supplies, motors, chemicals, and the like. Oh, and make a purchase of some bottled water, will you? I don't fancy having any of us drop dead of the heat. Come on, then!"
Yates nodded. He turned to Benton. "Cornwallis and I will go get a vehicle. You stay here and set up the radio with Miss Grant. We'll be back shortly and set up an expedition."
Cornwallis, as it turned out, was the only member of the group with a license to drive in the US and any experience doing so. Thirty minutes later, he and Yates arrived back at the big house with a large four wheel drive vehicle. The radio was set up in the front room, and Benton had done a good job lashing up the antenna on the drainpipe outside a second story window.
Jo followed him outside to admire the transport. He joined his peers in the huge red vehicle, and Cornwallis called out to Jo from the driver's seat, "We'll bring you back some dinner---black-eyed peas and pickled watermelon rind!"
"Don't you dare!" she shouted back.
He hung out the window as he drove away and called back, laughing, "Okay then, Josephine, pigs knuckles and cabbage!" Then they drove away, down the steep hill toward the main street. She went back into the cool house, stretched out on the sofa alongside the RT, and went to sleep.
* * * *
After dropping off Cornwallis and Yates at the car dealership, Stehart pointed the open jeep to Highway 125, which led directly into SRP. They picked up speed, rushing on a straight shot past tiny hamlets of impoverished, ancient dwellings, a wooden Zionist church complete with a steeple made of thin, dry boards and no bell inside, and endless fields of soybean or grass. Every now and then, in the distance, a larger, elegant, plantation type house would be visible, sheltered under lush trees for shade. At mid-morning, the road was nearly empty, but the Doctor assumed that at shift change, this single artery that ran from North Augusta to SRP would be jammed with traffic, flowing swiftly in an unstoppable, unswervable line. The remains of dead dogs, cats, and opossums that occasionally dotted the roadside were testimony of the deadly rush. There could be no swerving or sudden stops in a line of traffic that moved bumper to bumper at 65 mph.
"That Miss Grant's a sweet little filly, ain't she?" Stehart asked over the roar of the air.
The Doctor glanced at him, surprised. "Uh, yes," he said after a moment.
"She your girl?"
"She's my assistant!" he exclaimed with a tone of reproof in his voice. "And wouldn't it be better if you kept your mind on the task at hand?"
Stehart glanced sideways at him, startled in his own right. "I been livin' in a swamp for ten months, Doc!" he exclaimed. "I'm only human!"
"Oh, right. I forgot." The Doctor settled down.
They were stopped at the checkpoint before entering SRP. Savannah River Plant, the Doctor knew, was three hundred square miles, made up of "areas" that housed reactors, processing facilities, storage sites, and administrative offices, all interspersed with vast tracts of forest, grassland, and swamps. Annual deer hunts were held to thin out the populous herds of small deer, and SRP periodically granted research rights to zoologists, biologists, and botanists to take advantage of the semi-enclosed eco-systems. On any given day except Sunday, the great site might be hosting any mix of reporters, researchers, scientists, protesters, students, game wardens, and historians.
Stehart got them through the checkpoint. The highway was now flanked with only trees. They drove for another fifteen miles before Stehart turned onto another, narrower road. This stretch was also fairly long. At last he turned off road onto a double-rutted trail. They followed this in and out of copses of pine trees until at last they came to the edge of a great field. In the distance, a vast low roof was all that the Doctor could see of the Z-area storage facility.
But far closer, a ramshackle, long hut stood on low supports.
"Home is where the heart is!" Stehart exclaimed, climbing out. Come on in, Doc!"
"So you've been living in this for ten months?" the Doctor asked as he followed the UNIT corporal to the screened over frame door.
"Me an' Rogers was havin' high times before the radiation scares started," he said. "They put two country boys out in the woods. We gone fishin when we liked and called it research, explored the swamps, found an old cemetery we think, from days back before the land was confiscated to build the plant." He held open the frail door, and the Doctor entered.
A tall, wiry young man with hair so blond that it was nearly white stood up from behind the typewriter table. He instantly held out a hand to the Doctor.
"Doc, this here's Corp'l Rogers," Stehart said. Then he asked, "Any events?"
Rogers smiled at the Doctor as they shook hands and then said, "All quiet."
"Well come help me get this suit out. The Doc here might be able to make a guess at things."
They dragged out the rubbery suit and spread it out full length on the floor. The "helmet" was not a hard, shell like surface. Rather, it was constructed of stiff plastic, with a clear plastic visor so that the person inside could see out. The helmet was so big and box-like that tubing for breathing apparatus could be easily fitted through a venting hole in the back and an oxygen pack strapped onto the wearer's shoulders.
The suit was caked with mud on the outside, and it was difficult to examine.
"We could hose it down," Stehart ventured as the Doctor knelt over it and examined it. "We was worried we might ruin any sign left on it of who was wearin' it."
"And you're certain the person wearing it was shot?" the Doctor asked.
"There's the bullet hole," Rogers said. He poked his slender finger into the plastic helmet, showing the clean hole.
"But no blood," Stehart added. "What do you make of that?"
"And no exit hole," the Doctor said. "And very shortly after the guard fired, the guard was killed."
"As well as the grass, and some small critters right around him," Stehart added. He pulled the limp suit open in the back, reached inside, and withdrew a couple small rodents. "We stowed these in here. Didn't have time to do a good search. They're dead, but not radioactive."
The Doctor looked at the shriveled little corpses. "Do you have any plastic bagging here? I'll take them back with me."
With some difficulty, they pulled the suit inside out. "Here's another puzzler," the Doctor said. "The vent hole in the back is sealed."
Rogers cocked his head. "What's that mean?"
"Whoever was wearing the suit was not bothering to breathe. Not only did he not have an air pack, he did not even have a vent hole open to admit air into an otherwise airtight suit." The Doctor rubbed the back of his head.
They were all three kneeling or crouching around the suit. Stehart sat back on his heels. "So some feller sneaks into the swamp, does nuthin' of consequence, not even breathin', gets shot, kills the poor guy who shot him, shucks off the suit, and runs away with a bullet still in his head."
The Doctor thoughtfully ran his finger inside the helmet. "Look at that fine, gray dust," he said.
Stehart and Rogers squinted hard at the clear plastic visor, but Stehart at last shook his head. "Can't make it out." The light in the barracks was not very good.
The Doctor withdrew his finger and carefully wiped it on his handkerchief, then folded the handkerchief with equal care and returned it to his pocket. "I've seen enough. I have to write up a list of supplies that I'll need and radio them in to my assistant. The others ought to be finding their way around the town by now."
* * * *
"Well, this was a learning experience!" Cornwallis said with a laugh as the three UNIT soldiers clumped up the porch and entered the cool interior of the great house on the hill. "But at least we found a proper chemist's supply!"
"You're not angry?" Benton asked, a little shyly. He was embarrassed at some of the treatment they had received.
"Why, because the restaurant managers all said they had no tables for us? No, it is the south, after all. I'm not going to change them, and I'm not going to try. Hello? Miss sleepyhead?" he called up the hallway to the sitting room. "We have brought you supper! I hope you like Chinese food!"
He turned to his two comrades. "Good thing for us the Chinese don't seem to mind!"
"Not so long as it's takeaway," Yates muttered. In a louder voice he said, "I thought all this was illegal---refusing service and all that."
"They cannot post a sign refusing service, but they get around it. It's really all right," Cornwallis said. "We have work to do. I'm not here to find my place in their society.
They entered the dim sitting room. Now that the day was past its height, some of the intense heat and glare was abating.
As their voices and footsteps on the hardwood floor became louder, Jo sleepily lifted her head from the sofa and with a great effort sat up. It was just then that the radio on the coffee table sputtered at her. She instantly snatched up the receiver.
Muskrats to the hill," it called. "Muskrats to the hill." That was the Doctor, instantly inventing code names for everybody.
"Go ahead Muskrats," she replied. She rubbed her eyes with her free hand. An odor of food wafted over to her. Delicious food: shrimp toast and onions and some kind of beef made with soy sauce. Benton stepped up to the coffee table as the radio gave a static burst.
"What's wrong with this?" he asked. He was expert at radio repair.
"Muskrat, do you read me? This is the hill. " she said.
She heard the Doctor's voice speaking, but his words were lost in another wave of interrupting static. Benton listened, frowning. "It's almost like somebody's trying to break in on the frequency." He tried the tuner again. Cornwallis set the bag down, and he and Yates also came up to the radio.
A new voice broke in and rolled over the Doctor's voice:
See Spot run.
Run Spot run.
Spot has run away.
Go John go. Get Spot.
Run John run.
Spot must come home.
Spot must come home.
Back at the barracks at the Savannah River Plant, the Doctor and his two allies heard the broadcast as well.
"That's no human voice," Rogers said suddenly. "Tone's all wrong."
"You sure?" Stehart asked.
"Yeah I'm sure. I was a broadcast engineering major before I run out of money and joined up here. People with computer technology can make those voices. The articulation's never right."
"I think it's definitely artificial," the Doctor said. "But perhaps not done with computers. There are instances where a person might be forced to use an artificial voice."
Stehart was puzzled. "When?"
"When he has no voice of his own," the Doctor replied. "Gentlemen, I believe that we have been given a warning, a plea, if you will. But not necessarily a threat."
"A plea for what?" Stehart asked.
The Doctor glanced at him. "Why, just what the messages have said: Spot must come home. Come on then. You two should have a decent dinner in town. Let's go back to the hill."
* * * *
The heat waned as the day settled into very early dusk. Even this took a long time, and Jo found herself marveling that the sky was still pale blue at 8:00 at night, slowly giving way to creeping darkness from the west. Jamie, their host, came out with a tray of ice tea for them, followed by his blond and pretty wife, Suzanne, who followed with a second tray. Their guests accepted the tea with thanks, but the couple did not stay to converse. They were polite enough but maintained a distance from their boarders, and Jo could not help but think that the wall was up because of Cornwallis. Plopping a black man, even an obviously foreign black man, down in the heart of a deeply southern town seemed to have upset the natives. Yates had told her of their overall cold treatment while in town together. But the young Captain and Cornwallis and Cpl. Stehart sat on the steps to the porch, Stehart smoking his pipe in companionable silence.
Jamie had told her that "The Hill" in North Augusta was the highest hill for 100 miles around. Looking down the lawn, she could see the highway leading down to the main street, and the white church spire of the large Baptist church was visible and seemed like a friendly beacon. If you looked only at the main street, she thought, you would miss the old sharecroppers cabins one block away, still inhabited by people, still without running water, half of the tumbledown shacks with condemned notices pasted on their doors, but occupied just the same. It was a strange town, a strange place to live.
In the wicker rocking chair next to her own, Rogers stretched out his long legs, crossed his feet at the ankles, and took a draw on his own pipe. In spite of the UNIT uniform, he might have been one of the Hatfields or one of the McCoys, a true Southern "towhead" with his flaxen hair and ruddy cheeks and incredibly long, narrow build.
"He ain't nuthin' but bobbed wire and fence post from his shoulders to the ground," Stehart had jibed when he had introduced the young American to her. Rogers seemed very pleased to have landed the chair next to hers, but was now at a loss for something to say, and so had taken refuge in his pipe.
Just then Benton and the Doctor came out through the front door, found rocking chairs of their own on the porch, and collapsed into them.
"That is the last time I ever do anything like that," the burly sergeant was saying. "That was ghastly. I'll take apart radios, Doc, but not squirrels and chipmunks and things!"
The Doctor's voice held good natured reproof. "Well if you'd done something more useful than getting sick in the dust can, you might have learned something." He shifted his weight and stretched his legs. "Don't worry. I shan't ask your assistance again. You were of no use at all, not once we got the lights set up."
"What did you find?" Jo asked.
"Ionized water and a chemical morass," the Doctor said. "Something entirely changed the chemical makeup of their bodies."
"That can only be radiation, Doctor," Cornwallis said. "Gamma radiation, mind you."
"And yet they are not radioactive." The Doctor looked thoughtful. "Radiation like that should be around for a thousand years."
Benton groaned and closed his eyes. "I suppose that there's no chance of any hot tea to settle my stomach?" he asked.
Jo was grateful that the sergeant had taken her place in settling up the Doctor's jury rigged dissection lab upstairs. She felt she owed him sympathy and a favor. "I'll get you tea," she said gently, standing.
"I'd be ever so grateful, Miss."
"I'll help!" Rogers exclaimed, leaping up.
Just as the Doctor shot her a mischievous smile, they heard a squeal of brakes from the highway alongside the great house. There were several yells from male voices, a second loud squeal of tires as somebody pulled out while holding in the clutch, and the sound of something hitting the door on the side of the house, the door they normally used for coming and going to the street. Instantly they smelled smoke and as they jumped up, two gun blasts went off in the air, and a pick up truck roared down the hill.
They ran around the porch. An enormous bundle of switches had been set alight and flung onto the porch.
Stehart ripped off his shirt, and Yates followed. They dropped their shirts over the bundle to smother the flames and then flung it off the porch and onto the grass. They jumped after it and beat the flames out while Benton and Cornwallis quickly pulled out the garden hose that lay coiled under the porch. Jamie and Susanne burst from the side door and then stayed very still as the UNIT people put out the fire and looked around the yard.
"What was that all about?" Jo asked, slightly breathless. "Was it a joke?"
"No, ma'am, it was a warning," Stehart said grimly. He twisted his shirt up in his hands and looked ruefully down the hill.
She was indignant and a little angry. "A warning about what?"
"No niggers in a white man's town," Cornwallis said gently, with no bitterness. "A bundle of switches is a classic warning from the Klan, Miss. They don't want us here. Anyway, they don't want me here."
Yates was grim but uncertain. "How seriously should we take this threat?" he asked.
Cornwallis shrugged. "I don't know. I've only ever read about things like this. It's never happened to me before."
"Don't take it so personally," the Doctor said cheerfully. "They're probably equally incensed with us. Or they soon will be."
"They will?" Yates asked. "When?"
"When they find out we're not leaving. We're not going to spend our time being chased all about this town." The Doctor held the door open. "Come on, let's go inside. It's over for tonight. They'll go get liquored up and give us until sunup or next sundown or something like that to clear off."
They filed inside. Their hosts were in the sitting room, on the telephone. Jo glanced up at the Doctor. "You don't think this will be all of it?" she asked.
"No, I'm sure it won't be," he told her. "We've got Morgan angry with us, and the Ku Klux Klan angry with us, and we're not much further along on this mission. I assume that everybody will get a lot angrier with us before it's finished."
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