Christmas With Friends;Liz Shaw;Caroline John;Doctor Who;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jeri Massi
Christmas With Friends
by Jeri Massi
"What is that thing?" the man demanded.
"What?" she asked.
Their captor jerked his head to the window in back, knowing that she'd seen something.
"I don't know. It's huge. And brown. I would have thought a bear, but it walked like a man, upright."
He stared at her, very hard, for a moment. Then he called something back to the front room, closed the heavy door, and walked past her and the Brigadier to the small window. He stared very hard through it, but dust and grime had made the glass nearly opaque. He was, she realized, afraid or at least concerned about the shadow that had passed by. She suddenly noticed that the hillside had gone very silent: no shouts, no shots, nobody stamping back and forth.
He came back towards her and jerked her head towards the window. "Clean it up," he told her.
"What's out there?" she asked.
"I'll give you five minutes."
He strode to the door, rapped once, and was let out. It slammed closed. The Brigadier was unconscious, his head still resting on her arm. Reluctantly, Liz eased him back to the stiff tarp, covered him well with the macs and her sweater, and then she made her way to the cleaning supplies.
The window cleaner was nothing more exotic than ammonia mixed with water. And there was a plastic container of chlorine. Wistfully, she glanced around the room. Given a little bit of heavy tape or some thin rags, she could make a handy and deadly gas bomb, but the fumes would overpower her and the Brigadier as well. There was no way to vent anything directly through the door.
She resolutely hunted around and found some rags, and then she attacked the window, equally curious about this mysterious figure that had passed by so close. She washed and rubbed furiously, but it was a double paned window, and much of the grime was on the outside of the inner layer of glass. This would anger their volatile captor, she realized, and so she made a show of trying to get the glass cleaner. But after five minutes had elapsed, he still had not returned.
She realized that when the attack had started, there had been brief, piercing whistles outside and short shouts across the hillside. Now there was silence around the small outpost lab. Yet there had been no shots fired. The agents working under this horrible and ruthless man should have been searching for the remaining UNIT sentries. But the hillside was silent.
She returned to the Brigadier, knelt by him, and called to him. He opened his eyes. The undamaged eye opened normally, but the other was almost swelled shut. But his gaze was clearer. "It's a mistake to let me lie," he said, wheezing.
"You can't get up."
"I can feel it in my chest. If I lie here, it will worsen. Help me up."
He was right. They had to keep his lungs as clear as possible. She got her arms around him and helped him.
"You're cold," he said. "We'll share."
He helped her arrange the materials against the wall alongside the door. They pulled up the macs and gathered them around themselves. Liz was glad for the closeness and the warmth. She had often teased the Brigadier about his stiff upper lip attitude, and she had laughed off the notion that she needed the reassurance of that studied and rehearsed composure of his. But now she was glad of his presence. And in spite of his weak condition, she felt reassured.
She looked up at him, her eyes openly concerned. "How bad is it?" she asked.
"Quite a worthy beating," he said, his voice somewhat dignified, though reduced to a rasping whisper. "I'd prefer to be in hospital."
She had to laugh, and she was surprised to see a slight smile flicker across his swollen and bruised features. "So would I," she told him. And then without any warning, two tears blinded her, and her lip trembled. She couldn't stop it for a moment.
"Now, now." Without any hesitation, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, he lifted his good arm and put it around her shoulders. "We aren't finished yet. You've got to stop worrying about me and start figuring out how to get out of here." He squeezed her shoulders reassuringly, and for just an instant, Liz clung to him, and then she let him go, and he lifted his arm again and released her. He settled back against the wall. "Isn't that petrol I smell? That's all an army chap needs to make a good incendiary device."
She had been thinking of the chlorine and the cleaning chemicals, but she turned her attention to his line of thought.
"The problem is that anything we hurl at them will hurt us, too," she said.
His breathing was still slightly labored, though better, and he said, after a moment, in his rasping voice, "What, with that great whacking snow plow thing back there? And all these shelves? We'll have to fight from cover, that's all. Shouldn't be too difficult."
"How can we build cover? You're not able to do much. And I can't budge those things."
"I shall have to do what is necessary, and that's all there is to it. If we give them their way, they'll kill us both."
She hesitated. Then she said, "I suppose so, even if we were to cooperate. But perhaps we could stall them. Make bargains with them. Prolong the process of getting the satellite into place."
His raspy voice became matter of fact. "We can't get the satellite into place." He glanced down at her. "I told you. This whole operation was to get you away from UNIT. We knew that certain forces were in place to snatch you away. So we spirited you up here. You're the only person who thought it was a test of the Pleaides system."
"But we brought the equipment."
"It's only simulation equipment. For training purposes. It will run a simulation of the correct operating procedure. It's not going to really contact the Pleaides system at all."
Her eyes widened in amazement. She had known, of course, that training equipment had been designed to run simulations, and of course it would have to duplicate the real equipment. He continued, anticipating her next idea: "And it won't even let you fool them very long. If you enter anything other than the testing sequences, it will give itself away. We knew it would fool you because you would run the sequences I ordered and nothing else."
She let out her breath. So that explained how he could operate it. Learning to run the testing sequence would have taken him less than an hour. She could not help asking, "All of this fuss. Could you not have told me the truth about the dangers?"
"What if you had refused to believe me?" he asked. "You're too fond of defying me, Miss Shaw." He didn't seem happy about saying this, and Liz again realized that there were some things for which he never rebuked her, though he might have. And then he added, his voice wheezing again, "If you had defied me regarding your own safety, the measures I would have taken would have humiliated you and quite possibly alienated you. Keeping you locked up at UNIT HQ under guard seemed almost as bad as letting you wander off."
"But honestly, sending me out to the middle of no where didn't seem much better." But she tried not to sound harsh as she said this. For she realized that he had been trying to spare her.
"You were the only person who knew about taking this journey," he said. "The sentries were not told until they reported in this morning."
"The Doctor knew," she said. "But he left anyway."
To her surprise, Lethbridge Stewart took her hand and very nearly said something, his swollen andn bruised face suddenly very grave. But he seemed to change his mind. He released her hand. "But the Doctor and I communicated directly---a few words where we would not be overhead. The only memo I sent out was to you, and that was just yesterday. Obviously, somebody read the memo last night. Probably picked through the rubbish heap and found it." He paused. Then he caught his breath, for it was wearing him out to speak. But he added, "I apologize to you for having failed to adequately protect you."
Just as he said this, she realized that the Brigadier had deliberately staked himself on protecting her. This was why he had accompanied her out here, on Christmas day. Making himself personally responsible for her safety. It was just like him---outdated, elaborate, chivalrous. And she had done nothing but scold him, ignore him, and belittle him.
"But you have protected me," she said in a small voice.
He looked down at her.
"I mean, I'm all right so far, aren't I?" she asked.
His eyes were pensive, and for the first time she saw self-doubt in them. He knew that he could not protect ehr much longer. But after a moment he smiled again. "Yes, I suppose you are. All right so far."
She became energetic. "I'd better see to that petrol. Didn't you tell me on the journey here that this place is normally used for agricultural research?"
"Quite, but there's not likely to be any fertilizer about, if you were thinking of that as an explosive agent."
"No, of course not."
They were stopped by a commotion from the front room. Their captor was arguing with his subordinate. Liz glanced fearfully at the Brigadier, but there were no footsteps that approached the door. After a moment, it became apparent that the second man out front was afraid of something, to judge by his tone of voice.
"I forgot to tell you," Liz said. "There seems to be something out there. Something big and brown walking about. I haven't heard a sound from the UNIT sentries or the chaps that came along with those fellows out front. No shots, no shouts, nothing."
He knit his eyebrows and would have sighed, but it turned into a cough. The coughing shook him. She would have come back to him, but he shook his head. "You have to hurry," he said. "As for big brown monsters out on the hillside, I can only assume that if it's eaten two sentries and a few guerrilla agents, it won't have much appetite for a brigadier and a scientist."
She returned to the shelves. His coughing at last subsided.
"There's water purifying chemicals back here," she said. "For killing off algae and the like."
"Oh? Is that useful?"
"Extremely." She came back to him. "Potassium permanganate is a tremendous oxidizer. We'd better see about jury rigging some type of cover, then."
He struggled to get to his feet. Liz came forward to help him, but now her solicitude was too much for his dignity to bear. He shook his head and resolutely tried to get to his feet unassisted. She was just getting ready to scold him for being silly when he stopped, his hands against the concrete wall for support, his eyes fixed on the back wall. "There it goes!" he gasped. "You were right, Miss Shaw."
She turned to look, but all she saw was a trace of its shadow.
"Well I'm dashed!" he exclaimed in his worn, raspy voice. "What the devil is it?"
There were excited outcries out front, as the subordinate man must have glimpsed it from one of the larger windows. His voice became more shrill, and the voice of his commander exploded in frustration and annoyance.
"Something's gone wrong all right," the Brigadier said hopefully. "He sounds worried---for all his shouting. I expect his men haven't checked back in."
"And you do think that creature's not still hungry?" she asked.
"We'd better worry first about the monsters inside before we concern ourselves with the monsters outside." Nevertheless, the sight of a new danger out on the snowy landscape, and the sounds of their captors' consternation seemed to galvanize him. He finished the climb to his feet. "That's better," he gasped. He leaned against the wall, breathing hard. But he did seem better.
"We'll need to slide the plow blade out and brace it against the walls at one corner," she told him. "That will give us shelter if we squeeze behind it and hunker down."
"Dragging that thing will make a lot of noise," he said, his voice still wheezy. "We ought to drag it on the macs. They'll dampen the sound. Maybe make things a bit easier."
Dragging the plow blade was the worst part. They had to move it only a few feet, and set it against the corner, braced against a few bags of salt and sand that were kept in reserve against snow storms. Liz was able to drag the bags into place unassisted, but the plow blade was a two-man job, and it was accomplished only at great cost to the Brigadier. At one point he collapsed against it, and she thought that the stress had killed him.
"I'm all right," he said after a long moment. "Stay where you are. I'll manage it." And he did.
They heard the front door open and close with a bang. Then the sounds of shots rolled across the high hill. After a moment, the door banged again. There were more tense and excited words.
"Whatever is out there is giving us a nice diversion," the Brigadier said. "Let's make use of it." He looked at her expectantly, but she knew he had used up the last of his strength.
"You could cut the macs free," she said, nodding at the plow blade. "We'll need them to cover us from shattering glass."
He pulled out his pen knife and went to work. What should have been a two minute job was hard work for him, and she again wondered how serious his injuries were. As he started coughing again, she felt certain that the damage to his lung was more than just minor.
She turned to the job of emptying out glass jars and wiping them dry. Petrol from the generator supplied the explosive they would need. She coated the two glass jars with a few drops of the gasoline, and then she dropped in some of the water purification dust, sealed the jars, and shook them up. He cocked an eyebrow. "That's all?"
"That's all," she told him. "Except for the string." She wound some twine around one of the jars and tied it, then set the jar on the edge of the highest shelf that was closest to the door. She ran the twine from the shelf back to the plow.
She set the other jar on the floor midway between the shelving and the door. Then she gathered up the tarp and returned to him.
"Now we wait," she said. "Get down."
He did, and she joined him. The Brigadier was a tall man. The only way to fit both of them behind the plow blade was for him to get down on his knees, with his head tucked down, and his arms folded in close. She had to curl around him, her hand on the twine that led to the jar on the shelf.
But no sooner were they in place, and she had not yet pulled the tarp over themselves, then the door to their prison burst open.
Liz instantly jerked the twine, and there was one second when she knew the jar was falling, and she had just one moment to know that things might go wrong. What if the glass didn't break?
And then a great breathless wave rolled over her, and the air was sucked out of her lungs. Somebody, she thought, punched her right in the face, right into her nose and eyes.
For a long, timeless instance, she had no knowledge of anything. And then her wits slowly came back. Her nose was bleeding. The Brigadier was unconscious. After a moment, he let out a groan.
The room was freezing cold, even colder than it had been. She tried to move, and everything hurt. Then she saw why. It was not just the concussion of the explosion. There were shards of glass from the broken jars and bottles driven into her like tiny spears. They were embedded deeply enough to cause some bleeding, but none of the cuts were deep. The tiny spears ran in a wide stripe down part of her right side from shoulder blade to hip, the one stripe that had been exposed to the room.
Surprisingly, she did not mind this all that much. She gingerly stood and looked around. Their captor had taken the full blast. His body lay in the corner closest to the door, thrown there. She could see that force of the explosions had flipped him right over. The door itself had been blasted back to the closed position and had cracked from top to bottom, though it had not broken in two. She realized that, flung back that way, the door might have been sufficient to protect the other man out front.
But just as Liz shakily tried to climb over the barricade of the snow plow blade, she heard the front door to the building slam open. There was the roaring yell of some infuriated living creature, and the terrified scream of the remaining man. A couple of thumps, the sound of the rifle dropping, and then a moment's silence.
She shrank back. The Brigadier shook his head and tried to get up on his knees.
A huge, brown, bulky figure like a man threw open the door to their prison. It threw back the large, brown, encrusted hood that had covered its head.
"Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart!" it bellowed. "That's the last time I let anybody throw me into a pile of cow manure!"
The Brigadier was too weak to stand, but he hung his arms over the top of the snow plow blade and rested on it, like a man leaning on a fence. He had blood running down his face from his nose, and his voice was weak, but he was suddenly cheerful at the sight of his rival's condition. "Doctor, you're alive!" he gasped. "That Teflon thing held up, then. The manure will come off with soap and water."
The Doctor, coated with slimy brown excrement, stepped closer, suddenly aware that the Brigadier was not in good shape. He paused to unzip the heavy coat and discard it. But he continued the uselss nattering. "Yes, I suppose that army issue gear has its strong points, though that's the last time I dress up like a corporal," he said. "What's the use of military uniforms anyway? It's like wearing a big sign that says 'shoot me first'. Which they did. Quite promptly."
"And then threw you into the pile of manure down the hill---" the Brigadier added. He was trying to sound sympathetic, but there was an element of enjoyment in his voice.
The Doctor tossed the soiled coat aside, strode closer, and crouched down to look at the Brigadier. "They buried me in it. To hide the body---"
"---And that was the start of all their troubles. Well, nice to see that some things worked out according to emergency planning." He coughed again, a hacking, pained cough. But he said, "See to Miss Shaw, will you? She's bleeding."
"No, that's all right," Liz said quickly. She wanted the Doctor to keep his distance. Even without the coat, he still had a good amount of manure on him. But she asked, "Why did you disguise yourself anyway?"
"Because if I'd come along openly, you'd have fussed about being redundant, and you might have gone off to do as you pleased. So I disappeared yesterday and returned as the trusty corporal. Bundled up in a scarf, of course, so you wouldn't know me."
* * * *
There were taps in the front room, and so after the Doctor had directed the UNIT sentries to clear away the body of their captor and lead away the remaining prisoner, he ran water over his head and scrubbed himself with a slab of rough soap. Then he filled a bucket and give himself a thorough cleaning in the back room while Liz used her heavy, army issue parka and the tattered tarp to make a more comfortable bed for the Brigadier in the warm front room. There had been one blanket in the truck, and she covered him with that, as well as his own coat. One of the sentries returned with borrowed clothing for Doctor, begged from one of the houses at the foot of the great hill. The time lord reappeared, looking much improved, in flannel slacks and a denim work shirt.
"I cooked this up from the first aid kit and some items I found in the back," he said. He had removed the insulin cartridge from the disposable syringe, and replaced it with a makeshift container.
"What is it?" Liz asked as he knelt by the Brigadier. Lethbridge Stewart was weaker, and she could see from the lines around his eyes and mouth that he was in pain. The warmth had helped him, as had hot, sweet tea. He wanted to doze and was not resting well. His ribs were broken, and he could not be made comfortable now that he had aggravated his condition by pullign and pushing on the plow blade.
"Mild narcotic," the Doctor said. "Might help him disassociate a bit from his pain. Not enough to stop him coughing." He gave the injection into the Brigadier's arm.
Liz glanced at the door. "Where are the men?" she asked.
"Delivering their prisoners down to the local lock up. They've radio'd for an ambulance."
She glanced up at him. "So what happened out there?"
The Doctor became more offhand. He was, she realized, concerned for her. She'd picked out the numerous glass shards from her sleeve and blouse, and she'd given her many small nicks a quick scouring with antiseptic from the medical kit, but her clothing was smeared with blood and she knew that she probably looked quite bedraggled.
"Our lads were rather quick. When they heard the shots into me, they disappeared down into the snow, as they've been trained to do. I think the men after them were brave enough, and certainly very audacious, but not all that crafty. The UNIT boys simply stayed covered in the snow and let them wander about, and then got them one at a time when their guard was down. Silently."
"And you?" she asked.
"Well getting punched by bullets from a high speed rifle is no fun, I can tell you that." His eyes glowered. "Even a time lord wearing Teflon underclothing will be stunned for a bit. And I can't say I liked being pitched headfirst into the manure pile---" He shook his wet hair and ran his fingers through it, as though checking.
The Brigadier came around. "You still going on about cow manure?" he mumbled hazily. The Doctor's concoction was helping him a good deal, and he seemed inclined to be good natured and tolerant.
"It's my story, and I'll tell it the way I see fit!" the Doctor retorted, but their commanding officer was off again in a doze as the narcotic eased his discomfort. Liz rested her hand on his forehead, her eyes pensive as she looked down at him. At her touch, his voice returned to its calm, authoritative tone. "It's all right Miss Shaw," he said, his eyes closed. "I'm able to offer my assistance."
"Once I got out of the manure," the Doctor continued, "the UNIT lads were mopping up their job---without shooting. They maintained silence on the hillside in hopes of luring the others out of the building. When that didn't work, I tried to work myself closer, to get a peep into the windows and maybe lure them out while the lads took aim from cover. But we couldn't get them out the door." He caught himself. "Well, just once, but the soldiers missed when they fired, and the other fellow returned fire, and we didn't want to hit you two with stray bullets."
He looked up at a faint engine noise. "There's the ambulance." And he rose and hurried to the door.
Liz again rested her hand on the Brigadier's forehead. "The ambulance is coming, Brigadier."
He coughed again, a long and painful cough, and opened his eyes, suddenly tense but disoriented. "I think you should try to get away," he told her, his voice decisive, though weak. "I can get you out of this. That's why I came. I don't mind."
She hastened to reassure him. "We're safe," she said. "We're fine." She leaned closer and looked into his eyes so that he would focus on her. "We're very safe. The ambulance is going to take all of us into town."
She could see him trying to make sense of this as he fought to stay awake. But he was floating from one concept to another, half dreaming. At last he gave his verdict: "Then you could go to a Christmas party after all."
There was a great deal of stomping of boots outside and men's voices and the rattle of a stretcher being hauled out from an ambulance.
"No, I'm going to stay with a friend who's in hospital," she told him as he sleepily blinked and tried to stay awake. "I want to look after him."
He struggled to keep up his end of the conversation. Their faces were very close, and his good eye looked at her with a friendly happiness and an appreciation of her that was touched with a certain wistfulness. "What a lucky fellow, to have you to himself," he whispered. "And on Christmas day. Are you very good friends?"
She stroked back his hair. "We were married once," she said. "Briefly." But his eyes closed again.
The stretcher crew entered with a blast of frigid air, both men bundled into heavy coats.
"We'll see to him, Miss," one of them said.
She stood, but she made her voice calm and authoritative. "I am Doctor Elizabeth Shaw. I am seeing to this man's welfare. I should like to go with you."
The Doctor came up behind them. "We are both on the Brigadier's personal staff. We must accompany him."
"All right then," the other said, and they knelt down to transfer the Brigadier to the stretcher. They got him onto a backboard and then smoothly lifted him onto the stretcher itself. Anxious to follow, Liz plucked up her coat from the floor.
"You're coming too?" she asked the Doctor. She shouldered her way into her coat.
His eyes opened in surprise. "Certainly! Everybody ought to spend Christmas with friends. I've said so all along." He walked to the abandoned rucksack and quickly began to stuff the odds and ends of food and cheer back into it. "And quite frankly, Miss Shaw, the festivities can only improve from here." He brought the sack back to her and put his arm across her shoulders. "It's not where you spend Christmas, my dear Liz, but the people you spend it with. That's the secret of a merry Christmas."
"You're right," she said. "You're right, Doctor." And then suddenly her heart was full. His arm tightened across her shoulders. Rather than speak, she let him lead her out.