Ben watched Polly return to the table she had almost vacated, while he made for the bar to buy some drinks. It was weird, seeing her again; especially after all they had been through together. But he could well understand her caution, if only because he felt just the same. The difference being that he hid his concerns better. At last, with a drink in either hand, he joined her at their table. “There you go, Pol,” he smiled. “What shall we drink to?”
“Answers.” Her reply was short and to the point.
Ben’s cheeky grin was replaced by a frown. “Yeah. Answers,” he agreed, sipping his beer. The atmosphere was becoming strained.
“Ben, I’m not sure this was a good idea.” Polly was noticeably tense.
He shushed her. “Polly, all we’re doing is going over old memories, and see if we can fill in some gaps.” She shuddered at that word. “Now, calm down. No point in drawing attention to ourselves. Let’s put our heads together, go over what we both know, and see where that leaves us.”
She was calmer now, and offered a smile. “That’s what the Doctor would do, after all.”
Ben nodded. “We learned a lot from him. Let’s see how much has rubbed off onto us.”
She had been at a loose end after leaving Professor Brett’s employ, so Polly was glad to have secured a job at London Television. The only dark cloud was someone who was a bit too smarmy for his own good. On her second day he had cornered her at the tea-point. “Well, who have we here?”
“Oh hello. I’m Polly,” she replied.
“Polly, eh?” His charm was as oily as his hair. “What a pretty Polly you are. I’m sure we’ll get on famously.” He moved closer, blocking any means of escape. “We’re all friends here.”
“I’m not sure I want to be that friendly.” The cup in her hand offered her a way out, as she up-ended its boiling contents across his front.
“Arrgh!” He leapt back in shock. “You stupid girl.” He looked down at his suit. “This’ll take an age to clean!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Polly said innocently. “But you did make me jump.” Nevertheless, she couldn’t help stifle a giggle as he glared at her, then marched off in search of a dry cleaners’, having lost all sense of dignity.
The other secretaries gave Polly a cheer as she returned to her desk. She smiled back and relaxed. “Who is that odious man?” she asked one of the girls.
“You don’t know?” She shook her head. “That, Polly, is our ‘roving reporter’...”
“...Harold Chorley?” Ben exclaimed. “Wasn’t he the bloke on the spot when Central London was evacuated in ‘68?”
“The very same,” Polly answered. “The thing is, once the emergency was over, and we were allowed back into work, Chorley was dashing around the office like a man possessed. He was trying to convince anyone who would listen to broadcast his story.”
“What story?” Ben scoffed. “There was never anything in the papers?”
“I know, but he asked me to type up his notes.” Polly reached into her handbag and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “These are copies I took at the time. Read the second page — about halfway down.”
Ben did so. “... and on the scientific side were Professor Travers and his daughter, Anne. They were joined at a later stage by someone only referred to as the Doctor...” Ben smiled. “The wily old devil.” He read on, taking in the references to the Yeti and the Great Intelligence.
“Don’t you see, Ben? That story couldn’t be published due to security. Who would have believed then that Earth was under threat from alien invaders?”
“This Colonel Lethbridge Stewart,” Ben noted. “He’s a Brigadier now, isn’t he?”
Polly nodded. “Part of a top secret military organisation.”
It was as though a light flickered on in Ben’s eyes. “UNIT!” Polly looked at him blankly. “I knew I remembered the name from somewhere. UNIT — United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.”
He leaned across to Polly, conspiratorially. “While I was still in the Navy, I was transferred to a ship called HMS Reclaim,” he explained. “We were stationed in the South of England and we were asked to help out on a diving exercise. This bloke comes along, dressed in fancy clothes, and gets permission to use our diving bell...”
“...Alright, Jackson. No hanging about.”
“No, sir.” Ben stood by with the other ratings, as the diving bell was manoeuvred over the side of the ship, then lowered into the sea, sinking slowly beneath the waves.
He couldn’t help but notice the young girl staring helplessly as the diving bell sank further until it could no longer be seen. He strolled over. “You alright, miss?”
She looked up at him, smiling bravely. “Oh, I’m fine, thanks. Just a bit worried, that’s all.”
“About your friend?”
She nodded. “He’s been in some tight spots before — well, we both have — but here,” she indicated the water, “if anything went wrong...”
“Well, nothing will,” he assured her. “These diving bells, they’re safe as houses.”
“Even so...” Their conversation was broken off as an alarm sounded, and the diving bell began its ascent to the surface. “Why is it taking so long?” The girl was now very much concerned.
“They can’t bring it up too quick,” Ben explained. “All to do with the air pressure — look, here it comes!” The bell broke the surface of the water. Soon it was hauled up and manoeuvred back to the ship until it hung just a few feet above the deck. The girl ran across, dipping under the huge metal globe to enter the interior.
When she came out, her face was a white as a sheet. “He’s gone,” she said. “The Doctor’s gone...”
“...And you’re sure it was the Doctor?”
Ben shrugged. “It had to be. Sure, he had a different face, but we went through all that once before, Pol.”
She put the memory of the Doctor’s first regeneration to the back of her mind. “And you think they were part of this UNIT thing?”
“Definitely. Later on I caught the girl’s name — Jo Grant. Turns out she was a UNIT operative, not that she looked much like an agent. Nice though.”
Polly let the remark pass. “And the Doctor?”
“Well, from what I heard, he was their scientific advisor. Helping the Royal Navy to deal with some problem. We weren’t given any details.”
“But if the Doctor was involved, it had to be something big.” Polly was deep in thought. “Isn’t it strange how the Doctor’s still a part of our lives after all this time?”
“Yeah, but we’re still left with some gaps. Remember that day, Polly?”
“Ben, don’t.” She didn’t want to relive this.
“Pol, we have to, if we’re going to make any sense of it...”
“...Hey, Pol. Look!” A London Police Box had been tied to a lorry, being driven away at high speed. Behind the departing vehicle were two men running after it. One was young, wearing a kilt, the other was older, dressed in a baggy frock coat. In other circumstances the scenario might have looked rather comical. But Ben and Polly could see this was deadly serious.
“Someone’s stealing the TARDIS,” Polly realised. “We ought to help, Ben.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” They were still travelling in the Commandant’s car, which was now taking them through Gatwick Airport, and away from the scene they had just witnessed. Ben rapped on the glass partition. “Oi, driver,” he called. “Do a quick u-turn, will you. A couple of mates need our help.”
There was no sign that the driver had heard. The car continued on its route.
Ben and Polly shared a worried look. “Something’s wrong here, Duchess.” He hammered on the glass. “I’m talking to you,” he shouted. “Now turn back.”
The driver reached forward and flicked a switch on the dashboard. With a click, the car doors were locked. Then a pungent smell began to fill the back of the car. “Gas!” The two friends quickly covered their faces with handkerchiefs, as Ben tried in vain to force one of the doors open. But it was no use. Within seconds the gas had overcome them both as they lay slumped in the back seat of the car...
“...Ben, it was horrible!” Polly was shaking.
Ben place a protective arm around her. “Polly, it’s alright. It was years ago, and it’s over.”
“But we never found out who was responsible. Or why.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ben stopped short. “Hang about, I’ve just remembered something.”
“What is it?”
But there was no immediate reply. “Come on, Duchess. We’re out of here.”
Before Polly realised what was happening, Ben had grabbed her coat, draped it across her shoulders and led out of the Inferno, and into the cold evening air. “Ben, where are we going?” she asked, when he allowed her to catch her breath.
“Home, for now,” he replied. “Tomorrow, we’re off to the only place that could have the answers we need.” In the back of Ben’s mind, something had clicked...
To be continued...
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