It was another two hours before the party broke up. After ensuring that Doris was driven safely home — and an assurance that he would join her later — Lethbridge Stewart headed back to his old office, where Yates and Benton were waiting outside. “Have they both signed the Official Secrets Act?”
“Yes sir,” Benton replied.
“Good. Come inside, gentlemen.” Ben and Polly were waiting patiently. They had been glad of the food Benton had provided, realising that they had hardly eaten all day.
“Sorry to keep you both waiting,” Lethbridge Stewart apologised. “Now, you must understand that none of this goes outside these four walls. Is that clear?” They nodded. “So, what’s this about the Doctor?” And so Ben and Polly told him their story, relating their experiences, both together and individually. In return, the Brigadier obliged by filling in a few gaps for them about the Doctor’s time at UNIT, without actually giving away details about specific cases.
When Polly handed over Harold Chorley’s notes that Ben had seen hours before, a look of surprise passed across the Brigadier’s face. It later transpired that Polly had held the only other copy of those notes. The originals, thought to be destroyed long ago, had instead been safely stored in the UNIT archives, in a file referred to as ‘The London Event’.
“Well,” the Brigadier declared, “from what you’ve said, it’s clear to me that you did indeed know the Doctor, and have certainly been aware of some of his later exploits. But that doesn’t explain why you’re here.”
“Well, you could say it’s a matter of memory,” Polly replied. Lethbridge Stewart was no less enlightened.
“You see,” she added helpfully, “shortly after we left the Doctor and Jamie at Gatwick Airport in 1966, we were kidnapped.”
“But you got away,” the Brigadier assumed.
“That’s what we don’t know,” Ben answered. “We were hit with some knock out gas and passed out. The next thing I remember was waking up back on board ship.”
“And I ended up back in my London flat,” Polly chipped in. “But neither of us can account for the time in between.”
Lethbridge Stewart considered their story. He’d heard more fanciful tales, which had turned out to be true. And with their connection to the Doctor, he could not dismiss this particular story. “Quite a mystery,“ he agreed. “And you thought you might find the answers here?”
“Either that, or see if the Doctor could help,” Ben replied. “We both need to know what happened that day.”
The Brigadier glanced at his watch, and realised the time. “My word, it’s getting rather late. Doris will be fuming — my wife, you understand.” He seemed to reach a decision. “Look, I may have a proposition for you, but I can’t go into details just yet. Would you be willing to meet me tomorrow morning, around 10.00?”
“I s’pose so, but...” Ben was curious. “For someone who’s just retired, you’re taking a pretty active interest in all this.”
“A fair point, Mr Jackson,” Lethbridge Stewart conceded. “But where UNIT and the Doctor are concerned, I find it pays to have, as you say, an active interest.” He quickly forestalled any further questions. “Now, you’ve both given us a lot to think about. I hope you will keep the appointment.”
Somehow, without uttering a word, Ben and Polly felt they had already agreed.
It was close to 10.00 when they arrived at the location the Brigadier had suggested. After receiving security passes, they were escorted to an opulently furnished room — it could hardly be termed an office, such was the vastness of it. The Brigadier — wearing civvies this time — and two others were waiting for them. “Glad you could make it.” He set about making introductions. “You know Captain Yates, of course.” He turned to the woman beside him. “I don’t think you’ve met..."
“Ms Patricia Haggard.” She shook hands with each of them. “Delighted to meet you both.”
Morning tea had been arranged, so the next few minutes were taken up with small talk between the two groups. The Brigadier, Yates and Ms Haggard were deep in conversation, though only the slightest of whispers could be heard. Across the room, Ben and Polly took in their surroundings. “This is a bit of alright, eh Pol?” he whispered, more in awe than anything else.
“Absolutely,” she agreed. “But what’s it all for? What are we doing here?”
“I think we’re about to find out.”
Lethbridge Stewart indicated two empty chairs, as Ben and Polly took their seats alongside the main group. “Well now, you two have proved yourselves to be quite resourceful.”
Ben shrugged. “We were just in the right places.”
“And in different times,” Polly added. Both Yates and the Brigadier smiled knowingly, leaving Ms Haggard slightly left out of the joke.
“You said something about a proposition,” Ben remembered.
“Ah yes.” The Brigadier picked up two files from a side table. “We’ve been doing some checking on the two of you — just to clarify a few points.” He read from the first file. “Ben Jackson. Joined the Royal Navy at eighteen. Served for ten years, until...” He glanced across at Ben. “Well, you know the rest.”
He opened the second file. “Polly Wright. Attended secretarial college in London. Worked for Professor Brett, then on to London Television... I say, that business with Chorley and the tea. Was that really an accident?”
“Of course it was.” Her face was a picture of innocence, but there was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, which the Brigadier noted, and approved of.
“Sorry if you think we’re prying,” he apologised, “but it’s all a matter of security.”
Yates entered the conversation. “The fact that you have, shall we say, other qualifications, would seem to make you ideal candidates.”
Ben wasn’t quite sure if he was hearing correctly. “You make it sound as though you’re interviewing us for a job.”
“I suppose we are,” Yates admitted.
“Until recently,” the Brigadier stated, “I’ve been in charge of UNIT. And although I’ve officially retired... well, to coin a phrase, UNIT looks after its own.
“For some time, we’ve been working to create something new. Where UNIT has been primarily concerned with the unknown, we’ve come to appreciate that not all life from other worlds seek conquest. To that end, Captain Yates will be in charge of a new section of UNIT in the field known as First Contact.”
“And you want us to be involved in some way?” Ben realised.
“Well, we don’t normally recruit from ‘outside,’” the Brigadier stressed, “but you both have certain qualities which may be of benefit — to us and to yourselves.”
Ben and Polly were at a loss for words. “We realise it’s a lot to take in,” Yates said. “And, Mr Jackson, the question of your discharge from the Navy would be investigated as a result.”
At last Ben found his voice. “You — you could do that?”
“We have our methods,” the Brigadier assured him. “You could be a great help to us. As for you, Miss Wright — well, I’ll let Ms Haggard explain.”
“Miss Wright — Polly,” Ms Haggard began. “I’m the head of a new government backed organisation called PROBE — the Preternatural Research Bureau. Our remit is to investigate unnatural, unexplained phenomena, anything which falls outside UNIT’s expertise. After what I’ve heard from the Brigadier, I’d like to offer you a post in our investigations branch.”
“Ms Haggard has already poached a scientist from Cambridge,” Lethbridge Stewart informed Polly. “A former colleague, in fact.”
“Who knows,” Haggard suggested. “PROBE may have the facilities for you to investigate this memory gap.”
Polly was still trying to get her head around all this. “I’m really not sure...”
“Hang on a mo,” Ben interrupted. “It’s alright for me, I’ve got no ties. But you can’t ask Polly to get involved in all this. I mean, she’s got commitments — a husband, for one thing.”
“No, Ben.” Her voice was barely audible. “I’m divorced.”
He stared at her, unbelieving. “It’s been almost three years now.” She looked back at him, the others temporarily forgotten. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before. It’s hardly something to bring up in conversation, and no one wants to admit that their marriage has failed. Even harder to bring the subject up in the first place. That’s why I never mentioned it until now — there was never a right time.”
“I suppose...” Ben gathered his thoughts. “I suppose there never is a right time — not that I’d know, Pol. I was too busy with the Navy at first, then afterwards... well, I wouldn’t have been the greatest of company.”
Then Polly smiled at him. “Oh, Ben. Aren’t we a pair?” And she reached for his hand. And he took it. Not out of love, but for the purest and best of reasons. Friendship.
Yates and Haggard watched the proceedings with interest, while Lethbridge Stewart felt slightly awkward. He was on the point of breaking the mood, when Yates stopped him. “Give them a few moments, sir,” he quietly suggested. Haggard nodded her agreement.
Ben and Polly were still holding hands. “What a mess,” he sighed. “Can things get any worse for us?”
“I don’t know,” Polly replied. “But they could get better. This job, for instance.”
Ben was undecided. “Pol, are you sure about this?”
“Ben, I don’t know about you, but these last few days have been the best of my life for a long time, just like the old days.” Her eyes were alight with excitement. “Like you, I’ve got no ties, no family to look out for. This feel like a second chance for both of us.”
“Well, when you put it like that...”
The Brigadier could see this was the right time to approach them. “Would it be fair to assume that you’ve made your decision?”
They turned to face him, and in that moment, he knew their answer. “Ladies, gentlemen, I think this calls for some sort of celebration.”
“Er, no more tea for me, thanks,” said Ben. “Any chance of a pint?”
Patricia Haggard never quite understood why everyone suddenly dissolved into fits of laughter.
To be concluded...
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