Brigadier Winifred Bambera closed her eyes and counted to three. Unfortunately, nothing had actually changed in those three seconds. She turned to her science advisor, who was at least nominally responsible for all this. “And just what, Doctor Usher, is our late PM doing in your laboratory?”
“Dancing,” said Doctor Usher. She had at least the decency to look embarrassed by this turn of events. “And singing. If you could call it singing,” she added with a sniff.
“I can see that,” said Bambera. Saxon’s music of choice was more appropriate for a late-seventies disco, she thought, than a laboratory. Something about Ra-ra-rasputin, lover of the Russian queen. It sounded vaguely familiar. “I was under the impression that your lab assistant shot him.”
Bambera hadn’t been there to see it, having been in the hospital dealing with a nasty bout of pneumonia. In retrospect, this had been a very good thing. She’d talked to some of the people who’d been on the Valiant–if you could get past the part about living a year of hell that everyone on earth had taken back from them, the stories were compelling. Winifred Bambera tended to keep an open mind about these things. When your husband was an eighth century knight, formerly of King Arthur’s Court, it gave you a rather fluid idea of what was possible.
“She did,” said Doctor Usher, glancing over her shoulder. The lab assistant in question was currently perched on top of a table, swinging her legs and clapping her hands to the beat of the song. “He’s incorporeal, ma’am.”
“You mean he’s a ghost,” said Bambera. “More or less.”
“More or less,” Doctor Usher agreed. “He’s a nuisance, but Lucy enjoys having him.”
Bambera frowned. There was something profoundly wrong about a megalomaniac and his assassin cheerfully listening to bad music together. “You’ve read the reports on the Valiant, Doctor. You know Saxon killed the American President with his psychotic floating balls–his Toclafane–and may have gone on to decimate and then enslave the earth’s population.”
“I know,” said Doctor Usher, calmly. Maybe a bit too calmly. Usher was always one for clinical detachment, but she seemed more detached than usual. “Lucy’s told me about it. I don’t think I need to point out, however, that no one really liked President Whatshisface.”
“Enough American voters evidently did,” Bambera felt obliged to point out, though she suspected that Usher was trying to redirect the conversation. Someone had turned off the music, she noted.
“It was rigged,” said Harry Saxon. Bambera turned her head to see him standing in the center of a lab table. Saxon grinned at her in that devil-may-care fashion she’d seen in all his publicity photos. “Trust me. I’m an expert in rigged elections.”
“I’m sure you are,” Doctor Usher muttered under her breath.
“Is it really rigged if everyone wants to vote for you?” the former Mrs Saxon asked, cocking her head to the side.
“It is if you brainwash them first,” Doctor Usher snapped.
Saxon rolled his eyes. “Someone’s jealous because she didn’t get high marks in hypnosis.”
Usher shot him a look that could have frozen blast furnaces. “Someone ought to be grateful I haven’t called an exorcist.”
“Someone–” Saxon started.
Bambera didn’t let him finish. “Smith’s in my office,” she told Usher. “She wants to see you.”
Usher raised her eyebrow. “Again? I already sent her the data on that wretched fizzy drink.” She stepped out into hallway. Bambera shut the door behind them.
“It’s about yesterday,” Bambera explained as they started walking. “You know, when the sun started to go cold and we had all those weird power outages.”
Usher grimaced. “I remember. I wasn’t even able to start my…. Well. It didn’t make for an enjoyable afternoon.”
“Right,” said Bambera. “She rang me up after it was over, said she had some circuit diagrams and that she needed our assistance cleaning things up. I told her to come first thing in the morning.”
“So who was it?” Usher asked. “I assumed it was a plot of non-terrestrial origins, though I suppose there are people stupid enough on this planet to suck the energy out from their own sun.”
“She claims it’s the Slitheen,” Bambera confirmed. “Evidently they infiltrated her son’s school.”
“What, as fat little boys who spend all their time farting?” Usher snorted. “There were enough of those already.”
“Hah,” said Bambera. She glanced at Usher. “We could get you the funds for that exorcist.”
“I’ll consider it,” Usher said. “Lucy’s the one that likes him there. I’m only tolerating him for her sake.”
Bambera frowned. “Lethbridge-Stewart thinks he’s the latest incarnation of one of our old enemies: an extraterrestrial called the Master.”
“Lethbridge-Stewart is right,” said Usher. She seemed strangely unconcerned by this, despite the fact that Bambera knew Usher had read the Master’s file. “Though the idiot’s master of very little now.”
“I was afraid of that,” Bambera said under her breath. Lovely. She wondered if Lethbridge-Stewart knew how to contact the Doctor.
As it turned out, Lethbridge-Stewart was happy to lend Bambera his space-time telegraph. If it meant she had to listen to a few more of his Doctor stories, that was an acceptable trade-off. Ancelyn enjoyed them and so did Marion–by the end of the visit the three of them had earned the invitation to some sort of annual picnic for what Lethbridge-Stewart called “Friends of the Doctor.”
During the next month, Bambera found plenty of time to brush up on her Morse Code. There was a rather tense incident involving biological weapons and Smith kept stopping by for one reason or another–once it was about Mole Men, another time about evil laser tag, and then there was that thing with the nuns–but for the most part things were relatively quiet.
Well, as quiet as UNIT ever got to be. Bambera made excuses to visit Dr Usher’s laboratory from time to time, but even Saxon’s ghost seemed relatively docile. The one exorcist they’d managed to bring in hadn’t been able to dislodge him, but he didn’t seem to be able to levitate things or cause any Manifestations, so that was a relief.
What he was was annoying. Saxon seemed to spend most of his time taunting people, with Doctor Usher a particular favourite and Bambera suspected the only reason she didn’t get more of it herself was lack of personal ammunition. When he wasn’t taunting people he was listening to bad music on his iPod–and forcing everyone else to suffer through it. Lucy Saxon was his all too willing collaborator in this. One of his favourite tracks to play was the Ra-ra-rasputin one. He claimed to have been Rasputin in his day and Bambera was disturbed to find that she believed him.
Eventually she got used to him. Once you knew that all he could do was talk at you–and walk through you for extra creep-out value–it was easy to ignore him. When Bambera stepped into Usher’s laboratory and he was nowhere to be seen, however, she knew something was up. “Where’s Saxon?”
Usher didn’t bother to look up from her flask, which was bubbling merrily. “Gone.”
Bambera frowned. “He’s not following your assistant around the complex again, is he?”
Usher turned off the flame on her Bunsen burner. “No,” she said. “He’s gone.”
“Oh,” said Bambera. Had Usher finally found a decent exorcist? “Well, that’s a relief.”
“I suppose,” said Usher, frowning slightly. There was something she wasn’t mentioning; that was abundantly clear. Perhaps Bambera wouldn’t return the telegraph to Lethbridge-Stewart just yet.
Bambera sighed. “Smith’s stopped by again. Something about brainwashing children through daytime television–that new CBBC channel.”
“And here I thought it was just rotting their minds,” said Usher, opening the cupboard to her right and extracting something with a lot of buttons. “Theirs and the Master’s–not that he needed it. He was an idiot even before Teletubbies went on the air.”
Bambera blinked. “Saxon–the Master–watched Teletubbies?”
“He was planning to conquer their planet,” said Doctor Usher, setting whatever it was on the table, “and I wasn’t going to tell him they were men in suits. The idiot.” She slammed the cupboard door. “That stupid, short-sighted, liberal arts degree idiot. And the older he gets, the worse. I can’t believe–” She looked up, then, and frowned. “Well. He’s an idiot. I’d be on your guard these next few days, Brigadier. He might not be gone for long. He never is.”
Forty-eight hours later and Bambera was giving orders to seal the entrances. This was, upon reflection, the worst birthday she’d experienced to date. And she was including the one with the clown.
“Mercenaries,” she muttered under her breath. “Bloody fish people mercenaries. In string vests. Because of course you need fish people to attack a bloody inland facility.”
“Sea Devils,” said Zbrigniev, from behind her. Bambera turned around to look at him. He was leaning against the wall of the mess hall. “They were called Sea Devils,” Zbrigniev explained. “There was an incident with them in the early seventies.”
“Let me guess,” Bambera said. “The Master was involved.” She’d read the files, but after the first few they all started to blur together. Some of the plots to end the world seemed like they came from a B-grade spy movie.
“The Doctor was,” said Zbrigniev with a shrug. He must be near retirement age, Bambera thought suddenly. Nearly everyone from those days already had the proverbial golden watch.
“I’ve seen pictures of your early seventies Doctor,” said Bambera. “He dressed like Austin Powers. I hope for your sake he was more competent.” She scowled. “Usher. She knew about this.”
Zbrigniev blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Doctor Usher. Our science advisor. Who was being haunted by our very much no longer dead alien overlord PM and she knew.” Bambera turned. “Tell Husak he’s in charge of this sector and have Shou Yuing stand at ready with the explosives. I need to get back to my office.”
“What about your husband?” Zbrigniev called after her.
“Just try to keep him from doing something bravely suicidal,” Bambera called back. “That’s about all anyone can do.”
Bambera only spared enough time to glance over her office–Jacobs seemed to be handling Marion well enough, even if question-marks of Marion’s Merlin jumper were almost completely obscured by cake crumbs–before getting the box out from under her desk. She dumped the contents out on top of it.
“Is that a telegraph?” Jacobs asked interestedly. She was a communications officer normally. She also had a pair of younger siblings whom she’d helped raise after her mother had died, which was why Bambera had drafted her to keep Marion from getting herself killed.
“It talks to aliens,” Marion explained proudly. “The Old Brigadier is lending it to Mum so she can talk to Merlin.”
No wires. Bambera hoped that it wasn’t supposed to have wires. She grabbed a piece of paper and wrote: UNIT UNDER ATTACK FROM SEA DEVILS, MASTER, OTHERS. HELP REQUESTED IMMEDIATELY. BAMBERA.. Oh hell, she’d need to put the date on it too, wouldn’t she? Otherwise he’d show up God knows when.
“Merlin?” Jacobs sounded startled. No one must have told her about Carbury.
“Uh huh,” said Marion. “Mum and Dad met cos of him. He’s a funny little man with a jumper just like mine–except Dad says sometimes he’s skinny with stick-up hair. And Dad said the King told him that sometimes Merlin’s got stick-out ears and barely any hair at all.”
Bambera glanced up at Jacobs. “Not Charles,” she said, before Jacobs could ask.
She ought to put the time on there, shouldn’t she? Otherwise he’d show up near midnight and that would be useless. Oh hell, why couldn’t she remember how to do the bloody L? Or Q? Where’d she put that bloody code book?
“King Arthur,” said Marion gleefully as Bambera rummaged through her desk. “Dad used to be his general!”
“He was,” Bambera said softly. And now he taught sword-fighting to people who would probably never need to use it. She’d asked him once if he thought it was a come-down.
He’d laughed softly and kissed her cheek. “What else would I do once I could no longer lead armies? And besides, dear Winifred, I would rather be a mere swords-master with you at my side than the greatest of generals without ever knowing you.”
The phone clipped to Bambera’s belt buzzed. She grabbed it. “Bambera here.”
“It’s your husband.” Zbrigniev–and why the hell was he slurring his words? If he’d been drinking on the job…
That wasn’t the important thing anymore. “What about Ancelyn?” At first Zbrigniev didn’t say anything and it terrified her. “Damn it, man,” Bambera snarled. “What happened to him?”
“He’s gone to challenge the Master to single combat. I tried to stop him, but…”
Bambera could guess. “…he smote you about the head?” The concussion would account for his slurring.
“Yes,” said Zbrigniev.
“Understood,” said Bambera. “I’m contacting the Doctor.” She switched off the phone and sighed. “Idiot,” she said fondly.
Marion bit her lip. “Dad’s all right, isn’t he?”
“He will be,” said Bambera. She looked straight at Jacobs. “You any good with Morse Code?” Really, she thought, she ought to have expected this from the moment she saw the sword hanging at the Master’s side.
“Very,” said Jacobs.
“Good,” said Bambera and she moved so Jacobs could get at the telegraph.
“Merlin will come,” Marion whispered. “Right?”
Bambera squeezed her hand. “He’ll come. And if he doesn’t I’ll hunt down his blue box and give him a thrashing he’ll remember.”
Merlin came and he was a weasel in a suit: thin as a rail with hair that defied gravity. A ginger-haired woman a few years younger than Bambera was with him. Ace wasn’t.
“Brigadier Bambera,” he said, fairly bouncing out of his box. “I never though I’d get a message from you on the Brigadier’s telegraph.” He hugged her and Marion too for good measure. “This must be your daughter. She looks just like you and Ancelyn. That’s brilliant. I always knew you’d work it out.”
“I can’t believe he even has a bloody telegraph,” the ginger-haired woman said.
“This is Donna,” the Doctor said by way of introduction. There was the sound of explosions in the distance. Shou Yuing, of course.
“Right,” said Bambera. “That’s Lieutenant Jacobs and this is Marion and we’re cutting the introductions right now because this facility is being attacked by your arch-enemy.”
“Yes ma’am,” said the Doctor and they started running–all of them, even Jacobs and Marion–through the corridor (“We run through these all the time,” said Donna) and out onto the lawn (“But where’s Daddy?” Marion wailed) and by the time they were halfway to the gate Bambera had summed the situation up and Ancelyn was there, dirty and bleeding but alive, alive with all his limbs, and the Doctor shouted “Ancelyn ap Gwalchmai, this fight is mine.”
“Merlin,” Ancelyn shouted joyfully, dodging the Master’s. “Is La Donna with you?”
The Doctor looked at Donna and grinned. “Aye, that she is,” he called back
“Then catch!” Ancelyn called and he tossed the sword to the Doctor, who caught it deftly with one hand, and then he was running to Bambera and to Marion and laughing, laughing. “Don’t worry,” he told them, grinning from ear to ear. “For a wizard, Merlin is very good with a sword.”
“I can’t believe you did something so stupid,” Bambera said–and then she kissed him. Hard. “I love you,” she whispered. “Like hell. But that’s a psychopathic alien and he wouldn’t know the rules of combat if they bit him on the arse.”
“Oh, Winifred,” Ancelyn murmured, kissing her brow. “Do you really think he would have defeated me?”
“I think he cheats,” said Bambera, pressing a kiss of her own to his jaw. “He cheats and if he’d killed you I’d have destroyed him. I don’t care how many lives these bloody aliens have.”
Marion coughed loudly. “Mum, I think you dropped your beret.”
Actually it had been knocked off when Ancelyn threw his arms around her, but Bambera knew a hint when she heard one. She let go of her husband. She didn’t need her men thinking she was soft. Ancelyn picked Marion up and together, the three of them watched the fight.
The Master was starting to win.
“I thought you said he was supposed to be good with a sword,” said Bambera, frowning.
“For a wizard he is,” said Ancelyn quietly. “The Master is better. But do not worry. You forget the one thing he has that the Master has not.”
“And what is that?” Bambera asked, not taking her eyes off the battle. The Master was forcing the Doctor to his knees. If I die, she thought, at least I’ll die with my family.
“La Donna,” said Ancelyn and as the Master laughed in the Doctor’s face, Donna hit him on the head with a rock.
“We’re going to need a pair of bloody handcuffs,” Donna shouted at the rest of them. “Has anyone seen my bag?” She had lungs like a drill seargeant, Bambera noted approvingly.
Jacobs found the bag. “Don’t worry,” said the Doctor. “I’ve got a room fixed for him in the TARDIS.”
“It’s got a deadlock seal,” Donna added. She looked up and frowned. “Pack of fish men approaching at nine o’clock.”
Bambera turned around sharply and grabbed her gun. This wasn’t over yet.
“I’ve told you,” the Doctor was saying exasperatedly. “They’re called Sea Devils.”
“Look!” said Marion. “Dinosaurs!”
She pointed at the main building and there were dinosaurs, dozens of them: leathery-winged ones flying through the opened windows and little ones with sharp teeth and claws spilling out the door. A pack of them fell upon the Sea Devils, tearing them to shreds before they could fire more than a blast with their circular weapons.
“What in the world…” Bambera whispered. She held her gun steady, waiting for one of the little ones to spot them, but none did. It was almost as if they couldn’t see them.
Her phone buzzed. It took her a second to answer it: “Bambera here.”
“This is Zbrigniev. You won’t believe what just happened.”
“No,” said Bambera, watching the dinosaurs scatter in all directions. “I think I would.”
Doctor Usher followed in their wake, her face a mask of serene calm. She was wearing a sort of hat, silver and pyramid shaped. There were wires sticking out of it. Lucy Saxon walked three steps behind her.
“What are you doing here?” the Doctor said, staring at them.
“Your old job,” said Usher. “Now be quiet. They’re under my mental command and I need to concentrate.”
Lucy Saxon knelt down by her husband. Donna glared at her. “Try anything and I’ll knock you flat.” Lucy ignored her.
“Oh,” she said softly, standing back up. “I suppose Harry lost, then.”
“Of course he lost,” Donna snapped. “Do you think he’s lying there, handcuffed and unconscious for fun?”
“Considering this is the Master,” said Doctor Usher, “I wouldn’t be surprised.” She took off the pyramid-hat. “I’ve sent them back to my TARDIS,” she told the Doctor. “That’s what you’re concerned with, isn’t it?”
The Doctor glared at her. “No. It’s not. What do you mean, you’re doing my old job?”
Usher gave him one of her frostier looks. “Don’t get stroppy. I told you I found myself in a government science position.”
“Government science position.” The Doctor snorted. “You’re with UNIT–and I thought you quit the job when you got your memory back!”
“You may not have noticed, Doctor,” Usher said coldly, “but Miasimia Goria was destroyed in the Time War. And after spending so many years as a human on this planet, I daren’t try to preserve the dinosauric age for fear of playing merry hell with my personal timeline. You left behind some very high quality lab equipment when you regenerated from your third incarnation and I find working for UNIT an acceptable trade-off for access to it.”
The Doctor snorted. “Until you destroy humanity.”
“I have no plans to,” said Usher. “There are plenty more tractable species to conquer and you’ll only become a nuisance if I try it with this species you’ve become so fond of.”
Bambera decided she’d had enough. “Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?”
“She’s a Martian,” said Donna, sticking her thumb out in the direction of Usher.
“Time Lady,” said the Doctor in a long-suffering voice. “From Gallifrey. Gallifrey. It’s not that hard to remember.”
Donna snorted. “Am I bothered? Look, Brigadier, it’s like this: the planet blew up. The Doctor thought he was the only one left. Then the Master showed up and took over the country when I was on holiday and Martha Jones–some student he travelled with until she left him for being whiny–saved the word. Then he picked me up and we go on a few trips and what happens but your Martian science advisor and her girlfriend yank us out of the vortex thing because she stuck herself in a fob watch and no one told her the war was over. The Doctor explained things, they left, we went to Pompeii–where that idiot got thrown us into gaol and almost covered in lava, I might add–and then you sent us a message on that telegraph. He really should have given you his mobile number.” She paused for a moment, then added: “Oh, right. And supposedly your Martian friend there’s a mad scientist called the Rani. Not that anyone ever bothers to say what a Rani is–or why everyone on his planet seems to be named ‘The.’”
“I–I got us thrown in gaol?” the Doctor sputtered. “You were the one who thought it would be such a great idea to go around telling people the volcano would explode.”
“I wasn’t the one they called a Public Nuisance,” Donna retorted.
Bambera frowned. “What about the Master? He used to be a ghost!”
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Lucy Saxon. “Ronnie made him a new body.”
Bambera stared at Usher. “You what–? ”
“It was the only way to make him go away after I picked up his bloody ring,” said Usher peevishly. “You may remember that he was haunting us. The agreement was that I’d make him a new body and he’d stay well out of my way in return–preferably in another solar system.”
“I don’t see this as staying out of our way!” Bambera snapped.
“Well no,” said Lucy. “They were fighting over me.”
Bambera mentally counted to three before letting herself reply. “They. Were. Fighting. Over. You?”
“The Master decided that he wanted Lucy to go with him,” said Usher. “Which was, of course, out of the question. I need her to hand me test tubes and be decorative. He said there wasn’t any way I could keep her from coming with him. I reminded him she was a UNIT employee and he said he’d be able to crack UNIT like an egg within twenty-four hours of attacking it. I challenged him to prove it.”
“Wonderful,” Bambera said disgustedly. “My base of operations gets attacked by fish people–oh, fine, Sea Devils–and ends turned bloody upside down and why? Because two aliens were playing a game.”
“Actually,” said Usher, “it was a bet. And I was betting on you lot. You should feel grateful.”
Bambera’s eyes narrowed. “Grateful? Grateful? I’ll show you–”
Jacobs coughed loudly. “Begging your pardon,” she said, “but shouldn’t someone lock the Master up before he comes to?” Everyone stared at her. Then they looked to Bambera.
Wonderful. Evidently, she was designated ringmaster of this three-ringed Martian circus. “Someone should,” Bambera agreed with a curt nod. She set her beret back on her head. “As for Doctor Usher and her so-called assistant, I want to see them each individually in my office tomorrow morning on the subject of their continued employment. Or not.”
“…and that’s what happened,” Marion explained, looking up at Lethbridge-Stewart from her place on his lap. “Merlin and La Donna took the Master back to their magic box and locked him up, then we went to make sure everyone else was all right. Lots of people were hurt but no one was killed. We were lucky. Oh, and then we had curry for supper. The next morning Mum saw Doctor Usher in her office and told her that she could keep her job for now–because she did make those dinosaurs that ate the Sea Devils for us–but if she ever did anything else like this or kept information from Mum, she’d be out the door so fast that you wouldn’t be able to see it.” Marion frowned. “I’m not sure why that Lucy lady got to keep her job, though.”
“If it were up to me, she wouldn’t have,” said Bambera firmly. “But her father’s in the House of Lords and my orders were overridden.”
“Oh,” said Marion. “That’s silly.” She was wearing her Merlin jumper again and had already made noises about wanting a brown coat just like his for her birthday. “Anyhow, Merlin said to give you his mobile number. Are you sorry that you missed seeing him?”
Lethbridge-Stewart chuckled softly. “Perhaps a little,” he said, ruffling Marion’s hair. “But don’t worry. He’ll be back. He always is.