Chapter 12: Over Easy
The Brigadier hung up the phone just as the cottage door opened to admit the Doctor, obviously unharmed by his encounter with one of their reptilian adversaries. “That was Captain Yates,” he said by way of greeting. “That fool in the Admirals’ office has been mucking about with the red tape again.”
“Can’t say you’ve ever let that stop you before,” the Doctor replied without concern. He strode into the kitchen and flipped a small lever on a new pipe between the sink and the stove. There was a gurgling sound and water spurted into a small pan that waited over the burner.
“They’ve located a source for that magnesia you wanted and Benton is rounding up scraps from restaurants and fisheries. That man is wanting permits signed just to bring it onto the Island…What are you doing?”
“Making tea, of course,” the Doctor said, watching as the rising level of the water bobbed a small fishing float in the pan, causing a counterweight to tip. A small scoop balanced on top of a breadbox tipped forward and a fat spoonful of tea leaves spilled into the water.
“Aren’t you supposed to heat the water first?”
“A small oversight.” He poked a newly added button on the stove and flames shot up around the kettle to an alarming height nearly singeing his eyebrows. He lowered the flame without comment.
The Brigadier cleared his throat. “As I was saying, he’s making it fiendishly difficult to…”
They were interrupted by a shriek of surprise and a loud rhythmical whumping noise from the little laundry room. Both of them jostled through the narrow doorway to find Sylvia backed against the wall as the old washing machine slammed violently back and forth, waddling forward across the floor towards her. The Brigadier tackled the waddling machine as the Doctor jumped to unplug it from the wall. It thudded slowly to a halt.
“Sorry about that,” the Doctor noted. “The balance must be slightly off.”
“What was it doing?” Sylvia said, wide-eyed. “It’s never done that!”
“Spin cycle. I added it last night.” He was already down behind it, doing something to the motor assembly.
“Spin cycle?” the Brigadier said blankly.
“But it doesn’t have a spin cycle,” Sylvia protested. “It just drains and then you wring everything.”
“It has one now,” the Doctor smiled over the top of the washer. He came around and popped open the lid to adjust the agitator. “There you go. Should work more smoothly, though I recommend you get some bolts to attach it to the floor next time you’re in town.” He went back into the kitchen.
“It doesn’t have a spin cycle,” Sylvia repeated.
“Sorry,” the Brigadier apologized. “I should have warned you what happens when he’s left alone for too long. Hopefully he didn’t decide to improve anything else. Excuse me.” He followed the Doctor back into the little kitchen where he found him watching the tiny bubbles bobbing the tea leaves in the pan.
“Boiling,” he said.
“That is a simmer, ” the Brigadier corrected.
The Doctor looked up at him with mild irritation. “I wasn’t referring to the temperature of the water, Lethbridge-Stewart. I was just observing that boiling would be a very simple way to neutralize any existing egg nodules once they’re located. High temperature breaks down the neural filamentation.”
“It shouldn’t be difficult to stop the experimentation on the gulls, the Silurians aren’t happy with how that’s turned out anyway. The additional magnesium plus the neural absorption blocker in the bird’s feed should cure any actively infected adult gulls. All that would remain is how to assure any developing nodules in the nests are neutralized.”
“By boiling them.”
“Yes, later on. First we just need that feed to get here.”
Alistair leaned back against the sink. “As I’ve repeatedly tried to tell you, that’s the sticking point. That chap under Admiral Blankenship is insisting we register all of our activities on this island through him and his office staff. The shipping permit for offloading the feed has been blocked until it’s under the authority of an Islander. He’s even managed to find some regulation or other to set it up so all funding and approvals have to be under the control of a resident of the Isle of Wight or he won’t allow it. Yates has a ferry arranged at the other end, but if it gets here and just sits offshore, completely aside from what it would smell like if delayed...”
“An Islander?” The Doctor reached for a partial box of sugar cubes he’d found, dropping a few into a cup.
“Looking to mine a promotion or line a pocket for himself or one of his cronies, no doubt. We simply don’t have time for this idiocy with those birds…”
“Hm. Miss Fleming is a native to this Island,” the Doctor observed, moving on to poking around inside one of the cupboards for a tea-strainer.
“And how she manages under such inept governance…” He suddenly stopped, realizing what the Doctor was hinting. “But of course! Why, she’s even native born, isn’t she? A corkhead.”
“Right! And I’ll keep that card up my sleeve in case the bounder decides to split hairs on the matter. Exactly the strategy we need.” He turned toward the phone then swiveled back even as he reached to pick up the receiver. “She’d be all right with that, don’t you think?”
“You might ask her,” the Doctor said, tilting his head towards the doorway.
“I’d be all right with what?” asked Sylvia, who had been listening there. “What do you need a native for?”
“Ah,” the Brigadier fumbled slightly. “To help us complete this programme.”
The Doctor made a little pleased noise as he finally located the strainer and began pouring tea. “Your expertise is needed for seagull containment,” he offered.
“Well, I’ll help of course. I mean, short of hanging onto their legs. What would I need to be doing?”
The Brigadier considered. “I assume you heard something regarding the situation? Essentially once the chicks have hatched out we’ll need you to ring us up. I’ll give you the number. Our department can provide the money and very likely some manpower to go with it to help your park rangers. We’ll authorize you with the funding so you can hire whatever additional help you need to remove any unhatched eggs to be destroyed.”
“Wait. You’re putting me in charge of it? But…”
Alistair looked her right in the eye and shifted to his most persuasive. “We need you. We do. You have a unique perspective on a problem that would be best not shared with the general public. We’ll provide a cover story for any media or people asking questions, some type of rare infection affecting this year’s eggs perhaps, which wouldn’t be that far removed from the truth when you think about it. I’ll arrange things with your supervisor. You’ll be fine.”
She gave a little gulp. “I suppose…I could manage that.”
“Of course you can,” he assured firmly and shook her hand. “Thank you, Miss Fleming. We have the highest confidence in your abilities. Right, Doctor?”
“Oh, yes,” the Doctor said abruptly, duly nudged on the need for reassuring words. He added another sugar cube to his cup. “No doubt you’ll be more than able to handle the job. It may even seem easy compared to dealing with holiday tourists at a park.”
"It'll feel like murder killing those things, that’s the only part I don’t like," she admitted. "I couldn't even put down sick pets, had to have someone else do it."
"But it isn't, " the Doctor said more emphatically. He stirred his tea then gestured with the spoon. "Though I appreciate your sentiment they're akin to seeds, not animals. They only start the process of a neural and physiological change in the host, they haven’t any real sentience of their own. I would suggest simply gathering them up until they can be neutralized. High heat would be sufficient, such as boiling, though I don't recommend eating them."
"Eww, I should think not. Well then" she said with a relieved smile. "All right. Gathering and boiling eggs. I can do that."
He gave her a little bow. "Thank you, Miss Fleming. We'll know it's in good hands. Go ahead and make your call, Brigadier."
In the early afternoon the relative quiet of the windswept car park was quite suddenly interrupted as the growling engines of a straggling line of military vehicles arrived flanking three refrigerated lorries. Flocks of birds lifted into the air as the line rumbled to a halt on the damp, sandy gravel.
Benton climbed out of one of the leading jeeps and gave a half-wave, half-salute as he recognized the Doctor and the Brigadier coming across to meet them.
“Good to see you made it all right,” the Doctor greeted him as the Brigadier went to speak to the men who were parking their vehicles and gandering at the ocean.
“Yes sir, been quite a day but I think we’re good to go. I’ve got the particulars here…” he pulled a fat packet of folded papers from his coat.
The Doctor took it from him and unfolded it, glancing over it briefly. “Thank you. That tonnage should be more than sufficient for the need as well.” He handed it back. “Obviously not all here, I’m assuming they’re distributing near the nesting sites?”
“Right. We’ve got some men ready to go at Ventnor, Niton, a small attachment at Atherfield…” he paused to read the paper the wind was flapping in his hand. “Shanklin, Yarmouth, er, something I can’t read…”
“What about here?” the Doctor interrupted.
“Oh yes, and here!” the Sergeant assured him heartily.
The Doctor tucked his hands in his pockets, nodding at the list in Benton’s hand. “Do you even know where ‘here’ is?” He smiled at the guilty look on the man’s face. “I thought as much.”
Benton rallied and returned the smile with a shrug. “Well, I’ll find out! Totland, wasn’t it? I just remember those Needles over there; my family brought us out here on holiday when I was younger but it’s different when you aren’t the one driving you know. Sorry, I’m a bit rummy on sleep.”
“Well this is the heart of the matter, so I’m glad to see you at least brought plenty.”
“The refrigerated lorries were a god-send. I can’t imagine what this would smell like if we hadn’t had them, though when that chap tried to tell us we couldn’t truck it in we were quite prepared to just anchor it all on a barge offshore if that’s what it took.” He turned, catching sight of a hand-wave from the Brigadier
“Sergeant!” the Brigadier called from over where he’d been speaking with the drivers. “Come with me, I want you to meet someone.”
Benton stuffed the papers back in his coat. “Yes sir,” he called back. “Excuse me, Doctor.”
“Oh, I’ll come along,” he said. “It seems best for you to be personally acquainted with the person overseeing this operation as she’ll be UNIT’s contact locally. The new Head of Ornithological Laridae Oology Ministry for the Isle of Wight,” he added impressively.
“And what would that be when it’s at home?”
The Doctor winked. “She’s in charge of anything to do with seagull eggs.”
“Well, that puts it in fancy dress now, doesn’t it? Did you see the post today? One lad nearly had his eyes put out by one of those birds of yours. His father wrung its neck. Is that what happened to the Brigadier?” he drew an imaginary line on his face where Lethbridge-Stewart still bore a healing gash.
“Yes, except for the neck-wringing part.”
Benton whistled. “Glad to hear it. I mean, that it wasn’t worse!” he quickly clarified.
They met up with the Brigadier who started to lead the way towards a plain little building on the side before pausing as a petite young woman wrapped in a warm coat met them coming the other way. She smiled a bit nervously, her eyes flickering to the military jeeps and lorries.
“So, they got through all right then?” she asked.
“Yes indeed, thank you Miss Fleming,” the Brigadier said. He turned and indicated the tall young man beside him. “Sergeant Benton, this is Miss Fleming and she will be overseeing the coordination of this operation. I want you and your men to give her your full support and cooperation.”
She extended a hand and he briefly grasped it. “Pleased to meet you, Miss.”
“I’m a bit new to all this,” Sylvia admitted, speaking more to the Brigadier. “I’m afraid that Ministry man you had me talk to wasn’t on his best manners, but it looks like it’s all worked out.” She looked back at Benton. “Can I get you any tea or anything? I haven’t much, but…”
“Thank you, Miss, but we have a canteen truck with us. We’re fine” he assured her. “Maybe we can offer you something?”
Sylvia laughed at this. “I admit I’m grateful to find I don’t have to play hostess. There’s quite a lot of you to feed, isn’t there?”
“It’s not necessary. We are ready to feed quite a lot of birds, though.”
“When do you start?” the Doctor asked, looking up to where several gulls were already hovering curiously nearby.
“We’ll start distribution as soon as we receive reports of the others being in their places,” Benton said. “Should be within the next thirty minutes.”
“Good idea. Prevents them from just following the trucks and eating some other bird’s share,” the Doctor noted. “Well done, Sergeant.”
Benton’s chest lifted a little at the praise. One of the drivers behind signaled for attention. He turned and gave them a little acknowledging salute. “And it looks like it may be time.”
“Why don’t you take Miss Fleming with you?” the Brigadier suggested. “I’d like her to know what locations are being covered.”
“Of course. This way, Miss,” Benton said, politely offering her an arm that she accepted with a smile. The two of them walked back to the car park where the men were already backing one of the lorries to the walkway for easier unloading.
"That should take care of the gulls," the Doctor observed.
"Yes,” the Brigadier nodded. “Now to deal with the perpetrators."