27th March, 2016, 10:37am
“The Doctor’s laboratory?” Jo says, voice hovering somewhere between outraged and amused.
Kate half turns, sharing a quick smile with her. “Physical files take up a lot of space. And no one wanted to repurpose the room by removing anything so-” she swings the door open.
Jo’s hand flies to her mouth as she’s catapulted back in time. The room truly doesn’t look that different. The Doctor’s workbench still takes up one whole side, a few standard UNIT boxes, emblazoned with the familiar insignia, stacked along one end of it. The old rotary telephone and its wire is in the place it has always been. She pats the back of the equally familiar chair as she passes it, stepping into the room proper. She had spent many hours in that chair, smoothing over ruffled feathers as she chased up the Doctor’s impatient requisitions.
The far corner, where the TARDIS used to stand, has been left conspicuously empty. There are faint outlines of blue chalk still on the floor, a reserved parking space.
Much of the floor space however is filled with cardboard boxes filled with old fashioned lever arch folders, and even a couple of file cabinets, rammed up against one wall, but Jo can see instantly what Kate means. This is still the Doctor’s laboratory, it’s just had some things no one uses regularly dumped in it while he is temporarily absent.
Benton squeezes in beside her and together they survey the room for a long moment. His hand finds hers and he squeezes her fingers reassuringly for a second. She’s glad of the support. It’s plain weird to stand here again after all these years.
“You want us to go through all these, Miss?”
“Kate, Mr Benton, please. You’ve been retired for more than a decade, I think we can drop the formalities. But yes. These are - mostly - your missions, that’s why I brought you in. You’re more likely to recognise anything that’s been reported in a more-” she hesitates a second, “-circumspect way, and be able to fill in any blanks I might need to know. But there’s a lot of duplication, reports filed in triplicate etc. Anything you think we do need, pass it on to Osgood, she’s going to archive everything digitally.”
“Where is Osgood?” Jo asks, delighted to hear that her friend is here.
Kate rolls her eyes. “Exploring. She’s very excited to be in the original HQ.”
Even Benton cracks a smile at that. He’s fond of Osgood too. It’s been a long time since anyone was interested in his old war stories.
“All these years away from UNIT and I’m still doing the filing,” Jo jokes cheerfully, picking her way across the room to the workbench. She peers into the boxes on the far side, filled with a seemingly random assortment of bits and a bunsen burner that makes her ache with its familiarity, the Doctor’s regular tools and experimental pieces. She draws her hand back, unwilling to explore any of that yet and instead runs a finger through the thick layer of dust on one of the boxes.
“Nothing ever changes,” Benton says as he joins her.
“I can at least save you from making the tea,” Kate offers. “Two sugars, isn’t it, Jo. And for you Mr. Benton?”
“If I’m going to call you Kate, you have to call me John.”
“John, it is.”
“And the same as Jo, please. Strong and sweet.”
“Same as him,” Jo adds, and the tips of Benton’s ears turn, to Kate’s delight, rather red.
“I’ll bring them through, and the nice biscuits we keep for people who are inspecting us.”
“Brilliant,” Jo enthuses, looking up from the first folder that’s she’s heaved onto the bench and is now flipping through, “I love being important.”
“I like not having to keep to military time,” Benton says, “I remember when 10 o’clock sharp wouldn’t have meant quarter past 10 after a leisurely drive, and then a nostalgic walk around the place before we have to get to work.”
Kate laughs, and leaves them to get on with, promising to keep Osgood from pestering them for stories until they’ve done at least some of the boxes.
Benton and Jo empty the first box and have a quick look through the folders, discovering to their dismay, that there doesn’t seem to be any order at all.
“This looks like someone emptied a bunch of filing cabinets into boxes whichever way they fitted best,” Jo complains, slamming shut an accounts ledger that seems to be mostly detailing automobile part requisitions between 1967 and 1970. A huge cloud of dust rises from the edges, and Benton turns away to cough.
“Probably exactly what happened,” Benton agrees. “You know what downsizing is like. Anything that’s not immediately needed goes in the nearest box until someone does need it.”
Jo gives her tinkling laugh. “Yes, and then all the boxes are emptied all over the floor until someone finds what they need, and whatever’s left over is shoved back in, higgledy-piggledy.”
Benton doesn’t answer her, peering closely at a page. “Do you think we have clearance to read all of this?” he asks suddenly.
“I expect so, Kate would have said otherwise. Why, what have you found?”
“Oh, just one of the Brig’s old reports. Remember the incident at Devil’s End?”
“Do I?” Jo shivers, “I still have nightmares about it sometimes.”
“Well, I’d never guess from this,” Benton flashes her a quick smile, “The Brig wrote here you showed ‘extraordinary courage.’”
Jo gives a squeal more suited to the girl she had been in Devil’s End. “Does he? Oooo, let’s see.”
Benton passes over the file. “We’ll never get through this if we have to read everything.” He is roundly ignored, Jo now deep in the report he’s handed over, but with a good natured smile, he simply picks up another box.
For the next hour and a half or so, they sort contentedly. The ‘for disposal’ pile grows steadily. Jo puts aside the financial records for Kate’s approval, although she suspects that no one cares at all how much had been spent on boots in the mid 80s, and that these too can be disposed of. They get distracted occasionally, reminiscing about adventures and old friends. Jo is in charge of deciphering the Doctor’s reports, the old skill of reading his elaborate copperplate handwriting coming quickly back to her.
They are just thinking about taking a break and seeing if the kitchenette they remember being down the corridor is stocked with supplies for a couple of sandwiches, when there’s a familiar sound. It’s the roaring grind of a powerful engine, or wind through corrugated iron. Some single sheets of paper begin blowing, one stack gusting onto the floor, and as one, they turn to look at the chalked out corner as a blue box begins to appear.