"Now really, Brigadier. Once was an imposition. Twice is adding insult to injury!"
Professor Elizabeth Shaw stormed into Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's office ahead of her escort, bristling with indignation from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair, the fiery colour of which was a perfect match for her current mood. How dare he do this to her again? Bad enough that she'd been dragged away from her research at Cambridge by the high-handed tactics of UNIT the one time, but that it had now happened again, for no good reason that she could see, really was beyond the pale. He knew her feelings on the subject. She'd made them quite clear the first time they met and had expressed similar sentiments again when they finally parted company. Yet he had blithely disregarded both her wishes and her career to have her brought back here at a moment's notice, again.
Sat at his desk reading through some paperwork, the Brigadier glanced up. "Ah, Miss Shaw," he said, as calmly as if she had merely bid him good morning, nodding at her escort that all was well and he could leave them. "Thank you for coming at such short notice."
She'd almost forgotten that about him, that utter unflappability. It was what made him the ideal man for his job, his phlegmatic nature standing him in good stead when faced with the bizarre and unexplainable, which was UNIT's remit. It was also what made him so very maddening to deal with. He hadn't changed a bit in the years since they'd last met. That much older now, of course, he must be pushing 50 these days, his smooth dark hair slowly giving way to salt-and-pepper, but otherwise just the same as he'd always been: the perfect gentleman officer, dashing and dapper, right down to the little moustache that looked almost as if it had been pencilled on, it was so neat.
"I wasn't exactly given much say in the matter," Liz snapped, and he had the grace to look slightly chagrined.
"Ah, yes. Yes, I do apologise for all that – you know how it is."
Yes, she did know how it was. That was part of the reason she'd left UNIT and not looked back, several years earlier. It was also part of the reason she'd not wanted to work there in the first place. She'd been requisitioned like a piece of equipment, whether she liked it or not, and had resented it every bit as fiercely then as she did now.
"Just what exactly is the meaning of all this, Brigadier?" she demanded. "Why have you brought me back here, you don't need me –"
"Oh, but we do, Miss Shaw," he interrupted. "We do. We find ourselves very much in need of a scientist of your standing and all-round expertise –"
"Oh, but you don't," she insisted, interrupting in turn. "You don't need me – you never did. The Doctor –"
"The Doctor is no longer here," said the Brigadier, and this matter-of-fact statement stopped her dead in her tracks.
"No longer here?" she echoed in surprise, her outrage forgotten for the moment.
The Doctor was the reason she'd stayed with UNIT as long as she had…and he was also the reason she'd left. That enigmatic, eccentric genius had been a revelation to work with; she could easily have spent her entire career at his side and still learned no more than a fraction of what he knew. Part of her had wanted to, had wanted nothing more than to stay with him and soak up as much of that knowledge as she could, but her inner student had been overruled by her ambition, which had pointed out that in the shadows of even such a genius was the very last place she should be standing. She'd invested too much in her career to let it flounder now. Working with the Doctor had been exhilarating and invigorating – yet she had never in her life felt more redundant. She was a scientist. She'd spent years painstakingly building up her reputation and standing. She wasn't about throw it all away simply to stand at the Doctor's side handing him test tubes and admiring his brilliance. So she'd left and she hadn't looked back, her research too all-consuming for any regrets.
And now here she was again.
"That's right," the Brigadier nodded. "The Doctor is no longer here – only he knows where he now is – and so we find ourselves in rather pressing need of an alternate scientific advisor to aid us in an ongoing investigation."
"But why should that have to be me?" demanded Liz, setting aside the mysterious issue of the Doctor's departure from UNIT for the time being. "There must be dozens of scientists every bit as qualified for the job."
There weren't. She already knew that. Oh, there were plenty of scientists out there, good ones – brilliant ones – but few with the breadth of expertise that she could boast. The majority of her fellows tended toward a much narrower field of study.
"Miss Shaw, we discussed your qualifications for the post in some detail the first time we met. Since then you have only added to them. You now also have an additional qualification, unique in your field – you know us. You've worked with UNIT before, you know what our work entails, and that experience would be invaluable to us in this investigation."
'Would be' rather than 'will be'. Liz mentally thanked him for that small concession even as she fumed over being backed into such a corner. He wasn't presenting her cooperation as a foregone conclusion, but he might as well. She couldn't refuse and he knew it, and the fact that she knew what UNIT's work entailed was a large part of the reason why. If they'd requested her help so urgently – and forcefully – it had to be a matter of national security, at the very least, but also…knowing UNIT's work as she did, she couldn't help but be intrigued to know just what the problem was.
Her curiosity and her desire to turn around and walk away again warred for a moment longer, before she gave in to the inevitable and reluctantly asked him to tell her about the investigation. It couldn't hurt to find out more, she told herself. Asking the question didn't mean she couldn't still walk away at any time.
She almost believed it, too. Almost.
"Well, it's rather an odd one," the Brigadier began, and Liz found herself chuckling in spite of it all.
"Aren't they all?"
He rolled his eyes. "Well, quite. However, this one has us particularly puzzled. Over the last few days we've been receiving some rather odd accounts – some strange…well, anomalies, I suppose you might call them…"
"That's not very precise."
"It's rather difficult to be precise. Eye witness reports talk of these strange…fissures opening up: in walls, in floors – mid-air, even. Then they disappear again, usually within a matter of minutes. We've yet to see one for ourselves to be able to study them."
"That's just hearsay, Brigadier," Liz scoffed. She'd expected something far more substantial, given the peremptory summons she'd received.
"There are also reports of people disappearing into these fissures," he grimly replied. "Where they end up is impossible to say, but certainly none of them have been seen again. And now something appears to have come through in the other direction – and that's where we'd like you to begin. It's in our sick bay, at present, being examined by our medical officer."
"Something, you say," Liz carefully repeated. "Not someone."
"That's right." The Brigadier smiled his most charming smile at her. "Shall I show you?"
Oh, he was impossible. He had her hooked and he knew it and she was furious about it because this was exactly what he'd done the first time they met: presented her with a scientific conundrum too intriguing to resist. Now she'd let him do it to her all over again, but couldn't argue about it precisely because she was hooked. She wanted to know what they'd found more than she wanted to walk away.
Well, there was nothing for it, then, but to go along with him and find out just what was going on here – and what had come through that fissure.
"Professor Shaw, Surgeon-Lieutenant Sullivan, our chief medical officer. He'll bring you up to speed."
Introductions thus concluded, the Brigadier left the sick bay, closing the door behind him and leaving Liz alone with the young medical officer. He was a Naval doctor, judging both by his rank and the uniform visible beneath his unbuttoned lab coat, in his early 30s, tall and square-jawed with a lean, angular face, thick curly hair cut short with deep sideburns and a slightly crooked nose that suggested he'd perhaps been a bit of a rugby player in his youth.
"How much has the Brigadier told you, Professor Shaw?" he asked in the crisp, clipped tones of a public schoolboy, greeting her with a firm handshake.
"Very little," she admitted, rolling her eyes. "Something about something that came through some kind of fissure."
Put like that, it sounded vaguer than vague, but Sullivan smiled and nodded. "That's the one. It's over here."
'It' being the operative word, as it turned out. It was lying on an examination table toward the back of the room: a stocky humanoid figure clad in some kind of armour, including an ornate helmet that concealed the face. A humanoid figure that definitely wasn't human. An alien of some kind.
That was something she'd deliberately not allowed herself to remember about working for UNIT: the thrill that ran through one at the first sight of something like this.
"Wouldn't it be easier to examine if you removed the armour?" Liz enquired, circling the table to get a good look at the alien. What little skin was visible was a strange blue-grey in colour, with an odd texture that was almost reptilian, and there were spurs that appeared to be made of bone jutting out of the sides of its forearms, fitting neatly through holes in the gauntlets that had clearly been designed for that purpose. It was fascinating, even before taking into account the various mechanical and technical devices that appeared to be built into its body armour, whose purpose she could only begin to guess at.
Sullivan cast a mildly exasperated look in her direction; this was evidently a question that had come up before. "It would," he agreed. "If we could get it off."
"You mean you can't remove it?" She leaned in to take a closer look – and gasped in surprise. She'd assumed, somehow, that the creature must be dead…but realised, upon getting that bit closer, that it was breathing. "It's still alive?"
"Yes, and I'd quite like to keep it that way, if at all possible, which would be rather easier to achieve if I knew anything at all about it," Sullivan explained. "But as you can see, the armour makes a full examination all but impossible. It doesn't appear to have any life support function, but it's quite securely attached. There are what appear to be fasteners here and here," he pointed them out, "but they give quite a nasty shock if you try to release them, and we haven't yet managed to bypass that defence system."
"When was it found?"
"Early this morning."
"And has it been unconscious the whole time?" she asked, regarding the alien with fascination.
He nodded. "Hasn't shown the slightest sign of stirring – it seems to be well and truly out for the count. I'm a bit concerned that might indicate head trauma of some kind, but the helmet is impervious to x-ray, and since it can't be removed…"
"Diagnosis is a little tricky. I see." She was eager to get her hands on the creature and start examining it herself, various possible options already running through her mind, but first she needed to find out more about what had already been tried, to avoid duplication of effort. "Do you have the full case file to hand? If I'm to be of any help with this investigation, I should probably start with that." And she realised as she said it that she had begun to take for granted that she was part of the case now, all thoughts of walking away all but forgotten. It was a completely unknown alien that came complete with absolutely unknown technology – how could she walk away from a puzzle like that?
Sullivan handed her the file and she found a chair over in one corner that was almost comfortable to sit and read it, committing the details to memory. Then before she got started with the more hands-on work, she was also shown the rest of the investigation – eye witness accounts of the fissures, maps and wall charts plotting the locations of the various incidents, the results of forensic examinations conducted at each site, and reports from UNIT's tracking station, where technicians had identified strange sort of radio waves, or at least radio interference, in the vicinity of each fissure.
It was Benton who showed her around the incident room: tall, solid, dependable Benton, who'd been a mere corporal the last time they met and had now reached the giddy heights of Regimental Sergeant-Major, but was otherwise utterly unchanged.
"It's good to have you back, Miss," he told her with a smile.
Back in sick bay, Liz set her mind to the task at hand. "Could I take a look at the blood samples, Dr Sullivan?" she asked.
"Call me Harry, please," he said with a rueful little smile, scrubbing a hand through his curls. "Whenever anyone around here calls me 'doctor', I rather expect to turn around and see the other chap, even now."
Liz chuckled at that. "You mean the Doctor, the one who likes to call himself 'John Smith'?"
"That's the name on his file. It's not who he is, though."
"You knew him, then?"
"Oh yes – remarkable chap."
He certainly was that, and his absence appeared to be the only thing about UNIT that had changed since Liz was last there. "Do you know where he is now?" she asked, wondering if one of the space programmes overseas, perhaps, might have appealed to his spirit of scientific adventure.
"Oh, half way around the universe by now, I should think," Harry replied with a shrug. "I couldn't begin to guess."
Halfway around the universe…she should have realised. It simply hadn't occurred to her, when she heard of the Doctor's departure from UNIT, that he might also have departed from the planet. It should have, of course – his alien origins certainly weren't in question and she'd always known how much he wanted to resume his travels among the stars…but he'd been so well and truly trapped here on Earth when she'd known him that she'd somehow taken it completely for granted that he still would be.
"He used to talk about leaving all the time," she recalled. "He kept telling me about his plans to get that old box of his working again. It could take him anywhere and any when, he used to say. But it was just an old police box. It seemed too absurd for words."
It was more than just an old police box, of course, and Liz knew that; she'd seen inside it, after all. But he'd never even seemed to get close to repairing it while she'd known him, and not for want of trying. It had seemed an utterly futile project.
"That's what I thought, at first," said Harry. "But there's a lot more to that old box of his than meets the eye. And the blood samples are over here, Professor."
Right: the business at hand. The past could wait.
"It's Liz," she told him. "Thank you."
"Well, Miss Shaw. How are you getting on?" the Brigadier asked as he returned to sick bay for the umpteenth time to check up on progress. Anyone would think he had nothing better to do.
"Splendidly," Liz tersely replied, keeping her eyes focused on her work in the hope that he might take the hint and leave her in peace, since she was trying to concentrate.
The Brigadier never had been very good at picking up hints, however, and it evidently wasn't a skill he'd managed to acquire during the years since they'd last met. "Excellent. You have some progress to report, then?"
"Not yet," she crisply replied, keeping her tone brisk and to the point in hopes of discouraging further extraneous conversation.
It wasn't strictly true – 'progress' was, after all, something of a subjective term and depended heavily on what one was or wasn't expecting to learn from any given investigation. Still, however one looked at it, she'd be making a lot more progress if she weren't interrupted quite so often, especially since in scientific terms they had barely even begun, after only a few scant hours of study.
The Brigadier began to pace around the impromptu laboratory that had been set up for her in a corner of sick bay, swagger stick tucked under an arm. "We need to find out as much as we can about this creature," he rather fretfully reminded her, as if he thought she might have forgotten. "What is it, where did it come from, what's it doing here – are there any more of them? Haven't you learned anything about it yet? Sullivan?" He turned to include the medical officer in the discussion and Harry glanced up and wandered over to join them.
"On the contrary, sir," he cheerfully replied. "We've learned quite a bit."
It was true, they had. The haematology, for instance, was absolutely fascinating, so different from any blood type that might be encountered on Earth, either human or animal. Harry had already made some headway in identifying the constituent cells before Liz joined him and together they had made great strides in furthering that work, drawing parallels with Earth blood types in hopes of gaining some understanding of the alien's physiology and thus diagnosing what was wrong with it, although a lot of that work was little more than guesswork at this stage, unavoidably so. They'd at least learned enough that they could keep the creature hydrated and comfortable for the time being and be reasonably certain they wouldn't accidentally kill it in the process. Equally, the metallurgical analyses Liz was conducting on the alien's strange, mechanised armour had taught her a fair amount about its composition, although very little as yet about the technology built into it, still less where it might have come from beyond the fact that it was clearly not of Earth origin. None of that was what the Brigadier really wanted to hear, however, she knew.
"Just not the answers to your specific questions," she said as a rider to Harry's statement. "Not yet."
The Brigadier frowned. "There could be a whole army of these creatures out there, you know. If they're planning an invasion of some kind, I'd prefer to know about it sooner rather than later."
"Yes, I'm sure you would."
He always had tended to assume hostility on the part of any visiting aliens that passed Earth's way, as Liz recalled – and in fairness, he'd often been right in that assumption, although not always. He had to assume the worst, she supposed. It was his job. Hers, however, was to remain objective, and Harry's was to ensure the wellbeing of his patient, alien or otherwise. Neither one of them was going to be able to give the Brigadier the assurances he was looking for, certainly not at this early stage. And if he was going to keep on interrupting their work like this, they never would.
"Brigadier, if you want us to learn anything useful about this creature, perhaps it might help if you allowed us to get on with our work, without all these interruptions," she brusquely suggested. "We'll keep you informed of any progress, don't you worry about that."
He was unhappy about being given the brush off in this way, that much was blindingly apparent, but he seemed to take the point. "See that you do," he curtly instructed, turning on his heel and marching smartly out of the room.
Liz turned back to her work – and realised that she had completely lost her place and would have to start the sequence all over again. "Oh, that man!" she burst out in exasperation, and saw Harry lift his eyebrows and give a little shrug. "You're going to defend him, I suppose," she grumbled before he could say anything.
"Well, he is only doing his job," Harry mildly pointed out.
"No, he's getting in the way of me doing mine," Liz snapped. A job she hadn't asked to be recruited for in the first place, moreover, a fact that was harder to forget for as long as she was prevented from getting on with it.
It wasn't Harry's fault, though, and she'd always prided herself on being fair, so shouldn't really take her frustrations out on him. He'd proved easy enough to work with, so far. He was a bit of a bumbler, perhaps, which wasn't a quality she usually looked for in her lab partners, and he was a typical man, which was to say that he could be rather tactless and thoughtlessly chauvinistic at times without even realising he was doing it – definitely cut from the same public school cloth as the Brigadier. Having said that, however, he was also good at his job, which was a useful start, worked tirelessly both to care for his patient and to assist her where needed, so far as he was able, seemed respectful of her qualifications and experience in spite of his occasional lapses into maleness, and was pleasant company, which was always a help when sharing a workspace. All in all, since she'd been pulled back into the oh-so military environment of UNIT once again, this time without the Doctor's scientific expertise to lean on, she was grateful that she had at least been provided with a work partner who knew one end of a test tube from the other.
"Come on," she said, adopting a softer tone by way of apology for snapping. "Let's get back to it."
After all, the sooner she helped UNIT resolve this investigation, the sooner she could return to her real work, back home in Cambridge.
Afternoon was giving way to evening by the time a breakthrough was finally achieved, and even then it was more by luck than judgement. Having isolated the circuits controlling the armour's defensive mechanisms, Liz had tried rigging up some equipment that would allow her to cycle through microwaves and electrical impulses of varying frequencies in hopes of disabling it, but she was growing weary, after long hours of intense concentration, and her hand slipped on the controls. There was a loud crack and a flash of electricity that threw her to the ground, Harry hurried over to pick her up and check that she was all right – and then when they turned to ensure that their patient was likewise unharmed, they saw that one of the sealed catches on its armour had sprung open.
"Oh, well done, Liz," Harry enthused. "Could you repeat the procedure?" He frowned dubiously at the tangle of wires, some of which had been disconnected and damaged by the jolt of the short circuit.
"I'm not sure," Liz admitted.
"Perhaps a little less dramatically, this time," he added.
"I'll do my best."
They were both rather singed and sore by the time the last of those well-defended fasteners had finally shorted out and sprung loose, allowing them to remove the armour, beneath which was a close-fitting body suit made of some kind of synthetic material, and examine their patient properly, at last.
Medicine took priority over science, at this point, so Liz set the armour aside to continue studying later and focused on the alien, working with Harry to perform a battery of tests, from which they learned a great deal about the creature's physiology and reached the conclusion that it was not physically injured but rather had suffered some kind of neurological trauma – most likely a result of transit through that so-called fissure, whatever it was – which was the cause of its prolonged coma. That being the case, there really wasn't much they could do but continue to monitor its condition and keep it hydrated and as comfortable as possible. If and when it woke up, they would perhaps learn more about where it came from and what it was doing here, but they'd done all they could for the time being.
It was getting late and the thought of driving all the way back to Cambridge for the night was too exhausting for words, even with a UNIT chauffeur at her disposal. Liz decided instead to avail herself of the sleeping accommodation on site and phoned home to explain that she wouldn't be back tonight.
No reply. She called the lab instead, three times before Roger finally answered. Absorbed as he was in his own research, he probably wouldn't have even noticed she wasn't home if she hadn't called. Boyfriend and colleague rolled into one – that was one of the things she loved about him, that he was as dedicated to his work as she was, because it meant he understood when she chose to prioritise it.
"Must be special for you to abandon your research at this stage," he observed.
"Anna can oversee the experiments in my absence," she assured him, although she was far from convinced that her doctoral student had either the experience or finesse that was really required for taking point on the experiments solo. She was just going to have to manage, and perhaps the responsibility would be good for her.
This morning she'd have been horrified at the thought of leaving her precious research in Anna's care at such a crucial time. Tonight…she felt strangely calm about it. Her priorities had shifted, almost without her noticing.
"Will you be away long?" Roger asked.
"I'm not sure yet. A few days, perhaps."
"It must be special," he repeated, and Liz thought again about the mysterious alien lying comatose in UNIT's sick bay.
"Yes," she said. "It is."
Liz regretted not going home for the night when morning came and she had nothing to change into but the rumpled outfit she'd worn yesterday, since she liked to present a smart, professional image, as a woman of approaching 40 operating in a man's world. She freshened up as best she could and arranged for clean clothes to be sent down from Cambridge before heading for sick bay to begin work for the day, in the absence of any instructions to the contrary.
Harry was already there, checking over their mysterious alien patient, and while he worked he was chatting to a young woman who was perched on a worktop alongside him, feet dangling. Petite and pretty, she was casually dressed, with sleek dark hair hanging loose around her shoulders. She was also something of a mystery – her presence here, at least. She couldn't be UNIT, non-uniformed as she was, unless she was admin staff, perhaps, but even those tended to be military, as a rule. But if she wasn't UNIT, what was she doing here? There'd been no mention of any other specialists being brought in, and she didn't appear to be working. A girlfriend, perhaps – but how likely was that, given the security of the base and the secrecy of this investigation?
"Good morning," Liz called, since neither seemed to have noticed her arrival.
Harry jumped to attention at once. "Oh, hallo there, Liz," he said, while his friend slid off the worktop and smiled politely at her in greeting. "Uh…this is Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah, Professor Liz Shaw."
"How do you do?" smiled Sarah, holding out a hand, which Liz shook.
"Miss Smith –"
"Sarah. You work here at UNIT as well, do you?"
"Oh heavens, no," she laughed. "No, I'm a journalist. Freelance."
"A journalist?" Well, Liz hadn't expected that, and was alarmed – and rather shocked at Harry for allowing the press to have access to this room and its ailing alien occupant, girlfriend or otherwise. How had she made it past security?
"Oh, but it's all right," Sarah hastily added. "The Brig doesn't mind, he knows I won't print anything untoward."
"Sarah's been a good friend to UNIT, over the years," Harry explained. "And, of course, she has nothing better to do these days, since she's been back home…" He broke off, chuckling, and ducked away as Sarah smacked his arm.
"That's nice! See if I bother to say hello next time I'm passing."
"You'd have to go a long way to be 'just passing' all the way out here, old girl," Harry pointed out, his tone serious but with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and Sarah poked her tongue out at him.
"Fine, be like that. I'll go and say good morning to the Brigadier instead, then, see if he's any more welcoming. It was nice to meet you, Professor Shaw."
"Liz," said Liz with a smile, amused by their antics and wondering again what their relationship was, what this journalist was doing at UNIT, seemingly as comfortable as if she belonged here.
"See you later, Harry," Sarah added as she left the room, while behind her back, Liz regarded him with raised eyebrows.
"Girlfriend?" she asked in her driest tone, since that still seemed the most likely explanation, but Harry seemed both genuinely startled and absolutely mortified that she should think such a thing.
"What? Oh, no! No, Sarah's a friend, and, you see, she's, uh, she was connected to the Doctor, and now she's…uh…" He was frowning as he came stuttering to a halt, looking confused, as if now that he came to think about it, he couldn't actually come up with any official reason for Sarah's presence.
Connected to the Doctor, eh? How would a freelance journalist be connected to the Doctor and why should that connection allow her access to UNIT headquarters in the middle of a top secret investigation now that he was no longer here? But Harry seemed a bit too flustered about the misunderstanding to be able to explain Sarah's UNIT connections properly; it would probably be easier to ask the woman herself, should she reappear. Liz took pity on him and changed the subject. "Never mind. How's our patient this morning?"
"Oh, I've got the overnight report here," he told her with visible relief, picking up a file and handing it to her. "It seems rather more responsive than it was, actually – the coma appears to be lightening."
Liz scanned the report, which meticulously detailed the alien's vitals, as recorded by the duty staff overnight. "So it might actually wake up at some point, then," she noted, wryly adding, "The Brigadier will be pleased – he'll get to interrogate it at last, find out if he should be preparing for battle."
Harry snorted. "Well, if it is the spearhead of an invasion, they've got a jolly funny way of going about it!"
"Yes, haven't they just," she dryly agreed.
Leaving the patient care to the practising physician, she focused her attention for the time being on the alien's armour. Although the catches that had secured it in place were no longer live, there were plenty of other built-in devices to examine, some of which were clearly weapons, while others still remained a total mystery, and she was determined to learn as much as she could about them.
Sarah drifted back in after a while, bearing a tray of steaming mugs that she'd just taken off a young private out in the hallway, and the news that another of the fissures had opened and then closed again, somewhere out in the wilds – the Brigadier was taking a team out to investigate and would be back with more news later. "And apparently a person came through this time – a human, I mean. Out cold, just like your friend over there. He's been taken to hospital, but the Brig's going to arrange to have him brought here, so you'll need to set up for another patient, Harry," she added.
"He should have waited for me," said Liz, exasperated – what was the point of him having her brought in to work on the investigation if he was going to leave her out of it? "I might have learned something useful from an examination of the site."
Setting aside the experiments she was preparing, she hurried out of the room – if she was quick, she might still catch him.
She didn't. The Brigadier and his forensic team had already gone by the time she found out where they were assembling. She only missed them by a few minutes, but by then was in no mood to have them called back and asked to wait while she put together a kit of field equipment. She'd just have to wait and see if they brought back any evidence this time – from what she'd seen, they hadn't found anything even remotely useful to the enquiry at any of the previous locations, which was why it might have been beneficial if she'd had the chance to examine one herself.
Still, another fissure at least meant more raw data, which could only aid in the analysis of what they already knew, so she went to get the latest information from the tracking station herself, rather than wait for it to be brought to her.
When she returned to sick bay, Sarah was perched on the worktop alongside Harry again, feet dangling, talking quietly while he tended to the still comatose alien, with a second examination table already set up for the new patient, whenever he arrived. Liz left them to it and focused on her own work, trying to make sense of what little information they had about the fissures. If only she could see one for herself – not just the location where one had previously been, but the actual fissure itself – she might stand a better chance of understanding what they were and what was causing them, but until and unless they were able to predict where the next one was likely to appear, there didn't seem to be much chance of that. This raw data was all they had to go on, and it wasn't much.
The Doctor would probably have solved the entire case by now, she tiredly reflected. She'd been brought in to fill the gaping hole he'd left behind, but even as highly qualified and experienced as she was, she knew that she could never take his place, could never be for UNIT what he'd been. It was unlikely that anyone on Earth could.
Still, all she could do was her best. She might not have the Doctor's genius or depth and breadth of intergalactic knowledge, but she was a scientist, highly trained in multiple disciplines and extremely efficient. If she kept applying herself to the task and was given enough information, she would eventually be able to solve the problem, even if she couldn't guarantee how long it might take. She just needed to keep plugging away at it, and if she failed to work as fast as the Doctor would have done, well, so be it. He had left. She was here and she was currently all UNIT had.
She didn't realise Sarah had approached until she heard the other woman's voice just behind her. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Liz wrenched her attention away from the figures, which had started to swim before her eyes.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. I just wondered if you needed a hand with anything."
The data analysis wasn't something anyone could help with, really, certainly not a layman, but Liz was getting nowhere fast with that, so set it aside for now; a break to clear her head would allow her to return to it fresh later. "Not with this, I'm afraid, but you can give me a hand with these samples."
It was the work of but a moment to explain what to do. Sarah was no scientist but she was quick and efficient and followed instruction well; they quickly settled into a rhythm.
"I did something like this for the Doctor once or twice," she remarked after a while. "The Brigadier said that you worked with him for a while, when he first came to UNIT."
"A long time ago now."
"Must be…" Liz tried to remember. "Oh, six or seven years, at the very least – maybe closer to eight." She regarded the other woman curiously for a moment, wondering again what her function here was, since she didn't appear to have any formal affiliation with UNIT, still less any role to play in the investigation. "How did you meet him? The Doctor, I mean?"
Sarah smiled a nostalgic little smile. "Oh, it's a long story," she said, dryly adding, "Or was that just a polite way of asking what I'm doing here?"
Caught, Liz had to chuckle. "Well, I wouldn't have phrased it quite so bluntly, but I was wondering…well, actually," she admitted, "I did think at first that you and Harry might be…well, you know – involved."
Sarah burst out laughing. "What, me and Harry? Oh, heavens no. No, Harry's a very dear friend, but he's…well, he's a bit like the brother I never had, really, I suppose – besides, he's seeing someone. Aren't you, Harry?" Eyes dancing with mischief, she raised her voice to call across the lab and Harry glanced up from his work, bemused, and wandered over to see what they were talking about.
"What's that, old thing?"
"Harry. I'm not old and I'm not a thing."
"You've been going out with that corporal in Stores, haven't you?" she teased. "What's her name again? Helen, isn't it?"
Harry spluttered. "I say, old girl, I don't see that it's any business of yours," he protested, clearly mortified all over again at having had his private life brought up in the workplace for a second time in one morning.
"Oh, don't be such a stick-in-the-mud, Harry," Sarah cheerfully retorted. "Of course it's my business – we're friends, aren't we?"
Harry had gone pink. Muttering that he should get back to work, he escaped to the other side of the lab again, while Sarah burst out giggling.
"Oh, I really shouldn't tease him like that."
Liz chuckled. "Why not? It's rather fun!"
"And so easy. Poor Harry," Sarah grinned, watching as he settled back to his work, assiduously ignoring them now. Then she became serious once more. "You wanted to know what I'm doing here. The truth is, I don't really know, any more. Habit, I suppose." She sighed. "I spent so much time here when the Doctor was around. He needed an assistant and I had access to all the big scoops – some of them were even publishable. We were such good friends…" She looked wistful as her voice trailed off.
"And then he left," Liz softly finished for her.
"And then he left. He left me. And now…" She snorted. "Now I find myself hanging around annoying Harry instead!"
Liz smiled. "I don't think he minds very much."
"He's right, though – don't tell him I said so! But I am at a loose end these days, have been ever since I got back –"
She broke off at the sound of sudden gunfire from outside, jumping to her feet, wide-eyed, while across the lab Harry cried out, "I say, what's all that?" and hurried over to the window, although he was careful to stand to the side as he cautiously peered out, so as not to present a target to whoever was shooting out there.
"What is it, can you see?" Liz started across the room, but before she'd reached him, the window he was standing at suddenly exploded inward in a shower of glass and she cried out and jumped back, throwing her arms up to shield her face from the flying shards.
By the time she looked again, Harry was wrestling with an alien as it clambered in through the window – the same kind of alien as their comatose patient, armour-clad, this one wide awake and very aggressive. Before Liz could do anything to help, it had discharged a weapon in its gauntlet with a crackle and a blaze of light, and Harry crumpled. Somewhere behind her, Liz heard Sarah shout out his name in fear and fury, and quickly called to the other woman to run for help, while snatching up whatever came to hand as a weapon to defend herself with, knowing that she was too far from the door to escape.
"What do you want?" she fearfully called out as the alien advanced toward her, its face hidden by its helmet so that the only part of its expression she could make out were the eyes, glittering with animosity. The examination table with the comatose alien on it was between them and she warily edged around it, trying not to let the intruder get near, futile though such a gesture was since it was armed and had already demonstrated its willingness to shoot.
Then a second window smashed and she couldn't quite hold back a yelp of shock, instinctively looked to see that another intruder was entering…and hastily returned her attention to the first just in time to be enveloped by a blinding flash of light…