“Hello, Tiger; what are you doing here?”
Alistair stifled his uneasy surprise, and swept Kate up in his arms. “Where’s Mummy?”
“She’s in your office, Daddy. We thought you’d be there.” His daughter put her own small arms around his neck. Her gap-toothed smile — she’d lost another baby tooth when he wasn’t looking, he thought — dimmed a bit. “You weren’t there, so we couldn’t surprise you. Mummy said we should just wait, but I went exploring to find you.” The smile brightened again. “And I did!”
Of course, she did, Alistair thought, torn between laughter at Kate’s proud declaration and anger at Fiona, for letting Kate out of her sight. UNIT headquarters was no place for a child, especially these days —
“Brigadier, is this your little girl?”
Alistair turned at the bright voice, fighting the instinct to try to hide Kate from her. No chance of that; Kate had already squirmed around to see who was talking. She stared at the speaker.
“Erm … yes. Kate this is Miss Grant,” Alistair said reluctantly. “She is an assistant to Doctor Smith.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kate,” Jo said, holding out her hand as solemnly to Kate as she would to any adult. Kate responded in kind, her eyes as big as saucers.
Alistair felt a brief flare of warmth toward the young woman. What she had done was pure Jo Grant, of course; strange little thing, but her heart was apparently twice as large as anyone else’s.
He smiled in spite of himself as he got a closer look at the Doctor’s assistant. Jo had a smudge on her nose, and a run in one of her stockings, courtesy of their last mad dash to safety. And — oh, dear — she appeared to have bits of green alien all over her, he realized.
Kate noticed it almost as soon as he did, unfortunately. “You’ve got goo on you. It’s green. And .. eurgh … it smells.”
Jo sniffed at herself. “You’re right. Oh, dear. I guess I should take a bath, but I don’t have any fresh clothing here at the base.”
“Why don’t you wear a uniform? Aren’t you a soldier, like Daddy?” Kate was very observant, one of the many reasons Alistair was happier when his daughter and his day job didn’t collide.
“Oh, no. I’m not brave enough to be a soldier. I’m a …” Jo stopped for a moment, then nodded and smiled. “I’m an assistant adventuress with a degree in escapology.’
Alistair hadn’t thought Kate’s eyes could get any wider. “Is that a scientist?’
Jo laughed. “Of sorts. It’s a science of sorts.”
“I’m going to be a scientist,” Kate announced. Alistair looked at her in surprise. He hadn’t imagined that someone so young could sound so determined; didn’t little girls want to be ballerinas, or nurses, or mothers?
Just then, Alistair got a whiff of the ex-alien’s innards currently decorating Jo’s dress. He didn’t retch, but he decided to order Jo to the showers. Preferably before the Doctor arrived on the scene with as many as four impossible chores for Jo to try to complete.
“Miss Grant, I’m sure that Sgt. Benson can find you some mufti that fits,” he said. “You’re entitled to get clean.” She might not be military, he reasoned, but she’d fought as bravely as his own men, even if it was by virtue of the large box of gems she’d dropped from the balcony of the country house onto the Klarn leader’s triangular head.
She looked doubtful, but sniffed at herself again and said, “I’m willing to roll up the hems of anyone’s trousers, and I’m sure I can do the same with the sleeves of a shirt. Thanks, Brigadier. I’ll go find him. He can direct me to the showers, too, I suppose.”
“Yes, he can. And we’ll see about finding you some decent footwear,” he said, eyeing those ridiculous boots (Go-Go? Why would anyone call boots something like that?) with distaste. At least they had relatively low heels. With her sense of balance, things could have gone rather disastrously otherwise.
“Oh, no thanks, these are very comfortable. I’ll just wipe the … erm … Klarn off of them.” Even Jo looked a little dubious.
“Klarn? I thought it was spinach,” Kate said. She squirmed in Alistair’s arms again. “Daddy, put me down. What’s Klarn?”
“Yes, dear, what’s Klarn?”
“Fiona! I ….” Alistair smiled blindingly at his wife, as his stomach tried to decide whether to drop into his boots or crawl into his throat. He desperately searched for a way to end that sentence. Damn! What in dreary hell had he done to deserve this supremely awkward and security-challenged scenario?
“It’s an alien species from beyond the Tau Ceti system, here on Earth purely by accident, a result of their broken star-drive,” the Doctor’s aristocratic lisp answered Fiona’s question in Alistair’s despite. He had arrived, unseen, from wherever he’d been secreted in one of the labs he’d appropriated for his unknown uses.
“I can assure you, Madame, that the Klarn are no longer a danger, since UNIT … disposed of … their political commodore,” he continued, apparently mistaking the reason for Fiona’s appalled gaze. “It would have been better to keep him alive, of course, but that was impossible after Miss Grant stove his skull in with the treasure chest.” The Doctor looked disapprovingly at Jo as he said that.
Now it was his blood pressure climbing — rocketing — to the ceiling, Alistair realized. One of the few reasons Fiona was comfortable with his UNIT secondment, away from the British military system with which she was familiar, was his assurance that he was an unremarkable cog in the UN’s bureaucratic, and very peaceful, machine.
Fiona wasn’t fond of the military. Most military wives weren’t, Alistair supposed, with a flicker of bemused puzzlement. She’d wanted him out at least three years ago, but he’d resisted. It’s all I’ve ever known, he’d told her in one of their then-rare arguments. He determinedly avoided thinking of how those had accumulated in the years since then.
The UNIT position had quieted at least some of Fiona’s discontent; he took every effort to convince her that he was safe, was boringly safe in fact.
And now Jo, and the damnable Doctor, bid fair to throw his hard-won peace into a bin. And possibly his marriage, he thought.
He’d been looking at the floor as the thoughts tumbled through his head. The first person whose eyes he met when he raised his head was Jo Grant.
Goodness, she looks as if she understands what’s happening , he thought. He tried not to be embarrassed.
Jo’s eyes, already large and liquid, got darker, and possibly sadder, as she glanced between him, Fiona, and Kate, who was now deposited on the floor and staring fixedly at the Doctor. That worthy had, Alistair saw, fixed his gimlet gaze on Kate with a look that suggested he thought of the tiny human as a potentially dangerous lab experiment.
Jo sighed, gave the very slightest of nods to Alistair, then turned to the Doctor. “Doctor Smith, aren’t you ashamed of yourself for frightening the Brigadier’s little girl?”
“What? I didn’t —”
“I’m not frightened!” Kate piped up indignantly. “What’s a Klarn?”
“That’s —” Jo hesitated, and Alistair could see wheels whirling in her head. “It’s part of our preparations for the base panto. We were trying out some special effects during our rehearsal, and it got out of hand. Doctor Smith, here, was telling you part of the plot, which he shouldn’t have done.”
As she said that, she turned and bestowed a most un-Jo-like glare at the silver-haired alien. He reared back. “ I most certainly did not … Panto? Panto ?”
Fiona looked completely confused. “It’s only October.”
“And you can see that we’re nowhere near ready,” Jo said, with her most disarming grin. “Honestly, with everyone’s different shifts, it’s so difficult to get them together for full rehearsals. That’s why we started so early.
“Please forgive us, Mrs. Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s just that things are so boring around here that we get excited at the silliest of things.”
By now, the Doctor resembled nothing so much as a pouter pigeon, puffed with indignation that almost matched Kate’s. “I most certainly am not — ouch! ”
Alistair hoped Fiona hadn’t seen Jo stamp on the Doctor’s foot. He blew out a breath, and tried to roll with what she’d lobbed at him. “I forgot that you lot were … erm … having rehearsal today. Are you done? Doctor Smith, so sorry to have taken your time, I really must take my family out for … for dinner. It’s been too long since we had some family time, eh Fiona?”
His wife immediately lost her look of increasingly hostile suspicion. “Really, Alistair?”
Success ! “Really. To celebrate you coming to visit me, and to say I’m sorry for not being in my office when you did.”
He shot Jo a grateful smile, noting with even more gratitude the solid hold she had taken on the Doctor’s arm to steer him away from Kate and Fiona. He’d planned to spend the evening completing the mission support, but for once he was happy to ignore work. He tried to recall the name of the restaurant Fiona liked so much.”
“You didn’t meet an alien?” To his surprise, Alistair saw disappointment in his daughter’s eyes.
Jo got down on her knees to speak directly to Kate. “No. It really is spinach all over me. Your dad is a really good officer, and good officers keep things boring for their soldiers. Things that aren’t boring are dangerous, you see?
“But I tell you what; why don’t you pretend? You could make up stories about your daddy’s adventures. I’m sure that he could give you all kinds of ideas when he comes home; you and your mum could come up with lots of stories from those ideas.”
Fiona smiled at her words, “What a lovely idea, Miss Grant.”
“Indeed,” Alistair said. Jo Grant was undoubtedly some sort of genius, he thought as he shepherded his family away from the still fulminating Doctor. She’d handed him a way to share something with his daughter, without exposing her to any dangerous knowledge of his day to day reality.
“Miss Grant is such a nice young lady,” Fiona remarked as they headed out to the car park. “It’s too bad she has to work with that Doctor … what’s his name? Doctor Smith … he seems rather unpleasant and irritable.”
“You have no idea how often I get irritated at him,” Alistair said. “Miss Grant keeps him in line, though.”
“He’s not military,” Fiona said as she put Kate in the back seat.
“No, he’s not. He one of UNIT’s scientific liaisons, and he’s really rather unpleasant,” he said.
“I think he looks very exciting,” Kate said. “Do I get to wear a cloak when I’m a scientist?”
“Oh, that was for the … erm … the panto rehearsal.” Alistair said. “Who’s for dinner?”
“Me!” Kate said, pantos and the Doctor quite forgotten, at least for the moment.
The Lethbridge-Stewart family exited the carpark, dinner bound. Back at the base, Jo finished explaining the situation to a very irascible Doctor.
“Why the devil wouldn’t he tell his wife the truth?” he groused, still in relatively high dudgeon.
“I don’t think he wants to worry her. And you have to admit, some of what happens around here is pretty frightening by most standards,” Jo replied.
“Well then, why did you suggest that ridiculous storytelling exercise to the child?”
“Because I think she wants adventure. This way they both get what they want, don’t you see?” Jo gave a soft laugh. “I shouldn’t be too surprised if you found yourself running into her when she grows up.”
“Ridiculous!” The Doctor dismissed the entire issue with one word. “ I’ve work to do.”
“And I have Klarn spinach to wash off.”
The Doctor sputtered at that, but she ignored him, laughing as she headed off in search of Sgt. Benton and a shower.