A Custom Vehicle

1.

It was a relatively quiet day at UNIT. Other than a minor issue with ordinance storage, a janitor leaving a mop where it sent a man down a set of steps and a complaint of moldy casserole in the canteen, the otherwise ordinary day was wearing on to afternoon and the Brigadier was just finishing up a well-deserved tea. He propped his feet up on his desk, catching up on paperwork and giving serious consideration to a purchasing a new pair of boots when the call came in.

The phone rang, he picked it up without thought. "Lethbridge-Stewart. What's that? No, I wasn't expecting any government men. Whitehall? Are you sure? The Ministry of what? Oh demmit, I suppose so. Send him in."

Grouchily he stuffed the last of his sandwich into his mouth and scooped the papers together to make his desk more presentable.

There was a knock at his door. Captain Yates opened it, nodded at him and showed the man in. "Mr. John Babcock, sir."

John Babcock was a very average, forgettable sort of man. With average height and build in an unadorned grey suit and black tie, his average face was topped with forgettable mousy brown hair in a very average haircut. Lethbridge-Stewart's first thought upon registering his visitor's appearance was that he would make an excellent spy.

The man extended a hand. "Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart? Pleased to meet you. I suppose I was already announced?"

The Brigadier took the proffered hand, which had an average grip. "Announced, yes. But I was not informed of any scheduled visitors this morning, Mr. Babcock. What brings you to UNIT?"

"I'm with the Ministry of Custom Supply, here as a special investigator of your organization's orders and use of customized equipment within the Defence Ministry."

The Brigadier gestured the man into a chair and took his own seat behind his desk. "Custom Supply?"

"I realize there may be some confusion of ministries. We used to be with the Ministry of Aviation Supply but we've been placed under Defence now."

"Yes, come to think about it, I did hear of that; in '71, wasn't it? So, tell me. What interest does Whitehall hold in our work that it should bring you here today?"

"First of all, my position is under the Minister as a representative agent. The Minister himself may choose to schedule a personal interview after I've put together an initial report. I'm just supposed to have a lookabout, gather up your inventory reports, that sort of thing. I'm sure you get this all the time."

"Not really. Our taskforce being a joint effort, our dealings are more often through Geneva than Whitehall. Still, I'm sure we'll do all we can to help you along in your task. Oh dear, look at the hour. Captain Yates, would you mind notifying all tracks that they need to close those windows before spraying commences?" Lethbridge-Stewart gave a significant nod to Yates, who slipped out the door.

He turned back to the aide blandly. "Sorry, a bit of a mundane groundskeeping issue, weed-eradication and all that. Nasty stuff when it gets in. Now, where would you like to start? Can I get you some tea?"

--

"Doctor!" the lab door burst open to a breathless Yates.

"Yes? What is it?" The Doctor glanced up from where he'd been soldering a circuit board and seeing the heaving of Yate's chest, let his jeweler's glass drop into his hand. "You look a bit harried. Nothing serious, I hope?"

"The Brig sent me to let everyone know there's a government audit of some kind. He's stalling the rep up in his office."

He frowned. "An audit?"

"We'll keep them out of the lab if we can, but just in case you better haul all those blue blinking things and that bubbler back into your box. Make it look like a more ordinary lab, if you can."

"Bubbler?" But Yates was already gone, running back up the stairs to keep spreading the word. The Doctor swiveled on his stool and considered the lab. "Must mean that inter-dimensional statistical erratamizer… and here I only just got it to work again." He sighed a long-suffering sigh that he wished he had an audience for. Jo was out of town on holiday to her aunt and uncle's home and the he found he missed having someone to complain to. Without further ado, he set about detaching it from its nest of cables.

--

When he opened the door to the downstairs lab the Brigadier could only desperately hope his advisor had made good use of the time. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding when he found the TARDIS closed and quiescent and no odd alien contraptions bobbing around on the work tables. The Doctor had even put a white lab coat over his usual attire and was innocently working on a small series of test tubes and coils, turning off his bunsen burner as they entered.

"This is our laboratory, used for whatever forensic testing might be needed." He paused to allow the aide and Yates to file in after him, gave them a brief moment of time and then turned back. "Now, our supply rooms…"

"And you are….?" Mr. Babcock asked pointedly of the white-coated scientist.

The Brigadier turned back again, his expression carefully neutral. "Forgive me, I haven't made proper introductions. This is Doctor John Smith."

"John? Well, that happens to be my name too. Useful old saint, what?" He extended a hand for a firm shake. "John Babcock, aide to the Minister, at your service. So you're a part of this outfit too or just visiting?"

"A little of both."

"What's with the old police box?"

"Just storage, a bit of whimsy," Yates quickly interjected, interrupting whatever the Doctor had been about to say.

"Didn't pay good money for that bit of whimsy, did you?" Mr. Babcock had his pencil poised over his notepad.

"No, no. We found it in the woods, actually," the Brigadier said.

"What, did someone think it was a UFO? Hahaha," he chortled at his own joke.

The Doctor's eyebrows quirked significantly.

The Brigadier waved a hand. "Er, never mind that. The Doctor here runs chemical analyses and such whenever we need it. We always appreciate his services. Now, if you'll follow me we can take a look at the storerooms for…"

"Just a minute," Mr. Babcock said. He peered at the array of test-tubes and coils that were set up on the workbench, its flask still warm from the bunsen burner. "What're you working on here?"

"An analyses of some suspicious liquids recently discovered by a man in Derbyshire," the Doctor said seriously.

"Really! And have you identified it, then?"

"Yes. Uisge-beatha, a common enough element in Britain, especially to the North. If present in significant condensations it has been known to bring about a temporary suppression of the autonomic-nervous systematics in exposed individuals. Some pharmeceutical uses. I'm sorry I haven't anything of better interest to show you; most of what I do is quite ordinary."

"Ah," he nodded with an expression that showed he really had no idea what the Doctor was talking about. He looked at the flask once more. "So, nothing, eh...alien. And it isn't dangerous?"

"I wouldn't recommend you drink it, if that's what you mean," the Doctor said, his hands in his coat pockets. "Unless you'd like to try just to prove the point?"

Mr. Babcock considered the white-haired man, unsure if he was joking. "Haha," he said nervously. "Well, nice to have met you Doctor Smith."

"This way, if you please, Mr. Babcock," Yates said, politely holding the door open for him. He escorted the man out. The Brigadier began to follow but just had to ask:

"What is that, Doctor? Really?"

"Scotch whiskey. Yours, in fact." The Doctor said more cheerfully.

"What? Mine? Where did you... oh blast." The Brigadier gave a rapid series of inarticulate noises and facial expressions as he was forced to follow the aide.

--

The Brigadier looked up from his desk as the Doctor entered his office.

"I assume that phone that kept ringing was you?"

"Why didn't you answer it?"

"Jo usually does that. I was busy. Where did you put that government fellow?"

"He's on a tour of the shops, Yates is showing him the undersides of jeeps."

"Ah. Good fortune I took Bessie out of there yesterday."

"I had Yates check on that first," he smiled. "Now, I wanted you to see this: sent along from Whitehall with this Babcock chap, sealed."

"Go on."

"Seems there's been some suspicious activities at a vacant building, it appears this Babcock fellow and his friends do occasionally have a use. They've been making these audits in other places besides here. This lot have been obtaining a wide variety of unusual supplies and quite the volume of custom-ordered metal fabrications."

"Criminals?" the Doctor wondered, flipping through a folder.

"Police have no records or warrants on anyone like them, governmental records likewise clean. Too well dressed and well supplied for vagrants. They don't match any known extra-governmental operatives either."

"And where did you say this was?"

"I didn't. But it appears to be…near Chippenham somewhere. Older derelict building. Here's a picture."

The Doctor took it from his hand and briefly considered it, then handed it back. "Yes, well. Hardly a palace, is it?"

"Large enough for a group operation, out of the way enough to not attract undue notice…here." He handed a folded sheet that appeared to be a readout of some kind.

The Doctor unfolded it. "Power fluctuations?"

"Unusual number of them for the area. Power grid itself hasn't had any anomalies to account for it. All reported outages cluster…"

"With that derelict at the center of them. Hm. And they're even affecting items not tied to the grid."

The Brigadier leafed through the papers. "Yes. And here, a suitably odd notation that I thought you should see; while there don't seem to be many of them, estimates range from five to seven, they're all exceedingly similar in appearance."

The Doctor glanced up more keenly. "What do they look like?"

"They're all ginger, of above-average height and slender. All seem to favor dark clothing, dress warmly even for the season."

"How long have they been there?"

"Uncertain, but the initial order to one of their pseudonyms was made about seven months ago. They were listed under Defence research, developing some sort of new cooling units for ships."

"Fairly recent, for a large scale customized project. These supply lists, this isn't a cooling unit they're fabricating. That last power outage…" he leaned over to snatch up the readout again. "Yes. Building in frequency and width of effect as they're testing it. Tell me, has anyone gone missing in this area, recently?"

"There's a list of recent deaths, abductions and so on toward the back. I haven't looked it over for any correlations yet."

The Doctor flipped to the back and leaned back on the Brigadier's desk as he perused it. "Hm. Looks like we may still be in time."

"Do you think we should check it out?"

"I think you should get your men over there as quickly as you can, if you want to catch them before they're gone."

"Well, anything is better than a audit."

"I'll follow you down. Just let me fetch a little something for my car first."

"Your car?"

"If electromagnetic outages are going to be involved, I just need to be sure it doesn't affect her. I'll meet you there."