A Custom Design
A/N: This is third in a series, the previous events may be found in episodes "A Custom Vehicle" and "A Custom Order," all of which feature the Third Doctor with Jo Grant, the Brigadier and UNIT. Of course the BBC owns Doctor Who, I just enjoy playing with it.
Beneath a September sky that threatened rain, Corsham's mostly-forgotten Cold War
era 'city' of tunnels was quiet. The hidden 120-plus acre maze of roads and rooms beneath the surface had recently been the focus of an alien plan to conquer Britain by means of an old weapon from earlier days, the War Machines, but now no sign of the aliens remained.
Within the tunnels and nearby quarry, UNIT's men were fully engaged in hauling the fallen Machines back underground or negotiating what would become of the remaining tank-like constructs.
Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart had promised that UNIT would personally oversee their destruction, lest they be misused against mankind once again, but contemplating the red tape involved was something that made him more battle-weary than any actual battle could. Still, he did what needed to be done because someone had to do it, and what's more, someone had to do it right.
Surfacing from another long phone conversation with the upper echelons of authority regarding the planned destruction of uncounted numbers of 'custom ordered' robotic machines, he found his white-haired scientific advisor had not been nearly as helpful as he had hoped. He'd apparently done nothing about those Machines at all.
In fact, ever since they'd emerged from the tunnels to find his yellow Edwardian roadster had gone missing, the Doctor had been preoccupied with little else. It was most irksome.
The only thing that held his interest was the discovery in the far tunnels of some mostly-cremated remains. He'd quickly identified them as an alien man, one of those UNIT had encountered in Chippenham only a little over a month previous, and directed them to be sure the remains were more properly cremated and not kept for anyone's 'morbid curiosity.' The man had apparently died in the backwash from the alien ship lifting off.
"They left him behind," the Doctor noted. "I expected as much, but not that he would try to run after them before they lifted off. He didn't seem a fool. I wonder if he was trying to stop them."
"What makes you think he was running after them?" the Brigadier asked.
"Because he'd just left the quarry. And Jo and I saw him not long before that liftoff with a bag of tools. He had something to do with my car."
The Brigadier almost rolled his eyes but stopped himself. "Why would an alien, and one about to be left behind by his lift from the planet, be helping someone in a common car theft?"
"Bessie is hardly common." The Doctor snapped. "He was a mercenary businessman, Brigadier; whomever he was helping, it was as a business deal you can be sure of it. Someone was willing to pay for her."
The Brigadier sighed, directed two men to bag up the body and kept walking.
As they came back up out of the tunnels, the overcast sky stopped just threatening rain and settled down into earnestly providing it.
"Doctor! Brigadier!" Jo Grant waved to them from the steps at the end of the tunnel. "I was wondering where you'd got to. I'm off!"
"Off?" asked the Doctor.
"My purse was in your car!" she clarified as they climbed to meet her. "My keys were in it. Mike's arranged for a locksmith to meet me at my flat, so I can get the locks changed. Oh, and my pass was in there too."
"Good thinking, Captain Yates," the Brigadier said, nodding approval to the young man who waited by a covered jeep. "Go on, and remember to adjust that vehicle to the new frequencies. Don't worry about your pass, Miss Grant; we'll issue you a temporary." Jo waved, Mike Yates saluted and the little jeep pulled away. The Brigadier had already changed UNIT's communications lest the radio in the lost roadster be used to listen in on them.
The Doctor watched the jeep bounce its way up the earthen ramp that led from the quarry, then looked up at the sky. "Even my umbrella is gone," he said morosely.
"You hardly ever used it anyway," the Brigadier noted, walking out into the rain with him.
"Jo did," he said, refusing to have his right to grumble compromised. They made their way across the rapidly-becoming-muddy lot to a small tent the men had erected next to the trucks.
"Sir!" Sergeant Benton hailed, returning from where he and his men had been searching the area surrounding the quarry.
"Any luck, Sergeant?"
"Some," he said, dashing rain from his beret and pulling it back on. "We found fresh tracks from a large lorry. Doesn't match any of our rigs. Probably your car-thieves just loaded her up. Could be a chop-shop operation."
"Chop shop?" the Doctor said, turning to him sharply.
"Nefariously common practice in which stolen vehicles are sold for their parts," the Brigadier supplied.
"Parts?" the Doctor looked scandalized.
Benton shrugged apologetically as their advisor smacked the tent pole hard enough to make them both wonder if it would come down on them all. "Those grubivorous hegstaggets! - how dare they even consider taking apart my car!"
"At least it can be put back together again," the Brigadier said dryly, wondering if he dare ask what a hegstagget was and deciding against. "Do mind the tent, if you please?"
The Doctor didn't reply, but he did take his hands from the tentpole and jammed them into his pockets instead. Several minutes passed as the Brigadier answered various questions, handed out orders and finally sat down by a makeshift table to look over a map of Corsham's underground. The Doctor was still standing, considering the dripping sky.
"Buck up, Doc," Benton said from where he was prying open a stubborn thermos. "We'll find your car. Coffee?"
"Who would want it?" the Brigadier mused.
"The car or the coffee?" Benton asked.
"Oh, the car. Yes, thank you Sergeant. We need to think this through; these tunnel aliens of yours, perhaps?"
The Doctor shook his head. "No, they've gone, at least for now. They were focused on their own machines with a limited and rather narrow attack plan anyway. And yes, I'll take some of that, with sugar if you don't mind."
The Brigadier looked out at the rain. "Could another government be involved?"
"Now speaking of governments," the Doctor noted. "That ginger chap, the one you found in the tunnel - his type were obviously familiar with the British governmental bureaucracy."
"He was even dressed for the part. And he had my screwdriver, so we know he came into the quarry, possibly about the time Bessie was taken. I expect he was why they were even able to take her."
"What do you mean?" The Brigadier held out a hand and Benton put a steaming cup into it.
"My car has an anti-thievery force-field on it, Brigadier. Jo was able to disengage it to make her call because she knew how. She says she re-engaged it when she left. We have no reason to disbelieve her competence or memory, which means he had to know how to circumvent it."
"But whoever it was still left him behind," the Sergeant pointed out, pouring another cup from the thermos and reaching for the little box of sugar-cubes they'd brought.
The Doctor nodded. "Yes. That's a little mystery as well, isn't it?"
"No honor among thieves?" the Brigadier suggested.
"That chap was more akin to a shady businessman than a thief, as unorthodox as his methods were. Bessie doesn't appear to be anything unusual to anyone, normally."
"She does stand out a bit," Benton ventured cautiously.
"Only because she's not one of those rubbish tin boxes on wheels they make now; an old car is not normally worth the risk of contracting with crooked governmental agents. They could steal a vintage car from any car collector if that was their aim. But recently I did have to make a bit of display with that extended force-field over in Chippenham."
"It was hard to miss," Benton agreed, handing the Doctor his cup. "Big shining bubble and," he waved his fingers in the air in mimicry of the electric arcing. "Zzzt, zzt and all that."
The Doctor took the cup with a nod and blew on it. "And our late, unmourned ginger friend was very likely there to witness it. Presuming he was already well-ensconced in the underworld of fraudulent government claims, he may have seen it as an opportunity to hand that technology off to someone."
"Presumably for a good price," the Brigadier said.
Benton poured a little coffee for himself. "But they already had a force-field themselves, didn't they? They had a jolly big one on that house. Why wouldn't they just sell their own?"
"What I rigged up on Bessie was quite simplistic in comparison to theirs, Sergeant. A child's toy, but feasible with resources found here and now, at least for the most part. Their own would require technology much too complex for anyone here to be able to use it. Nor would it be easily moved to another locale. They wouldn't offer it, no, what they must have had was a customer willing to pay for a small, portable one. That had to be it."
Lethbridge-Stewart drained half his cup. "But why did they need one?"
"I expect we'll find that out - whenever we find them, Brigadier."
Rumbling, the lorry pulled into the warehouse, its brakes squeaking as it rolled to a stop. The doors were swung shut behind it and locked. Five men jumped down from the back and the cab as a beefy man with a red face came from the office area to meet them.
He looked them over briefly. "Did you get it, then?"
"Not a problem, Guv'ner!"
He scanned the faces as he came around the back of the truck. "Blick! Where's Mr. Jones?"
The man from the back looked at the others. "Who? Don't know a Jones," he said.
"Look, who uses their real name around here you idiot? You? Me? He's that red-haired chap, the government one who tipped us."
"Cor, him! He turned on us once we had the thing loaded up. Wanted first pick on the car here just 'cause he tipped us off, and he was acting all strange-like. Tried to strangle Higgs with a rope, can you believe it! Almost did it too. Hodges pushed him off the back of the lorry."
"You killed him, then?"
"Nah. We were only just leaving the quarry. He ran back into those tunnels there. A right nutter, he was. Didn't look none too friendly about losin' his ride."
The man crinkled his florid face thoughtfully. "I see. Well, we've enough on him to turn the game against if he decides to talk. He'll probably turn up; he'll still be wanting his money. Forget him for now. Let's take a look at this car."
The men helpfully folded back the canvas and began setting up ramps. "We had to wait for that Jones man to get it movin' for us," the one called Hodges said. "Blick there put a hand to it and couldn't pull it off, can you believe it, stuck right to the door he did. That bloke, well he does somethin' with this metal whatsit, and Blick peels right off. Then we loaded it up…"
"Hm, vintage. Well cared for, too," the man said appreciatively, as he eyed the car. "Roll it down gently. Ah… there we go. Gently, I said!" He ran a plump hand over the curve of a fender and patted the front seat. "Very nice."
"Mr. Gorringe, sir. This really has a force-field in it?" the man called Higgs asked.
"Yes." Mr. Gorringe picked up a spanner and tapped it in his hand. "I do hope that force-field machine isn't buried in it too deeply, it would be a shame to have to completely take it apart."