The days and weeks after Dodo's murder were the most painful of my life. I caught a train to Brighton and then wandered along the coastline for hours, walking through the night before finally stumbling into a tiny seaside bed and breakfast. The only available room was a small, maudlin chamber of mothballs and mould, with a narrow single bed, a wooden chair that had seen better days, and a bedside lamp. There was hardly enough space to squeeze in, but I took the room anyway. I was exhausted. I needed to sleep.
Thrusting a twenty pound note into the ageing proprietor's grubby hands, and writing my name in the register as Simon Gartside, I asked to be left alone until I came out again of my own accord. After locking my door and pushing the chair beneath the handle to bar all intruders, I collapsed into a dreamless sleep.
Twice during my slumber I was woken by a hammering at the door but simply rolled over and went back to sleep. Finally, after seemed like a lifetime in that cramped, fetid room, I emerged blinking into the hallway to find the owner standing outside looking anxious.
‘Oh, Mr Gartside, you had me so worried. I didn't know whether to call the police or the undertaker. You seemed to be dead to the world in there!’ she fussed.
Her words reminded me of the difficult task that still lay ahead. Pulling on a jacket I stumbled outside in search of a public call box. After walking for nearly a mile along the coastline I found a telephone that had not been vandalised. A call to Directory Enquiries secured the number of a local firm of funeral directors. We quickly arranged terms for Dodo to be collected from the police morgue in London and brought to south for a funeral. ‘Will there be any relatives attending?’ the undertaker asked.
‘No, just myself,’ I said, sadly. Dodo had once told me she had no living relatives, and two years living a transient existence on the streets, in hostels or psychiatric hospitals had left her with few, if any, friends. It did not seem right that such a lovely, happy person should be murdered and then buried forever with no one to mourn her, except me.
The funeral took place two days later at a small church on a hillside overlooking the sea. Dodo was buried in a grave atop the hill, with magnificent views out over the sea. Once the pall-bearers had left, I remained alone to say my own farewell. Afterwards I sat on a wooden bench looking out beyond the coast.
‘It's a beautiful spot, isn't it?’
I turned to see a man walking towards me, carrying a single white rose in his hand. ‘Yes,’ I agreed hesitantly. The man was short and slightly dishevelled, with a sadness about his face that matched my own mood.
‘Do you I mind if I sit here?’ he asked. I just shrugged, so he sat down beside me on the bench. Together we watched the ferries and tankers sail by, a gentle autumn breeze shifting white clouds lazily across the sky. ‘Do you have a friend here?’ the small man inquired.
‘Yes. I loved her very much.’
‘It's always sad to lose someone you love. I seem to have lost so many of my loved ones. Yet, I like to think of death as not being an ending, but the beginning. The start of a new adventure. Who knows what lies beyond our own lifetimes?’
‘I suppose you're right,’ I mumbled, a single tear rolling down my right cheek. ‘I'm sorry, I've got to go now.’ I got up and began walking away, not quite holding back my tears. As I reached the cemetery gate I looked back, but the small man had disappeared from view. I was not sure, but I thought I could see a single white rose lying by Dodo's grave. Then again, it could have just been the sun in my eyes.
I turned away and walked on. Dodo was gone and nothing could bring her back. Worst of all, I knew her death was my fault and there was nothing I could do about it.
The next few weeks I spent wallowing in self pity and alcohol. Every day I would spend in the corner of a tavern, drinking myself insensible to forget what had happened. I blamed myself for Dodo's murder - believed I might as well have pulled the trigger myself. I was trapped in a destructive spiral.
Outside, the whole world seemed to be going through the same frenzy of self-destruction, lurching ever closer to a nuclear holocaust. I watched the evening news, hardly registering the growing international crisis because of my own problems. The escalating conflict between the Soviet Union and China was at breaking point, with troops massing on the border between the two superpowers. With fighting already breaking out in South America, pundits said a world war could start out at any time. Even this could not get my attention. But, finally, the world crisis snapped me back to reality, thanks to an old and familiar face.
It was an early evening bulletin on BBC3, and Alex MacIntosh was explaining about efforts to set up a new peace conference by Sir Reginald Styles. The dapper presenter was profiling Styles, who had a long and distinguished career in the diplomatic service and at the United Nations. Now Sir Reginald was using his twenty years of Foreign Office expertise to persuade the Chinese leaders to attend the conference.
‘If the conference goes ahead, it will almost certainly be held here, at Sir Reginald's private residence, Auderly House.’ MacIntosh pointed behind himself at a stately white Georgian mansion; it was on a slight rise and overlooked a well-wooded country estate. ‘If it does take place here, security for the conference will be very tight. Head of the security for the event will be Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who has been seconded to the UN from the British Army.’
MacIntosh turned to his left to interview the brigadier. My old quarry had hardly changed since I first saw him at the Ashbridge Cottage Hospital with Professor Liz Shaw two years previously, just before the events of Black Thursday. Perhaps Lethbridge-Stewart was now a little heavier of frame, and the UNIT uniform had been modified from a mushroom colour to a more traditional khaki green, but he still had the same stern face and bristling military moustache.
‘Now, Brigadier, the fate of the world could rest on this peace conference going smoothly. What special security plans have you put in place?’ MacIntosh asked.
The brigadier snorted his derision. ‘I am hardly going to reveal our plans to prevent any terrorist attacks on this conference on national television now am I, Mr MacIntosh?’
For a delightful moment I thought the usually unflappable reporter was going to blush, but he was rescued from his embarrassment by Lethbridge-Stewart. ‘Rest assured, we are taken every precaution possible to ensure the safety of those attending the conference. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do,’ he said and stalked off camera, leaving MacIntosh quite bemused.
‘Err, back to you in the studio?’
Someone switched the television set over to football highlights and I began thinking to myself. The fiasco concerning the Glasshouse had ruined any chance I had of exposing the truth about Victor Magister, but the insidious work of UNIT could still be revealed for what it really was. Even if I could not salvage my career, I might be able to salvage some self-respect from all that had happened. Perhaps Dodo had not died in vain.
I caught the next train back to London and started working the telephone, calling in the last few favours I still had outstanding. First I contacted Catherine at the Chronicle for the location of Auderly House. Next, I tapped an old friend in the East End for his contacts in gangland. Less than three hours later I was in possession of a loaded revolver. ‘Ex-Army issue, top-grade shooter,’ said the heavy-set individual who sold it to me for a princely sum.
Finally, I returned to my house in Wandsworth. I had no intention of going into the building: it was no longer my home. Instead I had come to collect my car, which had been parked down the street, abandoned and ignored, for the past three weeks. I walked around it, checking that the tyres were still inflated and nothing had been damaged or tampered with on the vehicle. It all seemed fine. Slipping the keys from my pocket of my jacket, I opened the driver's door and slid behind the steering wheel.
The engine caught on the second turn of the key and I slowly drove away, heading for the nearest petrol station. I had a long journey ahead of me and I had no wish to break down on my way to Auderly House. I had a rendezvous with UNIT and I was not going to be late.
It took several hours to drive from London to Sir Reginald's country estate and by the time I arrived dawn was breaking. I knew the delegates for the peace conference were due to arrive at about midday so I pulled off a lane about a mile west of the house and got some sleep.
Gunfire awoke me, along with the dull clump of mortar bombs exploding. What the hell was going on? It sounded like the peace conference was under attack, but from whom? Terrorists intent on plunging the world into chaos? Perhaps Victor Magister was still manipulating events from his isolated prison cell.
While I had been wallowing in my own guilt, the so-called ‘trial of the century’ had taken place behind closed doors. Magister had been convicted of murder, high treason and numerous other crimes and was sentenced to life imprisonment, with no hope of remission. He was now incarcerated at a specially constructed jail somewhere off the coast of England. Apparently the judges presiding over the case had been considering giving Magister the death penalty, which was still applicable for treason convictions. But reports that leaked out from the secret trial stated that the three men judging the case had been swayed by an impassioned plea by a member of the intelligence services. I had considered contacting Cassandra to discover the real story behind this rumour but guessed I would not be a welcome caller anymore.
I dismissed Magister's possible involvement in this attack on the peace conference; it seemed too far-fetched even for me to believe. But if not him, then whom? Making sure I had the revolver firmly jammed into my jacket pocket I got out of the car and started running towards the noise. As I crashed through the undergrowth, I remembered something Tubbs at the Chronicle had once told me.
‘I've photographed three different wars and enough skirmishes to notice one important fact. Whenever there's an explosion, we always run towards it while everybody else runs away. Sometimes I don't know who's right and who's wrong in that situation!’
I smiled at the memory. When I called her in the archive department, Catherine told me that Tubbs had just retired after more than thirty years at the Chronicle. Right now even Tubbs would probably think twice before running towards this firefight. But I had lost too much, come too far to turn back now. I pushed onwards and emerged on to the gravel driveway approaching the front of Auderly House.
Immediately I flung myself back into the bushes as a convoy of limousines sped straight at me. They flashed past, flags of the superpowers fluttering on their bonnets. The peace conference delegates were being evacuated to a safer location, I surmised. But just what was going on? Another loud explosion behind Auderly House grabbed my attention and I ran towards the white mansion.
Suddenly a hulking figure hurled itself at me, throwing me to the ground. I looked up to see something inhuman towering above me, its face a mass of heavy bone ridges, its eyes tiny and sunken. Its skin was almost green-black in hue and long wisps of lank hair hung from the sides of its face. The creature was clad in leather and a rough synthetic fabric stretched over its bulky frame, which stood nearly seven feet tall. It pulled a jagged-edged knife from a sheath and drew the blade back, ready to plunge it down into my chest.
‘No! I screamed.
But before the beast could deliver the killing blow, it crumpled and fell to my side. A lone man stood over the fallen creature, his hand still poised from delivering the knockout blow. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked, pulling me to my feet. I just nodded, unable to speak.
It was the Doctor. Without a grand cape he looked quite ordinary, despite his white ruffled shirt and velvet burgundy jacket. Satisfied I was okay, he pushed me away from the house and ran on in front. ‘Come on, we've got to get clear of the building before it blows!’ he shouted to give my legs extra impetus. Around us UNIT soldiers were also running away from the building towards the main road.
An enormous explosion threw us all to the ground. I turned to see a huge mushroom cloud of smoke billowing up into the air, my head still ringing from the concussion wave. An authoritative voice bellowed nearby. ‘Come on, get a move on! We want to mop up any of the invaders who escaped the explosion!’
It was Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, sending his troops back towards the remains of Auderly House. Sporadic gunfire could be heard for a few minutes afterwards, then silence. Eventually one of the UNIT soldiers paused long enough to realise I did not belong.
‘Who the bloody hell are you?’ he demanded, sergeant's stripes prominent on the sleeve of his tunic.
‘My name's Stevens, James Stevens. I'm a journalist.’
‘Reporter, eh? Well, the Brig'll probably want a word with you.’ The sergeant looked around and called the two nearest soldiers to his side. ‘You two - get over here! Keep this man under armed guard until the Brig gets a chance to talk to him. I'll have your guts for garters if you let him out of your sight for a moment, got that?’
The pair nodded and led me away to sit in the back of an army truck. I waited there for nearly three hours before the sergeant reappeared to take me before Lethbridge-Stewart. I was led past the smoking remains of Auderly House and made to wait another five minutes before finally being ushered into a small khaki tent near the rubble. Inside was a command post cluttered with maps, tables and radio equipment. The brigadier sent everyone else out of the tent and invited me to sit down before sagging into a foldaway chair opposite me.
He took off his peaked cap and rested it on the rickety wooden table between us, before rubbing the top of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ he asked quietly.
I was surprised by the question but managed to stammer a yes. The brigadier called for two mugs of tea from the soldier standing guard outside the tent before regarding me. ‘So, the infamous James Stevens. You've been quite a thorn in our side, Mr Stevens.’
‘Just doing my job.’
‘And we're just doing ours, but that hasn't stopped you harassing us for nearly two years, has it?’
‘If you want to talk about harassment, I can tell you -’ I began, but the Brigadier held up a hand to stop me going any further.
‘I know what you're about to say. We know all about certain individuals within the ranks of C19 and their campaign of terror against individuals like yourself. We here at UNIT have encountered them before and thought them defeated. It seems that was just a battle won, not the war against such elements. We also now recognize that you have been the pawn of one of our principle enemies.’
‘That's right,’ replied the brigadier. The tea arrived in two large enamel mugs, hot and sweet when I sipped at it. I noticed the brigadier made sure he took the chipped mug. He drank heartily and finished his tea within a minute, while mine still felt scalding to my mouth. The brigadier stood up and began to pace back and forth inside the tent, almost as if he were counting off the steps.
‘I think better on my feet - too many years in the field, I suppose,’ he said as he paced. ‘Mr Stevens, I don't want to know your motives for coming to Auderly House today. Frankly, I don't really care. Somehow you've managed to cast UNIT as the villains of your investigations, but I have to tell you that you're wrong. We managed to avert a tragedy today which could have easily led to a world war, but I doubt you'll believe that.’ He stopped to look at me. ‘So I'm going to show you something that will make you believe, something that will show you the sort of thing UNIT is up against. Come with me.’
He stalked from the tent and I had to run to catch up with him, leaving my tea on the table. We strode through the chaos surrounding Auderly House before slipping into another, much larger tent. Inside, a pair of surgeons in UNIT garb were hunched over a figure atop a table. They snapped to attention and stepped back from the bench. The brigadier gestured towards the corpse on the table.
‘Take a good look, Mr Stevens. Take a look at the sort of foe UNIT was created to fight,’ Lethbridge-Stewart said.
I stepped closer to the table. On it lay the creature that had almost killed me earlier. It was not human. In death it seemed even more menacing than it had done alive. The skin was tough and leathery to my touch, the open eyes soulless and black. The hands were huge, nearly twice the size of my own when I compared them. I poked and prodded but there was no question that this creature was authentic and not of this world.
‘It's an alien,’ I said quietly.
‘Exactly,’ the brigadier agreed. ‘Called an Ogron, apparently. I'm told they're rather slow-witted but highly dangerous mercenaries. It took nearly a full clip of ammo to bring this one down. We were lucky - bullets usually have no effect at all on the foes we face.’ He looked to the two army surgeons. ‘All right, carry on.’
They returned to the table and began cutting open the alien corpse, stripping away the strange synthetic clothing to reveal the green-black skin beneath. As they cut open the creature's chest a nauseating aroma of rotting filled the tent. I had seen enough and stepped outside, followed by Lethbridge-Stewart. He cleared his throat to get my attention.
‘I hardly need remind you that what you have seen here today is highly classified and any attempt to tell anyone else about this is punishable with a lengthy prison sentence,’ he said formally, before relaxing the tone of his voice. ‘Frankly, I doubt anyone would believe you if you told them anyway. Sometimes I can hardly believe the sort of menaces we have to fight.’
I said nothing, numbed by what I had witnessed. The brigadier had one of his men drive me to a nearby hotel where a room had been booked for me. ‘Our way of thanking you for your cooperation,’ the sergeant explained before driving away. ‘Also, we might want to interview you further tomorrow.’
I checked in and went up to my room, utterly despondent. I had been wrong all this time. I had become so fixated that UNIT was a force for evil that the idea it could be doing good had never occurred to me. When people whose testimony I trusted about other matters, like Greg Sutton, Isobel Watkins or Professor Shaw, tried to tell me UNIT was not part of some elaborate plot, I had refused to believe them. If what they said did not fit into my carefully constructed conspiracy theory, I simply discarded the information as erroneous - just another red herring.
All the time I was leading my crusade against UNIT, I had been persecuting and pursuing the wrong people, unwittingly playing my role as a black pawn in the machinations of Victor Magister. Everything I had done for the past two years had been for nothing. There was no elaborate conspiracy, no all-encompassing cover-up.
Sure, there were secrets and things the Government or UNIT did not want the world to know, but the same was true of all organizations, I now realized. Hell, after seeing the creature at Auderly House, I was hardly likely to tell everyone in the world what had happened to me. That did not mean I had started my own elaborate conspiracy, just that I could not easily explain what had happen to me and doubted anyone would believe me if I did talk about it. UNIT was obviously faced with the same problem nearly every day.
All this time I had been chasing ghosts and phantoms, doing Magister's dirty work and playing into his hands. Looking back now, I realized my escape from the Glasshouse had been all too easy, the nurse that Cleary killed just another pawn to be sacrificed in a greater game.
I had convinced myself ‘the Doctor’ was some kind of codename for a whole range of operatives operating in the shadows of British society, doing the dirty work of some covert agency. How did I square that with the fact that the Doctor - a person I had believed to be the quintessence of evil - had saved my life today? Indeed, he and UNIT had helped save the entire world today.
All this time I had been getting it wrong, reacting to the actions of others, and never seeing the truth for what it truly was. I remembered my words to Cleary on the train after we escaped the Glasshouse: ‘I'm just a reporter - I report things. It's my job to write history: it's your job as a soldier to make history.’
He accused me of washing my hands, of denying my responsibility as a human being - now I saw he was right. All my career, all my working life, I had been content to stand on the sidelines reporting what others did. Never get involved, I told myself, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. I had certainly done that. I had been a parasite, preying on the misery of others. And when that parasitical media was directed at me, I was unable to take the medicine I had so willingly dished out to others.
I slumped on to my bed and felt something in my jacket pocket jab into my side. I reached into the pocket and pulled out my revolver.
I thought about the world peace conference that had so nearly ended in disaster. Imagine if the terrorist attack had been successful, I told myself. Imagine if the world had been plunged into nuclear war, or what if that creature had plunged its blade into my heart - what legacy would I have left behind me? All I had ever created was pain and criticism and ill-feeling. Anyone who had ever loved me had been rewarded with deceit and hatred. The only person I had ever loved had been brutally murdered because of my blindness to reality.
If I died right now, I wondered, would anybody mourn my passing? Would anyone even remember, except as the fraud who tried to fool a nation into believing his wild stories? I could almost see the obituary headlines before me: kiwi hoaxer stevens, 25, dies in mysterious circumstances.
There was no reason to go on. Dodo was dead because of me. My crusade for the truth had turned into a sad, sick joke at my expense. It was all over. I looked down at the revolver in my hands. Closing my eyes, I brought the barrel up and pressed it against my left temple. Time to finish what others had started. Time to end it all. I began to squeeze the trigger.