'Yes, sir,' said Benton, immediately turning down the corridor.
Yates watched him go, and felt like calling him back. It was a menial task and Yates was angry that he had delegated it to Benton, who was not only a friend, but also much too busy with his own work to be treated as a dogsbody. It said much for Benton's superbly developed discipline that he hadn't complained to Yates's face about being asked to do what any first-day recruit could have done. But Yates knew that the chain of command made any sort of apology inadvisable. The infallibility of rank must be seen to be maintained.
So he turned, annoyed by his own shortcomings, and headed for the Brigadier's office and the bottle of Scotch in his filing cabinet.
'He's lucky to be alive,' said Dr French as he stood and brushed the dust from his trousers. 'Must be all that square- bashing, it's given him a thick skull!'
Captain Yates ignored the sarcasm and watched mutely as the stretcher on which Benton had been secured was picked up by two paramedics and carried along the rubble- strewn corridor. 'My fault,' he muttered angrily, and then turned back to the young doctor, who was absorbed in clearing away the emergency medical kit.
'I'm sorry?' inquired French.
'Nothing.' Yates walked into the laboratory. 'Hell,' he said to no one in particular. 'The Doctor's going to go ballistic when he sees this.'
Yates peered through the huge hole blown in the work surface. The bomb had been meant for the Doctor, that much seemed clear. It was just blind luck that poor old Benton had been sent to fetch the file. 'Must have had a heat sensor on it,' he noted out loud. Then again, Benton's distance from the bomb implied that the thing hadn't gone off immediately. Perhaps it was just a warning, or a threat. But a potentially lethal one, all the same.
Yates turned to the door. 'If you'll excuse me, Doctor, I have to find the scum responsible for this and crucify them.'
Mike Yates was dreaming. It was the same unfathomable dream as he had experienced so often recently. He was in a field of tall grass with a bottle of champagne in his hand. Dawn was breaking over nearby hills. Mike sipped from a glass, and then put it on the warm earth at his feet. Nearbyhe found a wicker basket. He knew that he had to pick it up, that it was vitally important for him to perform some task with it. Just then it began to rain. Fish. Silver fish with obscene plastic faces. Mike had to catch the falling fish in the basket. He knew this. If he didn't it would be the end of him, and of everyone. Everyone was relying on him to get it right.
The slippery, wriggling fish soon filled the basket, and Mike began to look around for another. But he couldn't find one, and there were fish everywhere. He was drowning in fish, their tails flapping pathetically, their mouths gaping -
The ringing of a telephone awoke him, but for a second he lay still, damp sheets scrunched tightly around his head.
Yates's car was cold, the sun just beginning to pull itself into the cloudless sky. As he revved the engine, Mike found himself worrying about the hollowness he felt inside. He'd always assumed that the empty sensation would go, given time - but, if anything, it had been getting worse recently.
He drove through the deserted North London streets, turning things over and over in his mind. When he reached the leafy suburb in which UNIT HQ was situated he was just beginning to recover his composure. As he entered the building it was like slipping on another uniform. One that stopped him thinking too much.
'Sorry about this, sir,' said Corporal Bell, looking a little dishevelled. The duty sergeant reported the death in the early hours. We couldn't raise the Brigadier, and with Major Turner in Iceland, and Major Cosworth on leave...'
It's down to me, thought Yates with a heavy heart. 'All right, what have we got?'
'Bruce Davis is dead, sir.'
'Do you live here, David?' asked Yates sarcastically.
'What? Oh, morning, Mike. This is a right mess-up,' said Carson, tearing another perforated page from the printer. 'If somebody had told me that Billy Donald was capable of these juvenile shenanigans, I'd have... Well, you know...'
'I'd hardly call throwing acid in some poor sod's face schoolboy antics,' said Yates sharply. But he felt a certain empathy with Carson.' it was never easy finding that one of your trusted team is, in fact, an enemy. Yates had experienced similar shock after the Auton invasion. Friends and colleagues had been kidnapped and replaced by exact replicas, destroying what little trust he'd had in humanity.
'You can go in if you want. I'm sure he'll have finished by now,' said Claire brightly.
Mike shook his head. It was hard to be all butch and manly when making excuses, but he knew it would be even harder if he was on his hands and knees vomiting at the smell of embalming fluid. 'I'm allergic to some of the chemicals they use,' he said. 'I'll just hang around here. Anyway, you were saying...'