The Doctor was lying upside down in the crawl space underneath the console room floor, his white canvas shoes sticking out. Marcas was on his knees beside the space passing him down tools as requested.

“Kinetic wrench, please,” he said. Marcas shuffled in the toolbox.

“I’m not sure what that one is,” he answered.

“Blue handled one,” Susan told him. Marcas passed the tool.

“No, not that one,” The Doctor said. “The other blue-handled one.” Marcas took back the tool and passed the correct one.

Susan watched them both for a while and then sighed and went to the kitchen. She prepared coffee and sandwiches for all and returned to the console room. Both of them were suitably appreciative of her effort but The Doctor was the one who realised there was something unsaid.

“Susan,” he told her as he pushed aside the plate of sandwich crusts and dusted the crumbs from his shirt. “You’re NOT just a waitress around here. Having Marcas on board doesn’t demote you to token girl. I just thought he should make himself useful since he’s getting all this free travel.”

“Hey, that’s true,” Marcas added. “Besides, I owe you two SO much. When we get to the fifty-first century I’m at least taking you both to the best restaurant in town for a slap up supper.”

“We were supposed to GET to the fifty-first century three days ago,” Susan pointed out to him. “The closest we’ve got so far was the fifty-first century BC and a dodgy nightclub called ‘51’ on an otherwise dead asteroid.”

“Got to love the TARDIS’s sense of humour, though,” The Doctor said with a disarming grin. “I think I found the problem, anyway. Another of the bullets from Marcas’s ‘peelers’ was lodged in the circuits. What did I say about Time Agents being more trouble than they’re worth?”

Susan smiled as The Doctor winked conspiratorially at her. She HAD felt a little like the odd one out for a while as The Doctor worked with Marcas at the repairs. But with a few words and a wink, he had reminded her that THEY were the team and Marcas the passenger who was going on his way just as soon as they found his century.

“Let’s try again, shall we,” The Doctor said. “Susan, you take the drive control. I want to keep an eye on the navigation console and see WHY we don’t seem to get where we WANT to go.”

If she needed ANY proof that she was valued on board the TARDIS it was THAT. Drive control was the important part. She was, in effect, the pilot.

She wanted to be a GOOD pilot in front of Marcas. And she WAS. It wasn’t her fault that the navigation was still playing up.

“NOT the fifty-first century,” The Doctor sighed as they came out of the vortex in orbit around a pair of planets – or possibly a planet and its moon that was nearly as big as the planet itself.

“Not even close,” she laughed, glancing at the long temporal date on the TARDIS clock and ran the numbers in her head as she tried to work out how to say the figure aloud. “Five billion and thirty eight?”

“Spot on,” The Doctor said. “And we’ve come out by the planet called New Earth.”

“What happened to the old Earth?” Susan asked casually.

“It got turned to cinders when the sun went supernova in the year five billion,” Marcas replied.

“What?” Susan looked at The Doctor. “Earth is gone?”

“I was going to put it a bit more diplomatically than that,” The Doctor told her. “But yes. Nature took its course on an empty planet that had long before become uninhabitable. The Human race and every other lifeform on it was long gone.”

Even so, the knowledge that Earth had been destroyed utterly disturbed Susan, as it disturbed all of his Human companions who came this far into the future with him. They all KNEW, of course, that their planet had a finite life. But knowing that, and being presented with it as a fait accompli was a different thing.

“Doctor,” she said and hugged him tightly.

“What was that for?” he asked. “Not that I’m complaining, mind. Everyone needs a hug from a friend from time to time. Hugs are good.”

“Because I just realised, just then, thinking about Earth, just how rotten it must be for you, feeling like that every day.”

The Doctor looked at her and bit his lip as he wondered how to reply to that. Her sympathy was touching. He appreciated it. And it was TRUE that there hadn’t been a day gone by without at least one brief moment that stabbed him in the hearts with grief. The healing was a long one. It had taken him many years just to speak the name of his home planet without choking on it. When he did, a huge hurdle had been crossed and it got a little easier. But still there WERE those moments when it hit him full on. He had learnt to learn to carry on without anyone noticing.

He had got good at doing that.

He did it now. He grinned at Susan and told her to toss a coin.

“Heads we go to New Manhattan on New Earth for that slap up supper Marcas promised. Tails we go to Umem-Sigma, the chief city of the twin planet that serves as New Earth’s moon.”

Susan dug in her pocket and found a Te-Fot fifty foos piece, remnant of their trip to the zoo. She looked at both sides. The ‘head’ would have to be the side with the image of some sort of fish on it and the ‘tail’ the side with the ‘50 foos’ in big letters. She wondered as she tossed it in the air if she would ever forget that a foos was the equivalent to 13 Euro-cents by the exchange rate of the Earth year 2010.

“Tails it is,” The Doctor pronounced with a grin. “Umem-Sigma here we come. You know, when I was a student my nickname was Theta Sigma.”

The Doctor didn’t mention, and neither of his companions had cause to suspect, that he had flipped a switch on the console as she threw the coin in the air. It had altered the gravity inside the TARDIS just ever so slightly and ensured that the coin came down ‘tails’.

There were two reasons.

Firstly, he had never visited New Earth without some kind of unpleasantness turning up, and he really just fancied a quiet evening.

Secondly, if supper was on Marcas’s credit card, then the city of Umem Sigma, renowned for its cuisine, was the place to go.

In fact, picking a restaurant on the brightly lit street where the most exclusive and the most expensive restaurants all vied for custom was harder than tossing a coin for two options. The Doctor used the tried and trusted method of ‘eeny meany, miney mo…’ and strode off towards the winner. Very shortly after they were seated at a table for three and perusing menus.

Marcas noted how expensive the food was. The Doctor watched Susan, who was looking at the small print of the ingredients.

“I’m looking for the vegetarian options,” she told him when he asked. “There don’t seem to BE any.”

“You’re not a vegetarian,” Marcas answered her. “You ate mutton stew at O’Naidh’s.”

“In nineteenth century Ireland I could be fairly certain that the food I ate WASN’T a Human being turned into an animal. Who knows WHAT goes on in the year five billion and whatever it was.”

“In the year five billion and thirty-eight everyone is a veggie,” The Doctor assured her. “All of the meat dishes are made from a vegetable protein by a very good process. You would never know it wasn’t the real thing.”

“What, like tofu?” Susan asked. “You can TELL that’s not real.”

“THIS is better,” The Doctor insisted. “I’m going to try the braised latic and callic-brats in white wine sauce. It’s a bit like beef in taste but a lighter texture, like chicken.”

“And it’s not really meat at all?” Susan looked around surreptitiously at some of the other diners and wondered what they were all eating. The meat looked real enough., but she knew The Doctor wouldn’t wind her up about this. He KNEW how repulsed she had been by what happened at the zoo. “Ok,” she decided. “I’ll go with that. What’s a callic-brat?”

“Kind of mushroom,” The Doctor explained. “Also very nutritious and grown in totally cruelty free mushroom farms.”

Marcas expressed an interest in a medium rare steak but changed his mind when The Doctor glanced meaningfully at him. He went with the latic and callic-brats too.

And they weren’t disappointed. The meal was delicious. They all three enjoyed it thoroughly. Susan forgot her reluctance to eat meat and even forgot that she wasn’t actually EATING meat, but a vegetable protein made to look, feel and taste like meat. Marcas forgot how expensive the meal was. The Doctor looked relaxed and happy, enjoying doing something that ordinary people took for granted – a meal out with friends. It was a rare thing for a man who was so far off the scale by which ordinary was defined that it was a wonder he even recognised the concept.

They ate so well that everyone felt the need for a walk afterwards to make up for the indulgence. They stepped out into a crisp autumnal evening between cool rain showers that left the ground glistening and reflecting the lights of the city street.

Susan enjoyed the sights and sounds and smells of a city that reminded her of a cross between Soho in London and what she guessed Broadway in New York would be like if she had ever been there - neon lights and music, people in stylish clothes, traffic, even if it was flying cars in two or three banks of traffic jam at the junctions instead of the usual ground level snarl up she was used to.

She hadn’t really noticed at first that they had left that affluent bustle as they turned off the main street. Then she came upon something that made her realise that even in the year five billion and thirty-eight not everyone was living the good life.

“I felt guilt-free when I ate before,” she said as she watched the slow shuffling of what all three of them, the girl from the 21st century, the man from the fifty-first, and the Time Lord from all times and everywhere, recognised straight away as a ‘soup kitchen’. “Now I feel guilty all over again.”

“How come?” Marcas asked. “Not why Susan feels guilty, I mean, how come there are people who need this? Poverty was eradicated on Earth in the 48th century.”

“Poverty is like locusts,” The Doctor answered him. “It can come back any time. A slight shift in the economic climate, political policies that go awry. Here in the New Earth colonies there are simply too many people and not enough jobs and homes. The same old problem, and the same old reluctance by the government to address the issue.”

Susan sighed. It was a depressing thought that so far into the future there was still no solution to such problems.

“I could spend an hour or so talking boringly about universal economics,” The Doctor said. “I did that stuff in my senior decade at the academy. But it would destroy my image as a fun guy to be with.”

“Let’s not do that, then,” Susan answered him. She looked at the line of down and outs waiting for their turn to be fed and then she turned back to look at The Doctor. There was an expression on his face that she had never see before. She thought she understood why. He spent his life righting wrongs throughout the universe. But poverty and hunger were the two wrongs even he had no power over.

“You know, Doctor,” Marcas said. “There’s an old Earth saying, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ We’re just in the way here… we should get back.”

“Can’t we do SOMETHING?” Susan asked. “I mean... Doctor, do you have any local currency on you? We could give the people who are giving out the meals something to help buy tomorrow’s food?”

“Yes,” he said. “We can do that.” He reached into his inside pocket and found a collection of small unprepossessing looking metallic discs which, at the current cost of living would cover several days’ meals. He was perfectly happy to give them to whoever was doing this work. He knew it was like dropping pebbles into a dam breach, but sooner or later, if you dropped enough pebbles, it would start to stem the flow.

They started to walk down the line until they reached the wide open doors of a building with a banner proclaiming it to be the “Fourteenth Street Shelter”. Some of the homeless people were collecting disposable cups of tea and wrapped packages containing sandwiches and going off again. Others were gathering inside on benches before long tables where tea, soup and sandwiches were being gratefully consumed.

“Hello,” a voice called out from among the crowded benches. “Doctor. It is you, isn’t it?” The Doctor looked around, startled, as a figure approached him. He looked puzzled, then his mouth widened into a welcoming smile and he reached out and clasped the hand that emerged from inside the layers of ragged clothes.

“Peggy,” he said. “Princess Peggy?”

“Of Gallifrey,” she insisted. He smiled even wider.

“Of course you are,” he replied. “It is wonderful to see you again. How are you?”

“I’m….” she paused as if the question was a difficult one. “Doctor… Do you remember me? I’m Princess Peggy?”

“Yes, I do, indeed,” he answered. “Princess Peggy of Gallifrey. My old friend. Look, these are new friends of mine since I saw you last. Susan and Marcas of Earth. Come along. Let’s find a place to sit and we’ll have a nice chat.”

Susan and Marcas exchanged glances as The Doctor took the woman by the arm and steered her to a seat at the long wooden table. He sat beside her and motioned to them to sit opposite. The Doctor seemed oblivious to the fact that the woman was dressed in layers of dirty, ragged clothes, her face and hands grimy and unwashed, her hair like a bird’s nest. He was treating her as if she really WAS a princess.

They both realised something about The Doctor.

He didn’t care that she was dirty, that she didn’t smell especially pleasant, that her conversation was disjointed and nonsensical most of the time. He saw a Human being under all of that, and he didn’t judge her on any other basis than that.

They both sat at the table feeling a little ashamed of themselves, Susan especially. She had felt sorry for the homeless people. She had asked The Doctor to give them money. But she had not wanted to be involved.

“My friends are gone,” Peggy said rather mournfully.

“Which friends?” The Doctor asked her. He WAS aware that she wasn’t firing on all thrusters mentally. That was probably true of a lot of the people around him here. Some had addled their brains with drink, some, and he suspected Peggy was one of them, had some sort of mental illness or some psychological reason why they had decided to opt out of reality as everyone else defined it.

But there was something about the way she said that. He put his hand over hers and waited for her to say something more about it.

“Excuse me,” a voice said and he looked up at a woman who was clearly one of the organisers of the soup kitchen. “Did I hear right… you’re a doctor?”

“I’m THE Doctor,” he answered. “The definitive article. And you are...?”

“Rebecca Wilkerson,” she told him. “I run this shelter.”

“Then I am very glad to meet you,” The Doctor said. “But you were asking… do you NEED a doctor? A medical doctor?”

“I can’t pay. We don’t have the funding. But you seem as if you are interested in the plight of our homeless. If you ARE that kind of doctor… could you examine some of the people here at the shelter? Some of them are sick and I am concerned.”

“I’m any kind of doctor you need me to be,” The Doctor said. He stood up from the table. “Peggy, you talk to my friends for a while. They’re good people. You can tell them everything.” He looked at Rebecca and flashed her the kind of smile that Susan thought would leave most women weak at the knees. “I’m all yours.”

Rebecca didn’t exactly go weak at the knees, but she did smile back at him in a way that suggested it might be an option later.

“So…” Susan slipped around the table and sat next to Peggy. “You’re really a princess… from Gallifrey?” Obviously she wasn’t, unless The Doctor had been lying all along about what Gallifrey was like. But it seemed the only thing she could think of to get her talking.”

“Oh, yes, indeed,” she answered happily. “My mother is queen of Kasterborus and my father is prince regent of all Gallifrey.”

“The Doctor is from Gallifrey,” Susan told her. “Do you know him from there?”

“The Doctor is personal physician to our royal court,” she continued. “He is a great man and a loyal subject.”

“So where is Gallifrey?” Marcas asked. Peggy looked at him as if sizing up whether to answer him or not.

“It is in the Andromeda Galaxy,” she answered. “Next planet to Jupiter.”

“But Jupiter isn’t….” Marcas began, then changed his mind. He listened along with Susan as Peggy talked happily of her home world and how beautiful it was.

Strange, Susan thought. It really sounded a lot like Gallifrey as The Doctor had described it to her in the quiet times in the TARDIS when he was feeling especially nostalgic. But then again, deserts and mountains and oceans were common to most planets where people lived.

“Peggy,” Marcas said after judging they had let her talk enough to gain her trust. “You said that your friends have gone. Where have they gone?”

The happy reminiscences faded as the question brought her back to the present. Her eyes welled up with tears and she spoke the names of people she knew who were no longer to be found.

“Mapps was the first,” she said. “Then Covey and The Roamer. Gilly… poor old Gilly. He was next. Megs and Paulie.…”

Marcas reached into his pocket and pulled out a PDA. He wrote the names down rapidly. When she ran out of names, tears of sorrow streaking down her grimy face, he counted fifteen.

They were just homeless people, invisible people most of the time. Anonymous, one just like the other, a nuisance, Human litter in the street. Who would notice they were missing?

Apart from other homeless people.

Who would CARE?

“The Doctor cares,” Susan said. “We should tell him.”

The Doctor DID care. He cared deeply for the people Rebecca took him to see on the upper floor of the building.

“They’re all sick?” he asked as he looked down the long row of men and women lying on rough pallet beds with whatever covering might be found.

“These are the worst. But I think some of the others are symptomatic, too. If you…”

The Doctor was already at work. Rebecca watched as he used a strange instrument with a blue light to examine each of the patients in turn. He was gentle with them, and he spoke in a soft, reassuring voice.

“They are all suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” The Doctor said. “Some of them in the very advanced stage where it is irreversible even with the medical advances of these times. EVEN if these people had the medical insurance to pay for treatment, which of course, they don’t!”

Rebecca looked at him and shivered. She herself had so often been angry and frustrated at the need for charity in a city full of wealth, but in The Doctor those emotions seemed just barely held in, like a steam boiler about to blow a valve.

Then he turned and smiled widely at her and practically bounded to the administration office at the end of the corridor. By the time she caught up he was sitting in her chair and dialling up a number on the videophone. She was startled to see the New Earth government logo appear on the screen before it connected to the vice-president’s office.

“Madame Vice-President,” he said. “I’m The Doctor.” He paused and waited while the Vice-President’s mind clicked into gear and she remembered who he was, and how important he was.

“Doctor,” she said. “New Earth owes you much. How can I help you?”

“Interesting you should ask,” he said and outlined his demands for medical supplies and personnel to be made available to deal with the crisis among the homeless of Umem-Sigma. There was a certain amount of procrastination, and The Doctor had to remind the Vice President several times of her initial greeting to him. It seemed that ‘New Earth owes you much’ had a statute of limitations. But to Rebecca’s astonishment he prevailed. She would swear he had hypnotised the Vice-President. But surely hypnotism couldn’t work by videophone.

“No, it can’t,” The Doctor said as he ended the call. “But I find a magnetic personality works just as well. You’ll have your medical help. You will, I am afraid, lose some even so. But what worries me is how far this goes. The other people, the ones down in the dining room… I would like to have them all tested.”

“How many do you think could be affected?” Rebecca asked.

“CJD is NOT an infectious disease,” The Doctor said. “Not in the usual sense. But this many cases suggests a common source. We need to know the extent, and we need to look for the source.”

“What kind of source?”

“Food, usually,” The Doctor said. “Contaminated meat. But people don’t EAT meat on this planet.”

His mind was turning over the problem when Susan and Marcas ran noisily into the office, followed by Peggy. They both spoke rapidly and at once, and Peggy rattled along with her own narrative. Even The Doctor, whose brain could process so much more information, so much faster than the average humanoid was bewildered.

“Can you all calm down and elect a spokesperson, please?” he asked. Susan took a deep breathe and started again. The Doctor listened and he looked at the names on the PDA. Then he looked at Rebecca.

“What do you think?”

“It’s true those people haven’t been around for a while,” she said. “But I hadn’t thought about it.”

“People aren’t around and you don’t think about it?”

“If this was winter, I would worry,” Rebecca explained. “I would check all the usual places for bodies. They die in winter. It’s a fact of life for them. But we’re just coming to the end of summer, I DON’T worry so much. In the good weather, they roam about more. There is work in the countryside, fruit picking, that sort of thing. They go down to the beach or where the music festivals are and there is plenty of left over food to be had.”

“Yes,” The Doctor drawled as if thinking that over. “Even so, Peggy is not as daft as she looks, and if she thinks something is wrong, I’m inclined to believe her.”

Again he was mid-sentence thinking over his next move when he heard the sound of vehicles arriving outside and one of Rebecca’s assistants rushed in to announce that a truckload of medicine and people in medical gear had arrived. The Doctor’s face was justifiably smug. Rebecca’s was eternally grateful.

“That’s ONE problem in hand,” he said as the medical personnel began to transform the sickroom into a real field hospital. He looked around to see Peggy, with Susan holding her hand gently, submitting to a vaccination that would prevent her being affected by the disease or, if she was already, to clear it from her body before it took a fatal hold. “Rebecca, you are a good woman and you’ve done wonderful things. But there’s something going on here that you are powerless to control, something you didn’t even know WAS happening and I intend to do something about it.”

“How?” she asked. “You said it yourself. We didn’t know it was happening. How do you….”

The Doctor wasn’t listening. Questions like ‘how do you…” were ones he didn’t stand around answering. He just got on with the doing. His eye turned on a cardboard box in the corner of the office. It was full of old clothes, courtesy of some of the luckier citizens of Umem-Sigma clearing out their cupboards and wardrobes. His friends watched as he slipped off his suit jacket and his crisp white shirt and tie and put on a greying t-shirt and a cardigan that had seen better days, a long grey coat with no buttons on it that he tied with a piece of string, and two odd shoes, one brown, one black, again laced with string, and to complete the ensemble a woolly hat that covered his neat, clean hair. Halfway through the transformation Susan and Marcas had twigged what he was doing, and they, too, joined in the dressing down.

“You’re all still a bit clean,” Rebecca told them. “You’d better find a bit of mud when you get outside. What exactly do you plan to DO, though?”

“Peggy is going to show us around the places her friends have disappeared from,” The Doctor answered. “The alternative tourist trail of Umem-Sigma.”

It was interesting, Susan thought as they made their way back through the brightly lit city streets, how very different things were now. People passing by avoided eye contact with them. They were invisible people.

At least as long as they kept walking. They watched as The Doctor went up to the doorman at the restaurant they had eaten in earlier. He asked him for the time. The doorman swore at him and threatened to call the police if the whole crowd of them didn’t move along.

“Doctor,” Marcas ventured as they followed Peggy’s directions towards the Umem-Sigma seafront. “Why do YOU think homeless people are disappearing? Couldn’t it be what Rebecca said?”

“Yes, it could be,” he answered. “But something feels wrong. Call it a hunch.”

“Have you known this sort of thing happening before?” Susan asked him.

“Long time ago,” he answered. “Homeless people being picked off the streets to be made into Cybermen.”

“Cybermen?” Susan looked puzzled. Marcas was startled. “No, not here, surely?”

“You know of them?” The Doctor asked him.

“Yes,” Marcas answered and the tone of his voice made it clear to The Doctor that he shouldn’t follow that line of conversation any further.

They came to the seafront, and Peggy brought them onto the beach itself. There, the darkness beyond the street lights of the city was punctuated by camp fires and dozens of the same homeless and ignored, invisible people that Rebecca was working so hard to look after, were keeping warm beside them.

“Have to share to sit,” Peggy said. None of them knew what she meant until they approached one of the campfires. Peggy produced a half loaf of bread from under her coat and that, apparently, was the payment for being allowed to join the group around the fire. Susan reached in her pocket and found a bar of chocolate. That met with approval. So did the bag of sweets The Doctor magically found in his pockets. Marcas came up with a packet of cigarettes. That got him a prime spot by the fire.

Susan sat as close to The Doctor as she could. These people were just like the ones at the shelter. Most likely they were the SAME people, settling down for the night after their meal. But even so, she felt a little scared. Maybe it was because she was pretending to be one of them, trespassing into their world.

“What happens now?” she asked.

“We wait,” he answered. “There is fear around this beach. I can feel it. They are afraid of SOMETHING. And I need to know what it is.”

“The tide coming in?” Marcas suggested.

“No,” The Doctor replied. “We’re above the high water mark. It’s something else.”

“The light from the sky comes,” Peggy told him. “Takes people. Takes my friends.”

At that, the others around the fire became distinctly nervous. Peggy’s reference to a light from the sky was vague enough. The Doctor was still trying to work out what she meant. But her fellow down and outs understood the reference and their body language suggested that she had made a serious faux pas in bringing the subject up.

Then a cry went up further along the beach. The cry was taken up as the tense but generally quiet camp became a scene of panic.

The thing that had caused such dismay was something like a helicopter, though it made no sound and it had no lights. It could only be located by the dark patch it made against the starlit sky. As it hovered noiselessly over the beach, a beam of painfully bright, white light shot out from it.

“It’s a transmat beam,” The Doctor shouted. “Run, towards the pier. Get undercover.”

He saw Susan grab Peggy’s hand and do as he said. The pier had an iron framework like piers the universe over. It would protect them from the beam.

“Doctor!” Marcas yelled and The Doctor saw him enveloped by the beam. He made a split second decision and darted into the beam, grasping him in an embrace that would have delighted that other time agent The Doctor once knew.

“Oooh!” he groaned as they felt a solid floor under them again. “I hate transmats.”

“Me too,” Marcas answered him. “Usually they knock me out.”

“The two of us beaming together dissipated the effect,” The Doctor explained. He stepped back and looked around. There were six or seven other people captured by the beam, filling the relatively small hold of the transporter. He could tell by the vibration beneath his feet that they were still being transported. A slight upward and forward acceleration suggested the ‘fishing’ was over and they were heading back to base. - wherever that might be.

But nobody was going to be giving them any in flight entertainment, The Doctor realised. His more sensitive hearing detected the hissing sound and he turned around to find the source of it. Near ground level a gas was pouring into the sealed hold. His more sensitive smell recognised it as a poison even before those nearest began to choke on it.

“Marcas!” he said. “This is NOT personal, but if you ever meet a man from your century called Captain Jack feel free to compare notes.” He grasped him in the tight embrace again and put his mouth over Marcas’s. He had closed off his own lungs as soon as he smelt the gas and he was recycling his air. Some of it he shared with Marcas, breathing into his mouth. Marcas didn’t struggle and didn’t try to breath through his nose. Around them it went all too horribly quiet as their fellow captives succumbed.

If they didn’t get where they were going soon, they would both be dead, too. Conserving his own air The Doctor could last an hour. Sharing it with Marcas, he had maybe a third of that time.

Of course, he could give Marcas up. That was the logical thing. HE, after all, was the resourceful one, the superior being who had the best chance of getting out of this situation and making whoever was responsible for this murderous activity pay dearly. Marcas was just another Human being. There were billions of them. HE was the last Time Lord.

But logic was for Daleks and other creatures that didn’t value life. HE, the last Time Lord, would rather die himself than sacrifice any other being to prolong his own life.

For preference he would like to preserve the other being along with himself and he would hang on to the last second of life to do that. If he was going to die, then he would die WITH Marcas, not before or after him, and not at expense of his life.

Then the sickening sensation of being disassembled at molecular level and transported to another place enveloped him again. On top of the lack of oxygen it made him severely dizzy this time and when he touched solid ground again his legs collapsed under him. He and Marcas fell in a crumpled heap among the dead.

But there was air. They could breathe. Both of them gasped in lungfuls of it for a few minutes.

“It’s cold in here,” Marcas noted once he felt able to speak.

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “About 1.7 degrees centigrade, 33 Farenheit. Roughly the temperature of a domestic fridge.”

“You can tell that accurately?”

“Yes. It’s another one of the clever things my body can do. We’re at the optimum temperature for keeping meat fresh.”

“Meat? On a planet where people are all vegetarians?”

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “And I have a horrible suspicion….” He looked around. There was a low level light in the room. With his superior eyesight that went with all the other senses that had proved so useful it was enough for him to make out two sets of doors. On the one side was a single door with a frosted glass panel near the top through which bright light was diffused. That was the way ‘out’. On the opposite side was a large double door made of stainless steel. The words “Deep Freeze” and “-35° C” were stencilled on in red letters.

“You know,” he said to his companion. “I am half Human, on my mother’s side. That means half of me is incurably curious about what’s inside those doors.”

“And the other half?” Marcas asked, wondering how come The Doctor’s teeth weren’t chattering.

“The other half already KNOWS and doesn’t need to see. That half of me wants to get THOSE doors open and get out of here. And although ninety-nine times out of a hundred I would indulge my Human side and have a good nosy, right now, I am listening really hard to the sensible half of me. By the way, the reason my teeth don’t chatter is that my body can also regulate its OWN temperature for a limited time, at least. An hour or so and I’m going to be getting chilblains just like any ordinary mortal.

“Let’s get out then,” Marcas suggested. But The Doctor was already examining the outer door with his sonic screwdriver.

“Deadlock seal,” he sighed. “Tamper proof. We’re stuck in here unless somebody decides to let us out.”

“What about that other door? What about satisfying that curiosity of yours.”

“There’s no way out through there,” The Doctor assured him. “That door stays locked.”

“I know what’s in there,” Marcas told him. “I’ve worked it out, too. This is food processing, isn’t it. Somebody is using these people as meat. Through there… they’re storing deep frozen humans.”

The Doctor nodded. He didn’t trust himself to say anything else. The thought made him sick.

“Those people that Peggy named,” Marcas continued. “Mapps and Covey, Gilly, Paulie.…”

The Doctor shook his head again. There was no hope for them. They were probably already among the carcasses in the deep freeze. But they wouldn’t have known anything about it. The poison gas would have killed them as soon as they were captured.

“But Peggy only named about fifteen.”

“Perhaps they were the only ones Peggy knew by name. Even among themselves, there’s a certain amount of anonymity. They’re the invisible people. Even Rebecca, bless her, working her socks off to help them, didn’t think anything was unusual about the disappearances. She expects some of them to drop off the map.”

“Which makes you wonder,” Marcas said. “How long do you think this has been going on for? If they take a few at a time, so nobody REALLY notices a drop in the population, they could have been operating for ages.”

“Good point,” The Doctor said. “Very good point.” Then his face darkened with anger. Marcas thought he could actually have raised the temperature a whole degree with the heat of his rage. “They’re going OUT of business TONIGHT.”

“If we don’t get out of the fridge WE’RE the ones going out of business,” Marcas reminded him.

“Yes. I know that.” He stared at the door as if demanding that it present a solution.

The law of causality dictated that it would present one soon. The unmistakable shadow of a Human head darkened the frosted window The Doctor signalled to Marcas to take the left side. He took the right. They waited until all six of the men in white overalls and thermal hoods came in with their flensing knives and plastic wrapping for the meat preparation, then they dashed out of the door and slammed it shut. The Doctor spent a few precious minutes of their potential escape time sealing the door with the sonic screwdriver. Marcas wondered why.

“I just put my OWN deadlock seal on the door. With MY own code. We want the authorities to find the evidence here. Depending on how quick they get here those six might be more or less forthcoming as material witnesses.”

“Ok,” Marcas said. “But how about US getting out of here?” He tapped The Doctor on the shoulder and pointed. They were on a steel balcony above what was obviously a processing plant.

A food processing plant. The factory floor was teeming with workers in the sterile clothing that was standard for any such procedure.

But the product they were processing was FAR from standard.

“Do you think the workers KNOW that isn’t beef carcasses they’re putting into those vats?” Marcas whispered.

“No,” The Doctor answered. “That many people in on a secret like that? Somebody would spill the beans sooner or later. The butchers we locked up in the fridge and the bosses would be in the know. The rest….” He swallowed bile. The thought of it made him ill. Then he reached for his mobile phone. It hadn’t worked in the fridge. He figured one of the layers of the thick walls stopped even his souped up phone signal from getting through.

The call connected. To his relief he heard Susan’s voice.

“Where are you?” he asked. “Are you all right?”

“We’re fine,” she answered. “Me and Peggy got away. We came back to the TARDIS.”

“You’re in the TARDIS!” The Doctor’s two hearts leapt with new hope. “Great. Susan… you’re going to come and get us.” He reached with his other hand for the sonic screwdriver and held it up. He read a long co-ordinate to her as she punched it into the navigation control. “Now hold down the lever on navigation and reach for the drive initialiser. Press it NOW.”

“Put up your hands NOW!” a voice commanded and The Doctor turned to see a security guard, but only very briefly. The man let out a string of New Earthian swear words as the TARDIS materialised between them and him. The door opened and The Doctor and Marcas ran inside.

“Great work,” The Doctor told Susan as he ran to the console. He stopped, surprised, and stared at the woman who stood beside Susan.

“Peggy?” He smiled widely as he saw her in a clean dress with stockings and shoes, her hair brushed and fastened up with hair pins away from her clean face. She looked at least fifteen years younger than he always assumed she was.

Her eyes looked as if she had woken up from a long sleep.

“My name is Margaret,” she said. “Margaret Hallam.”

“Lovely to meet you, Margaret,” he answered. He knew he was going to have to have a longer chat with her later, but for now there were other priorities. “Hold on, we’re going to see your friend, Rebecca. There’s something I need to talk to her about.” He looked at the environmental monitor and noted something. The factory was only four doors away from the shelter. They had walked past it when they decided to visit the soup kitchen.

That made the question he needed to ask Rebecca even more imperative.

The TARDIS materialised in Rebecca’s office. The director of the homeless shelter looked around in surprise as The Doctor sprang from the door.

“There’s a food processing plant down the road here,” he said. “Have you ever had donations from there? Food donations?”

“Rocan Exports?” she said. “Yes, they have been very generous. They make a protein product that looks and tastes like meat for export to the colonies. They give us free samples all the time. It is a HUGE help with the food bills.”

“Oh my….” Marcas whispered loudly. “They’ve been feeding the homeless people with….”

The Doctor nodded. He told Rebecca to sit down. When he had told her what he found she was glad she WAS sitting down.

“I’ve been making meals for them made out of….” She couldn’t finish her sentence. She put her head in her hands and groaned in despair.

“I thought the CJD outbreak and the disappearances were two separate problems,” The Doctor said. “They’re not. At some time since they started their horrible business, one of their victims must have been a carrier of the disease. Susan, remember in your time when Mad Cow Disease became a serious issue and beef-burgers were off the school dinner menu.”

“Infected animals from slaughterhouses had been used to manufacture feed that was given to healthy animals who then caught the disease….” She went pale and she, too, grabbed a chair. “Oh, Doctor! Oh that’s HORRIBLE!”

“To say the least,” he said. He reached for the videophone and put a call through to the Umem-Sigma police. He gave them enough detail of what he had found to make the officer who took the call go visibly green. When the man had composed himself he gave him the code to the deadlock seal that would open up the refrigerator section and advised the officers who went in to have weapons and a strong stomach. Then he cut the call. He turned and put his hand on Rebecca’s shoulder.

“It’s over,” he told her. “Don’t blame yourself for any of this. You did your best, and you’ll continue to do your best. Put it behind you and try not to let it get in the way of your work. It’s needed, very badly.”

“Thank you Doctor,” she replied. “I will try.”

He wasn’t planning to leave until he was sure everything was all right, anyway. He helped Rebecca organise alternative food supplies for the shelter and ensured that the medical people set up a vaccination programme for ALL the homeless people of the city, because he didn’t know HOW far it had gone.

He spent a long time with Margaret, formerly Peggy. Susan had told him how they had run for their lives back to the TARDIS and how, while she was waiting for him, she had taken Peggy to the bathroom and found her some clothes in the wardrobe. She had helped her to brush her hair for the first time in years. In the clean clothes, something seemed to waken in her mind. She had recovered something of the woman she had been before she became Princess Peggy of Gallifrey.

The Doctor gently coaxed the rest from her. He held her hand as the comforting fog of self-delusion fell away and she tearfully told him about the shuttle crash in which she had lost her husband and children. After that, ordinary life had lost its meaning and somewhere in the midst of the grief she had lost herself. She couldn’t remember exactly where she first heard the name of the planet, Gallifrey, nor could she entirely remember why she had decided she was a princess of it, but the strange fantasy had been easier to live with than the tragic reality.

“It’s not exactly a happy ending for her,” Susan said to The Doctor as they watched Margaret sitting on the TARDIS sofa, watching the local Umem Sigma news on the viewscreen. The closure of Rocan Exports and the arrest of the directors and senior staff of the factory for ‘health violations’ was among the headlines. The authorities had obviously decided the general public didn’t need to know the full extent of the ‘violations’. Ordinarily The Doctor didn’t approve of censorship, but he was willing to make an exception this time. Nobody needed to know the ghastly truth, not even the colony planets where the populace were being tested for CJD and given emergency treatment.

“It’s the start of the healing process, at least,” he said. “She has come back to reality and is ready to cope with it.”

“Are we going to bring her with us?” Marcas asked. “She’s still homeless, you know.”

“I’ll think of something,” The Doctor promised.

And he did.

On their last night before they planned to leave Umem-Sigma he persuaded Rebecca that her staff could manage to run the soup kitchen and shelter without her for a few hours. She and Margaret, looking elegant in a dress suit with crisp white blouse and her hair and make up done earlier in the day in a beauty salon, made up a table for five at their favourite Umem-Sigma restaurant. The Doctor noted with a wry smile that the same doorman was on duty and asked him for the time.

“It’s a quarter to seven, sir,” he answered as he opened the door for The Doctor and his party.

“I used to pick scraps out of the bins at the back of here,” Margaret said as she perused the menu. “I can recommend the braised Latic.”

“An excellent choice,” The Doctor agreed. He felt fairly pleased with himself. There was just one more thing to sort out. He turned to Rebecca.

“I was thinking you could use some help at the shelter. Why don’t you ask Margaret if she would like to come and work with you?”

“Great idea,” Rebecca answered. “There’s a small room up on the top floor of the shelter that could be a private bedroom. It would do you nicely, Margaret. And when you feel ready to look for a proper paid job, I can give you a reference. You’ll be just fine.”

Margaret looked at Rebecca, then back to The Doctor. She smiled and nodded. The Doctor picked up his water glass and toasted her health and future prospects with it. And nobody minded that he looked smug. He was entitled to be.