The Doctor smiled as he watched Miche and Susan on the sofa together. Young love.

Well, they deserved it. He pretended to be busy with something at the console and tried not to look at them when their kisses lengthened and deepened. He tried not to hear their words, though it was difficult not to. He found it strangely difficult to filter out the conversation at the edge of his superior Gallifreyan hearing.

“Suzette, ma cherie,” Miche murmured happily as he caressed her face gently. She giggled softly.

“Sorry,” she said to him. “But ever since The Doctor said about cherry pancakes it makes me laugh when you say that.”

“At least I make you laugh,” he conceded. “I hope I shall never make you cry.”

“Ah,” she sighed. “Only somebody whose ancestors were French could turn that into a romantic gesture.”

“I don’t know what being French has to do with it,” he answered her. “Love is love, no matter where it comes from. Look at The Doctor. Could he love Dominique more?”

“Yes,” Susan said. “He could love her so much that he couldn’t bear to leave her.”

“He DOES,” Miche answered. “But that is the way their love works. They love enough for a lifetime each short time they are together and it lets them both live their separate lives afterwards. They’re fine, both of them. And so are we.”

The Doctor smiled again and decided to look at the circuits under the floor. But they had stopped talking about him now. They had stopped talking at all. He looked at them and grinned.

“Try to remember I’m the only one of us who has a respiratory bypass system,” he called out. “Your species still needs to breathe from time to time.” They took no notice. “I’ll see that there’s an oxygen tank on standby.” Still no response. “Would a fire extinguisher be more like it?”

He grinned and sat back on the Command Chair with his feet jammed against the console. He closed his eyes and let himself drop down into the lowest level of meditative trance. He was still aware of his surroundings. He could FEEL the presence of the two young lovers in the room. He could sense the TARDIS engines working perfectly as they span through the vortex to the leisure planet of Avidos where Susan had really enjoyed the anti-gravity swimming pools on their last visit and he was sure she would enjoy even more with Miche to swim along with.

Meanwhile he let his mind reach back to Forêt. He had taught Dominic some techniques to help make their telepathic conversations less exhausting and he found his son easily.

“Mon Pére,” the boy cried joyfully.

“My boy,” The Doctor replied proudly. “Are you busy?”

“No,” he answered. “I’m just washing the raw silk. It’s a very boring job. Angeletta is asleep. Mother is painting. She’s happy. She’s singing.”

“What is she singing?” The Doctor asked.

“A song you taught her,” Dominic answered. “The one about two hearts.”

“Ah.” His own two hearts beat a little faster as he remembered singing that one to her by the fire in the evening.

Well there was no reason to believe
she'd always be there
But if you don't put faith in what you're believin',
it's getting nowhere

And it teaches you to never give up,
don't look down, just look up
'Cos she's always there behind you,
just to remind you

Two hearts living in just one mind
You know it,
two hearts living in just one mind

Well there was no easy way to,
to understand it
'Cos there's so much of my love in her,
as I've got plenty

And it teaches you to never let go,
there's so much love you'll never know'
Cos she can reach you, no matter how far,
wherever you are

Two hearts living in just one mind
Beating together till the end of time
You know it, two hearts living in just one mind
Together forever till the end of time

Well she knows,
there'll always be a special place in my heart for her
She knows, she knows, she knows
Yeah she knows,
no matter how far apart we go, she knows
I'm always right there beside her

With two hearts living in just one mind
Beating together till the end of time
You know it, two hearts, but living in just one mind
Together forever till the end of time.

“Together forever till the end of time,” he echoed the line.

“Mother says that it’s true. You and her ARE together, no matter how far apart you are. And I don’t think she even realises HOW far apart you CAN be. She thinks you’re among the stars we can see in the sky. She looks up at them. She holds Angeletta in her arms and points to them and tells her that her father is there. But you’re even further away than that, aren’t you, father?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I am. Oh, so very far. But a part of me will always be with the three of you. And I promise I will be back to see you before very long. I will always be back.”

I shall come back! A promise he made to his granddaughter, Susan, a long time ago. And he had never fulfilled that promise. For reasons he couldn’t even explain to himself, let alone to her if he ever looked her in the eye again. But now he had a second chance to do it right. And he promised himself he would.

“Doctor….” He was aware of Susan’s voice near him. Not his granddaughter, Susan, who he had been thinking of in that moment, but his other Susan. Miche called his name, too. And it sounded urgent. He said a hasty goodbye to Dominic and broke the mental connection. As he did so, he became aware of the reason for the urgency. He jumped up from the seat and ran to the communications console.

“The alarm sounded and then we came out of the vortex. It seemed to do it automatically.”

“It’s a subspace distress signal,” The Doctor said. “The TARDIS automatically responds.” He checked navigation quickly. “We’re in the Megozi system. The signal is coming from Megozi IV, the only life-supporting planet of that system. Oh #@$£&^%!”

“Bad?” Miche asked.

“Bad, with a shedload of bad on top. Look at those readings.” Miche and Susan both did, but it meant nothing to them. “Twenty – maybe thirty hours, and there won’t be ANY life-supporting planets in the Megozi system. The tectonics… they’re off the scale. The planet is going to blow.”

“Oh, no!” Susan gasped as Miche tightened his hold on her shoulder. “Oh Doctor. The people….”

“It’s a space-age population of about 100,000 according to their last census,” he said, reading the database. “Humanoid. Third generation colonists from the neighbouring system of Eph Tertius. They mine Lutanium there, the most precious metal in the universe. That’s what made it worthwhile setting up a colony in such a remote place. But something must have gone badly wrong.”

“Do something,” Susan demanded. “Doctor… you ARE going to do something. Aren’t you?”

“I’m going to do what I can,” he told her. “As I always do. But before you even think it, no, the TARDIS can’t carry 100,000 people. And even if it could, there wouldn’t be time.” He turned back to the communications console and flicked a switch. The alarm turned off as he connected the videophone link to the source of the signal on Megozi IV.

The face that filled the screen WAS humanoid. Eph Tertians were about the same height and body shape as humans, but they were pale green and had darker green mottling where humans had hair. The one that spoke was female and identified herself as Shorlor Eph'Anepha, High Consul of Megozi.

“I’m The Doctor,” he told her. “I have picked up your signal. I have a craft within range. I am volunteering to give assistance where I can.”

Consul Anepha’s strained face seemed to lighten with gratitude.

“What kind of craft?” she asked. “We have need of fast shuttles that can land in difficult terrain to evacuate outlying settlements. We have passenger liners and a hospital ship in orbit but getting our people to them is the problem.”

“I can do that,” The Doctor said. “The TARDIS can land on a sixpence. Just give me the co-ordinate of your sixpences and I’m right on it.”

“What is a sixpence?” The Consul asked. “No, never mind. This matter is too urgent. These are the co-ordinates we have not been able to reach. Please do what you can.”

“I’m The Doctor,” he replied. “Doing what I can is my middle name.” He smiled broadly at her. The Consul looked curiously at him. It seemed so long since anyone had smiled around Megozi IV. It lifted her tired spirits. She managed a worried smile in return before she cut the communication.

“Ok,” The Doctor said turning to his companions. “Battle stations. Well, lifeboat stations. Susan, Mich, medical centre. Get all the doors between here and there wedged open and then bring bandages, lint, burn ointment, splints back here to the console room to be ready. We’ve got earthquakes, mini volcanoes, super-heated water vapour, the lot down there. We’ll be dealing with broken limbs, burns, what else?

“Shock,” Susan told him. “We need lots of TEA.”

“Capital idea,” The Doctor said. “I’ll get the kettle on.”

“No, you fly the rescue ship, Doctor. I’LL get the kettle on. Miche can do the medical supplies. We’re a TEAM.”

The Doctor smiled widely at her. His reasons for wanting to bring her with him were strange – one at least was because she was called Susan and hearing his own voice say that name out loud gave him a strange kind of kick. But he knew, right now, as she uncomplainingly went to do the most mundane tasks because right now that’s what was needed, that he had made the right decision.

He looked at the co-ordinates. One of them was a hospital, another a school, a mining community where workers and their families waited in hope of rescue, another school. He didn’t know if he could reach them all. He didn’t know if he had to, or if there were other volunteers on their way to help.

And he didn’t know which he should help first. They were all in equal danger. And the ones he failed to reach were going to burn his soul.

But even as he thought those thoughts he was selecting the first co-ordinate at random and materialising.

It was the roof of a hospital. He stepped out of the TARDIS as a doctor – the other kind of doctor – ran towards him.

“Yes,” he said before the frantic man could even speak. “This is a rescue ship. I know it doesn’t look like one. But it is. How many people do you have?”

“Eighty,” he said. “We got the main bulk of the patients and staff out earlier. But we were on standby for new arrivals. Some of these are critical. One needs life support. The batteries in the portable system have minutes.”

“Bring that one first. My friends will show you where he can be taken. It’ll be all right.”

The hospital doctor sighed with relief and turned to his stretcher bearers, ordering the walking wounded to be brought on board. The Doctor turned and picked up a small child who was sitting beside his mother on one of the stretchers. The walking wounded and the remaining medical staff followed his lead.

“There used to be rule against taking unauthorised people on board a TARDIS,” he told Miche as he distributed a box of orange juice cartons he said he had found in a store cupboard The Doctor didn’t even know he had. The console room was teeming with people AGAIN. As soon as the last one was aboard, he fought his way to the console and set co-ordinates for the hospital ship SS Florence Nightingale.

The journey took ten minutes by TARDIS. Just long enough to give everyone a drink and basic first aid. On the hospital ship efficient people were there to take over. As the TARDIS emptied, The Doctor turned and looked at Susan and Miche.

“That’s the first,” he said. “Are you ready for the next batch? It’s a school on the edge of the southern ocean.”

“I’ll bring out another box of orange juice,” Miche said.

“There is a cupboard FULL of it,” Susan told The Doctor. “What’s it doing here? Why did you keep boxes of orange juice on board?”

“I didn’t,” he answered. “The TARDIS is a smart girl. She can create rooms and content to reflect the needs of the people on board. She’s decided that orange juice is needed. So there we go.”

“Good old TARDIS.”

“Yep.” He smiled. The TARDIS was rising to the occasion. So was he.

Try not to enjoy it too much, he told himself. He realised he was grinning as he worked on the next co-ordinate. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a constantly scrolling screen where reports were coming in from around the planet. Rescue work was going on all over, but it sometimes seemed it wasn’t fast enough. One co-ordinate blinked out. The screen said that the whole office complex had disappeared into the ground. Liquefaction had turned the foundations to dust and hundreds of souls ceased to exist. The Doctor knew there was nothing he could have done any more than any other rescue ship ferrying survivors. But it didn’t stop him feeling the loss deep in his soul.

Even so, the adrenaline was burning in his blood as it always did when he went into action. He couldn’t help the chemical reaction it caused in his brain that made it fizz with something like elation in a crisis of this sort.

The orange juice went down well with the children and the tea revived the teachers they grabbed from the roof of the school and headed towards the luxury starliner that had been pressed into service as a receiving centre for the dispossessed. Then it was a quick turnaround and he was off again.

“Good girl,” he said, patting the TARDIS console as the engines responded as uncomplainingly as his two companions. He smiled at them and tried to think of a similar remark that wouldn’t seem patronising.

“How long have we got?” Miche asked. “How many more can we get?”

“The ships in orbit will have to move out in five hours,” The Doctor said. “Nobody can be even in the solar system when the planet finally blows. We all have five hours to get this done.”

“Some people aren’t going to make it, are they?” Susan said as she looked at the broad spectrum lifesigns monitor that showed population areas around the whole planet. It WAS down to isolated pockets now. The majority of the population of the planet were either already dead or rescued. But these last few….

She tried to imagine how scared they must be. She had seen her share of disaster movies where small groups of people clung onto the hope that somebody was coming for them. Scenes passed through her mind almost at high speed of burning buildings, volcanoes erupting, avalanches, global catastrophes. Whenever she saw films like that she wondered what it must be like to be in such a situation, to be waiting, with dread in the pit of her stomach, and hope the only thing keeping her going.

Now the TARDIS WAS the hope for so many people.

“We can’t get to them all,” Miche said. “Even the TARDIS.”

“The TARDIS is going to have a bloody good try,” The Doctor answered.

And it did. They stopped counting after the first dozen pick ups. As the time counted down they ferried hundreds of men, women, children from the dying planet to safety. The tea and the orange juice held out, and so did their spirits. It was heartbreaking to know how many hadn’t made it, but the relieved faces of those who stepped inside the strange blue box and realised it WAS, indeed, rescue, gave them the strength to keep going.

“Come on, everyone,” The Doctor said as they ushered people inside the TARDIS from the top of the administration hall of another mining settlement. “Yes, I know its just a box. But it’s really quite roomy inside. I promise.”

“HE shouldn’t be rescued,” somebody said, pointing to a man who trudged towards the TARDIS among the last of this batch of evacuees. “He’s a murderer.”

“The TARDIS takes murderers, too, in times of global disaster,” The Doctor answered as he ushered them all inside and closed the door. “In fact we did the prison half an hour ago. Some of the murderers were extremely polite people.”

“The general alert went out three days ago. They started taking people offworld yesterday. But HE kept the mine open. He had men digging to Lutanium until five hours ago - when the bottom fell out of the mine and three hundred men were consumed by lava!”

The man had no answer to the accusing eyes that all turned on him. He looked at The Doctor pleadingly.

“I don’t leave anyone behind,” he said. “And it’s not for me to judge who lives or dies. How your own people choose to punish you is up to them. How you, yourself live with what you did is up to you.”

The Doctor turned away from the man as he tried NOT to imagine the terror of those trapped in the mine, an enclosed space with so few exits, as instant death roared towards them. At least it WAS instant. That was the only consolation there was. Some of the burn victims he had applied first aid poultices to here on the floor of his console room were not so lucky.

The number of co-ordinates he had to go to was being reduced by the minute. Some because people HAD been rescued. But many of them because there was no longer anyone to rescue. People WERE dying. At least as many as they were saving.

It was a lottery. And the prize was life.

“Have you done this before?” Miche asked The Doctor as they took off again from the hospital ship. “Rescue work.”

“Lots of times,” he answered. “Thunderbirds have nothing on my TARDIS. Superman, he’s an amateur.”

“I can believe it,” Susan laughed, despite herself. “But how do you cope with it? With the ones you can’t reach?”

The Doctor looked at her for a long moment and thought about some of the disasters he had pitched in with just on her own planet. She probably watched some of them on the news at home with her family, the egg and chips of tea digesting and the report a diversion from homework for a few minutes. He thought of broken bodies he had pulled from rubble of collapsed buildings or from the muddy aftermath of floods, and the few brief moments of triumph when, against the odds some frail Human had survived where others around him were dead.

“You just do,” he answered. “You just do. You manage. We’re managing now. It’s almost over. There’s only another hour anyway. Then the ships move out.”

He put his arm on her shoulder. She looked tired. So did Miche.

“Another hour then you can rest,” he assured her.

“I’d rather keep going another five hours if it meant we could get more people,” she told him.

“That’s the spirit,” he said with a grin as they materialised at one more evacuation point. He sprang to the door. He felt pretty well exhausted too, but he wouldn’t let his companions, still less the people he had to help, know that.

“Madame Consul,” he said as he stepped out onto the roof of the Assembly Building of Megozi IV. “The captain only has to go down with the ship if there are no lifeboats left. The good ship TARDIS is here for you. Come on.”

Consul Anepha turned to look at The Doctor, then she looked down over the edge of the building and saw the lava flowing between the streets as if they were river beds, igniting everything in its path, sturdy buildings exploding into sudden conflagration.

She was the last inside, even so, going back to the stairwell to check there WAS nobody else left in the building. Finally she obeyed The Doctor’s by now frantic instruction to her to GET INSIDE the odd looking blue box. She had been hearing reports about it for hours. The strange craft that looked like something that had no right even to fly, but which had rescued so many more people than she had ever hoped could be rescued, from places she knew they could never land a shuttle craft.

“Doctor,” she said. “You’ve done so much. But there is one more… one more place. The last survivors on the planet.”

“Say no more,” he said reaching for the dematerialisation switch. “How many and what condition are they in? Are we talking walking wounded or what?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But there are women and children still there. We’ve been trying for several days to get them evacuated.”

The Doctor found the co-ordinate. It was in the mountains to the south of the city. It didn’t look that difficult, even so.

“It’s not difficult to get into,” she said. “But getting out.” She paused and cleared her throat. “It’s a sort of religious retreat,” she explained. “It’s led by a man called Galicus Eph- Anepha.” The Doctor raised an eyebrow in unasked question. Consul Anepha answered it anyway. “Yes, he’s my brother. He is a priest. He’s a good man, Doctor. The retreat was a place of peace and tranquillity where people went to be spiritually renewed. But… But Galicus has… I don’t know if he’s mad or…. He says there is no need to evacuate. He says the righteous before Aphan will be saved from the fire and the sinners will burn.”

“Oh dear,” The Doctor sighed. “One of those.”

In the Hall of Worship of the Temple of Aphan, on the side of the mountain of Aphanfut, the followers of Aphan knelt in prayer. Galicus Eph-Anepha stood before the altar and assured his people once again that Aphan would save those of them who were true believers. He glared at the small group of terrified aid workers who had arrived two days before to start the evacuation and denounced them as unbelievers who would burn in the fires.

“Aphan will raise up those who believe. Their flesh shall not burn. They shall be cooled by his living water. They shall be…”

Galicus’s words were drowned out by an animal-mechanical sound that filled the Hall. He stared in astonishment at the strange blue box that materialised around the group of unbelievers, the flashing blue light on top of it casting strange shadows.

“Aphan shall raise up those who believe,” he said again. “Their flesh shall not burn. They shall be cooled by his living water. They.…”

“They shall have a complimentary carton of nice cold orange juice,” The Doctor said as he stepped out of the TARDIS. “I don’t have any living water on board, I’m afraid. But personally I’d swear by a nice cup of tea and there’s gallons of it for anyone who wants it.”

“Blasphemer!” Galicus cried out. “Making a mockery of the word of Aphan.”

“Ok,” The Doctor responded. “Fair enough. That was a bit flippant. But the fact remains, I’m here. So is my ship. It’s here for you all. Come on.”

Some of the Aphan worshippers began to rise to their feet. They looked at the TARDIS with puzzled eyes. They didn’t listen to broadcasts in the Retreat. The point of it was to get away from worldly things and pray. They hadn’t heard the gossip about the blue box that had saved so many lives. But they DID believe in Aphan and the promise of salvation and there was nothing in their holy writings that said salvation could not come in a blue box with a flashing light on top.

Galicus disagreed.

“This is not the salvation of Aphan,” he declared. “This is an alien sent by the demon Naphal to deter us from the proper path.”

“Naphal?” The Doctor whispered to Consul Anepha as she stepped out beside him.

“It is the personification of sin and hatred in our religion,” she explained. “He was brother to Aphan but fell from grace.”

“Ah,” The Doctor noted that information. In his long life he had come across many religions, true ones and false ones. He had been labelled as a blasphemer and a demon and much worse in his time. He had been worshipped as a god a couple of times. He could have done with them thinking he was the personification of Aphan now. It might have made things easier. People do what their gods tell them, even if it’s “get in the blue box before your planet blows up.”

“I’m none of those things,” he answered. “I’m The Doctor. And I am here to rescue as many people as I can. So please, just go into the box. Its roomier than it looks, and there’s food and medicine for anyone who needs it. Milk for the babies. LOTS of tea. Please, all of you. There’s nothing here for you but a terrible and certain death.”

“Galicus, please listen to me,” his sister begged. “Come on, now. The Doctor has helped so many of our people. He has risked his life over and again. He has done more than his share to save those who could be saved. Will you PLEASE let him save you and these innocent people, here.”

“Daughter of Napha!” Galicus spat at her. “Fiend, liar. Unbeliever. YOU shall burn. But those who truly believe in Aphan will be saved. He will raise them up. He will cool them in his living water. They shall be saved.”

“WHERE does it say that?” The Doctor demanded.

“Here,” Galicus replied, pointing to his feet. The Doctor looked down at a beautifully intricate mosaic floor where the very words Galicus had been intoning over and over were written in gold along with several other quotes from the sacred texts extolling the virtues and goodness of Aphan.

“Yes, but where does it say you have to sit here like lemons waiting to be saved? I’m here. I can save you all. COME with me, PLEASE.”

Some of the people stirred. They looked at the box. The two doors were open wide and those closest could SEE that there was more to it than met the eye. Miche came out of it with yet another box of orange juice and began to give it out to the children. Galicus looked as if he was about to denounce orange juice as the blasphemous drink of Napha.

“Don’t you bloody dare,” The Doctor told him. “There’s nothing written on the floor here about little kids going thirsty while they’re waiting for the salvation that’s never going to come. If you care for these people at least let them have that small comfort.”

But his words went unheard. Galicus denounced the comforts the strangers had brought. Some of the parents snatched the cartons away. Others, The Doctor noted with satisfaction, carried on letting their children drink. He saw one mother pour it into the empty feeding bottle of her baby. They were uncertain. The TARDIS and rescue was tempting. But they were used to obeying Galicus, used to believing that he really did speak for their god, that he knew the answers.

That there really WOULD be salvation.

There was a disturbing rumble. The ground shook alarmingly, dislodging some of the beautiful mosaic tiles as plaster dust from the high, fresco covered ceiling showered the faithful. It was a long way from a fountain of living water.

Two young children made a break for it and ran into the TARDIS. The Doctor saw Susan and one of the Consul’s staff grab them and stop them running back out again to their frantically calling parents. Instead, the parents broke ranks and joined them. He saw Susan take them all through to the inner part of the TARDIS where she had organised tea and sandwiches for those who needed them.

But the rest were swayed by Galicus. They wouldn’t move. The Doctor sighed and stepped forward until he was standing on the sacred mosaic, despite Galicus’s rage against the blasphemy. Apparently only the chosen priests of Aphan were allowed to stand there.

“I spend a lot of time on a planet called Earth,” The Doctor said. “It has its fair share of disasters. And it has more gods than just about any planet I ever visited. Except maybe Beothu-Khizs. Ten thousand deities, all pictured on the great gilded ceiling of the Khizsisian Cathedral. Michelangelo would have wept into his paint pots to see it.” He looked around at the puzzled faces around him. His words were mostly meaningless at the moment. “I digress. I do that sometimes. You have to stop me when I do that. Now where was I? Oh yes, I was about to tell a joke….”

“A joke?” Galicus glared at him. “This is no place for jokes. This is a holy.…”

“I’m going to tell this joke whether you like it or not,” The Doctor replied. “We’ll get to the punchline faster if you don’t interrupt. Anyway, there was this very religious man who lived in a little house by a river. And one time the river flooded and his house was in danger. He went up to his roof and he prayed to his god. A fire engine came along and they put up the big extending ladder. And he turned around and told them to go away. “I have faith in my god,” he said. “He will save me.” So the fire engine went away. The waters kept rising. Soon the ground floor of his house was underwater. A boat came along. They threw him a lifebelt. He told them to go away. “I have faith in my god,” he said. “He will save me.” So the boat went in search of other victims of the flood. The water kept rising. It reached the edge of the roof. He climbed right up to the highest part. A helicopter came along. They dropped a rope ladder. He told them to go away. “I have faith in my god,” he said. “He will save me.” The water kept on rising. The man kept on praying. He drowned. His spirit was taken up to heaven. He stood before his god. “My Lord, he said. “I am a good man. I prayed to you. I asked You to save me. Why did I drown?” And the god looked him in the eye and said “I sent you a fire engine, a boat and a helicopter. What more was I supposed to do?”

There was a stony silence.

“Yeah, I know. It’s not a very good joke. But the point IS,” The Doctor said. “The point is, THAT blue box is a fire engine, a boat, a helicopter, all rolled into one. I’m offering you the ladder, the lifebelt. IT IS the salvation you have been praying for. It’s the only bloody miracle you’re going to GET. Now move it, all of you. While you still can. We have MINUTES left to get clear of the planet.”

A mother grabbed her two children and ran to the TARDIS door. Two other people watched her and then they grabbed their children and ran. Then a half dozen more. The Doctor yelled out to them to form an orderly queue as they all tried to get through the doors at once. There were falls, there were scuffles. There was panic. Miche and Consul Anepha picked up those who had been trampled in the rush and bundled them inside. The Doctor waited. Galicus stood before his altar and watched as the Hall emptied into the impossibly small blue box.

“What devilry is that?” he demanded. “What have you done with my people?”

“I’m taking them to safety,” he said. “As you should have done DAYS ago when you had the chance. You have a choice. Come with us and live. Or stay here and die.”

“I will not die. Aphan will save me,” Galicus insisted.

“I could tell you another story about a man I knew in a place called Pompeii,” The Doctor said. “But I don’t have time. I have to get those people to safety. There’s one more starliner up there with the hyperdrive capability to clear the system in time. After that, you’re on your own. One more chance. Come ON.”

“Aphan will save me,” he said again and knelt in prayer by the altar. The Doctor turned and ran to the TARDIS.

“I’m sorry,” he said to Consul Anepha. “He wouldn’t see reason. He didn’t even laugh at my jokes.”

“You did your best,” she told him in a shaky voice. “Thank you.”

The Doctor nodded. He wasn’t sure he could stop his own voice from shaking, either. And he couldn’t get Galicus Eph-Anepha out of his mind. In less than twenty minutes he would be dead. The schematic on the TARDIS environmental console told him how. The mountain the Retreat was built on stood over a great subterranean caldera. A reservoir of magma. That magma had been pouring out as lava all over the continent, destroying everything in its path. The caldera was emptying out and the mountain was going to collapse into it, Retreat, and Galicus with it. He would be dead long before the disintegration of the planet turned his remains to burning fragments.

“Miche, Susan,” he said. “We’re landing on the starliner in about thirty seconds. You get off here, too. You’ll be fine. It’s about to power up and head for the outer markers of the solar system as soon as we offload the last survivors. I’ll meet you on the mess deck as soon as I can.”

“What are you…”Susan began. She turned and looked at Consul Anepha. “Oh. You’re… Oh… you want us off the TARDIS because….”

“Because I won’t risk your lives. If I don’t make it back.…” He gave her his own mobile phone. “Star, hash, One is the speed dial that reaches Nine. He’s supposed to be retired, but I don’t think his wife would mind him doing a quick emergency taxi in his TARDIS. He’ll get you home.”

The TARDIS materialised on the starliner as she took the phone from him. She reached out and hugged him once. There was no point in arguing. No time to argue, even with a Time Lord. She and Miche ran to help those who needed help, as they had been doing for the past several hours.

The Hall of Worship of the Temple of Aphan echoed eerily with the sounds of a building whose foundations were built on a mountain that was about to collapse into the ground, and the prayers of Galicus Eph-Anepha. Aphan didn’t seem to hear him. Aphan had already sent the equivalent of a fire engine, a boat and a helicopter and Galicus still hadn’t recognised a miracle when he saw it.

Aphan had apparently washed his hands of his stubborn worshipper.

But The Doctor never washed his hands of anyone. Galicus screamed aloud as the altar and the Hall around him faded from view and he found himself kneeling, not on the great mosaic floor with the sacred symbols of Aphan depicted in it, but on a dark green mesh floor beneath which sinister looking valves and coils lit up with a strange green light. He looked around and saw The Doctor standing at the console.

“No!” he cried and he ran across the walkway that led to the door. He yanked at the handle until it opened.

A forcefield held him back as he tried to run outside. He stared in astonishment.

The Hall was gone. He was looking out at space. He was looking at the moon, Aphan’s Light, he called it, that had shone down on the planet at night, but would not shine on any more nights on Megozi IV. The TARDIS revolved slowly and he saw the planet. It was in its death throes. The oceans had boiled away as the molten core poured out onto the surface. What had once been blue and green and purple where the great mountains rose up and white at the frozen poles, was now red and black and dying by the minute.

The TARDIS accelerated away and as the view of the planet receded Galicus saw it explode. Debris was flung out far beyond its orbit. The moon cracked into three pieces under the strain as the gravitational forces fluctuated wildly.

“Shut the door, its bloody draughty,” The Doctor said, though that was not true. There was nothing to cause a draught. And if there was, the forcefield held it back. “Orange juice?” he asked, holding out a carton.

“Is it true?” he asked. “Did Aphan REALLY send you?”

“If that’s what you want to believe,” The Doctor said. “Then yes.” He looked at the long range scanner. He saw the last starliner come out of hyperdrive on the edge of the Megozi solar system. He set the co-ordinates for the mess hall. He wasn’t too surprised when Susan and Miche rushed in through the door the moment he opened it.

“You did it,” she cried, hugging him tightly. “You saved him. You got him off the planet.”

“Skin of my teeth,” he admitted. “But he’s alive. Not sure what he’s going to do with himself now. I suppose he’ll pick up the pieces like the rest of them. And at least he’s not alone.” He smiled as Consul Anepha ran into the TARDIS and wrapped her arms around her brother.

“Job done, Doctor?” Miche asked.

“Job very well done,” he agreed as he stepped outside the TARDIS and looked at the survivors. They had all seen pictures of the destruction of their planet on big viewscreens. They were not exactly happy to see their homes, their jobs, their livelihoods obliterated. They had nothing to look forward to but refugee centres and an uphill struggle.

But they were alive. And that was what matters.

“You’ll be ok now,” The Doctor said to Consul Anepha as she and her brother followed him out of the TARDIS. “We’ll be off. Best of luck to you all. And Galicus, next time you’re thrown a lifebelt, assume that your god sent it to you. And grab it.”