“This looks like Earth,” Donna said as they stepped out of the TARDIS onto a grassy meadow above a sandy beach and a calm looking bay. “Could be South Wales. We went to South Wales when I was a kid. Caravan holiday on the Gower Peninsula. This looks a lot like it.”

“It’s not,” The Doctor assured her.” Not Earth, not South Wales. Definitely no caravans.” He gently turned her around from the view over the bay and pointed to the huge moon that was visible even in the day sky, it was at least ten times bigger than Earth’s moon – or closer.

“Bigger,” The Doctor said. “Actually it’s a twin planet. The roll about in orbit around each other as they go around their sun.”

“It’s pretty,” Donna conceded. “So where it is, and how come it does feel so much like Earth?”

“It’s called Gantuss III, which tells you, of course, that it is the third planet from the sun, just like Earth. Similar size and atmosphere, temperature. In fact, in five billion years this will actually be called New Earth. There’ll be a city on an artificial island over there called New New York.”

“New New York?” Donna gave him a look. “Don’t be silly.”

“Actually, it will be the 15th New York since the original, so technically it should be New New New…” He stepped. That joke clearly wasn’t going to work with Donna. It wasn’t exactly his best material to begin with.

“Anyway, it’s too commercialised and busy by then. It’s rather nice as it is now. Come on, we’re going this way, to the settlement.”

He led her up the rise from the meadow. At the top they looked down at what he had called a ‘settlement’. He could have said village, hamlet, conglomeration, community, colony, or a dozen other words that described the collection of buildings below.

The one Donna thought of was not high on his list.

“Walnut Grove,” she said with a giggle.

“Come again?” The Doctor looked at her curiously and searched his memory for the cultural reference he was missing.

“Little House on the Prairie. Television programme, in the 1970s. But I suppose you weren’t around planet Earth much then.”

“On the contrary,” he replied. “I spent a lot of time on planet Earth in the 1970s. BC and AD. But I didn’t have a lot of time for watching television. I was too busy saving you all from annihilation.”

“Fair enough. But that place down there looks just like the village – you know, log built buildings, those false fronts on the shops. And it’s set down in the middle of nowhere… just like they were in the programme, out on the American prairie in the Wild West.”

The Doctor grinned.

“Actually, Donna, you’re completely spot on. That’s just what this is. I doubt if the settlement is called Walnut Grove. But Gantuss III is the wide open prairie for the Felinites. They’ve come here from other worlds, over-populated planets, to make a new life. Once here, they gave up most of the technology that got them here. Went back to a simple life, building their homes and businesses from the sweat of their brows, living off the land. It’s exactly what you’re thinking. Except, you’re going to be a bit surprised when you meet the settlers.”

He started off down the hill. Donna followed him, curious and a bit excited as she always felt when he brought her somewhere new. He seemed happy, anyway. So there was probably nothing dangerous in the immediate future.

Up close the prairie town looked even more like the one she was thinking of from nostalgia television. The stores, the saloon, the school, hotel, were all arrayed along one main street that was nothing but dusty, bare ground, hard packed by the horses and carts that served as transport. There were horses tied up outside the saloon and at a building that said ‘Stables’ on its false front, and carts parked up here and there. There was a wooden ‘sidewalk’ built onto the front of the buildings themselves, a good foot above the ground, providing a safe, mud free place to walk when it was raining.

In every respect, it seemed to resemble a pioneering town from the American West as seen on Saturday afternoon films or the aforementioned Little House on the Prairie.

Except for the people who were going about their business on those sidewalks.

“But… they’re…. Doctor… they’re….”

“Don’t stare. Don’t point. It’s rude. And close your mouth. You look like a goldfish. Try to remember that we’re the aliens here. We look strange to them, and yet they’re not pointing and staring at us at all.”

“Well… yes… I know… but…”

“Ah,” The Doctor said as he looked up at the name over one of the store fronts. “‘McDevitt’s Milk Bar’. This is the very place.”

He marched in through the door. Donna followed him and looked around at a cool, clean room with well scrubbed floors, wall and ceiling. The walls had colourful pictures of rolling hills and meadows by streams. There was a long counter down the middle where stools were set. Behind it were metal churns which obviously contained milk. They had condensation on them as if the contents were ice cold. A half a dozen patrons were sitting on the stools drinking glasses of milk through long straws.

The patrons, like all of the people of the township, were all cats.

That is to say, they stood upright like humans, and had arms and legs. But they had cats paws at the end of their arms and cat faces, complete with whiskers, and each of them had a tail that curled around behind them as they sat. There was a soft sound in the room which Donna realised was six happy cats purring as they drank.

“Two large glasses of your best gold top,” The Doctor said to the dark-faced cat in a clean apron behind the counter. He looked around and then broke into a wide smile. Donna tried to remember if she had ever seen a cat smile before, and apart from the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland she couldn’t think of one. But this one did.

“My whiskers!” he exclaimed. “Doctor! I never thought to see you again. I am delighted.” He turned to his other patrons. “This is The Doctor. He saved by life – and my wife and family – when our ship crashed on the way here to Gantus.”

And that, Donna thought, was all the explanation she needed. That was why they were here, to visit somebody who The Doctor had once helped along the way.

“Gordo McDevitt,” The Doctor said as he shook hands – well, hand and paw – with the milk bar proprietor. “Glad to see you looking so well. This is my friend Donna, by the way.”

“Delighted,” Gordo said, reaching to shake with her as well. Donna noted that the paw was soft and if he had claws they were safely retracted. “Take a seat, both of you. Never mind gold top. The best double cream milk for my friends.”

The Doctor sat down on a stool next to a ginger cat that smiled warmly at him. Donna did the same. She watched as Gordo poured ice cold milk into two glasses and added a double helping of thick cream on top. Donna tasted the milk. It was delicious. She had spent most of her life drinking semi-skimmed because it had less calories and less cholesterol – and less taste. This was beautiful. She sucked it slowly through her straw, trying not to make slurping noses. The Doctor, managed to make every kind of embarrassing noise it was possible to make with a straw.

“Delicious,” he said when he was finished, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin from the dispenser. “So, anyway, Gordo, how are the family?”

“They are as well as can be expected,” he answered. “We’ve had a second litter since you left saw us. Petra has her hands full back at the homestead. But I’m making good money with the milk bar. We’ve all been perfectly happy. At least until…”

There was a disturbance outside in the street. Everyone distinctly heard a gunshot and a scream. Then the sound of a horse galloping away quickly. The Doctor moved from his seat at the counter to the door in one swift move. He was in time to see the rider go by, firing his gun into the air to warn off anyone who might get in his way.

The Doctor rushed outside. There was a cat lying in the street, bleeding.

“All right,” he said as he bent and examined the victim. “I’m just going to take a look at you.” He drew back a blood soaked shirt and saw a worrying stomach wound. He glanced up at the crowd of worried onlookers. “Is there a doctor in town?”

“That is The Doctor,” said the ginger cat who had been sitting next to him in the milk bar. “He’s Doctor Phelim O’Rourke.”

“He tried to stop Banto McShane from raiding his pharmacy,” added a cat with white flour dust over his apron.

“I see,” The Doctor answered. “Where’s his surgery, then? This is a bad wound. But I can save him if I work quickly.”

The crowd parted and pointed to a small shop with ‘surgery’ painted on the window. The Doctor enlisted the help of two other cats to carry O’Rouke inside. He was relieved to find that, despite the retro lifestyle of the townsfolk, the pharmacy was fully stocked with modern medicines and O’Rourke had everything necessary to perform emergency surgery.

“Can I help?” Donna asked. The Doctor looked up in surprise. He didn’t know she had followed him.

“I need a nurse,” he said. “No time for full scrubs. His blood pressure is worryingly low. Got to work fast. Put n a face mask, anyway. And do as I ask.” He was already washing his hands in disinfectant soap and he donned a mask and gloves himself before he began the operation to remove the bullet from the injured cat. It was simple, yet it required careful, steady hands and a keen eye. Fortunately he had both. Donna passed instruments to him and helped swab the wound. Finally she held the suture thread while he closed the wound and then bandaged the patient.

“I think he’ll be ok,” The Doctor said at last. “We’ll get him comfortable and tidy up, and then I want to know exactly what’s going on around here. Gordo seemed about to mention something when the gunfight broke out.”

“Half an hour,” Donna said. “That’s how long we had, drinking milk in peace and quiet, then all hell broke loose. Is it you? Do you sort of attract trouble?”

“There was already trouble here,” The Doctor replied. “We just came into the middle of it.”

“Yeah, and you won’t be leaving it, will you?”

“Gordo is a friend. He has a wife and two litters of kittens to support. He put everything he had into a new life for them all out here in ‘Walnut Grove’. So did all the other people who’ve tried to make a living for themselves. And something or somebody is threatening that living. I want to know why. And I want to put it right.”

“Course you do. But… don’t they have as sheriff?”

The Doctor finished clearing up and washed his hands.

“Lets go find out.” He turned and stepped back out of the surgery. He wasn’t entirely surprised to find a crowd gathered, anxious to hear the news. Gordo and his customers were all there. So were most of the other townspeople. There was a young female cat with pure white fur who looked more distressed than any of the others.

“Is Phelim…” she began. “Is he… going to be all right?”

“He’s comfortable,” The Doctor replied. “Are you a friend?”

“I’m…” The Doctor half smiled to see a white-faced cat blush under her fur.

“You’re just what he needs. Go on in and sit by him. He should sleep for a few hours. When he wakes, a bowl of cream and some tender loving care… I’ll look in on him later.”

Phelim O’Rourke’s sweetheart hurried inside to be with him. The Doctor looked around at the rest of the people.

“I take it there isn’t a town sheriff?” he asked. There were solemn headshakes and unhappy sighs.

“He was killed three weeks ago,” Gordo McDevitt told him. “We don’t know exactly who did it. But he was the first. There have been… others…”

There were murmurs. A few people seemed nervous about telling their story to a stranger - and especially one who looked so very different to them. Gordo insisted that The Doctor could be trusted, and that he could help them all. He seemed to have enough respect from his neighbours to swing the argument.

“We need to talk,” The Doctor said. “Is there somewhere we can all go…a public meeting as it were?”

“Murphy’s Saloon,” said a tabby cat. But that was not an idea that went down with many of the men or any of the women. The Doctor got the strong impression that temperance was a strongly held way of life in this township. Pure, unadulterated milk such as Gordo sold was the preferred drink. The malted and distilled brews at Murphy’s were something of a taboo.

“I’ll open the schoolroom,” said a grey-furred cat in a dark blue suit. “There’s room for everyone, and much more suitable.”

“Excellent,” The Doctor replied. “Lead on, MacDuff.”

“I’m MacDonagh,” the schoolmaster responded, seeming ever so slightly maligned. “That’s MacDuff, the provisions merchant.”

“My mistake,” The Doctor answered him diplomatically. “Lead on, MacDonagh.”

Everyone followed the schoolmaster to the clean looking building with a big double door and a bell hanging above it. Inside was a single room with smooth, board walls and a well caulked roof above. There were maps and suitably educational pictures on the walls and a smell of chalk and books. Everyone sat at the desks, including the schoolmaster.

The Doctor stood by the teacher’s table. He idly picked up a large paperweight shaped like a cream vat and played with it in his hands as he looked at the hopeful faces that looked back at him. They all seemed to trust him, anyway. He knew they had little reason to do so apart from Gordo’s insistence that he ‘was their man’ in the crisis they had on their paws and the fact that he had saved the life of their physician. He hoped he could live up to their expectations. He usually did. Coming up with solutions in the nick of time and saving the day was his speciality. But there was always a possibility, one of these days, that he might bite off more than he could chew. There was something about a room full of wide eyed and hopeful cat faces looking at him that made him really want this not to be that day!

“All right,” he said. “Can somebody tell me how this began?”

MacDonagh the schoolmaster stood up nervously and began to explains to The Doctor about the problem that had begun about two months ago. There was a bout of cattle rustling. The problem had been serious enough for a group of farmers to go in search of their missing animals. They had ridden up into the hills beyond the plain and had found nothing but bones stripped of every edible piece of flesh or organs and even the bones gnawed to the marrow.

“That doesn’t sound like rustling to me,” The Doctor pointed out. “More like some kind of wild animal. Except… I don’t want to meet the animal that can steal a whole cow from the herd, drive it miles away and them strip it to the bones. And pack animals when they kill tend to eat on the spot, very quickly. They usually leave meat and organs behind because they have to move on before they’re discovered. But these animals had been taken away?”

“Right up into the hills,” MacDonagh confirmed. So did several other men.

“That’s strange behaviour for an animal. And yet….” He studied the faces of the people before him. He had a feeling they weren’t yet telling him everything. They still looked innocent and hopeful. But there was also a suggestion of nervousness, as if they didn’t quite want a shocking story to come out.

“It would be better if you told me everything,” he said encouragingly. “What is it that you are all afraid of?”

Every pair of eyes in the room dropped away, unable to meet his.

“Please,” he said again, very quietly. “I can’t help you unless you tell me the whole truth.”

“Sir…” MacDuff the provisioner spoke up. “It’s difficult for us. Humans… like yourself… have prejudices… against our sort. And… if you knew the cause of our trouble… you’ve been kind, sir. We’re indebted to you. But…”

“For a start,” The Doctor said. “I’m only half Human. On my mother’s side. And I don’t do prejudice. At least not unless it’s well deserved. So… come on. I promise I won’t judge anyone unfairly.”

“It was the blood fury,” said one of the crowd very quietly, almost as if he didn’t want The Doctor to know who had spoken.

“The blood fury?” He turned the words over in his head. “So… who wants to explain what it means?”

“We’re cats,” said MacDonagh unhappily. “Our ancestors… we come from a species that were savage pack animals, hunters, cruel, voracious…”

Yes, The Doctor thought. That was certainly true. Cats were hunters, killers. Even a domestic moggy with a sweet, innocence face, curled up on the windowsill in the sun, purring contentedly could bring a savage death to rodents and small birds. The larger animals that the Felinites were descended from would have been lions, tigers, panthers, the top of the food chain in jungles and plains on distant planets. Creatures that brought down their prey with cruel claws and could sever a jugular with their teeth.

“Well, as you surely know, Doctor, Felinites are usually vegetarians,” the schoolmaster continued. “Sometimes we have fish, eggs, but mostly we keep cattle for their milk, we make cheese, butter, grow barley and wheat and make bread. We don’t eat red meat at all. But… sometimes… rarely… it must be said… sometimes there are individuals who go feral… they kill, devour meat.”

“And you think you have one of those near here?”

“We have a pack,” MacDuff confirmed. “At least a dozen, maybe more. All with the Fury.”

“I think I understand,” The Doctor said. “All right… let me think about this for a while. It seems like a situation where a good solid plan is needed. Maybe… best thing is for everyone to get to their homes before nightfall and stay there. Take care of your families. Gordo… may Donna and I impose upon you this night?”

“You are most welcome, Doctor,” he answered. “To shared in our food and rest with us.”

“Excellent.” He smiled reassuringly at the townsfolk as they went their separate ways to close their shops and get away to their homesteads where their families were waiting.

He wished somebody could reassure him.

He checked up at the surgery on the way back. He was reassured to see that Phelim O’Rourke was awake and, though in some pain, looking as if he was on the mend. His best medicine was obviously the attentions of the white cat, by name of Sienna Cassidy, who was constantly at his side. There was a young male with her, as well. He introduced himself as Milo Cassidy, her brother.

“I’ll keep them both safe,” he said. “In case that McShane one has any more ideas.”

“Oh, yes. I’d forgotten about him,” The Doctor said. “He was raiding the pharmacy. What did he take?”

Milo showed him the stock. The Doctor carefully examined the bottles and phials to see what was missing.

“The McShanes have always been a wild lot,” Sienna told him. “They have a homestead out on the east slough, just before the hills start. Rough land, rough family. I think they’re descended from alley cats. No manners, no dignity, always in any fight that broke out in Murphy’s. But… they never shot anyone before. None of us expected that.”

The Doctor took in what she was saying and still wondered how the McShanes fitted into the picture. He wondered, too, why Banto McShane had stolen the entire supply of parvovirus vaccination.

“There’s no black market for that drug,” Milo assured him. “And if anyone was sick at their place, it wouldn’t help. I don’t get it.”

“Neither do I at the moment,” The Doctor admitted. “You carry on doing what you’re doing. Look after your sister and Phelim. I’ll come and see you again tomorrow. If there’s any reason to worry, though, I’ll be at Gordo McDevitt’s place. Send a messenger.”

Donna had walked on with Gordo while he made that necessary stop. She was waiting with Gordo at the now closed up milk bar. He had a small brown and white pony hitched up to a cart. They sat up on it for the half mile journey to the McDevitt homestead, the farm where he kept a herd of milk cows and a dairy where his wife made the butter and cheese that were their staple foods as well as their additional source of income.

The farmhouse was a warm, clean, but noisy place. Gordo’s eldest kittens, in their teens, all ran to greet him as he came in. They looked curiously at the two strangers with him. His youngest litter of three four month old kittens mewed in their basket. Donna immediately picked one of them up. It was a black and white kitten about the size of a Human baby of that age, but with paws and face and a tail that peeked through an extra hole in the romper suit. The Doctor grinned and left her to it as Gordo called to his wife in the separate kitchen and she came to greet The Doctor wholeheartedly with a warm, furry hug.

“Supper is almost ready,” she said to them all. “Sit up at the table. Children, wash your paws and make less noise. Anyone would think it’s the first time we ever had guests.”

The meal was a good one. It was a hot bean soup and as much home made barley bread and butter as anyone could eat. That was followed by a huge slab of cheese with softer wheat bread and then a milky coffee for the adults and plain milk for the children. They brought their drinks to the easy chairs by the fireplace, and Donna smiled to see The Doctor sitting there with one of the kittens on his knee, sucking at his thumb full of cream from a bowl by his side.

The talk, as they sat, was far from cosy and domestic, though.

“I went about it the wrong way,” he admitted to his friends. “I know what they all expect. That I’m going to take a posse out with shotguns to hunt down these wild cats. They think I’m the one to do that. But I’m not. If it was a wild animal threatening the town, then I could just about do that. But from what was said, these are people like yourselves who’ve been affected by some sort of madness. And I’ll not be party to murder.”

“When the Fury comes upon them, there’s precious little difference,” Petra told him. “You don’t understand, Doctor. You’ve not seen it. I remember it happening once, before we moved here. In the nearby town – the Fury started with one or two, and before long those who weren’t murdered by them were infected, too. They all had to be put down. There was no hope. They weren’t Felinite any more. They really were just animal.”

“There has to be another way,” The Doctor insisted. “There must be. But… tell me… where do the McShane’s fit into this? I don’t quite understand…”

Gordo began to answer. Then a sound drove all other thoughts from his mind. It was his milk cows in their night pasture mooing in a panic. He jumped up and reached for the shotgun over the door. He was gone before The Doctor had time to pass the kitten he was holding to its mother.

He reached the pasture in time to see Gordo raise his shotgun and fire twice. Something prowling near the fence fell down and was still. The Doctor ran to the body. It was an adult male cat, in rough outdoor clothes. And it was dead. Gordo’s aim had been true.

But there was something else that worried him.

“Have you got a barn or something?” he asked. “I want to look at this body closer, and I certainly don’t want to bring it into the house with your children about.”

Gordo pointed to the dark bulk of a building separate from the house. The Doctor picked up the body and headed for it. Gordo lit oil lamps inside the big, clean barn with a corner sectioned off for the pony and the rest waiting to store this year’s hay after the harvest. The Doctor put the body down on the floor and examined it carefully.

“It’s Banto McShane,” Gordo said when he brought a lamp closer. “The same one who robbed the pharmacy and shot Phelim O’Rourke. I’ve saved the hangman some rope, at least. But…” He looked at the dead cat’s face and shivered. “He’s… he has the Fury…”

“It would seem so,” The Doctor answered as he looked at the elongated teeth and the long claws that could rip and tear at flesh and the look of murderous rage on the face. The eyes were open and they were not only bloodshot, but the irises were red.

“When I saw him by the pasture… he looked even worse. He was almost an animal.”

The Doctor closed the red eyes and covered the body with some haysacks before he stood up.

“When you say ‘almost’ an animal…”

“The ones in the pack… they’re much worse than this. There’s nothing civilised left. Banto… still looks Felinite at a glance. But the really wild ones…”

“Then that’s the core of it. The pack are fully infected. The McShanes, their homestead is furthest from the town, closest to the hills. They’ve come into contact with the pack and been infected. But it hadn’t taken them completely. The medicines he stole… they might just hold it off for a while. But they’re meant for a completely different disease. They’re not the cure. How many McShanes are there, by the way?”

“Four brothers and a sister,” Gordo answered.

“I think I’d like to talk to them. But not in the dark. And I really need my TARDIS to do some further tests on the body.

He thought about where he had left the TARDIS, in the meadow above the beach. It was a good couple of miles away, and in the dark.

“I think the danger is over for now,” The Doctor said. “But lock this barn up tight and get on into your house with your family. Stay put no matter what happens. If you lose a cow tonight – it’s better than losing you.”

“You’re going on foot, alone?”

“You need to protect your family, not me. Go on, Gordo. Your children need you.”

He made sure his friend was safe inside the house before he set off. Within a few metres of the homestead it was pitch dark. Only the stars cast any light on the lonely prairie. They were just enough light for his Gallifreyan eyes to process and allow him to see. but just to be certain he took his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and turned it to penlight mode. It was comforting to have that penetrating blue lighting up the path ahead of him.

He had gone maybe a quarter of a mile with his long-legged pace when he started to think there was something following him. He stopped and listened. Yes, there were footsteps. And somebody breathing hard. He grasped the sonic screwdriver like a weapon and turned quickly.

“Donna!” He breathed a sigh of relief as the light illuminated her face. She must have been trying to catch up with him all along.

“Gordo said you were heading out on your own. I thought you might need help…”

“That was dangerous. What if YOU needed help and I didn’t know you were behind me.”

“Well… I didn’t. So…”

She let him take her hand as they walked on. He told her what had happened in the cow pasture.

“Wish you’d stayed in the house, now?” he asked her.

“No,” she answered. “Well… yes…maybe. But I’m here now.”

She walked on in silence for a little while, but there were so many things on her mind. They had to spill out.

“Gordo and Petra…they’re so nice. And the kids… kittens… are adorable. It’s funny… after a little while, I didn’t think of them as cats. I just thought they were really nice people. Nice ordinary people. Does that always happen? Do you find yourself looking past strange alien faces and just seeing people?”

“I never see anything else,” The Doctor replied. “It’s not what people look like – whether they have cat faces or dog faces or horns, hide, scales, feathers. Mostly people just want to raise their families, whatever way works best for them. People are people, all over the universe. If you get that… then you’ve got the meaning of it all.”

“The meaning of Life, The Universe and Everything is ordinary people doing the best they can, like Gordo and Petra, bringing up their kids and making cheese.”



“What? You thought it was complicated? You thought it was something only clever philosophers and the like would understand? No. that’s the real secret…. That there is no secret. It’s just ordinary folk living their lives. The tricky bit is making sure they can, putting a stop to those who would make it hard for them. That’s my job, in a nutshell. Smoothing the road ahead for them.”

“Doesn’t anyone smooth it for you?”

“Yes,” he answered. “The friends I meet along the way.” He smiled and gripped her hand a little tighter. Then his smile faded and he gripped her for a different reason. There was a sound close by. Too close for comfort. Something between a snarl and a growl verging on a roar. He changed his grip on the sonic screwdriver and selected a mode that would work as a non-lethal weapon – a powerful static electrical burst rather like a taser that could render most organic beings unconscious. It wasn’t very nice. He disliked causing hurt. But it was preferable to the laser welding tool.

He turned towards the sound and was ready as the creature pounced. The sonic screwdriver taser caught it in the chest and it fell to the ground with a bone crunching thump. The Doctor suppressed a cry of pain from the claw that gouged into his neck a moment before and turned to look at the body with the sonic screwdriver again in penlight mode.

“Look at this,” he said to Donna. “This one… it really was completely reverted, just like Petra said. The penlight shone on the face of a wild animal in humanoid form. The hair was straggly and unkempt and the whiskers ragged. The fangs were long and yellow and protruded from the mouth like a sabre tooth tiger. The Doctor opened the eyes and saw that the ‘whites’ were yellow and bloodshot while the irises were distinctly red. The creature had long, matted fur with only a few old rags tied about the waist. It had forgotten the purpose of clothing.

“What are you going to do with it?” Donna asked as she saw The Doctor bend and pick it up in a fireman’s lift over his back.

“I’m bringing it with me. It’s a live specimen. I need to autopsy the one Gordo shot. But I could find out more from a living body. Especially an advanced one. And…” He felt a tinge of guilt. Savage it was, it was also a living being, once sentient. It was more than a ‘specimen’. If he didn’t remember that, nobody else would. “Also, I may be able to help it…. him. If I can find out what caused this. It might not be too late.”

“You’d better hope it doesn’t wake up before we reach the TARDIS, then,” she told him.

“Good point. Walk as fast as you can.”

As fast as Donna could walk was still slower than him, even encumbered with the heavy creature. But leaving her behind was unthinkable. They were both heartily glad when then reached the TARDIS at Donna’s best speed.

“I’m going to put chummy here in the medical room under sedation then I’ll bring us back to the McDevitt farm. Why don’t you…”

“I’ll go put the kettle on,” Donna said. “You look like you could use a cuppa.”

When he returned to the console room she had done just that. He took a few minutes to drink the tea before the short hop back to Gordo’s barn. He brought the body of Banto McShane into the medical room. Donna came with him. He looked at her cautiously.

“Are you sure you want to be involved with this. I’ve got to run blood tests and tissue samples on these two. It’s not the most pleasant of duties. You could be warm and cosy in the house.”

“I’ll help you, Doctor,” she answered. “You can get it done faster with an extra pair of hands, can’t you?”

He appreciated her solidarity. She had pitched in with so many things that were not in the job description of a secretary. And she worked hours that would have a union rep jumping up and down in agitation. But she never complained. It wasn’t even especially exciting work holding phials while he took blood and tissue from the two creatures, passing him slides to prepare for examination under the microscope.

“Long time ago,” he said. “There was a very nice lady called Jo who did these sort of jobs for me. She was so anxious to please me that half the time she would drop the lot out of nervousness and I’d have to start again while she stood there apologising. But all the same I couldn’t have done half the things I did without her.”

“What happened to her.”

“She… fell in love with a man who also needed slides holding for him… She said he was like a Human version of me. They got married, had a bunch of kids, enjoyed a long, happy life together. Still doing that.”

“The reason the universe turns,” Donna said. “Love and raising a family. I always thought I’d have that sort of life. Never worked out.” She watched him bending over the microscope and making notes on a pad beside him without even looking up. She wasn’t even sure if he was listening, if her voice was distracting him from his work. But since he hadn’t told her not to, she kept talking anyway. “You … you’ve had it both ways. You had the wife and family… and you’ve got the adventure, too. You can be whatever you want to be.”

“No, I can only ever be me,” he answered her, swapping the slides and still not looking up. “That’s all anyone can be. Anyway, if you really want that life, there’s still time.”

“I can’t do that and be with you as well.” She answered. “I don’t want to have to choose like your friend did. How did you feel when she did that?”

“It broke my hearts,” he admitted. “When you go, I’ll be heartsbroken, too. I always am. But that’s all right. It’s how it’s meant to be. When you choose another life, you’ll have my blessing, Donna. And my appreciation of the best secretary I ever had.”

“That’s the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me,” she told him. Even though she was busy, she reached to hug him. Her hand brushed his neck and she felt the congealing blood hidden beneath his collar. She felt him flinch and then she saw the deep claw mark.

“You didn’t tell me you were hurt,” she said. “That looks really nasty.”

He sat back in the chair and looked up at her. There was a look in his eyes that chilled her.

“Don’t… don’t touch the wound,” he said. “It’s infected. I don’t want to pass it on to you.”

“Infected! You mean… what happened to them… you’ve got it too?”

“I hoped my body could fight it. I thought it was… talking to you… about Jo, and about the future, it helped me to focus on… on being me. But it only held it off. It’s still in me. I’m…”

“You’re going to turn into… one of them…”

“I don’t know. I’m not a Felinite. My DNA is a whole different ball game. But… it’s doing something to me. I can feel it. That’s why I’ve got to carry on. I need to isolate the virus and halt it. I have to help myself before I can help them. But now I’ve got a deadline. And I’m not even sure when it is. Maybe an hour, two… And then… Donna… if I haven’t… if I tell you to… you’ve got to get out… out of the medical room, out of the TARDIS, away from me. Promise you’ll do that.”

“I… promise” she told him. “But you’ll do it. I know you will.”

She had the same faith in him that all the others had, all of his friends, down the years. They all believed he could do anything. And usually he could. Her faith, and the faith of all the others who had gone before her, kept him going as he tested combinations of chemicals in Petri dishes to see which would kill off the virus that caused the problem without destroying the blood it infected. He knew something would do it. And he knew he could find it. But could he do it in time?

Donna watched him as he worked. She did everything he asked her to do and tried not to let him see how worried she was for him. She tried not to look at his face. That was starting to show disturbing signs. He was pale and his skin waxen and glossy. His nostrils flared and his eyes looked wrong. He was starting to change.

“Donna,” he said at last. “I think… I think I have it. It works in the test sample, anyway. I don’t have time to do anything else.” He turned and looked straight at her. She recoiled. His face was bone white and his lips were bloodless and thing. His teeth were protruding like fangs. “Donna… if this doesn’t work… this is it. I can feel myself changing. It’s too late. Just run for your life. Set the TARDIS on emergency quarantine. Somebody will come and get you. Take you home… but there’ll be no hope for me. I’ll have become like them…” He had a syringe in his hands. He had managed to fill it with the serum he had made. But when he tried to inject it into himself he couldn’t. His fingers were turning to claws. He didn’t have enough dexterity in his hands. Donna took the syringe from him and held his arm firmly. He looked at her as she pressed her thumb down on the plunger and injected the serum into him. His eyes were red, bloodshot, but somewhere beneath the madness she thought he was still there, somewhere.

“You… should go…” he told her through gritted teeth. “Just in case.”

“I’ll wait… for a few minutes more,” she answered. “I promise I will run if I have to. But let me decide when it’s time.”

She stood back from him, just in case. He gripped the table in front of him and tried not to scream. When he did, it sounded too much like a growl instead of a scream. His eyes were full of fear that his tenuous grip on himself might be lost.


“Donna…” he managed to say after a few minutes. “Donna… would you… make me a cup of tea.”

She blinked. He still looked pale and he was sweating, but his teeth were normal. His eyes were the deep brown colour they were supposed to be and they were windows onto his deep intelligence, his mercy and wisdom as they were supposed to be.

“It worked!”

“It worked. But my mouth feels like I’ve been eating budgerigars. Tea… please… while I make more of the serum and try it on our friend.”

She went to do as he said. When she returned, he was standing over the sedated creature, watching it carefully. He took the tea from her and drank it while he kept watching. Donna watched, too. She saw the changes that came upon the savage, animal-like creature. The hair straightened. The claws retracted into the velvet paws. The whole face began to look less savage, more gentle and cat-like. The eyes changed from the yellow-red madness to soft, natural cats eyes. When he thought it was safe to do so, The Doctor used the sonic screwdriver in a soothing mode to gently wake him.

“It’s all right,” he said as the cat looked up at him in fear. “You’re safe now. Can you talk? Do you have a name?”

“Ryan,” he answered. “Ryan Noonan. I’m… where am I? I don’t remember anything… after the ship crashed.”

“You’re in the medical room of my ship,” The Doctor answered. “Is that what happened? Did it begin in space… on a passenger ship?”

“There were twenty of us,” he said. “A work party. Going to Gantus III to help build new roads between the settlements. But there was a strange illness. It started with one… then it spread. The crew, as well… I don’t know what happened… I felt as if I was lost.”

“You were, for a long while. But you’re all right now. You just need to rest. This is my friend, Donna. She’s going to bring you some milk. Then she’ll sit with you while I do something else I have to do.”

“He’s ok,” The Doctor said to her. “He just needs a bit of TLC. I’ll leave that to you. There’s something else I have to do. And this time you have to do as I say and stay put. It could be very dangerous and he needs you to look after him.”

“All right,” she promised. “But… where are you going?”

He didn’t tell her. He just picked up the rest of the serum and a packet of disposable syringes and stepped out of the medical room.

The TARDIS made another short hop, this time to the McShane homestead. It materialised in the yard by the house. There was a light at the window even though it was now the middle of the night. The Doctor approached the door cautiously. He lifted the latch and stepped inside.

“Blessings be upon this house,” he said aloud. A female cat in a faded gingham dress turned and stared at him in shock then looked at the shotgun above the door. She would have had to get past him to reach it.

“It’s all right,” he said in a calm, quiet voice. “I’m here to….” He looked past her at the two beds near the fire. “I’m here to bring bad news. But I think I can help to ease your burden, too.”

“What bad news?” the McShane sister asked, though something in her eyes made him think she already knew.

“Banto… your brother. He’s dead. He was killed trying to steal cattle from one of the farmers. I’m sorry about that. But I saw his body and I know he was as good as dead anyway. At least I can help these other two. Will you let me?”

She stood aside. Her eyes were glassy. The sight of a cat crying was a pitiful thing. She did so quietly, as if trying to preserve the last little bit of dignity she had. The Doctor left her to it while he examined her two brothers. They weren’t as far gone as Banto had been, but they were showing signs of turning. Their teeth were elongated and their eyes red. He injected both of them, then he prepared a third syringe and told the sister to come and sit down while he gave her a preventative dose.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Marta,” she answered. “I think… it should have been Martha, but my father wasn’t very good at spelling. These… Bobby and Benny. They’re from the same litter as me. My youngest brother… Billy…” She cried a little louder. The Doctor put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “He’s gone. He was the first to get ill. We tried to save him. That’s why Banto stole the medicine. You… you must know about that. He thought it might help. But Billy was already too far gone. He ran from us. There was a struggle. He scratched Banto… and then he started…. Oh, what will become of us all?”

“You’ll be all right,” The Doctor promised. “Look…”

He pointed to the cat in the nearest bed. He was starting to look normal again. He stirred in his sleep and called out his sister’s name.

“Give him some milk,” The Doctor suggested. But Marta looked at him in a sad way. He looked around and realised there wasn’t any milk, and precious little of anything else in the house. It was a far cry from the prosperous McDevitt home with plenty of good food to eat. The McShanes were obviously not doing well even before they were struck by the virus,

“I’ll be back in two ticks,” he said. “Put the kettle on. I prefer my milk in a cup of tea, myself.”

He went out to the TARDIS. He made his way, first, to the medical room, where he found Ryan looking a lot better now. He was sitting up and talking to Donna. That was a very good sign.

“Come on, both of you,” he said. He glanced at the body of the eldest McShane brother. That was something else to be done later. “We’re going to get an early breakfast, or a later supper, whichever you want to call it.”

He raided his own kitchen for all the milk, cheese, bread and butter he could find, the staples of Felinite society. He brought them with him back to the poor homestead. Donna and Ryan followed. He hoped he could offer the food without making it seem like charity. But Marta was too hungry to care. When she saw the good food he had brought she practically fainted with gratitude. She managed to remember her dignity and set to work preparing a meal for her brothers and herself and her guests. The two brothers managed to sit up in bed to eat and the food helped their recovery no end.

The news of their brother’s death upset them, of course. The Doctor told them truthfully what had happened, though he left out the name of the farmer who had killed him.

“It was an honest man defending his livelihood,” The Doctor explained. “If there is any talk of revenge or feuding I will be very cross. Make his death the last and make a new start and you’ll have my help and friendship.”

He had their assent to that. Then he turned to the more immediate issues.

“Your other brother… Marta believes he ran away to join the pack… the badly infected ones. Does anyone know where they are to be found? Do they have a nest or something?”

“Can you help him?” Bobby asked. “He’s little more than a kitten – seventeen. He was bitten by one of the savage ones and got sicker and sicker. He’s not to blame…”

“I don’t think any of them are to blame. And if I can find them, I can help them all. That’s why I need to know…”

“I can show you,” Benny McShane said. “I saw the place. It’s right at the foot of the hills. There’s some sort of wreckage there. A ship crashed a couple of months back. Before this began. They nest there.”

“At first light then,” The Doctor said. “When you’ve had a few more hours’ rest.”

There was another duty, first. Just before dawn, The Doctor himself took a spade and dug a grave in the meadow beside the house. He buried Banto McShane while his brothers and sister watched solemnly and performed what passed for a funeral rite in their culture.

“Donna, you and Marta stay here,” The Doctor insisted afterwards. “Yes, this is me being really chauvinistic. But it’s work for men in the old-fashioned John Wayne ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do way’. So stay here and keep Marta company.”

“All right,” she said. “On one condition. Don’t let me EVER hear such a terrible John Wayne impression again. It’s not you.”

He laughed with her and hugged her gently before he turned and led the two McShane brothers and Ryan Noonan into the TARDIS. They were, after all, a posse, but they weren’t riding out on horseback and they weren’t going in guns blazing. He pulled up a schematic of the land on the console and Benny McShane managed to point out the area where he thought the nest was, and he set the TARDIS in hover mode to travel across country to the North-east and the beginning of the foothills that skirted the prairie. He was banking on this being the right time to find the nest full. If they had hunted all night and fed on stolen cattle then they should be sleeping it off now in the morning sunlight.

He was right. As they drew closer the lifesigns monitor picked up as many as twenty-five living beings huddled together in one tight packed group. The TARDIS hovered above them and on the viewscreen he noted the remains of their last night’s meal. He noted also the remnants of the crashed ship and that some of the creatures were wearing rags that might once have been crew uniforms. One was in faded homespun cloth not unlike the clothes the two McShane brothers were wearing. He hazarded a guess and hoped they hadn’t seen him yet. Their brother was as savage as any of the others. He had regressed completely.

But there was hope. Ryan Noonan was proof of that. He was one of the first infected who survived the crash. Billy McShane had only been ‘turned’ for less than a day.

“They’ve seen us,” Bobby McShane said. “They’re waking up.”

“I expected that,” The Doctor said. “But it’s all right. Look, they’re all drawing in, closer to the TARDIS, trying to reach it. They’re… like kittens after a ball of string.” He reached for a switch on the console. “I really don’t like doing this. It will hurt them. But in the end it is for their own good.”

At his command, the TARDIS became a giant taser, sending out static electrical current that rendered the wild cats unconscious. Soon they were all in a sad, pathetic heap. The Doctor landed the TARDIS beside them. He turned to his posse.

“You know what to do. Be as quick as you can. Count them carefully. Put a ribbon on the arm of each one you’ve treated then there can be no mistakes.” He gave out ribbons, and syringes of serum already made up, ready. The three Felinites accepted the responsibility dutifully. “Find your brother, by all means,” he told the McShanes. “Of course, he’s important to you. But I want you all to look out for the ‘x-case’. There must have been one who brought the infection to the ship. He would have been sick for longer. He might need more help. If you spot him, let me know.”

They walked among the unconscious wild cats, injecting them with the serum and marking them as having received the treatment. Several times The Doctor returned to the TARDIS for more syringes. But while they waited for dawn he had prepared more than enough serum. The only problem was time. He didn’t know how long they might be unconscious for, or whether they might wake before the serum took effect.

So far, so good. The Doctor watched as Billy McShane began to recover. He stood up and recognised his two brothers. Around him, others were slowly starting to change from savages to ordinary Felinites again. It was working. The nightmare was almost over for everyone.

“Doctor! Look out!” Ryan Noonan called out the warning and The Doctor span around to see a still savage creature bearing down on him. He had a ribbon on his arm to show that he had been treated, but it hadn’t been enough. This, he realised, was his x-case.

“Ryan, do you have any idea who he is?” The Doctor asked as he carefully backed away. “No, everyone stay back. Let me…”

“Dermott,” Ryan answered. “Donal Dermott. He was the foreman, in charge of us. He went down ill before anyone else. We thought it was parvovirus and isolated him. But it was obviously too late.”

“Dermott,” The Doctor said quietly, calmly as he reached and managed to stick the last syringe he still had into the maddened creature’s arm. “Dermott, you’re in there still. I know you are. Behind those insane, savage eyes, there’s a man of reason. Come on back to us. Please. You’re not an animal. You’re a Felinite. You have dignity. You have intelligence. Come on, Dermott. Come on back to me.”

Whether it was the second dose of serum or his words, The Doctor wasn’t sure, but he began to see the difference. The face of the snarling beast calmed and relaxed and the eyes began to have a light of intelligence in them. Donal Dermott stepped back from him, horrified at the fleeting memory of the violence he had been about to inflict.

“There you are. You’re all right, now,” The Doctor assured him. “Welcome back to the real world, Dermott.”

They were all fully conscious, now, of their surroundings. They looked around at the wrecked ship, at the gnawed bones and at each other. They would need some explanations. And they were going to be shocked to know the truth. There were other practicalities, too. First of all, twenty-five men who needed to be properly fed.

Gordo and Petra were surprised to have so many guests arriving at their house. But the sun was up and it was possible for them all to sit in the meadow by the barn to drink cool milk and eat bread and cheese. While they did so, The Doctor explained an idea to Gordo and he agreed it was the best one, by far. When the picnic breakfast was over, everyone stepped into the TARDIS, including the McDevitt family, children and all. They headed for the town, where Gordo set about bringing as many of his neighbours into the street for a meeting. This time there were too many people to go to the schoolroom. They just crowded around the strange blue box where The Doctor waited to speak to them all. He told the story of the crashed space ship and the men who had a terrible affliction, but who he had now cured. He then nodded to Donna, who opened the TARDIS door. The men came out and lined up, facing the astonished townspeople.

“They are cured, now. I cured them. They know nothing of what happened and I don’t want anyone holding any grudges. You can’t blame sick men for their actions. What they need, is your hand of friendship, now. They need compassion. They need help. Not charity, I might add. They need work, a place to sleep, a small wage, a bit of food. There’s a stable here, where a man could earn his keep, a lumber yard, farms that could use a strong pair of hands…”

The townspeople looked at each other, then at the men, then at The Doctor. And then they decided to do the right thing. Before very long, each of the strangers knew where they would sleep tonight, who they could depend on to give them a meal, and what work they might do to earn it.

“One more thing,” The Doctor added before they all went their separate ways. “I’m going to be talking with Doctor O’Rourke and his assistant, Milo. All of you need to go to him in turn, with your children. He’ll vaccinate you against this disease. He’ll have enough of the medicine to ensure that anyone presenting symptoms can be helped in future. I still don’t know where it comes from, or how. But at least this town will be protected.”

Dr. O’Rourke was sitting on the sidewalk by his surgery on a rocking chair, his lady friend by his side. The townsfolk nodded and went away satisfied. The Doctor turned to Gordo. There was one more thing he needed to do, the last loose ends to round off. But this time he didn’t want a public meeting.

“The McShanes,” he said. “They need to be included in your community. They’re a bit rough round the edges, but they just need a helping hand. But not one that humiliates them with charity. The sister, Marta, she’s a decent young woman. Could you give her a few days a week helping out in the milk bar? The money would help her get a few new dresses and a bonnet and help her hold her head up around the other ladies of the town. And put the word out for some paid work for the brothers, too. Once they have a bit of income they can start building up their farm and they’ll have a bit more pride.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Gordo promised.

“Excellent. Job done. Now Donna and I can enjoy our holiday! We certainly need one.”