Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

The Doctor shook his head as he leaned over the drive control and examined the landing co-ordinates carefully.

“We’re not where you said we were meant to be, are we?” Marie asked as she looked up from her usual pile of exercise books to mark. “We’re NOT on… on….”

“Irgenall Nert.”

“Yes, that… the planet that sounds like a teacher at Hogwarts. The planet you say my family comes from.”

"No, The Doctor was forced to admit. "Not even close. The weather on Irgenall Nert is typically like Manchester in September. This planet is more like Paris in spring."

"Except that Paris doesn’t have a purple sky," Marie noted. "Is that real, or is there something funny happening with your screen?"

"It’s real, and the colour, technically, is puce."



"I wonder if it rains puce," Marie commented.

"Does it rain blueberries on Earth?" The Doctor responded. “Or in the case of Manchester, grey glop.”

"Point taken. Shall we go for a walk under the puce sky?"

"You don’t want me to take off again straight away to find your homeworld?"

“It’s not my homeworld. I’ve never been there before. Earth is my home. But it won't hurt to stretch our legs for a bit."

In truth, Marie wasn't sure if she was disappointed or not about failing to find Irgenall Nert. She had no particularly strong feelings about the planet. Until she met The Doctor she had never considered herself to be anything but Human, born and raised in Dublin by parents who moved there from Wicklow.

His revelation that she was possibly one-eighth alien worried and fascinated her in equal measures from time to time, but for most of her busy days she didn’t even think about it.

Actually visiting the planet would mean that she was accepting it as a fact, embracing her alien heritage. She wasn’t completely sure she wanted to do that.

So when the TARDIS landed somewhere else, she welcomed it as a delay in facing what she knew she had to face one day.

“Wow!” she commented as she looked around at this strange new world. The TARDIS was the least peculiar thing in the landscape. She drew closer to a tree and reached up to pluck some of the foliage. It was a deeper purple than the sky and looked less like leaves and more like clumps of candy floss.

It felt like candy floss, and melted in the warmth of her hand leaving a sticky residue. Without thinking she put her fingers in her mouth. Fortunately the residue WAS mostly sugar.

“Candy floss trees?” she queried.

“I’ve seen odder things,” The Doctor answered. “It is possible that the natural sugars within the plant coalesce in such a way that it resembles the product sold in fairgrounds…”

“My class would have that tree stripped by now,” Marie commented. “Free candy floss and kids.... magnet.” She thought about that a little more. “Which suggests there aren’t any children around here, or they’re all tragically diabetic and daren’t touch this stuff.”

The Doctor gave her the sort of smile he reserved for when she was thinking for herself rather than asking him questions. It was a smile of approval that she rather liked receiving from him.

“The alternative explanation is that this is a theme park that Walt Disney Corporation would weep over,” Marie added. “But then having REAL candy floss on the trees would be a detail too far.”

Again The Doctor agreed with her logic. They walked on through the grove of candy floss trees, enjoying the warm sugary smell that both of them associated with fun fairs. Eventually the trees thinned and they stood at the top of a low hill looking over a green landscape that looked as benign as the default Windows wallpaper except for the walled city nestled on the sloping hill beyond a winding river at the bottom of the valley.

The green was the most luscious green Marie had ever seen. It was the sort of green that tourists expected to see in Ireland having heard about the ‘forty shades’ and other clichés. It was an unreal sort of green.

And the city was an unreal sort of city. Marie’s thoughts went back again to Disney and the fairy tale castle in the ident preceding any of that corporation’s films. The whole place had that sort of look to it. The possibility that none of it was real, that it was some kind of tourist attraction, couldn’t quite be dismissed.

That feeling was strengthened when The Doctor pointed to the road leading down the hill to the gates of the not-quite-real city.

“A yellow brick road?”

“Not exactly. This is more like yellow tarmac,” The Doctor admitted on closer inspection. “But the romantic idea is certainly there.”

“You know, having a path like this leading to a city like that makes me want to look for any other path no matter where it leads to. I don’t like the assumption that we’re going to head straight there.”

The Doctor nodded. Obviously the same thought had occurred to him.

And yet their feet took them onto the yellow tarmac road and they set off down into the valley. It was almost as if they were compelled by some outside influence to go directly to the city.

They weren’t alone. Although they had set off at a reasonable walking pace, they were passed by a small man carrying a pack that towered over his head. He had a stout, knobbly walking stick of the sort that the naïve tourists could buy in Dublin souvenir shops before looking for the forty shades of green. He had a hobbling gait and appeared to be making slow progress, but even so he was soon far ahead of The Doctor and Marie. They looked at each other with puzzled expressions but couldn’t explain why a short man with a heavy load was hobbling faster than they were walking.

“This is an odd place,” Marie said as if that covered everything.

“Yes, it is,” The Doctor agreed.

Shortly after, another traveller came up behind them. This was a tall, thin man on a horse. He was so tall that his feet could have touched the ground if he stretched them out. Marie tried to stifle the image of him walking while the horse put its feet up.

“Good day, strangers,” the man said, tipping a stove-pipe hat that added to the tallness and thinness of his appearance.

Marie wondered how the man knew they were strangers, unless it was the fact that they looked ‘normal’.

But then normal was subjective. Normal for East Tallaght was Phelim Driscoll with his nose bunged up and his hair in a mess. Normal for, say, Ballsbridge, was well-groomed boys in smart academy uniforms being dropped off at school in the paternal BMW.

Normal around here was anything that would be abnormal even in East Tallaght.

“Good day to you, sir,” The Doctor replied. “What is the city, yonder?”

“That is Munday City,” the tall man said. “The palace of Billy Munday, emperor of all these lands is the largest building to be seen.”

“Then we are on the right road,” The Doctor said without a glimmer of suggestion that he might be lying. “We shall not detain you longer, sir. Good day to you.”

The rider bid them good day in return and rode off. He was soon far ahead of them. The Doctor and Marie resumed their leisurely pace, discussing between them the unlikely name of the emperor of all they surveyed.

“He sounds like he ought to be in my class,” Marie commented. “Billy Munday… it’s such an ORDINARY name. Worse than ordinary. He sounds like a kid from a comic strip school – the kind of kid who has a pocket like your TARDIS, full of stink bombs and itching powder and catapults – the sort of kid Phelim Driscoll would like to be if he had enough pocket money and there was anywhere he could buy stink bombs.”

“All that from a name?”

“Well, it certainly doesn’t sound like the name of an emperor. Billy the Great, Billy the Magnificent… You just don’t hear of emperors called Billy. In fact, I can’t even think of a grown up called Billy. Billy Elliot, Billy Whizz, Billy Bunter….”

“Billy the Kid?” The Doctor suggested.

“Not exactly a grown up,” Marie pointed out. “The ‘kid’ bit implies an immaturity. It’s just… a name that belongs to somebody who isn’t registered to vote.”

“I know a planet where the minimum voting age is three,” The Doctor said and went on to explain how three year olds could possibly make sound political judgements. Marie considered the current government of her own country and decided that three year olds probably couldn’t do any worse.

The discussion of extreme universal suffrage was interrupted the rumbling of a heavily laden wagon pulled by two huge carthorses. The Doctor and Marie stepped off the road to let it pass and made no comment until it was far ahead of them.

"Am I hallucinating or was that a wagon full of dwarves singing the March of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco?” Marie asked, feeling that it was the oddest sentence she had ever uttered.

"It was," The Doctor answered. "They were very good, I thought. I wonder if they're a professional company? We ought to try to see a performance."

"Yes," Marie agreed, deciding that she might as well stop trying to make sense out of anything. She was obviously in a mad world modelled on a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz, Labyrinth and Shrek and there was no use fighting it.

"Have you seen anything like this before?" Marie asked as they drew closer to the city gates and noticed that the guards posted outside were real men, but dressed like traditional wooden soldiers. Despite the absurdity of their appearance they took their jobs seriously and challenged The Doctor to show his credentials.

"I am The Doctor. This is Miss Marie Reynolds. We are ambassadors from TARDIS, bringing cordial greetings and goodwill to the emperor of Munday.”

He showed his psychic paper as he spoke and it must have backed up his claim since they were immediately given the VIP treatment in the form of a beautiful horse drawn landau with a special honour guard of the ‘toy’ soldiers to bring them through the streets of Munday.

"Yes," The Doctor said several minutes later when Marie had forgotten she had asked the question and was looking around at houses that were inspired by the Goblin City twinned with The Shire in the wildest dreams of Anton Gaudi. The people were a colourful mixture of dwarves and tall, impossibly thin people who would have to bend their bodies in the middle to get through the hobbit-house doors. They all had a rosy cheeked cheerfulness as they went about their daily lives or – more often – stopped what they were doing to watch the VIP guests of the emperor pass by.

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I have been somewhere like this... a land of imagination, fantasy. It was a long time back. There was a madman at the centre of it all. I’m rather expecting the same thing here. "

“So it would be sensible if we went back to the TARDIS and left as quickly as possible.”

“Do you want to do that?”

“I should say yes, shouldn’t I? I should say let’s leave madmen who live in fairy-tale cities well alone.”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow and said nothing.

“If I wanted to avoid trouble, I wouldn’t have come with you in the first place. It was obvious the first day I met you that the TARDIS lands you in trouble everywhere you go. I wanted to be a part of that. So, let’s go and see the megalomaniac in charge of this place.”

The Doctor grinned. There was no need for words. His decision to invite Marie to travel with him was justified in one sentence.

Their presence in Munday was attracting a certain amount of attention. As they neared the palace – the building with all the slender towers and pinnacles that looked as if a cake maker rather than an architect had designed it – there was a considerable crowd lining the street. They had flags to wave as the landau passed and they called out things like ‘Welcome, friends of Munday’ and ‘Long Live Emperor Munday’.

“They don’t look coerced,” Marie noted. “The adulation is genuine. I wonder how long Emperor Munday HAS been around.”

The Doctor asked the question of the brightly liveried landau driver and learnt that the Emperor was in his fiftieth year of happy reign over the people of Munday.

“Definitely not Billy the Kid,” The Doctor remarked.

“Apparently not,” Marie agreed.

The landau drove through an elaborately confected archway and the noise of the crowds outside was cut off at once. The Doctor and Marie alighted in a quiet courtyard and were met by a short, plump man in a red coat that strained at the buttons. He was not a dwarf, just a comically shaped man. Comically in a society where politically correctness had never held sway, at least – tragically in one where it did.

“I am Chancellor Rollie,” he said, suggesting that political correctness was not the only thing that had never happened in the city of Munday. “I welcome you on behalf of the Emperor. Let me take you to his receiving chamber.”

The palace was not an empty, echoing place where their footsteps echoed on marble floors. There were people - of all shapes and sizes, and all dressed colourfully – at work in all parts of the palace. There was a huge library full of leather bound tomes in which scholars were at work. Even here there was animated discourse rather than the silence broken only by the scratching of pens on paper. A discussion was going on about the origins of Munday Shorts and Munday Talls, and whether they had a common ancestry or were two different races who had come to live together in harmony.

“That’s an interesting point,” Marie said as they passed on, leaving the scholars to their discussion. “Two very distinctively different tribes or whatever they should be called. It’s like the genetic thing about Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens, except these two haven’t mingled at all.”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “I expect that is some kind of innate racial preference – the Talls see slender, long body shapes as desirable and choose their partners accordingly. The Shorts find round, dumpy bodies attractive. It is perfectly possible that they have common ancestry, and I imagine cross-breeding would not cause any genetic difficulties. It would be merely a cultural issue.”

Marie thought the idea of one of the stick thin Talls and a dumpty Short getting romantic a comical idea, and put forward the theory that they thought so, too, making serious mixed relationships impossible because they fell about laughing every time they tried.

The Doctor agreed that this was a valid theory, too.

They came, via a series of magnificent rooms with gilded ceilings and priceless tapestries to the emperor’s ‘Receiving Chamber’. There was a grand throne on a dais at one end of the long, wide, glittering room, but the Emperor was not sitting on it. He was at the end of a highly polished table talking animatedly with the singing dwarves that The Doctor and Marie had met on the road. The subject of the discussion was the programme of music for the Emperor’s birthday concert.

The Doctor and Marie waited until this matter had been satisfactorily concluded before they, at last, were formally introduced to the much talked about Emperor Munday – or Billy Munday as he was informally known.

He looked well for a man who had ruled an Empire for as much as fifty years. He must have been only a boy when he came to the throne. He looked about sixty, but in good health, his hair steely grey much like The Doctor’s but his face less careworn and signs that he got far more exercise. His eyes were a keen blue and his expression questioning as he invited his visitors to sit at his table.

Refreshments were brought and there was small talk before the Emperor asked what part of the stars they came from.

“You have knowledge of other planets, then?” The Doctor asked. “The pre-industrial appearance of your city suggests…”

“The pre-industrial appearance of our Empire is by choice,” Munday answered. “But we are fully aware of the cosmos beyond our realm.”

Marie wondered if he was speaking of his people generally when he said ‘We are’ and ‘our realm’ or if he was using the ‘royal we’ to refer to his own knowledge. It wasn’t entirely clear.

“From the little we have seen, it appears to be a happy Empire,” Marie said. “The people are healthy and gainfully employed.”

“I have endeavoured to ensure their happiness all of my life,” Munday answered. “Munday city is the capital of my domain, but in all my towns and cities I have established schools and universities, hospitals for the sick, rest homes for those who have come to the end of their toil and deserve to live out their time in peace. There are gardens and parks, places of leisure. There are museums and galleries for the enrichment of the mind. It is a good Empire. We have no need to pollute the air and poison the land pursuing the ‘industry’ you speak of. There is nowhere any of us need to go that a horse cannot take us in a reasonable time. There is nothing we need that a craftsman cannot make without need of belching chimney stacks. We have no desire to visit the other worlds we know exist.”

Again, Marie wasn’t sure if he spoke for himself or all of his people, but it seemed like this was as close to a happy, contented society as anyone could ask for – unless anyone really WANTED belching chimney stacks and polluted rivers.

“Then you really don’t need diplomatic ties with other worlds,” The Doctor summarised. “There is nothing anyone else could offer you?”

“Nothing except cordial greetings such as you have brought,” Munday answered. “Do take my own good wishes back to your own worlds, but we need no trade with your people. We are quite self-sufficient in all things.”

“I understand,” The Doctor told him. “And our people will surely accept your good wishes in the manner in which they are given.”

Marie thoroughly admired The Doctor’s ability to tell such bare-faced lies. Earth had no interest in forming diplomatic ties with other worlds – at least not in her century, and The Doctor’s planet no longer existed.

He played the role of an ambassador to a ‘t’, though, and on reflection perhaps telling bare-faced lies was what being a diplomat was all about. that was how the British Ambassadors who met Adolf Hitler managed not to say anything precipitous to him and why nobody had ever told King Jon Un of

North Korea that he was bonkers.

Not that Emperor Munday was either a tyrant or a nutcase. He was, as far as Marie could tell, perfectly charming. He talked at some length, prompted by The Doctor, about the pre-industrial economy of his Empire. He also entertained them both with amusing anecdotes about life as the Emperor of a society made up of two distinct people.

“Yes, I was wondering how that came about,” Marie said. “The Talls and the Shorts… they seem to get on all right. Has that always been the case?”

“In my great-great-great grandfather’s reign the Talls and Shorts did not even know each other,” he explained. “They lived on either side of a huge mountain range that divides the Great Continent. Neither tribe had ever crossed the mountains. It was only when my ancestor encouraged the building of great sailing ships that the two communities began to mix. They did so perfectly amicably thanks to the negotiating skills of my ancestor who arranged mutually beneficial trade between the two tribes, and encouraged migration between the two. Of course, all the educational facilities are equally accessible by all my people.”

“Well done,” Marie told him. “I don’t think any Empire has ever managed to expand its borders without oppressing at least part of its population. You are unique.”

Emperor Munday was puzzled by that remark. He could not understand how it was possible to run an Empire any other way. Marie, with her Irish DNA warming up to the subject, was on the point of explaining how conquer and pillage, slavery and forced resettlement, deliberately fostered inequalities and coercion laws were the means of maintaining every Empire she knew of. The Doctor caught her eye and raised just one brow. It was enough to tell her that Emperor Munday didn’t need disillusioning with such knowledge. He was blissfully unaware of any other way of running an Empire than with kindness and he should remain in that happy state.

“Sire, it is time for your Audience,” announced Chancellor Rollie, interrupting a discourse about Munday agriculture.

“So it is,” the Emperor agreed. He smiled widely and invited The Doctor and Marie to join him. He went first to a wide balcony at the front of the palace where a huge crowd of Munday citizens were gathered. He waved as they cheered and called out his name. Chancellor Rollie handed him a scroll which he read out, announcing several new laws that would improve the lives of Mundanians. These included a new public holiday and the establishment of new public parks and gardens across the Empire. These were met with cheers of joy.

When the general announcements were done, the Emperor sat on a gilded chair under a canopy that kept the sun off him. Meanwhile a line of citizens mounted a set of steps up to the balcony. Each of them had brought a plea to set before the Emperor, for some thing they needed. One was a farmer whose plough horse was getting old. The Emperor granted him a gift of money to purchase a new horse. A lame child needed a special wheelchair. Again it was easily granted. Thirty or forty more such requests were given a willing assent and the citizens went away happy.

“The Emperor grants thousands of these requests made by post every week,” Chancellor Rollie explained to Marie in a whisper. “But those who can come in person get to spend a minute in his presence. The citizens see his goodness and generosity at first hand.”

“It’s a nice idea,” Marie said. “I’d like to see the Taoiseach stand outside Leinster House and do this.”

“Bread and circuses,” The Doctor murmured. Marie understood the reference, but wondered what it had to do with Emperor Munday’s generosity.

“He really has done it,” Marie enthused as she put the finishing touches to her make-up to complement the magnificent red taffeta ball gown that was given to her to wear at the grand supper in honour of the Ambassadors from TARDIS later in the day. The Doctor adjusted the shoulders of an elaborately embroidered robe and looked disdainfully at a formal ‘ruff’ in a somewhat Tudor style that went with it. Marie caught something about ‘worse than the High Council collars’ and repeated what she had said about Munday’s Empire.

The Doctor frowned.


“I’ve spent several lifetimes looking for a perfect society. There is ALWAYS a catch somewhere. Munday’s Empire must have a problem somewhere – a dark secret behind the smiles.”

“MUST it?” Marie countered.


“And MUST you look for it?”

“Yes. I won’t be satisfied otherwise.”

“You really can’t accept that this is a nice place?”

“Nice, yes. But perfect, I cannot accept. Nothing is EVER perfect.”

“I think you’re just an old pessimist,” Marie told him with a grin, but The Doctor would not be drawn from his view that something had to be wrong with a perfect-looking society.

“I’ve seen too many paper thin simulacrums of perfection,” he insisted. “Even my own world… beneath the appearance of wise judgement there was always corruption to be found by those who bothered to look.”

“And you’re going to look for it here, too?”

“Yes. But not yet. I didn’t go to all the trouble of fitting this wretched ruff not to go to the banquet.”

“All that fuss about a ruff. Try wearing the corsets that go under a dress like this,” Marie countered. “Still, it doesn’t look half bad. Very nearly the sort of waistline that gets the critics going on about unrealistic role models for young girls.”

The Doctor grinned and tested her waistline with his long-fingered hands. He couldn’t QUITE span it as the Victorian man aimed to do when his wife put on her corsets, but it was close.

“Don’t eat too much pudding, or you’ll burst,” he warned her with another grin, then he took her arm gallantly and they left the chambers given over to the Ambassadors and were escorted by two of the ‘toy’ soldiers to a grand dining hall. They were guests of honour, seated either side of the Emperor and his other guests included a mix of Tall and Short citizens. They were not all dignitaries and VIPs. Many of them were ordinary people of Munday. The Emperor invited them by lottery to attend a banquet at the palace. It was an exciting time for any citizen when they received their invitation and another example of the Emperor’s bounty.

The Doctor noted this, but was still not convinced that there wasn’t some flaw in Munday society. He reminded Marie of his ‘bread and circuses’ remark earlier. As she well knew, the

Roman emperors had given free food to the free citizens of Rome, but there was much that was wrong with a society where slaves were bought and sold daily and women were not actually counted as ‘citizens’ when the bounty was given out - to name just two problems with the Roman ideal.

Munday had no slaves and women’s rights were as good as they could be. Marie established that in conversation with the dinner guests. Every other definition of freedom she could think of was covered by the benign laws passed by the Emperor and his freely elected Cabinet of government officials. Even the prisons were good places where the miscreants were helped to become better citizens on their release. Not that there WAS much crime in Munday. Content people had no need to steal or hurt each other.

Unless she was being lied to, Marie could find no fault with Munday society. She dared The Doctor to find a single chink in it, one grudging issue.

He couldn’t.

“I want a private snoop around the palace,” he announced when they returned to the suite of rooms long after midnight, well fed and well-entertained. Instead of preparing for bed as Marie had done in the luxurious bathroom of the suite, he had changed into his usual dark clothes. “You can go to bed if you like.”

“No chance. I’m not going to let you snoop without me to supervise,” Marie answered. “You might make something up.”

“As if I would DO such a thing,” The Doctor remonstrated. “But if you must come….” He thrust his hand into a voluminous pocket of his jacket and gave her a strange looking medallion on a string. He had already slipped one around his own neck.

“It’s a perception filter,” he explained. “It produces a field around you that makes the eye of the beholder slide off you. It…”

“It’s like an invisibility cloak?”

“Not exactly. If the beholder knows you are there he WILL see you, just as I can see you, now, and you can see me. If the said beholder EXPECTS to see you, he will. That can be dodgy if there are guards on the look-out for trouble makers. They can sometimes see through a perception filter. But this palace is at peace. Nobody IS expecting trouble. We should be fine.”

“Ok. I’ll give it a try,” Marie accepted. She was in a long, flowing silk nightdress and a satin negligee with delicate slippers to match, not exactly snooping wear, but she had no intention of letting The Doctor sneak away while she changed. “Lead the way, Snoop Doggy.”

The Doctor gave her a very dark look for that epithet and led her out into the quiet palace. There were flaming torches along the walls and on the stairs leading down. They highlighted the bas-relief plasterwork and the fine tapestries. Every so often they flickered upon the faces of guards on night duty who paid no attention to the two figures passing by, even when Marie tested the theory by waving to them.

The Doctor paid a lot of attention to the tapestries, pressing

against them from time to time. On the lower ground floor he found one that deserved his special attention.

“Look at how this one moves ever so slightly as if there’s a breath of air coming from behind it,” he said triumphantly. “A hidden door. And when something is hidden….”

“It’s where the Emperor keeps all the unwanted birthday presents from less favoured great aunts,” Marie suggested, but The Doctor insisted there was more to it. His sonic screwdriver made short work of the lock and they slipped through a doorway into a short corridor and then a set of steps with low level security lighting.

“Really?” The Doctor remarked. “In a palace without electricity?”

“This leads to the Emperor’s secret multi-media room,” Marie suggested. “His one indulgence, Disney-Pixar movies. That would explain the architectural style of the place.”

But what lay in the room at the bottom of the steps was certainly more sinister than that. Marie dared The Doctor to say something like ‘I told you so.’ To his credit he did nothing of the sort as he examined the pitifully small body lying amongst a collection of electronic equipment most of which was intended to maintain life support.

“He’s a child… about ten years old,” Marie noted. The body was pale. He had no hair, not even lashes or brows on his ashen face. There was barely a sign that he was breathing, and The Doctor didn’t take very long examining the monitors around the bed to confirm that his brain activity was strange.

“Strange, how?” Marie asked. “And who is he?”

“Strange because there is quite a lot of it, but it isn’t involved in his breathing or heartbeat, or any other function of his body. Instead it is all directed towards that machine over there in the corner which I’m going to look at in a minute. As to who he is… I have a rather sad suspicion. Do you recall noticing if the Emperor shook hands with anyone, or what he ate and drank at the banquet?”

Marie couldn’t. She hadn’t been paying that sort of attention.

“He doesn’t shake hands. He doesn’t have any physical contact with anyone.”

“He’s an emperor. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing… his hands are sacred, etc.”

“And he doesn’t eat or drink.”


“I watched him. He’s good. When he lifts a golden goblet you can see the Adams Apple bobbing as if he is drinking. He puts food to his mouth, but doesn’t actually bite or swallow.”


“So, he’s a hard light hologram. Very realistic, unless you got in his way, then he’d walk right through you. But nobody would DARE get in the Emperor’s way. He’s the EMPEROR. Nobody would complain if he didn’t eat all his greens.”


“This is Billy Munday. He’s paralysed and brain-damaged. It must have happened when he was a child. Some form of suspended animation is at work, too, keeping him as he was. His mind produces the impulses that work the hologram. He is living his life though it – running his Empire, making laws, aging as he naturally ought to. It’s rather brilliant in a sad, sad, sad, way.”

“And now you know the truth,” said a calm, quiet voice. The Doctor and Marie turned to see the short, fat Chancellor Rollie coming down the steps. “I think he wanted you to find out. Normally his appearance of eating is much more convincing. He let you guess.”

“You take care of him?”

“As my father took care of his father, and his father before him, back through fifteen generations to when the Munday family first came to this world and established a ruling dynasty that bound the two tribes in harmonious life. You realised, of course, that we, the elite class, are neither Talls nor Shorts.”

“I realised,” The Doctor answered. “Though the news that you are not originally of this world is... well, news. It explains why there is this hidden technology that the general population are unaware of.”

“The people are happy without such things. The Mundays rarely used it until the terrible mishap that came upon them. The Emperor and his only son, were in a carriage accident. The Emperor was killed outright and his son grievously wounded. His mother, the Empress, had this system set up so that he would ‘live’ vicariously, at least. The hologram of a ten year old boy was ‘crowned’ thanks to some hard light manipulation and he went on to rule as a ten year old would. Some of the oddities of this world – the sugar trees, our somewhat peculiar architecture and fashions…they were his earliest royal commands. From time to time he passes rather eccentric laws that establish free sweet rations for all children or puce-coloured fountains of fruit juice for all. I think something of the child mind comes through at those times, but the ideas are always benign.”

“Fruit juice fountains sound good to me,” Marie commented. “Especially free ones. We can’t even get free water without a fight where I come from.”

Chancellor Rollie was startled by the idea that water should be something citizens should pay for. Marie felt she ought to pass his views onto Dublin City Council.

“It wasn’t all strange things like that,” Rollie continued. “He made good laws, too, with guidance from his mother and advisors such as myself. His mind took on board what his hologram was told. By the time he was twenty-one, his hologram looked every inch a handsome young Emperor who was loved by all. Even after his mother died and he had to make his own decisions he did so as wisely as his ancestors had done. The people ruled by him are happy and content.”

“He’s knocking on a bit, though,” Marie pointed out. “What happens when he ‘dies’? Obviously a hologram can’t get married and raise an heir.”

“The life expectancy for one of our race is about a hundred and fifty. Before that time, he intends to guide the people into full democracy with the election of a president. He will then ‘fade away’ gracefully. I… or perhaps my son… will close down this machinery. The hologram will cease, his mortal body can be laid in the Emperor’s tomb alongside his parents. Until then….”

“Until then, there is no need to rock the boat,” Marie decided before The Doctor could speak. “This is a wonderful society. He is looking after it beautifully, whether he is a real person or a hologram he couldn’t do better. Let’s just leave things well alone.”

“I agree,” The Doctor added. “Come on, Marie, it’s well past your bedtime. We’ll see the Emperor at breakfast. Goodnight, Chancellor Rollie.”

They quietly made their way upstairs. Marie said nothing until they reached their chambers.

“How did he know we were there?” she asked. “Rollie, I mean.”

“I expect we tripped some kind of silent alarm. Those can’t be fooled by Perception Filters, and knowing that we were there, Rollie saw us clearly.”

“It’s a secret,” Marie added. “And a sad one, at that. But it’s NOT a nasty one. You were wrong about Munday. It is a good society – even a perfect one.”

“I was right, too. There WAS a secret. There always is. A world run by the brain of a half dead child can’t possibly be called perfect.”

Marie knew she would have to call it quits. They were both half right. there was no such thing as a perfect world. But the Empire of Billy Munday was as good as it could get.

“And we’re going to enjoy it for a day or two,” Marie decided, without giving The Doctor any chance to suggest any other option. “Before we go looking for Irgenall Nert, which I don’t imagine is even close to being perfect since my ancestors preferred Wicklow.”