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

Whitlock looked at the door, taking note of the four strong locks that were meant to keep the house secure.

He nodded to his two heavy set companions. They hammered at the door with thick clubs. They succeeded in denting the reinforced fabric, but it stayed closed, as stubborn as the occupants of the single storey, three roomed cottage.

"Deadbolts on the hinge side," one of the heavies noted. "It'll take all day to get this open."

The windows were shuttered. Not the beautifully carved wooden shutters that would make a cottage like this look pretty, but strong steel affairs that nothing short of a bomb would shift.

"Don't tempt me," Whitlock was known to say about such defences.

With his fingers still cased inside leather gloves he pressed the grimy, often touched button that operated the intercom system. All the cottages had those for tenant safety. They could check who was there before opening the door.

These tenants knew who was there. Whitlock wasted no breath on introductions.

"I'm here to enforce the eviction notice served on you last week," he called out. "Non-payment of rent."

"We paid the rent. We have receipts," came back the sound of an elderly voice.

"You didn't pay the surcharge for growing food in the garden. You owe six thousand credits with compound interest. "

"That's outrageous," the elderly tenant protested. "It’s unfair. The surcharge is higher than the value of the food grown."

"That's the point of the surcharge," Whitlock responded. "To stop air-wasters like you from having extra rations. You're not supposed to have home grown food. You're supposed to die and make room for deserving tenants. "

In the background a woman was crying. Whitlock smirked. They tried resisting, but it was never any use.

"You have five minutes to come out and get in the wagon or we do it the easy way.

The pair of heavies were in two minds about that. Dragging kicking, screaming and crying people off to the House was all part of the job. The ‘easy’ way was quieter - less fun.

Whitlock gave them a bonus either way, but it was the principle of the thing.

He waited exactly five minutes. Only one thing happened in that time - a small sky light opened in the roof and a hand pushed a cat out through it.

The black and white moggy ran down the tiles, leapt from the eaves to the shoulder of one of the heavies and dug its claws in hard. As the other heavy tried to get it off he too sustained painful scratches before the cat leapt down and ran like a streak of monochrome lightning into the scrubby wasteland behind the cottage.

"They didn't have permission to keep a pet, either," Whitlock commented unsympathetically. He reached into the leather bag at his side and weighed two small metal balls in his hand before opening the small aperture where post tubes were physically delivered to those too old fashioned or too stupid to use the ether-mail system. As with so many of these air-wasters, it was the vulnerable point in their otherwise secure houses.

The gas would knock them out in minutes no matter how many wet towels they put around the doors. Now he just had to wait a little longer then inform the emergency services. If 'vulnerable people' were ‘at risk’ he could legally use cutting gear to get through the door. The paralysed occupants would be whisked off to the House for ‘their own safety’ and put in the suicide wing until they were deemed fit to be transferred to the main population.

Meanwhile bidding could commence for a self-contained property. When he had got enough out of the application fees from prospective tenants to cover the back rent, surcharges and excesses he could charge the new occupants extra to move into a fully-furnished house.

After he had checked the miserable contents for anything actually valuable, of course.

Delys Maine had just got the baby to sleep in her cot when the doorbell rang. She went wearily to the dimly lit cubicle that passed for an entrance hall and looked through the spyhole.

Her heart sank. It was him.

She drew back from the door.

"Please, go away," she whispered to herself. "Go away, I'm not in. Please go away."

But he didn't go away. He hammered on the door and she heard his voice through the supposedly soundproof plexi-wood.

"I know you're in there, you feeble little unwed. Open the door or I'll break it open and the cost of the repair will go onto your home tax."

She unlocked the door. She couldn't afford the repair on top of her other bills. He pushed past before she had even fully opened the door.

There were two other people on the landing - a man and a woman. The woman gave her an apologetic look. The man was too busy looking around at the heavily locked outer doors to the other four other flats on this level.

"You'd better come in," Delys said to them. She turned and went back to her living room where Whitlock, the accommodation manager, was unfolding a set of official papers.

"You are under occupying," he said. "You have two bedrooms and only require one. This is Mr and Mrs Reynolds. They will be lodging here from now on."

"It's almost midnight," Delys pointed out.

"That's why they need a room," Whitlock replied.

"The baby is in the second bedroom," she added "It’s her nursery."

"Your brat can sleep with you," Whitlock answered with a sneer. The kid of an unwed doesn't need a 'nursery'. That's what I call airs and graces."

"I'm NOT an unwed," Delys protested. "My husband died. I'm a widow."

"As if it matters. You're a welfare case with no means except government payments. You need to learn a bit of humility. If it was up to me, I'd teach you it the hard way."

Quite what he meant by that, neither of the two 'lodgers' wanted to guess, but the pale, scared expression on Delys's face was explicit enough.

"Here's your tenancy agreement," Whitlock said to 'Mr and Mrs Reynolds'. "Read it carefully. Break any of the rules and you'll face penalties. "

"What sort of penalties?" Marie asked as The Doctor took the thick wad of closely printed legalese, glanced at page one and then dropped it carelessly on the sideboard.

"If I'm in a good mood, financial penalties," Whitlock answered. "If not, then eviction. This is a bad time to be homeless."

"Indeed, it is," The Doctor agreed. "Well, I suppose we'd better get settled in. Cheerio for now. "

Whitlock started to say something else, but his attempt to look big only brought him to eye level with The Doctor. He stared, open mouthed, for a good half minute before breaking eye contact and turning away quickly. He slammed the door so hard aa he left that the few ornaments on the little shelf rattled. A china doll started to fall but The Doctor caught it and placed it back in pride of place.

Marie turned to look at Delys. She was crying softly on one of the two squashy sofas that filled most of the living room. She sat beside her and reached out a reassuring hand.

“It’s all right," she assured the put upon young mother. "I'm Marie and I'm usually known as a good friend. If I can do anything to help, I will."

Delys just shook her head miserably.

"It’s not your fault. You needed somewhere to live like all the others, and I knew it would come to this ever since the government announced the under-occupying measures. But it just feels horrible having to share with strangers. This... well, it’s no dream mansion, but it was home, when Merr was alive. Now, it’s just walls around me. It doesn’t even matter that you're here. The nightmare is the same."

The Doctor went into the second bedroom or nursery. He looked at the three-month old baby lying in the cot. He put his hand gently on the child's forehead and felt her dreams - the cloudlike dreams of infancy.

"Sleep peacefully, little one," he whispered softly then turned and left the nursery.

"We'll sleep in here," he announced. "These sofas look comfy enough. Leave the baby in peace."

Delys looked relieved, but her attempt at humour over the situation fell badly flat.

“If he finds out he’ll put another couple in the bedroom.”

"He isn't a very nice man," The Doctor remarked. Delys and Marie both looked at him in surprise. He had somehow managed to make his voice sound overdubbed like a pre-watershed version of a film. Even his lip movements appeared to be calling Whitlock something much nastier than 'not nice'.

For a brief moment there was understanding, then Delys looked away quickly.

"I don't know either if you. What if you're spies for him? I could be sanctioned for antisocial behaviour."

“You mean he can penalize you for something you say in your own home?” Marie had already been shocked beyond belief by the way the poor of this planet were treated, but it got worse and worse. “Talk about Big Brother….”

“I can't afford more financial penalties. If I have to ask for help to pay the rent they'll take Lula into 'care'. She'll be adopted by a rich family and I'll never see her again. And if I don’t… and I’m evicted… she’ll go to the Big House with me….”

“Delys,” The Doctor said quietly and gently. “We’re not spies for Mr Whitlock. You DO believe that, don’t you? You trust me?”

She had no reason to do so, but when she looked into his fathomless brown eyes she saw something that made her trust him like she had trusted no man before, even the husband she missed every day of her life since his death. She felt safe in a way she hadn’t since then.

“I trust you,” she admitted.

"Of course, you do," The Doctor told her with a nearly hypnotic tone. "Now go on to bed and sleep soundly. I know it has been a long time since you've done that. You've been so tired and worried for so long you don't even remember what it is like to be happy and carefree."

There was no good reason to obey his instruction. She was a grown woman, after all. She chose her own bedtime if nothing else.

She went to bed. In a few minutes she was asleep.

The Doctor turned his attention to Marie. She was crying.

"I can't help it," she said before he even said a word. "This is my homeworld, according to you, and it is horrible. A few thousand rich people live in a glittering city and everyone else gets sent to these horrible, grey 'dormitory villages' so far from the factories that they spend all their lives working or commuting to and from work. And those who can’t work... Like Delys.... They get bullied by people like that horrible Whitlock or end up in that place they're all so scared of... this Big House. What is that, anyway? Something like an old-fashioned workhouse?"

The Doctor glanced out of the window. The building everyone was so afraid of was about twenty miles away across a dismal, grey, infertile scrubland. Floodlights across its ten fearful storeys cast a glow into the sky that bleached out the stars.

Even from twenty miles away he could sense a real reason for the fear. Something evil was at work in that place- something more than the casual cruelty of a Victorian workhouse.

"In the morning, we're going to take a closer look at that place,” he said. “But you need sleep as much as Delys did. Lie down now, and get some rest.”

“All right, but don’t do any of that hypnotism stuff on me like you did with her.”

“Hypnotism stuff?” The Doctor looked and sounded affronted by the very idea, but Marie knew him better than that. It was a gentle sort of hypnotism, meant to make a tired, stressed out woman relax, not the aggressive kind of thing that stage magicians do, making people perform ridiculous and humiliating stunts for cheap laughs, but it was still hypnotism and she was determined to keep her free will.

The Doctor watched her fall asleep on the sofa and settled himself on a wicker chair by the window with his feet up on a wooden stool. He flicked his fingers and the light went off plunging the room into a comforting darkness. He looked out at the distant building and the light pollution that it created. There was something much, much more sinister going on there than even the local people feared and he would not be satisfied until he knew what it was.

He didn’t sleep – not in the sense that Marie or Delys or most other sentient beings understood the word. But he did close his eyes and allowed his mind and body to refresh itself in anticipation of trying times.

His eyes snapped open in the grey pre-dawn light. All was quiet outside the window, but there was a disturbance in the flats. He rose from the chair in one fluid movement while Marie extricated herself from the sofa clumsily.

“Not as comfy as you made out,” she complained. “What’s going on?”

“It’s an eviction!” Delys cried out, emerging from the bedroom and going to attend to her baby. “It’s him, again, come to take Hera and Goldie Marran from number 6B. They’re behind in the rent because Hera was ill and couldn’t work.”

Marie thought of protesting about how unfair that was, but everything was unfair on this planet. What was the point of complaining if nobody listened to your complaint?

The Doctor was already on the landing, noting that all the other doors remained firmly shut. He knew for a fact that people were watching through the spyholes in the doors, but they didn’t dare show their faces as Whitlock’s ‘heavies’ broke down the door to number 6b and began to drag the middle-aged couple from their home. Their screams and cries, their pleas for mercy went unheeded. Whitlock simply read the official eviction notice out loud as they were pushed towards the stairwell.

“Just a minute,” The Doctor said, stepping forward. “May I see that document?”

“No, you may not,” Whitlock replied. “Mind your own business.”

“It IS my business.” The Doctor pulled a small leather wallet from his pocket and waved it in front of the housing manager’s face just long enough for him to recognise an official inspector’s identification card. “There have been reports of irregularities in this district. Has that eviction notice been countersigned by your superior?”

Whitlock looked worried as The Doctor snatched the paper from him and inspected it carefully.

“Is your superior called Spot the Dog?” The Doctor asked after a long, frozen moment in which the Marrans stood on the brink of being thrown down the stairs and the doors around the landing each opened far enough for people to peep out and take a closer look at what was happening.

“Of course he isn’t,” Whitlock snapped. “It’s Preceptor Maganne.”

“That’s funny,” The Doctor remarked very coolly. “Because this has been signed by Spot.”

He held the last page of the notice up. Whitlock could clearly see that the signature on the eviction notice was the name ‘Spot the Dog’ in violet felt tip pen. Marie slipped out of the flat and looked closely, confirming the signature. The two heavies drew back from the Marrans, aware that something wasn’t quite right and that it might well have implications for them. They, too, observed the signature. Slowly, Mr and Mrs Marran both moved closer and looked, too.

“You mean that’s a fake document?” Mr Marran queried. “Does that mean we’re not evicted, then?”

“Yes, it does,” Whitlock snapped. “That’s not the real notice. He’s switched it, somehow. He’s got the real one.”

The Doctor put on his most innocent expression – which still slightly resembled a vulture contemplating its next meal, to tell the truth. In any case, nobody believed that he had switched the documents. Some of the witnesses were convinced that he had altered the supervisor’s signature, but they couldn’t say HOW he had done it.

“How do we know ANY of the papers he brings round are real?” demanded a small woman who emerged fully from number 6d. “Maybe he’s been robbing us all along, getting rid of anyone who asks too many question and frightening everyone into keeping quiet.”

“Rubbish,” Whitlock answered. “I’m the housing agent for this township and you do as I say or it will be the worse for you all.”

“I’m not so sure about that Mr Whitlock,” said one of the two heavies. “I’m thinking….”

“I don’t pay you to THINK. You just….”

Whitlock’s phone rang in his pocket. He glanced at the caller display and his face paled – something that very much interested everyone who had, at one time or another, been scared of Whitlock. Now he was scared of something and they were enjoying the moment.

“Sir…” he said in a deferential tone nobody had ever heard before. “Sir… I don’t know how…. I mean… I didn’t…. No, of course not. I….”

His side of the telephone conversation didn’t give much away except that the person on the other end of the line was not accustomed to interruptions and was intolerant of excuses. By the time the call was over every door on the sixth floor was open. People were spilling out onto the landing. The stairwell was crowded, too, as people came up from the floor below and down from the one above to see what was happening. Delys stood at her door with the baby in her arms. She was the first to see the stricken look on Whitlock’s face as he put the phone back in his pocket.

“You’ve been dismissed, haven’t you,” she said to him. “You’ve been fleecing people around here for years with your penalties and surcharges and extra taxes and I bet you’ve been keeping the money for yourself, and not telling anyone in the Housing Office. You’re a thief, Mr Whitlock, a rotten, common thief, and you’ve been found out.”

“Is that so?” The news spread quickly. The noise level on the sixth floor rose and the tenants closed in around their hated housing manager.

“I think you’d better come with us, sir,” said one of the two heavies, taking the initiative. “For your own safety.”

They pushed the press of people back as they flanked the defeated man, escorting him down the stairwell. The tenants followed, their numbers swelling at each floor. By the time they reached the lobby a huge crowd spilled out to watch Mr Whitlock being put into the back of the sinister black van which so many people had been put into before – people who had never been seen again.

“It’s the Big House for him,” people told each other. “Serves him right, too. Nasty piece of work he is.”

“Schadenfreude is a nasty thing,” The Doctor murmured.

“Schadenfreude is a word my class will never learn to spell,” Marie responded. “I don’t blame anyone for feeling that way. He was a scumbag and he deserves all he gets in there.”

“I’m not sure anyone deserves what goes on in that place,” The Doctor responded. “After a bit of breakfast, I’m heading over there. I want to see it for myself.”

That was his subtle way of telling everyone to go back to their homes now that the excitement was over. That included Mr and Mrs Marran, who clearly weren’t going to be evicted today. There was a feeling of relief and even euphoria. The tyrant was gone. Things could only get better, now.

“Rents will still have to be paid,” The Doctor warned as Delys served a breakfast of something like scrambled eggs and toast. “Things will still be difficult. Whitlock was only the bottom rung of a nasty ladder up to the central government, and he will be replaced sooner or later. But if you’re lucky the new man will be a bit fairer, and in the long term, some kind of reform must come to this planet. You can’t be downtrodden for ever.”

“It still feels like the sun has come out, at last,” Delys admitted. “And you did it. I am so glad. I only wish I knew how to say thank you, properly.”

“Don’t thank me,” he answered. “Just you look after little Lula and do the best you can to be happy."

He lingered over breakfast, accepting three cups of what passed for coffee in a home as financially constrained as this one was and he paid a lot of attention to the baby. Marie wasn't sure if he could really talk to infants. Delys didn't believe it at all, but she found the pretence amusing. Few things had made her laugh lately, so a grown man pretending to speak 'baby' was a refreshing change.

When they finally left the flat several more neighbours wanted to thank them for the 'miracle' he had brought. Again he made it clear that rents had to be paid and life would still be hard, but the downfall of the small tyrant, Whitlock gave them hope for the future.

The Doctor and Marie found Whitlock's car outside. He had been taken away in the van, of course. The Doctor commandeered it for their trip to 'the Big House'.

“You know, I don’t think it’s the floodlights causing light pollution that blots out the stars at night,” he commented as he fixed his eyes on their destination. “I think there is a permanent cloud over the ‘Big House’. Look… The other clouds are moving, but that one isn’t.”

“Well, that’s not possible, is it?” Marie questioned. “What could cause that? A permanent cloud of misery?”

“Maybe they run a big laundry operation,” The Doctor suggested. He had a very nasty thought about what it might be, but he didn’t want Marie to be unnerved by it. instead he lapsed into silence as he drove the car directly towards the anomalous cloud.

"You could bring down the government that made these people so miserable," Marie said after a while, but only because she had thought of a reason why a permanent cloud might exist in one place and she didn’t like it. "You could do that Power of Suggestion thing you do on the President and make him change things."

"I don't do that," The Doctor answered. "I fight alien invaders, but dodgy governments have to be brought down by the people themselves. Otherwise, I'm just another dictator, imposing my will on them."

"But in a good way," Marie suggested.

"Good or bad it’s still interference. My people were right about that much. The change has to come from within."

"Well, maybe it will," Marie accepted. "While you were talking baby with Lula I told Delys about Captain Boycott."

The Doctor didn't say anything, and because he was driving he couldn't give her any sort of 'look'.

"I'm sure you know who I mean. You probably have some tall story about going fishing with him by the River Moy. He was a County Mayo land agent who was ostracised by the people of the area - nobody would sell him food or do his laundry or clean his house, even his mail wasn't delivered until he gave up his job of collecting the unfair rents and left Ireland altogether. It is where the word 'boycott' comes from."

"And you told Delys to do that to the next man to take Whitlock's job?"

"No, I just told her how the Irish dealt with this sort of thing back in the day. There's no use telling anyone to do something. Any teacher knows that. But put the idea in their heads and let them think it was their idea…."

"There you go, then," The Doctor said. "You already knew why I couldn't just hypnotise the President into starting a reform programme. That's the proper way... The right words at the right time, a quiet suggestion. Of course, poor old Boycott's case didn't end the Land War. It took a couple of Acts of Parliament and the application of a bit of common sense all round. That's what they'll need here, sooner or later, but the seed is sown."

It was Marie’s turn to say nothing. She tried not to look TOO triumphant, either. The Doctor would find some way to bring her down with a bump if she took too much credit for sparking a social revolution.

“Doctor!” She screamed as a figure loomed in front of the car. The Doctor slammed on the brakes and swung the wheel so that they swerved past the dishevelled character who fell, exhausted, as he leapt out of the car.

“It’s him… Whitlock!” Marie exclaimed. “But how did he get here and what happened to him?”

“I think he walked – or ran. From the ‘Big House.’ I think he escaped.”

“Escaped? I thought nobody ever got out of that place.”

“He’s been there often enough. Perhaps he knew of entrances and exits his victims didn’t. Or perhaps he was just that little less resigned to his fate, with a little fight left in him. Come on, let’s get him into the car. There’s a couple of bottles of water in the glove compartment.”

Rest, shade and some water partially revived the former housing manager. His eyes widened as he woke and he screamed at something that still haunted his vision even though he was no longer looking at it. The Doctor reached out and pressed his fingers either side of the stricken man’s face. He stopped screaming and fell into a gentler sleep. The Doctor laid him down on the back seat of the car.

“I’ll have to bring him with us,” he said as he sat back in the driver’s seat. “But I think he’ll prefer to sleep through it. I don’t think he wants to see that place up close again.”

“I’m not sure I want to see it up close if that’s what it does to people,” Marie pointed out.

“I’m inclined to agree,” The Doctor said. “But we’re going there, anyway.”

The huge building loomed ever closer over the next few minutes, and it was all the more certain that there was a permanent cloud hanging over it, casting the dour walls into even deeper gloom.

“I keep thinking about that bit in the 1970s version of King Kong where they say the cloud over the island is caused by something huge breathing,” Marie said.

“So do I,” The Doctor replied. “But I’m sticking with the laundry theory for the moment.”

“Laundry didn’t scare him out of his wits,” Marie countered, reminding The Doctor of their sleeping passenger. The Doctor said nothing. He parked the car in the gloomy shadow of the front façade and checked to see that Whitlock was still sleeping soundly and that he had both his sonic screwdriver and his sonic shades as well as his psychic paper before heading towards the foreboding steel door. He pressed the electronic buzzer firmly and waved his psychic paper towards the security camera. The door opened with a grinding sound that gave the impression of something that would close in a permanent way as soon as they were inside. Marie didn’t like it at all.

The Doctor obviously didn’t like it, either. He turned as the door started to slide shut again and aimed his sonic screwdriver at it. There were sparks and the kind of noise that happens when an engine seizes up in a terminal way.

The door stayed open allowing unaccustomed daylight into the entrance hall.

Strangely, there was nobody there. Marie had expected some kind of reception – not a nice one like in a hotel, more like the front desk of a police station, perhaps. But there was nothing like that, only a long expanse of metallic coloured floor leading to a door with another buzzer and security camera.

This also opened when The Doctor presented the psychic paper. Again there was a sense of foreboding when they crossed the threshold. Again, there was the dread of the door closing behind them which The Doctor forestalled in the same terminal way before it had begun to slide back.

Having a permanently-opened door didn’t make things much better as they turned to look at a room so vast it made the turbine rooms of Battersea Power Station and other such legendary large indoor spaces seem small. What struck them next after appreciating the size was how busy it was. The whole hall was teeming with people, all ‘working’ in the loosest sense of the word. Row upon row of what looked like giant hamster wheels were being turned by men and women with resigned expressions on their worn out faces. Others were pushing the spokes of a huge wheel around and around. Treadmills that did not resemble in the slightest those found in expensive fitness clubs were being walked endlessly. Calories were being burned by the thousands by people who had no spare fat on their bodies and certainly weren’t making the effort in order to trim their waists or improve their abs.

“It’s… like hard labour in an old-fashioned prison,” Marie commented. “But… why? I mean… obviously these are the people who’ve been evicted from the houses. But why are they being punished like this? They’re just poor… not criminals. It’s horrible.”

“Well, Right Wing governments do tend to equate poverty with crime,” The Doctor noted. “But this is extreme even for English Tories. I don’t think the Government of Irgenall Nert really knows what’s going on in here.”

“Why not? They’re the people who thought up the idea of the ‘Big House’ in the first place. They penalise people for having a spare bedroom and allow men like Whitlock to abuse their position and make things even harder. Why not punish those who get into trouble by making them work all day at pointless, non-productive activities that just drain the body and soul until… I don’t know… until they die of exhaustion. Just think… that couple… the Marrans… they might have been here by now. Or Delys….”

“I don’t think the government knows about this,” The Doctor replied. “I don’t believe any species could willingly hand their own kind over to creatures like THOSE just for political gain.”

For a moment Delys didn’t realise what The Doctor was referring to. Then she followed his gaze up to the high ceiling. Even then, it took her a while to realise what she was looking at. The ceiling was moving, writhing like the underside of a huge snake or an octopus with its boneless body pressed against the aquarium wall, or….

Her powers of description failed her. There was nothing in her experience that could begin to match what she was looking at. It was a ceiling of pale blue-white flesh with, here and there, a sort of ‘head’ with a maw full of teeth.

“What the hell is… are… is… that… they… whatever?” grammar was a problem even for a teacher when faced with what was either hundreds of shapeless creatures or one huge creature with many heads. Neither option was especially palatable.

“Jagrafess,” The Doctor replied, saying the word with the sort of sound associated with clearing the throat of a lot of unpleasantness. “Immature ones, I think. I’ve only ever seen one before, and that was an adult. Usually the young are confined to the Jagrafess Breeding Grounds. I have no idea where those are, which is a good thing, because if I did know, I would be compelled to destroy them in order to safeguard the rest of Creation and that goes against all my personal principles about genocide, to say nothing of intergalactic law.”

“They’re obviously not benign, benevolent creatures behind the mass of ugliness, then?”

“No. And they are the answer to the question about all this activity. Do you notice the curiously organic conduits going up around the walls. They’re kinetic energy transmitters. All these wheels turning create energy that feeds and nurtures the Jagrafess. They’re literally living off the sweat of the poor.”

“And you don’t think the government installed them as part of the set up?”

“If I find out that they did, Intergalactic Law will be having words with them, but I would guess that somebody much lower down the scale came under the influence of a brood mother. They have phenomenal powers of hypnotic suggestion for creatures with no eyes to make contact with. She probably persuaded the warden here to install a batch of eggs and bring in all this Victorian gym equipment. Before then this was probably nothing worse than a live-in work experience – laundry or mail bag sewing and communal dinners of dry bread and gruel.”

As he spoke, he was adjusting his sonic screwdriver. He aimed it at the conduit connected to the huge wheel. The conduit snapped and shrivelled. The group of immature Jagrafess who were feeding on it screeched in anger and began to shrivel into themselves.

The men who had been turning the wheel stopped and looked around as if they had woken from a bad dream. They saw their fellow inmates still toiling and grief, anger and a dozen other emotions welled up inside them.

“Where is my wife?” asked one of the men.

“I don’t know,” The Doctor answered. “But if she is alive and in this building, then grab anything you can find to break those conduits and free her and everyone else. Once the link is broken they’ll be free of the mesmerism that kept them from rebelling against their fate. Marie, take the sonic and do what I did. Start getting them all outside in an orderly manner as per school fire drill when you think fit. I’m going upstairs to find where that really BIG conduit goes and what it does… and for whom.”

Grammar had failed him, too, but his sense of a terrible injustice hadn’t. He knew there was somebody who carried the responsibility for this happening to these people and he had an idea they were on the premises, too.

The second and third floors were dismal dormitories and a grim refectory. Even slaves under the mesmeric influence of monsters in the ceiling had to sleep and eat or they would die too quickly to be cost effective. At the top floor, he came to a door with the legend ‘Warden’s Quarters’ stencilled on the glass panel. It was locked, but the sonic glasses were at least as good as the screwdriver at mere mechanical locks. He pushed the door open and stepped inside.

It was then that he remembered another fact about Jagrafess anatomy that he had learnt three regenerations back. The adults had phenomenal metabolisms. The thick conduit he had seen going up through the ceiling diverted some of the kinetic energy into creating a refrigerated room to prevent it from boiling its own blood. The gases produced by this exchange of heat and cold accounted for the permanent cloud above the ‘Big House’. The King Kong theory was close enough, after all.

Sitting in a frost covered chair in front of a computer terminal was the long dead but still partially animated warden, pressing buttons automatically, seemingly unaware of the chaos displayed on the CCTV screens from cameras in the main hall.

“The price of giving succour to a murderous fiend,” The Doctor mused. He reached to close the frozen warden’s eyes. The hands kept moving all the same. He would have rest in a few minutes, but only the eternal sort. There was nothing to be done for him. The Doctor was sorry about that. Even if the man was a fool and probably a nasty one, at that – who else took a job that involved bullying people for being poor – he had paid a nasty price for it.

He stood at a safe distance from the massive head reaching down from the ceiling and adjusted the sonic glasses. A thin, bright light shot out from the side of the right lens – a powerful laser that made short work of the conduit. The Jagrafess screeched as it realised something was disrupting its life source. It writhed blindly as The Doctor ducked and side-stepped, making his way back to the door carefully. When he was far enough away he turned and took the stairs two at a time. There was going to be a nasty explosion – and possibly an implosion at the same time. The whole top floor would probably be blown clean off.

“I’ve got everyone out,” Marie said as he reached the ground floor. “Even the people in the infirmary. Everyone helped each other once they realised that the nightmare was over. But they’re all wondering what happens next. I said you would know.”

“The last time I encountered the Jagrafess messing aorund with people’s lives I left them to figure it out for themselves, but that didn’t work out so well, so I think I’d better take a more hands on approach this time.”

What happened immediately, of course, was a mighty explosion that took out not only the top floor but the dormitories and refectory below and they, in turn, collapsed into the main hall. The sight of the ‘Big House’ being reduced to a shell in the fire that took hold cheered its former inmates. While they were watching gleefully The Doctor contacted several government agencies, and using the words ‘Shaddow Proclamation’ more than once he got a guarantee of emergency food, shelter and medical aid for the three hundred victims of the miserably failed ‘Homelessness Initiative’ that the ‘Big House’ had been designed to fulfil. He also got the Cabinet to meet in Emergency Sesson and enact a Housing Bill guaranteeing them all new homes within the year. He even managed to get Whitlock taken to a mental hospital where he might eventually recover his wits in time.

“They still have a struggle,” he admitted as they headed back to the Capital where The Doctor was going to explain some points of economic reality to the President over a State Breakfast. “The gap between the rich in the capital and the poor out here on these dismal plains is still huge. It is going to take a change of attitude from the government and a lot of agitation from the people to bring about a more equitable state of affairs. But once Delys gets her Boycott campaign going and the idea spreads from community to community there will be no stopping them. It WILL happen. By the time little Lula is a granny the planet will be prosperous enough for the government to offer its brightest and best the opportunity to relocate to other worlds. Her great-great-grandchildren will become Irish citizens.”

“What?” Marie stared at him in astonishment. “Are you joking? Are you saying that Delys and her baby are my ancestors on this planet? I mean… how do you know?”

“DNA recognition,” he answered. “You and the baby share a whole bunch of genes. Plus a lot of weird Time Lord stuff involving reading timelines, seeing the single thread that connects Lula to you as it is woven into the fabric of causality.”

“Ok, forget I asked,” Marie conceded.