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

“Hello, sweetheart,” Jackie greeted Rose as she and The Doctor came into the flat.

“Sweetheart?” The Doctor grinned. “Jackie, I didn’t even know you cared.”

Jackie hugged her daughter and smiled at The Doctor, ignoring his daftness. “Thank you for getting her home for her birthday.”

“She didn’t want to be anywhere else,” he said. That was a fib. They had already spent one glorious birthday their own way. He took her to Rome and they had enjoyed a day of sightseeing, dinner and the opera – Rome in 1900, that was, and the opera was the first night of Tosca, by their personal favourite composer, Puccini. But it didn’t take very much effort on his part to also come to her mum’s for a family evening.

Jackie was much more amiable towards him than she used to be. She seemed to understand him much better, and she accepted that he DID want the best for Rose.

Her cooking might have improved, too, he thought as they sat at the table with candlelight and some soft music that was not too intrusive. Or maybe he WAS just becoming hopelessly domestic under the combined influences of the Tyler women. He didn’t care as much as he thought he might. He loved Rose. He liked her mother, despite the way she had treated him for a long time.

And after all, Jackie HAD been right in a lot of ways. There WAS a huge age gap between him and Rose, HE WAS a different species to her. And his life WAS dangerous. He understood her issues. He shared her concerns. But he loved Rose and couldn’t imagine living his strange life without her. And he couldn’t imagine any way he could give up that life unless the alternative had her in it.

“Twenty-three years old.” Jackie sighed and looked almost tearful. “How did I end up with a daughter of twenty-three? Do I look old enough to have a daughter aged twenty-three?”

“No, Jackie.” The Doctor assured her. “You don’t. You’re a pretty, young-looking woman and its time you found yourself a good man.” He meant that, too. It was, he thought, the only thing wrong with her. She was a very lonely woman. And all the more lonely since he had taken her daughter away from her.

“I had a good man,” she sighed. “And the only other one I ever met loves my daughter.”

“MUM!” Rose protested.

“I’m NOT trying to cop off with him,” she said. “I’m just stating a fact. Rose, he’s the best. Make the most of it. Whatever way works for the both of you, and anything I ever said to the contrary – I was just being bitchy because - because the first time I set eyes on him I TRIED to cop off with him and he turned me down flat.”

“Did you?” Rose looked at her mum and then at The Doctor. “Did YOU?”

“Er…yes,” he admitted with a blush.

“I thought he was a policeman.” Her mum admitted. “And he STILL looks more my age than yours.”

“You’re BOTH too young for me,” The Doctor interjected. “Where I come from two hundred is about the youngest we would think of such things.” That made them both laugh, and relieved Jackie’s momentary mid-life crisis. In the middle of the laugher, the telephone rang. Jackie went to it.

“It’s for you,” she said presently, giving the phone to the Doctor.

“Me?” he looked at her in surprise and took the phone. “Hello? ... ACE! Yes, it’s me. How are you? .... Oh, I am sorry to hear that … Yes, we’ll be there. Tomorrow, as soon as we can. Hang in there, keep your chin up. And this time, don’t hit me when we arrive.”

“How did she know to call here?” The Doctor asked as he hung up the phone.

“I exchanged phone numbers with some of the people at the Christmas party,” Jackie explained. “Ace… Jo, Sarah… they’re nice people. And they all say good things about you. They know that I can get hold of you through Rose’s mobile phone. So, there you are, Doctor, now you have your own answering service on Earth, thanks to me.”

“What’s wrong with Ace?” Rose asked. “Sounded like she’s in trouble.”

“Her husband is in hospital. He was burnt in a fire at the home. The fourth one in a week, and she thinks there is something sinister going on. She wants our help.”

“And we’re going, of course.” Rose asked him.

“Tomorrow. There isn’t much we can do now, and I think your mum wants us to stay here tonight.”

“Please, do,” she said. “I don’t get to see Rose enough. You’re always off somewhere.”

“It’s what we DO, mum,” Rose told her. “Me and The Doctor - saving the universe.”

“I told the neighbours you’re an air hostess,” her mum said. She laughed.

“Well, I do make a lot of the coffee in the TARDIS.”

They stayed the night, just this once, in the flat. The Doctor didn’t need his psychic powers to realise that Jackie wanted them to stay. Her comment that she didn’t get to see Rose enough made him feel a little guilty. He knew he ought to bring her home more often. But, funny thing was, she didn’t ASK as often as she used to. She was slowly drifting from the nest, from home, becoming the wanderer just like him, with no fixed place in time and space. He liked it like that, but he still felt that twinge of guilt for taking her away from ‘normality’.

In the morning, though, the universe called them, even if the part of it in trouble this time was only in Cumbria.

“You know, you COULD go by train,” Jackie said as she hugged Rose goodbye.

“Can you see The Doctor sitting still that long?” Rose told her with a smile. “He’d be climbing the walls.”

“We’re going by TARDIS,” The Doctor said decisively. He claimed Rose from her mother, brought her inside and shut the door.

“Just the two of us and the universe,” he said as they dematerialised.

“The way I like it,” she answered and put her arms around his neck to kiss him.

“Me too. Couldn’t do this on the train, either.” He held her close for a long time. It was nice. There they were sliding through the vortex to their new destination and he had his girl in his arms. In his long life he had known so few moments like that.

“But duty calls,” he said as he heard the engines change tempo indicating that they were coming out of the vortex. “Do you want to take us in to land?”

“Yes, please.” Rose went to the controls. The Doctor watched, his arms folded, lounging against one of the pillars. He knew she was fully capable of landing the TARDIS. It was time she actually had a chance to fly it properly.

She landed it beautifully. He took her by the hand and they stepped out into the garden of the Coniston View Home for Girls. They were not even halfway up the path to the main door when Ace appeared. She ran to them and embraced The Doctor around the neck.

Definitely an improvement on the last time he was here, he thought, remembering being knocked out by a baseball bat.

On the other hand, she was a lot more cheerful the last time he saw her. He noted the red rims around her eyes betraying the fact that she had been crying. Not something his feisty, fighting Ace used to do. It surprised him, at first. Then he realised he was thinking of the sixteen year old tomboy, not the forty year old married woman who had left that life behind.

“Ace, my dear,” he said as she released him from her embrace. “Tell me what I can do for you.”

“Find out why these things are happening to us,” she asked as she brought them into the house. “Mike nearly died last night and I know there is something wrong. It isn’t just coincidence.”

There was a bitter smell that came with the aftermath of a fire all the way through the house and there were soot marks on the ceilings.

“The fire yesterday evening was in the office,” Ace told them as she brought them to the dining room, one of the least affected rooms. Some of the girls were there, drinking coffee and gossiping. One of them, at a nod from her, went and fetched a tray of coffee and biscuits for them. “Thank you, Jill,” she said.

“Is Mr Weir all right?” Jill asked politely.

“He’s comfortable,” Ace said. “That’s what the hospital said.” Jill nodded and went back to her friends.

“He tried to put the fire out by himself,” she explained to The Doctor and Rose. “He was overcome by the smoke and he’s got really bad burns. He’ll be in hospital for a long while. But he IS ‘comfortable’. He’s going to be all right eventually.” She paused. “The fire officers can’t find any reason for it. They suspect arson, but there are no obvious accelerants.…”

“And you think this is something in my field of expertise?” The Doctor asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Even if it isn’t… if it’s just one of the girls starting fires… I’d still rather YOU investigating it than anyone else. If… if you don’t MIND me calling you for something so ORDINARY.”

“Ace,” he assured her quickly. “You’re my favourite juvenile delinquent and I’d do anything for you.”

“Well, maybe I’m still a delinquent, Professor,” she said with a smile. “But less of the juvenile.”

“You’re still my Ace, anyway.”

“Can you two stop flirting,” Rose said. “Or shall I step out for a bit?” The Doctor laughed and put his hand into hers. He was HER Doctor no matter what he did for old friends. She knew that.

“You’d better show me where the fire was. That’s the place to start.”

Ace brought them to the office. Rose recognised it as the one they had materialised the TARDIS in two years ago when she first met Ace. The Doctor remembered, too. He smiled wryly as they stepped in.

It was a mess. Almost everything was charred and burnt. The solid desk was blackened stumps of wood, the computer and the leather chair were both melted and misshapen, rags of curtains hung from the rail at the broken and soot encrusted window. Only the metal filing cabinets remained intact, though covered in wet soot. One of the filing drawers was open and the documents within were burnt to ashes. The Doctor looked around quickly, taking it all in, then he pulled out his sonic screwdriver and began to scan the room with it.

“And that’s doing what?” Rose asked, standing by the door with Ace.

“Scanning for artificial accelerants,” he said. “Just in case the fire officers missed anything.”

“And have they?” Ace asked.

“No.” He put the sonic screwdriver back in his pocket. “This fire was not started by Human hands.” He stood in the middle of the room and closed his eyes in concentration. “There was a psychic force at work here. Something made this fire start by the power of the mind. I can feel the resonance still.”

“What…” Ace began but he put his finger to his lips to quieten her. He kept his eyes shut as he moved about the room, yet it seemed to Rose and Ace as they watched that he was looking with an inner eye. He didn’t hit anything or fall over anything, but moved perfectly confidently, circumnavigating the room before finishing up at the open filing cabinet. He put his hands on the open drawer and concentrated hard. His lips moved as if he was reading a list of the files that used to be in the drawer. But he shook his head and sighed. He opened his eyes.

“I can’t read the actual files, only the titles.”

“That’s pretty impressive anyway,” Ace said. “Is there something about the files you think is important?”

“The name of the fire-raiser. This contained the files of all the girls you have here? Their personal details….”

"Yes," Ace told him. "This was the section for the girls currently with us. Other drawers are for those who have been here and moved on. “There are backups in the computer?”

“Yes, but the computer is a gonner.”

The Doctor moved towards the wrecked computer. He quickly located the hard drive within the casing. He examined it. “Totally trashed. I couldn’t even patch it into the TARDIS computer. Wouldn’t want to try.” He dropped it back down. “Any chance of meeting some of the girls? If I was face to face with somebody with this sort of mental power I’d know her right away.”

“No problem. It’s nearly lunch time.”

The girls gathered in the dining room as twelve o’clock approached. There were about fifty of them in total, all between fourteen and seventeen, all with what were euphemistically called ‘behavioural problems’ but which The Doctor had always called juvenile delinquency. Ace was, indeed, his favourite delinquent, a teenage misfit with an affinity with explosives who stuck with him through some incredible dangers. And now she took care of girls such as she had been and helped them on the road to being useful members of society. He liked to think he had something to do with that.

These ‘delinquents’ certainly seemed to have benefited from her influence. They were noisy, as girls are, when they came in, but quietened as they stood by their chairs. Then all joined hands. Ace reached for The Doctor’s hand as he stood at the place beside her and he took Rose’s. They all paused for a moment with hands held and then sat down and ate their food with cheerful girlish conversations about boys and music and clothes. Ace explained that so few of the girls believed in organised religion that prayers before meals were meaningless, but the “friendship ring” was popular.

“Seems so,” The Doctor noted. He looked around the room and let his ears tune into snatches of conversation. It was all quite ordinary teenage chat. Nobody was discussing setting fire to the house. Nothing seemed out of place. He scanned the room again using his telepathy and read the emotions of the girls. There was, he noted, more concern for Mike Weir than they were letting on. Much of the cheerfulness hid a worry for a well-loved staff member.

He spotted the odd one out easily. Indeed, he ought to have seen her straight away. She was so obvious even to the ordinary non-telepathic eye. She was the only one not talking to anyone, and not eating either. She was looking down at her food as if trying to bore through the plate with her eyes. The Doctor focussed on her psychic waves. They were clearly alien. She stood out as strongly from the Humans around her as he did.

He wondered for a moment if she could be Gallifreyan. The thought excited him – another of his kind – but he quickly dismissed that possibility. Her brain patterns weren’t Gallifreyan at all. But she WAS a Humanoid race that had higher brain functions than ordinary Earth people and she WAS alien to this planet.

Of course, he knew very well that was not something extraordinary in itself. Earth was unknowingly host to millions of aliens who had made it their home without any fuss. He was one of them, in his own way. But most of them were much more ordinary than he was. They lived in the ordinary towns and cities of the world and did ordinary jobs, married, sometimes, if their anatomy was not too dissimilar to Human, had children, died and were buried without arousing comment.

This girl may well be one of those people. But if so, why the fire-starting? Was there a sinister motive? He looked into her mind gently, trying not to disturb her. He couldn’t find any such motive. In fact she seemed to be upset by what had happened in the school, especially Mr Weir’s injuries, and did not seem to be the fire-starter.

Yet The Doctor was equally sure she WAS.

“The girl in the blue t-shirt there,” The Doctor said to Ace, nodding barely perceptibly in her direction. “What’s her name?”

“Brenda,” Ace told him. “Brenda Freeman. She’s a bit of a difficult one. Has few friends and seems to prefer her own company. She was sent here because of incidents at her ordinary school.”

“Fire incidents?” The Doctor asked.

“Not so far as I know,” Ace said. “But on reflection I think it would be useful to make a few phone calls and find that out.”

“Good idea. Meanwhile, I think I would like to talk to her. Can you arrange a quiet place where we wouldn’t be disturbed?”

“Yes, that can be done,” Ace said. But The Doctor was not listening to her answer. He looked across at the girl and saw her look up at him. At first she seemed exactly what he had thought she was – a refugee alien fitting into Human society. But then her eyes changed colour and he felt a jolt in his head as something repelled his telepathic probe.

“What happened?” Rose asked him, seeing the look of pain on his face.

“I’m not sure,” he replied. “But I really need to talk to that girl and I think I should do it in the open, away from combustible materials.”

It was a nice, warm day anyway and since so many of the classrooms smelt of fire still the afternoon lessons took place in the garden, in small groups under the trees and in the flower gardens. Ace was easily able bring the girl to the bench where The Doctor and Rose waited.

“This is The Doctor,” Ace told her. “He is a very special old friend of mine and an expert in helping people. He wants to talk with you to see if we can’t help you with your problems.”

“Nobody on this world can help me,” Brenda answered, not sullenly or rudely, but in a simple statement of fact.

“Well, isn’t that a coincidence,” The Doctor said. “Brenda, come along with me and let’s walk for a while by that beautiful lake.” He turned to Rose and smiled at her. “I’m sure you and Ace can find SOMETHING to talk about while I’m busy.”

“You egomaniac,” Rose smiled. “You know whenever I meet one of your old friends YOU are the only thing we talk about.”

He grinned and took Brenda by the arm, gently steering her away from the house, away from the garden and along a footpath that came right down to Lake Coniston itself. A lovely place, he thought. The mountains in the distance reminded him of home, although they had few such expanses of inland water there. Most of their water was in the oceans.

“Where is home to you?” Brenda asked suddenly, and The Doctor was startled to realise she had been tuning in on his thoughts.

“A place where listening to other people’s thoughts without permission is considered the height of bad manners,” he replied. “What about where YOU come from?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “We’re not supposed to do that, either. But… here, where nobody is psychic, it is too easy to break the rule. And your thoughts were so strong then. About home.…”

“Well, you asked the question. Can you read the answer? Where AM I from?”

“You’re….” Her eyes grew wide as the answer came to her. “Oh my… oh!” She went pale and to The Doctor’s utter disconcertion, suddenly fell to her knees before him like the people of SangC’lune did when they were before him, their living God. “Oh, my Lord....”

“Enough of that,” he said kindly as he raised her to her feet. “So you come from one of our Dominion planets, where people have that crazy idea that we must be reverenced?”

“I am Tiboran,” she answered. “My people have paid homage to the Time Lords of Gallifrey for millennia. They… they are our protectors and our guides. They showed us the way to evolve our psychic skills from the rudimentary thought reading we once had generations ago, to a true skill we could use for good in our daily lives.”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Whenever we found people with skills matching ours we would always stick our noses in on their affairs. We’re not benevolent, we’re just nosy and manipulative. Or at least… we WERE.” He sighed and looked out across the lake blinking hard as unbidden thoughts came into his mind. He turned to see Brenda looking shocked. HOW GOOD WAS SHE?

“G…Gallifrey… is… no more?” she stammered. “That can’t be.”

“Yes, it can,” he said. “We crumbled to dust. We are nothing. I am the last Time Lord – and I am a refugee just like you. Not so very powerful, and nobody has to bow down in supplication to me.”

“I’m not a refugee,” she said. “My people sent me here… to this school… because I have ‘behavioural problems.’”

“You mean you start fires?” The Doctor guessed.

“They say I do,” she said. “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Do you THINK you did it?”

“No. It can’t be me. I would never do anything to hurt anyone here. Mr Weir is a wonderful man. So kind to us all. Mrs Weir… She doesn’t know I am from off-world, but she seems so understanding, I almost thought I could tell her.”

“You could,” The Doctor said. “She is an old friend of mine. She has travelled the universe with me. And she fully understands what it’s like to be a long way from home.”

“She doesn’t understand what it’s like not to be able to reach home,” Brenda said. “I used to get messages from my family. But since last year I haven’t heard from them. I don’t even know what I will do in two weeks time when the school holidays begin. Everyone else here is going home. But my home.…”

“Oh %$*$£$,” The Doctor said, and Brenda looked shocked.

“That’s a very rude thing to say,” she admonished him.

“Yes,” he laughed. “It is. I usually get away with it because nobody here knows what it means. Your people’s second language is a dialect of Gallifreyan?”

“Yes,” she answered in that dialect. The Doctor’s hearts swelled. He hadn’t heard his native language spoken for so long. He told an old joke in the same dialect and she laughed and delivered the punchline. He laughed too. But the laughter died as he felt, again, something else, something powerfully psychic. He looked at Brenda. Her soft hazel eyes were now a hard green like emeralds and they were turned on him. His telepathic nerves screamed in agony as something that was pure negative emotion burned into him. Literally burned. His clothes were smoking. He pulled his leather jacket off and threw it aside as his shirt beneath began to scorch. His body fought back, forcing the entity out of his head, out of his system. The mental effort was almost too much. As he passed out, he was aware of Brenda, her eyes now normal again, crying out that it ‘wasn’t her’ and running away.

He woke slowly, his head pounding and the smell of burning flesh in his nostrils. A hand applied a cool damp cloth to his face and he looked up into Rose’s worried eyes. She looked relieved to see him awake and bent to kiss him.

“That’s pretty strong medicine,” he said, looking around and seeing that he was in the private sitting room of Coniston House, lying on the sofa. “Where is Brenda?”

“We don’t know,” Ace said. “She ran off when you fell. Nobody has seen her since. I sent some of the girls out to look for her. If we haven’t found her by nightfall, I think I OUGHT to call the police. It’ll kill our reputation with the local people. They don’t like the idea of a ‘delinquent home’ as it is….”

“Then let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“I did some phoning,” Ace continued. “Neither the social services nor the education department have any record of sending Brenda to us.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. She comes from a long way outside the jurisdiction of Cumbria social services.”

“By a long way,” Rose and Ace both recognised a certain tone in his voice “Do you mean….”

“A couple of light years nearer than Gallifrey, anyway,” he admitted. “But she is from the same quadrant as me. You could say we’re neighbours.”

“Well, that’s very nice, Doctor,” Ace said. “But unless she’s gone home to your quadrant we still have a problem.”

“Yes, I know. Don’t worry. I’ll find her.” He sat up on the sofa and Rose slid beside him, her arm around his back.

“She tried to set you on fire. We found you smouldering. It’s a good job your body can self repair.” Rose shuddered at the memory of what she had seen when she and Ace reached him. She put her hand on his chest and felt his two hearts beating strongly and was fervently glad of it.

“No.” He shook his head. It hurt to do that so he stopped. “No, she didn’t. She is a very sweet, lovely girl who is a long way from home and a bit worried because her letters home haven’t been getting through. I know very well why that is. But there is something else in her head. Something she is only partially aware of, that frightens her, that she is not in control of or responsible for. And THAT has been setting things on fire… including me.” He gasped as he remembered what had happened. “Whatever it was, it was able to raise my body temperature so high it could scorch my clothes. If it had gone on any longer I’d be dead. It could have set my BLOOD on fire.”

“You can handle higher temperatures than most of us,” Ace said. “I’ve seen you do it. But if she – or it - does that to an ordinary person… a Human I mean….”

“Have you heard of people dying of spontaneous combustion?” The Doctor asked. “It’s one of those things Humans are good at dismissing as fancy and confining to the less believable tabloids and conspiracy theory websites. But it CAN happen, and the reason why it happens would stun those who make up the ‘answers’ to the question, because they are totally wrong.”

Though his head was still pounding, he stood up. The remains of his shirt fell apart in pieces. Ace passed him a clean, pressed shirt that obviously belonged to her husband. He put it on and Rose passed him his jacket. It felt like a suit of armour on him, that familiar scuffed and battered leather that he wore so many years ago when it was new and shiny because it made him look ‘cool’. It did, too. Now it made him look – and feel – invincible. And he needed to feel that.

“And you’re going to find this girl who can turn you to charcoal,” Rose said. “And then what? Reason with her? Ask her to stop burning people.”

“I told you, it’s not the girl. And nothing is going to turn me to charcoal. I know WHAT it is. And IT knows what I AM. It knows I am more powerful than it in the long run. And as for Brenda… she’s outside the door right now, feeling miserable because she thinks she is responsible for everyone being hurt.”

Ace went to the door quietly and opened it. Brenda tried to run but Ace’s reflexes were honed on more belligerent planets than Brenda had experience of and she caught her and pulled her into the room.

“Don’t hurt her,” The Doctor said. “Brenda, come and sit here.” As he invited the girl to join him on the sofa, Rose moved and perched on the arm of it, ready to act if there was the slightest sign of her turning up the temperature. He saw Ace glancing at the fire extinguisher.

“Is she your girlfriend?” Brenda asked looking at Rose suspiciously.

“I’m sure you can tell exactly what she is to me,” The Doctor said with a smile. “But never mind my personal life. I want to talk to you about… well, you know what. You know it’s there, don’t you.”

“It’s always been there,” she admitted. “It’s… when I was a little girl I called it Edgar.”

“And Edgar was the one who did all the naughty things while you were a good, sweet girl?”

“Yes. My parents used to laugh and think it was cute that I had such an active imagination. But… Edgar was real.”

“Yes. I can see he is. How long has he been doing things that could really hurt people, rather than just mischievous?”

“Since I haven’t been able to contact home. He’s angry now. He thinks he’s trapped here. He wants to get away from Earth. But he can’t.”

“Why can’t she contact home?” Ace asked but Rose had just worked it out.

“Rassilon’s envelope,” she said. “Anyone not FROM Earth… anyone who doesn’t have the marker… can’t find the planet.”

“What?” Ace, not surprisingly, wanted to know what was going on. So, too, did Brenda, and The Doctor knew she was entitled to know. She was an unfortunate victim of what was meant to be a means of protecting the Earth. He explained.

“So… to protect YOUR great grandchildren from harm, this whole planet has been made invisible to anyone who doesn’t already know it’s there?” Ace summed the story up when he was finished.

“That’s about the size of it.”

“He couldn’t just hire a couple of CPO’s for them?”

“Rassilon doesn’t work that way,” The Doctor said, though he couldn’t help wondering at Susan’s reaction if her family were assigned a couple of bodyguards. Trust Ace to see it that way. “Seriously, I DID point out a couple of flaws in the plan at the time. And THIS is another one. Brenda has been cut off from her family. They are not from Earth so they can’t find it or make any contact with it.”

“Oh!” Rose remembered the poster campaign HER mother had launched when she had disappeared for a full year with The Doctor without anyone knowing where she was. She understood how Brenda’s family must be feeling by now. “Oh, Doctor, we can help, can’t we? Surely we can do something.”

“For Brenda, yes,” The Doctor said. “And we will. But not for Edgar. He has gone too far and I think it’s time he left her alone.”

“Oh!” Brenda looked startled.

“I know he’s been with you a long time, but really, you would be better off without him. He HAS hurt people and he won’t stop now until he kills. And you ARE a good girl, Brenda. You don’t deserve to have a murderer hitchhiking in your head.”

“You can’t kill me, Doctor!” The voice that came out of Brenda’s lips was alien. There was no other word for it. Her eyes turned a hard green as the words were spoken. And when The Doctor replied his tone was much harder than the friendly, gentle way he had spoken to the ‘real’ Brenda.

“I don’t intend to KILL you,” he answered. “I’m NOT a killer. But I won’t let you disturb an innocent girl or threaten the lives of those I care for.”

“I can kill YOU.” He had expected a reply like that, and was ready, this time, for the psychic attack on him. He blocked it mentally in much the same way as he would physically block an attacking move in martial arts. It required much the same discipline and effort. He didn’t want to attack in response for fear of hurting the girl, so his efforts went into simply repelling the attack on him. He felt Rose’s hand on his shoulder as he resisted. Her touch felt cold, which meant that his body temperature WAS rising. The entity WAS getting through slowly. And if it didn’t give before he did he was dead.

“No!” Suddenly Brenda’s ordinary voice broke through and The Doctor sagged with relief as the psychic attack was cut off. “No, you won’t hurt him. He’s a good man. I won’t let you.”

“And you’re a good girl, Brenda,” The Doctor said. “And this is for your own good.” He reached his hand out and squeezed her neck just for a fraction of a second. She collapsed into unconsciousness. He caught her before she fell and picked her up in his arms. “Ace… get the door… Rose… run ahead and open the TARDIS door. I don’t know how long it will be before Edgar possesses her again.”

“That’s what it is? A possession?” Ace asked as she sprinted a little ahead of The Doctor, slightly behind Rose, who was off like a shot as soon as he told her what to do. The Doctor ran with the girl in his arms as easily as if he was an unencumbered runner in a marathon, his long legs making easy, fast strides.

“It’s exactly that,” he said when they were safely inside the TARDIS. Rose shut the doors and he laid the girl down on one of the two White House sofas. “‘Edgar’ is a mental parasite. They come from a planet called Danon III. It’s a rather beautiful place and I’m thinking her family took a holiday there when she was a baby, and ‘Edgar’ honed in on an unprotected young mind with the sort of telepathic abilities he needed for ‘his’ own growth. When she was younger, he was a sort of companion – like an invisible friend. If she was a shy child who didn’t make real friends easily he would have seemed perfect. But now she’s nearly an adult and he is a mature Danonian Demon who should have moved out ages ago, but HE has the same problem she does. He can’t contact HIS people either. And his reaction is to attack.”

“Why did he burn the office? Why did he want the files?”

“I don’t know,” The Doctor said. “And I don’t think he’s in the mood to tell us. Possibly he thought there was some information he could use in her records. But as her records were almost certainly false there wouldn’t have been. His reaction when thwarted is to strike out. When I say ‘mature’ I mean that he is too old to be occupying her head. They are only parasites when young. When they reach a certain age they are supposed to exist independently. But even by Human standards he has ‘immature’ reactions – lashing out blindly when threatened.”

He felt Brenda stir and watched to see which personality emerged first. He was not entirely surprised when the green eyes looked coldly at him.

“You cannot keep me out of your mind, Doctor,” the creature hissed at him.

“On my own, no,” he said. “I’m flesh and blood even if it is sturdier stuff than the mere Humans you have hurt. But….” He stood up and his own eyes seemed to glint harder than usual. “Come on, Demon, do your worst now, on my terms.” He saw Rose move towards him out of the corner of his eye. “NO! Stay back. Both of you. Get the other side of the console. The TARDIS will protect you in case Edgar lashes out at you to get to me.”

The TARDIS console was behaving oddly. Even though they were stationary, the central column was moving up and down and glowing green. Rose thought The Doctor was glowing slightly as well, though it might have been an optical illusion.

“Come on, Demon,” he taunted it again. “Do your worst. Burn me! Set my blood on fire… watch me burn from the inside. Do your WORST!”

The air crackled as the entity Brenda had called Edgar threw all it could at The Doctor. His body shuddered as he parried the psychic blows, but this time it couldn’t penetrate. The TARDIS’s own psychic power enveloped him, giving him an extra shield against attack. Again and again it tried and he stood there taunting it.

“Don’t hide there inside a young girl.” He said “If you want to get to me, then do it face to face – man to Demon as it were!”

The creature took him at his word. With a roar of anger it emerged, like an actinic green smoke, from her eyes, nose and mouth, coalescing into something that looked like ET’s evil twin. It was about two feet high, mostly head, with a huge skull to encase its brain and a body no longer than a baby’s. It rose into the air above The Doctor and its eyes glowed green. The psychic energy had physical form as a kind of ray that emitted from the eyes. The Doctor ducked out of its path, but he didn’t have to. At the same moment a similar ray, a different shade of green, emerged from the central pillar of the TARDIS console and met it in mid air. The Doctor rolled as he hit the floor and covered Brenda with his own body while shouting to Rose and Ace to get down.

The fight, now, was between the TARDIS and Edgar the Danon Demon. And while he had absolutely no doubt about how it was going to end, he didn’t want anyone caught in the crossfire.

Not that there was any crossfire. The lighter green ray from the TARDIS was forcing the bright green ray from Edgar back towards him and Edgar was resisting and trying to push back. It was very much like a psychic arm wrestling match. The Doctor looked at it and judged his chances of getting to the console. He was too far away. And besides, he wanted to stop Edgar seeking refuge in the girl again when the match went against him – as it was bound to do. Rose was crouched close to the drive controls.

“Rose…” he yelled. “Put us in temporal orbit. But keep your head down.” He saw her stand, shakily, reaching for the controls. He felt the floor shudder just slightly while the console made a sound that was almost like a scream. Dematerialising while engaged in a life and death struggle was asking a little much of the old girl, but he was proud of his TARDIS when it managed it. Rose locked off the switch and then ducked down again behind the console with Ace.

Edgar WAS losing. He had gained a few inches while the TARDIS had its attention divided, but it rallied again and now the light green ray was forcing the bright one back steadily. At last, it enveloped Edgar in a green ball of light. For a second or two even The Doctor, with his eyes that automatically protected themselves, saw the afterimage burnt on his retina. As everyone’s eyes returned to normal they looked in astonishment and amusement at Edgar encased in what looked like a big rubber ball. It even bounced like a ball when gravity took it over and it fell to the floor. The trajectory of the bounce took it towards the door and The Doctor laughed as he heard the TARDIS make a noise that might have been a chuckle. The doors opened just long enough for the ball to pass through them and then shut with a decisive clunk.

Slowly Rose and Ace stood up and stepped across the floor.

“Doctor… do you think you can get off that girl now,” Rose said. “She is way too young for you.” She was smiling as she said it, and he laughed as he stood up. Brenda was still unconscious, but she began to recover quickly as Rose and Ace attended to her. The Doctor, meanwhile, was busy at the communications console.

“He’s gone,” Brenda said in astonishment as she sat up on the sofa. “Where.…”

“He’s there, if you want to wave goodbye.” The Doctor pointed to the plasma screen on the wall where they could just see Edgar’s ball receding into the starfield. “I said I wouldn’t kill him. Neither would the TARDIS. But he’s going to spend the rest of his miserable existence as a bouncy ball drifting in space. Unless anyone is stupid enough to take him on board their ship. In which case, they needn’t bother to ring me for help. And speaking of ringing….” He held out his hand to Brenda. “I presume you know how to use a long distance video phone? We’re outside of the envelope and you can reach your family from here.”

She did know how to do it, and after a few minutes she smiled widely as her parents appeared on the viewscreen. They both cried out with relief as they saw her and there were long breathless exclamations in both English and that Gallifreyan dialect. Her father looked curiously and asked who the man was who stood beside her.

“He is one of the Lords of Time who our people pay honour to,” she said. Both her parents looked shocked and awed and were on the point of bowing when The Doctor spoke to them in Gallifreyan, asking them not to do that.

“Your daughter has had a difficult time,” he said. “But she is quite all right now. Better than all right. The problem that has afflicted her all her life is now eliminated. And I am more than happy to bring her home to you. I think you will find she is ready to play her full and proper part in your community now.”

“My Lord,” Brenda’s mother said, “We would be honoured to receive you in our home.”

“Then that is settled.” He stood back to let her talk to her parents again before closing the connection.

He brought them back to Coniston House long enough for Brenda to pack her belongings. Since she was never officially a pupil there was nothing to stop her leaving.

“I almost wish I was coming, too.” Ace said as she said goodbye to them all. “I DO miss the old days.”

“You’re welcome any time,” The Doctor assured her. “But I guess now isn’t the time. You have Mike to look after, and all those girls.”

“Yes,” she sighed. “Do you remember something you said to me once… I think you were in a bit of a funny mood at the time.…”

“As opposed to the funny moods I usually have?”

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, the seas sleep, and the rivers dream…” she said. The Doctor smiled widely.

“…people made of smoke, and cities made of song…” he continued.

“…Somewhere there's danger; somewhere there's injustice…”

“…..and somewhere else the tea is getting cold!” The Doctor laughed out loud as the memory did, indeed, come back to him. How aptly it all summed up his life.

“Ace,” he said, hugging her. “Take care of yourself. Never stop being you.”

“Don’t you stop being you, either.” She hugged and kissed him once then stood back as he took hold of Rose’s hand on one side, and his other arm around young Brenda’s shoulder. He turned and took them both into the TARDIS. Ace almost regretted the responsibilities of her life in that brief moment after the doors had shut and before it dematerialised. She didn’t WANT to be the one left behind. She wanted to be by those dreaming rivers. But then, she had enjoyed that life to the full once. And here, where her life now happened one day after another, the tea WAS getting cold.