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

Anuja was late. He didn’t mean to be, but a wheel on his hand cart had broken as he was coming back from the orchards with his load of gram fruits. It was dark now and he still had a long way to go.

He looked up nervously at the sky. The three moons of Argella were dark tonight. The stars shone only a little light onto the path. The lamps in the windows in the settlement were still dim smudges in the distance. They were never very bright even close up. The oil extracted from gram fruit rind didn’t give much illumination, though it lasted a long time, and it cost only the effort involved in turning the grindstone to press it out.

Gram fruits were the only reason Sub-Argellans were able to survive at all. The pulp was a source of nutrition, ground to make the food that that they ate twice a day. The oil let them work even after night had fallen. The fibre that was left after pressing the oil was spun and woven by the gram-oil lamplight to make the clothes they wore, the blankets they slept under, the baskets they collected more gram fruit in to sustain them through another season.

Anuja’s grandmother often talked of the black years when the gram fruit failed, when many of the Sub-Argellans starved to death and many more risked their lives by travelling the thousand miles to the Great City looking for work as servants or street cleaners. Two of his grandmother’s brothers and a sister made that journey. She never heard of them again. The rest of the family only survived through the intervention of the Agency who brought sacks of food substitute. Thirteen hours of intervention work, collecting the yellow rocks from inside the deep caves, were rewarded with a ration of the food substitute. Anuja’s grandmother said it tasted like soil, but it sustained them until the gram trees fruited again.

Even now, a hundred years after the Black Years, one man from every family still did intervention work in the caves. The Agency called it ‘insurance’ against any future crop failure. The yellow rocks would pay for the food substitute and there would be no starvation.

That was the theory, at least. There were some who thought that there would not be enough food substitute no matter how much yellow rock was brought from the caves.

Life as a Sub-Argellan was hard enough as it was. The horror that stalked the night and sent them home from the orchards long before sundown made it that much harder. It made them prisoners in their homes almost every hour that they weren’t working and it was an added uncertainty about life itself, another way that healthy people could die - on top of accidents in the caves and falling from trees. Anuja knew dozens of homes where a father or brother had died through those ordinary hazards, but he also knew of people who had been struck down in the night.

People who had been victims of the Unknowable Whisperer.

Anuja tried not to think about it, but alone in the dark it was hard to think of anything else. It was too easy to imagine that the rustle of the wind in the gram orchards behind him was a whisper beginning.

He dismissed it as his imagination running right, his fears getting the better of him.

But the sound was coming closer. It really was the whisper. He could hear the words now – frightening words – words that froze his heart.

He tried to run. He tried to scream, but the sound froze in his mouth, his feet couldn’t move fast enough to escape the Whisperer. It was everywhere.

“No!” Anuja screamed. “No! Please don’t take me. I don’t want to die.”

But the Whisperer gave no mercy. Anuja’s screams died as his very soul was frozen. His pale body fell to the ground as the invisible, insubstantial but very real enemy took him as its latest victim.

Or it would have fallen to the ground if it hadn’t fallen against a strange blue box that materialised out of the thin air as the whisper faded away into the night once again.

“Argella of the Three Moons,” The Doctor said as the time rotor came to rest. “Yes, I know, three moons aren’t special in your solar system, but they are here. Four of the planets of the Argellan system have no moons at all and are tidal locked, two only have one, and one has a half a moon, so Argella of the Three Moons is unique.”

Jean was at the door, ready to look at the planet with three moons. She turned to ask how a planet could only have half a moon as the door swung open and a pale orange body fell in, missing her feet by inches.

“Doctor!” she called out, but he was already bounding towards her with his sonic extended. He examined the body quickly.

“Not completely dead,” he said. “There’s a very slight brain activity.”

“It… he… she… it… looks dead,” Jean responded. “Why is it pale orange?”

Apart from the colour the body was remarkable to her in that there were two pairs of arms, both coming from the same shoulder joint. It was completely hairless and nearly naked other than a pair of knee length shorts of an indistinguishable grey colour. The head was round like a football with only the facial features to distinguish back from front. The nose was wide and flat and the lips so thin the mouth was almost a slit. The eyelids were closed over very round, very bulging eyeballs. Jean tried to imagine what they were like in a living specimen, then regretted even thinking the word ‘specimen’ because The Doctor disliked terms like that about other races.

“The live Argellans are a bright orange colour,” The Doctor explained in answer to her question. “Try not to think of Belisha beacons with faces, but that’s a pretty good description of them – except they’re much shorter and wider than Belisha beacons, so that’s a rubbish description anyway.”

“Next question,” Jean said as The Doctor picked the body up and carried it across the console room to the inner room. “What did this to him? Or do they have some sort of hibernation mode and this is normal?”

“I don’t know, and not that I know of,” The Doctor answered. Jean followed him through the TARDIS corridors until they came to a room she had never been in before. Actually, there were hundreds of rooms she had never been in before, but this was the oddest one. It was round – not just round walled, but round like the inside of a ball. The Doctor stepped forward without hesitation onto nothing. Jean followed gingerly.

“What is this place?” she asked as she stood on a surprisingly firm nothing and watched The Doctor place the pale orange body in the middle of the invisible floor.

“It’s a zero room,” he answered. “I lost the original one, but the last time the TARDIS was reformatted it built this new version.”

“And a zero room is….”

“It’s a space that is separate from all other space, where time and space are neutral.”

“So he’ll get better here?” Jean asked.

“He won’t get any worse,” The Doctor answered, knowing that wasn’t quite the same thing. “Meanwhile, we’d better find the settlement where he came from. He must have friends, family. We need to tell them.”

“That’s not a cheerful prospect,” Jean noted.

“It’s something Doctors sometimes have to do,” The Doctor answered with unusual melancholy. “Come on, best foot forward.”

It was dark outside. The three moons were conspicuous by their absence. And there was something out there that had turned a Belisha beacon man into a torch with a flat battery. But the settlement The Doctor spoke of was only a mile away. The lamps in the windows shone dimly in the distance. It couldn’t be difficult.

Walking in the dark with The Doctor wasn’t so bad. He used the sonic as a flashlight and illuminated the ground in front of them and his voice relating another of his amazing anecdotes kept her cheerful.

“I’m used to walking in the countryside, without street lights,” Jean admitted. “Bute has plenty of quiet, dark roads, and so does Culloden. I’m not the sort of person who needs acres of florescent orange to find my way.”

“Glad to hear it,” The Doctor answered her. “There weren’t many lights where I grew up, either. I’m a country boy at heart.”

“You don’t say.” Jean was surprised to hear him talk of his home world. It wasn’t something that came easy to him, even less, something about his childhood. It was hard to imagine he wasn’t born a thousand years old with a universe of knowledge in his head but not one ounce of ordinary common sense.

Then The Doctor’s voice seemed to recede from her. Jean shivered. It didn’t feel any colder, but she shivered all the same. She looked up, almost expecting the stars to be winking out. They weren’t, but something felt wrong.

“Doctor… what is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “But something IS wrong. Stay close to me.”

He felt his hand close around hers and she moved nearer to him. With his free hand he drew his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket and held it up.

“Is the sonic picking anything up?”

“The sonic doesn’t ‘pick things up’ like a CB radio. I’m getting some strange readings, but I don’t know what they are….”

He stopped talking and looked around then he adjusted the sonic frantically and held it above his head. He pulled Jean even closer, his arm around her waist.

“What’s that noise?” she asked. “What is it?”

It wasn’t just a noise. As it grew louder they both heard distinct words in the growing susurration. They were terrifying words – words that touched their souls. The Unknowable Whisperer knew them all too well. It knew every secret they had ever concealed.

“No!” The Doctor cried out. “You can’t accuse me of that. Not any more. That ghost was laid to rest. Whoever you are… whatever you are… you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

The Whisper was all around them now. Jean closed her eyes and put her hands over her ears but it was already inside her, seeking out her very soul.

Then the Whisper was gone – or at least it was still there, but it had been pushed away, separated from her by something she didn’t recognise at first.

It was silence – a bubble or a canopy of silence all around her. Absolute silence. It was strange because she had probably never known that kind of silence before. Even in her rural home the ‘silence’ included birdsong and wind, the waves of the sea. In the TARDIS, cut off from everything else, there was always that deep faint hum of the engines.

But here was silence that was almost a noise, as contrary as that was. It banished all other noise, especially the mysterious Whisper.

The ordinary sounds came back very suddenly – wind in the trees that lined the path, the scamper of some small animal through the leaf litter, the hoot of a night bird. The Doctor gasped as if he had been under some extreme mental pressure and sagged momentarily before gathering himself up again.

“You did that?” Jean asked. “Some kind of mental wall or….”

“Yes,” he answered. “The Whisperer is a mental force… so mental force repels it. Simple physics.”

“But what the hell is it?” Jean asked. “I felt… as if it was…. Well, it was a bit like the things in Harry Potter… what are they called… I forget… but it was like that... as if everything good was being sucked out of me.”

“I’d like to avoid a plagiarism charge,” The Doctor answered. “So I’ll describe it as like having my soul frozen. As to what it is, I don’t know. But I think we know what it does to anyone who can’t protect himself.”

“We do?” Jean was puzzled for a moment. “Oh… of course… that poor man we found. That’s… what it does usually?”

She shuddered. They had come so close to ending up as victims just like that poor pale orange man.

“It’s gone, now. Let’s try to reach that settlement quickly.”

They walked briskly, not talking this time, but saving their energy for the journey. The distant lights weren’t actually as distant as they seemed. They were not very bright lamps in small windows that still looked small when they reached the tiny front door of the closest low-roofed cottage.

The Doctor knocked on the door. Voices that had been talking quietly inside stopped. Footsteps moved towards the door. A man with a round, bright orange face looked out.

“Peace be upon this house,” The Doctor said. “I am The Doctor, this is Jean. We are travellers visiting hereabout. But alas, I bring sad news about one of your own.”

“Come within, sir,” the man with the orange face replied. “I am Gronyun. I live here with my wife, Erona. I fear we know of whom you speak. His mother and sister are here for what comfort we may offer them.”

The Doctor stepped inside, followed by Jean. The cottage was sparsely furnished with home-made wooden chairs and table with rag rugs on the floor. Three women sat together, holding hands and looking anxiously at the new arrivals, having obviously heard The Doctor’s words at the door.

The orange faced people with four arms did not seem worried by the very different appearance of their visitors. That was often the case, Jean had noted. She wondered if it was some hypnotic trick.

“Anjia, Callia,” said the man of the house. “This stranger bears news.”

“I’m sorry,” The Doctor said to the women. “We found a young man… one of your own… beside my ship. He was pale and lifeless.”

The older and younger women hugged each other and keened plaintively. The other woman, Erona, wife of the householder, tried to comfort them, but in such times comfort is never easy to give. That was a universal truth that The Doctor had found wherever sentient beings suffered grief and loss.

“Please, don’t,” Jean begged them. “It might not be him. It could be some other man.”

“No,” said the younger woman, Callia. “Anuja was the only one who wasn’t counted. He didn’t bring his share of gram fruits to the store before nightfall. There is no hope. My brother is gone – just like the others.”

“How many have there been?” The Doctor asked Gronyun.

“Twenty-five before the village elders imposed the night time curfew. The Unknowable Whisperer doesn’t strike in daylight hours, and every man, woman and child is within doors by sundown. But there have been incidents, still. Thoman tried to go to his sister’s house for ointments, but he was struck down. We found him by the well the next morning. And Luaka… we don’t know what his reason was for being abroad in the dark. It might have been some mischief. He is known for it. But he, too, was taken by the Whisperer. And now Anuja, a blameless boy who only did his appointed tasks.”

“The Unknowable Whisperer?” Jean repeated the name given before. “Why Unknowable?”

“Nobody hears and lives to know it,” Gronyun answered. He seemed to have more to say but just then his wife left the two grieving women and came to attend to the two guests.

“You must stay here until morning. It is not safe to go outside. The Whisperer will not be satisfied by one victim. Stay safe here. I will make a bed for you.”

“I’m not sure….” Jean began, though she was sure that Erona, wife of Gronyun the lamp-maker was right. It wasn’t safe out there in the dark.

“Of course we shall stay,” The Doctor accepted. “But do not put yourself out, good mistress. We shall be happy with a blanket on the floor.”

Jean wasn’t so keen on that idea. It wasn’t a very comfortable looking floor, but there really wasn’t any other option.

“At least sit and let me bring you some herbal infusion.”

Jean and The Doctor sat. Gronyun sat

with them.

“You must have travelled a long way.”

“A very long way,” Jean answered him. “Things are different where we come from.”

“Yes. You do not fear the night as the velvet cloak of an evil that takes the dearest and best of us.”

“I try not to fear anything without good reason,” The Doctor said. “But there is good reason here, and I mean to find out why it is happening.”

“Sir,” Gronyun said. “Why should you, a stranger, do that? Even the great men of the city care nothing for our troubles.”

“I’m a country boy,” The Doctor replied, echoing his words of earlier. “Tell me more about these ‘great men’ of the city.”

Jean talked to the women while Gronyun was in quiet conference with The Doctor. They talked freely, though sadly, and there was plenty to be sad about.

Erona fed everyone from the pot she was tending. The meal was a kind of stew mainly consisting of a pale orange fruit or vegetable something like squash, eked out with some greens chopped finely so that it wasn’t possible to tell if they were salads grown deliberately or weeds, and something like peeled acorns. It was bland looking and tasted like cabbage, but it was warm and filling.

Jean wondered if it was what these people ate every day. She didn’t like to ask, though. It might look as if she was disparaging the food that was freely given to her by people who had less to give than she had.

After the meal, everyone settled down to sleep. Lamp oil was precious and the workshift began at sun up.

The Doctor and Jean were given a bed made up of a mattress and pillows filled with dried hay and woven rugs placed on the floor closest to the fire. The kin of the man they had found were given a second mattress to sleep on while the master of the house and his wife slept on the only real bed. The house went quiet.

“Doctor, these people are being exploited,” Jean whispered. The advantage of sharing a bed – the mistress of the house had taken them for a married couple sincethey travelled together – was that a quiet conversation was possible. “This yellow rock they mine. It must be gold or something equally precious. But they aren’t even paid. They’re working for relief food in the event of a future famine.”

“Yes, so I understand,” The Doctor replied.

“Can’t we do something about it?”

“Technically, I’m not supposed to interfere in purely domestic issues.”

“That sounds like the sort of excuse western governments use not to do anything about Human rights in places like Afghanistan,” Jean replied with a note of censure in her voice.

“I said ‘technically’,” The Doctor pointed out. “I’m absolutely going to find out what’s going on. But not until I find out what is hurting these people right now.”

It wasn’t the first time he had been on a planet where two different societies had trouble with each other. Well, there was Earth for one. There wasn’t a planet in the twelve galaxies with as many inter-species conflicts going on at any time in its history. But beyond that one complicated planet there was Skaro, where the Thals and Kaleds, two communities who were ultimately the same species, drove each other to near annihilation. There was the planet where the technologically advance and ‘civilised’ Elders had preyed upon the Savages who lived beyond their city. There was his old friend Leela’s world where the Seveteem and the Tesh - two tribes descended from the same party of intergalactic explorers – had fought each other until they had forgotten why.

If he was a betting man – which he wasn’t, because being a time traveller there was no actual point in such things – he would have wagered his fortune on this being another planet with the same sort of problem.

But where the Unknowable Whisperer fitted in, he really wasn’t sure.

He waited until everyone else in the house – including Jean – was fully asleep before he rose from the warmth and surprising comfort of the makeshift bed by himself. He was true to his word about finding out what was going on around here. But he didn’t want to risk any vulnerable lives. He slipped out of the house on his own.

It was bitterly cold as well as pitch dark outside, but The Doctor didn’t worry about that. For one thing, he was a Time Lord and he could self-regulate the temperature of his blood. For another, he was immediately aware of the whispering somewhere close. He adjusted his sonic screwdriver and held it aloft, using it to help create a mental shield to shut out the malevolence. Without Jean to protect as well it was far less exhausting.

That meant not only that he could withstand the mental pressure of the Whisperer much longer but he could push back with his own mind, reaching into the mind that created that terrible effect.

And he was surprised by what he found.

Surprised and angry – very angry. So angry that he did something he almost never did. He turned his sonic screwdriver into a weapon and aimed it at the air right in front of him, at the invisible thing responsible for the suffering of the people of this world.

The thing got very hot, which made it visible. Just before it burst into flames two people jumped out of it, squealing in fear. one of them was clutching a device that would have looked more in place within the TARDIS than in this rural pre-industrial community.

“Get up,” The Doctor told them, his anger still seething. The bright orange, belisha beacon people with four arms could probably have fought him with one pair of those arms each tied behind their backs, but they were afraid of the man who had destroyed the perception cloak under which they were hidden. Perception tent was probably a more accurate description. It was something like a hide used by a bird-watcher. But their objective was far more sinister than that.

“Give me your transmat cube,” he ordered them, still keeping the sonic trained on them like a gun. One of the Argellans handed over the small object that would have got them home to the city. They were too frightened to think of escape, anyway.

The Doctor didn’t like behaving that way, but these people were at the bottom of a whole lot of misery for the local people and they needed to explain themselves.

At the edge of the settlement they panicked and tried to resist.

“You can’t give us to the Gruuns,” they protested. “They eat their own. We’ll be murdered.”

“I don’t know what Gruuns are,” The Doctor answered. “The people I’m taking you to are peaceful vegetarians. But you owe them an explanation of what you’ve been doing around here, and when you’re done I’ll decide whether you get used as a protein source or not. Now get in that door, quietly.”

They didn’t know that The Doctor was a pacifist and wouldn’t shoot them. He was angry enough not to be entirely sure about that. He forced them to step into Gronyun’s simple dwelling house.

The noisy entrance woke Jean first, then Gronyun and his wife. The sister and mother of the latest victim of the Whisperer rose from their bed hoping that the new arrival was Anuja, after all.

“I don’t understand,” said one of the two prisoners. “These are Gruuns? They look just like us… except for their clothes.”

“They’re from the Great City,” Erona commented. “Their clothes… those fabrics. No handloom could make them.”

The city men were wearing all in one figure hugging clothes made of something similar to lycra in a shade of orange a little lighter than their faces. Erona was quite correct in her observation. Such fabrics had to be machine made.

There were no other differences between the city men and the sub-Argellans. The Doctor suspected that a DNA test wouldn’t shown up any significant difference. They were the same race.

“Sit down,” he told them. “Jean, you keep an eye on them for half an hour. I’m going for the TARDIS. They don’t need hospitality, Erona. They don’t DESERVE hospitality. They’re under… house arrest. Yes, call it that. Get them to tell you their names, but nothing else, until I get back.”

With that he was gone again. Jean sat opposite the two men and watched them carefully, wondering where they had come from and why The Doctor seemed so angry with them.

“No hospitality?” Erona shook her head and went to make hot drinks for everyone, including the two strangers.

“You’re only young,” she commented as she gave them cups of spiced gram fruit tea. “No older than poor Anuja. I wonder if your parents know where you are.”

“We’re students,” said the one who had identified himself to Jean as Roshe. “At the Great City University. We’re working for Professor Allish. He sent us here.”

“We… we’ve never been to the Outlands until the Professor sent us,” added his companion, Harron. “We didn’t know… we didn’t know that Gruuns looked like us.”

“Gruuns?” Jean queried the word. “You mean these people here? Well, of course they look like you. You all live on the same planet, after all.”

“We were told that the Gruuns in the Outlands were….” Roshe glanced at Erona and shook his head. “We were always told they were shrunken hunchbacks who would kill any Citizener who they caught. But we had the cloak. We thought we were safe.”

“Nobody is safe at night,” Erona told them. “The Unknowable Whisperer….”

Jean suddenly realised why The Doctor was so angry with the two students. She changed the subject quickly. Erona and Gronyun, and the two women seemed quiet and gentle, but if they knew that these city men were responsible for the grief that had come upon their community, perhaps they could be angry enough to do them harm.

She was almost running out of things to say that didn’t touch on the nature of the student project in the Outland when she heard the TARDIS materialising outside. A few minutes later, The Doctor stepped into the house carrying Anuja. He was still pale and lifeless. His mother and sister cried out in grief. The Doctor placed him on the floor in front of Roshe and Harron. Then he took the device that Roshe had carried with him and studied it carefully.

“Doctor, they’re students, doing what a Professor at their university told them,” Jean said. “They had no idea they were harming anyone.”

The Doctor stared hard at the two young men, as if he was reading their faces – or even their minds – to see if that was the truth. He seemed satisfied.

“What is your Professor working on?” he asked.

“There are enzymes in the air here in the Outland,” Roshe explained. “We collect those enzymes in… in that. The Professor wants to use them to… to prolong life. He believes those he treats with the enzymes could live as long as fifty years more than average, and with good health.”

The Doctor’s anger seethed again. He wasn’t the only one. Gronyun stepped closer. His wife reached out to restrain him, but he shook her off.

“No,” The Doctor said. “The blame lies with this Professor of theirs. It lies with the ignorance of the city people of the nature of the Outland, and of the people who live here. These young men didn’t know that what they were doing wasn’t just taking enzymes from the air. They didn’t know that any Outland dweller caught up in the extraction field would be harmed.”

“Harmed?” Roshe and Harran looked at the still body of Anuja in horror. “We did that? No… it can’t be.”

The Doctor said nothing, but he suddenly smashed the extractor on the hard-wood floor of Gronyun and Erona’s house. It split in two and a cloud of fine orange-yellow particles spilled into the air. The particles coalesced around Anuja and were absorbed into his skin. Slowly his colour began to brighten and his sister and mother both gasped out loud as he breathed deeply. The Doctor reached him before either of them and confirmed that he was alive, though still unconscious. He told them to put him to bed and keep a close watch on him.

“It’s too late for the others who were affected by this terrible thing,” The Doctor said to Gronyun. “I’m sorry about that. But by the time I’m done, I won’t be the only one who is sorry. I promise you that.”

“What do you mean to do?” Gronyun asked.

“I mean to take these two back to the Great City and have strong words with those who think they’re in charge. Apart from anything else I want to know why they think they’re so great and why that makes them think they can bully other people. Jean.…”

“Doctor, I think I’ll stick around here. I want to see if Anuja is ok when he wakes. He DID fall into our door. I feel kind of responsible for him.”

“I wish to see the people who thought my brother’s life was so unimportant,” said Anuja’s sister. “Take me with you, sir.”

“I am an Elder of this community,” Gronyun added. “I should have my say.”

“Indeed you should,” The Doctor agreed. “Erona, one more mug of spiced gram fruit tea and then we shall go.”

Roshe and Harran were relieved to know that they were going home. At the same time, they didn’t mind delaying the return while they had one more drink supplied by the gentle and motherly Erona who, despite the trouble they had brought to the community treated them as no more than boys who were a long way from their mothers.

After they were gone, the night became something of a vigil for the women who remained. Erona and Anjia along with Jean took it in turns to look after Anuja, feeding him a thin broth made of the evening stew and cooled spiced gram fruit tea. He looked better every hour. That was the heartening news for them all. It seemed likely that he would be awake by morning.

But what else would the morning bring? What was happening in the Great City? Jean had seen The Doctor march into parliament buildings and demand the attention of governments – and get it. But she had also seen him arrested as a public nuisance just as often. Perhaps he and the two students, and Gronyun, were having the enzymes extracted from their minds until they were as empty as a drained glass.

The thought worried Jean, though she didn’t share that concern with the others. It was better if the idea didn’t come into their minds.

A little after dawn, Anuja woke at last. He looked around in surprise, seeing his mother and Erona as well as Jean. Her very different appearance, being pink-white rather than orange, with only two arms, didn’t surprise him as much as the fact that he was in Gronyun’s house.

“How?” he asked. “The Unknowable Whisperer… I heard it. My soul was being taken by it. How am I alive?”

“The Doctor saved you,” Jean told him. “My friend, The Doctor. He’s going to be back, soon, I hope. But the Unknowable Whisperer is gone. That’s all over. He stopped it. None of you have to worry any more.”

“Can it be true?” Anuja asked. “Is the nightmare over?”

“It’s true,” said The Doctor, pushing open the door and entering along with the cool scent of morning dew on a quiet morning. “It’s over. The Professor has been sacked from the university and indicted for unethical practices. Meanwhile, the senate of the Great City has been reminded of its responsibilities towards the people of the Outland.”

“What responsibilities?” Erona asked. “We are nothing to do with the people of the City. None have been here – except for those two boys – since the black times of generations gone.”

“Not true, in fact,” The Doctor said. “The people from the City and the Outland are all descended from the same group of settlers who came to this planet a hundred generations ago. Your ancestors split over whether to build a city that embraced all of technology and science or whether to go back to a simpler life. But that is neither here nor there. The point is that for three generations now your people have been mining the yellow rocks on the promise that it would pay for emergency food in the event of a gram crop failure.”


“Erona….” Gronyun took his wife’s hand and placed something in it – a large gold coin. “This is one of the things the city people DO with the rocks. It is called ‘money’. It is use to barter for things they don’t have.”

“What don’t they have?” Erona asked.

“They don’t have gram fruits,” The Doctor answered. “They don’t need them. They have so much other food.” He went to the door and called to the two young men, Roshe and Harran, who had returned with him. They carried in a heavy load of food – cheese, fruit, soft white bread, grains, chocolate. Erona looked at the food in astonishment.

“I have never seen such things,” she said. “How is it possible?”

“The City people grow their food using hydroponics,” The Doctor said. “But you don’t need to. You have acre upon acre of fertile land. You could grow grains, fruit and vegetables. You could graze animals for milk. And you will. As a partial back-payment for all the mining, the City government is sending ploughs, harvesters, seeds, fruit trees to plant in orchards, everything to make life as an Outlander pleasant and relatively easy. They are sending people to show you how to get started with a multi-crop agrarian system, but they won’t interfere any more than that, and nobody needs to break their backs picking just enough gram fruits to live on. Nobody needs to toil in the mines for free. They’ll do it for a share in the bounty of this world that has been denied to you for far too long.”

Erona wasn’t the only one who was amazed at the idea of their way of life changing so drastically. It was too much for any of them to take in. but they would get used to it. The Doctor was sure of that.

“Isn’t this interfering with their society?” Jean asked him later in the day as the first of the agricultural equipment arrived along with the experts and volunteers like Roshe and Harran who were going to help plant the first crops. “Isn’t there some sort of prime directive or something?”

“No,” The Doctor replied. “The Outlanders chose a simple life, but they didn’t choose it to be miserable and grey and consisting of nothing but gram fruits and hard work. I expect the original settlers planned to grow good food but they lost the knowledge somehow, like primitives who had forgotten how to make fire. They need help to regain the knowledge.”

“Forgotten how to make fre?” Jean queried. “Has that happened anywhere?”

“Oh yes,” The Doctor replied. “I’ll tell you about it sometime. Meanwhile, Erona wants to feed us all, and gram fruit stew isn’t on the menu. Let’s go and join the party.”