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

“O’onewoewee,” The Doctor said triumphantly as the TARDIS emerged from the vortex in a stable orbit around a blue and green planet that might have been Earth when much of the land was covered in tropical forest and that forest was mostly spread across a supercontinent called Pangea.

“You can get pills for that,” Jean told him.

“It’s the planet. O’onewoewee. It is famed for its lush plantlife and the way the people live in harmony with nature – no chemicals, no pesticides or weedkillers, no deforestation. They’re the ultimate tree-huggers.”

“They sound ok. Are they… humanish?”

“Totally humanish,” The Doctor confirmed, using the not entirely technical term for humanoids who didn’t originate on Earth. “You’ll fit in perfectly with them.”

“Ok. Fair enough. Let’s go and see what it’s like down there, then.”

Of course, they were going anyway. The co-ordinate was already set, but Jean enjoyed seeing planets from space before landing on them.

They materialised in a lush jungle clearing with vibrantly coloured insects buzzing around the TARDIS and the sort of sound effects that movies like Tarzan always had in the background. A humid heat enveloped Jean as soon as she stepped out of the controlled temperature of the TARDIS and she felt straight away that she was on an exotic and fantastic world.

“Is that the city?” she asked, looking at something that resembled the palm house at Kew Gardens but about as high as the highest building on Manhattan Island and stretching over something like the same area as that district of New York.

“It is,” The Doctor replied. “Ao’woe First, the capital city of O’onewoewee.”

“That is the most ridiculous name for a planet I have EVER heard,” Jean remarked.

“That’s not at all true. In their own language it means ‘Beautiful and Blessed. On the other hand, the word ‘Earth’ means ‘lump of mouldy putty’ in the tri-fold languages of the outer Red Galaxy.”

“I don’t believe you,” Jean replied.

“It’s true,” The Doctor insisted. “Urth… I mean, what an ugly word that is, short and ‘urthy’.”

“Oh, shut up,” Jean sighed. “You just have to have the last word every time.”

The Doctor grinned mischievously.

“So are we going to walk to the city?” Jean asked. “It doesn’t look too far – maybe a quarter of a mile. It ought to be nice.”

They were already dressed appropriately in lightweight clothes, with water reservoir backpacks and the insect repellent ‘racquets’ that they had tested previously in prehistoric Glasgow.

Tropical forest walking was perfectly pleasant when equipped that way, ensuring that anything that crawled or buzzed kept a respectful distance. Jean thoroughly enjoyed looking at the alien plants - flowers as big as dinner plates exuding scents that would make the Chanel perfumers weep, ferns with leaves taller than she was, and giant club mosses with multi-coloured fruits hanging from their branches.

“It’s enough to make me want to take up botany,” Jean enthused. “Inter-galactic botany. Do plants like that one grow anywhere other than here?”

She pointed to a tall, slender, pale green stem with flowers growing directly from it, without any branches or off-shoots. The flowers were pure white and smelt fantastic. Even more intriguing were the fruits growing further up the stem. These, too, were white with pinkish veins in the skin that was simply bursting with fruity flesh beneath. The Doctor reached and plucked one of the fruits and gave it to Jean.

“It’s perfectly edible,” he assured her. She bit in and found it tasted like a cross between parma-violet sweets and a gooseberry. The Doctor ate one, too. They were refreshingly pleasant as they walked on towards the city.

As much as she enjoyed the walk, Jean felt she was ready for some controlled air-conditioning as they finally reached the entrance to the huge dome. A shower and a change of clothes would be good, too - then maybe an hour or two exploring O’onewoewee’s idea of a shopping centre. She gladly stepped into the glass airlock that was immediately cooler than the open air.

But the inner door didn’t open. Instead a penetrating alarm split the air and an automatic warning voice repeated a disturbing message.

“Attention! Potential contamination detected. Do not attempt to enter the city. Immediate quarantine required. Attention! Potential contamination detected…..”

“Doctor, what’s happening?” Jean cried out above the noise. “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” The Doctor admitted. “I’ve never….”

Men in black uniforms were running towards the airlock, guarding it against the possibility of them escaping into the city. That was before the gas started pouring in making it impossible for them to think about such a thing. The Doctor succumbed to it much later than Jean. He held her in his arms, assured that it was just some kind of anaesthetic and watched the men outside waiting for him to fall unconscious before they cleared the gas and came inside.

“All right, I’m unconscious,” he murmured and slackened his muscles so that he fell forward. He slowed his breathing and heartsbeat so that he looked as if he was fully under the influence of the gas.

The air cleared but the men didn’t come into the airlock, yet. There was a second hiss of something coming from vents in the ceiling. He smelt disinfectant mixed with, of all things, weed killer. That was so wrong. The O’oneweeans never used such things. They were against anything that damaged nature.

But he felt the sting of the mixture on his skin. Then he felt something else. The liquid wasn’t just soaking him, it was forming a viscous layer all over his body, over his clothes. The feel of it on his face was unpleasant in the extreme. He breathed out quickly to stop it blocking his mouth and nostrils, and kept his hand over Jean’s mouth to protect her.

But eventually the insidious stuff covered them both as if they were being shrink-wrapped. Through a layer that covered his eyes he saw the men come in, at last, and place them both on medical trolleys. He saw through the layer of gel the roof of the vehicle they were placed in, then a series of corridors before a room with bright overhead lights.

Then it all got considerably worse. The bright lights were eclipsed by the head of a man – or possibly a woman – dressed in a hazmat suit. He – or she – pushed a tube into his trachea. The same must have been happening to Jean, but she was asleep, unaware of how unpleasant it was to have a length of plastic in her throat.

Oxygen rich air was pumped into his lungs. The feeling that he was going to suffocate subsided, but he was hardly comfortable, and that was before the medic – if that was what the person in the hazmat actually was – began washing him down with something that dissolved the gel.

It dissolved his clothes, too, and he was fairly sure it was scrubbing off the top layer of his skin. A medical assistant rolled his body over and lifted his arms so that every inch of his skin was washed thoroughly.

When it was over, he was put into a paper gown and transferred to a bed. The medics were still not aware that he was awake, but they removed the tube and let him breathe for himself. Somebody took a blood sample and a throat swab and that was the last of the unpleasant procedures. He was left to recover in relative comfort.

He kept the fact that he was awake to himself as Jean was brought to the bed next to him. He heard one of the medics comment that she was a different species to him, and wonder why they were travelling together, and that was that.

He waited until he was sure they were completely alone in the medical room, then he rose from the bed and went to look at Jean. She was deeply unconscious and her skin looked strangely pale and waxy. He felt her pulse and noted how very slow it was.

“Jean,” he whispered. “Wake up. You’re missing all the good stuff.”

He wasn’t entirely surprised when she didn’t respond, but he wondered just how much of the gas she had breathed in. Surely she ought to be coming around by now.

“At least I know you’re safe,” he added. “I’m going to find out what’s going on. I’ll come back in a while and see if you’re ready for a bunch of grapes – if I can find a little shop to buy some in. If this is a hospital, it ought to have a little shop.”

He hoped his mini ramble would sink into her mind at some level and give her something to reach for. Meanwhile he turned to look at the door. It was locked, of course. He cast around the room and saw a tray on a side table. The contents of his and Jean’s pockets – everything the disinfecting liquid couldn’t dissolve – were there. He grabbed his sonic screwdriver and checked to see if any of the noxious stuff had got into the workings before applying it to the lock on the door.

THAT bit was easy. So was making the security cameras in the corridor beyond think they were still looking at an empty area. That was one of the oldest tricks in the book. He had used it at least once in each of his regenerations.

The sonic opened the door at the end of this short piece of corridor and confused the cameras in the next section. He walked through and then stopped in his tracks, horrified by what he had seen.

This was less a hospital and more a prison. There were at least fifty glass fronted cells either side of the walkway. In each one was a pitiful being, half-humanoid, half-plant. Eyes like his own looked at him pleadingly from faces of flesh surrounded by fronds of green matter. A half a face and a single arm reached out from a body that was more like a tree.

Some were less advanced. They still retained a mainly Human form but their skin was green with dark veins visible beneath the epidermis. They were all in solitary confinement, with nothing more than a bed to lie down on while that was still an option. A metal aperture in the far end of the cell must have been the means of feeding them, and that looked like their only contact with the outside world.

“Please….” Cried a female with one half of her body already transformed. She pressed against the glass to speak to the visitor who gazed in horror at her. “Tell me if my children… my children are….”

“I’m sorry,” The Doctor replied. “I don’t know anything. I’m truly sorry.”

The female gave a pitiful cry and withdrew back to the bed where her one human eye cried tears of sorrow.

“Her children have been told she is dead,” said a voice. The Doctor looked around to see a medic, still wearing the hazmat suit but without the hood and visor. It was a woman. A name tag he had been too unfocussed to see earlier identified her as Doctor Kara Ashe.

The Doctor was ever so slightly reminded of Grace Holloway, the brilliant cardio-surgeon he had met in the early hours of his eighth life. Her eyes were the same colour and there was a set of the jaw.

But there the resemblance ended. Grace was kind and compassionate. He saw neither of those qualities in this woman.

“Why?” The Doctor asked. “She’s alive, and she’s worried about them.”

“She is as good as dead to her family. They all are – and the five hundred more we have here in the isolation facility. There is no cure for Lorian Syndrome.”

“Lorian Syndrome?” The Doctor queried.

“You don’t know of it, of course. That is why you and your companion exposed yourself and could have exposed everyone in the city if you had got through the inner door. You are lucky to have been brought to decontamination, and not to the disposal centre.”

The Doctor remembered the painful process of decontamination and examined his usual definition of lucky. Then again, disposal was never a good experience for anything being disposed of.

“Jean… my companion….”

“She breathed in the pollen of the Lorian plant. She is in the first stage of the syndrome. Her body is under attack from the aggressive vegetable cells. Eventually she will be like these.”

“No!” The Doctor’s two hearts thudded with dismay. He looked again at the pitiful prisoners behind the glass. “No. She can’t. I brought her here. It’s my fault….”

“Then you will live with the guilt,” replied Doctor Ashe with a cold, sharp tone. “Because you appear to be immune to the syndrome. Your blood contains no haemoglobin, and it is that to which the invading cells attach themselves.”

The Doctor was already feeling about as guilty as he could feel. He didn’t need anyone rubbing it in.

“What have you done about curing the syndrome? What’s the pathology?”

“Are you a doctor?” asked Doctor Ashe, recognising that he had used medical language.

“Yes, I am,” The Doctor replied. “I’m THE Doctor. Show me what you have done about this disease apart from treating the victims like zoo exhibits. I might be able to help. You certainly NEED help.”

Doctor Ashe looked at him for a long time, the indecision marked in the inflections of her facial muscles, the flicker of her eyes, the frown lines on her forehead.

“Very well,” she decided at last. “But first I’d better find you some clothes.”

The Doctor looked down at the paper gown and bare legs and feet peeping out from under it. He was impressed by himself. Even dressed like that he had managed to persuade Doctor Ashe that he was a person who might be able to find an answer to their terrible problem.

Beat that, Arthur Dent!

The clothes that were found for him didn’t do much for his sense of style, and there was certainly nothing like a bow tie in the assortment. The laboratory was sterile anyway and he donned surgical scrubs and a mask over the clothes before entering and setting to work right away.

First he read all of the notes that had been collated over the six months since the crisis began. He discovered that the Syndrome did not begin naturally. A scientist called Galen Lorian had been experimenting with vegetable and blood cells. He had been looking for a cure for the two percent of the population of this flora covered planet who suffered from hay fever. Instead he succeeded in merging humanoid and vegetable cells to create a unique new organism.

He then did something extremely foolish – something that scientists knew they should never do, but somehow did all too often. It was called the Doctor Jeckyll Impulse after a fictional scientist who paid the price of his foolishness.

Lorian had injected the mutated cells into his own bloodstream. The result was not immediately obvious. Colleagues noted that Professor Lorian was looking tired and weary, but they thought nothing of it until he was on a field trip one afternoon, looking for new specimens of orchid. Under the direct sunlight photosynthesis began to occur rapidly. His skin turned green, then began to take on the texture of plant material. He collapsed and as his colleagues were bending over him to try to help, he gave a terrible cry and emitted millions of microscopic spores from his mouth. Those in the immediate area couldn’t help breathe them in and became infected themselves, though they could not know it at the time. They carried Lorian back to the city and he was put into an isolation room for observation, but in a few days the damage was done. Everyone in his field group presented the same symptoms. Before strict isolation of the victims could be established people they had contact with were also infected.

Only the most draconian measures such as The Doctor had seen already saved the city from disaster. But the spores Lorian had expelled outside had attached to plant life and quickly bore fruit. It was estimated that hundreds of billions of spores now infested the air around the city – for as much as twenty miles square.

No wonder he and Jean had breathed it in when they walked to the city. No wonder she was infected, now.

“Is Lorian dead?” he asked. He was still part way through the reams of data about the victims – the incubation time, the rate of infection, the variable levels of mutation from at least half of the cells in the body to near complete transformation into the misshapen forms that he had seen.

“No,” Doctor Ashe answered. “At least I don’t think so. He escaped from the isolation centre. Nobody is sure where he is. He went completely mad, of course. I think he must have got out of the city. There has been no trace of him within the enviro-dome. Besides, his instinct was to rejoin the jungle. It’s his true environment now. He’s more plant than man.”

“And the others. I don’t see any mortality rate figures.”

“There aren’t any. They don’t die. They just live on as… something else. Their previous lives, everything they were, is over. They are as good as dead. But they live on. Some of the city Elders considered euthanizing them, but the majority voted them down. It’s not something we would ordinarily think of. All life is sacred to us.”

“It doesn’t look like it in those cells,” The Doctor replied. “Those people – and they ARE still people, no matter what their DNA looks like – those people are living beings. You need to do something to alleviate their suffering – mental and physical. Pain relief for when the change is hurting them, visits from their families to set their minds at rest.”

“We do our best with the pain relief,” Doctor Ashe assured him. “But bringing in their families… we determined that would be the worst thing for everyone.”

“I think you’re wrong,” The Doctor replied. “And in the long term, you ARE going to have to accept that these are your citizens as much as anyone else. You have to do more for their quality of life.”

Doctor Ashe was about to say something more, but an alarm drowned her words. Outside the glass door of the laboratory men in masks and black security uniforms were running. The Doctor didn’t hesitate. He ran after them.

When the security team reached the recovery room where Jean had been left unconscious it was already too late. She was gone. The blankets that had covered her were trailing along the ground. A hole big enough for a man to pass through carrying a body had been burnt through the wall, despite it being two foot thick concrete. Beyond that was a hole in the ground that went deep enough to penetrate the foundations of the city and reach the rock beneath. Something like a liana hung down it like a rope.

“Lorian!” The name rang around the room. The security team were in little doubt about who was responsible for the penetration of the city defences and the abduction of a patient.

“Lorian?” The Doctor echoed. Then he grabbed the liana and repelled down the rough shaft. He heard the security guards calling him to come back. One of them tried to follow but his colleagues pulled him back, reminding him that he would be infected instantly if he went out of the city.

The Doctor didn’t want company, anyway. He was unarmed and non-threatening to the mad Mr Hyde who had taken Jean. That was his best plan of action.

The tunnel was narrow, but high enough for a man to walk upright. In the beam of the sonic screwdriver’s penlight mode he noted that the walls had the grainy look of rock that had been dissolved away by some kind of acid.

A tunnel that, by his reckoning after walking for a good half an hour, was at least a mile long, had been created by acid erosion of the rock.

Lorian might be mad, but he was still resourceful if he had found a way to distil acid that powerful.

The tunnel came to an abrupt end. The Doctor looked up at another shaft with a liana rope hanging down. He knew that this almost certainly led to Lorian’s lair. It could be a trap.

He began to climb, hand over hand. Lorian would be able to tell how close he was getting from the vibrations through the liana. He would be ready for him.

But since The Doctor knew that, he would have no element of surprise.

Indeed, it was just possible that Lorian himself was surprised when The Doctor popped his head up out of the shaft and smiled so widely his jaw might have had a hinge on it.

“Hello!” he said brightly to the figure who was waiting for him. Lorian was literally half-man, half plant. The right side of his body from his head to his toes – or where toes ought to be – was vegetation. The left was flesh. The flesh part of him was naked, since it was obviously impossible to wear clothes. He had wrapped leafy vines from his plant half around his waist in some attempt at modesty.

His one humanoid eye glittered with anger as he looked at The Doctor. He answered the cheery greeting with a grunt of displeasure.

“Hello, indeed!” The Doctor added as if he was taking part in a real conversation. “That’s unusual. You’ve got liana growing from your shoulder. Did you make these ropes from your own lianas? Have you ever heard of a girl called Rapunzel? You and her would get on all right.”

Lorian’s answer to his jaunty line of conversation was to raise his vegetable limb and fire a noxious jet of acid past The Doctor’s head. It hit the side of the shaft, burning a hole in it.

“That’s impressive, too,” he said, climbing out of the hole and approaching with his hand held out to shake with Lorian’s other, still humanoid, hand. “I’m The Doctor, and obviously you must be Galen Lorian. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Lorian didn’t return the gesture, but he didn’t shoot any more acid at him. He had his attention for the moment. He had to make sure he kept it.

“That tunnel was quite a feat of engineering, by the way. Well done, you.”

He looked quickly around the hollowed out space somewhere in the foundations of the city where Lorian had made his home since escaping from quarantine. There was plant growth all around the walls even though there was no natural light here. The floor was covered in springy moss.

This was no mere cave, however. There was an electrical supply and it was being used by Lorian to continue his work in some limited form. Nestled amongst the vegetation there was a desk with a microscope and other instruments of a chemical biologist. There was also a computer terminal. Lorian had been hacking into the medical database of the hospital above. He had all the up to date information about what Doctor Ashe and others were doing – or not doing – for the victims of Lorian’s Syndrome.

The Doctor couldn’t help noticing that the results of Jean’s blood tests and tissue samples were currently displayed. That was how Lorian had known there was a new victim, of course. But why he had taken her was still a mystery.

He turned from the screen to look at Jean, lying on a woven matt of vegetation, still unconscious, still completely unaware that she was in any danger. As kidnap victims went, she was having an easy time of it so far.

“Look, let’s be serious,” The Doctor continued. “Jean is my friend. I’ve come to take her back to the hospital where they can help her.”

“She doesn’t need help.” Lorian’s voice was slurred since he only had half a mouth to speak, but he still had the accent of an educated man beneath the impediment. “But she can help the others. That’s why I took her.”

“She is the one who needs help,” The Doctor insisted. “She’s infected. Doctor Ashe said her cells would start mutating, soon.”

“Ashe is wrong. See for yourself. She’s fighting the infection. Look at the data – look at the patient.”

The Doctor looked at the data on the screen and then turned to Jean herself. Lorian was right. She already looked less waxy and pale. She wasn’t turning into a vegetable-Human hybrid. She had succumbed to begin with, but now her body was resisting, building up antibodies that prevented the plant cells from fixing onto her red blood cells.

“She’s from Earth,” The Doctor concluded. “In the age of routine vaccinations against common diseases. Purely by accident the protection she has against polio and tuberculosis, measles, rubella, mumps, must also protect her from your Syndrome.”

Lorian nodded with the understanding of a scientist.

“If I could isolate exactly WHAT gives her that immunity,” he said. “I could develop a serum – a vaccination for the people of the city above. They would be safe.”

“You can’t,” The Doctor told him. “Not here… not on your own. You don’t have the equipment. You only have one hand that can hold a petri dish, and besides, this is hardly a sterile environment. Let me take Jean back up there and I can work on the problem with Ashe and the other scientists.”

“No. It has to be me. I created the problem. Let me mend it.”

“Then you have to come back up there with me,” The Doctor told him. “It’s time to stop hiding.”

“They’ll kill me on sight.”

“Over my dead body.” The Doctor grinned wryly. “Actually, I’ve seen what that lot can do. That’s an option they’re likely to take. If we could get to my TARDIS....”

“Your what?”

“My space craft. It’s out there in the jungle. I’ve got a fully equipped medical room. We could work together on the problem.”

“I made more than one tunnel,” Lorian said. “We can get to the jungle.”

“I think we should go now,” The Doctor told him, nodding towards the hole he had come up through. “I can hear movement down there.”

Lorian tilted his head to hear through his one humanoid ear, then reached out with the liana that protruded from the mis-shaped shoulder on his other side, feeling the vibrations of numerous footsteps in the tunnel below. The guards had got tired of waiting.

Lorian drew back his liana and raised his vegetable limb. He fired acid at the top of the rope that The Doctor had climbed, severing it instantly. There was a thump and cries of annoyance from far below. Somebody had started to climb and had fallen back onto the next man, but neither sounded badly hurt.

Meanwhile Lorian pulled up a section of mossy floor in the corner to reveal another hole. The Doctor carried Jean in a fireman’s lift and repelled slowly, one handed, down this shaft. Lorian followed, pulling the cover down behind him. If the security guards managed to get up into his lair they would take a minute or two to figure out where the other exit was.

The tunnel below seemed just the same as the other one at first, but after a while it began to smell of the moist, humid jungle. The walls glistened with damp and moss grew on the floor. The tunnel began to slope upwards and quite predictably emerged into the jungle beneath a large, gnarled tree with thick overhanging vines.

“Your machine is this way,” Lorian said, much to The Doctor’s surprise. “I can sense the presence of alien metals amongst the flora and fauna of the jungle.”

“That’s a useful talent,” The Doctor told him. Lorian made a sound in his humanoid throat and rustled his liana. “No, I’m not being sarcastic, I promise. Have you ever considered that you are the first of a unique species with your own special gifts?”

“No,” Lorian answered. “I have never felt like anything other than a monster, a freak, an abomination.”

“Then I’m sorry for you,” The Doctor told him. “Until now I’ve felt anger, contempt, a grudging kind of respect. But I didn’t feel sorry for you until you said that. Nobody should feel that way about themselves. Even if other people call you those things, you shouldn’t have to feel it.”

“You forget, Doctor. I am responsible for all that has befallen the city. I deserve such epithets, and worse.”

“I’m still sorry,” The Doctor told him. “Because it’s not just other people calling you a monster. You’re calling yourself a monster. And I know all about that. I’ve been there. I’ve made mistakes that caused other people to suffer. There’s no worse feeling in the universe. For you, at least there is a chance of redemption. We just have to put your theory to work in a hi-tech laboratory such as I have inside my TARDIS.”

Innocuous comments like that would usually precede the disappearance of the TARDIS into quicksand or a sudden crack in the Earth, or a troop of cybermen emerging from behind it to block his entrance.

For once, none of those things happened. He reached the TARDIS door and brought Jean and Lorian into its sanctuary from the outside universe. He kept on going through the console room and the long corridor beyond that led to the medical room. He put Jean into a comfortable bed and got ready to take the blood sample he needed to create the serum from.

Lorian helped enormously. He had learnt to do a lot of things with only one hand, including taking notes on a keyboard almost as quickly as The Doctor himself. He could even prepare slides for the microscope, a task that was tricky enough with two hands.

But more than anything he contributed his great wealth of knowledge of organic biology. He had not talked to anyone properly for over a year. Now, at last, he was with a fellow scientist and he had so much to say.

The Doctor actually found himself enjoying the experience of working with somebody who came close to his own intellectual level. He easily forgot that Lorian’s voice was affected by the mutation of his body. He forgot, even when looking directly at him, that Lorian was a ‘monster’ of his own making. He met him on that higher plane of scientific exploration and forgot everything else.

Everything except how important it was to find a vaccine to protect the people of the city, and, if possible, a serum that would reverse the damage done to those already infected.

“Vaccines are not so difficult,” The Doctor remarked as they worked. “At least not now. The ground work was done a long time ago by clever chaps like Alexander Fleming and Edward Jenner on Earth or Borus Isthon of the Isop Confederation.”

“Yes,” Lorian agreed. “But a serum that will reverse mutations of the sort I caused by my incautious experiment is much harder.”

“Indeed. But I don’t think impossible.” The Doctor answered. “We just have to persevere.”

Lorian nodded. He was a scientist. he understood about perseverance. He and The Doctor continued on in their work for another three hours, stopping not even to eat. They were only interrupted when Jean, at last, woke from her long sleep and looked around, demanding to know what had happened.

“A lot has happened,” The Doctor told her. Some of it you are lucky to have missed. Right now we’re in the middle of something VERY important, so if you’re hungry there’s a food machine outside in the corridor. There’s energy bars and lemonade, or sausage rolls and….”

Jean wasn’t listening. She looked past him at the strange character who was preparing a new culture in a petri dish. To her credit she didn’t scream, but there was a question in her eyes.

“Doctor,” Lorian called to him. “I think we have something here. This culture… the cells….”

The Doctor turned and went to see what Lorian was excited about. When he examined the sample under the microscope, he got excited, too. Jean watched and listened to the two of them until she realised she had no idea what either were talking about, then she went to find the food vending machine in the corridor. After studying the items on offer for a moment she went to the kitchen, instead and made herself a cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee. When she had refreshed herself she found her bedroom suite, showered and dressed in clothes that weren’t made of paper before going back to the medical room.

When she got there, she found The Doctor preparing to inject a yellowish substance into the flesh side of the strange being he had been working with. He was now lying on the bed Jean had vacated with the restraining straps fastening him down.

“This is as dangerous as it was when you injected yourself with the mutated cells,” The Doctor was telling him. “It could kill you.”

“Then you will know it doesn’t work,” Lorian answered. “But the serum worked on the cell culture. The mutation was reversed. If the same happens within my body as happened within the sterile dish….”

“We don’t know how long it might take – or how painful it could be for you,” The Doctor told him.

“I don’t care about the pain,” Lorian answered. “Do it, Doctor. Do it now. I’m ready.”

The Doctor found a vein in the humanoid arm and plunged the needle in. Jean winced at the sight. Lorian gritted what remained of his teeth as the serum spread through his bloodstream. Even so, a low sound of acute agony escaped through his half mouth. A tear escaped from his one good eye as testament to his effort to bear what he was going through without screaming out loud.

“It’s hurting him,” Jean said. “Doctor… I think it’s killing him.”

“No,” The Doctor assured her calmly. “But if we’ve done this right, it WILL be replicating within his blood and attaching itself to every cell in his body so that it can separate the humanoid and vegetable DNA.”

And if it doesn’t work, he might end up as meat and vegetable soup – in two separate pots, Jean thought, but she didn’t think either Lorian or The Doctor needed that kind of input.

She went back to the kitchen and made coffee and sandwiches for The Doctor. She wondered if there was anything she could make in the way of sustenance for Lorian. Could he drink coffee? It was the product of a plant, after all. Wouldn’t that be a sort of cannibalism to his vegetable half?

As it happened, The Doctor had it all worked out. While he drank his coffee and ate his sandwich Lorian had a glass of water and four protein pills to keep his strength up. That and a saline drip with optional analgesic relief was all he needed to get through a long afternoon that turned into a long evening and an even longer night. Jean, having slept for quite a long time already, made herself useful during this vigil by keeping The Doctor supplied with drinks and sandwiches and sometimes sitting by the patient while he typed up notes about Lorian’s progress.

It was soon clear even to the naked eye that there WAS progress. The vegetation that disfigured half of Lorian’s body slowly withered. Beneath it, ordinary flesh, pale, flaccid, scarred in places, but definitely flesh, started to be seen in larger and larger patches. The price of this progress was excruciating pain for which there was very little relief. At times when it became unbearable The Doctor was there to offer his moral support, at least.

Jean watched him helping a man nobody else would have lifted a finger for and was proud to call herself his friend.

At last, just after dawn on a new day in the jungle outside the TARDIS, Lorian rose from the bed, a new, complete man, wrapped in a surgical gown.

“There are still some vegetable cells floating around in your body,” The Doctor told him. “But they can’t get a fix on your DNA now. You’re not only cured, but completely immune to Lorian’s Syndrome.”

“Congratulations,” Jean told him.

“It is… more than I deserve,” he admitted. “Thank you, my friends. Now, we must take the serum to the hospital. We must begin treating the others – as well as the immunisation programme for the rest of the citizens.”

“I’ve got the formula for the vaccine on this memory wafer,” The Doctor said. “They can synthesise enough for everyone in a matter of days. After that, the people will be able to go out and enjoy their relationship with the flora of their planet without fear of joining it.”

“We’d better get Lorian some clothes first,” Jean pointed out. “Before any of that happens. And I presume we’re not walking in through the front door this time?”

The Doctor had no intention of walking anywhere. He brought the serum and vaccines he had made already and the formula for creating more to the console room and carefully calculated the short hop from the jungle to Doctor Ashe’s laboratory.

Not that materialising in the laboratory wasn’t without problems. The Doctor stepped out to face a ring of security guards who had been alerted by the grinding noise and the rush of displaced air.

“Oh, please!” The Doctor said, brushing past the weapons that were trained on him. “I’ve had enough of security procedures. We have work to do here.”

The Doctor’s brashness confounded the guards enough to let him past, but when Jean and Lorian followed it was a different matter.

“It’s him!” one of the guards cried out. Then three shots were fired almost simultaneously. Jean screamed as a bullet narrowly missed her shoulder. Lorian gave an almost inaudible cry as the other two hit him in the chest.

“No!” The Doctor cried out, turning and pushing past the guards. Jean had caught the stricken man in her arms and laid him gently on the ground as Doctor Ashe also pushed the guards aside bringing a first aid kit with her.

“Why did he come back?” she asked. “He must have known they would kill him. The governor ordered them to shoot to kill months ago.”

“He came to help you,” Jean answered. The Doctor was too busy trying to save Lorian’s life to say anything. His hands were covered in blood as he attempted to keep him breathing. It was a fight he knew he was going to lose.

“Help us how?” Doctor Ashe asked.

“More than you could possibly imagine,” Jean told her. She stood and faced the guards. Their guns were still trained upon the players in this tragic tableaux. Nobody had ordered them to stand down. “You idiots. He was probably the smartest man in your whole city, and the bravest. And you just… just….”

Words failed her for a moment then her anger drove her again.

“Get out of here. Take your guns out of this hospital where people work hard to save lives, not destroy them.”

The soldiers looked at her for a long moment, then they lowered their weapons and did as she - again with the full force of her Highland ancestry behind her - had demanded.

She turned and saw The Doctor reach to close Lorian’s eyes and burst into tears. Yes, he had kidnapped her, but she had been asleep the whole time. She didn’t hold that against him at all. What she had seen was a man working hard to undo his own mistake and save the lives of others.

“In that box,” The Doctor said to Doctor Ashe as they both slowly stood. “The cure for the victims of Lorian’s Syndrome. On this memory wafer, the formula for the vaccine that will prevent any further victims. Make sure that Galen Lorian is credited with the creation of both. He risked all to repair the greatest mistake of his otherwise brilliant life. Make sure THAT is also known to everyone whose lives will be saved by his work.”

A few days later, Galen Lorian’s body was buried in a clearing in the jungle. It was what he would have wanted – to be a part of the nature he loved so much. Doctor Ashe and a handful of the scientists attended the simple ceremony. Some of the handful were people who had recovered from the Syndrome thanks to the serum and had been allowed to leave the isolation cells and take their place in society once more. Doctor Ashe herself was vaccinated and could move freely in the open air. Thousands more of the citizens were receiving the vaccination every day at special clinics set up in the domiciliary quarter, in workplaces and schools. Soon Lorian’s Syndrome would be a thing of the past.

“You gave him the credit for finding the cure,” Jean noted as she and The Doctor walked back to the TARDIS after the funeral. “YOU are the one who did it, really.”

The Doctor half-smiled and shook his head. For one who could talk for hours if nobody stopped him, his silence could also speak volumes. Jean reached out and held his hand gently to prove that she fully understood what he was not saying.