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

“Are we there yet?” Jean asked in the tone of a bored child in the back of a people carrier on the M1.

“No,” The Doctor answered, completely failing to recognise the joking tone. “And it might be a little while before we are. There’s something wrong, here.”

“With the TARDIS?” Jean’s tone became one of deep concern. Problems with the TARDIS were always serious. After all, how could she ever return to her own place and time without it?

“No, with that ship out there.”

Jean looked at the big viewscreen, half expecting to see an ocean liner. She hadn’t quite got used to the idea that a ‘spaceship’ was just a ‘ship’ to anyone who took space for granted.

Instead, a sleek, silver-grey cigar shape with nacelles at what she assumed to be the stern and thousands of windows all around the widest part of its middle was motionless in space. What held it there, instead of it falling through the empty vacuum, she didn’t quite know.

“Inertia fields,” The Doctor remarked in answer to the question she hadn’t, in fact, asked. “It’s running at half power, maintaining position, keeping up life support, but moving at last than a metre an hour.”

“That doesn’t sound quite right,” Jean surmised. “I mean, in space, a metre is… nothing. A millimetre….”

Her comparisons might not have made any real sense, like those models of the Earth solar system that had the Earth as a marble in Trafalgar Square and Mars as a golf ball in the Trevi Fountain, but The Doctor nodded anyway. She actually wasn’t too far wrong.

“It can’t be right,” she added.

“It’s not right at all. I can’t make out its designation, but it is a gamma class deep space freighter of the sort that travel from the port on Renne-K - known as Kepler-421b in your time.” Jean looked at him questioningly and he continued his explanation. “Renne-K isn’t a new formula for antacid tablets. It’s an Earth colony that regularly exports minerals to the Gamma quadrant worlds that have relatively few indigenous sources of sodium and mica.”

“Salt and sand?” Jean translated. “What do they bring back?”

“Diamonds and food,” The Doctor replied. “The diamonds are used in industrial strength lasers used in the mining process, and the food is all way more interesting than anything that can be grown on a planet with so much salt and sand in its surface area.”

“And this one is stuck?” Jean got back to the important subject as she thought about a planet where huge oceans must have dried up to leave salt flats and deserts and wondered why anyone would choose to live there. “Are there people aboard?”

“I’m reading about a hundred and fifty life-signs, which is about right for one of these ships. The crew would probably have their families with them – wives, husbands, children. There seems to be a strange allocation of space within the ship, though.” He switched the view to a schematic of the ship, showing the decks and all the compartments within them. The huge holds containing the cargo were in the lower section with the engine rooms in the next section and then living quarters, mess deck, education and leisure facilities as well as the main Bridge in the top section.

“Over a hundred of the lifesigns are in this one area, here at the midway,” The Doctor explained, pointing with the tip of the sonic. “And the rest are scattered around the rest of the ship, no more than one or two in any one place, as if they are seriously understaffed.”

“Is it lunchtime?” Jean queried. “Maybe they’re all eating.”

“Maybe,” The Doctor conceded. “But I’ve got a thumping headache, which means my brain is trying to warn me about something. Precognition that doesn’t actually point to any specific danger and makes me want to lie down in a dark room with a damp towel over my head really isn’t much use to anyone. I wish just for once I could get a nice clear vision of what the problem is.”

“This is where Captain Kirk would suggest phasers on stun,” Jean pointed out. “But we’re going in with a sonic screwdriver and your defunct spidey-senses.”

The Doctor grinned as he set a co-ordinate somewhere near the larger gathering of crew-members.

“Isn’t it more fun this way?”

Jean shrugged.

“It’s more suitable for a ‘peaceful’ mission, and we have better clothes – bow-ties notwithstanding - but I’m not sure ‘fun’ is the right word for it.”

The Doctor’s grin widened as he darted towards the door. Jean was a pace behind as they stepped out onto the stranded space ship.

Even to Jean it was immediately obvious that there was something wrong. She was used to a very slight vibration beneath her feet inside the TARDIS, but she felt nothing beneath the metal floor of this deck. Even assuming that the ship was bigger than it looked on the screen and the engines were far below this level, she expected to feel something.

“Going too slowly to notice the movement at all,” The Doctor said, again answering a question she hadn’t even asked. “The majority of the lifesigns are through this bulkhead.”

He pulled out the sonic screwdriver to operate the key-code lock on the heavy bulkhead door. He wasn’t looking as the slim figure in navy blue Lycra one-piece uniform approached. He hardly heard Jean’s warning cry before the stun gun beam enveloped him and he slid down the door in a crumpled heap.

“Don’t move!” the young man told Jean. She ignored his order and lunged towards The Doctor, but she, too, was caught in the beam and felt a moment of paralysis before total blackness.

When she came round, somebody was trying to push something rubbery into her mouth. She tasted watery milk coming from it and realised it was a teat from a baby’s bottle.

“No, no, no,” she heard The Doctor say. As she opened her eyes he was gently taking the bottle away from a woman dressed in pink pyjamas and a fluffy hat. “Jean doesn’t want that. You go and play with your dolls, Bella.”

The woman crawled on her hands and knees over to a pile of soft toys and rag dolls and sat cradling one of them like a baby. Meanwhile, Jean sat up and looked around at a room she never expected to see aboard a space ship.

It looked like a huge nursery. The floor was soft pile carpet. The walls were padded with pastel coloured foam. There were toys everywhere – dolls, dolls houses, tricycles, multi-coloured building bricks and everything a pre-school child could enjoy.

Except everything was scaled up for adult hands and adult bodies.

And the ‘children’ playing in this nursery were all adults of various ages between twenty-five and fifty. A bald man wearing a tiger-striped onesie ran past chasing a big rubber ball while a woman wearing a pink organdie fairy costume complete with wings hit The Doctor over the head with her plastic wand.

“Needless to say, we’re locked in here with them,” he told Jean before the question had even begun to form in her mind. “I already checked. There’s a special childproof deadlock on the doors. The sonic screwdriver doesn’t know where to start.”

“At least you tried,” Jean told him. “But what is going on here? Who are these people and why are they like this?”

“I don’t know, I think they’re the crew, I have no idea.”

Jean put the three answers to her three questions.

“The crew?”

The Doctor helped her to stand up. She noticed that the two of them were the only ones who actually were standing upright like mature adults. Even those among the inmates of this strange nursery who were standing on their feet were shambling around in a hunched kind of way and soon flopped back down on the carpet again as if it was too much effort. Most of them just crawled like babies who hadn’t yet mastered standing and walking.

The Doctor brought her to a computer terminal with a child lock and a lift up plastic cover to prevent liquids of the sort being drunk from bottles and sippy cups all around them being spilt on important components. He by-passed all of the security protocols and accessed the crew profiles. Jean looked at the stern, passport style photographs of the Captain, first mate, and all the others and then glanced around the room. She recognised the woman who had tried to feed her baby milk as the science officer. The man in the tiger costume was the chief engineer. A woman currently sitting on a large potty doing something Jean didn’t want to know about was the navigator.

“The SS Bremen,” The Doctor noted. “That’s the tradition for naming Human space ships. Deep space passenger liners are named after science fiction writers, hospital ships after famous women in medicine, and freighters are named after major port cities of Earth.”

The information was of no use or interest to Jean and it didn’t answer any of the questions she needed answers to.

“What is going on here?” she repeated. “Your best guess will do for now.”

“Somehow or other these people have all reverted to childhood,” The Doctor guessed. “They have no idea who they are or what their roles are supposed to be on this ship.”

A man identified on screen as Joachim Branch, chief security officer aboard the SS Bremen, ambled towards them dribbling blackcurrant juice from the side of his mouth and tried to insert a jam sandwich into a USB port. The Doctor gently turned him around and he wandered off again.

“They all smell of talcum powder and milk,” Jean commented. “Which is probably not the worst thing, really. Thank goodness they’re toilet trained.”

The Doctor grimaced at the scenario conjured up by that disturbing thought and looked around at the peculiarly afflicted crew.

“Clap hands?” Charles Moorhead, formerly the galley officer of the SS Bremen asked as he tugged at Jean’s shoulder with all the strength of a full grown man but all the innocence of a child who wanted to play.

“Clap hands?” Jean turned and put up both hands to clap with the slightly sticky hands of the man-child as he recited a little rhyme naming the ingredients of a vegetable soup.

“That’s interesting,” The Doctor remarked. “He used to be galley officer – head chef in other words – and he’s talking about food. Is that a trace memory, I wonder?”

“I’m not sure, Doctor,” Jean responded. “It sounds more like a kids thing – like salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper, when skipping. I remember doing that when I was little.”

“You may have a point,” The Doctor conceded. “And yet….”

He ambled casually over to where the former navigation officer was drawing on a large sheet of paper with thick, chunky crayons. He took one of the crayons and began to draw something. Jean was curious to know what it was, but Charlie wanted to play, still, and she couldn’t get away from the obligation without making him cry – something that she really didn’t want to do if she could help it. A grown man in a romper suit crying was just not something she wanted to be responsible for.

“Very good, Sally,” The Doctor was saying as she finally managed to get out of the clapping game. She rubbed her stinging hands together and looked down at the drawing. It looked just like a join the dots puzzle that had gone a bit wrong.

“Charlie wants his ‘bobo’ and his pillow now,” she explained as the once Charles Moorhead went to find his sleeping corner. “What’s happening, here?”

“This is a star chart,” The Doctor answered, indicating the crayon scribble. “That’s Renne-K in the Kepler system and this over here is Voras III, their main trading partner, a planet with no natural salts in its otherwise very fertile soil. This blob halfway between the two is the Magnus Omicron nebula, a major hazard to navigation.”

“Are you sure?” Jean asked.

“I used to draw star charts when I was five,” The Doctor answered. “That’s ‘join the dots’ for Galifreyan toddlers. I know how messy they can get. Sally DOES have some residual memory of her grown up career. I don’t think it’s all gone. If I just knew what happened I might be able to reverse it for all of them.”

“Well, that’s good,” Jean pointed out. “But have you forgotten one thing? I think I did for a while. Whatever we were zapped with was strong. But somebody DID zap us and put us in here. We’re not accidental prisoners.”

The Doctor looked as if this was news to him.

“You were zapped first, but I saw the guy who did it. He was wearing a uniform... something a bit Star Trekky, and he definitely had his phaser on stun.”

“I don’t remember any of that. The stun gun must mess up the neurons. My brain has more of them than the Human brain, so I lose more of the immediate memory when I get zapped. It’s just one of those things I have to live with as a natural born genius….”

“Yeah,” Jean responded. “But the point is, we didn’t get into Happy Toddler Land by accident. Somebody locked us in.”


The Doctor seemed to be taking that idea just too calmly. Jean protested.

“I can’t unlock the door. The best thing is to wait it out. Somebody must come in from time to time to feed this lot, to get them ready for bed, all the things that have to be done with children.”

“They’re not children,” Jean reminded him. She had trouble remembering that herself unless she looked very closely at men who would need a shave before bed despite the fact that they were sitting in pedal cars or playing with toy trains.

“They are, mentally,” The Doctor conceded. “And they will need somebody to help them with those things. I’m actually rather curious to know WHO that will be.”

“You mean we can’t do anything about it until somebody comes into this room to wash all their hands and faces and put them in their pyjamas?”


“Oh, dear!” Jean shook her head. She didn’t like this room. If it was a real nursery it wouldn’t be so bad. Children could be endearing. But this was just creepy. The pastel colours and the oversized toys were too much.

And she really hated the way they kept coming up to her, putting their hands on her, trying to get them to come and play with them. It was bad enough when the women did it, but even worse with the men. It was all just a bit too perverse.

But The Doctor was right. There really wasn’t anything else to be done until somebody came who might let them out of this peculiar prison.

But what if they didn’t? What if the person who put them in here was the one who came in next?

“We might have to jump the guard,” she suggested.

“Yes, I had considered the possibility,” The Doctor agreed. “One of us should stay near the door and be ready to do that.”

It wasn’t a cheerful prospect. Jean sank down onto the carpet with her back to the bulkhead wall, her knees under her chin and watched the child-adults playing in their slightly sinister way. The Doctor moved around the room, sometimes talking to the inmates, sometimes just observing them as if he was formulating theories.

From time to time he came and sat with her, reassuring her that it would be all right, eventually. They would get out of this odd place, they would find somebody in authority and sort out the problem afflicting the ship.

The person who was meant to be in authority, Captain James Marley, was too busy falling off a rocking horse onto the safety mat to do anything to help anyone.

“I suppose that explains why the ship isn’t going anywhere,” Jean commented. “If all the people who should know how are in here with the milk and teething rusks. But WHO is out there instead of them? And how much can we trust them to do the right thing once we DO make contact?”

“If my theory is right, I think we should be able to trust them, most of them,” The Doctor assured her. “I wish they would get on with it, though.”

“Maybe nobody DOES come in here. Maybe there’s some kind of robotic device that does all the nanny stuff?”

“Even a robot has to come in through some kind of door. Even if we have to crawl through a service hatch it would still be a way out.”

“Crawling through service hatches wasn’t what I signed up for,” Jean reminded him.

“Everyone who travels with me signs up for crawling through service hatches,” The Doctor replied. “It goes with the territory.”

“It’s probably too late to worry about it,” Jean conceded. She sighed and settled even further down into a hunch of boredom, trying as hard as she could not to notice all the strange people around her and the stranger games that occupied them.

At last, after four tedious hours trying to avoid being force fed soggy rusks and limp jam sandwiches, there was a soft sound. The door opened wide from the middle like the automatic doors at the entrance of a supermarket. Jean thought they sounded too light to be so impossible to open as The Doctor had suggested. For a moment she thought he had lied to her about it, making her remain in the nursery for no reason.

But that would be ridiculous. As hazy as The Doctor’s plans might be at times, he was not given to foolish and pointless prevarication. Indeed, her main complaint most times was that he didn’t keep still for one moment while a mystery was to be solved.

But this WAS the escape they had waited for. It came in the form of a trolley containing fresh spill-proof cups of orange and plastic bowls of various coloured jellies with plastic spoons. The trolley was electronic and hovered upon air cushions, but it was accompanied by a young woman dressed in the navy-blue Lycra one-piece of the freighter service. She distributed the drinks and the jellies with a tired but resigned mood.

Jean and The Doctor stood up slowly and watched her for a while. She spoke kindly to the adults who clamoured for children’s food. She was particularly gentle with the former captain.

“Dad,” she murmured, trying to hold his hand. “Don’t you know me at all? Isn’t there anything in there at all? I’m your Cassie. Don’t you know me?”

James Marley paused for a moment before tipping lime jelly over her head. She wiped the stuff from her hair with a napkin and quietly used a second one to wipe tears from her eyes.

“Cassie….” The Doctor moved close while she was occupied and spoke her name. “You need my help, I think.”

She turned and stared at The Doctor and at Jean who came to his side.

“How did you get in here?” she asked.

“That’s a long story,” Jean answered her. “Is it possible to tell it somewhere less colourful, and perhaps with coffee available?”

“Yes, yes,” Cassie Marley responded. “Yes, there is. Let me finish giving out these drinks, and then I’ll bring you to Michael. He’s in charge.”

There WAS coffee produced by the food synthesiser in the Captain’s cabin. Synthesised food was never quite as good as the real thing, but it was welcome all the same.

Michael was a tall, strong looking youth of about seventeen years of age who nevertheless appeared to be in command of the stricken ship.

“You’re Michael Shaw, son of First Lieutenant Michaela Shaw,” The Doctor said to him.

“I am,” he answered.

“We… met your mother,” The Doctor added. Jean tried to suppress a shudder as she remembered a woman who had ate the jam out of her sandwiches with her finger before leaving the bread plastered on the wall as a decoration.

“Yes,” Michael sighed. “You… probably should have an explanation.”

“I should very much like to know what happened to everyone on this ship. I might be able to help once I understand the situation fully.”

Michael looked hopeful. The burden of responsibility had clearly been a heavy one to bear. He was almost ready to hand it on to The Doctor – the first adult to talk about any subject than ‘bobos’.

“It was eight Earth weeks ago, now,” he said. “The ship was on course back to Renne-K on schedule when a solar wind combined with an ion storm blocked its path. Captain Marley felt it would be possible to steer a course through it, but he ordered all of us children into the emergency transporter. I suppose the extra radiation shielding that the transporter afforded, even in the hanger bay, protected us, but the adults were all exposed to something… something that left them the way you saw them – regressed to childhood. When the ship passed through the other side of the storm… when the all clear sounded and we came out of the transporter… that’s what we found. As the eldest, I took command of the ship. We got our parents, our families, into the safety of the kindergarten. It’s an adaptive environment, the very latest technology. It provided a safe place for them, but there was nothing else we could do.”

“You are too far out to radio for help, I suppose?” Jean asked. “An SOS, Mayday, whatever it is people use out here?”

“I sent a mauve alert,” Michael answered. “But we expected it to be months before anyone picked it up and came to find us. Meanwhile we knew enough between us to put the ship in low power mode and sit it out. It’s been hard, though.”

“Seeing your parents like that….” Jean said sympathetically.

“I haven’t seen them,” Michael admitted. “Very few of us have. Sally is the only one who has the guts to go in there. It’s just too….”

He sighed deeply, and the sigh turned into a sob. The Doctor reached out to comfort him, but he was a stranger, even if he was a stranger who had promised to help. It was Sally who embraced him and helped him through his moment of weakness and despair.

“Please,” she whispered, looking up at The Doctor and Jean. “Please, help us.”

“I think I can do something,” The Doctor assured her. “Bring the rest of your friends here, and I will talk to you all. There IS something to consider before I go ahead. I should let you think about it.”

Sally volunteered to find the other youngsters.

“Take your time,” Jean told her. She nodded towards Michael who was still drying his eyes after his breakdown. The girl understood fully. He needed a few minutes to fully compose himself.

By the time the rest of the child crew - aged between twelve and fifteen – came into the Captain’s day room, The Doctor had explained his plan to Michael, along with the dangers it involved. The boy who had been forced to become a man all too soon nodded in understanding and stood to address his friends.

“Is everyone here?” he asked.

“Everyone except Russell,” Sally answered. “I couldn’t find him.”

Michael shook his head in resignation. This absentee was obviously not acting out of character.

“I really need everyone here. We all need to agree to The Doctor’s plan, just in case….”

“In case what?” Several of the youngsters asked the question as they looked anxiously from Michael, their leader by virtue of age, to The Doctor, a stranger, dressed peculiarly, but exuding a cool, calm authority that they desperately needed as much as they needed an answer to their troubles.

“The Doctor thinks he can do something that will flood the ship with negatively charged particles. He thinks it will reverse the process… and make everyone normal again. But… it is also possible it could go wrong and kill them all. That’s why we all need to agree. We have to accept that our parents could all die.”

“They’d be better off dead than the way they are,” one of the boys said.

“No, Alan, don’t say that,” one of the girls immediately responded. “I want my dad back. If there IS a chance….”

“Can’t we just wait until a relief ship comes and brings us all home? That was our plan.”

“What do you think will happen when we get home?” Sally challenged those who thought continuing to wait was the best idea. “Nobody on Renne-K will know what to do with them. They’ll probably get put in a hospital and we’ll go into fosterage. More than likely the whole thing will be hushed up in case it damages TRADE. We’ll all be forgotten.”

Jean looked at the young girl – the only one, in the words of her friend, who had the guts to look at their afflicted parents. She had obviously had plenty of time to think about how this was going to end for them.

They all had.

“That’s why we have to let The Doctor try,” Michael insisted. “It’s the only chance for all of us.”

“No!” A voice called out above all of the murmuring discussion. Everyone turned to see a slender youth, perhaps a little younger than Michael, standing at the door. He was holding a weapon in his hands, pointed directly at The Doctor.

“Russell, I presume,” The Doctor said very calmly, his eyes on the boy’s face, not the weapon in his hand.

“He’s the one!” Jean exclaimed. “He’s the one who attacked us and locked us in the nursery.”

“You should have stayed there!” Russell answered with a vehement snarl. “We don’t need any parents, any grown ups telling us what to do.”

“Russell, this is mad,” Sally told him. “Put the gun down.”

“We’re doing fine without them,” Russell insisted. “We have food and fuel. We have life support. We can live here just fine. We can be independent.”

“I don’t want to be independent,” said one of the youngest of the young crew. “I want my mum.”

“I want my dad,” another cried.

“I don’t want mine!” Russell pulled up his sleeve to show deep scars on his arm. “I don’t want this every time I do something wrong… like forgetting to turn off a tap.”

“Water has to be conserved, you know,” he was told. “We ARE on a ship in deep space. Every drop has to be recycled and re-purified.”

“That doesn’t justify him cutting me with a carving knife.”

Everyone was shocked, not just Jean. Obviously Russell had kept the secret of his father’s abusive nature even from his friends.

“Nothing justifies that,” The Doctor told him. “And you really need to talk to somebody about it.”

“Captain Marley sounds like a good man,” Jean added. “You ought to go to him first of all. But to do that you need to let The Doctor bring them all back.”

“Captain Marley is my dad’s friend. He won’t go against him.”

“Yes, he will,” Sally assured him. “You just have to tell him. He WILL listen. But he can’t the way he is now. He doesn’t even know who he is. He doesn’t know who I am. I need him, Russell. We all need him.”

“I need my mother,” Michael added, and to the utter shock and dismay of everyone he broke down again, sagging to the floor in tears and despair. While the whole group of youngsters were staring at him The Doctor moved very slowly and carefully until he was in a position to disarm Russell.

“You had this set at KILL,” The Doctor observed as he made the weapon safe and slipped it into his pocket before restraining the boy gently but firmly. “You really meant to kill me?”

“Yes!” Russell tried to be obstinate, still, but the will had gone out of him as it had out of all of them when they saw Michael crying – the eldest of them, the leader.

“No,” he admitted. “No, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. But I don’t WANT him back. I don’t want him to hurt me anymore.”

“Then he won’t,” The Doctor promised. “But you HAVE to let me do what has to be done.”

“He’s outvoted anyway,” the son of the galley officer pointed out. “We all WANT you to try. If it goes wrong, if they… die… then….”

He couldn’t say it, but everyone understood. They all knew it was better to TRY even if their parents’ lives were at risk than to do nothing.

“All right,” The Doctor said in a decisive and authoritative tone that silenced all further discussion. “I’ll do it right away.”

“Not right away,” Jean interceded. She stood beside The Doctor and looked at the group of worried youngsters. “Before anything happens… you ALL need to go to the nursery, kindergarten, whatever you want to call it, and talk to your parents. I know conversations with them are difficult. They’ll probably revolve around dolls and you might get jelly in your hair, but you HAVE to go and see them. You need to hug them and tell them that you love them… even you, Russell. You have to go and say it one more time… just in case there isn’t another chance.”

The youngsters looked at each other hesitantly and then slowly, one at a time, they stood, ready to do as Jean suggested.

Russell was the last.

“It’ll be all right,” The Doctor assured him. “Go on, now, with the others.”

Russell didn’t say anything, but he turned and followed his friends. Meanwhile, The Doctor stepped from the Captain’s day room onto the bridge and began cannibalising the communications array and connecting parts of it to the life support system.

“That looks risky,” Jean told him. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? What if you vent all the oxygen or turn gravity upside down?”

The Doctor gave her a look that spoke volumes.

“When the kids get back, take them down to the emergency transporter. The same risk applies as last time. They need to be protected. You, too. I don’t want you to end up like that lot. I’m not having jam butties left all over the TARDIS.”

“What about you?” she responded. “You might be over a thousand years old, but surely you can get your head scrambled, too?”

“My head is a whole different kettle of fish,” The Doctor answered. “A whole kitchen range full of kettles of fish. Have you ever seen a kettle with fish in, actually? Bit of a daft idea. How do you get them out through the spout?”

Jean just gave him a look.

“The point is, my brain is wired up differently to a Human brain. I’ll be all right. But you stay with the kids until I call you.”

“All right,” Jean conceded. “But if you get scrambled, the same rule about jam butties in the TARDIS applies.”

The Doctor laughed. Jean laughed with him, but the possibility was a desperate one. If The Doctor lost his mind, she would be stranded in the TARDIS with him just as much as the children of the SS Bremen had been.

It was almost an hour before the youngsters began to make their way back from the nursery. Most of them, boy and girl, were brushing away tears from their eyes. Meeting their afflicted parents had been hard for them.

“Somebody will have to show me where this transporter is,” she said. Michael volunteered to lead them all there. It was, hopefully, the last time he would have to be in charge. When they returned he could relinquish the responsibility to the adults.

The Doctor finished his work just before Jean and the youngsters reached the transporter. He waited until they were inside and confirmed the number of lifesigns left in the nursery. He double checked that nobody was left in the rest of the ship then he got ready to create the wave of negative ions.

The interior of the transporter was designed for practicality not aesthetics. There were seats with gravity cushions in case it was knocked about in space, and some basic controls. The youngsters quietly sat down as if they had regularly practiced an evacuation drill. Some of them reached out and held hands. One or two actually prayed, something Jean hardly expected people in the far future to do. Mostly they were quiet. Even Russell, for whom all this was such an emotional conflict was still and silent. A girl called Jessica was sitting next to him. She reached out her hand to his and he let her. Jean thought it might be a little easier than he thought it was with friends to help him through it.

All they could do for nearly two hours was wait and hope. Then, finally, there was a sharp rap at the entry hatch. Jean opened it from inside and stared at The Doctor. He was wearing a knitted bobble hat on his head and eating a jam sandwich.

“Oh no!” she cried. “Oh, Doctor!”

His grin split his face and he yanked the hat off before he hugged her tightly.

“You’re getting jam all over the back of my blouse,” she complained.

“What’s a little jam between friends?” The Doctor replied. “Come on, kids. Your parents are asking about you. Russell, Captain Marley wants a quick word with you. Sally, you go with him.”

It didn’t take long to clear the transporter. The children of the SS Bremen just wanted to get their lives back to normal.

“Is everyone all right, then?” Jean asked. “The captain and everyone else… they’ve got their minds back?”

“They’re a bit confused about why they’re dressed so strangely and why there’s so much jam on their fingers, but they’re fine.”

“Russell and his dad?”

“Beyond my powers. But his father’s behaviour mostly depended on nobody else knowing. Now everyone knows, he won’t be able to lash out and expect to get away with it. The Captain will point him towards some anger management. With time, perhaps they’ll reach some kind of reconciliation.”

“And what about us? Do we just slip away now and leave them to it?”

“I think that’s the best all round, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do,” Jean agreed.

“I think I might take you to Astri V. The people there believe that childhood is a state of mind, not age. They play with toys at all ages and jam fritters are the height of cuisine.”

“No, thanks,” Jean answered. “I think I’d prefer some kind of cool, quiet forum full of intelligent grown up people in robes philosophising and writing deep, thoughtful poetry.”