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

The entity floated through the outer atmosphere. Although it had width it had almost no depth and its molecules were so far apart it didn’t have enough density to cause friction. It didn’t get hot. It didn’t suffer any damage. It just kept floating down, down. As it entered the lower atmosphere its cells got colder. Around it something else was floating. Something cold. Something with a crystal structure but even less density than itself. It mimicked the thing around it as it fell. Only a careful chemical analysis of the snow made up of frozen moisture in the air and the entity that came from a far away place where far different elements were common, would have identified its cells as they fell through the air above London.

It landed on a roof, though it was not self aware enough to identify it as such. What it did know was that it had landed, that the environment around it was conducive to its life.

That it could start to grow.

It kept snowing all afternoon. Soon even roofs of centrally heated buildings were coated with white. The roof the entity had landed on was no exception. So nobody noticed that some of the snow wasn’t snow, and that it was growing, spreading, covering the whole roof in a very short time, and sliding down the guttering as it got a foothold on the side of the building.

“I didn’t think mummy and daddy would let us come to this,” Vicki said as Michael Grahams parked the car in the parking space between the church and church hall. “We don’t DO religion, you know. Except for the Solstice festival. And that isn’t really religion. It’s just a ceremony.”

“That is the only way in which his Lordship has been remiss in your upbringing, Miss Vicki,” replied Josephine, Mrs Grahams, as she reached to unfasten Peter from his travel seat and her husband opened the boot and pulled out the pushchair. “He is a fine man, but his lack of religion is disturbing.”

“But, Mrs Grahams,” Vicki protested. “Daddy isn’t…”

Josephine looked at the little girl at her side, dressed in a warm blue coat over a red dress and thick woollen tights and boots, her head well wrapped up in a fur-lined hood. Next to her, the other little girl who looked almost the image of her, was in a tartan coat with a similar hood. Two beautiful, completely normal children. That was what she told herself when she looked at them.

She knew different, of course. Miss Vicki had aged five years in one day last summer and Miss Sukie did the washing up without putting her hands in the water. She made the dishmop and scourer move by themselves and the plates stack themselves in the drainer.

These were not ordinary children. Little Peter had yet to do anything extraordinary apart from not shed tears when he cried, but Josephine knew it was only a matter of time.

She knew the family who employed her husband and herself were only half Human. But his Lordship was a charming man and she adored his wife and children.

The only thing about them that really bothered her was their lack of religion.

“God made the whole universe,” she insisted. “So he made the planet his Lordship came from. And no doubt His Wrath will be upon those who undid that Creation.”

“I think that my Daddy’s Wrath is enough for them,” Vicki noted with a wisdom and an understanding beyond her years.

“Maybe it is. But meantime, it will do you girls and your brother no harm to come to Christmas Eve Mass and give praise and thanks for one who is greater than your father.”

“Peter isn’t my brother. He is my great-uncle,” Sukie insisted. Josephine decided she wasn’t going to respond to that. She took hold of them both in gloved hands and walked with them to the hall as her husband brought the baby in his pushchair.

“It’s very pretty,” Vicki admitted as they found their seats inside the church that was decorated with greenery and candles. “Do you think the Christmas tree is bigger than the one at home?”

“Yes, a bit,” Sukie answered her, sizing up the tree with the eye of a mathematician. “But the church has a much higher roof than the hallway of your house.”

That at least satisfied Josephine. The family DID celebrate Christmas as a time of peace and goodwill. And his Lordship was generous to all his household. On Christmas Day after the cooking was done she and Mr Grahams were his guests at the dinner table and he gave beautiful presents to all. Nor did he object when she asked to say a more usual grace as well as the blessing he himself pronounced over them all, which acknowledged their good fortune to be together to celebrate that day but gave no thanks to any god for that fortune.

He never dismissed her belief in God, she had to admit. Once when she asked him he smiled and said he was only 1,000 years old and didn’t know everything, and it was possible that there WAS a higher authority in the universe. He would not admit to anything further than that. Josephine suspected he had given it a lot more thought than that, but it was hardly her place to question him beyond the casual inquiry.

At least he had not objected to the children coming to this service. He had not even hesitated when she suggested it. He had even admitted that it might be good for them to experience such things. Only a few days before they had taken part in the ‘Solstice’ and that WAS a custom where his Lordship came from. But he knew the children had to understand the customs of this world, too.

Yes, he WAS a good man. Just a very puzzling one.

The Mass was very pleasant. The choir was in good voice and Josephine smiled to hear the two girls singing along enthusiastically. Peter was the most well-behaved baby in the whole church. Some of the others could be heard from time to time above the singing, even above Mrs Brady’s resounding organ playing.

If there was one complaint, it was that the church got progressively hotter as the service continued. Vicki and Sukie both shed their warm coats and during the readings they were not the only children, indeed, not the only people at all, who were fidgeting in their seats. Some of the younger children were quite fretful by the time they were called upon to sing Away in the Manger as the crib was dressed.

“It really is strange,” Josephine whispered in the hiatus when the collection was taken. “Usually this church is COLD in winter. This is the other extreme. It is quite uncomfortable.”

“Why don’t they open a window?” Sukie asked.

“Churches don’t really have windows you can open, dear,” Josephine answered. “Still, it won’t be long now. Then we can get out into the fresh air. I wonder if it is still snowing out.”

“Snowmen,” Sukie sighed and wiped her brow theatrically.

The Mass finished with the last joyful carol while the priest and deacon and the altar girls and boys proceeded up the aisle to the back of the church. Slowly the people gathered up their belongings and began to make their way. Josephine took hold of the girls firmly by the hand and Michael pushed the pushchair.

They were halfway to the door, when they were aware that something was wrong. The priest came back into the nave from the porch, looking very worried. He called for the people to sit down again and asked if anyone had a mobile phone on their person. Of course many people did. They switched them on and were all puzzled to find they were getting ‘service not found’ messages.

“What is happening?” Josephine asked another lady who had come back down the aisle and sat behind them.

“There’s something blocking the doors. Nobody can get out.”

“What sort of something?” Michael asked. “What could do that?”

“Ohhhh!” Vicki suddenly cried. “Ohhh!” Sukie looked at her and bit her lip fearfully. Peter, after making not a sound while all the other babies in the room were fretful and tired, wailed tearlessly as he picked up the psychic resonances from the two girls.

“Come back, child,” Michael called out as Vicki ran from her seat. Sukie followed her. Several people reached to stop them, including the priest, but they dodged them and reached the door.

“What is it?” Sukie asked as Vicki reached out and touched the strange shell that enclosed the building. It seemed to be a silvery-white with blue-pink veins that made it look almost organic. She reached out and touched it and where she touched a glowing handprint was left.

“Can you sense it?” Vicki said. “It’s alive.”

“Yes. I can feel that,” Sukie answered. “What is it?”

“I don’t really know. Only that it’s not from Earth and it feels very alone and frightened.”

“So do I,” Sukie admitted. “Why is it here? Why is it trapping us? WHAT is it?”

“I don’t know,” Vicki admitted. She touched it again. So did Sukie. It felt very warm to the touch, but they had the strange idea, perhaps it came from the creature itself, that it was cold on the outside. It was dry, and hard like the inside of an eggshell.

“Children, come away.” The priest took their hands and drew them away from the door, closing it behind them. He turned to bring them back to their seats. As he did so there was a sound of glass breaking. He let go of their hands as he ran to find two men, one standing on the other’s shoulders, smashing one of the stained glass windows at the side of the church. “No!” he cried. “That is sacrilege.”

“We have to have air!” the men protested. “We’ll die without it.”

But the vandalism of a beautiful old window was to no avail. As the glass fell in multicoloured fragments, they could all see the silvery-white shell outside.

“It must be all around!” The shocked revelation echoed around the church.

If people were worried before, now they were panicking. There was talk of suffocating.

“We won’t suffocate,” Sukie said in a voice that rang out over the babble. She stood up on a pew seat and although she was a ten year old girl somehow the adults around her quietened and listened to her. “We won’t suffocate. The creature that is surrounding the church…”

“Creature?” somebody queried.

“Yes,” Vicki said as she stood up on the bench next to Sukie. “Yes, it is a living creature. I touched it and I know what it is. It is a creature. Not made of the same things we are. I think it might be tellurium based. But…”

“But the point IS,” Sukie insisted. “It breathes carbon dioxide and expels oxygen. The opposite of what we do. So we can exist symbiotically for an indefinite period. There will be no build up of dangerous carbon monoxide that normally kills oxygen breathing people.”

The fact that two ten year old girls were using words like ‘symbiotically’ and ‘indefinite’ to say nothing of ‘tellurium’ which most of the adults had never heard of registered as just one more twist to the extraordinary situation.

“So we die of starvation and thirst?” Somebody suggested. There was a lame joke about communion wafers and somebody else remembered there were some bags of food in the vestry left for the Christmas homeless soup kitchen. Somebody else complained that it wouldn’t last very long. Vicki hushed them all with an impatient shout.

“Dying of thirst would take at least two days,” she informed them. “And my daddy will come for me before then. He won’t let the creature harm us.”

“Who’s your daddy?” somebody asked. “Superman?”

“No, he’s better than that,” Vicki replied. “And he WILL save us all.” Tears pricked her eyes as she tried to convince them she was right. She and Sukie had both managed to sound convincing when they explained the scientific points, but emotionally, they were still two little girls and she had only a purely emotional basis for her claim that it was going to be all right.

“Please, my friends,” the priest begged. “Let us be calm. We none of us know what is happening. There is surely help of some kind on the way. Meanwhile, let us not despair. Come, let us…” He hesitated as if he was unsure what they COULD do in such circumstances. “Let us find our hymn sheets once more. Mrs Brady… Number 27 if you please.”

It helped. Singing together helped raise the spirits and take everyone’s minds off the problem that faced them. Everyone but Vicki and Sukie. Their minds were on the problem.

“What is it?” Sukie asked Vicki telepathically. “What kind of creature is it?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “Except it is a kind of animal. Not anything that thinks. Non-sentient.”

“Where did it come from?”

“Space, I suppose. Things like that don’t live on Earth.”

“So why did it cover the church? Why is it trapping us?”

“I don’t know,” Vicki admitted. “I wish daddy was here. He would know.”

“Yes, he would.”

“I can’t reach him. The creature is blocking me from him.” Vicki looked scared as she said that. She had always been able to reach her father telepathically. She was quite sure she had been able to do it even before she was born. She had enjoyed a very special relationship with him that way since she was very small. Not to be able to make contact with him was far more upsetting than anything else about this situation.

“Granddad will know something is wrong then,” Sukie reasoned. “He WILL come.”

The Doctor DIDN’T know anything was wrong. He was enjoying a Christmas Eve out with his wife, his son and daughter in-law and his granddaughter and grandson-in-law. Just remembering his family tree was enough to keep his mind occupied.

It had been a pleasant evening in the city centre - a meal and a concert. The Doctor had volunteered to drive on the return journey, since his Gallifreyan metabolism made him a perfectly safe driver even allowing for a certain level of social drinking of alcohol.

He was starting to regret it as the traffic slowed to a crawl. Even the hover taxi lane above the ordinary private car level was getting snarled up. He hated London traffic in just about any era he had experienced it in. The 23rd century was no exception.

“I think there has been an accident,” Susan observed as not one, but three fire and rescue appliances passed the traffic jam on the wrong side of the road. A police car and ambulance followed.

“Definitely something wrong,” Rose observed wearily. She was thinking only of getting to bed. She looked around. Her mum was asleep in the back seat, Christopher keeping a protective arm around her. She needed her bed, too.

“What the &%#£$!” The Doctor exclaimed as the car passed the scene of the ‘incident’ for want of a better word. They all stared in shock at the sight that had brought hundreds of ordinary people, as well as press and TV, to crowd about and stare. The police were outnumbered as they tried to keep a way clear for the emergency services trying to reach the place. And even they were having trouble believing what they were looking at.

A whole building, a church from the general outline, was covered in what looked like a silvery-grey shell with blue-pink veins that glowed in the light of the spotlights turned on it by the fire officers and the searchlights of the helicopters that hovered above.

“What IS it?” Susan asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it before…”

The Doctor was closest to her, so Rose’s scream affected him the most. But the rest of the occupants of the people carrier were startled, too. Jackie jerked awake in shock and looked around her, wondering what was happening.

“That’s… St… Joseph’s,” Rose managed to gasp in broken words. “The… the children went there… with Michael and Josephine.”

Susan’s scream as she realised was even more piercing than Rose’s, but David bore the full brunt of it this time.

“The service would have been over hours ago,” The Doctor assured them when they quietened. “They’ll be home, safe and sound.” But when Rose tried their home number it went to the answering service and Michael’s mobile phone, his wife’s, Vicki and Sukie’s mobile phones, all came up as unable to connect.

The Doctor pulled the car out of the traffic jam it had been slowly crawling through and parked it in a side street. He rested his head on the steering wheel and tried to concentrate. He tried to feel mentally for his children. He could reach none of them. The only contact he could make was with Jackie’s unborn child.

“Hush, little one, you rest easy. This is nothing for you to fret over,” He soothed the tiny, half-formed mind before he left that safe place and gave his attention to the frightening world around him.

“The boys are both out of town aren’t they?” Christopher said.

“Yes,” Susan answered in a shaky voice. “Chris took his TARDIS to Cornwall to see his friends down there and Davie and Brenda went to Northumberland with Spenser. They all said they’d be back in time for Christmas morning breakfast.”

“They’re as well out of it,” David said with a catch in his voice as he held his wife and tried to stop her shaking with fear.

“Who are THEY now?” Christopher asked as a convoy of military vehicles arrived and a cordon began to be set up, closing the main road to traffic and pushing the spectators further back.

“U.N.I.T.!” The Doctor said with a harsh laugh. “Ok, that simplifies things.” He began to unfasten his seatbelt. “Christopher, you drive home, put Jackie to bed. Make sure she sleeps. No arguments. She doesn’t stand around the streets all night in December with my grandchild to care for. Rose… any chance of persuading YOU to go and look after your mum?”

“None whatsoever,” she answered. “If my children are inside that… whatever the hell it is…”

“That goes for me, too, grandfather,” Susan told him. “Sukie needs me.”

“All right,” he agreed. “Everyone out. Jackie, don’t worry. They’ll be fine. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. And you know I will.”

“You’re too bloody confident in your own cleverness, Doctor,” Jackie told him as Christopher took his place in the driver’s seat. “You think you know everything and can DO everything. One day something will catch you out. But I hope to God it’s not tonight.” She reached out to him before he closed the back door of the car, and took his hand in hers, gripping it tightly. He knew from the look in her eyes that she DID trust him to rescue the children and everyone else who might be trapped beneath that strange shell. It was just a little old-fashioned Jackie Tyler stubbornness that stopped her saying so.

“Come on,” The Doctor said as he put his arm around his wife and they walked through the snow-packed street to the cordon. An armed soldier blocked their way.

“Code 9 TS-12-467-894-32.” He said.

“Come again?” the soldier answered.

“Get onto your superiors and give them that code. Tell them it is Code 9 plus Three. And tell them to have some tea brewing in their forward command tent.”

He had to repeat the code a little more slowly as the soldier did as he said, but a few minutes after that things started to happen. The Doctor, with his plus three, Rose, David and Susan, were all passed through the cordon, to the disgust of those who were asked to stand clear as they did so.

There WAS tea in the hastily erected command tent. The Doctor didn’t drink any, though he made sure Rose and Susan took some to help calm them. He was more interested in the various readings that were being picked up on computer screens around him.

One infra red satellite picture picked up the body heat of the people inside the church, despite the alien thing that covered it.

The Doctor noticed two small bodies who, while warm, were actually a good thirty degrees cooler than the Humans around them. Vicki and Peter had his Gallifreyan blood. Beside them, another small figure at the normal Human temperature had to be Sukie. It looked as if the two girls were sitting close together, and Peter was being hugged by somebody, probably Josephine.

He wished fervently it was his arms around his baby, comforting him. But they were all alive. They were safe. He was relieved by that much.

He turned to the screen that was giving out information about the creature itself.

“Tellurium based lifeform?” He raised an eyebrow in surprise. “That’s different. I’ve NEVER encountered one of THOSE before.”

For a brief moment his curiosity as a scientist was excited by a lifeform that was entirely new to him. Then he glanced at the infra-red again and remembered why he was here. His hearts ached for his children trapped within that building, and for the hundred and sixty other people with them, including many more children.

Then the scientist reasserted himself and reminded him that the only chance they all had was for him to be professional.

Mrs Brady’s fingers were aching from playing. And most people were tired of singing. The children were just tired, and hungry. The priest shared out the food that was in the vestry and though it was a poor meal there was something for everybody. Somebody commented that it was like the loaves and fishes parable. Perhaps it was. Anyway, a sort of calm came over them all afterwards. The children were mostly tired and curled themselves up wherever they could. Soon the only youngsters still awake were Vicki and Sukie.

“You two should sleep, too.” The priest sat in the pew in front of them and spoke to them quietly. “You may be clever girls, but you must be tired.”

“We’ll sleep when we get home,” Vicki said. “My Daddy will come. He’ll sort it all out.”

“You put a lot of faith in your Daddy. He must be a very special man.”

“Yes, he is,” Vicki assured him.

“He is,” Josephine comfirmed. “He is a remarkable man, his Lordship is. I think he is our best hope.”

“So why are you praying, Josephine?” Sukie asked. “If you know granddad will come for us?”

“I pray that God will guide his hand,” Josephine told her. “You children should do the same.”

“We don’t do praying,” Vicki answered.

“Their parents ARE very good people,” Josephine assured the priest, who seemed a little startled by Vicki’s comment. “But they live a sort of ‘alternative lifestyle.’”

“I see,” the priest said. “Well, Vicki, is it? I agree with Josephine. If our salvation lies with your Daddy, then I shall pray that God guides him.”

“The telephones don’t work,” Sukie said. “And neither does… other… ways of sending messages. Can your God hear the prayers people are saying?”

“Yes, He can,” the priest said. “God hears our prayers no matter where we are, even in the most trying circumstances.”

He was having trouble just then imagining a more trying set of circumstances than they were in at that moment. The child’s question was a very profound one. And he knew if he didn’t believe the answer he had given her, then every word he had ever spoken from the pulpit would be meaningless.

A strange time and circumstances for a vocation enforcing experience.

“If God hears when nobody else can, then maybe He IS greater than my Daddy,” Vicki admitted.

The priest had no answer to that. He put his hand on the little girl’s head, whispering a blessing and went to see what he could do for his other parishioners.

Vicki and Sukie sat quietly and put their hands together in imitation of Josephine.

“Do you think it works?” Vicki asked Sukie telepathically.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “Trouble is, even if He does hear, I never heard of God ever calling anyone back. I think I’d rather hear from granddad right now.”

“Me too,” Vicki agreed with a sigh.

The Doctor was having a frustrating time. He understood that the shell over the church was some kind of living entity. He fully understood that it was a creature which was Tellurium based, not carbon as humans and Time Lords both were. But he knew no more. He didn’t know what it was or where it came from, or why it had sealed itself around a church full of people.

If he could at least identify the species it would be a clue.

“You did it with the Slitheen,” Rose told him as she stood behind his computer chair, her hands on his shoulders. “You worked it out in a few minutes from the clues we had about them.”

“I know,” he sighed. “But this time I’m stumped. I need more to go on. I need the TARDIS. Every species known to Time Lords is listed in the databanks.”

“As long as it IS known to Time Lords.”

“It’s a long time since I’ve encountered an unknown species,” The Doctor said with an excited tone to his voice that made Rose frown. “I’m sorry, love. You’re right. The children are more important.”

“Could the TARDIS get inside, do you think?” Rose asked him.

“I could try!” The suggestion was all he needed. Now he could do something other than sit there, helplessly, MONITORING things. He stood up. He kissed her gently. “I’m going to get the TARDIS. Hold the fort here.”

His Code 9 status pulled strings, at least. U.N.I.T. provided a helicopter and pilot to get him to Mount Lœng House. He dismissed both as soon as it touched down on the old paddock and ran to the door. He steadied himself as he fumbled for his house keys and dropped them.

“Come on, man, pull yourself together,” he told himself as he opened the door and headed for the basement where the TARDIS sat, waiting for him. He heard Christopher calling him and paused long enough to assure him he was still working on things and not to worry. Then he dashed inside and dematerialised the TARDIS.

“Tellurium,” he muttered as he keyed that rare element into the database. “What kind of creature is Tellurium based?”

The console beeped and the answer presented itself to him. He smiled grimly. With the Slitheen identifying them had presented an obvious and almost mundane method of neutralising them. So did this. A whole collection of suggested chemical weapons that would have much the same effect as throwing pickled onions at a Slitheen but on a bigger scale.

But he wasn’t about to try it. Not only did he have the people inside to worry about, but also the creature itself.

Because it WAS just a creature. An animal, accidentally there. It wasn’t a scheming sentient being like the Slitheen.

And though he would not hesitate to destroy something that deliberately wanted to harm his family, he didn’t kill innocent things.

The staff at U.N.I.T. forward command were not as startled as they might have been by the arrival of the police public call box in a rush of wind and a noise like an unidentifiable large animal in acute distress. Everyone of them who possessed high enough security access had looked up The Doctor, and those who didn’t had peered over the shoulders of those who did.

“It’s a Hadrassian entity,” he shouted as he emerged from the TARDIS. “And what the bloody hell do you think you’re about to do?” He looked at the main screen where live video of the church and surrounding area could be seen. A U.N.I.T. man with a Captain’s three pips was speaking into a headset, directing the progress of a remote control flamethrower. “Stop it right now.”

The captain looked around at him. He remembered that he had been told The Doctor was THE expert and outranked everyone. But The Doctor had disappeared and had not explained what his plans were, so he had used his own initiative and called up some firepower – literally.

“If you do THAT, the creature will vent the heat inside the church and the people will be harmed. No flame throwers, no incendiaries, no napalm or any other stupid and destructive idea. And don’t even THINK of trying to BOMB it with anything.”

“I thought it would melt,” the Captain answered rather lamely.

“What do you think it is? Frosty the snowman’s big brother?”

“Well what IS it then?”

“I told you, a Hadrassian entity. It’s the galactic equivalent of a beached whale. It got itself caught up in Earth’s atmosphere and fell with the snow. It must have landed on the church quite by accident. Nobody would have noticed. Probably it was no more than a few feet wide at that point. But the church had its central heating on all day, and it would have felt the warmth, made itself comfortable and started to grow. It can do that exponentially by simple mitosis and it does it very fast. The carol service meant that the heating was turned up a few more notches and it was even more warm and comfy and started to grow even faster, trapping them inside.”

“Grandfather,” Susan spoke up as the UNIT people looked at him. “It doesn’t mean them any harm? They’re just there by accident?”

“It means them no harm. It probably doesn’t even realise they’re there. Its concept of a lifeform is another Hadrassian entity and it has probably never even met one of them.”

“How do we get them out?”

“That’s easy,” The Doctor replied. “I can get the TARDIS in. I just have to programme it to penetrate a living tellurium shield and I can have everyone out of there faster than you can say Deus Ex Machina. That’s not the problem.”

“What IS the problem?” Susan and Rose said it first. But David and the Captain were a close second. He could see it running in the minds of everyone else, too.

“The problem…” He leaned forward and touched a computer keyboard and the ultrasound measurements it had been taking resolved into a schematic on the screen. “The problem is that you’re going to lose your church. The entity is absorbing all the minerals in the walls and roof. It’s how it got so big. The walls are already starting to lose their cohesion, as it is. And the problem with that, is that as long as it stays in an oxygen atmosphere it will want to carry on growing and it will encompass the next big building and the next, and in a day or so it will have eaten Richmond.”

He turned and strode towards the TARDIS. Rose ran after him, so did Susan and David.

“We’re going to get our kids now?” Rose asked him. “Before the roof falls in?”

“Yes,” he answered. “Get in, all of you.”

The fact that the building was not going to outlast the available food and drink did not escape the notice of those within, either. Cracks had begun to appear in the beautifully vaulted ceiling and brick dust fell regularly. Ominous creaks sent shivers of apprehension down everyone’s spines but there was no question of singing or even praying aloud. The sound might just bring it all down. The prayers were quiet and earnest.

“Daddy, please come and get us,” Vicki prayed. For all the sacred words being whispered or said in the heads of the people around her, that was the only prayer she knew. “Daddy, help!” He was the one she put her faith in. She knew he would never let her down.

“Daddy will come,” she whispered to Josephine, who was holding Peter in her arms and praying in a soft whisper. “He will.”

Josephine nodded but did not trust herself to speak. She still believed it. But she wasn’t sure he would be there in time. She glanced at the ceiling. She suppressed a whimper of fright.

“You CAN do it, can’t you?” Rose asked The Doctor as he powered up the TARDIS.

He feigned an expression of extreme hurt.

“When have I ever NOT done anything?” he asked.

“Second day I met you,” she answered. “When I saved you from becoming a Nestene protein snack.”

He smiled disarmingly. It was true enough. She had been there for him as often as he had been there for her.

“Ok, when have WE as a team, not come through?” he amended. “Here goes. Hold on. It might be bumpy.”

“Story of my life!” Susan said as she grasped a handhold. David pressed close to her and held on, too. Rose felt The Doctor’s arm slip around her waist as he operated the controls one handedly. The TARDIS rocked violently and then shot forward and then dropped like a stone before The Doctor initialised the materialisation.

“Daddy!” Vicki forgot about keeping quiet as she saw the TARDIS materialise in front of the altar. She raced for the door, Sukie behind her, and were there as The Doctor ran out to scoop them both up in his arms.

“Daddy!” she said again. “I told them you would come for me.”

“Of course I did,” he said. “Go on in. Both of you.”

They ran inside. He heard Rose and Susan smothering them with relieved affection as Michael and Josephine came to him, Mrs Grahams carrying Peter.

“I prayed that you would come,” she said. “I know you don’t believe, but I DO, and I believe God sent you to us.”

“I’m not about to argue with you, Josephine,” he answered her. “Take Peter inside.” He looked around. People were starting to take their cue and come forward. They none of them understood how a blue box could have appeared in front of their eyes or how it would get them all out, but they were willing to take a leap of faith.

The Doctor looked up at the ceiling. The cracks were beyond ominous now. Portentous, menacing, foreboding and a whole thesaurus page of similar words were all equally inadequate.

“Inside, everyone,” The Doctor told them, running to pick up a child who had stumbled and press him into a mother’s arms. “Just find a floor space and sit down inside. And don’t worry, any of you. The worst is over.”

He turned. The priest was standing by the altar, looking up at the rapidly disintegrating roof of the Sanctuary.

“Come on, Father,” The Doctor said to him gently. “Captains traditionally go down with the ship, but you don’t have to go down with your church.”

“It survived the Daleks,” he said. “Four hundred years old it is. And now…”

“Come on, a church can be rebuilt.”

“One moment,” the priest answered and ran towards the tabernacle. He took down a cross that was placed above it and ran back with it, finally allowing The Doctor to usher him through the TARDIS door. “I had to bring this,” he said. “It’s the most precious thing in this church. A relic of the true cross is embedded in it.”

“Human life is the most precious thing in this church,” The Doctor told him as he let his mind reach out and ensure that nobody was left behind. Then he turned and grinned as he heard the priest go through that same moment of wonder that everyone stepping over that threshold experienced.

“Oh, my,” he murmured as he stepped inside. “It’s…”

“Yes, the inside is bigger than the outside,” The Doctor said as he closed the door behind him. Rose had opened the door to the dojo and directed most of the congregation to sit down on that clear, wide floor space. Michael and Josephine, with the children, were settled on the sofas.

“I understand,” the priest answered him.

“You do?” The Doctor questioned.

“A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world,” he replied.

“Ah, yes,” The Doctor smiled as he recognised the very apt literary allusion. “If you’d like to join my family on the sofa there, father, and watch the viewscreen, you can get a view of just how big your world is.”

The Priest nodded and did as he suggested. He watched as the view of the crumbling church interior was replaced by a view from high above the church. The silvery-white entity was glowing in the darkness and moving.

“It’s moving?”

“It’s following us,” The Doctor said. “I’ve let the TARDIS throw off a trail of Tellurium particles. The entity is following it like a trail of breadcrumbs.”

“It can do that?”

“Yes, it can. And it can appear, to the entity, to be the biggest source of the sort of minerals it likes. It will follow us like a fish on a hook until I’m ready to cast it loose.”

“Do I take it you don’t mean to HARM the ‘entity’?” The priest asked him.

“It’s not done us any harm, aside from ruining a rather nice church,” The Doctor answered. “Like I said before, a whale that swam up the Thames and beached itself. Only in this case it swam up the solar system.”

And the solar system was where they were heading now. The priest, along with all the other first time TARDIS travellers, watched planet Earth receding from view as they broke orbit.

“Father,” Josephine said as she watched in rapt fascination. “Our prayers WERE answered, weren’t they? God guided The Doctor to be our deliverance.”

“But Daddy would have come anyway, without God asking him to,” Vicki pointed out.

“I have a feeling your Daddy does God’s will many times without being asked to do so,” the priest answered her. “Yes, he was the answer to all our prayers.”

David was surplus to requirements as Susan hugged her daughter repeatedly. He joined The Doctor at the console.

“We’re just going to let it go when we reach the city limits – or the solar system as it were?”

“Yes,” The Doctor answered him.

“It’s as big as a church. If it lands on another planet it could overwhelm it in a couple of days.”

“By the time we reach the edge of the solar system it won’t be that huge. As much as it feeds and expands on Earth, in the vacuum of space it rapidly uses up the energy it gathered and it returns to its natural size, abut the size of a cartwheel. It can float in space in a semi-suspended state for millennia before drifting into an atmosphere again. And there’s a good chance it will find one without people that it can absorb minerals from indefinitely.”

“Anyone else would have just blown it to bits once the people were clear,” David observed. “U.N.I.T. were ready to do that. I heard them preparing planes with high explosives, and arguing about how far they needed to evacuate people.”

“Yeah,” The Doctor answered. “U.N.I.T. have their uses, but subtlety is hardly their watchword. Thank your lucky stars Torchwood isn’t around in the 23rd century! They’d be waiting to bag up the pieces and take them away to analyse to see if they can make a weapon out of it.”

“That’s the difference with you, Doctor,” David continued. “All these years, in your blue box, totally unarmed. No wonder the kids have such faith in you. Michael was telling me – everyone else was praying. Vicki just kept saying ‘Daddy will be here.’”

“That’s my girl,” The Doctor said with a smile. He glanced at the priest and felt a little moment of triumph. Perhaps the prayers had something to do with it. Perhaps that was why the TARDIS got through in time, why they were able to rescue everyone.

But that was impossible to prove.

He had proved Vicki’s faith in him.

The only trouble was, ONE day he might not get there. One failure would destroy her faith in him forever. How many people prayed as they went down on sinking ships or faced execution and murder, and still the belief went on? God at least had more chances to get it wrong than he did.

But for now he was still his daughter’s invincible hero and that was good enough.

It took two hours to reach the last planet in the solar system, that tiny, frozen ball called Sedna. The TARDIS increased speed as it did so. The Doctor told everyone to grab hold of whatever they could grab hold of as he turned off the trail of particles and pulled the TARDIS into an arcing reverse, slingshotting around Sedna. On his screen he saw the entity continue on, drifting now that it wasn’t following any path. The Doctor monitored it on his long range scanner for a while as the TARDIS rounded Sedna and began the return journey. Most of his passengers were too anxious to get home now to truly enjoy what was for them, a rare privilege.

The priest watched it all and made comments from time to time about God’s wonderful creation. The Doctor smiled and didn’t disagree with him at least. It WAS a beautiful universe regardless of who made it.

They landed a few hours later just outside the UNIT command tent. There was a furore of questions about where they had all been but The Doctor refused to answer any. He just demanded, and got, transport home for all his tired passengers. A suggestion that they all be debriefed was incinerated in the hard stare The Doctor gave to the one who raised it.

The priest stood and gazed mournfully at the pile of rubble that was his church.

“You can rebuild,” The Doctor assured him.

“Yes, we can,” he agreed. “We have our lives, thanks be to God…” The priest smiled. “Thanks to you, Doctor.”

“Well,” he admitted. “Who knows if there isn’t a higher authority than me, somewhere.” He patted the priest on the shoulder and smiled warmly before turning to the TARDIS, to take his own family home, finally.