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

Vicki woke and stretched luxuriantly in her bed. The big window sized viewscreen was displaying a screensaver slideshow of spectacular sunrises. She snapped her fingers and it switched to the live view of planet Earth from space that reminded her there was an exciting day ahead. But for now she was happy to lie there and look around the room.

She shared the bedroom aboard her own TARDIS with Sukie. When the two girls had taken the controls for the first time and the imprimatur completed, making it undeniably their own, it had created this room especially for them.

It was a room with a split personality, reflecting the fact that the two girls, though related, and sharing many interests in common, were at the same time, different. Vicki’s half of the room was pastel coloured and the bed had a white lace counterpane and crisp lace edges to the pillows. There were dolls propped against the end of the bed and she had flowers and bows around the mirror of her dressing table.

Sukie’s bed had pillow cases in racing green, and a duvet cover with a picture of a car racing across it. Her dressing table had three small silver trophies on it that she had won for karting races in the early twenty-first century.

Vicki wore a nightdress with flowers on it. Sukie wore pyjamas with the same car logo as the duvet.

Both dressing tables had make up compacts and assorted moisturisers and cleansers on them. They were teenage girls, after all. Sukie was the first of the two of them to start wearing lipstick, and she had as many dresses as Vicki as well as her jeans and racing firesuits. She wasn’t a tomboy at all. She just happened to like cars and what they could do.

The bedroom wasn’t the only part of the TARDIS that had customised itself around their interests. She smiled as her mind reached out past the bedroom door. Beyond there was what they had called the recreation room. It was a wide, circular room with a smoked glass ceiling that was the floor of the console room above. In the middle was the glowing green extension of the time rotor that went right down through the heart of the TARDIS to the engine room. But around it was an indoor playground for them both. There was a swing that Vicki loved to while away the hours on and a fountain that tinkled softly into a crystal clear pool that never overflowed even though she couldn’t see any outlet for the excess water. For Sukie there was a racing car simulator with a virtual display within the visor of the helmet that could recreate any track in the history of motor racing, even some not on planet Earth.

Other doors leading from the recreation room led to a kitchen, a dojo and gym, a music room and the Wardrobe as well as a spare bedroom where the boys were sleeping. A set of sweeping stairs led down to other parts of the TARDIS, including a swimming pool and the cloister room which was like a planetarium and an arboretum combined. Another staircase went up to the console room itself.

There was a stirring that told her Sukie was awake. When Sukie woke she always got up out of bed straight away. Sleeping was a necessity for mental and physical health, but there was too much to do with her life to waste more of it than strictly necessary in bed. She was up and into the en suite bathroom straight away. Vicki snuggled into her pillow and looked at that view of the planet until it was her turn to shower. It was daytime over England. Everyone she knew from school were doing ordinary Saturday things: shopping, leisure centre, cinema. They didn’t have their own TARDIS.

She was just dressed after her shower when there was a polite knock on the door and a male voice called out to the two girls.

“We made breakfast.”

“YOU made breakfast?” Sukie called back. “Really? This I’ve got to see.”

She was the first to the bedroom door. Vicki followed behind. They both stopped and looked appreciatively at the breakfast laid out picnic style on a chequered table cloth next to the water feature. Jimmy Forrester, who had high hopes of being Vicki’s boyfriend when she decided she wanted one rather than a friend who happened to be a boy, and Earl Gregory who already knew he and Sukie were going to be married one day, smiled hopefully at them. They decided to let them off the hook and not make any comments about domestic role reversals – at least for a minute or two. They sat with the boys and enjoyed cool, sweetened grapefruit halves followed by crisp bacon, hash browns and scrambled eggs with toast and marmalade and coffee to finish.

“Of course, they didn’t actually cook any of it,” Sukie pointed out as she spread marmalade on her toast. “Davie installed the food synthesiser in the kitchen. It’s top of the range. You almost can’t tell the difference.”

“We toasted the bread,” Jimmy protested. “And made the coffee. And the grapefruits were in the fridge.”

“The butter and marmalade are real, too,” Earl added. But they both knew they were being wound up by the girls.

“The TARDIS itself installed a dishwasher,” Vicki added. “We don’t need to do anything afterwards except pile the plates in. Then we can get on with our TARDIS trip.”

Earl gallantly volunteered to do that, and was the last one to reach the console room. The girls were already busy at the central console when he got there. He looked at them and then joined Jimmy, leaning against the railing and watching them at work. He was the eldest of the four of them, and already trained in TARDIS piloting, even though he didn’t have one of his own, yet. But he knew that the girls would take no interference from him. This was THEIR TARDIS.

“Yes, it is,” Vicki whispered happily as she opened up the special file left on the database by The Doctor. She looked around the room and remembered when she and Sukie had stepped into it for the first time. Then, it had been nearly identical to her father’s TARDIS, with those organic coral pillars holding up an upturned cauldron of a roof. The only difference had been the console itself. The one she grew up knowing had a child seat set into it instead of the environmental controls. Some of her first memories were of sitting in that seat watching her father control the TARDIS as they went on a fantastic family outing. Later, Peter had the seat, and she hadn’t minded because she had learnt to stand on a little step and reach the less important dials and buttons on the navigation panel. Now Peter was starting to do that, and there was a three-seater arrangement for the littlest of her siblings.

And she and Sukie had a TARDIS of their own. They had soaked up its familiarity at first. Then when they placed their hands on the console and felt the imprimatur bond them to the semi-sentient machine, they had marvelled at its adaptability. The coral pillars had dissolved away before their eyes. The room had become bigger and brighter, with those smoked glass floors replacing the old metal mesh ones and the console becoming a thing of beauty itself. Panels of smoked glass with touch sensitive controls marked out in swirling Gallifreyan text were framed by shining metal that reflected the warm yellow-red lights that were set into the walls and ceiling. The central time rotor was a pillar of sparkling crystal that split the green light inside into a spectrum of colours when it moved up and down.

The most spectacular difference was the fifteen foot high, twenty-five foot wide viewscreen that curved around one whole section of the wall so that views of space or of the vortex were really amazing to watch.

Above the console room floor was a wide gallery with a railing all around, accessed by a spiral staircase of metal and toughened glass steps. She wasn’t entirely sure what its function was, but she and Sukie loved to go up there and walk around the whole circumference of their console room looking down upon it proprietarily. That marvellous sense of owning something very special, to do with as they pleased – within the rules her daddy had firmly laid down – was absolute.

The file opened with a rock music fanfare that reminded the two girls that Davie had helped fine tune the elderly Type 40 TARDIS before they began learning to pilot it. At the same time a hologram shimmered and partially solidified.

“Daddy!” Vicki called out enthusiastically. She knew it wasn’t real, of course. The Doctor was in his own TARDIS in temporal orbit on the other side of the planet, monitoring her without interfering. If they got into any real trouble, he would be there in moments. But he had promised to let them solve the puzzles and do all of the TARDIS piloting themselves without any input from him.

“Are you ready, girls?” the hologram asked. “If so, here’s your first task. Perfectly simple. Just climb to the top of Bundadjarruga. Take a picnic and lots of water and plenty of sunscreen. Have a lovely day of it.”

The hologram disappeared. Vicki felt a little bit sorry. Sukie was just glad he didn’t call either of them his ‘little loves’ in front of the boys.

“Bundadjarruga?” they chorused. “What and where is that?”

“It’s in Australia,” Jimmy Forrester said, unexpectedly even before either of the girls could reach the information database. “It’s a mountain near Cairns in Queensland.”

“He’s right,” Sukie confirmed as she accessed the file. “That’s the aboriginal name for it. It’s also called Walsh’s Pyramid. Not like the Egyptian ones. It’s shaped that way naturally. It’s nine hundred and twenty two metres high and looks really beautiful in this picture. The information says it can be climbed in about three hours.”

“We’re going to Australia?” Vicki was excited at the prospect. So were Sukie and Earl. Jimmy looked less enthusiastic, despite being the one who told them about it.

“You’re not worried about the three hour walk, are you?” Earl asked him. “If Vicki picks a nice spring day it shouldn’t be any trouble. We’re all fit and healthy. I mean... I know you’re the only one of us who is purely Human and everything, but...”

“I’m not worried about the walk,” he responded. “It’s just... we’re really going there? It’s not a joke?”

“You’ve been on loads of trips in daddy’s TARDIS with us,” Vicki reminded him. “You know anything is possible.”

“Ok. Let’s go,” he said. “I want to see it. Only... not in this century. This is a time machine. Take us to a different time. Doesn’t matter when. The mountain’s been there since forever. But not this time.”

“We’ll go in October of 2011,” Vicki decided. “That’s spring in Queensland. And in that time there should be cafes and things we can go and eat in after we get back down the mountain.”

That decided, she and Sukie programmed their temporal and spatial destination and the time rotor smoothly rose and fell. The vortex of cool blue swirled hypnotically on the screen. They watched it for a little while before heading to the Wardrobe to change for a day’s hiking.

“Wow, we actually did it” Sukie cried triumphantly as the viewscreen resolved into a panoramic view of Walsh’s Pyramid, also known as Bundadjarruga, with the rising sun casting golden rays upon it.

“October 15th, 2011,” Vicki confirmed from the temporal display. “A beautiful Saturday in spring.”

The main door opened unexpectedly. Jimmy had gone outside already. The others grabbed their backpacks and followed him.

“I don’t know why you didn’t get Davie to fix that chameleon circuit while he was working on it,” Earl pointed out as he looked back at the 1950s police telephone box that looked just a little incongruous by the side of an Australian country road.

“I like it like that,” Vicki answered. “TARDISes are meant to be blue. It wouldn’t feel right changing THAT part of it. Anyway....”

She turned and half ran to catch up with Jimmy who was walking purposefully in the direction of the mountain. She fell into step beside him. Sukie and Earl walked quickly to catch up with them.

They turned off the road onto a footpath that went past a tourist information centre and onto the designated walking trail up the mountain. Nobody talked much at first, except to point out the wild scrubby grass and the hidden rocks that made the trail treacherous to the unwary.

“Jimmy,” Earl said presently. “Before we get much further up this mountain, do you think we ought to clear the air. What is it about this place?”

“It’s somewhere I always wanted to come,” Jimmy answered. “A dream... a stupid one. But it was mine.” He sighed and looked at the two girls. “You know I always told everyone my mum was dead. That’s why I lived with my dad.”

They nodded sombrely. They all knew that Jimmy had suffered badly at the hands of an abusive father for most of his childhood. Things had only got better for him when his father disappeared in the Dominator invasion and he went into foster care.

“She wasn’t dead. She left me and my dad and went to Australia with another man. When I was little, I had one picture postcard that she sent. It was of this mountain. I used to think it would be great to come here and live with her. I dreamt of it at night. Then... one day... not long before the invasion... when my dad was in a worse mood than usual... he snatched the postcard and ripped it to shreds. He told me my mum had three new kids with her second husband and didn’t care about me. And it was probably true. I never tried to find out. The Dominators went to Australia, too, so I don’t even know if she’s still alive. And I don’t care any more. But... it’s kind of a strange feeling actually being here, now. It looks just like the postcard. And...”

He stopped talking. If he kept going he might have started crying, and that was something fourteen year old boys weren’t meant to do in front of girls.

“Quite a coincidence that this was the first place on the quest,” Earl pointed out. Then he felt the two girls replying to him in his head.

“Maybe it isn’t a coincidence,” Vicki told him. “Maybe daddy knew. He knows lots of things. Maybe he thought Jimmy would like to come here.”

“I hope he did the right thing,” Earl answered. “Humans are so unpredictable.”

Having told his story, though, Jimmy seemed to cheer up a lot. He had learnt quite a bit about the area when his dream was intact, and he talked for a long time about the sugar growing industry of Cairns and the fact that Cane Toads were introduced into the area to eat a type of sugar cane eating beetle, and succeeded only in spreading the population of toads.

When they stopped to rest and break open cool juice packs and slabs of genuine Kendal Mint Cake bought in 20th century Cumbria by Sukie’s brothers, Vicki sat close to Jimmy. She knew he was ready to talk about the more personal issues with her.

“That’s why I wanted to come in a different time,” he said. “It wasn’t really my mum that was important to me. I hardly remember her, really. It was Australia... Queensland... That was the real dream. Getting away from my old life. Ripping up the postcard hurt more than telling me that stuff about my mum. It felt like he’d ripped up my dream. But now I’m here. And it’s great. And...” he stopped talking. He flushed slightly. It might even be considered a blush. Vicki knew he was never going to say what he was thinking out loud, though. At least not without a bit of prompting.

“I’m glad daddy let you and Earl come with me and Sukie,” she said. “I like being with you.”

“I like being with you, Vickstick,” he answered. “Even if you are a soppy girl who still says ‘daddy’.”

Vicki laughed. When they were in Miss Wright’s class in the junior school, Jimmy had used the names Vickstick and Pookie to be mean to the two girls. But when the three of them found themselves among strangers in high school those nicknames had felt familiar and strangely comforting. Now he called her by that name as a way of stepping back from the boy-girl intimacy both didn’t quite feel ready for.

Jimmy wasn’t the only one who teased her about saying ‘daddy’. Sukie was always commenting about that, too. But she didn’t care. It felt right to her. The man everyone else called ‘Doctor’ with awe and respect would always be her daddy for as long as she lived.

And Jimmy would be Jimmy. When they moved on up the mountain he walked alongside her. They didn’t hold hands. But that was because the mountain was getting steeper and they needed both hands to clamber over large rough areas of stone and through nearly impenetrable scrub. Of course, she and Earl had full Gallifreyan anatomy and it was easier for them than for Sukie with one heart and Human blood or for Jimmy who was fully Human. But they didn’t comment about those differences and they went at a pace that wouldn’t make Jimmy feel inadequate.

When they reached the summit, they all agreed it was worth it. The views all around were spectacular, whether they were looking across the ochre and deep green Queensland wilderness or towards the sprawling city of Cairns sparkling in the sunlight, or beyond it to the pale azure Coral Sea with the Great Barrier Reef visible to the naked eye even from this distance. It was a view that made the effort of climbing well worth it. Sitting there and eating the picnic they had carried all the way up was blissful.

“We’ve got to go down again,” Earl pointed out, and that prospect was a little less palatable. None of them were afraid of the effort, but having sat down and rested the thought of getting up and beginning another three hour trek was discouraging.

“Not just yet,” Vicki pointed out. We’re supposed to find something now we’re here. Something daddy arranged for us to find.”

“Like what?” Earl asked.

“We’ll know when we find it, I suppose,” she answered. “Come on, let’s look. The peak isn’t that big. It shouldn’t take long.”

The top of the pyramid was a plateau of scrubby, rocky ground. It could be explored in a very short time. The four split to look for the marker, and were in sight of each other all the time.

“Here!” Sukie called out triumphantly and they all ran to join her in what was very nearly the centre of the plateau. She pointed to a rock that seemed just like all the others except for something etched on it. Two Greek symbols – TS - Theta Sigma.

“It was done with a sonic screwdriver,” Vicki pointed out, feeling the deep, neatly scored lines. “And not very long ago. I can still feel the energy. Within a half a day.”

“You mean... while we were climbing up here, your father landed his TARDIS and left this for us to find?” Earl asked.

“Of course,” Vicki answered. “He could easily find out WHEN we’d chosen to come and beat us to it.”

Sukie took out her own sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the rock. She wasn’t altogether surprised when it split apart to reveal a small hole underneath. There was a box in the hole. It was made of dark wood with silver inlaid Gallifreyan symbols on the lid. Sukie lifted it out and gave it to Vicki. She opened the box and smiled when she took out the small hand held device inside.

“I think that’s Davie’s work,” Sukie told her. “And I can guess what it does. But shouldn’t there be a message, too?”

“Yes, there is,” vicki answered. She reached into the box and pulled out what felt like a thin sheet of plastic. It unfolded to the size of a laptop computer screen. It was powered by tiny solar panels around the edge that immediately drank in the Australian spring sunlight. An image appeared on the thin screen. It was The Doctor, of course. He smiled and congratulated them all on completing the first part of their quest.

“The second clue is a picture one,” he added. “When you guess where this is, you’ll know where you’re going for part two of your adventure. Have fun.”

His image faded into a startling view of a huge dome made of a steel lattice with a tall building inside it.

“It must be somewhere in space,” Earl said. “I’ve never seen anything like that on Earth.”

“Definitely alien,” Jimmy agreed.

“Shows what you boys know,” Sukie told them. “I know where it is. Vicki, use that gizmo and save us a trek down the mountain.”

Vicki pressed the large button in the centre of the handheld device and smiled as she heard the groaning, wheezing sound of a TARDIS materialising.

“A remote control! Clever Davie.” She turned to Jimmy, who was taking one last look at the city of Cairns. “We can come again, you know,” she told him. “Any time you like. We can go anywhere in the TARDIS once daddy thinks Sukie and I are good enough to fly it unsupervised.”

“I think I would like that,” Jimmy told her. “Thanks.”

“It’s cheating a bit,” Earl said as they stepped into the TARDIS. He and Jimmy climbed up the spiral staircase to the gallery and watched the two girls set to work on their next destination. “In the old days, the Time Lords would have called that frivolous use of a TARDIS... to save us a walk down a mountain.”

“I’m not complaining,” Jimmy replied. “It would have been a long walk. I wish I knew more about those Time Lords, though. Vicki only told me a little bit. She said it was heavy stuff and I wouldn’t be interested. But I am. After all, she’s one of them. And... I ought to know more if we’re going to... you know...”

“There’s a lot you need to know if you’re serious about Vicki,” Earl told him. “But she’s a great kid. It’s worth it.”

“You know, I was interested in Sukie, first. But when she met you, there was no chance. Even so, Vicki isn’t... you know... she’s not second best or anything. She’s...”

“We’re both lucky,” Earl told him. “Remember that, and you’ll do ok.”

They turned their attention to the vortex on the huge screen. They were travelling in space but not time. The neutral colour of the swirling clouds that sucked the eye towards infinity told them that, wherever they were going, they were going to it in October 2011.

“There it is,” Sukie declared when the TARDIS came out of the vortex hovering over the geodesic steel structure from the picture. “The Montreal Biosphère. I saw it when Davie brought me to see the Canadian Grand Prix of 2010. It’s an environment museum, dedicated to the uses of water and other sustainable resources.”

“Sounds good to me,” Earl said. “Let’s park up and go and have a look.”

All four of them came from an era when phrases like ‘renewable energy’ and ‘sustainable resources’ were in everyday use. They took it for granted that the electricity in their homes and schools came from either wind or solar power. Even the petrol that drove their cars was synthesised from an oil seed crop grown in bulk on the wide prairies of the USA, Argentina and Australia. So an exhibition of how their ancestors in the early twenty-first century began to develop that culture they were born into was fascinating enough.

But there was just one problem that they discussed over coffee and cakes in the biosphere café.

“Whatever daddy left here, we haven’t found it,” Vicki said.

“Maybe we were looking in the wrong place,” Jimmy suggested.

“No, I think we were looking in the wrong time,” Earl contradicted him. He was looking through a booklet which gave the history of the geodesic dome that enclosed the exhibition. “Sukie headed for the era she knows, with the Formula One track next door. But this place has history. We might be here a bit too late in that history.”

Vicki took the leaflet from him and looked through it. Then she looked at the image on the flexi-screen The Doctor left them.

“Ah... I see what you mean,” she said. “Well, we need to practice travelling through time while remaining in the same spatial location. After tea, we can have a go at that.”

They put the TARDIS in hover mode above the steel dome with the perception filter engaged so that it wouldn’t disturb anyone in the temporal locations they were visiting. Vicki and Sukie carefully manoeuvred the temporal manifold while holding the spatial stabiliser steady. The vortex whirled slowly in the cool blue of time going backwards to the mid-1980s. They opened the doors and briefly looked down at a derelict site with the steel lattice dull with neglect. Then they moved back again.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” Sukie cried as they emerged in May 1976. They opened the doors at first, but closed them again as black, acrid smoke engulfed the TARDIS. They used the big viewscreen to witness the fire that destroyed the interior of the geodesic dome and melted every one of the acrylic panels that had completed the original structure. The heat registering on the environmental console was phenomenal, and the whole dome looked like a small sun burning up.

“Or a planet,” Vicki said and burst into tears, turning away from the sight. She knew for a fact that nobody had died in this fire. But it reminded her of Gallifrey burning. All the young Time Lord candidates knew the story and they all had a vivid image in their minds of how terrible it was when the home planet of their race was destroyed. Vicki cried for it now as she watched a far less terrible tragedy unfold. When Jimmy put his arms around her shoulders and said absolutely nothing, she knew he understood just as well as any Human could possibly understand and she was grateful to him.

“We can see it in better times,” she said when the tears had passed. “We’ll land, this time, I think, and have another educational afternoon.”

The TARDIS parked outside the entrance to the United States Pavillion at Expo 1967, the two hundred and fifty foot diameter Buckminster-Fuller geodesic dome. This was the Biosphère’s first incarnation with its hundreds of transparent acrylic panels shining in the sun. The four time travellers, dressed suitably for the era, got in line with the other visitors and stepped inside to view a celebration of 1960s Americana and ride the world’s longest ever escalator up to the highest platform where the USA’s contributions to the space race were commemorated.

“This is more like it,” Vicki said. “Daddy is always telling us about how the 1960s were the great age of discovery for humans, when they first got their foothold in space and began their journey out among the stars. He talks about the humans of this era with pride... the way he talks about me and Christopher and Peter and the little ones... as if they... humans... were his own children striding out on their own for the first time.”

“It’s a good job I brought a language perception filter with me,” Earl commented. “I REALLY wouldn’t want one of the humans from this era to hear that.”

“But she’s right,” Sukie pointed out. “Granddad DOES talk like that. So does mum. She loved living on Earth in the 1960s when all of this was happening. Look. Those are models of the Gemini capsules. You don’t want to get my brothers started about this sort of thing, either. They’re both big on early Human space travel.”

“Bingo!” Jimmy said and pointed towards the model of the surveyor module that was going to land on the moon itself in two more years. They all looked and noted the information panel in front of it. There was a perception filter on that, too. Anyone else who looked would see a picture of the moon. Anyone who had travelled by TARDIS and was thus immune to such filters saw the Seal of Rassilon, symbol of the Gallifreyan government.

Vicki stepped closer and put her hand over the panel. The image changed again, to something that totally perplexed her.

“It’s a guitar,” she said. “A picture of a guitar.”

“Not just any guitar,” Earl told her. “We saw it three floors down in the American music and culture section. It’s the guitar Elvis Presley played when he cut his first record at the little studio in Memphis, Tennessee in 1953.”

“When exactly in 1953?” Vicki asked.

“July 18th,” Earl answered with such absolute certainty that everyone else tried to remember if the date was written anywhere in the information panels downstairs in that other part of the exposition. “Everyone knows that date,” he added.

“I think you’ll find everyone doesn’t,” Sukie told him. “Only people who have a card index memory of the history of American Blues music in the second half of the twentieth century.”

“Isn’t Elvis Presley rock and roll?” Jimmy asked.

Sukie gave a soft laugh.

“A trip to Memphis in 1953 will take the TARDIS about twenty minutes. It’s going to be a long twenty minutes for you, just for asking that question.”

In fact, Earl was still expounding on the connection between the Blues music of the southern states of America and rock and roll as they strolled down Union Avenue on a balmy summer morning. It was a good thing they were still using the perception filter on their conversation, because most of it was dangerously anachronistic.

“Blues were what Memphis was all about,” Earl said. “Listen to the sounds coming out of all the bars that we can’t actually go into because we’re all under twenty-one.”

They had been listening to the music all along. It was the thing that was so distinctive about the centre of this city, the number of bars with live music playing. It was a pleasant atmosphere even if they weren’t allowed to participate in it.

“But this music was almost exclusively played by black people. It originated in their work songs when they picked cotton and worked on the railroads. It was theirs. And some black people managed to make a good living from it. Some just played for the joy of it. But... remember, this is nearly a hundred years after slavery was abolished, but black people are still segregated from white in these southern states.”

They had noticed that, too. There were signs, subtle and not so subtle, of that kind of social injustice: doors that were marked ‘white’ and ‘non-white’, others that simply said ‘whites only’ or, even more unpleasantly ‘no coloreds’.

“So... anyway, Sam Phillips who ran the Memphis Recording Studio knew that if he could find a white singer who could sing the sort of songs these black folk were singing, he could make a fortune. I don’t think he meant it in a racist way. Most of the best Blues singers in Memphis recorded at his studio, anyway. But he just knew that white people would never buy those records. And... it was on July 18th, 1953 that his secretary spotted a young man who could do exactly what Sam wanted. A young man who just wanted to record a song for a birthday present for his mum.”

He stopped and looked at the unremarkable entrance to the small recording studio.

“I think we’re a bit early.”

“Well... what are we supposed to do?” Jimmy asked. “Hang around out here until a man who will be famous in a few years comes along? I think there might be a loitering law or something, even for white people. And besides, I don’t know how this could lead us to any sort of clue that takes us to the next part of the quest.”

“We could go in there and cut a record,” Earl suggested. “It only costs four dollars. And I’m pretty good on a guitar.”

“No, absolutely not,” Sukie told him. Earl looked at her quizzically. “You are NOT going in there, singing and playing a guitar.”

“I thought you liked me singing?” he protested.

“I do. That’s the point. You’re really good. You’re a white man who sings Blues really GOOD. If you go in there, you could change history by being the one that gets spotted instead of Elvis.”

“I think she has a point,” Vicki agreed. Jimmy wasn’t sure he was following the argument but he sided with her.

“Tell you what,” Sukie added. “Elvis had a good idea, about his mum’s birthday present. It’s my dad’s birthday next week. How about you give me the four dollars and I’ll sing.”

Earl looked at his girlfriend and wondered if he had been cheated somehow. Then he laughed and took her hand as they stepped through the soon to be famous doors.

“I forgot that Sukie does singing,” Jimmy said as he and Vicki watched through a little window into the studio. Earl was sitting at a piano and Sukie stood by the microphone waiting for the sound engineer to give her the cue to begin.

“You used to pick on both of us for being in the school choir,” Vicki reminded him.

“I used to pick on you for everything,” he said. “I was an idiot.” His hand reached to hold hers as they watched a performance of Loch Lomond followed by the Skye Boat Song for the b. side of an acetate disc that was in no danger of changing the history of rock and roll.

When it was done, the four of them sat in the reception while the record was being finished. The secretary told the young man with a guitar who was waiting patiently that he could go through now.

“He doesn’t look very impressive,” Vicki pointed out as they watched the young Elvis Presley step into a recording studio for the first time in his life. It wasn’t really as monumental an event as it ought to have been.

“He’s only a year older than me right now,” Earl reminded her. “Working as a truck driver, doing his best to make a living. But his life is going to change very soon. And it starts today.”

The music from the studio was relayed to the reception. The secretary was obviously used to that and, at first, paid no more attention than when Sukie was singing. As the simple love song accompanied by guitar continued, though, she stopped what she was doing and listened. Then she stood up.

“Excuse me,” she said to the polite young English kids who were waiting in the reception. “I’ll be back in a minute. If the delivery man comes in, would you ask him to leave the mail on my desk?”

She was gone no more than half a minute before a mail delivery man came in through the front entrance. He put the letters on the desk, all except one padded brown envelope.

“I’m not so sure I should just leave this one,” he said. “It’s a special delivery. It’s meant to come here, but it says I have to hand it to the addressee personally. A Miss Vicki Katarina de...” He squinted at the name on the envelope. “De Lungburrow?”

“That’s me,” Vicki said, jumping up from her seat. “It must be from daddy.”

The mailman looked dubious, but Vicki reached in her pocket for a small plastic wallet containing a piece of psychic paper that she had been allowed to have on condition it was never used for any dishonest purpose. This, she thought, was a perfectly honest purpose. She didn’t actually look at what it said on it, but the mailman was convinced that the package belonged to her. She hid it inside her cardigan before the secretary came back into the reception with Sukie’s father’s birthday present in a cardboard sleeve with Memphis Recording Studio printed on it. They thanked her politely and left the building quickly.

“So... what’s in the envelope?” Sukie asked after they had walked two and a half blocks of Union Avenue. Curiosity had got the better of her before they left the studios, but her patience had lasted a little longer. The boys were equally interested.

“It... appears to be another acetate disc,” she said gently pulling the precious object out. “But this one has Gallifreyan text on the cardboard sleeve. The text says... The final clue, with love from daddy.”

Earl looked around the street and then stepped into an electrical goods store. He emerged a few minutes later with a portable record player.

“It cost four dollars, fifty cents,” he said with a grin. “Only half a dollar more than making a record to play on it.”

He carried the player back to where they had parked the TARDIS beside the Mississippi river. He waited until they were in a nice, stable temporal orbit before he wound it up and first played Sukie’s record, complimenting her on her singing and assuring her that her father would love it. Then he carefully unwrapped the mystery record and put it on the turntable.

“Oh dear!” Vicki groaned, while laughing and blushing at the same time. Sukie laughed and hugged her. The two boys just looked puzzled.

“Who is that, and what is she singing?” Earl asked. Vicki was hiding her crimson face behind her hands and still giggling madly. Sukie managed to keep a straight face long enough to answer.

“It’s Vicki, when she was little. That was her favourite song. She used to sing it all the time. I didn’t know anyone had recorded her doing it.”

“THAT was Vicki’s favourite song?” Jimmy looked at his would-be girlfriend and burst out laughing. Earl kept his composure a little longer.

“It’s... catchy....” he managed to say before giving up.

“I was FOUR!” Vicki pointed out indignantly. Then she smiled widely and began to join in with the chorus of the song she remembered well from her childhood.

“I saw a mouse... Where? There on the stairs... Where on the stairs? Right there. A little mouse with clogs on... well, I declare, going clip clippety clop on the stairs.”

She started to sing the next verse, but laughter overtook her and she couldn’t go on. Earl reached to turn off the record player and carefully put the acetate back into the cardboard cover. He stored both of their souvenirs of their trip in the tray in the lid of the player and closed it carefully.

“We went to Memphis, home of the Blues, and came back with recordings of Loch Lomond and a clog-dancing mouse,” he said. “Something isn’t quite right about that, somehow. And I don’t quite see how that song is a clue to anything other than the need for pest control.”

“The mouse lives in a windmill,” Vicki told him, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes and went to the console. Sukie joined her, still giggling slightly but ready to play her part in piloting the TARDIS to the next destination.

“In old Amsterdam.”

“The windmills daddy took us to see when I was little weren’t in Amsterdam,” Vicki said. “And I never saw any mice in them, either. But as soon as I heard that song, I thought of Kinderdijk.”

“You thought of a hole opening up in the floor for you to hide in for a century or so until the embarrassment wore off,” Earl told her gently. “But windmills might have been a close second.”

“Nobody mentions this at school,” Vicki said, looking at Sukie and Jimmy fiercely. “Not if they want to get invited to travel in MY TARDIS ever again. And if word of this gets around the twenty-sixth century I’ll set Sukie’s brothers on you, Earl Gregory.”

The laughter had died down by the time the TARDIS materialised again, but the good humour remained as they stepped out into a flat, wide landscape where the green land was flanked by stretches of placid water that reflected a blue sky as well as a row of wooden giants with their sails turning quietly in the summer breeze.

“The nineteen windmills of Kinderdijk,” Vicki announced proudly. “The Daleks never bothered with them. It was too wet around here for them. The Dominators probably didn’t even think about such a quiet, rural place. They are just the same in our time as when they were built in the eighteenth century. They pump water from the low-lying land and keep it green and fertile. We have so much technology in our world. But we keep something as old and wonderful as this, too.”

She half ran along the long, straight green path between the river and a long row of windmills. She stopped and waited for the others to catch up with her. Jimmy put his arms around her shoulders and she, without thinking about it, put hers around his waist as they walked. Sukie and Earl followed behind, admiring the pleasant, peaceful view of the southern Netherlands countryside and those great monuments to Human ingenuity facing into the wind as their sails turned.

“I wonder what happens next?” Sukie mused as Earl shifted his arm and held her shoulders closer in a way she was enjoying. “We’ve had four different locations, each one with at least a passing interest for one of us. There was Walsh’s Pyramid for Jimmy, the Biosphere that I recognised because it’s near one of my favourite race tracks, the trip to Memphis for you... and here are the windmills of Vicki’s childhood.”

“I think we might just have completed our mission,” Earl said.

“I think you might be right.” They both watched as Vicki let go of Jimmy and ran joyfully. The windmill in front of them had a blue box parked next to it. The Doctor’s TARDIS. The Doctor himself stood with his hands in his pockets and a broad smile on his face as his daughter ran to him. On the grassy bank of the river, Rose sat with the younger members of the family and a picnic tea.

“I’ve lost track,” Jimmy admitted as they all sat down together. “I think this ought to be supper, not tea. We were a full morning on the pyramid and we spent the equivalent of two afternoon outings at the biosphere in two different time zones. Then it was lunchtime in Memphis.”

“If you intend to spend more weekends travelling in the TARDIS with Vicki you’ll have to get used to days that don’t follow on from each other, let alone meal times,” The Doctor told him.

“It took me a long time to get used to that, too,” Rose added as she passed him a cold drink. “But it’s worth it.”

“I... think it might be,” Jimmy agreed. “Did the girls pass their time travel driving test?”

“They passed this stage of a long learning process,” The Doctor answered. “They’re still far too young for completely unsupervised trips. I was a hundred and seventy before I took a TARDIS beyond the Transduction Barrier on my own.”

“The question isn’t whether they’ve passed,” Rose said to him. “It’s whether Vicki will ever forgive you for that last clue.”

“That might have backfired on me,” The Doctor admitted. He looked at his eldest daughter playing with her younger siblings. She was teaching them to sing a song.... about a clog wearing Dutch mouse.