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

Stuart waved cheerfully to his relief manager who was clearing glasses from the all weather beer garden in front of the Ship Inn. The manager waved back and carried on with his work. The landlord of the only pub in Embley, Northumberland, was off on a long weekend with his husband. He buckled his seatbelt in the passenger side of the plum coloured Holden Commodore and smiled widely at Spenser.

“Did we bring enough food?” he asked, noting the basket on the back seat. He knew there was a box of supplies in the boot, too.

“You always get hungry when we time travel,” Spenser replied. “Next stop the twenty-first century.”

Stuart sat back in his seat and watched his lover manage the ordinary controls of the time car, driving out of the village and onto a quiet lane between hedgerows before engaging the more sophisticated controls Davie Campbell had added to the car. He liked these trips they took into the past and were future of the county they both grew up in. Of course, Spenser had lived there much longer. He was born in the eighteenth century and had seen all of the wars humans fought between each other since that time, as well as the devastating Dalek invasion and the more recent Dominator offensive against Earth. He liked to go back to periods he remembered as being peaceful and relatively carefree. The early twenty-first century was starting to become a favourite because they both went there with Davie for the motorsports. But this time they planned something much quieter – water colour painting and walking on Holy Island.

“I don’t know why the Daleks attacked the island,” Stuart commented. “It had nothing on it that threatened them.”

“It was their way of making an example,” Spenser replied. “They could obliterate a whole island... turn it into a smoking cinder in the sea. It made the local people more co-operative, so they thought.”

“The Daleks didn’t understand humans.”

“No, they didn’t. The people resisted every way they could, even after that. My father actually did some good for them during the invasion. He hid weapons in the cellar. Sometimes he hid people, too. The Daleks thought he was on their side. They knew he wasn’t Human and he could deceive them into thinking he was co-operating. But he was actually on the side of the humans that time. It’s the one clear memory I have of him that I can feel the slightest bit of pride in. It’s a good job the locals knew he was really for them. Afterwards, collaborators were dealt with harshly. He brought witnesses to a tribunal to prove himself, otherwise he’d have been lynched... I would... my body... his mind... We’d both have been killed.”

Stuart never quite knew what to say when Spenser talked about his father who had suppressed his mind for centuries and used him as a living vessel for his own consciousness. Spenser still hurt from that great cruelty, but occasionally he could speak of his father in a normal way, as any son did.

“Anyway,” he added. “We get to see the island before it was destroyed. Time Lord privilege.”

For a man with all of time and space at his command, Spenser was not very ambitious. Their time trips rarely went further than the North-East of England in the era of the internal combustion engine. Stuart didn’t mind. Holy Island with Spenser, picnics, painting, camping under the stars in a double sleeping bag, was good enough for him.

He braced himself for the sensation of rapid acceleration when Spenser switched on the time circuit. Outside the car the real world dissolved into the strange, swirling, colourful mist of the time vortex. Stuart had never really grown to love being in the vortex. There was something slightly oppressive about it. He could never put a finger on anything that it might be compared with. He had a vague thought about narrow tunnels with very little air and the sound of water trickling. He couldn’t imagine where that came from, unless it was a race memory of ore mining on Dulus, the planet his parents were born on, but it was a disturbing feeling and one that went with travelling in the vortex.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Spenser assured him, reading his emotions if not his actual thoughts. “The car’s metallic body protects us exactly like it would in an electrical storm – it’s a temporal Faraday Cage. That’s why all the cars Davie uses to build time machines are classics. The modern carbon fibre ones wouldn’t work.”

“Couldn’t he develop some sort of automatic window filter so we don’t have to look at it?” Stuart asked. Spenser laughed. He knew he wasn’t really scared. At least no more than anyone should be travelling this way. The slight trepidation, the adrenaline rush, was all part of the adventure.

Then, out of the blue, Spenser’s confidence in his former lover’s engineering skill was jolted abruptly. Stuart yelped in fear as the pale blue swirling vortex turned an angry purple like a day old bruise and electricity arced and spat. Spenser gripped the steering wheel tightly and jammed his foot down on the brake pedal. In the vortex, it was still a brake, but it slowed their journey through time and space, not linear distance. The feeling that they were moments away from the temporal equivalent of a motorway pile up gripped them both and their screams merged into one voice.

Then it was over. They stopped screaming and reached out to each other as if to assure themselves that they were alive and whole.

“Where are we?” Stuart asked.

“According to the temporal clock, exactly where we’re supposed to be. Just outside Embley in the mid-twenty-first century.”

“Then... there’s something a bit odd about it,” Stuart pointed out. Spenser looked out of the window and caught his breath. Stuart was right, except that ‘a bit odd’ didn’t begin to describe it. He opened the driver’s door and stood on the edge before pushing himself up onto the roof of the car. Stuart heard the creak of metal above him and wondered what his lover was thinking of. Then Spenser slipped back into the car and slammed the door shut. He sat in the driver’s seat for several long minutes breathing deeply.

“What’s wrong?” Stuart asked. “What’s happened out there?”

“Neutron bomb, I think,” he answered. “The buildings are still standing, but they’re scorched and black, roofs caved in. And everything... the fields, the woods... its all burnt.”

“Neutron...” Stuart shivered. “So there’s radiation?”

“Not as much as expected after a blast like that. The winds off the North Sea have probably blown the worst of it away inland... contaminating those places that escaped the initial blast.”

“Are we safe?”

“We are in here. We’ve got radiation shielding.”

“Ok, then let’s get out of here,” Stuart told him. “We’re not doing any rambling around here.”

Spenser agreed with that idea. He started the car in normal drive mode and then reached for the temporal switch.

“Oh &*@!&*££@,” he swore in the common language of his Time Lord forefathers.

“I don’t know what that means, but I don’t like it,” Stuart commented.

“The radiation is preventing us from re-entering the vortex. At least I hope that’s all it is. It could be more serious...”

“I always had you down as a glass half full kind of man,” Stuart told him. “Let’s not worry about what else it might be. The car still works AS a car. If we get away from the radiation, the temporal switch will work?”

“I think so,” Spenser replied.

“Let’s do that, then.”

Spenser started the car.

“Search for radio signals,” he told Stuart. “Don’t bother with digital channels. They won’t work. You need to find the analogue wavelengths we look for when we’re in the pre-1990s. There will be an emergency broadcast of some sort, telling people where to go.”

“Will there be any people?” Stuart asked. He glanced out of the window at blackened fields. Here and there were charred lumps. He had just worked out that they were dead cattle and sheep. He tried not to look at them.

“If there was any sort of warning, if they made it to shelters below ground... Neutron bombs are low blast, high radiation. There was a massive fire, but it didn’t start here. It was driven by the winds. The damage is all on the surface. There would be survivors. They would need to get out of the affected area, get to aid stations where there would be anti-radiation treatment and food, water...”

“Alnwick,” Stuart told him as he found the emergency broadcast and listened to the message. “Anyone in this area has to go to Alnwick.”

“That’s only ten miles away. It can’t be fully outside the danger area,” Spenser observed. “But it’s better than wandering aimlessly around the b-roads of Northumbria.”

“Alnwick,” Stuart said again with a different tone. “We got married there.”


“How? Spenser, you said this was the mid-twenty-first century. There WASN’T a neutron bomb attack on England in that century. You lived here then. You know there wasn’t.”

“That thing about the glass half full,” Spenser replied. “Hold the thought while I tell you something important.”


“We’re not in our Northumberland. The vortex flipped us into an alternative timeline, a parallel universe where something went wrong long before the Daleks turned up.”

“And that’s glass half full? I’m starting to think of a very empty glass. We’re in an alternative universe that I couldn’t possibly have been born in.”

“This isn’t our universe. It didn’t happen for us. Once we get back into the vortex and retrace our journey...”

“You think we can do that?”

“Glass half full. I think I can. Let’s get to Alnwick, first. We can find out how bad things are when we get there.”

It was a sadly surreal journey for them both. They knew the countryside they were driving through as fertile green fields. Seeing them dead like this was distressing. The fact that this wasn’t really their home was precious little comfort. It looked enough like it to be painful to them.

“Spenser, stop!” Stuart yelled. Spenser already had his foot on the brake. He had spotted it, too. It was the first car they had seen since they started on the road, and it was clearly not going to reach Alnwick. It had slid into the ditch, and the driver’s side door was hanging open along with both the boot and bonnet.

“You stay in the car,” he told Stuart. “I don’t want you exposed to the radiation. I can handle it.”

He approached the abandoned car carefully, with his hand on his sonic screwdriver in case this was anything more sinister than it looked. Stuart watched him check inside the car and then lift something from the back seat. He ran back to the Commodore with a bundle in shocking pink that turned out to be a girl of about six years of age. He left her in the back seat and returned with a slightly smaller girl in a matching coat, then returned to the abandoned car one more time with a small suitcase. When he came back to the Commodore Stuart had found bars of chocolate and orange juice packs in the picnic basket for them.

“Fix the seatbelt round them,” Spenser said. “We’re getting away from here.”

“What happened? Where are their parents?”

“They’re dead, both of them. It wasn’t a car crash. They’ve both been shot in the head. Everything useful has been taken from the car, including oil and petrol, every scrap of food. Whoever did it... they didn’t care about leaving the kids to die...”

He passed a wallet to Stuart. There was blood on it. It contained a driving licence and other documentation for a man named Duncan Walsh. His cash and credit cards were still there. The robbers had no interest in money, but they killed him and his wife for the food and fuel they were carrying.

“Is that the sort of world this is... this alternative timeline?” Stuart asked.

“It looks like it,” Spenser replied dryly.

“What if...”

“We’re ok. We’re smart. We’re cool, and I’ve got my sonic screwdriver. We’ll take the kids to the authorities in Alnwick. Somebody will look after them.”

But they never actually reached Alnwick. The relief station was at the side of the A1 a mile outside the town itself. It was run by soldiers wearing NBC suits who handed out potassium iodide tablets, canisters of petrol and emergency food and water rations then directed them to the slip road onto the dual carriageway.

“But these kids...” Spenser tried to say to the man in an NBC suit who handed him a supply of tablets for them. “They...”

“The children take half the adult dose,” he was told. “That’s all that can be done for them.”

“Yes, but...”

“I’m sorry,” the man told him. “I can understand how you must feel. This is hard on families. But the children... they’ll either make it or they won’t. That’s all there is to it. If you’re worried, the aid station at Berwick has doctors available. You can get them checked out, there.”

And that was it.

“We’re driving to Berwick,” he said when he got back into the car. “Everyone is. They already evacuated Alnwick itself and they’re sending everyone else who turns up the same direction.”

“Berwick is only thirty miles up the A1,” Stuart pointed out. “It will take us less than an hour. And maybe that will be far enough out of the radiation. Once we’ve found someone to look after the kids, we can get away from this place.”

“That’s a glass half full statement,” Spenser teased him. “Ok, I guess we don’t have any choice. Let’s get the girls to take the iodide tablets. They’re going to need them. You, too.”

“What about you?” Stuart asked.

“I can expel the radiation from my body,” he answered. “I’m a Time Lord. We do stuff like that. It’s a creepy feeling, though. The air looks perfectly normal. There’s a blue sky over us. And yet it’s there, an invisible killer. And all we have to combat it is a handful of little white pills.”

Stuart was trying not to look at the sky. The blueness of it was too much of a contrast to the burnt black of the fields and the hedgerows, the dead trees.

He did look at the tailback of cars in front of them as they joined the A1 sliproad. He noticed that the dual carriageway was gridlocked on both sides of the central reservation – and everyone was heading north.

Forty minutes later, they made it off the sliproad and onto the dual carriageway itself.

“Only an hour?” he said with an ironic note in his voice.

“It can’t be this bad all the way to Berwick,” Spenser pointed out. “It’ll get quicker after a mile or so.”

He was wrong. It got slower. The A1 was only a four lane dual carriageway for part of the distance between Alnwick and Berwick. In other parts it narrowed and traffic merged into two lanes. Even on a normal day that would be a nuisance. On this far from normal day it was a severe test of the ‘glass half full’ ethos.

“I feel sick,” complained the eldest of the two girls when they had been in the gridlock for more than two hours.

“I’m not surprised,” Spenser answered. He put his foot down on the brake as the traffic ahead halted again. Then he unfastened his seatbelt and got out of the driver’s seat. He climbed into the back seat beside the girls as Stuart slid over and took the wheel.

“It’s going to be all right,” he told the two girls, putting his arm around them gently. “We’ll be in a nice place soon, where you can see a doctor and have some sleep.”

They were both hot and feverish. That was hardly surprising after two hours in a car with the windows shut. But he had every reason to think there was more to it than that. He put his hand on the older girl’s forehead and gently put his mind into her body. There were radioactive isotopes in her bloodstream. She and her sister had been lying in the exposed car for too long without protection.

He concentrated hard and focussed on the isotopes, drawing them out of her body and into his own. Then he gave her one of the potassium iodide tablets and more cool orange juice before doing the same for her sister.

“I know your names, now,” he said to the children. “You’re Georgina and Josephine Walsh. Georgie and Josie. That’s what people call you.”

Georgie nodded and smiled. Spenser gave her a gentle hug. He seemed to have their trust at least. They had precious little reason to trust strangers. A side effect of the purification was that he saw their short term memories clearly. They had been scared when the car was run off the road. Their father made them hide on the floor space between the back seat and the front with a blanket over their heads. They didn’t see the man but they heard his voice when he told their father to open the bonnet. They heard their mother crying. Then the two loud bangs and the silence afterwards for a long time before they were carried to another car where there was orange juice.

“You’ll be looked after, sweethearts,” Spenser promised them. “Don’t you worry. It’ll be all right.”

The girls were starting to settle down again when Stuart jammed his foot down on the brake. Spenser swung his head around to look and was relieved when the car behind and the one immediately behind that one both did the same. Then he jumped out of the car and ran to the cause of the sudden halt.

Four cars along the line, two vehicles had collided. The one in front had been half-shunted off the road into the grass verge. The driver of the car that had collided with it was pulling at the driver’s door and swearing loudly.

“There’s no point in yelling at him,” Spenser told him. “He’s dead. Help me get him out of the car.” He pulled at the door and the driver slumped sideways. He caught the body and lifted it out. A woman in the passenger seat was crying grievously. So were three boys in the back. Spenser examined the body and shook his head.

“It wasn’t radiation. He had a heart attack. I’m sorry, it’s too late.” He looked at the family inside the car, then back at the other driver, who had stopped swearing now and was standing there uselessly. “Are you driving on your own?” he asked.

“My family are in Berwick,” he answered. “I’m trying to get home to them.”

“Well, you’ll get there just as fast with THIS family travelling with you,” Spenser told him. “Come on, all of you. Grab your food and water and anything you can carry.”

“Wait, no way!” the driver protested. “I’m not... they’re nothing to do with me. I’m not...”

Spenser grabbed the gunmetal grey canister of petrol from the boot of the stricken car and pushed it at the obstinate driver.

“Common decency ought to have been enough reason. But since it isn’t, you get the dead man’s petrol ration for taking his family to Berwick.”

That settled the matter. Spenser made sure they were all safe and watched the car move slowly into the stream of traffic again, then he laid the dead man on the back seat of the car and covered his face. He wrote a short note explaining what had happened and left it on the dashboard. There had to be some kind of police or military patrolling from time to time. They would find the car and make the necessary arrangements. There wasn’t much else to do. He returned to his own car. Stuart had slid into the back to comfort the girls. He resumed the driving seat and they slowly left the scene of that small tragedy behind.

There were other cars abandoned at the side of the road from time to time. Once there was a lorry overturned into the charred field beside the verge. The back was open and the contents looted.

“Asda,” Spenser commented. “People grabbed the food.”

“I’m glad it wasn’t a brewery lorry,” Stuart remarked. “The last thing we need right now is drink-drivers.”

These roadside incidents were brief moments of drama and interest as the tedious journey continued. Stuart gave the girls more orange juice and potassium iodide at regular intervals and took his own ration of the tablets. He shared out the food from the picnic basket they brought from their own time and place and made the best of it. Spenser calculated that they never made more than three miles per hour for longer than five minutes at a time, and there was never the slightest let up in that pace.

It was nearly nightfall before they crawled into the aid station beside the A1 just outside Berwick upon Tweed.

This one included large tents for food and overnight shelter. It also included decontamination showers. Spenser handed the two girls over to a nurse who took them to the female showers. When he was through the male side, though, he sought them out again. They had been dressed in clean but obviously second hand clothes. Their own clothes would be incinerated. Spenser had been presented with a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt with a strangely clinical smell to them. Stuart was the same. The Commodore was also decontaminated. Stuart drove it slowly through a thorough car wash while Spenser took the girls to the medical officer.

“Your daughters are in good health,” the officer told him. “There’s no sign of radioactive contamination. You’re lucky.”

“They’re not...” he began to say, then stopped. “I’m glad to hear that. I was worried.” He took the two girls and found Stuart again as they queued to be given a hot meal in one of the long tents before being sent to the other one where they could sleep on camp beds with grey blankets. They were allocated two such beds. Spenser tucked the girls up in one while he and Stuart squeezed close together in the narrow bed right next to them.

“There’s nobody here to hand them over to,” he explained. “They’re not set up for that. They’re just providing decontamination along with food and a bed for the night. We have to carry on to Edinburgh.”

“Surely if we told somebody what happened... the authorities ought to know about the murders...”

“The authorities can’t do anything about it,” Spenser answered. “There’s martial law. And that’s stretched just keeping people moving from the contaminated areas. They’ve got trains running day and night, carrying people who didn’t have cars. The roads are still gridlocked. Some people are going on through the night. They think the further north they get, the better.”

“Should we have done the same?” Stuart asked. “Kept going, I mean.”

“The girls need to rest properly,” Spenser answered. “We’ll get an early start at first light.”

“It was a terrorist attack, you know,” Stuart said. “I heard people talking. A simultaneous attack on all the major British cities. London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle all bore the brunt of it. Edinburgh and Glasgow were saved. So was Liverpool. The terrorists were stopped. That’s why they’re sending the survivors into Scotland. It’s the largest part of the British mainland that’s uncontaminated. The prevailing winds go south from Scotland, usually. So it should stay that way.”

“What sort of nutcases would do a thing like that?” Spenser asked. “There must be millions dead... and for what?”

“Beats the hell out of me. As if enemies from out of the sky aren’t bad enough. Daleks, Dominators... Humans have to do things like that to each other.”

Spenser held his husband tightly and both of them were glad for a little while that they belonged to a species other than the Human race.

“What if we can’t get back to our own timeline?” Stuart asked after a while. “I don’t think I want to live in this world.”

“We’ll get back, somehow,” Spenser answered. “Glass half full. Get some sleep, now. Tomorrow, first thing, we get to Edinburgh. The traffic will have eased, surely. We’ll be there by midday.”

They both slept for a while. Stuart woke with a start a few hours later to the sound of a child crying. He slipped from Spenser’s side and sat on the edge of the bed where Josie was reliving the death of her parents in her dreams. He reached out to comfort her. She responded to his touch, letting him lift her in his arms and cuddle her, but her distress was too deep. She couldn’t sleep again for fear of her nightmares.

“Let me,” Spenser said gently. Josie wouldn’t let him take her from Stuart, but she didn’t mind when he put his hand on her forehead and gently radiated calming thoughts into her troubled mind. She stopped crying and fell asleep. Stuart laid her back down in the bed. Spenser put his hand on Georgie’s forehead and put some quiet, gentle thoughts into her mind, too.

“I married a man who can give people sweet dreams,” Stuart said with a soft smile.

“Sweet dreams or screaming nightmares, whatever they deserve,” Spenser answered. “Would you like me to give you some happy thoughts to send you to sleep?”

“You don’t need Time Lord tricks to do that,” Stuart replied. “Just come back to bed with me.” Spenser laughed and took his hand as they did just that.

“Who takes your nightmares away?” Stuart asked as they lay together waiting for sleep to come and he felt his lover’s hand on his forehead and the quicksilver feel of his mind gently rifling through his memories and bringing the nicer ones to the fore.

Spenser recalled Davie Campbell reaching into his mind and taking away the anger and betrayal he felt for his father. That cured most of his nightmares. But he wasn’t going to tell Stuart that.

“You do,” he answered, kissing his warm cheek.

They slept soundly this time, rousing themselves in the pre-dawn. They weren’t the only ones with the same idea. The queue for the breakfast being provided was a long one. It was a mostly solemn and quiet meal, even though there were children there. Everyone was contemplating the fact that the life they had known was over and the future was uncertain. There was little to be optimistic about. Children in second hand clothes that didn’t quite fit, clinging to dolls or small toys that survived decontamination were the saddest expression of the desperate situation.

As he queued for petrol, Spenser wondered just what this migration north was going to achieve. Of course, Scotland was always the least populated part of Britain, and it ought to be possible to resettle the displaced there. But that would cost money, and the economy must have folded completely when this disaster happened. Quite how anything could be achieved with no government, no infrastructure other than that provided under martial law, he couldn’t imagine.

“Two adults, two children?” Spenser heard the question when it was asked the second time. “What type of car?”

“Four door saloon,” he responded. He noted the amount of petrol he was allocated. “If the traffic is as slow as yesterday, that won’t get us to Edinburgh,” he said. “Cars use more fuel in stopping and starting than going at a steady speed.”

“That’s all you get, unless you’re prepared to take another passenger,” he was told. “Can the kids budge up?”

That was how Carla came to be travelling with them. She was a pale-skinned, dark haired young woman with hollows under her tired eyes. She was five months pregnant. Stuart surrendered the passenger seat to her and sat with the children in the back as they joined the line on the A1 slip road once more.

“If you need anything, juice, energy bars, we’ve got plenty,” Spenser told her. “Don’t be afraid to ask.”

“Thank you,” she managed. “I don’t want to be any trouble to you and your...” She glanced around at Stuart and decided to leave the sentence hanging. How she felt about men who married other men, she kept to herself. She also kept her own counsel about how two such men were travelling with two little girls. Strangely, she wasn’t the only one who had assumed either he or Stuart was the biological parent of Georgie and Josie, and he had stopped bothering to correct them. He wondered what they would assume at the next aid station when two men, two children and a pregnant woman arrived together.

“My husband was in Newcastle,” she said as the sunrise spread golden rays over a gridlocked A1 in which the average speed was five miles per hour – a very slight improvement on yesterday. Nobody had asked, but she ventured the information anyway. “He must be dead. They say the city is a wasteland, now.”

“I’m sorry,” Spenser told her. It was the only thing he could say.

“I saw a doctor yesterday evening at the aid station. She said the baby probably won’t be affected. His organs and limbs are already formed. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be normal. If I’d been less than sixteen weeks...”

Again, the sentence didn’t need finishing. Spenser fully understood her concern. He hoped that the birth of her child would be something she could look forward to in the uncertain future that awaited everyone. Perhaps it would be a new beginning for her. He wished her well. He wished everyone with no other option but to start again, rebuilding a society from the ashes of disaster, all the very best.

But he thanked providence that he had other options himself. He didn’t want to be a part of this Brave New World!

Just before they crossed the border into Scotland they started to notice that the fields and trees were still green. They were past the scorched area. But there was still an alarming level of radiation outside the car. They still needed the potassium iodide at regular intervals.

It was about that point in the journey that Stuart started singing. Spenser smiled. It was a silly little song about a clog-dancing mouse, but it made the two girls laugh. As he drove slowly, braking often, never making more than a ridiculously slow six miles per hour for more than a minute at a time, he listened to his lover teaching Georgie and Josie the words of the song. He even found himself joining in with it. So did Carla. When they ran out of verses of that song Stuart thought of another. It didn’t quite relieve the tedium of the journey, but it helped the children.

“I never knew you had such a talent for entertaining kiddies!” he said when they stopped singing to eat some of the rations while still in the stopping and starting line of traffic.

“Neither did I,” Stuart answered cheerfully. “Maybe I should get myself a clown outfit.”

“Not on my account,” Spenser replied. They laughed. Carla managed to laugh with them. She had precious little reason to do so, but she laughed. Spenser was glad. She was only with them for this day, until they reached Edinburgh. After that, they would never see her again. But he was glad they could relieve her burden for a little while.

Edinburgh was sixty miles from Berwick where they started at dawn. It should have been a simple commuting time of a little over an hour.

Instead they limped into the aid station at just after seven o’clock in the evening. Spenser was sick and tired of driving by then. Carla sighed with relief when she was finally able to get out of the car and stand up straight. The girls were asleep, either side of Stuart, who kept a protective arm around each of them.

The aid station had all the same facilities as the one at Berwick including decontamination showers, food and beds. But it had something else that they hadn’t expected.

Armed guards patrolled the hastily assembled perimeter fence.

In a room with a television set and a collection of mismatched armchairs in it that they rested in before bed, they found out why. There had been riots in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The chief cause of concern was food. People had grown tired of waiting in queues for emergency rations allocated by the army. A supermarket that had remained closed since the imposition of martial law and the nightly curfew to ensure public safety was smashed into and people took anything they could grab from the food aisles. Soon every food outlet in the city centre, from Greggs bakery to Pizza Hut, was ransacked. Then rumours had started that the army were keeping massive warehouses of food outside the city for the refugees coming up from England. It didn’t take long for people to start complaining that these refugees were getting preferential treatment, that Scotland was being overrun by homeless ‘Sassenachs’.

That was all it took for the attitude towards those who had driven north to harden. The army had responded by fencing in the aid station. Tomorrow, the refugees were told, they would be split into parties and given armed escort through the city and on to one of three resettlement centres, one in Aberdeen, one in Dundee, and one in Inverness.

“We can’t leave the camp,” Spenser told Stuart as he settled the two girls in their bed for the night. “We’ll have to go with one of the convoys tomorrow.”

“Any one of those cities will be far enough out of the fallout zone. We should be able to access the time circuits.”

“Yes. Once we’ve made sure the girls are safe.”


Spenser left Stuart sitting on the edge of the camp bed telling the girls a bedtime story. He seemed surprisingly comfortable doing that. The girls snuggled together listening to him and the other conversations going on around them in the dormitory sleeping over a hundred didn’t bother them at all.

He needed the toilet. It was the first time all day he had given in to that ordinary organic need. His Time Lord body could last for much longer than Humans when it came to such things, but even he had limits.

When he stepped into the facility provided for the needs of hundreds of men and boys, opposite the matching provision for the women and girls, he heard a voice that chilled him. The voice was demanding. Another voice was pleading.

“I have three children,” the pleading man begged. “If you take our food rations...”

“Your food and your iodide, or your kids will get their throats slit in the night,” the other man said coldly.

Spenser reached into his pocket for his sonic screwdriver. He considered several possible modes. None of them were weapons as such. When Davie built it for him, he adhered to The Doctor’s firm opinion that a screwdriver was a tool not a weapon. But he also remembered that many of the deadly weapons of oriental martial arts derived from agricultural implements when peasants were not permitted to carry swords. Some of its tool modes made effective weapons.

His tool of choice was a very strong electrical pulse. He leapt between the two men and jammed the screwdriver against the bully’s chest before pressing the button. The man screamed as a powerful shock jolted his body. He slid to the floor whimpering.

“He won’t be bothering you again,” he said to the other man. “But just in case, you and your family stick close to the guards when you set off in the morning. Good luck to you.”

The man murmured his thanks and beat a hasty retreat from the toilet block. Spenser turned to the one hunkered on the floor in a distressing puddle. He put his hand on his forehead, intending to give him an emotional shock as well as the physical one.

Instead, he got a shock himself. He saw the memories of a man who had run a car off the road before shooting the driver and his wife and taking everything of value on the black market from it.

Children weren’t of value on that market. They weren’t even worth reloading his shotgun to finish them off.

Spenser’s blood boiled with rage, but he resisted the urge to beat the cold-hearted murderer and bully to a pulp. He knew it would have given him great immediate satisfaction, but he would regret it later.

“I don’t like violence,” he said. “I’ve seen too much of it in my life. So I’m not going to do anything to you. But I’m not letting you get away with murder.”

He pressed more firmly and forced his way into the murderer’s mind, trying not to feel contaminated by him. He wasn’t taking anything from that mind. He was putting something into it – a sense of disgust, self-revulsion, and guilt that had been missing from the murderer’s thoughts, from his soul, until then.

“That’s the sort of filth you are,” Spenser said as he withdrew and turned away from the pathetic wreck of a man. “How you choose to live with yourself from here on is up to you.”

What he meant, what he expected, was that the murderer’s newly found conscience might lead him to confess his crimes to the authorities. That really was all he intended him to do.

But as he settled into a narrow camp bed snuggled close to Stuart, who kept his eyes on the sleeping girls in the next bed, there was a commotion outside the dormitory. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the overlapping voices. He gleaned the fact that a man had committed suicide by swallowing more than a two day’s supply of potassium iodide at once. It was the man he had confronted in the toilets.

He didn’t waste any time feeling guilty about driving him to such a desperate act. If he had gone to the authorities and handed the man over he would have been punished just as harshly. Under the emergency provisions the death penalty was being enforced for looters, extortionists and murderers. He took the easy way out.

Spenser pressed closer to his lover and let himself sleep with a clear conscience.

In the early hours of the next morning they found out that they were expected to drive to Inverness.

“There’s a boat waiting there,” they learnt. “Norway has agreed to take displaced mothers and children.”

“Neither of us are mothers,” Spenser pointed out. The officer in charge of the allocations actually seemed a little surprised by that fact. He looked at Spenser, then Stuart who was holding onto both little girls. Carla stood with them. The authorities at Edinburgh had assumed her travel arrangements from yesterday would continue. Spenser certainly wasn’t going to object to that. A boat waiting to take children and pregnant women to a better life was an ideal resolution to the situation. Afterwards, he and Stuart could consider their own options.

“Are you both qualified drivers?” the officer asked looking at the two men.

“Yes,” Spenser replied. “But don’t ask either of us to produce documents to prove it. The chaos these past couple of days...”

Nobody needed to see documents. What they did need was a driver for a minibus full of orphans going up to Inverness to meet that same boat. The man who had been in charge of them since they set off from Morpeth was ill. It was nothing to do with the fallout. He had been rushed to hospital with a burst appendix and an armed guard in case anyone objected to a refugee being given medical treatment.

Stuart volunteered to take charge of the minibus. Georgie and Josie immediately decided that they, too, were travelling by minibus. They quietly commandeered the front seat beside him. Spenser had no time to wonder about that because he was being allocated two new passengers, a pair of nurses who were being sent to join the boat exodus. With a pregnant lady in his passenger seat, that seemed providential, but he found the next leg of the long trek a little less agreeable than it had been before. He missed Stuart and he missed the girls, too.

The Holden Commodore was at the front of the civilian convoy with an army landrover and a Leyland four tonner ahead. The minibus was right behind him and he was given to understand at least fifty more vehicles were following. He fully believed that, but he wasn’t worried about them. For the first time in days he wasn’t looking at an insane gridlock in front of him. The road had been cleared of traffic. This convoy was the first of a whole series that would be setting off at intervals through the day, fully protected by the military. They were being held to a mere twenty-five miles per hour, but that felt like a cracking pace after the slow crawl of yesterday and the hundred and sixty mile journey would take a mere six hours at this rate.

Twenty-five miles an hour was an easy drive. He felt safe to let his mind reach out to the minibus behind him. He felt the familiar mind of his lover, and the surprisingly cheerful minds of the children he was taking care of. Stuart was leading another sing song, with Georgie and Josie leading the chorus of orphans. He was thinking about something other than dancing mice, though. The idea in his head didn’t entirely surprise Spenser, and it made him even more anxious to get this journey over with so he could talk to him about it.

It was an uneventful journey, at least. He was glad of that. They reached Inverness at a little after midday. It was the first town they had actually been allowed into since they were directed into the aid station by the A1 at Alnwick. The locals who lined the streets watching them didn’t seem especially hostile, but they weren’t welcoming them with open arms, either. They seemed to regard them as an inconvenience to be endured.

They were directed to a car park beside the Firth of Moray where food was allocated as it had been every day. Spenser sat with Stuart to eat his ration. Something better than food was available to the children. Here, in the Highlands of Scotland they were finally away from any risk of radioactive fallout and they were allowed to play freely on a piece of grass beside the car park. Stuart watched the orphans he had spent the morning with, and the two girls who had been his responsibility for a little longer than that.

“Norway will be a nice place for them,” he said. “Apparently there are people willing to foster them all. They’ll be happy.”

“So I understand. Carla is going to be lodged with a family while her baby is born. She’ll be able to find a job and take care of herself and the child.”

“So there’s nothing stopping us seeing if we can get home.”

“We could have done that yesterday,” Spenser admitted. “We were clear enough of the radiation by the time we reached Edinburgh. The circuit would have worked.”

“I... thought that might have been so. But... we couldn’t have left until they were all safe. Carla and the girls.”


Stuart was quiet for a few minutes, watching the children playing.

“You know... I was thinking... about when I was a boy... growing up over a pub. It wasn’t a bad childhood. The playground by the beer garden... dad always told me to share the swings with the other kids who came to play, but it still felt like my swings, and I was letting them play with me.”

“I had a whole manor garden to play in,” Spenser said. “I would climb trees and run about all day. I was happy enough.”

“You don’t have a manor garden any more. Most of it’s fallen into the sea in the centuries since you were a boy. And unless you want to build a really big fence, what you have left is not safe for raising a family.”

“So you think I should leave my rambling fifteenth century manor house and come and live with you over the pub?”

“Only if you want to. I don’t want you to feel pressurised.”

“You’re right about the fence.”

“So, we’re agreed?”

“If we let them get on the boat with the other kids, they’ll be going to a good place. They’ll be taken care of. We know that for certain.”


“I can’t say the same. I can’t guarantee, one hundred per cent, that I can get us back home safely. We might not see your pub garden again...”

“I trust you. Come on, let’s call the girls and get out of here.”

Josie and Georgie were a little perplexed to discover that they weren’t going on a boat with the other children, after all. But as long as they were with Stuart and Spenser they appeared to deal with the disappointment. Stuart sat with them in the back of the car, making sure their seatbelts were firmly buckled. Spenser started the car. One of the convoy guards started to approach. The car wasn’t meant to be moved, yet. Spenser ignored his order to halt and accelerated towards the compound gate before engaging the time circuit. The two girls looked at the strange swirling mist outside the car curiously. They weren’t frightened even when the electricity arced and spat around them. It was a kind of adventure, possibly even more exciting than a boat trip to Norway.

Then the mist cleared. Spenser hit the brake. He looked out of the window at a car park beside the Moray Firth. It was early evening in spring. The sunset was quite spectacular.

“Are we in our own timeline?” Stuart asked. “It’s kind of hard to tell.”

Spenser didn’t answer. He reached for his mobile phone and made a call.

“Davie,” he said when it was answered. “Can you do me a big favour? Stuart and I are in Inverness and we don’t feel like driving home.”

By TARDIS, the journey back to Embley took a matter of minutes. Stuart fetched drinks out to the beer garden and then went to push the girls on the swings in the play area. Spenser watched them with a satisfied smile on his face.

“It was a dangerous thing to do,” Davie admonished him. “You not only took the children from their own time, but you took them from an alternative timeline. Do you know how many of the old Laws of Time you’ve broken?”

“Not as many as my father broke for far less noble reasons,” Spenser answered.

“That’s hardly an excuse.”

“If I didn’t bring them... I think Stuart might have left me and gone to Norway with them, instead. He got really attached to them.”

“That’s a slightly better excuse. It wouldn’t have cut any ice with the old Time Lords of Gallifrey, mind you. But... I suppose I can retro organise a couple of birth certificates and some adoption papers.”

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead,” Spenser admitted

“Then leave that to me. You look after those poor kids.” Davie grinned at his friend. “Between my brother who goes off to the asteroid belt and comes back a dad, and the two of you... am I the only one who still has a family the old fashioned way?”

“Could be,” Spenser replied.