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

Sukie and Vicki were confidently flying their TARDIS together. Their boyfriends, Jimmy and Earl, sat on the sofa and watched them without any thought of interference. Jimmy, of course, wouldn’t know what to do even if he wanted to. Earl knew exactly how to fly a TARDIS, but he was there, as always, only as a trusted chaperone for the girls.

Today he was also the senior chaperone in charge of a surprisingly large group of passengers. Three women married to the three men he both feared and respected were aboard - Rose de Lœngbærrow, Carya Campbell and Brenda Freeman-Campbell. With them were a gaggle of small children and babies. Carya had little Tilo with her, now an active seven months old baby. Brenda had brought the twins, Sebastian and Mark, who were just sitting up unaided. Rose had the youngest of Vicki’s siblings aboard, Jack and Julia and little Sarah Jane, three years old and curious about everything around them. Their middle brother, Peter, was with his older brother, Christopher, his wife, Jackie, and their son, Garrick, with whom he was far more of a soul mate than anyone else in the family. They had all gone to Dublin by ordinary aeroplane to spend the weekend with some of the exiled Gallifreyans who had settled in Ireland.

Earl carefully double checked his facts. He and Sukie had once sat in his bedroom and drawn a family tree of the First Family of the New Lords of Time. They had taken it right up to the future era when their grandson, Tristie, was a husband and father, too. It made them both feel strange to realise their small place in the generations that were born since Sukie’s mother decided that she needed to set down roots and made twenty-second century Earth her new home.

Yes, he had worked out this ship’s passenger manifest correctly. He gave himself a mental pat on the back for doing so. Even for a Time Lord it was something of an achievement. He glanced at the collection of shopping bags from the high street stores of early twenty-first century Earth, the height of the consumer society that he learnt about in his history books, and listened to the chatter of the women and the playful noises of the children in the recreation area below the console room. In another part of his education, he had learnt about the golden age of the Time Lords. Some of those long gone elders of his race would be horrified at the idea of a TARDIS with crèche facilities being used for shopping trips. But the New Lords of Time had different ideas about the use of time travel.

“Uh oh…” Sukie murmured. Vicki shot her a worried look across the console. Earl watched them carefully. He was a trained TARDIS mechanic. Sukie’s brother Davie had trained him personally in the expectation that he would help the girls out. If there was something that needed his attention he was ready to leap into action.

“We’ve overshot,” Vicki said. “It’s not a big deal. Daddy said that might happen when we try using the Temporal Manifest on manual.”

“We’ve overshot a LOT,” Sukie answered her. “We were heading home to the twenty-third century and this is the early twenty-seventh century.”

“Closer to my time!” Earl said to the girls with a laugh. “Are you trying to get rid of me, Sukie?”

“Certainly not,” she answered. “You’re supposed to be invited to tea when we get back. I was hoping you might even stay over. Mum said it might be ok.”

Earl smiled warmly at her. A sleepover was an odd sort of ‘date’ for a young man of nineteen years old, but he accepted the restrictions on his relationship with Sukie if it meant that her older brothers stopped looking at him suspiciously.

“We can easily go back on auto-navigation,” Vicki said. “We’ll be in plenty of time for tea.”

“No, we can’t, not yet.” Brenda ran upstairs from the recreation room. Her face was pale. “There’s something wrong… something wrong with the world out there. Don’t you two feel it? You’ve got telepathy, too. Don’t you sense it?”

Sukie and Vicki looked at her, then at each other.

“When we’re piloting, we usually close off our telepathic senses except with each other,” Vicki said. “It makes it easier to concentrate on the TARDIS.” Both girls blinked and then exclaimed in shock as they expanded their thoughts. Then Sukie moved around to the environmental console and scanned the planet they were in temporal orbit around.

“Something is wrong,” she confirmed. “Really, really wrong.”

“Wrong, how?” Rose asked. She and Carya had come up the stairs to see what was happening. Rose was carrying Sebastian, Brenda’s first born child. Carya had Tilo safe in her arms. The other children were still blissfully playing below. They didn’t know there was a crisis going on.”

“This IS Earth,” Sukie confirmed. “And we only overshot Earl’s proper time by about thirty years. I’ve been to his time loads of times.” She knew that the last sentence wasn’t the best grammar she could have used, but there were more important things to worry about just now. “Earl… what’s the population of Earth in your generation?”

“A little short of seven billion,” Earl answered immediately. “It’s something we’re quite proud of - the first time Earth’s population got back to what it was before the Dalek Invasion of the twenty-sixth century, and we’ve got no poverty or famine and no wars going on. We’re as close to a golden age as you can ask for.”

“Then I think the gold has tarnished,” Sukie told him. “I’m getting a population of less than one billion…. And almost all of it is miserable. Humans aren’t telepathic, usually. But when so many of them are distressed at once, there’s no mistaking it.”

While Sukie was talking Vicki was initiating a landing. The TARDIS had been in geo-stationary orbit above London so she set the obvious co-ordinate – her home in Richmond upon Thames. But the TARDIS wouldn’t accept the setting. A screen in front of her blinked incessantly telling her that the co-ordinate was inimical to life.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “It’s as if our house isn’t there. But I know it is. We’ve been there even later than this century.”

“Vicki!” Sukie spoke very quietly and steadily, controlling the panic that would otherwise show in her voice. “Vicki look at the screen.”

Vicki looked at the viewscreen. Everyone did. The view was of Earth, they recognised that much. But it was Earth with seventy-nine percent cloud cover. The data beside the image said so. It was raining everywhere in the world except one part of the pacific ocean.

And it had been doing so for a long time.

“Forty days,” Earl said. Neither of the girls had said anything to him, but he took control of the data console and found the weather reports for the year 2615. This day, August the twenty-first, was the fortieth day since the rains started on July the eleventh. “At the maximum, cloud cover across planet Earth was ninety per cent. It’s eased a little in the past five days, but there seems no sign of the rain stopping.”

“Forty days?” Rose queried. “Biblical flood?”

Neither Brenda nor Carya were familiar with the Bible. They came from entirely different cultures. Everyone else, despite their mixed blood, had a full understanding of Human religious beliefs, especially Christianity.

And they didn’t like the idea one little bit.

“I’ve found a co-ordinate we CAN land at,” Vicki said. Let’s see what’s happening on the ground.

She and Sukie concentrated on doing that. Rose, Brenda and Carya went to get the children ready to go outside on a wet day. When the time rotor came to a halt and Vicki reached for the door control they were waiting with the three toddlers wrapped up in raincoats and wellington boots and the babies in their pushchairs under waterproof hoods. Earl and Jimmy donned rainmacs before helping their respective girlfriends to put their coats on last of all.

They stepped out first, followed by the mothers and babies, and looked around. The TARDIS had parked against the red brick wall of an octagonal tower that looked as if it dated from Victorian times.

“It’s the Shooter’s Hill Water Tower,” Vicki explained. “We’re about fifteen miles away from our house… or where our house should be. This is one of the highest places in London. It’s nearly all that’s left of London.”

Her voice sounded odd as she spoke that last sentence. And it was easy to see why. In the heavily populated time Rose was born into at the end of the twentieth century, Shooter’s Hill was a built up area with houses blocking the view. By the twenty-third century she lived in, all the houses had been demolished and the Hill was an urban park with views of London in every direction.

But on this day in the twenty-seventh century, most of London was drowned under grey water that went on to the equally grey horizon. There were only a few landmarks visible. They looked for a long time at something that was just above the waterline and slowly realised that it was the top of the Post Office Tower.

“The top of the Post Office Tower is one hundred and sixty-four feet above sea level,” Earl said in a voice laden with dread. “So the water is at least…”

“Our house is gone,” Vicki said mournfully. “My bedroom is forty feet above sea level. I know because when I park the TARDIS it tells me things like that. And I often park it in my bedroom.”

“My house is on a hill,” Earl added. “But it’s not a big one, only about a hundred feet. But that must be gone, too. Everything we know is gone. All except a few places like this.”

“How high are we standing now?” Rose asked. She stared in the general direction where her home should be. She turned and looked where the flats she grew up in used to be. Of course, Buckland House was long gone, demolished in the 2030s, but she had a feeling it would be under water too if it was still there.

“We’re at four hundred and twenty five feet,” Vicki told her mother. “I looked before we came out of the TARDIS. We’re about a hundred and fifty feet above the water level. We’re safe.”

“That’s a definition of safe even your father would hesitate to use,” Rose answered her. “Besides…” She looked around at her three youngest children who were happily stomping around in puddles, then up at the leaden sky where the rain continued to pour. “If it doesn’t stop… how long before this hill is under water, too? The whole of London… the whole of the British Isles… will be gone.”

“There are a lot of places much higher than London,” Vicki pointed out. “Yorkshire, parts of Wales, Derbyshire, most of Scotland. I think those parts will be saved.”

“Now you really DO sound like your father,” Rose pointed out. “Vicki, this is our world. What’s wrong with it? And….”

She stopped talking. They were all aware of other voices than their own. The voices were singing. They watched as a group of people wearing assorted rainmacs and hoods, some of them with children and pushchairs, made their way up the hill from the western side, singing a hymn – Abide With Me. Rose shivered involuntarily, remembering that it was one of the tunes played by the band aboard the Titanic. She remembered how cold it was on the deck of that stricken ship, with the band bravely keeping up morale for those who had little hope of survival.

It was cold here, too. And it looked as if the world was sinking this time.

The hymn singers stopped by the water tower and a man in a black coat held up a leather bound bible and began a long prayer. It was a prayer for forgiveness for the sins of the world and for deliverance from the deluge that was upon them. The people repeated the prayers hopefully, looking up at the sky for some break in the clouds, some ray of sunshine on their faces.

None came.

“Vicki, Grandma Rose!” A voice called to them, one that seemed at once familiar and unfamiliar. They both turned to see two people moving past the praying crowd. “I was right. You ARE here. All of you.”

“No, that’s not possible!” Earl grasped Sukie’s hand and drew closer to Vicki and Rose. “No, you can’t be here as well as us.”

“I know we shouldn’t be,” said the older version of Sukie. She looked about twenty-five, but she was probably older than that. Her Gallifreyan genes meant she aged very differently to Humans. The older Earl looked about thirty. They, too, held hands as they faced themselves. “But we had to find you. It’s the only way we can save this planet.”

“There’s no point in anyone standing around out here,” the older Earl added. “Especially not the kids. We should all get back into the TARDIS.”

“Yes,” Rose agreed. She looked around for her children and saw the older Sukie take hold of the two little girls. The younger Sukie held little Jack’s hands. None of the toddlers seemed to notice anything strange about that. Carya and Brenda both turned their pushchairs back towards the TARDIS. The congregation praying and singing for a miracle didn’t notice how many people improbably walked into the police box beside the water tower.

“We should have brought them in, too,” Jimmy said as he shed his soaking wet overcoat and hung it over the railing on the gangway. “They need a miracle… surely this is it? There’s room enough for them in the TARDIS.”

Vicki looked at her boyfriend. He was the only fully Human among them, and perhaps he was the only one thinking like a Human.

“No,” the older Earl contradicted. “There is something you can do to help them, but that isn’t it. Everyone… sit down, please. We need to tell you about what happened. It would be better if we were all calm and quiet.”

That calm and quiet wasn’t easily achieved with six infants aboard. But once they had been settled once more in the play area and coffee had been passed around to the adults, something like it was achieved.

“Yes, we know how dangerous this is, us being here,” the older Sukie said opening their story. “We know all about the Blinovitch Uncertainty Principle, and how dangerous it is for us to be here at the same time as our younger selves. But we had no choice. We had to find you all. Because… in our time… there’s nobody else left.”

“Nobody!” Rose echoed that word fearfully. Around her everyone else was catching on. For Jimmy and Carya it wasn’t as terrible as it was for everyone else. They had both realised that they would be dead of natural causes by now, anyway. But even Brenda had a Tiboran lifespan. She expected to live into her three hundreds. She and Davie ought to be alive in this time.

“I never got a TARDIS,” the older Earl said. “I never felt the need for one. Sukie and I love travelling in time using my car, but we never had any need for space travel. We were away in the twentieth century on the weekend when the rains began. When we got back things had already passed the point of no return. You see, it wasn’t just rain. Total cloud cover over the whole planet raised the surface temperature. The poles began to melt, raising sea levels. Any towns or cities on estuaries or the flood plains of rivers were drowned in a matter of hours. London was devastated. The Thames Barrier was just swept away.”

“But we had TARDISes,” Vicki protested. “We could do what we did when the Dominators came.”

“For a while that’s what we hoped,” Earl continued. “But most of you still live in London and it was hit so suddenly. We tried to contact somebody. At first we were able to talk to Spenser up in Northumberland. He was going to come down to Lancashire to join us. But… we don’t know what went wrong. He never made it. And the water was still rising. Our home… we always loved it there, on the hill, with a view over the park where we first met, the river at the bottom…. A tidal river… we got away just in time. Most people were heading inland towards the Pennines. We drove south… to London… to what was left of it… to find you. Because we knew you were the only chance any of us had left.”

The younger Sukie was crying quiet tears. So was Vicki. Rose looked close to tears, too. Jimmy and the younger Earl were both trying to hold in their emotions. Brenda and Carya hugged each other tightly and sobbed openly.

“What is it you think we can do?” the younger Earl asked his older self. “How can we stop the rain from coming down?”

“I don’t know,” the older Earl answered him. “But we both remember this from when we were younger. We didn’t at first. The memory was suppressed until it was happening around us. Then it triggered in our heads. We knew we had to find you because you can make it right. You’re the only ones who can. You’ve got the last TARDIS on planet Earth. You’re the only ones who can get up there and stop it.”

“Get up where and stop what?”

“It’s the weather station,” the older Earl explained, looking directly at his younger self. “Didn’t you work that out, yet? This weather couldn’t be natural. Something went wrong at the station.”

“The station?”

“What weather station?” Rose asked.

“Oh!” the younger Sukie worked it out a fraction of a second before her boyfriend. “Of course, we SHOULD have known. Remember what Earl was saying before about the population of Earth – how it was over seven billion and there was no famine. That’s BECAUSE of the weather station. His mum is one of the scientists who designed it. She’s a Time Lord, of course. She worked with humans to design a space platform that was capable of seeding the atmosphere to produce rain in places where there would be drought – all the deserts of Africa - and stop tornadoes and things like that hitting the plains of America where all the wheat is grow. There are no infertile places on Earth any more, except the poles and mountain tops. Food can be grown where it’s needed. It went operational when Earl was ten. He told me all about it. He promised to take me to see it one day.”

“It has to be the station,” the older Earl insisted. “We tried to contact mum. She’s up there, on her regular tour of duty along with the rest of the team. But we couldn’t get through. The transmission was jammed.”

“Mum’s alive?” Earl grasped one scrap of hope from the conversation. The fact that their whole family, including the children blissfully playing in the crèche below, had all drowned along with most of the population of Earth was the overriding fact in all their heads, but the possibility that one person he loved might have escaped the flood was a glimmer in the darkness for him.

“We don’t know,” the older Earl told him. “We just have to hope. Look, you know the co-ordinate for the station. You’ve got a TARDIS. It’s up to you to find out what’s going on up there and stop it.”

“You’re not coming with us?” Sukie asked. “Surely…”

“That’s the thing,” her older self answered her. “We only remember us telling you what you have to do. Then we left the TARDIS. We don’t know what you did. We don’t even know if you succeeded. We came here out of HOPE, not certainty.”

“What are you going to do, then?” Sukie asked.

“I think we’re going to go out there and join that lot in their prayers,” the older Sukie answered. “Only we’ll be praying for you lot to bring the miracle the rest of them are asking God for. I suppose, if we told them, they’d pray for God to guide you. Maybe that’s what they’re doing anyway, without knowing it. Anyway… it’s all that’s left for us to do. Our car is under water, now. The level is still rising. By the end of today… if you haven’t done it… then we’ll all know our prayers haven’t been answered and we’ll be waiting for the end.”

“We’ll do it,” Earl promised her. He remembered the Blinovitch Uncertainty Principle. He couldn’t have physical contact with his older self. But he could hug the older Sukie, who by this time was his wife. Sukie hugged the older Earl, her future husband. Then the two of them stepped out of the TARDIS together, holding hands. They joined the congregation singing ‘Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past’.

“That weather station,” Vicki said, wiping the tears from her eyes and going to the navigation console. “Give me the co-ordinates.”

Earl told her. She and Sukie completed the manoeuvre. The TARDIS materialised aboard what the environmental schematic showed to be a five mile wide, seventy floor deep space platform. They were close to the main control centre.

“Good call,” Rose said. “If you’d chosen the shuttle hanger we’d have to walk miles.”

“Not we, mum!” Vicki answered. “Me and Jimmy, and Sukie and Earl. The rest of you should stay here. You’ve got to look after the children.”

“You ARE one of my children,” Rose protested. “You’re fifteen. You’re not even fifteen. You’re really…”

Rose looked at her eldest child. In truth, she looked even older than fifteen. She carried herself like a grown up, with responsibilities of her own. She wasn’t legally old enough to drive, but she was the chief pilot of this TARDIS. She held all their lives in her hands every time she initiated the dematerialisation switch.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “You should have stayed my little girl for longer than this.”

“I know, mum. But daddy trusts me. If he were here, he’d tell you I’m right.”

“If your father was here, HE could do the hero stuff and you wouldn’t have to,” Rose pointed out. “Sukie, you’re only fifteen, too. Your mother…”

“My mother did scarier things than this with granddad when she was fifteen,” Sukie pointed out. “She wasn’t much older when they first fought the Daleks on Skaro.”

“Susan grew up too fast, too,” Rose said. “And it’s all HIS fault. He made you all what you are.”

“In this timeline, even he’s dead,” Sukie added. “We’ve got to do something. Nobody else can.”

“We’re wasting time,” Jimmy pointed out. “People down on Earth are dying every second. We’ve got to do something.”

“All right,” Rose conceded. “All right, go.”

The four of them turned to leave, one Human, two mixed blood Gallifreyans and one hybrid, all painfully young for so much responsibility, all aware that the future of more than one race was at stake.

“That’s what’s been bugging me all along,” Sukie said as they walked along one of the white-walled corridors of the station, aware that the air was thinner and the gravity less than on Earth. It was micro-gravity, created by the ever turning central hub of the station. It didn’t have the same pull as an entire spinning planet. But it was enough for near-normal living conditions for the crew.

“What has?” Earl asked her.

“This… what happened… if everyone is dead… everyone in our family except you and me… what about Tristie? Our grandson. Vicki’s SON… How can he be born in the future, if Vicki is…”

“He can’t,” Earl answered. “The future we thought we knew… it won’t happen, now. Tristie won’t ever be born.”

“But he has to be,” Vicki argued. She wasn’t even going to touch on the concept of her own death. “Ages ago, before the Dominators, when we were kids… remember when Chris and Davie took us to the thirty-third century. Mum and dad were there, in our house. Chris’s Sanctuary was intact. Peter was a diplomat on another planet. Tristie was the same age as us and we had iced buns…”

“None of it will happen,” Earl repeated. His voice had a catch in it. He couldn’t cry. He had enough Gallifreyan in his mixed blood to give him vestigial tear ducts, but he could grieve for his as yet unborn grandson and a future that they had all once taken for granted.

“Where ARE the crew?” Jimmy asked. He knew he wasn’t part of that future anyway. He was thinking about what was happening now, not what might or might not happen afterwards. “Surely this place should have loads of people on it.”

“Good point,” Sukie answered. She pulled out her sonic screwdriver and scanned for life. The results were dismayingly negative.

“Wait!” she said. “There’s one… there…” She reached for a door set flush into the wall. It was locked. She applied the sonic to it and pulled. The door opened outwards and a body fell out.

“Mum!” Earl screamed as he caught the woman in his arms. “No, oh no!”

“I’m sorry, she’s dying,” Sukie told him. “Her body is riddled with ion radiation.”

“That’s the stuff used to create the weather seeding,” Earl said as he knelt and cradled his mother in his arms. “It’s dangerous in high doses, but they only use very tiny amounts, fractions…”

He stopped thinking like a scientist and instead thought like a son as his mother opened her eyes, struggling for consciousness. She clearly recognised him, even though he looked younger.

“You’re here,” she said. “Oh, my boy. I knew I could count on you.”

“Mum… what happened?” he asked. “What went wrong?”

“I did,” she answered. “I’m sorry. It was my ambition that caused it all. And now I can’t stop it. It’s too late.”

She grasped his hand and he felt something pressed into his palm. He didn’t look at it, yet. He was aware that his mother only had seconds left to live. He held her until it was over.”

“I’m sorry.” Curiously, it was Jimmy, whose mother had abandoned him when he was very young, whose father had bullied and abused him, who touched Earl on the shoulder and offered him a simple kind of sympathy. Jimmy was still the Human heart of them all. He helped Earl to lay his mother down on the floor and close her eyes. He was still supporting him when he stood upright and looked around with eyes that were glassy with nictating fluid even if he couldn’t cry in the normal sense of the word. He looked at the small white data stick his dying mother had pressed into his hand, then he turned back along the corridor to where they had left the TARDIS. The others followed, running to catch up with him. In his emotional state he seemed to have forgotten about them all, even Sukie. They stepped into the console room in time to see him slot the data stick into the TARDIS computer. There was a soft bleep and then a hologram shimmered into existence. It was Earl’s mother.

“I am Estelle Gregory, director of the International Weather Station,” the hologram said. “At least I was. Everyone else aboard the station is dead, now. Everyone on Earth… that’s why I’m recording this message. If anyone finds us… if they want to know what happened… I’m the only one left to tell the truth. It was my fault. It was my o’er-reaching ambition that caused the doom of Earth, of the Human race, and the last Time Lords, and every other race that came to call the planet below their home. I failed them all. Twelve days ago, now, I put the new programme online – an artificial intelligence that could run the station by itself, reducing the time that a Human crew had to spend in space performing routine operations. It went wrong from the start. The programme… it was supposed to be able to decide the best conditions for planet Earth… for the planet… not for the people on it. The programme decided that Earth would be best served by sterilising it of the population that continuously despoils it… It started the deluge. We tried to switch it off, but it defended itself. We’re part of the infestation, after all. Anyone who got near the controls was irradiated with ion particles. Humans died instantly. I survived longer. My Gallifreyan DNA allowed me to fight it. But it’s a fight I’m losing. All I can do now is set out the facts. I need it to be known. This wasn’t Human folly. It was Time Lord folly. It was MY mistake entirely. I am sorry for all the deaths my mistake has caused. My own family are among the dead, I suppose. My husband, Georg, my son, Earl… and his wife… I’ve brought their destruction along with all the people of Earth and… I am sorry.”

The hologram remained motionless for a few moments more. The expression on her face was heartbreaking to behold. Earl again found Jimmy’s hand on his shoulder, offering him his Human compassion.

“She…” he started to say, but he couldn’t say anything else.

“A computer decided that Earth would be better off without humans,” Rose said. She was upset, too. But something stirred in her mind. “In the twentieth century… my time… there was a film about that.”

“I’ve never seen it,” Vicki responded.

“Too right, you haven’t,” Rose told her daughter. “It’s 18 rated. But… They stopped it happening… actually not until the second film… they stopped it by using time travel to tell the man who programmed the computer what would happen if he let it go online.”

“We have a time machine,” Sukie pointed out.

“We can’t,” Earl said regretfully. “It would be against the laws of time. What’s done is done. We can’t alter it, now.”

“Yes, we can,” Vicki argued. “WE can. That’s why your two older selves didn’t come to the space station with us. Because they knew they were already part of events and they couldn’t change anything. But we’re from the past. And we know that the future doesn’t have to be like this. We’ve MET Tristie. He’s a part of our future. The future that CAN happen if we stop this terrible disaster.”

“I’ve just seen my mother die,” Earl said. “And now we’re going back to….”

“To when she was alive, to stop her from dying,” Sukie reminded him. “Yes, Vicki is right. We CAN do it. We know exactly when the programme went online, because it immediately initiated the deluge programme. So we have to go back to before then. She’ll be on the station, setting up the computer. That’s better than trying to find her at home, because we might run into us again and that would be paradoxical.”

“Let’s do it,” Earl decided. It was Vicki’s TARDIS. Usually she shared the decision making aboard with Sukie. But this time everyone felt it was Earl’s decision. It was his mother, after all.

“I kind of wish we had done something about the chameleon circuit, now,” Vicki said when they materialised in the same place forty-two days before. “The police box is awfully conspicuous.”

“And I’m the only one with a guest permit to be aboard the station,” Earl pointed out. “I think I should go alone.”

Sukie hugged him.

“I believe in you,” she said. “Go on… make it right. Make it not have happened.”

He kissed her on the cheek. In their timeline, that was as intimate as he had ever been with her. Then he stepped out of the TARDIS. He walked straight into a security detail who came to find out why a police box had appeared in a corridor very close to the crucial weather control centre. He held out his ID pass.

“I need to see my mum,” he said. “Estelle Gregory, the director. Please take me to her.”

“This pass is thirty years old,” the chief security officer said.

“I know. But it’s still valid. Please let me see my mum. It’s important.”

He was brought under guard. They were suspicious of him, but he could live with that as long as they brought him to his mother’s office.

The office was exactly where he remembered it from his own time when he had travelled by shuttle to visit her. The furniture was different, and there were some different pictures in the cabinet on the wall behind her desk. One of them was a wedding photograph - his wedding to Sukie. There were a group of children in the picture that were almost certainly the toddlers and babies travelling with them in the TARDIS today. It was a good picture.

Estelle Gregory looked around from the computer she was working on and saw him. Her mouth opened in surprise.

“ Mum,” he said. “Tell them it’s me, please. I need to talk to you, and it would be better if we were alone.”

“It’s quite all right,” Estelle said to the guards. They departed. Earl sat down opposite her. It took him a lot of effort not to launch himself over the desk and hug her like he used to do when he was a child. “You ARE my Earl,” she said to him. “But not… You’re outside your timeline. You know how dangerous that is.”

“Yes, mum, I know,” he answered. “But not as dangerous as what you plan to do very soon. He put the data stick on the desk in front of her. “Please look at this. Then if you want to give me a lecture about the Laws of Time and messing around with the future, then I’ll sit right here and listen to it. But please look, first.”

Estelle plugged the data stick into her computer. The hologram appeared. She watched in astonishment and increasing horror. When it was over, she unplugged the stick and very slowly gave it back to her son. Then she grasped his hand. She was trembling with emotion.

“There’s no mistake?” she asked. “It really was… me? I destroyed planet Earth… with my programme?”

“Yes, mum,” Earl answered. “We’ve seen it. There’s only a few people left. And they’re not going to make it. Unless we can change the future, unless you don’t put the artificial intelligence programme online.”

“It cost a lot of money to develop,” she said. “I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do. But I have no choice. Of course I’ll cancel the programme right away. Oh, my dear boy… look at you. How old are you? Barely a man by Human measure, a child by Gallifreyan standards, and the fate of the whole planet is in your hands.”

She stood up and came around the desk. Earl stood and let her hug him tightly.

“Thank Rassilon that you have your father’s humanity as well as my Time Lord genes.”

She walked with him back to the TARDIS. He hugged her again before he stepped inside. He appreciated those hugs more than he realised. He appreciated the one Sukie gave him when he stepped inside the TARDIS just as much.

“Did you do it?” she asked him. “Is she going to stop it?”

“She said she would. And she’s my mum. Why would she lie to me?”

“There’s only one way to find out,” Vicki said. She programmed the navigation control to take the TARDIS to the top of Shooter’s Hill on the twenty-first of August 2615.

They all stepped out, Sukie and Earl together, Vicki and Jimmy with Rose behind them with the toddlers and Carya and Brenda with their babies in pushchairs. They looked around at a warm summer day. London was slightly distorted by a heat haze, but it was all there.

There was a group of people gathered there, singing a hymn. It was All Things Bright And Beautiful, a cheerful hymn that seemed appropriate in the sunshine.

“Hey!” Two people came up the hill towards them. It was Sukie and Earl, the older versions.

“We did it?” Sukie asked. “I mean… Earl did it?”

“Yes, he did,” the older Earl answered. “Mum pulled the programme. She’s working on rewriting the logic circuits, so that it understands it’s working for the good of humanity, not against it. But she’s not going to let it go online until she’s absolutely certain.”

“Then how did you know about being here?” Rose asked.

“I think we’re the only ones who know what happened,” the older Sukie answered. “We still have the memory of being you when you came to the first timeline. Everyone else… that lot… apparently they ALWAYS come up here for prayers and hymns, celebrating the beauty of planet Earth in one of London’s green spots. They have no idea that they could have been here praying for a miracle, expecting to die.”

“It’s all right now,” Vicki said. “We’re all alive… and Tristie… he’ll still be born in the thirty-third century - my son, your grandson?”

“That’s still in the future for all of us,” older Earl told her. “But at least we have a future, now. There’s just one thing. Sukie, come here. Earl… go to Sukie… MY Sukie.”

Sukie and Earl did as their older selves told them. Older Earl touched Sukie on the forehead. She felt him touch her recent memories. He wasn’t taking them away, but he was blurring the edges, making it all seem less fresh and immediate. When he was done she felt at first as if her vision was blurred, then it cleared up and she looked around at the pleasant hill on a summer afternoon again.

“Neither of you need to have this on your mind for the next thirty odd years,” older Earl said. “You won’t forget, because gaps in the memory are distressing on their own, but you’ll shunt it off to the back of your mind until events start to happen around you and it all slots into place.”

“That… makes sense,” Sukie agreed.

“We’ll get going now,” her older self said. “We’re going to London space port to catch the shuttle up to the weather station. Estelle wants us to visit. You stay here a bit longer and have a picnic with the children before heading home to the twenty-third century. We can absolutely guarantee it’s going to be sunny all day.”