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

Chris Campbell stepped out of his TARDIS and through the gate leading into the pub garden and children’s play area. Both were busy. Patrons were drinking and eating under blue and white parasols that shaded their tables from the summer sun while the swings, slide and climbing frame were all teeming with youngsters.

On the grass beside all that activity Spenser Draxic sat with a sketch book, drawing. He looked perfectly content and absorbed in his activity. When Chris approached he looked up in surprise then glanced around to see a tree outside the garden that hadn’t been there a few minutes ago.

“Davie perfected the stealth mode at last?” he asked.

“Yes. He even worked out a way of neutralising the displaced air.” Chris sat down beside his friend. “The womenfolk of my family have deserted us for the seaside and Davie is away being governor of Santurio. I thought I’d stop by and see how you and Stuart are doing.”

“We’re doing fine,” Spenser assured him. “Stuart is stuck behind the bar at the moment. It’s the lunch time rush. But he’ll grab a bit of time to sit in the sun later.” Spenser glanced towards the play area as if reassuring himself that all was well. Chris followed his gaze and smiled.

“Which are your two?” he asked.

“In the matching pink dresses,” Spenser replied. “Yes, I know. Sukie told us off for gender stereotyping when we got them pink Team Campbell firesuits for the last race meeting. But they were wearing pink coats when we found them and somehow it looks right on them.”

Chris laughed softly. Spenser and Stuart as adoptive parents of two little girls was a startling idea when he first heard about it, but then he realised it was the most natural thing in the world. He and his brother were both parents, after all. Why not their best friends?

“The Heritage Society has made an offer for the manor house,” he added. “They want to turn it into a museum of Northumberland life. The Ship Inn is my home from now on.”

“Our world is returning to normal,” Chris said. “After the Dominators disrupted it. Motorsports, pub lunches, museums. Everything is as it should be.”

“It feels like it,” Spenser agreed. “I like that. I do, occasionally, hanker for a bit of excitement. But I’m glad to go to other planets to find it. I’m happy for this one to be at peace.”

Chris understood that sentiment fully, and it led easily into his ulterior motive for visiting his closest friends. He told Spenser, briefly at least, about his stay on Gallifrey. Spenser was interested in his story on several levels.

“I was born on Earth, but I have all of my father’s memories, still. I can easily recall Gallifrey. That yellow-orange sky, the moon in its copper and silver aspects, the red grass in the valleys and the silvertrees. Becoming an exile wasn’t easy, even for him.”

“We’re the only ones of our generation who are lucky enough to have those memories. You and me and Davie. They’re precious. And I had hundreds of years there. It was such a privilege. But… one thing about my experience there… I thought about talking to Jack, but he’s worried about Hellina’s latest operation. And… you and Stuart are….”

Spenser understood instinctively. He didn’t need to say anything until Chris was finished.

“The first time I fell in love, it was with a woman,” he said. “She died. I was heartsbroken. Then Carya… I didn’t mean to fall in love with her at all, but I did. Once I admitted it to myself, I knew I was head over heels about her. I still am. My life is perfect. I have a wife and a son… everything a man should have. I’m so lucky. But, two or three times a week, I wake up beside the most lovely woman you can imagine and I realise I’ve been dreaming about Orin, the man who shared my sleeping mat for all those years in the Brotherhood.”

Spenser smiled warmly.

“You really should have talked to Jack. He’s from the fifty-first century where they don’t label people according to how they fall in love.”

“I know. But I live in the twenty-fourth century where they DO have labels. You and Stuart… you and Davie before he married Brenda….”

“Davie and I were never ‘physical’,” Spenser reminded him. “I loved him. He loved me in his own way, for which I am eternally grateful. I think I would have remained a lonely hermit in a house hanging off the edge of the North Sea without him. I certainly wouldn’t have all of this.” He smiled as he glanced around, again letting his eyes stay on the children’s amenities long enough to know that his girls were content. “You and Orin… it was ‘platonic’?” Spenser smiled ironically. “Stupid word that, isn’t it?”

“Totally stupid. But yes. I mean… we were sort of monks, even though it wasn’t a religious thing in the way we understand it on Earth. We were all celibate. No question about that. It started out as a means of keeping warm at night when we didn’t have a roof over our heads. But then it got to be a habit.”

“Can’t see anything wrong with a habit like that,” Spenser said. “Chris, don’t worry about it. You’re not… a deviant of the Oscar Wilde persuasion.”

Chris laughed, as Spenser intended him to do.

“It’s what they called it in the early twentieth century. Or would you like to be a ‘Friend of Dorothy?’”

“What does that even mean?” Chris asked.

“It’s a long story. Mrs Atkins, our live in housekeeper, calls Stuart and me ‘house-husbands’. She doesn’t quite approve of us, but she adores the girls and makes allowances. Point is, Chris, you’re none of those things. You and Carya are everything you should be. But half a millennia of that sort of devoted companionship… no wonder you dream about him now and again. Treasure it as a wonderful experience. Just as I treasure those dreams I have from time to time about what never could have been between me and your brother.”

That was a dangerous thing for a telepath to say to another telepath. Chris blushed as he felt a brief flash of the sort of thing Spenser dreamt about.

“You’d better stop thinking like that,” he told him. “Your husband is coming over.”

Spenser’s smile widened as Stuart crossed the garden and came to sit by him. He kissed him gently on the cheek and greeted Chris warmly.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “I could use some advice from an experienced Time Lord.”

“What am I?” Spenser asked with feigned indignation. “The tea lady?”

“Chris and Davie have both travelled a lot further than you,” Stuart said in explanation. “They’ve met far more different species. The thing is… all lunchtime… I’ve been smelling burnt onions.”

“Kevin’s been dishing out burger and chips by the shovelful,” Spenser pointed out.

“Yes, I know. But I checked the kitchen. He hasn’t burnt anything, and the smell is strongest in the bar. It’s just as busy as the garden and a lot of it is passing trade, holiday makers, not locals who I recognise. If there’s a hostile alien among them….”

“Why do you think it might be a hostile alien?” Chris asked. “You of all people know there are plenty of non-humans living peacefully on Earth.”

Stuart did know that. His ability to tell species by their unique smell meant he recognised them more easily than his Time Lord lover or his friends who relied on subtle differences like hair follicles or skin texture to spot non-indigenous people.

“When I was a boy, my father used to deliberately burn onions and teach me to recognise the smell. He warned me to be aware of it, and to run and tell him if I ever detected it, because our deadliest enemies would smell like that.”

“I didn’t know you had deadly enemies,” Chris said.

“Neither did I,” Spenser admitted. “I thought your planet… well, I don’t actually know ANYTHING about your planet. Dulus… you’ve never really talked about it, sweetheart.”

“That’s because I don’t KNOW anything about it,” Stuart replied. “It’s NOT my planet. It’s where my parents came from, before I was born here on Earth, right here in this pub. I grew up here, just like a Human, except one who was scared to go near a hot dog stand in case some kind of monster jumped at me from the fried onion tray. I don’t think my parents made me that paranoid just for fun. They must have had a reason why they prepared me for the possibility of danger. But nothing ever happened. I stopped being scared as I got older. My parents stopped worrying about it, too. They must have thought they were safe, after all. And until today, I had never smelt burnt onions unless it was some kind of culinary disaster.”

Spenser grasped his lover’s hand and looked at Chris pleadingly.

“Is he being paranoid?” he asked. “Or could there be a problem?”

“I don’t know. Your parents never told you ANYTHING about their world, or why they left it?”

“I know more about Gallifrey from listening to you guys talk about it. They had to tell me I wasn’t Human. There are a few things about me that give the game away – my heart on the right side instead of the left, that kind of thing. I needed to know why I was different. But I don’t know anything else. I don’t know if Dulus was a nice place or a hell hole. I don’t know if my parents were economic migrants or political refugees. I don’t even know if it exists any more.”

“Davie and I both have huge databases in our TARDISes,” Chris pointed out. “You could have asked either of us to find out for you.”

“I never needed to know before. This planet was always good enough for Spenser and me. We take our trips in the time car. That’s fun in its way. And we got the girls through one of those trips, which was a real bonus. But we have no need to travel anywhere else. Earth is my home.”

For Chris and his brother the freedom of the universe was something they had craved since childhood. He didn’t really understand Stuart and Spenser’s lack of adventurous spirit. But he respected their choice.

“It might be nothing,” he said. “But if you don ‘t mind me lurking around your pub I’ll stay and keep an eye on things for a bit, just in case there is a problem. And maybe I can find something out about your ancestral home in the meantime. Something that explains the onion phobia.”

Stuart looked relieved. Then the two girls in pink ran to them. The youngest one had suffered a grazed knee after coming down the slide too fast. Stuart sat Georgina on his lap while Spenser gave his own kind of TLC to Josephine, first drying her tears, then putting his fingers over the hurt knee and concentrating hard until the broken skin and the underlying bruise healed.

“Better?” he asked as he hugged the little girl.

“Better,” she responded. Chris smiled to see the tender scene. His own son was just crawling and Carya relentlessly ensured he never bumped into anything that would cause bruises or tears. There would come a time, though, when even she would have to let him stand on his own two feet and risk falling down. Then Tilo would learn to run to his father for hugs and healing.

“We’ll talk about that matter again later,” he told his two friends.

Spenser and Stuart’s daily life, of necessity, revolved around the pub’s busy times. Early in the evening, though, when it was quieter, they left the business to their staff and retreated to their private living room above the public bar. Chris watched the two of them sitting with the girls, reading them stories from a large illustrated book that probably hadn’t been part of their personal library before they unexpectedly became parents. The girls were perfectly comfortable with them until Mrs Atkins, the middle-aged housekeeper whose own children had grown and fled the nest, came to take them for their pre-bedtime bath. That was an opportunity for Chris to talk about what he had managed to find out during the afternoon.

“Your parents must have left Dulus when the monarchy fell,” he said. “That was about ten years before the Dalek invasion of Earth. You said they came here just after the Daleks were defeated. By then the pro-monarchist factions had all either left voluntarily or been exiled from Dulus by the Republican government.”

“Were they a bad monarchy?” Stuart asked, not sure how he ought to feel about such news.

“It depends which account you read,” Chris answered. “The version of events put about by the Dulus Republic portrays them as idle sponges living off the backs of the poor who were swept away by the new egalitarian order. A more unbiased history shows that the Arenek family had ruled for nearly seven hundred years, during which the Dulus society grew from agrarian to industrial to post-industrial and technological. They established inter-galactic travel and free trade with their neighbouring systems. At the time of the revolution there was an economic depression in the region which led to a certain amount of unemployment and low wages, and it is true to say that the royal family didn’t scale back their lifestyle very much. The final straw is generally held to be a grand ball to celebrate the crown prince’s twenty-first birthday. They had a ten foot high birthday cake decorated with real gold leaf while there were soup kitchen lines in the city beyond the palace walls.”

“Oh dear,” Spenser said. “That’s what got Marie Antoinette into trouble.”

“And like Marie Antoinette it seems to have been stupidity rather than real antipathy towards the people,” Chris confirmed. “But the People’s Republic weren’t sympathetic. The revolution was short and bloody. The immediate royal family… King, Queen, Queen Mother, Crown Prince, his brothers, were all executed rather like the Romanov’s of Russia. Everyone else… a whole collection of minor Princes and Princesses, Dukes and Duchesses, Earls, Viscounts and the like, all had their titles and properties stripped from them and given the choice of being ordinary citizens of the new Republic or taking a slow transporter to the Venturan system along with everyone else who wanted to leave. Some of them were offered temporary refugee status there, but eventually they would have dispersed among the various humanoid planets where they could fit in with the locals.”

“And that’s how mum and dad came to Earth?” Stuart still wasn’t sure what to think about that. He was no more moved to learn of the death of the Arenek royal family than he was about Marie Antoinette and King Louis or the Romanovs, or even the English royal family who fell victim to the Daleks fifty odd years ago. He was born a citizen of the British Federation. He had only rarely travelled beyond what he regarded as his native Northumberland. His only offworld experiences were a few trips he and Spenser took with Davie Campbell. It felt no more relevant to his own life than the stories he read to the girls.

The baths were over. Two girls with well-scrubbed faces and hair freshly washed and dried ran into the living room in nightdresses, slippers and dressing gowns. They wanted one more story before bedtime. Chris closed his mini-computer which had gleaned the information about the Dulutian diaspora and watched the comfortingly domestic scene until Mrs Atkins came again to take the girls to bed.

“Will I make up the guest bed for your friend, Mr Harrison?” she asked Stuart. “He’ll be staying the night, I presume?”

“Please don’t make extra work for yourself, ma’am” Chris told her hastily. “I can make do on the sofa at bedtime.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” she replied, clearly impressed by Chris’s good manners and the ‘ma’am’ bit. “There are plenty of beds to spare.” Then she took the girls by the hand and went from the room.

“That might have been a tiny hint of disapproval of Spenser and me sharing a bed,” Stuart said. “She can never get her head around the idea that two nice, polite, well-groomed gentlemen should have such odd sleeping arrangements.”

“Rassilon bless her,” Spenser said with a smile. Their housekeeper’s mild homophobia was not something that troubled them unduly.

“I’d better go and look after my pub,” Stuart said. “It’ll be getting busy again, now. But, Chris, did you find out anything about any sort of enemy that my parents were afraid of, or why somebody of that race turned up in The Ship this afternoon?”

“Nothing at all,” Chris admitted. “The only people who had any kind of enemy were the Dulutian aristocracy, and they weren’t another race, they were the same species as them. Maybe it was something to do with wherever your parents went before they came to Earth. Perhaps they encountered hostility, racism, when they were refugees. Bear in mind it was well over fifty Earth years ago. On Dulus the revolution is history. The Republic is no better or worse a place than the Monarchy was. They still have periods of unemployment and rotten wages, but they have nobody but themselves to blame for it.”

“The people with the burnt onion smell might just as easily be settlers on Earth just like our families,” Spenser pointed out. “It could just be coincidence.”

“I hope so,” Stuart said fervently. “If it was just me… I wouldn’t mind so much. But I’ve got a family of my own, now. You and the girls, and even Mrs Atkins. I can’t start burning onions and training you all to sniff out an enemy I know nothing else about.”

He stood up and headed down to the bar.

“Come on,” Spenser said presently. “I’ll buy you a drink. There’s a band on tonight. It’s old style country and western, your kind of thing. They might even know a couple of Shania Twain numbers. The really retro stuff is quite popular.”

The band didn’t know anything by Shania Twain. Her music was getting on for two hundred years old. But the twenty-third century equivalent pleased his ear. Stuart was busy behind the bar, but he managed to speak to Chris and Spenser twice, telling them that he was aware of the unusual smell again, and nobody had burnt anything in the kitchen. Chris kept his ears on the music, but his eyes on the patrons of the Ship Inn. It was difficult to say who might be out of place, though. The locals who Spenser could identify were outnumbered two to one by holiday visitors.

At eleven thirty Stuart called time. The band were already packed up and gone. The last drinkers drained their glasses and made their way out of the pub. The evening staff went home, too. Stuart himself locked all of the doors while Spenser and Chris collected the last of the glasses and wiped spilt drinks and crisps from the tables. Stuart finished by brewing a fresh batch of coffee and preparing three expertly made Irish coffees topped by a thick layer of cream. They drank them in the quiet bar before calling it a night and heading upstairs.

Mrs Atkins had made up a comfortable bed in the guest room, but Chris didn’t sleep as easily as he should. He was lonely. He hadn’t slept along for more than seven hundred years. He closed his eyes and thought fondly of his wife’s warm body beside him, deliberately keeping himself from thinking instead of Orin’s devoted company. He had imagination enough to feel less alone. But then his mind wandered over Stuart’s problems. There was much more to the whole thing than met the eye.

He was worried, not the least because he didn’t understand what was going on himself and he didn’t know if he was ready for the challenge.

Davie would be ready, he thought. He would be spoiling for a fight. And he would have a plan. He always had one.

“Chris!” He felt a voice in his mind. It was Spenser in the master bedroom. “Davie doesn’t always have a plan. He just wings it with style, don’t you know that?”

“Davie’s winging it is as good as most people’s carefully laid plans,” he replied. “Were you listening to all my thoughts since I went to bed?”

“No, I was pre-occupied until just now. It’s been a while since I had another Time Lord stay the night. I forgot how those pre-sleep thoughts slosh around. I couldn’t help touching on what you were thinking. For what it’s worth, I believe in you. If my family is in danger I’m glad to have you on board.”

“Thanks,” Chris told him with feeling. “Is Stuart asleep?”

“Yes. He always goes out like a light after….”

“TMI, thanks,” Chris said. “You should sleep, too. I’m….”

Chris was alert at once. He had heard a noise. It wasn’t one any Human in a building this size could have heard. Only his acute Time Lord senses detected the movement of a body downstairs in the bar.

“Mrs Atkins isn’t in the habit of getting herself a midnight tipple, is she?” he asked.

“She’s fast asleep in her bed,” Spenser confirmed.

“Then we’ve got a problem. You stay put. I’ll go and look.”

“Watch the fifth step down from the landing. It squeaks.”

Chris moved quietly and quickly, avoiding that fifth step. He had his sonic screwdriver in his hand, but it was in penlight mode. He had no doubt that Davie would have had it in laser mode ready to use as a very deadly weapon, but he couldn’t do that.

Besides, it could just be an ordinary burglar, not enemies from the other side of the galaxy.

It wasn’t. Not unless burglars in Northumberland habitually carried weapons made by the infamous Villengarde arms factory and had transmat beacons on their tunics. They were speaking in an extra-terrestrial dialect, too.

What slightly surprised him was that they were both women. He thought he remembered them from the bar during the evening, but he had been paying more attention to the men.

“Stop right there,” he said, stepping out of the shadows and confronting them, his sonic screwdriver held out in front of him like a weapon. “Who are you, and what do you want?”

“We want the Arenek heir,” one of the women replied and fired her weapon directly at Chris. He knew as it hit him square in the chest that it wasn’t a fatal blow. It was some kind of powerful stun gun that hurt a lot and knocked him for six. As he slid to the floor, fighting to stay conscious, he sent a warning message to Spenser. The two women had stepped over him to reach the door to the private quarters of the pub.

“Sorry,” he added before he lost the fight and it all went black.

He was only unconscious for a few minutes. He woke with his head pounding and every bone in his body aching and forced himself to stand up. He dragged himself up the stairs and into the master bedroom.

The struggle had been brief. Spenser was lying across the bed, obviously hit by the same weapon as he was. Chris turned him over and examined him. He was breathing shallowly and his hearts were erratic. One was beating too fast, the other hardly beating at all. He began a particularly complicated form of CPR that applied only to people with two hearts, regulating both of them to the proper syncopated rhythm.

“Come on, Spenser,” he said. “Don’t make me have to give you the kiss of life as well. Davie would never let me forget it.”

But it wasn’t necessary. Spenser gave a hoarse gasp and opened his eyes. His memory came back to him in the same moment and he sat up, looking around the half-dark room fearfully.

“They took Stuart,” he said. “They took him from me.”

“Why?” Chris asked. But he didn’t waste any time on the question. He pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and held it up. “There’s ion particle residue in the air. A transmat was used not long ago. It has to be fairly localised. I might be able to trace its source.”

“I’m coming with you,” Spenser said.

“No. We don’t know what these people want. But if the worst happened… those girls of yours lost two parents already. If they lost another, they’ll need you as much as you’ll need them.”

Spenser couldn’t cry. He had inherited that much from his father. But that didn’t stop him hurting.

“I need him,” he said. “Stuart is…. Some people don’t understand. They don’t think two men can love each other fully and completely the way a man and a woman can. They don’t think it’s real….”

“I don’t think that. I’ll bring him back if he’s alive, still. I promise you. I’m not Davie. There’s stuff I can’t do that he can, but on my honour as a Time Lord I will do all I can for you both.”

He hugged his friend briefly then hurried away. He took the stairs two at a time and ran out of the pub, across the garden to where his TARDIS still stood. As he entered it he heard a persistent beeping noise from the console. He checked it immediately and smiled grimly. His TARDIS had saved him a lot of trouble. It, too, had detected the use of a transmat. It had already traced the origin. The alien ship was hovering in cloaked mode a hundred feet above the Ship Inn.

The TARDIS easily materialised on the ship. It was small, but with warp-shunt engines that would take it across a galaxy in minutes. It was powering up to do that. Chris headed first to the engine room. If he could put a spanner in the works and stop it leaving Earth’s atmosphere it would make things easier.

There was only one man on duty in the small, cramped, noisy place. Chris knocked him out with a neural disrupter pulse from his sonic screwdriver. He would be out cold for about twenty minutes and wake up with the mother of all headaches. Chris’s pacifist principles were honoured while he had plenty of time to sabotage the engines.

That done his next objective was to find Stuart. He glanced at the small gismo he had fixed to his wrist before leaving the TARDIS. It was a portable lifesigns monitor, designed by his brother. He ought to have been able to pinpoint Stuart’s lifesign among the aliens who had taken him.

He couldn’t, and it was nothing to do with the gismo. It was functioning perfectly well.

He looked at the panel again carefully and understood one thing about the people who had snatched Stuart. There was quite a lot more he didn’t yet understand, but he was starting to have a very strange theory about it all.

He looked at his own lifesign. It showed up a different colour to the others, because he was a different species. But it also had a glow around it. That came from habitual travel in the time vortex.

One other lifesign had that glow. Stuart had travelled in Davie’s TARDIS often enough for his body to have soaked up some of the harmless vortex energy. He was marked as a traveller in time and space.

He knew where he was. There was the problem that he wasn’t alone. He had expected him to be in a cell, possibly with a guard or two. Instead he was in the largest room on the ship and surrounded by nearly two dozen people.

Well, even with a neural disrupter he wasn’t going to walk into that. But as his great-grandfather taught him and his brother, situations like this are what inspection hatches are for. He adjusted the sonic to simple screwdriver mode and unfastened the conveniently placed panel near the floor. It was not going to be a comfortable crawl through the narrow space inside, but it was going in the right direction.

The conduit ended with a grille. The screws holding it were on the outside, but that wasn’t a problem. The problem was the guard standing only a few feet away. Unless he was very quiet and careful he was a sitting duck for another zap from a stun gun.

Fortunately for him a loud, dramatic music started playing within the room. Chris briefly wondered why, but since it covered the sound of screws dropping out of the grille and then the grille itself toppling forwards he didn’t worry about it too much. He managed to pull himself out of the crawl space and stand up behind the guard. Nobody paid any attention to him. They were all concentrating on what was going on in the middle of the room.

Chris had been puzzled from the start about why Stuart had been kidnapped. Even more so when he realised that the people who had taken him were the same species he was. These were Dulutians, from the planet Stuart’s parents had left in the wake of the revolution.

His parents were landlords of the Ship Inn. Stuart inherited the pub from them when they died and carried on the business. What use was a pub landlord to Dulus?

Absolutely nothing, but apparently an Archduke was. That was what they were calling him. Stuart looked as if he was fighting off the effects of some kind of knock out drug. He was slumped in an elaborately carved chair that might, with justice, be described as a throne. His eyes were unfocussed and he was struggling to speak. He had been hastily dressed in a robe with a lot of red and gold embroidery and a large gold ornament was hung around his neck.

By his side, sitting on another throne, and dressed in another red and gold robe was a girl. She looked about eighteen and her expression was best described as petrified.

A man dressed in another elaborate robe, this time blue and silver, was in the middle of a very complicated ceremony. Chris listened long enough to work out it was both a wedding ceremony and a coronation. Stuart was being married to the terrified teenager and then the two of them would be crowned king and queen of Dulus.

Dulus, the Republic that executed its royals two generations ago? That bit didn’t make a lot of sense, yet. But one bit did. The priest or whatever he was had reached a part of the proceedings that was obviously mandatory in any marriage ceremony in the known galaxy apart from the one that joined him with Carya. At no point was he even told her was getting married, let alone given a chance to object to it. But Davie and Brenda were when they were joined in Alliance according to Gallifreyan law. Spenser and Stuart had a moment to think about it in their civil marriage according to the statutes of the Earth Federation. Dulutian marriage ceremonies had a part where either the bride or the groom could halt the proceedings.

Stuart was still struggling to wake himself up. He murmured something, but it in no way could have been interpreted as an impediment to his marriage. The girl glanced around nervously and said nothing.

The next part of the ceremony, though, asked if anyone else present knew of a reason not to continue the marriage rite. Chris shifted his grip on his sonic screwdriver and pushed past the surprised guards.

“I object,” he said. “This man can’t marry anyone. He’s already married. To me!” The guards reached for weapons, but Chris was quicker, brandishing his sonic screwdriver like a very short sword. “Don’t try it. This is a sonic laser. I could cut all of you in half with one flick of my wrist.” He moved towards Stuart as he spoke. He grasped his limp hand tightly. “He’s mine.”

“Yours?” the priest stared at him in astonishment. “How could he possibly be… you’re a man.”


“A man cannot marry another man.”

“Maybe not where you come from. But Stuart and I are citizens of the British Federation and under the Marriage Act of 2157, amended 2215 and 2220, we are legally and fully married. He is MY husband. So lay off.”

“By Dulutian law a marriage must be consummated to be legally binding,” protested a man in yet another variety of elaborate robe in green and bronze. “How can two men….”

“Use your imagination,” Chris replied. “It’s consummated. It’s legal. This proceeding is not, so break it up, now.”

He had created enough confusion to buy a little time, anyway. The men in robes looked at each other with puzzled expressions. Chris wondered if they were trying to work out how two men consummated their marriage or if there was something else on their minds. Around them the guards, male and female, in tunics of dark blue and white kept their hands away from their weapons for now, but it was still a dangerous situation.

He felt Stuart’s hand tighten on his. He had fought off the drug and was fully lucid now.

“Chris,” he said. “They want….”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t understand why. Would anyone like to explain what the blinking flip is going on here? Why the shotgun wedding in the first place.”

“They say I’m the Archduke of some place on Dulus,” Stuart told him. “And the first in line to the throne… I’m related to the House of Arenek somehow. So is she. But she’s not a direct line. She’s some kind of second cousin or something. They want me to marry her and then crown us both as king and queen of Dulus.”

“Dulus has a president,” Chris pointed out. “It’s a republic.”

“That state of affairs applies no longer,” said the man in green robes. “The people have voted to restore the monarchy. He is the rightful heir. He must take his place as king of Dulus.”

“No,” Stuart protested. “No, I’m not. I’m Stuart Draxic Harrison. I live on Earth. I run a pub. I don’t want to be king of a planet I’ve never set eyes on. And I definitely don’t want to be married to…” He looked at the girl. She still looked terrified, but was there a glimpse of relief in her eyes now it looked as if the wedding was off? “You look like a nice girl, and this is obviously not your fault. But I don’t want anything to do with this.”

“I cannot be queen in my own right,” she said quietly. “You are heir. I am second in line.”

“Do you want to be queen?” Chris asked her.

“I have been groomed for the throne since birth,” she answered. “My father died before I was born, and my mother placed me in the care of these loyal men who ensured my safety and taught me to be ready to take my place on the restored throne. Then it came to light… that you… with a better claim… still lived.”

“I haven’t made a claim,” Stuart pointed out. “I’m not Dulutian. I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be a king, especially of a planet that doesn’t recognise gay rights and has a history of shooting its monarchs.” He looked around at the officials in the green and blue. “Why did you come here? Why did you bother me in the first place? If you’d gone ahead and crowned her as queen nobody would have known I existed.”

“I knew,” said the one who had conducted the disrupted ceremony. “I could not in conscience crown one who was not the rightful heir.”

“But you didn’t mind kidnapping me, drugging me, forcing me to marry against my will. Your conscience had no problem with that?”

The priest had no reply except a vague shrug that suggested Stuart had hit the nail on the head.

“I’m going home,” Stuart said, standing up and adjusting the coronation robe so that he didn’t trip on the hem. “Get out of my way.”

The guards closed in. Chris looked at them warily.

“What are you going to do?” he asked. “Kill your heir?”

“That would be a solution,” Stuart pointed out quietly. “If I’m dead then there’s nothing stopping her from being queen.”

“We would not go so far,” the minister in green assured them. “But you cannot leave, sire. You MUST accept the Crown, even if you do not accept the marriage. You ARE heir.”

“No he doesn’t,” Chris contradicted him. “Haven’t you been listening? How many times does he have to tell you he doesn’t want to be king? Has nobody ever abdicated on your wretched planet?”

“Abdicated?” The word was clearly not one they were familiar with.

“Abdicated,” Chris repeated. “You’re so fond of legal niceties, here’s a couple of interesting points to consider. First of all, I disabled your engines. You are still in orbit only one hundred feet above the county of Northumberland in the British Federation. Secondly, you have not presented any credentials to any representative of that Federation, therefore you have no diplomatic immunity. You are in BRITISH airspace. And under British statutes Stuart has the right to abdicate the throne and confer the right of succession on anyone he chooses.”

He turned to the girl who still sat on the coronation throne wondering where everything was leading.

“Do you want the job?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I told you… I have been raised to be queen.”

“Ok. Stuart…. Choose whatever words you want to formally abdicate in favour of this young woman.”

Stuart was startled, but he understood. He grasped Chris’s hand and smiled wryly.

“I find it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King without the help and support of the man I love,” he said, paraphrasing the speech of Edward VIII more than two hundred years before. “I therefore abdicate in favour of….” He looked at the woman he had been about to marry until Chris intervened. “What is your name, for chaos’ sake?”

“Grand-Duchess Sharina Arenek of Dulus,” she responded.

“I abdicate in favour of the Grand-Duchess Sharina Arenek of Dulus. God Save The Queen!”

Stuart turned and bowed towards the newly appointed heir to the throne of Dulus. Chris did the same.

“Good luck to you,” Stuart said to her. “I really hope it all goes well for you.” Then he turned and headed towards the door. The guards parted to allow him to pass. Chris started to follow him then turned back once.

“I’m not so sure all is well, here. This girl has been groomed to be queen – by you lot. I wonder what your political ambitions are? Just be warned. I’ll be keeping an eye on Dulus. If I have any suspicion that Queen Sharina is being pressurised by any eminence grís behind the throne, it will go hard with you.”

Chris gazed around the room with the full force of his ancestry. Not for nothing were his people called Princes of the Universe, and the chief courtiers of the Queen of Dulus were hit square in the eyes with his superior majesty.

“Ok, carry on. Enjoy your coronation.”

He hurried to catch up with Stuart who couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He escorted him through the quiet corridors of the ship and back to the TARDIS. He left him safely there long enough to go back to the engine room and undo the damage he had done. The Dulutians would be able to leave as soon as they were ready.

Stuart was ready now. It took a matter of moments to take the TARDIS straight to his bedroom in the Ship Inn. Spenser looked up as a door appeared in the outside wall of the room and gasped in relief when it opened and his husband ran to his waiting arms.

“I’ll go and put the coffee machine on,” Chris said diplomatically. “When you’ve finished snogging each other to distraction, I’ll fill you in on everything.”

The two of them came down to the bar presently. Spenser looked as if he never meant to let go of Stuart’s hand ever again. Both were relieved beyond words.

“Seriously, though,” Spenser said when they had talked about the curious events of the night. “I actually married an Archduke who was heir to a whole planet?”

“No,” Stuart said. “You married the landlord of a village pub. That’s all I’ve ever been. If my parents were something else before the revolution, then they never told me. They kept their true origins secret until their deaths, and I’m not sorry. I don’t need it, I really don’t. I suppose that’s why they were scared in case anyone came looking for them. If they were so closely related to the executed royal family they might have feared assassination, even though they came so far from Dulus and lived such an ordinary private life.”

“Why did they warn you about the burnt onion smell then?” Spenser asked. “If the people who were after us were from Dulus, too?”

“Because that’s what Dulutians would smell like to other Dulutians,” Chris explained.

“I’m sure my parents didn’t smell like burnt onions,” Stuart replied. “And I’m sure I don’t.”

“Not to you. Familiarity. It’s like I always recognise Brenda’s choice of perfume, but Davie never notices it at all. You were used to your parents. You didn’t notice anything. But if another Dulutian turned up you’d know right away.”

“I suppose….” He conceded.

“Do you have any regrets?” Spenser asked him. “About renouncing the throne?”

“None whatsoever. Not even if you could have been my consort. I belong here with you and the girls… just plain Stuart Harrison, landlord of the Ship Inn, Embley, Northumberland.”

“Then that’s good enough for me, too,” Spenser told him. Chris watched them embrace and kiss again. He glanced away and noted by his wrist gismo that the Dulus ship had left the airspace above them with their duly crowned queen aboard. Their would-be king carried on kissing his husband.