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

“Um….” Vicki de Lœngbærrow murmured uncertainly. On the other side of the TARDIS console her ‘cousin’, Sukie, said something a little bit ruder. Sukie was slightly older and had done more time travelling with Earl in his time car, as well as spending time in the pit garages of British and European race tracks with her brother. Her vocabulary was far more colourful in many different languages.

“Your mum wouldn’t like you using words like that,” Vicki admonished her. Sukie accepted the censure.

“It sums up the problem, though. We’ve missed our target in time and space and we’re coming out of the Vortex in a random location.”

“Yes, we are,” Vicki admitted. She saw Earl move closer. He wasn’t supposed to intervene unless it was an emergency. It was HER TARDIS, with Sukie as her co-pilot. Earl was the responsible adult in case anything happened beyond their control.

“We’re all right,” she assured him. “We’re landing on Earth. The clever old TARDIS selected a preset co-ordinate to materialise in while we recalibrate our destination.”

“Where and when on Earth?” Jimmy Forrester asked. It was a logical question. Vicki tried not to be irritated that he had asked it. She was feeling a little annoyed with herself for messing up the navigation to the Venturan system. She really didn’t want her boyfriend asking questions that sounded like criticism even if he really just wanted to know if he needed a warm jumper or not.

“South America,” she answered. “In what would come to be known as Peru. We’re in the last quarter of the fourteenth century when there were lots of small kingdoms and peoples rather than one nation.”

“Are we anywhere near Chan Chan?” Vicki was slightly surprised that Jimmy asked the question. Earl was the Earth historian of the group, but it was he who was caught out this time.

“Isn’t that a Chinese influenced colony planet?” he asked.

“That’s Shan Shen,” Sukie responded. “Or Xian Xien as it is properly pronounced.”

“Chan Chan is the capital of the Chimú kingdom,” Jimmy explained. “I saw a holovid about it when I was in bed with flu before Christmas.”

Everyone looked at him a little curiously. Holovid documentaries weren’t exactly Jimmy’s first choice of entertainment.

“The programme selector was faulty and I was stuck on the History Channel. It was ok, actually. These Chimú were really interesting people. Their city was massive and they worshipped the moon and loads of other really interesting nature gods and they were totally artistic, doing metalwork and really interesting ceramics and weaving and stuff.”

He realised he had used the phrase ‘really interesting’ more often than necessary, but he had the attention of the three part-Gallifreyans who usually knew so much more than he did about any subject.

“We’re VERY close to Chan Chan as it happens,” Vicki said, checking their temporal and spatial position before switching on the exterior monitor. Not more than a quarter of a mile away there was a mighty city with high adobe walls surrounding it. An aerial view in a side panel showed that the city was triangular, three high walls enclosing a maze of buildings, with a complex system of lanes and walkways between them.

“I think we ought to explore,” Sukie said enthusiastically.

“Not dressed like this,” Earl pointed out. They had left London in January and were planning on skiing in the Venturan system. Far cooler clothes were needed, and if possible, suitable for the time and place.

The wardrobe, of course, supplied just what they needed. The stop was not planned, but the semi-sentient, fully psychic TARDIS had the full measure of the world outside and they didn’t even have to search out the right clothing. In very short order the girls were dressed in fine linen with elaborate embroidery all over. The boys were in shirts of the same style over loose trousers. They viewed each other critically.

“It’s better than doublet and hose in the fifteenth century,” Jimmy decided. “Shall we go and look around, then?”

They were on their way back to the console room when the floor tipped sideways and they slipped over onto the wall.

“What happened?” Sukie asked as they picked themselves up and edged along the new floor towards the sideways on door to the console room.

“We’re moving,” Earl noted.

“You mean that the TARDIS has taken off again – on its own?”

“No,” Vicki answered. “It’s being carried. The people… the Chimú… must have found the TARDIS. We’re being carried to the city… At least… I just bet that’s what happened.”

“How do we get to the console room while we’re being manhandled?” Jimmy asked.

“We don’t,” Earl replied. “We grab hold of what we can and wait until we get where we’re going. They’ll probably set her upright when they stop. Then we can get through the console room and make our grand entrance.”

“Oh dear,” Sukie murmured and said nothing else. She had a very clear premonition of what was going to happen when they stepped outside of the TARDIS.

But there really was nothing they could do about it just now. Holding tight and waiting was their only option. They sat on the wall with their feet pressed against the floor and clung onto whatever handholds they could find while the TARDIS continued to sway under its slow progress in the hands of the Chimú.

If that WAS what was happening. It was only Vicki’s guess. If it was anything else, then they couldn’t know when this part of the adventure was going to be over.

It certainly seemed as if they had been brought into the city. There was a sensation of turning left and right as the TARDIS was carried through the narrow streets.

They were stuck in the corridor for nearly an hour before the movement stopped. Earl called out a warning just in time and they felt the TARDIS being tipped onto its base again. They all fell forward onto the floor, but they were ready for it and nobody was injured.

“Thank goodness they knew the top from the bottom,” Vicki commented. She reached the door and stepped into the console room. Gravity cushions had automatically switched on, preventing anything important from floating away. There were some books and magazines that had suffered from the ride, but otherwise everything was all right.

“I bet our rooms are a mess,” Sukie commented. “We’ll be finding lipsticks and eyeliners all over the place for days.”

“We ought to have gravity cushions in all areas,” Vicki mused. “They do use a lot of power to initiate, though.”

“What we really need is an internal Shremec,” Earl suggested. “So that we’ll always be the right way up no matter what happens outside.”

“There is one,” Vicki answered. “But it only works in-flight. We’d landed already. Anyway, we’re all ok. Nothing damaged. Let’s go outside.”

“This is where it gets interesting,” Sukie remarked in a low tone. Nobody took very much notice. She just smiled knowingly.

The four travellers stepped out of the TARDIS into a sumptuous room decorated with the woven fabrics, gold and silver vessels and beautiful black-glazed ceramics. They barely had time to admire the artwork, though. They were immediately greeted by a man dressed in gold-embroidered robes and a magnificent headdress, accompanied by an overawed cohort. The man in the headdress knelt, the others prostrated themselves fully on the smooth stone floor.

“You are most welcome to Chan Chan,” the kneeling man said to them. “Messengers of the gods….”

“Thought so,” Sukie murmured with an air of satisfaction.

“Messengers?” Vicki whispered uncertainly.

“Oh dear!” Jimmy was the most worried. He was the one who had watched the programme about Chimú culture. He knew just how seriously they took their gods.

“Messengers, of course.” Earl stepped forward confidently. He placed his hands on the shoulders of the kneeling man and bid him stand. “We come in peace with messages of goodwill from the gods. We shall, I hope, take back news of your devotion as expressed in your hospitality to us, the messengers.”

That was the operative word – hospitality. At once the four messengers were brought to a sumptuous room – part of a complex called an audiencia - filled with even more embroidered fabrics and fabulous ceramics. Jimmy remembered what he had learnt about Chimú art and looked closer at some of them. He moved the more graphic of the pottery depicting intimacies between Chimú men and women to higher shelves where the girls wouldn’t see them.

As if fifteenth century hose wasn’t embarrassing enough.

Food and drink of various kinds was brought to them. They sat on fine cushions to enjoy the feast. The man in the headdress, who introduced himself as Acayna, the high priest, watched anxiously.

“The wine is good,” he told them. “It is our finest.”

“Is there any fruit juice?” Vicki asked, finding the wine just too good. “Unmade wine.”

Acayna turned and addressed one of the women who had brought the food. She scurried away and returned presently with a flagon that proved to contain cool, refreshing juice of exotic fruits. The girls and Jimmy preferred it to the alcohol. Earl proved his manhood before the Chimú by drinking two goblets of the wine. Alcohol did not affect him as it did humans and he was used to the taste from his travels in the fifteenth century.

“King Minchançaman has been told of your arrival,” Acayna said. “He begs an audience with you at your convenience.”

“The king begs an audience with us?” Vicki expressed her surprise. She had expected it to be the other way around.

“Of course,” Jimmy explained. “We’re the messengers of the gods. Even the king must pay homage to the gods – through us.”

“That’s a heavy responsibility,” Sukie commented. “We must be careful what we say.”

Acayna retreated once he was sure that the honoured guests were satisfied. They had a chance to talk among themselves. Sukie had her say, at last.

“This is a lot like the time when mum was in the Aztec time,” she explained. “When she was travelling with granddad and her teachers, Ian and Barbara.”

“I’ve heard that story from Daddy,” Vicki confirmed. “Barbara came out of a hidden room or a cave or something on top of the pyramid, and the people thought she was the reincarnation of an Aztec god.”

“That’s a LOT like our situation,” Earl noted. “You’re quite right. We must be careful.”

“Above all, we must not interfere with ANY of their traditions or rituals,” Sukie warned. “That caused a lot of trouble for mum.”

“It caused a lot of trouble for Daddy, too.” Vicki giggled. “He got accidentally engaged to an Aztec lady.”

“How does anyone get accidentally engaged?” Jimmy asked.

“Ask my brother, Chris,” Sukie replied. “And be careful if any of the women bring you ‘special’ food.”

They all laughed at the idea, but the fact that two of the smartest people they knew had fallen for the same mistake was a stark reminder that they, in comparison, were still very much apprentice time travellers with a lot to learn.

They were enjoying their experience, all the same, and not just because they were believed to be messengers from the gods and were given food and drink. Jimmy was really enjoying himself. He had taken in much more of the television documentary than he had thought at the time and now seeing the Chimú city for real made him feel like an expert. He explained the significance of the patterns on the woven tapestries and the strange designs of the ceramics, very few of which were ordinary vases or cups – not if they could be shaped like ducks with their beaks as the pouring spout or some other fantastic design taken from nature.

He didn’t tell the others what one of the tapestries represented. It was a little abstract - the figures weren’t quite Human shaped - but if you looked closely it was obvious that they were being sacrificed.

But it was an old tapestry. Perhaps it was something they didn’t do now. He kept the thought to himself and didn’t worry the girls about it. Earl would almost certainly put his foot down if he knew about such things, too. He would insist on them getting back to the TARDIS.

There was a hubbub of noise beyond the room where they had been given hospitality and then voices raised together in a chant. A man entered followed by the priest and a retinue of servants. He had to be King Minchançaman. He wore so much gold it was a wonder he didn’t fall down.

The four time travellers all stood and bowed. Vicki and Sukie were both directly related to The Doctor, one of the greatest diplomats of all time. They were both used to meeting important people. Earl had once managed to visit Hampton Court Palace and be within ten feet of Queen Elizabeth. He knew what to do in the presence of royalty. Jimmy had no formal training in etiquette, but he took his lead from his Time Lord friends.

But they were messengers from the gods. Before they had finished paying obeisance to the king, Minchançaman himself knelt before them with his head bowed. Behind him the high priest and the servants all lay on the ground, their faces covered by their hands.

“Oh, that’s not right,” Sukie whispered to Earl. “Tell him to stand up.”

“Stand, noble lord, king of the Chimú people,” Earl said. “The gods are pleased with you.”

“Is that true?” King Minchançaman raised his head but remained on his feet. “All the signs showed otherwise. We have made preparations to appease the gods and ward off the great storms. Yet if the gods are not angry with us….”

“Be at peace, good man,” Earl said, extemporising desperately. “There is nothing to fear. Please stand. Let us be friends and equals.”

“My lords, such a thing is more than I dared hope,” Minchançaman said as he stood at last, his retinue remaining on the ground.

“It pleases the gods to let us walk among your people and judge if they are truly happy. Will you give us permission to go where we wish in the city and in your crop fields beyond and to speak with any of your citizens?”

“Of course, lords,” Minchançaman answered with something like relief on his face.

“It would help if they didn’t fall on their faces when we approach. Will you send messengers to tell them to remain at their tasks when we come to them?”

“It will be done, lords,” King Minchançaman promised.

And it WAS done. Shortly after the king departed Acayna returned with a young woman called Ayana and his own son, Anacayna, to escort them where they chose. Sukie and Vicki went with Ayana while Jimmy paired off with Anacayna and Earl was honoured by Acayna as his guide.

Jimmy, of course, wanted to see the ordinary people of Chan Chan. The palace of the king was all very well, and the temples were magnificent, but he wanted to see the forges where the gold and silver were wrought into intricate and delicate shapes and the potteries where the amazing ceramics were made.

Earl WAS interested in the palace, but even more fascinating were the tombs. These, within the city, not beyond it where the common people might be interred, were the mausoleums of former kings – Minchançaman’s forebears. When a king of the Chimú died, his palace in effect became his tomb. His body was placed in a magnificent sepulchre with all of his treasures around it, and the palace was then abandoned as a place where people live and worked. The new king built his own palace and filled it with his own treasures. He inherited almost nothing other than the right to rule the Chimú. The rest he had to earn for himself – or at least have the people earn it for him by mining the ore and making the beautiful and precious objects that would demonstrate his power and glory to visitors and to the gods.

Vicki and Sukie were interested in how the ordinary people lived outside of their work. The poorest houses were built hard against the walls of the city, one-roomed adobe structures where whole families ate and slept.

Ayana, who was the daughter of one of the low priests who worshipped the gods with Acayna, didn’t live in one of those. Her home was bigger and more comfortable. She was training to be a priestess herself. She didn’t have to spin or weave or mould clay with her hands.

After seeing the artisan homes and the middle-class quarters where those who were not craftsmen or farmers lived they came to a place that was separated by walls, though there were no gates to bar anyone from coming or going.

“Is it a school?” Sukie asked, hearing young voices raised in laughter from within the walls.

“No, it is where The Chosen live,” Ayana answered. “It is…”

“It isn’t forbidden is it?” Vicki asked, wondering why the otherwise talkative girl had become suddenly awkward about this part of the city.

“Why, no,” she answered. “But it is not a place I have gone into.”

“We are not forbidden from anywhere,” Sukie pointed out decisively. “We are messengers from the gods. We can see everything.”

With that she stepped through the opening into the walled place and went down the inner passage until it opened out into a spacious courtyard. Around it were finely built structures that must be sleeping quarters or a refectory, perhaps even school rooms.

All of the Chimú here in the courtyard were girls, aged between about eleven and seventeen. They were all very pretty, petite girls, much like Sukie and Vicki – indeed, with the deep brown hair and eyes they were not very much different – only in their darker complexions.

One of the younger girls gave a delighted cry when the party came in and ran to Ayana joyfully. The two girls hugged fondly.

“She’s your little sister?” Vicki guessed.

“Yes,” Ayana answered. “This is Ticana. She is eleven. I have not seen her since she was Chosen.”

“But this compound is not very far from your home. Why couldn’t you visit?”

“It is not… usual… for The Chosen to have visitors from among their family. This is only possible because you are here.”

Ticana was delighted to have her older sister there and invited her and her two pale-skinned guests to join in the game that had been halted by their arrival. It was a game much like those Vicki and Sukie had played in the school yard at playtime for most of their childhood. Some of the movements were even the same. Only the words were different.

“Let’s teach them some of our games,” Vicki suggested after a while. “London Bridge or Oranges and Lemons.”

They were games played by children in England for centuries. London Bridge is Falling Down was a very old reference to the medieval bridge that once crossed the Thames near the Church of St Magnus and frequently collapsed due to tides and unsound construction.

The only thing that puzzled The Chosen of the Chimú was the idea of a bridge. The rivers they knew were crossed by shallow fords if at all.

Oranges and Lemons started well. They understood about bells. Such things were cast in the precious metals their fathers mined. But when Vicki and Sukie came to the end of the rhyme with one of The Chosen walking under their raised arms there was a sudden silence.

“Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed/Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head.”

The girl who had been caught between them burst into tears and broke away from them. Two of the older girls ran to comfort her. Vicki and Sukie looked at each other with puzzled expressions.

“I’m sorry,” Vicki said to Ayana. “I didn’t mean to upset anyone. It’s just a rhyme… a game… that we play where we come from.”

“But you are immortals,” Ayana pointed out, clinging to her little sister even more desperately than before. “You have no fear of such things. They are The Chosen. They know that they may be called upon to make the sacrifice to save our city one day, and though it is a great honour, and they shall be with the gods afterwards, they are sometimes frightened.”

Vicki turned even paler than she usually was as she finally understood what this compound was for and why the girls were here.

“Oh no!” she cried. “No. It’s too dreadful.”

She turned and ran. Sukie paused, looking around at the girls, seeing something of herself in all of them at their different ages.

“Oh dear, history is repeating itself,” she murmured before turning and running after Vicki.

Jimmy had returned to the audiencia after his tour of the city. He was drinking some fruit juice and talking to Anacayna, with whom he seemed to have formed a bond of friendship despite being of a different class, a different century and entirely different culture.

“We have to stop them,” Vicki said tearfully. “They mustn’t do it. We must command them.” She turned to Anacayna and spoke to him in her most authoritative voice. “Fetch your father at once. We have orders for him.”

“But it is the time of offering,” Anacayna pointed out. “He must offer up prayers and sacrifices of meat and fruit to the gods.”

“I don’t care. Get him right now,” Vicki insisted, stamping her foot in frustration.

“No,” Jimmy contradicted her. “Anacayna, wait until the ceremony is done and then bring your father to us. That would be better.”

Anacayna did that. Jimmy reached out to hug his girlfriend.

“I don’t think demanding the High Priest to come in the middle of one of their worships is a good idea. Whatever it is, it can wait, surely?”

“I… suppose it can,” Vicki reasoned. “But he has to know that we don’t approve, and we don’t want it to be done.”

“Don’t want what to be done?” Jimmy asked.

Sukie and Earl rushed into the room, both relieved to find Vicki there. Sukie explained in rather calmer tones what they had found out.

“They keep young girls… virgins, pretty ones, to be sacrificed in order to appease the gods and ward off bad weather,” she reported. “One of them is Ayana’s sister. She is only eleven. The others are children of ordinary people, taken from their families, treated like princesses with all they can eat and leisure to play and enjoy themselves… but when the time comes, they will be bound and drugged and their throats slit.”

“Oh!” Jimmy bit his lip anxiously. “I thought….” He showed them the tapestry he had not explained fully earlier. “I thought it was all in the past. This is near the end of the Chimú Kingdom. Minchançaman is their last king before the Incas overrun these parts and make them part of their wider empire. I thought the sacrifices were part of their past culture.”

“That was a bit too hopeful, Jimmy,” Earl told him. “Apart from anything else, the Incas were into the same sort of thing. So were the Aztecs right up to the arrival of the Conquistadors at the end of this century.”

“Which means we CAN’T stop it,” Sukie added. She took a deep breath before she said it. She had liked the young people she met in the compound, too. The thought of them being murdered in such a terrible way horrified her. But she knew she had to separate herself from it emotionally.

“It’s… like that time with mum. Barbara tried to forbid the sacrifice and… and it all went terribly wrong. One of the men who was to die leapt off the pyramid to his death. The other… the one mum was going to be forced to marry if they didn’t get away… he was taken to the altar and his heart cut out while he was still living. But by then half of the people had begun to doubt their own religion and their own culture and there was so much sadness and bitterness that the arrival of the Conquistadors to destroy their civilisation altogether would have been a relief.”

“I know all that,” Vicki insisted. “I heard it from daddy. But I still can’t let them kill those girls. They’re just children. They’re our age. MY real age, some of them. What if it was us?”

“It’s not us,” Sukie reminded her cousin. “It’s not our culture. That’s the problem. We’ve all been told, again and again about not interfering with these sort of things.”

“Chris interfered when he brought Carya from her tribe,” Vicki pointed out. “They intended her to die. And he rescued Noë from the Romans.”

“Which could have been a dangerous paradox,” Earl told her. “I learnt about that from my mother. It was one of the examples of how risky fixed points in time can be.”

“This IS NOT a fixed point in time,” Vicki argued. “I want you to tell him… the priest… when he comes. Earl, you have to forbid the sacrifice, as the one they think is our leader, or I will. I’m a messenger of the gods, too. I can command them.”

“Vicki….” Sukie put a gentle hand on her arm. “I really understand, honestly. But I don’t think it is a good idea.”

She was about to say more when Acayna came to the audiencia followed by Anacayna but no other retinue. He was wearing an elaborate gold headdress trimmed with feathers from sea birds and Spondylus shells inlaid with silver. He took the headdress off as he knelt before the ‘messengers’.

“It has come to our notice that you have a group of Chosen to be sacrificed at a time of hardship or fear,” Earl said in a grand, authoritative way that comes only from being a Time Lord and a son of Time Lords. “It is our wish that they be spared, in honour of our visit. There shall be no sacrifices in this generation.”

“My lords, it shall be done,” Acayna promised. “Your mercy and kindness shall be spoken of among the Chimú people.”

“I am glad,” Earl answered. “Go in peace, friend of the gods.”

Acayna bowed his head then stood. He walked backwards, his son doing the same until they were out of the room. Vicki gave a deep, deep sigh of relief.

“I’m so glad,” she said. “Earl, thank you. I couldn’t have said it half as good as you did.”

“We didn’t change their culture,” Sukie pointed out. “We haven’t stopped the sacrifices from happening – only to the people we met. They will still happen in the future.”

“In another generation Minchançaman will be an exile from this city and his people scattered among the Incan empire. This may be the last time it happens in the Chimú kingdom,” Earl promised. “The rest is too big for us to deal with.”

“I’m glad we did something,” Jimmy admitted. “That was the ugly part of the documentary I saw… the bones of children with their trachea slashed. I… didn’t want to tell you about that bit when we decided to explore.”

“Jimmy, you used to be the hardest boy in school,” Sukie told him. “When did you turn into a softy.”

“When I started hanging out with you two girls,” he answered. “But most people think I’m still hard. So don’t give the game away.”

“You’re secret is safe with us,” Earl promise him. “You know, it really is a terrible tragedy that they make those sacrifices at all. What they’re trying to ward off is almost certainly the weather system called El Niño. Nothing anyone can do in this century can stop that. Not even in my century when we can control the weather from the climate platform can we stop THAT from happening. We just limit the damage as much as possible to prevent loss of life. In this time… it was just one of those things they had to put up with. Killing their children to appease the gods was actually horribly, tragically futile.”

“Then I’m glad we stopped it this once,” Vicki said. “If you’d seen the girls, you wouldn’t have any qualms about it at all.”

“Then this is a vital lesson in emotional detachment,” Earl told her. “This has to be the first and last time this happens. You know what your father would say otherwise.”

“Yes, I know. But I’m sure daddy would have done the same.”

Sukie recalled the story her mother had told her, of how her grandfather had argued against interference despite all the emotive reasons for it, and thought he probably wouldn’t. She was glad The Doctor wasn’t here and that it had been Earl who made the decision and found a way of making it possible without damaging the culture irreparably.

She was glad it wasn’t her decision. She wanted to obey the lessons The Doctor had patiently taught her and Vicki. She wanted to be a good child of the Time Lord race. But at the same time she had liked the Chimú girls, too. She didn’t want them to die. She was torn between cool detachment of her head and the heated passion of her heart.

But passion, this time, seemed to have won. Later they attended a feast in the king’s own feasting hall. Ayana and Ticana were both there with their father, Cacaynan. They were happy, smiling and enjoying the company of friends. Vicki and Sukie talked with the two lively girls warmly throughout the feast.

“We did something good,” Jimmy said. “And without causing any damage to history or whatever.”

“Yes,” Earl agreed.

He ought to have known better. Fate has always had a way of dealing hands to people who allow themselves such self-satisfaction. The earthquake struck as the feast was nearing the end. A low rumbling was heard from outside and the adobe walls shook. Ceramics both for the table and decorative fell to the floor and were irreparably smashed, lost to history unlike those Jimmy had seen in his holovid.

People screamed and tried to run from the room. Minchançaman called to them to be calm, but frightened people were hard to control in such a way. They crowded through narrow doors and down the U-shaped passages of the palace and got themselves stuck as other people ran the other way by mistake. In their crisis the labyrinth like system intended to confuse invaders trying to reach the treasure rooms hampered any attempt at evacuating the palace.

“I don’t think there is any need to get out,” Earl said coolly as he kept his three companions close. “The building is still strong and the quake is dying away. I think we are far from the epicentre anyway. The damage will be superficial.”

Cacaynan and his daughters were close. They were among the last to try to leave the feasting room. He turned and bowed his head to the messengers.

“Do you mean that we are safe? it is not the end of our city?”

“It is not,” Earl promised him. “Go calmly back to your quarters and do not fear.”

“My lords, thank you,” Cacaynan told him. He held his daughters tightly, all the same, as he followed the crowds.

“Come on,” Earl said when the four time travellers had space. “We need to get to the TARDIS. Vicki, we need to look at the situation scientifically.”

“Yes, of course,” Vicki agreed. Earl led them because he was older and already a Time Lord, but it was her TARDIS. She and Sukie would pilot it.

“Do you think it’s a problem?” Jimmy asked as they reached the TARDIS in the deserted hall of worship. “I’ve seen holovids of that sort of thing, too. Could there be aftershocks or… whatever?”

“Yes, possibly, but it’s not my main concern,” Earl answered. “Girls, take us up into the lower troposphere and hover over the ocean.”

The girls did just as he said without question, dematerialising from the temple and rematerialising in mid-air, around the maximum level for a twentieth century helicopter a few miles out from the western coast of that part of South America that would be called Peru when national borders came into existence.

It was only then that Vicki and Sukie, and Jimmy a few moments later, realised what it was that Earl had suspected.

“Oh no!” the girls groaned aloud together.

“The epicentre was under the ocean.” Jimmy was looking at the scanner but he didn’t really understand all of the data. He was remembering the holovid documentaries he had seen that used simpler graphics to demonstrate the phenomena.

“Which means a great big, bloody tsunami is heading towards the coast – and Chan-Chan is in its path.”

“No!” Vicki cried out in distress. “Oh no, get us back there right now. We have to stop them….”

“Stop them?” Jimmy queried. “We have to warn them, get them to evacuate the city or whatever they do in a crisis like this.”

“Jimmy, in a crisis like this, they sacrifice their children, thinking it will appease their gods,” Sukie reminded him. Vicki was already pressing the Fast Return switch.

“It’s doing it, sweetheart,” Earl told her. “You don’t have to keep pounding the button. We’ll be there any minute.”

“There isn’t a minute to lose,” Vicki answered, taking her finger off the Fast Return Switch. “I had a terrible flash of pre-cognition. I only hope the TARDIS takes us to EXACTLY where we were in the temple, not outside the city.”

It did exactly that. Almost as soon as the materialisation was complete, Vicki and Sukie rushed out, screaming in terror at Acayna the high-priest. Their voices mingled with the petrified cries of Ayana and Ticana and the desperate pleas of Cacaynan. The High Priest was holding the eldest girl down, a long, sharp knife raised in his other hand, ready to slash across her throat.

“No!” Jimmy reached him first. He wrested the knife from his hand with brute force. “No, we forbad the sacrifices.”

“Who are you to forbid anything?” Acayna demanded. “You are false messengers. The gods are angry. They sent the shaking ground as a warning before the great wave engulfs us. Only blood will prevent the disaster.”

“You fool!” Jimmy responded. “Murdering innocent children won’t stop the tsunami.”

Tsunami was an Indonesian word for the tidal wave that followed an underwater earthquake. Acayna had never heard it before, any more than the people of Pompeii had heard of the word ‘volcano’ before their mountain erupted. The use of such a word cast a slight shade of doubt in his mind, though. He stopped struggling against Jimmy’s hold on him and Ayana was able to escape his grasp and run to her father’s arms. A stalemate existed though and Jimmy hoped he had bought enough time for the others to save the city. He had heard Earl order the girls back into the TARDIS and the displaced air as it dematerialised blew out some of the rushlights on the altar. He knew there was a plan of some sort. They hadn’t just abandoned him with a blood-thirsty religious fanatic to wrestle.

Earl had a plan, but it meant doing something with the TARDIS that neither he, nor the two girls, had ever attempted. It was advanced TARDIS manipulation of the sort only The Doctor, or perhaps Davie, would usually contemplate.

“It can be done, although it will put a lot of strain on an old type-40 like this,” Earl said. “We just have to have faith in her.”

“We’ve got lots of that,” Vicki confirmed. “This is the doppelganger of my daddy’s TARDIS. It can do things the TARDIS engineers on Gallifrey never imagined it could do.”

“This will be a new trick for it,” Earl assured the two girls. “We’ll all have to work together. I’ll operate the environmental control. You two handle our co-ordinates.”

Vicki and Sukie didn’t argue. Earl understood the theory of what they were doing even if he had never done it. They trusted him.

In the temple, Jimmy was still in a stalemate situation. Acayna wouldn’t stop struggling. He was still accusing the four visitors of being false gods. Jimmy didn’t dare call out for help. He didn’t know if other Chimú felt the same as the high priest after the earthquake. He might end up with a mob calling him a false messenger and trying to murder the girls.

Then somebody ran into the temple. It was one of Cacaynan’s fellow low priests. He didn’t notice the strange situation with Jimmy holding the high priest down on the floor while Cacaynan was hugging his weeping daughters.

“Come outside,” the newcomer urged. “You must come… see what has happened. The gods are favouring us…. Come.”

Cacaynan and his daughters took the advantage and ran outside. Jimmy pulled Acayna upright and dragged him along against his will until they reached one of the outer courtyards.

It was crowded. The whole population of Chan Chan was outside in the streets and the yards. They were all looking up at the sky, staring and pointing in wonder.

And it was a wonder to behold. Even Jimmy, who guessed how it was done, was impressed. An invisible dome was covering the city, a force field. Above it, a torrent of dark water crashed. The sound of the tsunami was dreadful, but the city was protected from it. So were the fields outside the city where the people grew the crops to sustain them all. The force field actually extended that far – protecting the people of Chan Chan in every way.

It took many hours for the tsunami to fall back from the land. Jimmy wondered if the TARDIS really could keep up what it was doing for so long. But at least there was no more talk of sacrifices. There was no doubt, either, about the messengers from the gods. Acayna knelt at Jimmy’s feet and begged his forgiveness for his doubts.

“You’re forgiven. Go home,” he told the bewildered man. “Everyone go home. Go to your families and don’t even think about sacrificing them to the gods. The gods don’t want that.”

Jimmy was slightly surprised when Acayna and many more people around him did just that. Even though they had all been proclaimed Earl had been the one who had acted the part. He never expected them to take him at his word in the same way.

Soon he was standing alone in the square with the force field above holding back the flood of water as it rushed back towards the sea. He waited there until the first light of dawn actually broke through and it was clear that the worst was over.

A little while after that the shield collapsed and the TARDIS materialised beside him. Vicki ran outside to hug him.

“I was worried,” she admitted. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” he assured her. “It looked amazing from down here. The people think they were saved by a miracle. And… I think they’re right, even though it was just the TARDIS doing something clever.”

“Earl thinks we ought to get going,” Vicki told him. “Just leave here quietly. I wish I could see Ayana and Ticana again and say goodbye, but he’s probably right. We’ve saved everyone. It’s going to be all right now. At least as all right as it can be. By the time the girls are grown up the Chimú kingdom will be gone and the Incas will have taken over, and in their grandchildren’s generation the Conquistadors will put an end to it all. But we can’t do anything about any of that.”

“We made a miracle happen today,” Jimmy reminded her as they stepped into the TARDIS together. “That’s not bad going.”