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

Davie Campbell stood back from his TARDIS console and let his young apprentice guide the craft past Saturn in their relatively slow – a mere hour – journey through the Sol system. He recalled with a smile of nostalgia the way The Doctor had looked when he let his great-grandsons take charge of navigation. It was a mixture of paternal pride in his descendents and possessive anxiety about his precious TARDIS.

Davie thought he probably had the same expression, now. He was certainly having to hold his hands steady and plant his feet firmly on the ground to stop himself from taking over the controls, but he was also very proud of how Pip had learnt so very much in a very short time.

“I ought to have taken you out on a lot more of these trips,” he said apologetically. “Between house moving and race weekends I more or less abandoned you in my brother’s Sanctuary.”

“I have been very happy there,” Pip answered. “Your brother is kind, and I have learnt a lot.”

“Even so, you’re my apprentice. I should have paid more attention to you. Please forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive. You have given me a life I never dreamt of. I have a home and I have many friends and I can read and learn as much as I like.”

Being able to read, let alone having an extensive library at his disposal was, indeed, a miracle for Pip. He had been barely literate when Davie bought him at the slave market on Temne. Of course, much of the groundwork of his education was cut out by the psychic transference that filled his young mind with far more knowledge than Davie had intended. Now he was learning to use that knowledge to become far more than anyone of his race could have imagined.

Exactly what he might become, Davie wasn’t sure. He had Time Lord knowledge, including how to navigate a TARDIS, but he couldn’t BE a Time Lord. His body wasn’t strong enough for that. At best he might be a Time Lord’s companion, co-piloting a TARDIS.

As long as that was enough for him. He had given him the knowledge to strive for the top without the physical means to do so. That was worrying.

But for now Pip was happy as the youngest of Chris’s students and as Davie’s sometimes apprentice aboard the TARDIS.

“Where are we going once we clear the solar system?” Pip asked.

“We’re going to your area of space,” Davie answered. “Not to your planet, don’t worry. Not even your star. There’s another part of the Almach system I want to take a look at. Your home world will barely be a speck on the scanner from there.”

Pip was relieved. The word ‘home’ hardly applied to the place he was born anymore and he had no wish to return to where there was nothing but harsh words and cruelty towards him.

“The last time a Time Lord visited the system was about five thousand years ago. He noted a planet with two distinct communities – one technologically advanced, the other primitive, but both with the same genetic origins. That sounds interesting to me. Let’s explore space and time and meet people who are different to us – the best reason for doing anything.”

Pip fully understood the difference between technologically advanced and primitive societies. He had been born into a pre-industrial world and now lived among people who took the ability to hop across time and space for granted.

“Which are we going to see?” he asked. “The primitive people or the advanced ones?”

“Good question. Which do you think?”

“The primitive,” Pip answered. “I have seen both kinds of living, and I have seen the best and the worst of both. Greed and jealousy are common to them, but I think less so in those who have far less to covet.”

“Pip,” Davie told him after considering his answer carefully. “You have barely begun to know the variety of sentient life in the universe, but you have put your finger on its most common problem. The society that rises above all that will be a perfect one, indeed. Let’s find out if this one that we’re visiting today measures up.”

He grinned enthusiastically as he came to take over the more complex part of the journey from his apprentice. Anyone who had known his great-grandfather in any of his Time Lord incarnations would have recognised the look in his eyes, the joy of going somewhere new, facing unknown challenges and tackling unpredictable dangers.

A chip off the old block, The Doctor used to say. Davie would agree, once. Now he regarded himself as an experienced time traveller in his own right, and he had his young companion learning from him as proof of that.

Almach III was the twin star to Almach IV, the star around which Pip’s home planet orbited. But as Davie had said, that was still a very long way off, appearing only as a bright silver speck among many other specks in the starfield.

The solitary planet that orbited Almach III was a curious place to look at from outside its atmosphere. One hemisphere was a wide blue ocean dotted with literally thousands of small islands. The other hemisphere had one large island, big enough to be called a continent, perhaps. This was clearly the technological society. There were huge cities under domes large enough to be seen with the naked eye even from space. Between the domed cities were signs of intensive industry and agriculture with factory complexes and massive fields growing crops. There didn’t seem to be any roads between the cities, so either the people flew or they had mastered site to site transmat.

The islands, though registering populations of sentient life, had none of those signs of ‘progress’.

Davie selected one and materialised the TARDIS on the foreshore of a tropical beach. There was a half moon of golden-white sand lapped by blue water in front of them as he and Pip stepped out of the door and saw the rough-made hut the Chinese TARDIS had chosen as its disguise. A forest stretched behind them. It was a place from the daydreams of schoolboys, safe swimming, sand and sunshine and trees to climb, some of which had fruit growing in them.

“Nice,” Davie commented. “I bet you don’t know how to swim, Pip. This looks a good place to learn.”

He started off across the dry dunes held together by scrubby bushes that lay between the forest and the clean, soft sand made for sunbathing under umbrellas with cold fruit drinks. Pip made to follow him, then called him back. There was a noise coming towards them from the forest.

The noise was that of an animal crashing through the undergrowth. It emerged, grunting loudly, and rushed past Pip and Davie. It was something like a wild boar, made even wilder by two primitive knives in its back and a boy dressed in skins who clung to them, pushing the sharp ends further into its flesh.

Four more boys wearing skins ran out of the forest after their comrade. They watched along with the new arrivals as the boar fell, trapping the boy beneath its broad back. By then Davie was running down the beach to reach him. Pip was following dutifully.

The boar was dying. Davie pulled out one of the knives from its back. He used it to administer a swift coup de grace. When that was done he turned his attention to the boy. His legs were trapped under the beast. He was conscious but clearly in pain.

“Don’t worry. I’m going to help you,” he said. “What’s your name? I’m Davie.”

“P…Pacal,” he managed. “But… do not… bother. The beast has killed me. I know there is no hope.”

“Don’t jump the gun, Pacal,” Davie answered. “Just give me a minute to see how bad things are.”

“It’s bad. It hurts so much….”

“When I move the animal off you it’ll hurt a lot me more,” Davie told him. “But there is something I can do to help with that.”

He reached out and touched Pacal on his forehead. He concentrated on the pain receptors in his brain, taking away the intensity of the agony and making it bearable.

“Ok, that should do it,” he said presently. “But grit your teeth, all the same.”

Pacal did as he said. Davie rolled the heavy animal off him and pulled him clear. He was aware that the other boys were crowding around, watching everything he did. Pip was repeatedly telling them to keep back and not interfere. Though most of the boys were older than him they seemed to be doing as he said.

Davie would have preferred a bit of privacy for what he was doing. Pacal’s legs were both broken in three places and the left foot was so badly crushed it was hard to tell how many of the bones were damaged.

He wished his sister was there. Sukie was the Healer of the family. She could mend bones with hardly a strain. It took him a lot more effort. He had to actually touch the flesh around the broken limb and concentrate hard to make the bones fuse back together. Sukie would just have held her hands over the boy and everything would mend in a few minutes.

It took him half an hour to complete the operation. Meanwhile his audience thinned out. Some of the boys made themselves busy stringing the dead boar up on a stout piece of wood and lifting it between them. That told Davie something about them. They hunted for meat, and couldn’t let it go to waste because one of their number had been injured by it.

“Do you all live close by?” he asked while he worked.

“Our settlement is near,” Pacal answered cautiously, as if he didn’t want to give too much away.

“Good. Your legs will feel a bit funny for a while. You won’t want to walk far. Let’s try getting you up, now, though.”

He helped him to stand. Pacal swayed unsteadily and clung to Davie as he found his feet. So many bones newly mended were bound to give a little trouble.

“Lead the way, boys,” Davie said to the others. “Let’s get Pacal home. He will need to rest.”

The boys looked puzzled, as if the idea of taking two strangers to their home was new to them, but they allowed Davie and Pip to accompany them. The two of them helped Pacal to walk just in front of the party carrying the boar, while four boys went ahead and four more formed a rear-guard.

They followed a path through the forest that had been made by regular foot traffic in the undergrowth. Davie noted that, in addition to pieces of animal skins as loincloths, the boys wore strips of material around their feet to protect them against thorns and other uncomfortable objects in the trampled leaf litter.

That was the only concession to what civilised people called ‘clothes’. Their limbs, faces and torsos were deeply tanned as if they spent long hours every day under a hot sun. Their hair was long and braided with thin strips of the poorly tanned leather that made their ‘shoes’.

The whole effect was alarming in some ways. They were positively feral in their appearance, though they used a sophisticated level of language – whole sentences with a grammatical structure, pronouns and nouns, past, present and future tenses. They were not, in that sense, primitive.

“Lost Boys,” Pip whispered. Davie understood the literary allusion easily enough.

“I was thinking of Lord of the Flies,” he answered. Pip nodded. He had read that book, too, since coming to Earth and finding a library on hand to feed his newly-acquired reading skills.

If they were survivors of some kind of accident, that would explain most things, Davie reasoned. No doubt he would find out more in the course of the day.

The settlement spoken of was in a large clearing in the forest. It was surprisingly well built, with a dozen round huts made of woven sticks and mud filling in the gaps – they might even be described as ‘wattle and daub’ structures. They were in a rough circle surrounding a central area with a fire pit and a ‘totem’ carved out of the stump of a tree.

More boys were busy at various work around the open area. Some were weaving sticks to make mats, some casting rough clay pots. When the boar arrived the process of preparing the animal for cooking over the fire-pit began in earnest.

“Pacal!” An older boy – about seventeen or eighteen, with the beginnings of a beard around his chin - left the fire to come to the injured boy. He eyed his two helpers curiously. “What happened?”

“I was injured,” Pacal answered. “But I am well, now. Davie healed me. There is nothing to worry about, Raphy.”

“Is this your brother?” Davie asked. They looked alike, both with fair hair and green-brown eyes. “Pacal is fine, now, though he ought to rest for a day or so.”

“Brothers?” Neither of the boys seemed to understand the word. It had no translation in their local language. Davie let it pass. Raphy took charge of Pacal and made him sit on a mat outside the hut where both appeared to sleep. Another of the boys who was old enough to shave introduced himself as Manoi and invited the two strangers to sit upwind of the firepit. He gave them fruit juice to drink from clay cups and a rough bread to eat.

“There will be a feast of meat this sundown,” Manoi said, referring to the boar that had now been skinned and disembowelled and fixed on a stout spit over the fire.

“Do you eat boar meat regularly?” Davie asked.

“Only on the night before a Departure,” Manoi answered. “It is a feast to say farewell to those of our company who will be leaving us.”

“Leaving?” Davie was puzzled. “You have a boat or something?”

Manoi looked as if he was about to explain more, but Raphy approached and he stopped talking. Was it because there was some secret that he had almost revealed? Was Raphy a leader who kept the other boys under his thumb?

“Pacal said he was dying,” Raphy said in a tone that was difficult to interpret. “You saved his life.”

“I saved him from being a cripple,” Davie answered. “He wouldn’t have died, but he would have been in a lot of pain and he would not have been able to walk for a long time – if at all.”

“We cannot keep cripples. They have no future with us. He would have stayed on the beach until he was dead if you had not known ways of making him whole again.”

Davie said nothing in reply to that. He knew there was a hard, if cruel, logic about subsistence level communities having trouble feeding non-productive members. He had seen places where the elderly and sick regularly wandered off into the desert to relieve the burden on their families and where all but very young babies had to work for the good of all.

But this wasn’t a subsistence community. He could see all kinds of food preparation going on around the clearing. A group of boys were salting meat and others drying vegetables for storage. Elsewhere flat bread was baking on stones placed over open fires. There was a faint smell from somewhere of dried fish. The food being made ready for the feast included cheese and butter and an assortment of fruit and vegetables. There was plenty and varied food available. Besides, a disabled man could have contributed to the common welfare by reed weaving or pot-making, or any other craft. He didn’t have to be a hunter.

Why they had such extreme attitudes to illness or injury was only one thing that puzzled him about this community.

In no particular order he considered the other things carefully as the sun set and the community gathered around the totem. The light from the firepit under the roasting boar was augmented by torches on long poles around the clearing.

In that light he noted two very obvious things about the community.

They were all male.

Specifically, they were all boys. The youngest was around eight years old, the eldest around eighteen. There were no infants and no adults, just boys from the very edge of puberty to the beginning of maturity

Lord of the Flies filtered into his mind again. If that was the answer to the puzzle, then the boys seemed to be managing quite well. They hadn’t descended into anarchy without adults to look after them. They were fed and sheltered and surprisingly organised. They looked happy as they got ready to party.

If they weren’t a shipwrecked all boy’s school, then he couldn’t think of any other explanation for their existence on an isolated island in this way.

And what was all that stuff about ‘Departure’?

The questions stuck in his mind as the feasting and celebrations got under way. He thought it through as some of the boys created a vibrant, organic and thoroughly tribal music with instruments made from hollowed out reeds, hides stretched over wooden hoops and stones that made a range of noises when struck with a stick. The others danced in a primal way. Pip joined in with them, having thrown off his shirt and shoes to identify with them a little more.

Davie didn’t dance. He sat and watched the festivities with the detachment of an anthropologist studying a hitherto unknown tribe that had no contact with that outside world known as ‘civilisation’.

He learnt very little from his detached observations, though. Or if he did, it was nothing to what Pip discovered in his cheerful, boyish interaction with the island tribe.

He shared his discoveries with Davie when the night had drawn in and the fire-pit reduced to a red glow beneath the bones and rags of meat left on the roast boar. Boys who had eaten well and danced themselves to exhaustion lay down on sleeping mats around the clearing. It was a balmy night with the heat of the day still in the air and it was perfectly possible to sleep beneath the starry sky.

“I made friends with a lot of them,” Pip said quietly, sitting close beside Davie, a little apart from the sleepers. “Those two sleeping on the same mat, curled up together, they’re Manali and Shanika. They’re not brothers, though they are so close to each other you might think so. They’re not like your friends in Northumberland, either. Their one connection is that they came here on the same day – a Day of Arrival, two years ago.”

“Day of Arrival?” Davie was interested. “Where did they arrive FROM?”

“They don’t know,” Pip answered. “None of them do. None of them remember anything before coming here when they were about eight years old. They have no memory of a home or parents at all.”

“They all came here at the same age – eight – with no memory of a life before that?” Davie was intrigued. This was definitely not a group of stranded shipwreck victims. There was something far more remarkable going on.

“They don’t even know what a family is. They don’t know words like father, brother. The words ‘sister’ and ‘mother’ meant nothing to them – as if I was speaking a foreign language.” Pip paused and considered what he had said. “Well, of course, I was. You explained about the TARDIS and its energy translating for me, but there WAS no translation for those words. I don’t think GIRLS exist on this world.”

Davie smiled and recalled fond memories of Mizzone XIII, a planet with only one gender, where men have babies and raise them in loving families.

But that wasn’t what was happening here, either.

“I like them,” Pip said. “They’re nice boys. They’re fun to be with. Their life… they hunt food, catch fish, climb trees to pick fruit, but when they’re not doing that they play games, swim, make music under the stars. They do all of the things I never did because I had to work hard even before the slave-traders came.”

“You’re not thinking of staying with them, are you?”

“No,” Pip was quick to reply. “Even if they are happy, I feel sorry for them. My home was poor, and I never knew my father. But my mother loved me as much as she could. I think… never knowing that kind of love… must be terrible.”

“Yes.” Davie agreed with that sentiment wholeheartedly. But it went further. It wasn’t just about a mother’s love, a father’s guidance, the special relationship he always had with his twin. All that he was, everything that made him who he was – Davie Campbell de Lœngbærrow, Time Lord of Earth and Gallifrey - was a result of two great family lines, a stubborn, hard-headed Scottish clan and a proud, indomitable Oldbood House of the Southern Plain. He had been raised from childhood on stories of both those lineages, stories meant to instil in him pride, a desire to continue the bloodlines through his own children, and to emulate the great deeds of his ancestors.

If he had grown up devoid of that knowledge, would he be the same man? He was sure that the answer to his question was ‘no’.

Pip, for all that his family life had been troublesome, for all the misery he suffered after his mother died, would not be the same boy if he didn’t have the memory of where he came from and who he was.

Who were these boys before they were part of this strange island tribe?

Who would they be after the Day of Departure? And where would their Departure take them?

Of course, he didn’t need to know. None of the boys had asked him to find out. None of the boys were worried about either their past or their future. They were perfectly content with their present.

It was his own curiosity that made him want answers to the questions.

There came a point when the moon was rising above the island, when almost everyone was asleep. Pip was asleep, curled up on a mat with his arms under his head. Davie sat up beside him and watched the unfamiliar stars in the sky. He didn’t need to sleep. He didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to see what might happen.

Because he was certain that something WAS going to happen.

Nothing very much happened for several hours. He sat there peacefully among the sleeping boys, listening to the quiet sounds of the night – the sudden fall of an ember in the fire pit that caused the flames to crackle up again for a while, the rustle of small mammals in the undergrowth and night birds in the forest canopy. Further away there was the sound of something like the wild boar rumbling its way through the trees, but it didn’t come near the camp. Perhaps larger animals knew better.

He could even hear the tide coming in on the beach if he strained his Time Lord hearing. All in all, it was as close to an idyll as he had ever seen. He could have felt content to spend some time here if he could only get over the mystery of the island and its population of wild boys.

Near dawn, things began to happen, and they happened quickly. All of the boys woke at once and gathered around the totem. Davie woke Pip and they joined the crowd, wondering what was going on.

Raphy stepped forward and the boys looked at him expectantly. He looked back at them before calling out a list of names very slowly.

“Fernan Belen,” he said and one young man on the cusp of adulthood came to stand beside him. “Kiel Jay, Hakan Vazz.”

Two more boys stepped close to him. Davie noted that they were all the older boys, the ones close to being men.

“Maru Niko, Hecken Freer, Jager Enlic, Sakis Kewaldar, Martinis Lenart…”

Martinis hugged two younger men before joining the group. This was a final parting. That much was certain. None of these were coming back to the island.

Young boys arrived, young men left. The population was maintained, but not by any sort of natural birth and death process. it was more like the intake and graduation from an old fashioned preparatory school.

“Tea Linic, Teric Yunas,” Raphy called out. The last two joined him. Then he took a deep breath and purses his lips. “Raphy Agarwal. It is my time, of course. I am ready to begin the great journey. Manoi, you are the eldest now. Be brave and kind, be an example to the youngest. When it is your turn, bear the parting with fortitude. I… can’t think of anything more to say… except… goodbye to all of you.”

There were murmurs of concern among those being left behind. Some of those chosen looked upset, too, none more so than Raphy himself. He looked as if he really didn’t want to go.

Pacal limped to the front of the crowd, stepping into a ‘no-go area’ that had naturally developed between the Departing group and the rest. He called out to his older friend, begging him not to go.

Davie thought he understood. Even without any concept of family ties, close relationships had to develop among the boys. Pacal and Raphy were ‘brothers’ in everything except blood. The parting was difficult for them.

Manoi came forward and gently held Pacal by the shoulders. He said something quietly to him and the boy nodded sadly but with resignation.

The parting was about to begin, despite how any of them felt about it. Davie recognised the static feel in the air just before a bright light that came out of nowhere enveloped the ‘graduation class’. It was a transmat field.

“That’s what it’s all about?” he murmured. He looked at the light and recognised the build up of ion energy even without resorting to his sonic screwdriver to measure it. The transfer of matter would begin in a few seconds.

He pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket anyway and thrust it into Pip’s hands.

“Use it to find me,” he said, then he raced towards the transmat beam. The murmurs of consternation rose behind him, as well as Pip calling out that he would do his best.

Then his ears were filled with white noise and his vision blurred. His body was disassembled at molecular level and re-assembled somewhere else.

The somewhere else turned out to be a very advanced medical centre. He woke on what looked like a table, though it felt as soft as a mattress under him. An array of monitors were over his head, registering his vital signs – including his double heartbeat.

A woman in a white coat leaned over to adjust one of the monitors. She noticed he was awake.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m med-tech Seitzer. We have some questions for you.”

“Not as many as I have for you,” he answered. “What is going on with those islands. Where are the boys you transmatted?”

“They’re here,” Med-Tech Seitzer answered. As he sat up she waved her hand around the room. There were hundreds of the medical tables in long rows, attended to by an all female group of medical technicians, which seemed to be their term meaning ‘doctor’. On one of the nearby tables the boy called Tea Linic was still unconscious. Raphy was on the table next to him. Davie moved towards them and was reassured by their vital signs.

“No, I’m not from this world,” he said to Med-Tech Seitzer. “But I’ve come to know these young people and I am concerned about them. Why were they brought here, and why are they still unconscious?”

“They are safe.”

“They’d BETTER be,” Davie responded angrily. “An advanced society kidnapping people from a primitive one… it’s against at least two intergalactic treaties. What do you lot think you’re playing at?”

“Let me explain.” Another female approached, accompanied by Pip who waved the sonic screwdriver.

“I found you,” he said proudly. Of course, the sonic was imbued with his DNA, and when plugged into the TARDIS console would search for him. But it was still an achievement for his apprentice.

“Well done, Pip. Now, let’s hear that explanation.”

“I’m Chief Med-Tech Mayavan,” said the woman who had promised to explain. “Won’t you come somewhere more comfortable?”

“No, I am staying here with my friends until I know what’s going to happen to them.”

Pip stood with Davie. He looked fiercely determined to learn the truth, too. For him it was even more vital. He was the same age as so many of the boys on the island. He had identified so closely with them, while Davie had been far more remote in his sympathy.

“It was more than fifty generations ago that we discovered a serious genetic flaw in our entire population. We were producing less and less boy children with each generation. We projected that there would be none at all in a matter of years. So we began experiments – to clone from the strongest male genes we had available. We ‘grew’ them in a laboratory – perfectly formed, healthy boys with an apparent age of eight – by-passing the dependent part of childhood. We implanted basic knowledge in their minds. But the problem was, they had no families. They couldn’t even understand the concept. Without family ties, they had no ties to the community in general, to our civilisation. We came up with the idea of letting them grow together in their own communities, learning to work together, to grow together, to play and learn. They have ten years of freedom to do all of those things before they return to our civilisation. They are unconscious just now because we are feeding in all of the other knowledge they need to play a useful role. This young man, here….” She pointed to Raphy. “Our mental tests show he has a natural talent for leadership. He will do well in either our military or police force. Later today, he will talk to a career’s officer about his options. They all will, before going on to begin their new lives.”

Davie considered all that he had been told. It was incredible, a bizarre way of maintaining a population.

And yet, at the same time, it made a kind of sense. The island… all of the islands where they had sent groups of boys… were the prep schools of this planet, though rather more pleasant than any prep school he had ever heard of.

“All right, I think I understand,” he decided. “Pip, where did you leave the TARDIS?”

“In the corridor outside this room,” he answered. “Are we leaving?”

“Here, yes, but not the planet. We’re going back to the island for a while – like a bit of a holiday. I told you it would be a great place for you to learn to swim. Your friends there will be happy to teach you.”

“Will we tell them what we’ve seen here?” Pip asked. “About what their future is going to be?”

“I haven’t decided, yet,” Davie answered. “I’m going to spend some time swimming and catching fish while I think about it and decide what’s best for them.”