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

The fertile but incredibly flat Arzalian plain stretched for three thousand miles in every direction. Every horizon met the sky in a distinct line of demarcation except to the south where what appeared to be a line of low hills were visible. In fact they were a massive range of mountains each at least a thousand feet higher than the highest mountain on Earth. They looked smaller because the curvature of the planet meant that only the summits were visible from this part of the plain.

This was not a lifeless desert. Arzalia was known to be home to over five thousand species of mammal, ten thousand birds and as many reptiles. The insect life had never been fully surveyed. It was just too varied to count, but was probably in the tens of billions.

Into this apparently untouched wilderness came proof that it was not completely separated from what sentient species everywhere called civilization, progress or technology, often assuming those things to be superior to the natural world. The sand-coloured vehicle hovering on anti-static tracks two feet above the ground to avoid disturbing any of the small fauna was an open-topped all terrain tourer used by the Arzalian Nature Reserve wardens to conduct interested parties across the plains.

Among the passengers who had applied for one of the official tours - the only sort permitted at all by a government which spent a lot of time, effort and taxpayer’s money looking after its natural treasures - Jimmy Forrester stood up, clinging to the roll bar, as the open-topped vehicle came to a stop to allow a herd of pachyda cross before them.

“Wow!” Jimmy enthused as he mentally measured one of the creatures as it passed close enough to cast its huge shadow over the vehicle and its passengers. “It’s as big as a house – at least the sort of house I always lived in, anyway.” The fact that his girlfriend lived in a mansion slightly skewed the concept of houses as a unit of measurement.

“Five metres high, and up to twenty tonnes,” Earl told him. “Big as a small cottage, anyway. Certainly twice the size of an average Earth elephant. The thick woolly coat much like the extinct mammoth makes it look even larger. The tusks….”

“Yeah, enough,” Jimmy told him. “The trouble with you Gallifreyan types is you all sound like walking encyclopaedias. Let’s just agree that these are really big animals.”

“Too big for our purpose,” Vicky pointed out. “We came to see how the Arzalians manage their natural resources, but we really aren’t ready to introduce megafauna into the Alvega ecosystem. We’re still thinking about small mammals, fish and amphibians – and not too many of them, because I HATE snakes.”

“I know that,” Jimmy assured her. “But wow…. These are fantastic animals. Do you remember when we went to London Zoo… when we were in Miss Wright’s class at junior school. I thought the elephants were amazing. But these… are elephants and then some.”

Vicki remembered that school trip. She didn’t know at the time that Jimmy had never seen an elephant, or any other zoo animal, before that day. She knew him then as an annoying bully to be avoided. Nobody in the class knew that his bad behaviour was a reaction to the violence he received at home from an abusive father. None of them knew how much he treasured that afternoon away from all of his troubles.

A lot of things had happened since, including a lot of growing up for all of them, but this was probably the first time since then that he had seen anything remotely resembling an elephant. They could have gone to London zoo any weekend, but they never had. Jimmy had never asked. He had never asked for anything. He didn’t want anyone to think, even for a moment, that he was taking advantage of his rich friends, even for a tube ticket to Regents Park.

“Anyway, I don’t want to take a pachyda to Alvega – or a pair of them, even. I suppose you would need a pair…..”

“No,” said the guide in charge of the tour. “Pachyda do not mate in pairs. The herd has only one mature male which mates with all the adult females. That’s him, there – with the brown tusks. The females have white tusks and the immature males parchment yellow ones.”

The male was clearly bigger than the rest of the herd. Its tusks were as long as a small car, curling around on themselves and looking like a formidable defensive weapon. As they watched he raised his trunk and called out, perhaps to gather the herd closer together. He was not at the head of them as the pack leaders of the carnivorous wolvines they had seen earlier in the tour had been, but in the middle of the females, both his wives and immature daughters. The immature males, his sons, trailed behind. There was no need for them to protect the females. Nothing, not even the fiercest meat-eaters on the plains, ever tried to take down a pachyda. Peaceful herbivores they might be, but they were still the size of small cottages by Earth standards with thick hide beneath the luxurious fur and those tusks that could quite conceivably slice the top off an armoured tank like a can opener on a tin of beans.

“So to establish a new herd….” Jimmy queried.

“When a herd meets another herd with unrelated DNA the young males will select two or three young females from the other herd and set off to form a new herd.”

The guide hesitated a moment, wondering if there was a way to explain the process without using the word ‘herd’ so often. He was a tall, thin figure, as all Arzalians were, with olive-coloured, slightly shiny skin and, by startling contrast, platinum blonde hair. His name was printed on a lenticular badge that automatically translated the Arzalian alphabet of squiggles and dots into something his offworld passengers could read. Even so, the Earth born group had asked if he minded being called Izzy. None of them could pronounce the proper sequence of consonants and vowels, even those of them with near-unpronounceable Gallifreyan names as well as their simpler Earth ones.

He didn’t mind being called Izzy by four pale-skinned but polite humans who showed a genuine interest in the wildlife to which he dedicated his working life. He was less fond of the other two visitors, both from the Arzalian city-state. They were distinguished from the rural dwellers by darker skin and completely white hair, as well as a distinctly superior attitude. They called him ‘Buozzi’ which the Earth-born travellers understood to be similar to the word ‘Boy’ as used by nineteenth century cotton plantation owners when addressing their slave workers. Nobody was quite sure why these two had come on the day trip since they appeared to have no interest in the animals or their conservation within the largest nature reserve in the Galaxy. They had been completely indifferent to the sight of the magnificent bronze-furred greaeon – an animal similar to the African lion but three times larger and with the females growing the mane rather than the males. They had not even bothered to look at the flocks of silver bis with their tail fans reflecting the sunshine as they came to feed on Lake Arro - one of the few substantial bodies of water within the plain. Nor had they paid any attention to the four thousand strong drove of sobin – the Arzalian equivalent of wildebeest on the African plains of Earth. The vibrations of their feet upon the ground as they migrated across the land caused the hover car to shake and when they were close enough to see the unique patterns on their red-brown hides in detail the sound was deafening, but the city-dwellers were unmoved by the experience.

And now they appeared to be totally disinterested in the sight of a hundred strong extended family group of pachyda marching along their established migration route as they had done for countless generations. Of course, as Vicki pointed out, Jimmy was exhibiting enough enthusiasm for all of them. Izzy patiently answered all of his questions about breeding patterns and how new herds were established.

“But we’re NOT going to have pachyda on Alvega,” Vicki again told him. “Or anything like them.”

“The Arzalian government wouldn’t allow it even if we wanted to,” Sukie added. “They don’t allow any offworld traffic of their flora and fauna. Their President’s wife can’t even wear an Arzalian lily as a corsage to a diplomatic ball.”

“I know that,” Jimmy insisted. “I read those contracts we had to sign before we could even book this trip. But I didn’t know all that stuff about the one male in the herd and all the females. It’s all new to me. I know it is probably my own fault for not paying attention when we were at school, but even if I had, keeping up with all of you with your brain burst learning where you get a million years of facts in ten seconds is impossible. I’m just trying to learn some stuff at my own speed.”

“Brain buffing,” Vicki told him. “Brain burst sounds a bit too terminal. Besides, not all of the information we get that way stays active. A lot of it is dormant until its needed, like a sort of brain database with keyword retrieval.”

Jimmy didn’t respond to that. Being corrected about the term used to describe Time Lord education by his girlfriend wasn’t making him feel much better about his lack of education.

“It doesn’t always work, anyway,” Earl pointed out. “Take this stuff about herd animals and how they breed. I KNOW I got a lot of that in a brain-buffing session, but I was about fifteen before any of it properly sank in. As a kid I watched too many old cartoons where animals had romantic boy-girl relationships like humans and that just overrode the correct information in my head.”

Sukie and Vicki laughed at him for his lack of attention to his education. Jimmy remembered that none of his friends had ever looked down on him for being merely Human and climbed down from the rather prickly limb he found himself on. While they watched the herd of pachyda go by he asked Izzy several more questions about them, particularly how the reserve wardens ensured their safety.

“Every animal has a microchip inserted,” Izzy explained. “Their age, sex, height and weight as well as tusk size and thickness are automatically updated by the sat-monitors. Some of them even have names assigned along with their registration numbers. The alpha male of this herd is called Azanda, for the ancient Arzalian god of thunder.”

Izzy showed Jimmy the data on a dashboard screen. The names allocated to all three hundred of the pachyda and their details could be called up as long as they were in range of the tourer’s database receiver.

“Sat-monitors?” Jimmy queried. Izzy explained that satellites in geo-stationary position were continuously watching the fauna of the plain. Whenever a herd reached a given stage on their known migration path they were scanned automatically and their details updated. Any newborn animals would be noted and rangers would catch up with the herds and make sure they were chipped. Any animals that died due to natural causes – because no animal on Arzalia died of any other cause, of course – would be recorded according to age, gender, cause of death, the data archived and the chip automatically turned off.

“Ridiculous,” commented one of the city dwellers. “The taxpayer’s money spent on protecting these animals. Satellite monitoring of virtually every step they take. Utterly ridiculous.”

“The expenditure is completely disproportionate to the income generated by tourism,” the other man added.

“Tourism!” the first scoffed. “We have no tourism to speak of. We never will as long as the government only allows these ridiculously small vehicles carrying a half a dozen guests out here. We need luxury hotels all over the plain, right beside the migration trails of the more interesting animals. We need luxury hover-cruisers with full stewarding. That would bring real tourist income. But the government are so anxious to preserve ‘nature’. It is all wasted.”

“It is beautiful,” Vicki remarked. “Your government is right to stop people roaming all over making a mess and doing damage. There’s no need for hotels spoiling the view, using up the water so there’s none in the lakes where the animals go to drink, causing pollution, spreading tarmac and concrete where there ought to be grass growing. People shouldn’t be here at all. This place belongs to the animals.”

The two men looked at Vicki, expecting that a young girl like her would wither beneath their sophisticated, city-dweller gaze. Instead, behind the innocent and open face that Jimmy loved, they met a pair of eyes that seemed far older than her years – eyes that might have looked at infinity and knew exactly how insignificant the two Arzalians were in it.

They turned quickly from her, both wondering if they were hallucinating. Perhaps unrecycled air was unhealthy for the brain.

“That’s a dangerous trick,” Earl whispered as Vicki turned her face away and smiled a smile of secret triumph. “Especially for somebody as young as you. Did your father teach you it?”

“No,” she answered. “I think I get it from him, though. It just… happens when people annoy me. I can look at them and make them feel really small. I know I shouldn’t. It really is a mean thing to do. But those two men ARE mean and it serves them right.”

Earl couldn’t help agreeing about that, but he couldn’t help remembering the advice that his mother, his father, and both of the Campbell brothers had taught him from the first time he began to understand the potential powers of a Gallifreyan - or a Gallifreyan descendent – could be.

“You have the power to affect the minds of ordinary humans, to bend them to your will. It is a power you should use sparingly, if at all. Free will is one of the most precious gifts of all sentient species. It should not be taken away except in the most extreme and desperate circumstances.”

And all of those who told him that learnt the lesson from The Doctor, the Time Lord they all looked up to as the leader of their kind in exile on Earth.

Vicki’s father – who surely taught her that lesson before he taught it to anyone else.

“Something is wrong,” Sukie remarked. For a moment he thought she meant that something was wrong with Vicki, but she didn’t.

“There’s a problem,” Izzy said. “The pachya… one of them has been left behind by the herd.”

Most of the huge herd had passed, now. The view all the way to the horizon was clear again – except for what, at first glance, might have been taken as a small hill. On more careful inspection it was clearly a pachyda that had collapsed onto its side.

“An old one, dying?” Earl asked.

“Oh, I hope not,” Sukie breathed. She knew that death was a part of the circle of life, but she preferred not to have it happen in front of her eyes.

“No… I don’t think so….” Vicki began. “I think it….”

Izzy was checking the database. Jimmy looked at the computer screen then leapt out of the tourer, declaring that computers were only good for counting. He headed straight for the huge but terribly vulnerable creature. Sukie and Vicki looked at each other and then ran to catch up with him. Earl paused for a few moments more before going after them.

“Wait,” Izzy protested. “You’re not authorised to approach any of the animals. Please….”

He glanced at the last remaining occupants of the tourer. They shrugged as if it was nothing to do with them and looked away. Izzy reached into the locked box beside his drivers’ seat and removed what looked like a very powerful rifle.

“You two stay here,” he said. “Don’t touch anything.” He was aware of the scathing look they gave in response, as if affronted that a ‘Buozzi’ had given them orders. He didn’t care. Driving tourists about was not why he joined the Wildlife Service, especially not obnoxious city-dwellers.

It was not an old pachyda dying alone on the plain as the rest moved on. Izzy knew that as soon as he saw it. The tusks were white and only eight foot long, indicating a young cow. The sounds it was making were unmistakable, too.

“It’s in calf!” he exclaimed. “But this isn’t how it happens. They don’t abandon the females giving birth. They don’t even stop until the very last minute. They keep walking with the other females surrounding the birthing female - forming a protective ring. When the birth is imminent they stand still for a few minutes…. And then they go on, with the newborn at its mother’s side. That’s one of the wondrous things about pachyda. They even sleep while moving. They don’t stop walking for anything except food, water or birthing. They only lie down when they’re sick or injured.”

“She fell,” Vicki told him. She and Sukie were standing close to the huge animal, holding each other’s hands and reaching out to make contact with the pachya’s flank. “She fell and they kept walking, not realising she was no longer among them. She’s been struggling for a long time. She’s weak, now. So is the calf.”

Izzy fingered the controls of the bastic rifle that could put a mercy bullet through the heart even of a creature like the pachyda.

“Cruel but practical,” Earl conceded, noticing the gesture. “Survival of the herd… individuals don’t matter in the bigger picture.”

He knew the girls would never see it that way, but he wasn’t expecting Jimmy to be emotional about the situation.

“No!” he protested. “No way. I’m not having that. It’s all right for you. You have your herd. You’re the alpha male and all that. But you don’t abandon the people who don’t count…. Everyone counts.”

Earl was puzzled. He had never meant to imply that the sometimes harsh rules of nature should apply to sentient beings. He wondered why Jimmy thought it might be that way. After all, he spent so much time with The Doctor’s daughter, and he, of all people, believed that everybody counted. There were no ordinary, unimportant, expendable people. It was not exactly rule number one of being a Time Lord, but it was up there with an asterix and underlining.

“We’re not going to let it die,” Earl promised. “Izzy, where are your scientists? Somebody should be here.”

“We don’t interfere with natural processes,” Izzy explained. “It is unfortunate, but sometimes….”

“No!” Jimmy repeated. “Not now.”

“There’s nothing….” Izzy began.

“Yes, there is,” Earl replied. “Vicki and Sukie… they’re Healers. They’re easing its pain… helping it through the agony of birth. I can help, too. I can use my power to give it the extra strength it needs.”

“Those girls… so young… so small….” Izzy was not usually sceptical. He had shown the wonders of the plains to non-Arzarians before. He had once had a group of telepaths who claimed they could read the minds of a greaeon pack, see through their eyes as they hunted in the twilight. Not only that, but they had projected what they saw straight onto the computer screen so that he could share the amazing experience.

But he didn’t expect that sort of power from two petite females, hardly more than children.

“We’re Gallifreyan. Our bodies are finite, but our minds are infinite,” Earl answered him.

“I’m not. I’m just Human,” Jimmy cut in. “What can I do? I mean… I’ve seen babies being born. I’m not going to faint or throw up or anything. But… this one… it’s going to be bigger than I am. I couldn’t even be useful waiting to catch. I don’t think I even want to BE at that end of the process. But I want to do SOMETHING.”

“Human minds are infinite, too, when they’re not being wasted,” Earl replied. “You, too, Izzy. Come on. Let the girls be the nurses, giving relief from pain. We’ll be the doctors, giving it strength. Sukie will give us all hell later for the blatant male chauvinism, and my aunt Ellie who IS a doctor. But if we save the mother and baby it will be worth it.”

Jimmy was doubtful, Izzy even more so, but Earl took them both by the hand, urging them to reach out to the pachyda mother. He felt the connection straight away – from him, to Izzy and Jimmy and to the frightened, lonely animal, forsaken by her herd at this crucial time. He felt the two girls administering a mental equivalent of a morphine drip to ease the birth pains. There was still some pain. There had to be. Any creature giving birth needed to be aware of what was happening within it, but the pain was dulled and manageable. The cries were still ear-splitting this close to the animal, but they were less distressed.

What she needed from the men was extra strength. She was weary and dispirited, missing the other females who should have been around her. Instead, she felt the minds of three people – three of the creatures that were sometimes seen on the plain but did not belong to it. She felt how much bigger they were on the inside, bigger, even, than she was. She felt that they were there to fill the emptiness in her life, and to give her something even the herd couldn’t give her – not just moral support, but real strength, as if their adrenaline filled blood was actually coursing through her veins.

“How long will it take?” Jimmy asked.

“I don’t know,” Izzy admitted. “I’m a guide… not a bio-tech. I don’t really know anything about the animals except what I’m supposed to tell the visitors on the tour. I’m taking classes at the weekend. I’m going to get my degree in bio-care, and I can do real research. But right now… I really don’t know enough.”

“It’ll be about an hour,” Vicki said out loud, above the noise of the pachyda’s cries. “She’s almost at the end of the process. She’s been in labour for at least two days already. That’s why she’s so exhausted, and why she couldn’t get up when she stumbled. But it will all be over in an hour – over in a good way, not the way it would have been if we hadn’t been here.”

Earl was not as upbeat about that news. He probably COULD stand for an hour pouring his own physical strength into the creature, but could Izzy and Jimmy? Yes, their minds were as infinite as his, as was any sentient mind if it was used properly, but their bodies weren’t. he could save the pachyda mother and calf but seriously injure his friends.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” he suggested. “You two might not be able to cope.”

“Just you keep doing the telepathic thing and we’ll be right with you,” Jimmy responded. “And don’t let me catch you thinking I’m not as good at standing still as you are. Yes, I CAN see what you’re thinking right now. It must be to do with the connection between us. So no more patronising thoughts about humans. Just let’s get on with this.”

Earl murmured an ineffectual apology. Jimmy ignored it. There were more important things right now. He reached out to Vicki and Sukie and they confirmed that they were administering as much pain relief and calming mental energy as they could manage. Most importantly, they had the trust of the pachyda mother. She knew they were here to help her through this last, most difficult part of her labour.

“She understands more than we might think,” Sukie added. “Even if she isn’t sentient. She understands that people like us care for her and mean her no harm. I wonder if that’s true of animals on Earth. All the hunting and despoiling of habitats that humans do, I don’t think they would trust us the same way. Here… the people have always cared for the wildlife. They’ve never thought of something like a pachyda as ivory and bone, meat, lamp oil….”

“Stop thinking about that sort of thing before some of it gets back to her and you lose that trust,” Earl warned. The thought of a beautiful creature like this one butchered and reduced to ‘products’ was disgusting. He pushed it from his mind.

It was a long hour, and an exhausting one for everyone. Just when it was starting to feel endless, and even Earl was beginning to lose all feeling in his legs, the pachyda gave one very loud cry and a shudder went through her whole body. There was an unpleasant squelching sound that everyone knew they would never quite be able to forget, then another noise – that of a newborn baby pachyda calling to its mother. It was a noise that had the same emotional impact as a basket of kittens but considerably louder.

Not that Earl heard it. He was vaguely aware of Sukie calling out to him, and then his brain imploded.

At least it felt as if it had, and when he came around again, he almost wished it had. He felt a pair of cool hands on his forehead and the pain subsided. He risked opening his eyes.

“So much for Jimmy and Izzy not being up to it,” Sukie told him with a gentle laugh. “You’re the one who passed out with exhaustion.”

“That’s probably because I was trying to shield them from the worst of the impact,” he protested. “Anyway… what happened…. The calf…..”

“It’s fine,” Sukie assured him. “Look.”

He sat up and looked around. The mother pachyda was standing there are tall as a modest cottage. Beside it, the size of a small car, was the baby. Its fur was honey coloured and its eyes like black coals. Jimmy was stroking it lovingly.

“He really shouldn’t do that,” Earl said. “These are wild animals, not pets. That’s too much Human contact.”

“Too late to worry about that,” Sukie pointed out. “Jimmy has completely imprinted himself on it. The calf probably thinks he’s her dad.”

“It’s a girl?”

“A girl called Numia after a princess from an old Arzalian folk story. She’s already chipped and registered. I registered a name for the mother, too. She only had a chip number, not a proper name. It’s really easy to do it on the visitor website. And look….”

Sukie pointed towards the horizon. A brown haze was slowly resolving into the main herd slowly lumbering back towards the missing female and her newborn calf. Izzy and Vicki between them convinced Jimmy that he had to leave the baby, now. They returned to the touring car and watched the family reunion from a safe distance.

The two city-dwellers were unimpressed by any part of the experience. They complained about the time wasted and how late it would be by the time the party returned to the city. Again they bemoaned the lack of hotels on the great plain until a stare from Vicki quietened them.

They were all quiet on the way back to the city-state and the hotel they had booked for the night. Everyone had something to think about after their experience on the great plain.

Jimmy had more to think about than any of them. It occupied him all evening and most of the night. The next morning after breakfast, he declined the offer of a morning sightseeing in the city, saying he had something else to do. Even Vicki couldn’t persuade him to explain further. The best she could do was fix a time to meet up for lunch.

Which was when he dropped a bombshell on his friends.

“You’re staying here?” Earl queried. “For six months.”

“It’s an internship with the Wildlife Service. I’d get to go out there studying the animals – learning about their migration patterns, feeding habits, breeding… all the stuff I didn’t know anything about yesterday. I can keep an eye on Numia in her first six months growing up amongst the herd.”

“I should have known it was to do with the baby,” Vicki commented. “But you have college back home on Earth. You can’t just drop out for six months.”

“I don’t have to,” Jimmy answered. “My girlfriend has a TARDIS. You can pick me up next week and I’ll have done the six months and be ready to go back to college and do the engineering course as well.”

“That’s not a good idea,” Earl warned him. “Living your life outside your proper timeline is dangerous.”

“It works for Davie,” Sukie pointed out. “He goes off and does a whole week of racing in an afternoon.”

“And he’s now seven years older than his twin brother,” Vicki retorted. “Daddy said I wasn’t allowed to do that sort of thing.”

“You’re not, I am,” Jimmy reminded her. “It’s something I really want to do, and for once it is something you can help me to do.”

“Six months… will you miss me?” Vicki asked.

“Every day. But I’ll be doing really good stuff here and it will be worth it. Will you miss me?”

“For a week, just a bit.”

“Then that’s all right, then. It’s settled. Izzy said I can stay with him. We can study together and go on field trips. It’ll be cool.”

“You sound just a bit too happy about six months away from your girlfriend,” Earl warned him. “You’d better miss her a LOT,”

“Have the evidence to prove it,” Sukie added. “I mean six months of unposted love letters and lots of creases in her picture because you kept it under your pillow at night.”

Vicki grinned and kissed him in a way that should have made him realise that six months away from her was a big undertaking.

Earl and Sukie both thought it was a kiss her father would NOT entirely approve of. But that problem was for another day.