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

Sukie Campbell shivered, usually a deliberate ploy that led to Earl putting his arm closer around her as they walked. On this occasion, she was feeling really cold even beneath her coat, hat and scarf combination. She also felt a little ‘creeped out’. It was very dark on the towpath between the Thames and the public open space called Petersham Meadows. The nearest lights on the other side of the river were actually at the house her great grandfather had bought for his Earth family and the meditation retreat her brother had built in the grounds. Thinking about the people she loved all warm and comfortable over there made the cold bite even more deeply.

On this side of the river the nearest lights were unsteady, moving, flickering, where a crowd of revellers - for want of a better word - were gathered. The syncopated sound of drums playing a dance beat drifted on the night air. As the latest arrivals drew closer they could see that some of the lights were moving in a rhythmic, ordered fashion. The green and blue lights were glow in the dark clubs and hoops being thrown and caught by a pair of jugglers. Another performer actually had flaming torches that he was throwing high into the air and catching neatly. An even stranger source of light was a group of people in yellow and red neon skin suits performing acrobatics.

But there was more to this gathering than juggling and acrobatics. Those were just to amuse the crowd before the main event. Beyond the after images of whirling neon a huge dark shape rose up, almost invisible against the blackness of the meadows at night.

It was a bonfire – but not a heap of old wood, broken furniture and combustible junk. Instead, it was a carefully constructed flammable sculpture waiting to be set alight

The shape was one anyone on Earth would recognise at once. It was a giant wooden Dalek. Sometimes these constructions were just crude pepperpot shapes, but this one had been built up carefully over the past week with close attention to details like the eyestalk and the murderous ‘arms’. When it was lit, the shape would be unmistakeable from the skirt to the ruffled neck and the domed top.

A Dalek!

“Centuries ago, November the Fifth bonfires were lit to celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes before he could blow up parliament,” Sukie commented. “The idea died out in the mid-twenty first century because it was just a bit nasty, but it was revived after the Dalek war. Burning wooden effigies of Daleks became a way of celebrating the liberation of the planet.”

“Yes,” Earl remarked. He knew most of that, of course, as mere historical fact. The bonfire Daleks were out of fashion by his twenty-sixth century. That was why he had asked about the bonfire that had been assembled in the Meadow and had suggested going to see it with Sukie.

“Mum and dad won’t have anything to do with the bonfires,” Sukie added. “Nor granddad Robert. They say it was enough to see the end of the Daleks when they fought them all those years ago. Great-Granddad won’t take part, either. The Daleks caused him a lot of pain but he won’t celebrate their demise.”

“I think I understand why they feel that way. It is a gruesome kind of thing to do. But I just wanted to see it, just the once, a proper November Fifth Festival.”

“So we’re here,” Sukie told him. “They’ll be lighting the thing soon.”

“You’re not really happy about it, are you?” Earl said.

“For a different reason than my dad andgranddad,” she said. “I’ve seen Daleks that aren’t evil monsters. When Vicki and I were little girls we met one that tried to protect us. It self-destructed to save us. It was a horrible sight. We cried for hours. And then there’s Dahl, the one we rescued from Skaro. You can’t hate that one. It assimilated my DNA. It became one of the good guys. It’s still working hard for all the refugee races on Santurio. You’ve not been there for ages, but Davie takes me with him when he visits. Dahl remembers that we rescued him from its torturers. And let’s not forget that the ones doing the torturing looked like us.”

“I don’t hate Daleks,” Earl promised her. “That’s not why I wanted to see this. It’s history to me… just as if we’d gone to the Seventeenth Century to see Guy Fawkes being executed.”

“Which will never be on our travel agenda,” Sukie reminded him. “You were pushing it when you took us to Lancaster. No executions, EVER. As for this….”

The drums were speeding up. The jugglers were spinning their props until they were blurs of light. Then a cry went up amongst the crowd. At the base of the house-sized wooden structure a ring of fire was taking hold, lit by men with torches at strategic spots around the wide perimeter. Inside the Dalek shaped wooden skin was a lattice of combustible material placed so as to maximise the air drawn up through a central funnel, spreading the flames.

The result of this careful placing of the bonfire material was that the whole thing, a structure as tall and wide as a windmill or a squat lighthouse, was glowing from within. The dancing fire gave it an almost living appearance.

Or a dying one. Sukie clung to Earl’s hand, trying not to think of the ‘good Dalek’ she and Vicki owed their young lives to. She tried not to think about the fact that a metal Dalek casing enveloped an organic being and this looked a lot like celebrating murder.

She tried to look beyond all that and enjoy the celebration of the end of the terrible Dalek Invasion that had scarred her parents’ generation.

She couldn’t. She just didn’t feel quite the same way about Daleks that everyone else did. She hated the sight of the huge glowing fire with its distinct shape. As she turned away there was a cracking noise and the wooden eyestalk succumbed to the fire and fell.

“That’s just dangerous,” Earl commented as a fire marshal hurried to extinguish the flames. “Good job there is a barricade around the immediate area or somebody could have got hurt.”

Sukie agreed about the safety aspect, but something else was commanding her attention.

“What’s that smell in the air?” she asked. “I mean, mostly its burnt wood and smoke, but there’s something else… something a bit sweet, sickly….”

“Maybe somebody is smoking something a bit….” Earl suggested, sniffing the air carefully. “Is marijuana legal or illegal in this century?”

“It’s legal for personal consumption so long as tax is paid on the packet,” Sukie answered. “But I don’t know anyone who uses it and I wouldn’t know what it smelt like, anyway. Besides, it’s so strong, everyone here would have to be doing it… even the kids. Besides… besides… I think….”

Earl turned to look at Sukie as she stumbled over her words. Her eyes looked glazed and she was swaying as if she was about to faint.

“Sukie… what….”

As he reached out to steady her he noticed that everyone else was succumbing, too. Around him the drums were going silent, the juggling props falling to the ground around the performers. One of the fire marshals managed to extinguish the fiery clubs before he was affected and fell with his extinguisher in his hand.

Perhaps it was his Time Lord DNA that kept him going a bit longer, but he knew he was powerless to stop it happening.

Sukie woke up with the same feeling of dread she had woken with every day since she could remember. She looked up at the grey wood ceiling of the shed and then at the other women rising from barely sufficient sleep to start another day of labour for the Daleks. She pulled herself upright from the hardly adequate palette bed and shivered in the cold air. Outside where the bread ration was issued it was possibly a bit less cold with a wintry sun giving just a little warmth to the stricken world.

Looking up at the sunlight was one of the few freedoms the people of Earth had left to them. Even that was sharply discouraged since it was a distraction from work.

The bread was less than sufficient to sustain the body while doing a full day’s manual labour in one of the many quarries the Daleks had scattered across the face of the planet. Growling hunger was a normal state of affairs for all of the slave workers as they shifted rubble out of the new workings every day. Some said that there used to be more food in the beginning, when there were still farms and people were allowed to work on them. There used to be a few free individuals who would smuggle food into the camps for a price. But there were none of those now and even if there were, nobody had anything to pay for it with. Nobody had anything except the clothes they worked and slept in. Everyone was thin and hollow-eyed. Nobody had the strength to fight against their terrible state of existence. Nobody, after more than fifty years of domination by the Dalek masters even knew they SHOULD fight. All they knew was how to work and stay alive to work the next day, too.

Nobody talked while they worked. They couldn’t spare the energy. All day, with a short break when more bread was issued and they could crouch down on the rubble strewn ground to eat it, they worked. When the light started to fade they worked under lights until their sixteen hour shift was over and they could get some more bread before they slept.

Sleep was a respite. Some people had dreams when they slept of life without the Daleks. Sukie didn’t. She was glad of it. Dreaming that there was something else but bread, work and sleep would make it so much harder to bear.

Sometimes she wondered why the Daleks needed all the rock that was quarried, but even if she asked, nobody else knew any more than she did. They wanted it, and they could kill anyone who disobeyed. They let them live as long as they worked. That was enough to know.

Except it wasn’t enough. She knew it was wrong, but sometimes questions like that rose up in her mind and wouldn’t go away.

She wondered, sometimes, how she came to be born into this life of slavery. The Daleks invaded over fifty years ago and from then on humans had just been slaves. Men and women lived in separate huts. There was no such thing as families.

So where did the children come from? She was nineteen. How had she been born thirty years after the concept of family life, of parents and children, was obliterated from this planet?

Sometimes she wondered how she knew that such concepts had ever existed. What was a family? Was it something she had dreamt about?

Except that she didn’t dream.

Where does the rock go and what is it for? The question fixed in her mind, and tired and hungry as she was, she was determined to find out the answer to that question if no other.

That was why she hid her bread in the torn pocket of her ragged clothes and hung back instead of going into the hut to sleep. When neither the dehumanised robomen nor the Daleks were watching she slipped through the shadows and into one of the rail cars that carried away the rock from the quarry.

It was warmer inside the freight container than anywhere else she had known. A piece of old sacking made a bed. She lay on it and ate her bread slowly while the train began to move slowly on its night journey into the unknown.

It was no worse than the bed she had slept in for as long as she could remember, and she probably slept sounder than any other night, lulled by the movement of the train on its tracks, maintained, unlike the roads, because they were useful to the Daleks.

When she woke, the train was stationary. It was still dark, being late in the year, but she heard workers already at their tasks. She heard the monotone voices of the Robomen and the artificial voices of the Dalek masters close by.

The freight car she was in wasn’t being emptied, yet. She opened the door a small amount, enough for a thin girl – and there were no other sort among the slaves – to slip through after checking that the coast was clear.

It was colder outside, but she was used to the cold. Everyone was used to it.

What was a new sensation was freedom. Nobody was watching as she slipped away from the train and found a hiding place where she could observe what happened here at the other end of the line.

What she saw as the sky lightened astonished her. This looked very much like the quarry she had worked in since she was old enough to lift rocks, but here….

Was she dreaming? Was she really seeing what she thought she was seeing? Were the slaves, here, really carrying rocks into the caves made by past excavations? Were the Daleks making people dig out rock in one place and put it back elsewhere?

What was it all for? Somewhere in the back of her mind she had always thought there was some purpose to it all, some Masterplan of the Daleks in their eternal war against all Creation.

But this wasn’t any plan at all. People were made slaves for no purpose at all. They were just moving rocks around the country.

But people had died, they had died almost every day out of hunger and disease and overwork, and it turned out their efforts didn’t mean anything even to the Daleks.

Unless that WAS the point. They did it to slowly kill the whole population of Earth in the cruellest possible way?

But did that even make any kind of sense? The Daleks were ruthless killers. They could have wiped out the whole Human race fifty years ago. Why keep any of them just to play cat and mouse in this way?

She tried to move forward to look closer, but something stopped her. Sukie’s heart jumped in her chest as she realised that somebody had grabbed her ankle.

She knew better than to scream. That would have been instant death. She didn’t even dare look around.

“Come on, slowly,” a voice whispered. It was a Human voice with real inflections even in the whisper, so not a Roboman, but she had heard about spies with inexplicable allegiances to the Daleks. She had no reason to think she was in safe hands.

“All right, let’s go,” the young man said again. “While they’re busy with the change of shift.”

He held her hand as they ran from the edge of the quarry. There was a stand of trees that gave them cover and within it, at last, they slowed. For the first time they were able to look at each other. Sukie looked at a sandy haired young man whose eyes still held the light of something she had forgotten about – hope.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Earl,” he answered. “I’m with the Resistance. You escaped from the camp?”

“From one of the camps,” she admitted. “What Resistance?”

“We’re not safe, yet. Come on. Keep moving. The bunker is close, but I have to wind about a bit to make sure we’re not followed.”

“Is there any food there… in your bunker?”

“Yes, there is,” Earl answered. “We have to ration it, but I’m sure we can find something for you.”

After that they moved quietly. Often Earl drew Sukie close behind a tree, but each time it turned out to be something innocent – a bird, a small mammal, that disturbed the undergrowth.

Finally, they reached a place where Earl looked around very carefully before pulling back some tangled branches to reveal a rounded metal door. He had a key on a chain about his neck. It unlocked the door and he pushed it open.

“Go forward,” he said. “I know it’s dark, but the tunnel goes straight down. I have to fix the branches back.”

Going into the dark tunnel was the last thing she wanted to do, but, after all, she had known worse things than darkness. She kept walking, reaching for the walls either side. After a few minutes, Earl caught up with her and guided her through the absolute blackness until they reached another door.

Beyond that door was something she had never even imagined she would ever experience. There was warmth and light and the smell of food cooking. The wide room was full of armchairs and sofas on which men, women and even some children rested. They all looked far better fed and better dressed than anyone Sukie had ever met before now

A woman with long blonde hair tied back in a pony tail greeted Sukie warmly and told her to sitdown. At first she went to sit on the floor, but Earl guided her to a chair near the source of the warmth, a convection heater with an artificial glow effect. The woman brought her a bowl of thick, hot soup and a bread roll. She was surprised that the soup had taste and the bread was soft and fresh. For so long she had eaten dry, old bread and nothing else.

“You’re… the Resistance?” she asked after the first satisfying meal she had ever had. “What does that mean, exactly? Are you trying to defeat the Daleks?”

“Defeat them? I’ve spent my whole life trying to do that,” said a man who slowly rose from one of the armchairs and came to face her. “Child, I have destroyed more of those evil tin pots than you can begin to imagine. I hope I can destroy a few more before I die, but I’ve given up hope of actually defeating them. The best we can be is a mild irritation to them.”

“There are too many, and they have taken such a toll on humanity. Those they don’t kill are so weak and dispirited, they can’t fight back,” the blonde woman said. “But we try. David is one of the last who was there when they first came.”

Sukie looked at the old man who had spoken. She rarely saw anyone who could be described as ‘old’ in that way. His face was lined and his hands shook, but his eyes were still bright and alert and she thought he still had that thing she had recognised in Earl already – hope.

They all had that, but what they seemed to be telling her was that it was hope against hopelessness. There was nothing any of them could do except ambush the occasional Dalek patrol, picking them off a few at a time.

“That’s what they’ve been doing to us all these years,” Sukie pointed out. “Making us work until we die and for nothing. Why are they doing that? What’s the point of all this moving rocks around?”

“As far as we can make out, they had a plan originally,” David explained. “They were drilling down to the core of the planet, intending to use the energy to turn the Earth into a huge space ship to use against their other enemies. Some of us managed to sabotage that, but the Daleks never received any other orders. I actually think the ones who came to Earth are somehow cut off from their own homeworld, and they just fell into a kind of rut with this endless quarrying and filling in of old workings. They’re as directionless in reality as we are.”

“Well, then all we have to do is stop being so directionless,” Sukie replied. “We CAN defeat them.”

David laughed softly.

“Maybe she is right,” he said. “Look at her. Born and raised a slave, but still at heart ready to fight, still thinking, still raging against the injustice of it all.”

“She escaped all by herself,” Earl reminded him. “If only there were more like her, we’d be all right.”

“I’m not sure I am all of that,” Sukie told them. “I just wanted to know why the Daleks needed so much rock. I didn’t even know there was a Resistance. I didn’t even know if any other people existed outside the quarry I came from…. I didn’t even know there was soup.”

“Let me get you some more of that,” the blonde woman, addressed as ‘Nell’ by the others, said to her. “Yes, we do have to ration everything, but you’ve missed out on quite a lot of your share.”

Kindness, that was another thing she didn’t know existed.

“I think Sukie is right,” Earl said. “It is time to properly organise our efforts. We should get in contact with the other cells, not just in Britain, but the rest of the planet. We should co-ordinate our attacks and really push the Daleks to the limit. They CAN be defeated.”

“He is just like me when I was younger,” David commented.

“That’s good,” Sukie insisted. “That means we DO have a chance.”

“Yes, it does,” David replied. “Yes, it does. Will you help? Not just yet, for sure. You need more food and far more warmth and sleep. But when you’re ready… we need to spread the word to the slaves in the camps, get them organised, too. There must be more like you with the spark of a human spirit left.”

“I’ll do that with her,” Earl suggested. Sukie looked at him gratefully. How could he have known that the thought of going back into the slave camps struck a deep dread in her very soul. But if she wasn’t alone, if somebody like Earl was with her, then maybe she could do it.

“We CAN do it,” David said again. “There have been times when I doubted it, but that was my mistake. We CAN do it. I only wonder…. When the Daleks are destroyed, when we ARE free, what kind of world will we have left? How will we make it good again? That will be just as hard as fighting the evil that took the good from us?”

Sukie didn’t understand what he meant. She had never seen the world before the Daleks. She didn’t know about home, family, love.

Or did she? The more she looked at David, the more she felt that she did remember those things.

But she couldn’t really. She was born in the slave camp. She had no home or family.

But hadn’t that question always puzzled her? Where DID people of her age come from when all normal human relationships had been destroyed by the Daleks when David was a young man?

“David…” she began, then stopped. The name was familiar to her. It felt warm and comfortable. But it felt strange saying it, as if there was another word she used, instead.

She looked at the old man with the eyes young with hope and the question ‘where do I come from’ had an answer, but one that made less sense than anything else.

“Are you all, right, child?” David asked.

“No,” she replied. “I’m cold…. Very, very cold.”

“Sukie… wake up, sweetheart,” said a voice filled with parental anxiety. She opened her eyes and looked up at her father’s face illuminated by the flashing blue lights of emergency vehicles. Police, paramedic and fire were there on Petersham Meadow. The embers of the bonfire were being doused while victims of some strange crisis were being put into ambulances. She was wrapped in a foil blanket and her father was rubbing her hands to warm them and get the blood circulating.

“Dad,” she said, reaching out to hug him. From his warm embrace she saw Earl being helped to his feet by her great-grandfather, The Doctor. Earl was trying to tell him something. The word ‘Daleks’ was repeated several times. The Doctor was telling him not to worry about that, just no.

“Dad,” she said again, liking the sound of that word and all that it represented. She felt her father lift her into his arms. He was in his seventies, now, and she was nineteen, a grown woman by all definitions. Earl was her boyfriend. But being carried by her father was worth so very, very much.

He took her to the family car. He sat in the back with her while The Doctor drove and Earl quietly looked out of the passenger side window.

They drove home. She was given hot cocoa and put to bed. She slept for a long time without dreaming.

When she woke, her father was there, still. She reached to hug him again. He laughed softly.

“It’s been a while since you’ve wanted to hug me,” he said. “Too grown up for that… rather hug Earl than your old dad.”

“Well, I was stupid,” Sukie answered. “I should never forget to hug you. But… what happened? The Daleks….”

“There were no Daleks, except the wooden one being burnt,” David Campbell answered his daughter. “What happened is that some idiot got hold of something The Doctor called ‘psychic pollen’. His explanation sounds far-fetched, as usual with him, but what it did was infect everyone at the bonfire. It sent you all to sleep, right there in a damp meadow in the middle of the night. The alarm was raised just in time to save everyone from hypothermia.”

“Oh.” That seemed such a mundane explanation for all that had occurred. “But… It felt real. Earl was there. So were you. And… Nell… the one who gave me soup… I think that was Aunt Jackie.”

“That’s the Wizard of Oz… and you were there, and you….”

Sukie laughed briefly, but more serious thoughts were still racing around her mind.

“But the Daleks….”

“Funny thing is, Earl has been telling the same story, as if you had the same dream… about the Dalek war still going on after all this time. He was telling us about how it seemed to last years for him. The two of you went from camp to camp in secret, all over Britain, Ireland and Europe, getting a rebellion ready.”

“That was the plan, but I woke up before any of that. We really had the same dream? The same nightmare. It was horrible. Even when you were there, you weren’t my dad. You were just a man who was trying to keep going against the odds. That was the worst part of it, really.”

“I know,” David admitted. “Those sort of nightmares still wake me in the night. There were times, when you and your brothers were young, when I’d wake up and have to go and check that you were all sleeping in your beds… that you were real and the war was over. But I can’t imagine still fighting on alone after all this time. I think I would lose all hope.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Sukie told him. “You didn’t. That was the thing I remember most. But… dad…. I’ve never really asked you about the War properly. But… when the Daleks were defeated… how did you all… you and mum and everyone else… how did you make the world good again?”

“It wasn’t easy,” David admitted. “Families broken and scattered, children with no parents, no homes. It took time. But we came through. Whatever The Doctor says about us when he’s being moody and sarcastic, I think the Human race is pretty resourceful. We made it.”

“But you don’t go to bonfire parties to celebrate beating the Daleks?”

“The trouble with winning a war is that the generations that come afterwards, when we’ve rebuilt the world, take things for granted. They forget what it costs. You and Earl were probably the only people on the Meadow who had even seen a real Dalek. The rest…. That’s not how to remember what the War cost the Human race. It’s just burning carbon.”

“They don’t do it in Earl’s time. That’s why he wanted to see. I’m sorry I went along with it. But don’t be mad at him, will you?”

“I’m not mad at him. I’m not mad at either of you. If the police identify who brought a psychosis inducing substance to the party I’ll make him know how I feel. But you and Earl… both of you… you’re how I remember what the struggle was for. Your mother and I made a family, a home, from the ashes of our world. Earl and his family were able to live in peace in their century because of the sacrifices of our generation. You’re our remembrance, our legacy. And that’s good enough for me, your mum, your grandad Robert and The Doctor, all of us who really know.”

Sukie thought she really knew, too. The dream existence had felt real. She knew what it was like to be cold, hungry, scared and hopeless every day of her life. She knew she would never forget that.

She hugged her dad again and knew that she would always be safe from those terrible feelings so long as he was there.