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


That was the sentiment expressed by Jackie when she looked out of the window of the ambassadorial suite at the alien cityscape before her. Accompanying Christopher on diplomatic visits had introduced her to some amazingly beautiful places with shining spires and golden domes, gardens in the sky, buildings that defied gravity and buildings that were every shape other than the ‘normal’ rectangle. She had seen silver cities, gold cities, cities that were a myriad shimmering and dancing colours. She had seen skies of every colour with as many as four suns and twenty shining moons.

But this had to be the ugliest place they had ever been to. She hadn’t really seen it properly when they arrived. It was late at night and they had been brought from the space port to the residence in a sort of hovercopter.

But now it was daytime, or what passed for daytime on Ogglia Betan. There was a permanent smoke layer in the troposphere that made it a grey twilight no matter what time of day it was.

It was raining, and that meant water polluted with smoke particles that coated roofs, roads and people with a film of dirty grey stuff.

The city was dirty grey. Once it might have had glittering domes, but now they were grey.

“It’s not too prepossessing,” Christopher admitted.

“Like I said, ‘ugggh’.” Jackie responded. It was the word she used when Christopher used ‘prepossessing’. They understood each other in more or less the same language. “And we’re on a sort of royal tour for today of one of the industrial wonders of this world.”

“They are the leaders in all kinds of mineral processing. An alliance could be good for the Gallifreyan diaspora as well as Earth in general.”

“And I have to be a good diplomat’s wife and not tell them that their city makes a wet day in London seem like paradise?”

Christopher smiled at her. Diplomacy didn’t come easy to Jackie, but she tried.

“I’d better not say anything at all, then. I really don’t think I could help myself. Honestly, we used to worry about smog in London, the ozone layer, all of that. But Earth never managed to get a ring of soot all around it. What did these people do to their planet?”

“Everything that humans managed not to do. Imagine if the industrial revolution of the Victorian age had carried on the same way, using up coal, pumping smoke into the air, chemicals and sewage into rivers and never considering the consequences. Your world saved itself with clean air legislation, world climate summits, pollution control. This lot never did.”

“Talk about a cautionary tale.”

“Absolutely. Anyway, are you ready to go?”

She was. Her outfit emulated the diplomatic wives she had met at functions, a skirt suit in deep purple with a cerise blouse. Her shoes were suitable for a day touring factories. Her hair was neatly arranged under a small hat with a little veil over the eyes which was something of the custom on Ogglia Betan. Her make-up and jewellery were low key and tasteful.

In other words, a contrast to the brash Jackie with hoop earrings and bold eyeshadows of the past. The Doctor had called her new look ‘a little less Kennedy and a bit more Obama’ and when she worked out what he meant she took it as the compliment it was meant to be.

Christopher took her arm as they headed up to the top of the building where a canopy kept the dirty rain off them until they were in the hovercopter. This was, apparently, the high-class way to travel. Down on the ground traffic jams pumped more pollution out and face masks were compulsory for drivers and pedestrians alike.

It was not a particularly fast means of travel, Jackie thought. That or this city was huge.

Huge and grey. The inner city where the people lived was ringed with an industrial zone with mile after mile of factories and foundries with huge chimneys reaching up into the sky and massive silos for raw materials.

“But none of them seem to be working,” Jackie pointed out. “No new smoke adding to the pollution. And nothing seems to be moving, at all.”

Christopher looked out and agreed that it was odd.

“I was given to understand that the factories worked day and night, producing millions of kilometres of steel, millions of square kilometres of sheet glass. Resources from Ogglia built the great glass cathedral of Haolstrom Four.”

“We’ve been there,” Jackie commented. “For the Haolstrom President’s wedding. It’s beautiful. Like Saint Paul’s and Westminster Abbey together only with glass walls.”

“My father worked in the glass factory that helped to build that cathedral,” said the hovercopter pilot. “He never saw it, only pictures, but he was proud to be a part of it. We all were.”

There was a regretful tone in the pilot’s voice that Jackie missed but Christopher picked up. He asked the pilot about it.

“That was ten years ago, when Ogglian glass was the most sought after in the galaxy. We dug billions of tons of sand from our third moon and processed it into beautiful, crystal clear, shining glass.”

Jackie looked again at the gloomy landscape. She couldn’t imagine Ogglians even having a word like ‘glittering’ in their vocabulary. They certainly didn’t have any glass buildings. The mostly grey concrete structures had only very small windows and those were permanently covered in grime.

The shining sheets of glass were for export to brighter planets.

“I suppose there would be no point in building something like the Gherkin, here,” Jackie said quietly so that the pilot didn’t hear. “It would be black in no time.”

“Export markets are important to the Ogglian economy,” Christopher told her.

“Aren’t they important to any economy?” Jackie asked. “But… you know… France must export gallons of wine but there’s still gallons more of it left for French people to drink. They don’t ship it all off.”

Except that wine wasn’t generally measured in gallons, Christopher thought that Jackie had a point. For all their industry the people of Ogglia didn’t seem to be benefitting very much from it.

“Begging your pardons, sir, madam,” the pilot said again. “But that’s not even true, now. About the exports. Like I said… ten years ago we helped build a glass cathedral. But not so long after that the export markets dried up, almost overnight. There was a cheaper alternative. Orders stopped. The factories closed. My father… and millions more… had no jobs. Nobody did. I was lucky… I’d just finished my military service. I had a flying licence. I can make money on the ‘copters. But most people I know are unemployed.”

“God, that sounds familiar,” Jackie sighed. “The Powell Estate in the eighties.”

“But The facility we’re going to see,” Christopher said. “It’s doing business. Isn’t it helping?”

“So far as I know, they employ about five people there. It’s all automated. No workers needed. Millions worked in the factories down there. Five at this new place.”

“That’s familiar, too,” Jackie said. “I remember a school trip to the milk bottling plant. Boring as hell. But hundreds of people worked there. Some of my mates even got jobs there. But the same place in our time – all robotics. They don’t even need forklift drivers. The computer sends a robot.”

But in the twenty-third century she lived in now there were less people. The world population was still recovering its pre-Dalek War numbers. There were less jobs, but still almost no unemployment.

Yes, this planet was more like Britain in the Eighties, with the coal and steel industries collapsing.

But somehow darker and sadder than that.

The rain got worse, if that was possible. Jackie sighed and turned away from the dismal view.

“You’re not here to give the Ogglians back their industry, are you?” she said to Christopher. Economics were hardly her specialist subject, but she had grasped this much. “You came to see if Earth could profit from a deal with them. That wouldn’t necessarily help make life better for the people here… his dad and everyone.”

“Unless there is something very spectacular at this plant I’m not even sure I can make a deal that benefits Earth,” Christopher admitted. “This isn’t quite what I expected. I thought it would be sending them sand from the Sahara in return for finished glass or something like that. I’m… at a loss. And… I am sorry.”

QThe last was said to the hovercopter pilot, and it was no diplomatic form of words. He meant it.

“None of this is your fault, sir,” the pilot answered. “Don’t you worry about us. Just do what you have to do.”

“I hope the government can take the disappointment as easily,” Jackie said. “At dinner last night, that one – whatsisname – the Minister for Exports – he looked like he might burst into tears if all this comes to nothing.”

“Joakian Frees,” Christopher said, pronouncing the surname correctly as Fr-i-ays-ay, as his training as a diplomat taught him to do. “A worried man, indeed. I understand he has a quota of new trade deals he is anxious to meet. His job might be on the line.”

The pilot laughed shortly and with a note of irony about the idea of a politician losing his job, then apologised for listening in to that part of his VIP passenger’s conversation.

“You are fully entitled to your opinion on that matter,” Christopher assured him. “For what it’s worth, I know plenty of politicians who deserve a dose of unemployment.”

Jackie laughed softly and thought about some of Christopher’s colleagues, many of whom she had socialised with knowing that he privately thought they were idiots or worse. He would doubtless keep his private thoughts about the Ogglian government to himself.

That was diplomacy.

As Christopher talked to the pilot, learning more about the collapse of the Ogglian economy – facts the government had kept from him, Jackie looked out of the window again. It was darker than ever, as if the morning had given up and skipped straight to evening.

They were outside the city now, and rural Ogglia was proving just as uninspiring. Most of it was grey and flat with a few blackish-grey trees here and there with grey-black leaves covered in soot. There were fields of a grey-green crop something like cabbage, but that was all there was in the way of agriculture.

“We’ve been eating good stuff,” Jackie pointed out. “Lobster and green salads galore, fresh fruit. Where does that come from?”

“They import most of their food,” Christopher answered.

“Doesn’t that make it expensive?”


“So do the poor eat grey cabbage and the good stuff goes to the rich?”

“I don’t think it’s quite that bad. I understand that the ‘cabbage’ is a bit like soya bean. It can be made into rather more interesting things. The workers are eating quorn burgers, which is healthier than real meat, when all is said and done.”

The pilot made a comment implying that the healthy alternative wasn’t entirely satisfactory. It was clear that the working classes of Ogglia had little to lift them from the greyness.

The hovercopter descended towards an industrial complex that squatted like a grey-black beetle amongst the cabbage fields. Surprisingly the entrance that they came to under a forest of umbrellas protecting them from the driving grey rain was much brighter than anything the average factory foyer. There was a pleasant reception area with fresh flowers everywhere – imported, presumably - flowers couldn’t possibly grow on this colourless planet. There was a quietness about the reception and a soft carpet on the floor. There was even a pleasant scent to the air.

It was almost as nice as the ambassadorial residence. And that was saying something on this dismal world.

They were not the only visitors. A woman in a black dress and veiled hat was waiting with two men who had the sharp suits of high class lawyers, stockbrokers or possibly mobsters. Apart from a polite nod Jackie didn’t take a lot of notice of them until the director of this facility, a tall, lugubrious man called Eddis Fynne, the surname pronounced F-I’a-nay, appeared alongside Minister Frees and invited all of them to come to what he called ‘The Preparation Room’.

“Nobody told me… but what do they actually make here?” Jackie whispered as they followed the Minister into another surprisingly bright room with more flowers, carpets, and some colourful artwork on the walls. The central feature of this room was a huge square machine which was fed by a conveyer belt that started somewhere beyond an automatic hatchway in the back wall.

“It has something to do with diamond production,” Christopher answered. “I’m not sure. The briefing was a little vague. Apparently, it is a new way of MAKING diamonds.”

“You don’t MAKE diamonds. Even I know that. They’re mined and then cut and polished.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Christopher responded. “Gallifreyan diamonds were the finest in the galaxy.”

They were invited to sit on two rows of padded chairs, and then without any further ado Mr Fynne pressed a button that made the square machine light up all over and the conveyor start moving.

Of all the things Jackie expected to come through on that conveyor, a body was the very last on her list. It was fully wrapped from head to toe in an opaque plastic substance, like a cross between an Egyptian mummy and a shrink wrapped frozen chicken, but it was clearly a dead man. A slight intake of breath from the lady in black suggested that it was her late husband, but she displayed no more emotion than that.

“What the blinking flip….”

Christopher grasped his wife’s hand gently, subtly reminding her of how a diplomat’s wife should behave. He was just as disturbed as she was by the macabre proceedings, but this was not the time to raise a fuss. Better to find out what it was all about, first.

When the body had been swallowed by the machine there was a distinct change in tempo. The lights flickered. There was a high-pitched whine and a faint vibration that made the machine seem a little out of focus.

It went on for several minutes before everything came to a sudden stop. One green light turned on at the side of the machine and a receptacle opened. Mr Fynne himself went to the receptacle and then, with some ceremony, carried a square dish containing a blue-white diamond the size of a butter bean to the widow. She accepted the gem with a happy smile.

“Thirty carats, madam,” Mr Fynne said. “And quite flawless.”

“The same could not be said of him when he was alive,” the widow remarked, putting the diamond into a small velvet bag and placing it in her handbag. “I shall have him set into a necklace, I think. I shall wear it to the ambassador’s reception.”

“I hope she chokes on the gold wrapped after dinner chocolates,” Jackie remarked under her breath. “Seriously… what did we just see?”

“That machine reduces a dead body to carbon atoms and then compresses them under extreme heat to produce a diamond,” Christopher answered.

“Is that even possible?” Jackie asked.

“With some rare exceptions most animal life is carbon based, as are diamonds. It’s… theoretically… possible. I have never heard of the practical application, and never expected to see it with my own eyes.”

“Marvellous, isn’t it,” Mr Fynne said. After showing the widow and her friends out he had returned in time to hear Christopher’s comments. “This will clear Ogglia’s intergalactic debts in a few years. Once the commercial production reaches full capacity….”

Christopher stood and walked up to the machine. Its dials and monitors meant very little to him in all honesty. Science was not his speciality. He wasn’t even sure it would make a lot of sense to his father who was extremely scientifically inclined. But he had no reason to doubt that the machine did exactly what they had seen it do. This was no confidence trick.

A body had been turned into a diamond.

“There is, as you will notice, no waste material,” Mr Fynne told him. “Every molecule is used in the reconstitution process.”

“Yes, I see that,” Christopher replied. “What do you mean by ‘commercial production’ exactly?”

“What you saw here is merely the VIP service. Mr Grees was a higher band tax payer. On his death his widow was able to arrange for this alternative to a traditional funeral and received the diamond as a ‘remembrance’ of him. In another part of the facility we process the bodies of lower grade citizens. Any unpaid taxes are deducted from the percentage of value paid to the next of kin and the diamonds themselves become property of the government.”

Christopher said nothing. He could guess that there were no flowers or carpets in the ‘commercial’ section of the facility, just a longer conveyor belt of grisly raw materials.

“The government is considering a scheme whereby low-grade taxpayers might have a rebate during their lifespan set against the percentage of their worth after death. There are some issues to be ironed out, such as how to calculate the rebate in the case of workers who live longer than expected. We are also considering confiscation of the bodies of executed prisoners, and possibly a euthanasia-for-profit programme. That might even be the solution to the long-living workers. If they agree to terminate themselves at a pre-decided date…..”

“I think I have seen and heard enough,” Christopher said shortly. His diplomatic detachment was severely strained by the ideas that had just been put into his mind. “My wife certainly has. We’re going back to the ambassadorial residence, now.”

He had no more to say. He took Jackie’s arm and walked away at a determined pace. Lackeys ran to make sure there were umbrellas to keep them dry between the front door and the waiting hovercopter.

Jackie said nothing on the journey back. She couldn’t bear to say anything in front of the pilot. She kept it all seething inside until they were in the privacy of their suite at the top of the Residence. Even then she took her time, sitting and removing her make up and jewellery. She looked at the diamond earrings she had been wearing. They were smaller than the diamond the widow received, but she was sure they weren’t made of people.

‘I always thought I wanted big diamonds,” she said. “Funny, but now I could afford them I mostly have small ones.”

“Those may be small, one carat in weight per earring, but they are flawless, pure white gems, the most expensive kind, and cut by experts in Amsterdam’s diamond quarter. They are fully equal in value to the Widow Grees’ showy bauble.”

“I believe you,” Jackie told her husband. “Besides, they were a present from you, so they mean the world to me. But… if you died… I wouldn’t have you turned into a diamond, and I certainly wouldn’t want to wear you as a necklace.”

“I am glad to know that,” Christopher remarked dryly.

“Even… you know… when Pete died… I was broke, and it was his fault for making a mess of things and leaving me nothing. But if somebody had told me his body was worth thirty carats… even a hundred… I still wouldn’t. I’d rather starve than have money from THAT. It’s… it’s horrible.”

“At first I thought it was just… what my father would call a ‘different morality’,” Christopher admitted. “Some people are appalled by cremation as opposed to burial… others abhor burial and choose the clean end of the funeral pyre. On Gallifrey… there is no other way to dispose of a Time Lord body but total immolation. It’s all down to culture and custom. But… no. You are right. This IS awful. I can’t find any way to justify it.”

He didn’t tell Jackie about the executed prisoners or the proposed euthanasia programme. She was upset enough already.

“Quite apart from the morality issue the whole thing puzzles me,” he added. “The technology… it seems completely wrong for this planet.”

“How do you mean?” Jackie asked.

“Everything else, all the shut-down factories… were smoke and fumes, coal furnaces and pollution. That machine was state of the art technology, generations more sophisticated. It was like… imagine young Davie setting up his solar panel project in the middle of a Lancashire cotton town in the 1850s.”

Even Jackie understood an analogy that stark.

“How come?”

“I’m not sure. Either Ogglia has a scientist way ahead of his time or that machine is from somewhere else… another world’s more advanced technology.”

“Is that wrong?”

“Yes, it is. Introducing advanced technology into non-advanced societies has far reaching consequences. Think about those Victorians again – if somebody gave them nuclear generators.”

“Not a good idea,” Jackie conceded.

“It is very illegal. I should report it to something like the Shaddow Proclamation. They may need to investigate this. But as far as I’m concerned, Ogglia Betan is a waste of time. Earth has no interest in trading with them. We certainly aren’t going into the mass export of dead bodies.”

“Don’t even joke about that,” Jackie shuddered. “But if that’s that, if there’s nothing we can do, can we go home? I was so sick of this dark, miserable planet and its rain even before we saw THAT.”

“I need to have one more meeting with Minister Frees, to let him know that there’s no chance of a trade deal with Earth. We’ll leave this evening. They don’t need to wine and dine us tonight. I’ll take you somewhere nice on the way home.”

“I’ll pack our bags,” Jackie promised. ‘Ready to go when you are.”

“It can’t be fast enough,” Christopher promised. He kissed her on the cheek and hugged her briefly before leaving to meet with the Minister. Jackie watched him go then started to open drawers and lay out clothes for packing.

Minister Frees was waiting in the Conference Room on the ground floor of the Residence. It was a well-appointed room, but the dirty rain pelting against the window was dreary. Christopher closed the curtains over it before he sat at the polished table.

He wasted no time in making his official position clear. Minister Frees listened as he outlined all the reasons why there could be no alliance with Earth.

The Minister tried to persuade him, but he was adamant.

“The diamond manufacturing,” the Minister said in pleading tones. “Surely THAT is something we can negotiate. Humans live such short lives, and their disposal after their lives are over is a problem. This is a profitable solution.”

“No. Humans are not raw material for a machine,” Christopher insisted. “No Earth government would accept the export of the dead in return for a percentage of your diamond industry.”

Of that, he was quite certain. The Human race had its faults, and greed was often one of them, but this was a step beyond for them – even the Americans.

“Then… I am sorry,” Frees said in a tone Christopher found disturbing. He looked at the anxious man intently. “You have brought this on yourself.”

“Brought what on?” he demanded.

“You must reconsider your position… or….”

“Or what?”

“I told you that the diamond manufacturing process would clear Ogglia’s intergalactic debt. It is imperative that we do so. We cannot move forward as a society until we do. The government of Thoras Lambda allowed us to set up the facility on Ogglia on the understanding that we would produce enough diamonds to pay them what we owe.”

“I was right. The technology doesn’t come from here. Thoras Lambda… that would be the sister planet of Thoras Beta. Both grow rich by usury. Your government were fools to take loans from them in the first place. But I am sorry, there is still nothing I can do. Tthere is no trade to be made with Earth.”

“Then you leave us with no choice. We must meet the quota Thoras Lambda demanded. We must cull our own population. The unemployed and lo- grade taxpayers over the age of fifty will be taken for processing.”

“You mean you will kill your own people?” Christopher was appalled. But blackmail could not be allowed to prevail. “The very idea is monstrous, but it will not change my mind. I will simply warn all of our allies to avoid any trade with Ogglia-Betan. The Adano-Loggian Alliance, the Haolstromnian and Venturan systems. Where will you be when they place embargos on your world? Adano-Loggia is the foremost diamond trader in the galaxy. They will render your blood gems unsaleable… valueless.”

“Where will you be when your own wife is among those to be processed?” Frees asked.


“One word from me and she will be first in the queue,” Frees said, his hand hovering over his personal communicator. “Mr Fynne will have her turned into thirty carats in minutes.”

Christopher’s hand moved quickly, knocking the communicator across the room. It shattered with a hiss and a few sudden sparks against the wall. Meanwhile the same hand came up against Minister Frees’ chin. He fell backwards on his chair, knocked out cold.

“I may be a politician,” Christopher said. “But my father is a master in five different martial arts and my two grandsons in six. I’ve learnt a few things from all of them.”

Frees may not have heard all of that. He was still coming round to find himself tied to the chair with curtain ropes and gagged with a pocket handkerchief.

“You can stay right there until I’ve completed the next round of ‘negotiations’,” he said.

The hovercopter was on the roof. On the way he went to the suite and found clothes and suitcases scattered. There was no blood, but he did find two high quality artificial fingernails from an expensive manicure session on the floor. A scan with his personal sonic screwdriver indicated Ogglian skin tissue on them. Jackie had scratched somebody before they overpowered her and took her from the room.

“Good girl,” Christopher whispered as he turned and ran from the room, continuing up to the roof.

The rain was pelting down, but he didn’t care about getting wet. He wrenched open the hovercopter door and climbed in. He glanced at the controls.

It was then that the plan devised in the heat of the moment fell apart. He had no idea how to fly this craft.

“Sir… what are you doing?” The pilot who had brought them back from the diamond complex approached quickly through the rain. “You can’t....”

“No, I can’t,” Christopher admitted. “But you can. Take me to that bloody place.”

“I… have no flight plans.”

“You have a father… unemployed and over fifty.” Christopher told him what Minister Frees planned to do.

“Get in… buckle up,” the pilot told him after less than a moment’s consideration of the situation. He took off vertically and accelerated across the city. With one hand on the rudder he reached to switch off the radio communications before anyone could order him to turn back. “I might be fired later, and that’s going to be bad for me, but not as bad as not helping you.”

They were going to reach the diamond processing facility in a few minutes. But would it be soon enough? Christopher thought about how his father, in his generous and less sardonic moods, had often called Jackie a rough diamond. The analogy seemed all too horribly appropriate now. He tried not to think about what would happen if he didn’t stop Fynne from doing something so terrible it was almost too much to contemplate.

“We won’t be setting down at the executive reception, sir,” the pilot said as the complex came into view. He reached into a compartment by his side and brought out a handgun. “We are given these in case of problems. This isn’t the sort of problem my bosses had in mind, but I’m ready to watch your back, sir.”

“The people working there are mostly going to be just like you... trying to make ends meet,” Christopher told him. “Shoot to wound if there’s no other choice. And… if we’re going into battle… stop calling me sir. I’m no military leader. Call me Christopher. And tell me your name before you watch my back.”

“Joel Neo,” the pilot answered. “Pronounced Nee-o.”

“All right, Joel….”

The hovercopter came down in the non-executive part of the complex. Here was the ‘commercial’ side of the operation. The bodies of dead ‘low grade taxpayers’ were being transferred from a freighter to a conveyor belt by the same sort of computer operated robotic systems that handled milk on twenty-third century Earth. No Ogglians were around to stop anyone crossing the yard and examining the conveyor.

“Jackie isn’t here,” Christopher confirmed with something like relief as he looked at the line of bodies tied in semi-transparent film, a cheaper substance than the VIP’s were wrapped in. These were all dead Ogglians. Dead from ordinary, natural causes like old age as far as he could tell. That terrible idea of ‘culling’ the population hadn’t started, yet.

There was no obvious door into the complex. Christopher looked at Joel. They nodded to each other grimly, then climbed onto the conveyor. They trusted that there was a small section of conveyor inside before the machine, giving them time to jump off.

There was. It was about three feet from the floor. They dropped down and stood up carefully, looking around at the commercial ‘preparation room’. The machine was a lot bigger than the one where the late Mr Grees was converted into jewellery for his widow. The bodies were processed four at a time with the resulting diamonds sliding out onto a much smaller conveyor belt. Somewhere else there was probably a computerised system for grading and valuing the gems and packaging them up to go to the galactic diamond market.

Christopher didn’t care about that. He was only interested in the door set into the wall behind the conveyor. A voice was shouting beyond that door.

Two voices, but only one of them was his wife.

He wrenched the door open to reveal a walk-in cupboard where Mr Fynne was attempting to wrap Jackie in a plastic shroud. She may have been unconscious when he started, but she was awake now and struggling for all her might.

“Stop that, now!” Christopher yelled. “Get off her.”

He wrenched the man away, dealing him a blow that very nearly knocked him cold. He pushed past him as he reeled against the door frame and lifted Jackie to her feet.

“I’ve got you,” he said. “You’re safe, now.”

“He was going to….”

“Yes, I know. But I’ve got you now.”

He started to hug her, but a movement behind him made Jackie gasp and point. He turned to see Mr Fynne standing up from the near knockout blow Christopher had dealt him, then fall down again. When he tried to rise again, his body had transformed into something that was definitely not a native Ogglian.

“What the hell is that?” Jackie asked. The creature looked like a fat yellow slug with a sour face and a tail ending in a sort of barb. It had no legs, but it was slithering towards them threateningly.

“It’s a Mentor, one of the people of the Thoras system,” Christopher said, moving in front of Jackie protectively. “Fynne was a Mentor… which explains quite a lot about all this. Keep back… the barb… it’s venomous.”

“Lovely,” Jackie remarked. Then the former Fynne gave a strangled cry as Joel grabbed it by the neck and threw it over his head, ducking to avoid the flailing barb.

“Help me!” Mentor Fynne cried out in a rasping voice filled with panic. Christopher and Jackie stepped out of the cupboard to see the creature lying on the conveyor belt, heading towards the machine.

“Stop the process,” Christopher said. “We should make sure he gets justice.”

“Stop it how?” Joel asked. “There’s no button or lever. It must be electronic… operated by the computer.”

He was right. There was no way they could stop the conveyor. Christopher tried to reach the Mentor and drag him off, but in his panic he was thrashing about wildly and the venomous barb was too dangerous. He drew back as Mentor Fynne was swallowed by the machine.

A few minutes later Christopher reached to pick up a small, yellowish gem.

“A poor quality, flawed diamond,” he said, dropping it back into the receptacle. “Worthless for anything except costume jewellery.”

“I’m not surprised,” Jackie commented. “Ugly thing that he was.”

“I’m not sure it works that way,” Christopher answered. “I’m not sure I care. Let’s go. I’ll have to explain some things to the Ogglian government – such as why they were so stupid getting involved with the Thorasians in the first place and why Minister Frees should be fired. Then we really ARE going home. Joel… don’t worry. I’ll be letting your boss know how well you’ve looked after me. You won’t be fired for disobeying any orders.”

“Thank you, Christopher… I mean… sir.”

“Christopher, still. We’re not going back to formalities after all this.”

Jackie had a security guard watching over her as she finished the packing. By the time she was finished, Christopher had also finished talking to the Ogglian government. Joel Neo was waiting on the roof to fly them to the spaceport where the TARDIS was parked.

“This is a tip for all the piloting you did,” Christopher said to him, passing over a large envelope before they shook hands and said goodbye. “No protests. You deserve it. By the way, I did some checking. The Thoras Lambdans have been deliberately interfering with the Ogglian economy, blocking your usual trade outlets. With their malice exposed, your government will be free to make new arrangements. Your old industries should be up and running in a few months. The galaxy still needs your glass and steel. Life should get a bit better for everyone. There are also some people out there who can help modernise your systems, get rid of the fossil fuel burning furnaces, get the pollution down. It might actually stop raining here, one day.”

“If that ever happens, it might be nice to visit again,” Jackie promised. “But for now I’ll be glad to get back to England. It rains there, too, but it’s a better class of rain.”