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

Davie looked across his TARDIS console at his sister. Sukie was sitting quietly on the sofa. Too quietly. They were on the way to a race meeting and usually she was hyper-excited.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, locking off the drive control and coming to her side.

“I had a row with mum and dad last night… and this morning.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Davie responded. He put his arm around her in a big brotherly way. “Oh, Sukie, no. You NEVER race on a row. It’s the worst possible thing.”

“I know. I didn’t want to….” There were tears pricking her eyes. That was something he rarely saw. Racing car drivers didn’t cry.

But she was also a teenager, barely eighteen.

“What was it about?” he asked.

“I told mum and dad I wanted to get a place of my own… a flat. Dad went ballistic. Mum started crying…. It was horrible.”

“I can imagine. Chris and I have our own lives. They want to hang onto you as long as possible. Mum, especially. You’re still her baby.”

“But I’m not. She has to understand that. I want to be a grown up.”

“It’s not all its cracked up to be, growing up,” Davie told her. “All that responsibility. Look at me. I look ten years older than I should be.”

“You ARE ten years older than you should be with all your time-travelling,” Sukie answered.

“That’s beside the point, especially for mum. But I’m not going to let you race with these things on your mind. I’m going to bring us back home. We’ll talk to mum and dad without tears on either side and then get back to Brands Hatch with nothing to worry about except making a good start to the racing season.”

Sukie smiled and nodded. Davie kissed her quickly on the forehead, then stood and went back to the console. He cancelled their destination at the start of the 2021 Touring Car Championships and set the fast return switch for home in the twenty-third century.

That should have been a simple manoeuvre. He didn’t expect the sudden lurch sideways that tipped him off his feet or the horrible noises coming from under the console. If they had been coming from a car engine he would be nursing it into the pits at two miles an hour. What it meant while they were in the time-space vortex didn’t bear thinking about.

Then he felt the TARDIS drop out of the vortex, making that problem academic. They were materialising SOMEWHERE.

“Sukie… are you all right?” he called out as the TARDIS came to a halt with the floor at an uncomfortable angle. He pulled himself upright and operated the ‘shremec’ function, levelling out the floor but leaving the door skewed awkwardly.

“I’m… fine,” his sister replied. She stood up nursing a bruised elbow as he examined the emergency data. “Where are we?”

“Early twenty-first century… like we wanted. But… we’re not in England.”

Sukie began to ask the obvious question, but he was interrupted when the TARDIS suddenly dropped vertically what felt like several feet.

“What happened?” Sukie asked.

“I think we materialised in a tree,” Davie answered. “Then fell out of it. Still got all your fingers and toes?”

“My nerves are a bit stretched,” Sukie admitted. “Is there a problem with the TARDIS engines? They don’t sound good.”

“No, they don’t,” Davie admitted. “I need to do a full reboot. That means we’re going nowhere for at least forty-eight hours, and life support will be offline for most of it. We’re going to have to evacuate the TARDIS temporarily.”

“Ok….” Sukie looked at the viewscreen. All she could make out was broken branches. But she could hear a voice calling out urgently.

“We’d better go outside,” Davie suggested. The door was even more skewed, now. He opened it manually then helped Sukie over the awkward threshold before following her.

“Hello, are you all right?” asked a man with a broad Scottish accent. “Lucky escape. That was a nasty crash.”

Davie looked back to see his TARDIS disguised as a light aircraft with its wing caught up in the tree debris. They looked like survivors of an ordinary accident.

“Are we in Scotland?” Sukie asked.

“Good heavens, you must have a bad concussion, young lady,” the Scotsman told her. “Scotland is a long way off. You came down in the Costa Rican rain forest.”

“We’re lucky to find you, then,” Davie remarked. “Do you have a camp or something? My sister is in need of a strong cup of tea.”

“She certainly is,” the Scotsman agreed. “Come along. It’s not far.”

The chances of finding people – and English speaking people at that - in the midst of a vast wilderness were astronomical. Davie wondered if the malfunctioning TARDIS had deliberately brought them into proximity of human help or if it was a huge coincidence.

He felt strongly it was the former, and was glad of it.

Sukie may well have had a slight concussion. She was surprisingly jumpy as they walked through the dense forest at what looked like near nightfall with deep shadows spreading rapidly. She clung to her brother’s arm as a shrieking noise rang out in the tree canopy.

“Just howler monkeys,” their host said. “They’re settling down for the night. They like to make a bit of noise about it.”

“You’re… a naturalist of some kind?” Davie asked, trying to work out why a Scotsman was in the rainforest.

“Angus Drummond, slightly famous as a wildlife film maker. Not so well known as Attenborough.”

“Davie Campbell, slightly famous as a racing driver. Not so well known as Vettel,” Davie replied. “My sister, Sukie, who might well be more famous than either of us in a few years.”

“Pleased to meet you both, though I’m sure you’d prefer better circumstances,” Angus said. “Here we are.”

The camp was quite large, with six big tents including one used as a mess and general social area. Sone expensive looking cameras and sound equipment were stored under a separate canvas.

The camp was in a clearing beside an impressive pre-Columbian ruin almost hidden by vines creeping up and around the ancient stonework.

Three people were waiting in the mess tent. One of them, a woman, came to Angus with an anxious look.

“Sorry, Alice. No sign of them. But I found these two in need of some home comforts. It was their plane that we heard coming down.”

“Good grief,” Alice answered with a softer Scottish accent. She reached out to take Sukie’s hand. “What an ordeal. Come on, you need tea.”

Tea was the good old Scottish solution to any problem, of course. Sukie allowed Alice to fuss over her as she prepared the refreshments. Davie turned to Angus questioningly.

“You’ve got people missing?”

“Two of our crew, Ruth Anderson, our big cat expert and Mike Devine, our number one cameraman. They’re late back from filming a pair of jaguars. We’ve had a dusk curfew in place for safety.”

“Jaguars are nocturnal, aren’t they?” Davie noted. “Shouldn’t filming them START now, not finish?”

Angus didn’t answer that. Instead, he introduced Davie to the other two members of the team, Phil Bayliss and Finn Dawson, an expert in tropical insects and small mammal specialist, respectively. Alice, as well as understanding the restorative properties of tea, was the team’s ornithologist.

“Phil is the odd man out,” Angus said good naturedly. “He’s American. He claims to have a quart of Scots immigrant blood in him, but we’re not wholly convinced.”

That was obviously a joke amongst the team. Davie smiled accordingly.

“Despite the accent, my father is a proud Campbell of Dumfries and doesn’t let any of us forget it,” he said.

“Then you’re fine,” Angus assured him. Davie accepted a strong, hot cup of sweet tea from Alice and a packet of biscuits from Finn. He felt as if he was in good company, at least. He was a little worried about the TARDIS, and a little more worried about Sukie in the aftermath of their crash, but they were safe.

It was the two missing naturalists that everyone was worried about. They were very late.

“Don’t you have any kind of radio contact?” Davie asked. “All the equipment you have… I would have thought.…”

“We’ve had a problem with the radio ever since we set up camp,” Phil explained. “It won’t work until we’re so close we could just shout. I’ve checked the antennae, everything. It’s just not working.”

“The real worry is we can’t radio for help if anyone has an accident,” Angus added. “That’s just one reason why this expedition is a big problem.”

“Dare I ask what other problems you have?” Davie inquired. The problem with the radio puzzled him. There shouldn’t be anything in a place like this to interfere with transmissions. But if there was something unusual, it might explain why the TARDIS was brought down in this otherwise random place.

“The wildlife,” Finn Dawson answered him. “We can’t find most of it. There should be two big cat species around here – jaguars and pumas. There hasn’t been a sign of them. Same with the larger herbivores like the tapirs. The canopy dwellers like the monkeys are fine. But everything that should be moving around on the ground… isn’t.”

“It’s… the right season and everything?” Davie queried. He wasn’t quite sure what the right season would be for jaguars, pumas and tapirs, or if there even was one in a sub-tropical rainforest. Besides, these people were the experts. If they thought something was wrong, then it almost certainly was.

“We’ve been here twice before,” Alice explained. “This was a follow up to a programme we made three years ago. We’re camped in the same place, we’ve looked at the same habitats where we found the animals before. It makes no sense that none of them are around.”

“You understand that we’re telling you all this because we’ve told it to each other until we’re blue in the face,” Angus added. “Telling it to somebody else is… therapeutic.”

“I understand,” Davie assured him. As he began to form another question the whole team were startled by a sudden uproar among the howler monkeys. For a troop about to settle down to sleep the monkeys were very agitated. For a group of wildlife experts the humans were very unnerved by the monkeys. Phil reached for a rifle, possibly loaded with tranquilisers, but still a rifle. Angus told him to leave it until they were sure. He left it reluctantly. Davie looked at the fear in his eyes and thought it was more than an American ‘shoot first’ mentality and more to do with a genuine concern about what might be upsetting the monkeys.

When the two missing members of the team arrived in the camp the relief was on many levels. But when they sat down to tell their story it added a new level of concern.

“We didn’t even see tracks down by the river,” Ruth, the big cat expert, said. “The jaguars haven’t been there to feed for at least a week. And what we did find....”

She looked as if she was going to be sick. Mike Devine carried on the story. He illustrated it with digital playback of the footage he had taken on the river. Everyone looked a little sick as they saw the freshly eviscerated carcass of what Angus confirmed as a bull shark.

“The river here has sharks?” Sukie asked in all innocence.

“Bull sharks are known to live in fresh or salt water all over the world,” Davie told her. “I’ve seen them on wildlife documentaries.” He looked at the team around him. “I think the documentaries were from these folks, right here. And what’s scaring them is that the sharks are the top of the food chain in the river, even fiercer than the local crocodiles.”

Around the table the naturalists nodded quietly.

“So, you’re all wondering what could do this to a shark.”

Again, the quiet nods. Davie looked at them all thoughtfully. These were people who knew about wildlife, about animal behaviour. They weren’t likely to panic or give in to fanciful ideas about what was out there in the dark.

They really were afraid of something new and frightening.

Ruth gave a stifled sob. She was a wildlife expert. She had seen nature’s food chain in all its gruesome aspects, but now she was crying.

“It’s… not because it was an ugly sight,” she admitted. “It’s… When I saw the dead shark, I was relieved… because it wasn’t the jaguars. They’re wild, dangerous animals, but when I filmed them I couldn’t help admiring them… and I’m glad they weren’t killed by whatever it is out there. But… the shark is a magnificent creature, too, and it didn’t deserve to be ripped to pieces.”

She knew she wasn’t quite making sense. She knew, too, that she was betraying the first principle of wildlife film making – emotional detachment from the reality of a kill or be killed world.

But nobody blamed her. They all felt that the rules had been thrown out.

As her tears subsided and Alice pressed a second cup of revitalising tea into her hands, Mike Devine stood up.

“I’m on chef duty tonight,” he said brightly. “How do you two new arrivals feel about corn beef hash?”

Neither Davie nor Sukie had any objections to that supper menu. Mike went to get on with the cooking. The others settled down to various evening tasks like checking their equipment, writing up log books of the expedition. Sukie sat next to Angus Drummond and helped him to clean the lenses of a very expensive still camera.

“I know a bit about electronics,” Davie said. “I could have a look at your radio. As a way of earning my share of the corned beef hash.”

That was an acceptable arrangement. He was shown where the state of the art satellite radio transmitter and receiver was set up. He listened carefully to the static that replaced any form of reception, even pop music channels, and clearly blocked any outward transmission. His only conclusion was that something was coming between the radio and the satellite it was meant to connect to.

Either that or the satellite wasn’t there, which seemed very unlikely.

“Never mind, lad,” Angus told him. “You tried. Besides, with any luck we’ll be sorted in a day or so. With us not making contact, somebody should come looking for us. Or maybe they’ll come for you and your sister when you don’t arrive at your destination. Between us we’re all famous enough for somebody to worry about us, eh?”

“You could be right,” Davie agreed, matching Angus’s optimistic smile. Of course, he and Sukie could leave in a few days anyway - once the TARDIS engines had recycled up again. In theory, he COULD take the whole team with him, but that could lead to a lot of questions he didn’t want to answer. He had more or less made up his mind to stick with them until help came for them or until their odd situation was resolved.

The hash was cooked in good time. Everyone gathered to eat. The food refreshed flagging spirits, but the conversation took rather dark directions as everyone speculated about the nature of the predator that had apparently driven away the established top feeders of the area. They ruled out various large cats and wild dogs as well as a new and more vicious type of crocodile. Then their minds wandered to even more unlikely suspects.

The term ‘predator’, of course, simply meant an animal that killed and ate other animals. Finn, the arachnid specialist of the team, could name a dozen spiders and insects in the rainforest that were vicious predators in the leaf litter.

But that didn’t stop any of them turning their minds to a Predator with a capital ‘P’ that was the subject of a series of lurid gore-fest films they had all seen at some point in their lives.

Their theories about what was out there in the jungle also turned to central American folklore. They mulled over El Culebrón, a giant anaconda with the head of a cow that swallowed its prey whole, El Chupacabra, a giant spiny reptile known to suck the blood of its prey and even Yacumama, another terrifying serpent, quickly ruled out because it belonged in the sea, not the jungle.

“The shark wasn’t swallowed whole or sucked dry,” Ruth pointed out. “Nor was it skinned alive like in those films. Something ELSE is out there.”

“Enough,” Angus insisted. “Nobody else is to mention bad films by the former Governor of California or any form of Central American cryptid. We need to get to sleep tonight without nightmares. Break out the Trivial Pursuit box and we’ll see which one of us is the brainiest and then we get to our beds.”

It was a good plan. The game took everyone’s minds off the subject for a time. When they were all yawning Angus sent Sukie with the two women to one of the sleeping tents and Davie joined the men. The camp beds were relatively comfortable and sleep came easily to everyone.

But they had barely had three hours sleep before they were roused by terrible noises. The howler monkeys were absolutely frantic, of course, but beyond them was something that none of the wildlife experts could identify. It was not just a roar. It was a howl as well, the sound changing up in tone and lengthening inexorably.

Everyone came from their beds with powerful torches. Mike set up camera lights and shone them into the dense undergrowth. Nobody could see anything, but the spine-chilling roar continued unabated.

“Everyone into the mess tent,” Angus ordered. “Safety in numbers.”

“We should be armed,” Phil protested. “Whatever that is… if it comes into the camp….”

“All right,” Angus conceded. “But tranquilisers only. It’s possible this is a unique species… something never recorded before. We shouldn’t be the ones to kill it.”

As the tired but alert team gathered together and somebody got the kettle on for unscheduled coffee, Davie wondered about that remark. He knew of many unique species in the known universe. Some of them had to be killed for the sake of every other species. And how far would Angus go to protect this fearsome creature? Would he risk the lives of his team for it?

“It sounds like it’s in the clearing by the main drag,” Mike said. “The place where we observed most of the large mammals last time.”

“That makes sense,” Ruth agreed. “It would have followed the scent trails….”

She stopped talking as the roar broke out again. It was impossible to think about ordinary things like scent trails when something so extraordinary was happening.

“What is stopping it… whatever it is… from coming into the camp?” Sukie was the one who asked the question, but it must have occurred to everyone that canvas walls were precious little defence against something that could rip a shark to pieces.

“We have lights all around,” Angus answered. “Animals don’t usually come near bright lights.”

“Is that all?” That was the question Davie wanted to ask but didn’t. In the back of his mind he was thinking that he could have made an electronic shield to surround the camp if his TARDIS was operational. He could protect everyone.

“I’ve got night vision cameras set up out there at the clearing,” Mike said, bringing them back to an earlier point. “They work on motion sensors. Anything comes close…. We might actually have film of… whatever it is.”

“I suppose there’s no chance those cameras are remote linked to the computers in here?” Davie asked. At least if they knew what was making the terrible noise it might help. The worst thing about their situation was the unknown nature of the roaring creature.

“They ought to be,” Mike answered. “But we’ve got the same interference with the camera feeds that we’ve had with the radio.”

“You are NOT going out there to those cameras,” Angus ordered. “Nobody is leaving this camp. Not until daylight, when we can see what’s around us and can watch each other’s backs.”

Nobody argued. The roaring sound was visceral. It chilled the hearts of all who listened to it.

And it went on and on throughout the hours before dawn. Nobody even thought about sleeping. The idea that something was out there – something that could attack any of them in the camp, stole sleep from them. They drank coffee and talked and listened to the sound of the mysterious creature roaring in the night.

At last dawn broke, and with the daylight came relief. The roaring stopped. The birds were singing in the trees. The howler monkeys chattered in the same green canopy.

“It… must have gone to ground,” Ruth suggested. “It’s nocturnal… it’s sleeping, now.”

“Maybe not. Maybe it just moved away. It could come back.”

“I need the camera data,” Mike said. He took the air rifle Phil had loaded with tranquiliser darts during the night.

“I’ll come with you,” Davie said. “Give me the gun. I’ll watch your back.”

“No!” Sukie protested. “You can’t…”

“I can, and I should,” he answered. “Don’t worry. We’ll be back in no time.”

It had been a long time since he had held any kind of gun – not since the Dominator war – but he hadn’t forgotten what to do. He held the rifle with a professionalism that raised eyebrows around the wildlife team, but none of them objected to him going with Mike.

Sukie turned and looked away as he left the camp site. She didn’t want her last sight of her beloved brother to be his back.

Davie was cautious as he moved through the rainforest, listening out for anything out of the ordinary, though he wasn’t absolutely sure what was ‘ordinary’. Mike was clearly nervous, but he was determined to get to his cameras.

“Good grief, what went on here?” he asked as they reached the clearing where several animal paths were known to cross. The ground looked as if it had been pounded over and over by something heavy and enraged. Every blade of grass, every plant was crushed. Tree trunks at the edge of the clearing were clawed so badly that the bark was almost entirely ripped to shreds.

“Get what you need from the cameras and let’s get back to camp,” Davie said. He turned slowly, scanning the undergrowth beyond the clearing for any movement. He was ready to shoot anything that didn’t belong to the flora and fauna of Costa Rica.

Mike didn’t need the whole cameras. They were fixed firmly in place, in any case. What he needed was the solid state recording medium from each of the four cameras, replacing them with clean medium for further recordings. He stored them carefully and was ready to leave. Davie had no desire to investigate further. They both set off back to the camp and the feeling, illusory as it might be, that they were safe there.

Ruth made more coffee while Mike transferred the digital recordings from the four cameras to his computer. Everyone moved into position to see the laptop screen as he ran the video programme.

They were night images with colours washed out and any living creature that triggered the recordings appearing to have glowing eyes. The first such creature was a small mammal easily identified as a coati that scurried up into the tree canopy very quickly.

Then something else triggered the motion sensor. Everyone stared at the creature that slithered past three different cameras placed at different angles around the clearing.

“It can’t be a snake that size,” Angus declared. “It’s not possible. And don’t anyone mention El Culebrón.”

But if it wasn’t a mythical giant anaconda, nobody was sure what it was.

“Wait… is that a leg?” As the creature came close to the fourth camera angle its appearance seemed to be changing. It wasn’t slithering, but heaving itself up on new legs. It collapsed twice, then pulled itself up again.

It had a tail at first, but when it circled the clearing and came into view of the first camera again the tail had shrunk into a vestigial stump. Soon that, too, was gone.

“It’s… like watching a tadpole become a frog… except in a matter of minutes,” Alice said as they noted the way the body had changed, with a neck and separate head forming. The once smooth, snakelike skin was now scaly like a reptile.

“It’s shapeshifting,” Davie commented. “Trying to find the optimum form. I don’t think it’s done, yet.”

“But what IS it?” Ruth asked. “I’ve never seen anything that can do that. At least not that quickly… and nothing that big. Animal metamorphosis… usually its only small creatures… mostly insects.”

Davie thought he knew, but he didn’t know if he should mention his theory. Not yet.

“Nothing CAN do that,” Finn remarked. “Nothing from THIS planet.”

The others reacted predictably to that suggestion. They railed against the idea that the creature they were looking at was alien. Whatever it was, as unusual as it was, it had to be part of the ordinary, terrestrial fauna of the rainforest.

They just didn’t know how that could be.

“It IS alien,” Davie said in a quiet but firm voice that silenced them all for a moment. Now that the idea of an alien lifeform had been broached, he knew there was no point in holding back. “Nothing on this planet does what you’ve seen on those videos. It IS exactly what you all KNOW in your hearts.”

“No!” Angus Drummond replied to him angrily. “No. I won’t have it. My life has been dedicated to the natural history of this planet… to its careful documenting and protection. Now you’re making a mockery of that work – a stranger who only arrived here by accident – spinning some kind of silly alien story to make us look fools.”

“Sir…” Davie began, but Angus was not listening. He didn’t believe in alien monsters and he wasn’t having anyone telling him otherwise.

“Please, stop shouting,” Sukie pleaded. “Please, Mr Drummond. Don’t be angry at Davie. You… you sound so much like our dad. And he was angry when I saw him last, and I might never see him again And I can’t bear it.”

Her tears startled Angus into silence. He looked at her with a softer expression.

Davie wondered for a moment if his sister was the world’s greatest actress, putting on a show of being a tearful little girl. But all he felt from her was genuine grief. Besides, Angus DID sound like their father. His rage had been all the more painful for that very reason.

“Mr Drummond,” Sukie said in the lengthening silence. “Davie isn’t just a racing car driver. He knows about lots of other things… including monsters. Please listen to him.”

Angus turned back to Davie, only half convinced to listen, but at least prepared to go that halfway.

“I don’t know the species exactly,” Davie admitted. “But it is something with phenomenal powers of regeneration. It may have been fatally injured when it arrived here. Perhaps only a fragment of living tissue… a few cells. But it was able to regenerate that tissue, build a new body. It must have been near the river. Its first form seems to have been amphibian. Maybe it ate fish… small ones at first… then the shark. That gave it enough energy to start shaping itself into something better able to survive in the rainforest. The process wasn’t easy. The creature thrashed about in agony all night. You saw the evidence of that on the cameras.”

“It was in pain?” Ruth queried. “That’s why there was so much noise?”

“Yes,” Davie answered. “But… I don’t think you should feel sorry for it. We’re still talking about a top predator, and everyone in this camp is in danger from it. When it has rested from its ordeal, it will need to feed again… and since all the bigger animals have sensed the danger and moved away we’re the main source of protein in its sights.”

“Ohh!” Neither of the two women were squeamish, but having it put so baldly alarmed them.

“I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. And you have to let me deal with this. It doesn’t matter if you believe its alien or not. Just believe that its dangerous… and I can help you.”

“You mean… by killing it?” Phil asked.

“Yes. It will probably come to that,” Davie answered. “Understand, this is not something you can make documentaries about. It can’t be shipped off to a zoo for further studies. It’s not a part of this ecosystem. If you want your jaguars and pumas and everything else back where it belongs, if you want the rainforest to go on existing, if you want the city of San José to have people in it, then I need to kill this creature.”

“Then… you’d better do it,” Alice said in a tremulous voice. “He’s right, Angus. This isn’t something we know how to deal with.”

The others reluctantly agreed. Watching those sinister images repeating on the computer screen helped convince them, but it was Davie’s strong words that clinched the matter.

“You’re going out there alone?” Sukie asked him as he checked and loaded one of the real semi-automatic rifles the team had in case of serious emergencies. She didn’t like to see him carrying the gun. It wasn’t how she wanted to see him.

It wasn’t how she wanted to have to remember him.

“I’ll be all right,” he promised, reaching to hug her quickly. “You know I will. It’s just one creature. I’ve dealt with much bigger odds.”

“It only takes one.”

“Trust me. Stay with these people. They’ll look after you if….”

“It’s the ‘if’ I’m worried about. Just….”

She would have said ‘be careful’, but ‘careful’ didn’t run in their veins. She knew that. She let him go. He turned and left the tent. Again, Sukie didn’t watch him go.

Angus Drummond did. Then he unlocked a box and took out a pistol. He loaded it and slipped it into his belt.

“Don’t worry, lass,” he said to Sukie. “I’ll watch his back.”

“I’ll watch ours,” Phil added as Angus left. He selected another gun and loaded it with live rounds. Sukie sat down with a worried sigh. She had seen three men load guns in the past few minutes. That was more guns than she had ever seen in one place. It was three more guns than she wanted to see at any time.

Davie had crossed the clearing where Mike’s cameras were set up when Angus caught up with him.

“I don’t know what I believe about all this alien malarkey, but there is certainly something dangerous out here and I can’t leave a half-Sasanach to handle it alone.”

Davie laughed softly.

“The accent is from London, but believe me, my other half is NOT Sasanach.”

“Well, anyway… what are you doing?”

Davie was checking the air with his sonic screwdriver before picking a trail.

“There’s something I really didn’t want to have to mention to you lot,” he said. “The creature we saw metamorphosing… I doubt that was its final form.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because it didn’t get here floating down on a leaf. It had a space ship. The ship is somewhere around here. It’s the cause of your satellite problems. Some kind of electronic radiation, I’m guessing. Not dangerous, just very disruptive. But that’s not the point. The point is….”

“An animal didn’t land a spaceship here,” Angus guessed. “You’re saying this thing’s final, evolved form is intelligent.”


“You’re looking for an alien capable of thinking… and you’re planning to kill it.”

“Only if it threatens this planet. If it’s prepared to see reason, get back in its ship and get out of this solar system, then fine. If not… then… it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to make that sort of decision.”

“You’re saying that between racing your cars, you’re some sort of alien hunter, saving Earth from bug eyed monsters.”

“Very few of them are bug eyed,” Davie answered. “But… yes.”

“That’s the bit that’s hard to believe.”

“I know. You’ve just got to take that bit on faith.”

Angus may not have been prepared to do that, but he was, at least, prepared to follow his lead.

He wasn’t completely surprised to discover that his lead brought him to the river where the rapidly purifying remains of the bull shark was an unpleasant sight and smell.

“I was right. This is where it landed,” Davie confirmed. “The ship is around here, somewhere.”

“There’s nothing here,” Angus contradicted him. “Only the hide the team built to try to watch animals coming to drink from the river.”

Davie had noticed the artificial rock formation covered in a net of drab artificial leaves. What he was looking for was camouflaged, too, but in a far more sophisticated way.

“There,” he said, pointing to what seemed, at first, to be nothing more than a muddy part of the riverbank. Angus looked sceptical, then he gave a sudden gasp. He had seen the very slight distortion in the air.

“It’s bloody well invisible!” he exclaimed. An invisible spaceship!”

“Not for long,” Davie replied. He adjusted his sonic screwdriver and aimed at the shimmer. Slowly a strange looking craft resolved itself. For a heart-shopping moment Davie thought it was a Sontaran landing craft, but the sphere was much smaller and the surface had a greenish-copper patina, not the silver of the Sontar battle fleet.

“Is that big enough for the thing we saw on the cameras?” Angus asked.

“You’d be surprised how much space ship can fit inside a small exterior shell,” Davie answered, though he pretty much agreed with Angus’s assessment. The capsule WAS small.

He made another adjustment to his sonic and aimed again. He expected some kind of door. Instead the capsule cracked open like an egg to reveal a very cramped interior.

An empty interior. Both men had expected the creature to be inside, sleeping through the day ready for further nocturnal activity.

Davie moved closer. He examined the remnants of what should have been a cushioned section that would mould around the creature’s body and protect it from the rigours of space travel. There were signs of an intense fire that destroyed much of the material and almost certainly the body within.

That explained why the rapid regeneration was necessary. Only a being with that ability to regrow from fatally damaged tissue could have survived the impact at all.

He examined the controls. They were burnt and melted. Navigation must have been wildly affected, almost certainly causing the crash.

The hard drives containing the flight log and mission status were the only undamaged parts. Davie used his sonic as a screwdriver combined with a precision soldering tool to jury rig a limited playback. He listened to the information carefully. The language was one he had never heard before, but that didn’t matter, of course. He understood everything.

He understood that they had all read the situation completely wrongly.

The jury-rigged feedback collapsed in a shower of sparks and arcing electricity. The last remnants of power in the capsule failed.

“What happened?” Angus asked. “My ears just popped.”

“The signal that’s been interfering with all your communications and electronic media has burnt out. You’ll be able to use your radio now. But….”

Davie stopped speaking. He could feel Sukie’s voice in his head. The signal had been interfering with telepathic communication, too, and he hadn’t even realised. Now he felt her calling to him in distress.

“Come on,” he said. “We have to get back to the camp. Something is wrong there.”

The two men hurried as fast as they dared over uneven and sometimes hidden undergrowth.

The body of the humanoid with pale yellow mottled skin lying in front of the mess tent was the obvious cause of Sukie’s distress. Yellow-green blood poured from the large exit wound at the back of the elongated skull while a small hole through the being’s single eye was the obvious entry point of the fatal bullet.

Phil Bayliss sat with the gun in front of him, a stunned expression on his face as he breathed deeply and tried not to give in to the urge to throw up.

“He… didn’t harm any of us. He just… appeared at the tent,” Ruth said between sobs. She and Alice were both crying openly. Finn looked as if he was just holding back from joining them out of some old-fashioned notion that men should be emotionally strong. “I think he was trying to talk to us… but we didn’t understand the words.”

“If they were words,” Mike pointed out. “It was still… more or less… like growling or grunting. We couldn’t know… not for certain.”

But his justification for his friend’s reaction lacked conviction.

,“They WERE words,” Sukie insisted. “They weren’t very clear, as if he was still learning to speak. But he… he said ‘help’. And instead we shot him.”

“He’ and ‘him’ – not it. The difference in pronouns was obvious.

“I shot him. Not… not all of us.” Phil admitted. “I’m… sorry. I didn’t think… I saw… something….”

“Something new and different,” Angus said. “The very thing we’ve all spent our lives looking for.”

“I didn’t see that,” Phil added. “I just saw something that threatened us all.”

“Except he wasn’t a threat,” Davie said quietly. “We were all wrong about that, especially me.”

He unloaded the rifle he had taken with him to the river. Angus did the sane with the pistol, then took the rifle Phil had used and did the same. He left all the disarmed weapons on the table.

“I suppose I must take some of the responsibility,” Davie continued. ‘I emphasised the danger. I talked about destroying a threat. I saw the animal behaviour of the evolving creature and took it as wanton aggression. But a hungry animal killing for food shouldn’t surprise any of us. Ruth… you must have seen your jaguars kill. Alice… you know how it’s a bird eat bird world. Finn, your small mammals aren’t against decimating the even smaller mammal population. Phil… your insect world is murder in miniature.... you all know the law of the jungle… or the rainforest in this cases . I know it as well as you do. But I still thought an animal that could catch and kill a bull shark was vicious... not just hungry.”

He paused. Around the table they all understood what he was saying.

“I also forgot that the animal behaviour of the regenerating creature was not necessarily a reflection of its final, evolved form… any more than primitive man chewing on the raw meat of a sabre tooth resembles us eating Mike’s corn beef hash. I forgot that after the night long ordeal of rebuilding his body he might have other needs.”

“We didn’t forget,” Angus admitted. “We didn’t even consider the possibility.

“We were too busy thinking about El Culebrón and El Chupacabra… and Predator,” Mike added. “It never occurred to us that what we had was… E.T.?”

Such a benign image of an alien really brought the tragedy home to them all. Nobody could quite look anyone else in the eye. Phil just shook his head over and over.

“Well, perhaps not quite so endearing,” Davie remarked. “But… you might as well know, he’s actually less different than you think. His mission was to find out about new species of fauna on unknown planets.”

“You mean he was a sort of… space travelling naturalist?”

“Pretty much.”

Again, everyone looked at each other. The phrase ‘what have we done’ ran through all their minds, though nobody said it.

Then Sukie gave a soft sigh and slid from her seat. She ran to the side of the stricken alien. She helped him to stand. Everyone stared.

“He’s… not dead?” Phil asked. “I didn’t kill him.”

“He WAS dead, and you DID kill him,” Davie told him. “You need to work that out with your own conscience. But, again, certain details were forgotten… like his species’ regenerative abilities.”

“His name is… Gav,” Sukie said. “Or at least that’s the closest to it in English. And… he needs.…”

“A cup of strong coffee,” Alice said. “Yes… I understood him. It was a bit garbled, but no worse than my uncle Gordon from Inverness when he has a few drinks down him and recites poetry in Highland dialect.”

Angus poured the coffee. Mike found clothes for what was, after all, a naked alien being - a T-shirt with a BBC Earth logo on it and a pair of shorts. By the time he was decently clothed and fortified with coffee everyone was starting to stare a lot less and understand his words better.

“You’re in the same line of work as us?” Finn asked as Gav’s language improved enough to be understood without Alice translating. “You study animals.”

Gav answered in the affirmative.

“Well… why don’t we get him on the team?” Mike suggested. “We’re meant to be here for three months, anyway. And when we go… well, we’ve all talked about a permanent base here, recording animal behaviour through all the seasons. Gav could do that.”

Everyone could think of problems with the idea, but they could also think of ways around them. They hammered out the basis of a plan. They had three months to work out the details.

Sukie and Davie didn’t have that long. The TARDIS engine had recycled up to full power. The next morning, they made their farewells. If anyone had wondered about HOW they were going to leave, in what appeared to be a crashed aeroplane, they had learned their lesson and kept their questions to themselves.

“The jaguars came back to their feeding grounds,” Sukie reported as Davie set their destination for Brands Hatch. “Everything is getting back to normal for them all.”

“I’m glad. Now we’ll get back to OUR normal. Race, first, since we’ve been so long on the journey. Then home to talk to mum and dad. I’ve got an idea to solve your problem and stop all the arguments. Just call me the best big brother in the whole universe.”

“You’re the best brother in the whole universe,” Sukie confirmed.