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

Chris Campbell looked at the co-ordinates on the time-space monitor and then frowned deeply as he moved around the wide hexagonal console, the green light from the central core of the time rotor casting animated shadows on his face.

He looked up from his consideration of the potentially dangerous environment to catch the suddenly anxious glance from his wife as she sat on the sofa with their eight year old son, Tilo.

Eight years old was an important age in his mother’s tribe. He would be expected to learn how to ride a paqqu, the long necked equivalent to a horse for Carya’s people, and to use a bow and arrow. He wouldn’t need to take part in a hunt for another four years, which was time enough to discuss the ethics of animal killing with him, but they had set aside three weeks of the summer for Tilo to achieve this first rite of passage.

But the emergency communication that came through even while they were in the vortex between ordinary space and time changed their immediate plans. It had come from another of the small group of Earth born Time Lords who had their own TARDIS and he had not hesitated to answer the call. No TARDIS traveller would have ignored such a signal. Even in the days when Time Lords were numerous and called Gallifrey their home a distress beacon from one of them would be answered immediately.

“It looks like we’re in the middle of a war zone,” he said to the unspoken question conveyed in Carya’s expression. On the big wall mounted screen the blackness of space was illuminated by flashes of actinic light that burst from the weapons arrays of four huge battleships and were aimed at a planet fixed firmly in their sights. The planet was being systematically scorched into oblivion by these attacks. The poles had been vaporised already. The oceans were boiling. Continent sized forests were ablaze. Huge cracks in the bedrock let magma pour out onto once fertile plains.

“Uncle Chris!” The voice that came over the voice communication was surprisingly young. Chris took a moment to recognise it as the twelve year old voice of Tristie junior, son of Tristie Campbell-Gregory and his nineteen-seventies glam rock wife, Trudi - making the boy the great-grandson of his own teenage sister, Sukie, and technically, his great-nephew.

But his complicated family tree was the least of the issues just now.

“Your mum and dad sent the emergency signal?” he asked. “What’s happening? Where are your parents?”

“They’re outside, organising the evacuation. They left me to monitor the communications. I’m glad somebody heard us.”

“You’re down on the planet?” Chris asked. “THAT planet? Who are you evacuating?”

“It’s a long story. But I think you’d better come down alongside. Dad will explain.”

“All right, I’m on my way. But the explanation had better be good.”

He looked at Carya and Tilo. They were still sitting quietly, waiting for him to make a decision.

”If I told you to go to the Zero Room and stay there until everything is quiet, would you go?” he asked.

“No,” Carya answered. “My place is with you. Besides, the TARDIS is safe. You said nothing can get in here.”

“You took us into a volcano to prove it,” Tilo pointed out.

“Yes, I did. Look… if anything happens, the red switch here under the glass panel… it will find Davie in his TARDIS wherever he is. The two of you will be safe.”

His brother had a duplicate switch in his own TARDIS. They had both tried to imagine a situation where their loved ones might use both buttons at the same time. They managed to come up with one or two remote possibilities and added a third option that would contact The Doctor and let him know they were both in peril.

The idea that HE would not be around to watch their backs was too impossible to contemplate.

He matched the landing co-ordinates to the TARDIS on the surface of the planet. It was not an easy landing. The continued thermic bombardment disrupted all the guidance systems, and he knew the final touchdown might only be approximate to the other TARDIS. If they were lucky, they’d be in sight of it.

But the TARDIS landed. He opened the door cautiously, noting that the air outside contained some very noxious elements. It was supposed to be late afternoon, but the sky was thick with smoke that made it permanently dark.

“Run for cover!” a voice called before he even ventured over the threshold into that broiling atmosphere. Trudi Campbell-Gregory, dressed as always in very short shorts and an even shorter t-shirt, ran into the TARDIS carrying two small blue babies. Carya rose from her seat and came to take one of the infants from her as a torrent of blue children poured in after her.

Chris closed his eyes and concentrated on the internal configuration of his TARDIS. It didn’t usually have any large rooms apart from the cloister, but he visualised something with soft furnishings and drinking fountains and then called out to Tilo to open the door that had unobtrusively materialised in the wall near the sofa.

The room was perfect. The torrent of children found places to sit or lie. A crib was conveniently positioned for the two babies. Not that either woman put them down immediately. Blue or otherwise they were still babies and maternal instincts were kicking in.

The torrent slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped. Trudi looked out and then shut the main door.

“That’s the lot from this sector,” she said. “Tristie was ahead of me. He must have reached our TARDIS already. Quick. Hit the fast return switch and get us out of here.”

Chris didn’t usually take orders about where his TARDIS ought to be, but when a bolt of Thermic energy hit the ground close by he decided not to argue.

The TARDIS rematerialised above the planet and the war being inflicted on it. The geo-synchronous position was somewhere between the four great battle cruisers, but even if anyone aboard those ships was monitoring space rather than destroying the planet, there were shields making the TARDIS invisible to most electronic probes. They would not be noticed.

There was a slight jolt and a ‘thunk’ as the other TARDIS joined up with it, then the door opened and Tristie Junior came flying through, tears of panic choked back as he reached his mother.

“Dad wasn’t aboard when the energy bolt hit our TARDIS,” he gulped. “The doors closed automatically. I couldn’t stop the dematerialisation.”

“It’s meant to do that,” Chris assured him. “To protect you and your mum. Linking with the nearest TARDIS is a safety protocol, too. We’ll find your dad in a minute. Just let’s get our bearings. And will somebody explain what’s going on?”

“Are you sure Tristie is all right?” Trudi asked anxiously. “He was bringing one batch of the children to the TARDIS. I thought he’d be there.”

“He brought them, then went back for another lot,” Tristie Junior explained. “Do you think he’ll have taken them back to the caves if he couldn’t reach the TARDIS?”

“Maybe,” Trudi answered uncertainly. “I mean… yes, he must have done that. He wouldn’t stay exposed on the surface. Yes, he must have gone back.”

Her relief was only slight. The fact remained that Tristie Senior was still down there in the path of immediate danger. Still hugging a blue baby, she reached out for her son’s hand. She looked at Chris, hopefully.

“Are these caves magnetic in any way?” he asked. “Because that would explain why I can’t detect him either telepathically or by the TARDIS recognition circuits.”

“Yes,” Trudi immediately replied, hope rising another notch in her worried expression. “That’s why the children were all hidden there in the first place. Away from the transmat beams from the slave ships that took away the rest of the people.”

“I feel as if I know less about this situation with everything I hear,” Chris said. “I understand there isn’t a lot of time to spare but give me a quick digest of it all. Where are we? Whose war is this and how did we get involved in it?”

“This is Lapus Decima,” Tristie junior told him. “About a century ago the government declared war on its twin planet, Lapus Exima. The war was long and bitter, and millions of billions died. But in the end Lapus Exima won.”

“They… won?” Despite many internal and external stabilisers the TARDIS was rocking back and forwards in the cosmic wake caused by the bombardment of the planet. “Then why are they still fighting?”

“They’re not. This is the punishment for starting the war. First, they executed every member of the government and military command, leaving the people leaderless and defenceless. Now Lapus Decima is being stripped of every possible asset- its water, its minerals, all the animals, and the people.”

Chris had a few fleeting thoughts about Nazi clearances of European cities, of Pol Pot’s systematic destruction of Cambodian society, even the devastating intergalactic wars of the Sontarans, the Daleks, the Cybermen. Even those didn’t seem quite so cold-blooded as the destruction of Lapus Decima.

“You mentioned slave ships….”

“They’ve already gone. The people…. The million and a half Decimans left alive after all that… they were all just beamed aboard into huge holds like cattle. At least… the fit and healthy ones were. The old and sick were slaughtered. But the children….”

Despite his surprisingly mature account of the situation, Tristie Junior was a child himself. He choked back tears as he described how the adult population had hidden their children, their pregnant women, and a few chosen guardians in the extensive cave system within the central mountain range before sending out a secret distress call asking for help.

A call that his parents had answered. Perhaps not as huge a response as the desperate people of Lapus Decima had hoped for, but the TARDIS had been a perfect means of getting to the secret entrances to the caves without arousing the attentions of those who would regard children as another asset to be stripped from the planet. They had been systematically rescuing them from a dozen or more concealed entrances to the caves for three frantic days, now.

“We can’t materialise inside the caves because of the magnetism, otherwise we’d be done by now. It’s been really hard work. That’s why dad hoped somebody else might come to help.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner,” Chris told him. “I’ve sent a relay to Davie. Maybe he can get here, too. But let’s see what we can do in the meantime.”

The cave entrances were not marked in any way that those slave ships could have spotted. Neither could the TARDIS. Chris wondered how they could continue the evacuation. Tristie Junior leaned over the drive console and typed in a long co-ordinate.

“The distress call included encrypted details of where the cave entrances were,” he said. “Dad memorised them and then erased the signal right back to its source. He… gave them to me to memorise, too. In case… in case….”

“I’m hopeless at that kind of thing,” Trudi admitted. “I can’t even remember our mobile phone number. So he… he trusted our son with it. He’s… he’s more like Tristie than me… more… more Time Lord than human.”

Again, Tristie had considered the possibility of not making it off this planet. He had wanted to fulfil the mission to save the children of Lapus Decimal even at cost of his own life.

A chip off the old block, The Doctor would say. He had said it often enough about Chris and Davie.

But he wasn’t sure Tristie’s wife and son were appreciating that just now.

The two TARDISes landed together but broke apart to allow the doors to open onto the rocky plateau strewn with rubble and super-heated pumice raining down from the darkened sky. There was no volcano nearby. The pumice had been thrown up hundreds of miles away into what was left of the outer atmosphere before being dropped back down onto the mountainside.

“Nobody goes out there,” Chris ordered. “I’m going to extend the TARDIS’s atmospheric shields as far as the cave entrance. It will deflect that stuff until I get back.”

“Just… cone back,” Carya told him. “Quickly.”

The shields were usually employed in holding back the vacuum of space when the doors were open in orbit, but they proved equally useful in creating a safe tunnel through the dangerous air. The super-heated pumice and red-hot dust created an ominous shell around the artificially created tunnel. If it failed – though that was very unlikely, he reminded himself – death would be painful but quick.

He reached the cave entrance. He immediately turned his sonic screwdriver to penlight mode and surveyed the narrow space. There was a passageway ahead, but it was certainly no tourist attraction with hand rails and steps. He made his way carefully, increasingly aware of the natural magnetism above and around him. It dulled his telepathic nerves until they felt like they were wrapped in cotton wool.

He felt curiously alone. He had felt a psychic connection to his brother all his life. Even now he was used to Tilo’s developing skills and even some of Carya’s thoughts within the confines of the TARDIS.

But it was only a temporary inconvenience to him, and it was more important to find the refugee children inside the mountain.

His first indication of any living being within the passage was a glint of blue skin crouched warily. The slim young man looked unsure whether to fight or run.

“I’m here to help,” Chris promised. “How many are you? How far away? I have a safe space for you, with food and comfort.”

The blue youth looked at Chris’s pale skin that was at least partly inherited from his Scots side of his family. The very strangeness of his appearance convinced the lookout. The enemies they feared were the same colour as they were.

He beckoned to him to follow and disappeared into the tunnel. Chris hurried after him.

The tunnel widened out into a cavern lit by a few oil lamps. In their dim light Chris estimated that some five hundred children and young adults were sitting among boxes of hastily prepared provisions. Few of them talked. A terrible fear of their ultimate fate had set in long ago.

Most of them hadn’t noticed Chris’s arrival. Those that did looked at him without any expectation. One stranger couldn’t rescue them, surely?

Close to the tunnel entrance a young woman stifled a groan. Chris looked closer at her. She was heavily pregnant, possibly in the early stages of labour.

“You’re not going to have your baby here,” he told her. He gently lifted her into his arms. “All of you, come with me. I’ve a better place for you.”

They followed. They didn’t know what else to do. Chris brought them through the narrow caves and then to the shield he had created. Naturally, the children and youths who had already endured so much were nervous about passing through that strange tunnel.

They were even more reticent about entering the doorway into the grey cabinet of a default TARDIS, but they did so. Their surprise when they found comfortable places to rest within was palpable.

Chris brought the pregnant woman to a small, quiet bedroom. Some of her own people took over her care. She would be safe with them, now.

He returned to the console room. Trudi and Tristie had an obvious question for him.

“No, he wasn’t with this group,” he said. “But we’re not giving up, yet.”

Trudi nodded resignedly. There didn’t seem much else to say. She watched as the last of the refugees came into the TARDIS and Chris brought the two ships back into orbit while they considered the next possible rescue attempt.

“It would help if we knew how many more there were,” Chris admitted as he viewed the data that scrolled down his environmental console. He whistled softly.

“You already have one hundred and fifty thousand souls aboard your TARDIS.”

“Dad configured rooms for them all.”

“So I see. By rights the TARDIS should do that, of course. And… since the interior dimensions are virtually infinite, there is no real limit. But I doubt any TARDIS ever had that many passengers. Let me check your life support systems to make sure they can cope.”

“I never thought of that,” Trudi admitted. “I just take the TARDIS for granted… that it can do nearly everything.”

“It’s the NEARLY that’s the problem. You’re ok for now, but your TARDIS could probably do with soaking up some Rift energy for a few days when you get back to Earth. Cardiff in the early twenty-first century is good for that. Take a couple of quiet days in Wales.”

Trudi choked back a sob as she heard this advice. A holiday anywhere would be great, but first they had to find her husband.

“I’m working on it,” Chris assured her. “I’m trying to find a way to negate the magnetism… to make the caves visible to the TARDIS. Its ridiculous to just accept that a machine as powerful as this can be stymied by a bit of geology.”

The geology was showing up on his environmental monitor as a series of folded strata formed millennia ago when the planet was young and uninhabited. He could see the cave system as blank layers with no information to process. He fine tuned the sensors carefully, trying to see into those blanks where, according to Tristie, there were still hundreds, perhaps thousands of souls to be saved.

“How are they allowed to exact such punishments anyway?” he asked as he continued to search for a solution to the invisible cave system. “Surely the Shaddow Proclamation wouldn’t allow it. Murdering the weak, enslaving the rest… the desolation of the whole planet….”

Trudi had given up looking hopelessly at data screens. She and Carya were seeing to the needs of the blue-skinned children aboard both TARDISes, distributing milk and biscuits and bottles of baby formula. Tristie Junior stayed at his side having the sort of man to man conversation he would usually have with his brother.

“This is the Magellanic Galaxy. Nobody here has accepted the terms of the Shaddow Proclamation. They make their own rules. And… they’re cruel and brutal rules… and I wish I’d never heard of the place. I wish… I wish my dad wasn’t so brave and selfless… rushing to help so many other people. I wish he would just look after me and mum like ordinary dads.”

The boy was crying openly. Chris was surprised for a moment, then not so surprised after all. Tristie Junior was intellectually superior to most twelve years old boys, but physically and emotionally he still had a lot of growing up to do.

“My dad fought the Daleks when he was about my age,” Chris said. “I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an ordinary dad.”

He looked at his own son who was sitting on the sofa with half a dozen of the refugee children, teaching them a campfire song of his mother’s tribe. He had brought them into the danger, too. Would there come a time when Tilo might feel the same way about sharing him with the whole universe? His brother, too, with Brenda and the twins, even The Doctor who started the whole ball rolling long ago when he brought his teenage granddaughter with him on his journeys. Had they all been selfish and unthinking? Were they all wrong to bring their families into such peril?

“I just… want him back,” Tristie admitted. “I’m scared that we won’t be able to find him down there and that he’s set up some protocol to get us all away to safety without him. And… I wont even have a chance to tell him… tell him….”

Chris understood that, too. He thought about that switch that was set up to ensure his family would be safe, the same one his brother had. Practicality overrode feelings when they designed those features. They didn’t even think about the emotional impact of it all.

I want him back…” Tristie Junior said again, his worry mixed with a pent up resentment that was almost palpable in the rarefied air of the console room.

Chris watched the boy thoughtfully, then something made him look down at the console.

“Ohhh!” he exclaimed and looked back at the boy again. He was still crying and a whole jumble of strong emotions were pouring through his mind, most of them directed at his father.

“Tristie, you’re doing it,” he said as he watched those blank areas on the schematic start to gain definition. “You’re breaking through to your dad. Concentrate on him as hard as you can. Hold onto how you feel about him… the love… but also how much you hate being second best, how you resent the attention he pays to other people, and how much it scares you that you’ll never have a chance to say sorry for feeling that way.”

Tristie Junior’s tears streamed endlessly. He was hurting deeply. Chris hated having to put him through it. But the hurt was cutting through the very laws of physics and the TARDIS was channelling the raw, painful emotions for its own the ends.

“Dad!” Tristie gave a sudden great gulp of joy even amidst the tears. “Dad…. He’s alive. I can feel him. I can hear his voice. He can hear me.”

“I’ve got a fix on him,” Chris said. “Stand by. I’m disengaging from your TARDIS. It will be easier to get through on our own.”

Carya and Trudi were both in the other TARDIS looking after the refugees.

“Tilo, take your friends into the other console room,” he said. “We’ll be back as quickly as possible.”

There were still several hundred young Decimans in the safe space he had created, but that would only help to show that the rest WERE safe aboard his TARDIS.

Nothing in the universe would compel Tristie Junior to leave his side. Besides, as the main conduit to his father, he might need him there.

The magnetic layer made for a bumpy landing again, but it was a successful one, deep underground in the caves. The monitor registered hundreds of lifesigns in the immediate area, including one with a non-indigenous signature.

Tristie Senior ran inside the TARDIS with children in his arms and on his back. He put most of them down in order to hug his own son and to shake hands warmly with Chris.

“How did you get past the magnetic layer?” he asked. “I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll explain later,” Chris promised. “Or maybe I’ll let your son do that. First, let’s get the rest of these kids aboard.”

Now that they were underneath the magnetic layer the environmental console could find every one of the refugees even though they were spread through a hundred miles of passages and caverns. Rounding them up was easy, now.

It would have been even easier if they could be transmatted aboard, but as Tristie explained, their parents had been taken by the slave ships that way. He didn’t want to frighten them even for a few seconds.

But finally, every lifesign was accounted for. Chris double checked – twice – before heading back to meet the other TARDIS in space.

But another problem faced them there. He knew it as soon as the two ships connected and Trudi ran to embrace her husband and son. The other console room was dimly lit with emergency lighting and a dull tone sounding from a deep distance – the ominous cloister bell telling of imminent disaster.

“The power is failing,” Tristie Senior noted. “How?”

“I think we just discovered the actual limit to how many people can breathe inside a TARDIS without putting a strain on the life support. When I checked earlier, your TARDIS was probably drawing some power from mine. I can let it do that again, now. But I’m worried about whether we can get both TARDISes into the vortex without losing even more power. And we absolutely have to do that, soon. Look at the planet.”

On the big screen the sight of Lapus Decima approaching the limits of its endurance were obvious. The magma rift was spreading fast. It was likely the whole planet might split in two very soon.

Even the Lapus Exima warships were withdrawing from their orbit to save themselves from the apocalypse.

“Thank heavens we got everyone,” Trudi whispered, a sentiment they all shared.

“We could survive the planet breaking up, can’t we?” Tristie Junior asked. “TARDISes are indestructible.”

“On full power, they are,” Chris said. “But as we are…”

He didn’t want to frighten anyone, but there was no use in false hope, either.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted.

Trudi was still holding a baby Deciman and a toddler was hanging onto Tristie’s neck, still, but the family pressed close together, father reaching for son.

“Whatever happens… we’re together,” Trudi said.

“I didn’t mean all the things I was thinking about you,” Tristie Junior told his father, who was puzzled since he didn’t know anything about it. Chris wondered what either would think if they knew it was Tristie Junior’s boiling anger and resentment towards his father that had forced the psychic connection to him rather than mere love and devotion.

It didn’t matter, now. The outburst was over and ordinary family ties bound them together.

Chris looked around to see his own wife and child coming to his side. He echoed Trudi’s sentiment. At this moment, even though he would have wished them safe, he was glad to have them close.

“Though we are far from my world, I should make my prayers to the Sky Gods,” Carya said.

“We really need a miracle from them,” he admitted. “But Tristie and I are scientists. We’ve never really believed in miracles.”

That was certainly true, but just as Lapus Decima reached its critical moment there was a noise they all knew as the sound of a TARDIS materialising, then a brief soft motion. When it was over, the TARDIS door opened onto another console room.

Chris stepped out warily, noting that his and Tristie’s TARDISes were both standing within the cool grey walls of a dome shaped room with a slimline central console. He noted appreciatively the quiet calm of the room. It felt like the peace of the zero room, where it was impossible to be anxious.

“Hello, Uncle Chris,” said a good-looking man of about thirty wearing a white robe trimmed with gold threads. Another man in the same clothes moved from behind the console and greeted him the same way.

Chris was puzzled for a moment, then he recognised the psychic idents of two Time Lord-Human hybrids of his own family tree.


“In my time you’re both kids,” he admitted. “You’ve come here from way into my future. But you’re Peter… The Doctor’s son. And Garrick… his grandson. And… I’m not your uncle. Actually, you’re both MY uncles.”

Peter laughed gently.

“We’re kin, and that’s enough,” he admitted. He smiled warmly as Tristie and his son both stepped out of Chris’s TARDIS. “I’m sorry we didn’t get here sooner, but I’ve been negotiating on your behalf.”

“Negotiating what?” Tristie asked.

“A planet in the Centaurus A sector, newly terraformed for colonisation. There are reception centres set up – mostly tents and camp beds but there’s food and medicine, vaccinations for babies, health checks, even a bit of a school for the older children, a registration process so we can make sure siblings aren’t split up.”

“I hadn’t even thought that far ahead,” Tristie admitted. “I just knew I had to get them all off the planet.”

“A colony of children are going to have a lot of problems, still,” Chris admitted.

“We’re going to try to sort that out, next,” Peter assured him. “Lapus isn’t aligned with the Shaddow Proclamation, but it doesn’t stand alone. It has trade partners. There is pressure that can be applied. We may be able to negotiate the freedom of the Deciman slaves and reunite the families. There is certainly hope.”

“We….” Chris wondered.

“I mean Garrick and I,” Peter said with a gentle smile. “Your work will be done once we reach the new planet and you can give up your passengers.”

Chris thought of the two little boys he knew in his own time and place and wondered when they would grow up to be able to put him in his place so thoroughly.

“I’m glad,” Tristie said. “I did as much as I could. But I have to think of my own family. I put them at risk. I put the lives of others before theirs. I’ve got a lot of making up to do.”

“And I’ve got to get my son to a coming of age ceremony,” Chris admitted. “But it is good to know we’re leaving the Decimans in the hands of another generation of our family.”

He turned and went back into his TARDIS. Carya was waiting to show him the newborn Deciman whose mother he had carried to safety. He was glad to see the healthy baby whose future was now secure, but it was more important just now to hug his own wife and son and feel that their future was certain.

Nearby, Tristie did the same.