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

Tilo Campbell, the only eight year old in the Cielo tribe with a surname, had proved himself worthy of taking part in the First Initiation along with all the boys of that age born in the village. He had been among the top five archers firing their arrows at the wicker and straw targets. He had accurately launched stones from a slingshot at moving targets hurled into the air by the Keeper of Initiations. He could run and jump and climb with the best. He could ride a paqqu with nothing but a cloth for a saddle and simple reins just as well as those who had begun to ride as soon as they could walk.

None of which stopped Carya being more than a little nervous about the next phase of the Initiation.

This was a six-day trip by Paqqu over the semi-arid plains that covered most of the planet. Only two Elders would oversee the boys as they found their direction by the sun, made camp, prepared food for themselves and everything else his father, Chris, never really did at eight years of age because his parents didn't want him or his brother to join the scouts and risk being exposed as aliens.

One of the Elders going on the trip was Tilo's grandfather, the Keeper of Rites and chief Elder of the village. Tilo was pleased about that. He had a whole extended family on Earth, going back as far as The Doctor on one side and to Granddad Robert on the other, and going forward into the future with Tristie and Trudy and their son, Tristie Junior, who was a regular playmate. But visiting his Cielo family was important to the boy, and time spent with his grandfather was very special.

"I wish I was going with them," Chris admitted when he and Carya rose before dawn to see their boy off on his journey. "I haven’t seen nearly enough of this planet. I'd like to explore it with them."

"That’s your way of saying you want to keep a watch over Tilo,” Carya told him. “But not this time. Our son must be without your guidance. He must make his own choices."

"You think I'm too protective of him?" Chris asked with a wry smile.

"No more than I am," Carya answered. "He is our most precious gift. But Cielo boys do not cling to their mothers. It is not our way with sons."

Nevertheless, she hugged Tilo lovingly before he left the little glass house where they stayed when they visited Carya's home world. Chris did, too. His own father wasn't much of a hugger when he was a boy. Perhaps it was a Scottish reserve or something deeper. But he was not going to let heritage get in the way of his relationship with his son.

Tilo Senior had plenty of affection for his grandson, but Tilo junior was only one of the boys under his care and he could not favour one of them. He said no more than was necessary as he walked with the boy to the village square where the whole party paused to give thanks to their ancestors at the great totem and then to the paddock where the paqqu waited.

They rode out in the dark, lit at first by torches from the village, but very soon following the track by moonlight. Since Cielo had sixty-eight moons, there was plenty of that. Twenty-two of the moons were full or half full, and a quarter of those were bright, white ones fully reflecting the sunlight that was still an hour away.

Tilo junior could name the visible moons as well as his native-born companions and could have done so if called upon, but the question was put to another boy, Velon, a small boy for his age, but working hard to overcome his shortcomings. The boy was pleased with the praise he received for his answer.

By the time the sun’s light paled the moons into insignificance the track was starting to disappear into the dusty ground. Near the village it was well used, but now they were in territory only ridden by a few hunters and on the rare occasions when ritual visits to the mountains took place.

They found their direction by the position of the sun in relation to the moons on the given day. A rolled- up chart carefully drawn on hand made parchment gave them the number of moons to calculate by. Tilo senior nodded sagely as the boys made their decisions.

Tilo Junior and young Velon were the quickest and best. Velon had studied hard for many months. Tilo had memorised the charts in a few days. His father’s DNA gave him that edge in catching up on what the other boys were learning every day.

At the hottest part of the day, when the sun was at its zenith and flanked by the twin moons of Frey and Arra, and they were near the edge of the Mountains of Frey, they made a temporary camp within a cave that had long been used for that purpose by the hunters of their tribe.

Many of the boys found the cave unnerving. They were the tribe of Cielo – a word meaning 'Sky'qcec. They were accustomed to being outside in the open air or under the glass roofs of their homes where they could see the sky by day or night. A cave roof was disturbing, but Tilo Senior and his fellow Keeper, Takan, Keeper of Charts, assured them that there was nothing to be afraid of.

Tilo Junior wasn’t worried. He had spent his life in houses with closed roofs. He told some of his friends about his home at the Sanctuary as they rested and ate the prepared food they brought with them. Later they would forage, but for now they picnicked with ease.

They continued when the hottest part of the day was over and the mountains cast a cooling shade on their path. They were not going through the mountains along any of the several passes but skirting the edge as they turned at a right angle to the sun and plotted their journey anew.

“What is on the other side of the mountains?” asked a boy called Harri. “Why don’t we go that way?”

“There is much on the other side of the mountains to intrigue a curious boy,” answered Takan. “There are two more tribes with goods to trade and stories to share. But it is a five day trek and too far for you boys on your first journey. When you are older you may join a party going through the Pass of the Moons.”

That satisfied Harri, but Velon had a question.

“The way we are going… if we keep on for the first three days… we will have partly circled around and be a day closer to home.”

“That is to allow a full day of rest and an easier journey home when you are all thoroughly tired of paqqu riding,” Tilo Senior answered. “You are all young. We don’t expect you to exhaust yourselves on your first long journey. Nor do you need to work out our path quite SO far in advance. We shall make you Keeper of Charts when Keeper Takan retires, I think.”

The boys all laughed, including Velon, but it wasn’t entirely a joke. Even at their young ages it was clear that some of the boys were showing early talents. Velon’s was for orienteering. Harri had the curiosity to one day lead parties through the mountains to meet their not so near neighbours. Later, when the sun was setting, two youngsters whose fathers were the chief hunters of the Cielo tribe went with Takan and made their first kill, bringing back a wild beast that was butchered and cooked over a firepit dug and prepared by another group of boys.

Tilo Junior helped with that work. He had seen this sort of fire on the pampas of Argentina where the gauchos would roast a whole ox in such a way. He shared that knowledge with his friends, even managing to describe an ox to them and learning of the bolo, a wild animal of similar size that was hunted for meat.

“I didn’t have to hunt the ox,” Tilo admitted.

“Nor should any of you hunt a bolo at your age,” Takan reminded them. “The narri beast caught this day is fierce enough."

The narri wasn’t fierce at all, of course. It was something like a deer in Tilo’s Earth understanding. The closest he had been to a deer was in Richmond park, not far from where he lived, and those were protected by law from hunting. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about killing animals. It wasn’t a part of his home life. What meat he did eat came from shops a long way from where the animals were killed. He had nothing to do with the process and didn’t think about it very much. Here he was fully aware that the meat he helped to cook had been a living creature not so long ago.

It was a moral issue he still needed to work out with help from his elders. For now, he enjoyed the taste of the fresh roasted meat along with his friends, but he was glad he hadn’t been in the actual hunting party.

Before they ate, and before the warming sun went down, the boys had built tents of treated animal hides and beds of furs. The practice of using every part of the animals hunted for the tribe was well established. The tents were open at one end and a large part of the sky was visible as the boys settled down to sleep on the first night of their adventure.

It was four days later, when the boys should have been partway through their return journey by the shorter route young Velon had identified when the parents left behind in the village had a dreadful shock.

The boy riding a paqqu at a killing pace had been spotted long before he reached the village. Men went out to him and he was brought back half-fainting in front of a rider while his beast was brought more slowly and taken to be fed and watered.

“It’s young Velon,” was the cry from concerned villagers who wondered why the smallest and least able of the boys had come back alone. What had happened?

The boy was barely able to speak, exhausted and half fainting. His own parents took him to their home to look after him.

The villagers looked to Chris. He was far younger than any of the Elders, and not even one of them except by marriage, but the belief that he was the living embodiment of one of the Sky Gods persisted despite his denials.

He and Carya followed the parents into their home. He sat beside the boy as his mother wiped his sweat and tear-streaked face and helped him to drink some cool water.

“What has happened?” Chris asked the boy gently. “Where is everyone else?”

“Men… from the sky,” the boy answered once he was able to speak. “Not… not from… the Sky Gods… not… like you. They... are cruel. They… they….”

He gulped hard as the painful memories spilled out in broken words.

“Keeper Takano… is dead. They killed him… because he tried to protect the other boys.”

“What about my father?” Carya asked. “Is he….”

“They hurt him,” Velon managed to say. “They had… sticks that made loud noises and smoke. Keeper Tilo fell down. Then they took the boys….”

Only part of what he was saying made sense. Chris gently touched his face and concentrated on the boy’s thoughts.

He and Tilo had been sent to fetch water as the boys made camp. The well was in a cave in an outcrop of rocks that they had stopped beside. They had been returning from their task when they heard a terrible noise and the sky was filled with unexpected light. The two boys hid behind a rock and watch as the horror unfolded.

The spaceship that landed certainly did come from the sky – from another world, even. But the humanoids that emerged to confront the group of frightened children and their two adult guides were no Gods from the sky. Chris didn’t recognise their species from Velon’s memory, but he saw what their intention was right away.

Keeper Takan had bravely defended the boys, even taking down two of the invaders, but a bow and arrows were no match for projectile weapons. Keeper Tilo was also gunned down as he put himself in front of three of the boys. The children were herded into the space ship and taken away.

“Slavers!” he exclaimed. “Making easy pickings of the children.”

“Oh!” Carya moaned out loud. “Our child….”

“Tilo wasn’t captured,” Velon managed to say out loud. “We weren’t seen. After they had gone… we found Keeper Tilo. He wasn’t dead, only bleeding badly. We brought him to the cave to hide… then Tilo told me to go for help. He told me to take the fastest way home. I didn’t want to leave him, but… but….”

“You did well,” Chris told him. “Just one thing.”

He touched the boy’s face again and asked him to think of the place where they were ambushed. Subconsciously, the boy with the mind of a navigator thought of the charts that plotted their journey. That was enough for Chris.

“Go to sleep now,” he said in soothing tones. “When you wake, I promise your friends will be home with you.”

“Can you make such a promise?” Velon’s mother asked as the boy slipped into a peaceful sleep, partially from weariness and partially induced by Chris’s touch upon his consciousness. “These fiends who took the children….”

“Won’t they be long gone by now?” Carya asked, more aware than any of her people of just how big their sky really was.

“There are at least half a million people in villages like this around this planet. For these people, a rich source of new blood. They’re still close, I’m sure.”

“They could come to this village… to take the rest of our children?” Velon’s father asked.

“They could. They could be here any moment… or they might be attacking other villages. They’ve had a day’s start on me in the time it took Velon to ride for help. But I won’t allow them to get much further.”

“You will use your skyship?”

“I will come, too,” Carya said. “Our son needs us both.”

“Yes,” Chris admitted. “He does. So does your father.” He turned to Velon’s father. “All the men of the village must be ready to fight. I’m sorry that your weapons are inferior but do your best to protect your homes. I will be doing all that I can.”

With that Chris turned and ran from the house. Carya ran after him to the small, smoked glass dome near the village totem. This was his TARDIS in local disguise, though all the village knew it as his ‘skyship’.

“First we get our son and your father,” he said. It was a calculated risk. The delay meant that the slavers might reach this village, or, indeed, any other village on the planet. With nobody able to defend them the entire population of this world could be enslaved.

But his son and father-in-law were on their own out there on the plains. He had to get them first.

Velon’s memory of the charts was spot on. Chris thought the boy must have a photographic memory for maps and landmarks. The course programmed into the drive console brought them to the very spot. The body of Keeper Takan was a sad remainder of what had happened, as well as scorch marks from the landing place of the space ship – or more properly a landing craft from an orbital ship. That was a disturbing thought in itself. The slavers really could take the whole population if the mothership was large enough.

A cry of relief from the rocks sent Carya running ahead of him, but he caught up in time to reach his son with her. He hugged him quickly then examined Tilo Senior who was lying amongst a heap of furs.

“He’s going to be all right,” Chris reported and heard Carya’s relieved gasp. “His wounds are bound. Did you do tat, son?"

"Yes," the boy answered. "Did I do it right?"

"Perfectly right. He's going to be fine. I can give him a broad spectrum antibiotic against infection once we get him in the TARDIS.”

Chris carried the injured man himself and made him comfortable. He went back for the body of Keeper Takan. He laid him on the console room floor, respectably covered in a cloth. He would have done more, but he needed to take care of the still living.

“Now we’re going to get everyone else,” he said as Carya took over the care of both her father and her tired, frightened son.

“How do you know where they are?” she asked.

“The TARDIS picked up an energy trace from the landing craft. It can follow it.”

Carya accepted that the TARDIS could do that. In a lifetime she would never really understand its amazing technology. Sometimes she wasn’t entirely convinced it wasn’t a chariot of the gods after all. She sat with her family and watched the screen that showed the TARDIS dematerialising and then dematerialising in space.

She gasped softly at the sight of the space ship hanging in orbit. It seemed vast to her with her so little experience of such things.

“It’s not very big, really,” Chris said. “And there’s something else about it. There’s no main engine or control centre, just secondary engines maintaining orbit and life support. I think this is a sort of docking station. The business end of this ship is the part that’s been going down to the planet.”

Carya had no idea what a docking station was or why that mattered, but when Chris confirmed that there were children of her own race aboard she had only one thought.

“We’re going to rescue them?”

“Of course. Right now.”

In effect, the ‘docking station’ was one huge holding pen where the children were being held. Chris materialised the TARDIS in the middle of the pen and flung open the doors right away. He sent Carya out first to speak to the captives in their own language. She persuaded them that there was safety within the TARDIS. The fact that it had materialised as one of the familiar glass houses helped in that. It was a confirting thing to children who had been among the strange and frightening for a long, terrifying time.

“Take them to my dojo,” Chris told his wife, opening the inner door. "Then find orange juice and biscuits in the larder.”

“We don’t have orange juice or biscuits in the larder,” Carya answered him.

“We will by the time you get to it,” he assured her. He had already visualised those comforts in the larder and knew the TARDIS would provide.

“Sir…” He looked around at a group of four youths, not quite adult even by their tribal standards, but older than Tilo and his friends. “We want to fight the men who captured us. We know where their weapons are… the sticks with flame that killed our Keepers.”

Chris looked at the boys and remembered being as young as they were. It felt longer than it really was. He and his brother had been through a war already since they were children. They had both faced down enemies of peace and justice in their own ways.

These were strong youths, their training as young leaders of their tribes was further on than Tilo’s group. They had been on real hunts and killed for their food.

Killing men, which was what they were proposing, now, was another matter. It had consequences. Chris remembered when he and Davie had destroyed a Sontaran ship when they were still barely more than children themselves. Yes, they were the enemy, but those deaths still lay on their consciences.

No,” he said. “You don’t need guns. But come with me. There may be another way.”

His initial scan of the ship told him that there were three of the slavers aboard, within that basic control room. He was banking on them being relaxed and unarmed while waiting for their colleagues to return with more captives.

He also had the element of surprise. The door to the pen locked from the outside. They didn’t expect it to be opened from within by means of a sonic screwdriver in laser mode that melted the locks. Once through tat barrier, a mixture of Earth martial arts and a variation on kick-boxing taught in the tribe the youths came from was enough to overcome the slavers in non-lethal fashion. Chris and his young comrades brought them back to his TARDIS and placed them in a locked room.

“Taking slaves from a non-advanced planet is against at least three intergalactic treaties,” Chris pointed out. “This lot are going to jail. And by jail, I mean a penal colony where they mine something unpleasant all day for their food rations. They’ll know the meaning of slavery from the other end.”

The youths of a simple planet with no formal connection with worlds beyond their sky didn’t entirely understand about intergalactic treaties, but they did understand that their captors were going to be punished. That was good enough for them.

“We still have the element of surprise when the rest get back,” Chris added. “But this will be more dangerous. The slavers who went down to the planet WILL be armed.”

The youths were still willing to fight. Their world was at stake. Everything they expected from their lives – their rites of passage to manhood and all that followed – depended on their freedom from alien interference.

They returned to the secondary control room. Chris checked the progress of the shuttle and then unlocked the armoury. He looked at the array of bastic rifles and considered the consequences of using those guns, for himself, a committed pacifist, as well as for the untried youths.

The answer to his conundrum was obvious. He half smiled as he handed out the weapons and took one for himself, checking the breach carefully to make sure it was clear.

The shuttle docked as it had done several times already since arriving in orbit above the planet. The door opened and loud, rough voices ordered a dozen scared children to ‘keep moving’.

They did as ordered, straight into the TARDIS console room, its doors placed directly across the entrance to the pen.

When every child was inside, being handed out orange juice by Carya and Tilo Junior, the door closed. The half dozen slavers wasted several seconds being puzzled by what had just happened and that was time enough for Chris and his young comrades to step forward, surrounding them.

It was five against five. It could have become a stand-off. It could have been bloody. But one other thing Chris had calculated as well as the element of surprise – people who used guns to kill unarmed men and capture children were inherently cowards. Surrounded by guns trained on them, they dropped their own weapons and surrendered.

Chris marched them all to the room of his TARDIS where their comrades were already locked up.

"Are you going to sit quietly until the authorities arrive or do I have to put you all in stasis?" he asked. The men decided being locked up was enough. Chris left orange juice and biscuits for them. He was not a cruel gaoler. Then he went back to the console room and took the TARDIS into orbit beside the slave ship. He opened the door and brought his small resistance group to the threshold.

"That's your world, down there," he told them, pointing to the planet with one great green and ochre coloured continent. "It's beautiful, and perfect as it is, without these."

He threw the gun he was holding out into space. The four boys looked at each other.

"We could hunt so much more successfully with these," one said.

"On my world, once," Chris said. "Men thought guns were better than bows and arrows… and within a generation a prairie full of great beasts was empty. Hunt for enough food for your tribe's needs. That's all you ever need to do."

The boys nodded and threw the guns out.

"They don't work anyway without the stones that come out," another boy pointed out.

"No, they don't. On my world we generally consider an empty gun as dangerous as a loaded one, but against cowards, just this once, it was fine. Nobody had to kill anybody. Now, let's get you all home."

He brought everyone home to Carya's village, first. Tilo Senior needed to be put to bed and cared for by his wife. The body of Keeper Takan needed the proper preparation for a funeral.

The youngsters from several villages, some from beyond the mountains, others many days ride across the plains, were given food and drink. In the midst of the feast Chris brought young Velon, recovered from his ordeal. He gave him the Great Book of Charts that had been the preserve of Keeper Takan.

"You are the new Keeper of Charts," he told the boy. "Young as you are, I think you have it in you. Your first task… before I take these other children home in my skyship… mark the places where they all live, and see that your people visit, even if it takes long days of travel. Make friends across the plains and through the mountains."

The remaining Elders approved of that idea.

But did this mean that Chris was appointing himself as an Elder, now?

"No," he answered. "I have a life of my own and people I am responsible for. But I am going to take being your Sky God more seriously. I intend to ensure that this intrusion into your lives never happens again. Your customs and rites will continue untroubled. I will ensure it."

His solemn vow was taken to heart by all. When he returned the other children to their villages the message was repeated. A Sky God was protecting them. He asked for no totems, no gifts or sacrifices, but he would protect them from any harm that came from the skies and not from the natural order of their world.

After a ship from the Shaddow Proclamation collected the slavers and took their ship to be broken up in deep space, Chris met with his brother who arrived in the Chinese TARDIS. Between them they performed a Time Lord rite that was half science and half something primitive races would call magic. It unfolded the planet in a massive perception filter so that anyone who didn't know where it was would never find it. At the same time, they also sent out a harmless computer 'virus' that would remove the planet from star maps and navigation drives. It was as invisible as possible from technology.

"You know, we can't do this for EVERY vulnerable planet in the universe," Davie pointed out.

"I don’t know why not," Chris answered. "But anyway, I want THIS one protected. It is my personal responsibility as their Sky God. Now, come on down to the planet. Meet my in-laws and enjoy their idea of a feast. I don't think they've ever seen identical twin before, so we'll blow their minds into the bargain."

Davie grinned and decided that was a fair exchange for his late contribution to this adventure.