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

Jimmy Forrester confidently led the way up the well-trod mountain path. Not that he had ever walked it before, but he felt a certain 'ownership' of it.

After all, they had visited fifteenth and sixteenth century Lancashire several times on the basis that Earl Gregory lived in Preston and wanted to explore the history of his home county thoroughly.

Jimmy's mother lived in Cairns, in Queensland, Australia. That made this HIS territory, sort of, even if he hadn’t actually seen his mother since she left him and his father to make a new life for herself.

Anyway, a day trip to the intriguingly named Mount Warning sounded interesting to everyone. It wasn't the sort of mountain that needed ropes and specialist equipment. The TripAdvisor reviews talked about families doing the round journey to the peak and back in a few hours.

"It is called Mount Warning because Captain Cook saw it from the sea and shortly afterwards the ship encountered dangerous reefs. It was a warning to navigators," Vicki said, having memorised the Wikipedia entry for the location.

"That makes perfect sense," Earl confirmed.

"Technically it isn't called Mount Warning," Jimmy said as they stopped at a seat carved out of the volcanic basalt bedrock of the mountain and enjoyed their first essential rehydration stop. 'It is Wollumbin-Mount Warning, recognising the Aboriginal cultural significance."

Sukie made a strangely sarcastic sound in her throat. Everyone looked at her oddly. It wasn't like her to disparage other people's culture.

"On the official website," she said archly. 'It says 'Wollumbin is a place of great spiritual significance to the Bundjalung People. Visitors are asked to respect their wishes and choose not to climb the summit track."

She let that sink in before continuing.

"The next paragraph reads 'If you DO climb this track it requires extreme caution. It is long, steep, difficult and dangerous in places. It shouldn’t be attempted in poor weather or when high winds or thunderstorms are forecast.'"

Again, she let it sink in.

"Please don’t offend the Bundjalung People, but if you do, don't do it in thunderstorms," Earl interpreted. "In other words, the Australian government don’t really care about the Aboriginal People.”

“That can’t be right,” Vicki protested. “Australia isn't that sort of country. It's a good place."

"It is in OUR time," Jimmy pointed out. "But the Aboriginal People were treated horribly by the colonisers who followed Captain Cook. The government was still making reparations well into the twenty-first century."

"Well, it looks like they need to make some more," Sukie commented. "And for that matter… Why are WE snubbing the Bundjalung People by coming and walking here? WE have more decency than that even if nobody else does."

Earl reached into the side pocket of Sukie's backpack and took out her slimline mini-computer. He checked her search history, ignoring her protests. "Interesting. You got the pages about Wollumbin from a webpage written in the early twenty-first century. One of the hazards of time travel, you have to check the dates of your information as well as the likely veracity."

Sukie admitted she might have made such a mistake. The TripAdvisor reviews came from that time. TripAdvisor wasn't around in their century. They were all used to checking opinions that were over two hundred years old.

"The twenty-third century version of the official website says that the Bundjalung People welcome visitors as long as they respect the mountain and its spiritual history. They've come to terms with the descendants of the colonisers."

"So why would a twenty-first century website insult them in a backhanded way?" Sukie persisted.

"I really don’t know. I'm a little curious about that. I might look into it some time. But the point is that IS all right, now," Earl assured her.

"The guide I found down at the hotel says to bring a stone for the cairn at the summit, in memory of the many Bungjalung People who died in the Dalek War," Jimmy said. "I've got a stone. I painted it with Bungjalung symbols."

He pulled it out of his backpack. It was the size and shape of a cottage loaf with swirling designs on it that matched a lot of the native craftware for sale in local shops. Jimmy's friends wondered three things – where he had got the stone from, when he had painted it, and just how heavy it was stuck in his backpack.

Questions none of them asked. It didn't seem right to inquire.

The seat was in a good spot to admire the views across the valley below. An ohre-tiled roof amongst the semi-tropical vegetation was the nearly three hundred year old Mount Warning Retreat hotel where they had stayed the night. The area known as Tweed Valley, a rather tame name for an area formed by prehistoric volcanic activity, spread before them. Jimmy took lots of photographs. His friends just looked around intently as if their eyes were cameras and they were storing it all away. Perhaps they were. He didn’t want to ask. It was better not to remember that his girlfriend was a different species too often.

He turned from the view below to look up at the climb still to come. Of course, the 'summit' wasn't as simple as it sounded in the guides. There was a 'safe' viewing platform with a wooden railing for the afternoon ramblers, but there was so much more to it than that. The height of the mountain was measured from the top of the magma plug that covered the dormant caldera, which was a separate, 'difficult' climb strictly for those who came equipped with ropes and crampons and had left behind a 'statement of intent' that they were doing dangerous activities. Nor was the 'plug' the only part of the summit. Even from the path the long ridge of the mountain could be seen. This, too, was expert territory covered in straggly, weather resistant trees, bushes and ground vegetation and with precipitous drops either side that were strictly not for the afternoon picnickers who took the established path.

Jimmy briefly wondered if he and Earl, without the two girls, might have planned to explore the more adventurous parts of the mountain. Then he remembered that both girls were telepathic and Sukie had a stare that could freeze his marrow if she thought he was being in any way chauvinistic.

An afternoon ramble was fine.

It was more than fine. They were all enjoying the trek. Despite the danger warnings on the website, the marked path, even on the steeper incline, was well-maintained and easy going for young, fit people. It was also surprisingly popular. They knew there were four parties of walkers behind them, including a family with twin boys and a courting couple who planned to exchange engagement rings at the summit after adding their stones to the cairn. The young TARDIS travellers were the ‘lead group’, though, setting off straight after breakfast with no other people ahead of them.

Animal life was served by small mammals and marsupials who flitted between the semi-tropical trees and bushes, birds that soared overhead and a certain amount of insects kept at bay by really good twenty-fourth century repellent sprays.

The final part of the trek to the summit involved some actual climbing of an 'easy' category, using chains that had been fixed solidly into the rock. Jimmy kept his own thoughts to himself when Earl tentatively suggested going ahead first to help the girls. Of course, he regretted it immediately. Sukie and Vicki took the lead, grasping the chains and planting their feet against the steep rocky surface as they pulled themselves up slowly but steadily.

Earl and Jimmy were a safe distance behind, keeping to a regular pace and not in any way trying to catch up with them.

“They’ll have to get the camp fire going and put the kettle on,” Jimmy pointed out with an ironic laugh as the girls climbed steadily ahead of them on the steep chain scramble.

"Bet you they don't," Earl responded.

They didn't. When the two boys reached the top of the four hundred metres ascent the girls were standing beside a disconcerting heap of rubble.

“Was this meant to be your cairn, Jimmy?” Vicki asked. The two young men drew closer and looked at the collapsed remains that must have once been carefully stacked in a meaningful way. Many of the stones had been carefully and lovingly painted with symbols just like the one Jimmy had brought. Some of them were broken, such had been the force with which the cairn had been toppled.

“It could have been one of those thunderstorms we were warned about," Earl suggested.

The cairn had been built up stone upon stone, with no mortar or cement. Even so, it would have been strong. And it had stood through all kinds of bad weather for decades. It was hard to imagine any force of nature causing the collapse.

But that meant that somebody had deliberately destroyed the Cairn, and that thought was too awful to be allowed to ruminate.

"It had to be some sort of accident of nature, like Earl said," Sukie surmised. "If not a thunderstorm, then maybe rain undermining the foundations.

Earl glanced around at the basalt bedrock of the mountain and shook his head, dismissing that as a theory. He also dismissed the possibility of seismic activity in the past few days – and it could only have happened very recently since the destruction of the Cairn would have been a big deal to the people of the valley below.

Jimmy didn't say anything. He didn't trust himself. His broad shoulders trembled as he held his emotions in. Vicki moved close to him but didn't try to hold his hand or offer comfort. She knew this wasn't the time for such things.

She was shocked to find herself wondering if he was actually going to cry. As far as she knew he had never done that except in his own bedroom in the dark when he was a boy. She didn't want him to do it here, now.

"I'm going back down," he said when his emotions were steady enough for words.

"We were meant to be having a picnic," Vicki protested. "Don’t…. I mean, I know it's upsetting, but don’t let this spoil everything."

"It's already spoilt," Jimmy snapped. Vicki backed away from him as he turned and strode away towards the chain ascent.

The others looked at each other and then followed him. None of them were as badly affected as Jimmy, but the joy had gone out of their excursion and going back to the hotel seemed like the only thing to do.

Jimmy's mood softened a little as they descended. Once past the challenging part he allowed Vicki to hold his hand. He hardly spoke, though. It was Earl who warned the people they passed about the damaged cairn, advising them not to trample around the fallen stones.

"We'll call the park rangers when we get back," he said. "They'll send people up to mend the damage. They'll probably get the shaman from the Bundjalung people to give it a blessing once it’s been remade. It'll be all right."

Jimmy shrugged in a way that told nobody anything about what he really thought. None of the three telepaths tried to invade his thoughts to find out. He was entitled to be upset. They all were, just not so much as he was.

By the time they reached the hotel, they were all hot and hungry. They had walked as quickly as safety allowed under a burning sun, high in the afternoon sky.

Even so, Jimmy didn't want to join the others for a high tea in the hotel's bar and restaurant. He announced that he was going to lie down in his room. Nothing anyone said could deter him.

Vicki was upset by his behaviour, but hunger and companionship kept her with Earl and Sukie. They ordered food and a jug of iced tea to cool them down.

The conversation fixed on only one thing.

WHAT happened to the Cairn.

When they had ruminated over half a dozen possibilities, Earl stood up and went to the bar. He spent a short time looking through a book placed there, then glanced around the room before approaching two men who were enjoying glasses of beer and an Australian rules football game on TV.

He returned to the girls with a mildly triumphant expression.

"I looked at the 'statement of intent' forms left by guests. Those two guys had been camping on the ridge all week. They came back down yesterday evening along with a couple who got engaged at sunset on the summit. They were the last people up there until we arrived there today. And the Cairn was fine when they saw it."

"So, whatever happened, happened during the night or early morning," Sukie said.

"But there was no bad weather last night, or earth tremors or landslides."

"Somebody could have gone up there without signing an intention," Vicki suggested. "But why WOULD anyone do that? It's such a senseless thing to do."

"Could it be somebody who hates the Bundjalung People?" Sukie wondered aloud. "Or… somebody from the Bundjalung who doesn't like sharing their sacred mountain with tourists?"

"I hope it’s neither," Vicki said with feeling. "Both ideas are too horrible for words."

Earl agreed.

"The Rangers said they'd go up early tomorrow," he said. "They reckoned it would be a full day's work fixing the Cairn. They can't understand what happened, either. The Cairn was built a couple of years after the Daleks were defeated. It has never been affected by weather in all that time. Nor has anyone ever tried to damage it. I don't think they can contemplate that any more than we can."

"My father would give hell to anyone who damaged a memorial to the Dalek War," Sukie noted.

"As would mine," Vicki added. Earl looked at them both and remembered that they both had parents who had fought in that terrible time that was mere history to him.

He wondered why it was Jimmy who had been so emotionally affected by it, and not either of the girls who would seem to have more reason to be upset. It had been puzzling him nearly as much as the destruction of the Cairn itself.

But it was a subject he was not going to bring up with the girls behind Jimmy's back. Maybe he could get him to talk later, when it was just the two of them in the hotel room, man to man, as it were.

But Jimmy didn't want to talk. He joined the group for the evening meal that was included in the price of their accommodation, but he said very little to anyone and went to bed straight afterwards. The girls, dispirited by Jimmy's mood, went to their room not long after. Earl ordered a beer and watched the highlights of the football game from earlier jut to give Jimmy a little more time to work through his feelings, then he, too, retired to bed.

Jimmy was either asleep or pretending to be when Earl turned out the light. He sighed and hoped that some vestige of normality would resume in the morning and relaxed his body in preparation for sleep.

He woke suddenly at a little after three o'clock in the morning, aware that Jimmy was not in the room. His clothes and walking boots were not there, nor was his rucksack.

He looked out of the window and saw Jimmy's sturdy frame moving away from the hotel. He dressed quickly and set out to follow him.

He caught his friend up at the beginning of the Mount Warning Trail - by the information board that advised walkers to, among other things, avoid climbing the mountain in the dark. The sign was illuminated by a solar powered light, which seemed like some kind of irony, but not one that bothered him just now.

"What are you up to?" Earl asked.

"I'm going up the mountain… to mend the Cairn."

"The park Rangers are going to do that in the morning… when its daylight, anyway."

"Then I'll have made a start," Jimmy responded.

"Come on, then," Earl decided. "We'll BOTH make a start. We should be at the summit by sun-up… without having to slow down for girls."

'Sukie will know you said that," Jimmy told him. "You know she will."

But he didn't object to Earl's companionship as he made his personal pilgrimage up Mount Warning.

Because, as Earl realised, that was exactly what it was for Jimmy - a pilgrimage, with a near religious reasoning behind it.

They walked without talking until they had passed the bench halfway up where they had all sat yesterday. A faint pinkish tinge towards the coast hinted that dawn was a mere hour away. Assuming the Rangers took time to eat breakfast and assemble their group before setting off, they were probably three hours ahead of them.

They were certainly alone on the mountain apart from the nocturnal animals and birds that provided a counterpoint to the sound of their footsteps.

'Jimmy…." Earl's voice sounded loud even though he didn't mean it to be. "Why are you so upset about all this? I mean… we all feel sad about the Cairn…. But you seem to be taking it personally."

"And I shouldn't… should I?" Jimmy replied without any rancour. "I don’t come from round here. I'm not a Bundjalung…. Why should it matter to me?"

"I'm not criticising or anything… I just… wondered."

"I read about this place before I suggested coming here," he said. "Do you know what happened to the Bundjalung during the Dalek war?"

"No, I don't," Earl admitted. "I come from the twenty-sixth century. The war is just history to people of my time. It's not up close like it is for Sukie and Vicki and their parents. Maybe I don't fully understand the emotional impact…."

"I didn't, really, either," Jimmy admitted. "The Dominator war affected me… my dad disappeared … I was a refugee living rough in the railway tunnels of London…. By the end of that… I was a veteran just like Vicki's dad. I understood them . And they understood me."

"I get that," Earl said. "At least as much as somebody who lived in peace can get it. But… that's why the Cairn is so important to you?"

"Partly. But… it's what happened to the People. The Daleks enslaved them like they enslaved so many people. But the Bundjalung rebelled. They almost defeated the Daleks in this region…. But ultimately the Daleks came back at them. They punished them by murdering a quarter of the people…. They just lined them up and killed every fourth one of them… men, women, children…. In front of all the others…. And remember this is a tribe, not just a village as we know it. Most of them were related to each other in some way…. An extended family. It was just the worst kind of cruelty. The rest were half starved and forced to work again…. Many of them died before the Daleks were finally defeated. The survivors…. They built that Cairn in remembrance of their own people and all others who had suffered under the Dalek tyranny. And… I wanted to go and put my stone there in remembrance… because I know what they went through as much as anyone does."

"You'll be able to do that," Earl promised him. "If we have to put it back with our bare hands, you will. I promise you that. Do you have your stone with you?"


Earl nodded and looked up at the chain climb, the toughest part of the trek. He was glad that there was some grey pre-dawn light now. Doing this in the dark would be dangerous.

Not that Jimmy cared about the danger or the physical endeavour. Earl understood that his physical advantages from his Time Lord heritage counted for little beside a human with such passion driving him on.

They reached the top of the climb more or less together. They both stood up on the viewing platform that was bathed in golden morning sunlight.

They both saw the same sunlight glinting off the incongruous windows of an English police telephone box from two centuries ago.

Sukie and Vicki were leaning against the door, looking smug.

"We guessed what you were up to," Vicki said.

"So… why didn't you wait at the bottom of the chain climb?" Earl asked.

"Didn't want to spoil your fun," Sukie answered with a grin that cancelled out any further discussion. "We've got coffee. Then let's get on with your Cairn."

The coffee was welcome, even to Jimmy who was ready to start his mission right away. Once refreshed, they set to work, all four of them. There was no telling the girls that it wasn't work for them. There was no telling Jimmy that humans couldn't work at the same pace as Time Lords. They worked together to clear the base of the Cairn and then carefully rebuild it, stone upon stone.

With four of them, the work went well. Earl, standing back to view their progress wondered how much Jimmy thought he could have achieved on his own. He rather suspected he would have kept going until he dropped from exhaustion, which told of his passion if not his common sense.

By the time the team of Rangers reached the summit a few hours later there wasn't much for them to do except advise Jimmy about safety as he climbed up to place his own stone near the top of the restored Cairn.

As Jimmy stood back and watched one of the Rangers – a man wearing the uniform his comrades were wearing, but with the skin colour of the Bundjalung - begin to perform a traditional blessing, Vicki quietly brought Earl and Sukie into her TARDIS.

"There's something I noticed when we got here," she said. "Just a blip, but I think we should check it out while Jimmy is occupied."

Sukie and Earl both looked at what Vicki called 'a blip'. It was a signal emanating from somewhere along the long ridge of the mountain, among the undergrowth that made that part a more challenging trek.

"It's an alien signal," Earl confirmed. "Something that shouldn't be here."

'Alien signal' was a worrying phrase, but even so, 'checking it out' was always going to be on the agenda. Vicki and Sukie took careful note of the exact location and initiated a short hop dematerialisation.

"The TARDIS is in 'somebody else's problem' mode and silent materialisation," Vicki pointed out. "Davie fixed both up for me, since I don't want to change the police box shape. That's why the Rangers didn't worry about a blue box on top of the mountain and didn't hear it leave."

"Ok," Earl answered. "What exactly is a 'somebody else's problem' mode?"

"I'm not sure," Vicki admitted. "Davie and Chris thought it was funny. It basically means people don't notice the box unless they know it's there. Like a perception filter, but bigger. Anyway…."

The short hop was just about long enough to discuss a TARDIS's covert modes. They looked at the viewscreen and noticed a pattern of devastation around their new location, as if something had bounced heavily amongst the vegetation on the ridge, felling trees and leaving ruts in the ground cover.

"That's the culprit," Earl noted, pointing to a grey-green elongated lozenge balanced precariously on a ledge just below the top of the ridge, a few broken trees stopping it from plunging several hundred feet down the sheer cliff.

"I don't recognise the type of craft," Sukie observed. "It’s nothing we know as dangerous, at least. I think they're more in need of help…. Don't you agree?"

Vicki agreed. Earl was less certain, but he bowed to the majority. Again, a small adjustment brought the TARDIS aboard the stricken ship. Earl waved all feminist arguments aside and went out first, holding his sonic screwdriver as if it were a weapon, even though it was in penlight mode.

The girls followed him, adjusting their gait as they stepped from the TARDIS's stable, level floor onto a steeply pitched one of the stricken spaceship.

Earl's hold on his 'weapon' wavered as he was met by a half dozen small, thin humanoids with pastel blue-pink faces.

"We're scaring them," Vicki said. "They're just children…."

Earl pointed out that it was perfectly possible for something very deadly to look small and harmless. But Vicki stepped past him and reached out to take the skinny little hand of one of the beings. The creature spoke very rapidly and shrilly in a language that seemed incomprehensible at first as even the TARDIS translation circuits struggled to keep up.

"They want us to help them," she said. "They need…."

Sukie looked at her cousin and at Earl. She was wavering between the two points of view. It COULD be a trap.

"Come on…." Vicki urged. She was holding two tiny hands now as they urged her towards a door that even she, with a petite figure, would have to duck to get through. Her friends both sighed warily and followed.

They emerged into something that looked half Bridge and half classroom. Dozens more of the small aliens were sitting awkwardly on benches tipped at an angle. They looked as if they had been having some kind of 'lesson' on a large screen. The crash had broken the screen and the data on it was now just crazed and incomprehensible fragments, but the students stayed in their seats, waiting for instructions.

"Oh!" Sukie remarked. "That one's injured."

Vicki was already approaching what she thought was both the 'teacher' and 'pilot'. He was bigger than the others, though still shorter and thinner than her. He was lying on the skewed floor in a semi-conscious state.

Vicki knelt and touched him either side of his head, closing her eyes and reaching in telepathically to the alien mind. She saw the damage at once.

"Their skulls are soft… like wax or plasticine," she said. "They can't take much damage. He has what we would call a concussion, but for them it’s really serious."

Sukie stepped closer. Vicki was the born 'healer', but she wasn't without skills of her own. Between them they could help the injured alien.

Earl found little hands reaching out to him. He looked down at the faces.

"Are you The Doctor?" he was asked in the shrill tones. "We tried to find The Doctor."

"You mean THE Doctor?" Earl asked in surprise. "No… I'm not…. But… we can help. Show me your diagnostic computer. I'll see how much damage there has been."

The young aliens might not quite have understood 'diagnostic computer', but they took him to the pilot's station. The TARDIS circuits translated machine language much more easily then organic speech and it was easy for him to see what had gone wrong with the ship, and to make adjustments to the flight programme that would enable them to take off in a little while.

"He's going to be all right," Sukie reported about the injured pilot. Vicki leaned back, satisfied, and spoke to him as he regained consciousness. He answered her in quiet tones.

"Yes, he's all right, now," she confirmed, taking no special credit for his recovery, even though it was mostly her doing. "They can go on their way."

Everyone wanted to hold their hands and thank them in their odd, alien way. Eventually they reached their TARDIS. Vicki programmed it to hover a short way from the ridge so that they could watch the alien ship rise up from the devastated ground. Once clear of the mountain it gained speed and very soon was gone back into space.

"Let's get back to Jimmy," Vicki said.

Jimmy was sitting next to the Cairn along with the Bundjalung Ranger. The others had headed back down the mountain.

"This is Malagan Ngurun," Jimmy said, introducing the Ranger to his friends.

"Morning Sky?" Vicki said, joining Jimmy on the rock he had made into a seat. "Good to meet you."

"We found out what happened to the Cairn," Earl said. "It was an accident. A spaceship full of alien students were meant to be studying Earth from orbit, but they had a problem. They crashed down, hit the Cairn, hit a few dozen trees, ended up dangling over the cliff. They didn't mean it. They were just kids and their teacher."

Malagan looked sceptical at first, but something in the sincere tones of Earl's explanation convinced him.

"It wasn't vandalism or spite?" Jimmy queried.

"No. Just an accident."

"Just an accident," Malagan repeated.

"That's all right, then," Jimmy conceded.

"Yes, it is." Vicki slipped her hand in his. He didn't try to pull away. A lot more than the Cairn had been mended this morning. "I think we should give Malagan a lift back down the mountain, and then we should have a very late breakfast.”

"A lift?" Malagan queried. "How…."

"Aliens aren't the only ones with space ships," Earl told him with a knowing smile.