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

Davie watched Spenser manoeuvre the TARDIS in standard drive through the THIRD asteroid belt in the solar system they were exploring. He had his hand near the override in case he got into any difficulty, but he was confident he wouldn’t need it. He still thought it a shame that Spenser didn’t want a TARDIS of his own. He was a natural pilot, and in a decade or so when he succeeded in building one from scratch with the full capabilities of a Gallifreyan made TARDIS, he would be proud if Spenser was the first to own one. But there were only so many times he could advise him before it became pressuring him, and then downright nagging. And he had done too much of that already just to get him to come out of his hermitage in Northumbria and travel into space with them.

He turned his gaze from Spenser to Brenda, who was at the computer database reading up about this planetary system. She liked being with him in the TARDIS, and he loved having her with him, but he knew that she was just waiting until she was of age and they could be married. She wanted to be like Rose and Jackie, the wife of a Time Lord, mother of a Time Lord’s children, keeping a home for him to come back to after his adventures. He knew she would be happiest that way. Meanwhile she was there at his side, and his TARDIS accepted her at the controls even though she was not a Time Lord herself. That was the most sure proof that she was the woman he would spend his first lifetime with.

He looked back at Spenser and noticed that he had been looking at him. His apprentice quickly turned his eyes back to the controls.

“We’re clear of the asteroids now,” Spenser said. “Shall I programme our landing on the second planet?”

“Yes,” Davie answered. “No, wait. What’s that?”

Brenda had moved from the database to the communications console as soon as the alarm sounded.

“It’s an emergency transponder signal,” she said. “There’s another ship in the asteroid belt. And it’s in trouble.”

At that, Spenser stood away from the drive controls. Davie told him to get environmental readings as he took up the command position.

“It’s a small craft,” Spenser reported. “One or two person, but with interplanetary capability. It is badly damaged. Life support is failing.”

“Lifesigns?” Davie asked.

“One, humanoid.”

“There’s an audio signal,” Brenda reported. Davie told her to patch it through and reached for a microphone to respond.

“Hello,” said a voice with a North American cadence that sounded very familiar. “If there’s somebody out there, I’d really appreciate some help.”

“That’s got to be the coolest SOS I ever heard!” Davie laughed as he responded with the intergalactic call sign for his TARDIS. “Private exploration vessel Designation 564S? calling.”

“Captain Davie of TARDIS II!” replied the voice. “How lovely to hear those English vowels.”

“Yeah,” Davie answered. “Let’s save the flirting for when we’ve rescued you. Stand by for emergency transmat.” He locked off the TARDIS position and moved around the console quickly to reach the transmat panel that he had added onto the console despite his great-grandfather dismissing it as a ‘frippery’. He locked onto the lifesign aboard the stricken ship and pulled the lever. A moment later the rescuee materialised looking dizzy from the transmat and ruffled from his near death experience. Brenda ran to take his arm and lead him to the sofa and then went to get the first aid kit to treat the minor burns and bruises he had sustained. Davie brought the TARDIS into temporal orbit around the planet they planned to visit and then came to look at his new passenger.

“Jack Harkness!” he said with a smile. “How are you?”

“All in one piece, but a bit sore,” he responded as Brenda insisted on him taking off his torn flight jacket and shirt so she could tend to the wounds to his back and arms. “Very glad to see you. Where’s your doppelganger?”

“Chris is back on Earth. He’s doing a whistle-stop tour of the British Isles, interviewing people who want to sign up for his Sanctuary. It opens next month. How about you? How did you end up in a one man craft with the life support capability of a colander?”

“I was on a long range tour in one of the Xavra class ships,” replied Major Jack Harkness of the 22nd Space Corps. “I was heading back home to my girl when I had some engine problems and before I knew it I was drifting in one of the most inhospitable solar systems in the galaxy. THREE Asteroid belts! I thought I was a gonner. I was starting to wonder if it was too late to get religion when your signal showed up. I sure am glad to see you, Davie! Apart from your great-granddady I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be talking to right now.”

“Your ship just exploded,” Spenser said from where he was monitoring the situation at the console.

“Shame,” Jack answered. “It was a nice little runabout. Never mind. Don’t think I’ve met you before? You’re not another of The Doctor’s family, are you?”

“This is Spenser Draxic,” Davie said, introducing him formally. “My apprentice. Spenser, this is Jack Harkness, of whom you have surely heard a GREAT DEAL! He is something of a legend in his own lifetime.”

“Hello,” Spenser said with a diffident smile. Jack’s reply was anything but diffident, a word that probably wasn’t even in his personal vocabulary. But Spenser didn’t react to his charm. Jack noticed that his gaze turned on Davie instead and made a mental note of that.

“He’s not seriously hurt,” Brenda reported as she finished treating him. “Those burns will hurt for a bit, though.”

“He’s a tough guy,” Davie replied. “Pain is for wimps. If you want a clean shirt, the wardrobe is second left through the inner door. We’ll drop you off home later. But meanwhile, we were going to explore the one and only intact and habitable planet in this system. You’re welcome to join us.”

Home, for Jack, of course, was the Scorpius, the flagship of the 22nd Space Corps, the special forces of time and space from Earth in a later century than his own. And his ‘girl’ was Hellina Arturo, commander of the Scorpius who was never referred to as anyone’s ‘girl’ within her hearing. And he clearly DID want to get there. But he was happy to take a diversion with friends first.

By the time he returned from the wardrobe, looking smartly casual in jeans and sweatshirt and his hair combed and face washed, Davie had monitored Spenser’s landing of the TARDIS on the surface of the planet named in the database as Hrid Nu.

“So why are you interested in this planet?” Jack asked Davie as they all stepped out of the TARDIS, disguised as a rock formation into which the door merged seamlessly once closed, leaving just the ying/yang symbol that Davie and Chris both used as their identifying mark etched on the surface.

“It hasn’t been visited by our people for two thousand years,” Davie answered, slipping his arm around Brenda’s shoulders and looking around at the landscape. It was delightfully pastoral, with a gentle meadowland beside a river and some interesting rock outcrops further downstream. “The database noted two Asteroid belts and the tectonic instability of the next planet, predicting that it, too, would destroy itself. I can update the record to say that it did later. I’ve taken some readings as we passed through the new belt and can say roughly when it happened. THIS and the inner planet are the only stable ones. And the inner one has a surface temperature of something like 400 degrees centigrade. This one was noted as being comparable to Gallifrey’s climate.”

It surprised Jack to realise that Davie, born on Earth, with a Human father, meant the Time Lords of Gallifrey when he said ‘our people’. Neither of his companions seemed to think that unusual. Apparently he always talked like that.

“What makes this planet ESPECIALLY interesting,” Davie added. “Is that the signature of the Time Lord who explored it two thousand years ago ISN’T Theta Sigma! Granddad has never been here.”

“Ah!” Jack smiled knowingly. “Virgin territory.”

They walked along for a while as if they were simply on a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. Brenda and Davie held hands. Spenser walked beside them, happy to be anywhere near Davie. Jack was content to be a part of their gang for a short while. It reminded him of when he travelled with The Doctor and Rose and their trio so often went exploring unknown planets that way. He was happy with his life in the 22nd Space Corps, a life of adventure with enough danger to get his adrenaline flowing. He LOVED Hellina in a way he never expected to love anyone. But there was something about hanging around with Time Lords that couldn’t be beaten.

“Is there something about this planet?” Spenser asked after a while. “I can’t communicate telepathically.”

“I noticed that, too,” Brenda added.

“Some sort of atmospheric anomaly,” Davie guessed. “This planet has had a lot of strange things bombard it. All the other planets exploding, sending out rocks and dust and energy that gets soaked up here. Nothing to worry about. Besides, Jack isn’t telepathic and he might start to feel we’re talking about him behind his back!”

Jack laughed softly and thanked him for his consideration.

“It IS a fantastic planet,” Davie went on, sounding, Jack thought, A LOT like his great grandfather when he was enthusiastic about something. “It has twenty-four moons and the nature of their orbit means there is at least one total eclipse of the sun EVERY day. Today, according to my readings, there will be THREE, each within an hour of each other. Absolutely fantastic.”

“Ohhh,” Brenda enthused. “THAT sounds wonderful. On Tibora we have a full solar eclipse no more than once every ten years.”

“Much the same as Earth.” Davie pointed out. “It used to be slightly more often on Gallifrey, but the Time Lord who first explored this planet still seemed to think it worth noting as unusual. He didn’t find anything else. There’s no mineral wealth here, and no sentient lifeforms. But he did think the eclipses worth observing.”

“What was the Time Lord observation of Earth?” Jack asked. “Mostly harmless?”

“Something like that,” Davie answered. “The Time Lords DID have a very odd attitude to the rest of the universe. They kept themselves separate to it most of the time, yet they sent out their exploration parties to catalogue as much of it as possible. They observed the whole universe without ever having any impact upon it.”

“Until your great-granddaddy came along!” Jack said with a smile.

“Yep.” Davie smiled, proud to be a descendent of the one Time Lord who DID strive to make a difference. “And I intend to follow the same path. I will be a force for good in the universe.”

Jack noticed the expressions on the faces of Davie’s two companions as they assured him that he would do all of that, despite the universe being just as full of oppression and danger as it was in his great-grandfather’s youth. Both were a mixture of hero worship, devotion and love.

“Meantime, we just watch the eclipse on this planet?” Jack asked.

“Not just that,” Davie countered. “The previous Time Lord already did that. I’m going to make a detailed survey of the planet. I’m going to test the soil and air and water and take samples of plant life to analyse. We can add a lot more to the database entry about this planet.” He looked at Jack’s face and smiled. “Sorry if that’s a bit dull for an action hero like you. But even Granddad did stuff like this sometimes. The exciting adventures he used to tell us about were inbetween the quiet days picking flowers by a river bank.”

“We never picked flowers by a riverbank when I was with him,” Jack countered. Then he winced as the collar of his shirt rubbed against the burns on his neck. “I could use a quiet day, mind you.”

“You could do with a rest,” Davie observed. “I never gave it a thought. We’ve been walking for an hour, and you’re only Human after all, and not a hundred per cent fit. Let’s find a place to stop.”

“Have I just been PATRONISED by somebody I used to tuck up in bed when he was a youngster travelling along in his granddad’s TARDIS?” Jack grinned as he said that. He didn’t MIND, really. He was proud of how the two boys had turned out. He’d been around enough during their growing up to be justified in his pride. He’d had some part in making them who they were.

Davie looked around. Picking flowers by the riverbank was about right. They had been walking on grassland by the wide, fast flowing river for some time. The ground rose gradually to their left and there were some rocky outcrops that might have caves in them that he definitely wanted to check out. This was as good a place to conduct his survey as any. Spenser went down to the river to monitor the water and Brenda happily set about collecting samples of the plantlife while Davie marked out a metre section of the ground in order to do a census of the types of plants and any insect life within the section. Jack took his PDA and wrote down his findings for him. It was a pleasant enough way to while away the time until the first scheduled eclipse of the day. And it gave Jack the opportunity to talk to Davie out of earshot of the others about something that he thought he should talk to him about.

“You know that Spenser has the hots for you, don’t you?” he said to him. Davie looked at Jack and wondered what to say in reply. He decided on the truth.

“Yes, I noticed,” he answered. “I’ve felt it ever since I started teaching him. He’s a bit old for a ‘crush’ but I suppose that’s because of what his father did to him. He’s a little emotionally immature.”

“It’s more than a crush on his teacher. He adores you. It’s in his eyes. Every time he looks at you. I can tell, and I’ve only been around you for a few hours.”

“Me and Brenda are a sure thing. We’re going to get married when she’s of age. We love each other like… like nobody else in the universe matters.”

“Yeah, you’re the sweetest young things since the Doc and Rose finally admitted they loved each other. But Spenser is living in hope.”

“There’s nothing for him to hope for. I love Brenda,” Davie repeated. “And besides, Spenser is…” He blushed as he looked at Jack, who smiled faintly. “And I’m… I’m not…”

“Yeah, breaking gay hearts runs in your family, Davie. I think I fell in love with The Doctor about ten minutes after I met him. I knew it was never going to happen. He only had eyes for Rose. But I loved him. I would have died for him. I DID die for him. I’d do it again any time. I think Spenser would do the same for you.”

“What do I do about it?” Davie asked.

“You don’t DO anything. You don’t break his heart… or hearts, however many he has. You let him be your friend, and be ready to die for him, too. And never forget you’ve got somebody special there , somebody who could be even more precious than a girlfriend or a wife.”

“Is that how granddad thinks of you?”

“I’ve never been completely sure what he thinks of me. But he’s never deliberately hurt me. And the very few times when he’s let me near him physically or emotionally mean the world to me. If you can do the same for Spenser, then he’s a lucky guy.”

Davie was about to answer when he heard Brenda yell. He looked up and saw the first of the Hrid Nu moons getting close to the sun’s burning yellow disc. His own eyes automatically filtered themselves so that he could see it clearly. Spenser, with his Gallifreyan DNA, did the same. Brenda and Jack shaded their eyes with their hands and tried not to look directly at it. The moon began to slowly move in front of the sun, appearing to nibble away at it in a way that would cause consternation to primitive sun worshipping tribes. To the four people representing three advanced civilisations of the universe it was simply a natural phenomenon that was easily and simply explained.

Easily explained or not, it was spectacular. They all felt the change in the atmosphere over the half hour it took for the moon to completely obscure the sun. They saw the other moons shine in compensation around the sky and stars appear as it got darker. It wasn’t the complete black of night-time, but a deep dusk that sent the bird life of the planet chattering.

It got cold, too. Davie put his arm around Brenda to warm her. Jack thought longingly of a nice warm coat that he left behind in the lost ‘runabout’. Spenser hugged his arms around himself and looked rather lonely, standing apart from them all.

Then, as the eclipse was at its most complete, with a red corona around the black disc of the moon, it got a lot colder and the atmosphere seemed to close in around them. Even Jack, the only one of the party without psychic abilities, felt it. They all stood closer together. Davie hugged Brenda but he was aware of both Spenser and Jack beside him, their hands on his shoulder. He felt reassured knowing that he was in physical contact with all of his companions, as if he could protect them all that way.

That they NEEDED protecting was something he felt deep in his soul even if he couldn’t explain why.

A bolt of lightning grounded in the meadow on the other side of the river and they all looked up into the sky puzzled. On Tibora, on Earth, and so far as Davie was aware, on Gallifrey, lightning never came from a clear sky and they could still see a cloudless azure above them, dotted with stars and extra moons.

“That’s not PHYSICALLY possible,” Spenser insisted. “Lightning doesn’t come out of thin air.”

“Seems like it does here,” Davie answered him. “The laws of physics don’t have to apply to a planet that has solar eclipses every day.”

“Davie…” Brenda gripped his arm tightly. “It’s getting closer.”

“No, it just looks like it,” he started to say before a bolt struck in the middle of the river itself, proving him completely wrong. He stared in wonder as the after-image faded. The river that had been so pleasant before, so clear and pure they could drink from it without boiling, suddenly turned black as ink and roiled up over the bank, flooding the meadow and, against all physical laws, running uphill towards them.

“What the hell!” Jack yelled as the ground where they had been standing moments before changed from verdant green meadow grass, dotted with wild flowers, to a black, oily mud that even smelt rank and decayed. The transformation had happened in an eyeblink.

Davie looked down at the ground under his feet, ready to say that it was some kind of optical illusion in the darkness of the eclipse. But he felt the difference under the soles of his shoes. Solid, firm ground became mud that his feet were being sucked down into.

Then Brenda screamed. She didn’t mean to. When she chose to travel with Davie she had made up her mind NOT to be the sort of girl who screams all the time, like the pathetic heroine of an old style film. But when she felt something cold on her leg and looked down to see a bloodless hand coming up from the mud and grasping her ankle tightly, she couldn’t help herself.

“What the HELL!” Davie yelled, echoing Jack’s words a moment before as he reached for his sonic screwdriver and adjusted it to laser mode. He aimed it at the grasping arm just above the wrist and cut straight through it while Spenser and Jack both reached for Brenda’s arms and pulled her free.

“They’re EVERYWHERE!” Jack said, quite pointlessly, since everyone could see that clearly. They were surrounded by the black, rank mud and grasping, reaching hands and arms were springing up all around like eerily animated saplings.

“Higher ground, run, now,” Davie ordered and nobody questioned the authority in his voice as they turned and did as he said. He kept tight hold of Brenda’s hand and he was aware of Spenser grasping his other hand. Jack was close enough behind him to hear his breath as they tried to make the best speed they could through mud that pulled at their walking shoes and the horrible, unnatural hands that reached and grasped and clung to their ankles. They all tripped and stumbled but managed to stay upright somehow, except once when Davie went down, letting go of both Brenda and Spenser to stop them going down with him. He suppressed a shriek as he thought he saw a pair of dead, cold looking eyes in a horrible face looking up at him through the mud. Then a much warmer pair of arms was yanking him up onto his feet. Jack said something about one good turn deserving another as the four of them ran on again.

“There IS a cave,” Spenser yelled and ran for its relative safety. Davie breathed a sigh of relief as he felt solid rock under his feet and changed his sonic screwdriver to penlight mode to illuminate the gloom. He did a quick headcount and was glad to see that everyone was still with him.

“That Time Lord database,” Jack gasped between breaths as their pulses all returned to normal and both double and single heartbeats stopped pounding so hard. “No mention of the ground turning hostile!”

“Yeah, it’s a bit out of date,” Davie admitted. “I had no idea… I’d never have brought any of you here if I thought…” He went to the edge of the cave and looked out. In the gloom of the eclipse he watched the most horrific thing he had ever seen – and that included a great many horrors for one as young as he was. The ground itself was writhing and pulsating and – there was no other phrase that described it – giving BIRTH to living creatures. They looked ALMOST humanoid in that they had two arms, two legs, one head, one trunk and there were the humanoid number of eyes nose and mouth in the head. But there the term failed utterly. Because these were not humanoids as he knew them. They were not alive in the way he and Jack, Brenda and Spenser represented three warm-blooded humanoid races of the universe. The word homunculi lodged in his mind and though it wasn’t exactly right, it sufficed for now.

“The Bible speaks of mankind being made from the clay,” Spenser said out of the blue.

“And fashioned in the image of GOD,” Davie countered. “The God they taught me and Chris about in school assembly didn’t make THOSE!”

“They’re monsters!” Brenda said. “Davie, come away, please. If they see you…”

“I don’t think they can come here,” he answered. “Look. They shy away from the rocks. It’s as if they’re scared of solid ground.”

“Even so…” she begged him. “Davie, I’m scared. We ALL are. Even Jack. He’s pretending not to be, but I know he is.”

“Of course he is,” Davie answered. “Who wouldn’t be? It’s ok. We don’t have to stay here. I’ve got the remote function for the TARDIS…” He reached in his pocket and pulled out his key. He pressed it firmly between his thumb and forefinger. His DNA against the special alloy of the key should have formed a telepathic link to the heart of his TARDIS and brought it to him.

It was soon very obvious that it wasn’t happening.

“I’m sorry,” he said eventually. “I think the weirdness around here is interfering. We ARE stuck here. But it can’t go on forever. And we’ve got food and water in our backpacks. We’ll be all right.”

Brenda’s face in the penlight of the sonic screwdriver told of her disappointment and her anxiety. But she hugged him reassuringly.

“We WILL be all right. You’ll see us right.”

Her confidence in him might have been misplaced. He wasn’t sure what to do next. But it helped, all the same.

“You two both look like you need a hug, too,” he said to Spenser and Jack. “Unfortunately my Time Lord DNA gave me two hearts but it didn’t give me four arms.”

“That’s ok,” Jack countered. “It’s the thought that counts. Do you reckon this will stop when the eclipse is over? It STARTED when the eclipse was on, so it makes sense if…”

“Yes, it might,” Davie conceded. “If so, we WILL only be here for another half hour or more. Then we can get away.” He stood back from Brenda’s embrace and opened his backpack. He found a block of chocolate and a slab of Kendal Mint Cake, both all the way from Earth, and gave it to Brenda to share around them while he looked at the data on his hand held mini-computer. It was also linked to his TARDIS, though not by telepathy but rather his own highly sophisticated version of a wi-fi link that was good for up to fifty miles as long as there was nothing to interfere with it.

There WAS interference, and he had no access to the unlimited TARDIS database. But the information he had last accessed was in the memory and he was able to confirm that the eclipse would be over in another twenty minutes. They then had a window of fifty minutes to get back to the TARDIS before the next one.

“Won’t the TARDIS’s remote function work once the eclipse is over and things get back to normal?” Spenser asked.

“If it does, then we’re ok,” he answered. “But I’m not counting on it. We should be ready to move, fast, as soon as this is over.”

“In that case,” Jack said. “We should consider if we should ALL go. When it comes to a forced march in hostile territory, we’re only as fast as our weakest man… or woman…”

“I’m not weak,” Brenda protested.

“No, honey, you’re not,” Jack assured her. “Neither am I. But I’m only Human and as far as I know about your race you’re built about the same as us. And we’re neither of us as fast as those two with their ‘advanced musculature and respiratory systems’ that I’ve heard about so often. And I presume you know that trick with slowing down time that The Doctor does, as well?”

“Yes,” Davie answered. “But I can only use that for a limited time. And the laws of physics have been messed up enough on this planet. I don’t want to push it.”

“Even so, the sensible thing would be for me and Brenda to wait here while you two go and get the TARDIS.”

“NO!” Brenda protested. “No, don’t split us up. I couldn’t bear it. Not knowing where you are or how long it might be before this starts again… not knowing if you’ll reach us before THOSE things do.”

“I agree with Brenda,” Spenser said. “Even though what Jack said makes perfect SENSE, and he’s got more experience than all of us, and we SHOULD do what he suggested, I don’t think we should split. We need to look out for each other.”

“It’s Davie’s decision,” Brenda said. “Jack, I know you’re older and more experienced than all of us. But this is Davie’s mission. He brought us all in his TARDIS. He’s in charge. He decides.”

“Oh, honey,” Jack thought as he looked from Brenda to Davie. “You just made the decision ten times worse for him.” He had made the suggestion based on his own experiences of life or death situations. He remembered when he was with the Time Agency, stuck miles from their ship with an injured man, a DYING man, who might not have made it whichever way they decided. And he had been glad that day it wasn’t HIS judgement call.

Davie was young for that sort of responsibility. It would have been better if they had taken the decision between them, with nobody having to have the casting vote.

But on the other hand, Davie WAS in charge. And he wasn’t much younger than the lieutenant who had been in command that time he was remembering. He had to make the decision now, based on sound military advice versus gut instinct. He had to stick with his decision and live with the consequences if he was wrong.

Because if he didn’t, then he WOULDN’T be the leader he wanted to be. He would NEVER live up to The Doctor as he so obviously yearned to do.

“I won’t split us up,” Davie said after the silence between the four of them had stretched for several seconds. “Jack, for what it’s worth, I think what you said was right. And I SHOULD be going with your idea. And if I’m wrong, you can kick me later. But I don’t want us split up in this place. As soon as it’s safe, we all move together. We move at the best speed our slowest member can move. We don’t leave anyone behind.”

Jack nodded. He put his hand on Davie’s shoulder reassuringly.

“Gut instinct. I’d go with that every time, even if it means overruling my own head,” he told him.

“It’s getting lighter,” Spenser observed. “I think the eclipse is passing. I just hope…”

“Oh!” Brenda murmured as she stepped towards the cave entrance. They all turned and looked. The eclipse was almost half over now. It WAS getting lighter. And as it did, the planet was transforming again. The inhuman creatures were dissolving back into the mud and the mud was turning back into a carpet of grass and wild flowers. They could hear birdsong and the sound of a fast flowing, crystal clear river.

“Come on,” Davie said. “Grab everything and let’s go.”

They had a window of fifty minutes, give or take, before another eclipse began and the planet once again transformed from a pastoral idyll to a nightmare that defied the laws of physics, of logic, of reality itself as they knew it.

Davie knew it had taken them an hour and a half to get to where they were when the eclipse began. But then they had been leisurely strolling, admiring the view, talking amongst themselves. The forced march pace that Jack set, and the rest of them fell into step with, was faster.

He had to hope it was fast enough.

Brenda WAS their weakest ‘man’, of course. She tried not to be. And Jack tried to make it look as if he was suffering as much as she was, to make her feel less of a liability to them. When they stopped running, and she gasped for breath, he did, too. But Davie knew he was putting it on for her sake. Jack was almost equal to him and Spenser with their Gallifreyan DNA.

“You’re doing fine,” he assured Brenda, putting one hand over her chest and the other around her shoulder as he concentrated hard and gently steadied her heart until she breathed normally. He turned from her and did the same for Jack.

“I suppose if granddad did this, it would have the opposite effect on your pulse?” Davie said with a smile that was matched and out-matched by Jack’s innuendo-laden grin. “Lucky for us he isn’t here, or you’d be hyperventilating.”

“Do it to Spenser and he’ll pass out in your arms!” Jack answered in a whisper only Davie heard.

“Behave yourself,” he replied. “Come on, let’s move again.”

“You got any theories about what caused all this, Captain Davie?” Jack asked when they stopped again to draw breath.

“None at all,” he admitted. “I’ve never seen anything like it. And neither has granddad. He’s seen some of the most unbelievable things you can imagine. But nothing like this.”

“It looks so NORMAL, now,” Brenda commented. “Warm, sunny, the river, the grass…”

Nobody replied to that. But they all looked up at the sky and saw another pale moon in the blue sky, drawing close to the sun.

“Jekyll and Hyde,” Spenser said. “It was a novel…. My father seemed to find a strange pleasure in it…”

“Yes, I’ve read it,” Davie answered. “Jekyll and Hyde planet… Good name for it. But it doesn’t explain why.”

“Do we CARE why?” Brenda asked. “Let’s get BACK to the TARDIS, and get away. Put some kind of hazard marker on the system so nobody else comes near it, and LEAVE.”

“Yes,” Davie said. “Let’s move again. The sooner we’re gone, the better.”

In his heart, the idea of just leaving, without knowing, jarred. The yearning to KNOW, to discover, to solve the mystery, was something he inherited from The Doctor even before he had his heart beating in his breast and his soul nestled within his own. He WANTED to know what this was all about. But the safety of the people with him was paramount. He had to let it remain a mystery, even if it nagged at him forever that he had ‘failed’ in that way.

But he was in for another shock today. It was Brenda who realised first. She stopped running and pulled at his arm making him stop, too.

“Davie, where’s the TARDIS? THIS is where we left it.”

“Can’t be,” he answered. “This scenery all looks a lot alike. You must be mistaken.”

“No,” she replied. “Because I remember. The way the river bows around here. And there’s that little cut off bit with the tree.”

“This whole planet changes in minutes,” Spenser pointed out. “The bow might be in a different place now.”

“No,” Jack said. “I think she’s right. We’ve travelled the right distance. Davie, you KNOW it, don’t you. You can FEEL it. And…” He pulled up his sleeve to reveal the leather wristlet he always wore with various miniaturised computer functions on it. One of them at least was something like an interactive map. “We’re standing right where the TARDIS ought to have been.”

Being right gave neither Jack nor Brenda any satisfaction. The TARDIS was gone. They were TRAPPED on this planet that was going to turn violent again any moment. They all looked up and around and saw the second eclipse about to begin as the moon clipped the edge of the sun.

“There’s no high ground here,” Davie noted. “No rocks.” He looked around. Their best chance was back the way they came to the point where the meadowland started to rise up to the rocky ridge. All their hearts sank. It was a long run again, this time with very little comfort at the end of it, just a chance to save their own lives.

“We’ve got to,” he said. “Brenda, come on, sweetheart. We’ll manage.”

“What then? Do we starve to death on a rock in the middle of a nightmare planet? What happens at night? Do they come out THEN, too?”

“Somebody will be looking for us,” Jack said. “My ship’s emergency signal was strong enough to reach the nearest 22nd security station. They’ll be looking for me. They’ll check out the planet.”

“But Davie’s lost his TARDIS!”

“Our lives are more important,” Davie said. “Come on, let’s go. Quickly.”

They ran again, their hearts aching from sorrow and misery as well as from the pain of running constantly. Davie DID think their lives were more important. But his TARDIS was precious to him and he felt the loss keenly.

And there was another thing. He was glad the other two couldn’t connect to him telepathically. Because he was at least fifty per cent sure Jack was lying when he said that his people would pick up his transponder signal and come looking. He was saying it to give them all something to hope for. But it was a very long shot even if he thought it COULD happen.

The sky was darkening rapidly and they were still a long way from safety when the lightning began again. They saw it hit the far bank first, and Davie yelled at them to keep running. They didn’t see when it hit the water and caused it to transform. But they heard the sound of the water roiling up and spilling over the meadow.

“It’s happening faster this time,” Spenser said. “Before, it wasn’t until the eclipse was full.”

“The first time already made the ground restless?” Jack suggested.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Brenda tried to say.

“Well, I don’t know. Never come across ground that wanted to kill me before. How do I know how it works?”

“Don’t talk,” Davie yelled. “Everyone, run for the higher ground, the rocks, NOW!”

They did as he said. Jack sprinted ahead, finding a reserve of energy he didn’t know he had. Davie helped Brenda. Spenser almost certainly could have got ahead, but he didn’t. He stuck by the two of them. It wasn’t Jack’s fault. He didn’t know they weren’t right behind him as he reached safety. He turned and watched in horror as his three friends were cut off by the mud-born homunculi that grasped at their legs and tried to trip them.

Jack was running back towards them as he saw Brenda and Spenser both fall, and Davie with them. He heard all three of them scream. Then he saw Brenda and Davie stand up together. He reached them in a few more fast strides.

“Where’s Spenser?” he asked, taking in Brenda’s shocked, tear-streaked face and Davie’s devastated expression. “Oh no…”

“I couldn’t hold onto them both,” Davie cried. “I tried. But I couldn’t hold them both…”

“Come on,” Jack told him, grabbing both their hands. “We can’t help him now. Come on, run.”

Brenda didn’t need to be told twice. She ran, kicking at the dragging hands and arms. Davie was reluctant. Jack felt him trying to get back.

“I’m SORRY,” Jack told him. “But you can’t help him by sacrificing yourself.”

“Maybe I CAN,” Davie answered and he broke free of Jack’s hand and turned. He ran towards the place where he had seen Spenser pulled under by the creatures. He let them grasp him and pull him down, too. Brenda’s scream as she stood on the edge of the rocky safety and saw him disappear under the sucking, ghastly mud was heart-breaking. Jack comforted her as much as he was able while he gently edged her further up the outcrop, well out of reach of the creatures that emerged from the ground.

“He’s DEAD!” she screamed. “He’s dead. They dragged him down into the ground…”

“I don’t know,” Jack told her. “I don’t think… I don’t think Davie would just throw his life away. He must have some sort of idea. He must think he has a chance of reaching Spenser.”

“So… so he left me!” Brenda clung to Jack as she stared at the writhing black creatures below them. “He left me… and went after Spenser. He…”

“He knew you were safe. He knew I could take care of you,” Jack assured her. “And he went after his missing man. Like a good captain.”

“I’m not daft, Jack,” she said between loud, painful gasps for breath. “I know what’s going on between them. He’s spent so long with Spenser – long telepathic sessions, teaching him. And then he goes up to Northumbria to visit him. And he…”

“He hasn’t done anything wrong, I promise you. Spenser DOES love him. But is that any surprise? YOU love him. I’d fancy him myself if I didn’t have a woman who would break my arm if I looked at ANYONE else.”

Brenda managed something like a laugh between her sobs, as Jack meant her to do. He hugged her closer and hoped that he was right when he said he thought Davie knew what he was doing.

If he was totally honest with himself, he HADN’T been thinking and he didn’t know what he was doing when he had let himself be taken down. All he knew was that he had promised, only a few hours ago, to look after Spenser, to be ready to die for him.

As they dragged him down, as he felt the cold mud closing around him, he had thought he WAS going to die. It was a ghastly feeling. Even though he had closed off his breathing and was in no danger of suffocating it was frighteningly claustrophobic being sucked down into the very soil.

Then there had been no soil. He felt himself falling, ten, maybe fifteen feet through the thin, stale air beneath, before a hard landing in the dark that would have winded him if he wasn’t recycling his breathing. It hurt him, and for a long time he lay there knowing that, if he was hurting, he must be alive.

“Who’s there?” A voice called in the darkness. “Is somebody there?”

“Spenser?” He reached in his pocket and found his sonic screwdriver. It gave enough light to see by, and he quickly took in where he was.

It looked like a cave, except that the roof was pulsating, cold, wet mud, the underside of the same horror they had witnessed above. He turned his eyes from it quickly. The ground was hard packed earth that seemed to be covered with some kind of pale residue. He knew he should probably analyse it. There was something worrying about it. But first he had to look after Spenser. He found him hunched up miserably not far away. Spenser looked at him and then reached out and hugged him around the neck. Davie didn’t try to stop him. In this lifeless place the touch of another living being was comforting.

“Are you hurt, Spenser?” he asked him.

“No, I’m not hurt. Not badly, anyway. Davie, can you feel it? Around us… Can you feel it?”

“Yes. I can. I CAN feel it. Above us… it’s like a skin over the land. A living skin, animated by the energies that this planet is constantly bombarded with. It… consumes any organic thing that it can take hold of. Oh, Sweet Mother of Chaos! The floor… the residue… it’s organic. It’s the remains of creatures, birds, animals, CONSUMED by the skin. But how?”

“When the light returns, and the fiendish creatures are absorbed into the land again, the skin sheds a liquid… like bile… that strips flesh… We’re in the stomach of this living land. We’re…”

“We’re its food? No. Come on. We’re getting out of here. We’ve got to move in the dark, I’m afraid. Because I need the sonic screwdriver to be something other than a torch. I know, pretty dumb having a sonic tool that can only do one thing at once. I should work on it giving light at the same time as its other functions.”

“You could just keep a torch in your pocket as well,” Spenser suggested.

“I like to travel light.” Davie answered as he took hold of Spenser’s hand. “I’m going to time fold. I think we can risk trying. So stick close to me.”

He concentrated very hard. Anything like that was difficult with the strange forces this planet was infused with, but he managed it. Time slowed around them and they moved faster than their best speed even as two young Gallifreyan men. Davie led the way, following the signal his sonic screwdriver was giving back to him. He knew they HAD a way out of this eerie, awful place. But did they have the time?

Jekyll and Hyde? Mostly Hyde. Even when the planet looked gentle and pastoral above, something terrible was happening underneath. He wondered WHAT had made it like this. Surely it wasn’t always like this? Two thousand years ago when one of his own people catalogued it, there was nothing like this. It must have happened since. Perhaps it was the destruction of the other planets that did it.

He still wanted to know. But he had a feeling he never would.

As long as he didn’t fail to get everyone off this dreadful planet alive, he thought he could live with the other failure.

“Davie,” Spenser said to him, and he felt an increased pressure on his hand. “Thank you. For coming for me. It means a lot to me. You didn’t leave me behind.”

“I wouldn’t leave anyone behind,” he assured him. “You’re a friend, Spenser. You always will be. You know that, don’t you? You’ll always be a friend.”


“Ok. We’re nearly there. So hang in there. Keep hold of my hand. I’m not going to lose you now.”

“How near?” Spenser asked. “Because I think… Something’s changing. The air feels different.”

“We’re there,” Davie said. “I found it. My TARDIS. I knew it had to be down here. It’s partially organic, too. The living ground swallowed it. But it couldn’t digest it.”

He switched to penlight mode again and looked at the grey metallic form of his TARDIS in default mode. It was covered in the residue. The living land had tried to consume it. But a TARDIS was not so easy to destroy. He found his key and opened the door gratefully. As they stepped across the threshold they heard a noise like rain falling, but the liquid that fell from the roof wasn’t just water. He heard the hiss of acid and a foul smell before Spenser shut the door.

Jack and Brenda stood up as the sky lightened and the hostile land turned to a pastoral idyll again. They looked all around them and wondered what they should do now.

Then they both laughed with joy as they felt the Chinese TARDIS materialising around them. Red and black lacquered walls with symbols that protected the people inside the TARDIS from demons without solidified. They both felt, as they never felt before, grateful for that protection.

“Dunno how you did it,” Jack said to Davie. “But I’m glad you did.”

Davie didn’t reply. He was too busy being hugged and kissed passionately by Brenda.

“Spenser,” Jack said gently, taking him by the shoulder and turning him away from watching them. “When he forgets you exist because she’s the one he wants more - that’s when you step away and find something you suddenly remembered you have to do. You hide the pain in your eyes, the longing to be the one getting those kisses. And you just be the best friend either of them ever had and never let them down.”

“He’ll never hold me that way.”

“No, he won’t. At least not unless something very unusual happens. But he’ll never hurt you, Spenser. Not deliberately. He’s too much like The Doctor for that.”

Spenser nodded and managed to smile. He understood what Jack was saying. It cut like a knife, but all the same, it was worth it, for the few moments when Davie DID know he was there. Then he and Jack quietly took over the drive control and piloted them out of the Jekyll and Hyde planetary system and into clear space.