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

Christopher carried Garrick as they stood on the anti-grav surface and travelled along the corridor at a relaxing pace. The Vulpesi steward with his long, luxurious, lilac tail looped over his arm was ahead of them. So was their luggage and Garrick’s folding pushchair, travelling on their own anti-grav cushion. Jackie, holding onto Christopher’s arm was trying not to laugh. She had met many different species over the past few years, but something about the Vulpesi tickled her sense of humour. She shook slightly, suppressing a giggle, as the Steward adjusted his tail.

That was Jackie. It was one of the reasons he loved her. She was so natural. A man with a long lilac tail amused her.

Ámándáliá – Mandy as he affectionately called her, would not have laughed. Not that she didn’t have a sense of humour. She had often laughed and he had loved her when she did. But she had been brought up from childhood to be the wife of a High Councillor or a Diplomat, or at the least, a businessman. She laughed when it was appropriate to laugh and kept her composure at other times. She would probably have found the Vulpesi amusing, too. But she wouldn’t have laughed.

Mandy was the perfect wife, perfect hostess at dinner, perfect consort when he played the diplomat and met other species even stranger than the Vulpesi.

Jackie was herself. And he loved her as herself. He knew that the Gallifreyan aristocratic society he came from, that Ámándáliá was at home in, would have laughed at her, called her common, low stock, looked down on her, shunned her. They would have wondered what possessed him to consider a relationship with somebody like her. They would never have taken the time to find out just what was special about her. They would never have seen her heart of gold. They would have broken that heart as she tried to fit in and be accepted by them. And it would have broken his hearts to see her try, because he loved her just as she was, and he didn’t care that she was bursting with suppressed laughter right now.

She managed not to laugh out loud before they reached the door to their suite, anyway. She took Garrick from him as he accepted the biometric key that opened the door, his own DNA imprinting on it as soon as he touched the small, flat card. The steward stood aside as he brought his wife and child into the room.

“Oh!” Jackie gasped as she looked around. It was an ‘Oh’ loaded with pleasure and he was glad. He had dismissed so many elaborate and sophisticated designs, Roman bath houses, Greek temples, art deco, Arabian palaces, sea shores with artificial sand, forest glades, all in favour of something he knew she would feel comfortable with, and which he had been sure would make her very happy.

He had made one stipulation to the Vulpesi booking clerk who had taken his reservation. No shade or variation of the colour commonly known as purple was to be in the colour scheme. Every time he had stayed on the diplomatic ship, SS Isle of Capri, he had been given a room with purple as the dominant colour. No matter what theme, purple was in it. He was very, very, definitely clear this time.

No purple.

And they did him proud. His instructions were carried out exactly in the fitting out of the luxury, custom suite. It looked like the lounge of an English country pub. It had a half timbered ceiling with horse brasses along the black oak beams. It had a polished wooden floor and oak panelled walls. A long, wooden bar with old fashioned beer pumps and optics was along one side of the room and two huge sofas of deep red leather were set around a low table of oak and smoked glass. A dining table of polished wood stood by a big window of mullioned panes with a long leather seat in front of it. A brass bowl of flowers was in the middle of the table, a fine touch that he thoroughly appreciated.

Even the smell was exact. Leather and oak, wax furniture polish, the tang of malt whiskey, and of food being cooked. That wasn’t an illusion. He had arranged for them to eat when they got there. A Vulpesi waiter would bring them their meal when they were ready for it.

“Oh, my GOD!” Jackie exploded as she looked around. “This is our room?”

“It’s the drawing room of the suite,” Christopher answered. “There is a bedroom behind that oak door where our lilac tailed friend is taking the luggage. Do you like it? I was very particular about it. I think this is the first room they’ve done with not a hint of purple in it.”

“It’s….” She turned and gripped her husband’s hand. She had a strange expression, joyful, and tearful at the same time.

“It’s the Old Stone – the country pub where Pete and I went on our honeymoon. Just outside Maidstone. A mate of a mate of Pete’s moved down there and bought a pub because he’d had an accident at work and got loads of compensation and he wanted to be his own boss and be a landlord. And Pete’s mate got a discount. Even with the money off we could only afford three nights, but they were three great nights. We always said we’d come again, when Rose was grown a bit. But… you know…”

“Oh, sweetheart!” Christopher pulled his wife, still holding their baby, close to him. “Oh, my love. I’m sorry. I got it wrong. I thought this room would please you, and it has just made you unhappy.”

“Please me?” She kissed his cheek. “Christopher, it’s perfect. Don’t mind me… that daft little moment. It’s fantastic. How did you even know? It’s exactly right - the windows, the horse brasses, the old paintings of when it was a coaching house in… whatever century that sort of thing was… Those leather sofas – the only difference is there’s only two big sofas, just for us, and no big screen TV over there with men watching football. Which is fine by me. Don’t need those. Just the two of us is fine. But how did you even know?”

“I’ve been practising young Chris’s mind exercises. My telepathy isn’t as good as it should be. So sometimes at night, when you’re asleep, I look into your mind. I find things that you remember… and concentrate on them really hard so that I know them as well as you do. This place… or the real one, anyway, it’s a place you love. It’s one of your precious memories. So I made sure I got all the details right…”

“You do that? When I’m asleep?” Jackie looked a little disturbed. She wasn’t sure it was a good thing or not. He could reach into her mind just like looking into her underwear drawer? There was something a bit scary about that. And yet, after all, she had married him, pledging her heart and mind and very soul to him. She had carried his child within her for sixteen long months. There wasn’t a part of her that didn’t belong to him absolutely.

“What else have you seen?” she asked. “Anything that…”

“I’ve seen you falling in love, twice. First with Pete, then with me. You’ve known so many other men inbetween. You wanted to be in love, to be loved. But you were only sure about it twice. You only gave your heart fully to Pete and to me.”

“Yes,” she sighed. “Yes. I have been so stupid most of my life. So many men… I thought they might be the one. And they let me down. Then you…”

Christopher nodded. He had seen all of that easily enough. The first time he had been introduced to her, as The Doctor’s son, her future step-grandson of all things, she had liked him. He was still grieving for Ámándáliá then. The memory of her death was so fresh in his mind. He was stunned by all that had happened to him, all that had happened when he was lost. And he had been sitting on her sofa in that old flat in London. Jackie had asked him if he would like tea or coffee, or maybe something stronger. She said something about a bottle of Amaretto in the sideboard. He didn’t even know what that was. He wasn’t even certain about coffee. They drank something similar on Gallifrey, but they didn’t call it coffee. Tea, he had understood. His family always drank tea, imported from Earth. Then Jackie said she had a nice tin of Earl Grey that she’d won at a raffle and while he was still working out what that meant she went off and made tea in a china pot, on a tray. He learnt later that it was unusual for her to do that. Usually she made tea with bags, straight into the mugs. But she had wanted to make it special, for him. He drank the tea, and it reminded him of home, his childhood, drinking tea with his parents. He had almost cried. Jackie sat next to him on the sofa and smiled and said something that made him laugh.

“My daughter and your dad are getting married. Where does that leave the two of us?”

It wasn’t quite the moment they fell in love. But it was the moment that they realised they [[[might have a connection apart from their insanely shaped family tree. It was two or three cups of tea later that he had told her about Mandy, and she had told him about Pete. She had shown him pictures of her late husband. He had wanted to show her one of Mandy, but he didn’t have one. And Jackie, who some people thought was a silly, stupid, common woman, had smiled warmly and gone on talking.

“If you can remember her face, you’ll always have her in your heart.” Then she remembered he was a Time Lord. “Or is it hearts? You lot are so weird. But anyway, don’t you worry, lovey. You’ll be all right.”

“Was that really what I said?” Jackie asked.

“It was. I’d never been called ‘lovey’ before. I didn’t really know about Earth colloquialisms. But it felt nice. I wanted to./ talk to you. I wanted to hear your voice. Father made a joke about it later, saying that getting you to stop talking was the problem. But he didn’t mean it. It was just his way.”

“Yeah, your dad has some funny ways. You were more what I needed. Steady, reliable, quiet. And yet… still able to surprise me in wonderful ways. Like this.” She smiled widely and kissed him. The steward came from the inner room as she did so, but he was paid not to mind when guests kissed each other in the rooms. Christopher tipped him with a silver credit coin and he bowed, his tail flicking respectfully, then left the room. Christopher took Jackie by the hand into the bedroom.

That, too, brought a sentimental lump to her throat as well as a cry of joy. It was her honeymoon bedroom in every detail. From the half timbered ceiling to the big, old fashioned, wooden bedstead with a lovely old style patchwork quilt on it. There was a big old-fashioned wardrobe with a mirror on it and a dressing table and there were vases of fresh flowers everywhere that gave it a delicate smell beyond that of the wax furniture polish. Even that smell was there. It was perfect.

There was one detail that wasn’t there in the honeymoon room, of course. By the mullioned window looking out onto what had to be a fake view of Kentish countryside, was a rocking chair and a swinging crib for Garrick. Jackie brought him to it and laid him down, snug among the baby blankets. He looked up at her with his brown baby eyes and gurgled before falling asleep in that safe, comfortable place.

“That pot of tea you wanted will be on the table,” Christopher told her. “And lunch. Then, we have a quiet afternoon to ourselves. I think we may test how comfortable that bed is. Later, I do want to show you around this ship, fully.”

“As long as I get that cuppa, first, I don’t mind anything else,” Jackie replied. He took her by the hand into the main room. The window table had a china tea pot on it now, and china cups and saucers and cream and sugar. They sat and enjoyed the tea quietly before the waiter came with their lunch. He looked like an ordinary British pub landlord except for the lilac tail that made her smile again. The lunch, on the other hand, almost reduced her to tears. It was a huge oval plate with a big slice of steak and kidney pie with puffed pastry crust, Yorkshire pudding, creamed potatoes, baby carrots and mange tout, with a rich brown gravy over it. It was the meal that they had been served when she and Pete came to that country pub so many years ago.

“We had apple pie and ice cream for afters,” she remembered. “And we had coffee and brandy. Well, Pete had brandy. I had a Cherry B. I thought I was so sophisticated. I was only eighteen, going on nineteen. I’d never really had proper alcohol before. Only cans of lager or cider with the girls, you know…”

Christopher didn’t know, if truth be told. The culture in which teenage girls thought it was being sophisticated to be able to buy cans of cheap alcohol in supermarkets and drink them in the streets was a million light years from his own life. He wasn’t even completely sure what a Cherry B was, though if it was what Jackie wanted later he was sure it could be procured on the SS Isle of Capri, where far more outrageous desires were routinely fulfilled.

Steak and kidney pie was a new experience for Christopher. But he savoured it. He savoured the apple pie and ice cream, too. And afterwards their waiter brought them coffee and brandy – cherry brandy in Jackie’s case. He saw her smile as she tasted it, and couldn’t resist looking at the memory it invoked. He made a note of it for later.

“You even got the view,” Jackie remarked as she looked out of the window. “It’s not real, of course. This isn’t a pub in Kent with an old hop house with ivy growing over it in the garden. We’re on a space ship orbiting a planet in something called the Blue Star Galaxy.”

“It’s a faithful illusion. And not a bit of purple. I thought they’d sneak some in, somewhere.”

“I wouldn’t mind if they did,” Jackie said. “This is nice, and I’m so pleased. But really, it’s only special because you’re here with me.” She kissed him fondly. She tasted the strong Napoleon brandy in his mouth. He tasted the sweetness of cherry brandy in hers. The kiss lasted a long time.

“That’s real,” she said. “I love you, Christopher de Lœngbærrow.”

“I love you, my Lady Jacqueline de Lœngbærrow.” He answered. “I always will.”

“We both told somebody else that once.”

“Gallifreyans never fall out of love,” Christopher assured her. “Mandy sleeps in my mind. The mother of my daughter. But you are my wife now, mother of my son, the woman who let me live again. And I think it’s time we tested that bedroom.” He took her by the hand. The waiter who had served their meal bowed his tail-flicking bow and Christopher told him that he would not be required once the table was cleared and led his wife into the bedroom.

There, they were both startled. There was a young Vulpesi female sitting in the rocking chair, feeding Garrick. Jackie was astonished. Christopher was angry, though he contained his anger as befitted a diplomat.

“I did not request the child minding service until later,” he said. “And I certainly didn’t order the full wet nurse service. I also specified that the service transmats should be disabled. I don’t want staff coming and going without my knowledge. In future will you please knock at the main door.”

“My apologies, sir, madam,” she answered as she finished the feed. Jackie took Garrick from her and held him proprietarily. The woman fastened her clothes and stood up, curling her tail over her arm. Christopher waited until she had gone, disappearing through a transmat portal that opened on the far wall of the room, then he took his sonic screwdriver and sealed all of the portals in the suite. Jackie sat in the rocking chair with her baby. He had been changed and was fresh and clean. She winded him and held him tight.

“Vulpesi milk is thoroughly nutritious,” Christopher assured her. “It will have done him no harm. Even so…”

“Even so,” Jackie cut in. “That was out of order. He’s my baby. I wouldn’t have minded if it was just a matter of giving him a bottle. But he’s mine… It’s not…”

Christopher’s anger had subsided, now. He watched her with their son and smiled.

“Wet nursing used to be common among my own people.” He said. “The high born ladies would give their lords the heirs they wanted, but the nurturing of them fell to others.”

“Did you…” Jackie began.

“Not as far as I know. My mother was too fond of me to let anyone else have the care of me. And Mandy nursed Susan herself. But our family broke with tradition in that. Anyway, Garrick is fine. And I’ve secured the portals, now.”

“It’s kind of weird that they could just come and go like that.”

“Well, they can’t now. We’re perfectly alone here now.” He laughed at a sudden memory. “When I was here last, with Mandy, she threw a Greek urn at two scantily clad Vulpesi men who turned up claiming to be the entertainment. She missed, fortunately, and she laughed about it afterwards, but they gave her the fright of her life when they appeared out of the blue.”

“Good for her,” Jackie told him. “I’d have thrown more than an urn at them.” She laughed at the idea as she settled Garrick into his crib again and came to her husband on the bed.

“I was four months gone with Rose on our honeymoon,” she said. “This time…” She smiled widely. “Come here, my gorgeous, handsome lord…”

Christopher smiled and slipped off his jacket and loosened his tie. His two wives had one thing in common, at least. They both called him ‘lord’ in bed.

When they woke, several satisfying hours later, Jackie went to Garrick and fed and changed and cuddled him while Christopher showered and dressed. Then he sat with the baby on his knee while she got ready to spend the evening enjoying the leisure facilities of the SS Isle of Capri. They both dressed casually. In his case, that meant he wore a deep blue, open necked shirt without a tie, though matching jacket and trousers still went with it. Jackie was in a pretty cotton dress, tight at the waist and with a pleated skirt. She had her long hair in a neat pony tail and was lightly made up. Christopher put Garrick in his pushchair to come with them.

They went up to the observation deck. While the guest suites were all customised for individual tastes, the public areas remained the same. Even there, though, an eclectic imagination was at work. The observation deck, for example, was a replica of what Christopher now knew to be the top of the Eiffel Tower. When he first came, as a nine year old, accompanying his parents to the social events that preceded a trade conference, he hadn’t known that. Later, when he brought his first wife, he had not been aware of the significance of the design, either. But having lived on Earth for a while now, he finally got it. He had taken Jackie to the real Eiffel Tower a few times, including a double date with his father and Rose when they had gone to the parties both to mark the turn of 1900 and 2000 in the same night. His father said the party to mark 2999 becoming 3000 was even more spectacular, but neither of the women had been tempted.

This time, the view was not of Paris, of course. Outside the exoglass windows was the first REAL view of space since they came aboard. The blue sun of the Ci-Khezk system was a fascinating sight, as were its four planets, all utterly beautiful and very poor. Tomorrow, as Chancellor of the Gallifreyan Government, the ultimate neutral with no vested interests, he was going to chair a conference that should lead to trade agreements giving the people of those four planets a real chance of a prosperous future. He was proud to have been asked to play that role, and looked forward to making such a huge difference in people’s lives. Meanwhile he was happy to stroll around this facsimile of M. Eiffel’s creation, looking at the view with his wife and child.

“I still don’t get how a sun can be blue,” Jackie said. “But I won’t make you explain. You’re dad’s the one for that. And anyway, I don’t need to understand it to think it’s really beautiful.”

“It is, that,” Christopher agreed. “But there’s another view of it I want to show you. I think you’ll like it.”

He steered the pushchair towards one of the Eiffel tower replica lifts, complete with a plaque celebrating the work of Mr Otis who designed mechanical lifts in the 19th century. Jackie laughed at that and reminded Christopher that the lift in the old flats she lived in were made by the Otis company. He remembered how many times he had walked up the none too fragrant stairwell when they were ‘courting’ and appreciated the irony.

They came out into what looked like the upper cage of the Eiffel Tower. It was enclosed by exo-glass, of course, and again the views were not of Paris, but of the blue sun and its planets. Here, however, it was possible to see every side at once.

The upper observation deck was a public bar. Christopher bought two drinks. Jackie was surprised to find that he had brought her a cherry brandy as they sat close to the exo-glass and looked out at the magnificent scene.

Here, though, was more than just scenery. Everyone around was waiting expectantly for something more, and very soon they got it. Jackie yelped as she saw something like the phenomena known as St. Elmo’s fire running around the exo-glass skin. The lights inside the observation lounge were turned down so as to better appreciate it. The blue arcing light and the blue sun and its planets in the background were even more beautiful.

It got more powerful, too. Soon, huge bolts of blue lightning were arcing off the ship itself. Jackie watched the silvery-grey of the body of the ship light up incandescent. She was not the only one who was making the kind of ‘oooh’ noises associated with firework displays every time a particularly fantastic effect was created.

“It’s a natural phenomenon of this system.” Christopher said. “A build up of positive and negatively charged dust caught up in a very loose gravitational field just around this part of the system, between the third and fourth planet, causes this effect if any large body capable of generating its own artificial gravity is moved into it. It’s perfectly harmless. It’s one of the ‘pleasure trips’ that the SS Isle of Capri offers to clients, along with a couple of supernovas and a very splendid black hole event horizon. I don’t exactly know how it works myself. You can ask my father when we get home. But I just knew you’d like it.”

Jackie nodded and watched the most fantastic electrical storm she had ever seen, and drank her cherry brandy. Christopher watched her thoughts. As he expected, the lightning and the taste of brandy brought her back to a very particular memory that he had glimpsed before. It was the summer when she and Pete were ‘courting’. They had driven out from London into the countryside and were sitting outside a pub with tables and umbrellas. Pete had a half pint of something, because he was driving. Jackie had a glass of cherry brandy, and yes, it made her feel sophisticated to be drinking a liqueur very slowly, wearing a pretty dress and sitting out there under that umbrella with a nice view over the countryside. It had been a warm, balmy evening. Then, very quickly, it became a cold one, and forked lightning split the air and thunderclaps sent shivers down her spine. They had stayed where they were, even when the torrent of rain accompanied the electrical storm. They were young and in love, and it had felt like the most perfectly romantic moment of their courtship.

And that was why lightning and cherry brandy had come together in her mind as something very special.

“Thank you,” Jackie told her husband. “You’re wonderful.”

“I only had to buy the drinks. The planetary system of Ci-Khezk did the rest all by itself.”

“Look at Garrick,” she whispered. Christopher looked down at the baby in the pushchair. He was five months old now, and learning more every day, though no faster than any Human child did at that age. The intensive education that he would need to start him on the way to being a Time Lord like his father and grandfather and generations before were a while off, yet. But Jackie was convinced that he was special, and Christopher was inclined to agree. Especially right now. His baby son was looking at the flashing and arcing lights outside the exo-glass window. His eyes were following the movement and his little face was lit with interest. He reached out his baby arms towards the glass as if he wanted to touch it.

“You want to look closer, son?” Christopher asked and bent to unfasten the straps and lift Garrick into his arms. He put one arm around Jackie and the other held his child safely as the three of them looked out at the phenomenon.

Christopher felt he wanted to record the memory of it on the inside of his brain. His perfect family memory that he would keep for his whole life, more securely than a photograph.

Then something happened. Something sudden and unexpected. Christopher was the only one who could remember any particular sensation afterwards. He remembered feeling as if his body was being ripped apart at the molecular level. He knew that feeling well enough. He had felt it in the seconds it took a sub-atomic explosion to rip apart his life the first time. He saw Jackie beside him, felt his child in his arms. But the name he screamed as he lost consciousness was that of his first wife.

“Mandy?” he murmured her name again as consciousness returned to him. Then he looked at Jackie lying on the deck beside him and called her name, instead. Relief flooded through him as he realised that she was alive. So was the other body lying with them in a crumpled heap. And looking at him, he realised what had happened right away.

“Christopher…” Jackie opened her eyes and groaned. She felt as if she had the worst hangover ever. Yet all she could taste was the cherry brandy she had been drinking moments before.

She stood up and looked around. Something was very wrong. She was standing in an observation lounge full of dead people. She suppressed the urge to scream at the sight of the corpses all around her and looked at Christopher. He was alive. He was briskly practical as he took a long black cloak from one of the corpses and used it to wrap the naked body of the young man he lifted up from the ground and held very tenderly.

“Christopher!” she managed to say though her mouth was horribly dry. “What happened? Why are people dead… and where’s… Garrick…. Where is our baby?”

“Jackie,” Christopher answered. “THIS is Garrick. He’s… we’ve…. I’m not sure what happened. We’ve all been exposed to something that… that… rapidly aged us all. That’s why everyone else is dead. I…” He closed his eyes and concentrated. He felt his own body clock. He was astonished by what it told him. “We’ve all lived about a hundred years in a few seconds. Most of the passengers were Human… they’ve all died of old age.”

“I’m Human!” Jackie protested. “And what do you mean he’s Garrick. He can’t be. Where’s my baby?”

She was panicking. Of course she was. Christopher reached out and drew her close. He hugged her and the boy together.

“You’re Human, but I gave you my lifeforce in the Rite of Transference. You have a much longer lifespan than an ordinary Human now. You’ve…” He caressed her cheek and smiled. “You still look a young, lovely forty,” he told her. “The only difference is the peroxide has faded. You’re a lovely fortyish brunette.”

“I was more than forty when I met you, as you well know,” she answered. “But still…” She touched his face gently. “You haven’t changed, either. But….” She turned to look at the fresh faced youth that Christopher had covered with the cloak. He had brown eyes and dark brown, almost black, hair, a bit too long for a boy, really, and needing a comb. He looked at her and reached out his hand to her. She caught hold of it.

“He is our baby, Jackie,” Christopher insisted. “I can feel him, his brain patterns. It’s Garrick. He’s about a hundred years old. Our kind grow about the same rate as a Human until about fifteen or twenty, then we slow down. We look like Human teenagers for another two hundred years, give or take. Garrick is a Gallifreyan adolescent…”

“He looks….” Jackie touched his face. His eyes fixed on her still and his mouth opened to give a pitiful little cry. “He looks a lot like the twins. Or like… like Susan in pictures of her as a girl…”

“My DNA,” Christopher said. “But…” Garrick began to cry. He had been hurting and he wanted his mother’s arms around him. He cried like a baby would cry, except with a voice box that had grown and developed. “He’s still a baby in his head. He doesn’t understand very much, except that we’re his parents.”

“If he knows that much,” Jackie managed to say, though she felt like crying herself with the injustice and the insanity of what Christopher was telling her. “If he knows I’m his mother, then that’s… something…” She put her arms around the boy and held him tightly. His body shook with emotion and she comforted him as she did when he cried. “It’s all right, my baby, my little boy. I’m here. So is your daddy. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing will hurt you as long as we’re here.” She pressed him close and felt his crying subside. She looked at Christopher pleadingly. “What do we do?”

“We…” Christopher didn’t know what to do. He felt as helpless as his child was. Maybe it was that overwhelming emotion radiating from the boy, but right now what he wanted most was his own parents to hug him tight and tell him there was nothing to be afraid of.

If his father was here, there probably wouldn’t be. He would know what had happened and how to fix it.

“We need to get out of here,” Christopher said. “The TARDIS… in the hanger bay. We’ll go there. I can call my father. He’ll help us. He’ll know….”

“Garrick can’t…” Jackie began. “He’s… He doesn’t know how to walk. If we let him go, he’ll fall.”

There were a lot of things Garrick didn’t know how to do, Christopher realised. Walking was only one of them. He told Jackie to keep on holding him and touched his face either side. He reached gently into his mind. It was the mind of a five month old baby, with simple understanding of a world that mostly consisted of two people – himself and Jackie – with occasional cameo roles by his grandfather and Rose, and other members of the family. He didn’t know how to do anything for himself.

But he was a five month old child who had fully absorbed, albeit second hand, the full horrific wonder of the Untempered Schism. Christopher could still feel that in his mind, now, like a diamond, cold, hard and immensely beautiful. He might be able to manage, without suffering too much harm, a little basic understanding of himself and his environment. Gently, Christopher reached out to his son’s mind and passed on the things he had learnt in the first few years of his life. How to control his body so that he could stand upright, walk, and several other important functions. He and Jackie both felt the difference as he balanced on his own feet and wasn’t relying on them to hold him up. He looked at his face and saw a better understanding and awareness in his eyes.

“What did you do?” Jackie asked.

“Potty training,” Christopher answered with a grin as he closed his hand firmly around the boy’s. “Come on, son, first things first. Jackie, go behind the bar and find anything that contains protein and salt. Packets of peanuts, crisps, that kind of thing. And bottled water. We’re all lacking those things.”

He took his son by the hand towards the rest room while Jackie did as he said. She gingerly pushed past the dead Vulpesi barman, trying not to look at how sad the once magnificent tail looked as it dragged on the floor. She found a box with little packets of peanuts in under the counter. Funny how a bar on a ship in outer space still had things like that in it. She opened a packet and ate a handful of nuts, washing them down with a bottle of spring water – bottled on the garden planet of Esim, guaranteed to refresh the tired palette and bring a sparkle to your flagging spirits.

It was water. It was cool on her throat. But Jackie’s spirits needed a bit more than a foreign bottled water to make her sparkle. She turned as Christopher brought the boy back from the gents. Garrick. She had to get used to calling him that. He was Garrick, their baby son. He just looked different. But she had to love him just as much as she did when he was a baby. She saw his pushchair, still parked with the brake engaged, near the window. Then her eye was drawn to the window.

“Is it me, or is that sun a lot closer than it was?” she asked.

“It’s closer,” Christopher answered in a matter of fact way as he helped Garrick to eat some of the peanuts. “That’s it, son. Chew. Don’t try to swallow them whole. Here, have some water to wash them down. That’s better, isn’t it?” He looked at the sun and bit his lip thoughtfully. “I think the ship might be losing orbit. All the crew are dead. There’s nobody at the helm. But we’ll be long gone before anything catastrophic happens. We just have to get to the TARDIS.”

“We’re just going to leave?” Jackie asked him. “We’re not going to find out what happened? We’re not going to try to… to reverse it?”

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” he admitted. “I’m sorry, Jackie. I know you think I’m brilliant, but I’m not my father. I’m not… scientific. I don’t even think HE would know what to do about this. It’s not… not….” He looked around at the dead bodies, people rapidly aged beyond their physical possibilities. “I'm sorry, Jackie. I can’t… The best I can do is protect the two of you. That’s my job. As your husband, as Garrick’s father, I have to look after you. I know… I know I’ve not done that very well so far… But I promise you…”

He grasped her hand. Garrick looked up at him and smiled.

“Daddy,” he whispered. “Mummy…”

“Yes, my son,” Christopher said, hugging him. “Yes, we’re both here. Come on, my boy. We’re going to go home.”

He held Garrick close. He walked slowly, uncertainly. His mind was still that of a baby and his almost adult body was a puzzle. But he put one foot in front of the other as he clung to his father. Jackie gripped his hand, determined not to let go as they waited for the lift to open up.

She screamed when it opened and a man fell through the door. But it was just another dead body. She chastised herself for not expecting something like that to happen. Garrick didn’t seem scared. He didn’t know he was meant to be. Her scream had startled him, but the hideous sight of the wizened, white haired, dead man didn’t frighten him.

That was a blessing, she supposed as Christopher moved the body out of the way of the lift door and they stepped in. Garrick didn’t know anything terrible had happened. He wasn’t hurt, physically or emotionally.

He was just grown up before his time.

Rose and The Doctor had coped when it happened to Vicki. But she had only been aged five years, and Vicki herself regarded that as a big advantage, since it meant that she and Sukie were now the same size and played and went to school together. Nobody even seemed to worry any more that in real years she was still only six, when she was preparing to go to secondary school in the autumn.

But this was different. Garrick was her baby, trapped in a teenager’s body. He was still Garrick. Yes, he was. And he was a beautiful looking boy, just as she might have imagined he would be when he was older, if she had ever tried to imagine that.

But she hadn’t. She had never thought beyond his first year. She had never tried to imagine what he would look like as a boy, as a young man. And this was so wrong. She didn’t think she could accept it as readily as Rose had accepted those missing years of Vicki’s childhood.

Christopher felt her thoughts and agreed. He didn’t want this, either. He had lost Susan’s childhood. He had lost everything of her from when she was eighteen months old till when he saw her again, a mature woman with three children. Garrick had been a chance to do it right this time. He had wanted to be with him every step of the way, to be his father the way fate had stopped him being for Susan.

But what could he do? Even a Time Lord didn’t have control over time that had been spent. Even when it was spent wrongly.

The lift opened on the promenade deck. They stepped out. Here, there had been less people to begin with, but those that were here were dead.

“A lot of these people are important,” Jackie said. “Diplomats and what have you. There’s going to be big questions asked on their planets.”

“My father always says that everyone is important. Questions should be asked even for HER life…” Christopher looked at the female Vulpesi dressed in a sort of short toga, one of the entertainment staff – using the word ‘entertainment’ very loosely. His father was right. There had to be a reckoning for every one of the lives lost, not just the ones that there would be official periods of mourning for on their respective worlds.

“If there’s time, I should try to see if I can find some evidence of what happened. It might be important – for the inquests. But let’s get to the TARDIS.”

“Wait a minute,” Jackie said as they came from the Observation Deck into the shopping mall. “Let’s get some clothes for Garrick. He doesn’t look right like this.”

“Good idea,” Christopher agreed, and though time was not necessarily on their side, they stepped into a clothing boutique and found underwear, shirt and trousers for him, and socks and shoes. Jackie found a brush and comb set at the accessories counter and brushed his hair neatly. It wasn’t necessary, but she felt she wanted to do it. He looked at her and smiled sweetly, as if he was happy to have that done for him by his mother. Her heart was breaking with the injustice of it all, but his smile mended it again. He was her son and he loved her. And that was something, at least. She kissed his cheek and hugged him.

“You’re a handsome boy,” she told him. “You take after your dad.”

They turned to move on and saw the shop door blocked. Jackie stopped herself squealing as she recognised somebody she actually knew.

“Oh, Ambassador Fonn,” she said as she gazed at the four foot wide, seven foot tall representative of the planetary state of Fahot. His cement-like skin rippled as he reached out to shake Christopher’s hand. “How come… sorry, stupid question. But how come you’re alive? Everyone else has aged a hundred years.”

“So have I,” he answered. “But I was already three thousands one hundred and fifty years old. A century is nothing.”

“Fahottis can live as much as ten thousand years,” Christopher explained. “Fonn here is only middle-aged. I hadn’t thought of that. I should have. There might actually be other survivors. Getting to the TARDIS is still the best idea, though. Lifesigns monitors. We can rescue those that are left.”

That felt better than just leaving, Jackie thought as they moved off again, Ambassador Fonn doing his best to match their stride. On his own planet he would walk much faster, but he was used to floors not taking the impact of his feet when he was offworld and adapted himself.

“It was only the people who were aged,” Jackie pointed out as they stood on one of the anti grav concourses that would bring them to the turbo lift down to the hangar bay. Christopher had gently moved aside the body of one of the Stewards that had been moving up and down the corridor on the concourse. He curled the sad tail around the Stewards arm as he laid him down and closed his eyes. “Live people. Not the ship or anything in it. Nothing has broken down or decayed. The power still works and everything.”

“That’s important,” Ambassador Fonn said. “That means…”

“We didn’t move forward in time,” Christopher said. “The century of time hit us instantly. It affected living organic tissue, all types of it, including Fonn, who is silicone based. But it didn’t affect the peanuts in the packets or the drinks on the tables in the lounge.”

“So what could do that?” Jackie asked.

“I don’t…” He began to say ‘I don’t know’ and hated the fact that his next line would be ‘my father might know’. Then he stopped and held up his hand. “Listen.”

“There’s somebody crying. In there…” Jackie pointed to a door. It was identical to all the other doors along the corridor, a beige colour with a textured look as if it was made of some kind of soft fabric, and a purple handle. It was the entrance to one of the customised suites. Christopher looked at it and took out his sonic screwdriver.

“This shouldn’t work,” he said. “They really ought to consider the possibility of thieves using sonic devices. “But then again, since the factory at Villengarde isn’t producing them commercially any more, and Davie only makes them for family members, sonic tools are quite rare.” He smiled wryly as the lock clicked and he pushed open the door. He told Jackie and Fonn to wait while he stepped inside. A few minutes later he came back out with a young Vulpesi woman who clung to her own tail so tightly she must have been hurting herself, and an extremely frail and elderly man, dressed in mismatched t-shirt and slacks and no shoes. He was crying like a child, asking over and over again where his mother was.

“This is Benju. His mother is…” Christopher nodded towards the door. “Nothing I could do. He’s got the same sort of problem as Garrick. He was five years old. Now he’s a hundred and five. He’s Dalgisic. That species are slightly longer lived than Humans - maybe a hundred and twenty at best, but even so, he’s not doing too well.”

“Poor thing,” Jackie said. “What about…” She looked at the Vulpesi. They all, she had to admit, looked about the same to her, but she thought she recognised this one. “You’re the one who was in our room earlier. The wet nurse…”

“Y…. yes…” she managed to stammer. “Strull is my name. Madam… I….”

“As far as I can gather,” Christopher said. “She was in a transmat portal at the moment when the radiation hit us. It shielded her. When she stepped out…”

“That must have been a shock.” Again, natural compassion overrode all else. Jackie looked around at the small group of survivors. “Do we still head for the TARDIS?”

“Yes,” Christopher said. “There MUST be other survivors. If we’re lucky, a few more Vulpesi might have been in the portals. And Ambassador Fonn’s entourage must be alive for the same reason he is. We must locate them all. To go off in the TARDIS and leave anyone behind would be unthinkable.”

That was just what his dad would say, Jackie thought as their expanded party moved on again. But he wasn’t just copying The Doctor. He really was that compassionate and caring. When he thought they were the sole survivors his only idea was to get them to safety. But now he knew his task was a greater one, and he was living up to it. Jackie’s heart swelled with pride in her husband. He really was as good as his father when it came to courage.

They found two more survivors on the reception floor where they had been greeted on their arrival from the hangar bay. One was a tall, dark-skinned but hairless woman who identified herself as being called Maenie. Her species was humanoid, but like Gallifreyans, they lived long lives. They showed their age in the colour of their skin. Before the strange accident befell the SS Isle of Capri, she had been a light honey colour. Now she was deep chocolate. She, like Ambassador Fonn, had staff from her Embassy who must have survived, too, but she accepted Christopher’s suggestion of returning to his ship and locating the others from there. So did the elegant female of the species Christopher and Jackie had met before on the planet of Cheem. She identified herself as Pinaceæ Decidua, with a silvery brown texture to her wooden face and very slender fingers. One hundred years was nothing in her life cycle, though she admitted to feeling rather weakened from dehydration. Jackie produced two bottles of the mineral water. She drank one and watered her hair – made up of fine needles and adorned with small pine cones – with the other. She said she felt much better for that and followed Christopher as he led them into the hangar bay.

All but Ambassador Fonn were surprised by the police box parked among the diplomatic shuttle craft. He said that he had been in a TARDIS before, and described an adventure he had been caught up in which led Christopher and Jackie to conclude that he had met The Doctor at some point in his life. The console room surprised them even more. Jackie and Strull, the Vulpesi nursemaid, brought Garrick and Benju to the sofa while Christopher told the others to sit anywhere they could. He went to the console and began to run a lifesigns check. It was not easy, since there were areas of the SS Isle of Capri that were, since it was a diplomatic ship, designed to block probes. But he overrode every barrier he could find and concluded that there were about fifty people of different species out there still.

Fifty out of a passenger and crew complement of nearly two thousand. Even though he had seen so many of the bodies, it wasn’t until then, with the ship’s manifest on another screen, that it hit him fully. He pressed his hand to his mouth and swallowed hard as he contemplated his next actions.

A signal from the communications panel cut across his thoughts. He moved around the console and answered the incoming videophone transmission. He was surprised to see a young girl with short, ash-blonde hair on the screen. He searched his mind and recalled that she was called Trudi and was the travelling companion of his great grandson, Tristie.

“Hello,” she said. “We’ve been trying to contact you for ages. Hang on…” She looked around and then stood aside as Tristie stepped in front of the viewscreen.

“Christopher… it’s you. You’re using The Doctor’s TARDIS?”

“Yes, I am. Where are you?”

“I’m in hover mode beside the SS Isle of Capri. I picked up the automated SOS call while I was in the vortex. The SS Marie Curie is inbound to give medical aid. So are the intergalactic police. But I detected a TARDIS on board. I’ve been trying to contact you for ages.”

“Why the police? This was an accident, surely?”

“No,” Tristie answered. He pressed a button and Christopher looked at the outside view of the SS Isle of Capri. There was a TARDIS in default mode, spinning slowly around. And beside it, a ship that looked big compared to the TARDIS, but dwarfed by the Isle of Capri. “That’s a Bellargic privateer. It attacked the Isle of Capri with the intent of robbing the dead. Unfortunately for them they hadn’t worked out how to open the hangar bay doors when the ship went into automated emergency mode – which happened as soon as the captain and crew died. Meanwhile I arrived and put it under tractor control. Tell The Doctor when you see him, the new fangled gismos ARE useful sometimes.”

“I will,” Christopher answered him. “And I have to say, it’s good to see you, son. But there’s not much you can do here. And even less that the Marie Curie can do. There are a handful of survivors that I’m about to round up, but beyond that…”

He explained what had happened to everyone. Tristie was shocked as he heard about Garrick’s plight.

“But you’re going to fix it, aren’t you?” he said. “You can’t leave him like that.”

“What can I do?” Christopher asked. “It’s not possible…”

“Yes, it is,” Tristie said. “I can’t do it, because I’m outside of the ship. But your TARDIS was there all the way through it. The wave pattern was recorded. The TARDIS knows what happened. It was a short burst temporal acceleration wave. What’s known as a Van Descin effect after the physicist who identified the effect….”

“Er…” Christopher started to get the same glazed look he always got when any of the scientists in his family started to talk.

“Your TARDIS could reverse the effect. It could reset everything… everybody. I can’t actually help you. I have to hold onto this pirate ship. But you can do it.”

“Reverse the effect? You mean… Garrick and the others would be young again.”

“And the others. We’re reversing temporal effects. We can save some of the others, too. You should take your TARDIS to the ship’s bridge before we start.”

“Why?” Christopher asked.

“Because the Isle of Capri is in a slowly decaying orbit. It’s not critical yet, but if we’re going to do more than just evacuate the survivors and let it crash into the sun, we ought to revive the people who actually pilot the ship first. I think the people who own this huge, immensely valuable ship would appreciate that, apart from anything else.”

“What?” It was Jackie, coming to Christopher’s side after leaving Garrick and Benju napping on the sofa who questioned him. “Tristie… you’re saying we could save them? The dead ones, too?”

“No,” Christopher said. “No, it’s not possible. Dead is dead. Even for Time Lords. We can’t. My father would never allow it…”

“The Doctor signed the Treaty banning further research into Van Descin Acceleration because of its potential use as a weapon of mass destruction,” Tristie told him. “He would want you to try at least. And I’m telling you, reversing the process would do it. These people can be saved. You’ve got to try, Christopher.”

“Even if I did… I’m not a scientist. I can’t…”

“I’ll talk you through it,” Tristie promised. “I know what has to be done.”

“Do it,” Jackie told him. “Try it. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried. But you have to try. For Garrick, and that poor child whose life has been taken away from him, and all the others.”

“All right,” he said after a long pause. “All right, I will try. Go and look after our child, Jackie. That’s your job. I’ll… TRY.” He watched as she went back to the sofa and sat with Garrick’s head in her lap, cradling him gently. Benju was curled up beside his Vulpesi nurse. They were both being taken care of.

He turned his attention to the viewscreen and followed exactly the instructions Tristie gave him. The idea that they could hold back death in such a way still disturbed him. He had always believed that was the one thing his people had no power over. But as he worked, following Tristie’s instructions to the letter, he began to feel that, for once, a Time Lord could play God and make right what was wrong.

“It’s ready,” he said at last. “But will it work in practice?”

“We’ll find out,” Jackie told him and he looked up to see her standing there, holding hands with Garrick and Benju.

“No,” he said. “No, it hasn’t even been tested. I’m not going to use you as guinea pigs.”

“Yes,” she insisted. “Christopher, I’ve always put my trust in you. I’m doing that now. I’m going out there with these two.”

Christopher looked at her. He recognised the expression on her face. It was that look of stubborn determination that she had whenever she stood her ground against him. Usually he gave in. But usually it was for trivial things like the colour of Garrick’s layette. But he knew the result would be the same this time. The Whitehall Cabinet Minister, the Chancellor of the Gallifreyan government, the Lord of Time, gave in to the higher power that was his wife.

“Jackie…” He reached out and kissed her. He touched his son on his cheek. He saw him smile at him. “Garrick… My boy… If I lose you…”

“Well, you won’t, will you,” she answered. “This is going to work.”

That wasn’t to say that she wasn’t a bit scared as she turned and walked out of the TARDIS. But she was putting her absolute trust in Christopher, not to let her or Garrick down.

“Come on, Garrick, sweetheart,” she said. “And you, Benju, poor mite. Come and sit on the floor with me.” She cuddled both of them on the floor in the middle of the ship’s bridge. They both looked at her without fear, trusting her. She held them and waited.

Christopher looked at them on the viewscreen, then he turned away. He asked Ambassador Fonn to watch instead. He didn’t want to see what happened if he got it wrong.

“Mandy,” he whispered as a painful flashback clouded his mind. The moment when he saw his wife torn to atoms was no more than a moment, but it was one that haunted him still. He pushed it away and reached for the switch that would send the temporal reversal wave through the ship, starting here on the bridge. “Jackie,” he whispered this time.

He closed his eyes. He didn’t even want to look at the expressions on the faces of those around him. Then he heard running footsteps. The dark woman, Mainie, and the Vulpesi nurse both ran to the door and wrenched it open. Christopher looked at Fonn who gave a slow nod and the slitlike mouth in his cement face turned up in a reassuring smile. He turned and ran for the door.

“Jackie!” He stared at his wife as she knelt up on the floor, holding their baby in the crook of one arm and with the other wrapping a too big t-shirt around the five year old Benju. She looked up at him with a bemused expression.

“We’re all right,” she said as he wrapped his arms around her. “We’re fine. I didn’t feel anything. It happened in an instant. We’re ok and….Oh… look…”

The Captain was standing up, staring around in surprise, demanding to know what had hit him and who they were and what the blue box was doing on his bridge. Maenie and the Vulpesi nurse were both helping to revive two of his crew who were having a little more trouble recovering from their ‘death’. The communications officer was struggling to his feet to respond to a call from the SS Marie Curie asking them to lower their transmat shields so that medical assistance could be rendered around the ship.

“Do that,” Christopher ordered. “Some people might need it. Captain, look to your ship. You need to correct the orbit as a matter of priority.”

The captain turned to his visual display and saw that he was right. Strange blue boxes and civilians on the bridge were forgotten until the ship was safe. By that time, Christopher had given him a short version of events that he would be able to confirm later when he checked the ship’s computers. The Marie Curie personnel were reporting that almost everyone was alive and well. There had been a few tragedies where people had fallen into baths or swimming pools and other lethal and unavoidable situations, but mostly it was good news.

The Galactic Police arrived shortly to relieve Tristie of his custody of the privateer. After Christopher and other witnesses had given their statements they charged them with 1,500 cases of murder as well as piracy. The fact that most of the victims were no longer dead was not considered a mitigating factor.

Later, Jackie sat by the illusory window in the illusory bedroom suite and rocked Garrick to sleep. He seemed no worse for his experience.

“Pity I didn’t get a picture of him as a teenager,” she remarked. “He was very handsome. Such a lovely smile…”

“All the relevant CCTV footage is being saved by the Diplomatic Space Service as evidence,” Christopher told her. “I think they’d happily let you have some stills from it. But do you really want to remember?”

“That bit of it, yes,” she answered. “It was scary. But I’ve had worse. Being chased by a homicidal Slitheen in my own home was much worse. This wasn’t so bad. I had my little boy with me. Even if he was a big boy for a lot of the time. He was still my baby.”

“Yes, he was,” Christopher agreed. “He hasn’t been harmed by it. He’s forgotten about being able to walk and talk, of course. He has to learn that all over again the proper way. And that’s good, too. It’s as it should be.”

Christopher hugged his wife and reached out to stroke his baby son’s face. He would get to see him grow up. That was what mattered most.