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

Susan and Vicki walked side by side along the path, eating ice cream and enjoying the sunshine.

“This is the great thing about being from a Time Lord family,” Vicki said. “It’s January at home, and raining. And here we are in a lovely, sunny park in June.”

They both looked back down the hill to where most of their Time Lord family were enjoying the sunshine, too. Rose, Jackie and Susan were relaxing on deckchairs. David was sitting with them. The Doctor and Christopher were showing Peter and Garrick how to kick a small football through a pair of plastic goalposts. Peter wasn’t doing too badly, but Garrick fell over almost every time he kicked the ball. Not that he minded, because his father picked him up and hugged him each time.

“At least when he’s older he’ll be able to play football properly,” Sukie commented. “And Peter. I mean… at school. Chris and Davie couldn’t be on the school team because there was a medical and their two hearts would have been found out. They hated that. But now, thanks to granddad Christopher and the laws he got passed in Parliament, they’ll be allowed to go to school without having to hide anything at all. They’ll be able to be proud of what they are.”

“And the babies, too,” Vicki said. “Jack and Julia. Sarah Jane is Human, so she’ll be all right.”

“She should still be clever enough for the advanced stream if she’s got The Doctor’s brains.”

“Maybe,” Vicki considered. She looked at her brothers and sisters. She remembered with a soft smile. It didn’t seem so long ago she was the only child. Christopher was already grown up, and though she thought of him as a big brother, she still had her father’s full attention as his first born daughter. Then Peter came along, and then the little ones, all three of them unexpected in their way. Now she was one of six who called The Doctor daddy – or father as Christopher always insisted, or da-da-da as the little ones managed. She could easily have felt a lot less special if he somehow didn’t manage to remember all of his children and love them equally.

Then again, with her father occupied by the other children and her mother not watching her, she and Sukie had the freedom to go off and have fun by themselves. They knew the park well enough, anyway. They had been coming here since she was a baby. Her parents knew it before then. They had made some kind of promise to each other once to come back when they had a baby of their own. She wasn’t quite sure what that was about, but anyway, they came lots of times. It was one of their favourite places for a quiet afternoon out, and over the years they had explored it thoroughly, from the formal garden with the fountain and flower beds and the terrace above it, to the old railway bridge that cut the park into two sections. They loved the lovely Japanese garden with water features and the wide, sloping field with the concert stage and tea rooms at the bottom that was often thronging with people enjoying musical events. Beyond that were the woods where the squirrels were so tame they actually ate food from the hands of visitors and the avenue of trees by the river and the restored Victorian footbridge to the playing fields on the other side. They even came here once at night to see a bonfire party with people juggling with fire and playing music with a drumbeat that echoed in her hearts as it throbbed out across the darkness.

They loved the park. There was always something new going on.

“Let’s go to the Japanese garden, first,” Sukie said. “Then we can get fizzy orange down at the pavilion and walk along the river to the woods.”

“Sounds good to me,” Vicki agreed. They turned and waved to their family. The only one who responded was Christopher as he stood up from setting Garrick on his feet again after another tumble.

They walked past the statue of the old Victorian man who founded the park and the memorial to the Boer War and another for something called the Gulf War that happened only ninety years after the other war. They reached the arch of the old railway bridge. It looked very pretty with hanging baskets and ivy all around it and big green gates that stood open in day time for them to walk through. Even so, they reached out and held hands as they walked under it. Something about the old bricks in the arch itself bothered them for reasons they could never have explained to anyone.

As they passed through and came out into the sunshine again they were startled to hear a train whistle and the puff of a steam outlet. They looked up and saw the train crossing the archway over the footpath before continuing on over the dozen more arches that carried the line across the river valley.

They turned again and noticed two things. First, that the Japanese Garden wasn’t there. The place where it should be was just an expanse of grass.

Then they noticed the people around them. They were all in late Victorian clothes, which went with the steam train and the missing Japanese Garden. They knew from a plaque near the fishpond that it was only built in 1903.

They looked back through the arch and saw a boy on a BMX bike and a lady with baby twins in a double pram who had passed them. Everything was all right there.

“But we’ve gone back in time,” Vicki said.

“How?” Sukie asked. Of the two of them, she was the most analytical. Everyone said she took after Davie, her brother, the scientific minded, the engineer, the one who looked at a flower and imagined a blueprint of how it was designed. He would always ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ first. Vicki was like her father. He, too, was a scientist, but he was also an explorer who was fascinated by the wonder of new things and he would have asked ‘how’ and ‘why’ only after noting how marvellous it was.

“Some kind of temporal rift under the bridge,” Vicki surmised, proving that she took after her father in every way. “There was one there before, remember. Daddy and Christopher fixed it. Maybe there’s another one.”

“Well, it can’t be there all the time. Or people would disappear. And anyway, we’ve been through the archway loads of times before. And we’re the only ones who seem to have come through time. The lady with the big Labrador dog that was in front of us isn’t here.”

“She hadn’t travelled in the time vortex. She wasn’t born with Artron energy in her body. We’re different to ordinary humans. Perhaps it only affects us.”

“Can we get back?” Sukie asked. “If we can, then I don’t mind staying here and exploring for a bit. But if we can’t.… exploring isn’t any fun if we’re just exploring for a way home.”

They turned again and looked under the bridge. The boy on the BMX had swerved in front of the lady with the pushchair who wasn’t very pleased with him. Everything looked all right.

“That’s all right then,” Sukie decided. “Come on. Let’s have a good look around.”

They turned and walked confidently among the late Victorians in the sunshine. A lot more people seemed to use the park back then, they noted. The paths were busy with men in blazers and straw hats and ladies in wide hats and big, beautiful dresses. Children ran about the grassy areas. They looked at their own clothes in comparison to those around them. They were both in calf length cotton sundresses. Sukie’s was in white and blue polka dots and Vicki was in yellow and white stripes. They had straw hats on to keep the sun from their faces. They had little shoulder bags with sweets and a little money, and in Sukie’s case, a pale pink lipstick that she used when she was out of sight of her parents or great-grandfather who disapproved of make up at her age. Neither had their mobile phones. They hadn’t expected to need them, and they probably wouldn’t work in Victorian times anyway.

“I think our clothes will do,” Vicki said. “Good job we weren’t in jeans. That would cause comment. Girls in trousers in this time.”

“We don’t have any money that works here, though,” Sukie pointed out. “So we can’t stay past tea time.”

“We’re not going to. Just a little walk around to see what it was like back in this time. Listen. Can you hear music?”

“It’s coming from over that way.”

They picked up their pace, clutching hands as they walked, and came to the place where, in the time they had visited the park, in the early twenty-first century, there was the pavilion of wood and glass with a pop band performing and tea and sandwiches for sale.

Here, was an old fashioned round bandstand with a wooden railing around it and a roof in case it rained. There were tea and sandwiches, too, but in this case it was being served from a little hut painted blue and white with a serving hatch. Waitresses in black and white brought the food and drink on silver trays to little tables set around the bandstand.

“Oh, I wish we did have some money, now,” Vicki complained. “I know we just had ice creams. But look at those iced buns. And the sandwiches look nice, too.”

“It would be all right in later times, when cash points had been invented,” Sukie pointed out. “I’ve got my universal credit card in my bag.”

“No use at all, here,” Vicki pointed out. “It must be… I don’t know… 1890s, maybe? I think…”

“1897,” said a voice. They turned and looked at the young man who had spoken. He was dressed in clothes that more or less fitted the time – at a glance. Closer inspection revealed a shirt that was obviously synthetic, with a fixed collar – in these days collars came separate and had to be held on with studs. His blazer was obviously artificial material, too. And his shoes looked like well polished patent leather, but they were most likely ‘Stay-Shone’, the anti-scuff leather look from their own time. Sukie’s brothers both wore those kind of shoes. Neither had time for polishing.

He looked about seventeen, maybe less. He smiled at them in a nice way, but Vicki was cautious.

“My father is coming, soon,” she said, looking around as if expecting somebody. “He’s a magistrate, you know. He’ll be angry at you.”

“No he isn’t, and he’s not,” the young man answered. “You’re time travellers, like me. I can sense it on you. You’re absolutely buzzing with Artron energy.”

“How do you know about Artron energy?” Vicki asked. Sukie groaned. She had as good as admitted that they did. Any hope of a cover story was blown.

“I’m a Time Lord,” he answered. “A descendent of the last Gallifreyans to escape the Time War.”

“You’re not old enough to be a Time Lord,” Sukie replied. “You’re only sixteen.”

He looked at her and grinned widely.

“Seventeen,” he responded. “And you’re what… ten?”

“Twelve,” Sukie responded, bristling indignantly. “And the fact still remains. You are too young to be a Time Lord. Even my brothers didn’t transcend until they were eighteen.”

“Sukie,” Vicki said warily. “I don’t think we ought to talk about all this here. Not when people can hear.”

“Well, what do you suggest?” she responded. “Take a walk in the woods with him? He’s way older than us… a man… nearly. What do you think granddad would say about that? If he found out that you…”

“It’s ok,” the young man said. “I’m projecting a verbal perception filter. Even if somebody was REALLY paying attention to what we have to say they’d just hear us talking about the weather and the music and debating whether to sit down and have tea or not. And, by the way, I was going to suggest that, instead of standing around like lemons. I heard you say about not having contemporary money. Luckily I came better prepared. So if you young ladies would like to come to tea in the park with me…”

“I don’t think my daddy would like that idea, either,” Vicki pointed out. “We don’t even know you.”

“Does your ‘daddy’ know you’re wandering around in a time loop on your own? Two girls with no money? My name is Earl Gregory. I don’t mean I’m titled. That’s my name – Earl. And no, I’m not a Time Lord, yet. But I am a Candidate. And on my honour as a descendent of the last Children of Rassilon I am duty bound to protect you.” As he spoke, he drew himself up to his full six foot height and put his hand over his left heart. He spoke the words of the Time Lord Oath of Allegiance in a clear, proud voice.

“There. Will your ‘daddy’ be satisfied by that?”

“I think he might,” Vicki answered.

“Ok,” Sukie agreed.

They allowed Earl to steer them towards a free table by the bandstand. A waitress took the order. Vicki and Sukie tried to be ladylike as they eyed the three tiered stand of iced cream cakes and the delicious plate of smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches. They were of the age where the craving for sugary things was still stronger than their awareness of calories, but they both wanted to look grown up and intelligent in front of a young man. They took a sandwich each and ate it slowly with a cup of tea.

“So… what are your names, then?” Earl asked. “Since I have already introduced myself.”

“Sukie Campbell,” Sukie answered. “Vicki is my cousin. We’re from the early 23rd century. It’s winter of 2219 in our proper timeline.”

“I’m from the late twenty-sixth century,” Earl replied. 2582. But… 2219. That’s… just after the Dominator invasion… We did that in history. You kids came through that?”

“We’d rather not talk about it,” Sukie said for them both. “It was horrible. And thinking of it as just history is…”

“Yeah, sorry,” Earl apologised quickly. “Still, that makes you one of the first generation of Earth-born Gallifreyans. Your parents must have been born on the Lost Homeworld?”

That seemed a safe enough thing to answer.

“Yes.” Sukie again took the lead in the conversation. “My mother was born there. So was Vicki’s father. We were never there, of course.” She looked at Early carefully. “You have vestigal tear ducts…. Are you a pureblood?”

“No,” he laughed. “I don’t think there are any of those left by my century. Everyone has inter-married with humans. My mother is a Time Lord. My father is Human. My eyes are from my mother’s side. She says I get my looks from my father, though. He loves her a lot, but I think what we are scares him sometimes.”

“My father feels the same,” Sukie said. “My two brothers are so clever. I think he’s secretly glad I can’t transcend. I’ll always be his girl, and not a grand, exalted guardian of the galaxy etc.”

“I’m a Candidate,” Vicki pointed out. “My daddy wants me to be a grand exalted etc. And I want him to be proud of me.”

She smiled happily. Sukie did, too. It was nice being able to talk to somebody like themselves about their unique lifestyle. The only young Time Lords they knew were Chris and Davie, and both of them were too busy these days to talk to them. They didn’t really know any of the other candidates that well.

Earl reminded Sukie of her brothers before they took on so many responsibilities and had less time to spend with her. Whatever doubts she might have had about him melted as she thought of him that way. Vicki still seemed a bit shy. But that was all right. She was younger, after all. And he was seventeen.

“So… why are you here, anyway?” she asked. “And how? If you’re only seventeen, you can’t possibly have a TARDIS.”

“Don’t need one. Not for The Park. I’ve studied its time rifts since I was twelve. That’s what I’m doing here. It’s my science project. I’m mapping them… which rift leads to which era and all that. I’ve actually been in fifteen different time zones and mapped three stable rifts that can be accurately measured. This outfit… I look a right geek in the late twentieth century and in the early thirtieth when pink and black were in vogue. But most of the time it fits in just about right.”

“Just like my daddy,” Vicki said. “He always wears the same outfit. Except in something like the 16th century when men wore doublets and hose. We went there once with daddy and he looked really funny. We laughed at the hose.”

“The Park’s rifts seem to be tied,” Earl said. “They don’t go back further than the 1860s when it was first landscaped. And the latest temporal location I’ve mapped is 3567. My guess is that something was disturbed when they were building it. But the whole area between the two railway bridges and as far as the river is affected. Ordinary humans know nothing about it. The chances of one of them slipping through a temporal portal are nil. But the likes of us… we can go between times as easily as opening a door. I love it. It’s like an adventure on my own doorstep.”

“You live here?” Sukie asked.

“In the twenty-sixth century, I do,” he answered. “See up there on the hill. That big white house with the square tower. That’s where I live. Or will live. My bedroom is in the tower, facing the park. That’s how I first guessed there was something about it.”

“And you’re not scared? Being so far from your proper century?”

“No. I have enough data that I could get myself back to my own time even if I got into an unstable temporal zone. I could just get back to one I’ve mapped and work my way back. Might mean wandering round the park for hours, zipping into different times, but I’d get there eventually. Like… from here, I’d have to go down to the footbridge, to 1965, then back up to the bandstand, to take me to 2091. Then from there, I’d go to the War Memorial and pass through that twice, to 1891 and 1986. And one last walk up to the East entrance and I’d be home and dry. But that’s easy. What is really interesting is using the unstable portal and arriving in a totally new zone, where I have to use my own wits to work out my path back to where I want to be. The fun is in the unknown, the challenge…”

“You sound like Davie,” Sukie laughed. “My brother. He’s like that. Everyone says he gets it from granddad. But you’re not related to us, so I think it must just be a Time Lord thing. Boy Time Lords, anyway!”

“Could be,” Earl agreed. “Anyway, I suppose I’d better work out what to do with you two. I didn’t reckon on a couple of little girls in my project.”

He had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes when he said that, but Sukie bristled at the ‘little girls’ epithet again.

“I’m twelve,” she protected. “That’s only five years younger than you.”

“Actually, we’re nearly three hundred and fifty years older than HIM,” Vicki pointed out. “So he should stop being so superior to us.”

“That’s true,” Sukie agreed. “Anyway, we’re nothing to do with your project. We’re going to go back where we came from as soon as we’ve finished our tea.”

Earl smiled in a certain way in response to them both. Sukie thought it reminded her of her brothers, though not in a good way. It was that smile they had before they reminded her that they knew her when she wore nappies and that she would always be their baby sister. That look always infuriated her, even when Chris did it.

“I’ll walk back with you,” he said. “Make sure you don’t get into any trouble.”

“Why would we?” Vicki asked. “You’re just being patronising. Twenty-sixth century men haven’t learnt much, have they? You know, in the fifty-first century women are completely equal to men. My daddy’s friend, Captain Jack, who comes from there, says they even worked out a way so men can have the babies and women don’t have to give up their careers.”

“Yeah?” Earl’s grin widened. “But I bet even then little girls are still little girls.”

Both of them glared at him.

“You deserve a good kicking,” Sukie told him. “But we were brought up to disdain physical violence.”

“Well, lucky me. Come on, then. Let’s get the two of you home before Vicki’s daddy and Captain Jake turn up!” He signalled to the waitress and paid the bill before standing up from the table. Vicki and Sukie walked one side of him, holding hands with each other, but maintaining a distinct space between them and him. They didn’t want anyone imagining they were ‘with’ him.

“Oh….” He exclaimed as they reached the arch. “Oh… heck. You didn’t tell me you came through this portal. I should have taken you back straight away, instead of messing around with the tea.”

“Why? What’s the problem?” Sukie asked. But Vicki had already seen what was wrong.

“Sukie, it’s not the same day. Look, it’s snowing.”

“You mean….” Sukie looked worried. “You mean we can’t get back to…”

“This portal under the bridge,” Earl said. “It’s completely unmappable. The time loops shift too often. You can’t rely on it. The others, I’ve known them to be stable for as much as nine hours, four on average. Long enough for a thorough explore. But this one can change minute by minute. I have a theory that this is where it all began. There was just one rift originally, and something splintered it. But here at ground zero where there is so much temporal energy, it’s totally unstable.”

“This is where Daddy and Christopher closed the one where the ghost trains were coming through,” Vicki said, looking up as another steam train passed overhead.

“Your daddy did what?” Earl was appalled. “He sealed a rift… and didn’t check to see if it was fully closed? He probably caused the instability. He might even have caused the fracture that created all the other rifts. I always knew it wasn’t natural. But what kind of irresponsible blockhead…”

“Don’t you talk about my daddy like that,” Vicki protested. “He’s the greatest Time Lord in the history of our people. And he doesn’t make mistakes. And… and…” She looked around. The view under the bridge had changed again. Now it was a sunny day. And it looked like the one she remembered.

“I think this is the right day,” she said. “I think that’s where we came in.”

“Wait!” Earl called out as Vicki stepped forward. He grabbed Sukie and stopped her from following. She kicked him.

“I thought you didn’t believe in violence?” he yelped.

“Vicki’s gone into the rift,” Sukie told him. “Even if it’s the wrong time, we have to follow her. We have to keep together.”

She pulled herself away and ran through the railway arch.

“Oh no!” she exclaimed as she emerged in the dark, clearly in a different time zone to Vicki. She squealed as somebody touched her, and was only partially relieved to see it was Earl. He had come through with her. She wasn’t alone. But she wasn’t with Vicki, either.

“If you hadn’t stopped me, we’d have been together,” she informed him. “It’s your fault that Vicki is lost. That…. we’re all lost.”

“We’ll find her,” Earl promised. “Come on. I’m not going to risk that portal again, but one of the stable ones should bring us back to where we were, and I can work out when she crossed….”

He grasped Sukie’s hand. She pulled away. He grasped it again firmly.

“It’s night time and I’m not at all certain of the temporal location. I’m not going to risk losing you, too. Come on.”

“All right,” Sukie conceded. “But slow down a bit. I can’t keep up with you. I don’t have two hearts.”

“How come that is, anyway?” Earl asked. “You said your brothers were both already Time Lords. How come you…”

“I’m a hybrid,” she said. “Rare, apparently. So my parents always told me. I don’t have the regenerative gene. But I AM a super-telepath. So don’t try anything or I’ll fry your brain.”

“You know, I AM on your side,” he said. “You don’t have to be so hostile.”

“I’m not hostile,” she replied. “I’m just scared and worried and… cold.”

“Here,” he said, pulling off his blazer and putting it over her shoulders. She put her arms into the sleeves. They were too long, but it was warm over her sundress. “And ask your friend from the fifty-first century if men still do nice things like that to women or do they just let them freeze?”

“Jack wouldn’t. He’s nice. Where are we going, anyway?”

“Down past the fountain. The gate from the formal garden is a portal.”

“Ok.” Sukie walked beside him, her hand in his, down the slope towards the formal garden where, in a different time, her family were sunbathing and playing football. It seemed a long time ago now, though actually only about an hour had passed since they walked off through the railway arch.

“Oh…. No…” she whispered loudly as they reached the fountain. “Earl… Look.”

The fountain wasn’t working. The pool was empty except for a few puddles of rainwater, and there were boards with posters all over them around it. The posters had the single word ‘vetoed’ printed on them.

“Does that mean what I think it means?” Earl asked.

“It’s what the Daleks put on buildings they had got rid of the people from. In my parent’s day… during the invasion. My dad told me all about it. He was in the Resistance.”

“Could do with him here right now,” Earl commented. “Ok, come on. It’s not far to the portal. We don’t have to be here long enough to…”

They could see the gate from here. In this era it was broken down, a twisted framework of metal remaining. But the portal wouldn’t be affected. They headed towards it.

“Halt!” cried a sinister voice as they approached. Earl gave an anguished cry as a Dalek glided out of the cover of the trees and stood between them and the gate. “You… are… in… a pro…hibited… area. You will… sur…render… imm…ediate…ly. You… will… be… pro…cessed.”

“I don’t think so,” Earl murmured. “Sukie, on three, run to its left. I’ll go right. It can’t get both of us at once. We might just confuse it enough….”

“Or it might get one of us….”

“We have to try. Are you brave enough?”

“My dad was. I think I can be.” Then to Earl’s surprise, she hugged him. Perhaps it was just the need to feel somebody warm and alive at that moment, but after their bickering it took him unawares.

“Come on, then,” he said. “One, two, three….”

They both ran, splitting and going either side of the Dalek. It swivelled around, screeching with rage, but seemed unsure which of them to fix its deadly ray on. They joined hands again as they reached the gate and ran through it. The Dalek ray briefly illuminated the twisted and broken stanchion, but there were no living targets.

“We… made it!” Sukie exclaimed as she blinked in the sunshine and looked around. “Earl... we did it.”

“Yes, we did,” he said. “Now… let’s see when we are.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out what was obviously a hand made machine. It had a mini-screen and a lot of micro-circuitry inside a clear plastic container that looked like it might once have been the indicator light from a car.

“1877,” Earl said after a while. “Thirty years short of our first location. But at least there are no Daleks. I’ve never come across one of those before. Anyway, let’s press on. The next nearest portal from here is on the old footbridge. I should say new footbridge now, I suppose. It was built at the same time as the park. Did you know the whole thing was done in order to employ jobless men during the cotton famine that followed the American Civil War…. when the mills were all closed.”

“I didn’t know that. But I’m from London. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to all that Industrial Revolution stuff. I was more interested in the Blitz and World War II.”

“I like all history. That’s why I was interested in the Dominators… you and Vicki and your family being in it. But you’re right. That probably isn’t something you want to talk about.”

“It’s all just something we want to forget,” Sukie answered. “That’s why we come to The Park. We always come to it in the early 21st century. Vicki’s mum came from that century. She likes coming back to her own time, even though she’s happy in the twenty-third. And we all just love to come here. It’s a nice park.”

“I’ve always thought so,” Earl agreed.

“But it’s still a bit scary… knowing we might not be able to get back, and that Vicki is lost in time.”

“She ran before I could stop her.”

“She was angry with you. Because of what you said… about her father.”

“Well, if these rifts are his fault…”

“They’re not,” Sukie responded. “And if you knew him… you’d know better than to say that. Anyway, stop saying it or you’ll make me mad, too.”

“Ok,” he conceded, “When we find her, I’ll apologise.”

“At least you said ‘when’, not ‘if’. But… speaking of history… in the twenty-sixth century, did you learn much about the history of our Time Lord society? The Time War, the foundation of the settlement on Earth, that sort of thing?”

“Yeah, lots of it,” Earl answered. “Why?”

“Just wondered. Were you any good at it?”

“You’re getting spiky with me again. Come on. The rift is in the middle of the footbridge.”

“How many of them do you think we need to cross through before we find Vicki?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “We’ll just keep trying. Do you think she’ll stay put when she finds we’re not with her or wander off?”

“I think she’ll stay put,” Sukie answered. “She’ll go to the fountain. She knows we always meet up there.”

“Ok, then. Fountain it is after we cross the rift.”

Vicki did go to the fountain. As soon as she saw that Sukie and Earl weren’t with her, and that the portal was no longer showing the same place on the other side she went straight there. She wasn’t scared or worried, though. Because she had spotted something by the fountain that would help. She ran down the steps from the terrace, laughing as she remembered how annoyed Chris and Davie had been the first time they brought their TARDIS to The Park and it disguised itself as a bright green portaloo with an out of order sign on it. The Chinese TARDIS had a sense of humour of its own. Every time they came here, it disguised itself the same way.

She looked at the green portaloo parked by the fountain. For one horrible, doubtful moment she thought it might have been a real one. But when she put her hand on it there was a familiar vibration and when she looked closer there was a ying-yang symbol on the lock.

“Chris, Davie,” she yelled as she pounded on the door. “Please… please let me in. Please be there.”

The door opened inwards. She fell across the threshold as Chris stood back in surprise.

“Who are you?” he asked, reaching to steady her. “How did you know this was….”

Davie stepped away from the TARDIS console and stood with his brother, looking at the girl who had been so anxious to get into their TARDIS. Vicki looked back at them as she gathered her breath. They looked younger. It was a shock to her to realise just how much they had aged in the years since they transcended. They both looked and acted very mature even for twenty-one. War and responsibility had put extra years on them.

But this wasn’t now. If she guessed right, it must be before their transcension, when they were just learning to use their TARDIS. Before Chris had his own machine. They were both only seventeen and still only allowed to travel on their own if they gave The Doctor a full flight plan and didn’t deviate from it.

And as far as they knew, she was even younger than she looked right now.

“I’m… I’m Vicki,” she said.

“Vicki?” Chris’s eyes opened in surprise. “You mean… Granddad’s little girl…”

“Yes,” she answered him. “Yes. I’ve grown a bit… actually a lot. I’m from your future, obviously. But I’m still Vicki Katarina de Lœngbærrow and… and… you’re both my great nephews…. And…”

“Vicki…” Davie and Chris both hugged her briefly. “But what are you doing here?”

“I’m lost,” she said. “And… more importantly, so is Sukie. She’s lost in a different time and… I think she’s with Earl. But that means they’re both lost. He’s… never mind. Chris… Davie… you’ve got to help us. But you mustn’t tell daddy. He’ll be so upset.”

“Never mind that now,” Chris said. “What about Sukie? Where is my sister? Is she in danger?”

“She might be. I don’t know. But… Please, please help.”

Sukie was becoming very worried. They had passed through four different portals into sixteen different timelines and there was still no sign of Vicki in any of them. Nor did they come back to a time when her family was in the park.

“This is strange,” she noted as they came to the fountain on a quiet, autumn morning and found all the flower beds planted with vegetables.

“It’s World War Two,” Earl explained. “1942. They called it ‘Dig for Victory’. Anywhere they could grow food was used.”

“That’s a very good idea,” Sukie said. “If I wasn’t worried about Vicki I’d be interested. Earl… how long can we keep looking?”

“As long as it takes,” he answered. “Because we came through the unstable portal all my mapping is useless. Our start point doesn’t correspond to anything I’ve got. But we can keep going. I have money to buy food. We can rest in a little while.”

“You’re as lost as I am,” Sukie noted. “You can’t get back to your home, either?”

He didn’t say anything about that. He just looked towards the river.

“I don’t like us being here in wartime with no identity papers if anyone asks. They might think I’m a deserter or something. I’m nearly old enough to be a soldier. I think we’ll try the bridge portal again. If we come out somewhere safe, we’ll rest for a while.”

“I don’t want to rest,” Sukie told him. “Not until we find Vicki.”

Earl put his arm around her shoulder gently. She was tired and footsore. But she hadn’t complained. He was impressed by her.

“Come on,” she said, breaking away from that intimate gesture. She walked quickly and he had to catch up with her. He grasped her hand firmly as if he was afraid of losing her.

Then the air raid siren sounded. It came from the city above the park, but the sound carried eerily.

“We can’t get to a shelter in time,” Earl said, looking towards the white house that was his home in the future. “We’re too far away.”

“But they wouldn’t bomb a park, would they?”

“The docks are just downriver. They might miss. We can’t take a chance. Come on.” He started to run. Sukie, still holding his hand, ran with him. They heard the planes in the sky and the crump of bombs hitting those docks. They glanced back and saw a plume of smoke rising beyond the familiar railway bridge. Earl said they might have hit a coal ship or a fuel container. At least they were running away from it. The ornamental footbridge built for Victorians to promenade along like a seaside pier was closer. They kept running right up to the rift portal.

As they stepped through, Earl saw what was on the other side and stopped. Sukie didn’t. She kept running three more steps and toppled over the gap where the bridge wasn’t yet finished. Earl was still holding her hand and her momentum almost pulled him over as well. He managed to jam one foot against the half-finished railing and he grasped a spar of wood with his free hand as he fell flat on the boards. He looked down and saw Sukie dangling there and the river in fast flood tide beneath. Sukie looked up at him, her face white with fear and tried to grasp his hand tighter.

“Don’t look down,” he called out to her. “Hold on.”

“I’m not looking down,” she replied. “And I have no intention of letting go. But please, pull me up.”

“I’m not sure I can,” he answered. “I daren’t let go or I’ll fall, too. Grab hold of me with both hands. I might be able….”

“I’m trying,” she replied, pulling her loose hand around and grasping his wrist. He tried to pull her, but even for a slender girl, she was a lot of weight on one arm. He couldn’t do it.

“Damn it,” he groaned, pressing his face against the boards. “Some Time Lord I’ll be. I can’t even look after one girl. How can I take care of the universe?”

“I believe in you, Earl,” Sukie answered him. “I think you’re going to be a great Time Lord. You’ll be as good as my brothers.”

“Just how good are your brothers?” he asked. “You set a lot of store by them.”

“They’re….” Sukie smiled suddenly and looked up past his worried face. “Earl… just hold on a bit longer. You’re about to find out how good they are.”

Earl gasped in surprise as a green portaloo hovered down past him. When it was level with Sukie the door opened and a young man about his own age reached and grabbed her in his arms. Earl scrambled to his knees on the edge of the drop as the portaloo rose up again. He saw the TARDIS console beyond the door and Sukie hugging the one who had rescued her, while another young man in a leather jacket reached out his hand to him.

“It’s ok, you’re safe now. Come on in.”

Earl grasped the hand and stepped over the gap between bridge and TARDIS threshold. The door closed automatically behind him and he looked around to see Sukie and Vicki hugging each other. The young man in the leather jacket went to the console. He felt the change in engine vibration as they dematerialised.

“Vicki,” he called out. “You’re safe. What happened?”

“I found Chris and Davie,” she answered. “They tracked you in the time rifts.”

“Chris… and Davie…” Earl looked at his two rescuers and groaned. “Wait… you’re… Chris Campbell… Davie Campbell. But… you two are famous…. In my time… Sukie, you never told me….”

“I did ask you what you knew about Time Lord history. Anyway, they’re not famous yet. They’re not even transcended. So don’t get all previous with them. And don’t say anything bad about Vicki’s daddy in front of them, either. Or you’ll be in big trouble.”

“I….” Earl began and gave up.

“Come here,” Davie said, calling him to the console. He obeyed. Davie was still only seventeen right now. But Earl knew what he was going to be in the future and he wasn’t going to cross him. “Vicki told us about your project… with the Rifts in the park. I’m afraid I have to break some bad news to you. We were given a project, too - from The Doctor – to close the portals. That’s what we were about to do when Vicki found us. And by the way, it was nothing to do with what he did when he closed the rift up on the bridge. They were caused in the year 5036 by an exploding vortex manipulator. A nasty accident involving an incautious Time Agent. Our friend Jack told us about it. They spent ages collecting the BITS of him from forty odd different time zones. The ripples in time spread down all the way to when the park began – which was when the other rift started. The one that The Doctor closed. When they collided, they reverberated back, splitting into the separate rifts you’ve been noting.”

Davie looked at Earl. He was obviously listening, but at the same time he was staring at Vicki.

“Your name isn’t Campbell… you’re father is… The Doctor? The greatest Time Lord in our history… the founder of our society on Earth.”

“I said you’d have to apologise,” Sukie told him.

“You don’t have to bow,” Vicki said with a giggle. “We’re not actually royalty.”

“Yes… but.. I mean… if I’d have known…”

“Never mind that,” Davie cut in. “We owe you one for looking after the girls. What do you say, after we take them back to their proper time, you help us out closing the portals. That’ll round your project off nicely. And we can get you home to your own century in time for tea.”

“Oh, but…” Sukie looked mournful. “We won’t see him again? At least not until we’re over three hundred years old?”

“When I’m eighteen, and I transcend, I’ll have my own time machine,” Earl said. “I’ll come and see you.”

Davie and Chris weren’t much older than Earl in actual years. But they looked at each other and nodded. It hadn’t escaped their notice that he said ‘see you’ to Sukie, not to both of the girls. They knew what that meant.

“You’ll come and see her when she’s seventeen,” Chris told him. “And not before. Remember she’s got two big brothers looking out for her.”

“Ok, then,” Earl agreed. He winked at Sukie who pretended not to notice. In any case, the TARDIS was materialising. Chris opened the door and they all stepped out into the park in the sunshine. The green portaloo was incongruously set down beside the statue of the lugubrious Victorian gentleman who founded the park for the benefit of the citizens. Below, in the formal garden beside the fountain, The Doctor and Christopher were still teaching their sons to play football while their wives sunbathed.

“We’ll talk to you when you get back from this trip,” Chris told the girls as he and Davie hugged them both. Earl shook hands with Vicki. He did the same with Sukie, but then risked the wrath of her brothers long enough to kiss her on the cheek just once.

“I’ll see you when you’re seventeen, Sukie Campbell,” he said. She smiled back at him and then turned away, hand in hand with Vicki. She looked back once to see the three of them still standing there by the statue. When she looked again, the TARDIS was gone. She smiled, though.

“I think I’ve got a problem,” she said. “Seems like when I’m seventeen I’ll have two boyfriends to choose from. Jimmy or Earl. Maybe you’d better take one of them off my hands, Vicki.”

“I might have plenty of my own by then,” she pointed out. “If they’re not all scared of daddy. Anyway, come on. Never mind boys. Chris and Davie are the only two worth bothering with. We’ve got strawberries and cream in the picnic tea. Way more interesting.”

Sukie smiled again, and noted that Vicki WAS really younger than she was. Strawberries and cream were ok. But actually, boys were quite interesting in their own way.