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

Chris breathed in deeply as he opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling of his TARDIS console room. He was getting better at navigating by the power of his mind every time he tried it. Even before he got up off the low palette and checked the temporal and spatial location at the console he knew they were in orbit around the planet he had chosen for this field trip.

“It is really weird when you do that, Chris,” said Tony. The other students he brought with him agreed.

“Do you do that when you fly the TARDIS alone?” Daryl asked him. “It’s amazing. But surely it is dangerous. What if you were unable to wake from the trance with nobody else around to help you?”

“I’m all right,” he assured her. “I know what I’m doing. I think it’s time I taught some of you to do it.”

“Not me,” Tony replied stepping back. “I DO have trouble coming out of meditative trances. I’m not going to risk getting my mind permanently hooked up to the TARDIS.”

Dale, the least telepathic of them all, agreed with him. But Daryl, his wife, was interested. Shone Drader, who had come on the trip ‘with’ Tony, and Cól Vaehn, both promising Time Lord candidates, also showed their enthusiasm. Cól’s Human boyfriend, Gill, had very good natural telepathic skills, but he didn’t want to do anything that dangerous with his powers.

“By the time I’ve finished training you, even those of you with Human DNA ought to be able to try it. But I’m sure I can teach you Gallifreyans to do it as well as I can.”

“But we would never have TARDISes of our own,” Cól pointed out. “There aren’t enough of them.”

“Davie is working on that,” Chris answered. “In the future, he hopes that the most promising Time Lord candidates will have the chance to own a TARDIS of their own. Only a Time Lord can fully operate it, of course. But we know that the symbiotic imprimatur between Time Lord and TARDIS will sometimes extend to an individual with whom the Time Lord has an emotional attachment. It’s something that needs a lot of research still. We only just started to figure it out in the past few years. I think the Time Lords never realised that their semi-sentient machines would recognise love as a factor. But if Davie can solve the supply problem, then, Cól, you and Gill could pilot a TARDIS together – Time Lord and Human, in symbiotic harmony with your time travelling machine. How about that?”

“Sounds good to me, Chris,” Cól answered, touching his boyfriend’s hand. “But I think I’ll stick to the ordinary way of piloting it. Anyway, how about this planet you brought us to? What’s so special about it?”

“Sixty-eight moons, for a start,” Dale said as he read the database entry about the planet. “Dol-Xe, fourth planet of the Hydra system, has an oxygen rich atmosphere. Population, humanoid, semi-industrial, mostly living in small self-contained communities, each with a tribal head and individual village gods, usually symbols of natural fertility. Rituals and observances differ from region to region, with the tribes of the northern hemisphere welcoming strangers providing they bring precious gifts for the village god.”

“Hence the ‘tun of treasure’ we’re bringing with us,” Tony noted, nodding to the elaborately tooled wooden box that rested beside the door. It contained gold and silver ornaments and trinkets that Chris had purchased at an offworld auction some weeks ago, knowing that such things had intrinsic value on many of the worlds he wanted to visit. It didn’t quite weigh a Shakespearean ‘tun’ but he thought it would be acceptable, all the same.

“We’re landing on the northern veldt, not far from a community which worships a sky god,” Chris explained. “They’re called the Cíeló. The database suggests that these are a particularly hospitable lot.”

“You mean we’ll get fed?” Gill asked hopefully. The others laughed gently. Gill was an enthusiastic student of Chris’s philosophical disciplines except at mealtimes when he found the aesthetic and purifying food not quite satisfying his own appetite.

“You never know your luck, Gill,” Chris answered as he initialised their materialisation on the planet. He was happy. His students were in good spirits, and this was promising to be an interesting field trip.

They landed a quarter of a mile from the Cíeló village. Far enough away not to disturb anyone by their arrival but not so far that carrying the treasure chest would become a burden and spoil a pleasant walk on the flat dry plain that Chris had called the northern veldt, using the African word for such an expanse of land. Gill, whose other enthusiasm apart from food was botany, was excited about the plantlife that grew in the dry soil. He waxed lyrical for a time about succulents and their properties, pointing out the limitless colours of the small, hardy plants. The others let him talk. They were not as enthusiastic about the subject as he was, but it was an interesting addition to their nature walk on another planet, far from the place of their birth.

The village was something of a surprise to them all, since they had no expectations at all of what it would be like. The idea of a people who worshipped the sky made them think of native Americans or Australian Aborginals living in huts made of skins and hand hewn poles.

On the other hand, they were all familiar with the nature worshipping people of SangC’lune who lived in substantial wooden houses.

The Cíeló lived in glass houses. They were domes rather like the traditional concept of an igloo, but made of panes of smoked glass that gave back only a muted reflection.

“It’s a rudimentary kind of solar power,” Chris noted. “The glass absorbs the heat of the sun and warms the living space inside. Oh, Davie should have seen this. He’d be thrilled. It’s on the same lines as his project that he sold to the National Power Company. And yet, this is all done by hand, and the people live the same kind of simple, self-sufficient life that our SangC’lune folk do.”

“They worship the sky. Their houses are made of glass so they can look at the sky,” Daryl commented. “Beautiful.”

The people did much of their work outside in the sunlight, under their sacred sky. Their work included everything from glassmaking over a hot fire to bread baking, to the production of some of the finest silks any of the visitors had ever seen. Chris looked at the finished lengths of cloth and wondered if he might barter for some of them. Sukie would be thrilled to go to her end of term school party in a dress made of that fabric.

The presence of strangers was causing a certain amount of disruption to the working day of the Cíelónians. Most of them stopped in their work and watched as Chris and his friends passed by. As they approached the centre of the village, a large crowd was following them.

Three of what had to be the village elders were waiting at what was obviously the tribal totem. Once it might have been a very tall, broad, living tree. Now it was carved into an elaborate design invoking the spirits of the sky which included the stars and the multiple moons of Dol-Xe as well as birds and clouds, and what Chris was almost certain was a cigar shaped space ship that might have passed through the atmosphere and then into legend at some point in their history.

The ordinary Cíelónians working at their trades wore practical clothes, jerkins and loose trousers for the men, dresses for the women with short sleeves that wouldn’t get caught in spinning wheels or weaving looms. The elders, though, wore robes with wide sleeves elaborately embroidered. As they stood waiting to greet the travellers they looked like a group of priests about to celebrate a high Mass. Chris took a few steps forward from the group and bowed to them respectfully. They returned the gesture.

“I am Chris Campbell,” he said. “I greet the elders and people of Cíeló and honour you with this token.” He waved to Gill and Cól and they carried the treasure chest forward to present to the Elders. The senior of them opened the chest and seemed suitably pleased. He bowed again to Chris and his friends.

“You are welcome to Cíeló,” he said. “I am Tilo, Keeper of the Rites. This is Garn, Keeper of Records and Han, Keeper of the Mercantiles. Let me show you the Hall of Feasting. We shall be happy to entertain you, there.”

Chris half smiled as he felt Cól teasing Gill telepathically about the possibility of them being fed. But he kept his composure as he thanked Tilo and told him to lead the way.

The Hall of Feasting was one of the larger buildings in the village. It was another glass igloo, of course. The floor was a kind of stone, covered with mats made of natural fibre. The walls were opaque glass, but the domed roof was transparent. The view of the sky with some of its moons visible even by day was pleasant. Chris wondered if there was any kind of filtering to stop the sun being too bright at midday. But since it was obviously getting on for sunset he was not going to get a chance to find out. At least not today.

Gill was very satisfied with the hospitality offered by the Cíelónians. The low table around which they sat on silk cushions was quickly filled with dishes of tasty, nourishing food and fine flavoured wine. Chris enjoyed the food as much as his students did, though as ever he was sparing with the wine. He sipped a glass slowly and watched his hosts as they served them. He noticed particularly a girl, perhaps seventeen or eighteen years old, if the Earth measurements of age applied here. She was startlingly different from the other women who brought the food and drink. The three others, a middle aged woman and what clearly were her two adult daughters, had black hair and brown eyes and what he would call a Mediterranean complexion. But this other one was fair haired, with blue eyes and the kind of complexion that fashion magazines called ‘peaches and cream’. The contrast was even more startling when he realised that all of the people he had seen so far were dark haired and dusky complexioned. She was the only one he had observed with blonde hair and blue eyes.

“I noticed that, too,” Shone said to him telepathically. “I was starting to feel a bit conspicuous.” Chris smiled at Shone. She had red hair and green eyes, which was a rare combination even among the diversity of Earth. “Do you think she’s a slave or something, bought or captured from another tribe?”

“I wondered about that, too,” Daryl added. “Do they do that here?”

“I don’t know,” Chris answered. “I’ll try to find out. Of course, if that’s the case, even though we all have views about slavery, we can’t interfere.

The Gallifreyans among his students were puzzled by that. After all, they had been slaves of the Sontarans and Chris and his brother and The Doctor had intervened to free them. So why couldn’t they do something about slavery in this instance?

“The Sontarans invaded the planet you were living on and destroyed the culture there, making you and your parents slaves and prisoners. But if slavery of some kind is a part of the indigenous culture here, then we shouldn’t interfere. We shouldn’t impose our own values upon them.”

They didn’t completely understand the distinction.

“If she is a slave, she is a well dressed one, and she looks healthy,” Chris added. “Perhaps she’s more like an indentured servant, that sort of thing. In that case she would be treated well enough.”

The girl in question came to his side with a pitcher and asked if he wished for more wine. Chris didn’t want any more but he held his goblet out just for the opportunity to speak with her. He asked her name and was told she was called Carya.

“That’s a pretty name,” he said to her. “Please… will you sit with me and talk? I should like to know more about you. Are you allowed? Or do you have other duties?”

“My duty is to please you, honoured visitor,” she answered, putting down the wine pitcher and sitting at his side.

“Please, call me Chris,” he said.

“Chris,” she amended with a broad smile. “My father says that you are leader of your tribe. You are very young for that responsibility.”

“Yes,” he answered. “I am… I suppose you could say I am a tribal leader. In a sense.”

He felt the telepathic laughter of his ‘tribe’ and challenged them light-heartedly to describe him in any other way to these people.

“Yes, ok,” Gill admitted on behalf of them all. “You’re our tribal leader. Can we still call you ‘Chris’ or should there be some formal address?”

He smiled at their irreverence and turned back to Carya. She caught his smile and turned her eyes away shyly.

“Who is your father?” he asked, trying to get back into the conversation with her again. “Is he here?”

“My father is Tilo, the Keeper of Rites,” she answered. “I am his youngest daughter. Galla and Blas are my sisters.” She indicated with a sweep of her hand the other two young women who were attending to them.

Chris was even more puzzled.

“And your mother… is she… does your father have more than one wife?”

“More than one wife?” The idea clearly startled her. She had never heard of such a thing. “That is my mother, bringing in the basket of gles fruits. My father has never had another wife. Such a thing…”

“My pardon,” Chris said quickly. “I have caused offence by my ignorance of your customs.”

How, he was wondering, could Carya possibly be the daughter of these dark haired, dark eyed, individuals? Unless genetics were very different on this planet, it would seem to be impossible. But he set the puzzle aside for now. He had established that she was not a slave. She was, in fact, a child of the most influential man in the village. And he clearly had affection for her. When he came to inquire if the visitors had all they wanted in the way of food and drink, he patted her blonde head paternally and spoke quietly to her. Chris deliberately didn’t listen to their conversation, but he noticed that she seemed happy when he left her.

“Do you have more than one wife?” Carya asked Chris when she turned back to him again.

“I don’t have a wife at all,” he answered. He wondered if he ought to explain his reasons, but he wasn’t entirely sure how to do so. Her own father was the nearest equivalent to a spiritual leader, a priest, in this community. He wasn’t sure she would understand the reasons why he had no romantic attachments in his life.

“I am too busy looking after my tribe,” he managed to say. She seemed puzzled for a moment, then smiled brightly at him and offered him more wine. He refused, saying that he had already drunk enough of it. She nodded and quietly slipped away. Chris wondered if his refusal had offended her in some way, but a minute later she returned with a pitcher of fruit juice and a plate of sticky fruit pasties and offered the delicacies to him.

“All right,” he said with a warm smile to her. “I think I can manage a little dessert.”

“Be careful, Chris,” Cól told him telepathically. “Remember the old Earth adage… the way to a man’s heart…”

“It’s just a fruit pasty,” he answered. “And she’s just being hospitable.”

His students made several comments that suggested otherwise. He insisted there was nothing untoward going on and reminded them of his personal chastity.

“We believe you, Chris,” said Tony with a cadence even in his telepathic voice that suggested the opposite.

After they had eaten, Tilo, Keeper of Rites, told them that it was nearing the hour of the evening ritual and bid them come and witness it with the people. Chris accepted on behalf of his own people and they stepped out into the warm evening air. They sat in an inner ring around the totem while the people of the village gathered around them. The Keeper of Rites and the Keeper of Records performed a simple rite that was obviously similar to the Daygone ritual on SangC’lune. It recognised the passage of day into night and gave thanks to the sky gods for their blessings in both light and dark.

“It’s interesting that two different cultures should have the same idea about the coming of night,” Tony commented as the ceremony continued. “They can’t possibly have had any contact with each other.”

“Day and night are the two most constant things in the universe,” Chris answered. “The ancient Egyptians had ceremonies for dawn and dusk, too. And the Aztecs. And they certainly never met each other. People who live close to nature, their lives governed by the setting and rising of the sun, the changing of the seasons, are bound to have similar ideas, no matter who they are or where they are.”

“That’s a bit different,” Cól noted as Carya stepped forward towards her father and the Keeper of Records. As the sun set and the reflected light of some thirty of the sixty-four moons shone from the darkened sky, the Keeper of Records held up a parchment book from which the Keeper of Rituals read aloud the Rite. It looked a lot like a baptism or confirmation ceremony. It was impossible to be sure because the visitors couldn’t understand the words.

“That’s odd,” Chris noted. “We understood their language up until now. It was very similar to Earth ancient Greek, but the TARDIS translated it perfectly well for us. This is something else. Something older… a ceremonial language.”

“Is that a problem?” Gill asked. “After all, the TARDIS doesn’t translate Ancient Gallifreyan, either.”

“Yes, but I can speak Ancient Gallifreyan,” Chris answered. “This is a little unnerving. I feel as if something is being kept from me deliberately.”

“Doesn’t seem to be anything untoward going on,” Tony pointed out. “I mean, she’s smiling. It’s not as if she’s being sacrificed to the moon gods or something.”

“Good grief, I hope not!” Chris shifted in his seat anxiously. That hadn’t even occurred to him. Carya DID look happy, blissfully so. But he was well aware that there were cultures which had the idea of a ‘perfect sacrifice’, born and raised for the purpose of dying in some blood ritual. He recalled hearing from both his mother and his great-grandfather about the time when they got caught up in an Aztec sacrificial ceremony and barely escaped with their lives. His mother had told him about it simply to remind him that she had experienced a few adventures of her own before she settled down in suburbia. The Doctor had told it to him and Davie as a cautionary tale about not interfering with other people’s cultures.

But if that was what they intended to do with Carya, then he would have to disobey his great-grandfather’s morality lesson. He could not stand by and let her be killed in front of his eyes. Not even if that was her heart’s desire.

He looked around at the assembled villagers. There were at least two hundred of them altogether. Even the elderly among them looked fit and agile. They were perfectly capable of beating him to death with their bare hands if he crossed them by interfering in their religious rites. Of course, he could count on his students to step in. All of them were competent in martial arts. They could make a fight of it if they had to. But he wasn’t sure he liked the odds.

“Chris, you’re supposed to be teaching us the ways of peace,” Cól reminded him. “And you’re planning to get us all into a life and death fight.”

“If they intend to kill that girl, then yes,” he answered. “Pacifism is one thing. Standing idly by while a terrible thing is done is another.”

“You’re right,” Daryl said. “Chris, I heard your thoughts before… about your mother and the Aztecs, and what The Doctor told you. And to go against him is unthinkable. But if that really is what they mean, then I’ll fight.”

“We all will,” Cól added. “You’re our leader. In peace or otherwise.”

“Thanks,” Chris told them as he felt all their assurances of support.

But it seemed as if they weren’t going to have to fight after all. The ceremony didn’t end with knives drawn or anything terrible, but with a kiss on the cheek from the Keeper of Rites and a gesture of blessing on the girl. Then she walked away, finding a place to sit next to Chris. She smiled warmly at him and he returned the gesture. She looked happy, still. Obviously the ceremony was just some Cíelónian rite of passage. Nothing for him to worry about at all.

That concluded the formal Rites, apparently. It was followed by a concert of sorts with music played on traditional hand made instruments and much singing and dancing. Chris was rather impressed when Carya took centre stage and sang a rather haunting song while playing something like a cross between a zither and a harp. She had a very pretty voice. When she came back to his side, he told her so. She blushed sweetly and lowered her eyes demurely, but seemed pleased by his compliment, all the same.

It must have been near midnight by the local time when the open air party broke up. Chris wondered if he should take his students back to the TARDIS, but it quickly became clear that the Cíelónians had made other arrangements. The Hall of Feasting had been transformed to a Hall of Sleeping with low beds covered in silks. A late night snack of cold fruit juice and some of the remnants of the earlier feast were provided, pleasing Gill especially.

Chris was surprised when he was told that a special place was prepared for him. He was conducted by Tilo to a smaller building with a silk covered bed in it and food and drink should he wish it. He wondered why he was being given special treatment in such a way, but didn’t like to ask. After dismissing a few more sinister ideas he decided it was because he was the leader of his ‘tribe’ and was not expected to bunk with the rest.

He was left alone in the bed chamber. He poured a glass of fruit juice and ate a little of the food, then he prepared himself for bed by slipping his robe over his head and taking off his silver medallion with the symbol of Earth and Gallifrey joined. He had a pair of cotton shorts on beneath the robe, and that was sufficient for sleeping in a room that had been warmed all day by the sun shining down on the glass panels. They seemed to act something like storage heaters, still giving off a comfortable warmth even now and he didn’t even really need bedclothes. He wrapped one of the silk sheets around himself just out of habit and settled down to sleep, calming his mind and clearing it of all the strange new things that had occupied him during the day. He prepared himself for a quiet, dreamless state that was half sleep and half meditation.

He hadn’t quite reached that state when he was disturbed by a breeze as the door opened. He sat up quickly, ready to defend himself against attack and was surprised to see Carya standing there beside his bed. She was wearing a very thin, gauzy piece of silk that left nothing to the imagination, and when she dropped even that, his senses reeled. The moonlight shining in from above made her pale flesh luminous. She looked ethereal. If he had been more sleepy he might have thought he was imagining things.

“Carya,” he said. “What are you doing here? Don’t…” He grabbed the silk sheet from his bed and wrapped it around her. “You shouldn’t be here. What would your father say if he found you?”

“He sent me to you,” she answered. “I am yours, Chris, to use as you please.”

“I don’t want to use you at all,” he told her.

“But you must,” she replied. “I am… I am given to you… the Rite… I am yours…”

“The Rite… earlier… that was… No. I didn’t even understand the words. You’re telling me that was… No. I am sorry. You can’t expect me… There was nothing… Today, when you sat with me at the table… when we talked… it wasn’t meant to lead to anything. Certainly not this. I can’t.”

“But… you must,” she said. “If you don’t…”

She began to cry. Chris reached out to comfort her and found her trembling with emotion. She was scared. Not of him, surely.

“Carya,” he whispered. “Are you afraid of what your father will say if I reject you? I’ll talk to him. I’ll explain it to him. I’ll explain that it’s my fault, not yours. You’ve done nothing wrong. I can’t do what your father expects. It isn’t in me. But I will make it right. I’ll go and talk to him now, if you want. I’ll sort it out.”

“No,” she cried. “No, please. You mustn’t. Please… let me stay here. Please, let me stay with you.”

She clung to him as if her life depended on it. He didn’t understand why she was so scared, but he didn’t want to distress her further. He gently laid her down on the bed and put his hand on her forehead. He radiated calming thoughts to her, but she was so distressed it took him nearly ten minutes to quieten her. Even then, she wouldn’t let go of him.

“All right,” he said. “If it makes you feel better…” He laid himself down beside her and held her close. She pressed her body against his urgently.

“Just sleep, now,” he told her. “Sleep quietly until the morning. You’re safe here with me.”

She was still overwrought. He touched her face with his hand and gently drew out the last of her anxieties until she relaxed enough to sleep. He lay by her side, his arms around her shoulders and his face close to her fair haired head and wondered where this was going to lead.

If he was any other man, it might have been obvious where it was going to lead. She was a beautiful girl and she had been ‘given’ to him as a ‘wife’ or ‘concubine’ or something of that sort. Any other man would have been happy to keep her in some such capacity. But he couldn’t do that.

She slept soundly. He managed to clear his mind enough to reach a low level trance and remain there for most of the night. He woke early, just a little past dawn on a summer morning. He carefully moved from Carya’s side and dressed before stepping out of the glass dome and into the cool air of a very early morning.

There was nobody else around, yet, though he thought the people of the village may well be awake soon. It was likely that they started their working day early. In the meantime, he was alone.

No, not quite alone. He noticed somebody else up and about. He recognised Dale. He looked a little furtive. Chris knew why. He had been smoking a cigarette. He had almost given up the habit, but now and again, Chris knew that he would sneak away with a hidden packet and enjoy one guilty indulgence. He turned a blind eye because he knew Dale WAS making an effort. His backsliding was always followed by a great effort on his part in all his disciplines.

“You’re up early,” he said to him, ignoring the obvious scent of tobacco that hung around him.

“So are you,” Dale responded.

“Yeah… well, my bed is occupied by a rather attractive blonde.” He quickly explained his problem and was surprised when Dale laughed.

“You know, you’re the only one who didn’t see this coming,” he told him. “The way she was pouring wine for you and sitting up close. And then the separate room for you… We were all talking about it, you know. We were happy for you. Our guru, Chris, getting a little bit of loving from a beautiful woman.”

“But I can’t. I made a vow of celibacy, so that I could devote my life to my philosophy, to teaching it to all of you.”

“We all know that,” Dale answered him. “But you chose to do that, didn’t you? Nobody said you had to. Nobody is holding you to it. Certainly not any of us. We wouldn’t think any less of you if you accepted Carya’s affections. You’re still our leader.”

That was reassuring. He appreciated it. But his dilemma remained.

“Would you like to try a cigarette?” Dale offered. “They’re good for stress.”

“I’m not stressed. I’m… remembering… the one time I almost broke my vow. None of you know this. I fell in love once. A girl from SangC’lune. I really considered forgetting my vow and making her my wife. I thought of running the Sanctuary with her at my side. But she… she died. And the possibility of me ever loving one individual in that way, died with her. Ever since… I just can’t. I don’t have it in me. I spent the night with a beautiful, almost naked woman in my arms… and… I care about her. I felt compassion for her. I wanted to protect her, and ease her fears. But I couldn’t even think of making love to her.”

“Because you think, if you fall in love with her, she’ll die like the other one?”

“No… yes… I… Yes, I suppose deep down there is that feeling. But, anyway, I couldn’t. As far as I could gather, the ritual last night, it prepared her for marriage - to me. I didn’t need to take part in the actual ritual. All I had to do was take her to my bed and consummate the relationship. But… well, that’s hardly my idea of a marriage ceremony for one thing. And what sort of a man would have taken advantage of the girl that way?”

Dale’s expression gave back the answer to that question even without recourse to telepathy.

“Yes, I know. A NORMAL man. Which makes me an abnormal man, I suppose.”

“You’re a good man, Chris. You’re a remarkable man. I came to your sanctuary under false pretences. But you convinced me. I became one of your ‘disciples’. You’ve got more love and compassion in you than any man… since… well, since the one who got crucified over two thousand years ago.”

“Let’s not go down that road,” Chris said with a wry smile. “I’m not trying to be a Messiah. I just want to teach meditation. But I’ve got to do right by that girl. I’ve got to talk to her father later, explain that we just don’t do that where we come from, and there’s no reason to punish her for it.”

“He’ll do that?”

“She certainly seemed to think so. I’m worried for her. Whether I want to take her as a wife or not, I feel as if I am responsible for her now. I’ve got to make sure she’s going to be ok before we can think of leaving this planet. Which… I’d do right now if I had the choice. I don’t know what it is, but I feel… uneasy. As if I’ve got you all into a heap of trouble along with me. Leaving here, right now, before anyone else is up, would be the best thing for all of you. But then I’d be abandoning Carya.”

“Chris, my telepathy is lousy. You know that. When the others all come to decisions together, inside their own heads, I’m not really a part of it. Daryl relays it to me afterwards. But right now, I think I can speak for everyone. We’re not running away. We’re with you all the way. Just tell me what to do and I’ll make sure the others are ready.”

“That’s about all you need to do right now. Just be ready, in case we need to get out of here quickly.”

“I’ll tell them. You’d better go and look after your beautiful blonde, now.”

Chris did just that. Carya was sleeping still. He laid himself down beside her again and put a protective arm around her. He didn’t love her. He didn’t even desire her as he was obviously intended to do. He cared for her because she was a living being with reason for distress and he wanted to ease that distress.

Obviously he could do that by waking her up now and doing what her father had sent her to him for. But he really didn’t feel that was an option.

He lay quietly for another hour, thinking about the best way of explaining to Tilo that his daughter was a beautiful, charming woman but not the one for him. He was becoming aware that people were awake in the village, now. The day was beginning for them all.

Then he felt an urgent voice calling to him telepathically.

“Chris, there’s something going on. There’s a crowd around where you are. You need to get out of there. I think…”

He could feel them, now. A very large crowd were waiting outside the building. Their mood seemed to be calm, but it wasn’t what he expected and he wasn’t sure what it presaged.

“Carya,” he whispered as he gently roused the girl. “Carya, wake up, there’s a good girl. Do you know why there’s a crowd waiting for us?”

“They… are waiting to conduct us to… to the wedding breakfast… to celebrate our union,” she answered.

“Ah. That complicates matters. I really just wanted a quiet word with your father. Well, we’d better face the music, as it were. Let’s get you dressed.” He picked up the almost see through gown she had worn the night before and slipped it on her. It didn’t look quite right for wearing in front of a crowd, but when he attempted to put a piece of silk around it as an overskirt or something she refused. She insisted that she must wear the wedding robe.

She looked scared again.

“Come on,” he said, taking her hand firmly. “We’ll sort this out, I promise.”

She hung back, trying to hide herself behind him as they stepped out. And Chris was hardly surprised. The crowd outside was overwhelming. But what he hadn’t expected was the sudden change of mood as they caught sight of Carya. Far from greeting a newly married couple, they seemed angry and accusing. There were no raised voices, but the murmurs and whispers were distinctly hostile.

“What’s going on?” he asked his own friends who stood a little aside from the crowd. None of them seemed to know. Then he saw Tilo striding towards him through the crowd, followed by Garn and Han. The Keeper of Records and Keeper of Mercantile looked angry. The Keeper of Rites looked angry, too, but also worried and possibly a bit embarrassed.

“Sir,” Chris said to Tilo. “Can you please send these people to their homes and let us talk privately. There is something you need to understand…”

“Why have you not taken her as your wife?” Tilo demanded, ignoring his request. “The darkening should have begun by now. Why have you failed in your duty?”

“MY duty?” Chris questioned. “What do you mean about… darkening…”

“I gave you my daughter as your wife. But you have shunned her. She is still a maiden… still fair. If you had done your duty, the darkening would have begun already.”

Chris considered himself an intelligent man. But it took him another thirty seconds to work it out.

“You mean that… your children… your daughters… are fair-haired until they marry… until they have… been with a man… and then… she should become dark haired, dark complexioned… her eyes, too…”

Everything he ever knew about DNA reeled.

He looked around at the crowd that was growing minute by minute. It hadn’t occurred to him before, but there were no young girls among them. There were boys of various ages, but no girls. And he had not actually seen Carya until they went to the Hall of feasting.

“Your girls… are kept out of sight until they can be presented to a suitable man. Then you conduct that ceremony… send them to the bedchamber… and expect the man to… to co-operate. I’m not even going to ask why. Obviously you’ve been doing this for generations and it works for you. But the problem is, I’m not a suitable man. I knew nothing of your ceremony, and where I come from fathers don’t just marry their daughters off to the first man who happens to pass their way. Carya is a very lovely girl. I am sure she will make a good husband to a man of your own tribe or a neighbouring village. But I can’t accept. And if you had told me what was going on last night, I could have explained that to you. It would have saved her a great deal of distress.”

“You have insulted me,” Tilo responded angrily. “You have shamed my daughter. She cannot be given to any other man. The Rite was performed. She was given to you. And you have rejected her. She is destroyed. And so are you.”

A sorrowful keening wail came from the crowds. It was Carya’s mother and her two sisters. Carya herself clung to Chris’s arm and cried pitifully. He looked around in bewilderment as the murmurs in the crowd grew louder.

“Chris!” He felt Cól’s voice in his head. “Run for it. Come on. We have to get out of here. They mean to…”

Chris saw his friends turn as one and try to get away, but the crowd surrounded them. They fought, all of them, using the martial arts they had learnt at the sanctuary, using all of their strength and skill, but they were overwhelmed. He looked around and knew he, too, was trapped. Carya’s screams were almost too loud to bear as she clung to him.

“Stop,” he cried out. “Tilo, for pity’s sake, whatever you mean to do… stop it.”

But he didn’t stop. Chris fought hard. He knew he had inflicted some long-lasting wounds on those who came at him. But the sheer force of numbers defeated him even before something hard and painful came down on the back of his head.

When he came around, he was aware of several things at once. First, he was naked apart from, for some reason, his medallion still hanging around his neck. And he was extremely hot. When he opened his eyes, the light dazzled them painfully and it was several minutes before he could focus on anything.

He was in another of the glass domes. But this one had no opaque panes. Every single one of them was transparent, and the sun was shining hotly. It wasn’t even halfway through the morning yet, and it was already scorching. And to make it worse, the floor was mirrored glass. It reflected the light and heat back. He was trapped between, getting hotter and more dehydrated by the minute.

The transparent windows showed that the dome was in the middle of the plain, far from the village. There were no guards, but the door was obviously sealed.

He wasn’t alone. He felt a soft hand on his over-heated flesh, and a weak voice asking him for forgiveness.

“What do you need to be forgiven for?” he asked as he turned and held Carya in his arms. “This isn’t your fault. Maybe it is mine. I should have realised the signs. That was something else my great-grandfather warned me about. Women from strange cultures offering food and drink… courtship rituals, of course. I should have put a stop to this long before. But what is this all about? Why have they put us in this place? Is it a punishment?”

“It is… we are here to die,” Carya answered. “I am dishonoured. I am dead in his eyes. And you… by so dishonouring me… condemned yourself. We will be dead in a few hours. When the sun is highest, we will burn.”

Yes, Chris thought. They would. It was already impossibly hot in the enclosed dome. The air was hot when he breathed. His flesh was painfully hot, and he was sweating so much he would soon have little liquid left in his body. When the sun was hottest and highest, when it was directly over them, yes, their skin would burn. They would be blinded by the glare and they would almost certainly die. Even if they didn’t, he doubted they would last until sundown without their kidneys packing up from severe dehydration.

“Your father would do this? Because I wouldn’t take you as my wife?”

“It is our custom. The Rite is binding. I cannot be given to anyone but the one I was bound to. I am of no value to him now.”

She couldn’t cry any more. She couldn’t spare the liquid from her body. But her grief was beyond measure. Chris found it almost incomprehensible that a custom was more important to Tilo than his daughter, his own flesh and blood. He couldn’t believe he would rather see her die than accept that he had made a mistake in choosing a stranger who did not know their customs.

“You’re of value to me, Carya,” he promised her. “Not as a wife. I really don’t need one. And if I did, I would need more than a few hours to decide who she should be. But you matter to me. And I am not going to let you die. Neither of us are going to die.”

The easiest thing should have been to use the power of his mind to bring his TARDIS to the spot. They could both escape this execution cell and then he could find his friends and leave this planet once and for all. He tried to do that. But something was blocking him out. He could feel the TARDIS out there on the plain, not more than a quarter of a mile away. But he couldn’t make the symbiotic contact he needed.

“Oh!” he groaned as he let his eyes focus on the windows. They were a beautifully clear glass. “They’re lead glass… or something like it. Lead blocks telepathic signals.”

There couldn’t be a lot of lead in the glass, of course. But there was enough to prevent him making a clear contact with his TARDIS.

Of course, he thought. That would be too easy.

“Chris!” He felt one of his friends calling to him. He thought it might have been Cól. His voice was muted and it echoed strangely in his head. The lead content in the glass surrounding him was distorting the message. But he was there. “Chris, you’re awake at last. You’ve been out for about two hours. We really thought they’d done you in.”

He felt their combined relief that he was alive.

“Where are you?” he asked. “Are you prisoners?”

“We’re in the Hall of Feasting,” Cól answered. “There’s not so much food here this time. Just some bread and water. They told us we have to remain here until tomorrow. Then we’ve been told we can leave. I think they mean without you.”

Chris explained what his and Carya’s fate was meant to be. There was a wave of concern.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” he said. “But it’s a struggle. Can you guys escape from where you are? Can you get to the TARDIS. If you can, you can programme it to materialise near me.”

“We were talking about that,” Cól answered him. “We think our best chance will be when they have their ceremony at dusk. There will be less guards outside, if any, and the others will be distracted. And the darkness will cover us.”

“That would work,” Chris said. “But I don’t think we have until dusk. We’re meant to burn to death in the midday sun.”

“You could put yourself into a deep trance.” He recognised Daryl’s voice overriding Cól. “The kind where you go really cold and everything slows down. That would help, wouldn’t it?”

“It would help me, but Carya is here, too. I can’t… I won’t save myself and let her die.”

“It’s her fault you’re in there.” He wasn’t sure who had said that. It was getting hard to concentrate. But he summoned the effort to reply.

“It isn’t her fault. And I have to protect her. I… think I have an idea. It might just work. You stick to your plan. I’ll do my best to keep us both alive until then. It’s going to take all my mental energy to do it, though. You won’t be able to reach me. I’ve got to trust that you’ll be successful.”

“Chris…” They all called out to him anxiously.

“If I don’t make it… when you get to the TARDIS, call my brother. He’ll… know how to break it to my family.”

He closed off his thoughts to them. It was starting to weaken him. And he really did need all his strength right now.

“Carya,” he said. “Lie down on the floor. On your back. Don’t be scared. I’m going to do something that you might find frightening. But it might save our lives.”

She did has he asked. He noticed how much her fair skin had already become badly sunburnt. She was suffering terribly. And the last thing she needed was the pressure of his body on top of her, touching the painful burns. His own skin felt sensitive in that way, too. But he lay over her, covering almost all of her body with his own. She looked frightened. No wonder. She was lying there, naked and hurting, and a man she hardly knew was lying over her, also naked. And not even for the reason she had been sent to him in the first place! The irony wasn’t lost on him, but nothing was further from his mind right now.

He let himself drop, first, into a light trance, then a deeper and deeper one. He gradually brought himself down to the level where his heart and lungs and all of his other organs were virtually stopped and his body temperature dropped to below freezing. His brain was still operating, and he was aware of himself. He could feel his body getting cold, despite the heat coming down on him through the glass. He could feel the cold of his body transferring to Carya’s body underneath his, cooling her and soothing her. He felt the perspiration on his body turning to frost. The moisture that had already evaporated from both their bodies into the hot air began to condense again and form a layer of ice on him.

He brought himself quickly back to full consciousness, but he concentrated very hard and kept his body temperature at just above freezing. He forced his blood to circulate, because he needed it to do that. But his skin remained cold enough to continue that condensing and freezing process. He was a living cool pack.

“Carya,” he whispered. She gasped in shock. She had felt his body go rigid over her and was sure he was dead. Now she felt his hearts beating next to her own. She felt him breathing. She felt him reach his hand around the back of her head and press her mouth against his shoulder. She tasted the ice that formed there. It was salty and sweet at the same time, but it soothed her parched mouth. She moved her head slightly and licked more of the ice from his body. It made her feel less desperately thirsty. The coolness of his body against hers was relieving her suffering. Even the sunburn was less painful.

“That’s the way,” he told her. “When you’re thirsty… you know what to do now. Just lie still and don’t worry. My friends are going to come for us. It will take a while. This is going to be a difficult time for us both. But we’ll get through it.”

“Chris…” she whispered to him. “What are you… that you can… do this… Where do you come from?”

“I come from the sky,” he answered. “And I will take you there when we are free of this place.”

It took all his strength to maintain his body at that near freezing temperature. The sun beat down on his back continuously and it was an effort to keep his blood cool. As midday approached he told Carya to have faith in him and then he dropped back down into the deep trance. He let his body freeze for nearly an hour until the worst heat of the day had passed. When he brought himself back to full consciousness again he actually felt Carya shivering beneath him.

“Well, that’s not so bad,” he said. “You expected to die of heat, and you’re shivering with cold.”

“Chris,” she said, through chattering teeth. “You said you come from the sky. Are you… are you a god?”

“If I was, wouldn’t I be able to get both of us out of here?” he answered. “I’m a Lord of Time,” he continued. “A prince of the Universe. Not quite a god. My powers are far more limited.”

“You… feel like a god to me,” Carya told him.

“Maybe you should move your hands away from there,” he replied. She didn’t understand the joke, of course. Her hands were around his shoulders as she clung to him. But the risqué answer to her comment came unbidden. “Oh, Carya, I am sorry. It’s because I’m not an ordinary kind of man that we’re in this mess. Anyone else would have been happy to have a beautiful girl come to his bed. But even if I had known… I still couldn’t have gone against my own principles. I can’t be your husband, Carya. Even though… right now… in this position… I certainly ought to be. Even my brother who has a boyfriend and a girlfriend at once never got himself into such a compromising position with either of them.”

“Chris,” she said as he ran out of words. “Chris, I love you.”

“No, you don’t, sweetheart. You just think you do. Because your mother and father told you to love me… to give yourself to me. And maybe if I had agreed to the arrangement we might have learnt to love each other. Maybe that’s how it works in your world. Your mother must have gone to your father’s bed once. And your sisters to the men they are married to. And I suppose it must be all right for them. But it won’t work for us. I almost wish it could. You deserve some kind of happy ending out of all this. The best I can promise is that you will find somebody you can love, one day. You’re still young. And you are very lovely. And there is a man out there who doesn’t turn his body into an ice cube and who will… will turn your hair black and make those blue eyes brown. But not me.”

“Chris…” She didn’t say anything else, but she moved her head slightly and pressed her mouth against his. It was a nice kiss. He hadn’t been kissed by girls very often. A few experimental clinches with girls at school, and that brief, beautiful time with Firinne on SangC’lune. But he thought he knew how it was supposed to feel, and she felt right. If he claimed he didn’t enjoy it, he would be lying. He certainly wasn't that different to ‘ordinary’ men.

“That was sweet,” he told her. “Very sweet. And… I think I might try it again in a little while. Because… well… we’ve not much else to do right now. But we’re just… comforting each other in a difficult situation. We’re not lovers. We’re… friends. We always will be friends. I promise you that much.”

He did kiss her several more times as the long afternoon wore on. She found the gesture reassuring. He found it comforting.

The sun gradually began to sink down into the west, or whatever direction it set on this planet. Chris tried to remember. He knew he had read it in the database yesterday before they landed. But his mind felt as numb as the rest of his body, now. He couldn’t recall that detail. He was having trouble recalling anything. He felt as if he had been in this glass prison forever.

The terrible, killing heat began to ease as the sun dropped still lower in the sky. The rays lost some of their vibrancy. But it was still stiflingly hot in the dome.

Very stifling.

“I wonder how much air there is in here,” he said.

“I don’t know,” Carya answered. “When people have been punished this way before… I only know that they are dead the next day. I do not know how or when…”

“I’m guessing most of them don’t make it this far. This air is very thin. We could still be in trouble if my friends don’t get here in the next couple of hours.”

“We’re going to die?”

“No, we’re not,” Chris decided. “But it’s going to be hard for you, waiting here in the dark, on your own.”

“On my own? Where are you going?”

“I’m going nowhere,” he answered. “But I need to switch my body off again like I did earlier. That way I’m not breathing what little air there is.”

He started to move off her, but she clung tightly.

“Stay there,” she said. “Let me hold you, while you do this. Let me protect you as you have protected me.”

He stayed where he was. He felt her kiss him again as he began to drop down into a low level trance. This time he didn’t go all the way to the level where his body froze. But he was in a deep state where his hearts were barely beating and his lungs were almost still, and his brain was in a quiet state that felt almost like a dream. Time ceased to matter for him.

It mattered for Carya. She breathed slowly and held onto the man who had kept her alive through this long, terrifying day. She looked at his face until it became too dark to see it, and then she kept thinking of him as she lay there in the dark and waited. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was waiting for. Perhaps she was waiting to die of suffocation, despite all he had tried to do. But she waited, anyway. She had no choice.

She glanced around once and gasped fearfully. She could see shadows outside. People were moving around. Her father and others from the village come to see if they were dead? Or could it be Chris’s friends?

Then she screamed as the glass dome shattered into tiny fragments. She felt the pieces fall like hailstones around them and over them. Chris’s body protected her still. She clung to him and hoped he wasn’t badly cut as the fragments fell onto his back and his neck and in his hair.

“Let him go, now,” said a gentle voice, and she saw two of his friends lifting him off her. Another, one of the girls, helped her to her feet and put a blanket around her. Then she was picked up by one of the men and carried over the broken glass and into a strange room where machinery hummed and strange lights glowed. She was placed on a soft sofa and a cushion was placed under her head. Somebody brought a long, cold drink that she sipped through a short tube that they called a ‘straw’. She was grateful for those comforts. But she was anxious for Chris. They had laid him on the floor, wrapped in another blanket and two of his friends knelt with him, holding his hands.

“Is he going to live?” she asked. “Please tell me he will live. He saved me. He can’t die. He mustn’t.”

“He’s not dying,” Cól assured her. “He’s mending. He went through a lot. He’s mentally and physically exhausted. He just needs a few more minutes in the deep level trance. Daryl and Shone are helping him. They’ve made contact with him. He asked if you were all right. He’s worried about you.”

Carya watched anxiously. Despite their assurances to her, she thought his friends were anxious, too. Then she heard them all sigh with relief and Chris sat up, aided by the two who had held his hands. One of the men passed him a clean white robe and he slipped it on. He stood and looked around and then came straight to the sofa. He took hold of her hand and held it tightly for a long time as he studied her carefully.

“Interesting,” he said. “How do you feel?”

“I feel… relieved,” she answered him. “Chris… where am I?”

“You’re in my TARDIS, my ship that carries me through the sky. I’m going to take you on a journey in it, soon. But first, I intend to have a word with your father.”

“My father?” She looked worried again. Chris reached out and caressed her cheek and kissed her on the forehead. Then he went to his TARDIS console. His friends stood back and let him pilot the TARDIS in hover mode back towards the village. He put it into static hover over the totem in the village square. He wasn’t sure what it was disguised as, but he had an idea it was dramatic, because of the villagers who had finished their evening ceremony and were now preparing their evening meals. They came running to the square and stared up at the hovering ship. And when Chris opened the door and stood looking down at them many of them knelt. Some prostrated. Few dared to look directly at him. With the light behind him, and in a white robe, he knew he would look pretty much godlike. He waited until Tilo, Keeper of Rites, stepped hesitantly forwards.

“I just wanted you to know,” Chris said. “That Carya is alive and as well as can be expected. I’m taking her away from here. You’ve lost her. But I thought it might be a comfort to you… or if not… to her mother and sisters… to know that she’s alive, and I intend to make sure that she will be happy in her new life. That’s all I have to say.”

He closed the door and returned to the console. He programmed a new course.

“Where are we going?” Tony asked on behalf of the others.

“SangC’lune,” he answered. “I’m taking Carya there. The way of life is a lot like Cíeló, simple, uncomplicated, but without any nasty surprises. They’ll be kind to her.”

He came back to the sofa and sat down beside Carya. He put his arm around her shoulders.

“You’ll be happy where I’m taking you. You’ll be safe. It’s nice there.”

“But you won’t be there?”

“I visit there a lot. I’ll see you plenty of times. But you won’t need me. You’ll make friends. Some of them will be men. I’m sure one of them will be able to make you happy the way I can’t. But…” He looked around. “Daryl, Shone, one of you must have a cosmetic mirror. Can I borrow…”

Shone passed him a small mirror. He gave it to Carya. She stared at her own reflection.

“But we… didn’t….” she stammered.

“No, we didn’t,” Chris assured her. “But you’ve definitely got dark hair and brown eyes. And there’s a healthily dusky complexion under the sunburn. I’m not entirely sure… but I strongly suspect this change has something to do with body heat, and only loosely connected with what goes on between a man and woman on their wedding night. All these years, your people have had it completely wrong. There’s some kind of irony there. I’m not entirely sure what. And I bet you don’t even know what the word irony means, anyway. So don’t worry about it. The journey will take a few hours, so I think the girls should take you to the bathroom. A good long soak, some nice, scented stuff to wash your beautiful new hair, then they’ll find you a warm nightdress and show you where you can get a little bit of sleep.”

He kissed her again on the forehead and let Shone and Daryl take charge of her. He sighed and leaned back on the sofa. He wasn’t sure he could call this a successful outcome. Carya had gone through a dreadful experience and now she was being taken away from her home and family, her mother and sisters, and even her father. It was the best thing he could do for her, but it shouldn’t have been necessary.

“So…” Dale said to him. “Is she really your wife, now?”

“I didn’t think she was,” he answered. “But… until some decent SangC’lune man takes her hand… and I hope that will happen once she’s settled down, once she’s feeling more confident about himself… until then, she’s my responsibility. She’s under my protection. If that’s a description of a wife… then… I suppose… Yes. But I don’t think I’m going to go home and tell my mum I got married.”