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

Davie Campbell was in a very cheerful mood as he piloted his TARDIS through the time vortex. The rather impressive trophy he had won for finishing in the top twenty-five percent of the starting grid at the 2011 Silverstone Twenty-Four Hour Race gleamed in the reflected light from the time rotor. He felt just a little proud of himself.

“And Spenser,” his little sister reminded him as she looked up from inside the car bonnet where she was testing the oil levels. She was still wearing her own Team Campbell fire suit proudly. “Spenser drove just as many hours as you. It’s only because you’re the team leader that you get the trophy.”

“She’s right,” Brenda added, looking up from the book she was quietly reading. “And Spenser did just as much work on the car, too.”

Spenser smiled diffidently as Davie’s fiancée and sister both sided with him.

“The certificate that comes with the trophy says ‘Team Campbell,” Davie said, settling the matter. “That’s all of us… including my new chief mechanic, Sukie. The engine WAS thoroughly checked after the race, you know, sweetheart. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with it.”

“I like this car,” she answered. “I’m just getting some practice with it.”

“Are you planning to be a race mechanic when you grow up, Sukie?” Brenda asked her.

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “My ‘destiny’ is to teach the next generation of Time Lords how to be Time Lords. But I can have a hobby, can’t I?”

“Being interested in cars helps her talk to boys,” Davie teased. “That’s quite important to a girl who’s nearly thirteen.”

Sukie buried her head under the car bonnet to hide the fact that she was blushing. Davie smiled and turned back to the TARDIS console. Not that it needed much attention. It was already running as near perfectly as a TARDIS ever could. He didn’t actually claim to be the best temporal mechanic on Earth, but that was because he was the ONLY temporal mechanic on Earth. Give it a few years and he might have taught a few of Chris’s acolytes as much as he knew. But for now he was the one even his great-grandfather consulted about TARDIS maintenance these days.

“We’re picking up a transmission,” Spenser said. “On the subwave network from twenty-first century Earth… temporal date 2018. It’s a Code Nine alert.”

“Somebody needs The Doctor,” Davie responded, moving around to the communications console as Spenser smoothly took over navigation. He couldn’t actually open the encrypted communication. Davie could.

“U.N.I.T. needs The Doctor,” he added as he studied the message. Then his hands moved quickly over the keyboard and on the monitor in front of him two faces appeared. Both answered to the title ‘Doctor’. One he knew as his great-grandfather. The other, technically, of course, was also his great-grandfather, but on the few occasions that they had met, the subject was carefully avoided on both sides. Davie relayed the message to them both, anyway.

“I don’t have my TARDIS right now,” his great-grandfather told him. “Christopher is away with Jackie at an intergalactic conference on Platform 5. I could send a recall, but it would take time.”

“I’m a little tied up at the moment,” the one he knew as Ten added. “There’s a solar flare in the Mor-Lu System that’s about to cause dramatic climactic change on two inhabited planets. I could be needed.”

“So you’re both ok with me answering this Code Nine?” Davie confirmed.

“You’re The Doctor as much as either of us,” Ten assured him. “Let me know what it was all about, afterwards, won’t you? And good luck with U.N.I.T. 2018… that would be Brigadier Mace in charge, if I remember. You’ll be a surprise to him.”

Davie grinned conspiratorially and closed the call. Then he set his TARDIS on course to London in 2018. He was The Doctor, too. He had earned the right to call himself that, and on the occasions when he let himself be called by that title he accepted both the honour and the burden.

“Sukie, you’re strictly an observer,” he said as he skilfully programmed the materialisation inside the Tower of London, U.N.I.T.’s headquarters in the early twenty-first century. “But change your overalls and wash the engine oil off your face.”

Sukie had expected to be left inside the TARDIS. Being allowed to come along was a bonus. She did what had to be the fastest costume change ever and emerged with an oil free face with just a little plum coloured lipstick. She was dressed in black slacks and pumps and a striped sweater. Davie looked at her and grinned.

“You look like mum when she was a teenager,” he said.

“I know,” she answered. “I’ve seen the pictures. Come on then, DOCTOR, let’s find out what the crisis is.”

Sukie, in her enthusiasm, was the first to step out of the TARDIS. She turned and looked at what the chameleon circuit had chosen as an incongruous disguise and grinned. When the others stepped out they understood why.

“It’s a police box, obviously,” Davie said. “I’m The Doctor today. So obviously the police box. It’s what they’re expecting.” He turned at the sound of running feet. A group of U.N.I.T. soldiers looked slightly bewildered before their sergeant called out a command and they formed an honour guard. Davie stepped forward, and accepted their salute politely. They had taken him to be the one they were expecting. Davie thought about that. They had been told to expect a police box to appear and at least one man to come out of it. And that man had to be The Doctor. That actually made nonsense of their security. Any Time Lord in the history of their race could disguise his TARDIS as a police box and claim to be The Doctor. The Master could have done it. Or any other Renegade.

“Code 9, Theta Sigma 907655 Delta Sigma,” he said, confirming that he wasn’t an imposter.

“Yes, sir,” the sergeant replied, saluting again. “Please, come this way. And…” He glanced at his retinue. Spenser and Brenda probably posed no problems, but Sukie was a bit of a surprise.

“Make sure they all have security passes, too,” Davie said in an authoritative tone. “The Code 9 covers anyone I bring with me.”

The passes were handed out before they stepped into a high speed lift that brought them down several floors below the parts of the Tower of London that the tourists got to see. They emerged in a bustling hub of activity with a large videoscreen across one wall and banks of computer monitors manned by U.N.I.T. personnel of both gender. They were whisked straight through to a private boardroom with another, slightly smaller, videoscreen. There were three officers present and two civilians in suits who looked puzzled by the new arrivals.

“Doctor?” Brigadier Alan Mace saluted Davie and then reached to shake his hand. “You’ve changed since we last met.”

“I do that,” Davie answered. “As you know from my file.”

“Yes, of course. I think you know Colonel Erisa Magambo and Major Marion Price.”

The two female officers saluted him. Then Brigadier Mace introduced the two civilians as Professors Andreas Demirovic and William Stanley of the European Space Agency. Davie quickly introduced his retinue to them all and then they sat down around the table. They were offered coffee, and Major Price, despite her rank, served it. Davie thought it was probably not because she was a woman, but rather because this was a top security meeting and the people who usually served coffee weren’t code cleared.

Brigadier Mace himself operated the remote button that turned on the videoscreen. Davie recognised the object that appeared on it straight away. It was the International Space Station, the Human race’s greatest achievement of the early twenty-first century, at least in his opinion. It was small compared to some of the space stations and beacons he had visited in far off parts of the galaxy where technology was considerably more advanced than it was in the Sol system. But it was the start of that kind of ambition for mankind, a permanently manned research station in orbit around the planet. Construction began, he recalled, in 1998, and by now, twenty years later, it could probably be considered ‘finished’.

“There’s a problem with the space station?” he asked cutting off Brigadier Mace just as he was about to give them a potted history of the project. There was no need. He knew everything there was to know about it. Spenser had lived through the period of its construction. Sukie had studied it as part of the early history of Human space exploration. Brenda had lived on Earth in the era when it was being constructed and certainly knew enough about it to skip the introduction.

“This is confidential at the very highest level,” said Andreas Demirovic in an accent that suggested an Eastern European who had gone to an English public school. “I am not sure that this little girl ought to be in the room.”

“Don’t get tiresome,” Davie replied. “What happened to the station? And why do you need me to fix it? The Americans, Russians, British, Spanish and Chinese all have shuttles capable of reaching it by now.”

“They can’t,” William Stanley answered him. “Reach it, I mean. It hasn’t broken down. It’s vanished.”

“Vanished?” Davie was interested. This was a development. He paid close attention as Stanley stood up. The man was a scientist, used to working in a laboratory. Public speaking was not his forte, but hesitantly he managed to explain how the ESA, NASA and all the other space organisations who shared responsibility for the station had lost contact with it at 1704 hours UTC on Monday, April 9th. It was now 1135 hours UTC on Wednesday, April 11th.

“No radio contact at all in forty-two hours? No visual identification?”

“Radio contact was lost. It dropped off the radar, telescopes, even naked eye observation. You know, of course, that the station is the largest object in the sky after the moon. It can be seen even by civilians with reasonably good eyesight who know where to look. Some of the amateur stargazers have commented on their blogs about missing it.”

“These blogs have been mysteriously lost due to an unexpected server crash, of course,” Major Price said. “Courtesy of Military Intelligence.”

“Naturally,” Davie said. “What about the shuttles?”

“The Endeavour was launched yesterday,” Brigadier Mace answered. “It completed a full orbit of the planet, with visual as well as electronic tracking. The space station is not there. And… I’m sure you can fully understand… if it had crashed into the atmosphere we would be in the middle of a far greater crisis than we already have.”

“It was designed to take as many as six people at once,” Davie said. “Is there a full crew?”

“There is,” Demirovic answered him. He passed a sheet of paper with names, ages, gender and nationality of the people missing along with the space station. “Two Americans, three British and one Czech. ”

“One of them is a woman,” Brenda noted as she glanced at the list. “Dana Bellingham, from Montana.”

“Well,” Sukie commented. “What’s wrong with that?”

“One unchaperoned woman, alone with five men. It would not be deemed appropriate in my culture.”

“In mine, it’s quite disgusting that they only have one woman on the space station. Looks like discrimination to me,” Sukie countered.

Davie half smiled at their very different views of a woman’s role in society. Brenda’s Tiboran society had a long way to go to match Sukie’s expectations. But the gender mix of the crew really wasn’t the issue, of course. He glanced at the printouts of data passed to him by the scientists and by the military, too. A glance was all he needed, even though the pages were very closely typed. Spenser, at his side, easily memorised all the information in the same quick glance.

“There is no possibility that an unsympathetic nation destroyed the station?” he asked. “No debris, no radiation, no satellites picked up a missile track?”

In 2018, some of the tensions that the twenty-first century began with had been relieved. But others simmered on. The possibility that this was an act of terrorism had to be considered.

“No,” Colonel Magambo answered him. “Your code clearance allows us to let you see any information of that sort, if you request it. But it would save time if you took our word for it. Nothing of that nature took place. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary until 1704 hours on the day before yesterday when the station simply ceased to exist as far as we are able to tell.”

“We have kept the disappearance strictly top secret,” Brigadier Mace added. “Although, of course, the leaders of all the nations with a vested interest in the project are aware of the crisis. It is only a matter of time before suspicions are raised, though. The families of the missing crew will become concerned. Or some amateur might manage to escape our vigilance and leak it on the internet. Sooner or later we might have to make some kind of announcement, and we need a better response to the questions that are going to be asked than ‘we don’t know’.”

“You’d rather be able to say that you sent a man with a space and time travelling ship to have a look?” Davie asked dryly.

“We would appreciate any help we can get at this time,” Mace said with a weary sigh. “Doctor… we can’t order you to do anything. We can’t even appeal to your patriotic duty since you’re not a British citizen. Come to that, we can’t even appeal to you as a member of the Human race….”

“Six people are missing,” Davie said. “If I can help, I will. You don’t need to appeal to any sense of duty. Although you’re right about not being able to order me. Do the other nations with a ‘vested interest’ know you’ve called me?”

“The leaders of some of those nations know we have that option,” Mace replied. “But we didn’t know if you would respond to our call.”

“Well, now you know,” Davie told him. He stood up, taking from the collection of data in front of him just one relevant piece. The co-ordinate where the space station was last known to have been. Sukie folded the crew list and put it into her pocket as she got ready to follow Davie and Spenser back to the TARDIS.

“Are these young ladies going with you?” Demirovic asked. “I would have thought they would be safer if they….”

“Was it you that made sure there was only one woman on the station?” Sukie asked him. “I’m going with him. Don’t try to stop me.”

“So am I,” Brenda added. “We’re his crew. And we’ve been to more dangerous places than a low orbit of Earth.”

Davie, in fact, would have left the girls behind if he thought he had a choice. He wasn’t at all sure what danger was ahead and he didn’t want either his girlfriend or his sister exposed to it. But even Brenda with her old fashioned views of womanhood got quite stroppy with him if she thought she was being left out of anything.

Brigadier Mace walked with them as far as the TARDIS. He looked at it with something like longing. But he wasn’t coming with them. Brenda was right about them being his crew. They were all he needed.

“We’ll be back as soon as we have some news,” he promised the Brigadier. “I wish I could say I’ll bring back the six station crew alive and well. But until I know where they went I can’t make those kind of predictions.”

“I understand,” Brigadier Mace answered him. “Thank you, Doctor.” He saluted again and stood back as Davie closed the door. A few seconds later the TARDIS dematerialised. Mace recalled the few rare occasions when he had seen it happen and sighed. Even for a seasoned military man like himself it was still quite a thrill to be in on a secret like the TARDIS and its enigmatic owner.

“They really do believe that you are The Doctor,” Brenda said to Davie as she watched him set the co-ordinates.

“Yes, they do,” he answered. “Funny thing… when I was sitting there… I felt like I really was. I don’t mean that I lost my own identity. I know I’m still Davie Campbell. But I really did feel I was The Doctor. There was no sense of deceiving them. I really am the one they called, the one they’ve pinned their hopes on.”

“You’ll sort it out for them,” Brenda assured him. “You’ll get the station back, and the crew.”

Sukie smiled and nodded. She agreed with her.

“No,” Davie told them both. “Your faith in me is absolute. But I don’t do miracles. And I have no idea what has happened here. I can’t promise to do anything but my best.”

The two closest females in his life obviously thought his best would do. He looked at Spenser as he stood by the environmental console. He had a lot of faith in him, too. But he also knew it was a team effort as much as it was when they were racing together.

“We’re matching the low orbit trajectory of the International Space Station, now,” Davie confirmed after a few minutes. “I’m going to take it slowly – we’ll pass the place where it ought to be in a little while. Spenser, look for any kind of residual energy, anything that doesn’t look right. Sukie, you come and keep an eye on the communications console. If we pick up even a whisper of a transmission, shout out. Brenda… can you go to the room second right through the inner door and check that we have four fully operational pressurised suits in case they’re needed.”

“Four?” Sukie looked hopeful. That meant she wasn't going to be left behind. That suited her just fine.

But before they could go anywhere, in pressure suits or otherwise, they had to find the space station. The TARDIS orbited the Earth searching for it. There was no sign.

“Ok, I’m going to take us back in time, to when the station disappeared,” Davie told everyone. “It’s bending the Laws of Time a bit. But they didn’t send out a Code 9 so that I could do exactly what the shuttle already did. I’m going to use the technology at my disposal and the skills I have to try to find out how and why it disappeared.”

They all fully understood why what he was doing was against the rules. They understood that even Time Lords had to be subject to causality. But nobody raised a voice in protest against what he proposed. They trusted his judgement.

“There it is!” Sukie cried out as they came out of the time vortex. On the viewscreen, and on the scanners that Spenser was monitoring, the International Space Station was exactly where it was supposed to be. Davie opened his mouth to give Sukie an instruction, but she had already anticipated him. She tuned into the radio transmissions from the station to Earth, while at the same time picking up the telemetry from the station’s computers.

Everything seemed normal. The communications officer was chatting to somebody at mission control on Earth about how he was fed up of ration packs and missing rare steaks.

Sukie laughed at his chat, but she was wary, even so. She knew that this normality was going to change any moment. She looked at the temporal clock. It was 1702 UTC. In two minutes the communication about rare steaks would be broken off as something abnormal happened.

“There’s something there,” Spenser called out. “On the environmental monitor. Look at the energy surge.”

Spenser put the display from the environmental monitor on the main screen where they could all see. Davie gave an astonished cry and began pressing buttons on the drive and navigation consoles frantically.

“It’s a time ribbon,” he said. “That’s what happened to the Station… what’s about to happen to it. A time ribbon is going to pull it out of 2018 and dump it in another time.”

“A time ribbon big enough to swallow the station?” Sukie asked. “But it’s over a hundred metres wide. I read the specs when we were in U.N.I.T. HQ.”

“That ribbon is two hundred metres long and a hundred and fifty metres wide,” Spenser confirmed. It can swallow the station and us.”

“Which is what I intend it to do,” Davie said with a calmness to his voice that surprised everyone else. “We’re going to follow it.”

Sukie and Spenser both looked at him in astonishment.

“This is a time machine,” he reminded them. “Wherever the ribbon throws us out we can get back from. It’s not dangerous to us.”

“And we can rescue the space station!” Sukie announced triumphantly. “Yes, you’re so clever, Davie.”

“Save the praise for when we’ve done it. Meanwhile, hold on tight.”

His warning came just a fraction before the TARDIS pitched and rolled as if it was a sailing ship hit by a tsunami. But Spenser and Sukie had reacted within that fraction of a second and were holding tight to the console. They kept their feet.

The same could not be said of Brenda. She fell through the inner door, landed awkwardly, and cried out in pain. Davie was by her side in a moment.

“My leg hurts,” she managed, holding back her tears. “I think it’s broken.”

“I’m afraid you’re right,” Davie answered her. He looked around. Sukie left her post at once and came to help. As Davie gently straightened Brenda’s leg, she put her hands over the painful area. Her eyes glazed as she focussed her mind. She was a hybrid and could never become a Time Lord, but she was a natural healer. Davie held his fiancée’s hand as his sister repaired what she reported as a cracked fibula.

“Davie!” Spenser called out. “We’ve got a problem here. The TARDIS is still caught in the time ribbon. We’re not with the space station any more.”

“I can look after her,” Sukie said with calm certainty. “You sort that out.”

“Yes,” Brenda assured him. “You do what you have to do.”

Davie hesitated for a moment, torn between the girl he loved and the duty he had taken upon himself. Then he ran back to the console, calling out instructions that Spenser followed without question.

“We’re free of the ribbon,” he said at last. “And the space station is there. It looks intact.” He looked around. Brenda was trying to stand up. He went to help her.

“The bone is fixed,” his sister reported. “And I’ve reduced the swelling. But I think she ought to rest.”

“I’m sorry to be a nuisance,” Brenda said mournfully.

“It’s ok,” Davie answered her as he brought her to the sofa and let her lie down comfortably with a cushion under her head. “Think of it this way. You’re carrying on a family tradition. Granddad says mum was always spraining her ankle at the worst possible moment.”

He smiled and kissed her gently. That cheered her up a little. She laid her head back and watched with admiration as Davie returned to the console and began trying to contact the space station.

“This is wrong,” he said. “Somebody should have responded. I’m on the same frequency as Mission Control. Spenser… run a lifesigns check, please.”

Spenser did as he said, and reported that there were only two lifesigns aboard.

“And did you notice the temporal date?” Sukie asked. “The ribbon pulled us back through four and a half thousand years. It’s 2550 BC.”

“And the space station is here, too.” Spenser added. “That explains what happened to it. But not why there are only two people alive on it.”

“Then we’re going in,” Davie decided. He reached for the dematerialisation switch and a few moments later the viewscreen showed a dimly lit and very untidy space module. Davie said it was Node One of the space station, also known as Unity, the first part to be completed when the station was built.

“There’s oxygen,” Spenser confirmed. “But only very low gravity.”

“Microgravity,” Davie said. “Caused by the balance between freefall back into Earth’s atmosphere and the forces pushing the station out into space. There was a plan to provide a centrifuge that would create artificial gravity but it proved too expensive at the time. They won’t get that for another fifty years.”

“Won’t get…” Sukie was the one who thought about what Davie had just said. “So the station exists beyond 2018. It wasn't lost in April of that year? So you must succeed?”

“This station in some version lasted until the Daleks blew it out of the sky prior to their invasion in 2163,” Davie answered. “But a time ribbon is an unpredictable factor. It could have changed history. Anyway, I think I can solve the gravity problem. If I leave the TARDIS door open and extend the internal gravity field, we should be able to walk around the station as easily as we walk in here. But we’ll put the pressurised suits on and bring helmets, just in case the oxygen situation is unstable.”

“Am I allowed to come, still?” Sukie asked hopefully. Davie glanced at her, and then at Brenda.

“I’ll be all right,” she said. “My leg aches a little, but I might try to have a nap. You’re going to leave the door open, and the modules are only about fifty metres of the whole length of the place. I could shout if I was REALLY desperate.”

Davie left her some chocolate and a jug of orange juice within reach before he donned his space suit. He smiled as he saw his sister in a suit that fitted her exactly. That was a bit of the TARDISes semi-sentient mind at work, of course. He made sure she had it fixed right and made her practice fastening the helmet and getting it off again before he opened the door and extended the gravity field. Then with Spenser at his side as well as Sukie he stepped out into the International Space Station.

“It looks… really messed up,” Sukie observed as they moved carefully through the Unity module. “Everything seems patched and worn and used, like they haven’t had any proper maintenance for ages.”

“I agree,” Spenser added. “This looks very wrong. Granted, I’m not entirely sure what it would look like when it was right. I’m not really an expert on the inside of space stations. But this looks wrong.”

“It does,” Davie agreed. He moved to a control panel and switched a couple of switches. “There’s been some serious wear and tear on the technology. But I’ll worry about that later. Let’s concentrate on those lifesigns.”

He consulted a handheld monitor. It didn’t seem to be working very well. There was a lot of static feedback from the titanium alloy walls of the module. But he managed to get a lock on one of the lifesigns, at least.

“This way,” he said. “In the Zvezda Module. That’s one of the sections with living quarters, so that makes sense.”

“You were looking at the station specifications for about a minute,” Spenser said, highly impressed.

“And your Russian pronunciation is good,” Sukie added. “Zvezda means ‘star’, you know. Nice.”

Davie did know that. He also knew how to open the bulkhead door between one of the prebuilt modules of the station and the other. He briefly considered that he was stepping over a threshold between two separate sections that had been joined together and reminded himself that there was little chance of them splitting apart.

“Ok,” he said as he looked at the woman resting in one of the sleeping racks. “Sukie, I think the Healer should take a look at her before I attempt to move her.”

Sukie stepped forward and put her hand on the woman’s forehead. She frowned as she concentrated hard.

“She’s alive, but nearly starving to death and badly dehydrated. We should get her back to the TARDIS. This is one kind of ailment I can’t cure with the power of my mind. She needs intravenous fluids as soon as possible.”

“I’ll take her,” Spenser said, lifting the woman in his arms. “Sukie, you run on ahead to the medical room and start setting up what we need.”

“I’m the one called The Doctor,” Davie noted with a smile at his sister’s retreating back. “But Sukie is the physician of the family. At thirteen.”

“She worships you,” Spenser answered. “She strives to do what she can to match you for courage and initiative.” He turned with the woman in his arms. Davie stepped out of the Zvezda module, back into Unity Node. He reached out mentally to Brenda and was not entirely surprised to learn that she had limped after Spenser and Sukie to the medical room. She said that her leg still ached, but the woman they had found looked more in need of help than she did and she might as well make herself useful.

“By the way,” she added. “Spenser says she must be the woman, Dana Bellingham. But in the crew manifest, it says she’s only thirty-two years old. She looks at least ten years older than that.”

“She’s suffering from starvation, dehydration and she’s certainly suffered some serious trauma on board the station. I’m not surprised. Anyway, let me know if there is anything else to worry about. I’m going to try to get into the station logs and find out what happened to the rest of the crew.”

“What about the other lifesign?” Spenser asked.

“I don’t know,” Davie answered. “I think it might have been a malfunction. The hand held isn’t showing anything with a heartbeat except me, now. That or somebody died before we got to them. I’ll keep monitoring, but I think it’s more important to know what happened.”

The logs were electronic, kept on the computer server. That was malfunctioning, but Davie knew where he was with electronics. It took him ten minutes to jury rig the server unit to his hand held computer. He pulled up the logs. He was surprised by the dates on them. He knew that the International Space Station used UTC, Coordinated Universal Time, which corresponded within a second or so, to Greenwich Mean Time down on Earth. But there were logs here that were timed as so many days ATE – which apparently meant After The Event.

Days, weeks, months, years. Davie remembered what Brenda had said about Dana Bellingham. She looked like she was at least ten years older than she should have been.

Of course, he realised. The TARDIS had been caught up in the ribbon for longer. It emerged in a different time. Ten years later than when the space station had been spat out of it.

And in those intervening ten years….

He opened up the earliest log and read the report by Commander James Metcalfe of NASA. He described how the station had lost contact with Earth just before it was rocked and buffeted, and all the electronic instruments went offline. When they rebooted, they were still in low Earth orbit, but they couldn’t contact mission control.

Then the second in command, Jan Lavicka, the Czech crewman had made a visual study of the planet below them and reported that he couldn’t see the Great Pyramids of Giza. Commander Metcalfe recorded the conclusion that they had, somehow or other, been pulled back in time at least four thousand years to a period before the construction of those ancient monuments which they had so often observed on their low orbit of Earth.

“Clever man,” Davie murmured. “He worked it out.” He smiled as the Commander noted that one of the British crewmen, Robert Holmwood, had put forward the commonly held theory that the pyramids were far more than four thousand years old and therefore they might be even further back in time.

He then noted that they had rations for six people to live on the space station for three years. If they were frugal, they might extend it to four. They had to hope that the anomaly that threw them out of time might reverse itself before their food ran out. If not, then they would all die, eventually. That was the grim prospect they faced.

And they faced it. Davie speed read several weeks of logs, detailing how they were coping. There were bouts of depression, a few arguments. There was a report from the medic, British man, Gordon Mason, who reported the crew to be in good physical condition. They had exercise machines and made use of them daily. They were, however, naturally stressed by their situation and he was pessimistic about the mental health of the third British member, Jason Norton. He had been exhibiting very disturbing signs of paranoia and claustrophobia and had been at the centre of many of the arguments.

Davie bit his lip thoughtfully as he read that. It hardly surprised him. This was worse than being marooned on a desert island. At least a desert island had fresh air, fish in the sea and possibly coconuts. They were marooned in space in a time period when they were probably being noted by the people who were about to build the pyramids as an omen from the gods. They had precious little hope of rescue. All they could do was wait for a natural phenomena to reverse itself.

And it didn’t sound as if Norton was going to be able to stand that uncertain wait for very long.

He kept reading and was not surprised when Dr Mason entered into the log the death by suicide of Jason Norton. An autopsy found that he took his own life by swallowing twenty-five Tylenol tablets which he stole from the medical supplies. There followed a note to say that the body had been placed in a deep freeze facility in the MRM1 Storage Module. The remaining crew members had voted four to one against expelling the body into space. He didn’t note who the one dissenter had been. But he did mention that the others had felt Jason Norton’s body ought to be kept and brought back to Earth for a decent burial if they ever got home.

The word ‘if’ seemed significant there. Up until this point the logs had carefully used the word ‘when’. Hope seemed to be dying. Davie wasn’t surprised by that, but he felt sorry for the remaining five people struggling to keep themselves from the same despair that Jason Norton had suffered.

He read on, and was very surprised by another log entered by Dr. Mason and countersigned by the Commander. It was dated 1 year and ninety-six days ATE.

“Crewmember Dana Bellingham is pregnant. I examined her this morning and confirmed that she is at nine weeks gestation. The foetus appears to be healthy and viable and Miss Bellingham is physically fit. I prescribed extra vitamins and iron tablets and advised her to see me on a daily basis. I am concerned about the effects of microgravity on a pregnant woman. This is a new and unique area of research and I shall have to make a careful study.”

Underneath the medic’s log, the Commander had added some notes of his own.

“Since the conception clearly took place aboard the station and After The Event, I considered it important to ask about the father, but Miss Bellingham refused to answer the question and became extremely agitated. I considered it prudent not to press the matter, but I intend to question the other male crewmen as soon as possible.”

He then went on to say that Dana Bellingham had suggested to him that she should be given the late Jason Norton’s rations in addition to her own as she needed to nourish her child. He had refused the request.

Davie looked up as Spenser stepped out of the TARDIS and joined him in the Unity Node.

“Found anything?” he asked.

“A space soap opera,” he answered and related the suicide of Jason Norton and the pregnancy of Dana Bellingham.

“I bet Norton isn’t the last death to be recorded,” Spenser said coolly.

“That’s not a very nice thing to want to bet on.” Davie responded. “These people were in a very difficult situation. I feel for them.”

“So do I,” Spenser assured him. “But it’s kind of obvious. More of them are going to die. We only found one left. I suppose Dana’s baby mustn’t have survived, either.”

“It was born alive,” Davie confirmed. He was continuing to read the logs. Increasingly, the daily entries were concerned with Dana Bellingham’s ongoing pregnancy until the log dated one year three hundred and fifteen days ATE. This noted that she had given birth, with help from Dr. Mason and the Commander, to a baby girl. It appeared to be a healthy child and the Commander ‘christened’ her according to the mother’s request as Amanda Jane Bellingham. He recorded that the birth was received joyously by the crew, and seen as a sign of renewed hope for the future.

“That’s not going to last,” Spenser murmured darkly. Davie didn’t disagree with him. He could certainly see that there were going to be unforeseen problems for all concerned.

Dana and her baby seemed to get on perfectly well according to Dr. Mason’s logs. But fifty days later, just short of two years ATE, there was another death to report. Jan Lavicka was accidentally killed when a piece of apparatus he was repairing went ‘live’ and electrocuted him. His body was put into the freezer along with Jason Norton.

“Please don’t tell me Dana wanted his rations, too?” Spenser commented.

“No,” Davie replied. “But I suppose… they had rations for six for three years. If there are only four people now… four and the baby who would still be on her mother’s milk… the rations will last them longer.”

“I think the rations may last longer than they expected,” Spenser remarked. Davie wasn’t sure what to make of that comment. He read on. Commander Metcalfe reported that morale was still difficult to maintain. All of the men suffered bouts of depression. The only crew member who seemed to be coping well was Dana, who was preoccupied with her baby.

Then, at three years and fifty-seven days ATE, Dr. Mason recorded another death. Commander James Metcalfe was murdered by Robert Holmwood, who struck him with a wrench during a row about food rations. There was food missing and it had been on Holmwood’s watch. He denied that he had touched the stores. Metcalfe had insisted it could be nobody else. Holmwood, incredibly, blamed the toddler, Amanda Jane, known to the crew as Mandy. He said that she had been wandering around the module during the night. But clearly nobody believed that. The row became heated and Holmwood grabbed the wrench and struck out. Even in microgravity, a fatal blow could be inflicted by a determined man. Dr. Mason pronounced Metcalfe dead half an hour later, after trying all he could to save him. He then assumed command, put Holmwood under detention in the Quest joint airlock module and Metcalfe’s body in the freezer.

Davie looked up from the log and noticed Spenser’s expression.

“Just what is it that you know, that I don’t?” he asked.

“Not exactly ‘know’,” he answered. “Just this seems very familiar. My father used to read science fiction. It amused him to see how ‘pathetic’ humans explained the universe. I remember a story from the 1950s. I don’t remember the title exactly, or who wrote it, but it was about the crew of a deep space ship that suffered some sort of failure. They were drifting, and rescue was likely to take years. So they rationed their food and tried to make do, and then somebody gets killed and, would you believe, a woman announces she is pregnant and demands extra rations….”

“Freaky coincidence,” Davie admitted. “But there’s something more, isn’t there?”

“They kept the bodies, too,” Spenser continued. “Only somebody noticed that one of the bodies had been mutilated – flesh stripped from it. They suspected an alien entity at first, then realised the ghastly truth. Somebody on the ship had turned to cannibalism.”

“Yeeerk,” Davie commented. “Remind me to check that freezer facility soon.”

“I think you should,” Spenser said. “Because… at the end of the story, a rescue ship finally gets there. They open the airlock and all they find is a wild eyed woman holding a child in her arms. And she looks at the rescue team and says ‘Look, baby, food.’”

Davie gave a short, cold laugh.

“If that’s what happened here, then the bodies must have run out ages ago, because Dana was starving.”

“Do you think she ate the baby?”

Davie gave Spenser a horrified look.

“That must be a little of your dad in you,” he said. “I can’t believe you would even think of that.”

“I’m trying not to,” Spenser assured him. “We really should look in that freezer. And we should try again to find that other lifesign. But let’s get to the end of this log, first. I’d like to know just what we are up against here.”

They both speed read the log entries. Dr. Mason reported that Holmwood was becoming paranoid and delusional. He claimed that he had seen Mandy in the airlock where he was incarcerated. He said she moved through the ventilation ducts. He also said that she was no longer Human. He claimed that she never was Human, that Dana Bellingham had given birth to an alien child that would murder them all.

Mason put the claims down to remorse over the death of Metcalfe. Holmwood was trying to rationalise what had happened as being caused by an alien entity, not his own deed.

“That’s plausible,” Davie commented. “Holmwood is totally isolated in the airlock module, with a lot of nastiness preying on his mind. He’s probably gone off the deep end.”

Fifty-eight days further on, Dr. Mason logged the suicide of Robert Holmwood. Despite being placed in a strait-jacket to prevent him hurting himself, and secured with a chain, he had managed to operate the airlock and depressurised the module. He had died of asphyxiation. Mason added that he could not understand how Holmwood had managed to reach the control, but the inner door to the module was secure and nobody else could have been involved.

“Only an alien toddler creeping around the vents?” Spenser suggested.

“That really is a horrible thought,” Davie told him. “From somebody whose mouth I’ve kissed.”

Spenser looked suitably chastised. Davie reached out his hand and grasped Spenser’s tightly. Even with his disturbing footnotes to what was happening he was glad he was there. The empty space station felt eerie and he didn’t want to go on reading this increasingly macabre log on his own.

He needed somebody watching his back?

He resisted the urge to shudder and went on reading. Increasingly macabre was the word for it. Dr. Mason began mentioning his own suspicions about Dana’s child.

“Although apparently a normal Human child at birth, I am increasingly of the opinion that there is something alien about Mandy. She is now nearly two years old but has the mobility of a much older child. Her features are strange. She has black irises with almost no whites. The pupils do not dilate, but remain wide even when bright light is shone in them. She has eight teeth more than normal for a Human child and all of them are sharp incisors like a carnivore. These oddities cannot be accounted for by her birth in microgravity. I intend to take blood samples and study her DNA. Her mother is fiercely protective of her, however, and has refused to allow such tests to be done. I intend to sedate Dana and take the sample by force.”

Davie looked at Spenser wordlessly, almost daring him to say something. He didn’t.

“I have the blood sample,” the next log said. “I suffered an injury while taking it. The child, Mandy, bit me on the arm. The wound is deep and painful, and a piece of flesh was actually gouged by her sharp teeth.”

Again Spenser said nothing. But Davie’s expression matched his now.

“The blood sample confirms my suspicions. Mandy does not share any DNA with her mother, or, indeed, with any of the men who were aboard the station at the time of her conception. I believe that some kind of alien entity impregnated Dana Bellingham. She is not the biological mother of the child, merely the host and, subsequently, the foster parent of the child. I tried to express my concerns to Dana, but she became agitated and locked herself in the Zvezda module with several days rations. I am at a loss. I do not know how to proceed.”

“Ok, either Dr. Mason has gone nuts, too, or he is right,” Davie concluded. He pressed several keys and brought up an attached file which contained the DNA results. Davie and Spenser both looked at it. “Unless Mason faked these results, Mandy definitely is alien.”

“How did that happen, do you think?”

“No idea,” Davie responded. “Maybe Dana could tell us something when she’s recovered.” He reached out mentally and found Brenda. He asked her what was happening in the TARDIS.

“Dana is starting to come around, but she’s not making a whole lot of sense. Sukie is using calming mind waves to keep her under control. We think that’s probably better than chemical sedation. She must have seen something really horrible, though. It’s snapped her mind.”

“Davie,” Spenser said. “Sukie is a smart girl, but she is only thirteen. If she sees the sort of horror we’re reading here in Dana’s mind…. Tell them to use an ordinary sedative. Don’t let her use any more telepathic processes.”

Davie agreed. He passed the message to Brenda, but didn’t tell her why. He didn’t want to expose either of them to this horror if he could help it.

“There’s not much left of this log now,” Spenser pointed out. “Only a few more entries.”

The next entry was written by Dana Bellingham. She reported that Dr. Mason was missing. She gave no details other than the date, just three days after his entry expressing his belief that the child was not Human. Davie looked at Spenser, almost daring him to say something. He didn’t. But both their imaginations filled in the huge yawning gap in the facts. Mason was dead. Dana and her child were alone on the space station.

There were brief logs now at irregular dates, over some five years, mostly just noting that the rations were gradually going down. The last one was five days before the current time according to the space station clocks. Dana reported that she had only one day’s rations left. After that, unless help came in a few days, she would be dead.

“What about the child?” Spenser asked. “Did she die?”

“The log doesn’t say. I don’t think Dana was entirely sane by the end. Come on. Let’s look at that freezer unit.”

“You know what we’re going to find, don’t you?” Spenser said in a dull voice as he followed Davie through each of the pressurised nodes to the MRM1 storage module.

Davie did know what they were going to find. And he wasn’t looking forward to it. He hesitated before reaching for the hermitically sealed door to the freezer facility. As he did so, the handheld monitor bleeped.

“The other lifesign!” he exclaimed. “It’s inside the freezer. But it wasn't…”

He grasped the door and opened it. The first thing he saw was a collection of frozen bones and gristle and rags of clothing that might be the remains of five men if somebody really wanted to sort them out and do DNA profiles of them all.

The other thing was a pale, naked child curled in a foetal position. It had dark hair and when it raised its head and looked at them, the eyes were black. It opened its mouth and snarled. Sharp teeth with the remains of the last meat it had eaten stuck in them were revealed.

Spenser pulled Davie to the floor, covering him with his own body. The child sprang up as if its legs were coiled springs. It missed them both and kept running, making a strange howling sound.

“It sounded like ‘mommy’,” Davie observed as they stood.

“It’s after Dana.”

Both men started to run. Both desperately reached out mentally to Brenda and Sukie, warning them to get to the console room and shut the main door.

They reached the TARDIS in time to find Sukie in the console room shaking like a leaf.

“It got in before I could close the door,” she said. “It…it….”

“It didn’t touch you?” Davie asked, hugging his sister reassuringly. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, but….”

All three heard Brenda’s telepathic scream. They ran on down the corridor to the medical room.

When they got there, the child was bleeding on the floor. Dana Bellingham was on the floor, too. She was also bleeding. But her blood was the normal red blood of humans. The child’s blood was a dirty black-green colour. A surgical scalpel protruded from its chest above the heart.

It was dead.

“It attacked her,” Brenda managed to say. “That… thing… it attacked Dana. She grabbed the knife and stabbed it.”

“She killed her own child!” Spenser sounded almost mournful as Davie lifted the dying woman back onto the bed where they had tried to make her comfortable. He examined the deep bite wound in her throat.

“I can’t do anything for her,” he said.

Dana Bellingham knew that. She tried to speak, but her vocal chords were ripped along with her trachea.

“I’m sorry,” Davie said gently. “Dana… please… I am sorry to ask. But I need to know how you got pregnant. I know it wasn’t any of the men aboard the station so….”

She couldn’t tell him in words, but he put his hand on her forehead and he read her last dying thoughts. It was enough. He held onto her as her life ebbed away and then looked around. Spenser was holding onto Brenda and Sukie. Both of them were crying. He stepped forward and hugged all three of them together.

“It’s all over,” he promised. “There’s one little thing I have to double check and then we can get away from here. I’ll use the transmat to ‘bury’ Dana and her child in space. And that’s the end of it.”

The thing he had to check was in the MLM – the Multipurpose Laboratory Module. It was there, according to Dana Bellingham’s last memories, that she had conceived the alien child purely by accident. Davie looked at the frozen eggs, each no bigger than Sukie’s smallest fingernail. They had been found attached to one of the solar panels outside of the space station a few days After The Event and brought in by a remote control robot arm used for repairs. Dana had been examining them when one burst. She breathed in the spores that were released before she could activate the ventilation system to clear the air.

That was it. His hand held computer, remote connected to his TARDIS database had identified the species from the DNA test Dr. Mason conducted. It was a rare variation of a creature called a Nostrovite that impregnated humanoid hosts. When the fertilised eggs were ingested by any woman with a womb, it would start to grow. Hormones released made the woman accept the child as her own and resist any attempts to kill it. But once born, it would rapidly grow to assert its true carnivorous nature.

The eggs must have been caught in the time ribbon, too. It was a million to one coincidence, just as the station being caught in the ribbon was.

The unused spores that were released would have died off long ago. The other eggs were frozen. There was no danger to either Brenda or Sukie, which was his first concern. He put the other eggs in the laboratory incinerator. It was definitely over, now.

“No, it’s not, Davie,” Sukie said to him. He looked around, surprised to see her there.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not over. I’ve done the history of Human space exploration, too. And much more recently than you. There was no unexplained disaster in 2018. The space station didn’t disappear. The six crew aboard didn’t die. It would be a huge historical event if they had. Like the Challenger and Columbia. They crashed only a few years before this. But even in OUR century we know about them as history. We don’t know about losing the space station and its crew. That’s not in the history books.”

“I told you. Time is in flux. History can change.”

“Doesn’t have to,” Sukie argued. “If the time ribbon hadn’t dragged us into a slightly different time, if we’d come out of it along with the station, what would you have done?”

“I’d have fed some kind of harmless knockout gas into the station, so that the crew knew nothing about it, then used my tractor beam to pull it back through the vortex to when we first searched for it, forty-two hours after they lost contact. Then I’d have asked Mission Control to refuel the Endeavour and send up a relief crew while taking this lot back to Earth after the accident that caused them all to black out and lose nearly two days. I’d leave it to their own PR people to put out a cover story about accidental gas release, temporary breakdown in communications, and so on.”

“Ok,” Sukie said. “So why not do it? You’ve got enough data from their computers to work out the time that they arrived relative to when we did.”

“Because events have already unfolded. I can’t change them.”

“You said time was in flux. History can change. So change it back to how it should be. Dana was a nice lady but some horrible things happened to her. And then… it really was her own child… that creepy thing. She called it Mandy. It’s a nice name. It’s the name granddad Christopher called his first wife… our grandmother. I’ve seen pictures of her that mum has. When I think of the name Mandy, I want to think of her, not that horrible thing with all those teeth and gruesome eyes. Davie… make it not have happened.”

Davie wrapped his arms around his little sister and hugged her. He really wanted to do what she suggested. For all of the reasons she had outlined it would be so much better if he could do it. But alarm bells rang in his head against changing history, about breaking the Laws of Time.

“You could do it.” Davie looked up and Brenda was standing there at the door. He reached out his hand to her and she came to be hugged, too. “Spenser is transmatting Dana and the child out of the TARDIS. I didn’t want to be with him when he did it. But… if you did what Sukie said, Dana would be alive. So would the other crew. The horrible alien baby would never be born. They’d all be safe.”

“If the Time Lords were still around… still alive… on Gallifrey… I wouldn’t be allowed,” he said.

“But they’re not,” Sukie answered. “And of the Time Lords who are left, you’re the most powerful, now. Even granddad admits that. It’s why you are called The Doctor now.”

The decision was his. To do something wrong for the right reasons. He remembered how the Laws of Time were drummed into him and his brother by The Doctor. He had taught them that nothing was more immutable than the rules that said that causality could not be interfered with. The dead stayed dead, no matter how painful that was. Terrible, tragic events had to happen. Interfering with them was forbidden.

But Sukie was right. He was the most powerful Time Lord. The honour and the burden both lay with him.

He could decide when the Laws must be obeyed, when they could be bent, when they could be broken.

And when they could be rewritten.

He kept the TARDIS in synchronised orbit alongside the International Space Station until he had word that the shuttle Endeavour was on its way. The crew were still unconscious, but their colleagues would revive them.

While he was waiting, he used the transmat beam to scour the solar panels of the space station and remove the alien eggs that had become attached to them. That tied up the last loose end.

“Endeavour to Code Nine ship,” said a voice on the audio communicator. “We are at five minutes and counting to final docking procedure.”

“Ok,” Davie said. “We’ll leave you to it. Best we’re not around when you get here. We’re a bit of a state secret and the less you know, the better. But tell Brigadier Mace and his lot we’ll see them around next time they need The Doctor.”

He smiled at the response then hit the dematerialisation switch before programming their journey back home to the twenty-third century.

“You made the right decision, Davie,” Spenser told him. “The other outcome was just too nasty.”

“Yes,” Davie agreed. “Yes, I did.” Then he picked up the trophy he won. He smiled and corrected himself. He and Spenser won it. Then he gave it to his sister. “Team Campbell works well, I think. At more things than just motor racing. And you did your part very well and very bravely, sweetheart.”

“So did Brenda,” Sukie pointed out. “Doesn’t she get a trophy?”

“I’ve got Davie,” Brenda said. “He’s all the prize I need.”

The most powerful living Time Lord blushed at the compliment and glanced at Spenser’s slight smile and his approving nod before he hugged his fiancée and claimed her kiss as his own reward for his efforts.