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

“Are we nearly there yet?” Sukie and Vicki asked from the back seat of the people carrier. They spoke in perfect unison. Being telepathic made it easy for them to do that. They were just like the boys when they were younger. Two young chips off the same block.

All the same, David Campbell was starting to get irritated by the question. They had asked it so many times already.

“Another half hour,” he replied.

“You said that half an hour ago,” the girls pointed out.

“You did, you know,” Jackie added. “Are we lost?”

David paused before replying. He glanced at the satnav display. It was convinced they had reached their destination an hour ago. It was no help at all.

“Yes, we’re lost,” he answered. “I’m sorry. I really don’t know where we went wrong.”

“We should have come by TARDIS,” Sukie said. “We never get lost in the TARDIS.”

“Oh, not much,” Susan laughed. “Besides, your father is right. We do rely on it too much. It’s been nice, these past few days, just driving in an ordinary car and enjoying the scenery.” She paused and glanced at her husband. “All the same, I really will be glad to get to the hotel.”

“We quite clearly ARE lost,” Christopher pointed out. “And everyone is very tired. Perhaps it would be better if we gave up on reaching our planned destination this evening and found somewhere to stay in the next inhabited village or town.”

The problem, of course, was finding an inhabited one. Here, on the far west coast of Ireland, there were any number of long abandoned villages where the population had died out or migrated. Most of them still appeared on the road maps, so it was impossible to know until the car passed through whether there was a real village or just a ghost of one with caved in roofs, broken down walls and weed-covered gardens.

And it was sometimes hard to tell one from the other.

“That last one we went through had an old sign on one of the shops,” Vicki pointed out. “It said An Phost – Bantrach Ard. That’s Irish for a high white beach, by the way.”

“Then we’re lost,” David admitted. “There’s nothing remotely like that on the satnav. As for the printed roadmap….”

“I can’t find anywhere like that,” Jackie complained as she folded and refolded the paper map and turned it around helplessly. Susan took it from her and looked at it for a while before admitting defeat, too.

“Found it,” Sukie declared, looking up from her laptop. “Dad, keep on going for another mile on this road. Then take a left turn. There’s a place called… Cill Chiaráin. It’s on the coast and according to the internet it has a population of three hundred.”

“Then it will have some sort of hotel or bed and breakfast,” David said. “We’re saved! Well done, Sukie.”

The left turn came up exactly as they expected. A few minutes later a village came into view. But David frowned when he saw the road sign.

“Not Cill Chiarain,” he said. “Looks like your navigation isn’t so good after all, sweetheart.”

“Trá Crón,” Jackie said. “Crone’s…. something? Like… old women?”

“No,” Vicki corrected her. “It means Brown Beach.”

“I don’t care what sort of beach it has,” David said. “It’s inhabited.”

“Shouldn’t be,” Sukie told him. “It’s listed here as abandoned.”

“Doesn’t look abandoned,” Susan noted. She and Jackie both sighed happily as they saw well made houses with windows and roofs. Sukie and Vicki spotted an ice cream shop with an open sign and passed the information on telepathically to Garrick, half snoozing in his baby seat beside them.

David and Christopher looked joyfully at a substantial building near the sea front which proclaimed to be a hotel and lounge bar. David brought the car to the parking space outside and gratefully applied the brake.

“Go on into the bar,” Christopher said to his tired, weary family. “Order drinks and something from the food menu while I see about rooms.”

“Good idea,” Susan agreed. “Sukie, stop fussing. The ice cream shop will still be open after we’ve had something to eat.”

“It might not be,” Sukie pointed out. “Aliens could arrive and blast it to pieces. And there would be no more ice cream, ever.”

Sukie and Vicki both said that a lot. All the children at school did. It was one of the lingering effects of the Dominator invasion, that uncertainty about anything, even ice cream shops. The adults, especially those old enough to remember the last time Earth was subjugated by an extra-terrestrial invader felt the same, but they didn’t say it out loud. For them it was a dread that gripped them from time to time when something reminded them of the horror.

“Don’t say things like that,” Susan told her. “It might really happen. And I don’t think I could take another invasion.”

Sukie looked at her mother and remembered that, even though she didn’t look it, she was old enough to remember that other time. She and Vicki adopted well-behaved expressions as they got out of the car.

The lounge bar was very cosy. They all sank gratefully into the soft upholstered chairs around a wide table. A waitress came to them and David ordered drinks and food for everyone. By the time Christopher joined them with the good news that he had secured three en suite rooms for the night they were beginning to forget how weary they had been. They enjoyed their meal and then, despite the quite satisfactory desserts on the menu the girls got their way and went off with Garrick in his pushchair to find the ice cream.

“Let’s go down to the beach,” Vicki suggested once they had satisfied that need. “We can make Garrick a sandcastle.”

“The lady in the shop thought we were sisters and he was our little brother,” Sukie said with a smile as she went along with that idea.

“Everyone does,” Vicki commented. “Well, it’s easier than explaining that I’m your great aunt and Garrick is my nephew and your uncle.”

They giggled as they contemplated their own complicated family tree.

“It’ll get more confusing when we’re grown up,” Sukie added. “When you get married to Tristie’s dad…. so you’ll be my daughter in law as well as my great aunt.”

“We weren’t supposed to work all that out, yet,” Vicki pointed out. “It’s funny when we meet Tristie… knowing that in the far future he will be my son.”

“It’s the same when I’m emailing Earl. We’re going to get married in years and years time. But he doesn’t know it yet. Davie said I’m not allowed to tell him, because it would be a paradox.”

“I think Jimmy would be really scared if he knew that I know he’s going to be my first Human husband,” Vicki added. “We’ve only had two dates. And both of them were Saturday afternoon at the ice cream shop.”

“I think he would be scared if he thought he was going to be your FIRST husband,” Sukie noted. “Doesn’t it seem odd, sometimes, knowing that we’re the same age, more or less, but when he’s an old man, you’ll still look young and you can have lots of other husbands after him.”

“I try not to think about it too much,” Vicki answered. “Daddy says live for the moment that is. Enjoy life day after day… and be glad that it happens one day after the other. Because it didn’t for him for a long time. So I just think of Jimmy as a boy who I go to buy ice cream with and the cinema and stuff. The future can wait.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Sukie conceded. “Although I do sometimes think about Earl. Davie said he’s allowed to go out with me when I’m seventeen. Which is in four years time. But he lives in the twenty-sixth century. So do I have to wait till I catch up with him in nearly three hundred years or will he come back in time to live in this time with me, or will I go to the future and live in his time?”

“My mummy did that,” Vicki reminded her. “She lived in the twentieth century, but she came to live now, with daddy.”

Sukie suppressed the thought that somebody who was dating a boy already shouldn’t still say ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’, but not quite quickly enough to avoid a dig in the ribs from Vicki. They never fell out for long though. They giggled together and cleaned ice cream from Garrick’s face. Then they took him out of his pushchair and let him toddle along the sea shore. They didn’t make a sand castle, because they didn’t have a spade and anyway they weren’t really wearing clothes that sand would brush off easily. But they collected sea shells and interesting looking stones before they set off back to the hotel.

“Hang on,” Vicki said as they passed a newsagent’s shop. “I’m going to buy some comics to read. I’ve got through all the books I brought already.”

She searched in her shoulder bag for coins and stepped into the shop. Sukie waited outside in the sunshine and watched Garrick in his pushchair. She tuned in on his nascent telepathic thoughts and looked at the seaside village through his eyes. He took in more than she did. The whole world was new and wonderful to him every day and his eyes were like a camera capturing it all. She realised that she hadn’t really looked at the village properly. Her mind had been on ice cream.

She looked around now, with her own eyes and noticed a few things that Garrick wouldn’t have noticed. Things that struck her as odd.

Then Vicki came running from the newsagents. She was holding a bundle of colourful girls comic strip magazines of the sort they were both growing out of a little. She waved them at Sukie and said something so fast that she had to ask her to say it again more slowly.

“Look at the date,” she said. “Look at it.”

Sukie read the date in small print below the banner title of the comic.

“A misprint?”

“They’re all the same,” she said. “And… look… this is the television guide for this week…. Or for a week, anyway.”

“All right… something is definitely wrong.”

“It’s a bit scary,” Vicki said. “I think we should tell somebody.”

“Dad will be really angry. He just wanted an ordinary holiday with nothing freaky happening.”

“Let’s talk to Christopher, first. He’ll know what to do.”

Sukie looked doubtful. She loved her grandfather, but he was a politician. She couldn’t quite see how he could help right now.

“We really need Chris and Davie,” she said.

“If your big brothers were here, we’d be ok,” Vicki pointed out. “But they’re not. MY big brother is, and he’s as clever as my daddy is. We’ll tell him.”

That decided, they turned to walk away and were startled when the lady from the newsagents ran out of her shop calling to them. At first they didn’t understand what she was saying. She spoke in Connaught Irish, the dialect peculiar to the area. They had to listen carefully.

“Get away from this place, children,” she said, clutching at their arms desperately. “It’s not a good place. Go back to your parents and tell them to drive away from here while they still can.”

Neither of the two girls dared question her about what was so terrible about Trá Crón. They pulled away from her grasp, hoping she wouldn’t try to grab them again.

“Go away,” she said again. “While you can.” She looked around, as if making sure nobody else overheard her, and then scurried away into her shop again. Sukie and Vicki looked at each other and then grasped the pushchair between them and turned away.

“Sukie, Vicki!” They were surprised when another figure ran towards them, this time Christopher, looking a little out of breath and flustered. He grabbed at the pushchair handle. His toddler son looked up at him and reached to be held, but Christopher was too distracted to notice. “Come on, girls. We’ve got to get away from here. There’s something very wrong with this village.”

“We know,” Sukie told him. “Granddad… we….”

Christopher turned the pushchair and began to hurry towards the pub. The two girls ran to keep up with him. Then he stopped. He glanced around and then pulled them all into the porch of the village church. From its sanctuary they could all clearly see something happening outside the pub.

“Mum, dad!” Sukie gasped. Her parents and her step grandmother, were being manhandled by a half a dozen villagers. They were protesting loudly, but the villagers pushed and dragged them down towards a building that looked like some kind of public hall.

“What’s happening?” Vicki asked.

“This village is full of crazy people,” Sukie replied mournfully. “And they know that we know.”

Christopher backed closer to the church door and found that the handle turned. The door pushed inwards. He stepped back into the church, pulling the pushchair with him. The two girls followed. Sukie closed the door behind her.

“Are we safe in here?” Vicki asked.

“No,” Christopher answered. “We need to hide.” He lifted Garrick from his pushchair and with one hand folded it. He hid it under one of the pews and then brought his son, his younger sister and his granddaughter to the front of the church. The sanctuary was in a shallow apse, and as he hoped, there was a narrow space behind it with a small door set in the wall. It was locked, but Sukie reached into her shoulder bag and found what looked to the casual eye like an eyeliner pencil. It buzzed mechanically and the door clicked open. Behind it was a space where spare candles and communion cups were stored. There was just room for them all to crouch. Christopher pushed the door closed again and hugged the three children. Garrick was puzzled, but not scared. He was in his father’s arms, after all. The two girls were scared. They pressed close to him.

“How long have you had a sonic screwdriver, Sukie?” he asked telepathically.

“Davie made it for me,” she answered. “I asked him. It’s ok. It only has limited functions. He said I wasn’t old enough for a laser scalpel.”

“Small mercies!” Christopher replied.

“Granddad,” Sukie continued. “We know what’s the matter with this village. It’s in a time loop. Vicki’s comics… they’re brand new, but they’re dated August 1st, 2163.”

“The summer before the Dalek invasion,” Vicki added. “That’s the reason most of the villages around here are empty. The Daleks took over the big cities of Earth, but they forced people out of small towns and villages and into camps, to stop them being able to rebel. A lot of the people never came back, and the villages died off.”

That was the textbook explanation of the history of planet Earth in the mid twenty second century, of course. Vicki explained it as any other child her age would explain it after learning the history at school. Her father had told her much more about those events. Sukie had heard it, too, from The Doctor and from her own father. Both The Doctor and David Campbell remembered the Dalek Invasion of 2164 only too terribly well.

“Are they in a time loop or did we go through a time portal into their time?” Sukie asked. “We did that when we met Earl.”

Christopher closed his eyes and concentrated. The two girls kept quiet. They could feel him reaching out with his mind, touching the Human minds in the village, reaching beyond it.

“Time loop,” he said. “Very localised. Just surrounding this village. I can feel the difference. It’s like… the village is… it reminds me of the shield that protected the Capitol on Gallifrey. Except this village is protected from time itself.”

“It doesn’t really make sense,” Sukie pointed out.

“No, it doesn’t,” Christopher agreed. “But things don’t have to make sense to be dangerous.”

He hugged his son close to his chest. The child was calm, at least. The girls were still frightened, but talking to him about what was happening, thinking it through logically, was helping them. It was helping him, too.

There was a noise. The church door had been thrown open noisily. People were coming inside. Christopher and the children all listened carefully both with their ears and telepathically. Somebody had found the pushchair, of course. That wasn’t particularly well hidden.

“They must be in here, then,” somebody else said. “Search for them. They cannot be allowed to get away.”

There were sounds of noisy searching. Then another door opened and somebody else was there.

“Stop this desecration at once,” cried a voice with justified ire in the tone. “I told you to stay out of the house of God.”

“This doesn’t concern you, Father Ó Cuinn,” replied one of the searchers. “We’re looking for the foreigners who arrived here today. A man and three children.”

“There are no foreigners here,” the priest answered. “Get out, Ó Cinnéide. Get out of this holy place and take your vile pagan ways with you.”

“Remember what you owe to our pagan ways, Father,” replied Ó Cinnéide. “Don’t cross us or it will be the worst for you.”

“Get out,” the priest insisted. “Out with you. Your ways are unholy and unnatural and one day we will all pay for your terrible deeds. All our souls are damned because of it.”

Ó Cinnéide made a reply and then told his people to leave. The door closed loudly. The silence was broken only by the priest breathing deeply.

Then his footsteps came closer. Sukie and Vicki pressed closer to Christopher, but they knew there was nothing they could do. The priest opened the door to the candle cupboard. He looked at the four of them.

“Come with me,” he said, reaching out his hand to them. Christopher looked at him then carefully unfolded himself. Still clutching Garrick against him he stepped out of the cupboard. The girls reluctantly followed him.

The priest brought them into the sacristy. He pulled out chairs and found orange juice for the girls and Garrick.

“You’ll be safe here, for a little while at least,” he said. “They won’t come back.”

“Why are they searching for us?” Christopher asked. “We saw them… they took my wife, and my daughter and son-in-law. Why? What is it all about?”

“It’s about the damnation of us all,” replied Father Ó Cuinn. He reached for one of the comics that Vicki still had in her hand. “The first day of August, 2163. That was when it all began.” He sighed. “What year is it, really?”

“2219,” Christopher answered. “Fifty-six years have gone by.”

“I was fifty when it began. I should be over a hundred years old by now – if I had not gone to my rest before then. The youngest person in the village should be in his late fifties. The youngest of the children that we had then.”

“So… the village was frozen in time, within a time loop. Nobody gets old. Nobody dies?” Christopher nodded in understanding. “What would seem like a blessing at first… but as the years went by, it must have become a curse. There have been suicides, I suppose? Desperation must have set in?”

The two girls gasped in horror. They had both known that the village was wrong, but they hadn’t thought about things like that. The priest shook his head sadly.

“Suicides, assisted suicides… one man killed his whole family, then himself, just to be free of this cursed village. The rest… Ó Cinnéide is a powerful man. Those who don’t wholeheartedly support him, are afraid to cross him.”

“Ó Cinnéide did this?” Christopher asked. “How? He’s Human, isn’t he? He has no power, no technology….”

The question surprised the priest.

“Human… of course he is Human… though he may have forgotten what it is to BE Human. Maybe we all have, for that matter. And may He forgive me, I have forgotten what it is to be a man of God. I’ve let them get away with it for so long. I haven’t fought hard enough against their evil.”

The priest started to cry. Sukie left Christopher’s side and went to him. She put her cool hand on his forehead and gently soothed his mind. He looked at her and smiled.

“You are a gift from God, child. Which makes it even more terrible that Ó Cinnéide would wish to use you in such a terrible way.”

“What… terrible way?” Vicki asked in a slow voice as if she didn’t want to know, but knew she had to.

“It’s a ‘spell’… from an ancient script, written before the Word of God came to this Isle, when all sorts of pagan rituals went on. God help me, I would not have believed such things were possible. They should not be. It goes against everything I have ever thought to be true about Creation. Small wonder only a handful of souls ever set foot in this church, living under such unnatural thrall. Because… it worked. Their unholy ritual trapped this village in time. We relive the same year over and over, never aging, never changing.”

“That’s strange, but not terrible yet,” Vicki pointed out.

The priest looked at the two girls and shook his head.

“You shouldn’t hear this. Two children….”

“They’re already a part of this,” Christopher pointed out. “They’re in peril of their lives. They might as well know why.”

“The ‘spell’ – the terrible, unholy spell - has to be renewed before sundown every August 1st… the Celtic feast day of Lughnasadh. Today… before nightfall, Ó Cinnéide has to fly around the boundaries of the village spilling innocent blood at every cardinal point of the compass.”

“Fly?” Sukie and Vicki looked at each other. They both thought of witches and warlocks on broomsticks flying through the air.

“Innocent blood?” Christopher fixed on the other point and shuddered. He held Garrick even closer to him. “You mean… every August 1st, a child is killed… to keep the time loop in place…”

The priest nodded sadly and shuddered.

“This has been happening for fifty-six years? Are there any children LEFT?”

“Only a very few. That’s why… when your family arrived…”

“We were lambs to the slaughter!” Christopher shook his head. “No. That won’t happen. I won’t let any of these children die. I’d die myself first… I’ll….”

There was a noise within the church. The main door crashed and then running feet. The priest stood up and put himself between Christopher and the children and the sacristy door. That, too, crashed open and a man ran in.

“Father, you have to try to help. The three strangers… Ó Cinnéide is going to lynch them in the street… the women first, then the man… unless the children are surrendered. He means it. He….”

The man stopped talking. He saw the priest’s guests and his face paled. He started to back out again.

“They’re the ones… they were here all the time… I have to tell….”

Christopher, with Garrick still held close in his arms, moved from his seat, time folding as he crossed the room in a blur. He grabbed the man around the neck with one hand and restrained him.

“You’ll tell nobody,” Christopher said. “These children will not be sacrificed by a lunatic. And nor will my wife and daughter.”

“Seosamh,” Father Ó Cuinn said in a calm, quiet voice. “See sense, man. It is time to end this madness. Innocent strangers have been drawn into it, now. Let there be an end.”

“I’m sorry,” Seosamh replied. “But I’m afraid. I can’t go against Ó Cinnéide. He’s too powerful. He’s a high shaman. He could strike me dead with the power of his mind.”

“No, he can’t,” Vicki told him. “Not if you don’t let him. Some humans do have a sort of ability… they’ve got a sort of hypnotic power… and it lets them affect other people’s minds. They can sometimes kill, if they make people think they’re dying. You’ve just got to resist him.”

“I can’t,” Seosamh repeated. “I’m too scared of him.”

“You’re pathetic,” Sukie responded. “I’ll stand up to him. I’m… I’m scared. I’m not going to pretend I’m not. When we ran in here, I was really scared. But now I’ve had time to think about it. I’m not going to hide. My brothers wouldn’t. And my granddad wouldn’t.”

“No, Sukie,” Christopher reached out and hugged her. “No, you’re not going anywhere. You’re right. Your brothers wouldn’t stand idly by and let anyone get hurt. And nor would my father. You always called him granddad. You always forget… I’m your granddad, too. And I said before… I’d die before I let you or Vicki or my little Garrick be hurt.”

“I don’t want you to die, either,” Sukie protested. “And you ARE my granddad, too. I’m sorry if I forget sometimes.”

“You’re forgiven, sweetheart,” he promised her. “But right now, you stay here with Father Ó Cuinn. I’m going out there to get your mum and dad and my wife.”

He hugged her tightly. He hugged his son and his much younger sister, too. Then he placed Garrick on a chair beside the girls and turned away. He grasped Seosamh by the arm and pushed him ahead of him, firmly, but not cruelly.

There was a crowd gathered in the street. He noticed the woman from the newsagents shop among them. She looked unhappy. All of the crowd did, but she seemed more distressed than any other individual.

He pushed through them all, still holding onto Seosamh. Then he saw the focus of their attention. His hearts thudded. He had really thought that Seosamh was exaggerating about the lynching, but Susan, Jackie and David were standing there, hands tied, ropes around their necks. The man who surely had to be Ó Cinnéide, stood in front of them dressed in a deep red hooded robe. Two other men either side of him were in black. They looked like people who played at being druids or pagans for a weekend sport, except Christopher had heard enough already to know that these weren’t playing at anything.

“I’ll say it again,” Ó Cinnéide said in a loud, commanding tone. “Whoever is harbouring the children of these strangers, bring them out, now. Or I will kill these, and when I find who is the traitor among our own giving succour to the outsiders, then they, too, will perish.”

There was an uneasy silence from the crowd. Christopher briefly touched the minds closest to him. He found most of them reluctant, trying to resist the thrall of this man, but afraid of the consequences if they made any open act of defiance.

He touched the man nearest to him on the shoulder.

“When I give you a signal, free my family from their bonds,” he said.

The man looked around at Christopher and met eyes that were even more compelling and hypnotic than Ó Cinnéide’s. He felt as if the touch of his hand on his shoulder was driving away his fears and emboldening him.

“You, too,” he said to Seosamh. “Free them, before he can hurt them. I’m going to end this once and for all.”

The ability to make people trust in him just by physical contact was one he rarely used. It seemed too much like cheating for a politician to do that most of the time. But right now, the lives of his wife and daughter and son in law depended on him persuading a few of these people to do the right thing. The lives of his children, for that matter, hung in the balance if he couldn’t stop the insanity that gripped this community.

He held onto both men as he concentrated hard and folded time. He was nowhere near as good at doing that as his father or his two grandsons all were. It wasn’t a skill he had ever needed as a High Councillor, and in the House of Commons, on many a dreary afternoon, he would much rather have the ability to speed time up instead. But he could do it for long enough to give himself the edge. Around him, the crowds were stilled. Ó Cinnéide’s voice slurred slowly on. Only he and the two people he had chosen to bring within the bubble of folded time moved normally. He stepped towards the three ‘pagans’, knowing that they would see only a blur in the air and have no time to defend themselves. He glanced behind and saw Seosamh and the other man run to remove the ropes from around the necks of his loved ones, then he pounced, using the Earth martial art called Gung Fu to render the two acolytes in black unconscious before the time fold collapsed.

Ó Cinnéide blinked in surprise as he saw his henchmen felled by a movement in the air. Then he raised his hands to try to stop Christopher’s attack. He fell to the ground as his legs were taken from under him. Christopher reached and pressed his fingers against a pressure point on his neck. Ó Cinnéide screamed for help. If the crowd had surged forwards, Christopher knew he would have been ripped to pieces by them, but most of them stood where they were, surprised by this turn of events.

“This ends tonight,” Christopher told him. “Your hold over these people ends. I’m going to reverse what you did to them.”

“You can’t,” Seosamh told him. “The spell… it can only be broken by a shaman of the fifth level.”

“Hah!” Christopher scoffed. “He has you all wound up in his madness. There is no such thing as a Shaman of any level. The feast of Lughnasa was a celtic harvest festival. Nothing was sacrificed except sheaves of corn. What he IS… he’s a time sensitive Human. He has some ability to see the future. He saw that something terrible was going to happen to this planet, and he did what… perhaps at the time… he thought was the right thing… to protect everyone in this village. Perhaps his motives were honest ones then.” Christopher pulled the man up from the ground. “I’m curious… the first time… when you performed this ‘spell’ of yours… whose child did you sacrifice? Which innocent blood was spilt?”

“My… my own daughter,” Ó Cinnéide answered. “I gave her up to appease the gods… for the greater good.”

“Sweet Mother of Chaos,” Christopher swore. He glanced at his own daughter, safe in the arms of her husband. He remembered when she was a baby, before his ‘death’ on Gallifrey. Not for any price could he have done to her what this man had done. He glanced towards the church and saw the door open. He saw Father Ó Cuinn come out along with Vicki and Sukie. Sukie was carrying Garrick. The crowds parted as they approached. Nobody tried to grab them. Jackie stepped forward and without a word took her son in her arms. She looked at Christopher and he didn’t need any telepathy to read her thoughts. She, too, could not understand how any man could think his child’s life could be sacrificed so easily.

“Granddad,” Sukie said. “You can stop the spell. You’re a Time Lord. You have the power in you.”

“How?” he asked.

“Fly around the boundary of the village… in reverse… and break down the time loop.”

“I don’t fly, sweetheart. I still don’t get how HE did that bit.”

“Hover car, granddad,” Sukie told him. “That’s flying, sort of.”

“It still won’t work,” Seosamh pointed out. “Without a sacrifice.”

Christopher glanced at his family and his thoughts needed no telepathy to read, either.

“There needs to be no sacrifice,” said Father Ó Cuinn. He moved through the crowds slowly, and Christopher noticed that he was carrying a chalice from the altar very carefully. “There was only ever one innocent sacrifice needed to save Mankind and it happened over two thousand years ago. You all used to believe in it before you were swayed by this man’s witchcraft.” He held the chalice towards Christopher. “Through the rite of Transubstantiation, this cup contains the most Precious and Innocent Blood. Use it to cleanse all the souls in this cursed place.”

“You should do that, Father,” he replied. “But… before you do.…” He looked around at the villagers. There were very few young people there. The madness of Ó Cinnéide had taken a terrible toll on them. Most of them were over thirty. Many of them were much older than that. “You should know… if I break the time loop… do you know how many years have passed while you were locked in your endless year?”

Few of them knew exactly. But they understood what Christopher was saying to them. The only one who spoke out loud, though, was the woman from the newsagents. She was in her early forties.

“He took my child five years ago. I have no reason to live another day. Do what you will, with my blessing.”

That seemed to be the consensus around the villagers. There were a few who looked uncertain, those, perhaps, who had supported Ó Cinnéide through the strange years. But when they turned to look at their neighbours, they all came to realise what had to happen.

Christopher turned and walked with Father Ó Cuinn at his side. The villagers restrained the man they had formerly put their trust in. His thrall was broken. Susan and David, Jackie and the children walked back to the church. It seemed the safest place to be. Some of the villagers went there, too. They sat, praying or just sitting quietly, waiting for what was going to happen next.

“You know, there is no purpose to the ‘sacrifice’,” Christopher said as he started up his car. “Those children were killed for absolutely no reason. And your ‘Precious blood’ will have nothing to do with breaking the time loop. That’s all about me… as another time sensitive being… using my mind to force down the barrier that he put up all those years ago. That’s why we have to go all the way around the village boundary - to ensure the complete destruction of the time loop.”

“I know that,” Father Ó Cuinn said. “But they don’t. Besides, a few souls may rest more peacefully for the blessing I can bring.” He glanced at Christopher. “I never asked… if you are even a Christian?”

“No, I’m not,” Christopher answered. He wondered if it would make it harder or easier to explain that he was from another world – one that was regarded as the Olympus of the galaxy, home of the gods who looked down upon mere mortals.

“I thought not,” the priest said. “Yet, you found sanctuary from the heathens in God’s house. Perhaps there is something to be learnt in that.”

“Perhaps,” Christopher conceded. “Father, you do know that, when the time loop is broken… you said yourself, you’d be such a great age.”

“I’m ready for that. It is written, after all, in the Holy Scripture… ‘to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven’”

Christopher nodded quietly.

“My father says something similar,” he said. “Everything has its time, everything dies. But it doesn’t make it any easier.”

“I’m ready to face my Creator and answer for my part in these terrible events. I was weak from the beginning. I failed to stop Ó Cinnéide in the first place. And every year he compounded the horror – every year I didn’t have the strength or the courage to oppose him. It is time I answered for my sins of omission.”

Christopher kept his own counsel about that. Father Ó Cuinn’s faith and how he might face his God in an all too short time was not something he felt qualified to comment on.

What he did know about, was time. He was a Lord of it. Most people, even among his own kind, thought that was a mere title, a cliché, even. But it was true. Within a few hard and immutable laws of physics, he was a master of Time. He could make it do as he wanted.

The time loop felt like a damn thrown across Time. And it was wrong. He concentrated on the jarring edge and made his mind a kind of eraser, cancelling it out. It was wearying. He was half aware, all of the time, that he was also controlling a hover car. But he kept going. He had to. At the cardinal points of the compass Father Ó Cuinn performed a simple blessing that would banish all evil intent and allow the villagers to find peace of mind at last. Christopher still didn’t think it meant anything. But if it gave the Father himself some comfort he wouldn’t begrudge him it.

The boundary of the time loop extended for eight miles around the village. It took him nearly an hour hovering slowly and mentally undoing the damage. Finally, he felt his mind free of the burden of it. The time loop was cancelled out.

He turned his head slowly to the passenger seat. He knew what he would see when he did. He took the empty chalice from the priest’s unresisting fingers and set it on the dashboard before he pressed his foot down on the accelerator and turned back towards the village.

It didn’t look very different as he stopped the car outside the church. But it was disturbingly quiet. The village was deserted.

As he expected it to be.

Inside the church there was a sound of quiet grief. His entrance, carrying the dying priest in his arms disturbed the quiet. It was Susan who turned around. She let out a scream.

“It’s all right,” he said calmly as he walked to the front of the church and gently laid the elderly man before the altar. He was white haired and shrunken with age, his eyes rheumy, and he was clearly in extreme agony. Christopher knelt beside him and put his hand on his forehead, drawing out his pain and letting his death come a little more softly and gently than it might. When it was over, he covered the still body with an altar cloth and looked around. Susan was the first of his family to reach him. He held her tightly and soothed her grief.

“Oh, father,” she said. “It was awful. All around us, people started to get old… it just happened in an instant. And… most of them are dead. Even the younger ones, who might have had life left in them, they had heart attacks from the shock. We tried to save some of them but….”

It was difficult to tell from a glance which of the fragile bodies laid on the pews were alive and which were dead. He saw Sukie reach to close the eyes of one that had just slipped from the one state to the other. She and Vicki, who was walking between the pews quietly, checking to see how many more were left, were taking it much easier than Susan was. Jackie was sitting down, clutching Garrick in her arms. She just looked stunned.

David came into the church. He brought with him a handful of elderly, frail souls who were still capable of walking on their own two feet. Susan ran to help them. David looked around at the bodies already filling the church and shook his head sadly.

“The rest are all dead,” he confirmed. “The ones who chose to go to their own homes. I found some of them lying on their beds, some on their kitchen floors, some praying. They knew what was going to happen. They prepared themselves for it. Even… the one who began it all… Ó Cinnéide… he and his acolytes were in the village hall. They died together.”

“The lady from the newsagents shop just died,” Vicki said, turning from the latest victim and reaching out to be comforted by her big brother. Sukie went to her father, who held her tightly and didn’t mind when she began to cry softly.

“I’ll call the Irish authorities,” Christopher said. “I’ve got some contacts in Dublin, through the Foreign Office. They have a department that deals with unexplained phenomena. They’ll look after the survivors… if there are any left. Somebody will write a report about what happened here. It will probably be buried under a two hundred year secrecy rule, just like the Sea Devils and Zygons that my father dealt with in the 1970s.”

“And that’s it?” Jackie asked him. “We just… go?”

“As soon as we can,” her husband told her. “We’ll find Cill Chíarain and spend a few quiet days there. We all need to shake the dust of this place from our shoes. We need to walk in the sun and eat ice cream, pick seashells on a beach, and be glad to be alive. I know you don’t feel you can do that right now, but you will.”

His little sister, Vicki, and his granddaughter, Sukie, looked as if they were willing to believe him. His wife and his grown up daughter might take a day or two and some retail therapy to get over the shock. His son in law just sighed and nodded.