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


Susan Campbell was preparing vegetables for the evening meal when she was startled, though not entirely surprised, by a noise. It was one she had been familiar with for much of her life. She looked around as a TARDIS materialised in her kitchen, disguising itself immediately as a fridge freezer. She smiled as the door opened and her second born son stepped out.

“Chris,” she said as she reached to hug him. “I’m honoured by your presence in my kitchen. But you could have used the door, you know.”

“Mum,” he answered, kissing her cheek. “Can you… come into my TARDIS for a little while. I need to talk to you about something very important. And there is somebody I need you to meet.”

“I’ve got to make dinner,” she protested. “I can’t…” Then she laughed softly. “Oh, of course I have time for you, Chris. You’ve been away for nearly two weeks. We’ve missed you. Your father and I. And Davie and Sukie, too.”

“I know,” he told her. “And that’s why I need to talk to you. Please, mum, come inside. Never mind vegetables. I’ll take everyone out to dinner later. I think I should, anyway. But come on.”

He grasped Susan’s hand and drew her into the fridge freezer. Once across the threshold, of course, it was the Gothic TARDIS with its stone walls and vaulted ceiling. The modern console in the centre of it always looked rather incongruous, but Chris seemed to like it that way – like a technological cathedral.

Then her gaze fell upon the sofa against one of the walls. There was a young woman sleeping on it. Susan stepped closer. She noted that the woman – hardly more than a girl, really - was very pretty, with dark hair and the kind of complexion usually called ‘mocha’. She had very long eyelashes. Susan recalled when she was a teenager in the 1960s that it took several coats of mascara to create what was natural to her.

“Who is she?”

“She’s… my wife,” Chris answered as he gently touched the girl’s face. She opened her eyes and looked up at him with a smile. She sat up and embraced him before she saw Susan and drew back nervously. She spoke to Chris. Susan knew that she had spoken in a foreign language, an extra-terrestrial language. But she heard her words in English. She had asked Chris if she was his mother.

“Yes,” Susan said, reaching out and touching the girl’s hand. “Yes, I am. But I am afraid he has told me so very little of what is happening in his life lately. I don’t even know your name, my dear.”

“I am Carya,” she answered, still in her own language. She looked nervous. Her brown eyes turned back to Chris questioningly. He gently ruffled his hand through her hair. That seemed to reassure her.

“Well…” Susan managed to say. “Carya… I… Well… I’m pleased to meet you, and I think I should hear the whole story. But let’s do it in comfort. Chris, bring your wife to the living room. I’ll make coffee and there’s some cake… and you can tell me everything.”

Chris looked relieved. He took Carya’s hand and led her out of the TARDIS. She was surprised by the modern kitchen of his parents’ home and even more so by the living room. She stared around at the modern furnishing, the wafer thin video screen on the wall and the collection of microdiscs, the plate glass French window leading out into the garden where his father’s roses were in full bloom. This was a very different kind of house than she had been born into, or those on SangC’lune where she had lived since her exile.

“Why is she so frightened?” Susan asked her son.

“She’s very shy,” he answered. “And a lot has happened to her in a very short time. Besides, she still doesn’t understand a lot of English. The TARDIS is translating everything for her, but we have rather strange accents to her,”

Carya had a strange accent when she spoke, too. She was puzzled by the taste of coffee and didn’t quite know what to do with chocolate cake. Chris sat close to her. His arm slipped around her waist, hugging her gently. Susan noted the gesture. Yes, he was in love with Carya. But how did this relationship come about? Chris had sworn that he had no interest in romantic love. He had told her many times that he saw his future as a mentor to the others, without personal attachments to distract him from his work. She had thought of it as if her younger son had become a priest. And she was very proud of him. There was no doubt about that. She was proud of both her boys.

But both seemed determined to spring surprises on her every time she set eyes on them.

“It’s a long story, mum,” Chris said. “It started three months ago when I took some of my students on a field trip…”

He carefully related the sorry tale of his own misunderstanding of the marriage rituals of Cíeló, of the painful death he and Carya were condemned to, and how he had cheated that death and saved her life. Susan looked at her son in absolute horror. She knew that Davie got himself into all manner of trouble when he travelled offworld. But she thought Chris’s adventures were of a gentler sort. She reached out and stroked his face. He was still her little boy somewhere inside. But here he was, having gone through a terrible ordeal, having been so very brave. Here he was with a woman at his side, a grown man, making his own future for himself.

“I had to take her away from her home, her world,” Chris continued. “I took her to SangC’lune, because they’re good people and their way of life is not far different from her own. They took her in and looked after her. But she wasn’t happy.”

“Why weren’t you happy?” Susan asked the girl.

“Because I missed my Chris,” she answered. “I tried not to love him. He told me not to. He said he just wanted to be my friend. But when he left, the sky seemed dark to me. Food had no flavour, drink did not quench my thirst. The people were kind to me, very kind. But I longed only for Chris to return.”

“This I heard from the women of the village,” Chris confirmed. “This sad child was pining for me. She had sat patiently each day at a weaving loom, doing her share of the work, and she ate well enough with the family who took her in. She took part in the evening rituals with everyone else. She slept at night. But she did it all without any joy.”

“Oh, poor thing,” Susan said in sympathy. “Chris, how could you not have realised…”

“I knew she had some affection for me. But I hoped she would forget about me once she settled down on SangC’lune. But when I returned…”

It was one of his regular visits to SangC’lune with some of his Gallifreyan students. The plan was to spend the weekend up at the old ruined temple, practicing some of the longer and more complex rituals and meditations that the Time Lords of Gallifrey used to perform. The young Gallifreyans, Cól, Brón, Shone and Daryl, all a little bereft without their Human partners, made up his party, Time Lords in training.

As a matter of courtesy, of course, they came to the village first and greeted the elders as well as the friends they knew from past visits.

And Chris had been startled by the dark haired whirlwind who launched herself at him. He hardly recognised her at first. She had changed a lot. The ‘darkening’ was now complete. Her hair was jet black and her eyes a deep brown that reminded him of his mother’s eyes. Her skin was the colour of rich milky coffee and even her lips seemed to be brown rather than pink. She looked beautiful. Chris had an urge to clothe her in something like a traditional Spanish dress with a mantilla over her hair or even something north African with a gold-embellished headdress. Nothing extreme that covered her face, though. That was too lovely to hide.

Then he remembered she was not his to dress in any way. He wanted her to be free.

“My Chris,” she said, dispelling that hope at once. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips. He drew back from the kiss with a deep blush on his cheeks.

“You really shouldn’t do that,” he told her. “Though I am very glad to see that you are well. It is good to see you, Carya.”

“I have missed you, my Chris,” she said in reply to him. “I have wished to see you so much.”

“You weren’t supposed to miss me,” he answered her. “You were supposed to be happy here on this beautiful, blessed planet. I know it is very different from your home. There are only two moons here, and they have never used glass in their homes. But they are good people. And I am sure some of the young men must have talked to you by now…”

“I am well here,” she assured him. “I am not scared. But I wish you could be here.”

She slipped her hand in his. He hadn’t the heart to say no to her. She clearly had been waiting for him to return.

“All right,” he said. “But you will be utterly bored up at the temple. Everyone else will be in deep meditation for hours.”

Before they went to the temple, Chris and his students shared the Daygone ritual with the people of SangC’lune. In his case, as the only fully transcended Time Lord among them, that meant that he was taken into the Great Hall and dressed by three SangC’lune attendants in the full regalia of a high born Gallifreyan, including the stiff, elaborate collar and headpiece. He didn’t mind that very much. He was proud to be a Time Lord and the fantastic costume was a part of it. Nor did he mind that he was given a place of honour on the veranda of the Great Hall. The Doctor had taught him from an early age to respect the traditions of the SangC’lune people. And regarding him as a living god whom they worshipped was a part of that tradition. He had learnt to offer them a simple blessing when they brought their children to him or when young couples about to be married presented themselves. He wondered if they knew he had no real power to bestow such blessings. After all, he sat with them and ate like any ordinary mortal. He often toiled with them in their fields along with the students he brought with him. They knew he was a man just like they were. Many of them, after all, had known him as a boy, had seen him grow to manhood. But all the same, at Daygone, he was their godhead, and he was always careful not to let them down.

Tonight was different in only one respect. He found that he had a goddess. He looked at Carya in the dying sunlight that shone through the open door into the Great Hall. She had been attended to, and now wore a silver gown. Her long black hair was braided with silver threads and fastened up on her head like a crown. There was silver in the mascara and lip colour and on the highlights of her cheeks, too. Set against her dark complexion it was very striking.

“I am your consort,” she said.

“Did you tell them that we were married?” Chris asked. “The people here, I mean.”

“No,” she assured him. “But they sensed it. They knew I was special to you.”

Chris nodded. Of course, the people of SangC’lune were all very slightly telepathic. There was a background psychic on the planet that they had all absorbed for generations. They had seen, not so much that Carya was special to him, but that he was special to Carya. She still thought of herself as his wife, joined by the rituals of her own people. And the SangC’lune folk saw that and honoured her alongside him.

Could he dishonour her by refusing to accept her?

“Come on then,” he said. “By day a humble weaver of cloth. By Daygone, the consort of a living God.”

He took her by the arm and stepped out of the Great Hall. Two chairs had been set, covered in silks. He took his place and Carya beside him. The simple ceremony to bid farewell to the day and greet the coming of night and the end of the day’s toil got under way. He and Carya had no part to play except as a presence at the ritual. Afterwards, he did his share of blessings upon the people. So did Carya. Even though they had taken her in a month ago as a frightened refugee without a roof over her head or anything more than the borrowed clothes that she wore, they now came to her and asked her blessing as the consort of their god.

And shyly, but with a happy smile on her face, she did what they asked. Anything to please him, Chris realised. Anything except accept that she couldn’t be his wife and that they were not meant to be together.

“Are you sure about that, Chris?” Cól Vaehn asked him telepathically as he divested himself of the headdress and gold robe and put his plain robe back on.

“Sure about what?”

“That you and Carya aren’t meant to be together,” Shone Drader said, coming in on the conversation. “Chris, everyone else seems to see it. Why can’t you? The girl is stuck on you. And you obviously care about her.”

“I care about her safety and her happiness. But I don’t want a wife. I don’t need one. I have no desires of that kind.”

“And that’s my point,” Cól added. “Are you SURE about that?”

“I’m sure,” he insisted. “Come on. I want to reach the temple before midnight.”

He wasn’t annoyed with them. He didn’t get annoyed with his students. He was meant to teach them to be calm of thought and purpose. But he did wish they would stop going on about it.

Carya had changed, too. Her dress was a simple white one that contrasted with her black hair combed out loose down her back. She came to Chris’s side as soon as he emerged from the Great Hall and again slipped her hand into his.

He could have said no. He could have forbidden her from coming with him. He could have been firm, even angry with her. He could have destroyed her simple faith in him with harsh words. He could have brought tears of anguish to those lovely eyes that way.

But he didn’t.

“You will be really bored,” he told her. “I mean it. All the exciting stuff is going to be going on inside our heads. And you’re not telepathic. You can’t share in it. All you’ll see is five of us sitting really still for hours.”

But as long as she could sit still next to him, it seemed as if Carya was happy with the arrangement.

She walked beside him up the hill to the ruined temple. As ever, when he came close to the broken pillars and remnants of walls, his imagination repaired the building and restored it to glory. He imagined stepping into it and seeing the walls lit with flaming torches, the altar stone, the palette where he had slept when he came there that fateful time, and where a gentle woman had lain beside him and made him consider whether his vow of celibacy could be foresworn.

His students vaguely knew there was something special about the stone with the High Gallifreyan markings that Chris stopped and knelt beside. Cól gently but persuasively held Carya back this once. Their leader needed his moment of private reflection.

His students reflected upon the meaning of the inscription on the slab that had lain there for so many thousands of years.

“Here lies the handmaiden of a Lord of Time. She was the passion. He was the flame.”

They had all seen it before. They all speculated on what the word ‘handmaiden’ actually meant in that context, and having quite a bit of worldly knowledge before they joined Chris’s sanctuary they drew certain conclusions. The allusion to flaming passion clinched it.

They all knew, without ever being told, that Chris was the Lord of Time whose handmaiden was immortalised in those words. He had never told them how or why. And they had never questioned how flaming passion ever featured in the life of their celibate and ascetic spiritual leader.

After a quiet minute Chris stood and turned. His eyes were glassy in the light of the flaming torches on long poles that illuminated the sight. But he smiled brightly. He held out his hand and Carya moved as if she was on a tightly wound spring that had been held back until that moment. Again he let her walk with him as he turned and headed towards the entrance to the cavern below the temple.

“We’re going below?” Brón asked. He was remembering the last time they had been down there, fighting the Followers of the Master.

“It is ours,” Chris said. “A place for the Lords of Time to perform their mystic rituals in the rarefied atmosphere of SangC’lune, the blessed planet. We are the new Lords of Time and we will use what is ours. The contamination of evil minds will have long dispersed.”

Thus reassured they followed him down into the tunnel. Carya, at his side, was the only one unnerved by it. She was from a people who worshipped the sun. She had only just become used to sleeping under a wooden roof where she couldn’t see the stars at night. Now she was going into the belly of a hill. In the light of the flickering torches carried by her companions she looked up nervously.

“If you would rather stay above ground…” Chris suggested.

“No,” she assured him. “I will stay with you.”

And that settled it. She was scared. She was experiencing something she scarcely imagined possible in her former life. But she was at the side of the man she loved and she would not be parted from him.

They emerged from the tunnel on the gallery above the great cavern and went single file down to the huge circular floor. There, the last time they were here, the adherents of the Master had been attempting a ghastly ritual that would have brought doom not only to SangC’lune and to Earth, but to many other worlds, too.

This time, they didn’t know what was going to happen. As far as their research had gone, nobody had tried this ritual for something like fifty thousand years – more than a hundred generations of Time Lords. But they knew it would be interesting and instructive.

The floor of the cavern was a natural rock, something like obsidian. It was very hard. Chris’s young Gallifreyans smiled at each other and thought longingly of the silk covered beds they had foregone in order to spend the night in this ritual.

“I have trained you not to heed personal comfort while we are in group meditation,” Chris told them.

“Yes, you did, Chris,” Brón answered him. “But that doesn’t mean soft beds aren’t tempting.”

“Resist the temptation,” he answered them. “Come on, form a circle.”

They knelt in a position he had taught them when they first came to his Sanctuary, with their backs straight and their legs crossed in front of them. Carya sat that way, too. She made herself a part of the circle, sitting beside Chris.

“You won’t be able to sit still in that position for long, sweetheart,” Chris told her. “Not on this surface. It takes practice.”

But that didn’t move her. She maintained the position along with the others as they cleared their minds and began to drop down into deep trance states.

This was a level four trance according to Chris’s personal scale. It was above the level where their bodies went rigid and cold, but deep enough for them to be largely unaware of their physical environment, including how cold and hard the floor was. Their Gallifreyan hearts were slowed down. Their blood circulated slowly. Cramp and stiffness of limbs was not an issue for them. They breathed once every ten minutes or so. Their slowed bloodstream needed no more oxygen than that.

And their minds were free to reach out beyond their physical bodies and create a mental plane where they planned to meet. That was the idea of this experiment.

It was something like the virtual reality created by the Amplified Panatropic Computer Network on Gallifrey. Except that was much bigger, much more complex. The biological imprints of all Time Lords living or dead, stored in an extradimensional framework of trillions of electrochemical cells allowed a world to be created that was almost indistinguishable from reality.

The world they created with their five young Gallifreyan minds wasn’t going to be quite so well developed as that.

But it wasn’t bad, Chris admitted as he looked around the landscape they had created. It was a beach, a somewhat tropical beach, with palm trees growing down to the high water mark and water that was several shades of aquamarine and turquoise. He looked down at the fine white sand and saw his own bare feet. He gave it a little more concentration and he could feel the warmth of the sand. That wasn’t bad at all. This was merely a psychic projection of his own body within the virtual landscape, but he could feel heat, he could feel the texture of the sand between his toes.

He was wearing a pair of shorts and a loose cotton shirt, unbuttoned to the waist. It felt strange not to be wearing a robe.

He looked up at the sky. Of his students, all of Gallifreyan descent, only Darryl had ever seen Gallifrey, and then only when she was a child. To them, skies were blue – or sometimes grey. They imagined a blue sky and a yellow sun that was starting to drop towards the horizon. It would be sunset in a few hours. He wondered what kind of stars they might conjure when darkness fell.

He was also wondering where the rest of his friends were. The plan was for them all to try to appear in their created world.

“Change of plans, Chris,” said a voice he recognised as Brón’s internal telepathic voice. It was distinctive because he always spoke in Gallifreyan telepathically, but English when he spoke orally. The others all used English in both forms of communication.

“What do you mean, change of plans?” he demanded.

“We’re going to concentrate on maintaining this little piece of paradise, and you’re going to enjoy it, along with a little bit of company.”

“What company?” Chris asked. Then he felt a soft hand touch his. He looked around and saw Carya standing beside him, also barefoot, and clothed in a bikini top and sarong.

“How can you be here?” he asked. “You’re not telepathic.”

“She’s been living on SangC’lune for a month,” Brón told him. “She’s absorbed enough of the background psychic for us to help her project into the reality.”

“And what do you lot expect us to do?”

“Do we need to draw you a diagram?” Shone’s telepathic voice was giggly as she cut in. “Chris, she was married to you, even if you didn’t think so. She’s kept the flame burning for you. It’s time you accepted it. And it’s well past time you had a honeymoon.”

“No!” he protested. “No, stop it now. That’s not what this experiment was about. What do you think the old Time Lords of Gallifrey would say? Using one of their rituals for… for…”

“We’re not going to break the ritual until morning,” Darryl said. “So make the most of it, Chris. We’re not going to look, or listen. But you’re there with a beautiful girl who adores you. Stop worrying about everything else and enjoy yourself.”

He felt their voices fading away. He knew they were telling him the truth. None of them would be watching. He was alone with her.

She was real. At least as real as he was, anyway. In truth, both of them were kneeling silently in the great cavern. But their minds were here on this beach together.

“All right,” he conceded. “Let’s go for a walk.”

He held her hand as they walked along the beautiful beach. At first they didn’t talk. And it was Carya who opened the conversation.

“It’s because you still love that other woman… the one whose grave you knelt by.”

“No,” Chris answered. “No, it isn’t that. I don’t think… I…” He looked at the girl by his side. She was different physically from Firinne. But they were the same in another way. Their sweet devotion to him.

“Firrine would smile on you,” he admitted. “She would think you quite suitable for me.”

“But you don’t,” she added. “Chris, I loved you from the first moment I saw you, when you came to my village. I felt that you were as good inside your soul as you were beautiful to behold. My only fear was that my father would not give me to you. When he did… I was overjoyed. But… but you… did not understand that I loved you. And then… then… But you saved my life… you protected me… and you took me away with you… into the sky… like a god.”

“I’m not a god, Carya,” he told her. “I am really not. If I were, I would be even less able to love you in the way you want me to love you.”

“Why did you leave me on this world, Chris?” she asked. “Was it to test if my love was true? If so, what more must I do to prove it? Please, please do not reject me again. I think I would rather die than live without you.”

“Don’t say that. I don’t want you to die. I care about you. I truly do.”

He stopped walking and turned to her. The sun was dropping lower in the sky. It was a very fast afternoon rapidly turning to evening. In the slanted rays her dusky skin seemed an even deeper hue, and he was struck yet again by her beauty. But he had seen beautiful women before without being moved by them. She distracted him, certainly. He noticed her. If he closed his eyes he knew he would be able to picture every aspect of her face.

He closed his eyes. And, yes, he could see her face. He could feel her presence.

He opened his eyes and reached out to her. He vaguely remembered that none of it was real and that when he touched her, it was just an illusion of touch. But he stopped caring about that as he held her in his arms.

“My friends are making this illusion very good,” he said. “This feels so nice.”

“You are beautiful, my Chris,” she replied, pressing her body even closer than it was already.

“I think I am supposed to say that to you,” he answered. “Because you most certainly ARE beautiful, Carya. And I….”

He caught his breath. His virtual reality breath. He pressed her close to him again, her head resting on his shoulder. His mind was reeling. He felt as if he wanted to let go, to give in to the emotions crowding into him. But something still held him back. Part of it was his own inner voice telling him that he would be a failure if he broke his vow of chastity.

But that voice was getting more and more difficult to hear, and the reasons why he ought to listen to it seemed harder to grasp.

“Let’s walk a little more. The sun is setting fast. We should see if my friends considered the possibility of shelter.”

The sun set splendidly, colouring the sky the burnt orange of the Gallifreyan sky. But when it did, it got cold very quickly. And neither of them were wearing very much.

“Well, I don’t think my friends intended for us to freeze to death in this virtual world. We are bound to find shelter, soon.”

“What’s that, ahead?” Carya spotted it before Chris did. There was a glow of a camp fire and a dark bulk of something behind it. They hurried towards it. Chris laughed when he saw it. The fire was burning very nicely, and there was a pile of nicely dried driftwood to stoke it with. The dark bulk turned out to be a rough shelter made of brushwood and palm leaves. Inside was a low palette made of more flotsam and jetsam and beside it a bottle of wine and a basket of what proved to be bread, cheese and fruit.

“I think this is our honeymoon suite,” Chris sighed. “They’ve really set us up. Well, a picnic by a warm camp fire under some very impressive stars isn’t a bad idea. Are you hungry?”

“A little,” Carya replied. She sat by the fire as Chris brought the food and wine. They drank and ate. Chris looked closer at the stars. They didn’t seem to correspond to any constellations he recognised.

“They are the stars that shine on my home world,” Carya said with a catch in her voice. “I never thought to see them again.”

“Either my friends were very observant when we were there, or they have used the memory from your mind. But if you want to see those stars, we can do this again. The ritual is complicated, but not arduous. I am sure we can recreate your sky if you want.”

“I don’t care what stars are over me as long as I am with you,” she replied. “Chris…”

“Don’t say anything,” he told her. “I’ve been coerced into this. First your father and his rituals, now my own students conspiring against me. But… but I think… maybe…”

He didn’t say anything else for a long time. It wasn’t the first time he had kissed her. But it was the first time he had done so for no other reason than that he wanted to kiss her.

“Carya,” he said when he remembered that she came from a race that didn’t have the ability to recycle their breathing. “I… I think I do love you. And… I want you… to… I want…”

He glanced at the bed within the shelter. It was wide enough for two to sleep comfortably, or to engage in any other activity that went on in a bed.

But it wasn’t a real bed, and neither of them were really there. He had forgotten that several times in the past hour. He remembered it, now.

If he brought Carya to this bed, in this unreal world, and consummated their ‘marriage’, would it still be binding upon them when their minds returned to their bodies in the cavern where they were both kneeling in silent meditation?

He stood and piled more wood on the fire, then he reached out his hand to her. He brought her to the bed.

“My wife,” he whispered as he kissed her again and reached to loosen the scraps of clothing that she wore. She gasped happily, if nervously, and trembled in anticipation of what was to come.

He trembled, too, as he embarked upon a turning point in his life as significant as the day he transcended.

But one that was far less painful, and far more pleasurable.

Afterwards, he gathered her in his arms and held her close. His double hearts slowed to their normal syncopated rhythm as his body cooled.

But his mind was running ahead.

“When I leave SangC’lune this time…” He felt her catch her breath. “No, my love. This time you’re coming with me. To Earth. It will be a bit of a shock to you, I’m afraid. It’s very different from your home or from SangC’lune. But we’ll live in my Sanctuary most of the time. It’s peaceful there. I’ll show you London when you’re ready. You’ll meet my brother, though. And my little sister. She’ll be so excited. Mum and dad….”

He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to his parents about this. Of course, he was old enough to take a wife without anyone’s permission. But it was going to be a bit of a shock to them.

“I just want to be with you, Chris,” she told him.

“You will be,” he answered.

A stray thought crept into his mind, reminding him that he had made plans like this before, with Firinne. He had dreamt of a life with her by his side, working with him in the Sanctuary, learning and growing together.

And that dream had been ripped apart.

Chris did something he rarely did. He had learnt that he could do it when he was very young, before he even fully understood his mental powers. And what he saw so often frightened him that he stopped doing it.

But he wanted to be sure his hearts wouldn’t be broken again.

So he reached and held her hand between both of his and closed his eyes. He found her timeline. It was slightly fractured because she had travelled in the time vortex when he brought her to SangC’lune.

But he saw enough to be sure that history would not repeat itself so cruelly.

“You’ll love living on Earth,” he told her. She murmured a drowsy reply. He kissed her cheek and watched her fall into a blissful and satisfied sleep before he closed his own eyes, wondering if going to sleep in a virtual reality, when he was already in a deep meditation, was even possible. Perhaps it was virtual sleep to follow his virtual lovemaking.

But he slept, anyway.

It was near dawn in the virtual world when Carya woke and sighed happily to feel Chris’s arms around her. He was her husband, now. She, too, knew that this was not the real consummation she still waited upon, but it had felt real enough. It still did.

Then she heard something that she never expected to hear in the peaceful place that they were in. Somebody was calling for help. She turned and looked at Chris. He would help anyone who needed him, of course. But he was sleeping. She kissed his cheek and slid from the bed, wrapping the shirt he wore last night around her slender body as she stepped onto the beach.

The voice was louder now. It was in very great distress. She looked around in the pale morning light. Then she began to run towards the incoming tide.

There were two people there, some dozen yards out in the water. They were clinging to a piece of wood and being pushed first closer to the beach, then swept back again as the tide receded. They were obviously too weak to help themselves.

Carya had never seen an ocean before. She had never learned to swim. But she didn’t think about that as she ran into the water. She was engulfed almost immediately by a wave, but kept to her feet and pressed forward towards the two stricken people.

The next wave did knock her off her feet. She closed her eyes and mouth and held her breath as she struggled upright, and as she did so, she felt something hard by her shoulder. She grabbed at the piece of wood and then grasped the boy who was clinging to it. He wrapped his arms around her neck in his panic. She reached out and grabbed the hand of the girl and turned to move back towards the shore. The water was up to her shoulders even when it was receding, and twice more she and the two victims were engulfed by incoming waves. But the force of the tide pushed her a little closer to the dry land. She found her footing again in the sand and the water was only waist height. She managed to get the girl to stand up in it and urged her forward as she held on desperately to the boy.

They were almost there when another powerful wave pushed the abandoned chunk of driftwood towards them. Carya cried out as it struck her on the head. It stunned her and left her feeling dizzy and sick, and for a moment she wasn’t even sure which way she was trying to go. Then she redoubled her effort and struggled through the tide until she reached the shallows. The girl ran ahead onto the soft dry sand. The boy let go of her and stumbled onto the wet sand that the tide was starting to claim.

Carya sank to her knees. Her vision was blurred and she felt as if the ocean was screaming in her ears. She was fighting to stay conscious.

Then a pair of arms were reaching for her. Chris lifted her from the water, holding her close to his chest. She managed to say his name before everything went black.

She woke in darkness, lit by flickering torchlight. She was puzzled at first before she realised she was in the cavern underground. The unreal world of the beach and the sea, and the shelter where she had lain with Chris through the night was gone now.

But Chris wasn’t. He was sitting on the obsidian floor, holding her in his arms. She reached out and touched his face and he smiled at her.

“It doesn’t hurt now,” she said.

“When you fell unconscious in the virtual world I brought you back,” he told her. “I mended the wound with my sonic screwdriver. I am so glad you’re all right. When I saw you were gone from my side I was so worried. Then I saw you in the water… My dear, you were so brave.”

“Where are they?” she asked. “The boy and girl… are they…”

“They are quite all right,” Chris answered. “Look.”

He turned with her in his arms. She gasped as she saw two figures standing nearby. They were the boy and girl she had rescued. But they were strange, almost see through, and shining with a blue-green light that came from within them.

“They are îngeras?” she asked. Chris wondered why the word she knew for ‘angels’ didn’t translate, but it was a pretty good description of the beings that had come out of the virtual reality with them.

“They are called malokhim,” Chris said. “They are appearing now in the form that you saw them so that you can understand that they are alive and well. You did save their lives, Carya. But their true form is as pure energy. They move through the universe, indeed, through dimensions between universes, for the same reason I do – to learn and to meet new beings and be enriched by those meetings. They came to SangC’lune, attracted by the natural background psyche. But they were accidentally caught up in our experiment. In the virtual world they took on humanoid form, but they were caught up in the sea, and they would have died if you hadn’t helped them. When they take on a corporeal form they are subject to the weaknesses of that form. They were drowning. But you, my dear, saved them. And they want to thank you.”

The malokhim moved closer. Chris held Carya in his arms as the entities became much brighter and their light shone upon both their faces. They gradually lost those humanoid forms and became more like two very bright lights. Then they rose up towards the roof of the cavern, and melted into it as if it was as insubstantial as they were. Tons of rock and earth were no barrier to beings like them.

“That was a blessing on the both of us,” Chris said when they were again in the flickering half dark. “The malokhim think you and I are meant to be together, too. I think I know when to take a hint. Come on, sweetheart.”

He stood, drawing her up with him. They walked up the steps to the gallery. Chris turned and snapped his fingers and the torches in the cavern went out. As they walked along the tunnel to the open air the torches went out behind them until they emerged into a bright SangC’lune morning.

Carya gasped in surprise as she looked at the tent of silk satin cloth that had been erected a short walk from the temple. She looked at Chris for explanations.

“The villagers did it, instigated by my conspiratorial friends. “It’s… for us. It’s… so that we can continue for real what we began in the virtual world.”

“Oh.” Chris smiled as she blushed, deepening the colour of her cheeks delightfully. “Then…”

“Like I said, I can take a hint,” Chris said as he brought her to the tent and found the preparations much as they were in the virtual reality. A low bed covered in more silk and satin and soft pillows was the centrepiece. There was a basket of food for their breakfast and a cool flagon of goats milk as well as wine for later.

They ate some breakfast, then they lay down together on the bed. Chris reached and kissed her tenderly.

“In my culture, a wedding lasts for twelve hours and we make lots of solemn and binding and utterly irreversible vows,” he said. “It’s a huge, important day for everyone. But we’ve already gone beyond that point. You’re my wife, Carya. I accept that. And I love you. If I ever doubted it before, waking to find you gone from my side… I felt so bereft. And when I saw you in the water… when I thought you might be killed… as my poor Firinne was… my hearts almost broke. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you, too. I love you, Carya. I will love you for all your life long.”

She said nothing. She closed her arms around his neck and surrendered to his kisses and the passion of a man and a woman that came with the kisses. They had both experienced it before in the virtual world. But this time it was real.

This time Chris really did give up his ideas about celibacy. And there was no voice in his head to tell him he shouldn’t.

“So…” Susan smiled at her son. “You’ve spent the past fortnight on your honeymoon… on SangC’lune!”

“Yes,” Chris answered. “The villagers brought us food and goats milk and lots of wine every day and left us to our own devices. My students carried on with their rituals without me, and did very well in them, in fact. And we…” He looked at Carya and smiled warmly. “We lived in a universe of our own with just two people in it. And it was wonderful. But… sooner or later I knew I would have to come home and face the music. I’m sorry to spring this on you, mum. And I don’t know what dad will say. This is not exactly what either you would have expected…”

“Your brother is going to have the huge Gallifreyan wedding when he marries Brenda next year,” Susan said. “We can forgive you for cutting a few corners. And your father will be as happy for you as I am. But you’d better let me explain it to him.”

Chris happily agreed with that idea.