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

Davie looked at his brother and grinned. They both looked at the monitor showing the view outside the Chinese TARDIS. It was a teenager’s bedroom. The teenager in question, a boy of seventeen, had been sitting at his desk working at his computer, but now he turned and stared at the extra door that had just materialised in his room.

“He probably thinks we’re going to punish him for something,” Chris said with a laugh. “Shall we break it to him gently?”

“I’m tempted to let him stew for a while. He is a bit too cocksure of himself. Do him good to have a bit of a scare.”

“He’s no worse than we were at his age,” Chris reminded him. “It’s not that long ago, either. At least it isn’t for me!” He smiled at his brother and noted that his excursions to the twenty first century to indulge his passion for motor-racing were still stretching his actual age. Born minutes apart, Davie was now his older brother by nearly six years.

“Yeah, but we didn’t have us keeping an eye on us,” Davie replied. He reached for the door control and the two of them stepped out into the bedroom. He was in his usual black ensemble with leather jacket. Chris was in white slacks and t-shirt with his silver medallion over it. They looked like a pair of trendy angels offering the teenager the choice of the dark side or the light.

Earl Gregory stood up straight as the two young Time Lords approached him, trying to look innocent of what he thought they might be accusing him of.

“Look,” he said. “I haven’t broken any of the rules. I’ve been emailing Sukie, but we’ve only talked about school projects and car engines. That’s all. There’s been nothing untoward going on.”

“We know that,” Chris said.

“We monitor all Sukie’s emails,” Davie added. “You’ve been behaving fine. That’s why you’re invited to visit the twenty-third century for Christmas.”


“You’re staying at my Sanctuary,” Chris added. “You can sleep in Davie’s old room. That way I can keep an eye on you. But you’re invited to the family dinner up at the main house. Sukie is looking forward to seeing you. We’re meeting the girls for a spot of Christmas shopping on the way.”

“Christmas. But…” He glanced towards his bedroom window. In the park that stretched into the valley below his house the trees were full of spring blossoms. “But… I mean… how come… I don’t…”

“Sukie reckons you’re a smart young man,” Davie said. “Is it just around us that you turn into a stuttering wreck who can’t string a sentence together?”

“You’re…” Earl swallowed hard and then tried again. “I mean… yes…. You’re… you’re… Anyway, I can’t go anywhere. I’m supposed to be doing my homework. My parents will be back in an hour…”

“Earl,” Chris said gently. “We’re Time Lords, remember. We can get you back here in plenty of time to finish your homework. Now, do you want to spend Christmas with the First Family of Time Lord society or not?”

Earl made his mind up. He grabbed his coat and what in the twenty-third century Chris and Davie would both have taken for a girl’s shoulder bag. In the twenty-sixth century a small leather bag worn with a long strap across the chest was a unisex accessory and Earl didn’t go anywhere without his. It contained his mini laptop and his sonic screwdriver, the essential tools of a Time Lord candidate.

“This is the same TARDIS I was in once before, isn’t it?” Earl said as he looked around the console room. “In the park. Only you two were younger, then. And it was disguised as a portaloo.”

Earl giggled at that part of his first encounter with Sukie’s older brothers. Davie shot him a look that stifled the giggle then invited him to take control of the helmic regulator. It was a minor job and a dull one, but Earl took to it enthusiastically.

“Are you learning to pilot a TARDIS?” Davie asked him. “You’ll be transcending when you’re eighteen, won’t you?”

“Yes, I’m learning,” he answered. “But my dad doesn’t want me to have a TARDIS until I’m twenty-five. He says I can have a time car for my birthday, though. The one I want has a chameleon cloak, so I can use it to explore my home town through the ages. There’s loads of really interesting history around there.”

“Sounds a very worthwhile project,” Chris told him. “As long as you remember the rules about historical interaction. Davie and I don’t want to spend all our time undoing temporal anomalies caused by you.”

“I won’t,” Earl promised sincerely. “The car I’m getting is one of your designs,” he added to Davie. “The time circuits are built into a twenty-first century ground car. It’s really cool.”

“As long as it’s not a DeLorean,” Davie responded.

“No, a Toyota Prius.”

“Sounds about right. Ok, next stop Christmas Station.”

“What? No kidding. I haven’t been there since I was twelve,” Earl enthused. “I used to love it when I was a kid.”

“So did we,” Davie admitted with a smile. “Granddad used to take us for a treat. Sukie likes it too, although she tries to kid us she’s too old for it now. She said she was just going along for the shopping.”

“She is, too,” Chris added dryly. “Sukie and Brenda are introducing my wife to the joys of credit card purchasing. At Davie’s expense.”

The teenage Time Lord candidate clearly shared the older men’s view of the subject of women and shopping.

“Well, when they’re done, maybe we can do some other stuff,” Earl suggested. “The toboggan run is the best fun, ever.”

Davie smiled. He had suggested a go on that ride earlier but Sukie had complained that it was for kids. He was willing to bet she would change her mind when Earl suggested it.

It was obvious why a thirteen year old who was trying very hard to be sophisticated and grown up would find Christmas Station too childish for her. It was, after all, the biggest Christmas grotto in the Human colonies of the 26th century. The space station was a mile wide and employed five thousand people with the sole purpose of celebrating the Human custom of Christmas in every possible way.

At least a quarter square mile of the Station included the biggest toy shop in the known galaxy. Then there was the biggest collection of Christmas lights, for indoor, outdoor and space vacuum display, as well as all the other fripperies that went with that sort of Christmas celebration.

Commercial profit was the overriding motive for the existence of the Station. There was no hope of denying that. Apart from the shopping there were all sorts of attractions, from the Santa grotto to the several animatronic nativity tableaux, pantomimes and carol concerts in the three theatres and ‘free’ entertainment in all of the food courts and malls.

A whole floor, the top one, with a glass exo-dome over it, was given over to the Christmas tree forest. Tens of thousands of trees were grown in artificial soil, under special lights that replicated natural sunlight. Visitors could enjoy wandering through the forest, discovering glades and grottoes with Christmas themes and picnic in the designated areas with real grass beneath their feet before buying the tree of their choice.

The winter sports area was beneath the shopping level and its ceiling was designed to accumulate water molecules and turn them into snow. It fell at carefully timed intervals, adding the last touch of romance to the sleigh rides for two and coating the ski slopes and toboggan runs with fresh, untouched white.

“Our girls will be in the gift wrapping department,” Davie said as he paid to park his ‘personal runabout’ in the hangar bay. His TARDIS had disguised itself as a small shuttle craft in a striking black livery with his fiery ying yang symbol on the side. He stepped towards the transmat pad and selected the section of the huge station he wanted to travel to. Chris stood back and watched as he disappeared in a shimmer made unnecessarily showy with twinkling Christmas light effects.

“You can transmat with me,” Chris told Earl. “Davie and I try not to if we can help it. Our DNA is too similar. We once spent an afternoon on this Station with our minds transplanted into each other’s heads. The management were very apologetic. They gave us free meals. But we didn’t trust them to sort it out for us. We did it ourselves in the TARDIS.”

Earl looked at him as if he wasn’t sure that was for real or a joke to wind him up before using the transmat. But he was a child of the 26th century. Such things were commonplace. The only reason he didn’t transmat to school and back every day was that his father was a traditionalist who made him go out in the fresh air on his bicycle.

In any case, their trip to the gift wrapping section was uneventful. They met up with Davie again. His fiancée was holding his hand and smiling the smile of a woman who had delved deep into her future husband’s credit. The dark haired woman beside her nearly blurred as she ran to hug Chris. Sukie looked as if she might do the same to Earl, but an attack of nerves at the last moment meant that she just went up to him and shook hands shyly.

But she kept hold of his hand afterwards, and her older brothers said nothing about that as they headed towards the food court, past the live action nativity that Davie liked a lot better than the mechanical ones, although he did wonder about the wisdom of keeping a small baby and all those animals in the same place for hours on end.

“It’s probably a lot more hygienic stable than the original one,” Chris pointed out. “We’ve had two and a half millennia of sanitizing the Christmas story. That Holy Family is way too well dressed for a pair of working class people who’ve been travelling by donkey for days.”

“I always wanted to check out if it really was like that,” Earl said. “My dad said we weren’t allowed.”

“I asked The Doctor when I was little,” Davie answered. “He refused, too. He said that was a definite fixed point in time and nobody was to interfere with it, especially not just so they could point out the historical inaccuracies in the works of the Renaissance Masters.”

Sukie and Brenda laughed. Carya was still learning about Christmas and didn’t quite understand the joke.

“In any case, he DID go there once,” Davie added. “When he was a young Time Lord. He went and had a look. He said his TARDIS was observed as a new star moving towards the East…”

“It never was!” Sukie was scandalised. “He didn’t….”

“No,” Davie assured her. “That bit I AM making up. He used a perception filter and kept well out of the way. He does reckon that the Christmas star mentioned in the Human bible is the Kasterborus system going supernova retrospectively, though.”

“My dad told me that story,” Earl added. “Everyone knows it in our community. All the Time Lords born on Earth remember Gallifrey when they celebrate Christmas. It’s kind of a sad, melancholy time in the middle of the fun.”

“So it should be,” Chris said. “We should always remember where we came from. We’re an exiled people who have our own proud heritage as well as the one we celebrate with our Human kin.”

Apart from his wife and his brother’s fiancée, their party consisted of the descendents of exiles from Gallifrey. Earl’s grandfather was one of the survivors from Karn who they had rescued from Sontaran slavery and relocated to Earth. They had all learnt to remember the lost Homeworld and respect its heritage. When they did so, whether in a group or alone, it was always a solemn moment.

Then Chris smiled widely and winked at his teenage sister.

“But we’re still allowed to be happy at Christmas. Who’s hungry for a turkey and cranberry sub with mince pies and cream for dessert?”

“What I don’t understand,” Carya said as she carefully ate the huge sandwich that was put in front of her, filled with turkey meat, sage and onion stuffing, lettuce, tomatoes and cranberry sauce. “Christmas… is one day a year… just like the winter dark festival we have on my world. But… this place… it is here all the time. As if Christmas was every day.”

“Not exactly every day,” Chris explained to her. “But preparations for Christmas are ongoing in at least one Human colony at just about any time.”

Carya didn’t understand. Davie reached for a card that was with the food menu. It was an interactive calendar giving the months of the year on planet Earth, the homeworld of the Human race whose genius Christmas Station was. He pressed his thumb against December and was informed that it was four shopping days to Christmas Day on planet Earth and the colony planets of the Callista system. He pressed January and was informed that it was thirty-five shopping days to Christmas Day on the colony planets of Orion Beta. March on Earth was December on the Beta Deltan planets and therefore there were ninety eight days to prepare for the celebrations there.

“This Station orbits the planet Sedna in the Twenty-Sixth century, when Humans have colonised something like thirty different planetary systems within the Milky Way galaxy. They tend to pick planets with an orbit similar to Earth and have calendars with twelve months in the year. They also tend to make December the mid-winter in the northern hemisphere and celebrate Christmas there. Humans are creatures of habit. They travel across the galaxy and then try to make their new planets feel like Earth. There’s something very endearing about that. But the point is, each of these planets will have a different axis of orbit. Winter will be at a different time relative to winter on Earth. So Christmas is different times in the different colonies. And Christmas Station makes huge profits all year around based on that fact.”

Carya still looked a little puzzled. It was still new and a bit bewildering to her to discover that there were so many other planets in the galaxy, and so many of them with people living on them. She had only seen two of those planets – the peaceful and lovely SangC’lune and Earth. Of that, mostly she had seen London, which was beyond all her wildest imaginations. The people, the buildings, the sounds and smells of London still amazed her every time she left the confines of the aptly named Sanctuary.

And Christmas Station was far too busy for her. It was like the centre of London but ten times worse.

“I think you and I should have an afternoon in the Christmas tree forest,” Chris said to her. “It’s quiet there, and you can look at the stars through the dome.”

“Well, I want to go to the winter sports floor,” Sukie decided quickly. “The Toboggan Run is so much fun. And we could go for a sleigh ride…”

Davie exchanged meaningful glances with his brother. Earl looked at them both warily.

“Oh, let the kids have a bit of time together,” Brenda said. “The whole area is supervised anyway. They won’t come to any harm. I want to go to the carol concert and Fête des Lumières display on the mezzanine level.”

“You mean you’ve FINISHED shopping?” Davie asked with a hint of censure tempered by humour.

“No,” she answered. “But we’re staying for tonight’s pantomime anyway, so there’s a couple of hours in the evening. Don’t forget, there’s no closing time for shops on Christmas Station.” She paused and smiled winningly at him. “I saw some beautiful tablecloths in the household department. Irish linen and Welsh lace…”

“I’m Scottish,” Davie pointed out. “Why would I be interested in tablecloths, anyway?”

“We’re getting married in four months time.” Brenda reminded him. “We still have to get loads of stuff for the apartment.”

“My wife never talks about table linen,” Chris told his brother telepathically.

“I’m starting to realise why Granddad never wanted to go ‘domestic’,” Davie replied. But he didn’t really mind. Brenda could spend as much money as she liked making their future home look the way she wanted it to look. He would prefer not to talk about it for more than three minutes at a time, but it was all right, otherwise.

After lunch, then, three couples went their separate ways. Chris and Davie watched as Sukie clasped Earl’s hand and headed towards the transmat station.

“I think I’ll take the lift this time,” Davie said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep using those things.”

“There’s a very nice scenic escalator up to the forest,” Chris agreed. “See you later, then, brother of mine.”

They parted happily. Davie held Brenda’s arm as they headed towards the row of turbo lifts and pushed the button for the mezzanine level.

They stepped out into a riot of colour. The Fête des Lumières display paid homage to the traditional light shows from the city of Lyon in France. Animated illuminations were projected off the walls and ceiling and holograms filled the air itself. Walking through a giant, multicoloured ornamental fountain of light while a brass band played Christmas songs was a pleasant if surreql experience.

“I should take you to Lyon to see the real festival of lights,” Davie said to Brenda as they watched a light tableaux telling the Christmas story played out on the exo-glass observation window. “I hear the atmosphere is absolutely wonderful. The early twenty-first century is best. We could travel around the city by a horse drawn landau.”

“Sounds lovely,” Brenda agreed. “You really are a romantic at heart, aren’t you, Davie Campbell. You pretend to be interested in nothing but engines and cars and things. But you’re a sweet romantic, after all.”

“Of course I am,” he responded. “How could I not be? Ever since I took a walk by a lakeside and saw a beautiful girl doing calisthenics barefoot in the grass.”

Brenda laughed softly as she remembered that morning. It wasn’t exactly the first time they had set eyes on each other. But it was the first time they had been alone.

“I knew, then, when I saw you on that lawn. I wanted to be with you forever.”

“I hoped,” Brenda told him. “I liked talking to you. And I really hoped. But I hardly dared to think it. You… the blood kin of a great Lord of Time… I didn’t think you would look at me twice.”

“Oh, I did. More than twice.”

He took her by the hand to the exo-glass window and they were bathed in the multi-coloured, animated lights as they looked out on the small, cold planet of Sedna that looked quite plain and quiet compared to the bright, bustling space station. But Davie wasn’t really interested in the planet. He turned and drew Brenda into his arms and kissed her lovingly. He recalled that she had run away in panic the first time he tried to kiss her. Now she pressed closer to him and savoured the feel of his lips on hers.

“Do you think Chris is doing the same with Carya?” Brenda whispered.

“Very likely,” Davie answered. “Although I can’t tell. There are psychic suppressants between the floors. It’s an anti-theft mechanism, to prevent telepathic shoplifters or something. But it means we’re cut off from each other.”

“That means you can’t check on Sukie and Earl, though.”

“I’ll have to trust his honour as a Time Lord candidate,” Davie answered. “Never mind. We’ve got hours till we meet up again. And it’s nice here.”

Chris thought it was nice in the forest with Carya, too. And for precisely the same reason.

“I never thought I’d be doing this,” he said as he lay on the grass in a pleasant, quiet glade, surrounded by Christmas trees and looking up into the starfield beyond the exo-glass. His arm enfolded Carya’s shoulders and when he turned his head he could kiss her easily. Carya just smiled. She had liked shopping with Sukie and Brenda. She was getting used to chatting with the girls. But the times she treasured were the quiet ones when it was just her and Chris.

Chris still found it amazing that he was a married man with a beautiful young wife who adored him. He woke sometimes in the night with her sleeping in his arms and wondered if it was real. He would press her close to him and sigh with happiness and try to remember why he thought he couldn’t let himself enjoy such a simple physical pleasure.

Carya turned slightly so that his arm could curl closer around her shoulders and her head rested on his chest. She could hear his two hearts beating in syncopation and it was a sound that pleased her.

Sukie enjoyed the toboggan run ride. The toboggans were made for two sitting one in front of the other, and it meant that she sat in Earl’s lap while he put his arms around her waist. When the ride began to haul up the first incline ready to hurl up and down the snow covered slopes she was pressed back against him, and when they were thrust forward by the downward motion of the white knuckle ride he held her tightly in just the right way.

She didn’t feel like going skiing or snowboarding, though. After the toboggan ride was over she had only one thought in mind.

“Sleigh ride, just the thing to calm down after that excitement,” she said.

“Will your brothers mind?” Earl asked. “It’s sort of… you know… intimate.”

“There’s a driver,” Sukie pointed out. “It’s not as if we’ll be on our own.”

Earl smiled and helped her up into the beautifully built wooden sleigh with rich strings of jingling bells. He wrapped the warm rug around them both and his arm slipped around her shoulders automatically. The driver sat up front and the two piebald ponies walked on. The bells jingled as the sleigh cut through the snow smoothly. Sukie sat back against Earl’s arm and sighed happily. This was the sort of thing a girl of thirteen dreamt about. The only thing that could make it more perfect would be if Earl dared to kiss her. She glanced around at him and wondered if he would. Chris and Davie had made a lot of rules about what he was allowed to do. And if he broke them, they wouldn’t let him visit again. So he probably wouldn’t try to kiss her.

And the more she thought about it, she wasn’t sure she wanted him to. Not yet. One day, definitely, yes. She liked Earl a lot. She wanted him to be a real boyfriend when she was old enough. But she wasn’t sure she was quite old enough. Not yet. Maybe next Christmas, when she would be fourteen. Then she would be ready.

But being beside him like this, the promise of the future, the expectation of the present, was enough.

“Davie…” Brenda looked around as their personal space was encroached upon by moving figures beyond the dancing lights. “That’s not… those aren’t the same musicians as before. They’re….”

There was a tone in her voice that immediately put him on alert. Davie swung her around so that his own body was in front of hers and faced the curious looking characters that were closing in on them. They were dressed like the brass band they had seen before – in red Santa suits with hoods and beards. But the parts of the faces that he could see between hood and beard were not Human. They looked like moulded plastic with rivets down the centre of the forehead and the bridge of the nose where the sections were put together.

And they were holding their musical instruments in a threatening way, as if they were weapons.

“Down!” he yelled, pulling Brenda to the ground and covering her as he reached for his sonic screwdriver. He aimed it at the tuba player and its head exploded in a shower of sparks. He managed to get the trombone player, too. But the two trumpeters opened fire in the split second it took him to take aim again. He rolled, pulling Brenda along with him and again covering her with his own body. The ball of fire that came from the two trumpets missed them, but the exo-glass window cracked alarmingly. He disabled one of the trumpeters and again rolled out of the way. He took the head off the last of the strange robotic beings but not before it fired again. He felt the glass shatter and clung frantically to Brenda as the air began to vent through the gaping hole. He heard people screaming as they ran for the bulkhead doors only to find them slamming down fast to protect the rest of the station. They had been screaming already, of course, as the robot Santas started their attack. But now they were screaming because a space station with a hull breach was a terrifying way to die.

And he and Brenda might have been the first to be sucked through into the vacuum of space if one of the robot Santa bodies hadn’t been dragged towards the breach. It was just slightly bigger than the hole, and the long red coat billowed. For a few seconds it caused enough of a blockage to allow Davie to stand up and fold time as he launched himself towards the emergency panel.

“Raise shields,” he yelled into the voice activated panel. “Raise shields. Equalise the pressure.”

The robot Santa was sucked out, but a moment later he saw the shimmer as the shield activated. The air pressure equalised and Brenda slowly stood up and looked around.

“What… the hell… were they?” she asked breathlessly. “And… why did they try to kill us?”

Davie thought those were two very pertinent questions and he wanted to know the answers.

Chris sat up, disturbed by a noise in amongst the trees. Of course, what he and Carya had been doing wasn’t against any rules. In fact, they had skirted around places where other couples were doing the same thing. The quiet and the subdued lighting of the forest was a positive draw for the romantically inclined. But there was something that worried him.

And it was coming closer.

“It sounds…” Carya was at a loss to describe what it sounded like.

“It sounds like a chainsaw,” Chris noted as he stood up and lifted Carya to her feet with him. “But why would there be a chainsaw…”

Of course there would be chainsaws in the forest. The trees were regularly cut and sold for Christmas trees all over the galaxy. But this didn’t sound like the regular kind of tree management. It sounded like something was destroying the trees. The whirring of blades slicing through wood was accompanied by crashing of falling branches that were, themselves, sliced into as the machine came closer.

Chris looked around. He wondered what was the safest thing to do. Should they stay in the open, here in the glade, or run away into the trees. If they ran, he wasn’t sure he knew which direction to go. The sound was so close now it filled the air and made it impossible to judge.

Then Carya screamed as the thing burst through into the clearing, driving broken pieces of tree before it. Chris stared at it in amazement.

It was a Christmas Tree. An artificial Christmas Tree, with the branches too uniform and too brightly green to pass for real in any light. It was spinning rapidly, and its branches cut whatever it touched just like a saw.

He looked down, half expecting legs or wheels. It hovered a few inches from the ground but he couldn’t see what could be propelling it, or why. It couldn’t possibly be sentient. It had to be some sort of robotic tool gone rogue.

“Chris!” Carya tugged at his arm urgently as the maverick tree came towards them. As he turned and ran it occurred to him that it had altered its path and headed directly at them. Sentient it was not. But it had some kind of sensor and it had targeted him and Carya.

He ran. He had no weapon that could possibly stop a Christmas tree that had ripped a path through the forest to reach him. He clutched at Carya’s hand tightly as he hurled himself down a path between the trees. He vaguely knew it came back to the transmat port eventually. But he wasn’t wholly confident of reaching the port without being caught in the deadly branches of the killer tree. It was definitely following them. He could hear it cannibalising trees and branches that stood in its way, widening the path behind them.

“This way,” he said as he recognised one part of the forest at least. They had passed several little grottoes with Christmas scenes in them. Some had been gaudy things involving Santa and his reindeer and fibre-glass models of children hanging up their stockings. But there had also been some rather nice reminders of the much older Christmas story. At one point they had come across a sculpture of the Holy Family on their donkey heading towards Bethlehem, and elsewhere a full size nativity scene with soft lights and gentle music.

And what Chris had thought was the best effort of them all, was a three-dimensional reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks, with the sculpted and painted figures placed inside a cave – it was a man made cave, obviously. But what struck him when they looked at it earlier was that it really was made of solid rock, not cement or fiber glass or painted wood. The statues were carved from hard-wearing granite. A small information panel showed photographs of the artist in his workshop slowly shaping the figures with hammer and chisel and a precise hand and eye.

It was a large cave. There was a walkway all around the statues of the Madonna with baby Jesus, baby John the Baptist and the archangel Uriel so that the visitors could see it from all angles. Chris propelled Carya forward ahead of him and pushed her down behind a solid piece of rock background while he turned to see if the killer tree was still coming towards them.

It was. The insane robot span around as it came directly toward him. Chris watched fearfully as it crashed towards the group of statues. The sound of the whirling branches changed in tone as blades hit the carved stone. The motion faltered as the blades bent and broke. He ducked down behind the rocks with Carya as pieces of tortured metal flew off in all directions. That was the chief danger now as the robot tree destroyed itself in the effort to get past the statues and reach the pliable flesh that was its obvious goal. Pieces of metal and artificial tree branches, and chunks of granite were gouged away. Chris was a little upset when he saw the nose from the Madonna statue fly through the air and land near where he and Carya were crouched. It seemed slightly sacrilegious. But it was better, in the end, for the statue to be damaged than them.

Finally, everything went quiet. He stood up carefully and stepped towards the group of statues. They were all damaged. He again felt a little guilty as he saw the baby John the Baptist’s head broken from the body. The Madonna’s face was completely obliterated, and Uriel’s hand was severed from her arm. The baby Jesus had lost a lot of flesh coloured paint and there were gouges in the granite beneath.

Pieces of the rogue robot tree were strewn everywhere. Chris bent and searched among them until he found the central processing unit. It was small, no bigger than a credit card. But the micro-circuits would contain all of the programming. The information on it would show if the thing just went haywire or if this was a deliberate, if bizarre, assassination attempt.

“Come on, sweetheart,” Chris said to his wife. “Let’s find my brother. He’s the scientist around here.”

Davie had also looked for central processing units in the three remaining robot Santas. He pocketed them before the Station security arrived to close the mezzanine floor and conduct their own investigation of the incident.

“Sukie,” he said as he brushed aside the demand from one of the security officers for a full statement. “Brenda, come on. Sukie might be in trouble.”

“Sir,” the security officer protested again. “You cannot leave the area until…”

Davie turned and looked the officer in the eye. On the surface he was a twenty-two year old in a leather jacket. But behind his eyes the full force and majesty of the universe was hidden. For a microsecond it was no longer hidden. The security officer shivered.

“You find out where, when and how these robots got on board this Station, and report back to me,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” the officer replied. Davie nodded and then walked away quickly. He considered his options and decided the quickest way to the Winter Sports floor was going to have to be the transmat.

“Brenda, you take the turbo lift up to the forest and stay with Chris and Carya. Yes, I know, they went up there for a cuddle and you’ll be cramping their style. But I think Chris will want to know about this.”

Brenda kissed him and then headed for the lift. Davie reached the transmat. Before he let it turn his body into electrical particles and transport them through three floors of space station he checked it thoroughly with his sonic screwdriver. He wanted to be sure his molecules would get reassembled at the other end.

Because he was full certain of one thing.

This was no random attack. He and Brenda had been targeted. And the only reason either of them were any different from the other visitors to the Mezzanine floor was that neither of them were completely Human.

He looked at the central processor chips again before he was satisfied the transmat was safe and stepped onto the platform. It would be interesting to see if there was some sort of species recognition software included in the package. And if there was, he would really like to find out who did the programming.

Sukie was still enjoying herself. The sleigh ride had terminated at a rather pleasant après-ski café where Earl bought lattes with his universal credit card. They sat facing each other over a little table, hands clutching their coffee cups. Sukie easily imagined what it would be like to put down the cups and hold hands instead. But they didn’t.

One day, she thought, he was going to hold her hand and ask her to marry him. She knew that. She and Vicki had practiced reading each other’s timelines. It was hard work because anyone who had travelled in the vortex didn’t have a timeline so much as a tangled ball of time string with knots and kinks to sort out. But she had clearly seen Vicki marrying Jimmy Forrester in a church and Vicki had seen her marrying Earl in a wedding bower under an exo-glass dome with snow falling outside and summer flowers inside. It was going to happen. Earl was her future husband no matter what Chris and Davie thought about the idea.

They finished the coffee and Earl summoned another sleigh from the line near the café. This one was even more gaudy and Christmassy than the first, with tinsel and coloured lights all around it. The driver was dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, long red coat, hood and beard. Sukie thought it was a bit over the top and childish but it didn’t really matter what the driver was like, or the sleigh. The important thing was Earl’s arm around her shoulders again, the way she liked it, and whether he might try to kiss her after all.

She was almost certain he was going to. But he suddenly leaned forward and tapped the driver on the shoulder, asking him where he was going. They did seem to be in a very quiet part where very little winter sports were going on.

The driver didn’t answer. Instead he spurred on the horses to go faster. Sukie gave a nervous cry as Earl leaned forward again and pulled at the driver’s shoulder, demanding that he stop the sleigh. This time the driver turned his head and they both gasped in astonishment as they realised that he had no face. At least not a real one. Between the hood and the beard was a sort of plastic, painted face. Earl grabbed at it and it came off in his hand. The hood fell back and the beard dropped away to reveal a bronze coloured robot head with eyes that lit up menacingly. Earl dropped the face and reached in his shoulder bag for a slim sonic screwdriver. He pointed it at the robot head and the eyelights faded. It fell back between the traces as the horses, realising nobody was holding their reins, bolted. The sleigh bucked and bumped as the robot was dragged under the runners. Sukie fell back onto the seat, but Earl clambered forward and grabbed the reins. They had travelled quite a bit further before he managed to slow the horses to a stop.

“What was that?” Sukie asked as Earl jumped down from the sleigh. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know,” Earl answered. “Stay put for a moment.” He ran back to the broken wreckage of the robot half buried in the snow and examined it before picking something up and putting it in his shoulder bag. Then he came back to the sleigh and sat next to Sukie again. He took up the reins and urged the horses on slowly. Sukie was wondering about quite a lot of things that had happened, but how a twenty-sixth century boy knew how to drive horses was the one she was concentrating on just then.

“I spent a summer in the nineteenth century with my dad,” Earl explained. “I learnt to ride and drive carriage horses. I’ll take you when I have my own time car. If your brothers let me, that is,”

“You saved me from that thing,” Sukie pointed out. “You were totally brave and cool. That might get you a few points with them.”

Earl laughed. Sukie liked his laugh. She felt safe beside him while he brought the sleigh around to the transmat port. As he reached to lift her down from the sleigh the transmat shimmered and Davie stepped off the platform.

“What happened?” he asked.

“What makes you think anything happened?” Sukie responded. But Davie was in no mood for evasiveness. He looked steadily at Earl who showed him the central processer he had taken from the mangled robot and told him the whole story. Sukie used the phrase ‘totally brave and cool’ five times as she corroborated his version of events. Davie hugged her tightly and laughed.

“I believe you,” he said. “It’s just that I thought it was going to be my job to protect you from bad stuff for a few more years, yet.”

“Not when Earl is here,” she answered. She was about to say something else when they all heard an announcement over the public address system.

“Can the Campbell party please come to the security post at floor fifteen,” said the bland voice. The message repeated.

“I think that’s us,” Davie said. “Come on. It’ll have to be another damn transmat. I’m getting tired of those bloody things today.”

He was relieved when he reached the security post to find Chris waiting there with Carya and Brenda.

“They’re trying to blame us for damaging a valuable exhibit,” Chris said more cheerfully than he should have been considering the stern faces of the security guards who flanked him. “They don’t believe my story about a killer Christmas tree.”

“Killer Christmas tree?” Davie echoed. “That’s different. We had robot Santas with lethal musical instruments and Earl and Sukie were nearly kidnapped by a maverick robot sleigh driver. I can see a pattern though, don’t you? Dangerous robotics running loose on the Station. Never mind blaming us for the damage. The counter suit when we claim for the shock and trauma will be just the sort of publicity the shareholders will want, I’m thinking.”

That settled the question of who was to blame. Then Davie turned and noticed the officer he had told to find information.

“Well?” he asked shortly.

“Sir… I think… there’s something you ought to see…”

“Ok, as long as we don’t have to go by transmat to see it,” Davie replied. “Chris, take the ladies and Earl back to the food court. I think the coffee and mince pies will be on the house.”

Chris did just that. Davie went with the security officer. The journey didn’t involve transmats, but it did mean going down to the very lowest level of the space station, to the freight and storage section. There was a guard on the entrance to one particular storage bay. And when the door was opened Davie understood why.

“How many are there?” he asked as he walked down the line of robots, some already wearing their seasonal disguises, some just bronze humanoid figures. He counted two dozen before he gave up. “They’re deactivated?”

“As far as we know…” the security officer started to say. He stopped. Davie sighed as he saw one of the robot Santas start to move towards him. They were all activating. He reached for his sonic screwdriver and found the setting he had used time and again when he infiltrated the Dominator ships and took out the cyborg armies. The EMP pulse was inaudible and invisible, but one by one the robot heads began to fizz as their electronic brains cooked. The overhead lights went out, too. But if he had gauged it right the pulse was local enough not to have caused any further damage.

“What were these things doing here?” he asked.

“We’re trying to find out,” the security officer said. “But it looks as if they’ve been here ever since the Station was built. They must have been intended as part of the show. The storage bay is registered to one of the original shareholders of the Station.”

“And that would be….”

The security officer told him. The name meant nothing to him. He looked around at the robots and examined one or two to ensure that they were all thoroughly and permanently deactivated now. Then he thanked the officers for their time and headed back to the food court.

“Davie!” Sukie was the one who greeted him first. She was smiling widely. “We found out some stuff.” She pointed excitedly to Earl’s mini-computer. He had jury rigged an interface with one of the central processing chips.

“The robots were programmed to react in the presence of Time Lord DNA,” Earl said. “Programmed to kill any Time Lord it found. So you and Chris were attacked. And… well, obviously I’m not a Time Lord yet. And neither is Sukie. But I’m not far off. I’m going to transcend next year. My body is pretty much saturated with natural artron energy ready for it. So I think the robot knew it was supposed to get me as well.”

“The ones they have down there in storage activated when I was near them, so I think that’s a sound theory. But why were they programmed to attack Time Lords? What’s it all about?”

“I think it’s about this,” Earl answered and pushed his mini computer towards Davie. He read the data on the screen and then turned to the videophone programme. He typed in a videophone number and waited. Presently the call was answered by the Time Lord he usually called Ten, for the sake of clarity, and who answered to the name ‘Doctor’ from most other people.

“Hi, Davie,” The Doctor said. “What do I owe this pleasure?”

“I’ve just been reading up on a character called B’Tallia Vance. Apparently HE was once the head of a multi-galactic business empire until you got HER jailed for inter-temporal abduction. Is that a misprint or a long story that I don’t want to know right now?”

“The latter, believe me. But why do you need to know about Vance?”

“I’ve had a bit of a problem with killer robot Santas with Vance Industries computer chips in their heads.” He told The Doctor a short version of their adventures on Christmas Station and noted his expression. “This is no surprise to you?”

“Only that the robot Santas were made by Vance Industries. I’ve run into them a couple of times and never guessed that was what they were about. He – or she – has a crush on me. And she seems to have come to the conclusion that if he – or she – can’t have me, then nobody else can. You and your friends got a reception that was obviously intended for me any time I happened to drop by.”

“Well, you can drop by any time now. I’ve neutralised the threat. But does this mean I might run into more of Vance’s nutty little Time Lord traps out there in the galaxy?”

“I’m afraid so,” The Doctor answered apologetically.

“As if Sontarans, Rutans and Dominators weren’t enough for me to contend with,” Davie sighed theatrically. “At least I have the heads up on this one. Never mind. It’s Christmas. We’re having a big family get together in the twenty-third century. You’d be welcome to join us. Mum would love to see you.”

The Doctor smiled at the idea but shook his head.

“I’ve got my own plans for Christmas. But maybe I’ll drop in for New Year. Give Susan my love, in the meantime. And… Merry Christmas to you all.”

“Merry Christmas to you, Doctor,” Davie answered. “Good journey to you.”