Chrístõ opened the door to his English classroom on a Monday morning expecting to find it a little noisy, but relatively normal. This was the once notorious c-stream who had shaped up into a hard-working and ambitious group by the time they reached the sixth form. He fully expected them to come to order once they knew he was in the room.

He had been in the room a full five minutes before he decided enough was enough and waved his sonic screwdriver in a wide circle. At once the cacophony of noise died away. The students looked around as if only now realising that he was present.

“Who wants to explain what the heck is going on?” he asked, taking his accustomed place, perched on the front of his desk rather than behind it. “Aren't you all a little too old to play with dolls?”

He picked up the slightly smaller than life-size baby doll that Scott Miller had put into a small wicker basket on his desk. It was a well-made doll with a soft, appealing face. The mouth was moving slightly as if it was crying, but he had nullified the sound with his sonic.

“Sir,” Scott said in an apologetic tone. “It’s from social studies class. We all have them… boys and girls. We have to look after them for a month. It’s to teach us about the responsibilities of parenthood.”

“Really?” He looked around as Judy Knox gave her ‘baby’ a bottle that simulated feeding. Dana Peyton, meanwhile, was ‘changing’ hers. “And how do you feel about that?”

“Exhausted,” Niall O’Leary answered, clearly speaking for everyone. “Feeding, changing, crying… crying all the time. I’ve hardly slept since Friday when they were handed out. I couldn’t play football, watch TV… ANYTHING.”

The others had similar stories about disrupted weekend activities.

“Sounds like you’re learning about those responsibilities very fast,” Chrístõ noted. “Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea.”

“Maybe,” Billy Sandler pointed out. “But I for one planned to have a WIFE to look after any kids I might have.”

The boys all agreed with him, leading to an inevitable outburst of feminist protests from the girls.

“At the very least,” Mia Robinson pointed out. “A husband could HELP share the burden. I never planned to be a single parent.”

“I don’t imagine anyone does,” Chrístõ conceded. “My father was a single parent for nearly two hundred years, but he didn’t plan to be.”

“Your father had a mansion full of servants,” Scott reminded him. “These things were programmed. I had to put a thumbprint on the back of the neck, so that it recognises just me. I couldn’t even let my mum do some of the work. I’m TIED to the thing.”

“Don’t call it a thing,” Helen Cary told him. “I named mine Madison. I always liked the name Madison. It… does for a boy or a girl. I decided it was a girl.”

“It’s a THING,” Scott insisted. Most of the boys and some of the girls agreed. They didn’t object to the idea of parenthood per se, but they felt more than a little aggrieved at the way it had been thrust upon them so completely.

Chrístõ thought it just proved the point about parenting being a huge responsibility and commitment.

But he also wondered how he, or, indeed, any other teacher, was meant to get through a lesson with these tiny bundles of wants and needs interrupting.

“Feed them, change them, burp them, rock them to sleep and then put every one of the cots over there by the window. We’ll call that the crèche, then let’s get on with Heart of Darkness.”

He gave them five minutes to do that and settle down again. It was the time he would normally use for registration. He ticked off their names as they placed their ‘babies’ in the crèche and came to their seats. The fact that class time had been wasted wasn’t lost on them, at least. They immediately opened their electronic slates to the study notes and the paper copies of the Joseph Conrad novel to the chapter they were ready to study.

The next forty five minutes were peaceful and productive. When he dismissed the class they all gathered their books and bags, then picked up the baskets with their mechanical charges in. Some of them carried them gently and carefully – he hesitated to think of the word ‘maternal’ since Stuart Peyton was one of the most careful of them all.

Billy Sandler was careless enough, shoving the basket into his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder, to rescue his gender from any accusations of unmanliness, but it gave Chrístõ a little food for thought as he waited for the first year group he was teaching next to settle down in their places.

He had never, until he made the remark earlier, thought of his own father as a single parent. It was certainly true that he had plenty of help with the practical aspects of parenthood. Chrístõ remembered his nursemaids as capable women who knew how to feed and dress him and make sure he was safely tucked up in bed. But his emotional needs as a motherless boy had been wholly provided by his father who had made career sacrifices in order to stay at home on Gallifrey and be there for him.

He thought he had been a fairly placid and obedient child, and hadn’t caused his father too much heartsache, but all the same, it couldn’t have been easy for him.

“I appreciate all you did for me, father,” he whispered softly before turning his attention to the group of eleven year olds who didn’t yet to social studies and were unencumbered by anything but homework on the twentieth century classic novel, Stig of The Dump.

After lunch, though, he had another group of seniors. Cordell Sommers was one of them, the elder of Julia’s two cousins. He was usually a lot easier to teach than Chrístõ had expected him to be. His father had obviously warned him about taking advantage of family ties, but today he was a little troublesome.

“Cor, are you even listening?” Chrístõ asked after he had repeated his question about Orwell’s 1984 three times.

“I’m listening,” he answered. “I just don’t know the answer to the question. Why do we bother reading this book, anyway. None of these things really happened in the year 1984, did they?”

Chrístõ grinned.

“No, not really. As I recall it was a pretty average year. Everton won the FA Cup final, Sweden won the Eurovision, Los Angeles held the Olympics. Amadeus won Best Picture at the Oscars. Do They Know Its Christmas was the UK Christmas number One. Brunei became independent of the British Commonwealth. There was a bitter and sometimes violent miner’s strike and the Prime Minister of Britain – Margaret Thatcher - was nearly assassinated. The Bhopal disaster killed thousands of people in India.”

The seriousness of the last three key events of the year 1984 quashed some of the giggles about the trivial and ephemeral nature of the other points.

“The point of the story, regardless of the title, is that totalitarian governments can take hold anywhere people allow their minds to be misled by untruths.”

“How can we possibly know what is true or not true?” asked one of Cordell’s classmates.

“You read books like this. You read good literature wherever and whenever you can of all sorts, and always remember there is at least one side to every argument – except for Nazis. There’s just no excuse for them. But everything else can be questioned and examined and dismissed by a mind that has learnt to question and examine and take nothing at face value.”

He paused and scanned the faces in his class.

“It also helps to be awake and alert,” he added. “People who go through life half asleep are VERY easy to mislead.”

He was making light of it, but the students didn’t have it in them to respond in kind.

“So how many of you are tired because of social studies assignments crying in the night?” he asked with a glance towards the crèche full of sonic’d baby dolls.

Everyone raised their hands languidly.

“It’s worse in my house,” said a girl called Kim. “My mum has a REAL baby and every time Cindy went off it woke my little brother and neither of us could get back to sleep. Dad is in a mood about it. He threatened to throw my baby out of the window.”

“That’s preferable to throwing your baby brother out of the window,” Chrístõ pointed out.

“Same here,” said a boy called Marshall. “I’m staying with Mrs Richards because my dad works on the freighters and my mum is in hospital, but she’s fostering eight month old twins and we’re all pretty fed up.”

“I’ll cut you all a bit of slack this once,” Chrístõ said with an element of sympathy. “No homework tonight from me. But you’ve really got to think about managing your time. Imagine if you really WERE parents and you had to manage sleep and a career. Turning up at a board meeting with matchsticks holding your eyes open won’t get you promoted, and I wouldn’t want somebody looking as tired as you lot taking my appendix out or operating heavy machinery.”

They laughed a little, but the point also went home with them. They tried to pay a bit more attention as he discussed the dangers of totalitarianism as exemplified in Orwell’s classic novel in context with his recent visit to the Hydra system where religious totalitarianism was such a major issue. That got them through the lesson and he dismissed them with another exhortation to manage their time better.

His last lesson of the afternoon was with second years who were blessedly free of parental responsibilities except for one boy who’s older sister was in Cordell’s class and was suffering sleep deprivation. Chrístõ sympathised with him but told him he had to stay awake in class all the same.

One way or another he was glad when that day’s teaching was over. He drove home to a quiet house and a comfortable sofa and called Julia on the video phone for a pleasant chat. She laughed when she told him about his day.

“Cordell as a parent! I would never have expected that,” she said. “It must be SUCH hard work.”

Chrístõ laughed and changed the subject, asking her about college now that she was back with her Olympic medals gleaming.

“It’s extremely humbling,” she admitted. “I still have to work just as hard even though I’m officially the best in the Earth Federation.”

“Everyone needs a way to keep their feet on the ground,” Chrístõ told her. “Even Time Lords. That’s what I LIKE about teaching.”

“I want to teach when I graduate,” Julia told him. “We still won’t be getting married for another two years after that, and I want to do something useful in those years.”

“Being my wife will be useful,” he reminded her.

“Yes, and I intend to teach on Gallifrey, too,” she reminded HIM. “I don’t intend to sit around the parlour having luncheons with Valena’s friends.”

“Oh, I know that,” Chrístõ admitted. He smiled warmly at her as she reminded him, not for the first time, that she would not be the usual sort of Patriarchs wife. “You do whatever you feel you want to do. I won’t ever get in your way. That’s a promise.”

He talked to her for a little longer then closed the communication, feeling contented. He spent ten minutes marking essays, a job that took his fellow teachers, without his ability to speed read, considerably longer. After that his evening was his own. He watched an opera on holovid, made himself some supper and went to bed in the way he had been accustomed to doing since he took on this ordinary life among humans.

The rest of the week followed one day after another in a way they shouldn’t for a Time Lord unless he was one who had chosen to live a simpler life.

The baby dolls were becoming a regular feature of the classroom by now. Along with the other teachers he found various ways of dealing with the nuisance and disruption and looked forward to the end of the experiment.

Two, three more weeks passed in the same way.

Then on the Friday afternoon Michal Sommers caught up to him at afternoon break.

“Can you come and have supper with us, tonight?” he asked.

“If you want me, sure,” Chrístõ answered. “Is there any special reason?”

“I thought you might be able to talk some sense into Cordell,” Michal answered. “He’s going potty.”

“Define potty,” Chrístõ suggested, but Michal couldn’t explain himself beyond that. “Ok, supper with an ulterior motive it is, then. I’ll come round for six. Is that all right?”

It satisfied the boy. Chrístõ watched him go before returning to his preparation for the last lesson of the day.

It was a lesson he couldn’t have prepared for without a fortnight’s intensive training at the Celestial Intervention Agency headquarters. He was teaching one and a half classes because one of the teachers was absent and his cohort had been sent to other rooms. They were all fourth, fifth and sixth year students who were doing the social studies experiment. The ‘creche’ was full of dolls, and even though he stopped the noise, the ‘parents’ were all still distracted by the needs of their charges.

“Brian, Michael, Alena, sit down,” Chrístõ said in an exasperated tone as three of them rose from their seats to attend to their dolls while he was talking. “Apart from the extreme rudeness of it all, I am in the middle of explaining an important point that will definitely come up in some form or another in your end of year exams.”

“Exams don’t matter,” Brian answered. “Not when children have to be cared for.”

“SIT DOWN,” Chrístõ told him in a voice ringing with the sort of command only a man distantly related to the founder of an entire civilisation could muster. Even then, Brian and his two fellow ‘parents’ stared him down for a full thirty seconds before they obeyed.

“Everyone stay in your seats and pay attention to me for the next half hour or I will use painfully invasive brain-buffing techniques to teach you instead of the easy way,” he told the class then resumed his explanation of the different meanings of ‘tragedy’ in Greek, Shakespearian and modern drama.

He got their attention at last, but it was a fight to keep it. Eyes kept wandering to the line of dolls by the window. Most of them, Chrístõ noted, were dressed and wrapped in blankets now. They were being cosseted and protected like real babies.

He came from a rather traditional world when it came to parental roles, though he had always tried to be open minded. He was puzzled by the number of teenage boys who were growing attached to their charges in that way. When the lesson ended and he dismissed them he noted the careful way everyone, boys and girls alike, picked up the dolls and hugged them in their arms.

“Everyone is going mental around here,” he told himself as he grabbed his jacket and headed for the staff car park, noting just how many of the senior students were carrying the dolls. Some had even gone so far as wearing baby carriers with their charges snuggled in them.

The only student he spotted who wasn’t imbued with the responsibilities of parenthood was Billy Sandler. He noticed him stuffing his doll into his backpack along with his school books.

“Aren’t you worried about it suffocating?” he asked him with a knowing smile.

Billy’s answer to that was borderline insubordinate in the presence of a teacher. Chrístõ let it pass since it was almost exactly what he had been thinking for the past hour.

“I thought I’d be rid of the thing today,” Billy added. “But social studies was cancelled. Mr Levenson didn’t come in to work today.”

“He’s the teacher who was absent?” Chrístõ filed that information in a corner of his mind. Billy sighed dismally at the prospect of another interrupted weekend.

“I read somewhere that on Earth in the twenty-first century hospitals had sort of hatches where you could anonymously leave unwanted babies,” Billy added.

Chrístõ was surprised that Billy had read anything about history since reading was far from his favourite occupation.

“I don’t think they do that here,” he told him. “You’ll just have to put up with it for a couple more days.”

Billy grimaced and shouldered his load. He waved to his teacher and went on his way. Chrístõ reached his car and drove home to shower and change before heading to the Sommers house for supper.

He was greeted enthusiastically as always. Marianna wanted to talk about Julia, a subject Chrístõ was just as fond of. But she also had some things on her mind – as it turned out, the same things her husband and youngest son were worried about. They brought it up after supper when Cordell had gone to his room for unspecified reasons.

“He’s gone to play with that stupid DOLL,” Michal said with a note of disgust.

“It certainly looks like it,” Herrick confirmed in worried tones. “What is wrong with him?”

“It’s not that I don’t think the idea has merit,” Marianna added. “But he is seriously taking things too far. He spends all day looking after the ‘baby’. It’s all he talks about. I wasn’t THIS obsessed when HE was born. At least I put him down sometimes.”

Chrístõ listened to all their complaints then said he would go and have a word with Cordell.

“Hey, what’s up?” he asked when he stepped into the boy’s bedroom. He looked around in one glance, taking in the décor. It was the sort any average fifteen year old would have. The walls were covered in posters of space ships and fast cars. Everything was normal except for the corner nearest the bed where an assortment of baby clothes and equipment was arranged along with soft toys. There was even a mobile with rabbits on over the crib.

“Seriously, you don’t need to sterilise bottles for a plastic baby,” Chrístõ told him.

“It’s the right way to do it,” Cordell answered. “It’s how we were told to do it in social studies.”

“Yes… but….” Chrístõ watched as Cordell took one of the sterilised bottles and ‘fed’ the ‘baby’.

“Thank Chaos they haven’t encouraged ‘natural’ feeding,” he commented. “May I have a look at the baby when you’re done?”

Cordell looked reluctant to hand it over.

“I AM a doctor, remember,” Chrístõ pointed out. Cordell couldn’t argue with that. He let him have the doll. He looked at it carefully. Dressed in the woollen clothes and hat that Cordell had given it, there was an endearing quality to it, but it WAS still a plastic doll.

He brought his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket and aimed it at the doll in analysis mode. Cordell yelped and tried to snatch it back. Chrístõ held on tight and turned his back. He was getting some curious readings from what was essentially a piece of moulded polyvinyl chloride. He might have a chance to analyse them if Cordell stopped yelling.

“Stop it, for Chaos sake,” he told him. “Get a grip on yourself. It’s JUST A DOLL.”

He swung around to avoid an actual lunge from Cordell and the blue beam of the sonic screwdriver caught him in the eyes. Cordell staggered back, his hands in front of his face. Chrístõ dropped the doll down on the bed and reached to look at the boy.

“Keep still, let me look,” he said. He adjusted the sonic to medical analysis and checked that there was no damage to Cordell’s eyes. Apart from watering a lot they seemed to be all right. He blinked rapidly and then stared at Chrístõ as if he was seeing him for the first time.

“This… is… weird,” he said. “What day is it?”

“Friday,” Chrístõ replied. “Are you all right?”

“I feel like I’ve been sleep-walking since… a different Friday. I feel like I’m missing weeks of my life.” He looked at the doll on the bed. “Ever since Mr Levenson gave us those to take home.”

Chrístõ picked the doll up and offered it back to him. Cordell leaned back away from it.

“There’s something about that doll. It’s… freaky.”

“I agree. Do you mind if I take it with me to find out WHAT makes it freaky?”

“No problem. At least it won’t keep waking me up. It’s been driving me barmy.”

“Yes, your family noticed you going barmy. Why don’t you go downstairs and tell them you’re ok now?”

Cordell thought that was a good idea. Chrístõ followed him down stuffing the doll into a carrier bag. Cordell pushed his brother up on the sofa and grabbed a handful of potato crisps from the bowl in front of them. Normality had been restored.

“Thanks for supper,” Chrístõ said. “I need to get back to a pile of marking. I’ll pop around again on Sunday afternoon, if you’ll have me.”

“You’re always welcome here, Chrístõ,” Marion told him with a warm smile of thanks for whatever he had done to restore order in her home.

He hadn’t done anything, at least not deliberately, but he had a couple of clues. He intended to find a few more. He drove back to his house with half a plan in his mind. The rest he would need his TARDIS for.

He was surprised to see Billy Sandler waiting on his doorstep. The boy stood up as he parked the car in the drive.

“What’s up?” he asked. “Anything I can help you with?”

“That stupid doll attacked me,” Billy answered.

“Attacked?” Chrístõ wondered if another clue had just slotted into place. Billy said nothing, but indicated the ragged arm of his school coat. Chrístõ looked closer and noticed that the jumper and shirt beneath were also ripped and there was a deep scratch on the boy’s arm.

“I’ll fix that while you tell me all about it,” Chrístõ said, opening his front door. Billy followed him in, and was unsurprised when Chrístõ headed for a large cabinet in the hallway. It was the TARDIS, of course. Billy had been in it several times, most recently on a field trip to Victorian London that made studying Dickens just a bit more palatable. He patiently watched as his teacher used the sonic screwdriver to mend his arm, first, soothing away the ache and repairing the tissue. Then the same amazing tool fixed his clothes.

“Thanks. Mum would really go mad about me wrecking my school clothes. They cost so much.”

“Least of our problems,” Chrístõ said. “What about this doll?”

“It climbed out of my bag and grabbed onto my arm,” Billy explained. “It really did, honest.”

Billy was used to being disbelieved by adults with more believable stories than that. Chrístõ smiled reassuringly.

“Doesn’t surprise me. What did you do?”

“Pulled it off and threw it at the wall, then stamped on it.” Billy pulled the doll out of his bag. The head and body were misshapen from the heel of his shoe stamping down on it. Chrístõ examined it carefully.

“That’s the oddest thing,” he said. “They ARE just plastic. There are no wires or circuits.”

“I noticed that,” Billy commented. “I thought it would be packed with hi-tech stuff. What else would be making everyone act so stupid?”

“Let’s find out. Are you allowed to stay out on a Friday night?”

“Up till eleven o’clock,” Billy answered. “But can I get out of my school uniform, now? It sucks.”

Wardrobe fourth door on your right through that way,” Chrístõ answered, pointing towards the inner doors to the rest of the TARDIS. When Billy returned a few minutes later dressed in an outfit not unlike his own choice of casual wear – leather jacket and black denim – he had already moved the TARDIS from its place in the hallway. Billy looked at the viewscreen and noticed that they were in geo-stationary orbit above New Canberra and then looked at the console where his smashed in doll and the one Chrístõ had brought from the Sommers house were both held in small clamps while they were scanned by a green light.

He looked back at the screen again and noted a faint yellow light going from the TARDIS in space towards the city below.

“What is that?” he asked.

“An energy beam linking Cordell Sommers’ doll to a location somewhere below. Yours is broken. It’s not giving out any information any more.”

“But they’re just plastic,” Billy reminded him.

“Not JUST plastic,” Chrístõ answered. “Look at this.” He pointed to an electron microscope built into the database console. Billy looked through it at a fragment of pale, flesh coloured PVC that had been sliced from his broken doll.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “Is that… a micro-circuit…printed on the plastic.”

“Grown on the plastic. These dolls are a sort of organic plastic. That’s weird fact number one. Number two is the micro-circuits, not just on the surface, but right through the plastic like the lettering in a stick of Blackpool rock.”

Billy had no idea what Blackpool rock was. Chrístõ thought that was somewhere else his class needed to go for a field trip before their school life was over. But right now there were more important things to worry about.

“Cordell’s doll isn’t the only one transmitting and receiving information,” he said. “Look.”

Billy looked up at the viewscreen again. Chrístõ adjusted the view, overlaying a filter. At once it looked as if yellow beams were spreading across the city, all beginning at one point – or ending at it.

“I might be the thickest kid in the class,” Billy said. “But I think that’s where we ought to go.”

“It’s where I should go,” Chrístõ decided. “Not sure about you. It might be dangerous.”

Billy shrugged and grinned.

“That’s exactly what I would have thought at your age. But I’m your teacher, don’t forget.”

“Then I’m perfectly ok, aren’t I? You’re loco parent…”

“Loco Parentis,” Chrístõ corrected him, strongly suspecting he knew the correct term but wanted to keep his teenage rebel image intact. Knowing Latin phrases wasn’t ‘cool’.

“Whatever. Come on. We’re wasting time.”

“You can never waste time in a time machine,” Chrístõ told him, though strictly that wasn’t true, and as far as this strange business was concerned the clock was running in real time. He checked the co-ordinate and noted that it was about two miles outside of the city itself, in the middle of an industrial estate full of small factories, workshops and warehouses.

A good place to hide something dubious. Nobody ever questioned vans coming and going or noises coming from a factory unit or work going on day or night.

The TARDIS materialised outside the unit where all of those energy signals were headed. Chrístõ stepped out carefully, followed by Billy and by Humphrey who hugged the shadows in the twilight of that Friday evening, determined to join them in this adventure.

“It’s a plastics factory,” Billy noted, looking at the sign above the tightly shuttered main door. “They make those stupid dolls.”

“If they make the dolls, then it’s not JUST a plastics factory,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Those dolls are more than just ordinary plastic.” He used his sonic screwdriver to open a smaller door at the side of the building and they stepped inside.

It was dark inside, but the sonic screwdriver made a good penlight torch. Chrístõ shone it onto rows of shelves stacked with the sinister plastic dolls. He revised his idea. They weren’t MADE here. It looked like storage for them.

“There are thousands of them,” Billy whispered. “What’s it all about?”

“Yours isn’t the only high school on this planet,” Chrístõ reminded him. “Or in the Beta Delta system. I suspect you were just the guinea pigs for some kind of sinister project. This is going to go galaxy-wide.”

“But WHAT is it for?” Billy asked.

“I think the answer might be inside that room,” Chrístõ answered. He nodded towards double doors with frosted window panels. There were lights behind the windows – flickering lights and a Human shadow passing in front of them. Humphrey trilled unhappily. He didn’t like that light one little bit.

Chrístõ thought Humphrey was right not to like it.

“How do we get in?” Billy asked. “We need to find out what’s going on in there.”

“Good question.” Chrístõ looked around carefully. There was no other entrance.

Humphrey trilled meaningfully and floated up to the ceiling. There was an access panel above their heads. With luck there would be one on the other side of the wall, too.

“Good thinking, old friend. But I think you’d better get back to the TARDIS, now. This doesn’t look healthy for you.”

Humphrey agreed. He pinwheeled back out of the warehouse while Chrístõ looked again at the access panel.

It was far too small for him. He wondered exactly who it was intended for since he was hardly stout!

“I could do it,” Billy told him. At sixteen he was less of a stick figure than he had been at thirteen, but he was still thin with wiry limbs.

“Yes, but I’m the one who really needs to know what’s going on… unless….”

It wasn’t something he made a habit of, but it was the only thing he could think of doing. He put his hand on Billy’s forehead and gently reached into his mind, seeking out his ocular and aural nerves. He connected mentally. Now he could see everything Billy could see. He could hear his thoughts as if it was a radio broadcast.

“You’re my eyes and ears. I’m your stepladder up there,” Chrístõ told him. He helped Billy climb up on his shoulders. He pushed up the panel and clambered through the small space. Chrístõ saw the equally small, dark, low-ceilinged space that Billy was now crawling in. The boy headed for the source of light a few yards away.

“Wow!” He felt Billy’s astonishment at the same time as he saw Billy’s view of the alien entity in the room beneath him. “It’s a lava monster.”

“It’s a Nestene Consciousness,” Chrístõ replied telepathically. “The orange glow is kinetic energy created within its body. Where’s the Human helping it?”

Billy turned his head and looked at the man whose shadow had been seen in the window. Again he was surprised.

“It’s Mr Levenson… except….”

It looked like Mr Levenson, but his flesh had a strange sheen, like the plastic dolls in the warehouse and his eyes were glassy, like the eyes of the….

“He’s a plastic doll… a life size plastic doll.”

“He’s a creation of the Nestene,” Chrístõ explained. “I’ve never seen it before, but I’ve heard of it. The Nestene can control plastic – any plastic, but in this case, it seems to be using the plastic to control people.”

“Why?” Billy asked. Then he paid attention to what was happening below. Chrístõ saw it all through his eyes and heard through his thoughts.

“The… projjjject… is goinnng too slowlllly,” the Nestene drawled in a hoarse, whispering voice. “Acccelerrrate ittt toooniiighht.”

“It is too soon,” the plastic Mr Levenson protested. “The subjects have only been bonding with the Human children for a month. It will take longer to achieve full control of them.”

“Theeeen increeeease theeee poooower,” the creature demanded. “I muuuust haaaave theeeir braaaain paaaa…tteeerns.”

“You MUST be patient,” Plastic Levenson insisted. The Nestene growled impatiently and a tongue of fully malleable living plastic reached out of the vat in which it was contained, snaking around his waist and holding him high above what formed into a gaping maw. It let go and Levenson fell straight down into the ‘throat’ of the Nestene, absorbed instantly.

“Calm down,” Chrístõ told Billy telepathically as he felt the boy’s horror. “I know that was nasty, but just hold on. We need to know more, yet.”

The Nestene writhed in its vat and spat out a globule of its own ‘flesh’ onto the floor. It expanded and took on a near Human form, something like Mr Levenson, but even less fully defined and even more plastic.

“Increeeease theee poooweerrr,” the Nestene demanded. “Brinnnng theee Humaaan yooouttths heeere. Weee wiiilll ennnd thhhiiiisss toooonnnnighht.”

“Yes,” the new Levenson replied. It went to the computer bank behind the vat and pulled levers. A background buzzing noise increased until it was painful on the ears. Chrístõ guessed what was happening. All over the city of New Canberra the youngsters with the dolls were going to start acting on a new impulse, beyond the one that made them interact with the dolls. They would leave their homes, despite the protests of their parents and converge on this place.

And then….

The Nestene wanted their brain patterns. What for?

“Billy, I need to read the Nestene’s thoughts. I need you to drop something with your DNA in it down into it. I’m connected to you. That will let me connect to it, too.”

“My DNA?” Billy queried.

“A drop of blood or a hair follicle, fingernail….”

“What about this?”

Chrístõ remembered he was dealing with a teenager! He tried not to let his stomach churn when Billy spat a large dollop of phlegm and saliva at the Nestene.

“That… would do it,” he answered. He felt a peculiar sensation within his brain. He was feeling his own thoughts, and Billy’s, and the Nestene’s all at once.

Hnew what it was the Nestene wanted to do. He knew what it was all about.

“The dolls… are just the start. They’re absorbing the minds of all the ‘parents’. When they’ve completed that process, they’ll take on their physical form… the dolls will take over the lives of every teenager who was part of the experiment… then they’ll pull their parents and siblings into it until every Human on Beta Delta has been replaced by living plastic with their brain patterns. It’s… body-snatching by stealth.”

“We’ve got to stop them,” Billy said. “We HAVE to stop them. My friends, my mum and dad… my brother….”

“Yes, I know,” Chrístõ told him. “Let me think….”

Thinking was difficult. He was still channelling both Billy AND the Nestene. He was having trouble separating their minds from his own.

Then he felt a shock right through his own brain. The Nestene was aware of him.

“Tiiiiimmmmeee Loooorrddd!” He felt its voice in his head, trying to overwhelm him, trying to take over his mind. For a few seconds it almost succeeded. Then he felt something else. Of course, all three of them were connected, and while it was focussing on him, Billy’s mind was free. He felt the boy attack the creature mentally. He felt the Nestene’s surprise at being challenged.

“Billy, be careful,” he warned. He put up a defensive wall between the Nestene and the boy before it struck back. Even so he felt Billy shudder, mentally and physically. He heard him yell and felt him fall.

Chrístõ barged at the door between him and the creature. There was no point in subterfuge now, with Billy hanging from the ceiling, his feet dangling dangerously close to the reaching Nestene. As he crashed into the room the second plastic Mr Levenson tried to block him, but the momentum carried him forward and the figure made from the Nestene’s own body was thrust back into the vat.

“I’ve got you,” Christo said, reaching for Billy’s legs and helping him safely down while the Nestene was distracted. “I’ll keep it at bay, you switch off that machine. Pull its plugs, yank wires, anything that stops the signal.”

He gently withdrew himself from Billy’s mind and was seeing with his own eyes again. He blocked the Nestene from reaching him. Billy was safe, mentally and physically. He ran to do as instructed. Electronics were the one thing he was good at, and had always applied himself to. He knew exactly which plugs to pull and wires to rip out. He dodged blue sparks while Chrístõ dodged the mental swipes of the Nestene and thrust back, hurting its consciousness with the full power of a mind that had once been exposed to the might of Infinity itself through the Untempered Schism.

“I’ve done it,” Billy announced. “The machine is off.”

“Great, now get out of here,” Chrístõ told him. “It’s not safe.”

Billy was reluctant to leave him, but Chrístõ told him again. He ran out of the vat room into the warehouse of dolls.

Chrístõ carried on his mental battle against a creature that was all mental energy. It was difficult. The Nestene was strong. He was strong, too, but was he as strong as the Nestene?

Then he felt the creature draw back as if something was distracting it. He heard and saw something fly over his head and land in the vat. Then two more objects were thrown. Three, four. He risked turning his head. He saw Billy and a group of young people, some of them the students he taught. They were throwing their dolls, carefully dressed and loved, into the vat. Others were grabbing the dolls off the shelves and throwing them. Chrístõ felt the Nestene’s confusion, and its weakening strength. The dolls were affecting it. Chrístõ didn’t know why. Perhaps it was the type of plastic. Or maybe the printed circuits embedded in the plastic were interfering with its brain patterns. Either way, the Nestene was in big trouble.

Which meant that they all were. He turned away from the writhing entity that was glowing a brighter, angrier red-orange as if it really was the lava monster Billy had called it earlier.

“Everyone out, it’s going to blow,” he yelled. “Run. Billy, show them the TARDIS door. Get them inside there, where it’s safe.”

There was going to be a huge explosion any moment, and there were too many people in the blast zone. He ran through and ahead of the crowd, not out of cowardice, but so that he could set the TARDIS to dematerialise and then do a wide angle re-materialisation and pick up as many of them as possible.

He got the last teenager into the safety of the console room and the door closed just as the warehouse exploded in flames. There were shouts of consternation and then relief as they realised that the burning debris was falling all around while not affecting the TARDIS at all. Humphrey made triumphant noises and bowled around giving everyone his ‘hugs’.

“You did it,” Billy told Chrístõ.

“We ALL did it,” he answered. “Well done, everyone.”

“What DID we do, and how did we get here?” Helen Cary was the one who asked the question. “I feel as if I’ve been sleep-walking for ages. And then I woke up outside that place… carrying a doll. And… At first I felt as if I had lost something important to me, something I loved. But now, I can’t remember what it was.”

Everyone felt the same way. The whole month of the social studies project had been a kind of dream that they had woken from with all of the emotions they had been displaying so strongly quickly fading away.

Chrístõ explained as much of what happened as he thought they needed to know. The boys were all disgusted at the idea of baby-minding. The girls were a little regretful.

“Madison?” Helen repeated. “I named mine Madison? I always thought that was a nice name.”

“In ten years or so, when you’re ready, you can name your first child that,” Chrístõ told her. “Meanwhile, it’s time we all got out of here. It’s Friday night and we’re all wasting our free time.” He reached for the dematerialisation switch and set a destination in the middle of the catchment area for the school. It would be a short walk home for most of them. They waved and promised to see him next week at school. He cheerfully reminded them about homework and they expressed their feelings about that subject as they went their separate ways.

“That was really something,” Billy said. “What will happen now?”

“I’m not sure anything will, except some insurance claims for damaged warehouses next to the one we blew up, and cancelled social studies lessons until the school can replace Mr Levenson.”

“He was really made of plastic?”

“Yes. A very good Human simulacrum – but gone now, for good.”

“I never really liked social studies, anyway,” Billy admitted. “It always seemed a bit soft. I’ll come and join your class on Friday afternoon. I’m starting to get the hang of reading the kind of stuff you make us read.”

“Good enough,” Chrístõ told him. “And at least the crèche will be closed this time.”