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

The tenth door opened and he stepped through. As expected he was faced by another locked door, another globe, another key puzzle under glass.

The globe brought back so many memories – some of his fondest and some of the most painful. So many losses – Rose, Joan, Donna, Astrid, all taken from him one way or another after he had let his hearts belong to them. Martha – she was a survivor, but not without some scars that were his fault. Jack Harkness…. He literally WAS a survivor, but he, too, counted the cost of that survival.

Too many enemies had haunted his Tenth life. Cybermen, Daleks… Davros… The Master! He shuddered as the deadliest faces he had ever known floated in the mist.

“I don’t want to fight ANY of those,” he whispered. It wasn’t cowardice, but weariness at the endlessness of his war against those enemies of peace in the universe. “Give me something simple, please.”

Fat chance.

He looked at the beautifully intricate model within the glass case and new at once where he was going this time. It was a place he had visited many times, but too many of those times had led to desperate struggles for life and liberty.

New New York.

Or New New New York,

Or New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York if he was being pedantic, or trying to impress somebody with his charm and wit. He was on his own and this soon into a regeneration he wasn’t entirely sure if he had either charm or wit, so he was glad he didn’t have to chance it.

There was the smallest possibility that his visit would be uneventful and he would complete his task without any trouble at all.

But even if it wasn’t New New York was a place he knew he could handle.

The TARDIS materialised in one of the magnificent plazas that New New York at its best did so well. It was wide and spacious, quiet, despite many people using it as a place to rest between work hours. There were fountains and sculptures, sculptures that were fountains, even a square of water that materialised out of empty air due to a thin layer of moisture-producing molecules suspended by an anti-gravity field. The ‘rain’ fell straight down except where people walked or stood underneath it and repelling molecules created an invisible umbrella over them. It was amusing to children who splashed about without getting wet, peaceful to one man doing tai chi in his own cocoon of rain, and the ultimate romantic moment for a couple who were kissing under their ‘umbrella’.

A man stepped out of the rain and walked towards The Doctor. His expression was quizzical. He had obviously watched him step out of the TARDIS, but he wasn’t quite sure.

“It’s me, Jack,” The Doctor told him. “Another new face. How did you know I would be here?”

“This strange guy dressed like the Man from Del Monte told me you needed help. I said I owed you more than one favour. The next minute, I’m here. New New York, in the local year 54 AE. Apparently that means fifty-four years after Earth was fried by the sun.”

“Yes. I was there,” The Doctor said. “Not bad, is it? Of course, it’s all going to go a bit pear-shaped a century from now, but just now it’s beautiful.”

“Yeah.” Jack had a feeling they were making small talk to avoid big talk. There was always some big talk between them, but it never quite got said.

He wanted The Doctor to ask him what he had been doing since they last parted outside the Welsh Assembly Building after saving the world from The Master. But he didn’t. The Doctor never asked questions like that. Either he already knew everything and knew it was too traumatic to rake over again, or he didn’t care.

Jack hoped it was the first.

“Anyway, Del Monte Man said to tell you it’s the Duke of Manhattan’s Coronet. That’s what you’re here for.”

“Kind of him to help out,” The Doctor said dryly.

“You notice I haven’t yet asked WHY you need the Duke of New Manhattan’s Coronet,” Jack added.

“Long story,” The Doctor replied, then he told him the short version. Jack grinned.

“Sounds loopy,” he said. “If fruit guy can do all that, why doesn’t he just do it? Why the circus?”

“I have to prove myself. That’s fair enough, really. What I’m asking… to take back a regeneration… regain a huge chunk of my life… it’s a lot to ask. If my people were still around it wouldn’t be possible at all. It’s right that I should have to earn it.”

“Putting it that way… yeah, it makes sense,” Jack agreed. “I’m not sure I’d trust a man who dresses like that. But if you do….”

“If you judge people on how they dress, it’s a good job you never met me in some of my past lives, Jack,” The Doctor remarked with a reminiscent smile.

He turned and looked up at one of the tallest skyscrapers in New New York. It was a magnificent structure of glass and concrete, topped by a peculiar ornament – a huge gold replica of a crown – or coronet. Huge coloured glass windows were set into it, emulating the jewels in the real thing.

The Duke of New Manhattan’s Coronet. The model of New Manhattan under the glass case was about the right scale so that the real Coronet would fit onto it. That was why he needed it.

But how to get it….

They walked towards the magnificent building, becoming aware as they drew closer that there was something serious happening there. there were men in NNYPD uniforms guarding the grand entrance portico at the top of the splendid marble steps. A hover copter with the ominous livery of the coroner’s office was just taking off and there was a virtual police cordon around an apparently empty space in front of the steps.

It wasn’t empty. There was a perception filter inside the cordon where the police where working. Jack and The Doctor let their eyes adjust to the existence of the filter and saw the crime scene for themselves. They noted the blood congealing on the marble paving, some darker matter that was brain and lighter parts that were skull fragments.

The noted the shattered glass scattered all around the void where the body had landed. The fragments glittered like diamonds.

Jack and The Doctor both looked up instinctively, but the window the victim had fallen, or been pushed, or jumped through, was too high for them to see in detail.

They looked down again as the doors opened and more NNYPD officers came out escorting a woman. She was immaculately dressed and her hair and make-up perfect. But that was only because the hair was fixed with ‘permanent’ styling mousse that wouldn’t come undone in a hurricane and the cosmetics were ‘Stay-Long’. Even the tears streaming down her face wouldn’t disturb the mascara or leave a trace in the peaches-and-cream complexion.

Jack and The Doctor were almost swept away by the tide of journalists and holo-vid photographers who surged forward. Another virtual cordon sprang up in front of them, along with a force field that blocked them from getting closer. That didn’t stop the New New York paparazzi from taking their pictures and shouting their questions out.

“Duchess, why did you kill the Duke?” was the main question.

“Why did you push him out of the window after shooting him?” was another.

“Will you plead the spouse amendment?” somebody asked.

“I didn’t do it,” the Duchess protested tearfully. “It was… it was the one-armed man.”

“Did I hear right?” Jack asked The Doctor. “The one-armed man.”

“It’s been done before,” The Doctor conceded. “But I think she’s telling the truth?”

“You’re kidding!”

“I’m not. But the trouble is, that’s not why we’re here. I don’t think we can do anything about it.”

Jack nodded. He understood that perfectly well. Torchwood were often in the thick of police investigations, but finding the murderer was only their responsibility if the murderer was an alien or a human whose mind was taken over by an alien. Humans killing humans were for the police to sort out.

“Curious, all the same,” The Doctor remarked as they strode side by side up the marble steps and presented their credentials – two pieces of psychic paper – to the NNYPD guards. They were saluted neatly and the door opened for them.

“Straight up the stairs, sirs,” said one of the officers.

The Doctor waited until they were inside the foyer before he checked to see that they had been identified as senior crime scene detectives not the King of the Belgians and the President of Namibia or something equally unlikely.

“This is what I call luxury,” Jack commented with a low whistle. The foyer was spectacular by any standards. The high ceiling was made of frosted crystal glass stalactites lit from beneath so that it looked like one huge chandelier. The glass theme continued in the walls and even the floor.

The staircase was impressive, too. It was wide and long like something out of Gone With The Wind, but made of more of that crystal glass. The banisters were opaque white, but the steps were sea-through.

And they moved. It was a see-through glass escalator. There was no obvious mechanism beneath it, and it rose up without any supports, defying gravity as well as all logical suggestion that escalators shouldn’t be made that way.

“It looks like the only way up,” Jack commented.

“Looks like it,” The Doctor agreed. He put his hand on the banister and stepped onto the escalator. Jack quickly followed, moving up to share the same step with him.

“This doesn’t actually go all the way up to the top, does it?” he asked.

“Scared of heights, Jack?” The Doctor queried.

“No, just easily bored. This is slow.”

The escalator didn’t go all the way. It reached only as far as the Mezzanine floor above the crystal foyer. There they were met by a glass robot with its inner workings fully displayed. Its glass eyes rolled in its glass skull as it stepped forward and asked if the two visitors had an appointment. On cue they showed their psychic paper. But robots weren’t psychic. They were oblivious to such things. The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver instead and Jack tapped at the miniature keys of the vortex manipulator on his wrist.

“You are welcome, friends of the Duke of Manhattan,” the robot said. “Please continue up to the penthouse in the executive elevator.”

“We’ll do that,” Jack answered. “Have a nice day.”

“Nobody told the robots that their master is dead?” The Doctor considered that small part of the puzzle as they travelled up the central shaft of the building in a box of opaque crystal glass. They couldn’t see how high they were or how fast they were ascending, and both were glad of it. There was something about lift shafts that was unnerving even to those who had a head for heights.

There was another robot waiting for them when the lift stopped and the glass doors opened. It obviously had a logic link to the one downstairs. It greeted them cordially and invited them to meet the Duke in his private drawing room.

“They don’t seem to get it,” Jack confirmed as they were escorted up a small set of non-moving stairs to the drawing room. “Interesting, by the way. It looks like ALL the staff are robots. Did the Duke have a thing about people?”

“He was obsessed with hygiene,” The Doctor answered. “I know him from previous visits to New Earth. The first time I met him he was in hospital with a nasty terminal disease that was cured by unethical means. Ever since he was convinced he could get ill from contact with the lower classes. He wouldn’t have any servants at all. His only visitors would have to be aristocrats. He was convinced that only they were free from disease.”

“In other words, the Duke was loopy?”

“Just a bit.”

“We’re not aristocrats,” Jack pointed out.

“I am. I’m a Lord of Time. That’s not just a figure of speech, you know.”

“Your Lordship!” Jack made a mock bow.

“The Duke will be with you shortly,” the robot informed them as they stepped into the sumptuous drawing room. Glass, again, was a feature, but there were soft furnishings providing some comfort – three sofas, each wide enough to accommodate a netball team were arranged around a central area where a large glass table supported a range of liquor and fine glassware for drinking. The robot invited Jack and The Doctor to sit and then prepared cocktails – Manhattans – before informing them that the Duke would be with them shortly.

“Do you think the Coronet is in this room?” Jack asked when the robot servant left the room.

“No, it’s kept in the Muniment room along with all his other valuables, his jewels, the duchess’s jewels, the deeds to Manhattan and other property he owns. I’m just wondering if the robot staff will allow us to get in there.”

“Let’s find out.” Both men swallowed their drinks in one gulp. Both enjoyed the feeling of the liquor going down their throats, but The Doctor was genetically unaffected by alcohol and Jack inherited the trait when he was over-dosed by Arton energy in the Game Station. Neither felt any affects from the drink as they slipped out of the drawing room and mounted another set of steps that brought them to the top of the Duke’s skyscraper.

“This is the place,” The Doctor said. “This is where he keeps his valuables.”

“The family jewels,” Jack remarked quite unnecessarily.

“In fact, yes,” The Doctor replied. “The Coronet and all the other treasures have been owned by the hereditary Manhattan Dukedom for a dozen generations.”

The door to the muniment room was locked by three electronic locks, and although it was made of glass like everything else it had a solid, serious look about it. Nobody was going to simply smash that door.

Well, nobody without a sonic screwdriver, anyway. The Doctor applied the glowing end to the door for thirty seconds then stood back with a smug expression. At first Jack thought nothing was happening, but then there was an extended cracking sound and the entire door crazed over, holding its shape for a few more seconds before falling noisily in a million or more tiny, glittering fragments.

“Every time I saw this door I wanted to do that,” The Doctor said. “I just wanted to prove to the old duffer that his super-strong door was vulnerable to a certain sonic tempo. And I was right.”

“Show off,” Jack said as he stepped over the crunching glass and into the Muniment Room.

It was a small room compared to the rest of the penthouse. It could be crossed in three strides. But each of the four walls was lined from floor to ceiling with cabinets – glass ones, of course, in which the treasures of Manhattan were stored. The most valuable but least visually impressive was the title deed to New Manhattan. Five million people lived in the three square miles of land and all of them paid taxes to the Duke on account of his ownership of that land. Unlike the spectacular jewels in other cabinets, the deed generated money all the time it sat there.

The jewels were impressive, though. The Duke of Manhattan owned the largest diamond in the galaxy – the Star of New Harlem. It glittered away on a cushion of red velvet alongside the largest emerald and the largest ruby.

The Duchess, when she wasn’t being detained for murdering her husband, had the choice of fifty different sets of jewels to go with her gowns. Pearls, diamonds, every precious gem in every colour imaginable were set into gold necklaces, earrings bracelets and finger rings.

But the Coronet was undoubtedly the star of the show. It, too, sat on a bed of velvet. It was eight inches high, the spikes curving around to meet in the middle with deep purple mink padding inside. The third largest ruby in the galaxy was set into the top and thirty-five more jewels around the rim between the bas relief carvings in the gold depicting the skyline of New New York.

“Showy,” Jack commented. “But impressively so.”

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “Very much so.”

He used the sonic in a less dramatic way to override the locks on the cabinets. Around the room they all sprang open at once. Jack briefly remembered a time when he was much less honest than he was now and might have at least shoved a handful of diamonds in his pocket from a box where they were piled up like sugar lumps.

He kept his hands in his pockets and watched as The Doctor pulled a perfectly ordinary Sainsburys ‘Bag for Life’ out of one of his pockets and slipped the Coronet into it. Either that was the most ridiculous thing to do or the most brilliant. Even if some silent alarms were tripping right now, who would look for the Coronet in an old, manky carrier bag?

Well, the NNYPD probably would, he reasoned. But they didn’t see any of them as they came out of the Muniment Room. They did see more of the robots dotting back and forwards doing menial tasks, but no police. Even though the crime scene was up here it seemed as if they hadn’t been to look at it.

“Weird that,” Jack commented. “I mean, the guy’s dead, yet everything carries on as normal up here. There isn’t even a crime scene investigation going on.”

The Doctor nodded but said nothing.

“I mean… you’re right, of course. None of our business. We’re just here for the Coronet. But….”

“Sirs, the Duke is waiting for you,” said the butler robot, bearing down on you. “In the nursery.”

“The nursery?” Jack and The Doctor both looked at each other. Of course, that word had two different meanings – except on the planet Cheem. They had both made up their minds that the Duke was in some kind of penthouse-hothouse tending to his favourite plants.

They were wrong. The nursery was the sort where babies were nurtured, and the Duke of Manhattan – the new Duke of Manhattan now that his father was dead – gurgled happily in his glass crib lined with the finest lace. He looked about three weeks old and was a pink and chubby baby, just as anyone would expect – except that it was dressed in a romper suit of purple velvet and ermine and the woollen cap on his head had a Coronet shape knitted into its design.

“Cute kid,” Jack commented. “I wonder what’ll happen to him. I mean, his dad is dead, his mom’s under arrest for murdering him. Even for somebody who stands to inherit the contents of that closet upstairs, that’s rough.”

“I quite agree,” The Doctor remarked. “Wealth is no guarantee of happiness.” He reached to touch the baby and was startled by a sudden movement in the corner of the room. He hadn’t even seen the robot until then. It was glass, just like the others, but its internal workings were, too. It was completely see-through and camouflaged against any surface it stood next to. The wall itself being glass made it invisible until it moved.

“Do not touch the baby without wearing sanitized gloves,” the robot said in a mildly chastising tone. “Do not breathe within the clean air crib environment.”

“No problem,” The Doctor said, stepping back from the crib. He watched as the robot did the fastest nappy change in the history of that task – or possibly diaper change since this was New Manhattan - and gave the baby a bottle of milk.

The surprising thing was that it did all of that with one very dextrous hand at the end of an arm that could twist in directions ordinary arms didn’t. The other limb wasn’t an arm. There was an angled handle arrangement with a portable crib currently attached. It was obviously multi-purpose and might easily have a pushchair or a baby-walker or any other useful tool clipped on like the gadgets that came with a food processor. The robot had scooped the baby up into the crib while it did the change and feeding and was now rocking the Duke back to sleep in a very maternal way.

“One armed man?” Jack queried.

“I’m thinking the same thing.” The Doctor stepped around the robot nurse and went to the lace-covered window. He pulled the curtain aside and noted the glass fragments on the ledge outside. The window itself had auto-repaired. After all, nobody wanted a big gaping hole causing draughts in a nursery.

But this was obviously the crime scene.

“What the heck happened?” Jack asked. “Did the old Duke breathe on the baby?”

“Quite possibly,” The Doctor turned and looked at the one-armed robot. “You’re programmed with all security protocols?”

“Yes, sir,” the robot answered. Now that nobody was close to the baby in an unsanitary way the robot was perfectly polite.

“Run playback for the past three hours,” The Doctor said.

The robot blinked two glass eyes and projected a hologram that would make George Lucas weep. It essentially projected everything that had happened in the requested time frame into the room it happened in. The Doctor and Jack watched the robot nurse tend to the baby. They watched the Duchess come into the room and put on hand sanitising gloves and a mask before picking up the baby under the careful watch of the robot which had a coronet themed musical mobile dangling from its handle-joint at that time.

They watched as the Duke came into the room and tried to take the baby from the Duchess.

“Can we get sound?” Jack asked. The Doctor requested audio playback and they listened in increasing horror as the argument between the parents of the baby got not only surreal but very frightening. The Duke, who really must have been as loopy as Jack had suggested earlier, was insisting that the baby carried thousands of germs and had to be disposed of.

“Disposed of?” Jack was hardly a family man, but the idea chilled him all the same. The Doctor was even less maternal, but he, too, was horrified at what the Duke wanted to do with the baby. He glanced at the disposal chute in the corner of the room where the used nappies, dribbled on bibs and damp romper suits would be thrown. It had a special one-way valve so that nothing noxious could come back through to the nursery. At the bottom of the shaft – somewhere in the basement of the two hundred storey high skyscraper – was an atomiser that turned the waste into its constituent molecules.

“He really WAS nuts,” Jack confirmed as they watched the nanny robot put itself between the Duke and his offspring. The fight that ensued was brief and ended when the robot pushed the Duke through the window.

“All the other robots are loyal to the Duke, of course,” The Doctor pointed out, perhaps needlessly. “But the nanny robot is loyal to the baby.”

They didn’t need to watch the rest of the scenes where the Duchess put her child back in his crib and then waited for the NNYPD to come to the scene of the crime.

“Of course they arrested her,” The Doctor said. “Robots are not allowed to kill humans. It’s that old chestnut the Three Laws. Nobody realised that the nanny robot had a specially adapted version that protected the baby at all costs, especially against its loopy dad who thought it was a source of germs.”

“Yikes,” Jack commented. The Doctor stopped the playback and asked the robot for a copy of the recording. It produced a memory wafer the size of the baby Duke’s thumbnail which The Doctor carefully put into a small plastic evidence bag that just happened to be in that bottomless pocket of his.

“We’ll give this to the police downstairs on our way out,” he said. “That should exonerate the poor Duchess. There won’t be any action against the robot. The law on New Earth doesn’t recognise robots as being culpable. That’s something they will need to address as AI becomes more self-sustaining but for now technology can’t be charged with murder.”

“Fair enough,” Jack decided. “It was nothing to do with us, anyway. We were just here for the Coronet.”

The contents of the ‘bag for life’ didn’t interest the police officers they gave the memory wafer to. They thanked The Doctor and Jack for the good citizenship and let them past the cordon. They headed back across the plaza to the TARDIS. Jack looked at the police box fondly.

“Come along for the ride,” The Doctor said. “Del Monte Man can meet you at the door.”

Jack accepted the invitation. It was good to take even a short trip in the TARDIS again. The twenty minutes or so was long enough to reminisce about some of the happier times they had shared, glossing over the more difficult occasions when they had been fighting for their lives and the continued existence of the universe as they knew it.

“You’re not quite you,” Jack commented. “This new regeneration doesn’t really fit.”

“I know. That’s why I want my old one back.”

“I liked the U-boat captain in the leather jacket,” Jack said. “Why not go back to that one.”

“I’m not sure I get to choose. Besides, there’s been a lot of water over the weir since then. I’ll settle for my last life back. It’s not too bad. Plenty of wear in that version of me, yet. You’d like me.”

“I like you anyway,” Jack conceded. “But I hope you get what you want, just for once.”

The TARDIS materialised in front of the unlocked door. The Doctor stepped out carrying the Coronet in the ‘bag for life’. He looked around, expecting to see the Guardian somewhere, ready to take Jack back where he belonged.

He wasn’t there.

“This is only borrowed,” he said as he pulled the Coronet out of the bag and placed it on top of the model of the skyscraper. “Later, it goes back to the young Duke. He’ll grow up to wear it in the proper time.”

“Hopefully he’ll be a bit less loopy than his dad,” Jack considered.

The lock mechanism opened. The next door, the one that led into the memories of his eleventh incarnation, opened.

The Guardian still hadn’t put in an appearance.

“Maybe I’ll borrow you for a while, too,” he said. “Come on.”

They both stepped forward through the tenth door.