He felt himself regaining consciousness like rising from a deep ocean to the surface. He heard sounds. He knew there was light beyond his eyelids. He opened them slowly and looked up at a beautiful woman with green eyes and nut brown hair. Those eyes were filled with relief now, but he could see that there had been anxiety for a while.

“You’ve come back to me, mon Docteur à moi,” she said. “Oh, chéri… I was so worried.”

“Docteur?” he frowned. “Doctor?”

Yes, he thought. That WAS his name, once. Yes. Doctor.

What was her name?

“L… L… Leela…”

No. That wasn’t it. But it seemed close, somehow. He tried again.

“L… ouise… Oh… Oh, Louise, my love. How could I possibly have forgotten you? I am so sorry, my dear.” He reached and embraced her fondly. He kissed her indulgently for a long time before sitting up and looking around.

He was in an unfamiliar but soft, comfortable bed in a bright, clean room. There was sunshine coming in through the window. It was bright, yellow sunshine, and as his senses came back to him he was aware of other clues that narrowed it down to one planet.

“We’re on Earth!” he said, noting he was wearing clean pyjamas. “I can smell it… flowers… roses… in the garden and… river water… the Thames. It has to be the Thames… I’m in London.”

“Yes,” Louise told him. “My love, please… don’t excite yourself. You’ve been in a coma for nearly a week. You may not be well, yet.”

“A week?” He shook his head, smiling softly. “Just a week.”

“Just….” Louise was startled. “Chéri, I have been so worried…”

“She’s not the only one.” Another woman leaned close. Her face made The Doctor’s two hearts suddenly beat faster. He reached out his hand to her and she grasped it emotionally.

“Susan,” he said. “My Susan.” He looked at Louise and smiled. “Emergency Protocol One initiated… I set it to bring you here… to the only other people in the universe who could help you if anything happened to me.”

“I thought it would take me back to Forêt,” she told him. “Instead it came here… to this house. Susan said you are her grandfather.”

“That’s right,” he answered. “Oh, Susan… it is so good to see you. Is… HE around… What about…”

“Everyone is here,” Susan assured him. “But I’m not going to let a whole crowd in to this room. Not until I’m sure you’re completely well. When the TARDIS got here, we thought you were dying.”

“I’m all right,” he replied. “I am now. But…. Susan… any chance of a cup of tea… for all of us… and I’ll tell you a story that will make your hair curl!”

Louise looked at the dark haired lady called Susan and was puzzled. Her hair was already curled. But she went out of the room and returned presently with a tray containing tea and sandwiches. The Doctor took a cup of tea and ate some of the food before he began his story.

“We accidentally dropped out of the vortex in G-Complex space,” he said. “Do you remember travelling through an area like that when you were a girl, Susan… Remember how we both had the strangest hallucinations caused by the Xenon particle bombardment. You kept thinking you were a chicken and I…”

“You insisted that you were the Queen of Xanto IV and demanded to know where your sceptre was,” Susan answered him with a smile. “I gave you your walking stick and you seemed happy with it. It was very strange, but over in about an hour. You didn’t lose consciousness for a week.”

“No, it was different this time,” he admitted. “The old TARDIS has had a few upgrades since then, of course. I was able to shield the console room from Xenon particle intrusion. I thought we’d be all right. But then…”

He paused as if he was having trouble remembering.

“It was so long ago… feels so long ago, anyway. So much longer than a week.”

“The doors opened,” Louise said. “In space… the doors just opened. And there was a light. I saw it coming towards us. It came into the TARDIS and enveloped The Doctor. Then it disappeared. The door closed again and… he collapsed… I thought he was dead. I was so scared. Then the TARDIS began to move by itself and it landed here. And… chéri, you’ve been here ever since. So I don’t understand what else there is to tell.”

“There is much to tell,” The Doctor answered her. “A whole lifetime’s story to tell.”

It was all still fresh in his head, even though his own memories were coming back to him, now.

He remembered opening his eyes and looking up at a yellow sky.

He remembered feeling safe. A yellow sky was familiar, it was good. He had known skies such as that all his life.

No. He hadn’t. He moved slowly, painfully, feeling bruised and hurt. He managed to stand up but he felt dizzy and sick even so.

He looked up at the sky and realised it was only yellow because it was sunrise. The normal colour of the sky was blue. Something like ninety-eight per cent of the class-m planets – those that supported humanoid life – had blue skies. Only a very few with unusual elements in their upper atmosphere had any other colour sky.

Then he wondered how he knew that.

Why did he know that when he didn’t know where he was.

He had no idea how he got there.

He didn’t even know who he was.

He focussed on his surroundings. He was in the middle of a wide, featureless plain. Dry scrubby grass was under foot. The soil it clung to was sandy and dry. On a horizon that must have been several hundred miles away there was a smudge that might have been hills.

He turned around and saw the huge scar in the landscape that had been ploughed up by the space ship when it crash landed.

The ship? He had been on it. At least he thought he had. He thought he could remember the emergency sirens, the orders to go to get into safety harnesses and prepare for impact. He remembered screams and cries, prayers and curses as the ship entered the planet’s atmosphere. He had known it was going too fast. He had expected to die.

The pilots must have got some control at the last minute, he noted as he approached the badly damaged but remarkably intact ship. It hadn’t broken to pieces on impact. There was no fire. It had been a rough crash landing, but it was one that at least some of the passengers should have survived.

Some of them had. The emergency airlocks opened as he approached and weary, shocked passengers clambered out. He ran to help them.

“Come on,” he said encouragingly. “You’re safe now. The worst is over.”

“Where are we?” somebody asked. “What planet is this?”

“Not the one we were supposed to be going to,” somebody else said. “This is… just a desert.”

“It’s solid land,” he told them. “And we’re safe.”

He climbed up into the ship. The passengers were evacuating quickly but he walked through all of the sections making sure nobody was left.

This wasn’t one of the really big colony ships carrying thousands of people at a time. If it had been, it really wouldn’t have survived the impact. Those ships were never designed to enter a planetary atmosphere. They were built in space and remained there, serviced by shuttles.

This was one of the smaller ships that pre-dated those huge colonisers. There would be no more than three hundred souls aboard along with the tools, materials and equipment for making their new life under a new sun.

“How do I know that?” he wondered. He still wasn’t sure what was happening. He DID have vague memories of being on the ship. He knew what had happened to it. But he didn’t know what happened to him. Why had he woken up outside the ship before everyone else?

There were casualties, especially in the forward section where the crash landing had been the most devastating to fragile spines and easily crushed skulls.

Nobody else was left alive on the ship. Just to be certain he closed his eyes and concentrated, feeling for a spark of life among the carnage.

There was nothing.

How did he do that? He added that to the list of questions that could wait for now as he made his way back out of the ship and looked at the survivors. They weren’t just sitting around bemoaning their fate. Some of them had organised a triage system and were giving first aid to the injured.

“Let me help,” he said. “I have medical training.”

“Do you?” The woman who was trying to set a splint on a broken leg looked at him curiously. “Weren’t you one of the caterers?”

“No,” somebody else responded. “He’s the pianist from the bar.”

There were several suggestions put forward. All the survivors seemed to know his face, but nobody was sure what he had done aboard the ship.

“I am… I am John Smith,” he said as the name popped into his head. He wasn’t sure that was true. But it seemed to suffice for now. “And I am a medic.” He took over setting the splint quickly and efficiently in proof of that. It seemed to satisfy those who had questioned him. He checked several more patients and attended to them. Most were broken bones or lacerations. There were a couple of head injuries that needed close care. But those that had survived seemed to have got off relatively lightly.

“It’s well past dawn now,” he said as he worked. “It will be uncomfortably hot by noon. We need to organise shelter for everyone, especially the injured, and the children. Then we need to assess food supplies and potable water.”

Shelter was easy. The colonists had been prepared to rough it when they arrived at their destination. There were tents stored in one of the aft cargo holds. John Smith delegated some of the men to get a camp set up.

Food supplies were easy. The ship was still six months from its final destination and there was another hold full of dehydrated food packs.

Potable water was another matter.

“The ship hasn’t any power,” explained a man called Dennan Rboan who was an electrician on Earth and had planned to be again when he reached the colony planet. “Without power there is no water. Because it uses a hydrogen-oxygen conversion unit to produce water….”

John Smith nodded in understanding. Fresh water – a compound of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen - was produced in huge conversion tanks by mixing those two elements at near freezing temperature. It was the reason long distance space travel was possible. Carrying enough water for the needs of so many people had been impossible before it was invented.

“Without water, we have no food,” pointed out the woman who had thought John Smith was a caterer. Her name was Cara Mandrick. “We can’t reconstitute dehydrated food without it.”

“We’re all going to die,” somebody moaned.

“We’re not going to die,” John Smith replied. “There will be some water in the storage tanks. If we ration it we can manage for several days. Maybe even a few weeks. After that…”

“After that we die…..”

“We’re alive now,” he said. “Find containers to put the water in. Let’s get ourselves organised.”

These were resourceful people. They had, after all, chosen to become colonists. They had expected to work hard building a community from scratch. The same qualities that made them choose that destiny helped them now. Some of them put up tents. Others walked a little way downwind and dug latrines, recognising an even more basic need than shade from the sun. One of the larger tents became a hospital for the injured. A smaller one attached to it was a dispensary. John Smith had all the non-emergency medical supplies stored there – headache tablets, diuretics, balms for blistered hands after a morning of hard manual work, sticking plasters and bandages. When the needs of the more seriously wounded were attended to he dispensed those minor remedies to those who asked.

Another large tent became a mess hall. Meals were organised. Twice in the course of their first day the survivors gathered together and ate. John Smith organised a census while they were eating. Heads were counted. Names were taken, and family relationships.

Two hundred and seventy-seven people had survived the crash. Thirty-nine were dead.

As the day cooled, the party that had dug latrines dug graves instead. The thirty-nine who hadn’t made it were decently buried. Those who survived paid their respects. John Smith made a list of the names and kept a chart of where each victim had been buried.

The sun set. The survivors gathered in small groups around solar heaters that had been collecting sunlight all day and now gave back the energy with a soft, reassuring glow.

John Smith sat alone by one of those heaters, gazing into the glow and trying to find the answers to some of the questions he had not had time to ask during the busy day.

How did he get here, among these people? Who was he? How did he know so many other things, but not his own name?

He was sure he had a life before he woke here on this planet with the crashed ship as his immediate priority. But when he tried to remember what sort of life it was he just found an impenetrable fog. It was as if that part of his mind, that part of his life, had been blanked out. It was all gone.

“Mr Smith…” He looked up from his musings to the woman, Cara. She held out a plate of reconstituted food to him. He accepted it gratefully. She hesitated a moment and then sat beside him.

“Have you eaten?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she replied. “I have. Mr Smith… what are we going to do? How long will we be stranded here? Do you know if they were able to get an SOS sent? Will anyone be looking for us?”

“There was nothing left of the bridge,” John Smith answered. “The pilot and navigation crew died instantly. They jettisoned the warp crystal core before we entered the atmosphere and came down on auxiliary power. If they hadn’t, we would just have been ground zero of a devastating explosion that would have turned this plain into a radioactive wasteland. But in doing so, they knew they were almost certainly going to lose their own lives.”

“That… was brave of them.”

“Very brave. But to answer your question…there is no way of knowing how long we might be stranded here. We should prepare for it to be a long time.”

“How long? Longer than the water supply might last?”

“Yes,” he replied. “But I’ll work something out. I promise.”

“Why… should you work it out?” Cara asked. “It’s strange… but you seem to have been doing all the thinking for us, all day. And I really don’t know who you are. I think I remember you on the ship. But I don’t remember if you were crew or a passenger. And you don’t seem to be with anybody. Most of us are in family groups. I came with my brother and his wife. They’re both in the hospital at the moment. You tended to their wounds. And you did it so well, that I’m sure you must be a doctor of some sort. But you know about so many other things, too.”

“Except who I am,” he admitted. “I think I got a bang on the head myself. I don’t know the answers to your questions. But… it might be better if nobody else knew that. They do seem to trust me. They might not if they think I’m not all there. And they have to trust somebody. That’s important right now.”

“So do you,” Cara answered him. “And I’m quite glad that you chose me. I will keep your secret.”

“Thank you.”

“Mr Smith!” He looked around as two men and a woman approached him. In his mind’s eye he pictured the census he had taken and remembered that they were Harold and Frank Evans and their sister, Jean. “Mr Smith… what do you make of those lights over there?”

“What lights?” he asked scrambling to his feet. He looked to the far horizon where that smudge of hills had been visible by day. The horizon was still indistinct in that direction, but he understood what Mr Evans meant. There was a yellowish glow around the outline of the hills.

“It could be a city,” Harold Evans said. “There might be people there. People who could help us.”

“No,” John Smith told him. “I’m sorry, but it’s not. It’s an aurora. The sun set in that direction. It’s casting a glow in the sky. It will disappear in an hour or so.”

“No,” Frank Evans contradicted him. “No, it’s street lights. It’s a city. We’re not alone on this planet.”

“It’s an aurora,” John Smith repeated. “I’m sorry. It would be nice to think it IS civilisation. But I know the difference. I remember… when I was a child I lived on a plain just like this one. The sun of my planet caused the same phenomena. When I was very young I imagined it was a city that could only be seen at the magic hour after sunset. When my grandfather explained about the curvature of the planet and refraction of light, I felt quite disappointed, even though it was the beginning of my love for astro-physics…”

“It’s a city, I tell you,” Harold Evans insisted. “And I think we ought to try to reach it. Some of us at least. Obviously the injured can’t come. And the children shouldn’t try. It’s too far for them. Some of the adults should stay with them. But I think a party ought to try. We should take supplies… as much as we can carry… and tents… and try to reach that city.”

“There is no city,” John Smith said again. “It would be suicide. Go to bed. Get some sleep. Tomorrow we all have a lot of work to do.”

“Are you going to sleep?” Cara asked after the three went away grumbling.

“Probably not,” he answered. “At least, not very much. The ship’s doctor was among those we buried. I have to look after the people in the hospital tent.”

“I’ll… keep you company,” she told him. “I’m sure there is something I can do.”

The idea surprised him, but he could think of no reason why not.

They were both busy during the night caring for the injured, dispensing painkillers and providing nursing care. They got a little sleep between their duties. John Smith rested far less than anyone. But he didn’t seem to need sleep. He was alert and ready whenever he was needed.

The next day, he was still wide awake as he gathered the natural leaders of the group together and discussed their immediate future.

“It is possible that an SOS went out. In which case, help may be on its way. Even if it is, it might take weeks. We have to be prepared for much longer. We have to properly assess the food stocks we have, medical supplies, clothing, blankets... The water problem… I might have an idea about that…”

“We need to find help.” John Smith was not surprised when Fred Evans spoke up. “We can’t just sit here and wait to die of hunger and thirst. I still think some of us should go and look for that city.”

“There isn’t a city,” John Smith said once again. “I told you last night…”

They argued a little longer, but most of the survivors were against the idea. They thought that a rescue ship would be coming for them. They wanted to stay near the crashed ship and wait.

Evans reluctantly agreed to wait.

They made the best of their situation. Families and groups of friends began to make their tents into makeshift homes, bringing mattresses and blankets, even chairs and tables out of the ship. Anything to bring a little comfort into their lives.

They did what humans always did in the face of adversity. They adapted and made do.

John Smith thought they were amazing.

But the spirit that they adapted and made do in was one of hope. And he knew that hope could easily evaporate. He knew that every day without help arriving would diminish that hope. They would start to despair.

The water was the most potent reminder that they could not wait indefinitely. It was carefully rationed to be used only for cooking and drinking. There was no way to wash either clothes or bodies. After three or four days that was starting to be a cause of distress, too. It wasn’t just that people hated to feel dirty. But sooner or later lack of hygiene would become a real health issue. John Smith looked at the medical supplies and wondered how long they would last if everyone was struck down with dysentery. How would hope survive when they were weakened by illness and adapting and making do became unbearable.

It was early on the sixth day since they were marooned that Harold Evans again brought up the possibility of reaching the city that he still clearly believed in. Again John Smith refused.

This time Evans didn’t back down.

“Who made you our leader, anyway?” Evans demanded. “You’re not the captain. You’re nobody. Most of us didn’t even know you before the crash. Ok, you’re a medic. And that’s good. We need one of those. But that doesn’t give you the right to take command of us.”

A few people murmured in agreement. And it was true. Nobody had authorised him. He had taken the initiative when most of them were still dazed and disorientated and grateful simply to be alive.

But he HAD taken that initiative and he thought most of them trusted him. He couldn’t let Evans and his obsession break down that trust.

“Listen to me,” John Smith replied angrily. “Everyone listen to me. There is NO city. The light is caused by the sun’s rays refracting around the curvature of the planet. You’re going to kill yourselves chasing phantoms. I won’t allow…”

“You won’t allow!” Harold Evans stepped closer to John Smith. He was two inches taller and considerably wider than he was. He looked as if he could knock him down with one hand tied behind his back. John Smith stood his ground. Harold Evans stepped back, deciding against physical force. But he again appealed to the crowd.

“Why should we trust him? We don’t even know who he is.”

“I trust him,” Cara said. Several other people agreed with her. But Harold Evans shouted them down.

“We’re going to try to reach that city tonight, when the sun goes down and we have the lights to guide us.”

“We?” John Smith queried.

“There’s a dozen already who are willing to go with me. I intend to find out if anyone else wants to join us. And you have no authority to stop us. We’ll need supplies. Food, water, medical. If you try to keep those things from us I’ll have you restrained until we’ve taken what we need. You, and anyone else who stands in our way.”

“It’s suicide,” John Smith said again. But this time in a resigned tone. He knew there was nothing he could do to prevent anyone from leaving the camp.

All he could do was make sure they had a fighting chance of surviving.

“Before nightfall you need to know exactly how many people ARE going with you,” he said. “So that we know just what supplies you’ll be needing.”

In a break from his duties in the makeshift hospital, John Smith went into the crashed ship. He emerged with a small toolkit and a box of assorted electronics. The people watched him at work with screwdrivers and solder, but they didn’t ask what he was doing.

When the sun was close to setting, fifty-five determined men and women stood there wearing sturdy shoes and shouldering backpacks ready to set off. John Smith looked at them carefully.

“You should travel by night and rest in the day,” he said. “You’ll need less water that way. Look for any sign of darker grass, small bushes. It might mean there is water. Possibly an oasis. But if not, dig. There should be groundwater. You have weapons in case of wild animals. Do any of you know how to skin fresh meat? It could help stretch your provisions. And… take this.”

He thrust the strange device he had been making into Jean Evans’ hands. She looked at it curiously.

“It’s a global positioning device,” he said. “A clever compass. It is set to give your position in relation to where we are. You’ll know how much progress you’re making each night and… if for any reason you decide to turn back… you’ll be able to find us again.”

“We won’t turn back,” Harold Evans responded. “At least not until we find help and come back to get the rest of you.”

But he let his sister keep hold of the device. She looked as if she wasn’t going to give it up anyway.

“Does anyone else want to come?” Frank Evans turned to the watching crowd. “Doing something has to be better than waiting here and doing nothing. Come on…”

John Smith wasn’t surprised when another dozen people broke ranks and joined him. He told them to take rations for themselves. He wanted them to have a fighting chance of survival, though he was certain there was nothing out there but death from exhaustion, starvation and thirst.

“Why are you so sure about that?” Cara asked him when they kept their vigil in the field hospital again. She brought him a cup of rehydrated caffeine. It looked a little like latte coffee but was a long way from tasting like it. “Isn’t it possible there IS something out there? Some kind of civilisation?”

“I can feel it,” he answered. “I can feel it in the soles of my feet… this planet. I can feel it turning. And… and I can feel its emptiness. No sentient life has ever evolved here. Nobody has been here before us.”

“You can feel all of that?” Cara looked worried. “Mr Smith… John… that’s… That’s not normal. It’s not… You… I thought about it last night when you talked about your planet… about living on a plain like this… I know there are plenty of deserts on Earth, but you sounded as if you meant somewhere else. John… you’re not Human, are you?”

“I’m…” He stared at her. The idea startled him, too. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I know Earth. I’ve been there. I can picture it in my mind. I thought I came from there, too… the same as everyone else. But… maybe I don’t.”

Cara nodded and then reached out to touch his chest. He drew back instinctively, but she pressed her hands against him firmly.

“You have two hearts. You’re NOT Human.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s not as if you can help what you are. But this is something else the others shouldn’t know, John.”

“It would be better if they didn’t,” he admitted.

“You can count on me.”

“Thank you.”

He was going to say something else, but one of the patients stirred and asked for his help. He went to do his duty. Cara went to attend to another wounded man who needed attention. They were both busy for a while and when they found time to rest again they drank re-hydrated latte quietly.

“The water is still a problem,” Cara said, breaking the silence. “We only have a few days rations left.”

“I know.” John Smith replied. He didn’t say anything else. They lapsed into silence again.

Near dawn, all of the patients were sleeping soundly and Cara had dropped off, too. John Smith wrapped a blanket around her and then stepped out of the makeshift hospital. The camp was silent. They hadn’t bothered with any kind of night watch. There didn’t seem to be any need for it. There wasn’t even any obvious animal life to look for on the plain. Everyone was in their tents sleeping the sleep of people who had worked hard through the day.

He looked towards the distant hills where the sky was still dark and starlit and wondered about those souls who had chosen what he knew to be a fool’s errand. He hoped that they would realise their folly and turn back before they reached the point of no return.

He couldn’t do anything for them. The rest of the survivors, the ones who stayed, he could do his best for.

And he thought he knew what was best for them right now.

He looked around slowly and sniffed the air carefully. Then he started to walk away from the camp towards the rising sun. The apparently flat and featureless plain dropped gently down into a trough so that he quickly lost sight of the camp and he knew he would be out of sight of anyone who happened to look in this direction.

At the lowest point of the trough he kicked at the scrubby grass and dry sandy soil beneath. It was poor stuff, but it WAS vegetation. There had to be precipitation sometimes. There had to be water somewhere underground.

He closed his eyes and felt the ground beneath his feet with his mind. He felt down through the dry soil to the rock beneath. He felt something like heavy clay and impermeable rocks. Below that was a layer of sandstone – permeable, soft rock. And beneath that, more hard, heavy, impermeable rock.

The permeable strata was an aquifer. There was water there. A lot of water. The aquifer probably spread out for a mile or more beneath the plain. On the surface, the grass and vegetation was dry, starved of liquid. And below the ground was a reservoir of fresh, cool, pure water.

It was about fifty feet down. Not that far, really. With a drill it would take a day to cut through. The water pressure itself would do the rest. A natural artesian well – named from the French town of Artois where the process was first tried.

How did he know that? The question drifted into his mind. He pushed it away.

He closed his eyes again and concentrated very hard. He visualised the soil, the heavy clay and the impermeable rock. He visualised a drill going down through it all. When it was slipping through the soil it was easy enough. Even the heavy clay yielded. But when he reached the impermeable rock strata he had to put every last ounce of effort into it. If anyone had been watching, they would have seen his face creased with intensity and sweat forming on his brow.

Because it was happening. Beneath his feet, by the sheer power of his mind, he was really boring down through the soil and clay and rocks. He felt the resistance of a strata that had been untouched since the planet’s crust first cooled. But his mind was stronger. He forced it to break open. He forced himself through.

He felt the shock of the icy cold water bursting through at pressures even his brain was unable to measure. He allowed himself a moment of triumph.

Then he felt the same icy cold water surrounding him. He opened his eyes and saw that he was ankle deep in it. The water was pouring out of the ground and filling the trough he was standing in.

“John!” He heard Cara’s voice and looked around. She was running down the gentle slope towards him. “John…. Do you know what you have done? It’s a miracle… You….”

She splashed through the water towards him. When she was close enough she reached out and grasped him around the neck.

“You… incredible… incredible man… I saw what you did. You were standing there – willing the water to come up from the ground… and it did. You… made it happen.”

“If… anyone asks… it’s a natural phenomenon,” he answered. “Artesian aquifer. The water was there all along. I just dug down a bit and…”

The water was rising all the time. They were knee deep in it. John’s trousers, Cara’s skirt were soaked. And the water was ice cold.

“But it’s wonderful,” Cara said as she kicked up a spray. “John, you know what it means… clean water… for drinking and washing… It means we can survive….”

“If we don’t drown in it!” John pointed out. Then he leaned backwards until he dropped right into the water. Cara laughed and plunged in after him. They splashed and played and laughed together like children and forgot for a while that the water was still rising. Only when it reached their shoulders did they strike out for what was now the shore, swimming side by side. They pulled themselves out of the water and looked around at the newly created freshwater lake.

“You did it,” Cara said. “John…”

She embraced him again and kissed him on the lips. He responded at first. But then something stirred in his mind. He leaned back from her.

“That… was nice…” he admitted. “But… I don’t think… we’re not meant…”

She smiled sadly and grasped his hand.

“I know,” she told him. “I felt it, too. You know, John, my family comes from Ireland. My name… Cara… in old Irish it means ‘friend’. I think… that’s what I am meant to be to you… a friend.”

“A very special friend,” he replied. “Always.”

That settled, they stood up and walked back. They held hands as they walked, but only because they were friends. When they came within sight of the camp they stopped holding hands. But nobody would have noticed if they had. What the early risers who saw them did notice was that they were both soaking wet.

“There’s a lake that wasn’t there yesterday?” The news spread quickly. John Smith explained several times about the artesian aquifers and the French town they were named after. He explained how he had noticed the grass was darker in the trough and knew it meant there was moisture below ground. He had dug….

Nobody thought to ask why he went for a walk in the early morning with a spade!

The news that they didn’t have to worry about fresh water went around the camp like wildfire. By mid-morning everyone had gone to look at the reservoir. Some of them jumped in and swam in the cooling water. A few of them had the presence of mind to bring containers to collect the water in. They carried them back to the camp. By then somebody had scrounged in the ship and found three huge cauldrons from the kitchen. They set them on the solar-heaters and boiled gallons of water. Meanwhile two areas were screened off and in a very short time there were male and female queues for washing. A smell of soap and shampoo hung on the air and afterwards everyone looked and smelled pink and clean. When they gathered to eat a meal together later in the day, there were optimistic smiles.

Hope was restored.

Hope buoyed everyone for another week and a half – at least they called it a week. John Smith gave the job of recording the days since they were marooned to a young man called Joe Gallen who had sustained two broken legs in the crash and was going to take a long time to recuperate. He decided that they might as well have seven days in a week as they did on Earth and decided that they had crash landed on a Monday morning. Having a structure to their days was another piece of normality in the lives of the marooned community.

On the Wednesday of their third week, near sundown, something happened that almost undid all the hope and the optimism.

The Evans party returned.

Or at least ten of them did. Jean Evans was one of them. She stumbled into the camp, exhausted and dehydrated, her lips cracked from lack of moisture, face red with sunburn. She was still clutching the ‘clever compass’ John Smith had given her when she fainted in his arms. He carried her into the hospital tent. The others were helped to lie down. John Smith told volunteers to give them small sips of tepid water with salt and sugar dissolved in it. He himself gently helped Jean Evans to drink a little of the solution.

“What happened?” he asked when she was recovered enough to speak. “Your brothers… the rest of the group… Are they…”

“They’re dead,” she answered with a sob. “They… they….”

She broke down. Now that her body had enough liquid in it to cry tears, she did so. Her grief overwhelmed every other sense.

“There was no city.” One of the other weary travellers managed to speak. “You were right. Harold Evans was wrong. We walked and walked… night after night. There was no city. The hills… aren’t hills. They’re sand dunes… the plain ends and there are sand dunes and an ocean. But there’s nobody there. When it got dark… we saw the lights in the sky… out over the ocean. It was an aurora… like you said, Mr Smith.”

“I’m sorry,” John Smith answered. “I’m so sorry. But... what happened? Who’s dead?”

“Almost all of us. Harold Evans is dead. So is his brother. There was a row… everyone was so tired and disappointed. And we just turned on each other. Mostly on Evans. We followed him. We trusted him. And he let us down. Frank Evans shot his brother. He seemed the most bitter of all. And then… he opened fire on us… He killed dozens…. He kept shouting that there was nothing to live for. He said we were better off dead. And then he turned the gun on himself. Those of us he hadn’t killed… We… we… we turned around and came back here… We had nowhere else to go. But…”

“We made it,” another man managed to say. “We made it back here. But… now what? We’re right back where we started… and no help is ever going to come… from anywhere.”

“Then we will just have to help ourselves,” John Smith answered calmly.

The next morning he called the whole camp together. He stood before them. Nobody questioned his authority.

“You all left Earth to seek a new life on a new planet,” he said. “This is not the planet you planned to make that life on, but we are here now, and it is time to make what we can of it. It is time to begin building a new, permanent community here.”

“How?” somebody asked. “This is a desert. There’s nothing here. The planet we were going to was a garden… a paradise….”

“And so will this be, at least a corner of it, when we’re done,” John Smith replied. “You’re none of you afraid of hard work. You wouldn’t have signed up for a colony programme otherwise. And you’ve proved your worth in these difficult days since the crash. I know you can do it. So… it is time to open up the main hold and bring out the building materials that you were going to use when you reached your garden planet.”

There were murmurings. They were mostly positive murmuring and the sound grew louder and more excited as they considered their immediate future. John Smith nodded in satisfaction as they started to talk animatedly and divide into groups according to their respective skills.

While a group of them went to break open the big hold in the crashed ship where the tools and equipment of colonisation had been stored John Smith took up a block of paper and a pencil and began to make some rough sketches. Cara sat beside him and watched him work, noting that his rough sketch was as good as most people’s careful work and that his hand moved faster than her eye could see. By his other side, Joe Gallen, keeper of the diary, was writing everything down. He had marked this day with a double underline. It was a significant date. It was when they stopped being marooned refugees and became the first citizens of what they later decided to call Smithtown.

As the new citizens brought prefabricated walls and floor sections and the tools to put them together out of the ship, John Smith showed the fruits of his labour to the master craftsmen among the community and they agreed with him that the township should be built to the east of the lake. While foundations were being dug for the first part of the town, a new shaft was sunk into the aquifer and capped off. A water fountain with a valve to shut it off would be the central feature of the square around which the new buildings would grow. Fresh water would be within easy reach of every citizen.

One of the first buildings to be erected was the medical centre with a small hospital, dispensary and consulting room. It included living quarters where John Smith would retire to when he was off duty. Cara’s house was next door. She was his medical assistant, after all. They needed some kind of community hall, too. So that went up alongside the medical centre.

But then they built houses. They built them on the basis of need. Those families with children took possession of their own cottages first. Then couples who planned to have children once they were settled in their new colony home. After them, those who had become couples while they were building the new houses had a proper roof over their heads.

They weren’t the modern houses that they expected to live in on their garden planet. But they were better than the tents. They had solar panels on the roofs that gave them electric light when it got dark and powered disposal units. Every home had a toilet cubicle and they could do away with the latrines that nobody liked. Within four months everyone was housed.

And it was a good thing. Because they all noticed that the temperature was starting to drop. It was distinctly nippy at night and increasingly in the mornings there was a chill in the air. The days were shortening, too. Clearly there was a cold season coming upon the plain.

One morning, Joe Gallen and some of his young friends came running into John Smith’s dispensary in a state of excitement, reporting that there were animals near the lake.

“What sort of animals?” John Smith asked.

“Come and look,” they urged him. He left what he was doing and went with them to the lake. He was actually quite surprised. There was a herd of something that reminded him of American bison, though when he thought so he wondered when he had ever been in America and why he knew what a bison was.

“They must cross the plain at this time of year,” he said. “Our lake is on their migratory path. Or they sensed the water was there and took a detour to drink.”

They were magnificent creatures. But John Smith knew they were an opportunity, too. He sent Joe to find some of the stronger and stouter of the men of Smithtown.

“Fresh meat,” he said to them. “Just what we need now the dehydrated supplies are running low. Cured, salted meat for the winter, too,” he said. “The herd is huge. As many as five hundred head. Even if we culled some of them we wouldn’t affect their numbers too badly. When they move on from the lake, we should go after them… a hunting party. We should prepare a place to do the butchering first, out of sight of squeamish eyes.”

He felt a little squeamish himself. He didn’t like the idea of killing anything. And yet, he felt he could. And he felt he knew how.

In fact, he led the party. They did what was necessary for the good of their community. They hauled the fresh meat back to the prepared place. They skinned the carcasses and put the hides to dry. John Smith told them how to produce leather from the hide. Meanwhile they cut up all but one of the carcasses into joints of meat and salted it in sealed tubs. They set aside the offal for use in stews. Almost nothing went to waste.

One carcass was set up on a spit over four of the solar powered fires. It cooked slowly throughout a whole day and when the sun went down the community came to their village square and enjoyed a barbecue, eating their fill of the roast meat and entertaining themselves with singing and dancing and even some rather skilful juggling with fluorescent sticks that made coloured patterns in the dark.

The next day the first snow fell. It was only a flurry, yet. It barely covered the sparse ground. All the same, John Smith got ready.

“They’re smart people, hard working,” he told Cara as he worked in the dispensary. “But they’ve lived in air conditioned, central heated homes all their lives. They’ve no idea how cold it might get here. And they’ve little or no resistance to the illnesses that come with winter.”

“How will that help?” Cara asked as she watched him pounding something blue-green and unpleasant looking in a ceramic bowl. “What is it?”

“Penicillin,” he answered. “I cultivated it from a bread mould. It’s an antibiotic. It used to be common in the twentieth century on your planet. It was superseded by more advanced drugs. But it could save lives this winter.”

“You have never remembered a single thing about yourself,” Cara commented. “But you remember things like that. You know what we all need instinctively.”

“I don’t know why that is. But if my knowledge helps them, does it matter?”

“I suppose it doesn’t. And yet… wouldn’t you like to know who you are, where you come from? What if you have a family who are missing you?”

“Then… I would rather not know. Because then I would miss them, too.”

That made sense. But Cara couldn’t help thinking it was a sad thing for him to say. He had no relatives with him on the journey. And he had not formed any kind of relationship since he arrived. Nearly everyone else had somebody else for company. Even she had her brother and his wife to share the chores with.

But John Smith remained alone, slightly apart from the community, from everyone except for herself. And even she was never more than a friend to him. That one time, back in the summer, when they had kissed, seemed almost unreal. She wondered sometimes if she had only dreamt of such an intimate moment with him.

He was a kind man. He was loved by everyone in the township. They all looked to him for advice and support. He gave back his affection freely and equally to each and every one of them. And that, she supposed, was why he couldn’t give any special favour to her.

The winter set in quickly. The snow fell continuously for several days and when it stopped, Smithtown was transformed. John Smith trudged through the drifts to each cottage, ensuring that everyone had enough food and they were warm and safe.

He trudged through the snow every day to take care of the people. When illness did strike he brought his penicillin and treated them.

When his work was done, he sat in his own cottage, drawing designs for improvements to the township, making plans for the future. Sometimes he did so alone. Sometimes Cara came and sat with him.

The winter bit hard for nearly three months. Then there were two more months of rain and cold before the lengthening days brought warmer temperatures.

“We have seeds,” he told the people. “In the ship there are seeds, wheat, barley, corn. We have the means to plough fields and plant crops. We can build irrigation ditches to keep the land watered and fertile even in the hottest part of the summer. We will have a harvest this year.”

It was an ambitious project, but they set to work. John Smith took charge of the engineering project to get the water from the lake to the fields. He patiently explained to everyone who asked about an ancient Greek called Archimedes who is attributed with the invention of the mechanism, powered by a windmill, which allowed water to defy gravity and run uphill. The children and young people laughed and said he was teasing them, that it was not possible. But when they saw the ditches filling with water they knew that John Smith was an even more amazing man than they had thought before.

Before the days began to shorten again the people of Smithtown had their first harvest. It wasn’t a huge crop, but they had three different grains with which to make flour or… in the case of the barley… even a vat of beer which was brewed in time for the barbecue they held after the hunting parties had secured the winter meat again.

At the same time as they gathered food and prepared for another winter on the plain, John Smith helped bring three new citizens into the world. Four more were due in the spring.

Again as the winter set in, John Smith took care of his community. They hunkered down in their homes and he made sure they were safe and well in those homes.

He was the only one who didn’t get sick that winter. He worked tirelessly to make sure the children, especially the very youngest, survived. He gave special attention to the four pregnant women.

He brought them all safely through to spring again. The four new babies came along in their turn. Two came on the same busy night.

They planted out seeds saved from the previous harvest as soon as the days were warm enough. When that job was done, they irrigated another part of the otherwise arid plain and laid it out as a parkland, planting, not crops this time, but trees and bushes and flower beds. It was laid out around the mass grave of the thirty-nine crew and passengers who didn’t make it. Their names were etched on a sheet of metal and erected as a memorial. A second memorial was erected with the names of those who had died in the ill-fated Evans expedition.

The park was henceforth known as ‘Memorial Gardens’. But it was not a place of mourning and sadness. It was a symbol of hope and optimism. By next year, they said to each other, it would be a pleasant place for them to enjoy their leisure in the long summer days.

Next year, the people of Smithtown had a summer party in their park as well as their barbecue that heralded the onset of winter. They gathered their harvest and stored food. John Smith helped bring five more new citizens of Smithtown into the world over the course of the winter.

In the spring they planted their crops again.

The years turned. Smithtown grew. New municipal buildings were erected. They had a nursery for the babies and a school for the older children. Cara’s sister in law took charge of that. They had a library stocked with books from the library aboard the crashed ship. Jean Evans was the head librarian. Joe Gallen worked there, too. He still kept the records of Smithtown. His desk in a quiet corner became the archive where he recorded the progress of the township.

Smithtown looked increasingly like a permanent settlement, though there were still a few signs of their beginnings. The broken hull of the crashed ship still remained where it was, a half a mile away from Smithtown. But it had been gutted by now. Everything of any possible use had been stripped from it. Little by little even the hull would be used. Slightly apart from the dwelling houses of Smithtown a forge had been set up next door to the tanners and the metal skin of the ship would become new ploughs, shovels, blades for windmills that drove the screw that pushed water uphill to irrigate the crops.

By the time twelve years had passed there really wasn’t very much left of that hull at all. The people of Smithtown, dressed in leather jerkins and homespun cloth, with hand made shoes on their feet, had almost forgotten that was where they came from. They had almost forgotten they were meant to go somewhere else. They belonged there.

So when a space ship blotted out the noonday sun and filled the air with unaccustomed noise, they were startled to say the least.

They watched it land close to the place where the last remnants of that old twisted hull remained. They saw men coming towards the township.

John Smith walked towards them. He had no weapons, though a few paces behind him some of the citizens of Smithtown kept their hands on guns and were ready for anything.

John Smith welcomed the strangers to Smithtown and invited them to come to the hall where they might address the people.

The strangers said they were from the Earth Federation. They said that they had been surveying the planet, designated PX 763, with a view to colonisation. It was within a system which had been procured for that purpose.

The people of Smithtown pointed out that it already had been colonised.

“Which makes things a little difficult,” said the leader of the expedition.

“On the contrary,” John Smith replied. “It makes it very simple. We have been here long enough to claim right of abode. As leader of this colony I am prepared to discuss terms with a suitable mediator. As long as our terms are accepted, PX 763 will join the Earth Federation and enjoy its protection.

The terms were simple enough. In return for allowing new settlements in the uninhabited parts of the great continent, the first colonists, in their capital city known as Smithtown, would take delivery of supplies and equipment to improve that city.

The people were quite clear about what they wanted.

Trees, lots of trees. They wanted to plant trees to break up the monotony of the landscape. Fruit trees would be nice. But also oaks and chestnuts, larches…. Trees that would grow tall and strong for the generations that would live in Smithtown after them.

Fish. They could stock the lake with fish. It would be an alternative food source as well as proof that the water was pure and good and life-sustaining…

Livestock - Cattle and sheep, pigs and fowl. Instead of being hunter gatherers, they could be self-sufficient farmers. The bison population could be left in peace if they could raise their own meat….

Horses to pull the ploughs and maybe even carriages and wagons….

Pipes. Lots of pipes. It was high time they had indoor plumbing and private bathrooms in the homes of Smithtown….

New books for the library and the school….

John Smith presented these and other requests to the mediator. He expressed his surprise.

“The new cities that are being planned,” the mediator said. “They will be modern cities. They will have space ports. There will be a transport system, communications. There will be a monetary system based on the inter-galactic lutanium standard….”

“Just make sure Smithtown is not on the flight path of any of those space ships,” John Smith told the mediator after consulting with the citizens. “We like the quiet. And get us those trees as soon as possible. We’d like to get them planted first thing after the winter snows have melted.”

They got their trees. They got everything they asked for. John Smith got a Treaty that guaranteed the autonomy of Smithtown from the other colony cities that would be built on a planet big enough and fertile enough – with a little effort and some terraforming – to support several million people. While the inter-galactic lutanium standard was the basis of the economy elsewhere, Smithtown remained a community based on a genuine free market. Goods and services were paid for with other goods and services.

Of course, when the young people looked across the plain at night, towards the bright lights that glowed on the horizon, some of them were interested. Some of them chose to visit those new cities. Some of them got jobs and stayed. Some of them came back to Smithtown with wives or husbands or friends who wanted to find out what it was like to live in the quiet city by the lake that the First Colonists had founded. The population of Smithtown, one way or another, grew slowly and the township prospered.

John Smith remained leader of the citizens of Smithtown. In the ‘advanced’ cities they had democratic processes and elected mayors and councils. But the Smithtown citizens didn’t see any need for any of those things as long as they had John Smith.

As the decades passed, though, it became obvious that they might not always have John Smith. He, along with all of the original generation who had founded Smithtown, was getting old.

That surprised him a little.

“Why?” his old friend Cara had asked him. “Surely people get old where you come from.”

“I suppose they must,” he agreed. “And yet… I really didn’t expect it.” He held up his hands to his face. The hands were wrinkled with age, the flesh loose on his bones. He felt the lines on his face. He had long ago had lenses ground that corrected his vision. His hair was white now, and thinning on top.

“You’re still a very handsome man,” Cara told him. “And still very brilliant. Your sketches for the new flour mill using water power are beautiful as well as functional. It will be a real asset to the city.”

“I might not live to see it working,” he said.

“Yes, you will,” she assured him. “As long as you accept that you don’t have to spend all winter knocking on doors all over Smithtown making sure everyone else is warm and fed. We have plenty of other people to do that. You stay warm and fed yourself and in the spring we’ll build your mill and we’ll have a picnic by the lake with bread baked from the first milling.”

John Smith smiled and hugged his friend. He kissed her on her cheek. She was old, too, of course. She was only a young woman when they arrived on the plain, but now the years were catching her up.

“Is that a date?” he asked her. “After all these years… you’re asking me out on a date?”

“Yes,” she answered. “So don’t let me down.”

He didn’t. Though that winter was a long, bitter one and he actually succumbed to it for the first time in his life. He spent many weeks in bed fighting a chest infection that just wouldn’t shift even with the modern medicines that came from the city by the ocean as part of a trade agreement Smithtown now had with its neighbours.

Even when the days lengthened and the temperatures rose, John Smith remained in bed, tired and sick. The knowledge brought a rare sadness to the township, but they got on with building the new mill. It was ready by the time they harvested the first wheat at the end of summer.

Those last days of the summer were warm and pleasant. John Smith, frailer than anyone had ever imagined he could be, walked slowly down to the lakeside with Cara. She brought a blanket and a picnic basket. They sat together and watched some of the young people of the township fishing from a small boat made of metal long ago recycled from the hull of the ship the older people arrived on.

John Smith ate the bread made from flour milled in his beautiful new watermill.

“How will they manage without me?” he asked.

“Somehow, I think they will,” Cara told him. “Joe Gallen’s eldest son is probably going to be elected leader of the city. He’s a smart young man. He’ll do well.”

“Everything is all right. Nothing left to do,” John Smith said.

“Nothing,” Cara assured him.

“Only this,” he said. He reached and embraced her. He kissed her on the lips. Cara responded as she had once responded when they sat on this same lakeside a long time ago.

“Goodbye, Cara, my friend,” he said. Then she heard him sigh. She felt his two hearts slow and stop. She clung to him and didn’t cry, because after all he had led a good life and fulfilled everything he hoped to fulfil. There was no need for tears.

After a little while she called to the young people in the boat. One of them ran off to the city to bring help while the others stayed with her and helped her lay the body of John Smith gently down on the grassy bank of his lake.

“But it wasn’t real,” Susan said, as if coming out from under a spell. “Grandfather you were here… in this bed… unconscious, but only for a week. Not for decades… a lifetime by Human measure.”

“I think it was real,” The Doctor insisted. “I don’t quite know how, but while I was unconscious, my mind was free. I think it was something to do with the Xenon particle bombardment. It allowed my mind to separate from my body, and to exist in corporeal form somewhere else. I was John Smith, living that other life. It WAS real. I can’t prove it. But I truly believe it happened.”

“I believe it,” Louise said. “Oh, but mon Docteur à moi,” Louise said. “That lady… Cara… You and her…”

“Louise, my dear…” He grasped his wife’s hand tightly. “I forgot you. I forgot who I was, what I was. But I think deep down I knew that such a relationship wasn’t for me. That I already had somebody who loved me, and who I loved dearly in that way. Cara was a friend to me all through that life. But I never… We never. I promise you that.”

“I would not have blamed you if you had,” she assured him. “You deserved to know the joy of love.”

“It’s incredible,” Susan said. She was still struggling with the illogical explanation he had given for his alternative life as John Smith. But she was slowly coming around to believing it. She would get there in the end. “When you made the lake by the power of your mind… you’ve never done anything like that before…”

“No, and I doubt if I shall ever do it again. I don’t know… without a thousand years of experience telling me I had limitations, telling me I couldn’t do it, my mental powers were freer… stronger. And I instinctively knew what to do. But now I’m in my own head again, I probably won’t do that.”

“You got old,” Louise picked up on the other remarkable thing about his experience.

“You… died…” Susan added. She looked at her grandfather in astonishment. She reached out and touched his cheek. He actually looked younger than she did these days in this, his tenth regeneration. It was a long time since she had seen him as an old man. And even then, she knew he wouldn’t die. Death was something that came only rarely to her race.

“Yes, I died,” he said. “I actually felt it… not like regeneration. A very different sensation altogether. It was very peaceful. I was sad. I didn’t want to leave them all. But at the same time, I was glad of the rest. One day… it’ll be a very long time away for me…. But one day when I finally reach the end of my days… I think I shall be glad of that rest. But not yet. There’s still a universe out there to explore. I might even find PX 763 and find out how Smithtown is getting on….”

He paused and shook his head.

“No, I don’t think I ever will. I don’t think I want to know. If it isn’t real, if this was just an incredible dream I think I will be so disappointed. And if it is real, then… well, they laid John Smith to rest. Joe Gallen’s son became their leader. Let it be.”

Louise and Susan looked at him and both nodded in approval of his decision.

“But you’re not going to any other planet at all for a while,” Susan told him very firmly. “You’re staying right here with us for some rest and recuperation. Rose and Jackie and I intend to introduce Louise to shopping malls and the concept of credit cards. And I’m sure you and HIM will have plenty to talk about.”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “I expect we will.” He laid his head back down on the pillow and looked up at the white ceiling of Susan’s suburban home and sighed peacefully as he accepted that his life was not in his own hands for the time being.

But it was his life. The life of The Doctor. And after living John Smith’s life instead for so long he was ready to live The Doctor’s life again.