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

Ace sighed contentedly as she sat in a reclining deckchair and listened to a very good jazz band playing on a summer’s afternoon in the park. She wasn’t entirely sure what park it was. It didn’t matter. She was on Earth in the sunshine. Nothing was trying to kill her, eat her or take over her mind. And the chances of planetary invasion seemed minimal.

The Doctor was equally happy with the peaceful respite. He was lying on another deckchair with his hat over his face, faintly humming along to the music.

It couldn’t last, Ace thought. A day at best, and then they’d be off into the thick of some trouble or other.

Not that she was complaining. She enjoyed the thrill of the chase as much as The Doctor did. Her only cause for discontent was when he tried to treat her like a girl, or a kid, and stop her getting stuck into it all. That wasn’t really his fault. He was an old fashioned sort of man who thought that females needed to be protected. He just needed reminding, occasionally, that she wasn’t that sort of female.

She wondered how long she would go on travelling with him. He had never said there was any kind of limit, of course. But she knew that nobody ever stayed with The Doctor forever. Sooner or later they chose to move on. The Doctor never forced them to do it. There was no question about that. He didn’t get bored with people and cast them away. But for whatever reason, there came a time when they parted from him. Sooner or later, she would, too.

Later, she told herself firmly. There’s nothing to go back to except a grumpy careers officer and learning to do short-hand typing on a YTS scheme. That’s all they rated her as in Perivale. The Doctor knew she was capable of so much more. And he gave her the opportunity to prove herself.

The Doctor listened to Ace’s thoughts carefully. It wasn’t something he did very often. It was only because she was thinking of him so intently that he tuned in on her. He was glad that she was happy travelling with him. He hoped she would be for a very long time. He liked having her around. She reminded him of the happiest time in his past, when he travelled with his granddaughter, Susan. Of course, Ace was nothing like Susan in any way. Susan was a gentle soul who longed for nothing but a quiet life, a chance to make friends and, of course, find love. Apart from a few brief spells of teenage rebellion, she was an obedient, loyal girl who would always do what he asked her to do. Ace was nothing but teenage rebellion and she obeyed him only because he had won her respect with patience and understanding.

And he wasn’t as young as he was. He didn’t keep count very well. But it was something like four hundred years since he and Susan parted. Gallifreyan years, that is, which were a different kind of measure to Earth years as Ace would understand them. The conversion was near impossible, and since he rarely ever returned to Gallifrey and was frequently on Earth he had more or less lost count himself. Suffice to say it had been centuries since he left his granddaughter in the twenty-second century where she could achieve all of those simple ambitions of hers while he went on with his wandering life, sometimes alone, sometimes with companions who were a partial compensation for the loss he felt deep in his soul for his kindest and closest living relative.

Ace filled that hole. Yes, she did. But to try to make her into a carbon copy of Susan would have been wrong, to say nothing of impossible. He was content to teach her to be the best she could possibly be, admiring her Human ingenuity and courage that more than made up for the lack of the formal qualifications both his own and her society valued so much.

“Stay with me forever, Ace,” he thought fervently. “I can give you the universe.”

“Doctor,” Ace called out to him, unaware of the deep thoughts in his mind. “How about an ice cream?” She pointed to the van which had moved onto the field. Its tinkling jingle of ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ jarred badly with the Orleans jazz coming from the bandstand, but the music fans began to flock towards it enthusiastically.

“Excellent idea,” he agreed, searching in his pocket for currency. “What year is this, remind me?”

“2014,” Ace answered. “June. You promised to take me to Rio to see England play Brazil in the World Cup Semi-Final.”

“Ah, yes. That’s right.” He found the right coins for that period of Earth history and gave them to her. “Double ninety-nine, please. With nuts.” Ace sprinted away towards the ice cream van. The Doctor lay back in his deck chair again, looking up at the clear blue sky of planet Earth, his adopted home world since Gallifrey proved so much of a disappointment every time he went back there.

Then his contentment was shattered in an eyeblink. It took no more than that for the peaceful scene to turn into a nightmare. It started with a sound like thunder, but ten times as loud as any thunder The Doctor had ever heard. At the same time, the ground shuddered. His deckchair folded up under him and as he clambered to his feet he saw the ice cream van disappear. He began to run towards the place where it had been. Most of the customers were running away in a panic, as were almost all of the music fans. The band had left their instruments on the partially collapsed stage and were running for it, though it could not have been certain what anyone thought they were running from or where they were running to. As a result people were running in every direction and screaming in an unhelpful way.

He recalled what he had just been thinking about Ace’s courage and ingenuity as he saw her run towards the stricken ice cream van while everyone else ran away. He quickly caught up with her.

The van was in a deep crevasse that had opened up in the ground. It had slid in sideways and wedged about four yards down. The hatchway was tilted upwards. The Doctor could see the driver scrambling from his front seat and the young woman who was serving the ice cream in a neat gingham overall. She had fallen against the Mr Whippy dispenser and was unconscious. Loose soil was already starting to pour in from the crumbling sides of the crevasse. The two of them were in imminent danger of being buried alive.

Even so, Ace didn’t think twice about jumping down. She swung herself inside the van and helped the driver lift the unconscious woman. The Doctor carefully leaned down, trying not to bring more soil down on them as they clambered out and passed the woman up. The driver was injured, too. He screamed with pain as he was lifted by the arms. Finally, Ace reached up. The soil was pouring down, threatening to completely engulf her, but The Doctor reached out with his sturdy umbrella. She grasped the question mark shaped handle and he pulled her up with it. She stood on solid ground and coughed up some of the soil she had swallowed while The Doctor picked up the still unconscious woman. Nobody else seemed to have noticed the rescue. They were all still running aimlessly or stopping to look up at the sky before running again.

“Let’s get away from here,” The Doctor said. “It’s liquefaction. That’s what caused the ground to collapse. Move on down this way. The shockwave seems to have run east-west. We’ll be safe on a south axis.”

“Shockwave?” Ace echoed his words as they moved away towards the edge of the bandstand lawn. The Doctor laid the ice cream vendor down on the firm grass and examined her carefully before diagnosing her with a rather nasty concussion. He put his hands over the affected part of her head and concentrated for half a minute. She woke complaining of a very bad headache. The Doctor reached into his pocket and gave her what looked like a purple coloured alka seltzer tablet and told her to sit still for a few minutes.

He turned his attention to the driver. He had a broken arm which was not helped when he was hauled out of the hole. He didn’t do any laying on of hands with him, though. There were too many people drifting closer to see what was happening. Besides, a broken arm was painful and unfortunate but hardly life threatening like the cracked skull and brain lesion which the young woman had before he mended it with the power of his mind. He fashioned a splint from the remains of a broken deck chair and gave the driver another of the purple tablets. It would kill the pain until he was seen by a medical doctor.

“Shockwave,” The Doctor repeated. “An earthquake. Quite a strong one, too. There’ll be an aftershock very soon, I expect. Hopefully not as severe.”

“An Earthquake, in England?” the ice cream vendor queried. But there was no other explanation for what had happened. She shook her head and then put her hands together and quietly murmured a prayer. The driver muttered about something he had seen on television about standing in a doorway during an earthquake.

Ace thought that particularly useless advice when they were in the middle of a field. But the man was in shock and not making sense. Then she grasped The Doctor’s arm as she felt the aftershock rumbling through the ground beneath her feet. She and The Doctor both kept standing. Almost everyone else fell down, but they were in the open air and they fell onto grass.

She looked around at the buildings that bounded the park. They were sturdily built Victorian houses, some still used as homes, others converted to doctor’s surgeries and dentists or solicitors and surveyors. There was also a bigger building that was obviously a school. They had all suffered in the first quake. Not one of them had a window left intact. The modern school gym was already reduced to a twisted steel and concrete frame. But the aftershock dealt a worse blow. The school and a whole row of houses just crumbled away to piles of debris. Ace looked at the first building that had stayed upright. It had been sliced in half. There was a bathroom and bedroom and the drawing room and kitchen below just exposed to the open air. The bathtub teetered precariously on the edge. A man with just enough soap suds on him to spare his blushes screamed for help until somebody managed to find a ladder and rescue him. Ace turned from watching him and saw that the same thing had happened for as far as she could see. A whole swathe had been cut through all the streets on what she guessed was the east-west axis The Doctor spoke of. Either side buildings or parts of buildings stood, but a trail of devastation cut right through the whole town.

Then she realised that it was getting hard to see the buildings. The sun was setting. That puzzled her since her watch said it was only half past two on a June afternoon. And it was setting quickly. Within ten minutes it was full night. The streets were dark. There was a power cut, of course. She could see the glow of fires here and there, though and the air was filling with the sound of emergency vehicles galvanised into action in the aftermath of the disaster. One ambulance reached the park and The Doctor saw the driver and ice cream vendor safely into professional hands before telling Ace they could go back to the TARDIS now.

“Ace, come on,” he repeated as she continued to stare at the dark, eerie scene that only a half hour ago had been a peaceful place. “We need to go.”

He took her by the arm and drew her towards the car park at the edge of the park where they had left the TARDIS. It was lit by the flickering red-orange light of an Aldi supermarket on fire and the blue lights of the fire tenders at the scene. In that light Ace saw that the car park was on the same east-west axis and a lot of the cars had slid into holes where liquefaction had turned the tarmac surface into lumps of debris. Those vehicles that hadn’t been half buried had been thrown around like toys.

The TARDIS was lying on its side with a Ford Focus jammed up against it. The car was a write off, but the TARDIS was unscathed.

The Doctor opened the door sideways and slipped inside. Ace followed him. She was surprised to see the TARDIS interior the right way up except that the doorway was on its side and the ceiling and walls were the wrong way around. The Doctor went to the console and pressed a button. There was a soft sliding sound and the walls moved around until they were in the right position.

“I didn’t know that the TARDIS had a shremec,” Ace commented excitedly before remembering the disaster that had occurred outside. “Oh, Doctor. So many people must have been killed in the town. How did it happen? An earthquake in England. Who ever heard of such a thing? And... and... why did it go dark?”

“If I’m right... and I have a dreadful feeling I am... this is worse than one town,” The Doctor replied darkly. He initiated the dematerialisation and took the TARDIS into orbit above Earth. “If I’m right this has affected the whole planet.”

From space, it didn’t look affected. Ace went to the door as The Doctor opened it and looked out at the view of her home planet. She noted that the darkness was not localised. Night had fallen on Europe.

“I’m picking up quite a lot of emergency transmissions,” The Doctor confirmed. Ace came away from the door and looked at the TV receiver on the communications console. There was a BBC news report on. It told her in a few dozen images what The Doctor was picking up on emergency channels from all over the planet. Earthquakes had occurred everywhere on Earth at nearly the same time. A tsunami had hit Indonesia with devastating results. Another had swamped the California seaboard which was already reeling from a quake emanating from the San Andreas Fault. The death toll could only be guessed at. Italy, Spain, France, Greece were reporting devastation on unprecedented scale. Russia, New Zealand, Australia, China. There was a report from Antarctica that tremors had been felt at the international research station there. Ace bit her lip as she saw an image of the football stadium in Rio de Janiro where The Doctor had promised to take her. It had collapsed in on itself like a cardboard box. Fortunately it was only about six o’clock in the morning there and nobody had been in the stadium. But everywhere else there were reports of massive casualties.

“It’s... horrible,” Ace said, trying not to cry. “Doctor... how did this happen? What caused it?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he replied. “Ah... I think I may have found it.”

They were in orbit over the Middle East. On the ordinary viewscreen it looked no different from any other part of Earth. It really wasn’t possible to see anything from so far away. The Doctor pressed buttons and the image was overlaid with different filters. He sighed deeply.

“Sooner or later it was going to happen,” he said. “Somebody was going to do something stupid and the whole planet would suffer.”

“What has happened?” Ace asked.

“See that hot spot there,” he said pointing to the infra-red view of Earth on the screen. “That’s the result of a nuclear explosion two hundred times the power of Hiroshima and Nakasaki combined.”

Ace gasped in horror.

“But... Oh, Doctor..... you mean... Oh.... that means radiation clouds.... nuclear winter... the end of life on Earth... everything they warned us would happen...”

“Not quite as bad as that,” The Doctor assured her. “The country known as The United Arab Emirates is no more. I’m afraid it has been rather ghastly there. The surface temperature in the populated areas is hot enough to melt steel. A horrible death for millions of people. But the explosion was underground. The radiation is confined.”

“What caused it?” Ace asked. The Doctor shrugged angrily.

“Stupid, stupid humans messing with what they shouldn’t mess with. They must have been testing a device in underground chambers. But it’s gone badly wrong. About as badly wrong as it could possibly get.”

He turned back to the ordinary view of the planet and focussed on the Arabian Peninsula. Ace blinked as a bright light flashed in her eyes, a light emanating from the planet.

“It’s the desert,” The Doctor explained. “A thousand miles of it was super-heated and now it’s starting to cool. The sand has been turned to silicone glass. It’s reflecting the sunlight.”

“Wow!” Despite the terrible reason why it had happened Ace was fascinated by the idea.

“It will change the whole climate of the area. That much sunlight being reflected back into space instead of being absorbed by the sand. It could have effects even more catastrophic to that region than the explosion itself.”

Ace shuddered. Everything had consequences. She knew that well enough even before she joined The Doctor. But she had never seen it demonstrated on such a massive scale.

I really wish I hadn’t brought you here,” The Doctor said. “If only I’d known... If I’d checked to see if anything important was due to happen on this day...”

“But you did bring me here. And because you did, two people are alive who would have died in the earthquake. We did a little bit of good at least. A tiny bit.”

“We’re part of events, already,” The Doctor moaned gloomily. “We have affected the outcome.”

“What? You mean we should have just let them die?”

“Yes. I mean... No. Of course not. We couldn’t just walk away. Not once we were a part of it in that way. I mean... No. But if we hadn’t been there...”

“But we WERE there,” Ace insisted. “And we still ARE there. We’re watching the Earth right now while people are dying. We could do something. We’ve got a ship that could reach trapped people. We should do that.”

The Doctor looked at Ace steadily and carefully for a very long time. She looked back at him determinedly.

“If we can’t help, what is the point of us?” she asked.

“All we can possibly do is small things, in small places,” he pointed out. “We can’t save them all. Millions will die no matter what we do.”

“But if we can save a few...”

“And you must understand, I cannot go back in time even a minute to save a life that is already extinct. We are in this timeline now. We cannot alter what has already happened.”

“I understand, Doctor,” Ace told him. “But let’s do something instead of talking about it.”

The Doctor nodded and set a landing co-ordinate. The TARDIS materialised in mid-air beside the Table Mountain cable car in South Africa. One of the towers that held up the cable had buckled under the quake that hit the mountain. Twenty-five people were trapped in a car that dangled precariously, moments away from plunging to the ground hundreds of feet below. Stepping from the car into a small blue box that hovered in mid-air with nothing holding it up was a leap of faith for them, but they took it.

So did the people trapped in the crypt of a Cathedral in Sicily. They had all been praying for a miracle, but they didn’t expect it to be shaped like an English police telephone box.

In North America, the TARDIS acted like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, plugging a hole in a huge hydro dam until the town below it had been evacuated.

In Holland, the dyke had already collapsed. The TARDIS was better than a helicopter hovering over the roofs where people had crawled hopefully as the waters rose.

Time and again the TARDIS appeared in narrow, precarious places where people were clinging on to life as debris from collapsed buildings creaked ominously above their heads. Time and again the TARDIS brought people down from the remains of skyscrapers that teetered on the edge of disaster.

At first, Ace tried to keep count of the people they had delivered safely to emergency stations where the ordinary Human effort to carry on after a disaster carried on. But after a few hours she just rounded it up to ‘thousands’.

“It doesn’t seem enough,” she said, though she was exhausted and so was The Doctor. “We should be able to do more.”

“We will,” he promised her. “Right now, we have to report to U.N.I.T.”

“We do? Why?” Ace asked.

“Because I’ve received a signal from them. I suppose reports of a mysterious blue box all over the planet have got back to them. I should have contacted them first, really. They have to be at the centre of any global relief efforts. But I didn’t want to be drafted into following somebody else’s orders when we did pretty well all right by ourselves.”

“2014,” Ace said. I wonder who’s in charge of U.N.I.T.”

Her question was answered quite Quickly. The TARDIS materialised in the corridor outside of U.N.I.T’s central command underneath the Tower of London. Two earnest young men in the new style red berets that replaced the blue in the mid 2000’s when U.N.I.T became the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, separate from the United Nations which had commanded it since the 1960s, met The Doctor and Ace and told them the Brigadier wanted to see them.

“Winifred!” Ace exclaimed as she was brought to the commanding officer in the heart of the central command room. Around her banks of computer monitors told the desperate story of a world-wide catastrophe. U.N.I.T personnel co-ordinated rescue efforts across the whole of Western Europe and kept in contact with their colleagues in other parts of the world who were doing the same.

“Brigadier Winifred Bambera,” The Doctor said with a warm smile despite the desperate situation.

“Doctor, I wish we could just meet some quiet afternoon for a cup of tea and a chat about old times. But as you can see...”

An alarm sounded urgently, cutting her off mid-sentence. She turned and shouted orders to some of her staff. Around her, the frenetic activity gathered pace.

“What’s happening?” Ace asked as the alarm was shut off on Brigadier Bambera’s orders.

“The Thames is in flood. The Barrier isn’t going to hold it. London is about to be submerged.”

“What!” Ace looked at The Doctor fearfully. “But...”

“We’ve evacuated the city,” the Brigadier pointed out. “There were procedures in place ever since the Barrier was commissioned. We’re the only people left in London, now.”

“We’re below sea level,” The Doctor pointed out.

“In the sub-levels below the dungeons of the Tower of London,” Winifred explained. “But, of course, that contingency was prepared for. This facility is fully sealed against the flood. So are Torchwood in Cardiff who are also based below sea level.”

“Well, I’m relieved to hear it,” The Doctor said. “But while you’re here playing King Canute, what did you want me to do? As you well know, Ace and I have been helping with rescue efforts around the world. But there is still much to be done.”

“Doctor, we need you to confirm the data we’re getting from the International Space Station about Earth’s immediate and long term future.”

“What data?” The Doctor asked. Brigadier Bambera directed him to one of the larger databanks where a pair of men with horn-rimmed glasses and the look of dedicated scientists were cross-referencing information on their VDU’s. The Doctor pulled up a seat beside them and scrolled quickly through screen after screen of data.

“Oh, dear,” he said. “That’s not good.”

“We could be wrong,” one of the scientists told him. “That’s why we were hoping...”

“I’ll take the TARDIS into a progressive orbit,” The Doctor decided. “I can monitor this over two or three days and compare...” He shook his head. “It’s not good. It really isn’t.”

He stood and turned back to Brigadier Bambera. As he did a fresh-faced female lieutenant brought her the hard copy of a report from the communications section. The Brigadier read it quickly. Then she looked at The Doctor steadily.

“Doctor,” she said. “This... is a list of people who are confirmed dead. People who we have flagged as significant persons for about as long as U.N.I.T has been around. They’re... all people who have been involved with you over the years....”

The Doctor knew perfectly well that U.N.I.T kept an eye on the welfare of his former travelling companions once they returned to Earth. He wondered briefly if he wanted to see that list or not.

Then he took it from her and read the names.

“Lethbridge Stewart,” he said in a constricted voice. “Shouldn’t he be retired by now? Why is he...”

“He’s a special envoy to the United Nations in New York,” Brigadier Bambera said. “He was at the UN Building when the tidal wave hit Manhattan island... He was on the roof waiting to be evacuated, but went back down to try to find some missing people... he never came back up.”

“He should have been the first into the helicopters,” The Doctor sighed. “Stubborn old fool.” Then he read the list again. “Sarah Jane Smith... Professor and Mrs Jones... Captain Jack Harkness... I don’t know anyone by that name. That might be a mistake. Whoever he is, I hope...” The Doctor stopped. He was about to say he hoped that the mysterious captain died well. But he knew there was no good way to die. When history was written, people who died attempting to save others, as the old Brigadier had done, were considered heroes and spoken of in reverential tones. But their deaths, in the end, were as futile as those victims they sought to help.

“Dorothy Weir...” He didn’t speak the last name aloud. He swallowed hard and looked at Ace, who never answered to her birth name of Dorothy. A seventeen year old tearaway who left Earth in 1986, By 2014 she would be a woman in her mid-forties, and presumably married to a Mr. Weir. Again he couldn’t help wondering how she died. He knew she would fight to the last, and he felt a swell of pride in her. But at the same time he grieved.

“If only you HAD stayed with me forever,” The Doctor thought sadly. Then he turned his attention to the data on the screens in front of him again. He saw a much wider picture than individual heroism, and knew that Earth’s situation was more desperate than even he had guessed.

He called to Ace and they returned to the TARDIS. He put it into orbit around Earth once more. Ace wondered if there was anything she could do to help The Doctor. But he seemed too engrossed in some very deep, important calculations and didn’t even hear her when she asked. It went against the grain as a liberated young woman who had her fill of waitressing when she escaped from Iceworld with The Doctor, but she went to the kitchen and made a cup of tea for him.

It went cold on the side of the console. The Doctor turned from his calculations and contacted U.N.I.T. Brigadier Bambera came to the video-phone.

“Your scientists were right,” he said. “The explosion HAS knocked the planet’s axis of rotation out of kilter. That’s why it went dark over Europe immediately afterwards. The planet span around like a billiard ball and settled in a new position. Magnetic north is now centred on the Pacific seaboard of the United States of America – around California. The South Pole is in Croatia. The original polar ice caps are now in temperate zones. They’ll melt rapidly while new ice caps will form over those landmasses.”

“But it’s worse than that, isn’t it, Doctor?” Brigadier Bambera said. “It’s not just a matter of California becoming the Arctic in the next decade. There will be other consequences.”

“The original Arctic ice cap is mainly centred over water. It consists of millions of tons of water trapped as ice. The new one will be over land. That means less of it will be ice. Sea levels will rise. London won’t be the only place under water by the time the adjustment is complete. And there are other consequences that I can’t even begin to summarise, except to say that Earth as we know it is doomed. The Human race is in serious jeopardy.”

“Doctor... thank you for confirming that for us,” Brigadier Bambera said in a remarkably calm voice. “And for all your efforts on our behalf. I hope...”

She choked, despite her apparent composure. The Doctor nodded. He didn’t need to hear the end of the sentence. He could guess.

“Doctor,” Ace said in a quiet voice when he closed the communication and turned away from the console. “Doctor... what do we do now?”

“Do?” he looked at her. “Ace, my dear child... We... go on. We travel through time and space, seeing all the wonders of the universe, together.”

“That’s... that’s good, Doctor. But... you know... I think the one wonder I would most like to see is England playing Brazil in the World Cup semi final of 2014. It’s just... I can’t believe that the world I know, my own familiar Earth, can have come to an end just like that.”

“It hasn’t come to an end,” The Doctor assured her. “The Human race will go on. It will adapt. It will reach out for the stars and be indomitable. This is a setback, that’s all.”

“Do you really think so?” Ace asked. “So... if we moved the TARDIS a hundred years into the future... the Earth would be ok? It would look different, but it would be ok. People would still be...”

“I can show you if you like,” The Doctor told her. “If it will put your mind at rest.”

“Yes, please.”

The Doctor reached for the dematerialisation switch. As he did so, though, something happened. The time rotor glowed with a bright white light that spread around the console room until it was almost too bright to bear. As it dimmed again a figure stepped out of the brightness. It was a tall woman dressed in elaborate regalia including a high collar like an Elizabethan courtier and a heavily embroidered gown.

“Romana,” The Doctor gasped. “I mean... Madam President... your Excellency...”

“Romana will do, between the two of us,” the elegant woman replied. “In truth, I wouldn’t BE president if you hadn’t declined the honour. Chancellor Maxil never lets a day go by without reminding me of that fact. He’s something of a ‘fan’ of yours to use a Human euphemism.”

“I’m... flattered,” The Doctor said. “But... the power it requires for a full corporeal embodiment across time and space... you didn’t do that for us to reminisce about old times...”

“I did not. Doctor, we have been observing the events which are taking place on planet Earth at this temporal point.”

“Madam President, I assure you I have done nothing to affect the timeline. I and my companion were already a part of ongoing events. The lives we saved...”

“Are in vain, Doctor,” President Romana told him. “I see that you have noted the change in the planetary axis and the climactic consequences.”

“I have.”

“But you have missed a vital piece of data. The planet’s orbit has also been affected. It will take two hundred Earth years for the new orbit to cross that of the planet called Mars by the Earth humans, but when it does, it will be the end of life on Earth.”

“I...” The Doctor couldn’t speak. The far reaching consequences of that were mind-boggling. “But... that will be before Earth has established any colonies in deep space. The Human empire...”

“Will not happen. The Human race will die out before the end of the twenty-third century. It will never be the force to be reckoned with throughout the galaxy that withstood so many tyrannical forces such as the Daleks, the Dominators, the...”


“Doctor, you know that it is forbidden to interfere with a fixed point in time. There is nothing more solidly written into the Laws of Time than that.”

“I know,” The Doctor told the President of his world. “I have never...”

“This was not a fixed point. This was an event that should never have happened. The timelines are distorted. The events that have unfolded here must not happen.”

“Do you mean that I can...” The Doctor was astounded. “You want me to... How?”

“That’s for your wits, Doctor,” Romana answered. “You have never been short of them in the past. Farewell, Doctor. I hope you succeed. I have a certain faith in your skills. I shall speak to you again when you are next home on Gallifrey.”

She faded away. The Doctor stood watching the empty space where she had been for a long time before he turned and looked at Ace.

“You know what that means, don’t you?” he said.

“We can save Earth. We can stop it happening. England can play Brazil...” She frowned. “But how? Even if we go back in time how do we...”

“I know how,” The Doctor told her. “Now I have permission to cross timelines it’s easy enough. A little scary, but easy.”

Ace sat in a deckchair eating ice cream under a warm sunny English sky. She watched The Doctor putting stamps on a bunch of envelopes containing thank you cards addressed to an assortment of people including one Sarah Jane Smith in London, Professor and Mrs Jones in Wales, somebody called Dorothy Weir in Cumbria, Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart in New York and a Captain Jack Harkness. The Doctor had bought the cards in WH Smiths before bringing her back to the park where they had enjoyed the jazz concert. He said it was time he remembered old friends, even the ones he hadn’t actually met yet.

There was no concert today, but the park was busy with people walking dogs or playing ball games and having picnics. The ice cream van was doing a good trade. Ace smiled happily to see such a picture of Human normality. Later they were going to see the World Cup semi final in Rio. The fact that it was only three hours till the match started was no problem to The Doctor and the TARDIS. But it had felt important to come here for a little while and eat ice cream. Later still, when they left Rio and went to Gallifrey, 250 million light years away, where The Doctor had an appointment to take tea with the President of the High Council, and then off to visit the ice gardens of Etea II or the wailing seas of Ryev-Okrui Tertius, she would be content knowing that they could come back here any time and have an ice cream in the sunshine.

The ice cream and the sunshine were only possible because she and The Doctor had taken the TARDIS to a bunker under the sands of the Arabian desert just thirty seconds before the test explosion of the nuclear device. The Doctor had extracted the radioactive core of the device and the TARDIS had dematerialised before the ordinary explosives within the bomb detonated with rather disappointing results for the scientists who had developed it. The Doctor had then taken the TARDIS forward in time to the year 5.5/Apple/26, which he assured Ace was a real unit of measurement in Earth’s future. He left the radioactive core of the bomb in what used to be the United Arab Emirates, but was now an empty wasteland waiting for the fast approaching hour when the Earth would be engulfed by the expanding sun at the end of its natural life. Ace was a little bit disturbed to learn the date of Earth’s final demise, but the fact that it was something like five billion years in her personal future, and that the Human race had moved elsewhere before it happened softened the blow.

Meanwhile, there was still ice cream and sunshine and everything was as it should be.