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

Night fell quickly on Aurora Penta. The small Human colony hunkered down inside their prefabricated huts and waited for dawn to break. Greg Bayliss, in the hut he shared with his wife, Belle, and his son, Andrew, was as tightly locked as any. Under the solar generated lights his head was bent over the blueprints for the food production plant they were supposed to get established before the end of the year. He despaired of the work ever being done.

“We sank all our savings into this venture,” he said dismally as his wife placed the evening ration of food on the corner of the blueprint. He took the food and chewed it slowly, washing it down with small sips from a tin cup of water.

“I know,” Belle answered him. “It’s the same for everyone. We have to make this colony work or we’re ruined. We have nowhere else to go but….”

“We’re never going to end up in the work camp on Aurora Alpha,” Greg insisted. “None of us.”

“At least there is proper food and water in the camps,” Andrew pointed out.

“And a lifetime bondage to the Company,” Greg replied. “I wanted more for you than blisters and callouses from digging through mineral deposits all day. Besides, I’m too old for that sort of work now. So is your mother. How long do you think we’d last there? It’s a death sentence.”

“So is living here,” Andrew said. “How many have died already, and not of overwork. Not even of hunger or thirst, even though our supplies of both are so desperately low.”

Belle put her hand over her son’s arm and shook her head slightly. Nobody spoke of it, even though they knew. There was something out there in the desert, something that thrived in this inhospitable place and had been picking them off, one by one, since they arrived six months ago.

Something the Company didn’t warn them about when they paid their deposits and were given the titles to their claims.

They had to stay here four years in order to ‘prove up’. Then the seven hundred acres allotted to them would be their own property. They would be real colonists, real farmers. They would be independent of the Company.

But the seven hundred acres were still dry sand, yet. Until the rains came and filled up the Great Depression Lake where they had built their useless, dry irrigation channels, nobody could grow anything.

When the rains came! Every night Belle prayed for rain. She was the only one who did. Prayers seemed as pointless as irrigation channels without water. She was the only one with any faith in either. She still fully believed that it would all work out if they believed.

Greg lost his faith when his brother was taken by the thing that stalked the night.

Andrew never had any to begin with.

“It’s not just the rain we need,” Greg said. “It’s a miracle, and I don’t think anyone is sending one of those to us.”

“Perhaps He will if we all pray for it,” Belle replied.

Greg smiled sadly at his wife. She really did believe there was a God watching over them who would deliver them from the desperate state they were in.

She opened her prayer book and began to recite the nightly supplication. Greg and his son half-listened but didn’t join in.

A pounding at the door interrupted her prayers. She looked at her husband fearfully.

“Don’t open it,” she said. “It could be….”

“Open the door, please,” a voice cried from outside.

“It’s Miles Hannon,” Andrew said, rising from the table. Greg rose, too, and told his son to stand away as he went to the door. He opened it enough for the other man to slip inside.

“Jenni is missing,” Miles told him in a voice muffled by the scarf around his face. “She didn’t come in at curfew.”

“We have to look for her,” Andrew said, his face tightening in concern. “Father….”

“We can’t,” Greg answered. “You know what it’s like out there at night. Besides… it’ll already be too late.”


“She’s fifteen!” Miles pleaded frantically. “She’s all I have. We can’t… we have to….”

“Father, please!”

“She’s dead already,” Greg told him. “I’m sorry.”

“I will pray for her soul,” Belle said.

“I’ll pray for a quick death for us all,” Miles answered, his heart breaking and tears filling his eyes.

“Come and rest,” Greg said. “There’s nothing to be done.”

“No. I’ll look for her, even if….”

Miles turned and ran out of the hut. Greg watched for a little while then closed the door firmly.

“He’s run towards the hydrogen lake,” he said. “He’s lost to us. Him and his daughter.”

Andrew looked at his father then ran from the living quarters to the sleeping rooms sectioned off at the back. Greg sat down at the table again and looked at his wife.

“We’d better get to his hut first thing,” he said. “Two rations of food and water going begging… there will be others ready to take what they can get.”

“I will pray for both their souls,” Belle said, returning to her prayer book resignedly.

Tegan stared critically at the viewscreen while Turlough read out the chemical composition of the air outside.

“It looks dismal,” she said. “What I can see of it in the dark, anyway. Nothing but rocks and sand apart from that lake over there. And I don’t like the way that mist is coming off it. Doesn’t look at all healthy to me.”

“It is dismal,” Turlough confirmed. “That lake… it’s not a lake. It’s a giant cauldron full of liquid hydrogen. There isn’t a drop of water on the planet. Even the poles are desert.”

“It wasn’t always that way,” The Doctor said. “The dry climate is a result of a cataclysm fifty years ago. I’m surprised natural forces haven’t begun to redress the balance by now, though.”

“Why are we here?” Tegan asked, trying not to sound as if she was whining. Frankly this planet looked and sounded horrible. She didn’t want to go out there, but The Doctor was already unfolding what he called climate suits – orange coveralls with hoods and face masks that had been completely by-passed by any sense of fashion. Tegan put hers on without comment and was surprised how light and cool it felt, but the colour was still appalling and she was glad to leave the hood off for the moment.

“I want to do some tests to find out WHY the natural forces haven’t begun to redress the balance. This planet was zoned for colonisation by the Aurora Alpha government. They reckoned it was fit for habitation.”

“By humans?” Tegan was appalled at the thought.

“By Aurorans,” The Doctor corrected her. “Human is a specific race originating on Earth. Aurorans are humanoid. They look much like you do, just as Turlough and I do. But we’re neither of us Human, either.”

Tegan accepted her lesson in intergalactic speciesism without complaint.

“There is a reason why this bipedal form is so common around the galaxy, even though so many of the individual races have never had contact with each other,” The Doctor told her. “I’ll explain some time if you’ve got two or three hours to listen.”

“That’s ok, Doctor,” she replied. “Human looking people are fine by me after some of the things we’ve met up with. They’re friendly, I presume?”

“Aurorans, you mean? Well, yes, friendly enough. Their government is a bit totalitarian. But the people individually are charming enough. Of course, we’re not going to meet any around here. This planet isn’t ready for colonisation, by a long shot.”

“Er… Doctor….” Turlough pointed to the lifesigns monitor and then to the viewscreen. He switched it to night-sight view as a humanoid figure ran towards the TARDIS. It looked sinister in the green enhanced view. The face and coverall were both bright white-green against the darker background of the desert.

The Doctor didn’t hesitate. He hit the door release and ran out. On screen Tegan and Turlough saw him grab the slightly built runner in his arms and turn to run back into the TARDIS.

“She’s ok,” he said as Turlough closed the door behind him. “Just a bit out of breath and scared.”

It was a girl, about fourteen or fifteen, Tegan guessed from her pale, oval shaped face framed by curling fair hair. Her blue eyes blinked in the sudden light of the console room. She had the general appearance of a frightened rabbit.

“It’s all right,” The Doctor assured her. “What’s your name? How did you get here?”

“I’m…. Jenni…” she managed to say in a halting, nervous voice. “I… was scared. I saw… the creature. I ran. But… I ran the wrong way. And it was getting dark. I….”

“Ran from where?” Turlough asked. Tegan was rummaging in a cupboard and found a packet of energy bars and a carton of fresh orange juice. She brought them to the girl. Her eyes opened wide in surprise as she tasted the orange. The food seemed to please her, too. Tegan noted that she was a little thin for her age. Not anorexic, but certainly undernourished. Tegan found another orange juice carton and gave it to her. She drank it as if she had never had anything so good in her whole life.

While she ate and drank her fill, The Doctor set the lifesigns monitor to a wider range and found the answer to one question at least.

“There’s a settlement five miles from here,” he said. “At least a hundred people there. Aurorans, like her.”

“I thought you said this place wasn’t ready for colonisation?” Tegan questioned.

“It isn’t,” The Doctor replied. “They might not have come here deliberately. Perhaps their ship crashed or some such thing.”

“Perhaps they were left here,” Turlough said darkly. “Seems like a good place to leave prisoners to fend for themselves.”

“Botany Bay?” Tegan suggested.

“Possibly,” The Doctor mused. He looked at Jenni, but she didn’t seem ready to talk very much. She must have been running full pelt for some time, and the hydrogen mist coming off the ‘lake’ couldn’t have done much for her respiration. She didn’t need questions fired at her.

“We’ll take her home,” he decided. “The TARDIS isn’t keen on these short hops, but she isn’t ready to go back across the terrain on foot.”

The time rotor rose and fell in the middle of the console and the TARDIS groaned and wheezed. Tegan thought it was doing it a little more than usual, as if it was registering a protest about moving a mere five miles in linear space without dematerialising first.

It settled again on a piece of desert that was nearly identical to the one it had first materialised on, except this was on the edge of a wide bowl that might once have been a freshwater lake. Beside it was the settlement. The huts where the lifesigns were hunkered reminded Tegan of pictures she had seen of World War II air raid shelters.

“Clever,” The Doctor said. “Those would have been flat packed into containers for transport, just like tents. They can be assembled just as easily, then the fabric is hydrated and it dries out like a concrete skin – instant shelter. Inside, all the comforts of home – well, nearly.”

“Show us where you live,” Turlough said to Jenni in a surprisingly gentle voice. The girl looked at him and took his outstretched hand. The Doctor looked at them and nodded in approval. She had identified with Turlough. She trusted him. That was good, for both of them. Turlough wasn’t entirely used to being trusted and the girl needed somebody she felt comfortable with.

The Doctor opened the door again and Turlough led the way with Jenni. Tegan followed with The Doctor coming along behind them. Jenni expressed surprise at finding herself close to the settlement but relief went with it and she soon found her bearings. She brought them all to one of the long, half rounded shelters.

But another shock lay in store for her there. She screamed and ran to the body that lay hunched by the door. The Doctor reached him a moment later and quickly checked his vital signs.

“He’s alive,” he assured the girl. “But he needs some help. Let’s get him inside. Turlough, run back to the TARDIS for the first aid kit and some more of the orange juice Tegan found before. He’s dehydrated apart from anything else.”

He lifted the man as Jenni unlocked the door. Lights came on automatically as they entered the habitat. The one thing this planet had was sunlight and solar panels provided power. There was a faint hum of an air conditioner, too.

Those modern facilities apart, the habitat was quite basic, with a table, chairs, two beds with screens that could be pulled across for privacy. There was a separate section that must have been a kind of bathroom facility. Probably ion showers in this place where water was at a premium, The Doctor thought. He didn’t think too hard about the ion toilet that would go with it. They were nasty things, only used in absolute necessity.

He put the man down on a bed and began examining him thoroughly. He didn’t seem to be wounded except for some superficial scrapes and bruises, but he was so dehydrated his body couldn’t even sweat any more. His skin was red and dry.

“Tegan, do you have a moisturiser in your handbag?” he asked. She was surprised by the request, but handed over the bottle.

He rubbed the subtly scented moisturiser all over the stricken man’s face, neck and chest. Tegan didn’t expect to get much of it back when he was done. She reminded The Doctor that it was the ‘good stuff’ and he owed her next time they were near a Boots.

Turlough returned with the first aid kit and the orange juice. The Doctor put some of it into the slowly recovering man’s mouth and he managed to swallow on the second attempt. He gave him some more while Tegan assisted by putting a bandage over the worst of his grazes and sticking plasters over the rest.

“He’s her father,” Turlough said, after questioning Jenni quietly. “Miles Hannon. “He must have been trying to find her, but gave up and tried to get home.”

“He made it,” The Doctor replied. “Miles… open your eyes. Let me have a look.”

His eyes were dry, too. He struggled to raise the lids. Even tears were scarce on this planet. The Doctor put some drops in and he was able to blink properly and focus on his rescuers, and more importantly, his daughter. The two hugged lovingly while Tegan and Turlough both looked around the habitat and noted that there wasn’t an awful lot of food around. Perhaps there was some kind of central store for provisions. Certainly nothing much was growing around here. They would have had to bring it all with them.

“You know, when the first Europeans settled in what became Brisbane they did so because there was a river there, and some chance of planting crops that would grow. Same for all the other cities in Australia. Even Botany Bay had a freshwater river. The convicts weren’t expected to die of thirst.”

The Doctor took her point. This seemed a very strange environment for settlers to be in. Jenni and her father, and the others had really given themselves a challenge.

Or was this something they did voluntarily?

“Doctor, are you sure this isn’t some sort of penal colony?” Turlough asked quietly. “It looks like one.”

“I didn’t know you were so well acquainted with such places,” The Doctor replied. Turlough looked uncomfortable for a moment. Of course, he had never really talked about his background, even what planet he really came from. The Doctor had never asked him to tell him anything he wasn’t ready to talk about.

Tegan was talking to Jenni. Now that she was home and her father was recovering she was less frightened and uncertain. She was responding to questions.

“Doctor,” Tegan called to him. The Doctor and Turlough both drew closer. “Jenni has been telling me about their community. Apparently they all came here as claim farmers, like on the American prairies. They paid a deposit and promised to farm their acres for so many years to be entitled to full ownership deeds. They didn’t expect this drought, but they’ve dug irrigation channels so that, once the rains come, they’ll be ready.”

“Oh dear,” The Doctor said. “That’s not right. It hasn’t rained here for fifty years. The eco-system was damaged by solar flares. The layer of the atmosphere where clouds would normally form was damaged. And there is no sign of it repairing any time soon. It CAN’T rain on this planet.”

“Then why did the Company send us here?” Jenni asked. “They told us we could grow crops. We have the corn and wheat waiting to be planted. We’re trying so hard to be ready, despite losing so many people to the… the creature…. If there is no rain… then we’ll ALL die.”

She looked at her father. He was sleeping now.

“He risked his life to look for me. But if he knew… how hopeless it is….”

Turlough reached out to comfort her. She accepted his hand on hers gratefully.

“Doctor,” he said. “Is it REALLY that hopeless? Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“No,” The Doctor answered. “It really IS that hopeless. The Company… that would be the Aurora Alpha Company, I presume… They rule the Aurora system. Everything is about profit. The vast majority of Aurorans live in Company houses, work in the Company offices and factories. The very poorest live in camps and receive food rations for work. Those with savings to invest are offered these parcels of land on the colony worlds. A fertile piece of land is the only chance of independence for most Aurorans. A ‘proved up’ farm becomes their own property, free of Company rent and tax. But in this case – they’ve been cheated. The Company took their money and brought them to a barren wasteland incapable of supporting life.”

“But they’ll die,” Tegan said, appalled by the callousness of it.

“And then they can sell the land to the next group of applicants,” Turlough responded. “Is that the game, Doctor?”

“Yes, I’m very much afraid it is. Come to that, how often has it happened before this? Were you really the first settlers here?”

“We… thought so,” Jenni answered. “I don’t know. If that’s true… then….”

She shuddered in horror.

“We’re living upon the bones of the dead. And when we’ve all starved to death or been killed by the creature from the mists….”

“You said that before,” Tegan reminded her. “What creature? What does it look like?”

“Nobody knows,” Jenni answered. “But ten men were killed by it before the curfew was imposed. We don’t go out at night and we don’t go near the lake alone.”

“You did,” Turlough pointed out.

“I… father and I had argued. I was foolish. I ran without thinking and was lost before I knew.”

“This creature,” The Doctor said. “Did you see or hear anything when you were near the lake?”

“I heard noises coming from the mist,” Jenni answered. “But I didn’t see anything. But they say… that you never see it until it is too late.”

“I wonder how ‘they’ know in that case?” The Doctor mused. “I think we ought to investigate this lake in the morning. But until then, I suggest everyone gets some rest. Tegan, you and Jenni bunk up together. Turlough and I will make use of the chairs by the fire. We’ll rest until dawn.”

The Doctor didn’t sleep. He was aware that everyone else was resting, but he had too much to think about. A great many things were wrong on this planet. The duplicity of the Company was the first and greatest thing, but there was something more that he didn’t completely understand, yet.

Of course, he could simply evacuate this whole community from Aurora Penta. The TARDIS could easily accommodate them. But then what? Where could he take them? They had already paid every penny they had for their stake in this planet. They had nothing to bring to any new colony world. They had nothing to go back to on Aurora Alpha except the work camps of the destitute.

There was nowhere they could go. But they couldn’t stay here and die of starvation and thirst when their supplies ran out. He couldn’t, at peril of his soul, leave them here with no other prospects.

His own people would tell him this was no concern of his. The Company created the problem. They should fix the problem. It wasn’t the work of a Time Lord to interfere in such small, local matters.

But he had been interfering in small local matters all his life, and one way or another he would find a way to leave the people of this small locality with something more than false hope.

He was still thinking on those lines when the sound of the door opening alerted him. Turlough woke, too, and was immediately defensive.

The man and boy who came into the habitat were very surprised to see them. The boy swept straight past them and ran to where Jenni and Tegan were sleeping. Jenni woke with a cry and embraced him fondly. Tegan rubbed her eyes and looked around sleepily.

“I’m The Doctor,” The Doctor said with his brightest and most disarming smile and his hand held out to shake. “This is Turlough and Tegan and I assume you know your neighbours, Jenni and Miles?”

“We… thought they were dead,” Greg Bayliss said. “They were both lost last night during the curfew.”

“They were. But they’re found, now. But if you thought them lost, why did you come here?”

Greg didn’t answer. The son did, in a bitter tone.

“Father said we should come as early as possible and take the food and water they would no longer need. He said… others would if we didn’t.”

“I only meant….” Greg began, but The Doctor put a hand up to stop him.

“If that is the kind of community you have become, where a man and his daughter going missing in the night mean nothing but spare rations to the rest of you… then your lives aren’t the only things at stake here. Your consciences are in need of intensive care, too.”

“I….” Greg began to speak again but gave up.

“It’s dawn now. Tegan, you stay here and take care of Jenni and her father. They shouldn’t be alone. The four of us will be enough.”

“Enough for what?” Greg Bayliss asked.

“For a field trip. We’ll take supplies and go and look at this hydrogen lake properly and find out exactly what it is that you’re all afraid of. You and your son can guide us.”

The Doctor noted with satisfaction that Bayliss didn’t waste any more time questioning his right to give orders of that sort. Whatever face he had, however incongruously he might dress, however much he was at odds with his Time Lord peers, the majesty and authority of his people was always with him, to be used when it was needed to cut through pointless and time wasting objections.

He sent Turlough to fetch food and drink from the TARDIS. There was no need for the Aurorans to use the precious rations they had. The injured Miles and daughter appreciated the breakfast of fresh bread and butter and hot coffee that the TARDIS provided. Such food had not been seen on Aurora Penta since the first day they arrived.

Of course, he could have used the TARDIS to bring them all closer to the lake, but having decided that evacuation wasn’t an option The Doctor didn’t want to put the idea into their heads by showing them its possibilities. Besides, he wanted to get a first hand look at the land that had been sold to these people by the unscrupulous Company. He noted the size of the ‘Depression’ and the irrigation work the settlers had done in anticipation of rains that would turn it back into a real freshwater lake. He also took note of the plots of land Greg and his friends had been allocated by the Company according to maps and plans they were all issued. They amounted to sizeable farmlands. If only there was water, it would not be difficult to turn the ground into fertile fields that could yield abundant crops.

Water was the insurmountable stumbling block.

As they drew close to the hydrogen lake, they walked through heavy mist that crawled along the ground like ethereal fingers reaching out. The Doctor assured them it was safe. Hydrogen was so much heavier than air they wouldn’t be breathing it even close to the lake itself.

He was busy himself with a small gadget he had Tulough bring from the TARDIS along with the food and drink. It was one of young Nyssa’s old science projects, a portable lifesigns monitor that was capable of distinguishing between most known organic species and some obvious semi and non-organic ones like Daleks and Cybermen, Quark units and positronic androids.

The organic life it was detecting within the hydrogen lake wasn’t anything he had ever encountered before, but it must once have been catalogued by a Time Lord, because it was in the TARDIS database that Nyssa included in her programming.

“Interesting,” he said as he stood with the mist up to his ankles and noted that the ‘lake’ was a good ten miles across and twice as deep. The creature was lying on the bottom, stretching across most of that vast distance.

He closed his eyes and carefully reached out mentally to connect with the brain of the creature that literally was from the deep. It was an animal life with only a vague kind of sentience, but he could sense enough of its slow, long life to understand several important things.

“All right, my friend,” he whispered. “Nobody will bother you there. I promise.”

He turned and walked back to where the others waited.

“The creature in the hydrogen lake is a Mordonian hydro-whale. It is related to the giant space whales that swim through the depths of space. It fell to ground here as an egg at least a thousand years ago and made the lake as its habitat over the years.”

“MADE the lake?” Turlough asked. “Do you mean….”

“Hydro-whales expel hydrogen as part of their natural respiration. It has been breathing down there for a thousand years. There’s quite a build up of gas.”

“How do we kill it?” Greg Bayliss asked.

“You don’t,” The Doctor replied with a sudden fierceness. “If you try any such thing you will make an enemy of me. And believe me you don’t want to do that. Leave it alone and it will leave you alone. It ISN’T responsible for any deaths among your community, except perhaps one or two early on who may have accidentally fallen into the hydrogen.”

“But we have lost more than one or two people,” Greg argued.

“The creature didn’t kill them. So let’s press on and find out if there might be some other cause of their deaths.”

He led them around the lake carefully. For a long while nothing else came up on the lifesigns monitor. Then after they had walked for an hour there was a faint blip. The Doctor turned east and followed the monitor until the blip strengthened and he was able to distinguish the species of the creature that was almost certainly responsible for the deaths of Auroran settlers.

It was another Auroran settler! The monitor was clear about that.

“What in the company’s name is that?” asked Andrew when they rounded a rocky outcrop and came into its shaded side away from the glare of the sun.

“Storage containers,” Greg Bayliss answered. “Company storage containers, the sort that we brought with us with our supplies, but twice, three times as big. They must have delivered some kind of industrial machinery. But when? And why?”

“Let’s ask him!” Turlough suggested. He looked at the ragged man who was charging towards them and decided that he wasn’t going to ask him anything until he put down the fearsome looking weapon he was carrying. As he drew closer it was obvious that the thing with multiple blades was hand made from the parts of some machinery with more benign purposes like harvesting crops.

The Doctor stepped forward, his hands held by his side, palms out to show that he wasn’t armed. Turlough closed his eyes. He had no desire to see The Doctor hacked to death by a madman, and he had made it clear he wanted everyone else to stand back and not try to fight the bewildered stranger.

The stranger was still coming towards him, but The Doctor stood his ground. Then when the man was close enough to cause him injury with the sinister blade he reached out very quickly and twisted it out of his hand. Turlough dashed forward then and grabbed the weapon away while The Doctor restrained the man and tried to calm him enough to find out who he was and how he got there.

“He’s wearing a Company badge,” Andrew noted, pointing to the remnants of a heavy-duty coverall that was so thick with dirt it was impossible to tell what colour it was originally. The badge was almost worn off the fabric, but the a symbol for Aurora Alpha was just visible.

Beneath it was part of a name – A…. Lowe. Most of the forename was unreadable.

“Lowe,” The Doctor said. “That’s your name?”

The man growled unintelligibly and bared his teeth like an animal.

“What’s wrong with him?” Andrew Bayliss asked.

“I think his mind has snapped,” The Doctor replied. “Poor chap. Turlough, Greg, hold him down, please. I want to examine his mind.”

They did so, avoiding those bared teeth. They couldn’t help noticing that the incisors were sharp. They didn’t fancy being bitten.

Neither did The Doctor, but he reached out and put his hand on Lowe’s forehead. He concentrated as he had done when he made contact with the hydro-whale. Strangely enough, contacting that simple mind had been easier. The danger was in being caught up in that simplicity and forgetting his higher cognitive functions, but he wasn’t connected long enough for that to happen.

Lowe had higher cognitive functions once. They were there, locked in his broken mind. But the animalistic instincts that had overridden him were fighting against the intrusion. The Doctor struggled to find the man called Lowe inside somewhere.

When he did, he was horrified by what he found.

“All right, poor chap,” he said gently when he was done. “Sleep now. Rest and let the horror you’ve experienced pass away. Find yourself again.”

Lowe slipped into a peaceful sleep. Turlough and Greg let go of him.

“We need to find something to make a stretcher,” The Doctor said. “We’ll bring him back to the community.”

“Find what?” Andrew asked. “Where?”

“Let’s try in there,” Turlough suggested, pointing to the smallest of the large shipping containers. It was the only one that was open. He headed towards the entrance, quickly followed by The Doctor.

It was obvious that Lowe had been sleeping there. It looked and felt like an animal’s lair.

“Where did he get fresh meat from?” Turlough asked. Then he clapped his hand over his mouth in shock as the answer occurred to him. “Oh no. He hasn’t….”

“I’m afraid so,” The Doctor replied. “He probably ate his colleagues first, then when they ran out… the missing people from the community.”

“And you’re bringing him back to them? They’ll murder him.”

“I’ll make sure they don’t,” The Doctor said very quietly but with a certainty that Turlough was reassured by. “He’s a very sick man who needs a lot of help. Meanwhile, get those poles and that tarpaulin. It will do for the stretcher. And….”

The Doctor glanced at the blueprints on the wall of the container. Then he looked at them more closely before taking them down from the wall and folding them carefully.

“I think we have the solution to everybody’s problems,” he said. “Let’s get back to the community.”

The trek back was hard work. The sun was hotter now and carrying Lowe was an extra task. But they got there mid-afternoon. The Doctor brought Lowe into Miles Hannon’s habitat and made him comfortable there. He was still deeply unconscious, yet, and that was the best thing for him. The Doctor had touched his earlier memories, before everything went so badly wrong for his expedition. He had brought them to the surface. He had a good chance of recovering enough of his senses in time to live a normal life again.

Meanwhile he gathered some of the men in Greg Bayliss’s home. His wife worried about being able to provide for guests, but The Doctor brought supplies from the TARDIS for a meal before he got down to business.

“It seems as if the Company didn’t sell you as short as it first appeared,” he explained. “They sent a construction crew a year ago to build a hydro-oxy conversion plant to manufacture water using the abundant supply of hydrogen in the lake and the oxygen in the air to create good old-fashioned H2O – enough to fill the Depression and irrigate your fields. It won’t even bother the hydro-whale. It’ll keep on producing hydrogen for as long as you need to extract it from the lake – a truly renewable resource.”

The men gathered around the table looked stunned by the news. It was too much to take in.

“Why didn’t the plant get built, then?” one of the men quite reasonably asked. “And why did they send us here without it being up and running?”

“There was an accident when they first arrived. All the men except Lowe were killed. He lost his mind left alone on an uninhabited planet. I think he will recover. I’m going to help him do that. And I’ll help you construct the plant. I’ve got some experience of how that kind of thing works. My TARDIS produces water that way. I’ll make sure you’re off to a start… on condition that you take care of Lowe and don’t punish him in any way for what he did while his mind was broken.”

“Why?” Greg Bayliss asked suspiciously. “What did he do?”

The Doctor told them. They were horrified. Three of them stood from the table saying they were going to kill the murderer. The Doctor stopped them.

“Lowe was out of his mind,” he said. “He didn’t know what he was doing. You will not hold him responsible. You will help him recover and become a useful member of your community. All of you will put the past behind you now that you have a future.”

Turlough watched The Doctor’s eyes as he spoke. They were like burning ice, penetrating the eyes of the men he was talking to. They found themselves listening, and more importantly, obeying him. Yet all he was doing was talking in a very calm, measured tone.

Turlough knew for certain that everything The Doctor had said was going to happen. The converter would be built. The Depression would become a freshwater reservoir. Crops would grow. The people of Aurora Penta – all of them – would have a future.

Because The Doctor had said so.