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

Victoria came quietly into the console room. She always moved quietly. It had been ingrained in her from childhood that ladies moved with grace and didn’t interrupt men when they were talking.

The Doctor and Jamie were talking. Of course, Jamie was actually two years younger than she was and would be considered a boy in her social circles – and a lower class boy at that. But the point still stood. A lady did not interrupt men - she waited quietly to be brought into the conversation, and then only if it was a suitable subject for her.

“My dear Victoria,” The Doctor said, looking up and smiling warmly at her. His smile gladdened her heart whenever she saw it. The troublesome memories of the recent past melted away when she knew she was in the company of a man who would protect her until the end of his days from every possible harm.

Of course, he could just as easily plunge her into that harm, she reminded herself. The recent encounter with the Cybermen of Telos was an example of his enthusiasm for adventure.

“You look very nice in that dress,” he added. She had chosen a pale blue voile with a wide lace collar. If she had been told anything about historical fashions she would have known it was Edwardian in style. It had an ankle length skirt and a demurely cut neckline and that was what she sought among a wardrobe that contained such tiny dresses and skirts that she thought at first they were for children. She had seen pictures of the Doctor’s former companions – a pixie-faced girl called Vicki, one called, quite inexplicably, Dodo, and a Susan whose picture made The Doctor sigh softly and a little regretfully. They all wore those daring outfits without any sense of impropriety.

But they were not for her. She felt comfortable this way.

“You look grand,” Jamie told her. “Fit for a castle banquet.”

She was relieved that they spoke to her only of her choice of clothes. The complicated matters of TARDIS navigation that The Doctor had been trying to explain to Jamie were beyond her. He seemed to be attempting to teach the young Highland Phiobaire the workings of one of the complicated panels. Jamie was enthusiastic to learn. He had been educated only in a very piecemeal way, reading bible verses on a Sunday at his Kirk, and learning some basic numeracy from his father, and of course, how to play the bagpipes.

Now he was trying hard to understand how a Temporal Differential worked and what drastic alteration it would make to the TARDISes flight if he let the lever fall below the level indicated by a thick red line.

“We’re coming in to land somewhere,” The Doctor added. “We’ll worry about all that later. Let’s explore a new world.”

Victoria viewed the screen with trepidation as the TARDIS materialised, fully expecting a barren rocky landscape or a blistering desert. She was pleasantly surprised to see a wide vista of rolling grasslands broken by coppices of trees. Nearby there was a paddock where horses were grazing peacefully.

“Oh, it’s Earth, surely,” Victoria said in delight. “Doctor, you were teasing me. This is England – Hampshire or Hertfordshire perhaps.”

“I’m afraid not,” he admitted. “We are in entirely the wrong quadrant. But it does look a very pleasant kind of place. Shall we take a walk?”

Victoria found a parasol that kept the sun off her face. Jamie was ready for all weathers in his usual plaid and hard-wearing shirt. The Doctor, too, didn’t worry overmuch about his outdoor clothing. His black blazer over his shirt and the usual checked pants was satisfactory. They stepped out of the TARDIS and he locked the door before taking hold of Victoria’s arm gallantly.

There was a rough path worn by feet between the paddock and a meadow. They followed it, fully expecting to find some form of civilisation after a short walk.

And they did. The lane gave way very soon to a much better road with cobbles set into it. They looked both ways and then decided it would be more pleasant to walk with the sun behind them rather than directly in their eyes.

A few minutes later they were overtaken by a carriage of the sort Victoria would call a barouche. There was a lady seated in the carriage and a driver on the box seat.

“Doctor, this IS England, surely,” Victoria insisted.

“No,” The Doctor told her. “It really isn’t.”

The elegantly dressed lady looked around at them as they passed, and then spoke to the driver. The carriage stopped. The driver jumped down and approached the three walkers, nodding his head respectfully at The Doctor and Jamie, and at Victoria.

“Begging your pardon Sirs, madam, Lady Assheton wishes to offer you the comfort of her carriage, if you are intent on travelling far.”

“Oh….” Victoria breathed. The sight of the finely dressed lady in such a magnificent carriage pulled by a beautiful horse had entranced her. She longed to travel in a manner she considered fully civilised again.

“We should be delighted to join your ladyship,” The Doctor answered. “My thanks.”

“If it’s all right by you, Doctor, I’ll sit with the driver,” Jamie said. The Doctor didn’t question his decision. Jamie came from a society with class divisions as rigid as those Victoria knew – for that matter, his own world had ideas about people knowing their place. For Jamie, sitting in that carriage was like riding on horseback alongside the Laird, and a Phiobaire would never do that.

“This is so very much better than walking on such a warm day, isn’t it, my dear?” Lady Assheton said to Victoria as she settled beside her, The Doctor sitting opposite in the vis-à-vis seats. “Were you planning to go far?”

“We… hadn’t really decided,” Victoria answered. “We’ve only just arrived and we’re not at all sure where exactly we are. I thought it was Hampshire, but The Doctor said that it isn’t.”

“Heavens, no. The Hampshire estate is a good fifty miles away,” Lady Assheton told her. “This is my late husband’s demesne. Assheton manor is just a mile away. I was visiting my grand-niece who lives in the old Dower House by the river. But do you mean to say that you are lost?”

“I’m afraid we must be,” Victoria answered.

“On foot and without any luggage. How unfortunate. My dear, you and your companions must come back to the Manor for tea, and you can tell me all about it. If you are meant to be visiting the Hampshires then we will have to send a vid to them to say you are delayed.”

Victoria was puzzled. So was The Doctor, but he decided to keep quiet and listen to Lady Assheton’s chatter. It might provide clues to their exact situation.

Jamie was having no trouble at all conversing with the driver, who was pointing out landmarks to him with the riding crop as they travelled. Soon enough, the manor house came into view. It was a substantial building with two wide wings and a number of outbuildings all constructed of a fine grey stone. The many long casement windows glinted in the sunlight. As the only building to be seen for many miles it couldn’t help looking inviting.

The feeling was still with them when the barouche stopped finally on the driveway outside Assheton Manor. A groom came to assist with the horse and carriage while a butler whom Lady Assheton addressed as Evans opened the front door to his mistress and her guests. They were conducted to a finely appointed drawing room where tea and thin cucumber sandwiches were brought by a maid wearing a crisply starched apron.

But the outward appearance of this being England in Victoria’s familiar era was immediately dispelled not only by electric lights and other modern conveniences, but by the large video screen on the wall over the mantle and a hologram display cube on the sideboard. The hologram showed a three dimensional view of the planet they were on from space, including the small moon that orbited it.

The Doctor studied the hologram globe carefully. It had all of the hallmarks of a terra-formed planet. It had frozen poles, of course, and a hot equatorial area with deserts. The temperate zones where there was enough rainfall to ensure lush grass and crop growth in season had been maximised to such an extent that there was landmass all the way around the globe within the zone. That land was well watered by rivers that flowed down from the upland regions to the gentler lowlands and all the way to the seas that bordered them to the north and south.

“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Lady Assheton said. “When we came out here from Earth I was apprehensive, but I have never regretted a moment.”

“So this is an Earth colony,” The Doctor confirmed. “May I ask the name of the planet?”

“Nova Anglia, of course” her Ladyship answered. “How could you not know that?”

“My craft has somewhat erratic navigation,” The Doctor answered. “I often need to get my bearings from local data.”

Jamie rolled his eyes meaningfully at that comment while Victoria who hadn’t landed on strange planets quite often enough to be completely disillusioned gave a soft laugh.

“Well, never mind. You’re here, now.” Lady Assheton touched the hologram and the image closed in on a region of the northern landmass with a wide river cutting through pleasant lowland scenery. “The river Asshe is only a half mile to the west. I have a boathouse there with a motor launch, but I’ve not really enjoyed that kind of pursuit since my dear Lord Edward passed away last year.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” The Doctor said in the appropriate tone. “Very sorry indeed. I hope it wasn’t a prolonged illness?”

“Not at all,” Lady Assheton answered. “It was… swift.” Her eyes dimmed a little and her face tightened at the memory, then she gathered herself again. “The house is rather too quiet, now. My son, James, is in the interplanetary Flight Corps. He sends data-burst messages regularly when he is offworld. Estelle, my daughter, is married to the eldest son of the Knox-Brown family. I don’t suppose you know them if you are newly arrived – a very fine family, old money, of course. The best sort.”

With that she turned her attention to Victoria. Having arrived without luggage, she must, of course, have a change of dress for dinner. There were some of Estelle’s gowns in her old room. Of course they were a few seasons out of fashion, but perfectly serviceable. The thought of trying on clothes enthralled Victoria. She smiled happily and did her best to answer the questions Lady Assheton put to her about her family background.

“Waterfield?” she said thoughtfully. “Yes, Lady Hampshire’s sister married a Waterfield. They live on the southern continent, though. I rarely visit anywhere that isn’t reachable by carriage. The continental shuttle ports are such vulgar places, as I am sure you would agree, my dear.”

Victoria agreed with her even though she had no idea what a shuttle port was. She had clearly been accepted as a social equal by Lady Assheton. So had The Doctor. Jamie’s position was confirmed by The Doctor who said that both he and Victoria were his wards, travelling under his protection.

“Of course,” Lady Assheton said with a nod. “The experience will be something for them both to cherish when they are settled. I am sure you will be looking for a suitable husband for Victoria before very long. Of course, when he is a little older the boy will be ready for military service. The Interplanetary Flight Corps would make a man of him.”

“I am a man,” Jamie protested. “I’ve done my service to the Laird already.”

“A spirited boy, and handsome with it. He will make a good match, too. I expect….”

Lady Assheton’s chatter told The Doctor all he needed to know about Nova Anglican society. It was hierarchical and patriarchal and a little snobbish.

It reminded him of home.

Lady Assheton was clearly most comfortable talking to Victoria. Jamie was content to wander around the room looking at the array of old weapons mounted on the wall. There were shotguns that had been made safe with blocked barrels, only for show, but also swords of the quality that impressed the young Highlander. The hall as they came in also had a collection of weapons. They belonged, Lady Assheton had explained, to her husband’s family who had a long military history.

The Doctor found plenty to interest him in that hologram. It proved a very useful atlas of Nova Anglia. He discovered that much of the land on the two continents was divided into country demesnes owned by rich families such as the Asshetons, the Hampshires, the Knox-Browns. Near the coast there was a large city with an envirodome over it. That was the administrative capital. Colony planets generally had some kind of urban conurbation where the governor resided and the work of government of the planet took place.

Spreading out around the city were what looked very much like shanty towns with basic housing, probably the homes of the lower class workers who did the menial jobs in the city. The Doctor was unsurprised. Where there were people like Lady Assheton at the top of the social ladder there were always people at the bottom who swept the floors and peeled the potatoes.

Interestingly, these, shanty towns, too, were covered by envirodomes. The Doctor wondered why that was necessary. The climate was, as he had noted, temperate. It was neither too hot nor too cold for Human life. Large cities, of course, often had climate control within the dome, ensuring that, like in Camelot, ‘it never rained till after sundown’, but he couldn’t imagine why the smaller settlements needed it.

Except for the obvious class distinctions, he could see nothing about Nova Anglia that disturbed him. It seemed to be a well organised colony that worked far better than many he had seen.

The butler entered the room quietly and announced to her ladyship that the Knox-Brown’s were here. Lady Assheton in turn told her servant that The Doctor and his party would be joining them for dinner.

“You must, of course,” she added. “It is far too late for you to think of travelling on this evening. You would never reach the Hampshire’s before starset. You must stay the night, too. Victoria, you can share the white bedroom with Miss Emily Knox-Brown. She is a very charming young woman, engaged to the eldest son of the Salisburys. Doctor, you and the boy will be comfortable in the mahogany suite.”

“I am sure we will,” The Doctor replied charmingly. “Thank you for your hospitality, Madam.”

The butler returned shortly with the three guests, the Honourable James Knox-Brown and his wife, Estelle, Lady Assheton’s daughter, and James’ younger sister, the equally honourable Emily. Lady Assheton introduced them all to The Doctor, Victoria and Jamie, explaining that they were newly arrived from Earth and were on their way to visit the Hampshires.

That was enough to ensure acceptance in this wider social circle. There was no use in explaining that they had never met any of the Hampshire family. There was no need to explain anything. The Knox-Browns were as talkative as Lady Assheton and paid as little attention to any replies. While Estelle caught up with family affairs with her mother, Emily cornered Victoria’s attention, talking about clothes and hair. The honourable James talked to Jamie about military matters, having recognised something in his bearing from his own two years in the colony military corps. Jamie managed to hold his end up in the conversation without giving away his lack of knowledge of any sort of warfare other than swords and battle-axes on a muddy field.

The Doctor quietly listened in to all of the conversations at once, gleaning what more he could about this society. He found nothing unusual apart from the reluctance to travel after dark which he could perfectly understand given that the roads were not well made and horses could stumble or throw a shoe leaving a carriage stranded or overturned.

He found the mix of old-world lifestyle where people travelled by horse and carriage and the ultra-modern trappings like the video screen and hologram very interesting. James was fully up to date with political developments, not only on Nova Anglia, but other colonies such as the Beta Delta system, the Hydra planets where there had been a strong backlash against the rigidly puritan theocracy, and the homeworld, Earth, where overpopulation was still a huge problem despite large scale emigration to new colony settlements.

It was not unusual for such colony worlds to abandon technology in whole or part, of course. Many people enjoyed the idea of getting back to a simpler lifestyle, a golden age. The Doctor knew of many such societies. Xian Xien was a planet colonised by Chinese immigrants who abandoned almost all mechanisation and lived much as their ancestors in Imperial China had done. In the rural parts of the Hydra system that had been mentioned in James’ political news the horse and ox pulled ploughs and wind and water turned wheels to grind corn.

For those who chose such a life, it worked. The Doctor saw nothing to criticise in those societies. Here on Nova Anglia these great estates owned by titled and refined aristocrats supported prosperous tenant farmers who paid their rents on time, fed their families and had surplus to sell to the co-operative and have money saved up in the bank.

The dinner table when they sat down to eat bore the fruits of such an estate. Fresh fruit and vegetables and game meat made up the repast. Only the wine was not local. That was from a cellar laid down by the late Lord Assheton, imported from Earth and the Andromedan system where the grapes were almost as fine as the best French varieties. The Doctor impressed everyone, including his own companions, by his knowledge of such things, proclaiming the Andromeda II Chardonnay of 2367 to be one of the very best produced in that region.

After dinner the men drank brandy produced from the apples in Nova Anglia’s southern continent’s orchards and smoked cigars from Beta Americus while the ladies retired to the drawing room. Later the men rejoined them for a refined game of cards while the videoscreen displayed pastoral scenes and played light chamber music.

Just when everyone was suppressing yawns and thinking about bed, the videoscreen changed to a news report that was mostly taken up with stocks and shares reports. That was followed by a weather forecast that ended with what seemed like odd advice to The Doctor and his companions who were strangers to this world.

“There is no moon tonight, and starset will be three minutes after midnight. Disturbances are likely to be severe. Noise inhibitors and window protections are strongly advised.”

Even The Doctor didn’t understand what it meant, but he decided not to ask anyone. All would probably become clear shortly. He followed the butler to the very well furnished double room he and Jamie would share. It had an en-suite bathroom with modern ablutionary facilities and two very comfortable beds. The butler closed the shutters over the windows before pulling velvet drapes across them, and pressed a button set into the wall. The Doctor and Jamie were both aware of a slight pressure on their eardrums that subsided slowly leaving them both with a sensation of having cotton wool balls in their ears.

“Noise eliminator?” The Doctor queried. “To aid restful sleep, is it?”

“Exactly that, sir,” the butler answered. “Good night, sirs.”

He left. The Doctor immediately pressed the button and switched off the noise inhibitor. He pulled the curtains back and unfastened the shutters. He looked out on a dark vista lit only by the stars overhead. It was a quiet, peaceful world, but the forecast had been for ‘severe disturbances’.

The Doctor was curious to know what sort of disturbances. He pushed open the window and let in a pleasantly scented cool night air. Jamie sighed happily. Being enclosed in a room with a locked and shuttered window, to say nothing of the noise inhibitor, felt all too claustrophobic to a man who was used to sleeping on a heather bed in a log-built cabin.

Victoria was used to having windows closed at night. Her nursemaid when she was young would warn her against the ‘night vapours’ and close them firmly. The habit stayed with her when she was older. She didn’t mind when the maid who attended he and Emily locked the shutters before closing the drapes. The noise inhibitor seemed a strange idea, but it didn’t bother her.

“What does starset mean?” she asked as she and Emily climbed into bed and settled down.

“It’s when this hemisphere turns towards the dark nebula where there are no stars in the sky,” Emily answered. “It happens every night for two or three hours. It is the dangerous time, when nobody should be outside. It is best to be asleep before it begins.”

“Dangerous?” Victoria queried, but Emily didn’t want to talk about it. Whatever it was, it frightened her. Victoria felt a little less comfortable in her bed knowing there was something beyond those shutters that might be harmful, but she comforted herself with the knowledge that nothing in the universe was more frightening than being a hostage of the Daleks. She was free from that terror and could sleep peacefully at night.

The Doctor slept lightly. He always did. He was fully aware of the change in the atmosphere right away. He sat up and noticed that Jamie was standing at the window. He couldn’t see him, but his quiet breathing was from that direction. The Doctor got up from the bed and joined him there. Outside it was pitch black. The stars were gone from the sky and there were no lights anywhere in the landscape to show that anyone was alive out there. The whole rural population was indoors, behind protective shutters.

“It’s not natural,” Jamie said. “Even on our moor we could see the lights of other crofts, and there would always be beacon fires on the roof of the Laird’s castle. And where are the stars?”

“Hidden,” The Doctor answered. “It is something that the people here take for granted, it seems. Unnatural, no. Perfectly natural, but quite unusual.”

“What’s that noise?” Jamie asked. “Is it natural for ghosts and demons to haunt the darkness?”

The sound he referred to was still far away, yet, but The Doctor thought he had described it well enough. It was a wailing sound that could only have come from the dungeon dimensions and with it was an eerie flashing light in the distance that wasn’t lightning or an aurora or anything ordinary nature produced. It was actinic white one moment then fiery red the next, then green, then all three at once as it spread across the sky, coming closer along with the terrible sound.

“Doctor, there’s somebody down there,” Jamie yelled. He pointed to where carriage lights were moving swiftly. Somebody was on the road after dark, trying to make it to Assheton Manor.

“We have to open the door,” The Doctor said. He pulled the window shut and ran to the bedroom door. Jamie followed him as he raced along the dimly lit landing and down the stairs.

“What’s the matter?” asked a sleepy butler who had been roused by their footsteps on the stairs.

“Somebody is outside,” Jamie answered. “We’ve got to let them in. There are things coming.”

“It’s too late, they’re already dead if they’re outside at this time of night,” Evans said, but The Doctor was pulling at the bolts that opened the door. “Stop that, man. You’ll kill us all if they get in here.”

“I’ll not let somebody die out there,” The Doctor replied. “Jamie, get a sword from the wall if you will. If there’s anything out there with corporeal form it can be fought.”

Jamie was scared. His breath came fast and his heartbeat was almost audible, but he did as The Doctor ordered, ignoring the protests of the butler. The Doctor wrenched the door open just as the carriage reached the turning circle outside.

But so did the wailing creatures of the night sky. The scene was lit by the flickering and ever changing lights while the screams and howls filled the air. The Doctor saw one of the creatures swoop down and pluck the carriage driver from his seat. The horses reared and then came down, knocking the carriage sideways into an ornamental hedge. The Doctor ran towards it. Jamie came too, slashing and stabbing at the air with two broadswords, one in each hand. He couldn’t kill the things that flew at him - they weren’t corporeal - but they did back away from his slashing swords, buying The Doctor time to lift a young woman from inside the carriage.

They turned and ran for the door. The butler looked like he was about to shut it on them.

“Don’t you dare, you lily-livered coward,” Jamie yelled fiercely. The Doctor added his own warning as they sprinted up the steps, pursued by nameless horrors they didn’t dare turn and look at. They made it to the safety of the hallway and Jamie helped Evans swing the door shut again, bolting it tightly.

“Are you hurt?” The Doctor asked the woman as he tried to set her on her two feet and found her swooning against him. “Get some lights on, man,” he added to the butler. “And rouse a maid to fetch hot drinks for everyone.”

“I’m… I’m not hurt, sir,” the woman answered. With lamps lit he could see that she was not somebody who ordinarily travelled by carriage. She was wearing the clothes of a servant on her day off. “I was just… so very scared. I knew it was foolish to travel so late in the day. We would have been all right if the wheel hadn’t broken. That delayed us. Oh, poor Samuel. They took him just like that. He hadn’t a chance. It was just like his Lordship last year when he went mad and ran out to fight them. He was gone in an instant.”

Over hot tea laced with a little brandy served in the second drawing room, the woman told her story in more coherent detail. She was Mary Anderson, housekeeper to Lady Assheton. She had been visiting her sister at the Brook-Wesham estate to the north of here. Her sister had recently had a baby and Lady Assheton had let her travel to visit her in the second-best carriage driven by Samuel, the under-footman. But the return journey had been beset with problems and they had been caught out at starset.

“And that is how Lord Assheton died?” The Doctor queried.

“His Lordship took leave of his senses,” Evans confirmed. “He became convinced he was at some old battlefield his ancestors fought upon. He ran out of the house shouting ‘Once more unto the breach!’ He was gone in seconds. Nobody could help him.”

“Did anyone try?” Jamie asked. “Ye’ all seem fit to do nothing but hide inside the house while the ghoulies and Nuckelavees howl about the place.”

“There’s nothing to be done. Nobody can fight them,” Evans replied. “Nobody. They come every night after starset. The city is protected by the dome, but in the countryside we have no choice but to stay indoors. Mary, it was foolish to try to return. I don’t know what her ladyship will say when she finds out that a good man and a horse are gone.”

Mary was already suffering from shock and grief. She didn’t need to feel guilty, too. She cried into The Doctor’s shirt as he did his best to comfort her.

“What causes it?” The Doctor asked. “Surely somebody has tried to find out and to do something about it.”

“They say the souls of a long dead race were enraged when people settled here,” Evans answered him. “They rise every night and turn upon us.”

“Dead souls wouldn’t be kept out by locked doors and windows,” Jamie pointed out.

“Quite right,” The Doctor said. “Nor could they pluck a man from a carriage and take him away like that. Yet they are incorporeal. Jamie, your sword couldn’t pierce them?”

“No, Doctor,” Jamie answered. “They were things of the air. But….”

“You called them something before,” The Doctor remembered. “What was it?”

“Nuckelavee,” Jamie answered. “The sea-faring folk of Scotland fear them most, though they’re known to ride the moors, too. They’re half horse, half man, the two melded together into one great beast, with fiery red eyes and no skin, so that the black blood coursing through yellow veins and the sinews and muscles stretching as it charges a man down are the last fearful thing he sees.”

“And that’s what you saw out there?”

“Aye, and redcaps, too. And the Ly Erg. He scared me the most, with his red hand dripping with the blood of fallen soldiers that he’s ripped the hearts out of.”

Mary Anderson stared wide-eyed at Jamie and recoiled from him.

“Is that what you saw?” The Doctor asked.

“No, sir. I saw the spirits of dead children trying to grasp at me with their withered hands. My mother… she was a midwife. There were sometimes babies that died and she always said that their spirits roamed in the night. But until this I never saw them.”

“And you?” The Doctor looked scathingly at the butler. “What did you see from the doorway? What plucked Samuel from his seat?”

“A demon with red eyes, a forked tail and grasping claw-like hands,” he answered. “The sky was full of them. They were coming for me, too, cramming against the door so that I couldn’t close it.”

“So you’re even more of a coward than I thought,” Jamie told him. “You would have shut us out if the beasties hadn’t stopped you.”

“Yes,” The Doctor noted. “But what is important here, is that all three of you saw something different. Jamie, you saw the creatures of your Scottish folklore. Mary saw dead children because of her mother’s midwifery and the legends around that practice. Our faint-hearted friend here saw devils straight from the book of Revelations. And….” The Doctor paused as if in thought.

“What did you see, Doctor?” Jamie asked. “What demons are there on your world?”

“It… doesn’t matter,” The Doctor answered. “What does matter is that I mean to put an end to it.” He went to the window and pulled a shutter open despite the anguished cry of the butler. The carriage was still out there, turned on its side, but the horse was gone. Either the creatures of the air had taken it or it had broken the traces and bolted. “When does it end? At dawn?”

“About an hour before,” Evans confirmed. He looked up at the clock. It was nearly two in the morning. “This time of year sun up is around four. So it’ll be safe to go out by three.”

“I’ll need a horse,” The Doctor said. “Rouse a groom and make arrangements.”

“I’ll come, too,” Jamie said. “Whatever you’re going to do, I’ll help.”

“Good lad,” The Doctor told him. “Two horses. And we’ll have some breakfast, first. See to it. ”

Evans could well have argued that he worked for Lady Assheton and that The Doctor had no authority to order horses or breakfast, but something in that face that could so easily crinkle with laughter was right now so stone-hard and determined that a mere butler was powerless against it. He provided a very early breakfast – or at least he woke one of the kitchen maids and had her make it – and by three o’clock The Doctor and Jamie were both well fed and ready to venture outdoors.

“We’re heading back to the TARDIS, of course?” Jamie asked as they rode away from Assheton Manor.

“We are,” The Doctor answered. “I want a close look at what they call a nebula. I don’t think it’s any such thing.”

Jamie wasn’t even sure what a nebula was supposed to be, let alone what it wasn’t. All he knew was that The Doctor was going into danger and he wasn’t going to let him go alone.

“It’s still dark. How will we know the way?”

“I always know my way back to the TARDIS,” The Doctor answered. And though he was just as likely to get them both utterly lost, on this occasion the two fast horses brought them back to the place where they left the TARDIS yesterday afternoon by the time the sun rose over the Sylvanian meadows and made the horror of the night seem like a distant nightmare.

“It’s morning here, but elsewhere on the planet it’s still the middle of the night. And elsewhere again people are shutting their windows tight against spectres they hardly understand. If it’s within my power I’ll put an end to it.”

“Aye, Doctor,” Jamie agreed. “I know you will.”

Jamie was well aware that the TARDIS could be erratic. He was more worried that when it dematerialised they might land on a different planet in a different time leaving Victoria stranded with Lady Assheton and the terrors of Nova Anglia. But The Doctor was taking no chances. He didn’t dematerialise the TARDIS. He put it into hover mode instead, flying up into the atmosphere of the planet. He left the door open as he did so, and Jamie kept well back. Being inside the TARDIS in deep space was one thing. Looking down onto a world far below was another.

“Ah,” The Doctor said triumphantly. “As I thought, it isn’t a nebula. That would be a dust cloud in space, beyond the planet’s gravitational field. This phenomenon that causes the starset every night is within the upper thermosphere, very nearly outside the atmosphere altogether. It’s a very large, very dense field of ionised matter.”

“In plain English, Doctor,” Jamie begged.

“A thick cloud of dust,” The Doctor replied. “One big enough to cover most of Scotland.”

“That’s big enough all right.” Jamie conceded. “And we’re going into this cloud?”

It became very dark outside the TARDIS – momentarily. Then the same flashing white and multi-coloured lights they had seen before surrounded them. It arced like lightning around the door. Jamie watched it nervously, but The Doctor was concentrating on the navigation console.

“Ah,” he said. “Now I understand. Yes, I understand completely.”

He turned from the console and stepped towards the door. Jamie called to him to look out, but he took no notice. His feet were right on the very edge of the doorway and he stretched his arms out. The lightning coalesced around his fingers. Jamie watched in alarm, wondering if he ought to do something.

“Aaahh!” The Doctor said in a satisfied tone. Then “Aggghhhh!” as if he was in extreme pain. Jamie took a step closer. “No, Jamie. Go to the lumber room and get a length of rope. Go quickly, run.”

Jamie turned and ran. The Doctor grimaced as the lightning enveloped his arms and shoulders and began to dance around his whole body. Jamie ran back into the console room with a coil of strong rope looped over his shoulder.

“Good man,” The Doctor said. “Now tie one end of it to that stanchion on the console. Yes, that one. Bring the other end here. Don’t worry about the coils of it on the floor. I’ll need plenty of leeway. Yes, that’s it. Tie it around my waist, please. It’s all right. I’ve got the energy concentrating on me. That’s the way. Now, I want you to listen very carefully, Jamie. Go back to the console and very slowly push the vertical boost lever until I say stop.”

Jamie went back to the console and did what The Doctor said. He felt the TARDIS moving under his feet. The sensation was of slowly going up in a lift, but since he had rarely ever done that he didn’t really understand that the TARDIS was rising up through the thermosphere. Nor did he know when they had passed the invisible barrier between the thermosphere and the top level of the planet’s atmosphere - the exosphere. He knew when they had passed beyond that into the vacuum of space only because a pen lifted out of The Doctor’s jacket pocket and floated away and the fact that there were now stars to be seen beyond the glowing, arcing energy that The Doctor was holding onto in some strange way.

“Lock off that lever,” The Doctor called out. “And then get ready to pull.”

“Pull what?” Jamie asked. “Doctor!”

The Doctor jumped out of the TARDIS with a loud cry of something like ‘Geronimo’ that was lost as soon as he was in the vacuum of space where no sound could carry. Jamie ran to the doorway and held on as he dared to look down. The Doctor was suspended on the rope, his arms and legs splayed and his coat drifting out from his body. Jamie could see the lightning around his fingers, still, but he made a throwing motion and cast it away. The lightning shot up and away, and behind it, like a smoky trail, came the cloud from the troposphere. Crackling bursts of light flashed from within the cloud as it ‘escaped’ into space.

Jamie was too busy watching it in wonder to notice a tugging at the rope. When he realised it was the signal he should have been waiting for he began to tug it in, hand over hand, until The Doctor grasped the threshold of the TARDIS door and pulled himself up. He lay on the floor just inside the door for a long time, gasping and saying things like ‘oh, my goodness’, then he scrambled to his feet and ran to the console.

“We did it, Jamie,” he said triumphantly. “Oh my, we did it. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

“Did what?” Jamie asked. “What happened to you, and to the cloud? What was it?”

“I’ll explain when we get back to Lady Assheton’s,” The Doctor promised. “I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready for another breakfast after all of that exertion.”

“Yes, but….”

The Doctor smiled widely and set the TARDIS to descend rapidly through the layers of planetary atmosphere. Jamie was half sure they were going to crash straight into the ground, but they levelled off and came into land very sedately on the lawn in front of Assheton Manor.

There was a horse nibbling at the grass that paused only momentarily to look at the peculiar blue box. It had the remnants of a harness on it – the carriage horse that had been frightened away by the creatures in the night.

“Oh my goodness,” The Doctor said as he and Jamie stepped out and he regarded the horse casually. “I quite forgot that we rode those two horses earlier. We left them grazing in the field. Somebody will have to go and fetch them.”

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem, Doctor,” Jamie answered him. The door was opened before they reached it by Evans, who reported that the house was in uproar.

And that was a good description of the situation. Lady Assheton was beside herself about the loss of her footman and the highly emotional state of her housekeeper, as well as the disappearance of two of her guests. Victoria was in tears, convinced that The Doctor and Jamie were dead. Estelle and Emily between them were helping nobody by talking about how the vengeful spirits of the night would forever curse this house now that four people had been taken from it.

When The Doctor and Jamie walked into the drawing room Estelle and Emily fainted in shock, convinced that they were the said vengeful spirits. Lady Assheton bombarded them with question after question some of them concerning the whereabouts of her two horses but more about where they had been and why.

Victoria just hugged Jamie, then The Doctor, then both at once and mentioned her father’s name. She had been afraid she had lost them just as she had lost him.

“Never, my dear,” The Doctor promised her. “All is well. Come along and sit down. Let Evans and the maid bring in some tea and hot buttered toast and I will explain everything.”

The mention of tea had the curious effect of calming everyone. Estelle and Emily were revived and fortified. Victoria’s tears and Lady Assheton’s domestic concerns were assuaged. After taking a strong cup and devouring three rounds of toast, a feat only beaten by Jamie who had six, The Doctor began to speak. Evans stood quietly behind him and listened, as did Mary who had been in the midst of last night’s drama and the maids who stood by with a fresh teapot and a loaded toast-rack.

“Long before Human stellar explorers found this planet, a species lived here called the Hanguan. They were a highly superstitious people who feared the dark because of their belief in all manner of supernatural creatures. They were, unfortunately, also a species with powerful telekinetic abilities, and when they dreamt up ghosts and ghouls and monsters that stalked the night, these imaginings became energy that could take on a non-corporeal but very real form. The night became a time of terror beyond anything you have experienced in the starset time, and many people died either of fright or from actual attacks by the creatures. Eventually, the Hanguan developed a technology that freed them from those terrors. They cast off that part of their imagination where the horrors were formed and lured the creatures into a deep cavern beneath the planet’s surface. Then they all took to spaceships and left the planet, abandoning the creatures that their own superstitions had created.”

“Good gracious,” Lady Assheton said, speaking for all who listened with wide eyes and mouths agape.

“The creatures were made of a form of kinetic energy, and energy cannot be destroyed. They remained trapped until the terraformers came here and created the two huge continents upon which you all live. In doing so they cracked open the prison and the creatures escaped as pure energy. They tried to follow the Huanguans who had created them, but they could not move fast enough to reach escape velocity. They were trapped in the atmosphere. When humans came to live here, they recognised that you, too, had superstitious minds, though not as powerful as the ones who had created them. They targeted you, believing you to be the ones who had imprisoned you. I don’t know why windows and shutters and noise dampeners protected you within your homes, but somehow they did. You managed for decade after decade to hide from the night terrors and survive. That’s something humans are good at, surviving. There were casualties, of course – Lord Assheton, poor Samuel last night, and others. But mostly you kept going, accepting the risk for the sake of living in peace and prosperity in all other respects.”

“Yes,” the Honourable James Knox-Brown said. “Yes, it has been that way for as long as I remember. Nobody knows how to stop it. Nobody even knew why it happened. How did you….?”

“I contacted the creatures, the energy beings. I learnt their story. I learnt what they wanted. And I gave it to them. I set them free. I showed them a way out of the atmosphere and into space. They’ve gone. They’re following after their creators, the Huanguan. In the unlikely event of them catching up with them, there will doubtless be a reckoning, but that is for the Huanguan to deal with. You, the Human colonists who knew nothing of all that, are free of them.”

“Truly?” Mary the housekeeper was the one that asked the question.


“I can’t believe it,” Lady Assheton said. “After all this time. I cannot….”

“If it is true,” Emily Knox-Brown said. “Then I know what I want to do. Tonight… I want to go to bed with the shutters wide and the window open, looking at the stars before I sleep.”

“Oh, yes,” Victoria agreed. “That is, if we are staying longer?” She looked hopefully at The Doctor. Night terrors aside, she liked this place with manners and customs so familiar to her. Before she was ready to set off again into the unknown and unfamiliar with The Doctor and Jamie she wanted a little time to do the things she used to enjoy with people who were like her.

“We can stay a while,” The Doctor promised with an indulgent smile.