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

Susan sat back in the rear window seat of the motor coach and sighed happily. It had been a really nice, if exhausting day. She had enjoyed it thoroughly. Not only had it been a perfect opportunity to interact with ordinary humans on this school outing, but she had learnt so very, very much about the history of the planet, too.

She reached into her pocket and touched the rough-textured piece of rock that she had brought back as a souvenir of the day on the Dorset coast. It contained a fossilised ammonite, a long extinct sea creature that made a spiralling shell for itself during its lifetime. In death the shell had become a part of the bedrock of that coastline, only coming to light millions of years later when the cliff-face was exposed by erosion.

There were fossils on her home world, too. She remembered being shown them by her grandfather when she was still very young, but old enough to start learning about her world. The reptilian species had only had a very short lifespan on Gallifrey. The fossil record was sparse. But the Great Red Desert of the north sometimes gave up secrets to those who could dig in the blistering heat, and in one place on the temperate southern plain, Demos’ Bluff, it was possible to read a whole history in the strata.

She smiled as she remembered going there in a hover car. Her grandfather had held her hand as they picked their way over the rough ground to the base of the Bluff. It was as high as some of the highest mountains here in England, towering over one small girl who looked up in awe and felt even smaller.

She was smaller than the fossilised skeleton of the huge reptile that had been exposed when a huge chunk of the Bluff fell away during one of the seismic tremors that shook the plains from time to time. The perfectly preserved fossilised bones were creamy-white against the reddish-brown of the still unweathered rock. She remembered the tip of its tail starting near her grandfather’s head. They walked along its length for such a long time that she felt tired by the time they reached its nose and Grandfather had lifted her into his arms to fully appreciate the wonder of the thing.

They had walked away from the Bluff a little way so as to see it fully. In another strata above the great reptile that had been called Pazithi Reptillius by the scientists who examined it, was another perfect skeleton of a creature that had flown in the air when Gallifrey was a much younger planet than it was in the Rassilonian era that she was born into. She looked through a pair of special glasses and saw the very fine bones in the wing, a fretwork that had supported the leathery flesh and allowed it to glide on the wind effortlessly.

Still higher up there were signs of the first mammalian life on Gallifrey. Even with the glasses she couldn’t see those fully. There were men on anti-grav cushions working to expose the fossils more fully, but it was not safe for a little girl to go up there. She had wanted to. She begged her grandfather to let her. But he firmly refused, only promising that there would be other opportunities, when she was a little older.

But there weren’t. When she was only a year older than that they left Gallifrey. True, she had seen some amazing things, even a planet where huge reptiles still lived, on the land, sea and air. But she thought, sometimes, about that one broken promise and regretted it a little bit.

Today’s day trip, which had started so early that the countryside the coach passed through was still covered in mist, had almost made up for that disappointment. It had been a long day. Most of her school-friends were asleep, now. So were the teachers who chaperoned them, even though they were meant to be alert.

Mary Havelock was awake. She was reading the bible she carried everywhere she went. Mary had not enjoyed the trip at all.

She didn’t believe in evolution. She didn’t believe that dinosaurs had ever existed. They weren’t mentioned in her Bible as among the creatures that were created by the God she worshipped.

When they were walking along the beach near Lyme Regis, listening to Mr Chesterton, the science teacher, explaining about fossilisation and telling them to keep their eyes peeled for rocks with fossils within them she had been quite outspoken about it. She denounced everything he had been telling them, including the idea that Earth was many millions of years old. She insisted it was only a little over six thousand years since the Creation and that God had placed every creature upon it, all of them perfectly fitted for their purpose, and in the proper place in which they belonged, with mankind as Lord of them all.

She as good as told Mr Chesterton that he was a blasphemer who was corrupting the minds of the children he was teaching. He was utterly taken aback by her reaction. He quite lost the thread of what he was saying for a while. Miss Wright had taken Mary aside and spoken to her about being rude to a teacher. She had tears in her eyes when she came back to the group, but she didn’t say anything more. She walked along quietly. Afterwards, when they all split up to look for fossils among the rock debris at the foot of the cliffs, she sat on the sand and looked out to sea. She had no interest in collecting things she didn’t believe in.

Susan had a wonderful time. She was the ‘star’ fossil detector, finding not one, but three very good ammonites. She kept one for herself and gave one to Mr Chesterton for the nature table in his classroom. The third she tried to give to Mary, but she wouldn’t even touch it. She said it was an abomination and threw it into the sea.

As a result of that incident Susan found herself part of the crowd for once, with the other students sympathising with her and agreeing that Mary had been ungrateful and nasty to her.

For once, she wasn’t the outsider, the one nobody wanted to talk to.

Mary was. But she didn’t seem to care. She stuck by what it said in her bible and didn’t worry about the scorn the others had heaped upon her.

Susan felt sorry for her, but she didn’t know what to say to her. She had read the bible, along with many other Earth cultural texts, but she didn’t understand how it fitted in with the history of the Human race as she understood it. The Earth was already millions of years old when the proto-humans evolved to use primitive tools to hunt and to discover fire, to group together in family units and eventually settle down in one place with farms and domesticated animals.

And all taking far longer than six days to happen.

The bible wasn’t logical. There were all kinds of sound, scientific reasons why one man and one woman could not have been the founders of a whole race. It just wasn’t possible.

And if she hadn’t learnt a lot about Human feelings since she came to Earth, Susan would probably have simply told her so, which would probably have upset her even more, and made the other students sympathise with Mary again and leave her out in the cold.

Humans were complicated and confusing. Her grandfather told her not to bother about them, that they didn’t matter. But she was sure he didn’t really mean that. He was just being bad-tempered because he was old and tired and his bones hurt and he was close to the time when he would regenerate, and that frightened him a lot.

Grandfather didn’t really want her to come on this trip. She had begged and begged him to sign the permission slip, eventually reminding him of the broken promise before he would give in - and then only after he had warned her once again of the dangers of revealing anything about her alien origins. A school trip, rules relaxed, so much idle chitchat, as he called it, she could easily make a mistake.

Well, she hadn’t. It had been a wonderful day, and she had learnt so very much. She just wished she could do something to help Mary.

She looked across at her. She was still reading her bible. Then Susan noticed the window beside Mary. There were no street lights, no houses. There was nothing but a dark-grey mist outside. She turned and looked through her own window. It was the same.

Then the bus stopped moving forward. The engine was still on, but the wheels weren’t turning. She could feel the difference in the vibrations beneath her feet.

She felt something else - Ion particles surrounding her. It was unmistakeable - a transmat beam, encompassing the whole coach and everyone on it.

“Mary,” she said in a loud whisper. “Mary, come with me, hide. Quickly. Something is happening.”

Mary looked around at her, surprised by the urgency of her voice, but reluctant to take notice of it.

Then the coach engine faltered and the grey-black mist was replaced by a bright shining whiteness outside that eerily lit the inside of the coach where everyone but the two of them was asleep. Even the driver was slumped over his wheel.

“Mary, we have to hide,” Susan said again. This time Mary slipped out of her seat. The two girls crouched low under the back seat with their school duffel coats over them. It wasn’t a very good hiding place, but if they were lucky….

Mary was whispering a psalm. Susan put her finger over her lips.

“If you think that helps, do it in your head,” she told her. “Not out loud.”

The front door of the coach opened and a strange kind of people got on. They started to carry everyone off the coach, starting with Mr Chesterton and Miss Wright and the driver, and then all of the students. The two girls held their breaths as the huge, bulky figures moved ever closer to the back of the coach. Would they look under the seats? Would they be discovered?

They weren’t. Mary exhaled as the last of the strange men got off the coach and the door was closed.

“What were they?” she asked.

“They looked like neanderthals,” Susan answered. “Cavemen. But that’s impossible. They died out millions of years ago.”

“There was no such thing,” Mary responded. “I told Mr Chesterton that. Man was created in God’s perfect image.”

“Well, in that case, what do you call those?” Susan asked. “Look, I’m going to find out where we are and where they took everyone. Are you going to come with me, or stay hiding out here?”

Mary was frightened. Her sheltered life didn’t allow for such things happening to her. But she was more afraid of being left alone on the bus than following Susan. She watched her open the emergency door by the seat and climb down before copying her.

“Where are we?” Mary asked, staring around at the impossibly wide and entirely white place they were in. The white walls had to be at least a mile away and the white ceiling a quarter of a mile above them.

The space wasn’t empty. It was full of vehicles of all kinds. There was a huge wooden sailing ship that stood upright despite being in no water. There was a much older boat that Susan thought might be a Viking longship. That, too, stood upright. So did a huge gunmetal grey warship of the sort the Americans used in the Second World War.

There were planes, too – a passenger plane that would have had a hundred people aboard and a smaller, older one that had those double wings joined together with very small wooden struts.

And space ships. One of them looked very much like the rockets NASA was experimenting with that they had both seen on television. But there was another that looked much more streamlined. It belonged in a later time than 1963.

So did the small craft Susan drew close to warily. It looked like a short-range shuttle as used to transport passengers from a space station or satellite to the surface of a planet.

They would have those on Earth in about three hundred years’ time when there was a colony on the moon. But not now when they hadn’t even sent one of those NASA rockets there. This was a collection of vehicles that belonged in the past, present and future.

But this WASN’T actually a space shuttle. She touched it to be sure. The familiar vibration of a TARDIS in low power mode both reassured and frightened her. If there was a Time Lord here, then it might be somebody who could help them, and they needed help, that was certain.

A Time Lord – one who would betray her grandfather to the High Council and have him taken back to face charges of disobedience and even Treason.

But she had no choice. She and Mary weren’t captured by the men who came onto the bus, but they were lost in this huge and unfamiliar place.

“Susan, what is this?” Mary called out. Susan went to her and recognised a transmat portal straight away. She was about to identify it when she realised that would give the game away.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “It looks like… a sort of lift. Shall we try it?”

She stood on the round base of the portal. Mary hesitated before joining her. Susan pressed one of the buttons on the panel next to her. She had no idea where it would take her, but anywhere other than this hangar full of silent, empty vehicles had to be better.

Mary shrieked with fright as they materialised on an identical portal base on a different deck of what had to be the biggest space ship Susan had ever seen. This deck had a blue floor and ceiling. They couldn’t see the walls because there were rows and rows of glass fronted cabinets. They were each big enough to hold a tall Human standing upright, and the humans within were in some kind of suspended animation. Susan and Mary looked at a group who wore leather and animal furs and close fitting leather helmets.

“The Viking ship,” Susan commented. “They must have come from it.”

Further along were the crew of the sailing ship. They looked like men from the pictures of Nelson’s naval campaign against the French that culminated in the Battle of Trafalgar. The captain and officers were all magnificent in their uniforms of dark blue and white, the men more roughly-dressed but tall and strongly built with muscles beneath their colourful sailor’s tattoos.

“Oh, my!” Mary whispered as they looked at another group of people. “I think these are… they look like… I’ve seen pictures in my school books… they’re from the Mary Celeste. This is Captain Benjamin Briggs and his family… his wife, Sarah and his baby daughter….”

A woman and a small child were encased in one of the cabinets together next to a bearded man in a merchant seaman’s dark uniform.

Susan was at a disadvantage. She didn’t know that story. But Mary seemed quite certain.

“The Mary Celeste was found abandoned at sea in 1872,” Mary added. “None of them were ever seen again.”

Mary thought about what she was saying and bit her lip fearfully.

“Susan, how can they be here, and the Vikings and the sailors. Where are we?”

“I think we’re on an alien space ship with time travel capabilities of some kind. They’ve been collecting people from different times. I just don’t know why.”

“An ALIEN space ship?” Mary looked at her incredulously. “You mean….”

“Yes, I mean from outer space,” Susan told her. “From another planet.”

“That’s impossible. There are no other planets with people on them. God created the Heavens and the Earth. The stars were put in the sky to light the darkness.”

“Mary, that’s….” Susan was going to tell her she was talking nonsense. Then she spoke more gently, kindly. “God can do anything he wants. Why couldn’t he make other planets with people on them?”

“Because it just isn’t true,” Mary insisted. “It’s not. It can’t be.”

But she wasn’t so certain. When she looked around her she had to accept that some of the things she firmly believed in might not be exactly right.

“But….” She began before Susan shushed her. They crept carefully around the corner at the end of a row of cabinets and looked down the next row.

The men that Susan had thought were Neanderthals were putting people into the cabinets. Mary suppressed a squeal. It was their school friends and teachers being put into the same suspended animation as the crew of the Mary Celeste.

“I was wrong about them being Neanderthals,” Susan admitted in a low whisper. “I don’t think they’re from Earth at all.”

Mary began to say, again, that it was impossible, but these men didn’t quite look Human. They were really tall, perhaps as much as seven feet, but they stooped so much they seemed much shorter. They were broad-shouldered with grey-black leathery skin. Their almost Simian features included heavily hooded brows and partially bald heads with long, straggly hair at the back. Like the Vikings they wore leather and animal furs but they were much grubbier.

When they were done, they walked away in a shambling, uneven line. Mary and Susan moved down the row of cabinets and looked sadly at their school friends and teachers, even the bus driver, standing mutely, their eyes closed, not moving or even breathing.

“I think they’re dead!” Mary exclaimed.

“No, they’re not. They wouldn’t be any use dead. Come on. Standing here won’t help them. We’ve got to get some help.”

“From who?” Mary asked. “Those horrible men…. If they catch us, they’ll put us in these things, too.”

“Yes, they will. So let’s not let them do that.”

Those men, whatever they were, didn’t build the ship. Susan was sure of that. They were some kind of servant class, subservient. They were doing what somebody else told them to do.

There were other people, a higher race, in charge of what was happening. They would be more intelligent, more alert. They had to avoid running into THEM while trying to find the man Susan thought COULD help them.

The man who would report her grandfather to the High Council.

But he WAS the only one who could help. No matter what, she had to try.

“Let’s try this way,” she said. “This is where the people from space ships are. They are clever people. If we can open up their cabinets, they could think of something.”

Mary was dubious. She still thought everyone was dead. She was murmuring prayers under her breath. Susan wished she would stop. The sound was surprisingly loud in the silence of a room full of people in suspended animation. She felt as if it might give them away.

But the prayers helped Mary. She felt as if she was in the ‘shadow of the valley of death’ and calling upon her God to protect her gave her comfort. Susan couldn’t take that comfort away from her.

Mary’s prayers stopped abruptly. She gave a muffled cry. Susan turned to see a man holding Mary, covering her mouth to stop her screaming out loud. Susan nearly screamed herself then she saw something that made her change her mind.

The man had a tattoo on his forearm, rather like the sailors from the British Navy fleet. This tattoo, though, matched the logo she had seen on the shuttle craft that was actually a disguised TARDIS.

This was the Time Lord.

Her hearts leapt with joy and relief, then sank with a new despair.

“It’s all right,” the Time Lord whispered. He took his hand away from Mary’s mouth but still held onto her. She was shaking with fright. “You two escaped?”

“Yes,” Susan answered. “They… whoever they are… they took our coach… all our friends and our teachers.”

“Yes,” the Time Lord said. “They’ve been doing a lot of that. They got my ship. But they couldn’t open it. I slipped out after they gave up. I’ve been keeping an eye on what they’re up to.”

“What ARE they up to?” Susan asked. “Can you help us? We… we just want to go home. Mary is really scared. And….”

“You’re scared, too. Of course you are. A child, alone in a place like this. But you’re trying to be brave. That’s good. Courage in the face of danger is admirable even in the very young.”

“Can you help us?” Susan repeated. “Can you help all of these people?”

“I was hoping to release a couple of these people,” the Time Lord admitted, pointing to the NASA crew in their space suits. “They’re trained, physically fit. They understand a chain of command. Two little girls aren’t exactly what I need for a counter-attack.”

“I’m fifteen,” Mary protested. “I’m… not… not that little. And I can… I can be brave, too. God is my armour. Jesus is my sword.”

The Time Lord gave a quizzical look at Mary. Susan shrugged.

“She always talks like that. But she’s right. We both CAN help. I don’t think you CAN open up these cabinets from here. There are no controls. There must be some sort of central command. We should look for that.”

The Time Lord was surprised again, this time by Susan’s cool logic.

Then they all heard a sound they didn’t want to hear – the shambling footsteps of those grey-faced men. They were close. They could hear the grunting commands of the leader of the group to the others.

“Quick,” the Time Lord said. “Both of you, touch this.”

He held out a medallion on a piece of cord that he wore around his neck. Susan recognised it as a perception filter. Mary was hesitant.

“Think of it like a cross,” Susan told her. “It will protect us all, like you said.”

Mary held the medallion with her thumb and forefinger. The Time Lord put his arms protectively around both girls and pressed against the cabinet where the commander of the NASA crew was encased, trying to make them as small as possible. They watched as the line of men shuffled past, heading towards the transmat portal.

“What are they?” Susan whispered. She understood how perception filters worked. They would be invisible to anyone who didn’t expect to see them there unless they did something that drew attention, like shouting or moving suddenly.

“They’re Ogrons,” the Time Lord answered. “From Ogra in the Ashtar sector. They’re a slave race, very little brain and too much brawn. They’re too stupid even to be called mercenaries. They’re muscle for hire to those who give them orders. I haven’t found out who they are, yet. They seem to be all over the ship, but I haven’t seen anyone in command of them.”

“Ogrons?” Mary queried. “Like ogres? Are we in hell, among the creatures of Satan?”

“She talks like that,” Susan said again.

“They must have captured another party,” the Time Lord said, passing over Mary’s assessment of the situation. “Come on, while they’re busy.”

They headed to the transmat portal, too. They watched until the last of the Ogrons had left then the Time Lord chose a different destination for them.

“Keep close together. These things are nauseating. But it’s not so bad when more than one body absorbs the ion particles.”

Susan knew that. For Mary it was just more proof that she was in the realm of Satan.

They emerged in a room that was colour-coded pale green. The walls were a lot closer than in either of the previous two decks and it was clearly a control centre with computers all around.

But none of them had keyboards or monitors. They weren’t being controlled by anyone on board.

“This is a fully automated ship,” the Time Lord said. The people who gave the Ogrons their orders aren’t aboard. They just obey the same instructions at every location they come to.” He shrugged. “That’s all very well for them. But I was hoping to take a hostage and force them to explain themselves.”

“If the ship is automatic, then we can make IT our hostage,” Susan said, looking around her. “All we need is to use your TARDIS to slave the controls. Then we can read their database and find out what their mission is, where they intended to take these people, and HOW we can stop their plan and take the people back where they belong.”

Mary and the Time Lord both stared at Susan. Mary stared because she had never heard words like database before, let alone TARDIS, and was surprised to hear Susan talking so confidently about such things.

The Time Lord stared because she knew the word TARDIS and was aware that such a craft was capable of ‘slaving’ the computerised controls of a ship like this. He looked at her closely. Susan winced as she felt him touch her mind telepathically. He was looking for the proof that she was from the same race as he was. Fully adult Time Lords like her grandfather had a special psychic ident which meant that one Time Lord would know another no matter how often they regenerated and what physical appearance they had.

She was only fifteen. She was a long way from being a Time Lord in her own right. But he could see that her mind was different to Mary’s Human mind, and she had two hearts and other physical differences that he would know straight away.

He knew she was from Gallifrey. He would guess the rest sooner or later. Grandfather would be discovered.

But it was too late, now. Besides, she had to save her friends. What happened afterwards, would happen.

“I need the MAC code from the central server, first,” the Time Lord said, clearly deciding that questions could wait until afterwards. The two girls both watched as he used a tool that Susan knew was called a sonic screwdriver in order to take the panel off the front of the server unit. He then set about re-routing wires and then attached the same tool to the solid state memory core by means of sonic magnetic resonance as Susan, again, could have identified.

“All right, now we can go back to the TARDIS,” he said. “Come on, girls.”

He turned towards the transmat portal, but as he did so there was a shimmer in the air and two of the Ogrons materialised. The Time Lord slipped his sonic screwdriver into his pocket and pulled out a gun in the same moment. He fired twice, enveloping the two Ogrons in actinic blue energy. He kicked their bodies off the portal and reached out to the girls. Both of them stood stock still, staring at the smoking corpses of the dead Ogrons.

“I had to do that,” he told them. “I’m still covered by the perception filter, but they saw both of you. They would have alerted the rest and we wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting back to the TARDIS.”

“I understand,” Susan told him. “But… I didn’t expect you to kill them. I’ve never seen… one of our kind… kill before. Not in cold blood, like that.”

Mary was shaking and murmuring prayers again. Susan grasped her hand reassuringly.

“He’s… he’s right. Those things… the Ogron, they really are the enemy of everything good and decent. He was right to kill them. We just didn’t expect it to happen like this.”

“He’s….” Mary was still shaking and her eyes were wide open as she stared at the Time Lord. “He’s an angel… sent to protect us. I was praying, and God sent his messenger to smite the unHoly creatures.”

“Yes, yes,” Susan told her. “Yes, that’s right. Come on, now, Mary. We’re going to his spaceship. He’s going to help rescue everyone.”

“Hold onto the perception filter medallion again,” the Time Lord told them. “In case there is a reception committee.”

Mary still didn’t like the transmat, and she screamed with shock when they reached the hangar deck again and the transmat was surrounded by Ogrons. The slow-minded creatures were puzzled to see the transmat operating but nobody standing there. Before they thought of shooting at the empty air just in case, they had all fallen to the Time Lord’s energy weapon. The girls still found the deaths shocking, and the dead Ogrons gave off a foul smell, but Mary had accepted that the Time Lord had been sent to protect her from the demonic creatures and Susan trusted him instinctively because he WAS a Time Lord.

“Quickly,” he said. “There may be more of them.”

He grasped both their hands and ran for his TARDIS. They were close to the shuttle when there was a loud grunt and a group of Ogrons charged, firing their weapons. The Time Lord dug into his pocket again and thrust a metal object on a chain towards Susan. It was a TARDIS key just like the one she had hidden beneath her school blouse. She used it to open the shuttle door. She and Mary scrambled inside while the Time Lord shot back at the oncoming Ogrons before diving inside and slamming the door shut.

Mary was beyond all disbelief, now. She took the inside of the TARDIS as proof that the Time Lord really was an angel sent to them from God. The walls were covered in pure gold moulded into what Susan saw as symbols of a follower of the Rassilonian Order. From Mary’s astonished murmurings it was obvious that she saw inscriptions and images from the bible she believed in so firmly. The Time Lord smiled warmly.

“For reasons I don’t have time to go into now, the walls are actually covered in inscriptions from the holy books of the Sikh religion of Earth,” he told Susan in their own native Gallifreyan where the word ‘Sikh’ translated as ‘people of tranquillity’. But it has something in common with the chameleon field on the outside and the few people I have ever invited inside see what they expect to see.”

With that, the Time Lord moved to the console in the centre of the room and inserted his sonic screwdriver into an automatic interface. The monitor in front of him filled with data too fast for Mary to read. Susan was just keeping up with it.

“I see,” he said. “Yes, I see what they’re up to. But they’ve gone too far. I’ve got to put a stop to it. Susan, can you type?”

“Yes, I can,” she answered. “So can Mary. She’s the fastest typist in the class. What do you need?”

“I need a lot of numbers and letters typing into the drive control and the navigation control, as quickly as possible,” he said. “Can you both do it as I call them out?”

He showed Mary something far more advanced than the typewriter she was used to, but with the standard keys in the order she expected. He put Susan in front of an extended keyboard with the full Gallifreyan alphabet included. He didn’t ask her if she could handle it, he took it for granted that she could. He went to the console where he had plugged in the sonic screwdriver with the Migrationary Access Code for the spaceship and started to call out figures.

“Mary, 478DRTY098POAST,” he said. “Susan, RTT?89??GH…. Mary, 657IOA631,XAC… Susan, ??78SO98HKG?….”

And so on for nearly thirty minutes. Both girls typed steadily, never needing to go back and correct a mistake. Finally, the Time Lord told them to press ‘Send’. He had to show Mary which button that was, but she did it triumphantly. Almost immediately the floor of the TARDIS dipped slightly. The Time Lord said it was the spaceship moving out of its parked orbit and beginning to return to each of the times and places where people had been taken from.

Almost all of them, at least.

“There are some people they can’t take back,” he said. “Their planes crashed or their ships sank and they were listed as missing. There’s one group of ten people… the Ogrons made a mistake. They took them individually, not in their vessel. The ship was found adrift at sea and they were presumed drowned.”

“The Mary Celeste,” Mary announced. “So that’s what happened to them? They were taken away by… by… a spaceship?”

“But what will happen to them?” Susan asked. “If they can’t go back.”

“I’m going to let the ship carry on to its destination once the Ogrons have taken back all the people who were taken by mistake – those who would be missed, like a coach full of school children. By the way, it isn’t in fact an alien ship. It comes from Earth in the far future - around the ninety-eighth century. There are only a few hundred humans left at that time after a devastating plague. The plan was to find Human beings from past ages to repopulate the planet. They’ve sought humans from every era, from every point in their social and physical evolution. They’ll help them to start new lives on a planet that has regenerated itself, that has clear skies and bountiful oceans, forests and plains where food can be grown or caught and a new civilisation built.”

“Oh!” Mary exclaimed. “They’re being taken to Paradise after the End Time.”

Susan wondered if it was just the walls of the TARDIS that could be interpreted differently by each individual. Did Mary hear something different in the Time Lord’s explanation of the spaceship’s purpose?

“And the Ogrons?” she asked, passing on from that thought. “What happens to them?”

“They’ll be paid for their services and sent on their way when their work is done,” the Time Lord answered. “Come, girls. It is time for you both to get on your coach. Your friends will soon be returned and you will be transmatted back to the place and time you vanished from. Nobody will know anything has happened to them. Nor will any of the others I have sent back.”

“We will,” Mary pointed out.

“Come here, child,” the Time Lord said to her. She came, trustingly. He put his hand over her forehead. She gave a soft sigh and collapsed in his arms. Susan was alarmed but he spoke reassuringly to her.

“I have put her into an induced sleep,” he explained as he carried Mary to the coach and opened the emergency door. “After blurring the edges of her memory of what happened here, she will think that it was all a very strange dream.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Susan admitted. “What about me?”

“You know already the importance of keeping secrets,” the Time Lord told her. “I don’t think I need to worry about your memories.”

“Yes,” Susan admitted. “But… what about….”

“I know who you are, child. Your thoughts are so vivid I can read them like a book. I know what you’re afraid of.”

“We are… at your mercy, sir.”

“Mercy?” the Time Lord shook his head. “I’m a bit of a trouble-maker myself. Not exactly a Renegade, but hardly in favour with the High Council. That’s why I’ve made this TARDIS my home and time and space my domain for many centuries, now. If I have anything to do with it, I shan’t be returning to Gallifrey for many centuries more.”

“Then you won’t….”

“I am a loyal subject. If I am put under oath and questioned on the subject I should be honour bound to say that I met a young child of a noble House of Gallifrey living on Earth in the mid-twentieth century of that world’s history, but I doubt I should be required to do so. Your secret is safe for the foreseeable future, child.”

“Thank you,” Susan told him. “Thank you, so much.”

“When you get home, remember me to your grandfather,” the Time Lord added. Then he closed the door to the coach leaving Susan crouched down on the back seat next to Mary as the Ogrons opened the front door and began carrying her still sleeping schoolfriends back to their seats. She kept very still until they were done, then she sat up and watched out of the window. She noticed that the shuttle craft was gone. The Time Lord had completed his task and had gone on his way.

As the white light enveloped the coach, followed by grey-black mist, Susan remembered that she didn’t know the Time Lord’s name. But the mist was clearing and now everyone was waking up to find that the coach had stopped at the side of the road. The driver apologised. He had been worried by the patch of fog they had driven into. But it seemed to be all right now. He started the engine again. They would be in London in an hour, only just a little bit later than planned.

Mary woke and sat up on the seat. She looked for her bible. Susan picked it up from the floor and gave it to her. She thanked her sincerely.

“I had a very strange dream,” Mary said. “There was an angel in it… and demons. And… you were there. Isn’t that a strange thing? The angel was taking people to paradise, but he said we weren’t ready to go there, yet.”

Mary really DID have a different interpretation of all that she had seen and heard, Susan decided.

“We were friends in my dream. That was… nice. I’m sorry about what I did on the beach. It was good of you to give me that stone. I wish I hadn’t thrown it away.”

Susan felt in her pocket. The stone she had collected was broken. She wondered how that had happened. Perhaps the transmat machine couldn’t cope with pieces of Jurassic rock. She looked at it. The two pieces had perfect halves of an ammonite’s shell in it. She gave one half to Mary.

“I’ll keep it forever,” she promised. “And when I look at it, and think of you, I will pray for you.”

“Thank you,” Susan answered. There was nothing else she could say to that.

When the coach reached Coal Hill School there were a lot of parents waiting for their children. Susan didn’t expect her grandfather to be in the huddle. She slipped away into the dark before Miss Wright or Mr Chesterton thought to ask who was walking her home. She hurried through the lamplit streets to Totters Lane and slipped inside the gate of the junkyard at the end of the row. The old police box was standing there as it had done for a while, now. She used her key to open the door.

“Susan, my dear, I’m glad you’re home safe,” her Grandfather said. “Did you have a pleasant day?”

“Yes,” she answered. She didn’t say anything else until she was sitting down and he brought tea and hot buttered toast that they shared. She told him everything that had happened from start to finish. He was alarmed first of all for her and her friends, then about Ogrons. He said he had come across them before, nasty creatures. He was even more alarmed about the Time Lord, despite the reassurances he had given Susan at the end.

“What was his name?” he asked doubtfully.

“He never said,” Susan answered. “But… he had a tattoo. I’ve never seen one of our kind with such a thing. It was a snake curled around in a circle, eating its own head.”

“The Orobus,” The Doctor said with a nod of his head and a satisfied smile. “The mark of The Corsair. My dear, he was a legend when I was your age. Our paths crossed once or twice when I was a young Time Lord. So he lives, still? Yes, he will keep our secret. We need not fear. He was always one step away from being a Renegade. No friend of the High Council. He will tell no tales.” He sighed deeply and hugged his granddaughter fondly. “I will be eternally grateful to him for taking care of you, my dear. I hope I shall have the opportunity to repay the kindness. But for now, more tea, I think. And we shall talk of the first part of your day before your bedtime.”

“Yes, grandfather,” Susan answered.