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

It was another early start with the stars coldly shining in the pre-dawn sky over the Lyo-llo Flats. The second day of the Death or Glory rally was about to get underway. Again, Jes was there to see Ray off with his bright, toothpaste advert smile. The Doctor left them to their private moment and got into the sidecar. He fitted his helmet and waited for Ray to mount the Vincent.

She took significantly longer to finish her pre-race chat than before. The Doctor kept his opinion about that to himself. He might well have to give her some avuncular advice sooner or later, but in the meantime she was happy. He wasn’t going to interfere.

They were ready when the steward dropped the flag. Within minutes the overnight staging camp was a mere smudge in the distance and soon, not even that.

“It’s funny,” Ray commented to The Doctor, using the in-ear communicator and microphone that allowed her to talk to her navigator over the noise of the Vincent roaring across the salt flats.

“What’s funny?” The Doctor replied.

“How we never seem to see any other competitor once we set off. We were only ten minutes behind Buluran Yanci and Yassine Avgeli, the Sulfurian sidecar team. You know, the couple with pure white skin and four arms. But they’re already nowhere in sight.”

“They took a north-eastern course,” The Doctor answered. “We’re going north-north-east. I don’t fancy getting too close to D’emise Gorge.”

“D’emise Gorge?” Ray queried.

“That’s the native Atalyonian name for it. The apostrophe is important. Without it the word roughly translates as ‘small red ball’. In reality it is a thousand foot deep rift in the Flats carved by a river that flows along the bottom before entering an underground system near the eastern end of the Flats. So the information in the Rally guide says, anyway.”

“You’re right. We should avoid that.”

Ray was quiet again for a while, then she spoke almost to herself.

“It must be lonely for the solo riders… like Jes.”

“You like him, don’t you?” The Doctor said, recognising an opening to a topic of conversation slipped in so obviously.

“Yes, I do,” Ray answered. “He’s… nice. I know… he’s good-looking, and that ought to be a warning siren. I’ve always avoided getting involved with good-looking men. I mean… Billy… he was… special. After him… most of them… only cared about themselves, and they wanted a girlfriend who would be an ornament to them. And… I’m reaching the age where I’m not going to be anyone’s ornament….”

“Rachel, my dear, you are a very attractive woman,” The Doctor assured her. “I am quite confident that….”

“You’re a very nice man, Doctor,” Ray told him. “But believe me, there haven’t been very many offers lately. Of course, most of the men I meet either work for me or are in family groups booking a chalet. But even so… Jes…. He noticed me. He talks to me as if I am special in some way. I know it can’t last. We’re not even from the same century. It’s a hundred to one chance we’re the same species. But while it does last… it’s nice.”

“Ray,” The Doctor said. “Don’t worry about anything. Just enjoy the moment… every moment. That’s something even we Time Lords have trouble with sometimes – enjoying the moment. We worry too much about the past and future and forget to enjoy the present moment. And before we know it, that moment is gone.”

“I knew you’d understand, Doctor,” Ray said with a cheerful tone in her voice.

They rode on without speaking for a while. The sound of the Vincent’s finely-tuned engine and the endless landscape were almost hypnotic. Ray broke the silence with completely unimportant things to say from time to time just to stop it becoming TOO hypnotic.

Jes came up in the conversations many times. The Doctor kept his opinions to himself.

Near midday, when the sun was overhead and the white salt surface reflected its light and heat back perilously for any organic being without the means to shield their eyes or regulate their own blood temperature they stopped and put up the thermal shelter. They ate and drank rehydrated provisions and rested.

When the sun was safely past its zenith they moved on again. It was, once again, a journey punctuated by conversation for the sake of passing time for a while. Then, just before they began to contemplate their tea-time rest, The Doctor spotted something in the distance.

“Does that look like a group of riders to you?” he asked Jean.

“It looks like a smudge in the distance to me,” she responded. “You must have way better eyesight than me.”

“Undoubtedly,” The Doctor remarked. “But, yes, it’s definitely riders. I think it might be your friends the hairy biker ladies. We’re on the same course as they are.”

“I wonder why they’re going so slowly. I CAN see them now. We’re catching them up.”

Of course, it was perfectly possible for riders to catch up with each other. There had been a mere hour between the quad team setting off and The Doctor and Jean with the Vincent. But Ray had not expected to do so. She had entered the rally with no other goal but to finish safely. Her 1950s bike could not possibly compete with those of this century.

But soon even Ray could see the riders clearly. They were catching up with them by the minute. It was obvious that there was something wrong with the team up ahead. They were a racing bike short, for a start. The team should have had a solo rider as well as a trike and a bike and side-car combination, but it looked as if three of the ladies were on the trike made for two.

They drew level and the rider on the bike and side-car waved them to a stop.

“Do you have a first aid kit?” she asked, indicating one of her sisters on the trike who was bruised and scraped and holding her arm awkwardly. “We have mislaid ours. We apologise for delaying you in your course, but it is an emergency.”

“Mislaid?” The Doctor queried as he brought the medical kit from the Vincent’s pannier. “Allutions are the most careful and organised race I have ever had the fortune to know. I have never heard of anything being mislaid by one of your kind.”

“Indeed,” said the leader of the group, who introduced herself as Yyassine, the double ‘y’ having much the same effect as a Ll in Welsh names. “It is a mystery to us all. The kit should have been among our provisions. My sister, Yyara, put it there herself this morning. We didn’t know it was missing until Yyaella came off her bike and we had no way to treat her wounds.”

“Curious,” The Doctor added while he fastened Yyaella’s broken arm in a sling and applied iodine to the worst of the grazes on her exposed face. The thick hair on the rest of her body and the leather riding gear had given her some protection elsewhere and she was relatively unscathed. The Doctor gave her a strong pain-relieving lozenge all the same. It would make the rest of the less than smooth journey easier on her. “What happened to cause the accident?”

“I don’t know,” Yyaella answered. Her sisters proved just as mystified. “We were making very good time. I was leading the pack when I felt the bike shudder as if it had hit an invisible wall. I was thrown over the handlebars. I felt my arm break as I hit the floor, then I blacked out for a few minutes. Even if I could have gone on, my bike was wrecked – a mess of twisted metal.”

“Doctor!” Ray recognised much the same story as the silver rider had given when he crashed during yesterday’s stage. He turned towards her with an expression that spoke volumes. She decided to keep her thoughts to herself for the time being.

“If you were any other team I would suggest putting up your thermal tent and sending out an emergency signal,” The Doctor said to Yyassine. “But I know the Allution reputation for stamina. You will be determined to carry on.”

“Indeed, we shall,” Yyassine answered. “No attempt at sabotage will put a stop to our pursuit of the prize.”

“Sabotage?” Ray queried. Her expression as she glanced at The Doctor spoke further volumes in reply to his. “You think….”

“Just like the Silver Rider,” Yyassine said. “You must have realised, my dear Doctor.”

“I realised,” he answered. “But I did not wish to alarm you.”

“We are Allutions. We don’t get alarmed. We get our own back. In this case, we will do so by reaching this evening’s stage despite the attempt to thwart us. On which note, we shall be on our way. May we thank you more fully later by inviting you to dine with us tonight at the stage camp?”

“I should be delighted,” The Doctor answered. The invitation was to himself and Ray, but he strongly suspected that she would have other plans once again! The two of them watched and waved as the Allution team set off again, then they returned to the Vincent and restarted their own rally stage.

“Doctor, is somebody trying to kill off competitors?” Ray asked as they crossed the empty whiteness at speed once again. “This was EXACTLY the same as yesterday. We know better than anyone. We saw what happened to the Silver Rider.”

“Yessss,” The Doctor drawled slowly. “I’m a tiny bit worried that we’re going to be the chief suspects – since we’re the ones who rendered assistance on both occasions.”

“I hope not,” Ray answered him. But who do you think MIGHT be doing it? It must be somebody absolutely DESPERATE to win. After all, the Silver Rider would have DIED if we hadn’t found him. Jes told me last night – the repair you made with the foil discs is only possible within the first few hours after a severance. After that, it’s too late. And today, Yyaella was lucky only to have a broken arm and some cuts and bruises.”

“Her species are very resilient,” The Doctor agreed. “A mere Human would have been critically injured in the same sort of accident. That said, be careful, Ray. If we are targeted…..”

“We’re running eighth in the ‘vintage’ bike and sidecar class,” Ray answered with a wry smile to herself. “Out of twelve. We’re not in anyone’s way.”

All the same, The Doctor thought she had eased off the accelerator just a little. They were still speeding across the Salt Flats, but at about ten miles per hour less than before.

“What about the missing medical kit?” Ray asked after a while. “Was that part of it, too?”

“It may well have been,” The Doctor agreed. “It really ISN’T usual for Allutions to forget anything.”

But WHO would want to win the race SO desperately that they would be prepared to commit murder? Any number of suspects crossed Ray’s mind as she rode on – almost all of the people she had met at the meet and greet the night before the Rally began and in the supper marquee last night.

The Vinvocci team, the people with the green, spiky face, and something of a spiky demeanour to go with their features, seemed a very determined bunch. They were so protective of their bike design that they had kept it under an invisibility cloak until the starting line on both mornings.

Ray remembered that they had been quite disparaging at the pre-rally party of the Zocci team – a species with red spiky heads like over-ripe chestnuts. Ray had put that down to rivalry between two closely-related species with some sort of political history between them, but could that rivalry have driven one or other of the spiky competitors to sabotage other competitors?

She found reason to suspect almost every team or individual entered into the Death or Glory Rally – with two notable exceptions. She had dismissed the dwarf on the mini-bike who had started at the same time as herself and The Doctor on Day One. He had arrived at the first stage camp two hours after sunset with a bad case of sunburn and an even worse temper and had turned up at supper covered from head to toe in suncream. He was last out of every possible class and couldn’t hope to win anything other than a consolation prize.

She also dismissed Jes. He couldn’t be a villain. He was too nice.

That was woolly thinking. She knew that. But nothing, not one moment she had spent in his company, made her suspect he was anything but a thoroughly charming, handsome man who knew everything there was to know about two wheeled internal combustion engines.

The Doctor could have told her at least one thing that would have coloured her opinion of Jes, but he kept it to himself.

A hundred miles further on, though, things took another serious turn, and one which forced Jes to lay all his cards on the table – in so far as such a metaphor could be applied to the peculiar circumstances of the Lyo-llo Flats.

“Doctor… somebody is coming towards us!” Ray exclaimed. The Doctor was surprised. He had been studying the satellite positioning screen and then looking up at the sun in the sky. Now he looked straight ahead and despite spots in front of his eyes from the sun’s glare he could see the glint of metal within a white dust cloud and the shape of a helmet. A rider was coming towards them.

“Brake!” The Doctor yelled. “Ray, stop, now. He’s going to ride right into us otherwise.”

He had played chicken with motorbikes once before, and it wasn’t an experience he wanted to repeat. He was relieved when Ray began to slow the Vincent to a stop.

The rider coming towards them slowed, too, but even so he had to swerve to avoid a collision. By the time he stopped, Ray had climbed off the bike and was storming angrily towards him.

“Jes!” she exclaimed as he dismounted and pulled off his helmet. “What are you playing at?”

“I had to stop you. You’re heading straight for D’emise Gorge. You wouldn’t have been able to brake in time.”

“We’re nowhere near that place,” Ray protested. “We’ve been travelling in a completely different direction.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” The Doctor contradicted her. He brought the global positioning tablet with him from the sidecar and showed it to her. “I think this gismo has been tampered with. I ought to have seen it sooner, but while the sun was behind us I wasn’t really looking at it. It was only when it started to drop towards the horizon that I realised we were out of position by several degrees – enough to set us on a path towards the Gorge.”

“You’re not the only ones,” Jes told them. As he spoke a hover-copter passed overhead. “That’s for one of the Vinvocci riders. He went over the edge. Fortunately he landed on a ledge, but he’s broken some bones. Amazingly, it was a Zocci who went down a rope and gave him first aid while the copter was on its way. That’s a political miracle on its own. The Denbian rider and the Allutions are up there, too, waiting for me to get back to them. They told me you were following the same course as them. I knew I had to head you off.”

“That’s very commendable of you, Lieutenant Deacon,” The Doctor said.

“Lieutenant?” Ray was surprised. “Of what?”

“The Earth Federation Space Corps,” Jes answered. “I’m a special agent, as The Doctor has somehow found out. I am here investigating a crime that has been committed using the Death or Glory Rally as a subterfuge.”

“What sort of crime?” Ray asked. “And why couldn’t you tell me?”

“I’ve told you enough about the investigation,” Jes replied. “As for why I didn’t…. I couldn’t. You…”

“Ray,” The Doctor said gently, softening the blow as much as he could. “He couldn’t tell us because he didn’t know if we were the people he was looking for.”

“You mean… that first night… when we… when you…. You were ROMANCING me to find out if I was a criminal!” Ray’s voice raised several levels of pitch before her anger boiled over into a stream of Welsh that would have made Jes blush if he understood it.

“No,” he said when she ran out of words. “THAT I meant. I liked you from the start. A beautiful woman who understands bikes… I was entranced. I desperately HOPED you were innocent. I knew you WERE by the end of the supper party that night. But I needed more evidence. Meanwhile….”

“Meanwhile, I was a diversion… or cover to give you chance to observe your quarry… or….” She slipped into Welsh again, but The Doctor quietened her down with a gentle arm across her shoulders.

“Later, the two of you need a quiet talk,” he told her. “Not now. There are dozens of people who need to be shown the way to the stage two camp, and we’re the only ones who can do it.”

“We are?” Ray almost forgot to be angry at Jes in her surprise. “How?”

He held up his hand-made gadget that told him where the TARDIS was in relation to his own position.

“I can recalculate our journey with this,” he said. “The rest can follow us. Go and get them, Jes. Second stage timings are out of the window anyway. We’re going to be hours late. But everyone is alive and Jes is going to get his man – or woman – or person of non-specified gender - when we make camp.”

“Well, that sounds like a plan,” Ray admitted, her anger subsiding amidst the obvious necessity of getting a lot of lost people back to safety. But she didn’t look at Jes when he said goodbye to her and got on his bike. She only turned around once he was speeding away in the distance.

“Like I said,” The Doctor told her. “A quiet talk, later. That’s what the two of you need. Until then, put it out of your mind. We’ve still got a long journey to get through, and we’ll be riding through the dark for part of it.”

Jes returned in a little less than fifteen minutes with an angry, puzzled and generally disconcerted group of Rally riders. They had all agreed, some reluctantly, to let The Doctor and Ray guide them to safety. A peculiar caravan of vehicles set off across the Flats, riding parallel with the deadly Gorge for a while, before it veered away to their right and they continued on with the sun setting rapidly.

It was colder once the night set in, and very dark. The lights on the assorted bikes and trikes and at least two meaty-sounding quad-bikes illuminated a very narrow and unchanging patch of salt flat for tiring mile after mile.

Then somebody spotted lights on the horizon. For nearly an hour that was all they were, then they started to look like the warm, inviting lights of the camp, though still many miles away, yet.

“I’m riding on ahead,” Jes told The Doctor and Ray. “I’ve got things to do. You bring everyone in safe.”

This time Ray watched him accelerate away, noting that there was some sort of booster switch that made his bike faster than it ought to be to qualify for the race.

“He could be going into huge trouble,” she noted. “The people he’s after don’t care if people die.”

“He is an experienced agent,” The Doctor reassured her. “And he has the element of surprise. I think he will be all right.”

“Only ‘think’?”

“I believe he is a very determined and professional man who will do his duty. We have ours, ensuring that everybody who was deliberately thrown off course gets safely into the camp.”

They were still a long way off, but getting closer with every minute. At last, it was possible to see the finish line and the stewards waiting to record everyone’s time for the second day stage. Everyone began to remember that they were meant to be competing, but nobody had the energy to try. All they could think of was hot food and warm beds.

Ray wasn’t interested in either. As they crossed that finish line she saw a police hover-copter taking off with its blue lights flashing.

“Go on,” The Doctor told her. “Go and get your man. I’ll take the Vincent to Parc Ferme and get your timing slip.”

Ray barely managed to murmur her thanks before she ran towards the administration marquee. When The Doctor was done with the race formalities and went looking for her she was to be found in the refreshment tent with Jes, who was sporting a black eye and a badly bruised cheek, but otherwise undamaged.

“It was the two humans,” she told The Doctor excitedly. “Banning and Maxwell – they were diamond thieves.”

“They were?” The Doctor was surprised. He had assumed that the investigation was about cheating in the Death or Glory Rally.

“Five years ago, a large consignment of diamonds was stolen en-route to the market on Lytolo, the third planet in this system, which is noted for its diamond cutting and polishing,” Jes explained. “Despite every effort, we found no leads. The trail went cold. But every year since, at this time of year, high quality gems have come onto the market. We came to the conclusion that the Rally was being used to recover the haul in small batches. Which was where I came in, undercover as a competitor. I almost blew it. I was following Banning and Maxwell when I realised that all the other riders had been sent off course towards the Gorge. I had to make a decision… saving lives or catching diamond thieves.”

The Doctor nodded sagely. He had been put in those sort of situations many times – choosing to save lives every time.

Ray smiled. To her, what he had said was that he had chosen to save her, personally, rather than go after Banning and Maxwell. The Doctor decided not to burst her bubble.

“He did both,” she said proudly. “He made sure we were all right, and still got back here in time to catch them with the diamonds.”

“That was because of The Doctor,” Jes admitted humbly. “He brought us back by the quickest route. I owe him for that.”

“But what about the sabotage?” The Doctor asked. “The Silver Rider and the Allution. Where do they fit in? Why should they have been attacked by Banning and Maxwell?”

“They weren’t.” Ray laughed softly. “They were attacked by that little dwarf. He planned to put everyone in front of him out of the solo bike race so that he would win on default. He might have got away with it. Nobody suspected him for a moment. But when he saw the police he thought the game was up and ran for it. Jes caught him, and that’s when he got the black eye and the bruises.”

“Dwarves have really hard heads,” Jes explained.

The Doctor tried not to laugh as the vision crossed his mind of a seething mad dwarf head-butting his arresting officer.

“Not my finest hour,” Jes added. “Almost being bested by a three foot high madman. But I will get a commendation for capturing Benning and Maxwell.”

Ray was reminded by that comment that his entry in the Rally had been just a front for his investigation.

“I suppose now your work is done you’ll be gone,” she said quietly.

“My work is far from done,” he answered. “Those two hid diamonds in different places at each stage of the Rally, intending to collect them at their own pace. We still have to find them. I won’t be competing, but I will be working with the rally stewards. I’ll be around to see you off every morning.”

Ray was pleased by that prospect. The long quiet talk she meant to have with Jes turned into a very long one that The Doctor left her to have while he dined with the Allutions.

Having Jes to see her off and waiting at the end of each day’s ride across the Flats made the next ten days happy ones.

On the morning of the final ride, The Doctor was waiting a very long time before Ray came to the starting line. She was sporting a new charm to go with the bike wheel – a set of silver handlebars, and the promise that he would be waiting

“It’s the last time,” Ray commented sadly as she got ready for the start. “The last time he’ll be there to see me finish.”

“If you keep your mind off Jes and on riding until then, you could finish at least fifth in the sidecar class,” The Doctor told her. “You’ve done splendidly for a first time rider, and that’s what you came here for. You can sort out how you feel about Jes tonight at the victory party.”

“Yes,” Ray agreed. And, indeed, she put her personal feelings aside and poured her heart into the rally in the course of her day. Only when they stopped at the midday zenith and rested in the cool of the thermal tent did her mind drift back to thoughts of romance. The Doctor listened to her talk and occasionally said something supportive, but he knew better than to make any forecasts about such things.

By the last part of the ride, with the evening closing in, they could see the city at the northern edge of the Flats where the finish line awaited. Tall skyscrapers lit up against the dark led them home. As they drew close they could see an array of multi-coloured lights around the Rally compound. Soon they could see the grandstand where a crowd was waiting to cheer the competitors.

Ray was looking for just one person, and she saw him as she approached the finish line. She kept her cool and didn’t respond to his enthusiastic wave, at least until she crossed the line recording her final time and her position – fourth in class, twentieth overall, and winner of a special trophy for being the first debut rider to finish the course.

All of it seemed less important than the kiss she shared with Jes when he fought his way through the crowd to her. They kissed a lot more during the party later. But as the evening drew to a close a melancholy overtook her.

“This is the end,” she sighed as she let Jes hold her tightly in a quiet corner. “The Doctor and I are leaving first thing tomorrow. You’ll be on your way back to your job.”

“I’m owed six months’ leave,” Jes answered. “I told my boss I’ll be taking them as of tomorrow. And I’ve had a chat with The Doctor. He says I’m welcome to join you both in the TARDIS.”

“He did?”

“Yes, he did. He said it might be useful experience for me… travelling in time as well as space. It’s certainly a unique experience. And… being with you… I’d like that, very much.”

“So would I,” Ray told him. “The Doctor… I wasn’t sure if he approved of me seeing you. I thought he…. Oh, I’m going to hug him when I see him. Isn’t he the BEST.”

“He’s something,” Jes agreed, wondering just what, apart from the chance to cement his relationship with Ray, he had signed himself up for.

The Doctor was talking to the Allution team members, but he glanced over at the couple and smiled as he looked forward to the adventures to come with Ray and Jes as his companions.