In the weeks of holiday that were left, Marion did get to know Mrs Flannery the daily, who did, indeed, ply her with tea and chat, and approved entirely of her employer’s choice of fiancée, although she was disappointed they weren’t going to have a big white wedding in the cathedral as soon as possible. She never missed a chance of putting her opinion that a girl engaged to a gentleman like The Professor didn’t need any other career than as his wife and mother of his children. Marion smiled dutifully at the idea and promised she would be both of those things in time, but she still wanted her degree and teaching qualification first.

She got to know Kristoph’s mother very well, talking to her almost every day on the videophone. Kristoph fixed up a screen in her own room so she could talk to her in privacy. She called her by her first name, Aineytta, and they talked as friends with a mutual love, mother and fiancée, of the man Marion knew as Kristoph, and his mother called Chrístõ with an inflection on the accents Marion thought she would never master. She learnt that Kristoph was one of four children that Aineytta had born to her husband. He had a sister who was married into another great Gallifreyan House and a younger brother who was a politician and another sister who was a member of a sisterhood a little like an Earth convent but where they meditated rather than prayed.

A family. A large family by Gallifreyan standards, she learnt. A family she could call her own. Even if they WERE so far away. She liked that idea. She hadn’t had a family for so long.

She never asked why Aineytta thought that her being an ‘Earth Child’ would make for a ‘difficult union’ as she had said the first time they talked. Those words had puzzled her, but she didn’t ask. She felt she didn’t want to know. Though it didn’t stop her wondering. She wondered if it was a cultural matter, her being a ‘foreigner’ or a physical problem in that they were of a different species.

She did consider briefly if Gallifreyan men were the ‘same’ as Humans in that respect, and once, as they cuddled on the sofa in the evening, listening to their favourite music, she tentatively broached the subject. Kristoph had laughed for a long time before he found the right reply to her question. She had thought his laughter mean at first, because it had been difficult for her to bring the subject up. But she realised he only meant to lighten the mood, and his laughter was so infectious she found herself laughing too before he managed to reply to her.

“Yes, my dear,” he said at last. “Gallifreyans have all of THOSE parts, in the same quantity and proportions as Humans. You need have no fear. When the time comes, you won’t be disappointed.”

She had blushed then and made up her mind not to ask any more such questions. But his eyes twinkled with laughter all evening after that and she knew he hadn’t really minded.

For a lot of the time, it was possible to forget that Kristoph and his mother and the rest of the family were another species. Even in the TARDIS, even travelling to far off places and fascinating periods of time, she no longer felt as if it was a strange and unusual thing. Was it possible to take the TARDIS for granted? It seemed she could.

Then the weekend before she was due to start her first term at Liverpool Hope University Kristoph said it was time she saw the universe beyond her solar system.

“Gallifrey?” she asked hopefully as he programmed their journey.

“No, not yet,” he said. “You WILL see my homeworld in time. And you will love it, I am certain. But there are many other places I should like to take you. This is just a gentle introduction to the universe. An uninhabited planet. There is time for you to get used to other species later. For now, I just want you to experience the joy of a different sun rising on a different world.”

“I’m in your hands,” she told him. “As ever.” She looked from where he was working at the console to the big viewscreen as ordinary space faded into the vortex that allowed them to reach far off places or times. It was red.

“Red for forwards, into the unknown,” she said. “Blue to return to the past, to what is known.”

“We’re travelling to another star,” he told her. “Your sun is only one of billions in your galaxy, and there are twelve known and explored galaxies in the universe, and more beyond that even my people have little knowledge of. But this one is known to you, if only by sight. Earth astronomers called the star Meissa, and it is the apex of the triangle at the top of the Orion constellation as seen from Earth. It has one planet orbiting it. Your people don’t even know of it in your time. Mine, in the interests of neat statistical compilation rather than creative imagination know it as XZ56Y6F. When Humans began to travel the universe and know it better they called it the Eye of Orion.”

“That sounds better than XZ…5…” Kristoph smiled and agreed completely with her.

“The landing is pre-programmed,” he said. “You sit and watch while I go sort out a few things.”

She did so. She never tired of watching the TARDIS’s journeys through space, and this one was especially exciting. When the vortex slowly dissolved into real space she was thrilled to realise she was in a different star system looking at a different planet that the TARDIS was preparing to land on.

It looked not unlike Earth in that it had green landmasses and blue seas and two white polar caps. She wasn’t sure she ought to be disappointed about that. A different colour of planet would have been more ‘exotic’ perhaps.

Then again, blue and green was familiar.

She mentioned that to Kristoph when he returned to the console room with a picnic basket and two rucksacks filled with equipment for a camping trip.

“The more exotic coloured ones don’t tend to have breathable atmospheres,” he explained. Oxygen rich planets such as both our species find habitable tend to be blue.”

“Gallifrey isn’t blue though. You said it had a yellow sky?”

“We beg to differ. Our sky looks like sunset on a summer evening in Liverpool Bay all the time.”

“Sounds beautiful. And so is this place.” She looked at the viewscreen as they materialised. “Can we go out then?”

“Get your coat and some shoes you can walk in. I thought we’d leave the TARDIS to look after itself and hike across country for a day or two, sleep out in a tent under the stars…”

“Lovely,” she said and when her footwear was properly seen to she took her rucksack. Kristoph smiled and reached for the door mechanism. Then he stood back.

“Your first planet,” he told her. “It’s a special moment. You go first.”

She did as he said. At the threshold she looked back and then she stepped out onto alien grass on an alien planet.

No, not alien, she thought. I must stop using that word. I’m the alien on somebody else’s planet.

She breathed in deeply and sighed with pleasure as the wonder of it overwhelmed her.

She looked about her at what looked like the inside of a ruined church or a small abbey with stone walls partially fallen and ivy creeping over everything. The TARDIS had blended in with the surroundings, turning itself into an archway with a bricked up door – with a keyhole, nevertheless.

There was a real archway ahead of them. Through it she could see rolling countryside that looked thoroughly inviting. Kristoph took her hand and they passed through it.

“What is it that makes it feel so…” She couldn’t describe it. It was something less than euphoria, but a raising of the soul even so. She felt as if it would be impossible to be unhappy here. As if the very air was saying ‘everything is just fine.”

“There’s a scientific explanation for it,” Kristoph said. “But let’s not spoil the magic.” He took her hand as they walked just a little way down the heather-covered hill that descended to a wide valley stretching into the distance. He picked a spot and spread a cloth for them to picnic on and they sat and enjoyed their meal together.

“It reminds me of Lancashire,” Marion said. “But with more heather and less houses. Nobody lives here?”

“Nobody. There are birds and small mammals, insects, an ecology. But no people.”

“Then who built the ruin?”

“That’s a very good question,” Kristoph told her. “Unfortunately I can’t answer it. Nobody knows. It has always been there, apparently. And always a ruin. As if somebody made it that way. It never seems to deteriorate either. It has looked like that forever, as if it is about to fall down. But it never does.”

“Well, that’s WEIRD,” Marion said. “Nice weird though. It’s not doing any harm. Leave it be.”

“My thought exactly,” Kristoph agreed. “The days are much shorter here, by the way. It will be sunset in about four hours by your watch. That will be quite delightful here.”

“Lovely,” she said. It was a glorious sunset on Earth that had sealed their love, after all. What could a sunset on another planet bring?

It brought a spectacular display of wonderful colour as the sun sank behind the mountains, and in the gathering darkness she looked up at something she hadn’t expected, though she supposed she should have.

Unfamiliar stars in totally different patterns in the sky, and a moon that was a pale red colour and with totally different craters giving a different pattern to the familiar ‘man in the moon’.

Kristoph laughed gently as she expressed her surprise.

“But the constellations are only how they appear from Earth. From any other perspective they are totally different. They are different again from Gallifrey. We have our own mythology and stories about the constellations in our sky. There’s a book about them in my library if you want to see them.”

“I would,” she said. “But right now… this is Orion… and we can see that from Earth. So… can we see Earth… or rather Earth’s sun…”

“Oh yes,” he said. “Up there. The medium bright one between the three bright ones in the triangle.”

Marion looked and shivered with the realisation of how far away she was from home. If she wasn’t with Kristoph, who she trusted implicitly, she would be frightened.

“Where is Gallifrey? Can we see that? You said it appears in the Earth sky in Sagittarius’s bow.”

“From here the Kasterborus constellation stands alone, forming a double arrowhead. See there. The middle one of the inner arrow is the one Gallifrey orbits. We have no name for the star. It is just the ‘sun’ like on Earth. Or 0005676? in the catalogue.”

He spoke with pride in his voice as he spoke of Gallifrey. He looked at it wistfully, Marion thought.

“Do you miss your home?” she asked.

“Yes, sometimes,” he said. “But then I was often away. Before the agency recalled me I was working in our diplomatic corps, travelling to different planets, to conferences and Treaties.”

“That sounds a nice life,” Marion said. “Are you really sure you want to give it all up?”

“I’m sure. Now, how about we get the tent up and we can make a hot drink before we get chilled.”

Getting the tent up was less trouble than Marion expected. Kristoph pulled a long roll out of the top of his rucksack and shook it out and it was up. Another few minutes saw it pegged `down and the bed roll and sleeping bag in place. Then he proved very handy at making a camp fire and soon they were enjoying a hot drink beside it.

“You’ve been a soldier, of course,” she said. “That’s how you know how to do these things.”

“Yes, it was in my training,” he told her. “Though that was such a long time ago.”

“The war you were in… was it very terrible?”

“Are there any that aren’t?” he answered. “Last year when so many people on Earth were at war, I felt such dismay. Your little planet… when you learn to live with yourselves and be one Human race, you will be able to achieve so much. Gallifrey has had wars. Terrible ones. But none more terrible than any other. And nothing I have seen is any worse than men and women on your world have faced. Or may yet have to face.”

And at that he changed the subject. He told her one of the mythological stories of Gallifreyan astrology and the sound of his voice and the warmth of the camp fire lulled her.

“Let’s go to bed,” he said, throwing soil over the fire to kill it. They went into the tent, kicking off their shoes. Marion was rather surprised that there was one big sleeping bag rather than two individual ones.

“Have you ever camped in a British climate?” Kristoph asked. “One sleeping bag with two people sharing body heat is much more comfortable. Nothing untoward is happening here, I can assure you, although the opportunity to hold you close to me through the night is a pleasant bonus.”

Yes, she thought that idea had much to commend it. And as they snuggled into the sleeping bag and he zipped it around them it WAS cosy. Kristoph put his arms tight around Marion as she pressed close to his chest, the wool of his hiking jumper warm against her cheek and the familiar sound of his heartsbeat a soothing lullaby. That she was sleeping beside him did not feel so strange after all. They were both fully clothed and it was just a way of keeping warm in the tent. She knew it would be no other way with him.

When she woke, she was still warm and comfortable but Kristoph was already up. She could smell food cooking though and when she emerged from the tent into warm sunshine he pressed a cup of coffee into her hands and presently a plate of food.

“I slept so well,” she said. “How long have you been up?”

“Since the dawn. I like to watch the sun come up. But you looked so restful I left you to sleep.”

“I did sleep very nicely. This place is SO restful. It really is. I don’t care if there IS a scientific explanation. It feels like magic.”

“To some people science is magic,” Kristoph said. “And vice versa. I’m afraid we shall have to make our way back to the TARDIS later, though we can take a roundabout way of it. There is a rather lovely lake we can view on the way. And we’ll watch another sunset later before we set off home.”

Marion agreed happily to the plan. Another blissful day on this beautiful planet with her lover beside her. What more could she wish for?

Only that the contentment would go on, that the bubble would not burst on her. Was it possible to BE this happy forever?