Marion came around only a few minutes later to feel somebody pressing something cool against her forehead. She opened her eyes and saw Jean-Claude, looking a little strange in the skirt suit that Claudia Jean had worn all day, applying the cold compress.

“I’m all right,” she said. “What about….” She turned her head slowly and saw Bertin lying on a folded down seat that made a perfectly good couch.

“He’s not too good,” Jean-Claude answered. “He fell awkwardly and I’m worried about the baby.”

“Can we get some attention here?” a voice demanded, and a Vulpesi stewardess ran to attend to the two Bassia Coppa men. One of them was howling as if he was in severe pain.

“He’s got a sprained wrist,” Jean-Claude said contemptuously. “Nothing to make all that fuss about. Not when… the pilot is dead. The co-pilot is injured. He’s unconscious. The navigator has three cracked ribs. They’re trying to keep him lying down quiet.”

“What about you?” Marion asked as Jean-Claude put a reassuring hand on Bertin’s shoulder and told him to try to relax. “Were you hurt?”

“I’m perfectly all right except I morphed into my male form while I was dazed and I don’t seem to be able to morph back again. Traumatic situations can do that. I’ll be all right in a few hours. Meanwhile the worst problem I have is really uncomfortable and inappropriate underwear. Everyone else… cuts and bruises and a bit of hysteria.”

Marion looked around and understood the reason for the hysteria. She felt a bit of it herself as she saw empty space through a huge hole where the cockpit should have been.

“That’s how we lost the pilot,” Jean-Claude said. “He got the co-pilot out, and the navigator. He went back to try to send an SOS. But… the whole cockpit split off from the rest of the ship… the impact of the capsule caused a huge crack and…”

A sign was flashing on and off indicating that the emergency bulkhead shield was holding. But it was an unnerving sight, and Marion couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the emergency bulkhead shield failed.

“Are we all right for oxygen?” she asked. “And power… there’s some sort of back up system?”

“For the moment, yes,” Jean-Claude answered. “At least the senior steward said so. I have been wondering if he just didn’t want to panic us.”

“I hope you’re wrong about that,” Marion said. “There must be sixty people on this shuttle, including the crew.”

She stood up. Her head ached. There was a big bruise on her forehead. But she was not badly hurt.

“Please, stay with me,” Bertin whispered. She looked down at him. He was clearly distressed, clearly in pain, though he was making less fuss than the Bassia Coppa man whose wrist was being attended to.

“Of course, I will,” she promised. She sat down again by his side and reached to hold his hand. “Is the baby….”

“The baby is alive,” he answered. “I can feel him… I can hear his heartbeat. But…”

He groaned out loud despite himself and gripped Marion’s hand tightly.

Oh, my dear,” Jean-Claude said to him. “You’re going into labour.”

“Oh, he can’t!” Marion exclaimed. “It’s too soon. He said earlier… It’s only four and a half months…”

“That’s almost full term for my kind,” Bertin said as the pain eased and he took a deep breath. “That’s why I came along with Grady. He didn’t want to be so far away from me if the baby came early. But… we didn’t expect this. I thought the trip would only be a few hours. We were in cars most the time. Nothing arduous…”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Marion assured him. “Nobody could have guessed this was going to happen. But anyway, we’ll be rescued soon, won’t we? They must have put out an SOS. They know we’re here. You just relax. We’ll be on the Isle of Capri soon, and Grady will be with you. They have a good hospital facility on board. As long as you don’t mind a midwife with a long lilac tail who’ll insist on the baby being wrapped in a purple blanket as soon as it’s born.”

Bertin laughed at the idea, then groaned as another pain overtook him.

“I don’t mind anything,” he said. “But I really need Grady to be with me. I was there when he had our first child. He wanted to be there for me. I need him. I’m not sure I can go through this without him.”

“Everyone is doing their best,” Jean-Claude assured him. “Marion is right. We’ll be back on the ship by the time your little one is ready to be born. And your man will be right by your side.”

Jean-Claude looked at Marion and she tried not to let Bertin see her own reaction. Jean-Claude wasn’t sure if what he had said was true at all.

“I’ll go and see if there’s a first aid kit we can use,” she said. “I know they’ve got the co-pilot and the navigator to look after, but we could do with some antiseptic wipes and that sort of thing.”

She stood and moved away, leaving Jean Claude to look after Bertin for now. She headed towards the galley. There was a steward there. He was wearing a deep purple uniform with his lilac tail gathered around his arm. He looked worried. All the crew did.

“I was wondering when help will be coming,” Marion asked him. “The pilot did send a message, didn’t he?”

The steward immediately said yes. But there was something about the way he said it that made her think he was lying to reassure her.

“All right,” she said. “How long do you think they’ll be before they get to us?”

“It won’t be long,” he answered. “Twenty minutes, perhaps. Go back to your seat and try to keep calm.”

There was nothing else to say. She asked for a first aid kit and he found her one. He also gave her a box of moist wipes and some fruit juice. She didn’t know the exact details of Mizzonian childbirth. She wasn't entirely sure how it even happened. But giving Bertin plenty to drink seemed like a good idea.

“The steward said help would be here in twenty minutes,” she said to Jean-Claude when she returned to his side. She gave Bertin one of the juice packs and he drank it gratefully. Jean-Claude looked at Marion and shook his head.

“They’re just trying to stop us from panicking. I don’t think they did get a message out.”

“But even if they didn’t,” Marion pointed out. “They will know we’re late by now. They’ll surely come looking?”

“That’s true,” Jean-Claude conceded. “But it’s going to take more than twenty minutes. That’s too hopeful.”

Bertin groaned even more loudly than ever. Marion turned her attention to him.

“Twenty minutes is going to be too late anyway,” Jean-Claude said. “I think we’re going to have to handle this ourselves. I’m sorry. But look at it this way… when we get back you’ll have the most precious souvenir of your trip to show for it.”

“No,” Bertin protested. “Oh, no.”

“Marion, let’s see if we can pull some chairs around and cover them with blankets or something, make a bit of privacy here. We can do it.”

She did has he asked while Jean-Claude began to loosen Bertin’s clothes and prepare him for the birth that seemed imminent now. Marion wasn’t sure she wanted to look.

“It’s all right,” Jean-Claude assured her. “The way it works is quite simple. There’s an aperture that forms on the stomach. When it’s big enough, the baby just slips out.”

“No ‘just’ about it,” Bertin managed to say. “But… Marion… don’t be scared. Please stay near me.”

“I’m not scared,” she assured him. “It’s just that men don’t have babies on my planet. It’s a bit strange. But I won’t leave you. I promise.”

“All right,” Jean-Claude said. “Marion, you’re giving Bertin the moral support. I’m going to be doing the midwifery. I’ve had more babies than either of you. I know what I’m doing.”

Marion was happy with that arrangement. Bertin was still fretting because his partner wasn’t with him, but Marion was an acceptable substitute for now. She held him tightly as the birth pains wracked his body. She bathed his forehead with the cool, lightly scented moist wipes. Jean-Claude assured him that everything was going fine and that the baby would be born in the next fifteen minutes.

“On my planet, at about this time, we usually ask whether you want a boy or a girl,” Marion told him, just to give him something else to think about. “But that question is completely irrelevant to both you and Jean-Claude.”

“A healthy baby is what we all long for,” Bertin told her. “It’ll have red hair, of course. Grady has red hair. The child he gave birth to looks like me. This one will look like him.”

“He’ll be thrilled,” Marion assured him.

Bertin’s pains were getting stronger and longer. Jean-Claude said it was going to be very soon, now.

Then something happened. Nobody was sure what. But suddenly the emergency bulkhead shield began to fail. Marion and Jean-Claude both held on tight to Bertin as they felt the decompression. Around them people were screaming and clutching furniture or each other. One of the stewards struggled to reach the shield reset. He managed to get his hand to the button and pressed. At once the cabin was sealed again. The shield lights were on.

But everyone was aware of the difference.

“We’ve lost air,” Marion said. “There’s not as much oxygen as there was before.”

“I know,” Jean-Claude answered her. “At least fifty per cent reduction, I’d say.”

“But what if…”

Bertin’s contractions overwhelmed all other thoughts for now. The baby was close to birth now. Marion and Jean-Claude helped him through another hard, long painful time.

“The next contraction, we’re ready,” Jean-Claude said. “Take a deep breath. As deep as you can. The air is thin, but there’s enough for now…”

“Not for the baby, there isn’t,” Bertin replied mournfully. “He’ll suffocate as soon as he’s born. There’s not enough oxygen for him…”

“You need me,” somebody said. Marion and Jean-Claude both looked around to see one of the Bassia Coppa men standing close to them. “The child… has to breathe oxygen when it is born…”

“Yes,” Marion said.

“Then you need me. All that was said before … it’s true enough. Men of Bassia Coppa are little more than ornamental. But… there is one way in which I can be useful…”

“Oh, of course…” Jean-Claude laughed softly. “I had forgotten. It’s not just their gender roles that are different from most humanoid societies. Bassia Coppans have a different respiration to us. They breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen…”

Marion looked around and saw the other Bassia Coppan sitting close to the injured co-pilot, leaning over him and blowing air over his face. In other words, he was acting as a living, breathing, oxygen tent for the injured man.

And his companion could do the same for Bertin’s baby. He knelt by Jean-Claude, ready as Bertin prepared to push down and give birth to the child. Marion held him by the shoulders, and he gripped her tightly as he began to push. She looked at his face and spoke encouragingly to him. Jean-Claude told him to relax a few minutes and then push again. This time he strained hard and the baby’s head was there.

“Nearly done,” Marion told him. “One more push and it’s all over.”

“Oh, please let him be all right,” Bertin cried as he gripped her and pushed and Jean-Claude gave a triumphant cry. He lifted the child in his arms, holding it safely until the umbilical cord disintegrated by itself and then he passed it into the arms of the Bassia Coppan. He put his face close to the baby’s tiny face and breathed slowly and steadily. The baby opened its mouth and gave a soft cry as its lungs filled with oxygen. Bertin gave a cry of joy and reached out to hold his newborn son.

“Here he is,” the Bassia Coppan said passing the baby to him. Bertin held him close. Marion looked at the tiny but perfectly formed child. It did have red hair, just as Bertin said it would. And beautiful, bright eyes that focussed on the face of his parent as he opened his shirt to feed him for the first time.

Marion was so busy watching that wonderful moment between parent and child that she almost didn’t hear the most wonderful, heart-gladdening sound in the universe. It was dying away already when she stood and turned and saw the terrible gap where the cockpit used to be replaced by a bulkhead door. It opened slowly and Kristoph stepped out of his TARDIS. He was followed by Vulpesian paramedics to help the injured and traumatised passengers, and to attend to the newborn child and his parent, but Marion didn’t see any of that as she ran to his arms.

“How did you…” she began. “Of course, our TARDIS was in the hold of the ship. But why… didn’t they have an ordinary rescue craft?”

“If you could see the state of this shuttle from the outside, you’d wonder how it was holding together. There was no way to dock a rescue craft without shaking it to pieces.” He looked around to make sure that the co-pilot and navigator were put aboard the TARDIS, followed by Bertin and his baby. After them, the rest of the passengers and crew were evacuated. He took Marion’s hand and they stepped aboard the TARDIS. She breathed the cool, oxygen rich air and realised just how light-headed she had begun to feel. “I had to get special permission from the diplomatic service to use my TARDIS to effect a rescue. It’s time travel capability is prohibited under several charters. That’s why it was in the hold all this time. But once they accepted there was no other way of reaching you all… sorry it took so long.”

“It was frightening,” Marion said. “But now it’s over… Oh, come and see the baby. He’s absolutely beautiful. And… call the ship and tell the Mizzonian ambassador he has to be there to meet us when we materialise. I can’t wait to see his face when he sees his baby for the first time.”

“He’ll be there,” Kristoph assured her. He held her hand tightly as he double-checked that everyone was aboard and then pressed the fast return switch to bring them all straight back to the SS Isle of Capri.


Later that evening there was a reception as planned. But there were two new and important functions to take place. The first was a memorial for the Vulpesi shuttle pilot who died in the accident. Almost all of the staff of the SS Isle of Capri attended in their best dress uniforms, paying respect to their colleague. So did the delegates and their spouses.

And after that, a happier event. A naming ceremony was held in front of the whole assembly for Bertin and Grady’s baby. Marion and Claudia Jean both stood with the couple and pledged themselves as ‘Affido’ the Mizzonian equivalent of a godparent. And they were both pleased to hear that the child was named Rueben, the given name of the Bassia Coppan spouse who had saved his life when he was newborn.

“We’ll should visit Mizzone one of these days,” Kristoph said to Marion as they danced later. “It’s a very interesting planet. Wonderful people.”

“The universe has a lot of wonderful people,” Marion admitted. “But you’re still the most important one in my life.”