Marion smiled as she watched her husband, a noble and dignified Time Lord, Magister of the Southern Continent, Patriarch of one of the Twelve Ancient Oldblood Houses, descended from Rassilon himself, kneeling down beside a water reed covered pond and breaking up pieces of bread for his little girl to throw to the ducks. For all his sophistication, his huge intellect, his amazing talent, he really did seem content doing that.

Not that it surprised Marion. She knew him too well. But it would certainly surprise some of his colleagues back home on Gallifrey. Those who were used to seeing him in the Magistry in Athenica dressed in his formal gown of office would be very surprised to see him now in an old tweed jacket like the one he was wearing the day she first met him. That time he was in a full suit and looked so very much the consummate university professor. Today the jacket was accompanied by a black shirt and corduroy pants for a surprisingly casual look. She was wearing a simple cotton sun dress that was a far cry from the gowns she wore even for a quiet afternoon at home in her white suite entertaining Lily or Aineytta or any of her other lady friends. She felt relatively liberated from the conventions of her Gallifreyan social life as she and Kristoph spent a quiet day in the park.

The park in question was on the planet of Callista Minor, and it was an Earth colony. The park, the pond, and the ducks, or their ancestors at least, were all imported to the planet some fifty years before when it was terraformed and turned into a new Human planet.

Marion looked up at the sky. It was blue, the same shade of blue as an Earth summer in the temperate northern hemisphere. It could have been Lancashire or Yorkshire, or Kent if she didn’t know better. The sun looked the same size and colour as the Earth sun. Needless to say the trees were the sort that could be found in the English countryside, oaks and chestnuts, beeches and larch with their different shades and shapes and textures.

“What is it about us… Humans… we spread out across the universe and make the new planets just like Earth.”

“I don’t know why it is,” Kristoph answered. “But I always found it rather endearing. Human tenacity. You are a wonderful race, really.”

“That’s not a very Gallifreyan opinion,” Marion said with a soft laugh. “You’re supposed to think that we’re inferior and beyond your notice.”

“Anyone who thinks that has sadly underestimated humanity,” Kristoph said in a tone that was much more sincere and serious than Marion’s half-humorous thoughts on the matter had been. “You do have disadvantages compared to the higher intelligences like ourselves. Your relatively short lifespans are your chief weakness. It restricts the capacity of any one Human to stretch his or herself physically or intellectually.”

“You mean we get old too quickly?”

“Far too quickly,” he answered. He was speaking of the Human race generally, of course, not just herself, though that was something that was often in their thoughts. “Humans get old. Their genius dies with them and the best they can hope is that others will continue what they have begun. A Time Lord… even at the end of his life, all that he is and was, his thoughts, his genius, is added to the Matrix, and is never really lost. But Human endeavour so easily turns to dust.” Kristoph sighed as if that was a tragedy he rued bitterly. “But humans are so inventive and imaginative. What could one man achieve if he could live as long as Time Lord? What would he do with that life?”

“Why do you live longer lives than we do?” Marion asked. “I never questioned it… I never thought to ask. But… living as long as a hundred years always seemed like a good, full life to me. Then I met you and tried to imagine somebody who was born before Stonehenge was built. And it is quite mind-boggling. Even when I reach out and touch you and feel ordinary flesh and blood just like my own.”

Kristoph smiled as she did just that. She reached out and touched his hand and felt the warmth of his blood running through his veins. Yes, he was living flesh. He was a mortal being, even if his mortality was measured differently to her species.

“There are a few individuals in the universe – rare beings – who are truly immortal. I sometimes try to think what it would be like to be a million years old. And it is a difficult thing to imagine. I can only think that those individuals are so terribly lonely, watching the millennia pass and whole races live and die within their endless lifespan. I am glad I am mortal. I would not wish to be such a lonely soul as that.”

Marion considered that, but it was too huge a thing for her to encompass all at once. Kristoph paused in thought again before continuing.

“To answer your question… it’s not so much why we live such long lives as why you live such short ones. The humanoid species, especially those who originated on the planet called Earth, are unusually short-lived. There are myths and legends about why that is.”

“Such as…”

“Such as the one that held that humans once had long lives, too. they were equal to their gods in that respect. And the gods were perfectly happy for them to be so.”

Kristoph paused and broke up more bread from their picnic leftovers. He and Marion both watched Rodan standing by the small wrought iron fence that came up to her waist as she threw the bread to the gaggle of noisy and demanding ducks.

“This sounds like a story that’s going to turn bad, soon.” Marion noted.

“Humans lived long lives, and they were fruitful and multiplied. They became so numerous they could challenge the power and superiority of the gods, to demand that they should be not only equal to them, but superior to them. And as you can imagine, gods don’t really want to be inferior to their subjects.”

“No… I suppose not. So…”

“Well, they had two options. They could cull the Human race, reduce their numbers… or they could limit their power by cutting the length of their lives much sooner than before. The Human life span was reduced to less than a hundred years and health and vigour for half that in most case. And that was the way your race was to remain forever more.”

“Do you think there is any truth in that?” Marion asked.

“In my experience there is truth underlying most legends,” Kristoph replied. “As for that one, there are quite a few reasons to think there is something in it. First… the fact that so many races throughout the universe are similar in appearance. Now that the Earth-born Human race is spread so widely throughout the galaxy it is not easy to tell them apart at a mere glance. But I know personally of at least fifty uniquely different humanoid species within this sector alone.”

“Haolstromnians,” Marion said, thinking of Hillary and Claudia Jean and others of that fascinating race. “Mizzonians… Venturans.”

“Quite so, and I can think also of Tiborans, Minyans, many more. So the case for some divine race having seeded all the planets is a strong one. And I should add that some Gallifreyan philosophers believe we were the gods who were challenged by the teeming masses of mankind and sought to restrict the length of Human life.

Marion thought about that and shivered. It seemed such a huge thing to contemplate.

“There are hints of it in your Earth mythology, of course. Greek and Roman legends have the gods seeking to control their mortal subjects. And there are references in Judeo-Christian holy texts. Adam and Eve lived full, long lives until they sinned and were punished by having their children’s lifespans much reduced.”

“It still sounds very scary,” Marion admitted.

“Yes, it is. But… that’s what is so magnificent. The Human race has been subdued by their gods, and yet they still fight back. They still strive to be equal with their gods. They have overcome so many obstacles. In this time, hunger and poverty and many diseases that shorten life have been overcome. That hundred year limit is overcome more and more. Their technology allows them to stand tall among races who might consider themselves superior. And they have continued to multiply until they are the single most populous race in the galaxies they have colonised.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“It’s good for humanity. It makes them powerful. It makes their gods realise they have to take them seriously. That’s why Time Lords who sneer at Humans do so at risk of their own humiliation. We are a small race. There is barely half a billion of us all told. A fraction of the Human race. And too many of us are content to watch the universe and play no part in it. We have to treat Humans as our equals or they may well be our downfall.”

“Humans as lords over the Time Lords. Lord Ravenswode would die first.”

“I am sure he would. For that matter, I am proud enough of my blood to want to fight any race that would be master of us. But I am happy to think that the Human race can hold its head up before us. As for one particular Human…”

He smiled widely and reached to take her hands in his. She smiled back at him. He had been speaking of the Human race in general, but she knew that his interest in her race was also a very specific one. He admired humanity, but he loved her. He, a god amongst the races of the universe, loved her, a short-lived, terribly mortal Human, and that was the most wonderful thing of all.

He leaned forward to kiss her and kept on doing so until disturbed by a squeal from Rodan accompanied by an angry hiss. He looked around to see the ducks scattering as a huge swan raised its wings angrily, towering above the little girl. Kristoph was on his feet at once. He grabbed her into his arms and held out one hand, palm extended. Marion watched as the angry bird seemed to be transfixed by his hand and his deep burning eyes. The swan’s wings folded and it seemed to shrink back as it turned and swam away.

“I stand equal with mankind,” he said. “But I am still master over the birds of the air and the creatures that swim in the water or crawl upon the land.”

Marion agreed. She took Rodan from him and suggested a visit to the zoo on the other side of the park. There were animals from all parts of the Human homeworld of Earth there. Rodan would be fascinated to see them. They would be a wonderful memory for her to carry through her future life. And some of them might be mighty enough to challenge the haughty claim Kristoph had just made. An angry swan might defer to his godliness, but she didn’t think an elephant or a Bengal tiger would be subdued by him.

“I hope I shan’t have to try,” he said. “Even gods should know their limitations.”