All three seats in the Portal were now filled. Lily and Marion had travelled from Gallifrey to Haollstrom IV. Hillary, dressed in an elegant linen suit and woollen coat with fur hat and muff stepped aboard at the Portal link beside her lighthouse. Now they were on their way to Liverpool to spend a ladies day out together. They planned to start with shopping, then lunch, then an afternoon at Marion’s favourite beauty parlour and tea in Chinatown with Li when it was all done. They were happy, looking forward to a pleasant day together.

“I thought there were beauty parlours in the Capitol on Gallifrey,” Hillary said. “Aren’t they any good?”

“They’re fine,” Marion replied. “The staff there treat me like I’m a VIP.”

“You are a VIP,” Hillary pointed out. You are the wife of the Lord High President.”

“Exactly. In Liverpool, I’m just another customer. That’s good enough for me.”

Her friends laughed gently at the lengths Marion went to in order to avoid the trappings of her status.

They stopped laughing as the Portal lurched suddenly. Hillary slid from her seat. Lily and Marion managed to hold onto theirs, but they rose to their feet and backed away when the viewscreen shattered and flames licked around it hotly.

“What happened?” Hillary asked as she struggled to stand up.

“The Portal is damaged,” Lily answered. “Something is wrong.”

“Can we get out?”

Smoke was filling the room, but they could still feel a faint vibration. They hadn’t reached their destination. The door wouldn’t open.

“We’re trapped,” Marion said. “We can’t get out until it gets to Liverpool. And…”

The vibration stopped. On the melting, burning control panel a light turned green. Marion reached for the door release. It was hot and she burnt her fingers, but the lever slid across. She felt cooler air behind her. She turned and ran for the open door. Hillary and Lily were with her.

They turned back and looked at the Portal. They were surprised to see that it wasn’t a wardrobe in a bedroom in Liverpool. It was a wooden door, set into a crumbling old brick wall in a dark alleyway.

“Wait,” Marion said. “My handbag. It was on the floor by the controls.”

“Mine, too,” Lily added. Hillary had also left her bag down when she took her seat. She went back to the door and pushed it open. There was nothing there but an old shed with a broken bicycle in it.

“We’ve lost the portal,” she said.

“Most of my money and credit cards and my mobile phone were in my bag,” Marion said mournfully. “I’ve just got a bit of loose change in my coat pocket. About five pounds.”

Lily and Hillary didn’t even have that. And being without money or means of communication was only the first of their problems.

“It’s night,” Lily noted. “That can’t be right. It should have been morning. The Portal works in real time and we were supposed to arrive at ten o’clock in the morning.”

“The Portal went badly wrong,” Marion guessed. “We’re not where we should be. Maybe we shifted a few hours in time, too?”

“It’s not very good weather,” Hillary pointed out. She shivered and pulled her coat around her. Marion and Lily did the same. In fact, ‘not very good weather’ was something of a diplomatic understatement. The rain was bitterly cold and there was a wind blowing.

“It’s October,” Marion reminded them. “We expected rain. We didn’t plan to be out in it much. We certainly didn’t expect to be here in the dark.”

“Let’s get a taxi,” Lily suggested. “We can go to Li. He’ll pay the fare when we arrive. He has a vid-screen. He can contact Kristoph to let him know we’re safe. And we’ll be perfectly all right in his apartment.”

That seemed like the best idea. They looked around and noticed that the alleyway stretched for about twenty yards either way. There was dim light either end. They turned right and walked the twenty yards, only to find themselves in a small cobbled street lit by just one remaining working lamp. From its light they saw that the terraced houses were all boarded up. Some had the roofs missing. Nobody lived there.

Marion spotted what looked like a telephone box. But when they got close to it they could see it was no use to them. The windows were all broken and the phone had been wrenched off the wall completely.

“Where are we?” Lily asked.

“I’m not sure,” Marion answered. “It’s deserted. This area must be due for demolition. There are a lot of old parts of Liverpool like this. I don’t recognise it at all. But then one terraced street looks like another.

“We’d better keep moving.” Hillary suggested. She looked at her friends. They were all wearing good quality clothes and plenty of jewellery. “This might not be a good place to wear diamonds,” she added. “Or fur hats and muffs. We need to hurry.”

They hurried. But they didn’t know if they were hurrying away from danger or towards it. They were already quite clearly lost even before they turned into another long street full of abandoned houses. This one was even worse because it didn’t even have a working street light in it. They turned left this time because they reasoned that continually turning right would just take them in circles.

Then they came to the end of another derelict terraced street and found themselves looking at a dark expanse of water.

Marion looked out across the darkness to the faint line of lights on the other side that told them this was a wide river with another town or city on the other side. She looked as far as she was able to see along this side of the water. Then she shook her head.

“We’re not in Liverpool,” she said. “This is not the River Mersey.”

“Are you sure?” Hillary asked. “I mean... the Mersey is a big river, isn’t it? Maybe this is a part of it you don’t know very well?”

“No,” Marion answered. “This doesn’t look like a river at all. It’s much wider. More like an estuary. And there should be lights. We should be able to see Birkenhead, Wallasey, even New Brighton on the other side. This isn’t right at all.”

“There’s a road that goes along the waterside,” Lily said. “If we follow it, it has to go somewhere. Come on. At the worst, we could be walking all night. In the morning, when it’s light, I expect it won’t seem as bleak.”

That was hardly a happy prospect. It was still raining and here, by the water’s edge, the wind cut even more bitterly. But Lily was right. It was the only thing they could do. They clutched hands together and carried on walking.

They had gone only a short way, though, when they became aware that they were not alone. Somebody was following them. They quickened their pace, but the footsteps behind them quickened even more. None of them dared to look around. It sounded like one person, but it could be more.

“Let me handle this.” Marion felt Hillary’s hand tighten on hers, then heard his voice gruffly by her ear before he let go of her and turned around. Hillary had changed to his male form. The would be mugger was surprised when what he thought was a vulnerable woman turned out to be a man who was well versed in fist fighting.

The fight didn’t last very long. The stranger struck out, but Hillary blocked him and came back with a blow to his jaw that sent him reeling. Lily gasped as something metallic flew from the assailant’s hand. He had been armed with a small penknife. But it was no good to him now. Hillary punched again and he hit the ground hard.

“He looks like a down and out,” Marion said as Hillary bent over the unconscious man and examined him. “He wanted our money. Leave him be. Let’s get away as fast as we can.”

“The underwear is uncomfortable, but I think it would be a good idea if I kept this form for a while,” Hillary said. “Traditional ideas of a man protecting women seem to come into play here.”

“I wish I knew where here was,” Lily complained. “That’s the frightening thing. Or when. If we’re not in Liverpool, then we could be anywhere and at any time. We might not even be on Earth.”

“I’m sure we ARE on Earth,” Marion said. “That man... he didn’t say much, but what he did say was in English. And we must be in my own era more or less. The few street lamps we have seen are modern concrete ones with electric fittings. We’re not somewhere really difficult like Victorian times.”

“I suspect we’ve been knocked a few hours forward and a few hundred miles off course,” Hillary reasoned. “Something threw the portal out of its usual track. But not so very badly as it might have done. When you think about the huge distance we travel across space, we’re fortunate to be on a civilised planet. Or, indeed, a planet at all.”

“We should be grateful for a breathable atmosphere, you mean?” Lily laughed ironically. They all thought about that for a little while and then dismissed it from their minds. It was just too horrible to contemplate.

And it didn’t make walking along a cold, wet, empty and largely unlit road any easier.

“This seems to be an abandoned dock area,” Marion commented after a while. “Look at those cranes. They were used for getting freight containers off the ships. It... looks like one of the parts of Liverpool docks where they’re redeveloping. But it isn’t, I’m sure of it. The water doesn’t look right. I was born in Birkenhead. I know what it looks like at night. This isn’t any part of Liverpool’s waterfront that I know.”

“Liverpool isn’t the only city on Earth with disused docks, surely?” Lily suggested.

“No. It’s not even the only one in Britain. Imports and exports are done differently nowadays. The Eurotunnel means a lot of stuff comes by road or train. They don’t need big docks to unload huge boats any more. So they’re being closed and changed all over. Mostly they’re being turned into residential areas. The old warehouses become flats and offices and the docks become marinas for pleasure yachts. They’ve already done that to a lot of Liverpool’s waterfront. Look at the Albert Dock and all around there. But there’s lots more, further along the river, still derelict and abandoned. Except I am sure this isn’t it.”

“But wherever this is, it’s the same?” Hillary surmised. “Another English port town undergoing the same changes?”

“Yes. But I don’t know where. I mean... I don’t wander around Liverpool’s waterfront at night, let alone any other city. I don’t recognise anything.”

Lily got ready to say something, then she gave a cry of fear. Again, they were not alone. This time, though, there was more than one shadowy figure coming closer. Four, five men in dark coats and hats pulled down over their faces drew nearer very slowly, but in such a way that they knew they couldn’t run. Hillary crouched and picked something up from the ground. Marion saw that it was a stone. He closed it in his fist. It would make his punch all the harder when he defended them. Marion wondered briefly where a Haollstromnian aristocrat learnt the art of street fighting. She knew he would defend them with his last breath. Hillary in both male and female form was brave and resourceful. But she wasn’t sure he was resourceful enough to fight five men at once. They were in very serious trouble.

Then one of the men shouted to the others and they backed off. Lily gave a gasp of relief as they heard the sound that had scared away their attackers.

“It’s a car,” Marion said. She looked around and saw the headlamps getting closer. Then she recognised something else about it. “Hillary... I think you should turn into a woman again. It might seem a bit strange...”

She stepped into the road, almost directly in the path of the oncoming car, and waved frantically. To her relief, it stopped. As it did she noticed its markings. Then she noticed the lettering that went with the markings, and at least part of their puzzle was answered. She sighed with relief as the policeman got out of the car and asked if they were all right.

“No, we’re not,” she managed to say. “We’re lost, and scared and...”

Marion fainted. Until that moment she hadn’t realised just how cold she actually was, or how scared, and it all became just too much for her. Hillary caught her in her arms and told the policeman to help.