The Welcome Friend restaurant was gone. Where it should be was a huge hole in the ground, the remnants of its foundations. On the right, the despatch office for a Chinese food wholesaler was missing a wall. On the left, a three story building that sold Chinese musical instruments on the ground floor and was split into apartments above looked as if something had sliced it in half. All three floors were exposed to the elements.

“The people next door...” Marion asked.

“Evacuated along with everyone else in the affected area,” Jack Harkness confirmed. “According to the reports I’ve been getting on the way up here, they said there was a smell of smoke from the restaurant. Then all the fire alarms went off. Mr Ho Chong of the Mandarin Music Company says he ran outside in time to see a bright flash of light. When his vision cleared, the restaurant had disappeared. The other eyewitnesses concur. Mr Chong and anyone who actually saw it are being kept isolated from the other evacuated locals. We don’t want them spreading stories like that. Everyone else is making it up for themselves. There’s a whole lot of rumour, some Chinese superstitions being passed around. And that’s about it. Right now, nobody on the ground here has a clue. All U.N.I.T are doing is containing the situation.”

Jack looked at Kristoph, silently inviting him to venture an opinion about the situation.

“What’s your guess about what happened?” Kristoph asked him instead.

“The witnesses said they smelt smoke... That suggests to me that an ordinary common or garden fire broke out in the upper rooms... and it reached the Portal.”

“That’s why we saw fire,” Marion said. “When the Portal started to go wrong. If the room it was trying to reach was on fire...”

“It couldn’t complete the materialisation, so it dropped you out in the Cardiff Rift instead,” Jack surmised. “That explains that part of it all.”

“But a fire and an inter-spatial Portal...” Kristoph shook his head. “There can’t be anything more dangerous. Perhaps putting the receiver on top of a restaurant was a bad idea, after all. We’re lucky it only affected one building. The whole of Liverpool could have fallen into a rip in time.”

“That’s what happened to the restaurant?” Lily asked. “It fell into a rip in time?”

Jack Harkness again looked at Kristoph hopefully. That was the best answer yet to the questions running around his head for hours, now.

“Yes,” he replied.

“So... they’re lost... all of them?” Marion asked. “All the people? They’re gone for ever?”

“No,” Kristoph answered. “No, not yet. Nobody is to give up hope. I’m certainly not doing that.”

“You’re taking over?” Jack asked. There was something like relief on his face. “You know what to do?”

“I’ve got a TARDIS. It’s the only machine that can possibly find something lost in time.”

“Then, you’re going to try to find them?” Lily asked. “Kristoph... there is a chance Li is with them.”

“Yes, I know. I guessed as much when I couldn’t reach him. He must have gone to meet you three and was caught up in the rip along with everyone else. That’s why I think everyone has a chance of survival. A Time Lord caught in an interspatial anomaly…” He stopped talking. Jack was trying to keep up with what he was saying. The three women were completely bewildered. “I don’t have time to explain. Every second counts. Just trust me, all of you.”

“We trust you, Kristoph,” Hillary assured him. “What do you want us to do?”

“I want you all to keep yourselves safe. Captain, look after them. They’re under your protection. I’ll contact you when I know more.”

Marion was reluctant. All through this difficult night she had been thinking of Kristoph. Now he was here. She wanted him to stay here, not go into an interspatial anomaly, whatever that was.”

“I have to do it, Marion,” he told her. “For Li, and all the humans whose lives are at risk right now. Maybe even this whole city. So far the time rip is stable. I think the energy is probably being drained by the Cardiff Rift. But there’s a possibility… And nobody on this planet, not even Captain Harkness, as smart as he is, can do anything about it. This is my job. And yours is to stay safe.”

He reached and held her once, kissing her. Then he nodded to Jack. He stepped forward and took hold of her arm, bringing her away as Kristoph walked back to his TARDIS. Marion tried to turn back when she heard the dematerialisation sound, but Jack held her firmly. Hillary and Lily urged her on.

Li’s consciousness was fully aware of where he was and what was happening. But he could do nothing about it. He couldn’t help himself or any of the humans trapped with him. He knew they were alive, just. He could feel their almost dormant brain patterns around him. He knew that was the best thing for them. If the time rip repaired itself and threw them back out, they wouldn’t remember anything. If it ripped further and this foreign matter trapped within it was pulled to pieces, then they wouldn’t suffer.

He almost certainly would suffer. If his physical body was torn apart he was sure his consciousness would feel it in every excruciating detail. But there was nothing he could do to stop it.

And he didn’t want to stop it. Death would be a peaceful oblivion where nothing could hurt him. This half existence was an emotional torture.

“Lily.” Her name cut into him like a knife. The memory of her face, her form, turned it in his heart. Because he knew what had happened all too clearly. The Portal had malfunctioned and pulled everything in its immediate surroundings into this void between time and between space. At the same time, Lily and Marion and their friend Hillary, who were in the Portal, would have been pushed out. But the chances of them being pushed out safely into a breathable atmosphere were astronomical. It was almost too much to hope that they were alive.

And without them, especially without Lily, he had nothing left to live for. She had made his lonely life bearable in these past years. Her companionship, her love, physical and emotional, had given him a new purpose. Without her, he was just an old man who was a very long way from home.

Too far.

Lily and Hillary had never really been part of a culture where a cup of tea solves everything. But they gratefully clutched the cups given to them in U.N.I.T’s mobile command post. Around them people were busily working at banks of computers.

“You know, they’re not really doing anything much to solve the problem,” Lily pointed out. “All these computers. They’re mostly monitoring mobile phone traffic to make sure nobody is telling the Press about disappearing buildings. They’re part of a cover up. The only one even remotely doing anything else is that computer in the corner. That’s analysing the energy readings they’ve got from the site.”

Jack Harkness laughed softly and pulled up his sleeve. He opened the leather cover over the wide wristlet he wore. He quickly tapped at the very small control panel beneath and a swirling hologram appeared above it. He looked at it for several minutes.

“Meison energy off the scale, ionic residue. Low levels of gamma radiation.”

“Radiation?” Marion queried. “Is that dangerous?”

“It’s what makes travelling in the time vortex without some kind of protective capsule so nauseating. Vortex manipulators, time rings... they all expose the body to gamma radiation. It takes a strong stomach to do it regularly. TARDIS travel, that’s luxury.” He looked at Marion and smiled softly. “This rambling off on a tangent... it’s a habit I picked up hanging around with a Time Lord. All these readings tell us is that a hole in the vortex opened up on that spot. But we knew that anyway. The fact that a whole building disappeared proves it. They’re doing nothing in that corner, either. We’re all hoping that Marion’s husband can pull off a miracle for us. If he hadn’t turned up, we’d be clueless.”

“Kristoph can do it,” Hillary assured them. “He’s... very resourceful even for a Time Lord.” There was something in her expression when she said that. Jack Harkness recognised it straight away. Unrequited love.

“Yeah... he’s quite a guy,” Jack agreed. “You should meet his son. He’s all of that and more.”

Marion was disconcerted by that, but not displeased. The few clues she had about her future son gave her reason to be proud.

“Why aren’t you with him?” she asked. “If he means so much to you?”

“We were separated. Complicated story and too much of it is about future events you shouldn’t know about. But... I got lost. I found myself back on Earth. But that’s ok. Because I know if I stick around, I’ll find him. Or he’ll find me. And then it’ll all be fine.”

“So... you plan to stick around Earth for a while, yet?” Hillary asked him.

“Yes. It’s the one place I know he’ll come, sooner or later.”

“So... no chance of me persuading you to come to Haollstrom for a while and make up an interesting threesome with Claudia Jean and myself?”

Jack smiled widely at the idea, but he shook his head determinedly.

“No. I need to be here.”

“Then I’ll just have to make the most of you while I can.”

That idea obviously appealed to him, but he stiffened his resolve and reminded them all, if they needed reminding, that there were more important matters.

“Jack... what’s your wrist thing doing now?” Marion asked.

“It’s... not supposed to be doing anything,” he answered. He lifted his arm and looked at the hologram curiously. It seemed to be nothing but a swirling mist or smoke. Then Lily gave a soft cry.

“It’s Li... I can see him... he’s there. He’s calling out to me.”

At first nobody else could see what she could see. But slowly they began to make out a face in the swirling mass. It was Li, and he was calling out.

“He IS calling to you,” Jack confirmed. “I’m not just a pretty face, you know. I can lip read. He’s trying to tell you something.... I don’t think he knows you can see it. He’s just... reaching out in hope.”

“What is he saying?” Lily asked. “Not... not goodbye? Please tell me he hasn’t given up.”

“He hasn’t given up,” Jack told her. “He says... he loves you. Everyone needs to know that. And... hang on... let me concentrate... Yes. I’ve got it.”

Lily was disappointed when the hologram disappeared. But Jack needed to use his wristlet for another purpose. Marion gasped this time when the hologram resolved into an image of Kristoph’s face. Jack pressed buttons rapidly and it was clear that Kristoph had received the message.

“He says ‘I love you”, too,” Jack said as he turned off the hologram and closed the leather cover. “I presume he meant you, Marion, not me.”

“What did you do? What was all that?”

“Your friend Li sent a co-ordinate. The weirdest co-ordinate I’ve ever seen in my life. It had twelve dimensions to it. He couldn’t reach your man in the TARDIS. Too many shields on a ship like that preventing anything getting in. But he sensed the energy in my unprotected vortex manipulator... Maybe love came into it, too. I’m willing to take a few things on faith. Because he sent the message to you, Lily. But it was meant to be passed on to Kristoph.”

“And...” Marion clutched his arm anxiously. “Does that mean...”

The vortex manipulator gave a long, insistent beep. Jack glanced at it and smiled.

“Come on.” He grasped Marion and Hillary by the hand. Then he let go of Hillary’s hand and grabbed Lily, instead. “All of you, come on. I think...”

The computer that had been monitoring the energy readings at the site of the missing building was suddenly causing a lot of excitement among the U.N.I.T people. But none of them thought to go outside along with Jack and the ladies. They didn’t see the flash of light or hear the whooshing, whining, roaring noise and feel the massive rush of displaced air. The U.N.I.T personnel who were there to witness it were clearly expecting the rest of the street to disappear into thin air. There were orders to fall back. But Jack and the three women stood their ground. They watched as a Chinese foe dragon materialised first, but still groaning and straining as if it was pulling a wide, heavy load out of the vortex.

And it was. Before their eyes, the Welcome Friend restaurant materialised like an image on an old fashioned television that needed to warm up a bit before giving a clear picture. Then the door opened and Lily gave a scream as Li ran from the building. She ran to his arms and he hugged and kissed her almost as much as Kristoph hugged Marion when he emerged from his TARDIS.

“Captain, get those soldiers moving,” he called to Jack. “There are people unconscious in there. Get to the kitchens first. There may be burns and scalds to attend to. Then the others.”

Now there was something for them to do, the U.N.I.T soldiers became busily efficient. They quickly reported that the power and gas had been cut in the kitchen. There were no naked flames or dangerous electrics to worry about. The injuries were minimal. The customers and staff in the restaurant were starting to come around even as they were carried out and put into the back of Bedford trucks hastily requisitioned as ambulances.

“Everyone is accounted for,” Jack confirmed a little later. “No fatalities. No serious injuries.”

“They had ceased to exist in corporeal form for almost twenty hours,” Li said. “They were molecules held in an interspatial anomaly. So was the restaurant. But Kristoph’s TARDIS was able to lock onto the source of the anomaly and bring everyone back.”

“Only because you managed to pass on the co-ordinates for the source,” Lily reminded him.

“I thought you were dead,” Li told her. “I couldn’t dare hope you were alive. But then I felt something... a connection with Earth... and I felt you there.”

“It was the Captain’s vortex manipulator,” Marion said. “We were standing right beside him when he operated it.”

“Whatever it was, it gave me hope... the strength to reach out and find a contact.”

“That was the Captain again,” Lily told him. “He did well.”

“We made a good team,” Kristoph agreed. “Marion, I’m afraid the Portal is severely damaged. It will take at least a month for the temporal engineers to make it operational again. So you’ll have to come home by TARDIS.”

“Not yet,” she said. “I would still like to have that day in Liverpool that we planned. Li can’t go back to his house, yet, because Chinatown is still cordoned off. So why don’t we all go into the city centre for lunch. Jack, too. I think Hillary would like that.”

“Would she, indeed?” Kristoph looked at his Haolstromnian friend and smiled widely. “Captain, I hope you know what you’re letting yourself in for.”

“I do,” Jack assured him. “Hillary isn’t the first Gendermorph whose pheromones have wafted my way. I was thinking of booking a room for the night, actually. I don’t fancy driving back to Cardiff today. So if you know a good hotel with a lunch menu we’re all happy.”

Marion knew many hotels which satisfied that criteria. One at least had its own beauty parlour and boutique, so the objectives of their ladies day in Liverpool were fulfilled all in one place. At least they were for Marion and Lily. As they drank coffee in a nicely appointed lounge bar after lunch and debated whether to have a sauna or a herbal wrap and massage Hillary slipped away. Of course, Jack Harkness was with her.

“With HIM,” Marion corrected herself. “They looked rather sweet together. I didn’t realise Jack was....”

“He’s from the fifty-first century,” Kristoph reminded her with a wry smile on his own face. “It won’t last. But as long as it does, good luck to them both.”