Only a week after the incident with the would-be mobsters, Marion visited Liverpool again. She and Rodan met Li at the Welcome Friend for a brunch of seaweed soup and spring rolls with green tea before they went shopping.

Buying chocolate biscuits and PG Tips at Tesco wasn’t something the venerable Time Lord in the guise of an equally venerable elderly Chinaman was especially interested in, but he loved Marion deeply and adored Rodan. Spending the day in the mundane surroundings of a Liverpool shopping centre with them was something he was glad to do.

The first port of call when the taxi from Liverpool Chinatown dropped them outside the Clayton Square Centre was Mothercare. Marion lost no time buying a whole newborn layette for Mia Reidluum’s soon-to-be-born baby. She also gave in to temptation and bought a half dozen baby girl dresses. She just couldn’t resist them, and the thought of Mia’s new daughter wearing dresses made and sold on Earth pleased her.

Mothercare incorporated a branch of the Early Learning Centre. Marion bought toys for Jari Reidluum who was soon to have a little sister. These toys were for Human children several years older than the young Oldblood heir, but he was Gallifreyan and ready for more advanced and complex games.

“I know I shouldn’t,” Marion admitted. “I have heard some of the ladies criticise my introduction of ‘foreign’ ideas into an Oldblood house. But I don’t believe a My First Violin will pervert little Jari from his true destiny as a Time Lord of Gallifrey. Surely even Gallifreyan children can start appreciating music from an early age.”

Li smiled inscrutably. Marion frowned.

“What? Do you think I MIGHT do that?”

“No, you won’t,” he assured her. “Not with a plastic violin or frilly dresses for the baby. Perhaps Jari will grow up to be an accomplished musician. That is considered a suitable leisure occupation for a gentleman, and nobody has ever objected to a young lady who liked wearing pretty clothes. But remember that neither of the Reidluum children are ever likely to live anywhere other than the Capitol. They may never leave Gallifrey. It won’t do to encourage them to dream of other worlds.”

“I will never understand that. Time Lords have the power to go anywhere, anytime, and most of them never go any place at all.”

“It’s BECAUSE we can go anywhere and anytime that we don’t,” Li answered her. “If every one of the billion souls on Gallifrey travelled all the time, causality would be irreparably damaged. Even the few of us who do time travel, for the good reasons we do it, leave a huge footprint in the landscape of history. We must be careful. That’s why most of our people don’t travel. We are content to watch the universe from our own world’s perspective.”

“I should consider myself lucky to have gone to so many places by TARDIS, then,” Marion considered. “Rodan, too.”

“I like travelling,” Rodan said. “When I grow up I want to be like papa and go to lots of places.”

“Then you shall have to become a diplomat, child,” Li told her. “Just like your good papa.”

“Or travel on a freighter like grandpa,” she added.

Li and Marion exchanged satisfied glances. Rodan was in regular contact with her grandfather now that his ship was on its return journey from deep space. She talked about him often. She had not lost her connection with her blood relation even though she thought of Kristoph as her papa.

Li, too, had not lost his connection to Gallifrey. It was significant that he said ‘we’ when talking about Time Lord habits.

“Dresses,” Rodan said, heading towards a branch of British Home Stores. Marion smiled indulgently. The following half hour was very dull for Li as both she and Rodan both indulged in trying on clothes. Earth was one of the few places in the galaxy where it was possible to buy off-the-peg dresses. Almost everywhere else, including Gallifrey, gowns were made by seamstresses to order. It was a treat to enjoy looking at so many finished products and to buy them on the spot.

“I should hate for Rosanda to see us enjoying that so much,” Marion admitted as they took their BHS carrier bags and headed for the coffee shop for refreshments. “It is quite disloyal of me to enjoy buying ready-mades.”

“I am sure she will forgive you,” Li assured her. He found them seats and waved to the waitress with the imperiousness of his aristocratic birth. She came immediately and took their order for coffee and cakes.

They had just been served when this perfectly ordinary shopping expedition turned into something strange, something Marion absolutely didn’t expect in Liverpool.

Time stopped. The waitress froze mid-step. The customers stopped eating. They stopped talking. The announcement about a wrongly parked car over the public address system stopped mid-sentence. Everything stopped.

“What is it?” Marion asked as Li stood up and checked the waitress, confirming that she was merely suspended in time.

“It’s a temporal freeze,” he answered. “Time is standing still in a limited field – perhaps the food court, or the whole shopping centre. It is unlikely to be wider than that. it would take too much power.”

“Why aren’t we affected?”

“We live outside of time,” Li explained. “We have all travelled in the vortex. It marks us out, and makes us immune to such things.”

“Who did it?” Rodan asked.

“That is an excellent question, little one.” Li was looking all around him carefully. “My dear friends, sit very still, as if you, too, are affected. It will protect you.”

“Protect us from what?” Marion asked the question even as she sat still and quiet, her hand touching the side of the cruet set. For Rodan it was a game, though a serious one. She sat as still as a statue, her arms at her side.

“I’m not sure, but this elaborate use of temporal power was not for trivial purposes.”

Li moved slowly away from the table, looking all around him for a movement among the frozen people.

Then he spotted it – Marion was looking the same direction and saw it, too. The creature was about her height, but unnaturally thin with even skinnier limbs. She was reminded of a stick insect. It was even a mottled green colour that might be camouflage in the wild.

“It’s taking that baby!” Marion whispered loudly. The creature had gone to a pram safely parked beside the mother – frozen in the act of drinking her coffee.

Li nodded slightly and moved slowly towards the creature. It was too intent on its mission to notice him. It did, indeed, appear to be taking the baby out of the pram, but it was putting something else in its place.

A changeling! Marion had heard the Human legends of fairies taking babies and putting their own children in their place. They were colourful stories, but she had never taken them seriously.

Now she was seeing it happen in front of her eyes. She saw Li freeze as the creature, carrying the baby, came towards him. He waited until it drew level before he moved quickly, grabbing the creature by the stick insect neck.

“The baby!” Marion cried out, but Rodan had moved quickly. She caught the child in her own arms as it fell from the creature’s grasp and dodged out of the way. She found her seat again and held the baby while Li subdued the creature. It fought viciously, kicking and scratching with its limbs and trying to bite him, but he was stronger and finally managed to render it helpless by knotting its arms and legs together. The skinny creature folded up into a bundle only a bit larger than a frozen turkey from the supermarket.

“Marion, get the Claw Icesin child,” Li called out. “Rodan, take the baby. Quickly. The temporal freeze won’t last long. We must do it before the mother knows something is wrong.”

Marion ran to the pram. She reached carefully and grabbed the ugly miniature creature by one leg. It squealed and tried to bite her but she kept it at arms length as she took it back to Li. Rodan, meanwhile, gently put the baby back in the pram and tucked the blankets around it.

She was still looking in at the baby when the sounds and the movement around her came back. The mother looked around and was surprised to see her there.

“Pretty baby,” she said with a disarming smile. She brushed the infant face tenderly and then moved away. The mother went back to her coffee.

In the last seconds before the freeze ended, Li had taken the gangly baby from Marion and tied its limbs in the same way he had dealt with the adult. He put both the adult and child into the largest of the British Home Stores carrier bags, leaving them under the table as he took his seat and waited for his coffee to arrive.

“Can you telephone Kristoph?” he asked very calmly, giving the rustling carrier bag a firm kick. “Tell him we have captured a Claw Icesin and its infant. He will know what to do with it.”

“What IS a Claw Icesin?” Marion asked. Everything seemed quite normal around them now. People were talking to each other and eating their snacks as if nothing had happened. As far as they were concerned nothing HAD happened. The frozen time was no more than an eyeblink to them.

And there they were with the alien in a carrier bag under the table.

“It’s like a cuckoo in the Earth bird world. Except more unpleasant. It leaves its young in the nests of others – the pram – and takes the real child. The mother is left under a charm, believing that the Icesan is her own baby. You can imagine what happens when it grows.”

Marion didn’t want to imagine that. She glanced at the woman whose baby had been taken and felt glad they had stopped a terrible thing happening.

“What will happen to it?” she asked. “Kristoph… will he kill it… the parent… or the child.”

“There is a section of Shada for extra-terrestrial creatures – banned lifeforms. Claw Icesani are on the proscribed list. They will be cryogenically frozen – alive, but immobile.”

Marion knew about Shada, of course. It was a horrible place. But she could think of no greater crime than stealing babies. The creature deserved its punishment.

They were on their second coffee when Kristoph arrived. Li gave the carrier bag another kick and ordered a cappuccino for him. He sat and drank it and admired Rodan’s new dress.

“You’ll still have plenty of shopping to do, yet,” he said to Marion.

“Rodan and I were going to have our hair and nails done,” she answered. Again the ordinariness of it all was amazing. “And we might go to the cinema for a few hours. That’s if you don’t mind?”

“I’m going to be busy sorting out those two unwanted guests,” Kristoph admitted. “I shall almost certainly be late for dinner. So there’s nothing to rush home for.”

“We shall see you before bedtime, then,” Marion told him. He kissed her and Rodan, and shook hands with Li, then he picked up all of the carrier bags, the ones with shopping as well as the one containing the prisoners. He left quickly before anyone noticed that one of the bags was still rustling occasionally.

“That saves dragging a lot of bags into the beauty salon,” Li said. “I shall be quite bored, of course. But all men are in such places, Time Lord or Human.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed with a wide smile. With the creatures gone she could, at last, take the ordinariness of the shopping centre for granted and enjoy the rest of her afternoon.