The evening offworld went well. They dined at the renowned Taurus Restaurant in the Crab Nebula Hilton Space Hotel and then joined a shuttle tour of the eponymous nebula. It included a commentary that was not too scientific to understand. Marion felt as if she understood more about nebulae than she had ever known before.

At least she did while the shuttle was flying through the most incredible space she had ever seen. Later, when they were in the TARDIS, heading home to Gallifrey, she was less sure.

“I feel as if I’m forgetting it all,” she admitted. “It all seemed so obvious when we were there, but now it’s getting complicated again.”

“Human brains leak so easily!” Kristoph remarked.

“They do not,” Marion protested.

“No, they don’t. I was kidding you. What is happening is that your brain is filing the information in deep storage where it will remain until you need it. That’s how any mind works.”

“I can’t imagine ever needing to know how the Crab Nebula was formed or how long ago it happened. What does puzzle me is how come it is known as the Crab Nebula even by people who come from desert planets where they can’t possibly have crabs. In any case, it was only called that because the first Human astronomer looking at it from Earth through a telescope thought it looked like a crab. It doesn’t look like one from any other point in space.”

“Humans are the most common species in the galaxy, and they named everything. Since the Time Lords called it X-Omega-24, I’m quite happy with the Human title – its far more descriptive, even if not quite accurate.”

“Anyway, it was a nice evening,” Marion admitted.

“You can choose somewhere nicely down to Earth next week. Fish and chip supper on Blackpool Promenade….”

“I’ll decide before next weekend,” Marion promised. “Meanwhile, I’ll be happy to get back to Gallifrey. As long as you don’t argue with that annoying woman about the Transduction Barrier again.”

“I didn’t argue. I put her in her place,” Kristoph answered. “There is a special sector of hell for traffic wardens and civil servants and an alcove all to themselves for Transduction Barrier operators who are both traffic warden AND civil servant.”

Marion laughed. Then she gave a soft scream. They had slipped out of the vortex in Gallifreyan space. She could see the planet on the viewscreen, but the TARDIS was acting very oddly. They seemed at first to be rushing towards the planetary atmosphere at a disturbing rate, and then to be rushing away from it. At one point it looked as if they were skimming through the upper strata of the atmosphere leaving friction trails of orange fire in their wake.

“What’s happening?” Marion asked.

“I’m not sure,” Kristoph answered. “It’s as if the Transduction Barrier isn’t there, for one thing, and I’m having trouble locking onto a landing site. The helmic regulator is basically – not regulating anything.”

Marion had never known what the helmic regulator did, anyway, but she grasped the fact that the TARDIS was not responding properly and they were in trouble.

“Are we going to crash?” she asked.

“Yes,” Kristoph admitted. “The only question is how hard and how fast. Sit down and brace yourself for impact. I don’t know if the gravity cushions have initiated. It might be painful.”

Marion sat. The gravity cushions were not operating. She grabbed some ordinary foam cushions and wedged herself in with them as Kristoph wrestled to bring the TARDIS to land safely.

Of course that wasn’t nearly enough protection as the TARDIS entered the atmosphere and was rocked and buffeted dangerously. She felt herself sliding off the seat. She grabbed hold of a stanchion firmly welded to the metal floor and held on tight. The seat cushions fell around her and she hoped they might protect her from the worst of the impact.

“Marion, we’re experiencing temporal distortion,” Kristoph called out to her, his voice sounding as if it was coming from a great distance. “The TARDIS shell will protect us, but you might experience disorientation. Try to concentrate on something. It will relieve the less pleasant aspects.”

“Concentrate on what?” Marion asked. The crab nebula came to mind and she seized upon it, reciting every fact that she had so recently learnt.

“The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula in the constellation of Taurus….”

“Recorded by Chinese astronomers on Earth in AD1054. Recorded in 1731 by Englishman John Bevis.”

“At the centre of the nebula lies the Crab Pulsar, a neutron star... which emits pulses of radiation from gamma rays to radio waves.”

“One of the many nebular anomalies of the Crab is a helium-rich torus which is visible as an east-west band crossing the pulsar region…..”

“….A super-Asymptotic giant branch star…. Super-Asymptomatic….”

Marion groaned and opened her eyes. She looked up to see Kristoph smiling wryly.

“We’ve landed,” he said. “Not too badly, either.”

“What in Creation was I saying?” Marion asked. “What is a… a… super…Assim… branch…. What AM I talking about?”

“It’s the type of star believed to have gone supernova and created the Crab nebula. Funny thing is, you didn’t hear THAT on the tour. It’s far too complicated for a tourist commentary. You must have assimilated that from some other source. The brain is an amazing thing.”

“You said that we’ve landed,” Marion said as he helped her to her feet. “Where?”

“On Gallifrey,” Kristoph confirmed. “That much I have managed to establish. I think we’re on the southern plain. But we’re far from home, and we ARE stranded until I can do some urgent repairs or I can contact somebody to come and get us.”

“Oh dear,” Marion remarked. It was the best she could do. She still felt very strange from the landing. But at least they were alive, and safe within the TARDIS.

“Surely contacting somebody isn’t difficult,” she added. “We can send messages of some sort?”

“I’ve set the emergency transponder pulse, as well as the presidential code in binary. That ought to bring help VERY quickly. I haven’t been able to make any kind of contact by the video-com or audio communicator. I think those might have been damaged on impact.”

“We might only be a few miles from home, but we can’t tell anyone,” Marion summarised. “We can’t call for our own limousine to come and get us.”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“I’ll make some tea,” Marion decided. “Perhaps somebody will come looking for us by the time it’s made.”

“I’ll start running a diagnostic programme,” Kristoph resolved. “It might be something perfectly simple.”

They were both being optimistic, but what was the alternative? Marion headed to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Kristoph opened up a panel beneath the console and began examining the array of complex circuitry and wiring to find the faulty parts.

When she returned with a tea tray he was in the middle of a conversation with somebody via the audio communications panel. Somebody had made contact.

“What is your capsule designation again, sir?” asked the communications technician. “I don’t seem to be able to find the registration.”

“Apha-Gamma-56-98-Io-Omega-Kappa,” Kristoph replied, enunciating each letter of the complex Gallifreyan alphabet carefully. “But you might find it faster under the presidential code 567-Lambda-9-Sec-801.”

“Presidential code?” the voice sounded puzzled. “But….”

There was a silence - not a static noise but absolute silence - from the other end of the transmission. Then the voice was there once again.

“I’m sorry, sir, there is no capsule registration and that other code does not compute in any way.”

“What does she mean?” Marion asked.

“I have a very dreadful feeling that I KNOW,” Kristoph answered her. He turned back to the microphone. “Never mind all that for now. Have you been able to trace my location? The capsule is very badly damaged and we are stranded. Please send help. Explanations can wait until we are somewhere safe.”

“We have your location,” the voice replied. “I have despatched a rescue craft. But we still need to establish your identity.”

“Why don’t they know who you ARE?” Marion asked. “This doesn’t make sense.”

“Yes, it does,” Kristoph answered. “If the temporal distortion was strong enough, it is just possible that we jumped all of the protocols and have landed in a different point in time – either before or after I was Lord High President.”


“It’s a bit more than an ‘oh’ situation,” Kristoph admitted. “The temporal protocols are supposed to bar anyone from travelling in time on Gallifrey itself. They were established millennia ago to prevent renegades from unravelling all existence on our world – and possibly half the galaxy. We have actually broken several of the Laws of Time.”

“Accidentally,” Marion pointed out.

“I hope I can convince them of that,” Kristoph answered her. “I might be in very serious trouble if I can’t.”

“But you’re a very important person in our own time. Surely they will understand.”

Kristoph didn’t say anything in reply. He looked worried, though, as if he was by no means certain that he would find understanding among the citizens of Gallifrey in this time – whatever time it might be.

“We can’t escape before they get here?”

“No. There is too much damage. It would take hours even if the parts are all in the stockroom. If they’re not….”

He sighed deeply and took the cup of tea Marion offered him. It was precious little comfort in the uncertainty, but at least it warmed his throat. Marion sat on the sofa next to him and waited for whatever was to come.

What came was a curious looking craft. It was a lot like a hovercraft, except it flew well above the treeline. It landed vertically a few metres from the stricken TARDIS and a group of severely dressed men climbed out. They were all armed with laser rifles. Kristoph stepped out of the TARDIS to meet them. Marion followed close behind him and reached to hold his hand. It was firm and steady and so was he.

“Don’t be scared,” he told her. “Whatever they want to talk to me about, you will be treated well. I don’t know any time in our history when civility to women was not the norm.”

“They’ll separate us?” Marion was more scared of that than anything else. She clung to her husband’s hand as the men approached. As long as they were together she thought she could bear anything. But if they took Kristoph away, she wasn’t sure how she would cope.

“Ground any weapons you may have and surrender,” ordered the captain of the black clad guards as they drew close. “Step apart from each other.”

“I am not armed,” Kristoph said. “Please lower your guns. You are frightening my wife.”

“I have been instructed to take you both into custody. You have landed on this planet without authorisation.”

“We didn’t land, we CRASHED,” Kristoph argued. “And this planet is Gallifrey – our home. We will not be treated as illegal aliens. As I said already, we are not armed. We are no threat to you.”

“Come this way,” the captain answered him curtly. “Do not attempt to evade custody.”

“I wasn’t planning to evade anything,” Kristoph responded. “But I insist that you are courteous to my wife.”

He continued to hold her hand as they walked from the TARDIS to the security craft. Kristoph helped her up the step before climbing into the ship himself. He sat her down on a seat and then sat next to her before any of the guards could stop him.

“It’s going to be all right,” he promised her as the craft took off vertically and then accelerated rapidly.

He only hoped he was in a position to keep that promise.