Marion put Rodan down on Kaye’s bed and crept to the door. She looked out through the crack and saw three men shouting at the nursemaids, telling them to put up their hands and be quiet. They were hostages of the Anazide V Military Front.

“Oh!” Marion closed the door fully and quietly pulled a chair up to jam the handle. She turned and looked at Kaye and the other children who woke at the noise and stared around fearfully. “Oh, dear.”

“Children,” she whispered loudly. “Get out of bed, quickly. Put on your dressing gowns. We’ve got to get out of here.” She looked around. There was another door from the room, leading out into the corridor. She opened it a crack and saw more of the masked men running past. They couldn’t go out that way.

“Marion…” Kaye whispered to her. “We could go down there.” She pointed to what looked like a built in cupboard in the wall. Marion opened it and saw that it was a laundry chute for sending bedding down to the laundry. It was a long way down, but it was sloped just like a children’s slide, and there was likely to be bundles of washing at the bottom. Probably not the most sweet scented landing, but a safe one.


Did she dare risk it?

“Madam,” said a young boy aged about twelve. He had a girl with him who must have been his twin. “We’re from Tibora.”

“Yes…” She didn’t quite get his point.

“We’re telepathic,” he added. “I can go down, and tell my sister what it’s like. And she can tell you.”

Marion thought about that for a moment. Outside in the corridor she heard another gunshot and the sound of people running and crying.

“That’s the kitchen staff,” said the Tiboran girl. “They’re rounding people up.”

They could just surrender, she considered. But the children already looked scared. She felt she had to keep them safe.

“All right,” she decided. “But be careful.”

The boy, called Torran, climbed up and launched himself down the chute. He didn’t make any sound, but the swish of his pyjamas against metal could be heard for quite a long time. It really did go down a long way. Then his sister, Tonya, told Marion that he was all right. There was a lot of washing at the bottom. As she spoke, the door from the main nursery rattled. There was a voice demanding to know what was inside this room and a frightened reply from one of the nursemaids who tried to bluff, saying it was just a supply cupboard.

“Quickly, everyone,” Marion said, lifting a child up to the chute, then another. “When you get to the bottom, get out of the way, quickly. We have to hurry. All of you slide. Keep your hands close into your bodies and your head down. It’s just like playing. You’ll be all right. Stick together at the bottom.”

Kaye had found Cam, her younger sibling. He clung to her hand fearfully.

“Do you want to go down together?” Kaye nodded. She lifted them both onto the slide and let them go. Then two more youngsters went in tandem that way. And another two. Going in pairs was less frightening for them. Finally there was Tonya left. Marion helped her to perch on the edge and put Rodan in her arms.

“I don’t think I’ll fit carrying her, too,” she said. “Hold her tight.”

Tonya held tight and launched herself down. Marion looked around to be sure nobody was left. There was a fearful crash against the door and she saw it rattle. They would break it down eventually. She climbed into the chute and held onto the metal side of it with one hand while with the other she grabbed the door and closed it behind her. She didn’t want them to guess where they had all gone. As she let herself slide, she heard the men burst into the dormitory, shouting in rage at finding it empty after all. She hoped they wouldn’t hurt the nursemaids, or any of the babies in the cots.

Worrying about the babies slightly took her mind off how terrifying it was to be hurtling down a slippery chute in the dark. She tried to slow herself by putting her hands against the sides – exactly what she had told the children not to do. She got friction burns on her palms and painfully broke several manicured fingernails. She felt she was going too fast. Her dress was silk. There was absolutely no resistance against the smooth metal surface. She hoped that there really was a soft landing at the bottom and that all the children were out of the way.

At last the chute ended. Having become used to the darkness, the light in the laundry collection room blinded her as she landed among the bundles of stale linen. She lay there for a few seconds, surprised to be alive and unhurt. She looked up at a bright yellow face and was a little surprised.

“Hello,” she said as the short female in an overall reached to help her to stand up. “Who are you?”

“I’m Dree,” she answered. “I’m in charge of the laundry. Never had people come down here before.”

“You’re in charge of laundry?” Marion looked around anxiously and was relieved when Tonya stepped forward and put Rodan into her arms. She was awake and gurgling happily, unaware of any danger or drama around her. “You don’t look much older than most of these children,” she added as she looked at Dree carefully.

“People age differently where I come from,” Dree answered.

“I should probably have realised that,” Marion noted. “But, Dree, you’d better come along with us. There are terrorists aboard the station. They’re taking people prisoner. We’re the only ones they haven’t found.”

“Where are we going to go?” Kaye asked as she stood with her younger sibling with the other children.

Marion thought about that for a moment.

“We’re on the service deck? That’s below the hangar bay, isn’t it? We’ll go to our TARDIS. We’ll all be safe in there. Dree… do you know the way? There are ways that the staff use, aren’t there? Back stairs and passages that the guests don’t see?”

“Yes, madam,” Dree answered. “Come this way.”

Marion did a quick headcount to make sure the children were all there and kicked off her high heeled court shoes that were meant to look pretty in the ballroom. She could walk easier in her bare feet.

“They must have been down here,” Dree said as they came out of the laundry collection room into the laundry room itself where huge washers and dryers were running at full pelt but the ironing presses were unmanned and silent. Dree opened one of the big machines and looked mournfully at a badly scorched sheet that had been abandoned. “They’ve taken everyone away. They must have missed me.”

“Good job, too,” Marion commented. “I wouldn’t know my way around here, otherwise. This is a huge place.”

She was only surprised that the children weren’t scared by the noises all around them. But being woken in the night and told there were men with guns in the next room seemed to have been the most terrifying part of it all for them. Then there was the chute. After that, there was nothing left to fear. The older children like Kaye and the Tiboran twins took hold of the younger ones and they set off following Dree, while Marion was in the rear with Rodan in her arms. They made a strange crocodile through the laundry department and then through a door that must have been made for somebody Dree’s height rather than what Marion always assumed was an average humanoid size – her size. The passage beyond was narrow and low-roofed. Marion had to stoop down, and she was very glad to have got rid of the high heel shoes, now. But it was unlikely they would meet any of the terrorists in such a narrow place.

The passage led to a steep set of stairs. The children approached the stairs in very different ways. One boy, to Marion’s surprise, slipped off his pyjama top and unfolded a pair of feathery wings before proceeding to hover a few feet above the stairs. Two others had trouble getting up at all. One was the daughter of the Genullan ambassador who Marion had dined with. The young of that species had much more prominent gills than the adults, and it seemed that climbing stairs taxed their lungs quite a lot more than walking on flat ground. The other was a thin, willowy boy with pale skin who seemed uncertain how to put one foot in front of the other on a staircase.

“We don’t have… stairs… on my planet,” he explained, seeming unsure how to pronounce the word, even. “We get from one level to another on anti-grav platforms.”

“I would quite like one of those right now,” Marion answered, not unsympathetically. “But I’m afraid you will just have to manage. You can all rest when we get to the TARDIS, I promise.”

She helped the little ones as much as she could, though she was encumbered with Rodan in her arms. It felt like they were rising nearly as far as they had slid down. But that wasn’t true, of course. They had only one deck to get up to. They had slid down through several of them.

Finally, they reached another low door at the top of the stairs. Dree opened it carefully. She looked out and then indicated that it was safe. They all emerged into a wider, brighter corridor with information panels giving plans of the space station.

There was also a large video screen on the wall. It was intended to be showing scenes from the grand ball. Tomorrow, it was meant to show live coverage of the trade conference.

What it was showing right now was the ballroom full of scared people, all made to sit on the floor. There were delegates and their wives in their best clothes, waiters, kitchen staff, men and women wearing the livery of the space station technical crew. Everyone, except for the nursemaids and the babies, as far as Marion could gather – and their own small group. Everyone else was in the ballroom, guarded by the masked gunmen of the Anazide V Military Front.

“Everyone is alive, so far,” Marion said. “Children, your parents are all right. There’s no need to worry about them. But we’re going to go this way, now.”

She herded them all into a small group as they headed towards the hangar bay. She was worried that there would be terrorists there. She wasn’t sure how that many people got on board the space station unless they had a ship. And it was possible that they had left guards.

They had. Marion saw the movement of an armed, masked man walking around the large shuttle craft that must have brought them. It had the arms of what she presumed was the government of Anazide V. They must have come aboard pretending to be part of the official delegation. Later, she would mention that to Kristoph. He ought to ask how they were able to slip in so easily.

There were three men. They were patrolling around their own ship. The TARDIS was parked in the small craft section. She could see it from the door. But they would have to cross about twenty yards where they would all be exposed between the door and the cover of the Syranite Consulate shuttle.

She watched the guards and noted there was a window of about thirty seconds when they were all facing away from them.

“When I say,” Marion told the children. “Run. Don’t make any noise if you can.” She looked. They were all barefoot. They wouldn’t make a lot of sound. If they were very lucky…

She watched as the guards moved around to the other side of their ship.

“All right, children, run,” she told them as she opened the door wide. They ran, almost soundlessly. Carrying Rodan tightly in her arms, she ran, too. Dree came last as the door swung closed behind them. They all made the relative safety behind the Syranite ship and gathered breath.

“All right,” Marion said. “Follow me, all of you. But when I say, you all have to wait. I’m going to get the TARDIS door open, first. Dree, I need you to hold Rodan for me.”

Dree looked nervous about holding the baby of a diplomat’s wife. She was a mere laundress on this station. But Marion insisted. Unencumbered, she edged to the prow end of the sleek Syranite shuttle and looked around. There was, again, a brief period when she could reach the TARDIS unobserved by the terrorist guards. She took a deep breath and ran, reaching the shuttle with the Seal of Rassilon across its bow that was their TARDIS’s disguise for today.

She didn’t have a key, of course. But that wasn’t a problem. Kristoph had worked on the door so that either of them could open it with a palm print against a panel. Finding the panel wasn’t difficult when it was in this shape or default. She had asked him what they were supposed to do when it was a tree and he told her it would be guesswork.

The TARDIS door opened silently. She turned and watched the guards and then signalled to the children. They all ran. It almost went as smoothly as last time, but Kaye and Cam tripped. The others looked at them but ran past, frightened for their own lives. Marion watched as Dree ran into the TARDIS with Rodan. She was safe. Then she ran back and picked up Cam in her arms and held Kaye by the hand as she turned. They were nearly at the TARDIS when one of the guards shouted. There was a burst of gunfire, but one final effort brought them all to the safety of the TARDIS. The Tiboran boy ran to slam the door closed and Marion knelt on the floor for a long moment, hugging Kaye and Cam. They were both unhurt, but very scared. Everyone was.

“We’re all safe, now,” she said. “Nothing can get into a TARDIS.” She stood up and went to the console. She couldn’t fly the TARDIS. But she could at least use the communications console.

She called the one person she definitely knew how to contact.

“Remonte,” she said as her brother in law appeared on the screen in his office in the Gallifreyan Embassy on Ventura IV. He looked relieved to see her.

“Marion, where are you? Where is Kristoph?”

“I’m in our TARDIS,” she answered. “Kristoph is a hostage. Along with everyone else except me and some of the children and Dree who does the laundry. Terrorists have taken over the space station.”

“We know. They’ve made demands. I’ve been working with the Earth Ambassador to negotiate with them. But they won’t back down. Marion, they have threatened to blow up the station if they’re not given what they want.”

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “Kristoph, Hillary…”

She knew they’d be safe in the TARDIS even if the station was destroyed. But she couldn’t bear the thought of losing Kristoph in such a way.

“Marion, listen to me,” Remonte said. “I’m going to make a three way transmission here. You’re going to talk to a man called General Fenner, who is getting ready to lead a counter attack to rescue the hostages. I want you to do exactly what I tell you. You’ll be able transmit to him exact plans of where everyone is on the ship so that he can put his men into the right places. Can you do that?”

“If you help me, yes,” she answered. “For Kristoph, and everyone else.”

She saw the screen split into two views. Remonte was there, and so was a man in a military uniform. She told him what she had seen, and with Remonte’s guidance, sent him schematics from the TARDISes environmental console. He seemed satisfied.

“This will help us take control without loss of civilian lives,” he said.

“I hope so. But… please… make sure you get to the nursery. There are nursemaids and small babies there. Help them, before you help anyone else.”

“We will do what we can. Thank you, madam, for your help. Now you and the children sit tight and wait.”

That was the hardest part, sitting and waiting. At first she didn’t do much sitting. She brought cocoa for the children and fed and changed Rodan, and then she got blankets and got them all to lie down on the console room floor. Some of them slept. Some lay awake, fretting for their parents who were still in peril. Marion sat on the sofa with Rodan and young Cam cuddled up beside her, and dozed fitfully from time to time.

It was several hours later when she heard the TARDIS door open. She sat up at once, disturbing Cam, sleeping by her side. He gave a cry of delight and ran to Hillary as she stepped into the TARDIS alongside Kristoph. Marion was too exhausted to get up. She clung to Rodan and waited until he came to her, reaching to hold her in a loving embrace.

“I was worried about you. I thought they had killed you. Or worse. Then…the leader of the commandos who stormed the station, after it was over, he came to me and said that you had given them the information.” He looked around at the children as they woke and sat up, and the news went around that all their parents were safe. “There’s got to be quite a story here. These children…”

“They were very brave,” Marion told him.

“So were you, my love. Well done. I am so proud of you.

Marion sighed and hugged Kristoph tightly. She hadn’t felt brave. She didn’t now. She just felt relieved that it was all over.