Marion opened her eyes and looked up at the sun canopy through her polarised sunglasses. She smiled as she looked around and saw Rodan sitting in her bathing suit and wide brimmed sun hat making quite good headway in the construction of a sandcastle considering she was not yet walking. It was a substantial pile of sand, at least. Beside her, a more elaborately constructed sandcastle was being surveyed by Hillary’s two youngest, Kaye and Cam.

“She’s learning by their example,” Marion said happily. “Her motor skills are very good for her age. Even for a Gallifreyan.”

“Perhaps she’ll grow up to be a great Gallifreyan architect,” Kristoph said as he brought cold drinks with fruit and umbrellas to the two women who lay on the sunloungers. Hillary and Marion both sat up and drank. He took his own cocktail and sat on a folding chair between the two of them. He watched the children at play in the blue and purple sand of Candika IV. The sun beat down on them from an azure sky through the natural UV shield that made the planet not only a holiday paradise, but a very safe one. Even so, the children had been liberally coated with sun lotion and the women sat under the canopy out of the glare. Neither of them were completely convinced by the scientific explanations Kristoph had given them.

“It is beautiful here,” Marion said. “I can’t believe it is like this all the year around. Hot and sunny. On Gallifrey it is late autumn and raining, and here we are in swimsuits.”

“And very lovely swim suits they are,” Kristoph said as he glanced at Hillary in a very small bikini and Marion in a slightly more modest one. His mother’s skill with lotions had meant that she had almost no stretch marks on her stomach from her pregnancy and was confident about wearing so very little. Hillary, a mother of four, had perfectly smooth skin. Her species had very flexible flesh, of course. How else could it be so easily moulded when they switched from male to female. She looked lovely and he had plenty of fond memories of being close to her in such skimpy outfits when they were both younger. But it was Marion who made his two hearts beat faster, now.

“Yes, this part of the planet is always like this,” Kristoph said as he turned his thoughts away from female attributes. “There are the polar zones, of course. But the most popular part of Candika IV is the thousand island ocean with all these unspoilt little pieces of paradise for those with the money to hire for the season.”

“That’s amazing, too,” Marion said. “Being able to hire an island for a weekend.”

“We have been coming here since I was Cam’s age,” Hillary said. “Candika was always my favourite resort planet. I learnt to swim on one of these beaches. And later… when I was of the age to begin experiencing love-making, my first partner took me on a beach just like this one.”

Marion was surprised by such a candid revelation at first. Then she remembered that Gendermorphs have no inhibitions about such things. Kristoph looked interested, too. He had clearly never heard this story before.

“Yes,” Hillary continued. “I was seventeen. My partner – Daryl - was eighteen and I wore a bikini and a see through silk wrap-around skirt as we walked in the sands. Daryl wore shorts and nothing else. He had a fine, sun-bronzed chest and he had such a sweet smile. I was so nervous, though, about my first time. I wanted to be sure I got it right. My parent had given me such a lot of advice about how to best enjoy the experience. But I kept losing control of my morphic field and slipping into my male form. Daryl kissed me anyway, whichever I was. Then he turned up his own pheromones until I was completely overwhelmed. He steadied me in my female form and pressed me down into the warm sand before taking me for my first time.”

Hillary sighed in fond remembrance. Marion was looking a little flushed, but mesmerised by the confessions of a gendermorph.

“It was everything I was taught to expect. Daryl was a tender and accomplished lover. And when it was done, we switched roles. I became the youth and he morphed into such a desirable woman.”

“Were you in love with him… or her…” Marion asked.

“I thought I was. That’s why I chose him for my first. But at seventeen, our species tend to have trouble controlling our pheromones. It’s easy to be confused. I think I may have over-done it and seduced myself. But it was very pleasurable. Daryl thought so, too. We stayed together for several weeks.”

“And then…”

“Then we both found other lovers. It is perfectly usual in our society. We have no need for long lasting relationships as Humans or Time Lords do. I have seen Daryl many times since. We have spent time together – enjoyed each other. And the fact that she was my first will always be a special bond between us. But we would not expect anything more of each other than that.

“How many lovers have you had?” Marion asked.

“I couldn’t begin to count them,” Hillary answered. “Nobody would. No Haollstromnian would even think of doing so. The question is irrelevant.”

“You are a singular race,” Kristoph told her. “No other species is so casual about sex – certainly not about love. My own people… we are so serious about it, we take millennia to find the right person.”

“Oh, I know,” Hillary told him. “I tried so hard to show you how fun it could be, but you were always a Time Lord first and a man, second, and utterly immune to my charms.”

“Not immune, my dear,” Kristoph answered. “Just very disciplined. Besides… I am glad I waited. For my Lady Marion.”

“So am I,” Hillary assured him. “You are so right for each other. But it did surprise me a little when I knew that Marion was from Earth. I’ve had a few Human lovers… they are almost as casual as my own people.”

“Not all,” Marion answered. “I never… My grandparents would have been so disappointed in me if I… They… never really blamed my mother for her one mistake… and they didn’t love her… or me… any less for it. But I always understood that my mother giving birth to me out of wedlock was not quite right. I always felt that I couldn’t, until I was married. Only that never seemed especially likely until I met Kristoph.”

Hillary didn’t quite understand that, any more than Marion completely understood her lifestyle. Parenthood for a Haolstromnian was something an individual decided upon when they felt it was right. There were no accidental pregnancies, and they were all single parents because the idea of two parents was unheard of.

But her life as a diplomat had taught her that there were other ways of life, and she knew that reproduction for almost every other species in the universe involved two people. And that usually the children knew who the two people were.

“So you don’t know your male parent?” Hillary asked. “Forgive me if that is an undiplomatic question…”

“He was long gone before I was born. My grandparents, if they mentioned him at all, said he was a bad one. I don’t think he ever knew I existed. Even if he did, I think granddad would have seen him off with his old war time pistol. Mother didn’t need him. Neither did I. And later…when she was dead… when my grandparents passed away, too… in the foster home I was no different from a lot of other girls and boys who didn’t know who their father was.”

“Do you want to know who he is?” Hillary asked. Kristoph looked attentive when she put that question as if Marion’s answer was important to him.

“No,” she said very decisively. “It doesn’t matter. I know who I am. I’m Lady Marion de Lœngbærrow of Gallifrey. A long way from Birkenhead. And my husband is the only man I need.”

“Quite so,” Kristoph said with a relieved look in his eyes that Hillary recognised but decided not to comment upon. He looked around at the children and the sandcastles. Rodan had managed to pile up sand nearly as high as she sat, and had patted it smooth with her spade. Kaye and Cam had made a castle that reminded Marion of Carnarvon. Kaye left the construction and came to ask if they could teach Rodan to swim in the sea.

“She’s a little young,” Marion pointed out. “She isn’t really ready for swimming, yet. But I’ll come with you and see if she likes being in the water.” She found a pair of baby water wings in her bag and put them on Rodan’s small arms and then carried her into the crystal clear and deliciously warm water with Kaye and Cam. Kristoph and Hillary watched his wife and their fosterling and smiled. Right now, on this pleasant day, his wife was happy. He could be satisfied with that.

“I think the reason she doesn’t think about her real father is that you fulfil that role, for her,” Hillary commented. Kristoph laughed at the idea.

“Hillary, my dear. The implications of that idea in her society, or mine, are quite impossible.”

“No, but it is true. You are there to protect her, to care for her. You have been her guide and teacher in the years since you met, as a parent is supposed to be. And of course, you are so much older than she is. She was only a little more than a child by her own people’s standards. By yours… goodness knows. She could have been your fosterling. Instead you took her for your wife and loved her as a man loves a woman all over the universe. But you’re still her guide and protector.”

“Yes,” Kristoph conceded. Yes, if that was what being a father was, then Hillary had a point. Protector, yes. Hillary had no idea. Nor did Marion. And she never would. He didn’t keep secrets from her if he could help it. But there was one he would never share with anyone.

He did know who her father was.

It was years ago, now, when he had first asked her to be his fiancée, and she had moved in with him in the house in Knowsley. He had used his skills as a Celestial Intervention Agency operative to trace the man who had abandoned her mother after having his way with her. He was a moderately successful man, now, twenty years later. He owned three hotels and a restaurant on the Wirral peninsula. He had what was called a ‘trophy wife’ – a woman only a few years older than Marion. He had two substantial houses and several expensive cars.

Kristoph had disliked him from the first moment he saw him. He chastised himself for being snobbish. Coming from one of the oldest of the Oldblood houses, the nouveau riche always jarred with his own aristocratic breeding. But even beyond that admitted prejudice he could see nothing of merit in Michael Rimmer. He was a womaniser, even with a young wife to please him. He was unpleasant to the staff in his hotels. He seemed to care for nobody who was less rich than he was.

Even so, Kristoph had contrived a way that he could introduce him to Marion. He had booked a room for the night in the New Brighton branch of the Rimmer Hotel franchise. He had manoeuvred himself into conversation with the owner in the hotel lounge. He had given him the impression that he was a successful businessman who might be interested in the conference facilities of the hotel. When the conversation moved around to personal matters, Kristoph pointed out his fiancée, sitting at a table drinking lime soda and looking very lovely in a deep red dress that brought out the highlights in her brown hair. Rimmer had made a lewd remark about the fact that she was so much younger than Kristoph. He then made another comment that had made Kristoph burn with anger. He controlled his response, reminding himself that he was a Time Lord, and a diplomat. Instead he reached out and held Rimmer by the shoulder and he slowed time around them. Beyond the bubble of reality the two of them were in time almost stood still. All was silent. The barman was frozen in the process of pouring a drink. People were stopped in mid-stride. Michael Rimmer stared around at them.

“What has happened?” he asked, fear freezing him to his seat.

“Look again at that beautiful woman who you insulted with your crude words,” Kristoph said.

“Why?” Rimmer asked. “What’s this about? Who are you? How did you do that?”

“I am an alien from another world. I command time. I have the power to kill you with a thought. I can make you wish you had never uttered those foul words. But I will let that pass. Look at her. She is your daughter, by a good woman who you left twenty years ago without a second thought.”

“She can’t be,” Rimmer responded. “And even if she is… how…”

“You know how. You are a user of women, then and now. And that dear lady is the result. She is beautiful, clever, and she is mine. I wanted to show her to you, before taking her from you again. Just to see whether there is a shred of paternal thought in your mind, a modicum of love in your heart. There isn’t. Your only thought when I told you was that she might demand money from you. She won’t. She doesn’t need your money. I can give her more than enough of that, as well as real, lasting love. In a minute, when time snaps back to normal, I intend to wipe your memory of this. You don’t deserve to know that such a lovely woman as she is has even a biological connection to you. But until it does, I want you to reflect on the fact that you, for all your money in the bank, your houses, your cars, your women, are the biggest loser in the universe because you don’t have HER.”

Rimmer said nothing coherent in reply. He murmured some half words, half phrases. When the time bubble collapsed, Kristoph waved his hand in front of his face then stepped away from him. Rimmer seemed dazed for about half a minute before turning and staring around the room as if something was missing. Fifteen minutes of his memory were. His whole conversation with Kristoph. The wealthy looking couple just going through to the dining room after their pre-dinner drinks didn’t stand out as unusual.

No, Marion didn’t need a father like that. If Rimmer had been a better man, one who would regret his mistake and endeavour to make up for his twenty year absence, then Kristoph would have been glad to help that to happen. But as it was, Marion was much better off without him. She had said so when Hillary asked. She didn’t need a father. She was happy.

“Kristoph!” Hillary’s voice shook him from his reverie. “Look. Rodan is swimming.”

Indeed, she was. Of course, the waterwings were supporting her. But she was dog paddling happily, close to Marion. Kristoph stood up and slipped off the open necked shirt that he wore with his bathing shorts.

“I think we should join them, don’t you?” he said to Hillary.