Julia rolled the virtual dice and then moved the virtual counters on the virtual backgammon piece to home. Chrístõ conceded defeat and sat back in his seat. Julia pressed a button and the virtual game disappeared from the table. She looked out of the window at the scenery passing by.

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘d’,” she said in a mildly bored tone.

“Desert,” Chrístõ replied. “But it isn’t just any desert. It’s the twenty thousand mile wide Great Iron Desert of Flexella. And the only way to see it is on the Desert Arrow, the second most luxurious train in the galaxy next to the Orient Express of Earth.”

“The Orient Express has some more interesting scenery,” Julia pointed out. “We should have done that.”

“We should, one day,” Chrístõ agreed. “Maybe for our honeymoon?”

“I don’t think a train is a good place for a honeymoon,” Julia replied. “The beds aren’t really up to it, for one thing. On our honeymoon, we shouldn’t be tossing a coin for the top bunk!”

Chrístõ laughed. Then he pressed another button and the table that lay between them slid back into a panel under the window. A comfortable padded footrest came up out of the floor instead. He stretched his long legs out on it and smiled invitingly. Julia swapped seats, coming to sit next to him, and even though the carriage was quite busy, she didn’t mind at all when he put his arms around her shoulders and drew her into a long, lingering kiss.

“Now that’s a good way to pass the time when travelling at three hundred miles an hour through a really boring desert,” she said when they came up for air. “Do that again.”

“Gladly,” Chrístõ answered. “It’s nice to think I have the absolute right to do that now that we’re formally betrothed.”

“It’s a good job the old fashioned chaperone rules have been abandoned in your society,” Julia pointed out. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do this at all. As it is… I think the idea of a Betrothal Holiday is a good one. It’s like a sort of honeymoon… with bunk beds.”

“You really don’t mind that the Flexellan scenery is a bit dull?”

“Why would I mind that the scenery is dull when I have you to look at?”

“Just what I thought about you.” Anyone overhearing their conversation might think it a little trite. But that would teach them not to listen to other people’s private conversations. Especially those of newly betrothed people who were still getting used to the idea that legally and morally they belonged to each other exclusively and nobody in the universe could break them apart.

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘s’,” Julia whispered as she leaned on his shoulder and looked out of the window.

“Sand,” Chrístõ answered. “Actually, technically, not as you define it. The red is caused by an iron oxide in the rock strata. The winds scoured the soft rock and turned it to dust. But it’s more like raw iron filings than sand. You wouldn’t want to try to make a sandcastle with it.”

Julia laughed at the idea. She reminded him of the first beach they ever went to together the golden sands of Lyria where she had made a sandcastle. She was only eleven years old and that was something she still wanted to do. Now she was seventeen and he was her fiancé. Their lives were turning fast.

“One day, our own children will make sandcastles on the beach at Lyria,” she said. “And we’ll watch them.”

Chrístõ nodded happily. It seemed a small ambition. He was the nominal Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado. He was a Time Lord - a prince of the universe. And according to all those portents that people on his own world spoke of in whispers behind his back, he was a Time Lord with some august destiny to fulfil. But he would be content if he could be a husband and a father in his due time and enjoy the simple pleasures of that role.

He was perfectly content now, travelling on this famous train across one of the most infamous landscapes in the galaxy. The only journey more remarkable than this one was the one that crossed the crystalline surface of the planet Midnight, but the shuttles that did that journey had to be enclosed with no windows because the Extonic radiation that continuously bombarded the surface of the planet would vapourise any organic being in seconds. That, to him, was a pointless journey, watching in-flight movies and being told what was outside without getting to see it.

“There’s an interesting bit coming up, soon,” he told Julia. “The Gejujo Gorge, four miles wide at its narrowest place, three thousand miles long. We cross it on the Fourth Bridge.”

“What happened to the First, Second and Third bridges?” Julia asked cautiously.

Chrístõ didn’t answer that. It was patently obvious what happened to the first three bridges. The remaining sections of them could be seen as the train slowed down to a mere fifty miles per hour on the great viaduct that carried it across the gorge. The first one was built of stone over three hundred years before. Only two of its eight hundred gracefully curving archways remained at either side of the gorge. The second was reinforced concrete and had been slender and elegant, held up every twenty yards by gleaming white concrete stanchions that had thick pillars of steel buried within them. The places where the stanchions failed and the bridge collapsed were plain to see.

The Third Bridge was also made of steel and concrete, and had been a magnificent attempt to span a four mile gap with a suspension bridge. It must have been beautiful when it was new. Every hundred yards it had tall towers like castle keeps of warm red-brown stone and the bridge itself was of blue steel. All that was left was the line of towers and a few bits of the steel jutting out from them.

“The longest suspension bridge ever built on Earth was the Sunda Strait Bridge between Java and Sumatra, built in the early twenty-first century and spanning nearly two miles,” Julia said proudly. “We did it in geography last year. It stood for over a century before an underwater earthquake caused damage and it collapsed.”

“That span was never beaten on Earth. It was about the limit of Human engineering,” Chrístõ added. “And the Third Bridge at Gejujo is the last attempt at a suspension bridge over more than three miles anywhere in the galaxy. Since it failed so spectacularly I can’t imagine anyone is going to try again. The bridge we are on right now, as you will note, is made of good, strong steel very much in the style of the Forth Rail Bridge on Earth – one of the few bridges built in the nineteenth century which still stands in your time.”

“How come all three of those bridges collapsed?” Julia asked. “Were they badly made?”

“They didn’t take into account the fact that the gorge expands by about a metre a year. It’s the point where two continental plates are continuously moving away from each other. Any bridge is bound to collapse eventually. This one will, too. But not for another couple of decades. They put in some safety features. Besides, as you know, the Desert Arrow doesn’t actually run on rails. The locomotive is powered by a micro-gravitic reactor and the carriages skim along six inches above the rails using static-grav momentum. There is minimum stress to the bridge.”

“It’s not really a train at all, then,” Julia pointed out. “It’s kind of cheating.” She watched as the other end of the bridge loomed ahead, with the remains of the First Bridge not so far away. After that the scenery got dull again. But just as she was losing interest the robot stewards came down the central aisle with afternoon tea. Chrístõ set the footrest back down and the table automatically came out again complete with white table linen. A silver pot of tea was set down along with a double silver stand with sandwiches on the bottom and cakes at the top.

“Thank you,” Julia said to the silver-faced robot dressed in waiter’s black and white uniform and with a crisp teacloth over its arm. “That looks very nice.”

“I am happy to be of service, madam,” the robot replied in its artificial voice. It bowed its head politely before moving on to the next passengers.

“Don’t you think they’re just a little creepy,” said the man sitting on the opposite side of the aisle. He was travelling alone and had spent most of the afternoon at his mini computers. “The robots… they look so… inhuman.”

“Research has shown that people prefer robots not to look too Humanoid,” Chrístõ answered. “Lifelike androids are perceived to be a deception, pretending to be organic life. They prefer robots to have metal faces because they are clearly robotic life, separate from organic.”

“Even so… there ought to be some flesh and blood supervisors aboard. Do you know the driver is the only living person employed by the Desert Arrow Company on these trips. Even his co-driver is a robot. How sure can we be that these things are safe?”

“Irrational fear of robots and androids is known as Grimwade’s Syndrome,” Chrístõ replied. “Therapy involves gradual introduction to robots into the personal space of the patient. A trip on the Desert Arrow would only be recommended after many years of therapy. Perhaps you should have taken the stratosphere shuttle. It only takes an hour to go from West City to East City and is entirely staffed by organic humanoids.”

“I don’t like flying,” the man replied.

“Fear of flying is called aviophobia,” Julia told him. “And you can get therapy for that, too.”

“I don’t need therapy,” the man replied irritably, realising that both Chrístõ and Julia were winding him up ever so slightly. “I just think robots are creepy. Especially the servile ones. You hear all sorts of stories… people going into massage parlours and having their limbs wrenched off by robots with shonky programming…. Cleaning robots that decide humans are infesting their building and push them into the trash compactors… robot mutinies aboard deep space ships… killing all the Human crew…”

“Those are urban myths,” Chrístõ assured the man. “There is no actual recorded proof of that happening. You shouldn’t read so many conspiracy theory pages on the internet.”

“Are you sure about that?” Julia asked when the man went back to his computer and they got on with eating their tea. “I’ve heard a few stories like that, too. And after all, Earth Federation law grants robots with higher function artificial intelligence some equal rights with Humans… like the right to be tried for crimes… which suggests that they are capable of committing crimes for one thing… that they have free will to decide right and wrong. We discussed that in ethics class.”

“I tried doing that with 3C after they read I Robot. Billy Sandler wanted to know why he couldn’t sue his toaster for burning him at breakfast. The difference between higher function AI and basic technology was evading them. That or they were having me on.”

“Probably the latter,” Julia told him with a grin. “But don’t worry. They still think you’re their best ever teacher. Anyway, my point is… robots could do all those things he said they could.”

“Yes. But Flexella, although it is popular with humans, hence the more or less exclusively Human passenger manifest on board this train, isn’t actually in the Earth Federation. The robots here don’t have free will. They’re all inhibited by chips that clearly prevent them from being anything other than servile to humans. That’s why we’re the only ones who actually say please and thank you to them. Everyone else around here treats them as inferior beings. And with the inhibitors in place, they ARE.”

“Well, I think that’s a shame. But if it’s true, then he has nothing to complain about. And they don’t scare me at all. I think robots that you can’t tell are robots are more scary. But… then… if you can’t tell, there’s really no point in worrying, is there?”

“None at all,” Chrístõ confirmed. “Try these cakes. They’re heavenly. The cuisine on board the Desert Arrow is excellent. The galley robots know how to make confectionary to die for!”

Julia tried a delicate pink parfait finger and agreed with Chrístõ’s assessment. She poured another cup of tea and drank it as she looked out of the window at the iron oxide desert.

“I spy…” she began. Chrístõ laughed.

“Sky,” he said.

“Cheat,” she accused him with a giggle of delight. “You can’t use telepathy to play ‘I Spy’.”

“You can’t play ‘I Spy’ in a largely featureless desert. Not for long, anyway. But snuggle up and watch. We’re on the best side of the train to see the sunset in another hour. It’s quite spectacular, I’m told.”

“You like sunsets, don’t you?” Julia said as she snuggled close to him and he turned down the lights above them so that they got the best view of the sunset and the darkening of the sky outside.

“Yes, I do. Apart from anything else, sunset makes any sky look like the Gallifreyan sky. Makes me feel nice things about home. But it’s lovely to see sunsets anyway. I love that magic moment when the last sliver dips below the horizon and it’s like a light has been switched off on the world.”

He actually missed that moment this evening, because at the magic moment he was kissing Julia. He didn’t mind. Having a fiancée to share a sunset with was a bonus in itself. He was quite happy with the arrangement.

Once the sun was completely set, though, it got dark very quickly, and there was absolutely nothing to see outside.

“There’s a cinema two cars down,” Julia suggested. “They’re showing an old Earth film…” She laughed as she looked at the timetable. “Murder on the Orient Express! The 2199 remake.”

“Well, I’d rather the original 1974 version with Albert Finney as Poirot,” Chrístõ said. “But that’s quite a decent effort. It’s a way of passing the time until dinner.”

It was a curious experience watching a film while moving at three hundred miles an hour. Watching a film about a train while travelling on a train had something of an elegant symmetry about it. Chrístõ only occasionally used the media room in his TARDIS. His Human companions often did, but he banned all films about disasters on modes of transport. Any film about the Titanic was number one with a bullet on the proscribed list and so were films about air disasters. Murder on the Orient Express wasn’t a disaster. He had several versions of that in the digital database and he found the story intriguing no matter how often he saw it. The evening was well spent before they made their way, not to the day car where they had taken tea, but to their sleeping compartment to shower and change and then to a very elegant dining car where white linen and silver cutlery with best bone china were already on the table and an elegantly dressed robot maitre-d showed them to their places.

“That dress looks lovely on you,” Chrístõ said as he poured a glass of non-alcoholic white wine for Julia and a glass of the real thing for himself. “You look very grown up. Cirena’s dressmaker seems determined to hurry you on to our wedding day.”

“It’s all right, isn’t it?” she asked. “You don’t mind me looking older than I am?”

“You turn heads when you walk by,” Chrístõ answered her. “Other men admire you. I… like that. As long as they admire you from a distance. I don’t want to have to fight any duels for your honour.”

Julia smiled at the idea and then gave her attention to the exotic seafood salad that was the first course of the meal Chrístõ ordered from the menu. That was followed by water cress soup and then fillet steaks with perfectly cooked vegetables and a lemon mousse that was lighter than air served with wafer thin mint chocolate swirls. They finished the meal with a selection of cheese and biscuits and Chrístõ had a brandy coffee while Julia had a latte, taking their time about it. The man who didn’t like robots ate as many courses, but he ate them quickly and seemed to have no enjoyment of the food. Chrístõ wondered if it was because he was uneasy about robots serving him food made by robots or if he simply wanted to get back to his business. The restaurant car had shields that blocked phones and internet signals so that diners could enjoy their meals without noisy ringtones and the clicking of computer keys.

The man left the restaurant as soon as he had drunk his coffee. The matire-d asked if he had enjoyed the meal but he didn’t answer as he swept past. Chrístõ also wondered why a man with such strong views about robots would take a trip on a train noted for its robot service. But he didn’t plan to lose any sleep over him.

He didn’t plan to lose sleep over anything. Not when he had paid so much money for a luxury compartment. What Julia had described rather dismissively as bunk beds were far from the narrow, uncomfortable pull out affairs that anyone might imagine. They were two good sized beds with orthopaedic mattresses and pillows, crisp linen sheets and warm quilts. There was an en-suite shower that was surprisingly roomy for something aboard a train and a banquette that could become a third bed if anyone wanted it.

Yes, they were sharing a compartment. They were engaged, after all and the chaperone laws were dying out even when his father was courting his mother. They hadn’t, in fact, tossed for the upper bunk. He had given Julia the choice and she decided on the bottom one. She showered and got into a long cotton nightdress and was demurely sitting up in bed reading a digital book when he emerged from the shower in his black satin pyjamas and climbed up to the top bunk. He leaned over and asked her what she was reading. She told him it was the novel of the film they had seen earlier.

“I think there’s a first edition of that in my mother’s white library,” Chrístõ said. “She loved books, and reading. She always preferred real paper books to digital ones, though. So do I.”

“I do, too,” she said. “But the digital reader is easier to pack for holidays. And I can choose from about half a million books.”

“Good point,” he said. “Sleep well, sweetheart.”

He laid himself in the comfortable bed and closed his eyes. He was used to sleeping in a moving vehicle, but usually it was the TARDIS, with its very faint vibration. The feel of the Desert Arrow moving by static-grav momentum wasn’t the same as an old-fashioned train like the Orient Express, but it was still rather lulling. For a while he let his mind connect with Julia’s digital reader and he immersed himself in Agatha Christie, too. But slowly he began to drift into natural sleep.

He woke suddenly a few hours later to hear Julia being very violently sick in the en suite bathroom. He jumped down from the bed and ran to her.

“Oh, go away,” she said weakly as she looked up momentarily and then leaned over the toilet again. “I look horrible like this.”

“Don’t be silly,” he answered her. “I’m worried about you. What made you feel this way? You’re not usually travel sick.”

“I think it was the watercress soup,” she managed to say before a fresh bout of vomiting. “Or the steaks… maybe the lemon mousse.”

“Food poisoning? But I’m ok and I ate the same meal.”

Except he was a Time Lord. His body responded differently. He was almost never ill. When he was, it was something very serious.

Even so, if that was what was wrong with Julia, and they DID eat the same meal…

He closed his eyes and looked inwards at his own body. He analysed the food he had eaten and the nutrients that were already in his bloodstream.

“It WAS the watercress soup. There was something in it… something that would make people sick. Didn’t work on me. My body’s already expelling it.”

“That’s… nice for you,” Julia pointed out weakly.

“Come here,” he said, lifting her to her feet. She wobbled a little. She had been sick a lot and it made her dizzy. He touched her either side of her pale, clammy face and mentally connected with her. He found the same foreign substance in her body and forced it out through the pores of her skin. She looked for a few seconds a dusty green colour all over her face and arms before it evaporated.

“Do you feel better now?” he asked. She nodded, hardly trusting herself to talk. “Ok, get a shower and put some clothes on. Wait for me here.”

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Freight car,” he answered. “Lots of people had the watercress soup. They’ll all be sick. I can’t do what I did with you for all of them. I’d be a quivering vaguely humanoid shaped jelly by the end. I need to get to the TARDIS. I’ve got stuff that will help them all. Actually… tell you what… when you’re dressed… go and knock on doors. Tell people to go to the restaurant car if they’re ill. I can treat them all together.”

He threw his own clothes on quickly and dashed out of the compartment. He immediately bumped into a man in a woollen dressing gown who told him that his wife was very sick.

“I’m a doctor,” he said. “I’m going to get medicine for you all. Bring your wife to the restaurant car. I’m going to help.”

As he ran through the sleeping carriages he encountered several more people complaining about being ill and gave them the same instruction. He passed through a quiet baggage car and into the second class sleeping car. This was less luxurious than the section he was in. People slept in berths of four and six. In many of them there were sounds of people being ill. He told them to go to the second class restaurant car. He passed through that car and through another baggage car and then the third class sleeping area. Here, there were just bunks either side of the aisle with curtains to pull across. Again people were ill.

The watercress soup was served to everyone?

He knew that there was one galley. It was next to the first class restaurant. Food was prepared for all the passengers. The menus in the second and third class restaurants were less elaborate than the first class and the third class one was self-service, but soup was soup.

Soup was soup. It was served to everyone, regardless of class. Everyone who had the soup was sick. Right through the whole train.

Even the driver! He stepped from the third class car into a small compartment that was obviously meant to be the driver’s rest area when the robot co-driver took over for a few hours. The man was lying across the pull out bed groaning unhappily. Although his mission was urgent Chrístõ stopped to examine him.

“You’ve got it bad,” he said. “You had the soup?”

“They brought me a flask of it… and sandwiches. The soup was bad?”

“The soup was bad,” Chrístõ confirmed. “Stay there. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

The large freight car was after the driver’s restroom. It was the last car before the locomotive itself which was through a locked door that Chrístõ didn’t need to worry about right now. The robot co-driver wasn’t ill. It could safely drive the train while the driver was incapacitated. His priority was treating all the ill people. He hadn’t exactly been counting them, but at a rough guess something like half of the two hundred and fifty passengers were sick. If the service staff weren’t all robot it might have been even worse.

“Passengers are not permitted to enter this area,” said the robot dressed in a baggage handler’s uniform who blocked the door to the freight area.

“I am a doctor,” Chrístõ answered. “People are sick. I have to get medicine which is stored in the freight car.”

“Passengers are not permitted to enter this area,” the robot repeated in exactly the same tone. Just as they had no body language or facial movement, they had no inflexions in their voices.

Which meant he had no way of guessing that the robot wasn’t just repeating its programmed response to people attempting to gain entry to the freight car, but was preparing to attack him. He was so surprised by the robot hands that closed around his neck that he almost forgot to close off his breathing. When he remembered and stopped himself choking he reached into his pocket for his sonic screwdriver and flicked it to localised EMP. He hated to do it. He firmly believed that artificial life was life. He repected life in all forms. But he had to stop the robot from breaking his neck and he had to get to his TARDIS. People needed him.

The lifeless robot crashed to the floor, its positronic brain fried by the EMP pulse. He stepped over it and headed for the large rectangular box that was his TARDIS in default mode. He opened the door and stepped inside. The TARDIS was in low power mode and Humphrey trilled at him in the dark. He responded kindly to his old friend, but he didn’t have time to waste. Humphrey bowled along behind him as he ran to the medical centre.

He had identified the substance in the soup. It was called ipecac, a natural substance derived from the ipecacuanha plant and used as an emetic. He actually knew of the substance from his medical studies in the nineteenth century. It was frequently used for the treatment of croup in babies and small children and for men suffering from the effects of home made alcohol. It was noxious stuff and its use ought to have died out long ago. But to his utter dismay and disgust it was sold in the twenty-fourth century as a so-called diet aid. In the modern form of ipecac each grain was coated with a slow dissolving resin so that the vomiting didn’t start until a few hours after the meal. It was used by young women who sought to hide the fact that they were vomiting up their food to stay slim.

It had been used in this case by somebody who wanted to make as many people on the train ill as possible.

Yes, SOMEBODY had done this. It wasn’t salmonella or e-coli or any ordinary food poisoning that could happen accidentally when food hygiene wasn’t adhered to. The idea of that happening in a robot galley was near enough impossible anyway. They were programmed to be scrupulous about cleaning. No. Somebody had done this deliberately. And it was unlikely to have been a robot.

So who, and why? Neither question had any obvious answers right now. He filed them mentally under ‘to do’ as he found the ingredients for a herbal based anti-emetic that would neutralise the ipacec and settle everyone’s stomachs. He didn’t have anywhere near enough ingredients to make them for over a hundred people, or the time to roll and cut that many pills. But he didn’t have to. He made up a dozen and then placed them in the replicator. It looked like a medical centrifuge as used in pathology labs, except when it finished spinning he had nearly three hundred pills in the drawer. He quickly tested a few to make sure they had replicated accurately and then shoved them into a plastic bag.

He stepped out of the TARDIS again and leapt straight over the disabled robot before he reached the driver. He gave him two of the pills and a glass of water and suggested that he ought to join the passengers in the third class restaurant so that he could keep an eye on him as well as the other patients. He helped the driver up on his feet and supported him as he headed back.

He was surprised to see two beheaded robots outside the restaurant car. They were dressed in white aprons and looked as if they were meant to be serving at the food counter.

The reason became clear when he stepped through the door and he and the driver were nearly beheaded by a man wielding a golf iron. He lowered it when he realised they weren’t robots.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “Why did you attack the servers?”

“Because they attacked us,” the iron wielder replied. “The things went crazy, trying to tell us to go back to our rooms. They insisted that they weren’t allowed to serve after midnight and came at us with carving knives.”

“The robots are acting against their programming?” Chrístõ filed that next to the questions about the ipacec in the soup. Treating the sick passengers was his first priority. He distributed pills with bottled water from behind the counter to swallow them with.

“I have to see to the other passengers,” he said as he made sure the driver was comfortable. “I’ll be back later to check on you all. Keep an eye out for any more rogue robots.”

He encountered a rogue himself as he passed through the baggage car. It was dressed as an inspector and demanded to know if he had a second class ticket, telling him that third class passengers were not allowed beyond that point. That was nonsense, anyway. The third class passengers could walk right up the train if they wanted, and even pay extra to eat in the first class restaurant as a treat if they liked. It was only the sleeping arrangements that were specific to their ticket class.

He dispatched the ticket collector the same way as before and carried on into the second class restaurant. There, he noted that a window was broken. Somebody had fixed a tablecloth over it against the draught. A robot waiter had gone wild and thrown an ice bucket at a passenger. It missed and went through the window. So did the robot after two of the passengers took the matter into their own hands.

“As if we didn’t have enough problems,” Chrístõ said as he distributed the pills and again told everyone he would be back before heading towards the first class section.

Again he encountered a rogue robot insisting that second class passengers could not enter the first class area. Again he used the EMP to deal with it.

He finally reached the first class restaurant car and used the EMP on two more robots which were guarding the doors and preventing the passengers from leaving. He began to distribute pills to the first class passengers. Most of them were grateful. A couple of them were grumpy about the time it took him to get back to them. He didn’t tell them he had been delayed by second and third class passengers, but he, himself, appreciated the irony that he had treated the sick in inverse proportion to their perceived social status. It didn’t often happen that way.

“Wait a minute,” he said looking around. “Where’s Julia? My girlfriend? Isn’t she here?”

He was too busy looking after other people to think of her. Now he realised that she wasn’t in the restaurant car. As far as he could see every other first class passenger was there.

Except Julia and the robophobic man. He ought to have noticed his absence, too. He surely wouldn’t have missed the chance to go on about dangerous robots. After all, he seemed to have been proved right. The robots were all acting very oddly.

“I think she went that way,” somebody said, pointing towards the galley. Chrístõ was already heading there. He held his sonic screwdriver ready in case there were any more rogue ticket collectors or manic robot waiters.

And he had reason to be cautious. As he entered the galley a cleaver narrowly missed his head and a robot in kitchen whites bore down on him with a carving knife. He held up the sonic screwdriver and let it emit a broader range EMP. The robots all froze where they were and slowly collapsed. He ran past them towards the door at the other end of the galley. That brought him to storerooms and walk in freezers where the food was kept and after that was the end of the train.

The door there ought to have been locked, but it wasn’t. He felt the cool air of a desert night as he dashed towards the sound of Julia’s voice calling out for help. He stepped out onto a narrow ledge with a railing around it and saw her struggling with the robophobe. He was trying to make her get into a hover car that was moving alongside the train.

“Let her go,” Chrístõ demanded, adjusting his hold on the sonic screwdriver so that it looked, in the dark, like a gun.

“Chrístõ!” Julia yelled. “He’s not Human… he’s a robot… he’s…”

“I’m NOT a robot,” the man growled angrily. “Get back or she goes over the side instead of into the car.”

“He’s a robot,” Julia insisted. “He’s got metal parts under his clothes…”

Chrístõ stepped a pace closer and noticed that the robophobe’s shirt was ripped. Julia must have struggled a lot and he had come off quite the worse for it. He saw what she meant.

“He’s not a robot. He’s a cyborg… part organic being, part artificial. He must have had a very bad accident….”

“Plane crash,” he snapped. “I told you I don’t like flying. They repaired me… gave me a new life… a half life… Cyborgs are treated worse than actual robots… I’m a second class citizen. I don’t have medical insurance, I have a parts warranty. I’m ridiculed by colleagues at work. My family don’t want to know me. They say it’s unnatural. They say I would be better off dead… My fiancée said I disgust her… Yet they all have home robots. They don’t have a problem with them…”

“You did this?” Chrístõ was astonished. “The food poisoning… the robots going off programme… it was you… to discredit them… to prove that you’re better than a robot… You put people’s lives at risk… You… madman…”

“Madman… yes. And I’m not done, yet. After they sift through the wreckage and separate organic remains from robot parts… they’ll never trust a pile of mechanics again… they won’t make false men… and they won’t make half men, either… And I’ll watch…I’ll watch and laugh… for the first time in years I’ll laugh to see it…”

He began to push Julia towards the car again. Chrístõ gave a deep sigh as he pressed the button on his sonic screwdriver and aimed the localised electro-magnetic pulse at the desperate man’s heart… or the place where his heart ought to have been. The mechanical pump that replaced it was momentarily stopped. He collapsed. Julia pulled out of his grasp and ran to Chrístõ. He hugged her only briefly, though, before he bent to look at the robophobic cyborg.

“He’s still alive,” he confirmed. “I gave his electronic parts a nasty jolt. But there’s enough of him that’s still organic to carry on.” He pulled him up and carried him over his shoulder back into the train. He brought him as far as the vegetable storeroom and left him there to recover. He sealed the door with his sonic screwdriver.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Far from it.

“Chrístõ,” Julia asked. “What did he mean about sifting through wreckage? Why was he trying to get off the train?”

“Oh, sweet mother of chaos!” Chrístõ groaned. “Oh, no. He couldn’t have…”

He turned and ran. Julia ran after him as he retraced his steps through the galley, through the first class restaurant where people called out to him, asking what was wrong. He kept going past the first class compartments and the first class baggage car, through the second class section. He was breathless by the time he reached the third class cars, not because he was unfit, but because he had forgotten to breathe. He stopped and gasped for much needed air before he crashed through the door to the third class restaurant where the last of the victims were waiting.

“Sir,” he said to the driver. “Are you fit enough to come with me? We need a driver, a Human driver, right now.”

The driver still looked ill, but he caught the urgency of Chrístõ’s tone and followed him through the remaining sections to the entrance to the locomotive at the front of the train. He reached in his pocket for his own key but found it wouldn’t work.

Neither would the sonic screwdriver.

“There’s a deadlock seal on it,” Chrístõ groaned. “We can’t get through.”

“The TARDIS,” Julia said. “We can use the TARDIS.”

“Moving the TARDIS from one precise spot within a moving train to another precise spot… it would be a thousand to one chance of getting it right.”

“It’s our ONLY chance,” she pointed out. “We’ll all die if you don’t try. We know he’s done something to the train.”

“Come on,” he decided. He grasped Julia by the arm and urged the driver to follow him back to the freight car. He opened the TARDIS door and brought them inside. Julia introduced the driver to Humphrey and explained relative dimensions in layman’s terms as Chrístõ went to the console and worked out the very careful co-ordinates for such a difficult manoeuvre. He checked the figures twice before he dared to key them into the navigation drive. Julia saw the strain on his face and knew he was worried. They were safe, the three of them, no matter what happened. But all the other passengers on the train were doomed if he got it wrong.

His gamble paid off. The TARDIS materialised in the driver’s cab of the locomotive. He stepped out carefully and approached the robot co-driver. He was surprised when it collapsed noisily. He scanned it quickly and concluded that it had burnt out its central processor trying to revert to its original programming from the dangerous new programme that the technophobe saboteur had given it.

“Brave robot,” Chrístõ noted. “It tried to fight. It knew something was wrong. The soup… the passengers getting ill was incidental. You were the real target, sir. He needed the Human driver out of action.”

“And while I was, he mucked the train up good and proper,” the driver confirmed. “The computer navigation has been locked off. I can’t stop the train – or even slow it down.”

“We don’t need to do that, do we?” Julia asked. “At least, not yet. The train isn’t supposed to get anywhere for about fifteen hours. You can break the programme, Chrístõ, and then the driver can stop the train in plenty of time.”

“No,” the driver said. “We’re still travelling at two hundred miles an hour, and we’re a hundred miles away from the Tahelt Gorge.”

Chrístõ recalled that the Tahelt Gorge was narrower than the Gejujo Gorge, at only two miles. But that was no consolation to them right now.

“If we don’t slow down approaching the bridge, we’ll jump tracks and plunge into the gorge,” Chrístõ said. He was already trying to do what Julia said – break the programme and slow the train. But it was difficult. There were all sorts of dead ends and traps in the coding and nothing was happening. He kept trying.

“If that was all…” the driver said mournfully. “I’ve driven this train for twenty-five years. I know her… I could keep her on track… I think. I could give it a damn good try, anyway. But look at that…” He pointed to a visual display on the dashboard. Chrístõ guessed it was an interactive map of where the train was in relation to the gorge, but he couldn’t tell anything more from it.

“We switched tracks twenty minutes ago,” the driver told him. “We’re not heading towards the existing bridge. We’re on the old line heading towards the place where the bridge used to be.”

Chrístõ swore a very rude Low Gallifreyan swear word.

“Julia…when I tell you… get into the TARDIS. You’ll be safe there.”

“No,” she told him. “No, I won’t go… not without you. Not without everyone else. Can you get all of the people on board into the TARDIS in time?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Probably not. We’ve got twenty minutes left. If I can’t slow the train in the next…” He looked at the driver. “How much time does it take to stop this train from full speed?”

“Fifteen minutes,” the driver said. “It takes a full fifteen minutes to stop this train. If you don’t break the programming in five minutes, then I can’t stop the train before it crashes into the gorge.”

“Julia…” Chrístõ said. “Run to the third class car. Tell everyone to move towards first class. Tell them to get as far towards the back as possible. They might have a chance… if the train starts to slow…”

Julia did as he said. She took only a few minutes to do that. Then she came back to his side. She looked at the schematic that showed where the train was. She looked at the clock. The five minutes passed.

Chrístõ kept working.

Another five minutes passed.

“Got it!” Chrístõ cried out. “Driver… start slowing the train down… I know it’s tight. But try.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said. “But we’re past the point of no return. I don’t think…”

He took the control anyway. He was going to try, even if it meant that he would be the first to die when the train plunged into the gorge.

“I’ve got an idea,” Chrístõ said in a calm, slow voice. “It might not work. But it’s a hope… it’s a chance. Please… keep doing what you have to do, sir. Good luck…”

He grabbed Julia and pushed her into the TARDIS in front of him. He was scared that she would refuse to come with him. She had meant what she said about not leaving the other people. He didn’t want to leave them, either. It felt wrong knowing that, if his wild plan failed, he would live and they would all die horribly, including the brave man who was now doing his best to give them a fighting chance. He hated that. But he knew that leaving them to their fate while he tried one last possibility was the only chance they had.

“You know,” he said as he programmed the temporal and spatial co-ordinates. “Among the films I’ve banned from the TARDIS media room, there’s one called the Cassandra Crossing. Right now, the people in the train are living that film.”

“The film is about a train running headlong towards a gorge with no bridge?”

“It had a bridge but it wasn’t strong enough to hold the train. They came up with a solution. They uncoupled the first class section from the back of the train and used a hand brake to stop it. Sophia Loren and Richard Harris and all the pretty people in first class survived. But the rest of the train went crashing into the ravine. All the second class passengers died horribly, and far too graphically in my opinion.”

Julia shuddered as she thought of the people on the Desert Arrow dying horribly.

“I never liked that film,” Chrístõ added. “I thought the solution was a bad one. I don’t think the fact that a handful of people in first class survived was a good enough ending. I’m not going to let that happen if I can help it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to get them a bridge,” he answered.

“You’re… what?” Julia was puzzled, but a bit excited, too. She knew Chrístõ was about to do something spectacular, something that nobody else could do, and that nobody else would even think of.

And he did. She looked at the viewscreen and was surprised to see the TARDIS hovering over a magnificent suspension bridge that crossed the two mile wide gorge in the Great Iron desert. It was a twin of the Third Gejujo bridge with beautiful stone towers between which a graceful bridge finished in shining blue metal spanned.

“The Second Tahelt Bridge, when it was newly built. No train has yet crossed it. None are scheduled to do so for three days. So it won’t cause any problems if I borrow it for a little while.”

“Borrow it…” Julia stared at him. This was even more spectacular than she expected. “How?”

“I am extending the TARDIS’s dematerialisation field. We’re going to go forward in time to the night our train is running out of control and we’re bringing the bridge with us. If I can keep it there long enough without the TARDIS imploding from the strain of all the laws of physics I’m breaking, the train will pass safely over it.”

The TARDIS struggled. The time rotor glowed every shade of green possible and the engines groaned in protest. As they passed through the time vortex the floor vibrated strangely. Julia thought about the TARDIS imploding from the strain and wondered whether she was safer on the train after all.

“We’re in as much danger as they are,” she said. “This isn’t the safe option.”

“More,” Chrístõ replied. “Because there’s a remote chance the driver will stop the train in time. Does that make you feel better?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I really would feel guilty if we lived and they died.”

“Me too. But we’re doing the very best we can. Hang on. We’re rematerialising now.”

He knew straight away that he had timed it right. He could see the train approaching on the viewscreen. The TARDIS was hovering in its path. Below, the Tahelt gorge was spanned by a bridge that had no business being there. It glowed slightly as the forces of physics and logic tried to push it back where it came from and the TARDIS kept it there in defiance of those laws.

“Now might be a good time to move,” Julia said as the train bore down on them. It was still going at something like forty miles per hour. It wasn’t going to stop before the gorge. She saw it mount the impossible bridge. She breathed a sigh of relief, because she had been wondering if the rails were properly connected. She heard Chrístõ say there was probably a slight mismatch – maybe an inch or two – but that wouldn’t matter with static-grav momentum. As long as there WAS a rail beneath the wheels the train would keep going.

The TARDIS moved at a little under forty miles an hour, matching the speed of the train. Julia ran to the door and opened it. She looked down at the glowing, impossible bridge and then at the train. She could see that every carriage was on the bridge now. If anything happened to the TARDIS, if the ‘magic’ failed now there would be a terrible catastrophe. Every minute that they maintained it was a minute closer to safety. But it could all go so very terribly wrong.

“Just a few minutes more,” Chrístõ said, not to her, but to the TARDIS. “Please, give me a few minutes more. Come on, please! They need you.”

Humphrey was trilling sympathetically. He was like a slightly discordant incidental music as the dramatic scene of the film played out.

“We’re over the bridge,” Julia said. “Look. We’re out of the gorge. So is the locomotive.”

“Got to get the whole train onto solid ground before I can let it go,” Chrístõ said. “If it fails now, the carriages will just pull each other down. And besides… we sent everyone to the back, thinking they’d be safer there. Now they’re in the worst danger.”

The TARDIS rose a few feet higher, so that the train passed under it. Julia counted the carriages as they reached the safe, solid ground.

“The bridge is fading out,” she said. “Chrístõ… hold it a bit longer. Please…”

He was holding it. His hand was clamped down so hard on the helmic regulator that it was leaving an imprint on his palm. He grasped the temporal accelerator in his other hand and braced his feet against the base of the console. He was willing the TARDIS to give one more ounce of effort.

“It’s gone,” Julia cried out. “But… it’s all right. The last carriage is over the gorge. “It’s all right. Chrístõ, they made it.”

He let go of the console. The TARDIS hovered in passive mode for a few seconds as he breathed deeply. Then he took control again and steered in simple hover mode, after the train. It was slowing down now. The driver was in full control and he needed only another fifty yards to bring it to a complete stop.

When it did, Chrístõ set the TARDIS down beside the locomotive. The driver stepped down from his cabin and walked slowly towards him. His eyes were wide with shock and awe.

“Did… that really happen? Was I dreaming? Did I really see… a ghost bridge bearing us up…”

“It wasn’t a ghost,” Julia said. “It was… temporal physics. Brilliant temporal physics.”

“It might be my fault the second Tahelt Bridge failed much sooner than the engineers thought it would,” Chrístõ admitted. “I probably destabilised it quite a bit.”

The passengers were pouring out of the first class carriage, glad to put their feet on solid ground. They had all seen the miracle, too. Some of them walked back to the gorge and stared at the emptiness. Others came to the front of the train full of questions.

“Temporal physics,” Julia said again. She held onto Chrístõ around his waist. She was proud of him and his TARDIS. Nobody else could have saved the train. Nobody else could have done it in such style.

“I need to check the navigation programme,” Chrístõ said. “Just to make sure there’s nothing else blocking the manual control. After that, we should all get back aboard and carry on to West City. It’s a full twelve hours away. Time for everyone to make written statements to give to the authorities, making it clear that the robots were not at fault. They were interfered with by the prisoner back in the vegetable store. I think… just before we reach the station, though, Julia and I might just disappear in our space ship. I’m not sure if ‘borrowing’ a bridge is a criminal offence on Flexella, and I don’t want to have to argue it out with a judge.”

“They shouldn’t prosecute you for borrowing the bridge,” Julia said when they set off in the TARDIS twelve hours later with the grateful blessing of the passengers. “They should give you a medal for bravery.”

“If they’re giving out any medals, let them give on to that driver,” Chrístõ answered. “He knew they had only a slim chance of survival and yet he kept trying to stop the train. He deserves it. Not me. Besides, it’s not just Flexellan law I might have broken. If my little trick was made official it might get back to somebody on Gallifrey and there’d be an inquiry into proper use of time travel. Better we just quietly head home to Beta Delta and have a quiet night in with pizza and a film.”

“As long as there are no trains, bridges or robots in it,” Julia agreed.