“Where are we?” Natalie asked as they stepped out of the TARDIS onto what seemed to be a promenade at the seaside.

“New Brighton, on the Wirral peninsula, in early September, 1972,” Chrístõ replied.

“Why?” Julia asked. “Apart from the fact that it looks lovely.” She ran ahead a little and down the steps to the beach. When Chrístõ and Natalie caught up with her, she was looking at the ground beneath her feet curiously.

“That’s odd. Chrístõ? Is this why you’re here? The beach is really strange. It looks like sand, but it's hard as rock. As if something petrified the sand.”

Chrístõ laughed. “You’ve been in my world too long, Julia,” he said. “This is nothing sinister. A few years ago they built sea walls further up the coast, which prevented sand being carried by the tide and deposited here, while the same natural forces carried away the sand from here to another place. Saved one part of the coast from being eroded away completely but lost the beach here. Which made this a rather sad and dejected little seaside resort, I’m afraid.”

“Oh!”

“I think Julia is disappointed,” Natalie said with a smile. “She wanted it to be some kind of alien plot.”

“No, just a cautionary tale for the environment. Any interference with a coastal system at any point will have effects further down the line. It’s the same with time travel, you know. I have to be very careful not to cause changes in the time line that will impact on future events and change them.”

Natalie thought about that for a minute or two. She had taught the sort of physical geography that they had just been talking about to children for years. Now she applied it to Chrístõ’s world.

“Like… if you killed somebody here in 1972 and they were meant to discover a cure for a disease in 1982….”

“Well, I don’t make a habit of killing people so it's not THAT dramatic. More like… I shouldn’t give that person the cure in 1972 when they aren’t supposed to discover it until 1982.”

“Why would that matter? You’d be helping them. Might save more lives.”

“Yes, but I might save the life of somebody who would have died – and they might be a murderer and kill somebody else who should have lived. Do you see….”

“Yes, I think so. Why do you DO time travel if it is so dangerous?”

“Because we can, I suppose,” Chrístõ said. “That’s a funny question in a way. I’ve never really thought about it. I like visiting different times and places. And sometimes I HAVE to interfere to make something right that WOULD have upset the timestream otherwise. That’s why I am here today. My father sent me. He needs me to prevent something happening that could have enormous consequences.”

“What?” Natalie asked.

“A Grandfather paradox,” he said. “Or in this case a grandmother paradox. A contravention of one of the most important Laws of Time.” He looked at Natalie. She clearly didn’t understand him.

“I see,” she said. Though he knew she didn’t. She looked at Chrístõ and wondered how somebody so young could carry the responsibilities he carried without feeling utterly crushed by them.

Then she remembered that he WASN’T as young as he looked.

And yet, for all he was nearly 200 years old, he WAS only a boy by the standards of his world. He WAS exactly what he looked. A teenager on the verge of full manhood, with all the vulnerabilities of that age. Just because he had been educated for far longer than she could even contemplate didn’t change that.

She smiled as she watched him run and catch up with Julia as she took off her sandals and splashed in the rock pools that this strange beach had in abundance He pretended to be scared when she picked up a piece of seaweed and chased him with it. He was willingly caught by her and she in turn caught by him. He joyfully lifted her off the ground and Julia athletically wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek lovingly. Natalie was left far behind at that point, making her way along the beach at her own speed. But even from a distance she could see the joy on his face. For all that his relationship with Julia could be misconstrued by those who chose to misconstrue it, Natalie saw it for what it was. Two young people enjoying each other’s company in a perfectly healthy and innocent way.

“Natalie!” Chrístõ called to her as she reached them at last. “Are you all right?” Julia dropped down onto her own two feet and turned to look at her, concern on her bright young face.

“Just a bit breathless,” she admitted. “I’m not as young as I used to be. It's all right for you two to be running about.”

She wasn’t as WELL as she used to be, either, Chrístõ thought, though he did not say. The drugs he made sure she had every day were keeping the cancer at bay, but he wasn’t sure how much longer they would do that.

They didn’t talk about it. Even when he injected her daily, even when he examined her to see how well the drugs were working, they didn’t talk about the future. She didn’t want to. She wanted to live every day to the full and not think about the future. And for as long as that was possible there was no need to burden her with constant reminders of how ill she was. If she wanted to put her breathlessness down to not being as young as she was, that was fine.

“Let’s take things a little easier,” Chrístõ said. “The tide is coming in, anyway. We need to go up on the promenade. So… let’s promenade – a leisurely walk in the brisk sea air.”

The tide came in with a vengeance as they retreated to the promenade and walked, watching the ships steaming in and out of the Mersey river estuary. The port of Liverpool was a much bigger and busier place in 1972 than it was in later years and there was plenty of such traffic.

They looked upriver to where they could clearly see the great landmarks of the Liverpool seafront.

“Funny to think,” Julia noted. “That’s where Terry and Cassie will live in…” she worked it out on her fingers. “34 years.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ said. “The place where they live then is still a working dock in this time, with ships being loaded and unloaded into the warehouse that will be their apartment.”

“Time travel is a strange thing.”

“Yes, it is.” His eyes turned from the distance to the waves crashing against the sea wall close to him. It was strong enough for them to feel the spray cooling their faces. As the tide fell back they saw the rocks that were built up against the wall to protect it, the sea water hissing and fizzing as it trickled down before a fresh wave engulfed them again. The benign place they had walked not half an hour before was now under a good ten feet of seething, broiling water that even he would not want to try to swim in with those rocks to be dashed against.

“Chrístõ….” Julia exclaimed. “That woman… She’s….”

Chrístõ looked where she pointed. Some fifty yards away a woman was climbing over the railing that protected the promenading public from being swept away by the worst excesses of the tide. She had obviously decided she didn’t want to be protected.

“Chrístõ!” Natalie screamed. But Chrístõ was no longer walking beside them. She and Julia just caught a blur as he accelerated into what he called a time fold. He came out of it beside the would-be suicide.

“Go away,” she told him, tears running down her face.

“I can’t,” he said. “I’m an interfering busybody. If I see somebody in trouble I come to their rescue. Even when they don’t want to be rescued.”

“I don’t want to be rescued.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to live any more,” she said. “There’s nothing for me to live for.”

“There’s your baby,” Chrístõ told her.

“What?” She turned and looked at him despite herself. She was a pretty young woman, aged about 20, he judged. She had long brown hair tied back from her face by the simple method of scooping it up and fastening it in an elastic band. The sea breeze had pulled several strands out and they blew across her face, which was pale apart from red rimmed eyes of a slate-grey colour that reminded him of his mother’s eyes. Those eyes were filled with the extreme despair of one pushed to the point of suicide, and her lips trembled with fear as she spoke to him.

“What baby?” she demanded.

“You’re pregnant,” he told her. “That’s why you’re unhappy. But there’s no need to be. There is nothing more wonderful than motherhood. It's one of the great miracles of life.”

“How do you know?” she asked. “It’s not showing…”

“I know,” Chrístõ insisted. “I’m psychic,” he added.

“Don’t be daft. There’s no such thing.”

“Then how do I know you’re pregnant?”

“You might be a friend of Mike’s.”

“Mike is the father of the baby?”

“Yes. Though he says he isn’t. He says I probably slept with lots of men and it isn’t anything to do with him. But he’s a liar. He was the only man I ever….” She started to cry again and turned from him. He vaulted over the railing and stood beside her, his hand on her arm, gently, not restraining, but ready to restrain if she tensed a single muscle ready to jump.

“Well, if Mike is like that, then he’s not likely to have told a friend that he’s got you pregnant, is he. It’s obviously not something he’s proud of.”

“No, I suppose not. But then how DO you know?”

“Told you, I’m psychic. And I’m also your friend, Diane.”

“How do you….”

“I’m psychic.”

“Then you can see my future,” she said. “A short one.”

“I can see more than that,” he told her. “You’re going to have a beautiful baby. Do you want to know if it's a boy or a girl?”

“I don’t care,” she cried. “I didn’t want to be pregnant. He told me it was ok… that I wouldn’t… and then… then he… I don’t want to be pregnant and alone… I don’t want to look after a baby all by myself.”

“You could go home,” he told her. “Your parents will only be angry for a little while. After they’ve gotten over the shock they’ll support you all the way.”

“No they won’t,” she said. “Dad will… mum will be so ashamed of me…”

“And how do you think they’ll feel if you kill yourself?”

“I won’t be around to care.”

“So… you’re just thinking of yourself?” he said. “You’re a selfish person who doesn’t care how other people feel. You don’t care about your parents, you don’t care about killing an innocent baby.”

“It’s not a real baby yet,” she argued. “It’s just cells growing inside me. Like a cancer.”

Chrístõ glanced around at Natalie. She was still far enough away not to have heard that. She and Julia stood looking anxiously at them. So did a small crowd of people that was starting to gather. So did a policeman he saw coming to find out what was happening.

“That’s not true,” Chrístõ told her. “Life is life from the moment of conception. Your baby is real. And it IS a reason for carrying on. Ok, Mike is a dead loss. That’s rough. I’m sorry for that. But you’re not. You ARE a wonderful Human being and you are worth it.”

“Why should you care?”

“I care about all life. I think life is worth fighting for. I think life is better than death any time. Life has a million possibilities. Death has only one.”

She thought about that at least. She looked out to sea. She looked down at her feet, and beyond to the waves crashing against the rocks. Then she looked back at him and reached out her arm slowly. Her hand clasped his.

He smiled as his hand closed around hers. He could see her timeline clearly. And it WAS much longer than she had thought a little while ago. Though not, he noted, as long as it ought to be.

“Come on, Diane,” he said gently. “There’s time to get a cup of tea before your bus leaves.” He guided her back across the railing. He walked with his arm around her shoulder as Natalie and Julia came to join them. The policeman approached but Chrístõ turned his most forceful and hypnotic gaze on him. He turned away and dispersed the crowd with what Chrístõ had always thought was a very silly comment in most circumstances where a crowd has gathered to watch Human drama enfolding in front of them:-

“Move along now, there is nothing to see.”

 

“Why couldn’t you have hypnotised her the way you did the policeman?” Julia asked him later as they watched the Birkenhead bus pull out of New Brighton station, with a young pregnant woman called Diane aboard, looking happier and more hopeful than she had done earlier, going home to tell her parents what had happened and to make the best of her future.

Now that she had a future.

“I could have done that, to get her to come back over the railing,” he admitted. “Would have been quicker. But later when it wore off she would have tried again. Because the urge to kill herself was still there. This way, I showed her that she DID have other options.”

“Poor thing,” Natalie said. “Wanting to kill herself and a baby on the way.”

“Well, her boyfriend sounds horrible,” Julia said. She clung to HER boyfriend’s hand as she spoke. The one certainty she had in her life was that she would never have to take a chance on the ‘Mike’s’ of the universe.

“Is that what we came to do?” Natalie asked. “To save her from killing herself.”

“Partly,” Chrístõ said. “I need to talk to my father later. He said he would call me. Meanwhile… New Brighton was getting to be a bit of a jaded place by 1972. Seeing as we have the option, I think we’ll spend the afternoon in its heyday in the 1950s, when there was a big funfair over there and a miniature steam railway.” He saw Julia’s smile when he suggested that. She was so mature for her age when she needed to be, and some of the situations he brought her into meant that she needed to be. It was important for her to have chances, between the terrifying and the strange and the upsetting times, to be 12 years old and to have fun. An afternoon without worrying about the next part of his assignment was what he needed, too.

But later, while Natalie relaxed on the sofa and Julia dropped off to sleep beside her, her face flushed with the excitement of riding every ride in the fairground and hands sticky from the sugary confections he willingly treated her with, he stood by the console and waited as the videophone connected to the screen in the private chamber of the Gallifreyan Ambassador to the Empire of Adano-Ambrado.

“Penne and Cirena send their best regards,” his father told him as they greeted each other fondly.

“And mine to them,” Chrístõ answered. “And is Valena well? She stayed on Gallifrey when you returned to Adano-Ambrado?”

“Yes,” his father told him. “Though it is simply because she prefers to live on our home world. I hope she and Garrick will visit soon, though.”

Chrístõ nodded. His feelings for his stepmother and half-brother were still ambivalent, but he remembered her courage when she and Julia were threatened by Epsilon’s machinations and more recently, her part in the Battle for Gallifrey.

“You prevented the suicide attempt?” his father asked, moving on quickly.

“I did,” he said. “And persuaded her to go home to her family. But there is more, isn’t there.”

“There is. Chrístõ, do you know what a Yamelien is?”

“It is one of the mutable species. This one is from the Y-K system of the Gemini sector. Yamelien - like all mutables - are noted for their innate ability to adapt their appearance. Nobody is entirely sure WHAT their ‘default’ shape is, whether Humanoid or other, because they refuse to allow any outsiders to visit their planet, while Yamelien offworld are able to take the shape of whatever the dominant species of the planet is. The popular term is ‘shape-shifters’.” He paused. “The Yamelien are particularly notorious among mutable species as being without scruples and are often employed for criminal activities including professional assassination.”

“The textbook description,” his father said. “That’s what you’re up against next, my son. And you know how vital it is that you succeed.”

“I do,” he said. He smiled wryly. “Father, you were on Earth in the last two decades of the 20th century. Have you seen a film called The Terminator?”

“Yes,” he replied. “It was not exactly my cup of tea. And it wasn’t your mother’s idea of a romantic night out, either. But it was an interesting illustration of exactly why many of our Laws of Time were written.”

“How about the sequel?”

His father smiled. “Yes, the irony of the situation is not lost on me. You take care, my son. If you fall victim to it, then all is lost.”

“I will be careful. But, father… Why is this being done?”

“The same conspirator I already dealt with had put several plans in action. This was his most desperate, only to be enacted in the event of his own death. It is a clear violation of Article II. Paragraph B. of the Laws of Time. The death sentence would have been mandatory anyway. Quite apart from the dangerous paradox that would be created – with consequences that would ripple through time and space for centuries. To say nothing of what it would mean to us, personally.”

“I will do my best, as always,” Chrístõ said. “Father… I should thank you… for trusting me to do this. Knowing HOW vital this is.”

“I should thank YOU, my son. But… let’s save those niceties for when it is done.”

“Yes,” he said. “Father… in case… should I fail… The consequences…. I just want you to know… that I love you.”

His father replied warmly. They both knew, of course, that if he failed, this conversation would never take place. But he hadn’t failed yet.

“Chrístõ…” Natalie came to his side as he turned off the viewscreen and began to programme a new co-ordinate. “That creature that your father spoke of…. You have to hunt it down?”

“Yes,” he said. “It isn’t as hard as it sounds. Yamelieni have a distinctive smell – like rusting iron. And I should be able to rig a portable life-signs detector to signal when I am near.”

“And IT is hunting… your father said professional assassin…”

“You guessed it. It’s after Diane. Saving her from committing harm to herself was only part of my work. Only the first time her life was under threat.”

“But she’s just a young girl. Only a few years older than Julia. Why is she important?”

“She’s not. She’s just an ordinary young woman. It has been paid to find her and kill her to prevent her child from growing up. Her child is important.”

“Why? Will he – or she – be an important politician or…”

“Nothing quite so dramatic. But even the most ordinary person has their part in the fabric of space time. Diane’s child has to play her small part. Or there will be huge consequences.” He smiled. “Tell you what, look up that film on the internet. We’ve got the Yamelien instead of a homicidal robot, but otherwise the principle is the same.”

“Chrístõ,” Natalie said. “Your father was worried. It was in his eyes. Be careful. For all our sakes.”

“That I will,” he promised, then he went to wake Julia from her nap and sent her to get ready for bed properly. He would fight the Yamelien in the morning. Natalie went to bed soon after and he laid down on the cabin bed in the console room. He felt tired himself.

 

“Chrístõ!” He woke with a start and stared around the darkened console room. Julia was beside him. So was Natalie, a big pink flowered dressing gown around her.

“What happened?” he asked. He felt strange. As if he had suffered some kind of emotional shock. But he couldn’t remember anything happening.

“You had a nightmare,” Julia told him. “We both heard you shouting in your sleep. And you scared Humphrey.” She put her hand on his forehead. He was sweating coldly and he was shaking, too. “It must have been a very terrible nightmare to frighten you.” She hugged him and he slowly started to breathe normally and calm his racing hearts. She could feel them both beating so hard as he pressed close to him.

“I shouldn’t have HAD a nightmare,” Chrístõ said. “I wasn’t asleep as you know it. I had put myself into a second level trance. It should be dreamless. Usually it is. This was more than a nightmare. I felt… as if my soul was being tampered with somehow.”

“I don’t understand,” Julia told him.

“I know. And I can’t really explain it. Just… just hold me. That’s the best way you can help me. I need you there, Julia, my love.”

She cuddled up to him lovingly. Humphrey came out of his corner and hovered near them. Chrístõ put out his hand through the darkness creature’s head. He purred reassuringly. Natalie looked at her watch. It was a little after six o’clock. She announced that she would make breakfast and disappeared into the corridors she would never have found her way around without Chrístõ’s arrow system to guide her. When she returned with a tray of food and coffee Chrístõ had made contact with his father and was discussing the best way to vanquish a Yamelien.

“If it has taken Human form then it can die in a Human way. That is its disadvantage,” his father told him. “It takes on the weaknesses of the species it assimilates as well as the strengths.”

“I understand that,” Chrístõ said.

“You understand that you must kill it, Chrístõ? There are no compromises, no half measures here. You must kill it.”

“Yes, I understand that, too.”

“It means that you will, effectively, be killing a Human.”

“Killing a monster pretending to be a Human,” Chrístõ said. “I won’t fail you, father.” He looked at the viewscreen for a long time. “Father… I…” He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. Maybe nothing. What he wanted was to see his father respond to him when he called him ‘father’.

Because in the dream, the nightmare, that he could not recall completely, who he was, his very identity, seemed to have been called into question. He needed the reassurance of the most fundamental basis of his life.

He needed to be sure he WAS who he thought he was.

He said goodbye to his father and closed the connection. He turned and took the plate of food Natalie offered to him and sat to eat while the TARDIS completed its journey to Duke Street, Birkenhead in May, 1973.

Duke street obviously had ideas above its station, Chrístõ thought as he stepped out of what appeared to be nothing more than a gate set into what was an ordinary, blank, red brick wall. His symbol was fixed to it by rusty looking metal numerals. He smiled. The sort of shops where they sold such sold such things NEVER ran to the Greek alphabet, but otherwise it was a good disguise for the TARDIS. The kind of thing people would walk past and take no notice of, even if they had walked past that wall every day of their lives without it ever having a gate in it before.

He looked up and down the street. Mostly it was late Victorian terracing, a long road that stretched from the quiet of Birkenhead Park to the south to Seacombe Docks to the north. Traffic to and from those docks was building up into an impressive traffic jam due to the fact that a police car and ambulance were parked outside one of the terraced houses and a crowd of concerned neighbours were gathered.

“Oh no,” Julia murmured, clutching Chrístõ’s hand. “Are we too late already?”

“No, we’re not,” Chrístõ said with absolute certainty. “Come on, let’s eavesdrop.”

Mingling with the crowd was not difficult. Listening in to the scraps of conversation gave them all a clear idea of what had happened.

“Disgusting, it is. A body isn’t safe in their own homes…. I remember when we could leave our doors open and we were in and out of each other’s kitchens… I blame those gyppos over on the industrial estate…. A pregnant girl woken from her sleep by somebody trying to strangle her… I heard he tried to… Disgusting… I never heard the like… Thank goodness her dad had his old service revolver… Is he going to be all right?... I heard the shot…. They’re bringing him out now…”

He understood now why he had been disturbed in his meditation. The creature had come close to killing Diane. And the timestream had wobbled. History had begun to be rewritten, with dreadful consequences for him personally as well as for the universe generally. Only for one brave Human who had managed to put it right again in the nick of time, he would not be standing there now.

Chrístõ managed to get to the front of the crowd as the door opened and two ambulance men – the word paramedic was not applied to them for another twenty years, and it was most certainly a man’s job in these pre-equal opportunities times – brought out a stretcher. He had the impression some of the people were disappointed not to see a covered body. Mr. Frederick Lyons, Diane’s father, looked pale and distressed but certainly not bleeding to death as some other doom merchant in the crowd had suggested. His wife was crying and trying to decide whether she should go with her husband in the ambulance or stay with her daughter who was standing on the doorstep looking equally upset.

“We’ll look after her,” Natalie said, stepping out of the crowd and patting the woman on the arm gently. She guided her to the ambulance while Julia took Diane by the arm saying that she would get the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea. Chrístõ smiled proudly at them both. If he had stepped in then, a teenager in a leather jacket, he would never have mustered enough Power of Suggestion to get past the innate prejudices against ‘gyppos’ and other assorted strangers this crowd were exhibiting. But Natalie, in her skirt and blouse and sensible shoes looked like she fitted right into the neighbourhood and Julia was such a sweet looking girl nobody would ever think twice about her walking into their house and putting the kettle on.

As the ambulance got on its way and the police went into their ‘move along, there’s nothing to see’ routine he scanned the dispersing crowd. He had no doubt this was the work of the Yamelien, but it had gone now. All of these people were fully and completely Human – well, apart from one of the policemen, who had obviously hidden the fact that he came from a Humanoid race in the outer fringes of the Andromeda galaxy very well. Chrístõ looked at him and half-smiled. Another extra-terrestrial exile living a quiet life on this relatively peaceful planet. Nothing to do with any of this. He had no more reason to suspect this was anything more than a bungled burglary than his Human colleagues.

As soon as the street was clear Chrístõ slipped into the house. He followed the aroma of PG Tips tea bags stewing in a china pot and found the kitchen. Natalie poured him a cup with two sugars and he sat down.

“How did you get here?” Diane asked him. “The three of you? How is it you were here when…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Chrístõ told her. “We’re here, that’s the main thing, and we’re going to look after you until the one who scared you is caught.”

“He tried to strangle her,” Julia told him. “She woke up and there was somebody standing over her, and his hands were around her neck.”

“Very strong hands,” she said. “And… his breath was…” she shuddered. “His breath was so strange. Like… metal… I thought I was going to die. I felt…. and then my dad was there. He scared the life out of me even more. That old gun of his…. I didn’t even know it had bullets. I don’t think he did…. It went off… I’m almost sure it hit the man… He sort of jerked as if…. But then he ran away… knocked my dad halfway down the stairs… by the time me and mum got to him…”

“Your dad is fine,” Chrístõ told her. “A nasty bang on the head. They’ll keep him in overnight and he’ll be right as rain tomorrow. He’ll have his picture in the Liverpool Echo – ordinary man turned hero, tackling a burglar in his home and all that.”

“You’re psychic,” Diane said with a laugh that brightened her strained face. “You said so last time.” Then she put her hand to her stomach. Natalie and Julia both looked concerned. “The baby is kicking,” she said. “I’m glad. I was worried. Another month to go…”

“The baby is just fine,” Chrístõ told her. “Do you still not want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“I just want it to be healthy,” she said. “We’ve got everything ready. Everything but the pram. That’s on lay-away at the store. It’s bad luck to have the pram in the house before the baby is born, you know.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that,” Chrístõ said. He told Julia to make another pot of tea and left them to it. He wanted to see the room where the attack had taken place. Diane told him not to touch anything. The police said they were going to send a fingerprint man around later.

The ‘fingerprint man’ would not find anything he could use, Chrístõ knew. Even the more sophisticated forensic science of a few decades later in Earth history would be hard pressed. They would dismiss the stains on the carpet as irrelevant. They certainly would not be found to be blood. The sonic screwdriver’s readout told him the minerals that made up the brownish-red substance. Yamelien blood. It WAS wounded. But not so badly that it couldn’t get clean away.

He followed the blood drops down the stairs. A forensic scientist of twenty or thirty years later would have been able to tell just by the way the droplets had fallen that the subject was running. He glanced back at the kitchen where Natalie and Julia were still keeping Diane calm and plying her with tea. As he reached the front door he was met by a woman in a plain cotton dress and an apron who had a plate of home made scones in her hand.

“I’m Maggie from next door,” she said. “I thought young Diane might….” Chrístõ nodded. He knew a certain amount of ‘nosy parker’ went with the neighbourly gesture, but that was par for the course.

“Did you see anything at all, Mrs Rooney?” Chrístõ asked, and the woman didn’t even think to ask how he knew her surname.

“I did, in fact. I was telling the nice young policeman before. Horrible looking character he was. All dressed in black… and a sort of hood over his face. Ran towards the docks. They’ll have lost him there, of course. Full of all sorts the docks are. But we’ve never had bother before. The gyppos… they come round selling pegs and the like. The women, that is. And the kids. I never mind them so much. Except that they’re all so grubby you’d think they were no different from the rest of us. I wouldn’t trust the men so much. But this doesn’t seem like something even they’d do. I mean… if they see an open door… but breaking into a house….”

Chrístõ waited until she had run out of words. Apart from telling him which direction to start looking now that the blood droplets had run out, there was nothing useful in her chatter.

“Go on and see Diane,” he told her. “She’ll appreciate the scones.” And he slipped past her and made his way quickly up the road towards the docks.

Identifying the Yamelien by its distinctive odour of rusting metal was not going to work here, he realised. Metal, rusting and otherwise, was everywhere, from the ships, to the corrugated iron sheds on the dockside, to the rather impressive bascule bridge that opened up as he watched to let a freighter with a Dutch registration pass between the West and East Float docks as it headed towards the River Mersey and its sea voyage.

The wrist held life-signs detector was not having it easy, either. This was a busy place. In the era when Terry and Cassie lived on the other side of the river in Liverpool, this dock was being developed into another leisure and residential area. The East Dock was used as an open air museum of historic ships. In 1973, it was a hive of industry.

There was a sprinkling of lifesigns among the dockworkers who were second or third generation extra-terrestrials. Again, he expected that. Anywhere that there would be a large workforce there would surely be a few of them. Most were Allerians. Their planet was destroyed by meteor bombardment in what would have been the 1950s in Earth terms. Several ships of survivors found their way to Earth. One of them was lost, tragically, at a place in New Mexico called Roswell, and sparked the kind of suspicion and paranoia that made it impossible for them to live openly on this planet. But most of them were able to slip quietly into Human society and raise families in peace.

As he waited for the ship to pass and the bascule to be lowered again he focussed his attention on that gypsy encampment that had been mentioned more than once by the Duke Street residents. Was it any wonder aliens had difficulties, he thought, when even Humans whose lifestyles differed were viewed suspiciously.

He was suspicious of the camp, too, though for a different reason. It WAS a perfect place for the Yamelien to hide. The nomadic and ever-changing population would, at one and the same time, hide somebody who looked as if he belonged, and close ranks against anyone who didn’t. And the Yamelien was good at looking as if he belonged.

As the bridge re-opened to traffic, Chrístõ jumped up on the back of a flatbed lorry transporting timber. There was no pedestrian walkway on the bridge and he didn’t fancy tangling with the heavy duty vehicles that lumbered across.

As the lorry touched solid ground again the encampment came into the limited range of the lifesigns monitor. It bleeped twice to warn him and when he looked the Yamelien’s distinctive DNA was represented by a flashing yellow blip on the screen. He had guessed right. He jumped down off the lorry and straightened his jacket as he walked into what he knew was not going to be an easy situation.

It wasn’t. Nor was it helped by the fact that a police car was leaving the camp just as he walked in. The men were already standing about looking mutinous and angry. He got no more than a few yards before he was blocked by four of them, three armed with pieces of two by four and the other with a hefty looking lump hammer and a cold chisel held in much the same way a Shaolin fighter would hold their more exotic weapons.

“I don’t know you, stranger,” the man with the hammer and chisel told him. His tone was distinctly threatening though he held his distance. Chrístõ was well aware that several more people were behind him, and his next words had to be chosen carefully.

“You do not,” he replied, speaking in a more fluent Romani dialect than the man himself had. He saw his eyes flicker in surprise and his hand slacken just slightly on the weapon. “But I am not the only stranger here among you. There is one… you protected him just now when the ‘baulo’ came looking for information.”

That did it. His use of their own slang term for a policeman – approximating to the English word ‘pig’ put him on their side. They lowered their weapons and he felt the ones behind him backing off at a mere glance from the leader – the man with the hammer.

“This man is a bedàko (troublemaker),” he continued. “He has already brought trouble to you. He has committed a crime against a woman in the houses beyond the bridge. The settled people are pointing fingers to you. But you are innocent. You would not soil your hands with such a deed. And harbouring this bipatjivalò (dishonourable man) within your camp will bring only grief to you all.”

“The one who called himself Lorrell,” one of the men said to the leader. “I had my suspicions. He went out during the night, and returned early this morning.”

“He is here still,” Chrístõ said. “I will remove the bedàko from your midst and you may go on with your lives without him bringing disgrace upon you.”

“Come,” he was told and the men tightened their hold on their weapons as they turned and walked purposefully through the encampment. Chrístõ noticed the faces of women and children peeping from the caravans. Grubby was the word Mrs Rooney had used. And it was about right. But no grubbier, perhaps, than the children of Duke Street would be after a day of play in their semi-industrial environment. It was an undeserved prejudice.

All looked away as he caught their eye. Ironic that the Yamelien had been able to gain their trust so much more easily.

The men stopped at a caravan near the far end of the encampment, where a rusty chain link fence backed onto the West Dock. It looked no different from any of the others, except it had no curtains at the windows.

The leader kicked open the door and went in. Chrístõ made to follow, but the men indicated to him that, fluent though he was in their language he was STILL a stranger and this was a matter for them. He conceded that for the moment. But he was tensed ready for trouble that even these heavily built Romani men who were used to fighting their corner might not be able to manage.

And he was right to be prepared. The leader gave a cry of sudden pain and the door swung open again. The Yamelien leapt out. He was disguised as a swarthy-complexioned man, shirtless and shoeless in black slacks, and there was a distinctly grubby bandage on his shoulder that was stained rust-brown. Close up Chrístõ knew him for what he was even without the wrist monitor’s low warning bleep. The distinct smell, even here among so many other sources of metal, the slight redness of the iris despite the eye colour that went with the disguise, and his superHuman strength. He knocked down all three of the men and ploughed through the crowd that gathered a few paces behind.

Chrístõ turned on his heels and gave chase. The Yamelien knocked aside several more well-built Romani men as it ran from him. Did it know he was also of extra-terrestrial origin? Did it know who he was? Did it know he was the real reason for his mission to kill an innocent young woman of no apparent importance?

Chrístõ didn’t care. He gave chase through the camp. He couldn’t time fold with so many crowds around. But he shouldn’t have to. His normal running speed ought to be faster than the Yamelien.

A car was turning into the camp. A battered looking vehicle with a trailer loaded with scrap metal. The Yamelien dodged in front of it just as the gap closed. Chrístõ narrowly avoided running into it. Another reason not to time fold. He would have ended up trying to run THROUGH the all too solid vehicle.

When it was clear the Yamelien had a good hundred yards on him. It was heading back towards Duke Street Bridge. Back towards Diane to try another attempt on her life? Or just running from him? He didn’t know. But this time he DID time fold briefly to negate the advantage the creature had gained on him.

As he came out of the fold he was aware that the traffic on the road was slowing to a stop. A barrier had come down and a bell was ringing. The bascule was opening. There was no great freighter this time, but the tug boat that awaited admittance to the West Float was just as fully entitled to have the road traffic stopped for it.

The Yamelien continued to run up the section of metal roadway as it became rapidly more precipitous. When fully opened, Chrístõ knew, it would be near vertical. As he ran past the barrier, ignoring the shouts from lorry drivers and dock workers who stopped to stare at the unfolding drama, it was already something like forty-five degrees. It was tough going, but he reached the top and grabbed at the creature.

It snarled at him as he pulled it by the belt of its trousers and got a grip on its shoulder where it was bandaged. It screamed in obvious pain and lashed out with its other arm. Chrístõ slipped and grabbed for a handhold on the steel girders that made up the side of the bridge. For a moment he hung there by one hand, the bridge vertical now and what was the ground a precipitous wall. He managed to grasp it with both hands, but he was going nowhere. The Yamelien was crawling along the top edge of the bridge. He knew what it had in mind. When it reached him it would try to prise his fingers from their precarious hold and send him plummeting down.

But the tug didn’t take long to pass through to the West Float. And Chrístõ felt the movement as the bascule began to descend again. He shifted his grip and lay down on what would eventually be the flat roadway. The Yamelien was in the dangerous position. It slipped down, gripping the edge of the bridge. He heard it screaming for help but he couldn’t move yet. And he already knew what would happen before he could even begin to try.

The creature knew, too. So did the horrified onlookers. Somebody was yelling to somebody else to raise the bridge. But it was already beyond the point of no return. Gravity had more or less taken over.

Chrístõ scrambled to his knees as the gap between bridge and road closed. He reached out and grabbed the Yamelien’s flailing hand. But it was too late. The bridge closed with a sickening squelch and crunch and a thud as the Yamelien’s head was pulped by the sheer weight of the bridge. He heard the splash as the body fell into the dock below and he felt the hand he was holding come free. He looked at it once and stuck it in the inside pocket of his jacket. The Yamelien blood would do no good to the silk lining but he had his own reasons for holding onto the thing.

There were men running towards him, some of them in the yellow florescent jackets of the bridge controllers, and he heard a siren in the distance. He picked himself up and ran for it back towards Duke Street.

As he came within sight of Diane’s home he saw another ambulance just pulling away and another small crowd dispersing, their second domestic drama of the day. Julia came running to him.

“Diane’s contractions started,” she told him. “Natalie and Mrs Rooney have gone with her. I thought I’d better wait for you.”

“Good girl,” he said. “Come on… the TARDIS.”

 

First things first, he thought. He put the gruesome relic of his tangle with the Yamelien into a receptacle on the TARDIS console and smiled wryly as he saw the picture that came up on the monitor. Extrapolated from the claw-like reptilian hand the TARDIS was able to give a very accurate picture of what he briefly saw the creature revert to before it was crushed to death. Something like a crocodile that walked upright. That would puzzle the divers looking for the body later today, he thought, but he wasn’t going to help them work it out. The Gallifreyan database of species, though, would find this information useful. Now they DID know what the Yamelien’s default shape was.

“Are we going to the hospital to see Diane?” Julia asked him. “I hope she’s all right. And the baby. It’s a month too soon. The shock of all that happened earlier, I suppose.”

“Yes, we are going there, but I have to pick up a little something first. A present for her and the baby.” He looked at Julia and smiled. “Yes, Diane will be fine. So will her baby girl.”

“You’re so sure about that. How come?”

Chrístõ smiled again as he turned to his console. He would have to remember, of course, later, when they weren’t in as much of a hurry, to nip back a couple of weeks and place the order, otherwise it would be a paradox when he turned up at the shop to pick up the hand-made baby shawl with the name and date of birth of the child embroidered on it.

 

“I get how you can go back and do that,” Julia said as they left the hospital after visiting a tired but happy Diane and her newborn daughter. “But how DID you know that she was going to call the baby Marion?”

“It’s his mother’s name,” Natalie said. “I’m right, aren’t I? I DID look up that film. This wasn’t just protecting any woman, any baby. Diane is your Human grandmother. Her baby is your mother.” Natalie thought about it a little more. “If the creature had killed Diane before your mother was born, you would not exist. Your father would not have married a Human woman.” She thought it through to the next logical conclusion. “I wouldn’t exist either. Neither would Julia. We would both have died lonely deaths without you to rescue us.”

“Oh, Chrístõ!” Julia murmured and closed her hand tighter on his. “Oh, I never realised. Oh, but that means everything IS all right now. The baby will grow up just fine and marry your father and….”

Chrístõ smiled. Julia believed in happy endings. Why wouldn’t she at her age. But he knew happy endings were not that easy. Diane would have ten good years. He had bought her that much, first by helping her through her despair when she was pregnant and alone in New Brighton eight months before. That had always been a part of her history. His father had found out somehow that the mother of his first wife had contemplated suicide very briefly. She had changed her mind. History did not record why. It was not breaking any rules for Chrístõ to go back and be the one who had helped her see the light.

And then the Yamelien had come to kill her on behalf of those who were so desperate to prevent a half-blood from fulfilling his destiny that they would break one of the most fundamental Laws of Time that governed his and every other race in the universe.

Now it was over, and she had ten years of happy life, bringing up the little girl she loved. In 1983, she would die. A simple car accident, and nobody could prevent that happening. To do so would be an equally serious breach of the Laws. She was fated to die, and her little girl would live with her grandparents until they both died a few years after that, then would come a rather dismal time, passed from one foster home to another until she was old enough to go to university, where she met and fell in love with a man who was quite a bit older than she was. Quite a bit older, in fact, than she even realised at first.

Even then, it wasn’t a completely happy ending. His mother had died before her time, too. But it was the way it had been fated to happen. And he and his father accepted that it had to be that way.

He smiled as Julia let go of his hand and slipped her arm around his waist instead. He put his arms around her shoulders. He knew a fairytale happy ending wasn’t in his destiny either, but he knew there was a more realistic and reachable happiness that would do just as well.