They'd been captured by natives. Again. This sort of thing kept happening whenever Susan and her grandfather landed on an alien world. She used to think this was a coincidence, but she wasn't quite certain anymore.
“Oh Grandfather,” she moaned, “where do you think they're taking us?”
“To that city, I expect,” her grandfather replied. He poked the alien in front of them with his walking stick. “Where are you taking us, hmm?”
“To the citadel of the tyrant,” the alien growled back. His skin was purple, speckled with blues and greens. “Jab me again with that stick again and you'll feel my blade.”
“There, you see,” said Susan's grandfather. “They're taking us to the tyrant of the citadel.”
Susan sighed. “Oh Grandfather.”
Whoever the tyrant was, he–or she–certainly was taking her time in coming. Susan and her grandfather had been standing in the Grand Hall for nearly half an hour and Grandfather had already been threatened with decapitation. If it weren't for his apparent age, he probably would have already had.
Finally, though, the chamberlain (who had a very tall hat, rather like something one of the Elders of Susan's House might wear on a day out) banged down on his staff and cried, “All hail the ruling tyrant, the genius of the city and the glory of the citadel, her most scientific majesty, the All-Powerful Rani of Miasimia Goria.”
The Rani? But wasn't that...
“It can't be,” Grandfather was muttering under his breath. Susan was inclined to agree.
The chamberlain coughed, “I said, all hail the All-Powerful Rani of Miasimia Goria.”
A woman in silk trousers and blouse, goggles perched on her forehead, strode into the room.“Yes, yes. I'm coming, I told you. Who is it that's so important you have to interrupt my research... oh. Hello, Doctor.”
“Grandmother?” Susan squeaked.
Her grandmother–for that was who the woman was, Susan knew it even though her appearance had changed in the decades since Susan and her grandfather left Gallifrey–looked down, her eyes wide with shock. “Susanat– ” she started.
“Just Susan,” she said quickly. “Please.” She'd forgotten over the years how very intimidating her grandmother could be. She hadn't ever lived with Susan or her grandfather–Grandmother had left decades before Susan was even a possibility in order to concentrate on her research–but they'd visited her sometimes.
Susan's grandmother sighed. “I never liked the short form of your name. It sounds like something you'd give a feline–or a human. But I suppose that was to be expected, considering that foolish son of mine. It's amazing he survived long enough to set the pattern of your weaving.”
Susan's cheeks were flushed. Her grandfather had never liked to talk about her father, who had died with Susan's mother before the genetic loom had quite finished putting Susan's infant self together. She'd been almost fifty before she'd got her grandfather to tell her what had actually happened: that her mother and father had “borrowed” a Ship and taken it much too close to the edge of a black hole.
Their own Ship had been “borrowed” as well. That's why they always had to keep moving, why they never could stay in one time or place more than a week–at the most, a month. They were criminals. She wondered what her grandmother must be thinking of them.
“That's enough,” said Susan's grandfather, tiredly. “What in the world are you doing here, Rani? When we left Gallifrey, I'd heard they were considering you for a fellowship at the Academy.”
“Haven't you guessed?” said Susan's grandmother. “No, I suppose you haven't. Always ignoring what's right in front of you. I'm from your future.”
Susan frowned. “But that can't be right. Aren't you supposed to follow the same timeline as Grandfather and I?”
“I am,” said her grandmother. “I'm still on Gallifrey where you left me. But my future self–relative to you, of course, I consider this to be my present self–left Gallifrey fifty years ago and came to this planet, which you landed on today. Don't try to think too hard on it, child. It all boils down to the essential wobbliness of Time and you wouldn't have learnt that in your first year in the Academy.”
“I hate the Academy,” Susan said under her breath.
“I remember,” her grandmother said dryly. “Your idiot grandfather kicked up quite a fuss to get you taken out of it–and that was before he went mad and stole precious artifacts from the very heart of the citadel. By the way, Doctor, did you really take the Hand or is that just a rumour?”
“Eh?” said Susan's grandfather. “You'll have to speak a bit louder. I'm not as young as I used to be.”
Her grandmother scowled. “You're younger than I am, idiot. Never mind. Are the two of you coming with me or not? The least I can do is give you supper and a bed for the night.”
Supper was very nice. Gallifreyan physiology made it unnecessary to eat more than once every few days or so, but what wasn't necessary could still be enjoyable and it turned out that the Great Citadel of Miasimia Goria had quite a few accomplished chefs. They ended the meal with ices the flavor of alien fruits, which Susan thought was a very nice way to end it indeed.
Susan's grandmother told them stories about the students she'd taught. One of her favorites was a girl not that many decades older than Susan was now–though centuries younger in time relative to Gallifrey–named Romanadvoratrelundar, who was absolutely wasted, said Grandmother, on the social sciences. Susan's grandmother took a very dim view of the social sciences in general, which was a bit worrying to Susan, who rather thought that–if she'd absolutely had to have stayed at the Academy–she might have wanted to specialize in philology.
“You're about seventy now,” said Susan's grandmother, “aren't you?” She was looking at Susan in that intense way of hers, the one that made you feel like you were under a electron microscope. She did that sometimes, Susan remembered.
“Seventy-five,” Susan said. “In a month or so.”
Her grandmother nodded. “Not really a child anymore, but certainly not an adult. You'd be going on your first supervised Ship jaunts now if you'd stayed at the Academy.”
Susan looked helplessly at her grandfather.
“The Academy,” he declared, “is a breeding ground for misery. It turns children against society or reduces them into simple cogs in the machine. About the best you can hope for a graduate from the Academy is that he–or she–will be a political viper.”
“You aren't any of those things,” Susan's grandmother pointed out. “Though, you did barely graduate. And you forgot notorious renegade–most of our old circle ended up that way.”
“I should hardly call myself notorious,” said Susan's grandfather.
“Well, perhaps not yet,” said her grandmother. “But you will be eventually.”
She was staring at Susan again. It made her uncomfortable.
“Grandmother,” she said. “If you liked it at the Academy so much, why did you leave Gallifrey?”
“I didn't leave,” said Susan's grandmother, setting her spoon down so that it rang against the silver bowl. “I was exiled.”
“Oh,” said Susan, swallowing.
“Surely not,” said her grandfather. “I'd believe it of the Master in a second, but you? My dear Rani, you're much too busy with your experiments to go around committing crimes.”
Grandmother sighed. “You remember my experimental mice, don't you?”
Susan nodded. They'd been quite interesting. Some of them breathed fire!
“Well,” said Susan's grandmother. “I'd engineered a rather large strain of them. Some of them got loose and they ate the President's cat.”
Susan laughed out loud. She couldn't help it. “You're teasing me, Grandmother.”
“No, I'm not,” said her grandmother. “That idiot really did exile me over his stupid pet.”
“But that's horrible!” said Susan.
Her grandmother shrugged. “That's Gallifrey, child. We're all well-rid of it. Now, if you'd care to finish your dessert...”
It was melting. “Oh Rassilon,” Susan muttered under her breath, glancing quickly up to make sure that neither adult had heard her curse. If they had, they didn't say anything but they did send her to bed fairly quickly.
It was because she was only (almost) seventy-five, Susan thought ruefully. They better not still be treating her like an infant when she reached her first century.
Susan didn't stay in bed long. As soon as her grandmother's servant departed, she crept downstairs and out into the the gardens. She could see her grandfather and grandmother sitting together on a bench. There was a bush, right by them, and when they weren't looking Susan crept behind it.
“Four centuries?” Grandfather said, in a startled voice.
“Yes,” said Grandmother. “You'd changed your appearance at least twice from what I'd heard. The one I met had a scarf trailing everywhere and disturbing teeth.”
“Yes. As opposed to merely crooked.”
Grandfather snorted. “I distinctly remember you being bucktoothed, my dear.”
“Yes, well, first bodies are like that.” Grandmother sighed. “Susan's still with you.”
“And why should she be anywhere else, hmm?” Grandfather said, in a tetchy voice that Susan could recognize all too well. “Hmmm?”
Susan was sure that Grandmother was glaring at Grandfather. “Because, you imbecile, you left her on Earth.”
That was probably the wrong thing to say. “Earth? Earth? I– Susan– Earth?”
“Earth,” said Grandmother grimly. “And you refused to explain why.”
Grandfather sighed heavily. “You're right,” he said after a long moment. “My future self is an idiot.”
“A grinning idiot,” said Grandmother. “With horrible hair.”
“I don't suppose...”
“Sandy brown. But then, you did barely achieve a passing grade in Regenerative Theory.”
“Oh.” Grandfather sounded disappointed
Grandmother sighed. “I don't blame you, you know. That would be illogical. You haven't done it yet.”
“And now I'll have to,” Grandfather said, in the same voice he used when Susan left her things strewn about the console room. “There's a reason we aren't supposed to know too much about our future.”
“You're the one that asked about it,” Grandmother said. “Don't forget that.”
Grandfather didn't say anything to that.
Grandmother sighed. “Do you miss any of it?”
“Any of what?”
“Galifrey,” said Grandmother.
“The trees,” said Grandfather. “Sunsets. Very little of the people. I miss how everything seemed when we were young.”
“Doctor,” said Grandmother. “You are young.”
“You aren't that many centuries older, Rani,” said Grandfather, “even if you are from my future.” He sighed. “You know what I mean, though. All those plans we made together, the three of us.”
“They lasted for a while,” said Grandmother.
“Not long enough,” said Grandfather.
“No,” Grandmother said. “Not long enough.”
They didn't say anything for a while. Susan wondered if they'd fallen asleep on the bench. Then Grandfather sighed. “You meant it when you said you didn't know where the Master was, didn't you?”
“He eluded the Guard long enough to get off Gallifrey,” said Grandmother. “I don't know where he went after that. They found him and brought him back eventually to stand trial, of course, but gaol cells have never been that very good at holding him.”
“No,” said Grandfather softly. “They aren't.”
“It's just as well,” said Grandmother. “He'd want his Ship back if he did catch up with you.”
Grandfather chuckled. “I suppose he would.”
“I don't miss living with you,” said Grandmother after a long moment. “But I did miss you–this you. Just a bit.”
“Of course you did, my dear,” said Grandfather and whatever he said after that was too quiet for Susan to hear. So was Grandmother's reply.
After a while Susan got impatient and she poked her head out from behind her bush. The she blinked, twice. Her grandfather was still sitting on the bench, but her grandmother was straddling him for some reason, moving back and forth against him. She'd lost her trousers and undergarments somewhere and her blouse was unbuttoned.
It looked a bit like the Rite of Sexual Congress, actually, except they weren't wearing high-collared open robes, and there wasn't anyone chanting for them or playing recorder or the drums. There wasn't any incense either. But it looked so very much like the Rite and Susan ought to know, having seen it performed more than once as a little girl by the adults of her House.
Children expected to watch the Rite if they had the opportunity. It was Educational, after all. Rassilon had taught it to the people of Gallifrey. Susan hoped whatever they were doing wasn't blasphemous. Luckily, they were too busy doing it to notice her creeping back into the castle and up the stairs to her room.
Susan and her grandfather stayed on Miasimia Goria for nearly a fortnight. The natives were quite nice to them, once all the misunderstandings had been cleared up. After the first night, Susan quite deliberately didn't spy on her grandparents when they went off to talk alone. She was afraid of what she might see.
Grandmother showed Susan her laboratory. Here, she explained, she constantly strove for ways to improve the physiology of the people of Miasimia Goria. She'd already doubled their life span, she told Susan triumphantly.
“Would you like to stay here and help me?” said Grandmother, the day before Susan and her grandfather were due to leave. “It's important work and I could use a good assistant–and it's really no life for a young girl, wandering around in a Ship like that.”
Susan shook her head. “It's a lovely planet,” she said, “but my place is with Grandfather. I'm... I'm sorry.”
Grandmother frowned. “Well,” she said under her breath, “I tried.”
The subject didn't come up after that. Susan tried not to think too hard about what she'd heard her grandparents talk about until she was safely in her room on their Ship.
So, she thought. Earth. She knew where Earth was, roughly. It was in the galaxy that eventually everyone would call the Milky Way, orbiting a yellow star called Sol. The people there looked quite like Gallifreyans–but then, so did about half the bipedal races in the universe. (Rassilon had probably had something to do with that. He did with most things.)
Susan's grandfather had some books from Earth in their library. Perhaps she ought to teach herself the language from them, just in case she was ever stuck there away from their Ship. It couldn't hurt.