In the mornings, when Julia was doing her lessons with Natalie it was always quiet in the console room. Even Humphrey deserted him to be with the ‘lad-ies’ in the classroom.

Of course, it was not the quiet that it used to be when he first set out in the TARDIS on his own. That kind of quiet had been pleasant at first. He had enjoyed the freedom. But he dreaded the prospect of going back to it, now. Now it would not be solitude, it would be loneliness.

But for now, it was just peace and quiet to get on with technical work around the console that neither Natalie nor Julia would understand.

“Christo!” He heard Julia’s scream and Humphrey’s wail echoing along the corridor. In a heartsbeat he was running to them.

“What is it?” he asked as he caught her in his arms. “Humphrey, stop. It can’t be so bad.”

“Nata…lie…” he wailed. “De…ad…”


“Not… not dead,” Julia managed to say. “But she’s fainted. Come quickly.”

He ran ahead of her to the classroom. He found Natalie lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, spilled pages from a loose leaf binder of Julia’s work scattered around her. She HAD just fainted. But they all knew, even Humphrey, that it was a bad sign.

“All right, Natalie,” he whispered to her as he lifted her in his arms. He looked at Julia but she didn’t need to be told anything more. She turned and ran ahead to open the door to the medical room.

“She’s had pains that she hasn’t told you about,” Julia told him. “I see her sometimes when I’m supposed to be working. She doesn’t say anything, but her face is screwed up and she goes and looks in cupboards for things so I can’t see.”

“I told her she has to let me know,” Chrístõ sighed. “Does she think pretending it isn’t happening will slow down the inevitable?”

“She thinks you’ll make her stay in bed and she won’t be able to be useful any more. Just a burden on you.”

“As if she could be that.” He administered a general painkiller intravenously. Poor Natalie. She had so many injections into her veins these days she was looking like a drug addict.

“She loves being a teacher,” Julia continued. “She loves teaching me. When she can’t go on doing it, it will be hard for her.”

“I know.” He sighed again as he felt her pulse and knew she was starting to come out of the faint. He changed his hold on her wrist to hold her hand instead. He felt her fingers clasp his as she woke.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” he told her. “You’re a little under the weather, that’s all. You take the morning off.”

“But I have to… Julia…”

“Julia is a good student. She’ll go and get on with her lessons and you can read them over later after you’ve had some sleep.” He turned to where Julia was hovering uncertainly. It was the best thing for her to try to get on with what was normality for her. “It’s history now, isn’t it?” he asked her.

“No, Gallifreyan geography,” she answered. “I’m studying the Red Desert.”

“There you go then. I’ll come and see how you’re getting on in a little while. I know more about the Red Desert than anyone.” He smiled brightly and she turned and went back to her classroom. Humphrey followed her, though his usual soft purr had a sad edge to it.

“Now that’s better,” he said, turning back to Natalie. “Nothing for you to worry about now. Are you feeling any pain at the moment?”

“No,” she said. “But that’s just because you gave me a shot of something. I can tell the difference between no pain and masked pain. And you know it takes a larger dose all the time for me to be comfortable.”

“I know,” he told her.

“I’ve had some good months. More than I expected. “But it’s going to be harder from now on, isn’t it.”

“I’m sorry,” he told her.

“Nothing for you to be sorry for. You gave me the good months.”

“I’m sorry anyway.”

“Please promise me one thing,” she said. “Don’t leave me anywhere. I know there are hospitals where I would have more doctors and nurses. I know I’m asking a lot of you to look after me. But I want to be here in the end. In the TARDIS.”

“I would never think of leaving you,” Chrístõ promised her. “You’re my dearest friend, Natalie. I love you. And I will be here for you as long as you need me. Right now, I want you to sleep for a little while. I think you’ve been missing out on sleep at night. And that won’t do. Not if you want to keep working for a while longer.

He sat with her until she was asleep then he left her for a little while. There were things he wanted to do. He had been thinking of it for some time. He went to her bedroom first. The TARDIS had done its job well, making her bedroom a beautiful place where she could relax and forget she was in a time and space ship. It even had a window that displayed peaceful views of an Earth-like planet.

It took him an hour to rig up a panic button for her to alert him if she was ill and other buttons that would give her oxygen and self-administered painkillers if she should need them. Then he went to the classroom and set up the same arrangement there. Julia worked quietly and pretended not to notice him doing these things for Natalie’s comfort. When he was done he came and sat next to her.

“That’s a very well drawn map of the Red Desert,” he told her. “Good work.”

“We won’t see it very often, will we,” she said. “Our home is on the southern continent.”

“Our home.” His hearts quickened as she said that.

“It WILL be our home, won’t it,” she added. “When we are married.”

“Yes, it will. I’m glad you think of it that way.”

“I’ll have another home before then though, won’t I? When Natalie… When I have to go to my aunt and uncle on Beta Delta IV.”


“I don’t want to go, Chrístõ.” She told him. “I want to stay with you.”

“We’ll talk about it another time,” he promised. “Right now, you need to be writing a list of the sedimentary rocks around the edges of the Red Desert.”

She nodded and got on with her work. He knew he WOULD have to talk about it one day, but not yet.

He left her to it and went back to the console room. As he reached it he became aware of an alarm sounding somewhere on the console.

“Oh hell,” he swore as he read the data that came with the message. It was the last thing he needed today. But he knew he could ignore such a call at peril of his soul.

He set the course at once. He knew there would be others trying to help, but he had skills that could be useful. He made the necessary preparations then he went to the kitchen and prepared a nice lunch for them all. He woke Natalie and let her come through to the kitchen where he had set the table.

“We’re landing soon on a planet called Vorlox II,” he said as they ate. “It is in the middle of a class one medical emergency. That means they have a planet wide medical crisis – a pandemic – and they need outside help. I’m going to do what I can. But there is a quarantine in force. So I have to take special precautions. I have set the console room as a decontamination room. The door to the console room will be locked when I go through it. You two have to stay inside here and you must not try to go in there. When I return I will decontaminate myself before I come to you. It is important not to try to circumvent these precautions. For your safety, for mine, and for the people I am going out there to try to help.”

“Chrístõ…” Julia reached out and touched his arm. “Is it dangerous?”

“I don’t know for sure,” he said. “It may be. But I have to do it. I can’t ignore a distress call.”

“What if Natalie needs….”

“I am quite well now,” Natalie said. “Don’t worry on my account. Chrístõ, do what you must do. We shall be quite all right. The TARDIS provides all we need, even if this takes a few days.”

“I hope it will be no longer than that,” he said. “It depends what I find out there and whether there is just me to deal with it.”

The TARDIS landed on the planet as they finished lunch. Chrístõ went and got into a hazmat suit. Julia came to him as he stood near the console room door holding the hood under his arm.

“You WILL be all right won’t you?” she asked anxiously.

“I AM a Time Lord,” he told her. “We are actually immune to a lot of diseases because of our regenerative genes. This is just a precaution.”

“Can I hug you?” she asked.

“Of course you can,” he said. “When I come back in I’ll change out of the hazmat before I come to you. But come here and hold me tight and I’ll think of you while I’m gone.”

She stood on tiptoes to kiss him and he held her near him for as long as he could. Then he said goodbye and stepped through the console room door. It closed with a very decisive click as it locked. It very rarely WAS locked. This was an unusual procedure. But a necessary one. He went to the console and ensured that both the door to the inner part of the TARDIS and the outer door were sealed. Sterilised air was pumped into the room, separate to the air provided to the other parts of the ship. Then he operated the switch that unsealed the outer door and he stepped outside.

Julia sighed as she turned away from the locked door and headed towards the kitchen. She washed the dishes from lunch and put them away. Then she looked for Natalie. She wasn’t in her bedroom or the classroom or the medical room either. Julia started to feel a little worried.

“Humphrey?” she said as she spotted the darkness creature hovering in the corridor. “Where is Natalie?”

“By the bright light,” Humphrey answered.

“What?” Julia tried to think what that meant. “The…”

“Come…” Humphrey said and Julia followed him down the long, dim corridors of the TARDIS until they reached the Cloister Room. There Humphrey displayed a strange reluctance to go any further.

“Don’t like… the bright light,” he said and backed away from the door as Julia pushed it open.

“All right, Humphrey,” she told him. “You stay here. I’ll be all right on my own.”

She stepped into the Cloister Room. It was usually dimly lit with candles. But today it was lit with a bright white light that danced off the walls and the high ceiling. The two great silver trees that supported the ceiling glittered with reflected light.

It came from the great well in the middle of the room that Chrístõ told her was the Eye of Harmony, the heart of the TARDIS, its mysterious power source.

And Natalie was sitting beside it. As Julia approached she could hear her talking quietly. She seemed to be having a conversation with somebody. But she was alone in the room.

She seemed to be talking to the Eye of Harmony.

“Natalie?” Julia stepped closer. “Who are you talking to?”

“To the TARDIS,” she answered. “I often come in here at night. I talk… it talks back to me. It’s kind. I don’t feel the pain when I am here.”

“Natalie, this is a well of Artron energy. Chrístõ explained about it. It's very dangerous. And I am sure it can’t talk.”

“It can.” She insisted. “It talks to me. And it tells me everything is going to be all right.”

“I can’t hear anything,” Julia told her.

“Come and sit beside me,” she said. “You might hear it then.”

Julia came and sat beside her on the floor. She tried to listen but she couldn’t hear anything. Yet Natalie resumed her conversation.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I know. Chrístõ told me that. I know he is a wonderful man. We’ll take care of him together. For eternity. I am glad I need never leave him. That makes it worth while… worth dying.”

“Natalie,” Julia whispered. “I don’t hear anything. Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said. “I can hear it.”

“What is the voice like?”

“Like silver,” Natalie answered. “Like silver would sound if it had a voice. It whispers to me. It’s a kind voice. Gentle.”

Julia didn’t know what to say. She sat there for a little while listening to the one sided conversation then she stood up and walked away. She hoped it wouldn’t be long before Chrístõ got back.


Chrístõ got back to the TARDIS sometime in the middle of the night. He felt spiritually, mentally and physically weary and for good reason. He had worked for fourteen hours and felt that he had achieved nothing.

He stood in the middle of the console room while the air around him was filled with a fine mist of decontaminants before he was able to remove the hazmat suit. He stepped towards the inner door and waited for a scan of his body to show that he himself was not contaminated before the door would open. A field of sterilized air surrounded him as he stepped through the door into the inner part of his TARDIS. It locked behind him.

He wasn’t sure if the precautions were strictly necessary. He was fairly sure that the plague that was causing such terrible distress to the people of this planet was not airborne and he had taken every measure to avoid other kinds of contamination. But it was better to be safe. What he saw out there was so terrible. The thought of his time and space machine taking it inadvertently to other worlds was terrifying.

He went to the kitchen and poured a glass of milk. He sat and looked at it for a long while and didn’t drink, as much as he wanted the cool, refreshing taste. He pushed it away and put his head in his hands and cried.

“Chrístõ…” At first he didn’t hear Julia’s voice calling to him. When he did he looked up to see her standing at the kitchen door in her nightdress and dressing gown and slippers. He half-smiled at the ensemble. Not so long ago she had accompanied him to an ambassadorial ball in a satin dress that made her look like a beautiful young woman. But her nightdress and dressing gown had a motif of a panda on them and her slippers were the fluffy sort in the shape of a panda.

He wondered if she had ever actually SEEN a real panda. Perhaps they ought to visit an Earth zoo one day.

“Why are you crying?” she asked him. “Chrístõ, are you hurt?”

“No, I’m not,” he answered her. “Come here, Julia. Let me hold you.” She needed no further word than that. She ran the few steps that separated them. She climbed onto his knee and sat with her arms around his neck, her head against his chest. He folded his arms around her shoulders and found comfort in being near her.

“Why are you crying?” she asked again as she kissed his tear-stained cheek. “Don’t cry, Chrístõ.”

“I’m sorry for being such a soppy thing,” he told her. “It was just so dreadful out there.”

“What happened?” she asked. “Is it a really horrible plague?”

“Yes. But not in the way you would imagine. The people are not covered in boils and pustules or anything of that sort. They are….” He searched for a way to explain it. “They’re starving to death.”

“Famine?” She looked puzzled. “There’s no food?”

“There is mountains of food. They eat fine meals every day. The best they could get. But… something is wrong. A virus or SOMETHING. I haven’t been able to work out what. No matter how much food they eat, their bodies cannot turn it into the energy they need. They’re just wasting away. Hundreds, thousands are dead already. There are people here from Klatos, the medical research facility, and a hospital ship in orbit – the Madame Curie. But there is nothing they can do. Nothing any of us can do. I have spent the past fourteen hours unable to do anything but comfort the dying, make their last moments bearable, register their deaths in the database.”

“Oh, Chrístõ!” Julia tightened her hold upon him. “Oh, that must be horrible.”

“Horrible is too mild a word. There was a girl… she was your age. Yet she felt like a five year old. She was so thin, so wasted. I held her in my arms as I’m holding you and she just faded away. Her parents and her sisters were already dead. In a way it was a blessing. She was at peace. But…” He gasped for breath before he could speak again. “I have always treasured life. I hold it as the most precious thing in the universe. To preserve it is… is a sacred gift. But I can’t. I can’t do anything for these people.”

“But you’re trying, Chrístõ,” she told him. “You’re trying your best.”

“My best doesn’t seem to be enough,” he said.

“You’ll find a way, Chrístõ. You will. You never lose.”

“Perhaps this time I will. My father told me once that I need to know the bitterness of failure in order to appreciate the sweetness of success. But failing this time… it’s not me that will suffer, but these innocent people.”

“Chrístõ,” Julia whispered. “The reason I love you so much… is that you CARE so much for people you don’t even know. You saved me, and Natalie. And Bo and Sammie before us. If you can’t save these people, it’s not your fault. You’re still a wonderful man.”

He couldn’t answer her. For all his successes in the past, for all he had achieved to make life better for others in the past he could not think of that in the face of the present disaster. He held her in silence for a long while and found a small comfort in her nearness.

“Chrístõ,” Julia said after a while. “I know you’re very worried already. But… there is something else. I’m very worried about Natalie.”

“We’re all worried about Natalie,” he answered. “That’s something else I can’t do anything about. She IS dying little by little.”

“I know. But…” Julia breathed in deeply as she sought the words to say. “I think she’s losing her mind, too. She hears voices that aren’t there. She thinks the TARDIS is talking to her. And I think she’s in the Cloister Room now, sitting there, talking to it.”

“I know she does that. I told her not to get to close to the Eye. Otherwise it won’t harm her. The aura in the Cloister Room soothes her and it may even help relieve some of her pain.”

“But DOES the TARDIS talk to her?”

“That I don’t know. It’s never talked to ME. And it’s MY TARDIS. But it IS a living thing in its way. You know that.”

“Could it be real then? I thought she was just imagining it.”

“Natalie is the last person in the universe I could see imagining things that aren’t there. If she says the TARDIS is talking to her, then it is. I just wish I knew how and why.” He thought about it for a moment then he drank his milk and gently lifted Julia from his knee before he stood up. “Let’s go and see if she is there now.”

Julia held his hand as he walked through the corridors. She in her slippers and he in his shirt and trousers and bare feet because that was what he was wearing inside the all in one hazmat suit. Near the Cloister Room they found Humphrey hovering. He would not come near the ‘bright light’ though.

“Not surprising,” Chrístõ whispered as they stepped through the big door. “We know that bright light kills his kind.” He stood at the top of the steps and looked at the open well with the light from the Eye of Harmony shining so brightly. “In any other TARDIS she wouldn’t be able to open that. This one knows that I am half-Human and so it sees her Human DNA and allows her to operate it.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “If you fell in you would be dead instantly. The Eye is a fragment of a star. It’s actually no bigger than your fist. But it shines so brightly it seems to fill the well.”

Natalie was asleep. She had brought some cushions from her room to lay on and she looked perfectly comfortable. Chrístõ checked her pulse and her breathing and she seemed fine.

“I’d better bring her back to her bed soon, though,” he admitted. “I don’t like the idea of her falling asleep by the open well.” He looked down into the well. It WAS just light, but it swirled around as if it had substance to it. He almost felt he could put his hand in it and it would feel like water.

He waved his hand over it and the surface reacted to him with a sort of mini-whirlpool and spears of lightning that arced up from it. Julia watched in fascination as he moved his hand and the spears followed it. She put her own hand out and there was a smaller, less dramatic reaction.

“Your body only contains tiny amounts of electrical energy,” Chrístõ explained. “I’m Gallifreyan. My body actually contains some of this Artron energy. I was born with it. It’s what acted within me to change my DNA when I became a transcended being… a Time Lord. It will build up slowly over the years so that when I come close to the death of my first life there will be enough energy to regenerate me.”

Julia looked at him and shivered. Most of the time she thought of him as not very much different to her. When she touched him she knew his body was a little bit cooler than hers, and she had seen him bleed orange blood from wounds that healed miraculously. And she knew he was nearly 200 years old and looked only a few years older than she was. But mostly she thought of him as an ordinary man.

But when he talked of having this strange energy within him, and of regenerating his body when the one he had now was old and worn out, it frightened her just a little.

“Don’t be afraid of me,” he told her.

And that was unnerving, too. The way he always knew what she was thinking.

“I’m not afraid of you, Chrístõ. I’m afraid of what you are. But I could never be afraid of you.”

“Good,” he said and kissed her cheek. “Come on. Let’s take Natalie back to her bed, and you should get some sleep, too.” He lifted Natalie in his arms gently. Julia walked with him back to the twin bedrooms side by side. She helped him put Natalie back into her bed and made her comfortable. Then he watched her get into her own bed. He came and kissed her goodnight before turning down the lights. He was ready to rest himself, but there was something he needed to do first.

He walked back to the Cloister Room and knelt by the open well. He reached out his hand again and made the surface dance.

“You know me. We are one and the same in so many ways. Yet you don’t talk to me. You talk to her. Why is that? I know you are alive. I can feel you sometimes within me. But you don’t talk to me.”

Then he thought he could hear something. It wasn’t words. It wasn’t any language at all. It was a kind of low susurration as if something was being whispered on the edge of his hearing.

And yet he felt he DID understand it in a kind of way. Not through his ears, or even his telepathic nerves. But directly in his hearts he knew what was being said.

“I still don’t understand what you mean,” he answered. “But if you are a comfort to her in these coming weeks when it will be so much harder, then that’s all right.”

He stood up and reached for the mooring staff. He closed the well cover over the Eye. As if by magic candles lit themselves around the Cloister Room so that he could see. He knelt by the closed well and put himself into a deep trance. He had no time for sleep in the way his Human companions knew it. And he doubted it would do him any good. The last thing he needed right now was a stress induced nightmare. And he almost always had nightmares when he slept.


In the morning, after eating breakfast with Natalie and Julia he stepped out through the door to the console room again. He put on the sterilised hazmat suit and stepped outside.

The planet looked beautiful. It was impossible to know at first glance that something terrible was going on here. Only when he walked through the streets of the town and knew that it should have been teeming with people, busy in offices, shops, schools, workshops and factories, did the terrible situation become obvious. There was nobody there. An electronic news report on the front wall of the TV station gave the numbers of the dead at so many hundred thousand, but that report was from three days ago. The deaths were so frequent now as more and more people succumbed and the strongest were unable to continue working. There was nobody left to report the news.

He reached the hospital. A big, modern one, as good as any civilisation could hope for in the way of medical facilities. But the doctors and nurses were not immune to the disaster that befell the people. They were among the patients now and volunteers like himself had come from other places to try to help.

The reception area was a sad and sorry sight to behold. Chrístõ tried not to look at the people who waited to be admitted to hospital beds in hope of salvation. They didn’t realise that those beds only became available because the previous occupants were dying. Or perhaps they did realise. But hope that there was a cure here kept them going.

“Please help us,” a woman pleaded with him. And he had to look at the child she pressed into his arms. There weren’t many children left now. They and the elderly had succumbed first. This one was beyond help. He knew it. The best he could do was find a spare saline drip and keep up the bodily fluids.

He brought the child to the nearest ward and began to do that. He was doing his best to explain to the mother that this WASN’T a cure, only a poor attempt at keeping the child alive long enough for them to find a cure when one of his fellow volunteers came to change the drip on the patient in the next bed. He was surprised to see him without the hazmat suit.

“The Klatos space lab has confirmed that this isn’t any kind of airborne virus. We can dispense with these damn suits.”

“Good,” Chrístõ said as he pulled off the hood and gloves. “At least we can face our patients now. I hated having to hide behind a mask.”

“You have barely had four hours rest,” his colleague added as he looked at him. “Are you sure you can manage?”

“I told you yesterday. I’m Gallifreyan. I don’t need as much rest as you Humans do.”

“We could use a few more of your kind around here. Everyone is worn out.”

“I just wish we had some answers.” He looked at the mother of the child. She was so thin he could have reached with one hand and snapped her in half. She looked at him with trusting eyes, believing in him. And that made it worse. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is causing this. Hundreds of very clever people are researching this and they don’t know either.”

The mother turned her eyes away from him. He felt terrible. He had shattered her hope.

He made the child comfortable and went to check on the other patients in the three adjoining wards. The story was the same in each. All of them were slowly starving to death. The saline drips kept them from dying much faster and more painfully of dehydration, but otherwise they were just marking time. And precious little of that.

Yes, the volunteers were overworked and tired. And horribly dispirited. There wasn’t one whose eyes he met that didn’t have the same feeling of despair he did. He saw a female nurse pull a sheet over one patient while a painfully thin relative keened in grief beside the bed. She stood up straight and her eyes met his. Though he was not intending to read her mind he caught the gist of her thoughts.

“If we don’t make progress soon, this job will get easier. Because when more of them have died there will be less patients.”

“Nurse Gill,” he whispered and beckoned her to his side. “Don’t give in to thoughts like that. We WILL find an answer. Have faith.”

“How did you know…” she began, then decided she didn’t need to know. “I’m sorry. But I have never seen anything like this. I’ve been to war zones and disasters on the Marie Curie. It’s what we do. We provide help where it’s needed. But I have never seen anything like this.”

“No, neither have I,” he said. “I just wish….”

There was a noise in the corridor and the door to the ward opened. A crowd of people came in. One of them looked as if he was some kind of government man. Or had been. He was suffering from the same symptoms as nearly everyone else on this planet. His body was wasting away. But he had a determined look that Chrístõ immediately admired. He was trying to keep on going.

“This is Derrian Zed, the President of Vorlox II,” Chrístõ was told by the head of the volunteer medical operation.

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” Chrístõ said with a respectful bow of the head. “I am sorry we have no better news for you. But as you can see…”

“I thank you all for what you have done so far,” Derrian Zed answered in the tone of a man who could not afford to be proud. “For myself it is already too late. My wife died this morning. My son is close to death.”

“I am sorry,” Chrístõ said again. It was all he could say. There was nothing else. He never felt so impotent in his life.

The President acknowledged his words politely and Chrístõ walked with him as he did what presidents and prime ministers were supposed to do in times of disaster – visit the victims. This time he, himself WAS a victim but he did what was expected of him still.

“This has hit us harder even than the war,” the president said as he looked down the ward at the dying people.

It was an almost throwaway line. Chrístõ almost didn’t take any notice of it.

“What war?” he asked. “When?”

“Ten years ago. There was a war between Vorlox II and Vorlox I. It was a bitter one. Both sides, to our shame, used weapons that we should not have used.”

“You mean nuclear?” Chrístõ asked.

“Worse than that,” the President told him. “Chemical…. Biological.”

“Biological warfare?” Chrístõ took a deep breath and looked around him.

“I know what you are thinking,” the President said. “But the planet – both planets – have long ago recovered from the effects. This city was built on clean land free from contaminants. We rebuilt our world, our society. So did Vorlox I. But this has destroyed us.”

“Racxon’s vengeance is upon us,” said another man who was with the President. He, too, was keeping going despite suffering the same illness.

“And that is…”

“Racxon was the leader of the Vorlox I army. He was mad. I swear he was. He would not accept the surrender terms. He was ready to go on fighting. He was arrested by his own people. But he said something that chilled the hearts of all who heard him. He said the generations would reap the Bitter Harvest of War.”

“Reap the bitter harvest.” Chrístõ turned and looked at the dying people around him. “Prophetic. Or…. Or part of his plan?”

“Ten years later? Racxon himself is dead. He killed himself in military prison.”

“I have an idea,” Chrístõ said. “I need to get to the Klatos ship though. They have the research facilities. Mr. President, you should come too.”


As he travelled up to the Research ship, he couldn’t help feeling a crisis of confidence. He had no more than a germ of an idea. He could be wrong. And if he was, he would have WASTED time that the people of Vorlox II didn’t have.

He knew that when people looked at him first they saw a teenager. It was only when they looked again that they tended to see something more. He had a way of holding himself, a tone in his voice, that spoke of experience and knowledge and commanded respect. It was that which made the President of Vorlox II come with him now, and made the Klatos Research Ship stand by with facilities available to test his theory.

But inside he felt like a teenager. He wondered if he DID have the experience, the skill, to do what needed to be done here. He felt alone. The people he loved were far from him. Julia and Natalie were isolated inside the TARDIS. His father was far away on Adano Ambrado giving advice and counsel to his doppelganger, Penne. He was on his own and out of his depth and if he failed….

No, he told himself. I won’t fail. I know I’m right.


There was some surprise when he reached the Klatos ship and the people there saw how young he looked. He could hear their whispers as he waited to pass through the five levels of decontamination chambers that were necessary before being admitted to a ship that carried not only the cures for a thousand diseases, but also the diseases themselves for experimenting with.

“You are the one who saved a whole village on Monoria?” he was asked as he stepped out at last into the main body of the ship.

“Yes, I am,” he answered. “I’m Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow. I am older than I look. I am Gallifreyan.”

“A Time Lord?”


“I never knew they were skilled in medicine,” he was told. “Great people, yes. Powerful people. But I did not think this was within their usual remit.”

“It isn’t,” he answered. “It’s within mine.”

He was shown to a laboratory and told he might use any facility available, any staff. Chrístõ at once ordered slides to be made of the President of Vorlox’s blood, and of samples of grain from the Vorlox harvest. He was rather surprised and gratified when junior technicians scurried to do as he asked. He was used to BEING one of those juniors in a laboratory. He had fetched and carried and prepared slides for those he learnt from. Now he was in command and people did his bidding.

And it paid off. He tested his theory and tested it again. He took a blood sample from one of the technicians. He took one from himself even. His own blood was immune to all but a handful of diseases.

And yet even his blood sample gave him the same result.

“It’s in the grain,” he said to the President. “The grain you grow and process into all of the food you eat. Vorlox grows only the one crop. A highly nutritious grain. You use it to synthesise other foods – meat, fish, fruit… it all comes from the same source. This grain which is grown in huge fields.”

“Yes,” the President answered. “I must admit I am not a farmer. Nor a food synthesising technician. But that is the principle.”

“Ten years ago, when Racxon knew he was losing, when he made that chilling statement about the bitter harvest – he had arranged something. Perhaps he had spies here, saboteurs, I don’t know. But somehow the grain was contaminated with a genetic time bomb. The results weren’t seen in the first harvest, nor the second, or third. It took this long for the people to eat enough of the food, for children born in those years to build up enough of it in their bodies. It’s an enzyme that instead of breaking down the food into nutrients and absorbing them into the body, blocks that absorption. It didn’t happen straight away. Seed from the harvests was planted out the next year and it, too, contained the time bomb. Every year it was getting stronger. The Bitter Harvest. Ten years later, your bodies were so saturated with the enzyme that your bodies could not process the food and you began to starve.”

He stopped talking and there was a silence around the laboratory. The President of Vorlox was stunned by the realisation that this disaster was a direct result of the war fought before his son was born. The Klatos Researchers were stunned to find that they had missed something so obvious.

“It wasn’t obvious,” Chrístõ answered them. “You looked at the grain weeks ago when you first arrived here. You couldn’t see anything wrong. You were looking for contaminants, chemicals on the outside of the grain. You didn’t look at the genetic make up of the grain.”

“We stopped using our own grain several weeks ago anyway,” The President said. “The Klatos researchers suggested the possibility of food contamination and we arranged for emergency supplies from Vorlox I. They were more than willing to help. They have been our brothers and allies since the peace was made.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ said. “I examined the imported grain for comparison. It IS clean. But your bodies have already absorbed so much of the genetically modified grain.”

“Then are we doomed?” The President asked.

“I still don’t know,” Chrístõ answered. “Finding the problem once I had a clue what to look for… Racxon’s cryptic clue… was easy. It took….” He glanced at the clock. It was gone noon. “It took me a morning. But finding the remedy… I don’t know. But we are on a Research ship. There are hundreds of people who now know what they are looking for. There is hope.”

“Hope.” The President looked at him and smiled. And Chrístõ realised something he half knew before but now had proof positive of. Hope was a powerful emotion.

“But false hope is dangerous,” the President added. “Can you promise me that a cure is close?”

“Close, no,” Chrístõ told him. Around him things were already happening at a fast pace, as if his discovery had started up an engine that was now running at full speed. “Not even imminent. But it is a possibility now.”

“Then should I tell the people? Should I tell them that there is a chance, something for them to hold onto? If I do and you fail….” He laughed. “I was thinking of my political position then. I was thinking that if you fail and my promise to them does not hold I would be finished politically. But I have no more than a few days to live anyway.”

“Tell your people,” Chrístõ said. “Give them hope, a reason to go on. Before I spoke to you, I was tending to a child. That was seven hours ago. That child didn’t have four hours left. She must be dead by now. The mother, too, I should think. She was only keeping going for the sake of the child. It’s too late for them. But they believed in us… believed that we doctors and scientists could help them. Let’s give them some reason to believe it.”

The President nodded and reached to clasp him by the hand then he turned and went with his advisors to make a broadcast to what remained of the population of the planet. Chrístõ glanced at the clock again. He wondered how long it would take to find the key to reversing the damage done to these people.

He walked out into the corridor and found a videophone. He dialled Julia’s mobile phone. He wanted to talk to her before he went on with his work here.

“Chrístõ!” She smiled broadly on the videoscreen. The picture was not great. She was looking at him through a tiny micro-camera in the phone and receiving his picture on a one inch LCD screen. But he could see her at least. He was a little puzzled.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“In the TARDIS, of course,” she answered. “We both felt tired of being cooped up here. And we wondered – the TARDIS created my bedroom and the classroom. We wondered if it could make a garden. And we opened a door and this was here. It’s lovely. It feels like a real park. I think it must be a little bit of Gallifrey. I have been doing my lessons under a Cúl nut tree. We ate some for lunch. They taste so nice. Natalie is having a little rest now. She’s all right. But she is a bit tired. I’m going to practice my floor exercises and then I might have a lie down, too.”

“The TARDIS isn’t supposed to make up rooms unless I ask it to,” Chrístõ said with a smile. “It must really like you two. I’m glad you’re happy and safe. Eat as many of the Cúl nuts as you want. They’re good for you. Lots of protein.”

His voice trailed as he said that. The irony of it had occurred to him. Cúl nuts were the basis of a similar food processing on Gallifrey as the Vorlox did with their grain. There was a huge orchard of the trees in the grounds of his home. He had loved to pick them from the tree and eat them as he played in the garden as a boy. He had always taken food for granted, never wanted for it. He had hardly ever been hungry except when he had spent a day in healthy activity and returned to a good meal.

He didn’t exactly feel guilty for his own good health and fortune. Rather he felt grateful for it and vowed never to take it for granted again.

But let me find the way for these people to survive, he whispered. He wasn’t sure who he was talking to. He had no god to pray to. His people WERE the gods of a whole star system of dominion planets. But he said it anyway.

“I don’t know when I will be home,” he told Julia. “It may be a few hours or a few days. I feel I have to stay here until it is over, though. Be brave and patient for me.”

“I will,” she answered. “I love you, Chrístõ.”

“I love you too,” he said. And he smiled as he said goodbye to her and went to get on with the long job ahead of him.

And it was a long job. The clock slowly marked the hours as he worked alongside the other researchers to find the answer to the problem. Granted it was a little easier now that they knew what the question was. But it was still a difficult question. And they didn’t know when or if they would find it.

He worked on as the shifts changed and those his people regarded as lesser races took the rest they needed. After several such shifts those he worked with refused to believe even a Gallifreyan could go on for so long and made him take a break. He drank a cup of coffee in the corridor and knew that rest was the last thing he could do. He wandered around the research ship until he came to the private wards where volunteer patients were being treated. He looked in through the window of one room and saw the President sitting on a chair beside a bed. He pushed open the door.

“My son,” The President said. “He hasn’t got long. I thought… Is it wrong of me? I put him forward for the test programme because that meant he would be among the first to have a chance of life.”

“It’s a chance of death if we are wrong,” Chrístõ replied. “Or if we don’t do it in time.”

There was a shout outside. Somebody was calling his name. Chrístõ opened the door and looked out.

“We have something,” he was told. “In the laboratory test it worked. An enzyme that counter-acts the one that is blocking the absorption of nutrients into their bodies.

But we haven’t tested it on a live subject yet.”

“Bring it here,” The President said. “Bring it to my son.”

“Do that,” Chrístõ decided. He was making a judgement call. “Do it now. And begin synthesising more of the enzyme. We’ll give it to as many people as we can straight away.”

That wasn’t the usual way of doing things, he knew. What should happen is that the test subjects should be watched until it was known that the procedure worked and there were no side effects. But there wasn’t time. There was almost nobody left on the planet not affected. And the very strongest, those who had held on the longest, were now only a day or so away from death. This was their last chance, their last hope and there was no time for protocol.


He opened the door to the TARDIS wearily. It had been a long night. He had worked alongside the Klatos team and the staff of the Marie Curie giving the experimental cure to the people in the hospitals in the towns and cities of Vorlox and on the hospital ship. Finally there was nothing to do but wait. And he was no good at waiting. His patience was stretched to the limit already this night.

He went to the console and cancelled the quarantine protocol. There was no need for it now. As long as they didn’t eat any food grown on Vorlox they were safe. He set a co-ordinate and stepped through the inner door. He wondered where he might find Julia and Natalie. The classroom was empty. So was the kitchen and the dojo and the bedrooms. So was his library where they sometimes worked.

Now WHERE would this garden be? He wondered. There were doors off the corridors that even he had rarely opened. Some of them were storerooms, nothing special. Others were not rooms at all until they were needed. They would not open unless he had the TARDIS create an in potentia room in the void behind them.

One door opened. He smiled as he stepped through into what looked and felt like a warm day in a beautiful park. He found Julia and Natalie sitting under a tree by a lakeside. They were reciting poetry together.

“The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.”

Chrístõ smiled to hear Julia’s voice. A twenty-fourth century girl saying poetry written in the early 20th century. W.B. Yeats would be so happy to know his work lasted so long.

They hadn’t seen him yet. They were so absorbed they didn’t even know the TARDIS was in motion. He felt the difference under his feet, but they had forgotten this wasn’t a real park.

He snapped his fingers and the spring day became an autumn one, with the sun starting to set. And on the water, nine and fifty swans suddenly took off in a great beating of wings and a gestalt cry. Natalie and Julia both stood up and watched in astonishment. They didn’t even notice him come up behind them and put his arms around them both.

“It’s my TARDIS after all,” he said.

“Oh it is,” Julia told him. “That was so beautiful.” She hugged him tight before she remembered the most important thing. “You said you wouldn’t be back until it was over. So…. Is it over?”

“I think so,” he said.

“Did you succeed?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to find out now.”

He took their hands and led them back to the console room, the door now open as it always was. They were in time to feel the engines change as the TARDIS materialised.

“Where are we?” Julia asked.

“Same place as before. The outskirts of the Vorlox II capital city. But a year after the disaster.”

“We’ve come forward a year?”

“Yes. I don’t like waiting.”

“But this means they never thanked you for your effort. You just went away.”

“I don’t need thanks,” he said. “I just need to know that it worked. That life goes on for these people. They should have had time to raise a harvest free of the contaminant and recover.” He looked at the lifesigns monitor and what he saw there told him what he hoped. But he wanted to see it with his own eyes all the same. “Come on.”

He took their hands and they stepped out together from the parked hover-taxi with Chrístõ’s symbol on the registration plate instead of a number. They walked along a suburban street. Many of the houses were empty, the gardens growing wild. The legacy of the Bitter Harvest was a decimated population. But others were occupied. They saw washing on lines and gardens made neat and tidy. They saw people walking pet dogs.

And they saw the school. It was break-time and children were in the playground. They were playing all of the games that Julia knew. They looked healthy.

“Children suffer the most,” Chrístõ said. “But they always seem to bounce back emotionally faster than adults do. Last year will be no more than a bad memory to them now.”

He turned from the school gate. “We can go. My work is done.” He smiled as he took Julia’s hand in his. “I need a holiday. I think we might go and see if there really are fifty-nine swans where the poet says they are.”