The old man known to almost everyone who knew him as Mai Li Tuo sighed long and deeply. The effort of doing so was painful. His lungs weren’t what they should be. He looked out of the window of his drawing room. It was a cold February day. Though not as cold as it got in Southern Gallifrey in winter, he thought.

His mind was active even if his body wasn’t. He remembered his home world. He remembered when he was a young man and he had climbed mountains in wintry weather like this. He and his best friend, Chrístõ Mian, two adventurers, two explorers, two men who thrived on adrenaline.

He remembered the winter when their adventures had almost led to disaster. Both of his legs broken in three places after a fall high above the snow line, his repair functions inhibited by the cold. He remembered Chrístõ Mian carrying him down the mountain on his back. He had brought him to the Lœngbærrow house because it was closer. He remembered Chrístõ Mian’s father, The Lord of the Moon, Chrístõ DeLún, berating them both as reckless fools, and his mother, the gentle Aineytta, tending to him. The broken legs mended in a day, but he had caught double pneumonia from the cold. He was a week in her care.

Aineytta de Lœngbærrow. There was a fine woman. He hadn’t thought of her for so long. Chrístõ DeLún had caused almost as many gossips to murmur over his choice of wife as his son did centuries later. Aineytta was pure Gallifreyan, but she was not Oldblood. She was not even Newblood. She was a Caretaker. She had been a housemaid in the House of Lœngbærrow. Chrístõ DeLún had fallen in love with her, and she with him and he had gone against all tradition to marry her.

Aineytta the gentle, employed as a menial, was a woman of learning, though a learning not recognised by the great Academies of Gallifrey. Her father had been what in Earth terms was called an apothecary, and he had taught his daughter the art in expectation of her taking over his shop when he died. But the business had foundered long before then and Aineytta had worked as a maid.

Some muttered against her. In an age of reason and science it was still possible to rouse controversy with certain words. ‘Witch’ was one of them, levelled against a woman who, the gossips said, seduced the first born son of Lœngbærrow with a love potion.

Perhaps she did, Li Tuo thought with a smile. But if so, it was a spell DeLún was under all his life. He loved her dearly. And love matches were rare enough in Gallifreyan high society. The only love story that matched theirs was that of their son, Chrístõ Mian, the one who had looked even further from his birthright for true love, who had married an Earth Child and loved her with every fibre of his being, siring a son whose destiny was yet to be fulfilled.

Chrístõ Cuimhne, whom cruel people had called Theta Sigma, The Outcast One; whom he had called Liu Shang Hui, The Intelligent One.

“Master Li.” His reverie was interrupted by the voice of the fine young woman he had looked on as a daughter for the past year. “You will catch cold. At least wrap yourself up if you are going to sit there.” She tucked a blanket around him as he sat in the armchair looking out on the street below where the people of this Chinese community in Liverpool, England, got ready to celebrate their New Year.

“The Year of the Rat,” he said. “1912 was a very good year of the Rat,” he added. “I remember it well. 1924, too.” He laughed gently. “The people of this little community have known me through so many generations. They have none of them realised how old I am. As each young generation becomes the elder generation they forgot that I was already an elder when they were young.”

“They are good people,” Bo told him. “They have been kind to me, too. And to Sammie, though he is not one of us.”

“Nor am I, in truth. I made my exile on Earth and I took on the appearance of that race I had such respect for. But I am not a Chinaman. I am Gallifreyan. I am a Time Lord. A Time Lord whose time has come.”

“Not yet, master,” Bo told him. “Not yet.”

“Yes, my dear. Yes, soon.” He looked out of the window again and sighed gently. “I shall not see more than a few hours of this Year of the Rat.” he added as he watched one of his neighbours hanging a banner decorated in a pattern depicting the element associated with this year along with the animal. “Earth Rat takes the place of the Fire Pig. Fire, then Earth.” He paused as if considering the fact.

“Appropriate,” he whispered.

“Master?” Bo did not understand that last comment, but he did not explain it. In any case when he spoke again he had another thought in his mind.

“Shang Hui is here. I feel his presence. I feel the resonance of his TARDIS.” He saw Bo’s face and smiled. “Go on, run to the garden. Be there to greet him, the first love of your heart.”

Bo needed no further encouragement. She ran from the room and down the stairs to the door that led to the beautiful Chinese meditation garden at the back of the herbalist shop. She was there in time to see a door open in the side of a sculpted rock formation by the lily pond. Chrístõ stepped out first, followed by Julia and Natalie. He smiled as he reached out his arms to her.

“I am glad to see you,” Bo told him as he kissed her in the way of a loving friend. “Are you well, my Chrístõ?”

“We are all well,” he assured her. “But my friend Mai Li Tuo is not.”

“No, he is not,” she answered. “The end is close.”

“As we knew it would be,” he reminded her. “I hoped it would not be THIS close. But we knew it was coming.”

“Go to him,” she said. “He is waiting.”

Chrístõ looked around at Julia and Natalie.

“I’ll take care of them,” Bo promised. “You go to Master Li.” As Chrístõ turned and ran towards the house she reached out her hands to his companions. “Come, it is cold. We will take tea inside where it is warm.”


Chrístõ didn’t know what to expect. Though he DID expect that his old friend would be in bed. He was surprised to find him sitting by the window.

He DID look terribly frail. So much more than ever before. Chrístõ was well able to believe he was near death.

“You should be resting,” he said from the door.

“I am sitting down,” he pointed out. “I have a blanket tucked around me and I am nursed constantly by our precious Bo Juan. I am resting as much as I can be expected to rest.” He smiled and reached out his hand. Chrístõ came and knelt before him. He took the proffered hand and held it in both of his.

“My friend,” he said. “My mentor.”

“Sit by me, Shang Hui. There is so little time and so much you and I must discuss.”

“I know.” Chrístõ said. “That’s why I came.”

“You’re young, Chrístõ, and I’m asking a lot of you, but I need somebody of my own kind here. You are the only other Time Lord who regularly visits this planet – or if there are others - they are not ones who would come to the aid of an exiled rogue like me.”

“You’re a good friend, Li Tuo. And my father always speaks highly of you.”

“Your father is a good man. I regret I shall never challenge him again to a game of multi-dimensional chess.”

“He doesn’t play it so often now anyway,” Chrístõ told him. “Now I’m not around to beat him at it.”

Li Tuo laughed at that. “His father taught us both to play when we were younger than you.” He smiled again and Chrístõ was surprised when the old man conjured a multidimensional chess set with his mind. There were two ways of playing the game on Gallifrey. You could use a REAL, physical, multi-dimensional board with real pieces, or you could play it mentally, using a thought projection of the board and pieces and moving them with the mind. The ELITE of Time Lords would never even THINK of buying a board, except possibly as an ornamental curiosity.

Among the first mental exercises Chrístõ could remember learning was how to project a functioning board that he and his father could play upon. The first time he succeeded he was so mentally drained he passed out and woke up three days later in bed. But he had got better at it, and he and his father spent many long winter nights locked in mental challenge with each other. He had fond memories of those nights. He always felt close to his father in those times.

“Are you sure you’re up to it?” Chrístõ asked. Li Tuo smiled enigmatically.

“Are you afraid I might beat you?”

Chrístõ sat himself comfortably and prepared to meet the challenge.

He was not entirely surprised that his grandfather had taught Li Tuo and his father to play. He recognised his style. He recognised his OWN style. It made for a hard challenge, because whatever he could think of, Li Tuo could. The game became fast and furious. They both felt the mental strain of it, and the game could have gone on for hours if Chrístõ had not made a slight error, his concentration wavering momentarily. He saw his mistake immediately. So did Li Tuo, and moments later he had brought the game to an end triumphantly.

“You are nearly as good as me,” the old man said as his concentration broke and the board and pieces vanished. “You need to have a little more patience.”

“Everyone tells me that,” Chrístõ said. “I think waiting twelve years to marry the woman I love might teach me that.”

“If that doesn’t, nothing else will,” Li Tuo said with a smile. “And here is the young lady in question.”

Chrístõ turned as Julia came to the door.

“Terry and Cassie are here with little Chrístõ. And Bo has shown me how to serve tea the Chinese way.”

“Then I shall be delighted to be served by you, my dear,” Li Tuo told her. “Shang Hui, will you give me your arm. I am ashamed to say I need some assistance these days to walk the few steps from my bedroom to my dining room.”

It is an honour, master,” Chrístõ said, and he helped the old man to rise from his chair. He needed more than a hand, if truth be told. He leaned very heavily on Chrístõ as they walked, slowly. It was his hearts that were failing, he knew. Both were weak now. They could not hold on much longer. He felt sad, but not as much as he thought he would.

He felt it for himself more. Li Tuo had been more than a good friend to him since he first left his home world and came to this one. He was going to miss the old man so much.

“I will always be with you in spirit,” he told him. “Be sure of that.”

Li Tuo smiled as they came into the dining room. There all of his closest Human friends were assembled. Bo and Sammie, Cassie and Terry, the four young people Chrístõ had brought to him, and in addition Lily Mae and Chen, his closest friends from the community. Chrístõ helped him take his place at the traditional low table where they all sat and Julia, watched carefully by the two Chinese girls, but neither offering either criticism or praise, served the tea according to tradition. Everyone tried to be cheerful but they were all aware that this was the last time they would be gathered this way. The conversation was stilted and difficult. They all struggled to find the right words to say.

“Bring the little one to me,” Li Tuo said to Cassie as she left the table to attend to baby Chrístõ. “Let me hold him.”

Cassie did so. The child looked up into his old eyes and gurgled happily.

“A fine child,” he said. “He will be a delight to you both. Shang Hui, I don’t think Bo Juan has shared her own secret with you, yet,” the old man continued. Bo blushed and smiled and Chrístõ knew exactly what the secret was. He glanced at Sammie who smiled proudly.

“You’ll make wonderful parents, both of you,” He told them.

“New life….” Li Tuo said. “The old dies, the new is born. It is how life should be.”

And that seemed to settle the matter for them all. Li Tuo gave the baby back to his mother and drank his tea with his friends. He asked Lily Mae about the New Year festivities. She tried to sound cheerful as she replied to him.

“No,” he said, taking her hand. “No, you must not be sad. I want you to have a good time tonight. I want you to enjoy your New Year supper with your friends and the fireworks and all the joy of beginning. And do not grieve for what is ending. Promise me you will do that.”

“I promise,” Lily Mae answered. “I promise, Master Li.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek and then sat down again for a little longer before she and her husband, having paid their respects, went on their way.

“She is a nice girl,” Sammie commented. “And Chen is a good man. We have all become good friends. Of course they know nothing of our unusual circumstances.”

“That is why I needed you all here,” Li Tuo said. “My friends who know my secrets, who can do what must be done. Shang Hui, your father will be here, too, very soon.”

“He said there was something he must do first, but he would arrive before midnight.”

“That is well. Meantime…”

“Meantime you should be in your bed, Master Li,” Bo told him. “You must save your strength.”

“Save it for what?” he asked with an ironic chuckle. “Is there a better way to die, Shang Hui, than with a beautiful young woman attending to my every needs?”

“I should be so lucky myself,” he replied with a cheerful smile.

“She is correct, though. I am weary. And my bones ache so.”

Chrístõ nodded and rose to help his old friend. The others watched sadly as he walked so very slowly, leaning so heavily on Chrístõ’s shoulder.

“No tears,” he said as he looked at the faces of the women who watched him. “Please don’t shed any tears. I have lived a long life. I have atoned for my sins. I am ready.”

Chrístõ took him back to his room and helped him to bed.

“You have over-taxed yourself,” he told him. “First multi-dimensional chess, and then tea. You must rest now.”

“Now I am ready to rest,” Li Tuo answered. “But the tea was necessary. So that dear child, Lily Mae, will remember me with strength and vigour in me still.”

“Ah,” Chrístõ said, understanding. “But that is done now. You have nothing else to worry about.”

“Alas I have much to worry about. Much to be resolved, yet.”

“You have only to rest yourself, and conserve your energy.” Chrístõ put his hands over the old man’s hearts. They were racing too fast. He concentrated and slowed them to the proper, steady rate.

“Shang Hui, my friend,” Li Tuo said. “Promise me you, also, will shed no tears for me.”

“That will be hard,” Chrístõ assured him. “But I will try.”

“That is all I can ask. But Shang Hui, think on this at least. By dawn tomorrow you will know the answer to the question that has burned in you for so long.”


“You will keep my secrets, Shang Hui. You will know.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Perhaps I will later. It has always been so with you, my friend. You have never given me a straight answer. But for now you should rest.”

“I shall sleep an hour,” Li Tuo told him. “No more.”

“I shall watch over you,” Chrístõ promised. “You will not be alone this day.”

Li Tuo did not answer in words, but his sigh as he drifted into a gentle sleep was one of satisfaction.

“Chrístõ?” Terry and Sammie slipped into the room. “Is he…”

“He’s resting,” Chrístõ replied. “He needs to sleep. The rest of us will not. We will keep vigil.”

“Your father sent word. He will be with us soon.”

“That is good. They were friends. He should be here to pay his respects.”

“Chrístõ,” Sammie spoke quietly. “Are you going to be all right?”

“Me?” He seemed surprised. “Of course I will. I am here to do my duty for my friend.”

“You are here for more than that,” Sammie told him. “He has talked of it in recent days. You are ‘to understand at last’. That’s what he has been saying.”

“He said it to me just now,” Chrístõ answered. “I will keep his secrets.”

“That bothers you, doesn’t it,” Terry said to him. “Li Tuo’s secrets…”

“Are his own concern. I have never…”

“Chrístõ,” Sammie told him. “Whatever you learn in this night, you will always love the old man wholeheartedly. Nothing can take that from you.”

Sammie recalled what he and Terry knew of Li Tuo’s history, much of which had been kept from Chrístõ. He knew some of it was going to disturb him. But maybe it was time he knew.

Chrístõ nodded and said nothing more. He looked at the window. It was nearly four o’clock and it was getting dark now. Soon the lanterns would be lit to celebrate the New Year. But this time the House of Mai Li Tuo would not be taking part.

Terry and Sammie returned to the drawing room where the others were keeping their own quiet vigil. Chrístõ sat by his friend’s side and watched him sleep. Later there were things that had to be done. He was a Time Lord and his death would be marked in the appropriate way even if he WAS an exile, a Renegade, and under eternal banishment from ever setting foot on their home world.

For now, though, Chrístõ was glad of the chance to sit quietly by his side and reflect and remember his friend.

He remembered the first day he had come to Chinatown seeking him out. It was his first visit to Earth, his first solo trip anywhere. If truth be told he had been feeling just a little lost and alone. Prince of the universe he may have been, but his planet had no more than a million people on it. Earth had six billion and it FELT to him as if all six billion were trying to walk on the same pavement as he was. So many of them were rude. It was all so noisy. And it didn’t seem anything like the beautiful place his mother told him about.

But he found his way to Liverpool and he found Chinatown and came at last, feeling tired and footsore, to the little herbalist shop with the name of Mai Li Tuo on the fascia. He wondered just why his father, the great diplomat who counted princes and presidents among his friends, would be so insistent that he come to such a humble place.

He was surprised that the elderly Chinaman pottering about the shop was the friend he had been told to look up.

“I have a message for Mai Li Tuo,” he said, trying to make himself appear more like a prince of the universe and less like a lost boy.

“From whom?” the old man asked.

“Are you Mai Li Tuo?” he countered.

“I am,” he said. “And you are….”

“I am the son of Chrístõ Mian de Lœngbærrow, Magister of Southern Gallifrey, Former Lord High President of the High Council, Grand Master of the Order of Rassilon,” he answered proudly. As he spoke he reflected that this was the first time he had spoken of Gallifrey since he set foot on planet Earth. He only said it now because that is how his father had told him he should introduce himself.

“Are you indeed?” The old man said. “Has it been so long? Chrístõ Mian’s son is grown up?” Chrístõ was surprised at that and was on the point of speaking when the old man’s manner changed. His eyes narrowed and his face hardened. “Or is this a trick? Is the Celestial Intervention Agency using the name of a good friend and an innocent looking face to get to me…. After all this time.”

“The….” Chrístõ knew what the Celestial Intervention Agency was, of course. The elite and highly secret intelligence organisation. It was talked of in whispers at the Prydonian Academy. There were some who aspired to it as a career. He even considered it himself. But his father had been rather cool about the idea. “How do you know…”

“No, perhaps not. A CIA agent would not be so slow on the uptake.” He regarded him for a moment. “Then again, I would not have expected the son of my good friend, Chrístõ Mian to be so slow, either. We had high hopes of him.”

“I am NOT with the CIA,” he snapped. “I am Chrístõdavõreendiamòndhærtmallõupdracœfire-delunmiancuimhne de Lœngbærrow, a Time Lord of Gallifrey.”

“You are proud of your name,” Mai Li Tuo said. “So you should be. You come from a line of great men. But you should take care who you speak it to. A Time Lord’s name can be used as a weapon against him.”

“You are a Time Lord?”

“Finally, the boy understands. Yes, I am a Time Lord. Though my name is not spoken of by anyone. Even your father, the dearest friend I ever knew, calls me by the name I chose to live by on Earth. I am Mai Li Tuo. You may call me Master Li. I will call you Liu Shang Hui – the Intelligent One.” He laughed, though not unkindly. “On Earth they call that irony. But perhaps you will grow into the name.”

“Master Li.” Chrístõ bowed formally to him. “I hope I shall do so, in time.”

“Time,” Li Tuo smiled. “Time is the school in which we learn. Time is the fire in which we burn.”

“Gallifreyan poetry?” Chrístõ asked. “I took science, politics and law. I am a little rusty on literature.”

“It was written by an Earth poet. Though he could have been speaking of us. But come, Shang Hui. Put up the closed sign and turn the latch. And you shall come and take a cup of tea with an exile who longs to hear news of his home world.”


It wasn’t the most promising start, he thought. But Li Tuo had given him tea and listened to him speak of home. He had asked many questions, who was Lord President now, who Chancellor, what marriages had taken place. He didn’t seem to have been home to Gallifrey for many years.

Chrístõ had wondered about that as he sat taking tea with the old man. His mention of the CIA coming to ‘get him’ suggested that he was some kind of criminal. But his father had told him Li Tuo was a friend. He had urged him to seek him out.

And he liked the old man. He felt safe with him. He felt happier in that first afternoon he spent in his company than he had since he came to Earth. His instinct was to trust him.

His instincts hadn’t always been right. But on that occasion they were correct. Li Tuo had proved a good and valuable friend. He had come to value his friendship, and his advice. And he had come to love him like a second father.

And now Li Tuo was close to death. And he was there to see that his last hours were dignified and befitting a Time Lord.

At least as far as it could be done. When a great Time Lord was dying finally, at the end of his thirteenth life, it was usual for him to be brought to the Panopticon. There, as his life ebbed away, his wisdom, his knowledge, all that he was, all he had achieved, was deposited in the Matrix, for the benefit of all Time Lords.

It saddened him that Li Tuo’s wisdom would not be joined with that of the greatest Time Lords of their society. He still didn’t know what it was that Li Tuo was banished for, but whatever it was the exile was permanent. Li Tuo had been doomed to die far from his home and all that he was, all his wisdom, all his knowledge would be lost.

“Perhaps not.” Chrístõ jumped at the sound of another voice in the quiet room. He turned and saw his father standing there. Behind him were two other people he was surprised to see, but at the same time very glad.

“Penne,” he whispered as his blood brother stepped forward to greet him with a hug. “I am glad you are here.”

“Your father said I had to come,” he told him. “He said it was important. I don’t know why. I only met the old man a few times.”

“He counted you as a friend, too,” Chrístõ said. Though he wondered if there was something else.

As for the other visitor.

“Maestro…” His former teacher took his proffered hand. “I am pleased to see you again, sir. But I am even more puzzled by your presence.”

“All will become clear,” The Ambassador told him. “But not now. If Li Tuo is to die as a Time Lord we must make preparations.”

“He is asleep,” Chrístõ said.

“He is awake,” Li Tuo said. “My old friend, it is good to see you. Have you done as I asked? Have you brought it?”

“I have,” The Ambassador said. “But first things first.” Maestro stepped forward bringing a bowl of water. Chrístõ stepped away from the bed as the two elder Time Lords stripped and washed the dying man and anointed his body before dressing him in the robes of his rank according to Gallifreyan tradition.

“You are a Time Lord again, my friend,” The Ambassador said at last. “Too long you have lived a lie. Now is the time for truth.”

“More than time,” Li Tuo replied. “Where is the Son of Ixion. I must speak with him now. Before it is too late.”

Penne stepped forward. He was puzzled still. So was Chrístõ. But he would not refuse a dying man’s request.

“We will wait outside,” The Ambassador said.

“What secret is there that Penne needs to be told?” Chrístõ asked as they left the room.

“You will know in due course,” his father answered. “That much I can assure you. But for now, it is between the two of them.”

It was a long hour before Penne came to the door at last.

“He wants you,” he said to Maestro. He nodded and slipped inside the room.

“What happened?” Chrístõ asked his friend. “What did he talk to you about?”

“I cannot say,” Penne told him. “Not yet. Be patient, brother. You will understand soon enough. You will understand everything.”

“Why is everyone talking in riddles around me?” Chrístõ complained. “Father, what is going on?”

“Be patient, my son,” The Ambassador told him.

“If anyone else tells me to be patient today, I shall lose what patience I have,” he said.

“Chrístõ….” His father began to speak then stopped and swallowed hard. Chrístõ thought he was on the verge of crying. Except pureblood Time Lords didn’t cry. “He is my friend, too. This is a day I have dreaded. But if you play your part as I know you can…”

“My part?” Chrístõ sighed. “My part is to wait through the night until it is all over and then….” He, too, swallowed hard. “He told me what I must do when life is extinct. He gave me exact instructions.”

“I know,” his father said. “And you will carry out those instructions later. But you have a much more important part to play first.”

“What do you mean?”

“Li Tuo will have his immortality. Maestro and I arranged it. He cannot give his knowledge to the Matrix. But he can give it to another Time Lord through the Rite of Mori.”

“You… Oh, father… I’m glad. You were always his friend. I am glad he offered himself to you…. But… I have never performed that Rite. If you mean for me to conduct it…”

“No, Chrístõ,” his father corrected him. “I don’t mean for you to conduct the rite. Maestro and I will do that. The Rite of Mori transfers the knowledge of an old Time Lord to a young one. YOU, my son.”

“Oh.” He breathed in deeply and he felt Penne’s hand on his arm, steadying him. It was a great honour, but also a terrible responsibility. And it would take all his strength of character to bear it. The Rite of Mori was only rarely performed because too many recipients developed schizophrenic symptoms.

His father believed he was capable. He believed he was ready.

Then he WOULD be ready.

The door opened again and Maestro told them to come back inside.

“There isn’t long now,” he said. “Chrístõ you may sit with him. The others must be present, too. I will fetch them.”

Chrístõ didn’t hear the last part of the statement. He ran to his friend’s side at once. He didn’t even notice the rest of the household silently coming into the room. He was aware of only two things.

First, he was aware of a strange crystal placed beside the bed. It was about the size and shape of a rugby ball and glowed with a faint blue light that came from within. Chrístõ had never seen one before, but he knew it was a memory crystal for capturing the distilled memories of the dying Time Lord before transferring them to the recipient.

Next, as he sat by his side, he saw how magnificent Li Tuo looked, dressed in the full ceremonial robes of the highest caste of Time Lord society. He had always assumed that his friend WAS one of the elite before his exile. But he had not REALISED it as an absolute fact until he saw him now.

“You ARE a Time Lord,” Chrístõ whispered to him.

“Yes,” he replied. “Chrístõ…. I have but one regret. That I could not make my peace with my own people. Your father tried. He interceded on my behalf and asked them to lift the banishment. But they would not bend.”

“I’m sorry for that,” Chrístõ replied.

“I would have liked to look at our moon one more time.”

Chrístõ didn’t answer that in words. He took his friend’s left hand and placed his other hand on his forehead and he visualised a bright, crisp, starlit night on Gallifrey, with their big, beautiful moon, Pazithi Gallifreya, shining down, making the night seem almost as bright as day. He visualised standing on the high, flat roof of the west wing of his home, where his grandfather, Chrístõ DeLún had brought him as a boy to look at the moon and stars through his telescope and learn their names. He heard Li Tuo sigh with pleasure. It was the nearest and best he could do to fulfil his last request.

“You know what to do afterwards,” Li Tuo asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

“Your father will help. It is a hard thing to ask of you.”

“I will do it, for you, my friend,” he promised, though his hearts were leaden as he thought about the instructions Li Tuo had told to him during the afternoon in readiness for a time when he might not be able to speak further.

There was no clock in the room, but Chrístõ knew the passage of time instinctively. He knew it was near midnight when Li Tuo lost consciousness for the last time. He heard his last words spoken as well as telepathically.

“I was always loyal,” he said. And Chrístõ knew it was true. Yes, they had branded him a Renegade. But in his hearts he had committed no betrayal. He still loved his homeworld.

“It won’t be long now,” he heard Maestro say. He whispered something and there were soft footsteps as Terry and Sammie both came and touched Li Tuo’s hands. Sammie, still a soldier at heart, stood to attention and saluted him. Then Julia and Natalie who had known him least but had affection for him, came and kissed his cheek. Then Cassie and Bo, holding each other and trying not to cry. They both loved him deeply. Penne kissed him, too. Chrístõ was too bound up in his own grief to wonder about that. Then Maestro and his father came and stood either side of the bed, as if forming a guard around him.

“Don’t let go of him,” his father said to him. “Hold his hand until it is over.”

Chrístõ had no intention of doing anything else. He clung even tighter to his hand as he, too, bent and kissed his cheek. He felt his hand warm and alive yet, and he heard his breathing and his hearts beating ever more slowly. He heard his father and Maestro quietly intoning the words of the Rite of Mori. Not exactly a chant, not quite a magic spell, but something between the two. He saw the crystal’s glow intensify as if it was reacting to the chant.

It was a little after midnight. Outside the fireworks that signalled the start of the Year of the Rat were going off. The bright lights of them shone through the window, adding to the already strange ambience of the room lit by the increasingly bright crystal.

And Chrístõ felt it happen. He knew that the two hearts had stopped and Li Tuo had ceased to breathe. He caught his own breath and steadied his hearts. He heard sobs from Bo and Cassie behind him and knew that everyone else had felt it almost as keenly as he did. He heard the low, whispered chant change in tone and the crystal seemed to vibrate. He clung to his friend’s hand and stared as a stream of vapour that glowed with the same intensity escaped from his dead lips and poured into the crystal. For a long minute it swirled and coalesced there. He let go of Li Tuo’s hand and reached to touch the crystal, both hands either side of it. As soon as his flesh made contact with it, he felt as if he had been electrified. He felt he couldn’t take his hands away. And he felt something else, too.

He felt Li Tuo, his presence, his soul. He was in the crystal.

And then he wasn’t. Another silvery-blue stream emerged from it. Chrístõ gasped as it arced towards him, then breathed deeply as the stream filled his nose and mouth. He felt it burning his throat. He felt it invading his brain. But he wasn’t frightened. He understood now. He understood it all.

“Li Tuo!” he cried out. And then he felt his father’s arms reaching to hold him as he fainted.