Natalie looked around the medical centre and sighed. These places were becoming her life lately. She knew she shouldn’t complain. Chrístõ did his best to look after her, and bringing her to get the second opinion of professional doctors was part of it.

“They none of them have YOUR bedside manner,” she told him as she waited to be told the results of the tests this latest doctor had made. She wasn’t expecting anything hopeful. She knew she was dying, little by little. The doctors setting time limits on her were almost a joke, though. She knew how long she had. Longer than they reckoned, because Chrístõ’s medicine did help a lot.

It was long enough, she thought, with the pain she was beginning to suffer, mostly in silence, not wanting to distress either Chrístõ or Julia. Death would be an end to it. She was getting used to the idea. Not exactly longing for it, but when it came, she would not shrink from it.

Besides, she knew it was nothing to be afraid of. She thought of the promises the Eye of Harmony made to her when she lay by the side of it and felt it easing her aches and pains and soothing her mind. No, she knew she would not suffer. It would not let her.

Her name was called and Chrístõ held her hand as they entered the surgery. She sat in the seat by the desk and Chrístõ stood behind her, his hand on her shoulder. She was grateful for his company.

The news was grim. All the doctor could promise her was more pain, gradually failing health, more dependence on drugs to keep the pain bearable.

“Bearable?” she murmured that word. “How does anyone say what is ‘bearable’.”

“I am sorry,” the doctor told her and wrote out a series of prescriptions without even looking her in the eye. He gave them to Chrístõ rather than to her, she noted. HE was the one paying the bills. She was merely the patient. She wasn’t bitter towards Chrístõ. But she did feel resentful of a system that treated her as just another sick person to be filled with drugs until she died.

The doctor asked to speak to Chrístõ alone. Natalie stood and said she would go and talk to Julia until he was done.

“There IS an alternative,” the doctor told him when she was out of earshot. “Perhaps you should consider it. The euthanasia programme. She would be able to choose a quick, painless end. Have you discussed the possibility…”

“No, I have NOT,” Chrístõ answered sharply. “NEVER. Natalie would NEVER choose such an end and I would not let her. As for asking me to make such a choice for her...”

He turned and strode across the floor angrily. At the door, before he opened it, though, he composed himself. He wasn’t going to talk about this to Natalie or Julia. He would not let them see he was disturbed.

When he found them in the waiting room, though, they seemed excited by something that put the incident clear out of his mind. He was glad to see Natalie wasn’t worried by her less than satisfactory diagnosis but he wanted to get away from there. He suggested they go to lunch while the prescriptions were being filled out at the pharmacy, and they were glad to come with him to the food court in the retail section of the space station they had come to for Natalie’s medical needs.

“Chrístõ,” Julia said as they finished their meal and drank Gellib Milkshakes – made from the milk of the Gellib goat that fed exclusively on aromatic Gellib nuts. The milkshakes were redolent of that flavour, which was something like fine brandy but without the alcoholic effects.

“Yes,” he said at once.

“When we were waiting for you, a man gave us this. He said that he could see Natalie was not well, and he said this could be the thing she needed to relieve her suffering.”

“It had better not be the euthanasia programme,” Chrístõ thought as he took the electronic card from her. It was the size of an ordinary business card, but it was not made of ‘card’ and did much more than display the address and phone number of the business. It was like a mini advertisement, with pictures, music and dialogue.

It advertised a clinic where those in pain and the terminally ill might be freed from their suffering and live out their lives in comfort.

“A hospice?” Chrístõ asked. “I don’t want to leave Natalie with strangers.”

“I wouldn’t WANT to be left,” she insisted. “That’s not how it works. You and Julia could stay with me while I complete the programme. It is like a sort of country hotel with medical specialists. It would be a sort of holiday.”

“Sounds expensive,” Chrístõ noted. “And I’d want more than just a business card to go on.”

“Freedom from pain would be a holiday in itself,” Natalie said quietly. It wasn’t emotional blackmail. She would never stoop to that. She didn’t need to anyway. Chrístõ took the point perfectly readily.

“What about your allowance?” Julia asked. “What will your father say?”

“I’ll talk to him, after I find out about this place,” Chrístõ answered. “He’ll probably make me attend some boring conference on his behalf to cover the costs.”

He would sacrifice far more, he thought, if this place COULD help Natalie.

“A clinic that promises freedom from pain?” The Ambassador was sceptical when he spoke to Chrístõ by videophone. “The word ‘scam’ comes to mind.”

“I didn’t know you KNEW such expressions, father,” Chrístõ answered.

“I DID live on Earth for some years,” he reminded him. “Even if it is legitimate, it IS expensive.”

“It’s for Natalie,” Chrístõ said. “I would not… I don’t feel I can quibble about money when it is for her.”

“I quite agree,” The Ambassador said. He sighed and then smiled warmly. “Go to this place. Check it out. If you feel that it IS above board and it WILL benefit Natalie to receive the treatment, then you may send the bill directly to me.”

“Thank you, father,” Chrístõ replied with heartsfelt gratitude. “Father…” He looked around. Natalie and Julia were both watching him from the sofa. They were listening to him. He put his hands to his temples and concentrated. Telepathic messages over time and space differentials were not easy, but he wanted to tell his father about the ‘euthanasia’ question that had been put to him. He needed somebody to tell him he made the right decision. He was sure he did. But then he saw how much pain Natalie was in, and he wondered if he should at least have told her.

“Absolutely not,” his father answered him. “The very idea is anathema to our race, let alone to ourselves, personally, with our experience of life’s countless possibilities. Put it from your mind, son, and never let it trouble you.”

“I will, father,” he said.

“Chrístõ,” his father said in words as they broke the tiring mental connection. “You have good judgement, generally. Your first instinct in that case was the right one. Don’t rely on it always. Sometimes your first instinct may be wrong. But when there is a judgement call to be made, I think nine times out of ten you will get it right first time. Don’t be afraid to take that gamble.”

“Yes, father,” he answered. The advice went to his hearts. He knew he would never forget it. He turned from the videophone and began to programme in the co-ordinates for the Wundermittel Centre on Coreworld.

“Well,” Natalie remarked as she looked up and around in amazement. “Even if the clinic proves a washout, I am glad to have seen this place. It is…. My goodness. It can’t be natural?”

“The hollow planet IS a natural phenomena,” Chrístõ assured her. "The fact that it is a self-contained biosphere where life can exist is due to terra-forming and some clever astrophysics.” He looked up at the artificial sun that was fixed at what they would call twelve o’clock on Earth, eight on the inner planet of the Adano Ambrado system, and 13 o’clock on Gallifrey – midday. Here, the time of day was not gauged by the position of the sun, but by the amount of heat and light it gave out. At the present it was as warm as a rising sun about six o’clock on a summer morning in England or in Southern Gallifrey. At midday it would be sweltering and sunglasses and sunhats were the order of the day. Then it would gradually fade down to sunset colours and temperature. Then it would become a low-lit moon in the “night sky” which, as Chrístõ learnt from the TARDIS database, had artificial stars in it as well.

“The sun and the stars take their energy from the ACTUAL sun the planet orbits,” Chrístõ explained. “I couldn’t explain it in terms either of you would understand, but it is something similar to the way the Eye of Harmony fragment that powers the TARDIS is linked to the greater Eye on Gallifrey and is powered for eternity through it.”

“Right,” Julia said with a grin. “Because you know ALL about how THAT works. You didn’t even know it could communicate until Natalie told you.”

“I’m still not sure how that happens,” Chrístõ said. “It’s MY TARDIS and it never talked to me.”

“It’s female,” Natalie told him. “It doesn’t talk to you because you’re a man.”

“That figures,” he said with a smile. “Anyway, getting back to the history of Coreworld. It was created by colonists from a planet called Artraxia. Very smart scientists, very clever people all around. This place was an experiment. They wanted to see if it was possible to live underground. They figured it would be possible to terraform moons. Their own world had 145 of them and they considered the idea of hollowing them out and using them as living places while the planet itself could be given over to nature and be a place of leisure.”

“Great idea,” Julia said. “And… did it work?”

“Yes, and no,” Chrístõ continued. “As you see, this is a lovely place in itself. Rolling parklands, forests, rivers. Clean air. A temperate micro-climate. Like Camelot, it never rains before sundown here. And they built beautiful habitats. But the artificiality of it didn’t go down well. People didn’t like a sun that was always above their heads and never casting a shadow.”

They all looked down and saw just the smallest shadow beneath their feet. They realised just how much those things were taken for granted both on Earth and on Gallifrey.

“So nobody really wanted to live here?”

“That’s about the size of it. But the technology worked well enough. They had no reason to destroy it. They left the Coreworld as it was and made it available at incredibly low rents as a Sanctuary planet for medical and philanthropic organisations. There’s an orphanage here and a home for the elderly, and a couple of medical research facilities. And this place.” He looked around again at the Wundermittel Centre. It consisted of a big house in a style that Earth people called Art Deco, and a series of small buildings that were the saunas and indoor bathing pools and massage and therapy centres and the living suites of the ‘guests’ who came to avail of the “Wonder Cure” - as the name of the centre roughly translated from the Etic language. Chrístõ had looked into the history of the centre as far as he could. He had spoken to the director, an Etician whose medical credentials seemed impeccable. He was still not sure that it wouldn’t be an expensive waste as far as relieving Natalie’s pain and suffering was concerned, but he and his father were both willing to give it a try. For her sake.

“Come on, let’s go and see about your first treatment,” he said.

“Of course,” the Etician nurse explained as Natalie tried to relax on the bed in the treatment cubicle. “This is not a cure. We offer relief from the pain of your illnesses, not cures. Sometimes being free from pain and from reliance on drugs is a step towards being cured. Or at least the patient can live out their remaining time much happier than they otherwise would.”

“Freedom from pain, without drugs? And it’s not anything like acupuncture or hypnotism.” Chrístõ looked at the nurse. Eticians, with their mauve coloured skin, hairless scalps and eyes of a deeper mauve with no whites, had absolutely NO body language. There was no way of knowing if they were telling truth or lies short of actually reading their minds, and he had no justification for doing that. He could only presume that the answers he was given were the truth. Even if they were vague and unhelpful answers.

“The procedure is non-invasive and perfectly safe,” she said. And that was as much as she would say. Chrístõ watched as she administered a simple saline solution drip that, she said, was simply to maintain bodily fluids during the initial treatment. Then she placed electro sensors on Natalie’s forehead and temples and switched on a heart monitor. Natalie looked scared. She reached out to Chrístõ and he took her hand and squeezed it gently.

“The worst it can do is NOT work,” he assured her. “The best it can do is make you feel better.”

At least they were not promising any miracles. Freedom from pain, not a cure. Wundermittel literally means wonder cure or miracle cure. What it meant in common usage was panacea. And that was what he expected it to be more than anything.

A very expensive panacea. His father had taken him at his word when he said he thought it was worth a try. He hoped it was.

“Doctor Arzt,” the nurse said as the door opened and a tall Etic woman in a doctor’s white coat entered. “The patient is ready for the procedure.”

“Excellent,” she said. “Relatives are not permitted in the room when the treatment is going on. You must leave, young man.”

“Oh,” Natalie said. “But I hoped. Chrístõ is a doctor himself. I hoped he would be able to stay.”

“No exceptions to the rules,” Doctor Arzt insisted.

“I’ll be just outside,” Chrístõ promised. He kissed her cheek and stood and left the room. Julia was waiting outside already. He took her hand as they found a seat and prepared to wait. There wasn’t much to say that hadn’t been said already. They just sat and waited.

Then Chrístõ suddenly felt excruciating pains in his stomach and couldn’t stop himself crying out from it. He slid from the seat and crouched on his hands and knees as the pain gripped him from inside. His face was pale and screwed up in agony as he tried to fight it.

“Help,” Julia called out. “Somebody help me.” She held him tightly as she called. “Chrístõ, what is it?” she asked. “What’s hurting you?”

“I don’t….” he tried to speak but it was too much effort. It was all he could do to stay conscious. But he could hear voices other than his own and Julia’s, and running feet. And then mauve coloured hands were lifting him, placing him on a trolley. He saw a mauve coloured doctor shining a light in his eyes, trying to take his pulse. He heard Julia impatiently telling them that his species didn’t read a pulse in the wrist and showing them how to take it under his clavicle.

As he was brought into a treatment cubicle he distinctly heard the doctor ask Julia if he was from a telepathic species. Then they told her to wait outside and the door was closed. He felt scared. He was alone with people he had no reason to trust and they were attaching electronic sensors to his head and inserting IV tubes in his arm. He felt a sharp sting in his arm and felt an anaesthetic spreading through his body, numbing his limbs and preventing him from speaking. He tried to expel it from his bloodstream, but he was already struggling with the unaccountable pain and it was difficult to focus on it.

There was some argument going on as he fought for consciousness, fought to stay in control of himself. Somebody was demanding to know why a telepath was allowed to be in the area while a procedure was ongoing. He didn’t hear the reply but he stored the question in his memory as he lost the battle to stay awake and everything went black.

When he woke again there was no pain. He felt tired and wrung out as if he had done something physically exhausting, but he was not in any pain.

Neither was Natalie. She sat beside him along with Julia. They both looked relieved when he sat up in the bed and asked for water. Natalie poured it for him.

“They said you took a bad turn,” she said.

“Did they?” he answered. “And what exactly is THAT supposed to mean?”

A bad turn? It was a totally meaningless phrase. It said nothing about what he had felt. It explained nothing.

“Never mind about me,” he said. “Natalie, how do you feel?”

“I feel fantastic,” she told him. “No aches or pains, or anything. Not even a headache. I feel wonderful. I know I’m not cured. But I’m not in pain at all.”

“After just one session?” He was impressed. She DID look far healthier than she had looked for a long time. Her eyes were bright and her smile was much more natural. He knew that there were times, increasingly often, when her smile was forced as she tried to cover up how she really felt. But now she smiled brightly and really looked happy.

“They said it just takes one procedure. After that it works automatically.”

“What does?” he asked himself, not her. He didn’t want to spoil it for her. She was obviously happy and the whole point of coming here was to make her happy.

“Chrístõ,” Julia said. “They told us you’d be all right when you woke up, and you can get up whenever you’re ready. We can have lunch in the main refectory and then we can go to our chalet. Then Natalie wants to go to the swimming pool. And I’d like to do that, too. Guests and friends have free access to all the facilities while they’re staying here.”

“Should think so too,” he answered. “It’s costing my father enough.”

Natalie was a strong, natural swimmer. That surprised Chrístõ at first. He had not known her before she was ill, of course. And even if he had, he realised he was making judgements based on her body shape and assuming she would not be athletic in any way. He chastised himself for such an assumption and matched her and Julia over several lengths. The difference was that he swam underwater, easily holding his breath for the mere fifty metres of the pool.

After the swim they enjoyed a sauna and a therapeutic massage. Chrístõ enjoyed being pampered that way as much as the ladies did. As he lay there, feeling his muscles relax in a way they hadn’t been allowed to do for a long time, he wondered if he didn’t need it MORE than they did. He hadn’t realised just how much he needed to fully relax and not worry about anything.

Except he WAS worried, more than a little bit, about what had happened to him back there in the clinic. Why had he suddenly felt as if HE was the one with cancer spreading through his body? He hadn’t felt anything like that since the time when he was training with the Shaolins and took a sword straight through his stomach, damaging several vital organs. Even for him, with his tissue-regenerating abilities, and the ministrations of the good and wise monks, that had been touch and go. He had been in agony for several hours, the only time since he had set out on his field trip that he had truly wanted to go home.

He didn’t want to go home now. But he DID wish there were more quiet moments like this, when he could lie in a warm room feeling all the tension and stress melt away while listening to soft music.

There were questions he knew he ought to be asking. But he felt as if they could wait. Natalie was happy. And that was what they came for.

Apart from the medical side of it, the centre was much like a holiday camp. The next days passed happily with swimming and saunas, crazy golf and tennis, walking, dancing and evening entertainments. Natalie enjoyed it all and was enthusiastic to experience as much of it as she could. Chrístõ was thrilled to see her so happy and was glad to see all of her whims indulged.

Of course, she was NOT cured. She still had a nasty and terminal illness. But Chrístõ felt reluctant to remind her of that fact. There would be time enough for facing up to realities. For now he was happy to indulge her in a pleasant respite.

The first week they stayed within the extensive grounds of the Wundermittel. There was plenty to see and do without straying further. But by the beginning of the second week they became bolder. After lunch on the first day of the new week they enjoyed an afternoon’s outing with some of the other patients. Their mode of transport was an open horse drawn car – or something like a horse anyway. The driver said they were called Artraxian Moon Beasts. Julia called them Unicorns. Chrístõ thought Julia had it right.

The Artraxians had created a beautiful world. The parklands and waterfalls, lakes and rivers were delightful. The only strange thing was the sun, ever positioned there at the top of the sky, even as the afternoon wore on and turned to evening. But they got used to it as just one of the many wonders of Coreworld.

There were many creatures other than the Moon Beasts to delight the visitors. None of them, as Chrístõ pointed out, were actually indigenous to the planet. The Artraxians had brought some of their most benign and attractive species to populate Coreworld with animal life. There were silver winged birds and butterflies the size of house sparrows and something that looked like a rabbit but was about the size of a small dog.

And most delightful of all were the Biekoos. They saw dozens of them, especially down by the riverside where they lived in holes dug into the hillside. They were about three feet high, walking on two legs and running on four, something like an Earth bear.

They were not unlike a bear for that matter, with long soft fur covering most of their bodies except around the face itself which was short haired. They seemed to come in any number of colours.

“They’re beautiful,” Julia said. “But why do they look so sad?”

“It’s probably just like some dogs have that sad look even if they’re perfectly content,” Natalie suggested. “I’m sure they’re just fine.”

“I would sure love a coat made of that fur,” a woman said behind them in the car. They looked at her and noticed the big mink coat she wore. Natalie and Julia both responded to her comment about the Biekoos with a storm of protest about the cruelty of the fur trade.

“Hypocrisy,” she replied. “Sitting with a man wearing a pure leather jacket, no doubt lined with silk. Perhaps you think that grows on trees?”

And that WAS a fair point. He was wearing leather shoes, too. So was Julia. Most beings would make a distinction between cattle slaughtered for food, the hide being tanned and made into leather goods as a by product, and the killing of animals purely for their fur to make into luxury items for the rich and vain. But it WAS a fine line.

Leather jacket or not, Chrístõ still thought he had the moral high ground over a woman who looked at creatures like the Biekoos and saw nothing but fashion accessories. And the things she had said to Julia deserved a minor punishment.

“Oww,” the woman cried out loud suddenly. “Oww, oww, oww!” She jumped up from her seat and pulled off her fur coat, throwing it on the floor. “It’s biting me,” she exclaimed. “I could feel it biting me, all over. Little teeth….” She held out her arms, but there were no bite marks. And everyone in the car started to laugh at her. Even the driver was having trouble keeping a straight face.

Chrístõ was sure even the Biekoos were sniggering. But that might have been his imagination.

“That was SO funny,” Julia said as they talked about it by the fire in their chalet, drinking hot milk and savouring the pleasant day they had enjoyed.

“She SO deserved that,” Natalie agreed. “Imagine wanting to make a coat out of those lovely creatures.”

“I still think they look sad,” Julia insisted. “You don’t suppose anyone DOES make coats out of them?”

“Nobody would be allowed,” Chrístõ assured her. “The Artraxians are very strict about people messing with their indigenous species. They would have made all sorts of conditions about caring for the environment and not harming the animals as part of the leasehold of the property here. I think Natalie is right. They’re just like dogs that look sad but are just fine really.”

“Are you sure, Chrístõ?” Julia asked. She snuggled close to him as he sat on the big, comfy rug with his back against the armchair. He put his arms around her and cuddled her. “If there was something wrong with the Biekoos, you would help them, wouldn’t you, Chrístõ?”

“You think I can do anything, don’t you,” he laughed. “I’m not a miracle worker.”

“I think the doctors here are,” Natalie said with a happy smile. “I appreciate all your help, Chrístõ, don’t think I don’t. But I have felt so much better these past days since I had the procedure.”

“You look much better, Natalie,” Chrístõ said with a warm smile. “I’m glad it worked. I just wish I knew what the procedure was.”

“It can’t be anything bad, can it?” Julia asked.

“I don’t know,” Chrístõ admitted. “It COULD be some amazing development in medical know-how. I don’t pretend to be an expert. My medical training is from the 1860s. And I have to assume it is ethical.”

“You think it isn’t?”

“It’s the fact that they won’t tell me anything when I ask,” he said.

“They probably think you’re a spy who wants to steal their idea and use it to set up a rival clinic,” Natalie suggested.

“There is that,” he conceded. “And maybe that IS all there is to it. I have been so used to looking for things that are wrong. I am too suspicious. How CAN it be wrong when you are so happy?”

“It is a relief to sleep without having to take so many drugs just to get me through the night,” she admitted. “Even then, sometimes, it didn’t always work. The only thing that relieved me before this was sitting by the Eye of Harmony. That helped to dull the pain, but it didn’t take it away. It told me… that the pain makes me know I’m alive. But right now I am glad to be alive and not have any pain.”

“What happens when we leave here?” Julia asked. “Does the treatment keep working?”

“They said it would,” Natalie told her. “If it doesn’t, I get a free second treatment.”

“Well, my father will be pleased about that,” Chrístõ admitted. “So will his accountant.”

That made her laugh. And the laughter was so natural, so easy, without any underlying difficulty. He pushed away his suspicious thoughts, his questions, his doubts.

Then he felt it again. The pain running through him as if his body was riddled with tumours. This time, it wasn’t as intense. And it didn’t go on for as long. But it did leave him lying on the floor in a cold sweat, fighting to stay conscious and unable to speak for as long as the fit lasted.

“What is it?” Julia asked as it subsided and he was able to stand, clinging to her for support. “What did this to you?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I’ve never known anything like it.”

“Natalie is well, but YOU are sick,” Julia added. “It’s not fair.”

“My father always said that was a pointless thing to say about things we have no control over,” Chrístõ told her. “It’s not about things being fair. I think….” He stopped. He had a theory. But he didn’t want to say it to them. Because it would spoil everything for Natalie. Knowing that the procedure that had made her life so much easier was the cause of these problems that were affecting him would upset them both.

“I think I just need a good night’s sleep,” he said. He wasn’t sure they believed him entirely. They knew he didn’t sleep much usually. He didn’t even have a bedroom in the TARDIS.

He had one in the chalet, though. The TARDIS was in the corner of it, disguised as a wardrobe.

“Let’s all get some sleep,” Natalie suggested. “I would really like to try a day cycling tomorrow. That way we can see the scenery and not be bothered by snobs in their fur coats.”

“Yes,” he said. “Wonderful idea.” He kissed them both gently before they went to the main bedroom to sleep and he went to the smaller room and stretched out on the bed.

He put himself into a level three trance, deep enough to refresh his body in a few hours. He wanted to be awake again before anybody else was.

It was about three o’clock when he woke himself. He got up and slipped into the TARDIS. He brought up a floor plan of the clinic on the environmental monitor and worked out where he needed to go, then he set the co-ordinate.

The records room was, of course, essentially a computer bank. And naturally there was password protection. But Chrístõ didn’t worry about that too much. He sat in the chair in front of the computer and closed his eyes. He let his mind reach out into the room, visualising it a few hours ago when the computer operator was sitting there. He saw the mauve fingers pressing the keys. He smiled as he typed in the password. He smiled even more widely as the files opened up to him. He read them quickly. More quickly than anyone would have thought possible. His pupils dilated rapidly as they reflected the fast scrolling screen.

What he saw incensed him. It was even more outrageous than he thought. It also saddened him, because he knew there was no way Natalie would want to go on with the treatment once she knew the true cost of her pain relief. And she had been so happy and alive in these past days.

He downloaded the files to a memory chip and pocketed it. As he closed down the computer he heard a noise. Of course, the clinic had night security. His presence in the room may have been detected. But he was done here now. He turned and stepped through the door in the side wall that had not been there before and, before the nightwatchman unlocked the main door and stepped inside, wasn’t there again.

He transmitted the information to those who would be interested to receive it as he set the TARDIS to return to the chalet. He lay down on the bed quietly and waited for the moon to brighten into the sun again. He had a lot to think about. A lot that troubled him deeply. Anger and sadness were his chief feelings. But also a determination to end the terrible thing that was going on here before that sun dimmed its light again over Coreworld.

He woke Julia and Natalie early and made them eat a good breakfast while he told them at least part of what he had discovered.

“The reason why I had these attacks,” Chrístõ said. “I’m a telepath. And the procedure uses telepathic wavelengths to channel the pain from patients to elsewhere. I got in the way of the channel. It was stronger, of course, when I was just outside the room. But last night, another patient must have been receiving treatment and I picked up the resonances again.”

“Where elsewhere?” Julia asked. “Into some kind of containment or something?”

“If it was just that, it would be okay,” Chrístõ answered her. “But I’m afraid it isn’t. I need to see it for myself before I take any action. And I think you should see, too, Natalie. Then you will realise why I have to act. Because you are the one who stands to lose out here.”

“We’re guided by you, Chrístõ,” Natalie answered. “I always did think it was a bit too good to be true. But I’ve had a whole wonderful week’s holiday. I can’t complain.”

“Oh, Natalie,” Chrístõ sighed. “You have every right to complain, and complain loudly.” But he said no more for now. Once they had eaten he brought them to the TARDIS. He programmed it to take them to the river beyond the grounds of the Wundermittel.

“The Biekoos!” Julia gasped as they stepped outside the TARDIS. The Biekoos were all around the river’s edge, some of them swimming, others sitting on the riverbank. Julia noticed a group of them gathered around what looked like a campfire, cooking fish.

“Animals that know how to cook over a fire?” she queried. “Surely that’s not…”

“They’re not animals exactly. Not in the sense that you understand the word, or that silly woman who thinks animals exist to be exploited by sentient beings. They are a primitive being, with intelligence that sets them above animals, but not exactly on a level with us. They’re like… like early humans, perhaps. In a hundred millennia they may advance in the sense that people generally mean that word to mean. Although there is nothing wrong with their way of life as it stands. Why they would need to ‘advance’ I do not know.”

Chrístõ slowly approached the group by the fire. He knelt so that he did not appear to be too imposingly tall over them and he concentrated. He felt for their minds. And his theory was confirmed. The Biekoos had no spoken language. But they had a basic telepathic language. Not words. Not sentences strung together. But pictures. Chrístõ sent them a picture that identified him as a friend. They looked at each other and then at him. One of them stepped closer and acknowledged him in pictures. One offered him some of the cooked fish. It did not look especially appetising, but he took some of it and ate. He asked a few more questions and then he asked them something. They nodded and scurried away.

“What’s happening?” Julia asked him as he waited quietly.

“Some of them are sick,” he told her. “I’ve asked them to bring one of them to me.”

“Sick?” Natalie looked at him and then to the Biekoos. They still looked sad to her. She was beginning to have a suspicion WHY and the realisation saddened her, too.

“Oh,” Julia cried softly as two of the Biekoos brought one of the sick ones to Chrístõ. It was barely conscious and its beautiful fur was all matted and spoiled. It was moaning out loud as if it was suffering so constantly that even a telepathic creature was unable to remain silent.

Chrístõ took the creature in his arms and held it like a baby. He put his hand on its forehead and radiated soothing, calming thoughts that stopped it from crying. Then he reached further. He felt its thoughts, its misery and sorrow. And he saw the cause of it.

He concentrated very hard and broke the telepathic connection between the Biekoos creature and the patient of the Wundermittel Clinic whose pain was being transferred to its body. Immediately, he felt the pain himself. He was the next nearest telepathic being and he picked up the connection instead. He concentrated again and severed it completely. Somewhere in the clinic a patient was going to be waking up with their own pain to deal with again, and he was sorry about that. Even the unpleasant woman with the fur coat didn’t deserve to wake with that kind of pain without even a sedative to dull it.

But these creatures didn’t deserve to suffer at all. He cuddled the one he had cured as it slipped into a much needed, painless sleep. There were many more of them suffering the same way. Biekoos didn’t have any concept of mathematics. When he asked how many the answer had been a sort of fast montage of different creatures and he gave up counting after the first twenty.

He reckoned at least a hundred of the creatures were suffering. A hundred patients and former patients of the Wundermittel were walking around pain free while the Biekoos felt all of their aches and agonies.

“No,” he said. “That can’t be allowed.” He put the sleeping Biekoos on the floor and stood up. “Let’s go,” he said. “Back to the Centre.”

“Chrístõ,” Natalie said as she watched him programme their return. “One of those creatures is suffering MY pain.”

“Yes.” He looked at her. “I’m sorry, Natalie. I know it’s a lot to expect of you.”

“No,” she said. “No, I have enjoyed the freedom from the pain these past days, but I can’t any more. No. The cost is too high. Do what you have to do.”

“Come with me,” he said. She followed him to the medical room. He sat her down and prepared a syringe of the strongest painkillers he had been giving her until she began the Wundermittel programme. He injected them into her system and gave it a minute or two to take effect, and then he mentally reached into her body and found the telepathic connection that was drawing away her pain and sending it into the body of one of the Biekoos. Again, as the nearest telepathic being he felt it himself at first. Then when he broke that connection it returned to Natalie’s own body. He saw the change in her. Her eyes dimmed. Her face took on a strained look as if she was fighting the pain again. But she looked at him and smiled.

“I can manage,” she assured him. “Now go and help those poor creatures. Put a stop to this HORRIBLE practice.”

“Thank you,” he said. He took her hand and walked with her back to the console room. They were materialising in the reception hall of the clinic. Julia came to his side as he stepped out of the TARDIS which had not bothered with any kind of disguise this morning. It had simply appeared in default mode, as a metallic grey rectangular box with the seal of Rassilon engraved on all four sides. People were staring, as he expected them to do. The nurses were looking at them curiously.

“What is going ON?” Doctor Arzt demanded as she appeared in the reception. “What is this thing?”

“That is none of your business,” Chrístõ told him. “MY business is ensuring that people like YOU are shut down and prevented from calling themselves DOCTORS.”

“What ARE you talking about? Doctor Arzt demanded.

“Primum non nocere,” he answered. “First do no harm. A precept of the medical profession on planet Earth. And I know there is a similar precept on your world.”

“Who exactly is being harmed?” the doctor demanded.

“The Biekoos,” Chrístõ answered. “As you well know.”

“The Biekoos!” Doctor Arzt laughed. “Even if you could PROVE that, who do you think would care? They’re just animals. Dumb animals.”

“They are NOT dumb animals. And you KNEW that. You knew it when you developed your procedure. Because the procedure needs a telepath receptor to take the pain from your client’s body. You KNEW they were primitive sentients. Even if they WERE just animals, dumb animals, it is against the terms of your lease to interfere with the wild creatures of this planet. They are protected by your landlords, the Artraxians. But interfering with semi-sentients is much more serious. There are several intergalactic treaties banning such procedures. Artraxia is a signatory of them all and this planet is Artraxian territory. Incidentally, I have already sent a subspace signal to the Artraxian authorities. They are on their way now. As for you, I am making a citizen’s arrest. You will be held in my custody until they arrive to take you in hand.

“No!” Doctor Arzt cried and lunged at Chrístõ. He hardly moved. Or he didn’t seem to move. But Doctor Arzt found herself flat on her back. Chrístõ calmly adjusted his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at her. A localised stasis field surrounded the doctor, immobilising her completely. Several of her staff members started to approach, but then stepped back as they met Chrístõ’s withering gaze.

“How many of you knew exactly what was happening here?” he asked as he looked around at people who called themselves nurses and therapists and carers. “Arzt is going to go to prison, but she may not be the only one. I suggest you all start getting your stories straight. And you’d better get all of your patients into the dining hall here. They need to know what their money paid for.”

Most of the patients were shocked by the news. Some, Chrístõ noted that the fur coat wearer was among them, were unphased by the revelation that they enjoyed freedom from pain at the expense of a gentle creature.

“Well, I hope you’re happy to be an accomplice to a crime,” Chrístõ answered them. “Meantime, the nurses will be coming among you to issue painkillers and sedatives. Because I am about to BREAK all of the telepathic connections and you will all have a very unpleasant time otherwise. I’m sorry about that. Because I believe Primum non nocere is a good axiom. But you can’t get your relief from pain this way.”

With that, he turned away and left the room. Natalie and Julia followed him as he stepped past Doctor Arzt, still lying there in stasis and went into his TARDIS. He knelt on the floor in the corner of the console room where he knelt or lay to perform his daily meditative rites. He concentrated hard and found nearly a hundred of the telepathic connections. He visualised them as lengths of string that he could pull together into a bundle like the strings on a hundred balloons. In the same vision, he used an imaginary pair of scissors to cut those strings.

But as he severed the connections with the Biekoos, he was still the nearest telepathic being other than them. He screamed as he took on all of the agonies suffered by a hundred Biekoos in lieu of a hundred patients of the clinic, some here yet, enjoying the facilities, others back in their own homes on other planets.

Chrístõ felt as if his every organ was riddled with cancers and tumours and tubercles. He felt every joint wracked with arthritic pain, every muscle in his body wasted and aching, his head pounding with the worst migraine pain imaginable. He felt his knees buckle and he couldn’t stop himself falling. He lay there on the ground, his body writhing and trembling as the agony continued.

He heard Julia screaming his name. He looked at her through tear filled eyes as she ran to him. He tried to speak her name and reached to touch her, but the words caught in his throat as his body went into seizure. Natalie came to her side and between them they turned him into a safe position where his breathing would not be impaired while the fits subsided.

Except they didn’t. He was drenched in perspiration as his body continued to shake violently. His double hearts were beating out of sequence, and he wondered just how much more they could take. He was channelling all of the pain, all of the suffering of one hundred patients at once. Everything that had been passed into the bodies of the Biekoos was now coursing through his body.

And he knew there was a limit even for him.

He reached it after a painful hour of almost non-stop seizures. He felt his hearts go into arrhythmia, and that wasn’t somebody else’s pain. It was his own. His own body was dying under the strain. He couldn’t take any more. His body was failing.

“Julia,” he tried to say in his dying breath. “Julia…”

The effort was too much. He felt both hearts shudder to a stop like old engines that are out of fuel, and everything went black.

“No,” Julia cried out as his body seemed to slacken and become very still after the non-stop seizures. “Oh no, no. No. Chrístõ…”

“No,” Natalie said. “No, he can’t die that way. She knelt by his side. She was aching all through her own body. As his hearts stopped, the conduits closed off. She was feeling all of her own pain now, masked by the painkillers he gave her. So were all the other patients, she supposed. But that was only right. They couldn’t make others suffer for them. Not the Biekoos, and not Chrístõ.

“No, he won’t die,” she said and she ripped his shirt open and began to massage his left heart. People whose hearts stopped could be brought back with enough effort. She knew that. Humans could be revived. Surely Time Lords could, too.

“Julia,” she said. “His other heart. Do what I’m doing. Carefully. Not too hard. If you break his ribs and puncture his lungs he could die anyway. But there’s a chance… just one chance….”

Julia did as she said, massaging his right heart as Natalie took the left. She couldn’t feel anything there. No heartbeat, nothing. He WAS dead.

“No, he isn’t,” Natalie told her. “No, I won’t accept that. He promised he would be with me till the end and I know he won’t break that promise. Chrístõ, you won’t die before me. You won’t. Come back to us.”

“Oh!” Julia cried. She felt something. A weak movement that could have been a heartbeat. She continued massaging his heart. Natalie did, too. She gave a choked cry as she, too, felt his heart beat unaided. He was alive. He was unconscious still. His body wasn’t ready for him to be aware of himself again yet, but he was alive.

“Help me now,” Natalie said. “We’ll put him to bed. We’ll take care of him.”

“Yes,” Julia agreed. “We will.” She helped Natalie lift him. It was a struggle. He was a full grown man. She was a girl, Natalie was a sick woman who was under a great strain herself. But somehow they lifted him and carried him.

Humphrey howled with grief when they met him in the corridor near the bedrooms. They both assured him that Chrístõ was all right. They weren’t sure exactly where they could take him. The medical room was the obvious answer, but as they passed their own two bedroom doors they stopped at a third door.

“I don’t remember there being a door there,” Natalie said.

“Neither do I,” Julia said. She reached for the handle and opened it. She gave a soft gasp.

“This is….This is HIS bedroom in his home on Gallifrey,” she said. “I saw it when we stayed there. But it was never here before. He didn’t HAVE a bedroom on the TARDIS. It only creates rooms that are needed and he didn’t need it before.”

“Now he does,” Natalie said. “Come on.”

They carried Chrístõ to the neatly made bed and lifted him onto it. Under the pillow they found a pair of black satin pyjamas in Chrístõ’s size and decided he would be much more comfortable in those. Julia helped take his shirt off and button up the top, but Natalie made her go and stand looking out of the fake window while she got him into the pyjama trousers. They both put him into the clean sheets and warm blankets. And they both sat with him, anxious still, but hopeful. He was alive. His hearts were beating steadily now. It was just a matter of time until he woke up.

It took a very long time. They took turns sitting by his side, watching him, holding his hand. Humphrey stayed there constantly, next to his ‘friend’ and they reassured him that Chrístõ was only sleeping very deeply and would be well again.

Nothing could reassure THEM of that, though. The longer he remained in that deep, deep sleep the more they wondered if his brain had been damaged when his hearts were stopped and blood wasn’t flowing. They wondered if they should call his father. Neither of them wanted to do that. But if he never woke up, then they had to do something.

Finally, after a day and a night, as Natalie sat at his side and Julia slept in the armchair in the corner of the room, he stirred and whispered hoarsely. She reached and pressed a glass of water to his lips and he slowly opened his eyes. He looked at Natalie and then at the room around him and was puzzled.

“How did I get here?” he asked before she explained that he was still in the TARDIS and they had not yet left the planet. Then all explanations had to wait because Julia woke and she hugged him so tightly he had to remind her that even he needed to breathe sometimes.

“What’s been happening in the Wundermittel then?” he asked as he sat up and looked around him. The recreation of his own bedroom was perfect. He almost felt a little disappointed that he wasn’t home, after all.

But he had work to complete, still.

“The staff of the clinic have all been arrested,” Natalie told him. The patients are being given ordinary treatments for their illnesses and transported home to where they come from. The Biekoos are all happy. The Artraxians went and looked at them. They’re just fine. There was even a special amendment passed to the Treaty of Ux to protect them. Your friend Abassador Bar Dey helped forge it. He sent a message to you. He was VERY upset when he heard you weren’t well. It was all we could do to stop Camilla from coming here and nursing you herself. “

“We looked after you,” Julia pointed out. “You ARE all right, aren’t you, Chrístõ? You nearly died.”

“I thought I had. I think… I remember my hearts stopping. Then everything was vague after that. I felt my hearts being forced to beat again. But my body WAS exhausted. I couldn’t find my way back for a long time.”

“You’re here now, my Chrístõ,” Julia told him.

“Yes, I am.”

Yes, it was all sorted out now. While he slept, exhausted by the mental strain, others had worked. There was just one piece of unfinished business.

“Natalie.” He reached and held her in his arms. He kissed her forehead gently. “Natalie, you saved my life. Thank you, my dear. Thank you for that precious gift. And in return… there is but one thing I can give you. And it is freely given.” He put his hands either side of her face and concentrated. He drew off her pain into himself. He groaned with the effort, but one person’s pain was easy enough. His body could absorb that much.

“The connection was made between us already. It remains open. When you need it, my dear lady, don’t hesitate. Let me take the worst of the pain from you. Natalie dear, I will share your burden. I will take it into myself, willingly. My gift to you.”

She protested, but he would take no refusal. It would be difficult for him, especially as her condition worsened. But he was willing to do as much for her.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go and see the Biekoos and make sure they ARE all right before we get away from this place. I think I’ve had enough of it for a while.”