“Natalie,” Chrístõ said as he pushed away the body scanner and reached to take hold of her hand. “I…”

“Don’t say it,” she said. “I don’t need you to say it. I feel it badly enough. Or I would if you didn’t fill me with painkillers that stop me feeling anything. It’s almost over.”

“Oh, Natalie,” Chrístõ put his arms around her and held her tight. He had known it anyway, even before the body scan. Every time he touched her he could feel within himself the cancerous lesions eating away at her.

“I should take you to a hospital,” he said. “There are several good ones in this sector…”

“There’s no point,” she said. “None of them can treat me. All there is… is places where I can die. Places that will make me ‘comfortable’ till the end. But Chrístõ, I AM comfortable here. I want to die here, on the TARDIS, in space. I don’t want anyone around. Just you, and Julia and… and Humphrey. Yes, my dearest friends. I’d like you all to be near me when the time comes. But it’s not quite there yet. I’d like. I wish….”

“Anything,” Chrístõ promised her.

“I’d like… a holiday. Somewhere nice. Somewhere warm, with the sun shining. Somewhere beautiful. I’d like to look at beautiful things before I die, Chrístõ.”

“I can do that,” he promised her.

He thought about what he could do to keep that promise. He scanned the database of planets for one that was NOT in those presets that almost certainly had some trouble to deal with. He smiled as he found the very place.

Lekadace looked a lot like a planet designed by somebody who loved the Greek Islands. It had a climate similar to that described as ‘Mediterranean’ on Earth, though it did not apply here as the word literally meant ‘middle Earth’ and in fact all but two very small ice-capped poles of this planet and a temperate area around those poles had the same beautiful weather. The double suns and a steady orbit meant that there was little variation.

The islands were teeming with wildlife, especially birds. The seas around them had a delightful abundance of fish and sea mammals.

What there wasn’t, was any indigenous sentient population.

“What happened to them?” Julia asked as they sat on the deck of their yacht. A REAL yacht, not the TARDIS disguised as one, though anyone entering the master bedroom would have been surprised. It was called the Dulcibella, a name that roughly translated meant sweet and beautiful. She and Natalie were drinking cold fruit juices brought to them by one of the efficient young men who came with the yacht and admiring the view over one the largest island, Lekadacia. They were especially drawn to the ruins, half hidden by overhanging vines and shrubbery, that proved there had, once, been people living here.

“They died out,” Chrístõ answered. “About 1,000 years ago. For reasons nobody has ever been able to find out, the population became infertile. Scientists and anthropologists have studied the soil, the vegetation, the air, the sunlight, the water, extracted DNA from the bones of long dead Lekadacians, and they can’t understand how it happened. There is no danger to visitors. But somehow they became infertile and in a generation they died out.”

“Oh, how sad,” Natalie murmured as she looked at the ruins of what had been fine palaces and temples and bath houses and libraries and such.

“Yes, though better, I suppose than war or anything of that sort. They all just died of old age. But….” He thought about how lonely it must have been for the last generation, how heart-breaking it would have been knowing they could not have children, and that their society was doomed. “Or maybe not. Anyway, it’s what happened. But it was a long time ago now. And the islands just returned to nature. They were completely untouched until about fifty years ago when tourists began to visit. The planet is actually under the protection of the Scarlett Empire. They have rules about what people can and can’t do here. Outside of the space port yachts are the only vehicles allowed except in emergencies. And visitors are only allowed to walk in designated areas on the islands, certain beaches and paths to the more durable of the ruins and monuments.”

“I don’t really want to walk anywhere,” Natalie said. “Though it is nice on the beaches. Last night was wonderful.”

“Wasn’t it,” Julia replied, smiling happily. They had anchored beside one of the ‘Pearls’ - a string of small islands that formed a perfect circle like a pearl necklace. A short dinghy ride brought them to a beautiful sandy beach surrounded by high cliffs. They had built a camp fire and cooked food over it and ate and drank and listened to the sounds of the birds and the lapping of the waves and soft music played on a melodic stringed instrument by the yacht captain, Joachim, who had studied Lekadacian history and folklore and knew several of their long folk ballads. The words and music, he explained, were found by archaeologists who uncovered the cellars of the great library of Lecadacia, along with many other cultural treasures.

They were beautiful songs, anyway, of love and love of life on this beautiful planet. Julia sighed as she remembered the kind of evening that she read about in the teenage section of the library on the Alduous Huxley. The sort that involved a romantic location and a handsome man and a girl sitting together, holding hands and being perfectly content with how life was at that very moment, without thinking about what might come.

Natalie had enjoyed every moment of it, too. She couldn’t DO very much. Even walking with Chrístõ and Julia along the length of that very short beach was too much. But she was content to sit or lie on the warm sand, watch the suns set, feel the warmth of the camp fire , enjoy the taste of good food and drink and take pleasure in the moment that was. She was in very little pain. The medication Chrístõ prescribed for her meant that she didn’t feel anything. And that allowed her to enjoy these days and even forget from time to time how few of them she had left.

It was because Natalie couldn’t walk far that Chrístõ had chosen a yachting holiday. Every day as they explored the islands she got to see different ‘beautiful things’ without having to walk very far, and with people on hand to bring her drinks and tasty things to eat. He himself itched to climb the sheer cliffs and walk to the top of hills with broken pillars and colonnades of long abandoned temples on top, but this was Natalie’s precious time. Every minute was for her.

“I’m glad they kept it unspoilt,” Natalie said as she looked up at the tangled vines that covered what had once been a great house on top of a cliff. Or perhaps a temple.

“That was the great treasure house of Lecadacia,” Joachim told her when he brought her another huge glass filled with a fruity drink with actual pieces of the fruits floating in it and a long straw and an umbrella. “Legend has it that it was full of gold and jewels. Great treasures such as you could hardly imagine. Crowns and vestments of gold, studded with diamonds and rubies.”

“Wow,” Julia whispered as she tried to imagine it.

Chrístõ laughed. She looked at him.

“What? You’re not impressed by gold and diamonds?”

“I don’t covet treasure that belongs to others,” he answered. “No need. My family OWNS diamond and gold mines, remember. The diamonds for your dowry are in my bank vault. When the time comes you will marry me in a dress so covered with them that you will have to have three maids of honour just to hold the train.”

Julia smiled. Joachim grinned at the man who was paying him for this trip.

“You will not wish to go searching for the lost treasure then, Patron?” he said.

“No, I will not. Lost treasure, in any case, should stay lost. But what do the legends say happened to it?”

“They say the mountains swallowed it all after the last of the old people died,” Joachim said. “But that doesn’t actually make any sense.”

“Mountains swallowed it…” Chrístõ looked at the great, sheer cliff and noted how precariously close to the edge the ruin was. He doubted it had been built that way. “Are there ever earthquakes in this area?” he asked.

“Yes, Patron. There are disturbances from time to time. But there are no indications of the ground having collapsed. Yes, a section of the cliff must have broken off at some point, but the ground above is strong.”

“Oh well,” Chrístõ said with a smile. “It was an idea. Do people come here searching for the treasure?”

“Not if they know what’s good for them,” Joachim answered. “It is strictly against the law. There are severe penalties for any despoilment of the islands. No legitimate yacht owners would be involved in such a thing. We may not be the original inhabitants of Lekadace, but those of us who make a living through showing people like yourself its beauty – we come to love it. We would not countenance strangers coming to dig holes and blow lumps out of the cliffs. The treasure belongs here just as much as the fish and the birds and the trees.”

“Easy for him to say,” one of the deckhands said. “He owns three of these yachts, and makes a packet from tourism. But there are plenty of people not making so much money.”

“You get paid well enough, little brother,” Joachim answered him. “Besides, you know I promised you the captaincy of your own yacht once you have the experience.”

“Meanwhile I swab your decks,” the young man said.

“Like I said, experience,” Joachim laughed. “You carry on swabbing, Kal.”

Chrístõ laughed, too. He thought his father would approve of Joachim’s approach to his younger brother’s career development. If they had ever owned a yacht, he had an idea HE would be the one swabbing decks.

“Our other brother is approaching,” Kal said as he went to his work. Joachim looked over to the starboard to see another yacht, a twin of the one they were on, drawing near. The name “Contessa” was painted on the helm. A man who looked like the middle of the three brothers hailed the Dulcibella.

“There’s a freshening wind from the west, brother,” the man called. “Do you feel like a bit of a race. My customer is in the mood for a bit of excitement. To the Devil’s Point and back?”

Joachim looked around at Natalie and Julia. Chrístõ had told him that Natalie was ill, and hoping for no more than a quiet voyage. He told his brother that, using his own local dialect, so as not to embarrass his passengers. But Natalie had travelled with Chrístõ in the TARDIS for nearly a year and a half. She had absorbed enough of its psychic resonances to have any language translated for her.

“I am not quite at death’s door yet,” she told him. “I can handle a LITTLE bit of excitement. A yacht race could be fun.”

“Yes, let’s,” Julia said. “I bet the Dulcibella could beat the Contessa.”

“You’re too young for betting,” Chrístõ told her. “And I never gamble! But if Natalie wants a race, we’re game for it.”

Joachim grinned.

“Let us turn about and you’re on, Theo,” he told his middle brother before turning and giving instructions to his crew, including his brother who was relieved and happy to be excused deck-swabbing in favour of something much more challenging and more likely to prove to Joachim that he was ready for his own captaincy.

Chrístõ made Natalie and Julia sit down on the deck itself. Racing was a different yachting experience than the gentle, leisurely pace they had taken until now, and the chairs and tables had to be stowed.

“You two sit tight,” Chrístõ told the women as he made sure they were both safe and comfortable. “I’m going to lend a hand. Haven’t done any hands on sailing yet this trip.”

“You have fun,” Natalie told him. “And make sure we win the race.”

“Yes,” Julia added. “The Dulcibella has to come in first!”

“We’ll do our best,” he said and grinned before running to join the men raising the sails and preparing to catch the fullest wind to speed them along.

“He would rather be doing exciting things, wouldn’t he,” Natalie sighed as she watched him climb nimbly up the mast to do something mysterious to the rigging. “This trip must be quite boring for him. No adventure at all.”

“I don’t think he minds, at all,” Julia assured her. “He is like that. He cares. He cares about the whole universe. But he specially cares about his friends.”

“I’m so lucky to have had him as my friend,” Natalie sighed. “Julia… I don’t have much time. You know that, don’t you? I think this is the last planet I will ever visit.”

“Yes, I know,” Julia answered, and didn’t want to say any more about it. But soon they were both distracted from such thoughts as the race got underway in earnest. The two yachts caught as much wind as they could in as many sails as they could raise on the masts and began to race along.

Even for Julia and Natalie sitting there as mere passengers, it was exhilarating to be speeding along, cutting through the waves. For Chrístõ it was the kind of excitement that set his hearts racing and the adrenaline pumping. It wasn’t quite the speed rush of surfing plasma storms in the TARDIS, but in many ways it was more of a challenge. The yacht depended on the manual skills of the people operating it. He enjoyed being part of it. He especially enjoyed being part of a team, working with other people. He had piloted the TARDIS solo for so long, it was a change to work with other people. He even found it refreshing to be taking orders from Joachim, the acknowledged expert in sailing, and in the subtleties of his own boat. He was the captain of the TARDIS, Joachim was captain of the Dulcibella and Chrístõ did what he told him to do.

For much of the outward part of the race the two yachts were neck and neck. They were both of the same make and age, with the same rigging and it stood to reason there would not be much between them. But as they came in sight of “Devil’s Point”, a strikingly rocky headland jutting out into the sea, the Dulcibella edged ahead and was quicker to turn about and head back to the marker agreed on. The Contessa was never very far behind though and it was going to be a close thing. They were close enough for the crew and the captain brothers to shout friendly insults to each other as they raced.

But the Dulcibella, whether because its captain was marginally more experienced than his younger brother, or because it caught the wind a little better, or sheer luck, pulled ahead and won the race easily.

They hauled in sails and slowed the two yachts, pulling closer so that when they finally dropped their anchors they were aside each other.

“Winner treats the losers to lunch,” Theo said as he stepped from the deck of his own yacht to the Dulcibella and the two brothers greeted each other warmly. Two men and a woman in the smart-casual clothes of well-heeled passengers stepped across a companionway put in place by the crew. Chrístõ helped Natalie to stand up and took Julia on his other arm as he went to greet them. Joachim introduced his brother’s passengers as Lord and Lady Gress of Ventura and her brother, Lord Nollen.

“Ventura?” Chrístõ smiled as he shook their hands. “My father was Ambassador to Ventura when I was a little boy. I have fond memories of our house there.”

Of course, he thought to himself, he was a little boy one hundred and eighty years ago. His father would have known the great-great-great-grandparents of these members of the Venturan aristocracy. But the fact that he was the son of an Ambassador was enough to assure them that he was of their own class and they therefore accepted his friends.

Lunch with the two captains and their clients was a cheerful affair with talk mostly about the wonders of Lekadace that they all came to explore.

Of course, in the shadow of the treasure house the conversation naturally turned on the lost treasure. Again, Joachim stated his personal opposition to treasure hunters and his brothers echoed the view, despite what Kal had said earlier. They were both proud of the heritage of Lekadace and didn’t want it despoiling.

Lord Nollen seemed to be more than passively interested, Chrístõ thought as he watched the young man and noted how many subtle and apparently innocent comments by him turned on the legends, and how often he looked up at the ruin on the cliff. He thought about his many visits to archaeological wonders on Earth. The Egyptian wonders he had explored with Cassie and Terry, for example. How few of those were untouched by thieves and plunderers. Even those with historical interests came to take pieces away to put in museums.

“Lekadace’s secrets should stay secrets,” he said. And that seemed to finish the discussion for the time being, but Nollen’s interest was not satisfied yet.

They stayed at anchor for the afternoon, the three brothers and their crews enjoyed the chance to socialise and Chrístõ was happy to entertain the Venturan aristocrats. Natalie slept a little on a sunlounger with a shade over it, but Julia was by his side, joining in the light conversation. Lady Gress seemed to find her charming at least. Julia lost no time in telling her that she was Chrístõ’s ‘intended’. She told that to anybody who passed more than a few words with her. Chrístõ wished she wouldn’t. It always raised eyebrows and there were always questions. Though Lady Gress didn’t seem to think it odd at all.

“I always knew I would marry His Lordship,” she said. “The arrangement was informally made when I was younger than you. Of course, it was a profitable arrangement. The joining of our properties was expedient.”

“I don’t have any land,” Julia said. “I love Chrístõ. And he loves me.”

“A love match,” her Ladyship said. “How sweet. But does your family approve of such an arrangement Chrístõ?”

“My father married for love, and never regretted it,” he answered. “We have money and land enough already.”

“Is it possible to have enough of either?” Lord Nollen asked with a laugh. “That’s why I find it so amazing that property as valuable as we see here on Lekadace belongs to the ghosts of the past.”

“You are a wealthy man, Mallus,” his sister told him. “Yet you always want more. I think Chrístõ and Julia have the right idea. They have each other.”

“But I am sure Chrístõ and Julia would be happy to have a summer house up on the cliffs there and a share of the Lekadacean treasure,” Nollen insisted.

“No,” Chrístõ insisted equally firmly. “Lekadace DOES belong to it's ghosts. It would be wrong.”

“You know,” Theo said, after listening to the conversation of the strangers for long enough. “There IS a legend that says the treasure can never be taken from Lekadace.”

“Curses and forebodings!” Nollen laughed. “I don’t think those would keep back a determined treasure seeker.”

“Then the law will,” Joachim answered him. “It is perfectly clear. And you should know that no boat owner I know would be party to such an expedition. And that would be every boat owner on Lekadace.”

“Mallus is speaking theoretically,” Lord Gress said. “He has no intention of going treasure hunting and he doesn’t know anyone who does.”

“Indeed,” Mallus Nollen agreed quickly. “I only think it curious that no attempt was ever made before.”

“Well, perhaps…” Lady Gress began to say something, but stopped speaking and squealed in alarm. There was a low rumbling sound and the two boats were caught in a sudden swell that caused the anchor chains to pull tight. Drinks were spilled and an unlashed fishing pole rolled across the deck. Chrístõ ran to Natalie’s side as she was rudely awoken from her rest. He held her tight until the sea became calm again.

“What was it?” Julia asked as she picked herself up from the deck and ran to Chrístõ’s side.

“At a guess,” he said. “A small earth tremor. On the land, I think, but the shockwave ran under the sea and we felt it as a very small tsunami.” He looked at Joachim who nodded grimly then turned to his brother.

“That may only be a foretaste,” he said. “We should weigh anchor and get away from here.”

Theo called his crew together to go back to the Contessa. The companionway had collapsed as the two boats rode the swell, but the gap was nothing to fit young men who knew how to jump and climb. As Theo put his foot on the rail, ready to jump across, though, they felt another tremor and Kal gave a shout. Everyone turned as they saw a great wave rolling towards them.

“Julia,” Chrístõ said. “Lady Gress, come with me now.” He lifted Natalie in his arms and carried her as he ran down the steps to the deck below. He pushed open the door to the “master bedroom” which led, in fact, into his TARDIS at the moment. He laid Natalie on the cabin bed and told Julia and Lady Gress to sit down on the sofa. He glanced quickly at the environmental console that told him the size and speed of the fast approaching wave.

“Chrístõ? You’re going out there?” Julia ran to him as he headed to the door.

“They’re going to need every hand they can get. I don’t know how much use the two Lordships will be. But I know I can do something.”

“You can drown. You can be swept overboard…”

“I can hold my breath for a very long time.” Chrístõ told her. “Stay here, Julia. Look after Natalie and Lady Gress. She looks like she’s going to hyperventilate any moment.” He kissed her once and then turned and left the TARDIS. He ran up the stairs and out onto the deck again as the wave loomed over them. He was reminded of Katsushika Hokusai’s famous painting, The Great Wave. The Dulcibella and the Contessa looked as tiny as the open boats in the painting against the wave that threatened to engulf them.

“Get all the sails down, collapse the mast,” Joachim yelled. “We might just ride it out.” Chrístõ ran to help in that effort. Joachim and his brothers worked alongside their crew to keep the yacht afloat.

“What about the Contessa?” Theo asked him.

“We’re going to lose her. She’s still anchored, under full sail. Nobody at the helm. It’ll rip her to bits.”

Theo uttered a long swearword in his native language that Chrístõ knew he would never repeat in front of the women.

“What do we do?” Lord Nollen asked. He and his brother-in-law stood uselessly. Chrístõ wondered why he didn’t take them down to the TARDIS, too. They were no more able to help in this situation than Julia or Natalie.

“Hit the deck,” Chrístõ said to them. “Everyone. It’s too late. Grab hold of something secure. Hold on tight. We either float or sink. But this is it.”

Nobody questioned him. They grabbed hold of any solid handhold they could find and lay flat on the deck. Chrístõ tried to calculate their chances. If the yacht wasn’t flipped over by the wave it might just stay afloat. If it didn’t, yes, he could close off his lungs and keep from drowning. He could swim down and find the TARDIS in the wreckage. He could survive. Julia and Natalie and Lady Gress would be bumped around a bit but otherwise safe inside the TARDIS. But a lot of brave, decent people would die. Joachim and his brothers, and the crew, and even the Venturan Lords. None of them deserved to die.

They didn’t ride it out. By sheer luck they rode with it. Chrístõ felt his stomach lurch as the yacht pitched forward like a roller coaster and then a feeling of upward motion. The Dulcibella was being lifted until it was riding the top of the wave like a surfer.

He risked a look up from where he lay on the deck holding on tight to the nearest handhold he could find. He saw them being swept towards the great cliff below the treasure temple.

Except it wasn’t a cliff now. The earthquake had opened up the great wall of rock to reveal a great, dark cavern, open to the sea. And the Dulcibella was being swept towards the opening.

Just as well, he thought. The alternative was being driven towards a cliff that would have turned the yacht into matchwood. Again, he was sure the TARDIS would survive. But in that case he wasn’t so sure he would. Being slammed against a wall of granite wasn’t something he thought he could survive even with his personal advantages.

It was already a miracle that they were still afloat, still upright. They hardly deserved another miracle. But they got one anyway. As the wave with the yacht neared the cavern entrance it began to lose force and it was almost a slow, graceful movement as the Dulcibella slid between the sheer cliff walls into the cavern and beached itself on a bank of sand at the back of the flooded cavern.

Chrístõ was the first to stand up. He looked around and saw the crew starting to pick themselves up from the deck. There were some minor injuries but nobody was seriously hurt.

“Chrístõ!” He heard Julia’s voice and she and Lady Gress came up the steps. “I left Natalie to rest. But… but I couldn’t stay away from you any longer.”

Lady Gress clearly couldn’t bear to be parted from her men, either. She was relieved to find them shaken but unhurt.

“But where are we?” Lord Gress asked looking around him. “And how….”

“We’re inside the cliff,” Joachim said. “I don’t know how. By all the rules of sailing we should be dead. We rode a tsunami wave into a cave that wasn’t there before the earthquake.”

“Good grief!” Nollen cried out. “It’s…. look…. Look around you.”

One of the crew had gone to the bow of the yacht and lit her lamps. The dark cavern was illuminated and they all stared at the hidden treasure of Lekadacia.

It had to be the mythical treasure. There was no other explanation for it being there. And it was a beautiful sight. Gold chains, crowns, jewel encrusted golden swords and statues of golden animals, and millions of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, every precious jewel was stored on the tiered ledges of the cavern walls. The light reflected off it all in amazing ways.

“It’s here,” Nollen cried out excitedly. “And it’s all ours.”

“No!” Joachim cried out. “No. It is NOT ours. It belongs to this place. We cannot… must not take it away.”

“Don’t be a fool, man!” Nollen said. “Look around you. Even if we shared it equally between every man here…. and even a portion for the women and the girl… you’d be set up for life. It would more than compensate you for your lost boat, the damage to this one…”

Chrístõ tried to remember what had happened to the Contessa. He supposed it must have been overwhelmed and sunk. It was still on its anchor chain. It couldn’t have gone anywhere.

But Joachim, to his credit, didn’t even consider that.

“My boats are insured. I will be compensated for the loss. I do not need more…”

“What is this? The last honest man in the universe?” Nollen laughed. “I’m going to get my share at least. Who’s with me?”

Some of the crew, it had to be said, did look longingly at the gold all around them. But not one of them followed Nollen and his brother-in-law as they jumped off the boat onto the sand and began to climb the rocks to reach the treasure.

“Launch the dinghy,” Joachim said to the crews of the two boats. “Get the kedge anchor. We can get the Dulcibella back out into the open water and then raise sail…”

“What’s he doing?” Julia asked Chrístõ as he waited with those of the crew not in the dinghy to lend a hand at pulling ropes. The only two men NOT helping in the operation were Nollen and Gress. They had returned to the boat only to deposit a pile of jewels and gold and find sacks to pick up a larger haul.

“It’s a sailing technique called kedging off,” Chrístõ explained. “They take the kedge anchor out into deeper water and drop it and then haul on the line until slowly but surely it pulls the boat off the sands and afloat again. Joachim is a very good yachtsman, and his men are strong and willing. They’ll do it in no time.”

“We’re going to be all right then?” she asked. “I was so scared.”

“We’re all going to be just fine,” he told her. “The men know what they’re doing. We’ll be back out to sea in a few hours.” He gave a reassuring smile. “I have heard tell, though, that kedging-off is considered the worst part of yachting.”

“Only because it is humiliating to a good yachtsman to have to do it,” Kal, the youngest brother, said as he, too, prepared to help haul the line. “Being grounded is the worst failure of navigation. So the captain who has to order the kedge anchor out has lost face.”

“I don’t think Joachim needs feel humiliated by this grounding,” Chrístõ said. “Nobody could have prevented it.”

“Tell that to my big brother who will not be telling THIS sailing story in the tavern in a hurry.”

But it seemed nobody was going to be telling ANY story in any tavern for a while. The kedging off operation worked to begin with. The Dulcibella was inched back off the sands and towards the water. But she was still only half afloat when the dinghy on the long kedge line reached the mouth of the cavern. Suddenly there was a great rumble. Hearts sank as they feared the worst – an aftershock. But what did happen was possibly worse. The cavern entrance closed up as if it was a great stone door worked by some kind of hydraulics.

“Get back,” Theo, manning the dinghy, began to row backwards hurriedly. The men with him did the same. “We’ll be crushed.”

The dinghy was only feet away as the doors sealed with a crashing sound that echoed around the cavern. The daylight was cut off and they had only the Dulcibella’s riding lights for illumination. The dinghy crew returned to the Dulcibella. Joachim looked around him. Above, Nollen and Gress were still filling sacks with treasure. Their hoard was piling up on the aft deck but nobody else went near it.

“It’s the ghosts,” he said. Joachim was a modern man, educated, level-headed. But that was the only explanation he could think of for what had just happened. The Earth tremors, the wave, were all natural phenomena. And ones he fully understood. But caverns that closed up on them – that had to be a deep magic.

“You two fools get down from there!” Theo shouted. “And leave what doesn’t belong to you.”

“Are you MAD?” Nollen answered. “We could fill that boat….”

“WHO DARES STEAL FROM THE TREASURE HOUSE OF LEKADACE?” The voice boomed around the cavern. It was deep and sonorous the way disembodied voices in caverns somehow ought to be. Everyone stared around, trying to find the source of the voice.

“It’s coming from the walls themselves,” Julia said. “The cavern is protecting the treasure.”

“I think you’re right,” Chrístõ said. “It won’t let us leave with the gold aboard.” He took a deep breath and answered the voice.

“Please,” he said. “Only two of our number have touched the gold. The rest are honest men who respect your traditions. Won’t you let them go?”

“RETURN WHAT IS NOT YOURS!” the voice answered.

“If we return the treasure, we can leave?” Chrístõ asked.

“RETURN WHAT IS NOT YOURS,” the voice repeated.

“Throw that stuff overboard,” Joachim ordered his men. At once they began to tip the sacks over the side.

“No!” Nollen screamed and ran at them. “No! There’s a fortune there…”

“Throw it over,” Joachim insisted.

“No!” Nollen moved faster than anyone expected him to move. He grabbed a knife from the belt of one of the crewmen and barged forward to put himself between the treasure and the men. At the same moment Julia gave a cry of distress and Chrístõ turned to see Gress holding a penknife to her throat.

He didn’t hesitate. He folded time and Gress didn’t even see him as his hand was pulled away from Julia’s neck and his legs taken out from under him. At the same time Kal and Theo proved themselves useful though less swift as they disarmed Nollen and pushed him to the deck. Lady Gress was squealing with alarm and indignation until Julia rounded on her.

“Be quiet, you silly woman,” she said. Chrístõ grinned at her as he searched Gress’s pockets for gold and diamonds. Nollen was subjected to the same indignity, the men stripping him to his underwear in order to find all of the treasures he had hidden in his clothes.

“You’ll pay for this,” Gress yelled. “I’ll see your yachting licences are withdrawn. You will never work again.”

“I don’t think so,” Joachim answered. “YOU are the one breaking the law. You will be lucky to avoid a jail sentence.”

“It is all returned,” Chrístõ said at last as he dropped the last pocketful of diamonds over the side and raised his voice to address the ‘spirit’ of the cavern or whatever it was. “Please let us out.”

“GO!” the voice said and to everyone’s relief there was a grinding sound as the cavern began to open again. Joachim’s people at once ran to their positions. They manned the dinghy and hauled lines and the Dulcibella inched towards the mouth of the cavern. The dinghy was in the open and the hull of the yacht was halfway into the sunlight when to everyone’s horror they heard the grinding sound again and the door began to close once more. Joachim screamed at his men to row faster, but it seemed likely that the Dulcibella would be snapped in two. Joachim told everyone to move towards the bow and be ready to abandon ship. Chrístõ’s heart sank as he realised that the master bedroom where the TARDIS was would be trapped inside the cavern.

He ran to the stern and shouted out again “WHY are you doing this? We did as you asked.

“There are still treasures not returned,” the voice replied. “The treasure may not be taken from the cavern.”

“WHO?” he looked around. Nollen was looking more worried than anyone else. He grabbed him by the lapels. “What have you done?” he demanded. “What DID you do?” Nollen shook his head but Chrístõ knew what he had done. He concentrated his mind and looked into his body. His stomach was full of diamonds. “You bloody fool!”

There was only one chance for everyone else. He took an even tighter hold of Nollen and launched himself overboard with him. They sank down into the water together and as they came up gasping for air they saw the Dulcibella clear the doors. Chrístõ swam for the shore and left Nollen lying on the sand and then he dived back into the water again. He time-folded as he swam. He had seconds left. The gap was closing fast. But he had no treasure on him. Surely the cavern would let him free.

The gap was only an inch wider than his own body as he swam through. The thought of being cut in half by the crushing weight of the rock spurred him on.

He was free. He released the time fold and trod water as he turned and looked around at the solid cliff, then he turned again and grabbed at the companion ladder that was passed down to him from the Dulcibella. Julia embraced him as soon as he was on the deck.

“Where is Mallus?” Lady Gress demanded tearfully. “Is he dead?”

“No, he’s not dead,” Chrístõ answered. “He’s inside the cavern. He can’t get out while he still has treasure on him – or I should say IN him.” He turned to Joachim. “The quakes are over now. We’re safe enough. Drop the anchor and have your men assess the damage. We should have plenty of time to make any repairs while we wait.”

“Wait for what?” Lord Gress asked. “We have to get back to civilisation and report my brother-in-law missing. Organise a search…”

“We will wait,” Chrístõ said. “I’m a bit rusty on Venturan anatomy. How long does it take for your digestive processes to complete…. I’m thinking a day, maybe two, before the last of the diamonds he swallowed have been… ah… EVACUATED!”

It was a few seconds before the implications of what he said sank in around the crew. Then several minutes before the roar of laughter died down. Then Joachim told them to do just as Chrístõ said. They dropped the anchor in the safe, calm harbour under the cliff and began to assess the damage. One of them found enough of the deck chairs to make Julia and Lady Gress comfortable and Chrístõ went to the TARDIS and brought Natalie up to join them. She had slept through most of the excitement, blissfully unaware of it all. Julia told her the full story as she lay on a lounger beside them. She, too, laughed at Lord Nollen’s plight.

“What about food, water?” Julia asked.

“If he explores the shelves he might find pools of fresh water that would have filtered through from above,” Chrístõ said. “He’ll just have to go hungry or eat raw fish. I never said he would be HAPPY when he gets out.”

“Serves him right,” Julia said.

Of course, Chrístõ thought, he COULD probably lock onto Nollen’s life sign and go and get him with the TARDIS.

But after all he DESERVED to endure the hardship for trying to deceive everyone and put ALL their lives at risk.

Anyway, it was against the rules to use anything but yacht power outside of the space dock.

So they stayed there for two days and nights. Julia and Natalie enjoyed the sunshine and the fresh air, and warm, clear, starry nights. The crews of two boats made the repairs to the Dulcibella quickly and efficiently and made her ready to sail again. Lord and Lady Gress fretted over the fate of Lord Nollen but they did so in a cowed and humbled way. Every time one of the crew looked their way they turned away. Chrístõ was the only person who even spoke to them, and even he barely contained his contempt.

“Greed,” he said to no-one in particular as they sat on the deck in the warm evening of the second day. “Pure greed. That’s all it was. A rich man wanted to get richer. I could understand if any of these people had been tempted, men who make a modest living – even Joachim. It is true that he has made a loss here. The Contessa sank without trace. HE could be forgiven for being tempted. But none of them so much as TOUCHED the treasure. They had too much respect for the heritage of this planet. It was the rich man who couldn’t see further than his own gain.”

“You’re a rich man, Chrístõ,” Julia said as she sat by his side, loving the feel of his arm around her shoulders. “You weren’t tempted?”

“No,” he said. Then he smiled at her. “You are the only treasure I care about.”

She blushed and laughed at what seemed like a clichéd line. But coming from Chrístõ it DIDN’T seem insincere.

“Look!” Kal shouted. But they didn’t need to look. They heard the same familiar grinding sound again and the Dulcibella rocked slightly as the vibrations caused a counter current in the water. The cliff was opening again.

“You’d better put out the dinghy,” Joachim said. “He’ll be too weak to swim all this way.”

And he was. By the time the dinghy with three men aboard reached the cavern entrance Nollen had swum wearily out. They dragged him aboard and rowed back. They passed him up and Chrístõ took him in charge. He was dehydrated and famished and was walking gingerly. He brought him down to the Dulcibella’s first aid room where he set up a glucose and saline drip to replace his lost fluids and allowed his sister to feed him some soup. He had very little to say for himself. He seemed to have learnt his lesson.

“We’d better return to the space dock now,” Joachim said when he returned to deck and reported that Nollen was going to be fine. “That lot will want to go home and I have to report the loss of the Contessa.”

“I am sorry about that,” Chrístõ told him. “She was a fine boat.”

“We’re all alive,” Joachim added. “And as I said before, I’m insured. What do you think we should say about all this, though? The cavern… If word gets out that the treasure IS there, that it IS more than just legend…”

“Report that you lost the Contessa and sustained minor damage to the Dulcibella when the tsunami struck. That there was a tremor and tidal waves will be public knowledge. There is no reason to say anything else. I’ll speak to their Lordships. I have a feeling they may not want to talk about this adventure to any of their friends, anyway.”

“I hope not. Though it seems the treasure will never be plundered. It has its own protection. It almost seems a dream, but it WAS true, wasn’t it. The strangest thing I ever saw.”

“I’ve seen stranger,” Chrístõ said. “By the way, Natalie wants to spend another week or two here. So when you’ve made your reports, if your crew are happy to go on, we’d like to explore some more of the islands.”

“I would be honoured to be at the service of that gracious lady, and I am sure my men will agree.”

And they did. For two full weeks they explored the calm seas and beautiful islands of Lekadace without incident. Natalie did her best to enjoy every day to the full. Everyone around her did their best not to worry about her. But they all knew the truth.

She kept smiling bravely and she walked on her own two feet as they said their goodbyes to Joachim and his brothers and the crew. She even patted the bow of the Dulcibella and told its captain it was the second best ship she knew. After Chrístõ’s TARDIS.

He had moved the TARDIS out of the Dulcibella, restoring her master bedroom. It stood waiting in the hangar bay at the space dock. Chrístõ held her arm as they entered. Humphrey greeted them in his cheerful way, like a faithful dog welcoming his master home. But as soon as she stepped over the threshold she seemed to sag, as if she no longer had to put up a front.

Chrístõ knew. It was time.