The Ambassador for Gallifrey embraced his son fondly as he stepped out of the shuttlecraft with the TS designation in place of its usual intergalactic registration number. It was also unique in having materialised in the hanger bay rather than using the space entrance.

“Come on, son,” he said. “They’ve given me very nice quarters with a beautiful view of the planet below. And I’ve ordered lunch.”

Chrístõ nodded quietly and let himself be guided by his father. He didn’t feel especially hungry, and he wasn’t sure he cared much about the view of another planet.

Even though it WAS a very beautiful view and it WAS a very fine lunch.

“You look tired,” The Ambassador said when they moved from the lunch table to a wide, white leather sofa underneath the huge, curving, exo-glass window through which they gazed on the lovely planet of Aurigae Nexus.

“I AM tired,” Chrístõ answered. He turned away from the view. His father switched the button that closed the covers over the exo-glass and made it into a wall and ceiling.

“It’s all right, Chrístõ,” his father assured him. “You’re ALLOWED to feel weary. You’re allowed to be unhappy. You’ve had a LOT of grief in your hearts. It was only a few months ago that we lost Li Tuo. And then Natalie. And you don’t even have your young lady to comfort you.”

“I promised Natalie I would take Julia home after… after she….”

“Yes, I know. You did the right thing. But now…”

“Now… I feel so empty. I feel as if…”

“Chrístõ, come home for a while. To Gallifrey. Give yourself a break.”

“No,” he insisted. “I had enough of Gallifrey last time.”

“I hope we can manage not to have an attempted coup this time,” his father promised.

“It’s not that,” Chrístõ answered. “It’s… I just don’t want to go back. I feel as if, once back, I’ll never be able to leave again.”

“So you’ll go on doing your work for the High Council, righting the wrongs of the universe?”

“I suppose so,” he said. “I think that could become a career for life. The universe is a bit of a mess. And yet….”

Chrístõ sighed deeply. His father smiled as the door opened behind them. Chrístõ had not taken any notice of it. The servants had been in and out all the time, unobtrusively working while they talked. Chrístõ and his father were both of the class that assumed they were having a private conversation no matter how many servants might be listening.

“How about the company of a friend for a little while? Would that cheer you up a bit?”

Chrístõ gave an astonished sound and looked around at the man in smart pinstripe suit who had suddenly leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

“Cam,” he said with a smile and a blush.

“Chrístõ, my friend.” Ambassador Cam Dey Greibella of Haollstrom IV sat down next to him. “Your father told me you were coming. I’m delighted to see you again.” He shimmered and the suit filled out in ways it was never meant to fill as Cam became the lovely Camilla. “Utterly delighted, Chrístõ.”

“Nice to see you, BOTH,” he said with a grin. “But warn me when you’re going to do that.”

“Your father tells me you’re not very happy at the moment,” Camilla said in her voice that exuded something luxuriant and tempting, like melted chocolate or warm honey. She touched his face as she spoke, in a way that sent shivers up his spine.

“Cam…. Camilla, I made a Bond of Intent with Julia’s family. She IS to be my wife in the fullness of time.”

“I understand that,” Camilla said. “But we can still be friends. Come along for a walk with me. There are some wonderful views on the promenade deck.”

“Go on,” his father urged him. “I’ll talk with you again later.”

He didn’t feel like looking at views on the promenade deck. But his father and Camilla were both insistent. Camilla was insistent, also, on holding his hand as they walked. He didn’t mind that so much, really. He DID like her – and him – and as Camilla she WAS lovely. Even in a man’s suit she looked wonderfully feminine.

“You have a pheromone thing going on, don’t you,” Chrístõ said as they reached the promenade deck. “It makes men fall for you.” That was evidenced by the number of males of various species who became glassy eyed and excited when they caught a glance of her, all envious of the man by her side.

“I can’t help it,” she said. “My species are born to be sensual beings.”

“Just so you know it doesn’t work on me,” Chrístõ told her. “I love Julia. I always will.”

“You keep on believing that,” Camilla said in her chocolate smooth voice. But she turned her attention, for the time being, on the view beyond the huge exo-glass wall of the promenade deck. “So beautiful. And the cause of so much heartache.”

They both stood and looked for a while at Aurigae Nexus. It WAS a beautiful planet. Blue-green with oceans and landmasses a lot like Earth, sparkling, unblemished ice caps, great forests covering the temperate parts of the continents, tropical jungles in the equatorial areas. It was like Earth before mankind began misusing it in so many different ways.

And it was a world under dispute. He looked at the two neighbouring planets, both in the same orbit. Three planets in one orbit were the sum total of the Aurigae solar system. Aurigae Alpha and Aurigae Omega were both inhabited planets. Both were once as unspoilt as Aurigae Nexus, but technology had changed them forever. The forests and jungles were small reserved sections, visited only by those with special passes. True, they had kept pollution to a minimum. Their technology was non-destructive. But they had both outgrown their worlds.

And that was where the problem began. Because both planets laid claim to Aurigae Nexus and claimed the right to colonise it. Both had sent exploratory groups and there had been bloodshed. Now, two planets with a population of 20 billion each stood on the brink of war.

“That’s why your father is here, of course,” Camilla said. “To broker the agreement that may prevent a holocaust on one or both of those planets. The lives of 40 billion people are in his hands.”

“Safe hands,” Chrístõ said with a proud smile. “My father will do it.”

“I believe he will. I have known his reputation from my earliest days in the diplomatic corps of my world. The Great Peacemaker.”

“I have a lot to live up to. I hope to take my place beside him in the future.”

“You have a reputation of your own, Chrístõ. A peacemaker in your own way.”

“Not a patch on my father,” he admitted modestly.

“Tell that in the Empire of Adano-Ambrado,” Camilla said. “Or Regia Omnia.”

“I did what I had to do.”

“Chrístõ!” Camilla laughed. “So modest. Where is your Gallifreyan arrogance? Your certainty of your place in the universe?”

“I’m half-Human,” he replied.

“Which half?” Camilla asked. “Not your head, or you would have succumbed to my charms, Bond of Intent or no.” She laughed and touched his cheek. Chrístõ blushed.

“Did you ever meet the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado yet?” he asked her as a wicked thought popped into his mind.

“No, I have never had the pleasure. I hear he is a handsome man.”

“So I’m told,” Chrístõ replied with a smile. “He got married recently and promised to be faithful to his queen. Try to resist tempting him. I’m not sure his resolve is as strong as mine.”

“I tend not to flirt with married kings,” Camilla said in all seriousness. “Causing royal divorces is NOT really good for my career.”

“Glad to hear it,” Chrístõ answered. But Camilla had a look in her eye again.

“I HAVE seen holo-pictures of the King-Emperor. He IS a good looking man. And so are you, and you’re NOT royalty. And your father thinks you need to relax a bit. So RELAX.” At that she drew him near her and enfolded her arms around his neck as she kissed him full on the lips. Chrístõ resisted at first, but there WAS something in her pheromones that made it difficult, even for a Gallifreyan with millennia of stoicism in his blood. He tried to remember he was spoken for, but while she held him, Camilla managed to drive even the image of Julia from his mind. He responded to her kiss and enjoyed it.

Somewhere in the middle of the kiss he found himself in the arms of a handsome male instead of a beautiful woman. Chrístõ stepped back from him as Cam laughed joyfully.

“Must you DO that?” he said, though he was laughing too. The shock value of Cam’s gendermorphic ability wore off the last time they met.

“You’re just as lovely to kiss either way,” Cam told him. “And since you didn’t even notice the difference…” Cam pulled him back into his arms and kissed him again. Chrístõ felt himself bombarded again by those pheromones.

“It’s just chemical,” Cam told him as he continued to hold him and rested his head on Chrístõ’s shoulder. “Just a chemical reaction in your body to he chemicals my body exudes. You’re not really in love with me either as a man or a woman. That little girl you made the promise to is STILL your hearts desire. But for a little while, here and now, let me free you from all your heartsfelt woes.

Chrístõ’s last vestiges of resistance melted away as Cam held him and the pheromones overtook him, no longer caring that it was a chemical reaction, a mere biological process. He let himself be overwhelmed by the touch of a warm body against his own. He closed his arms tightly around Cam’s neck and held him tightly while his sadness, his weariness of the universe dropped away.

“You see,” Cam whispered. “Your promise to Julia isn’t broken. You can still enjoy the love of a friend. And I’m glad to be that friend.”

“Agghh!” Chrístõ screamed and backed away abruptly from Cam’s embrace. He put his hand to his head as the shock of sudden telepathic pain subsided.

“Chrístõ?” Cam looked hurt by what he thought was yet another rejection of his affection.

“It’s not you,” Chrístõ assured him. “It’s…. NO!” He felt dizzy and he reached out this time for support, not affection. Cam held his arms firmly as he tried to steady himself. “Something is wrong,” he said. “My father. Something has happened to my father.”

He turned and began to run. Cam ran after him. As they reached the suite of rooms where the Gallifreyan delegate had been lodged, he was aware of feelings of grief and pain.

“There should be guards on the door,” Chrístõ said as he used a swipe card his father had given him on the security lock. It didn’t work. “Something has overridden the codes,” He reached for his sonic screwdriver. “If it’s not a deadlock seal this should work.”

There was an electronic buzz from inside the mechanism and the door slid back. The body of one of the Chancellery Guards whose job it was to stand sentry at the door to the Ambassador’s lodgings fell onto him. He let the corpse down onto the ground, noting that he had been stabbed through the back of the neck with a sharp implement. The Medulla Oblongata was pierced, a sure way of killing even a Gallifreyan instantly.

Whoever did this knew what kind of people they were attacking.

His concern for his father grew and it was not out of callousness that he stepped over the body and ran inside.

But his father was gone.

Both of the guards were dead and so were the servants who brought them refreshments. Chrístõ’s blood boiled as he saw their pathetic bodies. These were Caretakers, the working class of Gallifrey. They served their Time Lord masters in menial roles. Their lives were small enough already. To have them curtailed in such a senseless way angered him even beyond his grief and fear for his father.

“Chrístõ, there’s one alive here,” Cam said in a voice he was keeping carefully calm. Chrístõ came to the still breathing body. He recognised him as his father’s personal aide, Morlen Kohbran. He, too, had suffered slashing wounds, and Chrístõ recognised the pattern as defensive cuts. He had tried to fight back, perhaps he had even tried to stop his father being taken.

“Kohb,” Chrístõ said as he used the tissue repair mode of his sonic screwdriver on some of the more serious of his wounds. The lighter ones were starting to heal but he could save him some trauma. “Kohb, wake up, my friend.”

Kohb opened his eyes and looked up at him. He sighed with relief when he saw Chrístõ, then gave a howl of grief.

“They’ve taken His Lordship, The Ambassador,” he cried. “They killed everyone, and took him. He tried to fight them. I tried to help but their knives were too many. The Ambassador was stabbed many times, but he was alive when they took him away.”

“That was the pain I felt,” Chrístõ said. “My father was wounded. But you think he is alive?”

“Chrístõ,” Cam said urgently. “Questions can wait. We need to sound the alarm. His abductors cannot have got far yet.” Cam reached for the videocom and contacted the space station security, reporting the attack and berating them at the same time for their lack of protection for the Ambassador and his staff.

Things began to happen very quickly for everyone but Chrístõ. Around him there was soon a massive forensic investigation of the Ambassador’s quarters while all traffic to and from the space station was halted and a security lockdown went into operation.

“Chrístõ!” Cam sat beside him on the big sofa where he and his father had talked before. “I am sorry. This all happened while I was distracting you with pheromone games! I feel as if…”

Chrístõ turned and looked at him. Cam, in both male and female persona was a strange combination. Vain and shallow at first impression and an unashamed flirt, he was also a clever diplomat and a deeply caring soul.

“My father won’t hold it against either of us,” he promised him. “Thank you, Cam, for being here. When I need you.”

Cam nodded. “That’s what friends are for.”

“Who would take my father?” Chrístõ asked. “Especially with such force as this. And WHY?”

He was thinking aloud rather than expecting an answer. His first thought had been Epsilon. He was certainly capable of that kind of butchery and kidnapping his father was right up his street.

But he wasn’t sure.

“We have two forces poised for war and The Ambassador is the man who stands between them,” Cam pointed out. “Or it may be…”

Chrístõ screamed. He didn’t mean to. It was a gut reaction to the thing that materialised without warning on the marble coffee table in front of him.

It was a hand, severed at the wrist. Between the fingers was a handwritten note. One of the forensic police reached for it, but Chrístõ got there first. He took the note by his very fingertips and passed it to the officer, but he wouldn’t let any of them touch the hand.

It was his father’s. His left hand. He recognised the three rings on the fingers. The first was his wedding ring from his Alliance with his Earth Child, Chrístõ’s mother. It was over two hundred years old and the inscriptions worn down but never removed, not even when Valena placed a second ring on the same finger at their Alliance.

The third was his Ring of Eternity, the ring that marked him as a Time Lord and was imbued with certain ancillary powers.

Chrístõ drew a deep breath as he adjusted his sonic screwdriver to medical analysis. He applied it to the severed end of the wrist.

“My father was alive when this was done to him,” he said. Relief that he was alive, at least a short time ago was mixed with horror as he wondered what other tortures he was being subjected to.

“Sir…” the chief of police stood over him. “We should take that evidence.”

“This is NOT evidence,” Chrístõ protested. “This is…. This is my father. His flesh. Nobody but I will touch it.” And he clasped the hand. He gasped in surprise when the fingers closed around his. “It's the ring doing that,” he said. “It’s maintaining the lifeforce in the hand.” He clasped it tighter. “Father,” he whispered. “Can you feel me. Do you know I’m here?”

He couldn’t and he didn’t. He could make no mental contact at all. But he did still believe that he was alive.

“He may be unconscious,” Cam suggested.

“No,” Chrístõ said. “I have felt my father’s dreams before now. And he mine. If he was unconscious I would still feel him. I think, wherever he is, whoever has him understands about our psychic abilities. They have blocked him. Lead. Lead-lined walls are used on Gallifrey for private meetings of the High Council. Lead would do it.”

“So there are no leads as to where your father is,” Cam said.

“No,” he sighed. “And we don’t know why.” He stroked the hand gently. It WAS alive in a way.

“We DO know why,” the chief officer said waving the note. “He is being held by the Aurigae Alphan Front, and they demand that Aurigae Nexus be ceded to them at the conference or…” The chief officer paused and looked at Chrístõ. “Or The Ambassador will be harmed further.”

“He will be killed,” Chrístõ said. “That’s what it says.

“If you have done everything you need to do here,” Cam added, taking charge for the moment. “I suggest that you leave. The Ambassador’s son is very distressed and needs to rest.”

To Chrístõ’s relief, they did just that. Cam closed the door on the last of them and came back to the sofa as Kohb brought a pot of tea.

“You should be resting,” Chrístõ protested. “You were hurt.”

“I am well now,” he replied. “And in the absence of The Ambassador I serve you, sir.”

“Sit down,” Chrístõ ordered him. “Sit with us and drink some tea, too.”

Kohb hesitated. Chrístõ sighed.

“Forget about rank. Forget that I am the heir to an Oldblood house. Forget all of that. My father trusts you. So do I. I should like to call you a friend. Please… sit with us.”

Kohb sat. Chrístõ poured tea. Kohb hesitantly reached towards the severed hand of his master, still clinging to life as it was. He looked at Chrístõ as if to ask permission. He nodded and Kohb gently touched the fingers of the man who had done so very much for him and was now in such terrible danger.

“I believe you are right, sir,” Kohb said. “I believe your father is alive.”

“But what can we do? How can we help him?” Cam asked.


“I’m with you all the way, Chrístõ,” Cam promised. “Last time we had to rescue your little lady from kidnappers. This time it’s your father. But we’ll see it through.”

“You can count on my help, too, sir,” Kohb added.

“You neither of you think we should wait for the authorities to act?”

“NO.” Kohb and Cam were both emphatic.

“Neither do I,” Chrístõ said. “But right now I don’t know what else to do.” He reached again and touched the fingers of the hand that had dried his tears as a child and held him when he was in need of comfort. He had to do something. He had plenty of ideas to help other people. Why couldn’t he think of anything now?

“How did it get here?” Kohb asked. “Some kind of transmat?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Cam said. “It just appeared right there…”

“Wait,” Chrístõ said. “Transmat… I can…” He looked around the room. His own TARDIS was parked in the hangar bay, pretending to be a short-range runabout. The hangar was sealed off due to the security lockdown and the fact that he was the son of the kidnap victim probably wouldn’t cut much ice with the guards.

But his father almost always kept his TARDIS close by. He hadn’t paid any attention to the décor of the room until now, but….

Unless he was mistaken…

Unless he was mistaken, there was a door that apparently led out into the vacuum of space. A door with a discreet symbol etched into it – two trees with their branches meeting in an arch.

The symbol of the Patriarch of the House of Lœngbærrow.

There was no keyhole. His father must have used some other type of locking device. Voice activation, perhaps. No. Some of the older Time Lords liked that form of security. But he could recall his father laughing once and saying it was because some of his colleagues liked the sound of their own voice. He also recalled his father imitating his brother’s voice to override such a lock just to prove how ineffective they are.

He turned back to the table and picked up the hand. He carried it carefully and pressed the palm against the door. The door opened. He stepped inside. Cam and Kohb followed. They watched as he went to the one man operated console and touched the environmental control panel. The door was keyed specifically to his father’s palm print, but the console itself recognised his DNA. He was his father’s son. He wasn’t symbiotically imprinted on this TARDIS the way he was in his own, but it let him operate it all the same.

“Look,” he said to his companions as he ran a spectral analysis of the Ambassador’s drawing room. “It WAS a transmat. That’s a signature. And it’s not the only one. They used a transmat to kidnap my father. It’s less clear now. So many people have moved around the room. But you CAN still make out the presence of the residue in the air.”

“But that shouldn’t be possible,” Cam said. “Transmatting off a space station like this. There are barriers, force fields.”

“Then the transmat didn’t originate outside the station,” Chrístõ replied. “My father is still on this station somewhere.”

“But the note said the Aurigae Alphan Front took him.” Cam watched as Chrístõ began to type quickly at the key board in front of the environmental panel. He wasn’t sure what he was doing exactly but it looked impressive.

“The note SAID that,” Kohb commented. “But perhaps it isn’t true.”

“Exactly,” Chrístõ said. “Suppose it was the Aurigae Omegans who took him and wanted to throw the blame on their enemies? Or maybe it was neither.”

It could still be Epsilon, he thought.

And if it was, then his father was in far worse danger than he would be in the hands of either side of the Aurigae argument. Epsilon wasn’t interested in ransom demands. He would kill him.

“Father,” Chrístõ whispered. “I’m going to find you.”

“Still on the space station?” Cam repeated. “Yes, that makes a kind of sense. But this is a BIG space station. There are 370 public levels and another 80 for administration, engineering, life support. Where do we begin?”

“With the area that the TARDIS life-signs scanner isn’t reading any lifesigns in,” Chrístõ answered He adjusted the overlaid view of those four hundred and fifty floors of the space station. On level 265 there was a room that was appearing as a dark space on the schematic. Everywhere else there were lifesigns.

“It could be a bank vault,” Kohb pointed out. “They use lead lining to prevent scans like this giving the exact position of valuables that could be transmatted out of the vault.”

“No,” Cam told him. “That’s the vault here, on level 30. See there are a series of small dark spaces. THOSE are the actual storage cases, protected by lead lining for that precise reason. Then the vault itself is reinforced Titanium. And THAT is surrounded by anti-transmat fields.” Chrístõ and Kohb looked at him in surprise. He looked back at them. “I’ve been on this station several times. The last trip, I had the great Diamond of Haollstrom IV with me. It was being presented as a wedding gift to the Crown Prince of Solonix. I inspected the vault before I trusted them with a jewel that was worth the planet we were orbiting.”

“Ok,” Chrístõ said, getting back to the point. “So if that’s the vault, there is no legitimate reason for THAT to be lead-lined. Cam, you don’t happen to know what that is, do you?”

“Storage area,” he said. “That’s about the right size for a storage container. Those things are usually SEALED, though. If your father is being held in one of those…”

“He is a full-blood Gallifreyan,” Chrístõ pointed out. “He can survive many hours without needing fresh oxygen. But we must move quickly.” He was still working feverishly at the console, ready to co-ordinate a short hop from one part of the space station to another. It was a curious fact that it was harder to move a TARDIS precisely within a relatively small space than it was to get it to go to another location entirely in time and space. He had to ensure that a machine he was less familiar with than his own TARDIS didn’t materialise with an exterior bulkhead wall through it. The consequences for the space station and for himself and his companions inside the TARDIS were unthinkable.

“Sir…” Kohb came to him before he initialised the drive to make the manoeuvre. He had a small casket with him. Lead lined silver. “His Lordship’s hand… to protect it, sir.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ replied. “Thank you, Kohb.” He lifted the severed remnant and kissed the still living fingers then placed it in the casket. He put it reverently on the console by the time rotor and initialised the carefully calibrated manoeuvre.

It was a good manoeuvre. They landed perfectly in the storage area where the lead lined container was.

But they were too late.

Chrístõ looked at the empty cargo carrier. His father HAD been there. There was orange blood on the floor. He had bled from the grievous wound inflicted on him. Perhaps this was where it had been done to him, even. He shuddered as he tried not to think of his father mutilated by fanatics who believed they could achieve their aim by hurting a good man who had come here to help them all find peace.

“Chrístõ,” Cam said, touching his arm gently. “There is evidence that neutron guns were used in this area.”

By ‘evidence’ Cam meant the several piles of scorched dust that his sonic screwdriver eventually identified as organic remains. Eight such piles.

“But none of them were inside the container where my father was concealed,” Chrístõ noted, clinging to a hope.

“You are right,” Cam told him. “He is still a hostage. But not of the Aurigae Alphan Front.” He held up a piece of paper he had found among the sad remains. “Demand from the Aurigae Omegan Council that THEY should be granted dominion over Aurigae Nexus or The Ambassador will be slaughtered.”


“That’s the word they use. Conjures up unpleasant images, I know. But all it proves is they own a thesaurus.”

“Where now?” Chrístõ asked himself out loud, not expecting either of his companions to have an answer.

“Sir,” Kohb said and touched his hand. He was surprised by the physical intimacy from a man who still had something of a servile mentality despite his promotion within his father’s staff. “Sir, where is your Ring of Eternity?”

“I don’t have one,” he said. “I gave it to Penne, the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado, when I mentored his Transcension. Why…”

“Your father’s ring…” Kohb continued. “He has worn it for many centuries. It is imbued with his essence.”

Chrístõ didn’t see what he was getting at. Cam, who knew only as much about Time Lords as most beings in the universe did was even more puzzled.

“Oh,” he said at last. “Oh… but if I take the ring, the hand will die.”

“If you don’t, your father will die. He is a Time Lord. His wounds will heal. But his life, once forfeited….”

“Kohb, you are perfectly right,” Chrístõ said. He turned to his father’s TARDIS, disguised as a bulkhead door and stepped inside. He opened the casket and reverently slid the ring of eternity from the still warm finger. He placed it on his own middle finger of his left hand. He felt the power of it spread from his hand through his body.

His father’s hand immediately felt colder, and when he touched the fingers again they were stiff as if rigor was setting in. Sliding the two wedding bands off was harder. Especially the much older one which seemed almost set in place.

“In safe-keeping for my father,” he said as he put the two rings on his own finger. He laid the dead hand back in the casket and closed the lid. Then he turned to his companions.

“Yes, I know where my father is,” he said, and began to programme another precise co-ordinate, complicated by the presence of lead both here and in the destination location.

“We’re going to have to fight,” he said. He looked at his two friends. “Kohb, my father keeps weapons aboard this TARDIS, doesn’t he?”

“Yes sir,” he replied. “The armoury is fully equipped.”

“Ok, I think bastic pistols for close range fighting.” He looked at his companions and hesitated. Cam was a diplomat in a businessman’s suit. Kohb was born of the servant class of his world.

“Do either of you know how…”

“Your father trained me as a CPO as well as a personal aide,” Kohb said. “My only attempt at protecting him in that capacity was unsuccessful as you saw earlier. I should be glad of a chance to redeem myself.”

“I am an aristocrat of my world,” Cam answered. “Hunting and shooting are considered to be high society sports. I’ve used rifles and pistols to shoot Corrib on our country estate. They’re a sort of horned feline with nasty claws.” He paused and half-smiled. “Camilla was a better shot than me, strangely.”

“Camilla likes to get her man,” Chrístõ laughed. “Which do you want to be when we go out there?”

“I think this ought to be a man’s fight,” Cam decided. “Let’s leave Camilla for dancing and romancing.”

Kohb went to get the weapons. Chrístõ turned to the console. Cam watched him as he studied the screen that registered the internal and external temperature of the TARDIS – clearly nothing to do with their present mission.

“Have you killed before? In combat?”

“Yes,” Chrístõ said, remembering standing beside his combat veteran friend, Sammie, and the young Time Agent, Jack Harkness, as they fought for their very lives against mercenaries with atomising weapons that killed first time, every time. He wished both of them were here right now.

He half-smiled at the idea of Cam or Camilla meeting Jack. It would be a dream come true for all three of them.

He pushed that delightful thought from his mind and turned to his friend. “This won’t be like shooting Corrib. And it’s got nothing to do with diplomacy.”

Kohb returned with the pistols and a bastic rifle that he himself loaded while Cam and Chrístõ checked their weapons and slotted in magazines. Chrístõ and Cam were both rather surprised at the expert way he handled the fearsome looking weapon. Chrístõ remembered his father’s own hidden talents and wondered how much of them he had passed on to Kohb.

“Not enough, I fear,” he replied telepathically, and Chrístõ could tell he was still eating himself up over his failure to prevent his father’s kidnapping.

“You may be able to fire that at a target,” Chrístõ said to him. “But you haven’t killed another sentient being before. Neither of you. Take it from me, squeezing the trigger is the easy bit. I need you to think now before we go into this. Don’t freeze up. Don’t think about whether your target has a mother or a wife or kiddies back home. They’ve chosen to become kidnappers and murderers. They have weapons that will kill us instantly if we hesitate. If you want to feel guilty about taking a life, do it afterwards, when my father is safe.”

Chrístõ paused. He looked at his hand, at his father’s Ring of Eternity that glinted in the light as a rainbow of colour. His father’s experiences were driving him right now. He felt briefly what it must have been like when The Ambassador was The Executioner, when he set out to kill an enemy of Gallifrey.

It wasn’t an experience he wanted to keep. He was a pacifist. He hated killing. But for now, until his father was safe, he was prepared to be guided by the spirit of The Executioner.

“We’re outside the vault,” Chrístõ said when they materialised. “That’s as close as I can get. The TARDIS is affected by the anti-transmat fields and all the lead. Cam… what are we looking at here?”

“Main door,” Cam said, pointing at the schematic. “Above it, accessed by these steps, is an entrance to a gallery level. When I brought the diamond in we had our own people lining that with rifles. They’ve got two people up there and two below at the door. And two more by the inner door. Six in all for us to take before we even reach the inner vault. That door swings out in THAT direction when it’s unlocked. I’m assuming you will override the codes on the door with your sonic screwdriver.”

“Providing it's not deadlock sealed,” Chrístõ said. “Nothing opens a deadlock seal without the original code.”

“We have to GET to that door, first. The two up the top are the problem.”

“No problem,” Kohb said confidently and raised the rifle. “I’ll deal with them.”

“Kohb,” Chrístõ said warningly. “Whatever my father has taught you to do, his life, mine, Cam’s, is not more important than your own. Don’t sacrifice yourself for us.”

“Yes, sir,” Kohb replied dutifully.

“All right,” he said, taking a deep breath and reaching for the door mechanism.

They stepped out into the corridor that led to the secure vault. Outside everything looked perfectly normal. He glanced at the security cameras covering the door to the vault and wondered how they had been fooled so that nobody was alerted to the presence of the kidnappers within the vault. Probably, he thought, some variation on the continuously looped recording of the empty corridor.

Kohb climbed the ladder that brought him to the gallery entrance. He sent a telepathic message to Chrístõ to tell him that the door was not locked.

“Take care, my friend,” he heard Chrístõ tell him as he used the sonic screwdriver to quietly unlock the main door.

Kohb had taken Chrístõ’s words to heart. He didn’t intend to throw away his life for the sake of any of the three aristocrats he felt himself duty bound to. But he was going to make sure the way was clear for their rescue party to reach the inner vault.

The reflexes he had once used as Morlen Kohbran the magician worked for him now as he slipped behind the nearest man without him knowing a thing. He pushed the barrel of the silenced pistol against the side of his head and pulled the trigger. He felt warm blood splash his face and it was a feeling he knew he would never forget, but he had more to do yet. He held the dead man as a shield as he pointed the pistol and killed the other one with what The Ambassador, when he taught him to hit man-shaped targets on a shooting range, had called a “double tap” to the head. Immediately afterwards he dropped the body and crouched down, unslinging the rifle from his shoulder. The two guards on the inner door knew something was wrong, but they didn’t have chance to do anything about it.

That left the two immediately underneath the gallery, outside his vision.

Chrístõ and Cam watched it all on a wrist held lifesigns monitor. They saw Kohb’s Gallifreyan DNA as a dark blue blip that had already caused four pale red ones to wink out. Now they watched as the two remaining pale reds broke cover, running out from under the gallery towards their fallen comrades. They saw those, too, wink out. Kohb, by himself, had dealt with six of the terrorists who had The Ambassador as a prisoner in the inner vault.

“All clear, sir,” he heard Kohb say and he gave a hand signal to Cam as he pushed the door open. Kohb covered them as they ran to the non-hinged side of the inner vault door. Chrístõ pulled the panel off the door mechanism and began to override the control. It wasn’t a deadlock seal. Chrístõ thought he might make a note to the people who operated this vault in future to get one. It WAS just a bit TOO easy for him to unlock the last barrier between him and several fortunes kept within.

The door opened noisily. A light flashed above it and a high-pitched siren sounded. Chrístõ heard Kohb warn him that the men inside were getting into a firing position.

“When you have line of sight, shoot,” Chrístõ told him. And he tensed himself to do the same as soon as the door was fully open.

Two of the men inside WERE in direct line of fire from Kohb’s vantage as the door opened. The other two were shielded by the wall. Chrístõ saw them both edging towards the door. The one at the farthest wall would be in his sight in a few seconds. He swallowed hard as he aimed his pistol and prepared to take a life. Chrístõ on his own might have hesitated. This was against his nature. But he felt The Executioner’s steel will supporting him as he squeezed the trigger.

He pressed himself back against the wall and watched his target’s lifesign wink out on the wrist monitor. It felt less personal that way. He was aware that there was another one, though. He was pressed against the very same wall he and Cam were pressed against. Kohb couldn’t possibly get him. Nor could they. They would expose themselves as a target before they had sight of him.

“Need a distraction,” Cam whispered and Chrístõ watched him slowly unbutton his shirt nearly to the waist. He put his two hands behind his back, concealing his pistol and giving the impression he was bound up.

And then he shimmered and changed into Camilla. Chrístõ almost forgot his mission as he tried not to stare at the female curves that the unbuttoned shirt did nothing to conceal. She smiled at him and backed away. As she reached the door she began to shriek hysterically.

“Help me,” he heard her say as she stepped into the vault. They tied me up and ripped my shirt… Oh, please, help….!”

“I can’t BELIEVE that worked!” Kohb said to Chrístõ telepathically. But Kohb hadn’t been close enough to realise JUST how distracting Camilla with her buttons undone was. He heard the snick of the silenced pistol four times in succession and saw the pale red blip wink out.

“Keep on covering us,” he called to Kohb as he ran into the vault. He saw Camilla looking at the pistol in her hands and dropping it as if it was contaminated. She had killed a man and the implications of that were sinking in. But Chrístõ’s first thought was for his father. He ran to the long lead box – he tried not to call it a coffin – that stood in the centre of the vault. The lid was sealed, but his sonic screwdriver made short work of that.

“Cam,” he called out. “Help me with this.” It wasn’t that the lid was beyond his Gallifreyan strength. Rather, he felt he needed somebody near him when he opened it. He didn’t know what he was going to find. Whether his father would be alive or….

Cam - he had reverted from Camilla as he came to his side - took hold of the lid and helped him shove it aside. Chrístõ bit his lip as he reached in and touched his father’s face. He was in a deep meditation, conserving what air there was in the box.

But he was alive. They lifted him between them and laid him down on the floor. Chrístõ noticed that his left arm was healed over. There was a rounded stump at the severed wrist. His regenerative cells were working on the grievous damage.

“It’s all right now, father,” he whispered as he placed his hands over his father’s hearts and willed him to bring himself back to full consciousness. “Father, you’re safe now.”

“Chrístõ, my son.” He heard his words telepathically first. Then he spoke in words. “I knew you would come to me.” He sat up slowly and looked at his arm. “I’m lucky you got here,” he said as Cam and Chrístõ both helped him to stand. “This second lot wanted to cut some other bits of me out to send to you. They had a bit of a debate about whether it should be a heart or one of my kidneys.”

Kohb gave a telepathic shout and there was an audible order to ‘freeze’. The Ambassador turned and drew himself up to his full height and faced the Space station security who began to pour into the outer vault.

“Let that man alone,” he ordered as they tried to disarm and arrest Kohb. “He is a member of the Gallifreyan Diplomatic Staff and has immunity. These two also have diplomatic immunity, as well as more brains in their heads than the rest of you put together. TWO groups of terrorists from either side of the Aurigean war kidnapped me right under your noses and you only turn up because my son’s rescue effort triggered the vault alarm! You need to get the Aurigean delegates left on this station under immediate house arrest, confined to their quarters until the conference tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, we shall be returning to my suite. Make sure there is a guard mounted against any further threats to my safety.”

With that he strode past the guards. Chrístõ and Cam followed him, joined by Kohb. Nobody hindered their return to the TARDIS.

His father was unable to pilot the TARDIS with one hand. Chrístõ brought them safely back to the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s quarters where his father told of how he was kidnapped by the first set of Aurigeans who used a neural inhibitor to take him prisoner before transmatting to the first location. He had been struggling to free his body of the paralyzing drug when the second lot had arrived and made him a prisoner in the vault.

“How do you intend to sort that out at the conference tomorrow?” Chrístõ asked. “They’re both as bad as each other.”

“That I will deal with tomorrow,” The Ambassador answered. “Right now…” He looked at his son, and at Cam sitting next to him, and Kohb who stood near him, acting as his personal aide once more. He took hold of Kohb by the shoulder and pressed him down onto the sofa next to Chrístõ. He studied all three of them carefully.

“You have all done something that goes against your character,” he said. “Cam, neither your masculine nor your feminine persona was meant to be a killer. Kohb, I trained you to protect me and defend yourself but I don’t expect you to do either as an unfeeling automaton. And you, my son… I never wanted you to have to use deadly force against another being. I always hoped you could live by a higher standard than mine. You did well. I am proud of you all. I thank you all for my life. But… I want all of you to stop trying to pretend you’re not changed by this, or hurt by it. If you hold it in, it WILL change you in the worst possible way.

Cam broke first. He burst into tears. Chrístõ turned to him and he cried too as they embraced. Cam’s emotions overwhelmed him and he wavered between his male and female forms several times. Chrístõ held him tightly regardless of the changing shape in his arms, and they exorcised each other’s demons with their tears.

Kohb was a pure blood Gallifreyan. He didn’t have tear ducts. He didn’t have that outlet for his feelings. The Ambassador reached and touched him on the forehead and found the place inside where he was reliving the violent deaths he had inflicted by his own hand. He didn’t erase the memory. Kohb needed to remember what had taken place. But he erased the feelings of self-revulsion and recrimination and dulled the delayed shock that was only now setting in.

“You all did what you had to do,” The Ambassador said. “And I thank you for it and hope in the name of Rassilon you never have to face such a thing again. But if you do, I 1have confidence that all three of you will have the strength and the courage.”

They all took heart from that. Cam settled into his female form as she and Chrístõ stopped hugging each other. Chrístõ looked at his father as he went to the table where they had put the casket containing his severed hand. It WAS dead now. A piece of dead flesh that was useless to anyone. Chrístõ came to his side as he closed the casket again.

“I’ll grow a new hand in a few months. I’ll be as good as new. Until then…” He looked at Chrístõ’s hand with the rings on his fingers.

“I should take my ring of Eternity back, and Valena would be cross if I lost our wedding ring,” The Ambassador said. Chrístõ slid the diamond encrusted ring off his middle finger and put it on his father’s right hand. He felt as if something heavy, though not oppressive, was removed from his soul as he did so. He put the band of Gallifreyan gold on his father’s right hand ring finger. He began to take off the other ring, made of Earth gold, but his father stopped him. He lifted his hand and pressed it to his lips in a loving kiss.

“Would you like to keep that one as a token of your dear mother?” he asked. “It won’t change my eternal love for her one micron. But you have so few memories of her. I would be glad if you could keep it.

Thank you, father,” Chrístõ said. “Yes, I would.”

The next morning the conference to decide who should own Aurigae Nexus was convened under heavy security lockdown since both sides in the dispute were under arrest for compliance in the kidnap of the Gallifreyan Ambassador and adjudicator of the dispute. Both sides looked sullenly at The Ambassador, dressed in a black and silver robe, one sleeve of which covered a handless arm. His son stepped to the adjudicator’s table with him, along with Ambassador Cam Dey Greibella of Haollstrom V who acted as impartial observer to the proceedings.

There was some surprise when Chrístõ was the one who stood to address the conference.

“This is NOT a conference in the sense you expected,” he said. “There will BE no discussion of the pros and cons of the two claims of dominionship over Aurigae Nexus. Both Aurigae Alpha and Aurigae Omega forfeited all claims by their attempt to force the issue by kidnapping and maiming The Gallifreyan Ambassador.” He paused and let the words sink in. He was a little nervous. He was desperately trying not to give away that he was. He wanted to carry the same gravitas that his father did when he spoke.

He silenced the murmurs of discontent when he began to speak again.

“Aurigae Nexus is hereby declared a protected planet of the Gallifreyan Empire. Under the terms both parties will sign…” He paused again as copies of the declaration were transmatted in front of the delegates. “Under these terms no colonisation of Aurigae Nexus will be allowed by either side for a period of 1,000 years. During that period Aurigae Alpha and Aurigae Omega will agree to live in peaceful harmony with each other, share technological advancement and abide by a demilitarisation and democratising programme outlined in Appendix Two of the terms. If, at the end of that time there has been full compliance the Gallifeyan government will agree to discuss joint sovereignty of Aurigae Nexus. Now, gentlemen, if all is clearly understood, it remains only for you to sign.”

The delegates looked startled. But they knew they had no choice. Their respective governments had already told them that they had to agree to the proposal of the independent adjudicator.

They signed.

“Well done, Chrístõ,” Cam told him as they returned to The Ambassador’s quarters afterwards. “You’ve got the makings of a real diplomat.”

“My father told me what to say,” he admitted. “I’m just glad they listened.”

“Cam is right,” his father told him. “You did very well. Which brings me to a proposal I thought to put before you. I know you have been tired and weary of responsibility and it may seem odd to you that my solution is to offer you MORE responsibility, but I want you to consider joining the diplomatic corps as of today. You will have full credentials as a roving diplomat representing Gallifrey in Treaty negotiations, official engagements...”

“This is as well as working through those presets for the Time Lords.”

“Yes. But you can choose which of those you will tackle, between your work for the diplomatic corps.”

“And in between spending time with Julia in her school breaks,” Chrístõ reminded him. “I’ll be very busy.”

“All the better,” his father said. “No time for brooding. You’ll need a staff, of course. As an Ambassador in your own right. I was thinking of letting you have Kohb. He’s very well trained and you seem to have a certain rapport.”

Kohb smiled as Chrístõ looked at him. His father had obviously already talked about this to his aide. He wondered if his father really DID think he was ready to work for the Gallifreyan Diplomatic Corps. Or was it just his way of finding him a friend to travel with him.

“Chrístõ, you ARE ready,” his father told him. “You will be the youngest diplomat in our service. But you ARE ready.”

“When do I start?” he asked. “Where do I start?”

“The Council of Ioxa,” Cam said as he shimmered and became Camilla again, putting a strain on the buttons of his shirt that the manufacturer had not intended. “I am representing my people there, too. You can be my escort at the formal entertainments.”

“Excellent,” The Ambassador smiled. “Chrístõ, why don’t you take Cam along with you in the TARDIS. You’ll be company for each other on the journey.”

Chrístõ glanced at Camilla’s smile and knew SHE, too, had been forewarned by his father.

“Humphrey is going to LOVE you,” he said with his own secret smile.