Chrístõ sighed with relief as he stood up from the table and headed for the way out of the conference hall. Cam caught up with him at the door and clapped him on the back.

“Well done,” he told him. “You spoke well there. You’re getting the hang of the diplomacy game.”

“Doesn’t seem like a game,” Chrístõ answered. “This is SO important. If we fail those two planets will go on fighting each other for decades. Millions more will die.”

“We’ve made a good start today, Chrístõ,” Cam assured him. “Now, relax. I’m going to take you out to dinner.”

“Which one of you?” he asked with a smile.

“Which one of us would you prefer?”

“You’re both of you special friends,” he said. “Let’s catch up with Kohb and the three of us can go stag.”

“That’s not quite what I had in mind,” Cam said with a suggestive smile. Chrístõ grinned. Cam never missed a chance to tease him in the weeks he had been travelling with him. At the Ioxa Treaty negotiations Camilla had claimed him at every one of the social functions and flirted shamelessly with him. But he knew it was all just Cam’s sense of humour.

“I owe you a lot,” Chrístõ told Cam as they raised a glass of wine to each other over dinner. “To both of you, in fact. I would not have got through these past few weeks without you. I WASN’T an Ambassador, I was an Ambassador’s son, given a job that I wasn’t qualified to do. But you, Kohb, you’ve been a fantastic Ambassadors aide, and Cam, I have learnt from you, from your experience. I thank you, both.”

“No thanks are necessary, sir,” Kohb answered him. “I simply did my job.”

Cam laughed softly. “Chrístõ, you are your father’s son. You are bound to be a great diplomat. And as a Time Lord you can be anything else you want to be.”

“Well, not really,” he answered. “Mostly I can be a Time Lord.”

Kohb, he noticed, looked away when he said that. Chrístõ knew why. Kohb had once had ambitions to be a Time Lord himself. He was forced to leave the Academy because his family could not afford for him to continue. He had not been able to transcend. His ambitions were for nothing.

“I wish it didn’t have to be like that,” Chrístõ said. “If there was something I could do…”

“Your family did enough,” Kohb told him. “I only GOT to the Academy in the first place because of a bursary given to Caretaker students – from a fund started by your grandfather, sir.”

“The bursary wasn’t enough?”

“Not after my father passed away,” he said. “Then my mother needed an income to support the whole family.”

“I should speak to my father,” Chrístõ said. “About increasing the fund for future recipients, depending on their personal circumstances. But that does not help you, does it?”

“I am happy, sir. I enjoy this work. And my family are well provided for now.”

“There you are, then,” Cam said. “Honour is satisfied. Now, Chrístõ, come and dance with me.” He reached and took his hand and Chrístõ allowed himself to be led to the dance floor where many couples were already dancing to a slow tune played by a string quartet. He expected Cam to transform into Camilla, but he didn’t. He transformed his dinner suit into one made of satin that caught the twinkling lights that illuminated the dance floor, but he stayed as Cam as he put one hand on Chrístõ’s shoulder and the other on his waist.

“People will stare,” Chrístõ protested as he tried to work out where to put HIS hands. . But Cam laughed softly.

“There are people of fifty different species in this room. At least ten of those species have no concept of gender. A dozen more would not know the difference between a male and female humanoid without a diagram. We all look alike to them. The rest just think we are two incredibly handsome specimens having a dance.”

Chrístõ conceded the point and held Cam by the waist as they danced the slow dance together. The next set was a tango. Chrístõ gasped. He hadn’t danced that style since he had first learnt to dance. His teacher had been Lady Lilliana and for a lady of nearly 4,000 years of age she had been very agile. But she HAD been a lady. He couldn’t cope, yet, with dancing a tango with Cam.

Cam had other ideas.

“The Tango originated on Earth,” he told Chrístõ. “In the brothels of Argentina. It was danced by the clients waiting to be attended to by the ladies of the establishment. They danced with each other in order to show off their prowess and be able to have the pick of the women. Two men dancing a tango is simply carrying on the tradition.”

“It’s not MY tradition,” Chrístõ complained. But Cam laughed and drew him into the dance. He LIKED dancing. And so did Cam and it DID become a matter of showing off their skill and prowess.

“There,” Cam said with a grin when it was over. “Now we have intrigued every woman in this room and could have the pick of them.”

“I don’t want any woman in this room,” Chrístõ insisted. “I love Julia.”

“Spoilsport,” Cam teased.

“You really would have been better off with my friend Penne Dúre before he was king of a planetary Empire with a princess at his side. He used to be a worse flirt than you.”

“Such a shame you had to tame his spirit,” Cam told him.

They rested from the dancing by the big exo-glass window that looked out onto the two planets they were trying to negotiate peace between. Tadecu and Taboa shared an orbit around their sun, but that was ALL they shared. The two species were very different. The Tadecuans were more or less humanoid, except they had six pairs of limbs. Two were legs. Two were arms of a regular kind, and two ended in crab-like claws. Their foreheads swept forward into a horn made of the same hardened exo-skin as the claws. In their early history, male Tadecuans had often taken part in death matches of gladiatorial proportions using their claws and horns to gore and cut each other. The victor won prizes, including the choice of females. Even though such practices died out over two thousand years before, that gladiatorial tendency hadn’t yet been bred out of their nature and disputes between them still tended to end in bloodshed, while their war against their neighbours had raged terribly.

The Taboans were a lizard-like race with thick, dark green skin and sharp teeth and claws. In the same early history of the planets, Tadecu had ruled them to be animals, not sentient beings, and hundreds were captured and used in a vicious alternative to their hand to claw fights where a Tadecuan warrior was pitted against one or more Taboan, again in a fight to the death. The war with their neighbours had begun as a war of independence for Taboa, but three centuries on both sides had committed their share of atrocities against the other. By the time both agreed to take their differences to a peace conference with independent arbitrators from civilisations across the galaxy as adjudicators, millions had died in battle and as prisoners of war and both planets were close to bankruptcy. Both needed to be able to export the mineral wealth of their planets. But unsurprisingly there was a galactic wide embargo on those exports until such time as they made a real and lasting peace.

“I can’t find any sympathy for either of them,” Chrístõ said. “The Taboans DID have a just cause centuries ago, but the acts of terrorism they committed against innocent Tadecuan civilians, the way they tortured POWs, their whole attitude - it long ago stopped being a war of independence and it has just been mass slaughter on both sides.

“To be honest, they BOTH scare me,” Cam added. “They’re both sentient killing machines. Teeth, claws, horns. This is when diplomacy gets to be hard work, Chrístõ. When you have to do right by people who physically repel.”

“Yes, I see that,” he answered. “We have to get this right, even if we don’t like them. Both sides have civilians who are suffering right now because of the embargo. But there is no way I’m voting to lift it until both sides disarm fully and transparently, to the satisfaction of our independent inspectors.”

“Me neither,” Cam agreed. “And that goes for the majority of the delegates. So tomorrow when they come back to the table the plenipotentiaries from both sides need to start learning the meaning of give and take.”

“If we have to walk away…” Chrístõ added. “My father did. When I was born, he was in the middle of a Treaty between the Sontarans and Rutans. He got them to sign a pact of non-aggression and went home to my mother. But they broke the pact before my naming ceremony had been completed. Father washed his hands of them, and compelled our people to have nothing more to do with them.”

“I have heard talk of that,” Cam told him. “Your father’s only diplomatic failure. But nobody could blame him. Those two races will never make peace, I think. I don’t think I’d want to try. If your father couldn’t do it, NOBODY can.”

“Me neither,” Chrístõ agreed. “Does that make us cowards?”

“I think it makes us realists,” Cam answered. “Do you want to dance again?”

“For a while,” he said. “I want to phone Julia later. I’ve booked a subspace call to her.”

Cam sighed theatrically and pretended to be hurt. Chrístõ laughed and took his hand, and was about to lead him back to the dance floor when the ground beneath their feet rocked and the exo-glass darkened against the actinic light that blotted out everything outside for a long time. Neither Chrístõ nor Cam were in a position to look at the view anyway. They were both thrown to the floor as the platform regained its equilibrium. Cam hit the back of his head against the exo-glass wall. Chrístõ hit his against Cam’s forehead as he fell on top of him.

Chrístõ groaned as he picked himself up, noticing that Cam was shimmering between the male and female forms and losing control of the empathy suit. As he came around he was in his male form but splitting the seams of an evening gown. He gave a soft gasp and stabilised as Camilla as Chrístõ lifted her to her feet and they both tried to recover a little dignity.

Camilla glanced out of the window as the exo-glass screen cleared again and screamed. She was only the first. As others in the ballroom turned and looked they screamed and fainted and exclaimed loudly.

Chrístõ put his hands against the exo-glass and stared.

“What do you think happened?” Camilla asked him as she, too stared in shocked disbelief. Chrístõ didn’t answer. She glanced at him. He was leaning against the glass now, his forehead pressed against it, and tears were pouring down his cheeks. She reached out and touched his back and he was trembling.

“Chrístõ?” she said. “Chrístõ, what…”

“I can feel them,” he whispered in a voice choked with pain. “Every soul crying out to me. They’re dying. They’re screaming and dying in agony.”

Camilla looked at the horrible sight again. One planet was burning. The inferno had encircled it in minutes.

The other had split into three pieces, cracked open like a nut. The smallest chunk had broken off from the northern hemisphere and disintegrated. The two larger pieces were spiralling out of orbit and likely to be pulled towards their sun.

On neither planet could anyone have a chance of survival. It had all happened in an instant.

Tadecu and Taboa were dead planets.

“What happened?” Camilla said again. It was a question being asked by hundreds of stunned people on the space station.

And none of them had any answers. Except it was clear it was NOT an accident. Two planets don’t just destruct instantly, by accident.

In the days that followed the official investigation concluded that weapons of mass destruction had been launched simultaneously from the two planets. Tadecu had been split apart by the super-atomic missile launched from Taboa. Taboa suffered a direct hit from a nuclear incendiary.

The results had been total devastation. There were no survivors on either planet. Of course none were expected on the fragmented Tadecu. Gravity, atmosphere had been destroyed immediately. But there were hopes, at first, that some survivors might be found on Taboa, perhaps in underground bunkers. But the fires had raged too hotly and for too long. When rescue parties did get down to the planet all they found were bodies that had clearly died in agony.

A handful of citizens of the two planets remained, those who had been in attendance at the conference on the space platform. Those few attended the memorial that was held in the very conference hall where the peace treaty was meant to be forged.

Khob and Camilla both watched Chrístõ carefully as he walked from the hall after the ceremony. They were worried about him. They had ALL been affected by the disaster. But Chrístõ seemed more affected than anyone else. He had hardly spoken more than was necessary. He hadn’t eaten. And nobody had seen him even try to smile.

“Let’s go,” he said as he reached where they stood. He hardly broke his stride. They fell into step behind him as he walked to the hangar bay where they had left the TARDIS. He stepped inside and went to the console.

“Chrístõ,” Camilla said to him. “You can’t go on like this. Talk to us.”

“I never cared about them,” he said. “All through the debate, I looked at them, and they repulsed me. I saw only creatures that disgusted me. Creatures that made war on each other, committed atrocities on each other. I never saw their souls. I never tried to like them, to care about them. And… now their souls are clawing at me, demanding justice.”

“Sir…” Kohb reached to touch him on the shoulder, but he flinched from him. He looked around at Camilla and shrugged. She stepped forward and put her arms around his shoulders seductively.

“Come on, Chrístõ,” she said. “You’ve always cheered up with a good pheromone laden hug before.”

He tried to respond to her charms. The pheromones that Camilla’s species exuded as a natural process WERE hard to resist. But Chrístõ was so wound up that he found no thrill in her seduction, no comfort in the nearness of a friend, even. Even Humphrey’s encompassing cuddle did nothing for him.

“Oh, Chrístõ,” Camilla sat with him on the sofa and held him tightly, biting back her own tears of frustration at not being able to comfort her friend. “What am I to do with you?”

“I will programme our course,” Kohb said, going to the console. “We were next going to attend the 250th birthday ball of the king of Derua Secundus. A purely social event. I am sure His Excellency will feel more relaxed there.”

Camilla watched him go through the dematerialisation procedure Chrístõ had not even had the hearts to initialise. Kohb had a point in one way. There was an expression, Camilla thought it originated on Earth, but she wasn’t sure. ‘You have to get straight back onto the Yakissa Beast after a fall.’ And it seemed appropriate here. But she wasn’t sure.

Chrístõ was in no fit state to climb on a Yakissa Beast. He was certainly not ready for the grand birthday ball of a king who had survived to twice his natural age by sleeping in a cryogenic chamber at night.

She wasn’t sure if Chrístõ would be ready for ANYTHING, ever. He seemed so traumatised.

“What if we drop by and see your friend, the king of Adano Ambrado?” Camilla whispered to him. “Or your Earth friends. Or… yes, surely a couple of days in the company of your little Julia will cheer you up. If my kisses can’t do it, then hers will, surely?”

But Camilla knew Beta Delta IV was the last place she wanted to take Chrístõ right now. Julia would be shocked to the core to see him like this. So would his Earth friends who loved him so dearly.

“Perhaps I should call your father?” Camilla thought aloud.

“Madame!” Kohb called out urgently. “Something is wrong with the TARDIS. It won’t lock onto the destination.”

“Oh Lords of Chaos!” Camilla swore. She grasped Chrístõ by the shoulders and shook him. “Come on, please. We need you now.”

Chrístõ stirred and stood up.

“No,” he said. “It won’t go anywhere else yet. Because I am not ready to leave here.” He went to the console. Kohb stepped aside as he took control of the drive and began to programme in a new setting. The time rotor began to move and there was the familiar sound of dematerialisation. Everything looked normal, despite Chrístõ’s rather cryptic remark.

“No!” Kohb exclaimed and he tried to push Chrístõ away from the console. “No, sir. You CAN’T. The Laws of Time forbid it. You must not.”

“I MUST,” Chrístõ replied. Kohb grappled him away again. “Don’t try to stop me, Kohb. I will hurt you if we fight.”

“I know that, sir. You are far better trained than I am. But nevertheless I cannot allow you to do this.”

“Stop!” Camilla screamed as she ran to them. “Stop it. What is going on?”

“Help me restrain him, madame,” Kohb insisted as he tried to manhandle Chrístõ away from the console. “He is trying to go back to before the disaster. It is expressly against the Laws of Time. The penalty is DEATH. He cannot, must not…”

“Chrístõ…” Camilla shimmered and changed into Cam and with a man’s strength behind him he helped Kohb to pin Chrístõ down on the floor. He screamed at them both, using Low Gallifreyan words that made Kohb blush. Chrístõ seemed to be driven by something even he wasn’t quite in control of.

“I have to do it,” he insisted. “This was never meant to be. It is wrong. I have to make it right.”

“No, sir,” Kohb insisted. “You cannot throw away your life… I cannot stand by and watch you commit treason against our world.”

“What…” Cam gasped as the console suddenly emitted a low but insistent whistle and then a bright light emanated from it and began to grow and coalesce into a figure dressed in Gallifreyan ceremonial robes. The effect on Kohb was immediate. He stood and stepped towards the figure, bowing low.

“Please sir,” he begged. “Do not punish him. He is not himself. Something has affected his mind. Please do not take his attempted action as proof of disloyalty…”

“Son of Lœngbærrow,” the figure said, apparently ignoring Kohb’s entreaty. “Stand before me.”

Chrístõ stood. Cam stood too, holding his arm, but he shook himself free and stepped forward. He bowed respectfully, though not so deeply as Kohb. He was begging for nothing.

“My Lord High President,” he said in as steady a voice as he could muster. “I am not pleading. I intend to do this. I know it is right. Punish me afterwards if you must. But it is my life for the lives of billions.”

“You are the President of Gallifrey?” Cam asked as he stepped to Chrístõ’s side. Kohb flanked him on the other side, both holding him by the shoulder protectively. “But how…”

“This is merely a psychic projection,” he explained dismissively. “Step back, both of you. I need to speak to the Son of Lœngbærrow about the grave occurrences to which he has been a witness.”

“My Lord,” Chrístõ said, squaring his shoulders.

“You are troubled by these events. Even at a distance I can sense that. As a telepathic being who witnessed the destruction of billions of lives, you were affected deeply.”

“I feel their souls, still,” Chrístõ said. “I can’t… I am sorry… But for their sakes I MUST take the action you call Treason. I must try.”

“There are those who dismiss the idea of a ‘soul’. I have heard the idea hotly disputed in debating halls. But you stand just now as proof that there is such a thing.”

“I don’t want to be proof of anything,” Chrístõ protested. “I just want to right a wrong.”

“Then do it,” The President said.

“What?” Kohb forgot that he was a mere servant of the Caretaker class in his astonishment. “Sire… you are giving him permission to break the Laws of Time?”

“I need no permission,” Chrístõ answered. “I only know I must do what is right. I do not care what happens to me.”

“He isn’t himself,” Cam said. “He doesn’t know what he is saying.”

“That much is clear,” The President answered. “And if the decision had not already been taken you would have to prove insanity to avoid the Death Penalty. As it is, the High Council has unanimously decided that this is one time when the immutable Laws of Time must be broken – or at least bent out of shape – for a greater purpose. The task lies with you, Son of Lœngbærrow, if you have what it takes to see justice done.”

“What must I do?” he asked.

“We have information that suggests the catastrophic event was precipitated by activities on the space platform while the conference was taking place. All three of you were in the conference hall during this time. It is therefore safe for you to investigate what might have been happening elsewhere on the platform.”

“WHY has the High Council agreed to ‘bending’ the rules in this way?” Kohb asked suspiciously. “Is this real? Could this be a trick? How do we know you ARE the real President?”

“Hold out your left hands, both of you sons of Gallifrey,” The President said. Both did so. To their astonishment bracelets coalesced around their wrists. They bore the Seal of Rassilon and the Seal of the Lord High President himself. “Your credentials,” he said. “Your immunity from prosecution, and your proof that this is no deception. Now go, both of you. And do your duty.”

Both of them bowed low to the psychic projection of the President. When they looked up, it was gone.

“Well, what if the bracelets are fakes, too?” Cam asked. “Chrístõ, somebody could be setting you up.”

“No,” he said. “The bracelet is real. It is from Gallifrey. I feel it. The metal came from the soil of my home world. It is real. There are things I don’t fully understand yet. But one thing I DO understand…. Kohb and I have a job to do.”

“Count me in,” Cam said.

“Your government might not be happy about it.”

“We don’t have any Laws of Time on my planet. I am not bound by any such restriction. But I am bound by my duty to you, Chrístõ, as a friend. So if we’re going to turn detectives…” He shimmered and reformed as Camilla wearing the kind of clothing associated with Sherlock Holmes in Earth literature, complete with deerstalker and pipe. Despite himself Chrístõ giggled to see her. Camilla reverted back to Cam in a simple shirt and slacks. “That’s all it took to make you laugh? A silly outfit?”

“No,” Chrístõ admitted. “It took a lot more than that, but thanks anyway.” He turned to the console as the TARDIS finally materialised at the co-ordinate he had initialised.

He gasped out loud.

They were back to the day they were negotiating the treaty. The two planets had not yet been destroyed.

And the terrible weight on his soul had lifted.

“I CAN make it right,” he said, with a relieved laugh. “We CAN do it.”

“Where do we start looking?,” Cam asked. “It would have been nice if your President had given us some more information. Like WHO is responsible and where exactly on a massive space platform they are.”

“That would be too easy,” Chrístõ said. “So would just looking on the life signs monitor and working out who isn’t where they should be,” he added. The platform was a high profile one. It was moved into position wherever important negotiations might be taking place. It had huge conference halls and private committee rooms, restaurants, ballrooms and suites to accommodate the ambassadors and their retinues as well as kitchens, hangar bays, shops, hairdressers, banks, leisure facilities, storage areas and administration offices. And all of those fully staffed.

And all of this hive of industry was protected by all kinds of security: lead lined walls to prevent telepathic snooping, electronic fields to prevent technology being used to spy on what were often secret and highly sensitive negotiations.

In short, the lifesigns monitor didn’t work.

He turned and grinned at his companions.

“So if we wanted an easy life we could ALL have stayed home, couldn’t we!” And he headed for the door.

The TARDIS had disguised itself as an airlock on the Observation Deck at the very top of the platform - as far away as possible from the hangar bay where the TARDIS was originally parked. There were some very dire things that could happen if the TARDIS materialised near to itself in a time paradox like this.

Despite the urgency of their situation they all three stopped and looked at the view of the two planets below. It was five hours before the catastrophe would strike. Eighteen billion beings still lived.

Their souls were not yet torturing Chrístõ.

“Five hours to make sure it never happens.” Chrístõ stepped towards a large interactive display panel on which guests could access information about the platform. It had a multi-layered schematic of the several public and private levels. He pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and began to open the panel up. To his friends it looked like so much tangled wiring and circuitry inside. To him, it was an exercise in advanced computer mechanics. His hands worked so fast both turned aside. It made them dizzy to watch him.

“There!” he cried triumphantly a few minutes later. His friends stared at the schematic. Now it wasn’t just giving information about what was on each floor of the space platform. Now it was giving detailed information about how many people were in each location, as well as what species they were. Even in the secure areas. They looked for a long moment at the huge conference hall and picked out two Gallifreyans and a Haolstromnian. The earlier versions of themselves busy in negotiation.

“Everybody there is in legitimate business. So are they….” His hand traced across the lifesigns in the kitchen and restaurant, all identified as humanoids. The patterns in all of the areas where people should have been working looked correct.

“Isn’t that another Gallifreyan?” Cam asked, pointing. “There, look.”

“Can’t be,” Kohb said. “I remember when we arrived here and we had our security passes encoded. The officer said we were the only two of our kind registering in the system.”

“So there’s an unregistered Gallifreyan here?” Cam and Kohb both looked as Chrístõ gave a low moan.

“No!” he groaned. “It had better not be. I’ll rip his head off with my bare hands.”

“He wouldn’t DARE,” Kohb said as he, too, came to the same conclusion. “He is a marked man in this galaxy. He would not be so foolish.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Chrístõ answered him. “Epsilon is only just this side of sanity most of the time. And if there was a profit in this somewhere…”

“The destruction of two planets? It seems excessive even for him,” Kohb noted. Chrístõ didn’t answer. He was already striding towards the turbo lifts.

“He seems happier at least,” Cam said as the two of them followed him quickly.

“I’m NOT happy,” Chrístõ retorted as they stepped into the lift. “I just don’t have time to worry. There’s a Renegade Time Lord with the capability to destroy whole planets somewhere ahead of us. And he isn’t going to go down without a fight. We have two things in our favour at least. He ISN’T expecting us. He knows I’m at the conference. And he is as unarmed as we are. Nobody can bring weapons onto this station. There are detectors that sound alarms if ANY kind of projectile or electronic weapon is brought aboard, whether by shuttle or transmat or TARDIS.”

Of course, he thought, Epsilon was nearly as good as he was with a sword or knife, or with his bare hands. And he wasn’t going to be taken easily.

“This is the place,” Chrístõ said as he looked at the entrance to a cargo storage area. “This was where the Time Lord life sign was registering.”

“Chrístõ…” Cam said to him. “You can’t open that door. Look…”

He looked. And frowned in puzzlement. This WAS the place where the lifesign registered. But according to the warning sign the cargo storage was open to the vacuum of space.

And yet…

He felt it in his head. The feel of another Time Lord mind reaching to him. A mind close to death, pleading for his help.

And it was behind the door.

“He’s in there,” Chrístõ insisted. Cam… Go back to the turbo lift. Get in and close the door. When I open this the corridor will depressurise. YOU can’t recycle your breathing. Kohb and I can. We can also hang on tighter than you can.”

“Chrístõ!” Cam looked at him nervously then reached and hugged him affectionately. “Don’t you dare get yourself killed. I don’t want to be the one to explain this to Julia.”

“Go on,” he told him. He watched as Cam retreated to the turbo lift, then he took out his sonic screwdriver. It was a work of seconds to override the codes that prevented him doing what he was doing.

“Grab on tight,” he told Kohb. “If you let go, you’re dead.”

“What are you doing? Stop!” As he pulled the door release with one hand, while clinging with the other to a recess in the wall that made a solid handhold, one of the station security guards came into the corridor, automatically reaching for his radio to call for help in dealing with two thieves attempting to break into a cargo bay. “Stop what you are doing or I’ll…”

Chrístõ grabbed a lungful of air as the door opened and the atmosphere in the corridor vented through it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the turbo lift door open. Cam grabbed the security guard, pulling him into the lift and closing the door again. Just beyond the lift shaft an emergency bulkhead came down, cutting off the backup security.

It lasted no more than twenty seconds before the air in the corridor was sucked out and the pressure inside and outside the cargo bay equalised. But it was a nightmare twenty seconds for Chrístõ and Kohb, hanging on tight to prevent themselves being sucked out.

“Now,” Chrístõ said telepathically when it was over. Speaking out loud while recycling his air was hard on the throat, but he didn’t have to with Kohb. “You get to the bay door release and close them. I’ll get my cousin.”

Kohb nodded. There was still gravity, even without air, of course. They were able to move quickly. He ran to do as he was instructed as Chrístõ made for the figure lying in the middle of the floor.

He was tethered, hand and foot, to the securing bolts for keeping cargo in place. That was why he hadn’t been sucked out when the bay decompressed.

That was the first thing he noticed as he bent over the figure.

A close second was that it WASN’T his cousin.

He was almost dead. He was recycling his breathing, but he had been doing it for so long there was almost no oxygen left. His lips were blue from the carbon monoxide build up.

Chrístõ looked around as Kohb managed to close the bay doors and re-pressurisation and re-oxygenation began. It would take a few minutes to fully restore air to a room this size, though and that would be too late.

“This is the second time you owe me your life,” Chrístõ said to the unconscious Time Lord as he bent over him and used what was left in his own lungs to give artificial respiration to him. He raised his head and took a breath of the new air beginning to circulate, thankful that oxygen was a heavy gas that started low as it filled the room. Then he continued the life-saving process.”

“Chrístõ!” He heard Cam’s voice as he came running, followed by the security guard, and a few moments later by the other guards once the bulkhead was released. “Chrístõ are you all right?”

“I’m all right. And so is he.” He sat back as his patient breathed deeply of his own volition and struggled to sit up. “Kohb, Cam, show the guards your credentials. Let them know we’re not terrorists or thieves.”

“What about him?” the guard Cam had saved demanded. “What’s he?”

“Well, he’s not a terrorist or a thief,” Chrístõ said. “He’s not a diplomat either, but I’m willing to vouch for him for the time being. This is Paracell Hext, without doubt the most unlucky agent in the Celestial Intervention Agency, an embarrassment to his family and thoroughly ashamed to have had me save his life AGAIN.”

“Ashamed I got caught so easily!” As he stood he produced credentials to show the security guards. “I was tracking a dissident group that were planning to sabotage the peace process. But as you can see they caught me.”

“Hext, you’re not cut out for secret agent work,” Chrístõ told him. “Why don’t you go home to Gallifrey and get a nice desk job.”

“We don’t have time for sarcasm,” Hext answered. “They got away, and they’re going to…”

“They’re going to blow up both planets,” Chrístõ said, recalling the feel of eighteen billion souls pressing down on him.

“No, just Taboa,” Hext told him.

“Their plan is going to go wrong,” Chrístõ replied. “BOTH planets have hours before annihilation.”

“How do you know?” Hext asked. Chrístõ told him. Hext looked at him in astonishment.

“My uncle sent you back in time to get me?”

“Your uncle?” Cam looked at him in surprise. “The president is your…”

“Yes, of course he is,” Chrístõ said. “I’d forgotten. Gallifreyan family connections. They’re so complex. I have enough trouble remembering who I’M related to, let alone…”

“#£$%^&!” Kohb swore. “Sir…. Don’t you see….”

“Chrístõ!” Cam couldn’t read minds, but he caught on fast. “You’ve been had. You weren’t sent back to stop the planets being destroyed. You were sent back to stop him being killed.”

“No!” Chrístõ couldn’t believe it.

Or could he?

“#£$%^&!” He echoed Kohb’s swear word and for good measure added several ones that originated on Earth and now had universal meaning.

“I deserved that,” Hext admitted. “I think my uncle deserves worse, but it would be considered high treason. But Chrístõ… You WERE sent to save those planets. We can still do it, if we get a move on. Your TARDIS is in the hangar bay isn’t it?”

“No, it’s…” Chrístõ stopped. Yes, of course it was in the hangar bay. It would be in the hangar bay until much later this day.

“So is mine. Come on. I’ll explain as we go.”

Even in a TARDIS it shouldn’t have been possible. It wouldn’t have been if Chrístõ’s skills at breaking through electronic security walls weren’t a lot better than Hext’s skills at infiltrating dissident cells. Even then it was touch and go. The first attempt they bounced off the lead lined anti-radiation level of the bunker deep inside a mountain outside the capital city of Taboa.

“Stop!” Chrístõ screamed as he ran out of his TARDIS without even expending a moment to see what disguise had so startled the staff of the Taboan Strategic Command Centre. “Stop. Abort the countdown. There are no missiles attacking your planet. It’s a hoax to force you to fire at Tadecu. Stop… please. Or both your planets are doomed.”

Chrístõ stopped in his tracks as what looked like about fifty guns were turned on him. Why people with teeth and claws both capable of killing in seconds needed guns, too, he didn’t know. But he wasn’t going to argue. Neither were Cam or Kohb as they closed ranks next to him.

“Please listen,” Cam begged as he looked at the countdown on the huge screen in front of them. There was less than four minutes.

“Don’t listen,” Chrístõ added. “LOOK.” He closed his eyes and focussed his mind. The screen flickered and changed as he psychically manipulated the picture until it showed the scene that had haunted his mind for days. The two planets both dying in agony.

“It’s a TRICK!” somebody said. “It’s a Tadecuan trick. Arrest those two. Have them thrown in the snake pit along with all the other Tadecuan spies.”

“No,” somebody else said. “No, he’s right. Look. The missiles… they’re not real. It was false information fed into the computer. It’s not…”

Chrístõ was a Time Lord. That meant that he was always aware of the passage of time. He knew how much or how little of it was passing. Yet even he didn’t quite realise how many seconds had passed before somebody in all the confusion and doubt took a decision and aborted the launch of the missiles that would have turned Tadecu into a fireball seconds after THEIR missiles, launched in retaliation for the unprovoked attack, set out towards Taboa.

A figure of four seconds registered on the screen before it changed again. He saw Hext, and the Tadecuan Strategic Command behind them.

“Tell me you managed to stop the launch,” Chrístõ said.

“On three seconds,” Hext answered. “They’ve got the dissidents. We’re done here. You can get back to the negotiating table.”

“No I can’t,” Chrístõ said. He reached out and grabbed the hands of his friends as he realised something he hadn’t until then. “We’ve changed the future. The planets won’t be destroyed. You won’t die of asphyxiation tied to a hangar bay floor. So we won’t have a reason to come back here. There’s a paradox… and it… it’s going to catch us up… any moment. You’ll be the only one who remembers that… that this is the second time I saved your life.”

“Chrístõ,” Hext told him. “I’ll not forget it. EVER.”

“Do you want to dance again?” Cam asked Chrístõ as they both turned away from the view over the two warring planets they were working to bring to a peaceful settlement.

“For a while,” he said. “I want to phone Julia later. I’ve booked a subspace call to her.”

Cam sighed theatrically and pretended to be hurt. Chrístõ laughed and took his hand, and was about to lead him back to the dance floor when somebody approached them.

“Ambassador Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow,” Paracell Hext exclaimed. “You dance a fantastic tango, you know.”

“You’re not involved in these negotiations, are you?” Chrístõ replied.

“Not any more,” he answered. “My job is done here.”

“What? And I didn’t have to rescue you?” Chrístõ laughed. Hext blushed. Cam looked puzzled.

“It’s a long story,” Chrístõ told him. “And I don’t think Hext wants it telling in public.”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” he said. “I owe you more than I can ever repay. And you know how much it hurts me to say that.”

Chrístõ looked at Hext. Yes, he did know how much it hurt a high caste pureblood whose father was a senior member of the High Council and his uncle, if he remembered the family tree right, was actually Lord High President, to admit that he owed anything to anybody, let alone the half-blood he had always despised.

“Can I at least buy you and your two friends a drink?” he asked. “I know it’s a bit pathetic, but…”

“Sure,” Chrístõ answered him, letting him off the hook. “Just one, though. I have to call Julia.”

It was when he was waiting for his call to connect that Chrístõ wondered how Hext knew he was with two friends. But a few minutes later as he saw Julia’s smiling face on the videophone he forgot all about Paracell Hext, peace negotiations, and everything else but the girl he loved.