“My dear delegates, welcome.”

The representative group from a dozen or so planets and planetary systems gave the Prima of Ocumace 7, the newest sensation in the Leisure Planets business, their full attention.

“Welcome to the House of Dreams.”

It didn’t look like a house, Chrístõ thought as they were brought through a pair of double doors. It looked more like a very high tech hospital ward with banks of computer equipment surrounding each very comfortable looking bed.

Several of the beds were occupied. And the occupants were a disturbing sight at first glance.

“No,” the Prima assured them all. “Not dead. Just in deep sleep. And enjoying the unique sensory experience we offer to our clients.”

As he spoke, one of the clients woke. He sat up in the bed, wearing a white robe with the logo of the House of Dreams embroidered on it. An attendant came to help him remove the sensors attached to his forehead and to give him a pair of slippers and matching dressing gown. The client was led away towards a door marked ‘Re-adjustment lounge.”

“Re-adjustment?” The phrase seemed just a bit too ominous for many of those being taken on this unusual tourist trail.

“Simply a comfortable lounge with a choice of drinks and snacks, ambient music. Clients are sometimes a little disorientated afterwards. But no more than you would get from a hyperspace jump.”

“Hyperspace jumps make me SICK,” Cam murmured. Kohb laughed softly beside him.

“You are charging a lot of money for people to come here and DREAM,” somebody pointed out.

“Not JUST dream,” the Prima replied. “When connected to the Total Sensory Administrator – ToSA for short, the client is able to LIVE the dreams as if they are real. He will hear, see, smell, feel everything just as if he was really there. A grand banquet – the food will be every bit as tasty as you imagine. Swimming in a crystal lake? Bracing and invigorating. Love-making with your species of choice…” The Prima smiled suggestively and several of the delegates laughed.

“He’s invented a virtual reality brothel!” Chrístõ exclaimed in disgust. “People with the kind of money this costs don’t need to imagine themselves swimming or eating. They can do that for real. They’ll use it for THAT.”

“People with this kind of money can usually get THAT, too,” Cam pointed out, amused by Chrístõ’s coy euphemism.

“Is it really as good as he says?” Kohb asked. He blushed and averted his eyes from Cam’s grin. “I don’t mean… THAT. I mean, OTHER sensory enjoyments. For me, it would be flying.”

“I can take you flying, Kohb,” Chrístõ answered. “We can easily do that sort of thing. What would you like? Jets, helicopters, hang gliders…”

“No, sir,” he said. “What I mean is I would like to experience the sensation of actually flying, like a bird. To feel the power in my own body.” He smiled and shook his head. “Sorry, sir. It is just a fancy of mine. Take no notice.”

“On the contrary.” Kohb looked around as the Prima addressed him. “If you would like to imagine yourself as a powerful bird, an Ocumace Eagle with its twenty foot wingspan, soaring high above the Great Mountains, swooping over the oceans, the wind ruffling your feathers… THAT is exactly the sort of experience the ToSA can give you.”

“That is very tempting,” Kohb answered. “But really, I don’t think…”

“It is perfectly safe. “You may need slightly longer to re-adjust than most. You will have to keep reminding yourself you DON’T have wings. We wouldn’t want you to leave the establishment until we’re sure you AREN’T going to try to fly out of a top floor window…”

There was general laughter about that. Chrístõ noticed, though, that Kohb DID seem attracted to the idea. He had to admit to being tempted himself. He had been doubtful when the three of them had joined the delegates invited to view the facility on their free afternoon from the Ocumace 7 Conference. But the more he heard, the more he read in the interactive brochure he had been given, the more interesting it sounded.

“It can recreate past experiences?” he asked. “If I wanted to spend a few hours in the company of somebody who has been dead for several years, would it… could I reach out and touch her. Would she feel real? Could we DANCE?”

Cam looked at him with a puzzled expression. “She?” Chrístõ had never mentioned any significant woman in his life other than Julia. And none that had died, apart from poor Natalie, of course. But she was recent. He said ‘several years ago’ and for a Time Lord that could be as much as a century.

And when he said DANCE, Cam couldn’t help recalling that the word WAS used as a metaphor in some parts of the universe for the kind of activity Chrístõ had summed up a few minutes ago as ‘THAT’.

“What about you?” Chrístõ said to him, misreading the bemused expression on his friend’s face. “What would YOUR choice be if you were to spend an afternoon in the ToSA experience?”

Cam smiled and Chrístõ blushed and turned away.

“Only kidding,” he assured him. “I quite agree with you about the ‘brothel’ bit. I would prefer my romantic assignations to be real or not at all. I think I’d quite like to join Kohb in his flying adventure. I wouldn’t mind the breeze ruffling MY feathers a little.”

“Sirs,” the Prima said. “Do I take it we have three volunteers to sample the programme?”

Chrístõ looked at Kohb. He was utterly failing to disguise his enthusiasm. Cam was not quite as convinced, but he was ready and willing to go along with the plan.

“Yes,” he said. “We’ll give it a try.”

The preparations took an hour. First they showered and changed into the House of Dreams gowns. Then they ate a light protein meal that was meant to help the body cope with the stresses of the chosen activities. Finally, they were brought to the main room again. The other delegates had moved on by now. No-one else had been tempted by the idea. By the anxious looks of the Prima and his technicians, Chrístõ guessed the comments had not been all that favourable. Which made it all the more imperative that the three VIP volunteers should enjoy their experience of the ToSA programme.

Chrístõ felt a little hesitant as he laid himself down on the comfortable bed and the technicians began to attach the sensors. He couldn’t see either of his friends, though he knew they were in the bays either side of him.

He closed his eyes and felt himself relaxing and letting go of reality as the ToSA machine took control of his dreams.

 

“Yes,” he whispered as he stepped through the gate into the formal garden. He knelt by the carp pond and stroked the grass. It seemed real enough. Cool and slightly damp from the automatic sprinklers that came on first thing in the morning. He watched the fish swimming among the water lilies. The pond was still there, of course. The house was a training school now for orphaned and destitute Caretaker children. They learnt to be chefs and gardeners and domestic servants in a house that was as beautiful and elegant as it ever was, especially the lovingly tended garden. But it didn’t have any heart to it now.

But this wasn’t now. It was then. He stood and looked up at the biggest window of the second floor, a huge, arched window with a balcony in front of it. There was a lady standing at the window. As he looked up towards her, she waved. He waved back and began to run towards the house.

As he reached the French doors that opened onto the garden he stopped running and composed himself. He stepped into the drawing room and from there to the hall where the lady was coming down the sweeping staircase.

“My Lady,” Chrístõ said as she reached the bottom and he went to take her arm.

“Chrístõ,” she said. “As ever it was a joy to watch you in the garden, doing your exercises first thing in the morning.”

“Tai Chi,” he told her, remembering that she ALWAYS watched his morning routine and ALWAYS forgot the name of it. “Not exercises. It is a martial art from Earth. I learnt it from a hologram programme.”

“You are fond of Earth,” she said as they went to the dining room where breakfast was waiting for them both. “Your mother’s world. I hope you will visit one day.”

“If I pass my TARDIS piloting exam I will be allowed to spend the twenty year sabbatical before graduation on offworld field study. I shall go to Earth.”

“On your own?”

“If nobody else is interested, then yes.”

“Be careful, child,” she warned him. “Earth is a dangerous planet.”

“My mother came from there,” Chrístõ protested. “It cannot be so bad.”

“Your mother was an exception,” Lily answered. “A rare flower. Your father fell in love with her and forgot everything else.”

“I forgot,” Chrístõ told her. “That you knew my mother. You were a friend to her.”

“From the day she first came to Gallifrey, bewildered by our customs and ways, unsure of her place. I was there when she married your father. I was by her side when you were born. She put you in my arms after she fed you for the first time.”

Chrístõ sighed happily. THIS was why he had chosen to revisit that glorious summer he had spent as Lady Lilliana D’Alba Argenlunna’s personal companion. He had thought first of his mother. But he had so few memories he wasn’t sure he could collect enough of them together.

Lily was special to him in so many ways. Not the least because she could fill in the blanks about his mother.

“They took you away when you were only six months old,” she said. “Such is the life of a diplomat. But I saw you again many times. When your parents came back to Gallifrey on visits. I saw you growing older and stronger and your mother growing weaker. I saw your poor father return home at last, with her remains in a coffin to lay in the family plot, and you a heartsick child who couldn’t understand.”

“You sat with me the first night, when I couldn’t sleep because the house was different. You sang to me.”

“You remember?”

“I do.”

“My dear child.”

“I’m not a child, Lily,” he protested. “I’m 175.”

“I’m three thousand eight hundred,” she answered. “Only a decade younger than your father. You will always be that little boy in a part of my hearts. The one who called me Lilli-bell.”

“Not when I escort you to the Solstice Ball tonight,” he said, remembering the date.

After breakfast they passed the morning in the garden. Of course, there were several men employed to keep it beautiful, but Lily had loved to tend it herself all her days. Chrístõ worked with her. He loved to do it. He spent all his schooldays in intellectual pursuits. His head was bursting with plans for a new type of temporal accelerator that would have grown the plants he was thinning out and replanting to full size in a few hours. But at the same time he knew the tiring, monotonous work that would yield beautiful results in the course of time was as satisfying as one of his experiments.

“You must not overtire yourself,” he said as he helped Lily to sit on a garden seat. He bent over the Koi Carp pond and fished out the leaf litter and debris that would spoil it. “I’m here to do the back-breaking work for you.”

“Don’t fall in,” she warned him, and then smiled. “You did once, when you were very little. It was this day, in fact, the day of the solstice ball. We had a garden party in the afternoon before the main event. You must have been two years old. Your parents were home on Gallifrey for the solstice celebration. Your mother looked as beautiful as ever, but so terribly frail. She walked even more slowly than I do now. There was a girl employed to take care of you when she was too tired, but she was so excited about being at a party full of handsome Oldblood heirs and you just wandered off on your own. Nobody noticed you getting close to the pond until there was this terrible splash. Your poor mother screamed in terror thinking you had been drowned. But you just stood up, covered in pond weed, spat out a live fish from your mouth and declared that they were pretty fish.”

“I don’t remember,” Chrístõ said. “I was too young. I wish I hadn’t caused my mother such distress though. Poor mama.”

“It was the fault of a daydreaming girl. Your father scolded her terribly. But you never even knew what the fuss was about.”

Chrístõ looked into the clear pond water, at the descendents of the Carp that swam in it that day so long ago. He tried to see if he COULD remember that day. His earliest memories must have been around that age, but that incident wasn’t one of them.

“I mostly only remember Ventura,” he said. “I don’t recall coming home to Gallifrey until after mama died. She WAS pretty. She had grey eyes. Soft like charcoal. I remember knowing that I had my father’s eye colour. I remember…”

He breathed softly as his mother’s face seemed to look back at him from the pool of water instead of his own reflection. He remembered that this was a dream and his own mind created it. And as much as he loved his mother, he had chosen to remember THIS summer solstice, when he was almost a grown man, and he had spent his vacation with Lily.

He turned and looked at her as she sat on the seat. Silver hair that reached to her waist. As a young woman it had been flame red. Green eyes that flashed like emeralds. She always dressed in white, except for a brief time after she had been widowed. Silver and white were her colours. The long dress was shot through with silver threads that sparkled in the morning sunshine.

And as old and lined as her face was, Chrístõ thought she was beautiful. In the summer weeks since he came, at her request, to be her Personal Companion, he had learnt to see beauty in quite a different way. And for him, now, she was the most beautiful woman he knew.

 

Kohb stretched out his arms and was surprised to find that they weren’t arms, as such. Glistening golden feathers formed a pair of beautiful wings. He looked down at the world below. He didn’t know what planet it was meant to be, but it was beautiful. A deep, wide, glacial valley with a lake as still as glass stretching for miles.

He stretched his wings again and thrust himself forward. The air currents caught him before he even thought about falling and he glided effortlessly. He gave an experimental flap and he rose higher. Another experiment showed him how to go lower, then he became bolder as he worked out how to swoop and dive and bank away to left or right.

He was flying like a bird. And he was free as he had never felt free before. He was born in servitude, the lowest rank of his people. He had never done anything in his life by choice. He had called other men master and done their bidding, be it good or evil. Even now when he served a good man, he still SERVED.

But here, he was free. He answered to nothing and nobody. He was a bird in an empty sky.

Not quite empty, he noted as a speck grew larger and he could see it was another bird. A birdwoman.

It was Camilla, he realised. And she was so graceful in her movements she could have been BORN with wings. He swooped towards her and saw her laugh with delight as she turned in the air and matched her flight with his. Together they flew down the valley and saw that the lake lengthened to become a fjord, a wide opening to the sea formed by the relentless march of a glacier many centuries before. They swept out over the open water, their eyes on the horizon.

Kohb wondered if they were going too far. Would their arms – wings – tire before they found any place to land beyond that horizon? But he didn’t FEEL tired. He felt as if he was stretching himself in a way he never did using his feet to walk. But he wasn’t tired. He knew he COULD go on.

 

After lunch, Chrístõ walked with Lady Lily in the garden they had tended in the morning. She held his arm as they walked and they talked. She asked him about his classes a little, but Chrístõ was glad not to think about the Academy when he was away from it. School was in the Capitol, all the away across the water on the northern continent. Here on the southern continent was peace and quiet and Lily’s garden to enjoy in the sunshine of the solstice day.

“The roses have done well this year,” she said as they came into the walled garden. They walked under an atelier where climbing roses and honeysuckle formed a green, sweet scented tunnel. “They began to bloom almost as soon as spring was on us, and there are still plenty of flowers to come yet.”

“They’re beautiful,” Chrístõ agreed.

“I brought your mother here to this garden the first day she came to Gallifrey,” Lily told him. “She cried when she saw the roses. Because they grow on Earth, too. She cried for joy to find something that wasn’t alien to her. This was her favourite place of refuge and peace as the seat by the lily pond is mine.”

Chrístõ sighed softly and imagined his mother walking along the atelier, touching a half-open rose bud as he reached and touched one now. He knew that these were Gallifreyan roses. The white ones were named Pazithi after the moon, the red-orange ones were named Desert Roses for the Red Desert. There was a paler orange one called the Blood Rose, because it was the colour of a Gallifreyan’s blood. These roses were not related to the ones that grew on Earth, or on Ventura – he remembered there was a rose garden in the garden of the Gallifreyan Ambassadorial residence where he played as a child. But there was a uniformity of nature across the universe that meant that successful patterns like roses and lilies were found anywhere that the soil was suitable for them to thrive.

“Let us sit,” Lily said after a while. I would like to hear you read to me, Chrístõ.”

“Of course, My Lady,” he replied dutifully.

They sat in the summer house in the middle of the rose garden. The skylights were open and they left the door wide as they came in. Under one of the seats a drawer pulled out where cushions were stored as well as the books Lily liked to read or have read to her. He made her comfortable with the cushions and sat beside her. He opened the book and read. It was a book of Gallifreyan folk tales of adventurers and heroism in a bygone time. They were written in such a way as to be poetic, almost musical, and Chrístõ enjoyed reading them aloud. Lily sighed with pleasure and leaned her head on his shoulder as they sat together. He smiled and shifted his position so that one arm was about her. She put her feet up on the long seat and his shoulder was her pillow as she relaxed. He went on reading for a long, delightful hour. As he finished one story, he looked at her half closed eyes.

“I bore you to sleep,” he said.

“You soothe me to sleep,” she answered. “But I’m not asleep yet. I want to look at you. Such a handsome young man. Just like your father when he was young.”

“AM I like him?” Chrístõ asked. “My father is in his twelfth regeneration. I don’t know what he looked like when he was my age.”

“You are the image of him,” Lily said. “I wonder why you don’t have more young ladies interested in you.”

“I don’t have time for them,” he answered. “I have my studies. I have the disciplines that Maestro teaches me in addition. The weekends at the monastery with the Brotherhood. Where would I find time for young ladies?”

“You should make time. Perhaps you will find true love at the Solstice Ball tonight.”

“I don’t think so. I am taking YOU to the ball. I shall dance with you.”

“I shall love dancing with you,” Lily told him. “In your arms I will feel young again. But don’t spend the whole time with me.”

“It is my job. To be your Personal Companion. I serve you, Lily.”

“You are ALSO the Heir of the Oldblood House of Lœngbærrow. Your father, and Maestro, who both care for you very much, suggested that you spend this summer in my household because duty and service are important. But you are NOT a servant. You are a Time Lord Elect, a Prince of the Universe, a Guardian of Time and Space.”

“I…” Chrístõ shivered. “When you put it like that, I think I would rather be your Personal Companion. I don’t think I’m ready to be a Guardian of Time and Space.”

“Not yet,” she said. “A little more learning and growing up, yet. Then you WILL be ready.”

“After the summer,” he said. “I will strive to be the best I can be. I will even look for my future wife. But for this summer, at least, YOU are My Lady and I need no other. I am content to serve you.”

Yes, he remembered. That WAS how he had felt that summer, before he finished his studies, before he became a transcended Time Lord in his own right. He had been content to be Lady Lilliana D’Alba D’Argenlunna’s Personal Companion. It felt like he was a knight from one of the Earth story books he remembered his mother reading. A Knight of Camelot, giving service and courtly love to his Lady.

She was getting sleepy as they talked. He shifted his position and let her lie down fully on the seat, her head resting in his lap. He caressed her face gently, stroked her hair. He watched her sleeping and tried to imagine what she looked like when she was a young woman, when his father was a young man, and they had known each other as friends. He imagined her face as it was when she was young. Smooth, clear skin, soft to the touch, her flame red hair framing it. A gentle, refined woman who would have charmed any man who came near her. Perhaps his own father had been entranced by her beauty and danced with her at a ball, walked in the moonlight in the garden. Perhaps he had kissed her.

 

Kohb’s eyes saw the break in the sea before Camilla’s did. He called to her and they both turned towards it. As they came closer they could see it was only a small place. Not even an island, just a rock sticking up from the sea. But it was a place to rest. They wheeled around and alighted on it together.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Camilla said as she looked around and saw nothing but sea on every side. “We’ve flown so far.”

“Wasn’t it exhilarating!”

“To say the least.”

“Is it really you?” Kohb asked. “Are we sharing the same experience, or are you just created in my mind as part of the programme?”

“I’m here too,” she said. “I’m real. And so are you. Everything else is the programme.”

“That’s probably why this rock is so conveniently here. So we don’t get exhausted. We’re not meant to kill ourselves in our dreams.”

“You make a very elegant birdman,” Camilla said after a pause.

“You’re a very graceful birdwoman,” Kohb answered without thinking. “That is…” He blushed and seemed to remember himself as a mere Ambassadorial Aide. “Madam…”

“Oh, please,” Camilla begged him. “If you are going to call me madam I will revert to being Cam. I think I can do it and keep the wings.”

“Then I should call you sir,” Kohb replied.

“Can’t we just be friends?” Camilla asked. "All of us. You, me, Chrístõ. Just friends. Never mind caste or class or master and servant?”

“I would like to,” he admitted. “But…”

“When we are all working, of course, certain things are expected of us. But we’re not working now. Let’s fly again. It is such a beautiful experience and I don’t know how long we have left to the end of the programme.”

They both stood and stretched their wings. They touched tips momentarily before launching themselves into the air again. Kohb glanced sideways once to see if Camilla was still with him. She was. Then he rose high in the air and turned and banked and swooped for joy. Camilla was doing the same. They laughed together as they flew in formation and instinctively seemed to know what the other was going to do next.

“I don’t WANT it to be over,” Camilla cried as they turned and thought about flying back to the land they had started from. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”

“We can’t live in a dream,” Kohb said. “We have to go back to reality soon.”

 

Chrístõ knew he couldn’t live in a dream either. But he was so happy in this one that he didn’t want to leave it yet. He wanted to stay with Lily, to live that warm, sweet, solstice day over again. And he did. He stayed with her through the afternoon as she slept, holding her in his arms. When she woke, she smiled at him and he helped her stand. He walked with her back to the house where they took a high tea together.

Later it was time for the Solstice Ball. Chrístõ dressed in the outfit she had ordered made for him. A robe of black satin with silver trimmings and a deep purple gown over it. That, too, fastened with silver. The motif was a silver moon for the House of Argenlunna.

And Lily herself looked dazzling. Again she was in white from head to foot. Her dress was pure white with silver thread and pearls sewn all over the bodice. She had white feathers in her hair and a delicate pair of white dance shoes on her feet. As she descended the stairs Chrístõ reached out his hand to her and she took it. He escorted her to the waiting car and sat beside her in the back. Her hand clasped his as they travelled to the port and transferred to a shuttle craft to take them to the Capitol. This was the job of a Personal Companion. He had to take care of her when she travelled, ensuring that she was comfortable in her seat, with a cushion by her head and seatbelt on. Then he sat beside her and was able to relax for the course of the very fast hyper-sonic shuttle journey. Again, her hand reached for his as they travelled. He was proud to give it to her.

The Solstice Ball took place in the Panopticon itself. A limousine brought them to the grand entrance and Chrístõ proudly escorted his Lady inside. He recognised many great members of Gallifreyan society as they mingled in the foyer before being presented in the ballroom.

They danced several dances that Lily had taught him this summer. And they turned heads when they did so. The great old lady of Gallifrey and the young Time Lord elect. In particular, young women looked enviously. Chrístõ noted their eyes on him and smiled. Not so many years ago, or so it felt, he was the outcast, the bullied one who no girl would have looked at, rejected by everyone. But now they looked at him anew and so did their parents and he knew that there would be plenty who would be ready to forget he was a half-blood. Several times under the pretence of polite conversation with Lily he was asked when his father would be coming home from service offworld. He knew why they asked. They were the parents of girls of eligible age with whom a marriage arrangement could be made.

“I think not,” Chrístõ thought. “When I am ready, it will be for love.”

“Chrístõ, my cousin.” As he sat with Lily and watched the dancing continue he was approached by one he had not expected. Rani was his cousin by marriage, although exactly how was a mathematical problem he never bothered to solve involving the marriage of aunts and uncles he hardly ever met. He sometimes wondered if the whole of the Oldblood families were cousins somewhere along the line. They probably were.

“Rani,” he answered politely. She looked beautiful, of course. Beauty was not something she was short of.

“It is usual for a gentleman to ask a lady to dance,” she said, reaching out her hand meaningfully. Chrístõ sighed because he knew he had no choice. He stood and went out onto the dance floor with her.

“Aren’t I better company that that wrinkled old hag?” she said as he held her in the prescribed way.

“That is the Lady Lilliana D’Alba D’Argenlunna,” he answered. “A grand lady of Gallifrey and if you were a man that remark would constitute an insult to her honour for which I should have to call you out.”

“My dear Cousin,” she answered with a laugh. “How ridiculous you sound. Duelling is forbidden in the Capitol in any case. But I never knew you were so fond of the old woman. When do you intend to propose an Alliance with her?”

“Don’t be silly. It is not like that. I am her Companion. I am glad to be of service to her. It is an honour.”

“But just think. She can’t have more than a century left in her. You could be rich.”

“If you say one more word of offence against My Lady I shall slap you in front of everyone here,” Chrístõ replied angrily.

“I’m not the only one thinking it,” she answered.

“Oh, but you ARE,” Chrístõ replied. “Only you would have such an evil mind. Be quiet until the end of this dance or I will make sure your foul slander gets back to your father. He won’t stand for such behaviour from you.”

The threat of her father hearing of her conduct silenced Rani as he hoped. The dance came to a close and he bowed formally and walked away from her. He could feel her eyes burning into his back as he returned to Lily’s side, and he knew she would not forget being snubbed in such a way at such a prestigious ball. But her behaviour had been so outrageous.

He did, in fact, dance with several young women in the course of the evening. The only one he didn’t get a chance with was the pretty young daughter of the Newblood Lundar House, Romana. She was in several of his classes and had smiled warmly at him on several occasions, but he had never properly talked to her. Fate dictated that he didn’t get the opportunity tonight, either, although he had caught her eye several times. No matter, he thought. There WAS time enough.

And when it came to the last dance there was no doubt in his mind. He danced it with Lady Lily. She smiled as he held her in his arms and they swept gracefully around the floor. He gasped in surprise as he looked at her and saw, not the gracious old lady, but the beautiful red haired beauty of her youth.

It wasn’t the dream programme, Chrístõ knew. It had happened in real life, too. That last dance of the Solstice Ball. He HAD seen her transformed, just for the length of that dance, into a stunningly lovely young woman who had smiled joyfully at him. It was an easily explained phenomena. She had been happily thinking, as they danced, of when she was young, and utterly unconsciously she had transmitted the vision to his mind telepathically. Perhaps, he thought, she was thinking of when she danced with his father. Or perhaps she just wanted to look young for him, for the length of one dance. Either way, he was proud and glad to be dancing with the most beautiful woman in the room.

When the dance was over he looked again and she was herself again. She smiled at him and he kept hold of her hand until the orchestra struck up the Gallifreyan anthem and all in the room automatically turned to face the Seal of Rassilon and the Lord High President sitting below it in the chair of office. They pressed their right hands over their left hearts as they gave honour to the Seal, the President and the Anthem at once, loyal sons and daughters of Gallifrey.

Yes, Chrístõ remembered. That WAS how the evening went. He wished he hadn’t remembered dancing with Rani. Cousin or no cousin, beautiful as she was, he had no feeling for her then or since except contempt. It was, he knew, unbecoming of a gentleman of Gallifrey to behave badly towards a woman. And he tried to be courteous to her. But her own conduct made it impossible to like her. He recalled her Oral Ethics examination some time after that Solstice Ball. He himself had caused a stir with his exhortation to Galifreyans to become involved in universal affairs, but Rani had scandalised everyone by her proposal that the lesser races of the same universe he had asked them to protect should be used for experimental purposes for the greater advancement of scientific knowledge.

Rani would go too far one day, he thought.

 

“Camilla,” Kohb called as they alighted on the cliff above the lake where they had begun. I think it is time to leave. No more flying.”

Camilla landed beside him. She looked at him and saw that he no longer had wings. Nor did she. She sighed. It had been good while it lasted.

“It was quite an experience,” she said.

“That it was,” Kohb answered. They both stood still. They knew they had to move. But they didn’t want to.

And there was another thing.

“It was nice being birds. Because we were equal,” Camilla said. “You let yourself forget that I outrank you. I wish… I wish we could keep it that way.”

“We can’t,” Kohb answered. “Back in reality…”

“Back in reality, we’ll still FEEL the same way. And I think… Kohb… Before you go back and smother those feelings, tell me… show me…”

Kohb looked at her without speaking. Then he reached out and put his arm around her neck. He pulled her close and kissed her.

“That’s what you were thinking?” Camilla was surprised but not displeased. “You really WANTED to kiss me?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“That’s good,” she said. “Will you promise me one thing.”

“What?” he asked.

“When we go back, in the real universe, don’t forget that feeling. Don’t go back to being reserved and remote. Kiss me again. Because… because I like it. And… And it’s not just because Chrístõ doesn’t want me, and you’re second best. You’re not. I like you, Kohb. And maybe… maybe we can build on this. If you let it.”

He said nothing. But he kissed her again, for a long time.

“Let’s go back to reality,” she said when he drew back again. “Just don’t forget this when you’re ‘on duty’ again.

“I won’t,” he told her. “I think… I think it’s going to be a little different from now on.” He took her hand as they prepared to leave the ToSA. They both wondered if Chrístõ was enjoying his experience as much as they were.

 

He was. For Chrístõ the summer days were happy and they slipped by one after the other. Sometimes he wondered how so much was fitted into a programme that was only meant to last a few hours. He supposed it was an illusion of time passing. He didn’t mind. He was happy. Life was simple. He had never felt happier than he did this summer. He didn’t want it to end.

He was walking on his own in the moonlight. It was a beautiful, late summer evening and the gardens were delightful.

“Chrístõ.” He turned and was surprised to see his friends standing by the entrance to the rose garden.

“Why are you two in MY dream?” he asked.

“To bring you OUT of it,” Kohb answered. “Sir, have you any idea how long you have been here?”

“It feels like weeks. But that’s the machine. It makes a few hours feel like weeks.”

“No,” Cam said to him gently. “Chrístõ, you have been running the programme in real time. You have been in it for five weeks. They have been feeding you intravenously, trying to keep you alive but they didn’t dare disconnect the machine. Your brain functions were so completely melded with the ToSA that we couldn’t risk it. The only way, was to come and get you.”

“But…” Chrístõ looked around him. He breathed the warm air of the balmy summer evening, scented with rose and honeysuckle. “I don’t want to go. I want to be with Lily.”

“Chrístõ,” Cam told him. “Lily died many years ago. You can’t be with her. This was a nice dream. A nice way of remembering the past. But you have to let go.”

“I can’t. I have… something I have to do.”

“You have to go and see Julia,” Cam replied. “If you don’t come back now, you’ll miss her.”

“Julia?” For a moment he looked as if he didn’t recognise the name. “Julia… of course. It’s half term next week. We’re going to… to…” He looked at his friends. “Where are we going?”

“Some place on Earth called BLACKPOOL,” Cam answered. “Julia is looking forward to it.”

“Julia?” Chrístõ looked as if the name was unfamiliar to him again. His eyes turned towards the formal garden where he knew Lily was sitting on her favourite bench by the carp pond.

“JULIA,” Cam insisted. “Chrístõ, PLEASE. You MUST come back.”

“This night is different,” Chrístõ said, looking up at the bright stars in the clear moonlit sky. “It’s not the same summer. It was two summers later. My mind has rolled them all together. The summer of the solstice ball, and this one when…”

He turned and ran. Cam and Kohb looked at each other and ran after him as he headed back to the formal garden.

They found him there, by the carp pond, crouched on the grass with Lily in his arms. She was unconscious and he was cradling her body tenderly.

“This was how…” he said, looking up at his friends. “She died here, by the pond. I was somewhere… somewhere else. I didn’t know. By the time I knew it was too late.”

“She’s not dead yet?” Kohb asked.

“No,” Chrístõ answered. “She’s not far off, though. Her hearts are failing.”

“I think this is why you can’t come out of the programme, Chrístõ,” Cam told him. “You need this ending. You need to be with her this time.”

Chrístõ nodded silently. He wasn’t crying, but his eyes glistened in the half light. Kohb stepped closer.

“Shouldn’t you bring her inside?” he asked. “Bring her to her bed, call a physician.”

“No,” Chrístõ insisted. “This is where she dies. There is nothing to be done. But this time she won’t be alone.”

“Kohb.” Cam put his hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked at him and nodded. They both turned and went back to the entrance of the garden, in the shadows where, if Chrístõ had looked up, he would just have been able to see them and taken comfort from their nearness.

But he didn’t look up. He was in a very small, private universe just then, which only had two people in it.

“Lily,” he whispered. “My Lady, My Lily.”

“I’m here, Chrístõ,” she whispered in a weak voice, the three words taking a great effort. “My boy.”

“Don’t talk,” he told her. “Save your strength.” He held her close, pulling his warm cloak around her.

“My strength is gone,” she answered. “I AM dying. But I die happy, in your arms. My dear boy. No, not a boy, a young man. With your life in front of you. And such a life. Such adventures. Such victories. Such triumphs. It is all ahead of you. You will be a husband and father. You will be a great man. You will be the greatest Gallifreyan since our Lord Rassilon. The greatest Time Lord this universe has known.”

“But I won’t have YOU,” he protested. “Lily, I will miss you.”

She reached out her arms around his neck. He tightened his hold on her. He could feel every beat of her hearts next to his own. Every one of them nearer to the last one.

He looked at her face. Silver hair and the lines of great age. The most beautiful woman he had ever known. And as her life ebbed away he kissed her cheek.

“Sleep well, My Lady,” he whispered.

As he drew his head back he felt her sigh. Then he felt her hearts beat once more and stop. Her hands slackened their hold on him. He reached and closed her unseeing eyes and slowly he stood up, cradling her limp body in his arms. He walked slowly, sadly, towards the house, where warm light spilled out through the doors to welcome the Lady Lily for the last time.

Cam and Kohb followed at a distance. They stepped into the house unnoticed by Chrístõ as he walked silently up the stairs, or by the solemn butler and the two distressed housemaids who walked after him, wordlessly. All were left outside the lady’s room. Chrístõ told them in a few words that HE would look after her.

It was an hour before he opened the door again. The butler and the housemaids went in, but there was nothing for them to do except bow their heads in respect for their dead mistress. Her body had been laid out, her hands crossed over her breast holding two long stemmed Calla lilies. The same lilies and white roses filled the room and their perfume and that of summer jasmine from the garden outside made the death room feel like a garden.

Chrístõ turned from the bed and walked out of the room. He looked at his two friends.

“Just don’t…” he said. “What went on here, what you saw…”

“I saw a definition of love even I never thought possible,” Cam said. “And I feel privileged even to have been a WITNESS to it.”

“I agree,” Kohb said. “A precious memory, sir. But now… please come back from this place. People are worried for you.”

“I’m ready now,” he answered. He reached out and touched both their hands. He had not been sure until then if either of them were really there.

A moment later, none of them were there.

Chrístõ opened his eyes and looked up into a blinding overhead light that was blocked by the anxious heads of his two friends. A technician in white began to remove the sensors from his head. As soon as he was free he sat up and began to climb off the bed.

“Your muscles are weak from the time you have been lying there,” Cam told him as his knees buckled and he stood only with his friends’ strong arms supporting him. “This programme is only meant for two hour sessions at a time.”

“You should rest in the Re-Adjustment room,” he was told by the Prima himself who hovered nervously.

“No,” he answered. “I’ve had enough of this place. Find me my clothes. I’m going back to my TARDIS. I’ll ‘re-adjust’ there, on the way to Beta Delta IV to see Julia.”

There was some muttering about him signing a disclaimer, in case he relapsed later. Cam turned a hard stare on the mutterer. The stare of a fully notarised lawyer.

“If my client has even a dizzy spell in the future, we will be speaking to your corporate attorneys. Your programmers did not fully account for the brain patterns of different humanoid species. My client was not informed before undergoing the ToSA programme that his telepathic brain might be affected for longer than the two hour session. Whether or not he drinks a gallon of caffeine-enriched liquid in your cooling off room you are liable for any such future health problems he may experience. And no disclaimer in the universe will negate that liability.”

With that, Cam and Kohb took a firm hold of Chrístõ and didn’t let him go until they reached his TARDIS.

“I don’t think it WAS their fault, you know,” Chrístõ told them as he leaned a little more heavily than usual on the console and initialised their dematerialisation. “I think I just wasn’t ready to come back. I WAS happy there.”

“Doesn’t hurt them to think about it a bit, though,” Cam answered. “Are you ready to be back in the real world now, though?”

Chrístõ inputted the co-ordinate for Beta Delta IV and smiled. His friends nodded to each other. They didn’t need any other answer.