Julia gripped Chrístõ’s hand tightly. She smiled at him but it was a sad sort of smile as they sat together in the back seat of the car. She had persuaded her uncle to let Chrístõ come with them as far as the school gate, so she could be with him that little bit longer. But when she came out of school later he would be gone, and she had to readjust to ordinary life on Beta Delta IV.

“You’ll have lots of exciting things to tell your friends,” Uncle Herrick said to her as he made cheery conversation. “Dancing at a royal birthday party, Ambassadors’ Receptions, not to mention visiting Earth. Very few girls your age here on Beta Delta have ever revisited the home planet.”

“I don’t intend to tell them anything,” Julia said. “My trips with Chrístõ are another life. They don’t have anything to do with here.”

“She won’t even tell US anything. Except that she saw some really cool spaceships,” complained Cordell, the elder of the two cousins in the front passenger seat, wearing the male version of the deep purple school uniform that Julia accepted as a necessary evil of life on Beta Delta IV.

“I told you about Blackpool Pleasure Beach,” she answered. “And you’ve seen all the postcards I brought. And you got Blackpool rock, and presents from Prince Syd, too.”

“Yeah, the presents are cool,” Michal, the youngest of the two agreed as he wriggled in the back seat and tried to get another inch of space from Chrístõ and Julia. “When are you going away again? It’s ok if we get presents?”

“I’m going to take Julia to Lyria for the mid-autumn school break,” Chrístõ said. “A nice peaceful week of swimming and opera nights.”

“I hope they’ve cleared up that problem with drug-taking they were having there a while back,” Herrick said.

“They HAVE,” Chrístõ assured him. “It’s a pleasant holiday resort again.”

“Don’t forget presents,” the boys chorused.

“You know, the next big holiday after that is Christmas,” Herrick told his sons. “I hope Chrístõ will be joining us here and we will give HIM presents.”

“Only if he gives US some,” Michal answered with a pre-teen boy’s logic about the matter.

“He’s not from Earth,” Cordell said. “He doesn’t DO Christmas.”

“Yes, I do,” Chrístõ assured them. “And I am fully aware of how the present giving tradition works.”

“Buy them SOAP,” Julia said with a giggle. “They’re BOYS. They need it.”

“Buy them books,” Herrick suggested. “On manners, perhaps. Boys, remember that Chrístõ is our guest. We don’t blackmail guests.”

“He’s Julia’s BOYFRIEND!” Michal said in a tone of disgust.

“He is His Excellency, Lord Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow, the Ambassador for Gallifrey,” Julia said proudly, squeezing his hand even more tightly.

“I’m not Lord de Lœngbærrow yet,” Chrístõ corrected her. “That is my father’s title until I reach my Coming of Age and I am conferred as patriarch of the House.”

Herrick looked at him in the rear view mirror. Chrístõ still looked like a young man of about twenty to him. But he WAS, indeed, an Ambassador, and a good one if his other companions were telling the truth.

He was driving his niece to school, hand in hand with an accredited diplomat who was, on top of that, the heir to a title and property that made him dizzy to think about.

If that was all there was to him there would be no problem. But even though Julia didn’t talk MUCH about the time she had spent in his company, she had related enough for him to know that Chrístõ’s lifestyle was a disturbing one, and often a dangerous one. He had reason to wish Julia wasn’t so deeply attached to him. As grateful as he was that Julia was alive, it would have been much easier if Chrístõ had just brought her here to them and left.

He turned his eyes back to the road ahead and gave a sharp cry of astonishment. There WAS no road ahead, only a sort of mist that formed a wall across the road while the parkland on one side and the playing fields of the school they were heading to were clearly to be seen.

“Stop the car,” Chrístõ ordered as he saw the mist. “Turn us around. Quickly.”

Herrick was already applying the brakes. The hover car wobbled as he began to apply the reverse gear and back them away.

“It’s moving towards us,” Cordell yelled in panic. And he was right. The mist wall WAS approaching them. There was nothing Herrick could do to stop it. The car was engulfed. Herrick jammed on the main brake and the hover car dropped down onto the road with a bump just moments before they were overwhelmed.

As the mists in his head cleared, Chrístõ was aware that he was lying on a hard, smooth surface that smelt of floor polish. He opened his eyes and saw Julia beside him, her hand reaching towards his. She was still unconscious and he sat up quickly, gathering her into his arms. She seemed unhurt, only unconscious.

A transmat beam, he thought. It had to be. He looked around to see the two boys and Herrick Sommers, also unconscious.

And others, too. He stared around the big room at dozens of people, still blissfully unaware of what had happened to them. There were tables and chairs in the room, as if it was some sort of refectory or mess hall, and some of the people were slumped in the chairs while others, like him, were lying on the floor. He noticed that there was no window of any kind. There was a large double door in the nearest wall. He laid Julia down by her uncle and cousins and went to investigate it, picking his way through the still unconscious people. It had the look of a bulkhead door and when he tried it, even with his sonic screwdriver, it was firmly locked with a deadlock seal.

He turned from it and looked closer at the other victims of this strange event. He realised he knew many of them. He wasn’t sure whether to be glad or sorry that so many friends were here with him.

Then he saw somebody stir among the still forms. Somebody he knew so VERY well.

“Father,” he cried as he ran to him. “Father, oh, I’m so glad you’re here. I mean… not glad, but…”

Ambassador de Lœngbærrow had woken quickly, immediately alert as his training long ago as a special operative taught him to be. He sat up, allowing his son to steady him momentarily, then both stood.

“What happened?” he asked, looking around the room once and taking in all the detail Chrístõ had needed several minutes to note. “Where are we?”

“On a ship, I think,” Chrístõ answered. “A space ship. There’s a vibration such as you get with hyperdrive ships in impulse mode.”

“You WOULD have made a fine agent if destiny didn’t need you for bigger things,” The Ambassador said as he realised his son had judged correctly. “But that does not answer the most important question. WHY?”

Around them, others were starting to slowly wake. And they were confused and upset. The Ambassador gave a cry of alarm when he heard his wife’s voice. He ran to lift her to her feet, taking their son from her arms and examining him anxiously as he cried a tearless cry of a pureblood Gallifreyan child. Chrístõ heard another female cry out in anxiety and ran to hug Cassie.

“Chrístõ!” she cried fearfully. “Where am I? And where is… Chrístõ…. Baby Chrístõ I mean… He was with us.”

Chrístõ turned around several times, nearly as panic-stricken as she was before he spotted the child, curled up asleep next to his father. Cassie ran to hold her son while Chrístõ revived Terry. Confusion and fear was mixed with pleasure at the reunion of friends.

“Chrístõ!” Another voice called his name and he looked around to see Penne, apparently taking it all in his stride. He was dressed in a robe of office and had the gold circlet on his head that he wore when he met with his government ministers. He looked every inch a king, even if he was a long way from his kingdom.

“I don’t KNOW what’s going on,” he said before Penne could ask the question. “Is Cirena here, too? Is she all right?”

“She’s asleep still. Her personal maid is here. She’s taking care of her. Some people seem to recover faster than others…”

“That’s the way with transmat beams,” Chrístõ noted. “They affect people in different ways. But…” He paused. “No, it must have been more than just a transmat. My father was on Gallifrey. You were on Adano. We were on Beta Delta IV. Terry and Cassie were on Earth. There’s about seven hundred thousand light years between Earth and Adano. It must be…”

He broke off as he saw another of his friends who needed help. He knelt by the fragile looking form of Bo Juan, the oriental flower he had loved so dearly. Sammie loved her now, and the proof of that was to be seen in her slender figure distended by a six month pregnancy. As she slowly came around he carefully put his hand over her stomach and was relieved to find that the child within her was no more harmed by whatever had brought them all here than the other children who were being held and comforted by their parents around him.

“What the hell is going on?” Herrick Sommers demanded of Chrístõ as he stood, clutching his sons close to him. He had embraced Julia, too, with fatherly protection but she broke free and ran to Chrístõ’s side. “How did we get here?”

“I don’t know,” Chrístõ admitted. “I’m still trying….”

“A time scoop,” The Ambassador said and Chrístõ turned to him, astonished.

“A time scoop?” he questioned. “But… that is impossible. It is forbidden to use the time scoop on other races.”

“Forbidden does not make a thing impossible,” The Ambassador pointed out wisely and logically. “Let’s make sure everyone is unharmed and take some kind of headcount, see that the children are all with their parents. And then we will try to find out where we are and why this is happening.”

“WHY are we here?” Herrick Sommers demanded, bearing down upon The Ambassador angrily. “Who are you, and is this your doing?”

“I am Lord de Lœngbærrow senior, patriarch of my House, Magister of Southern Gallifrey, Ambassador to Adano-Ambrado,” The Ambassador said imperiously. “And father of this young man who you know. And you are Julia’s guardian?”

“Yes,” he answered, deflated slightly in the presence of one so titled. “Yes, but what is happening. Why did you bring us here?”

“I didn’t bring you,” The Ambassador assured him. “My wife and child and I were abducted just as you and your children were. Is your wife here?” he added.

“Marianna!” Herrick’s face paled and he looked about. His sons clung all the more tightly to him as they realised that their mother was NOT among the crowd. Herrick reached in his pocket for his mobile phone but found it did not work. Chrístõ reached for his, which he had adapted to pick up transmitters even across thousands of light years. HE had no signal, either.

“We’re cut off,” Chrístõ said. “Father… can you make contact with Uncle Remonte telepathically?”

The Ambassador closed his eyes and concentrated. Around him those with telepathic abilities felt the pressure of his effort, but Chrístõ knew without asking that he had failed.

“It felt as if my mind was being thrown against a brick wall,” The Ambassador said, nursing his aching temples. “Or a lead one, possibly. Somebody does not wish telepathic signals to get out.” He turned to Herrick. “I can only assume your wife is at home, safe and hope that we are all returned to our proper places before she can be unduly worried. But, please, sir, the best you can do for now is find a place to sit quietly and look after your boys. Julia, child, go with your uncle. You are more experienced at space travel than your cousins. You can reassure them.”

Julia was reluctant to let go of Chrístõ’s hand, but there was sense in her future father-in-law’s words. She reached out to hold Michal’s hand, and unusually, since he was an 11 year old boy and didn’t do ‘soppy’ things, he let her do so. Christo turned from ensuring they were settled and saw Cam and Kohb, holding hands tightly, approach them. Three Ambassadors and a King-Emperor and his queen. If this was some sort of kidnapping, he noted, they had plenty to ransom in their small group. So why were so many others taken?

Cassie and Terry and baby Chrístõ, Bo and Sammie, Valena with Garrick on her knee, Cirena and her maid joining them, sat at a table together. The only thing they had in common was that they knew him. As they moved among the other people, making sure they were all physically unharmed, trying to reassure them, even though they had no reassurance themselves, Chrístõ wondered who the other fifty or so people might be.

“Where are you from?” The Ambassador asked a woman with red hair who wore a rustic looking dress.

“B…B…Barrowbridge,” she said with a frightened stammer.

“I’m sorry,” The Ambassador said. “I don’t know that. Is it a town or a province?”

“A village, sire, in… in the province of… Es… Est… Estatum.”

“Grepharia,” Chrístõ said to his father telepathically. “It’s a pre-technological planet. I was there once. I had a run in with Eps there. He committed a really foul murder and framed me for it.”

“Pre-technological?” The Ambassador frowned as he looked back at the woman. He reached out and touched her forehead. He saw her deep fear. She came from a society where witchcraft was believed in, still. She was taken from her home and woke here, half convinced that she was dead and trapped in limbo for some sin she had committed.

“Be at peace, dear lady,” The Ambassador said and he touched her mind with his own. He didn’t erase her memories or modify them. Rather, he gave her a sort of reassurance that what was happening was nothing to be afraid of and that she would be returned to her home before long.

“I hope that wasn’t a false promise,” Chrístõ said to his father as he moved around and found several more of the villeins of Barrowbridge, all equally convinced that they were either dead or in the hands of a demon. He calmed them all the same way.

“These people are from Kappa Psi IV,” Kohb reported, indicating a group of men and women in modern dress who were all sitting at a table angrily muttering among themselves.

“Kappa Psi?” Chrístõ recalled with a cold shudder attending the trial there of his cousin Epsilon for capital murder. A crime he was acquitted of, since he was innocent, though his activities there were dubious at best.

“That group are from Danarini,” Cam informed them, pointing to one small group who made up one of the non-Earth humanoid minorities among their company. They were pale blue people with bald heads, male and female, and they communicated with translation devices that converted their brain impulses to speech. “And those two people are from Ebanla X.”

“There are some people from Adano Ambrado here, too,” Penne added. “I have spoken to them and they are calm. But they want to know what is going on. And I can’t give them an answer.”

“I have a strong suspicion,” The Ambassador began slowly. But before he could share it there was an upsurge in the low murmuring voices and he turned to see the double doors opening. Two tall guard robots stood either side of the door while a series of service droids, basically food trolleys with a limited artificial intelligence, wheeled in, distributing sandwiches and beverages and even bottles of baby milk to those who needed it. Whoever had brought them here didn’t do so to let them starve, anyway. They SEEMED to be being looked after.

“The guard robots are of Gallifreyan design,” The Ambassador said telepathically. Kohb and Penne, as well as Chrístõ, picked up the open message.

“Which means?” Penne asked in return.

“This is a Gallifreyan ship. I think…. Oh my…. Rassilon’s Hand. What is this all about?”

“Father?” Chrístõ was disturbed by something almost approximating fear in his father’s voice.

“We are aboard a Gallifreyan detention ship,” The Ambassador said. “It uses the same kind of technology as a TARDIS, but it is fully automated and crewed only by artificial intelligences. We don’t use them often. The last time I recall was the war against the Gyrewarriors of Sarre. We kept thousands of prisoners of war in ships such as this.”

The Ambassador’s face looked suddenly taut and his lips were pressed very thin. Chrístõ shuddered as a deep memory came to the front of his mind. Not one of his OWN memories, but one of Li Tuo’s. When he first received the old Time Lord’s essence he had been able to access all of his memories clearly, but they faded after a few days, leaving him only the knowledge and the wisdom, the instincts and skills and some mannerisms that he realised were not his own, but without the personal, private memories that went with it all.

But now a memory pushed itself forward. Of a war that happened between the Time Lords and the Sarrens when Li Tuo and his father were just a decade or two older than he was, now. The war had broken out just after they graduated and they both joined up to fight for Gallifrey. His father had gone to fight on the front line. Li Tuo had been in ‘Intelligence’. His job had been to interrogate the prisoners. The methods he used were brutal and cruel, but accounted necessary for the security of innocent people living on Gallifrey.

“Don’t judge him harshly,” he heard his father’s voice say. “And believe me, when I say that the Sarrens did far worse to those of us they took prisoner.” And for a brief microsecond Chrístõ felt his father’s emotions. He was shocked by the burst of horror and remembered pain before The Ambassador took control of himself and blocked his unbidden thoughts. The snatch of Li Tuo’s memory faded from Chrístõ’s mind and he remembered only one thing.

This was a place where terrible things had happened once, a long time ago.

But why were they here now? And would terrible things happen to them here?

Chrístõ went to sit with his friends for a while. There was nothing else for him to do. Julia gave him a cup of coffee and he drank it gratefully. He hugged her. He looked at all his friends around the table. Bo and Cassie, the first girls who had travelled with him, reached out and clutched his hands. They were both trying not to be scared. Then he went to Valena’s side and picked up the child she held tightly, his half brother, Garrick. He was a heavy two year old now, aware of what was happening around him, aware that somebody other than his mother and father was holding him. Chrístõ felt his nascent telepathy as he held him. He wouldn’t start to develop it until he was older. Perhaps five or six years. Maybe older. Some Gallifreyans didn’t develop their skills until fifteen or sixteen years, Others started young. He thought Garrick would be an early learner. He felt a little pride in that thought. His half-brother would be a smart boy. A credit to the family. He was pleased about that.

“You don’t worry,” he said telepathically. “Whatever this is, don’t you fret, young one. We’ll make it right for you.”

“I believe you, Chrístõ,” Valena whispered as she reached to take her child back from him. “I trust you, and my husband. I know as long as you are both here you will make it right. I just wish I knew what it was about.”

“It’s about Epsilon,” Sammie Thomlinson said. Around the table they all looked at him as the startling notion sank in.

“Epsilon?” The name struck fear into them all. That was one thing they had in common. Cassie and Valena both clutched their children tightly. Bo’s hand pressed against her unborn baby. The men reached to them, their instinct to protect. Sammie embraced Bo, Terry put his arms around Cassie and baby Chrístõ. Penne clutched Cirena’s hand. Chrístõ hugged Julia as she ran from her uncle’s side and pressed close to him.

“We’re all victims, or witnesses to his villainy, his evil,” Sammie continued. “All of us here have had a run in with him at some point.”

“So have all the other people,” Chrístõ said. “The people from Grepharia. They were witnesses at the trial when he framed me. I don’t think any of them have realised it yet. I was dressed differently. And they’re all very scared. Then Kappa Psi, Danarini, Ebanla X. He was captured on Ebanla. That’s where he’s in prison waiting extradition.”

“Why do WE seem to be in prison, too?” Cassie asked. “Why are we all here?”

“I think…” Chrístõ began to speak slowly. Then his attention was distracted. They were ALL distracted as a viewscreen on one of the blank walls turned itself on. There was white fuzz for a few moments, then a screen with the Seal of Rassilon, and then Chrístõ and his father and stepmother all recognised the face of the Castellan, the head of the Gallifreyan security services. Chrístõ found himself reaching out and touching Valena’s shoulder as they both wondered what this boded.

“Please be calm and pay attention.” The Castellan said. “You have all been brought to this secure vessel for your own protection. There has been intelligence that suggests that each and every one of you has been marked for death and you have therefore been placed in protective custody.”

“What?” The murmur of protest echoed around the room. People looked at each other in shock and disbelief. But the Castellan was not finished yet.

“You will be required to remain there until the threat is neutralised. You will be given all possible comforts. Dormitories and bathroom facilities will be available. You will be provided with food by the servo droids. Do not attempt to escape. The guard robots will treat you as hostile and act accordingly. Your co-operation is imperative.”

“No.” It was Sammie Thomlinson who spoke. “No way. I RUN a bodyguard agency. If my family needed protection I would provide it. And for any of my friends who might be at risk. Protection that allows them to live a normal life without fear and anxiety.”

“My Guardia Real are fully capable of protecting me and my family,” Penne added. “There was no need. Is he listening to us? You…. Whoever you are…”

“This is completely outrageous,” Ambassador de Lœngbærrow said. He approached the viewscreen, but it was not a two way communication. They were being informed of their circumstances, but it was not open to discussion or negotiation. “This is completely unacceptable,” he added as the screen went blank again. He turned and strode across to the door. It was locked again and he knew that it would be guarded. “It has never been heard of before.”

“They can’t DO this,” Penne continued. “They can’t do it to ordinary people and they DEFINITELY can’t do this to ME. I was on the way to an important cabinet meeting. This will be seen as an act of WAR.”

“Who ARE you?” Herrick Sommers asked as he looked at Penne closely for the first time, noticing the ermine and the gold circlet, but also his face. “I thought you were a relative of Chrístõ’s. His brother or cousin or… But you’re not.”

“This,” Julia said with a smile, reaching out and touching Penne’s hand, decorated with several very large rings from the crown jewels of his empire. “This is His Imperial Majesty, Penne Dúre, King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado, Lord Protector of Terrigna.”

“Good grief!” Herrick murmured. It was the third time today he had been impressed by titles. But this one topped both Chrístõ and his father. “And… do we bow or kneel or… I mean…”

“You don’t need to do any such thing,” Penne said, taking the crown from his head and slipping out of the ermine-edged robe of office. Beneath he was wearing an ordinary pair of trousers and an overshirt of black silk fastened with a belt at his trim waist.

And the resemblance to Chrístõ was so remarkable that everyone at the table, all who knew them both, smiled despite themselves.

“Chrístõ is my dearest friend, to whom I owe my life more than once. And yes, on occasion I have been mistaken for him. I consider it a great compliment.”

“You’re really a king?” Cordell asked, reaching out to touch the cast aside crown. Both boys had streaks of tears on their faces. They were scared, as everyone was scared. But the idea of meeting royalty put smiles on their faces.

“Yes, I really am,” Penne assured him. “And you are Julia’s cousins. She told me all about you at the Prince of Ryemym’s birthday party. She said you’re mean to her and play rotten little boy tricks on her because she’s a girl.”

Both boys looked extremely guilty and wondered if Julia was under some royal protection and would they be clapped in irons for their naughtiness.

“Not while I appear to be in irons myself,” Penne assured them.

“But they just kidnapped YOU from your palace?” Herrick was still trying to come to terms with the facts that presented themselves to him. “They can do that?”

“It appears that they can. And I don’t know what will come of it. When our abduction is known, my army… space fleet… war with Gallifrey? It is unthinkable. But unless I am able to communicate with them, assure them I am safe and well…”

“Was there REALLY a threat to our lives?” Herrick asked. “You… I suppose you expect that sort of thing. And Chrístõ…. He is something of an adventurer. But why are my family a target?”

“Because you were with Chrístõ, I suppose,” Penne admitted. “But don’t blame him for that.”

“How can I not blame him? We live an ordinary life. I work, I provide for my family. Then this boy comes into our lives and…”

“It ISN’T Chrístõ’s fault,” Julia protested. “It’s Epsilon. He’s the one. He has hurt all of the people here at some time. And he is in prison now, waiting to be tried. And when he does he will stay in prison for a long, long time. And I thought that would be the end of it. But it seems, even in prison, he can do things to hurt us.”

“I don’t even KNOW this man, Epsilon,” Herrick complained. “How can he disrupt our lives like this? I am sorry, Julia, but when we get back to Beta Delta IV, I think it is time to put a stop to this. Chrístõ must stay away from us. It seems to be the only way of making sure that our lives are not threatened.”

“No!” Julia cried. “No, you can’t do that. I won’t let you. I won’t stay with you. I will go with Chrístõ.”

“I am your legal guardian. If you do that, I will have Chrístõ arrested.”


Chrístõ stood with his father, looking at the door and trying to focus mentally on what was outside it. There was no lead or any other thing lining it, but even so they were finding it impossible to make contact with any living mind at all.

“The ship is entirely driven by computers and by robots,” The Ambassador said with a deep sigh. “There is nobody we can appeal to, nobody who can be made to see reason.”

“Protective custody?” Chrístõ repeated. “I have never heard of our people doing such a thing.”

“Nor have I,” The Ambassador answered. “Though I have never heard of a Renegade with such hatred in his hearts as Epsilon has. If he has friends who would be prepared to kill any one of us to prevent us giving evidence in his trial, then there is a logic to this. But, yet… No. The whole thing is obscene. They have no right… They claim a policy of non-interference, and then they do this to so many people.”

Chrístõ wasn’t listening. He was communicating with Penne, who was relating what Herrick was saying. His hearts sank.

“I will talk to him, later,” his father promised. “He is a frightened, angry man. Though he is not alone in that.”

“You are frightened, father?”

“Yes, I am,” he admitted. “I am frightened for you, for Valena, for my other son, who is too young to know anything, but is in as much peril as the rest of us.”

“I don’t like being here,” Chrístõ said. “But we ARE safe, at least. There is no peril…”

“No.” The Ambassador sighed. “That is where all of this falls apart. Epsilon has some friends, perhaps. People who sympathise with his cause. But they must be few. Public opinion on Gallifrey is near unanimous in its disgust with his activities. He has brought shame on our society across the galaxy. The number of species and planets represented here by all these material witnesses, is proof of that. But the Castellan has obviously never heard of the Earth saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

“I don’t think the Castellan has been to Earth,” Chrístõ said absently. “But…” His eyes opened wide with horror as he realised what his father had said. “Oh… you mean… Oh.”

Julia was the first to come into his mind of the people he loved and cared for. But the rest crowded in after her. Mentally he held them all, those he could see gathered around that table, talking among themselves, still trying to work out what was happening and why. His instinct was to protect them all. But if his father was right, who would protect him? Who would protect his father? They were all in danger.

“Only if we let ourselves be put in danger,” The Ambassador said. “We need not be sitting ducks, waiting to be blasted out of existence.”

“But what can we do? There is no communication device, and this door is deadlocked sealed.”

“I can open a deadlock seal,” The Ambassador said. “I learnt to do THAT many centuries ago. I ought to teach you some time. It might prove useful to you in your activities.”

“Yes, that would be useful,” Chrístõ admitted. “But right now… The robots… they’re armed, aren’t they. If we opened the door, would they shoot?”

“Yes, they would. This is a prison ship. They are prison robots. The same sort that guard Shada and the courts of justice on the moon above that cursed planet. Protective custody… to them the word custody is the operative word, not protective. We would be seen as escaping prisoners, and YES, they would shoot.”

“Then I think we should try to work out some means of communication. That videoscreen. It worked as an incoming feed. Surely, between us, we can turn it into an outgoing one.”

They turned from the door and stepped up to the viewscreen. It was a large one. Everyone in the room had been able to see and hear the Castellan clearly. But it worked on the same principle as any trans-dimensional video receiver in any Time Lord home or vessel, being able to receive sound and pictures without any delay across light years of space and centuries of time. The circuit boards that worked it were all inside a panel beneath it. It took seconds for Chrístõ to use his sonic screwdriver to open it.

“It seems a long time since I saw one of these actually used as a screwdriver,” his father said with a grim smile as he used his as a circuit tester to work out what went where inside.

“It’s actually not that good as a screwdriver,” Chrístõ said as he examined the screen itself. “I keep a set of ordinary tools I bought on Earth under the TARDIS console.” He sighed. “I wish I HAD my TARDIS right now.”

“If this IS a prison ship then it would do no good. None at all. They cannot be penetrated by a TARDIS. There are all sorts of barriers, physical and metaphysical that prevent materialisation. Otherwise it would be easy for prisoners to escape. All they would need would be a friend with a TARDIS.”

“We really ARE trapped. Hopeless. Helpless.”

“Trapped, yes,” The Ambassador admitted. “But hopeless, never. Helpless? Not while I have breath in my body. And I wouldn’t have expected you to give up so easily.”

“I’m not giving up,” he answered. “But… Is this why so many of our kind reject the concept of love? Because when our loved ones are put at risk…”

The Ambassador looked around at his wife and child and sighed.

“Perhaps there is something in that. When I was in the agency, I kept myself aloof from romantic entanglement. I didn’t risk my hearts. But I had a mother and father, sisters, a brother. We seem to have used a lot of Earth expressions today. Considering that WE are the ones who are supposed to have the wisdom of the universe, Humans are very good at encapsulating it into aphorisms. The one that says ‘No man is an island’ is appropriate now. I don’t know a Time Lord, even the most stoic and phlegmatic, who doesn’t have a mother or father he cares about, at least. And like Humans, it is our relationships that make us what we are. At times like this, when those relationships are threatened, we feel it most keenly. But we’re flesh and blood, not automatons. We’re meant to FEEL these things.”

Chrístõ nodded. He understood what his father was saying. But EVERYONE he loved dearly in the universe was here in this perilous prison with him and his two hearts felt like lead as he worried for their safety.

They both worked steadily. Both father and son were skilled at electronics. The father, if truth be told, at constructing electronic explosive devices. It was one of the methods of killing he learnt as an assassin for the C.I.A. The son was a skilled temporal mechanic even at his young age. Between them they could do what needed to be done.

“There,” Chrístõ said as he patched his own mobile phone into the system to make a microphone from this end of what should now be a two way communication device. He stood up and held the phone as his father used his sonic screwdriver on the makeshift code encrypter and contacted the Castellan’s office on Gallifrey.

They were both rather surprised when the videophone call connected. The Castellan was not at his desk. Instead the room was full of Chancellery Guards. Remonte de Lœngbærrow, Chrístõ’s uncle, his father’s younger brother, turned to look at them in astonishment.

“Uncle?” Chrístõ said into the telephone’s microphone. “What’s going on? Where is the Castellan?”

“He has fled Gallifrey,” Chancellor de Lœngbærrow answered. “He has been exposed as a traitor.”

“What?” Chrístõ looked at his father and passed him the phone. His father quickly explained their circumstances to his brother. Remonte’s face turned grim.

“We knew something was happening. The list of witnesses to the crimes of the Oakdaene heir was taken from the Matrix several days ago. It has taken until now to trace the theft to the Castellan himself. It took some time to convince the High Council that somebody so senior could possibly be responsible.”

“Only the High Council have access to the Matrix,” The Ambassador replied. “Who else could it be?”

“Quite so,” Remonte added. “We have been trying to contact you to arrange protection. But we found it impossible to reach you. Or Chrístõ. Now we know why.”

“The Castellan used the time scoop to bring us ALL to this place,” The Ambassador said. “But if he has fled, I don’t think protective custody was his objective. Where ARE we? Have you traced this vessel yet?”

“That may take some time,” Remonte began to say. Then he turned and listened to a message from one of the Chancellery Guards and then darted away. Chrístõ and his father watched him looking at a computer bank behind the Castellan’s desk. When he returned his face was as white as chalk.

“We have located the vessel,” he said slowly. “It… is on a heading through the Aysiu solar system… directly towards their sun.”

Chrístõ and his father were both aware of the screams of panic and fear behind them as the view changed to a schematic of their projected journey through space.

“All our eggs in one basket,” Chrístõ murmured.

“What are you doing about it?” his father demanded of his brother, the Chancellor.

“We’re… we’re doing everything we can,” he answered. But Chrístõ and his father both had a feeling Remonte was lying.

“We’ve got to do something for ourselves,” Chrístõ said. “I think it’s time we got that door open, for a start. You said you….”

“Opening the door would be suicide unless we do something about the robots outside and elsewhere in this ship.”

“We have no weapons except the welding mode of our sonic screwdrivers. I suppose we could take their heads off with that. If we could get close enough.”

“You would never get THAT close, and I forbid you to TRY,”

Chrístõ looked at his father. He had never heard such a tone in his voice. Rarely had his father EVER forbad him anything.

“No,” he said again. “Chrístõ… I know what you are capable of. I know what you have done, the risks you have taken. But… I haven’t witnessed most of it. And I don’t want to witness you dying a terrible death trying to fight an artificial intelligence programmed to regard you as hostile. You could not beat them. Not that way.”

“We can’t just sit here waiting… waiting to die.”

“There is a way. The way you saved the lives of thousands of people on the Regia Omnia space station.”

“I don’t think I could do that this time. Not on my own, anyway. You know I’m not very good at telekinesis. And remote telekinesis is harder. And I….” He stopped. He looked around at the viewscreen that still showed their projected course towards annihilation. The data that streamed along one side of the schematic told them that they had about an hour.

An hour! His blood ran cold as he thought of it. He wondered what it would be like if they hadn’t broken into the communications system and found out. If they had sat there, believing that they were being protected, drinking coffee and talking about old times. The end would have been sudden and unexpected, and over in moments. Nobody would have had time to be afraid.

Perhaps that would be better than the fear that was engulfing them all now. Everyone was crying, male and female alike. Everyone was hugging each other, trying to give comfort, trying to BE comforted. Julia was with Cassie and Bo. Terry and Sammie were trying to be calm but failing badly. Herrick was hugging his two sons. Valena was holding Garrick tightly. Penne and Cirena and Kohb and Cam were embracing each other. Around the room the strangers from other worlds that had been brought here for no other reason than that his cousin Epsilon had tainted their lives once already, were turning to each other in grief.

“It’s a chance, a hope, at least,” he said. “Hope… even if we fail, will ease their hearts for a little while."

He looked around the room again and reached out telepathically. Penne and Kohb both looked back at him, attentive suddenly. So did Valena. He heard all their voices in his head.

“No,” he heard his father say to Valena. “YOU can’t help. I need you to protect our child. We’re going to attempt a psychic projection. You need to mentally shield him. The force of it would burn out his nascent telepathic nerves.”

“He’s right,” Chrístõ added. “You look after Garrick. Close your mind to all of us, and reach out to him. Enfold him mentally in your love, like a warm blanket around him.”

“I can do it,” she said. “Chrístõ… Good luck.”

He nodded and turned his attention to the vital matter as Penne and Kohb came to join him and his father by the door. They joined hands as they began to concentrate. Chrístõ felt his mind being joined by the others and together they reached out beyond the door. They found the two robot guards outside. Chrístõ led, simply because he was most used to using his telepathic nerves. Penne rarely did, except when Chrístõ visited or his grandfather set him tasks to prevent him getting lazy. Kohb didn’t need telepathy very often, either. Even his father rarely needed the skills in his semi-retirement. They simply provided support as he projected his thoughts into the first of the robot guards.

It wasn’t like reaching out to a sentient being. This was not mind reading. It was remote telekinesis. He was manipulating machinery. He located the ‘brain’ chip among the circuitry, and he willed it to overload. He felt the others supporting him as his psychic nerves screamed. It was difficult. It was painful. But he did it. The first guard robot fell down, so much scrap metal with a fried brain chip. As he turned to the other one he felt his father’s mind leave him. The three of them began to repeat the process with the second guard while Ambassador de Lœngbærrow turned his attention to other things going on around him.

The noisiest thing he had to deal with was the villeins of Barrowbridge being held back by Sammie, Terry and Cam from grabbing hold of the three telepaths. Words like ‘witchcraft’ and ‘spell-casting’ and ‘devilry’ were being used liberally in their protest. Ambassador de Lœngbærrow sighed wearily and approached the struggling group.

“Enough of this noise,” he demanded. “This is not witchcraft. I don’t care what it looks like to you. My son and his friends are trying to save all of our lives and I will not let you stop them because of primitive and erroneous notions about the nature of the universe.”

“You have no power over me, dark wizard!” replied one who was the landlord of the Barrowbridge inn. “You or your devilish spawn.”

“That is no way to talk about my first born son and heir.” The Ambassador answered. “Please be quiet or I will have to make you be quiet.”

“I’m going to make him in a moment,” Sammie added as he fought to hold him back. “Do you know the Malvorian neck pinch, sir?”

“More to the point, do you?” The Ambassador asked. “Chrístõ taught you?”

Sammie smiled grimly and applied the pinch to the man he was restraining. The Ambassador did the same to the landlord and turned to the one Cam and Terry between them had pulled to the floor.

“They’re quiet, now,” Sammie noted as they made sure the three men were lying in the recovery position and could not come to any harm while they were unconscious.

“They’re lucky, Cam noted. “They don’t know what’s happening. They won’t feel…” He broke off as he looked at the viewscreen and noted how much closer they were to that burning helium sun now. The brightness was filtered in the viewscreen picture, but his eyes watered anyway. His dark eyelashes flickered as he blinked away his tears.

“Did I ever tell you that I knew your birthparent very well,” The Ambassador said to him. “Wonderful woman. Admirable man.” He reached his arms around Cam’s shoulders momentarily before turning and looking at his son and his friends as they continued their mental fight.

“They’ve taken out both of the guards outside this room. Time to get the door open. Sammie, Terry, will you come with me. I would understand if you wanted to be with your loved ones. But reaching the control room…”

Sammie and Terry glanced at their respective wives. They had no telepathy but they didn’t need it. They understood their body language.

“They would prefer us to be doing something that could save us.”

The Ambassador looked to his own wife. She didn’t look back at him. She was concentrating on that protective blanket for their baby son. Cirena had her arms around her shoulders, supporting her. Her eyes met his across the floor and told him the same thing.

Do what you must do. For all of us.

“You’re the next most senior man in this room,” The Ambassador said to Cam. “Do what you can to keep them all calm. Bear yourself as a true-hearted Haollstromnian.”

“I’ll do that,” he said with a smile that banished the tears he struggled to hold back.

“Good man.”

He turned and went to the door. Yes, he knew how to deal with deadlock seals. It wasn’t easy. But it could be done. The Grepharians would call it witchcraft, no doubt. It looked like witchcraft to anyone who didn’t understand about thought control.

The lock on the door was a mechanical thing just like the robots that Chrístõ, with help from Penne and Kohb, were destroying one by one. A strong mind could control it. A strong mind could project itself and see the code being inputted by the robots when they entered a little while ago. It could recreate the input.

The door opened. The Ambassador stepped back as a robot guard with a fried brain chip fell inwards.

“Come on,” he told Terry and Sammie and both men obeyed him at once. Sammie, of course, was an experienced soldier, used to such commands. Terry was far from a military man. Sammie had once called him a peacenik and an idealist. And he was. But he trusted Chrístõ and he trusted Chrístõ’s father and he was prepared to do anything either of them told him to do.

The corridors were dark. There was no more than a low level lighting strip that more or less illuminated the floor and told them there WAS a floor.

“Robots don’t need light!” Sammie guessed as The Ambassador turned his sonic screwdriver to penlight mode. That allowed them to see the robot bodies that they had to leap over every few yards. Chrístõ was doing his part of the job.

He WAS doing it. He felt another robot brain chip fry and reached for the next one. He was mentally exhausted, but he kept going. He had to. They had so little time and he couldn’t pause even for a moment.

“We can do it, brother.” Penne told him. “We MUST do it. For all of us, here. For my people who would be leaderless and vulnerable. For all those who would mourn us.”

“Nobody would mourn me,” Kohb said. “The only people I care for are in this room. Chrístõ and his father; you, my Lord, your generosity to me I could never repay; Madame Valena and the little one. And… my precious Cam.”

“Any other time,” Penne noted grimly. “The thoughts you just had for that handsome young man would be ones I would be delighted to examine. But right now, we can’t afford to be distracted.”

They both turned their full attention to Chrístõ. He WAS weakening. He was finding it harder to repeat the process with each new robot guard. He needed all the extra thought power they could give him.

Valena could feel the power being projected by the three of them. It was like a wave of pressure on her mind. She understood why she had to protect Garrick. If he was exposed to that amount of telepathic energy at his early age it would be like blinding or deafening him. He would be handicapped for the rest of his life. She hugged her child close to her, protecting him physically while at the same time she created a mental shield that protected his mind.

She wished it was strong enough to protect all of those she loved. Chrístõ Mian, her Lord and husband, father of her child, Chrístõ, his first born son who she loved as if he was her own. If she could hold her family in her arms physically, or cover them with this mental shield, she would.

But then she remembered everyone else around her. Julia, the girl Chrístõ loved, her family. Chrístõ’s friends, the Human baby nearly the same age as Garrick that young Cassie cradled in her arms, the unborn child of the oriental girl, Bo. She could feel that life as strongly as all the others in the room.

She needed a mental shield that included all of them.

“I am your shield and protection, Valena,” she heard her husband tell her. “Have faith, my dear.”

“I have faith in you, My Lord,” she answered, and she felt his soft laugh. In common with most modern Gallifreyan women she usually only called her husband ‘Lord’ when they were making love and he truly WAS master of her.

If they never had a chance again, she wanted to say it now. For all the difficulties of their marriage, she DID love him dearly. She had not just married him for the social position.

“If we die, I want you to know that, first,” she told him. She felt his telepathic reply like a physical kiss. But a brief one. He couldn’t spare any more of his attention.

These were the last guards that stood between them and the automated control room. Four of them, marching in pairs up and down the corridor like clockwork soldiers, meeting in the middle by the control room door once every half minute, turning and marching back.

Chrístõ felt in his mind that they were the last. The ship that was empty of any organic sentience other than the captives, now had another emptiness to it as he killed off the mechanical life. And yes, kill was the right word. They WERE an artificial intelligence, an artificial life. He had helped forge a treaty that recognised them as such. But he had to kill them. The lives of everyone who mattered to him depended on him setting aside his qualms about killing and doing what had to be done.

His father, with Terry and Sammie flanking him, were turning into that last corridor. They had run faster nearly than he could mentally move through the ship. He realised with horror that they were between the two pairs of robot guards. When they reached the two ends of the corridor they would turn and fire on them. He had time to take one of them down, perhaps. But not all four.

“Father!” he cried out weakly.

“I know,” he heard his father reply.

The Ambassador paused and looked around at the backs of the four robots. No, he amended. Three robots. One fell as Chrístõ succeeded in his effort. But he knew there wasn’t time to take out the other three. The Ambassador was banking on something that Terry and Sammie probably thought only happened in action films. But he had seen it happen, made it happen, more than once. It depended on exact timing.

The three robot guards turned and began to march back towards each other. Their robot brains registered the presence of three escaped prisoners. Wordlessly, but with a flash of red in their robot eye panels, they raised their weapons.

“Down!” The Ambassador cried out and he pushed his two young friends to the ground. They covered their heads as the deadly energy beams flew over them. They heard the sound of three robots crashing to the ground as they shot each other.

“THAT isn’t REAL!” Terry insisted as they stood up again. “That only happens in films. They CAN’T have been so stupid as to shoot each other.”

“Don’t complain,” Sammie told him. “We’re alive. And… we’re at the control room. Will it be deadlock sealed?”

“It may well be,” The Ambassador said as he stepped up to it.

Yes, the door was deadlock sealed. But there was more. Chrístõ’s hearts thumped as he focussed his mind on the other side of the door, double checking to see if there WAS one last guard inside.

“It’s booby-trapped!” he exclaimed. “There’s a bomb. Father! Get away from there.”

The Ambassador heard the telepathic warning a fraction of a second too late. The lock was opening. The electronic trip wire engaged.

He felt himself pushed back by the pressure wave as the bomb exploded. Terry and Sammie felt it, too. But none of them were hurt. They felt none of the heat of the blast. They were not hit by chunks of twisted metal that had been the door. They weren’t suffocated in the few seconds of depressurisation before an emergency forcefield came down over the gaping space where the entrance to the control room was.

“Valena!” he murmured.

“Valena?” Sammie echoed.

“She was projecting a mental shield, to protect our son. She shifted it. She enclosed all of us instead. Valena….” He gave a choked cry. “I can’t feel her now. I think the effort was too much for her.”

“Sir,” Terry said. “We’re still moving. The ship… I think we’re still heading towards the sun. We’ve failed.”

“I think you’re right,” The Ambassador admitted with a bitter sigh. Come on, let’s return to our loved ones. Whatever time we have left…”

The explosion had shook the room where the captives were gathered. And the lights had all gone off. The emergency ones that came on a few moments later were dim, low level ones that left most of the room in shadow. The viewscreen flickered twice and blanked out. Those who were looking at it before it failed registered one thing in their minds. The vessel was already within the gravitational pull of the Aysiu sun. And now it had no controls to change its course with.

The Ambassador and his companions returned. Sammie and Terry ran to their wives. The Ambassador looked at his wife and child but he turned towards the second voice that called out to him. Julia was kneeling on the floor, holding Chrístõ in her arms.

“He’s hurt,” she said. “The effort was too much. He collapsed.”

“He won’t feel anything, then,” The Ambassador said as he knelt and embraced his son and the girl he loved together. He felt Valena kneel with him and his arms reached to enclose her and his baby son, too. Around him, everyone was holding their loved ones. Kohb and Cam kissed lovingly. Penne and Cirena clutched each other tightly. King and queen of a planetary empire they may be, but they, too, had only each other right now, as they all faced the last minutes, not even certain how many of those minutes they had. The uncertainty added to the fear. But they were all waiting now for death. Around him he heard some of the people praying. The Grepharians and the Humans were both monotheists but their prayers were to separate deities and were worded differently. The Kappa Psions, Danarinians and Ebanlans were all invoking different gods responsible for the souls of the righteous.

The Ambassador wasn’t sure if they, Gallifreyans, without any belief system, were better or worse off in a situation like this.

“What was THAT?” The Ambassador heard somebody say. He realised a moment later that it was his son who had spoken. He felt him move slightly, reaching out his arms to return his embrace.

“What was what?” he asked. “Chrístõ… I thought you were too far gone to wake. I hoped you would be, so that you would not know the end when it came.”

“I’m awake,” he said. “But something is different. The vibration of the ship…”

“That’s because we have no engines now,” The Ambassador told him. “We’re plummeting towards the sun.”

“No,” Chrístõ insisted. “There’s something else. Can you feel it? Something is different.”

The Ambassador paused. Yes, it DID feel different. It felt as if they HAD engines suddenly. He thought he could feel some kind of momentum. And yet…

There were footsteps running along the corridor outside. Then a flashlight dazzled his eyes. And the voice that spoke was one he didn’t recognise, although the accent was that of a native of the northern continent of Gallifrey.

“Hext!” It was Julia who recognised the voice first. “Paracell Hext.”

“That’s me. Where’s Chrístõ? Damn these lights. I really wanted to see his face when I rescued HIM for once.”

“I’m here,” Chrístõ said, standing a little unsteadily, with his father’s help. “What do you mean rescue?”

“Nobody was doing anything,” he said. “The High Council were too busy trying to find their headdresses and convene an emergency session. Chancellor Remonte was clueless. He didn’t even think to find out if there were any TARDISes in the Aysiu system.”

“Yours WAS.” Chrístõ guessed. “But what did you do? A TARDIS can’t land inside a prison ship. There are barriers.”

“No, it can’t,” Hext answered. “But a TARDIS can materialise AROUND it. The exterior is the size of a… what do they call those things they have on Earth… communication devices in the streets… phone box. It’s sitting in the middle of my console room. I’ve set our course for Gallifrey. I don’t have enough seats, but the lights are on out there and its not as stuffy as it is in here.”

The idea that they weren’t going to die a horrible death after all took a few moments to filter through to all of the captives. By that time Hext had organised somebody to carry the unconscious Grepharians and he led the way out of the dark, powerless, and indeed, quite stuffy ship. Nobody had actually considered it, but even if they WEREN’T heading towards a helium sun they would have succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning before long once the control room was destroyed and life support was running on emergency batteries.

It was a relief to emerge into a bright, cool, TARDIS console room and breathe its clean air. Hext directed the women with babies to one of the food replicators he kept instead of a kitchen where he said there would be milk available. He laughed as the Sommers boys asked if the replicator could make sweets and told them to go and find out. Everyone else was happy to accept a plastic cup of replicated coffee.

“Are you ok?” he asked Chrístõ as he stood, his arms around Julia, who seemed to be helping him stay upright for the moment. He had a slightly glazed look in his eyes.

“I can’t hear your mind,” he answered. “Or anyone else’s. Not even my father. I think I burnt out my telepathic nerves on the last part.”

“Let me see,” Hext said, reaching and touching his forehead. Chrístõ felt the quicksilver touch of a telepath mind in his, but he still couldn’t feel Hext’s mind even now he had made physical contact. “I don’t think it’s permanent. You’ll recover in a month or so. You’re better off than I was when I had to grow a new pair of eyes.”

“Does this mean you’re even?” Julia asked. “You saved Hext. He saved you?”

Chrístõ couldn’t feel Hext’s thoughts. But he knew from the look in his only recently grown eyes when they met with his own just what he was thinking. Chrístõ felt as if the scar on the back of his neck was burning as they both remembered.

“I think it will be a while before we are even,” Hext said quietly before he begged their pardon and turned to attend to his console. Materialising with the extra weight of the prison ship adding to the dimensionally transcendental mass of his TARDIS was a manoeuvre that needed his close attention. He considered it a pretty good landing when those who were holding onto something managed to stay standing. The rest suffered only minor bruises from contact with the floor and considered themselves lucky, all considered.

He landed them in the compound of the Chancellery Guard in the capitol. They were taken to comfortable rooms where their statements were taken. And then arrangements were made to send everyone home.

“These time portals,” Penne said. “They will take us right back where we were only a few seconds after we were taken by the time scoop. So I will reappear alongside my Prime Minister and he will think his eyes were playing tricks on him. Cirena will be in her chamber with her maid choosing dresses for a State Dinner tomorrow night. And neither of us will remember anything that happened since we were taken?”

“The Time Portal removes your memory of the events which took place while you were removed from your proper timeline,” The Ambassador assured him. “The Grepharians have already been returned. The other groups are preparing now.”

“I’m not sure I want that to happen,” Penne said. “It WAS a horrible experience, but I don’t want my memory of it taken away. Is there any exception to the rule?”

“None at all,” he was told.

“Good,” Julia said to Chrístõ “Uncle Herrick will forget that he wanted to stop me seeing you, because of this.”

“There is that to it,” he answered as he looked around at his friends. None of them would remember this unexpected reunion. Apart from the fear and the imminent danger of death it had been nice to see them all. It seemed a pity they would not recall anything.

And there was another thing.

“You will have to make some kind of arrangement for us,” Chrístõ told his father as they watched Penne and Cirena step into the portal and Kohb and Cam got ready to return to the back garden of Herrick and Valena’s home where they had been sitting together enjoying the morning sunshine when they were time scooped. “We were in a moving car. Those few seconds while Herrick isn’t driving could mean we plough into another vehicle or into a tree. And what about my psychic injury. If I can’t remember how I sustained it…”

“That’s a very good point,” The Ambassador said. We’ll get the rest of your friends home first.” He turned and went to where the Earth companions sat. He cuddled baby Chrístõ and hugged the two women fondly. He shook hands with Terry and Sammie, knowing that they would know nothing of their own brave, even if ultimately fruitless, effort. For them, too, it was better that they had no memory of what had taken place.

“You know,” Chancellor Remonte said. “They will all have to be put through it again to give evidence at the trials.”

“Trials?” Chrístõ echoed. “Plural?”

“The Castellan has been apprehended. He has made a full confession, and named all those who helped him in this mad attempt on your lives. There will be a hearing, and some at least of those who were his intended victims will have to give testimony.”

“Valena and I will do that,” The Ambassador said. “We won’t be using the time portal. We are already home. We will remember every detail.”

“That would suffice, of course,” The Chancellor said. “But then there is the trial of the Oakdaene heir. He is still pleading not guilty. The trial will be a long one now that this audacious attempt to kill all the witnesses has failed.” He sighed deeply and looked at his brother and nephew as they attended to his words. “We knew, of course, that the Castellan was a distant kin of the Oakdaene family. Well, after all, most of the Oldblood Houses are so intermarried we are ALL related somehow. But nobody suspected his loyalty until now. It has caused a shockwave through our society.”

“Occasionally our society NEEDS a shockwave to wake it up to itself,” the Chancellor’s older and wiser brother noted. “That way it might spot these kind of crises before they happen, instead of being caught napping. One day our complacency will be our downfall.”

“I can’t gainsay you, brother,” Remonte admitted. “But what of your son and heir’s request? It is unusual, to say the least.”

“He HAS a very valid point. The portals CAN be adjusted…”

Julia clung to Chrístõ’s hand and hoped. SHE didn’t want to forget a moment of time with him, even the scary moments. When she had knelt on that hard floor, when she had expected to die any moment, she had been content with one thing. She would die with him, not alone as she had feared she would before he rescued her from an even worse death on that doomed starship. She wanted to remember that comforting feeling at least.

“Besides, it isn’t fair on Hext if Chrístõ forgets that he rescued him.”

“I’m not sure THAT is reason on its own to break with protocol,” Remonte told her. “But the other more compelling reasons…”

He didn’t say yes or no. As they watched Herrick and his sons step up to the portal and waited their turn, neither Julia nor Chrístõ were entirely sure whether their memories would be left intact. Chrístõ turned and looked at his father and at Valena and Garrick at his side. He smiled as he saw Hext come into the portal chamber.

“You’re looking better,” Hext told him. “Look after yourself. I might not be in the same solar system next time you’re in trouble.”

“The same goes for you,” Chrístõ responded before he turned and grasped Julia’s hand as they stepped towards the portal. He felt the white mist of something like a transmat beam but 10,000 times more powerful envelop them both.

He felt a moment of disorientation as his feet touched the grass verge beside the road. He was holding Julia’s hand and she swayed dizzily for a moment, too. Then they both looked at Uncle Herrick as he stared at the car and the two boys squabbling as boys do.

“What was that?” Herrick asked. “A sudden lightning storm or… It seemed as if the car was struck by something and I must have blacked out for a few seconds. Thank heavens for the automatic engine cut out.”

Chrístõ looked up at the sky. It was perfectly clear.

“Ion-charged air pockets,” he said. “They happen very occasionally in oxygen atmospheres. Some people say it’s behind the legend of the Bermuda Triangle on Earth. Beta Delta has the same sort of atmosphere as Earth, so I suppose it might happen here. There are no long term effects, though. Nothing to worry about. If we all get back in the car, I am sure the engine will be just fine.”

It was part pseudo-science. There was no such thing as ion-charged air pockets, and he hadn’t a CLUE what caused the Bermuda Triangle. It was also, in part, Power of Suggestion, reassuring Herrick that whatever happened in the few minutes that he couldn’t remember between driving along the road, to standing beside his car at the side of the road, was nothing for him to be concerned about.

“I feel very tired,” Herrick said. “As if it was already evening, not morning. Is that part of it?”

“It can be,” Chrístõ answered. They had been trapped on the prison ship for several hours, and then the debriefing on Gallifrey had taken some time. They had forgotten a whole traumatic day. No wonder Herrick and his sons all felt exhausted.

“I think we should go home. I’ll phone the school and say Julia and the boys are feeling ill…”

Julia smiled. That meant she could spend a couple of hours more with Chrístõ before he left. Better than a morning of double maths and Earth history. Her day had been just as traumatic. But she would sleep at bedtime. If she was tired enough she wouldn’t have any bad dreams about flying into a sun bothering her.