Chrístõ was living the domestic life again on Beta Delta IV. He had been invited to spent Christmas with Julia’s family and he was having a pleasant, happy time of it in the days leading up to the big celebration. Marianna seemed, even more than ever, to want to make him a part of the family, and what had been merely the guest bedroom was now considered to be HIS room. It had been redecorated and there were pictures on the walls of Earth and Gallifrey. He appreciated the effort and in token of it he had added pictures of his family on the bedside table and personal items on the dresser. He parked the TARDIS in the corner of the room, disguised as an internal door despite being on an outside wall. Humphrey shared the room with him, sleeping under the bed or in the wardrobe. After he had startled Marianna the first time she came in to clean the room she got into the habit of closing the curtains so that he could come out and bowl around the room imitating the vacuum cleaner’s hum as she worked. He, too, found a taste of domestic life pleasing.

Julia, of course, was delighted to have him there. So were her cousins, though only because he was so free with his money and they got plenty of treats out of him. Her friends were also delighted to see him back on Beta Delta IV. They were a little less mercenary. They liked that he bought them coffee and ice cream in the Mall, but mostly they welcomed him because his presence brought excitement to their otherwise quiet, DULL lives on what they regarded as a DULL planet.

“That’s the way I like it,” Chrístõ had told them. “Peace and quiet. Nothing weird happening.” But that only made Cordell and Michal demand that he tell them all about the planet with the volcano worshippers or about the dolphin people, or any of the exciting things he had done on other, more interesting worlds. They never, of course, asked about the space vampyres on the Alduous Huxley. As much as they teased Julia as the girl of their family, they knew better than to deliberately hurt her with memories like that.

And his stories did seem to have one positive result. It made young Marius decide he would stay on at school and take the exams he would need to get into the Space Academy and see the universe for himself.

Christmas Eve came and Chrístõ found that the traditions were much as they were in any Earth colony he had ever visited. This year, though, there was the added excitement of a grand party at the school Julia and her cousins went to. Chrístõ was Julia’s date, of course. He was also chaperone to the boys, which pleased them since having an adult there meant they could stay till the end of the party, well after their usual curfew.

Cordell and Michal were waiting in the drawing room with Chrístõ and their father. Julia was last to be ready. The boys were impatient and excited, fidgeting in their best party clothes, and secretly envious of how amazing Chrístõ looked. He was wearing a black silk suit with flecks of gold thread in it along with a black, open-necked shirt. Marianna had positively gushed over him, only disappointed that he was open necked rather than formal with a bow tie. She reminisced with a smile about her senior prom when Herrick had escorted her in a very smart formal suit and she had worn a dress with three stiff petticoats underneath that made her feel like a princess. Herrick had gently reminded her that Julia WASN’T a senior, and this was a Christmas party, not a prom, and informal was perfectly all right.

Chrístõ wondered if her aunt and uncle would approve of the dress he had brought for her to wear. He had it made by Cirena’s dressmaker especially for her. He hoped they would not think it too ‘grown up’ for her.

Marianna didn’t think so. When the two of them finally came into the drawing room she was smiling with reflected glory. Julia beamed joyfully as Chrístõ admired the final result of the effort. She was just how he had imagined she would be in that dress. It was red satin with gold flecks that matched Chrístõ’s suit. It had fitted sleeves and a bodice with the scooped neckline not too low, but setting off a gold twisted rope chain with an Adano-Ambradan ruby set into the pendant. The long skirt flared out in delicate flutes and her feet in red satin high-heeled pumps peeped out beneath. Marianna had put her dark hair up in a grown up style, decorated with gold fastenings and allowed her just a little make up. She looked taller and a far cry from the schoolgirl in the purple cardigan and grey skirt.

“The dress makes her look much older,” Herrick commented. “If it were anyone but Chrístõ taking her… But I’m sure she’ll be fine.” He kissed her gently on the cheek and told her to have a nice time. Chrístõ stepped forward and put a warm velvet cloak around her as Herrick gave him the keys to the family car.

“Drive safely, won’t you,” Herrick said to him. “There’s more snow forecast before midnight.” It had been snowing steadily most of the day and there was a suitably Christmas card look to the town already, though the road surfaces were kept clear with underground heating because all the road signs and markings for the hover cars were painted on the tarmac.

“We’ll be back a little after midnight,” he promised. “And those two WILL behave themselves or no presents from me, tomorrow!”

He held Julia’s hand out to the car and saw her seatbelted in safely. The boys climbed in the back. As Chrístõ fastened his own seatbelt and started the car, driving it out onto the road before initialising the hover mode and increasing speed they dared one small dig at their cousin, just because they were boys.

“You look like a Christmas cracker, Julia!” they chorused.

“Ignore them,” Chrístõ told her. “They’re just jealous.”

“They’re just SILLY. They’re BOYS.”

“Chrístõ is a boy, too,” Cordell pointed out.

“No, he’s not,” Julia answered in a quiet voice they weren’t meant to hear. She turned and looked at him as he drove the car. He was a MAN. A handsome, wonderful man. She couldn’t imagine him as a boy like her cousins. She supposed he MUST have been, once. But she could not imagine it. She wondered if there were any photographs of him then.

“Ask my father when you talk to him again,” Chrístõ told her, catching her thoughts. “He has pictures of me right back to the day I was born. I don’t look at them often. Looking back… nostalgia… I’m not very good at it. I seem to have a succession of losses. People dying, or going away. Always seems better to look to the future.”

Julia smiled at that. She preferred to look to the future, too. Her past had too many losses as well. She looked to the far future when she would be a grown woman and Chrístõ her fiancé. Tonight in her red and gold dress she could at least pretend that she was. She felt grown up and sophisticated. She almost wished they weren’t going to the SCHOOL Christmas party. That spoilt the illusion a little. But on the other hand she got to show off her handsome, grown up boyfriend who wore a black silk suit to her friends.

The new school gymnasium was the venue for the party. Chrístõ recalled as he found a parking space seeing the foundations being dug only a few months ago when the bodies of the last of the Leibliss were discovered there. The building had been completed remarkably quickly. Of course, modern prefabrication techniques meant that, once the foundation was in place, a building COULD be erected quickly. He knew that. Personally he disliked that kind of construction. He was born in a house that had stood for seven generations before him, built by craftsmen who put one carefully cut and shaped stone on top of the other and that was how he believed things ought to be built, with care and craftsmanship.

Even so, the gym did look nice, he had to admit. It wasn’t just a square box. The long front wall was made of panels of smoked, opaque, toughened glass and the roof was tiered like an Aztec stepped pyramid up to where the outlets for the air conditioning and heating were. Each step of the roof was decorated with Christmas lights, and a huge illuminated sign wishing the guests a Merrry Christmas covered the front above the double glass doors that were opened wide to receive them all.

“We haven’t started using the gym yet,” Julia told Chrístõ as they walked, hand in hand, waving cheerfully at friends who arrived at the same time. “The equipment goes in over the holiday ready for the new term.”

“This is an unused building?” Chrístõ stopped before the entrance and looked up at it, then he smiled and raised his hands and said some words in the Ancient, ceremonial form of his own language that Julia never heard translated.

“What was that?” Cordell asked.

“A blessing upon the new building,” he replied. “We always do that at home. It’s just a little tradition we have. Strange, really, since we’re not a superstitious lot, mostly. When I was little my father said it pleased the Toclafane.”

“The what?”

“We don’t have many fairy stories on Gallifrey,” he admitted as they walked into the reception and Chrístõ produced their party invitations to the senior girl who was checking them in. She accepted the ticket and gave in return their entry into the Christmas prize draw and their table number for the party supper. “But my father used to tell me about Toclafane. They’re supposed to be spirits that can live in the walls of a building. If they’re happy, then so are the people who live or work in the building. But if they’re neglected and unhappy they’ll bring bad fortune. My father used to assure me that the ones within the walls of our house were all quite happy. When I was in bed at night I would try to imagine that shadows on the wall might be them watching over me and protecting me from harm. It didn’t always work. I sometimes had nightmares about what else might lurk in the shadows.”

Michal looked about ready to tease Chrístõ about being scared of the dark before he realised that, secretly, he was scared of the dark, too, and hurried into the brightly lit gym.

“I don’t think I’d like spirits in the walls watching me,” Julia admitted. “But it IS just a story, of course. Like fairies.” She thought about that, and remembered that she had MET fairies in her travels with Chrístõ.

But creatures that inhabit walls were another matter. They had to be just a story.

The inside of the gym was just as beautiful as the outside. The glass front wall was hung with long curtains of a mustard yellow that was almost golden, open to reveal as much of the gleaming, brand new windows as possible. Coloured lights, red, gold and silver reflected smoky glass versions in the windows and made it seem as if there were twice as many lights. Streamers and more strings of lights criss-crossed overhead and there was a huge, finely decorated Christmas tree at one end. At the other a stage was set up with instruments for a live band to play later. For the moment Christmas carols were playing over the sound system as friends gathered to talk to each other. Julia smiled happily as her friends, Tina and Carrie and their boyfriends, Marius and Kendrick, as well as another teenage couple, Lissa and Garran, gathered around. They all admired her dress and asked where it came from. When she told them that it was specially made for her by the royal dressmaker of Adano-Ambrado they were stunned.

“How come?” Carrie asked.

“Because Chrístõ is friends with the king of Adano-Ambrado,” she answered with a smile.

Chrístõ wondered what they would say if they knew he was officially the heir presumptive of Adano-Ambrado. He thought that might actually be a bit much for them to contend with. He didn’t want them to start bowing every time he turned up at the bowling alley, coffee and ice cream by royal appointment!

“We’re not sitting with you,” Cordell and Michal said as they examined their party table tickets and dashed off to join their own friends. Chrístõ looked at their tickets and found they weren’t sitting with Julia’s friends, either. They were ‘honoured’ to be at one of the staff tables, along with the prefects and the headmaster.

“Oh, dear!” Julia said. “I wish they hadn’t done that. It’s the headmaster, Mr Edwards. Last parent-teachers night, he told Marianna she should think about taking me to see a psychiatrist because I talked at school about an imaginary boyfriend. And he nearly fell off his seat when he found out you were REAL. He asked me on the last day of term if you would be coming to the party with me. And…Oh dear.”

Chrístõ showed her the card by the place setting at the table. The name on it was “His Excellency the Honourable Ambassador Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow. She blushed with embarrassment. Chrístõ laughed and told her it WAS his title, after all, and they might as well get used to it. He wondered what the headmaster would think about him being the nominal Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado and decided that had better remain a secret.

And it was a good decision. The headmaster, a middle aged man with worry lines and greying temples, was extremely excited to meet Chrístõ, and his wife was almost on the point of curtseying to him when he stopped her and reminded her that he was here in an unofficial capacity as Julia’s date for the party. As the students settled in their places and the party meal was served, though, he talked enthusiastically to Chrístõ.

“I understand that you pay for Julia’s ‘extras’ – her ballet and gymnastic classes?” The headmaster said to him. “She is one of our stars in the gym competitions, you know. We’re hoping she’ll do well next month when we hold the inter-schools competition here in the new hall.”

“I have seen her win medals,” Chrístõ said. “I am sure you can expect good results. Especially in this very impressive new building.”

“We were very lucky,” Mr Edwards replied. “An anonymous benefactor’s contribution allowed us to have a much more elaborate design than we first hoped.”

Chrístõ wondered if Mr Edwards thought HE was the benefactor. More than likely, of course, it was Mr Dane, who had already secretly paid for so much of the school’s existing infrastructure. But Mr Edwards was talking now about the state of the art air-conditioning system and the windows.

“We’re very proud of them,” he was saying. “It is imported from Beta Delta One, the innermost planet. The equatorial desert consists of fine dark sand, brown, almost black in places and it makes that beautiful dark, smoked glass.”

“For now we see through a glass, darkly,” said Mrs Edwards, and although Chrístõ noted the quote was only vaguely related to smoked glass, being a quote from the Christian New Testament about the flawed nature of humankind, it did seem appropriate in a way. These windows of a building made by flawed humans on this planet where they had hoped to make a new start and improve on themselves seemed somehow symbolic. Mr Edwards, though, was not one who thought symbolically. Chrístõ listened again to what the Headmaster was saying.

“You notice that the panes of glass appear perfectly translucent from inside, but from without they are opaque. That’s a special polarising property caused by….”

“Yes.” Chrístõ smiled as the Headmaster, clearly a physics teacher before he was promoted, talked about the properties of polarised light fields. His wife and the senior prefects all immediately began to get rather polarised eyes as if they had heard these kind of monologues before. Chrístõ sought for a way to change the subject, but the only thing he could think of was the air conditioning system, and that was because he felt as if it wasn’t working. He had already slipped off his suit jacket but it still felt warmer than strictly comfortable, even for a Gallifreyan with his inbuilt ability to regulate his own body temperature. Looking around he thought a lot of the male party goers in suits and ties felt the same. The girls in their flimsy, floaty, satin and artificial silk dresses were a little better off. He looked up to see that all of the extractor fans in the roof were running at full speed and addressed the question to the Headmaster.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand that at all,” he admitted. “The system is working perfectly but it really IS too warm. We shall have to get that right before the Inter-Schools Competition. Meanwhile, before the dancing starts I’ll have some of the windows opened, and perhaps the fire doors to let some fresh air through.”

There was a short hiatus after the meal was finished in which the tables were cleared away to make more room for dancing. A row of windows about fifteen feet above the floor were opened with long poles while the fire doors at the back and the front entrance were opened wide. Chrístõ and Julia went to the front door with her friends and watched as it started to snow again. Cordell and Michal joined in a snowball fight. Chrístõ watched them idly until they aimed one at him. Quicker than the eye could see he had his sonic screwdriver out of his inside pocket and clicked it onto laser mode. The snowball melted away and evaporated before it touched him.

“NOT when I’m wearing Armani,” he called to them. “Behave.” But he laughed with Julia and her friends and wandered back into the hall as the band started to play.

The early part of the dancing was the more energetic ‘disco’ style that teenagers like. Chrístõ and Julia joined in enthusiastically. Later, the more sedate style of ballroom dancing that Chrístõ really preferred took over and he enjoyed holding Julia in his arms as they moved around the floor. She smiled joyfully and he knew that in her mind’s eye she was that older fiancée that she longed to be and he would be stepping out with her later for a romantic kiss.

“Well, maybe not. But stepping out for a bit of air might not be a bad idea. It STILL feels too warm in here. I think they have a problem with this building. I don’t know what it’s going to be like for gymnastics. I think you’ll be sweating madly.”

“They spent so much money on it, too,” Julia agreed. “Even if we don’t kiss, let’s take a little walk out. We can hold hands, anyway.”

“Yes, we can,” he said and as the soft rock song they were dancing to ended he took her hand and headed towards the entrance.

As he did so he was distracted by a scream that cut through the chatter and the music. He turned to look who was hurting so much and saw a girl in a white voile dress standing near the window. She was holding up her hand and crying as if it was very painful.

Chrístõ was by her side in a moment.

“Let me see,” he said. “I’ve got medical training.” He held her wrist gently and stared at the painful blisters and burns on the palm of her hand. He reached immediately for the sonic screwdriver, remembering that he had almost decided not to bring it. He switched to tissue repair mode and carefully mended the damaged flesh. As he did so he looked around, trying to see what could have burnt her. This was a school gym. Nothing ought to do that. There weren’t even any radiators. Not that a radiator could be hot enough to cause the sort of tissue damage he was mending.

“What did you touch?” he asked. “What was it?”

“The WINDOW,” she answered. “I was just looking at the snow. I put my hand on the window and…”

As her boyfriend put his arms around her to comfort her, Chrístõ looked at the window. How could THAT be hot enough to burn? Of course it would be treated so as to keep the cold out. But at worst it should be no warmer than the room itself. And that was nowhere NEAR as hot as that.

He stepped towards the window, but as he did somebody else screamed. Another girl had backed up against the glass as the crowds gathered to watch what was happening. The skirt of her dress suddenly ignited. Again, Chrístõ was there in a moment. He did the obvious but far from gentlemanly thing. He grasped the back of the dress where the zip was inserted and the seam was weakest and ripped it right off. She was wearing a very thin petticoat underneath and as he stepped on the dress and smothered the flame he pulled off his jacket to put around her.

“Something else is burning,” he said as he looked down at the shrivelled silk fabric and tried not to think of the girl’s injuries if he had been a fraction slower in reaching her. Artificial silk melting onto her flesh would have caused burns even his sonic screwdriver couldn’t mend. But there was a much stronger smell than that. He looked around.

“The curtains,” he yelled as he saw the long mustard yellow curtains nearest to him smouldering. “Get them down, all of them. And… get everyone out of here.” He yanked at the nearest set of curtains. They were firmly fixed, but he pulled hard and eventually they came down. Others, staff members and senior boys, had taken his lead. “Don’t touch the windows,” he shouted. “Everyone else get back from the window. Get out of here. Get out now.”

The headmaster’s wife took the initiative and grabbed a fire extinguisher. She started to douse the fallen heaps of fabric with foam. Chrístõ was too busy pulling down the smouldering curtains to realise that everyone else was NOT evacuating the building. He turned as the last of the curtains was doused in foam and looked at the frightened crowd that backed up against the solid concrete and steel wall behind them. Julia was among them. Carrie and Tina and their boyfriends were with her. She was one of the few girls not crying. Even some of the boys were tearful. Mr Edwards looked close to breakdown. And he gleaned one thing from the hubbub of noise.

The doors were locked.

He looked up and saw that the windows had somehow locked themselves shut, too.


He turned and ran to the front entrance door. It was made of glass, and he approached it gingerly, picking up a discarded scarf and wrapping it around his hand as he reached for the handle.

The scarf burst into flames as soon as he touched it. He pushed it off quickly and the superficial damage to his hands healed quickly as he stamped on the scarf. But the door was shut and locked. He tried to see if the sonic screwdriver would unlock it remotely, but it was worse than a deadlock seal.

It was shut tight.

He checked the emergency exits. They were set into the ordinary concrete and steel girder walls, but they were made of the same smoked glass from Beta Delta I and they, too, were shut tight, even if anyone COULD touch the handles.

He turned back and looked at the crowd of people. There were at least two hundred in all. Nearly all of the staff and students of the school, and they were all terrified. They were all trapped.

“Chrístõ...” Julia ran to his side. He put his arm around her as he considered what to do next. Couples were doing the same throughout the crowd, from the Headmaster and his wife to the students. Younger ones, boys and girls, were clutching hands in a way they would ordinarily have considered sissy and silly.

“Look at the windows,” somebody shouted. “Look….” He looked. Everyone did. There were shadows moving in the panes that had nothing to do with anything reflected from inside or anything moving outside. It was as if there was something moving within the glass itself; something that could pass from one pane to another, morphing its form into strange shapes. For a moment he thought it had formed a humanoid figure, but then it shifted again into an abstract shape like a dark cloud within the glass.

“It’s….” Julia whispered to him. “It’s the Toclate… Toc…”

“Toclafane.” Chrístõ smiled grimly and wished he hadn’t told her that story. But as he looked at the windows he had to admit that it was one explanation. The shadow looked very much like he imagined the Toclafane would look. And it DID seem to be living within the fabric of the glass.

If living was the word?

He doubted it WAS a Toclafane. This was nothing to do with the fairy tales of his childhood. But as he watched the window shadow he wondered if it WAS possible that some lifeform he had never encountered before, an intelligent lifeforrm, was behind everything unusual. It started, he realised, with the hall being so unaccountably warm all evening. Then the glass that was far hotter than the laws of physics said they could possibly be without cracking, and the doors locking themselves. Something did all of that deliberately.


For the moment he couldn’t consider that question. He had to think about the people trapped by these almost certainly linked phenomena. He turned again to look at them all. He saw the headmaster, Mr Edwards. He seemed deflated. Chrístõ could see his thoughts even across the room. He WAS the headmaster. He SHOULD have been the one who had taken the initiative. He was the one who routinely drilled the whole school in fire evacuation. But in the face of a situation where such an evacuation was needed he had frozen. He had not known what to do. He had let Chrístõ assume command. And all he could think of was a fifth year lesson about the laws of Thermodynamics which was utterly useless since those laws were being broken, apparently by the building itself.

“Headmaster,” Chrístõ called out. “Sir, this is YOUR school. You know your staff and students. A roll call, perhaps? Find out who is inside still, who is outside…”

The headmaster cheered right up and began to do what he knew how to do, something of his authority restored. That was Chrístõ’s primary purpose in suggesting it. The secondary one was so that they DID know how many people were trapped. And thirdly, of course, it let everyone take their minds off the problem as they organised into their fire drill lines based on their homeroom groups.

That was the hope. But then a new twist to their situation presented itself. Chrístõ looked back at the window as people began to point at it again. Beyond the twisting shadow he saw activity. Those who had gone out for fresh air, cigarettes, snowballs or romance, were starting to notice that something was wrong. They were staring at the building. Several of them were moving towards it. Chrístõ heard Julia’s gasp as they recognised her two cousins among the curious. It was obvious what they intended to do – press their faces against the window to see if they could see through. But if they touched….

Julia grabbed her mobile phone and dialled Cordell’s number. But she couldn’t get through. There was nothing but static.

That meant that nobody inside could call for help. But that was a minor problem right now.

“Stop!” Chrístõ screamed out, even though he knew it was useless. They could neither see nor hear him even as he ran towards the window, stopping short of touching it.

Everyone shrieked with horror as they saw what happened next. Four people, including Cordell Sommers touched the glass at the same moment. He saw all of them cry out soundlessly as they were somehow ‘sucked’ into the window. They ceased to be three dimensional, solid people and in a matter of seconds had become two dimensional, nearly see through shadows in the glass. They looked like the ‘gels’ from old fashioned animated cartoons, except they were writhing and screaming soundlessly. Even as he watched, helplessly, two more people were sucked in. He noticed that Michal was already trapped. He had been touching his brother’s shoulder and both were pulled in together.

If those trapped in the window were screaming soundlessly, that wasn’t true of those inside the hall, and Chrístõ couldn’t blame them for that. He felt like screaming himself. He was hard pressed to think of anything more horrific. He looked at Cordell. He was sure the boy could see HIM. His terrified eyes were focussed on him, and his lips formed the words, “Chrístõ, help! Please, help!”

“I’ll do my best,” he promised. But first he had to calm everyone else down. He turned from those sad victims to the other victims inside. He raised his voice and twice asked them to calm down.

“Please,” he said when he got enough quiet to be heard. “You can’t help them by falling apart yourselves. Please try to be calm. Headmaster, carry on with your roll call. Let’s try to be organised. Everyone sit down in your groups on the floor. Perhaps…” He looked around by the Christmas tree. There was a table there with a fruit punch fountain still tinkling away. It moved the liquid around through a cooling pipe and poured it out in a pretty fountain effect into the big basin where it could be scooped into glasses. “Some of the seniors organise cold drinks for everyone….”

Again, it was to give them something to do, to keep their minds off the problem. It wasn’t completely successful. The sight of their friends trapped as two dimensional shadows in the window, unnerved everyone. But an uneasy calm came on them, allowing Chrístõ a chance to think.

At least until the emergency services arrived. Again, they watched helplessly as the policeman and a fire officer both approached the window. The policeman held up a placard on which somebody had written in bold marker pen “Stay back from the windows”. Everyone was already doing that at Chrístõ’s orders, but those outside did not know that. Nor did they know about the people trapped in the window. Or if they did, they must have dismissed it as hysterical nonsense. Chrístõ watched in horror, so did those pitiful hostages, who again screamed silently as they saw the fireman raise a huge mallet to smash the glass…

And the next moment the policeman and fireman were trapped in the window, too. Outside the panic was as acute as it was inside.

“Stupid!” Chrístõ shouted, though he knew the ones responsible couldn’t hear him. “Stupid. They could have KILLED everyone who was trapped.” He had briefly thought of smashing the glass himself. There were plenty of chairs and tables he could have thrown against it. But he had a vision so real he was sure it was his latent precognition kicking in; a vision of shattered, bleeding bodies of dead children.

He was not going to let that happen.

“What are you going to do, Chrístõ?” Julia asked as she brought him a glass of the cool fruit punch. He sipped it, finding that he needed it more than he realised.

“I….” He put his arm around her shoulder. That was the only thing he could think of to do right at this moment – hold the girl he loved tightly, as everyone around them was doing. He wasn’t sure if he was comforting her or she was comforting him.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t know what that is or why it’s doing what it’s doing. And I don’t KNOW how to stop it.” He looked at her. She looked at him steadily. He could almost see her thoughts even without trying. She was thinking that it wasn’t true. “I don’t know” was what other people said. Not Chrístõ!

“I believe in you,” she told him. “You’ll think of something.”

Her faith in him felt like a solid, palpable thing when she said that. It reached into his hearts and soul and inspired him. And, he realised, she was not the only one. Her friends who had known before that he could do remarkable things, the two girls he had saved from injury, they all believed in him and they were sharing that belief with their friends. It was spreading around all those trapped inside.

Chrístõ would save them.

He looked at Cordell and Michal, trapped in the glass. The same faith was in their distorted faces. Chrístõ would save them.

And they seemed to be passing on that same faith to the others trapped there.

Yes. Chrístõ would save them.

Even the shadow entity that had caused all this…. Chrístõ looked at it, and he thought, yes, even it seemed to be looking at him, though it didn’t have a face. He felt it was looking hopefully as him, willing him to be able to get them ALL out of the situation it had created.

Was it his imagination? He looked at the shadow that shimmered and changed its shape constantly. Was it intelligent in some way? Did it know what it had done? Did it feel what its hostages were feeling?

He was almost sure it was.

And he knew, now, what he could do.

The first thing he did had nothing to do with saving anyone. It was a purely selfish action. Something he needed to do before he walked into something that might kill him. He reached and pulled Julia close to him and kissed her on the lips the way she dreamt of him kissing her when she was old enough to be kissed that way. He felt her tremble nervously. He was kissing her in front of the whole school, including her cousins, who even trapped and scared as they were made disgusted faces and stuck out their tongues at them.

“Keep your faith, Julia,” he told her. Then he turned and went to the window. He put his hand out and touched it. He used his ability to control his own temperature to keep his hand cool as long as possible, but even so he felt it start to burn. He resisted the urge to scream, even though it hurt a lot.

“Let me in,” he said, out loud and telepathically. “Let me in, and I can help. I promise.” He thought the shadow had changed its shape in response to him. He was more sure than ever that it was intelligent and understood him.

If it didn’t he was going to be a pile of ashes on the floor in about thirty seconds. He felt his hand burning and the blistering heat travelling up his arm.

Then Julia screamed as she saw him sucked into the window. He appeared as a flattened, see through, shadow inside it. Carrie and Tina, and the girl who still wore Chrístõ’s jacket over her underwear ran to her, trying to comfort her. They hugged each other as they watched Chrístõ’s shadow reach out and touch her cousins as if reassuring them, then approach the shadow. It looked as if he was talking to it. It seemed actually to be responding to him. Then they saw him reach and take hold of Cordell’s flattened hand. He in turn took his brother’s hand and the fireman reached to take his. All of the trapped people took hold of each other. Then Chrístõ stepped outside, pulling Cordell after him, then Michal and the fireman, the whole line of hostages. Everyone inside saw them appear outside in the snow, whole and unharmed. They saw Chrístõ bend and pick something up from the ground. It was the placard. He turned and faced the window with it.

Julia and her friends immediately obeyed, pressing back towards the wall with everyone else.

Chrístõ put down the placard and stepped towards the window. He lifted his fully healed hand, holding the sonic screwdriver. He extended the head and pressed it against the glass. With his other hand he shielded his face against what he knew was going to happen in a few moments, and he pressed the button. The sonic screwdriver lived up to its name. It emitted a sonic wave pitched a little higher than the High C that really good operatic sopranos can break a drinking glass with.

The whole glass wall, the entire front of the new gymnasium, every single pane, shattered at once into tiny fragments. Chrístõ stepped back hurriedly, but even so he was showered in pellet-sized pieces of glass that cut his exposed hands and face, embedded themselves in his hair and coated his clothes with what looked like thousands of glittering diamonds, except that he felt the sharpness of them cutting into his flesh. His ears rang from the initial explosive sound and from the crash as thousands of tonnes of glass fell into great piles in front of him.

He saw all of that from beneath his half-covered eyes, but he looked up in time to see the shadow creature rise up from the heaped fragments and fly up towards the roof of the gymnasium. Then he looked at the shocked faces of everyone inside, especially Mr Edwards, who walked towards the ruin of the glass wall he had been so proud of, his lips moving, but no words coming out of his mouth.

“I’ll pay for the repairs,” Chrístõ said to him. “Only, don’t get the replacement panes from Beta Delta I.”

Julia ran forwards, but Chrístõ told her to stay back. He waved to the fire crew and while they came forward with huge shovels to clear a safe path through to the people inside, he shook the glass from his hair and clothes. By the time she was able to run to him he could be certain he wouldn’t cut her to ribbons. For the second time he kissed her in front of the whole school, ignoring the sick noises and gesticulations from her cousins.


“Thank goodness Chrístõ was there,” Marianna said as they related the story over cocoa in the drawing room. Chrístõ had already explained it to the Headmaster, the police chief and the senior fire officer at the scene. He knew he would probably have to explain it again to a lot more people, including the CEOs of the glass company. But for the time being he left them all to it and drove Julia and the boys home to where their parents were fretting after hearing on the local TV that there was a fire at the school. Relieved that everyone was unharmed, they now listened, astounded, to something more terrifying than a mere fire.

“The creature, the entity, lived on Beta Delta I, Chrístõ explained. “It didn’t have a solid, corporeal form. It had existed for millennia as an intelligence without form. It had been happy when the planet was colonised. It was kind of like our Humphrey in that respect. It enjoyed the presence of people. But it strayed too close to the sand collection machines and got scooped up with the raw materials that went into the glass for the school gym. It was hurt. VERY hurt. When it burnt those girls, when it set fire to the curtains, it was showing us how IT had been hurt when the glass was made. And it took the hostages to show how it felt trapped in the window. It was angry, hurt, frightened, frustrated. It wanted… yes, I think you could say it wanted revenge. It’s not quite the right word, but it suffices. It wanted to hurt people the way it had been hurt. But most of all it wanted to be freed from the glass, from its prison. I told it I could do that, but I wouldn’t do it unless it let me free everyone it had taken. Because I couldn’t free it without hurting them. I promised it, and it believed me. It trusted me. And, by the way, that was the most fantastic feeling. An intelligence like that, existing in such a way, actually putting its trust in me. I felt as if I could do ANYTHING. But, anyway, I got everyone out, and then I smashed the glass so it could escape.”

“Smashed!” Cordell laughed. “You TOTALLED the whole wall. It was FANTASTIC! I’ve never seen ANYTHING like it.”

“Brilliant,” Michal agreed.

“Chrístõ, you could have been KILLED,” Marianna told him. She had picked up his discarded clothes after he showered and changed and saw how they had been shredded by the falling glass. Anyone but him would be in hospital now having skin grafts applied to their whole body.

“I had to do it,” he said. “Not only for your sons, for everyone else, and for the entity. It was a victim, too. A victim of… of yet another mistake made when these planets were selected for Human colonisation. Your founding fathers didn’t always recognise what was or wasn’t ‘life’. Your definition of the term is too narrow.”

“What happened to the creature?” Julia asked. “Is it gone?”

“I told Mr. Edwards it was,” Chrístõ answered. “The man was only just hanging onto his sanity. I have a feeling the deputy head will be overseeing the repairs to the gym in time for that inter-school competition. Mr Edwards is going to take some sick leave. But the creature… I SAW it fading into the ceiling of the gym. I think it might still be there. It’s ok now. It’s not trapped. And it can stay there and be near all the people using the building, be near to people like it wanted.”

“Oh!” Julia exclaimed. “But that means… Chrístõ… Then it really IS a Toclafane, after all. It is, isn’t it? It’s a happy spirit in the gym?”

“Yes!” Chrístõ smiled widely. “Yes, it is. It never had a name. I asked. But it was a singular entity, unique. It never needed a name for itself. So yes, it’s a Toclafane. I’ll go with that.”

“Christmas morning,” Herrick said, glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece and seeing that it was after midnight. “A good time for naming something new. But I think…”

“I THINK,” Marion cut in, looking at their Christmas tree and the traditional nativity beside it. “I think we should all give thanks that we’re all safe, together, this night. And then, bedtime, or there will be no presents for anyone in the morning.” She looked meaningfully at her two sons before she reached out and took their hands. Cordell reached his spare hand to his father. He took hold of Julia’s hand, and she linked with Chrístõ. Michal took his other hand as they formed a family ring and Marianna said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving.

Chrístõ only half belonged to that culture that believed in a miracle that happened in a stable that was, in any case, nearly a hundred thousand light years from the Beta Delta system, but he joined in the prayer before he wished his adopted Human family a Happy Christmas.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13, verse 11