Kristoph tipped the Vulpesi steward and accepted the biometric key from him. The steward bowed his head respectfully before leaving them to enjoy the facilities of their custom designed suite.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

Marion smiled widely and sat down on the cushioned sun lounger under an umbrella on a perfect replica of the beach at Nice. She looked at the gently lapping azure sea. She knew part of it at least was real. She could bathe in it, and it would be like warm, Mediterranean seawater. But there was a bit of optical illusion involved, too. The promenade behind the beach was also an illusion. So was the view beyond that of the hotel where, in the real Nice, they had stayed on several pleasant weekends, both in the twentieth century and the nineteenth.

“It’s peaceful,” she answered. “I’ve always loved Nice, but it’s always so very busy. This is like our own little Nice without the crowds.”

“And no purple sand!” Kristoph noted. “I’m surprised they didn’t manage to get a little hint of puce in somewhere. The Vulpesi always seem to think a room is incomplete without some shade of purple in it. But I did specify that this was a piece of the Côte d’Azur”

“We’re lucky it didn’t have an all-blue theme, then,” Marion noted. “It would still be lovely if it was.”

Kristoph went to a concealed changing room and emerged divested of his usual black robe and gown and wearing instead a multicoloured loose shirt and a pair of cotton shorts. He went to the juice bar and prepared two long, cool drinks with layered colours of fruit juices and umbrellas on top. Marion accepted one of them gratefully while he sat on the matching lounger and enjoyed his drink.

“Perfect way to spend the journey,” he said. “In our own little beach paradise.”

“Well, there is a diplomatic banquet and ball later,” Marion reminded him. “But a whole afternoon of this will nicely set me up for the evening.”

“Me, too,” Kristoph told her. He reached into the pocket of his shirt and found his sonic screwdriver. He casually used it to scan the room.

“What are you doing?” Marion asked him.

“Making sure all of the transmat portals are deadlock sealed,” he answered. “We don’t want any staff accidentally coming in here. This luxurious ship of the diplomatic corps is strangely lax about security at times. And I was hoping to persuade you to slip out of that dress and swim with me. I know you won’t do that if there’s any danger of a Vulpesi in a toga turning up out of the blue and introducing himself as the entertainment manager.”

Marion laughed as she remembered the first time she had travelled on the SS Isle of Capri and been embarrassed by mistaken intrusions. Then she did as Kristoph suggested, as she had been longing to do. She slipped out of the summery dress and shoes she was wearing. She hesitated a few moments before taking off her underwear as well. In her luggage were several nice bathing suits, but she didn’t need them right now. It was just her and Kristoph, who was already divesting himself of his own clothes before taking her hand as they ran down the counterfeit beach to the equally counterfeit sea.

It was everything they had expected. Warm salt water, clean and clear. They had a brisk, invigorating swim first, then Marion let herself float on top of the water, looking up at the cloudless sky and letting UV ray free, perfectly safe, fake sunshine warm her body.

Kristoph swam underwater for a while, Marion almost forgot he was there until he broke the surface beside her and claimed a kiss before taking her down under the water with him. She held her breath and kept her eyes closed, but the feeling was sensational.

Of course, she couldn’t hold her breath for long. They returned to the surface after a while. Marion took a deep breath and laughed joyfully before Kristoph silenced her with another kiss.

“I should teach you scuba diving some time,” he said. “Then you could experience what it’s like to be underwater for more than a minute at a time.”

“Even after all these years I learn something new about you every day, Kristoph,” Marion told him. “I didn’t know you could scuba dive.”

“We are trained in many things in the Celestial Intervention Agency,” he explained. “I never actually had to do an underwater assassination, I hasten to add. But I was trained for the possibility.”

He made light of it that way, and Marion laughed, but clearly his thoughts about his old profession were still ones he preferred to keep to himself.

“I think I’d like to do that with you one day,” she said. “But not today. It sounds far too energetic. I’m feeling quite lazy today. I just want to bathe for a while, then lie on the lounger with another of those nice cool drinks and maybe drift off to sleep for a while.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” Kristoph said to her. “Although if you’re not too sleepy yet, there’s a nice big beach towel on the soft warn sand… And may I say, Lady de Lœngbærrow, that you look absolutely beautiful when your hair is wet.”

Marion laughed and let him lift her in his arms and carry her to that beach towel. She remembered their second ‘date’ when she went to lunch at his house in Harrogate and was caught in a rainstorm. She wondered if he was thinking of that, too,

“Yes,” he whispered as he kissed her lips and caressed her body slowly and tenderly. “Yes, I was remembering. I was remembering how much I was already falling in love with you then. I had some quite impure thoughts about you when you were bathing. But even if I had forgotten myself, forgotten the dignity of my race, I would have lost you that day if I had let myself be ruled by my passions. And I certainly didn’t want that.”

“I thought you were a perfect gentleman,” she answered. “And you are. But… now you’re my husband… my Lord… and you can do as you wish with me.”

He covered her body with his own as she willingly surrendered to his passions. Two hours passed swiftly and happily for them both before they showered and Marion dressed in one of her bathing suits and a sarong and settled on the sunlounger with a book and another long, cool fruit drink.

Kristoph dressed in a grey flannel suit. Marion wasn’t entirely surprised. This was not a pleasure trip, despite the choice of customised suite or their activities in the first few hours of the journey. He was one of eighty delegates to an important conference in two days time when they arrived at the Betan Nexus system. He needed to talk to people before then.

“I won’t be long,” he promised her. “I’m just going up to the observation lounge to have a quiet word with one of the diplomatic secretaries from the Gallifreyan contingent. I’ll be an hour at the most, then I’ll come back and enjoy another of those drinks and relax with you.”

“I might be asleep when you get back,” Marion answered. “I’m very comfortable here.”

“Then I’ll just enjoy one of those drinks and relax by myself,” Kristoph countered. He kissed her fondly and then turned away. He would have preferred to stay with her, But he had his duties to Gallifrey. He stepped across their private beach to the door, glad that the artificial sand reacted to the low-level static field at the threshold and slid off his polished leather shoes before he stepped out into the corridor and onto the moving anti-gravity floor.

A few easy minutes later he reached the observation deck of the SS Isle of Capri. He smiled to see the way it was designed. He always wondered whose idea it was to make it resemble the top of the Eiffel Tower. He glanced through the exo-glass window at the apparently unmoving starfield that they were travelling through at sub-light speed. He turned from the view to glance quickly around the deck and then headed for the ornamental stairs to the bar. He ordered a measure of Islay single malt, imported from planet Earth and took it to a quiet table by the window.

He was joined very shortly by a young man dressed in the robe of a Gallifreyan diplomatic corps secretary, black with silver embroidered Seal of Rassilon designs on each shoulder.

“Thank you for meeting with me, sir,” he said.

“No problem,” Kristoph answered. “You look very young for a Celestial Intervention Agency assassin,” he added telepathically.

“I’m 233,” the young man replied.

“As I said, young.”

“You were only a little older than me when you were known as The Executioner, the CIA’s best operative.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’ve read your file, sir. When they told me to rendezvous with you. I read about…”

“The legend.”


“There’s a reason why such things are called legends. I am not the Executioner any more. I gave that up twice. The second time I meant it. I won’t do anything I would be ashamed to tell my wife about.”

“You don’t have to do anything, sir, except identify the man I’m here for. You’re the only one who can.”

“It’s been a hundred and seventy years,” Kristoph replied. “He may have changed a little. But if he’s here, I’ll know him.” Kristoph paused and looked at the young man. He remembered that he really had been that young looking once. And yes, he had served his government and his world by killing other men.

And he had never been ashamed of that. He had never regretted any of his actions except that one time that he tried not to think of any more often than he needed to.

But if this was his own son sitting before him now, he wasn’t sure what he would think.

“What’s your name?” he asked. “Your real name, I mean. Not your cover name.”

“Ghabban Ussian,” he replied.

“Ah.” Kristoph nodded. “I… knew your father. I trained alongside him when I joined the Agency.”

“He was killed,” Ghabban said. “When I was young. In the line of duty.”

“Yes, I know,” Kristoph recalled the incident. He had left the Agency by then, but he heard the news all the same. He knew exactly how Ghabban’s father had been killed.

He wondered if Ghabban did?

“Yes, sir, I do,” he said very quietly, in spoken words.

“You’re weren’t meant to see that thought,” Kristoph answered telepathically. “They’re training you all very well these days. Or I really need to practice building mental walls. I must be getting lax in my retirement.”

“We are well trained,” Ghabban answered.

“In Emotional Detachment, too,” Kristoph noted. “You are here to assassinate your father’s killer, and you are treating it just like a routine job.”

“I serve Gallifrey,” Ghabban said. “Any personal agenda… This is an assassination of an individual whose actions threaten the safety and security of the Kasterborus sector, not a revenge murder.”

“Good answer,” Kristoph told him. “Whether it is true or not.”

They talked for a few minutes about the impending conference, the same conversation most of the delegates relaxing in the observation deck lounge were having. Kristoph kept on talking out loud about his hopes for a satisfactory trade deal that would benefit the people of a solar system that was struggling economically while, telepathically, he pointed out to Ghabban a man who had just walked up to the bar.

“You’re certain?” Ghabban asked. He didn’t look around. He could see Kristoph’s view of the bar telepathically. He saw the tall, stringy looking man with a leathery, aged face. Kristoph knew him despite the years that had passed. He exercised the same restraint he had admired in young Ghabban Ussian. He didn’t let his mind dwell on the friends and comrades he had lost all those years ago because of the treachery of this man. Nor did he feel any guilt about what was about to happen. It was something that had to be done.

He sipped his single malt and looked out of the window while the young assassin rose from his seat and approached the bar as if he was buying new drinks. He didn’t see Ghabban accidentally brush the hand of the target. He did look around when the target gasped loudly and fell to the floor, exhibiting all the classic signs of a sudden heart attack. Everyone was looking at that point. Ghabban knelt beside him and did all the things anyone would do to attempt to save the life of a heart attack victim. When the paramedics reached the scene they pronounced death and praised Ghabban for his efforts.

Nobody saw the two Time Lords leave the lounge.

“Micro needle inserted under your fingernail?” Kristoph asked telepathically.

“Yes. He wouldn’t even have felt it. But the drug sent his heart into arrhythmia and then dissipated in the bloodstream. There will be no trace even if the most thorough autopsy is carried out.”

“I always favoured a gun or a sword,” Kristoph said. “A clean, honourable kill. But there are times when more subtle methods…”

“An overt assassination would disrupt the conference.”

“Indeed,” Kristoph agreed, “Tonight at the formal ball, my wife and I will observe a minute’s silence in respect of the delegate who unfortunately passed away of natural causes. When the conference begins I will support the note of condolence to his family. And we shall continue to forge this trade deal that will be beneficial to all.”

“Of course, sir.”

“You did well,” Kristoph added. “May Rassilon always guide your hand. I shall, no doubt, see you with the other diplomatic secretaries over the next days. But it goes without saying….”

It went without saying. Kristoph nodded to the young assassin as they parted company and then he headed back to his suite. He was pleased to see that Marion was still awake after all, enjoying her fruit drink and a book. The English literature teacher in him noted that it was a novel called Riddle of the Sands, known by anyone who knew about such things, as the first ‘spy novel’ in the English language. The irony was not lost on the former Executioner, one of Gallifrey’s greatest spies.

“I’m sorry I took longer than planned,” he said as he leaned over to kiss her before going to make himself a cold fruit drink. “There was an unexpected crisis in the observation lounge. The delegate from Mallpa Gassia collapsed and died from heart failure.”

“Oh!” Marion was shocked by the news and expressed her sorrow that such a thing could happen. She asked if the man was old.

“For his species, he was quite old,” Kristoph said. She nodded and said it was sad, all the same. He told her not to dwell upon it and kissed her again. He didn’t feel any guilt about not telling her the full truth. Although their marriage was based on mutual trust and they kept no personal secrets from each other, she knew perfectly well that there were things he couldn’t tell her about his service to Gallifrey, whether it was his old work as an assassin or his diplomatic or magisterial duties. Marion understood that necessity.

“Would you like to lay another beach towel on the sand?” she asked him with a smile that she reserved only for when they were alone.

“I think that is a very tempting idea,” he replied. “Let me take off this suit, first.”