He stepped through another doorway and instead of following the wall around he kept on walking across the floor in a straight line towards the place where, if this room was the same as all the others, another doorway should be.

And maybe there was one. But there was a hole in the middle of the floor that he fell through first.

Again he didn’t die. He didn’t suffer any bone-crunching injuries. He picked himself up from the floor and looked around.

He was in the control room where the APC Net had its only physical existence. The computer banks took up real, three dimensional space here. But all they did was provide the infinite combinations of binary code that created the Matrix. They weren’t the Matrix itself.

“Why have I come out of the Matrix?” he asked himself. “What went wrong?”

“You haven’t come out of it,” replied a voice. He turned to see a man sitting in a chair in front of a huge video screen. Kristoph noted that the image on the screen showed the Panopticon, with the High Council in session, waiting patiently while he was in the induced trance that allowed him to access the APC Net. He could see himself sitting on the Seat of Rassilon with the coronet on his head. He noted that, even in a trance he was sitting upright, with his head erect and shoulders squared. He wasn’t slumped in an ungainly way.

“Vanity ill becomes a Son of Rassilon,” said the man.

“Loss of dignity ill becomes a Lord High President of Gallifrey,” Kristoph responded. Then he squared his shoulders before bowing respectfully to the man who he recognised as his own ancestor, the first Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow who had served as President in his own time. “My Lord. I am honoured to be in your presence.”

“And I in yours, Chrístõ Mian. And to return to your question, you haven’t come out of the Matrix. You are still within it. This is a simulation of the APC Net control room.”

“Why?” Kristoph asked. “Or is there any point in asking that question. Do you know what I’ve had to put up with so far? A completely pointless walk across the desert, quicksand, wandering around in the dark….”

“All tests of your resolve. I must say you slightly disappointed me with the last test. If you had taken the leap of faith the first time you crossed the room you would have wasted less time.”

“I’m a CIA man. We don’t go blindly into any situation. That’s the way to get killed ignominiously.”

“You have not officially been a CIA man for over a thousand years, Chrístõ Mian.”

“Nevertheless, those instincts remain with me. The instinct to survive, to complete my task. If I am presented with tests that I can only pass by going against those instincts, then I will fail every time.”

“You stand by that position? Knowing that your training in one narrow field prevents you from thinking any other way, even though the flaws in that perception have been pointed out to you?”

“I do. I am what I am. You cannot ask me to be anything else. I know of your own deeds, my Lord. Nobody would sway you from a path once chosen. Not even Lord Rassilon himself. Don’t expect me, your descendent, with your blood in my veins, to be any different. Now… can I assume that I have passed all the tests set to prove my worth. Can we now move on to the vital issue at hand. IS there a traitor in the High Council of Gallifrey?”

“There are ripples in the Matrix,” Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow answered him.

“Ripples?” Kristoph was slightly irritated. “My Lord, you and I are of the House of de Lœngbærrow. We speak plain. We deal with realities. I do not expect riddles from your lips.”

“Ripples of possibility… from the uncertain and unwritten future,” de Lœngbærrow added. “If the traitor is not found and dealt with he will set events in motion that will be disastrous to our world, and to countless other worlds. These ripples are coming back in time from that future…”


“No, it is not certain. The future is not yet immutable and inevitable. You may still act to prevent these things from happening.”

“I cannot without the information I came into the Matrix to find. So, again, let’s dispense with riddles and deal in hard facts. Who is the traitor among the most senior men and women in the High Council?”

“Do you expect the answer to be handed to you on a plate? Do you expect it to be that easy?”

“It would make a refreshing change,” Kristoph responded. “Yes, just for once, make things easy. Tell me who this &%$£@# is who imperils the future of our world.

“I cannot,” his ancestor replied. “Because I don’t know. I am of the past, as is every mind contained within the Matrix. What we know of the future comes only in the form of these ripples and fluxes reverberating back.”

“So what was the point of me going through all of this?” Kristoph asked. This time he really was irritated. “I am sorry, my Lord. I do not wish to sound… ungrateful… but this is a waste of time unless I come out of this with something concrete with which to confront the traitor.”

“You entered the Matrix in order to join your mind with those of us already linked to it. Through that joining you, too, will see those ripples. Then you will know. Come.”

Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow turned and walked towards the door. Kristoph followed him, hoping they weren’t going to play any more mind games.

Beyond the door was the base of a narrow, winding staircase. Kristoph followed his ancestor up the stairs and through another door. He was only slightly surprised to find himself stepping out into the Panopticon. But it wasn’t the Panopticon as he knew it in his lifetime when it resembled an elegant concert hall. This, if his history was correct, was how it had looked in the first Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow’s time. It had a floor of black marble with the seal of Rassilon etched in gold. The high ceiling matched it, while all around the circular room the tiers of seats where the High Councillors and Councillors sat were matt black that made it impossible to guess how many tiers there were or how high they went. Dimensions were sucked into the blackness.

Every tier was full. There were Time Lords in formal regalia on every level. Their costumes were not identical. They represented millennia of changing fashions. Some were less elaborate than others. Some had more gold, more embroidery. Some shimmered with the silver threads woven into the fabric.

These were the generations of Time Lords whose minds were kept in the APC Net.

A group of them moved forward and stood in a ring around the Seal of Rassilon. Kristoph’s noble ancestor urged him forward and the two of them took their places within the ring as the Time Lords began to chant in unison.

Kristoph felt as if he was intoxicated. The room span around him in one direction and the space within the ring span in another. And within that strange vortex he saw a series of images. They were the ripples from the future that his ancestor had told him about. Some were in the very near future, others were distant. The distant ripples were distorted by the nearer ones. Kristoph knew what it meant. Those events still hundreds, thousands of years away depended on him putting a stop to what was going to happen very soon. And it was vital that he should do so.

Extremely vital.

He gasped as he looked around at the Panopticon. It was the current one, again – the one that looked like a concert hall. And it was now. He was standing in the Panopticon watching himself still sitting on the Dais under the influence of the Coronet of Rassilon.

“I’m still in the APC Net,” he told himself. “This is another image.”

Somebody moved. One of the High Councillors stood up and stepped towards him. Kristoph looked at him with undisguised disgust.

“You… I considered you a friend and ally. You have been a guest at my table. My wife and I have entertained you in our home. And you… You… You tampered with the Coronet. That’s why Lord Stillh?ven collapsed. It wasn’t natural, after all. It was attempted murder. Why?”

“Because I should have been nominated. If he died without naming an heir, I could have put myself forward as the longest-serving High Councillor… do you have any idea how long I have been a member of this government? How many years…”

“You would have murdered that good man. But he was stronger than you expected. He survived and named me. You were getting ready to murder me. Your plan was… It doesn’t matter. It won’t happen. It’s over.”

Kristoph moved fast. He brought his hand up from his side holding the small dagger that had hung there since he entered the Matrix in this costume. He stabbed once under the left heart and then again under the right - two small incisions that severed the inferior vena cava. Very little blood came out of the wound. It pooled within the chest cavity as the surprised man stepped back once and then collapsed.

When you die in the Matrix, you die in reality, too.

Kristoph opened his eyes and found himself sitting on the Seat of Rassilon. He lifted the Coronet of Rassilon from his head. A Presidential Guard took it from his hands. Usually that would be the role of Gold Usher. But he was lying on the floor. The Chief Surgeon was bending over him. The Chancellor and Premier Cardinal were hovering nervously.

“He was the traitor?” The Chancellor asked. “Gold Usher….”

“I’ll make a full deposition later,” Kristoph answered. “Right now… I am weary. I need to rest in my chambers.”

“Prolonged exposure to the Matrix causes protein depletion. I will have food brought to you, Lord President,” said the Premier Cardinal, beckoning to two Guards to escort him.

“One more thing,” Kristoph said quietly. “The Keeper of Keys must have been complicit in this. It is the only way a Time Lord other than the inaugurated President can enter the Matrix. Have him taken into custody.”

That was done while Kristoph went to his chamber. He was not exaggerating his weariness. It had only been three hours since he entered the Matrix, but he ached as if he had been trekking across the Red Desert for days. He was glad to lie down in the cool, quiet chamber.

He didn’t sleep. He had far too much to think about. Not just the betrayal that he had exposed, not just the quick justice he had dealt to the guilty party.

He was also thinking about those ripples in the future timeline. What he had seen was fading from his memory. It was probably meant to do so. It was dangerous to know too much about the future. But he knew one thing for certain.

Gold Usher had been preparing to assassinate him. And if that had happened now, before his son was conceived, then it would have been disastrous for Gallifrey, because in that far future, his son and heir was going to be vital to the continued existence of the Time Lord race.

Kristoph sighed deeply. He let go of the thought. He actually let it fade along with the memory of those ripples. Some things were best not dwelt upon.

Marion was in her white drawing room when he got home. She smiled warmly and began to tell him about her day spent laying the foundation stone of the first of her free libraries. Then she saw the strain in his eyes and stopped.

“What is it?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Gold Usher died this afternoon,” he answered. “Very suddenly, in the Panopticon, during the Session.”

“Oh!” Marion gasped in shock. “Oh, how terrible. I am so sorry. The funeral…”

“The day after tomorrow at his family estate. There will be an official period of mourning, of course. Some of the dinner parties on your calendar will be rescheduled. But I don’t think your library projects will be unduly affected and if things feel too subdued around here you can always spend some time on Ventura with Rika.”

He had made his full deposition. It was sealed in the vaults of the Panopticon. The contents were known to a very few men. Even many of those who witnessed the sudden death of Gold Usher believed the official story that he suffered a sudden and untreatable embolism and died instantly. It served nobody for the truth to be public knowledge. The Keeper of Keys would be tried quietly for unspecified ‘irregularities’ and an appropriate sentence served upon him. The matter was closed.

“Now… tell me all about your day over dinner,” he told Marion with a warm smile and a tender kiss that he had longed to give her since the moment the official car turned down the drive this morning.