“I… I have so rarely spoken of it. Most of the visitors I see know the story well enough. They have no need to ask. But if you would permit it…” He looked up at the small cottage window. The light from outside had dimmed. “I was right. There is a storm coming. We might as well have a tale to tell by the fireside that will last it out.”

“This is no fairy story,” Kristoph warned. “Marion… do you really wish to hear this?”

“I think it’s probably too late now,” she reaplied. “I may as well hear the whole thing.”

“It was, as you realise, when I was a young, recently graduated and zealous young Time Lord,” Kristoph said. “And like so many of my age, I joined the militia and prepared to go to war.”

“I was not so young,” Destri added, taking up the story. “I was eight hundred years old. I was Minister for Foreign Culture in our High Council. And I ought to have known better. But zeal was not something exclusive to our youth. I had ideas about preserving our world’s pacifist reputation. When I heard that we were going to war, that thousands of our young people were having their heads filled with patriotic fervour to go and fight for Gallifrey I was angry and disappointed. I argued for appeasement in the Panopticon, but the mood was against me.”

“Mood? There was more to the decision to go to war than a mood. Nobody took the vote lightly. The Sarre were hell bent on invading the Kasterborus sector. They wanted our power over time. They would have destroyed our planet and every other planet in their way to get it.” Kristoph spoke more bitterly about that than Marion had ever heard him speak before. “We may have been young and idealistic, but we at least knew who the enemy was. Or at least we thought we did. Unfortunately we didn’t recognise it in our own government until it was too late.”

There was a lot of bitterness there, Marion realised. She wondered how it was that Kristoph was able to be kind to Destri with such history between them.

“What did you do?” Marion asked him. “When the vote was taken to go to war?”

“At first, I did nothing. I watched the ships leave…. The people cheering, waving off their loved ones. I watched my own sister and her lover making promises to each other before they said their goodbyes. It was… for them, as much as for my own pride… that I wanted to stop the war. I didn’t want to see her mourning when he was reported dead on a planet light years from our home. I thought it was still possible to stop the hostilities.”

Kristoph said nothing. Marion looked at him carefully, but his expression was inscrutable. She stood up from the sofa and went to his side. He reached out and took her hand. He drew her down on his knee. Having her close to him seemed a comfort as he let himself remember events he had taken care to forget for as long as possible.

“The ships left Gallifrey,” Destri continued. “It would take weeks, even using hyperspace to reach Sarre. But the plan was laid in secret. They were using stealth technology. Our ships would be in position, our troops ready to attack without the Sarre even knowing they were there. It was… it seemed to me… wrong. The Sarre HAD made aggressive overtures…”

“It was more than that. They had already taken three systems by force,” Kristoph argued. “Overtures, indeed.”

“But there was no overt threat to Gallifrey. Only intelligence reports that said Kasterborus was the eventual target of the Sarre offensive.”

“Overwhelming evidence,” Kristoph argued. Marion understood. There were two very different views of what had happened. It was like the Gulf war that was going on when she was still a student on Earth. In the west, the troops were going to liberate Kuwait from invasion. In the Arab world western interests in the oil reserves of the Gulf were driving the war mongers.

“However the words are twisted, there is no doubt that Gallifrey was ready to attack an unsuspecting planet. We would be the aggressors. We would be declaring war on the civilian population of Sarre…”

“Sarre doesn’t have a civilian population,” Kristoph argued. “Every adult is a reservist in the army. Children are raised in mass nurseries and go on to the military academies. They learn to be soldiers.”

“Nevertheless, for Gallifrey to draw first blood in such a way was shameful. We have the right to defend ourselves, but not to declare war on a people who had not, at that time, caused us any harm.”

“You mean…” Marion frowned. She knew something of this Sarre offensive from Gallfreyan history books and sometimes from talk at dinner. Some of their friends were old soldiers who remembered those events and now and again thoughts turned on the past. But she had never really heard anyone talk about it like this before. “Kristoph… it was… like… Pearl Harbour? You… the Gallifreyan army… you attacked without warning.”

“Pearl Harbour?” Destri didn’t understand the reference. Kristoph did.

“Yes,” he admitted. “Yes, exactly like that. But remember, Marion, even Pearl Harbour was not as clear cut as most people think. That attack was not as unexpected as it appears. The US government knew that Japan was on the verge of declaring war. And something very similar was happening when we travelled to Sarre.”

“I always thought of it as…. a bit like the British taskforce going to the Falklands,” Marion said. “I mean… the Argentineans knew they were coming all the time. It wasn’t a sudden attack. I… I’m sorry, Kristoph. But I think I do understand what Destri means. For Gallifrey to launch a… a….” She searched her mind for the word that described that kind of military offensive. She was a literature teacher, after all, not a tactician. “A… pre-emptive strike. It does seem like a… a dirty trick… And not at all what I would expect of Gallifrey. I thought you were a peaceful people.”

“Marion…” Kristoph held her tightly as he sought for words to explain to her what he felt about those events so long ago.

“Marion,” Destri said. “Your husband was not to blame for anything that happened. He was not a commander. He was not the High Council. He was merely a young junior officer following orders. I do not think he needs to justify himself.”

“I do not seek to justify myself,” Kristoph replied. “Nor do I think I need to justify those whose orders I followed. It was not a pre-emptive strike. The opportunity for diplomacy – if there ever was one – had long ago passed. The Sarre Gyrewarriors were already swarming over twelve inhabited planets and outposts were being established. They were building a solid front from which to launch their conquest of the Kasterborus sector. True they had not yet drawn Gallifreyan blood. But their intentions were clear. Our response… we did not have the means to build any kind of defensive front. We WERE and ARE a peaceful people. Even when we had a standing army and a battle fleet it was never huge. Our best chance of stopping the Sarre was to attack their home planet.”

Destri shook his head.

“This is what I could not contemplate. Gallifrey declaring war. But nobody would listen to me. So I did a desperate thing. After the fleet set out… I took a TARDIS. My flight plan when I passed the Transduction Barrier was an innocent one… a diplomatic trip to Ligyatta. But as soon as I was clear of detection I set a new course… to Sarre.”

Destri didn’t say this with any sense of triumph. He took no pride in having deceived his own government.

“I was arrested as soon as I set foot on the planet, of course. I was taken to their top security prison. There, I demanded to speak to the military leaders. I told them I had important information. They took me out of the prison… brought me to the Presidential palace instead. They treated me well… at first. And I told them everything I thought they should know… about the fleet that was on the way.”

“Why?” Marion asked. “That I really don’t understand.”

“To even the odds,” he answered. “And… perhaps… to make our action less shameful.”

“The Argentineans knew the British were coming,” Kristoph said, reminding her of the Human comparisons. “The Americans at Pearl Harbour didn’t. If they had been forewarned, it might have been a different story. They would have made a fight of it. The ultimate outcome would perhaps be the same… in so far as it precipitated American involvement in the world conflict. But the events of the day would be different. And so it was with us. We lost the element of surprise. Instead of dealing a short, sharp shock to the Sarre homeworld we were met with a force equal to, if not greater than our own. We had to dig in for a long battle. We suffered huge losses. Men killed, wounded, thousands taken prisoner. And… it is well known what happened to those prisoners. Tortures beyond belief… cruelties that could in no way be justified as any part of war…”

“That… was when I knew I was wrong,” Destri admitted. “The Sarre… made me a prisoner, too. But… they did so by keeping me in a luxurious chamber in the palace… surrounded by guards. I had no chance of escaping, even if there was anywhere I could go. I was given the best food. I was treated as if I was a guest… and every day… every day for twenty long years… I was taken to the hidden compound where the Gallifreyan prisoners were. I was made to watch the tortures... And… the prisoners saw me watching. They knew who I was. They knew I was a traitor. Those with the strength to speak called me names… Names that I fully deserved. They told me what would be done to me when they were liberated. Some of them… I think they kept themselves alive in hope of having a chance to tear me apart with their bare hands…”

“I didn’t.” Kristoph said quietly. I didn’t care about revenge. I kept myself alive thinking about the girl waiting for me on Gallifrey. When they were torturing me, when it would have been easier to give up and die… and feel no more pain… I kept thinking of Lily. Revenge… even on the one man responsible for our plight… wouldn’t have been enough. As it was… by the time liberation came… I was as close to death as I ever came. I was in a coma… I knew nothing about it until long after when I was back on Gallifrey…”

“I was relieved when the liberation came,” Destri said. “I knew what would happen to me. I knew I would be arrested. I expected to be killed. The anger of the men… the survivors and those who came to rescue them… when they learnt what I had done… One man stopped them from killing me. Lee Koschei Oakdaene, the Celestial Intervention Agency’s newly appointed director, convinced them that I should be brought back to Gallifrey to stand trial. That isn’t to say I went unscathed. He… knew some things about torture himself…. mental and physical. And he made me suffer every day of the journey. While the liberated men received medical attention and tender care to recover from their ordeal, mine was only just beginning. When we reached Gallifrey… I was kept in a dungeon below the Citadel… in solitary confinement. And again I was beaten and subjected to mental horrors…”

Marion had taken a few moments to remember that Lee Koschei Oakdaene was, in fact, her dear friend, Mai Li Tuo before he became an exile and a Renegade for his own reasons. She was a little shocked that Li would torture a man like that.

“You had confessed?” she asked. “You weren’t being tortured to get information…”

“I had confessed everything. I was too ashamed of myself by then. I had seen what my information had done. When I went to the Sarre I had hoped they would negotiate peace knowing that we were prepared to fight. When I knew that wouldn’t happen I at least satisfied myself that it would be an honourable war on both sides. But then I discovered that the Sarre didn’t know the meaning of honour… and I was ashamed. I confessed everything.”

“But that meant there was no need for the tortures,” Marion said, looking at Kristoph. “Li hurt him every day… out of vengeance?”

“Out of vengeance, disgust. He did it for me, for the ones driven mad, the ones who would yet die of their wounds, the ones who had already died. Yes, it was unnecessary in the strictest sense. But… twenty years we were kept prisoners, tortured repeatedly. He endured a few months. And as cruel as some of Li’s methods were, they were nothing to what was inflicted on us. Again, I wasn’t there… I was still recovering from my injuries. But I have been told about the trial. He was able to stand up in the dock. Many of the witnesses couldn’t. I am not sorry if Li was over-zealous in that respect.”

“And yet, it was the same man, Lee Koschei Oakdaene, who spoke against the death penalty. I have often wondered… at the time I thought he meant to be merciful. But after the first ten years of my exile here… there was a long, black period when I thought I would go mad, and I considered killing myself. And then I thought Oakdaene meant for me to suffer. Atomisation is said to be painful for twenty seconds. After that it is over. Shada… the cryogenic prison… the death of millennia… again they say that the prisoners are aware at some subconscious level of the passage of time. But that cannot compare with being here day after day, conscious of my existence, tortured by the memory of my terrible crime… and the people who suffered because of it, knowing I will die here, but not for another millennia or more. Yes, I think Oakdaene knew this was the harshest penalty that could ever be inflicted upon me.”

“If so, it is no more than you deserve, Destri. No matter how you felt about the war… even if there was reason to question our tactics… to go to the enemy and deliver us up in that way… That’s why I can never forgive you, Destri. I bear you no grudge. I do not object to coming here to see you. I have found the time pleasurable on other occasions when we have talked of less troublesome subjects. I admit that you have shown proper remorse for what you did. You have never sought to escape your prison. You accept that this is your just deserts for your action. And that at least earns my respect. But that is as much as you will ever have from me. My wife… is a gentle soul. She has some sympathy for you. As I rather suspected she would. Even after hearing that sordid story, she still has that sympathy. And I am not going to dissuade her from that. But do not think to take advantage in any way.”

“What advantage could I take? Except the comfort of looking at a beautiful face which looks back at me with kindness. It is too long since I have known that pleasure.”

“Does… your sister never visit you?” Marion asked. She realised at once that it was the wrong question to ask. But it was too late.

“I am dead to her. She… sleeps in my mind. I am comforted to know that she is alive and well… I always ask my visitors for that much news, at least. But I cannot hope to set eyes on her again. And if I did, she would not raise her head to look at me in return. She certainly would not look at me with such empathy.”

“I am sorry,” Marion told him. “I truly am.”

“Thank you. But… the storm is passing. It is time… well past time… for you to leave. These visits… my respite from solitude… are never meant to be for long. May I hope to see you again, dear Lady? Hope is not something I am supposed to have. That is a part of my punishment. But may I…”

“I am not longer a Magister,” Kristoph reminded him. “It is no longer my duty to visit you. There is no reason for us to come again.”

“Ah,” Destri looked sorry for that. “I… shall miss your visits, Lord de Lœngbærrow. You are the most considerate of all my visitors. You make a pretence that it is a social call, at least, though we both know it is not. I shall miss that. But… if it be so… let me say goodbye and thank you.”

Kristoph stood and reached out his hand to Destri. He seemed surprised by that, and very grateful, Marion thought. She reached out to shake his hand, too, and she thought if he was Human he might have burst into tears. He watched from the door of his cottage as his two visitors made their way back to the shuttle.

“I really don’t like the look of that sky,” Kristoph said as he started the engine. “Those clouds are charged with electricity still. Flying a glorified tin can over open water in a lightning storm is not something I would choose to do.”

“It’s not safe?”

“It’s not pleasant,” Kristoph answered. “But we can’t stay here any longer. It isn’t fair on him. You would think these visits are a respite for him. But I actually think they’re a part of the torture half of the time. A reminder of the world he has been cut off from.”

“I don’t think so,” Marion replied to him. “I think it does help. And… did you mean what you said… about not coming again? It did seem as if your visits are the ones he values most. And… I’d like to see him again. Yes, I sympathise with him. And… I would like to come again.”

“There are a lot of reasons why it isn’t a good idea,” Kristoph told her. “Some of them I couldn’t begin to explain to you. They’re just too difficult… too painful. And they would change the way you think about people you care about. It would be better…”

His words were cut off as the shuttle approached the shield. He pressed the button to open the gap, but something must have gone wrong. The electrical storm in the air interfered with the transmission of the signal or some such thing. The gap opened only for a moment. It closed again before the shuttle passed through. Kristoph tried to stop the craft but it was too late. It hit the fully operational shield and dropped like a stone. Marion screamed as the shuttle crashed into the water and began to sink. She struggled with her seatbelt and reached over to Kristoph. To her horror he was already unconscious. He couldn’t help her.

And the water was coming in fast.