The planet of X’Hazzick Major was on the outer edge of the Antares spiral, a galaxy so far away from Gallifrey that the idea of trade or diplomatic links with its government was ludicrous.

Even so, Kristoph had tried. But the X’Hazzick people had no use for anything Gallifrey exported. Diamonds and gold meant nothing to them. The only jewellery worn by either male or female – and it was hard to tell the difference – was carved from the ivory of a creature something like five times the size of an Earth elephant that roamed the dusty plains of X’Hazzick. The carvings tended to be of gargoyle like faces twisted in expressions of loathing.

The X’Hazzick themselves had gargoyle like faces, usually twisted in expressions of loathing. Their skin was the texture and colour of rhinoceros hide, and for Kristoph, at least, who had seen a rhinoceros, the resemblance didn’t end there since their wide noses had a series of bony protuberances that increased in size as they progressed up between their eyes to their foreheads.

They tolerated offworld visitors, more or less. That is to say that killing them and having their bones carved into gargoyles to hang on chains around their necks was not permitted. Offworld visitors who represented the governments of other civilisations were offered slightly more courtesy.

But not much.

“Exactly WHAT were you trying to sell on this planet?” Pól Braxietel asked Rogaen Oakdaene purely out of professional interest. “What could they possibly want that has any value in the rest of the known universe?”

“Racsaddian Absinthe,” Oakdaene replied. He was standing in the middle of the dank cell in which he was incarcerated. He was manacled to the ceiling and floor, so he had no choice about that. He was clothed in nothing but a grey loincloth, and the cell was cold. Nevertheless Oakdaene was sweating. He had been flogged not long before his visitors arrived and the bloody stripes on his back were mending slowly.

His two visitors were standing outside the iron bars of one cell wall. The other three walls were six inch thick grey steel panels welded together at the seams as securely as the sections of a battleship’s hull.

“Racsaddian Absinthe!” Kristoph laughed coldly. “The only alcoholic substance in the nine galaxies that gets Time Lords intoxicated. I presume it has the same effect on the indigenous population here?”

“It does,” Oakdaene said. “More so. Once they try it, they can’t get enough. They crave it. Black market prices are astronomical. They pay in Lutanium. It’s mined on this Chaos-forsaken planet.”

“Liquor smuggling! Could it get more seedy?” Pól Braxietel asked him. “You’re an Oldblood patriarch, for Chaos’ sake. What were you thinking of?”

“Profit, what else,” Oakdaene replied. “I don’t care what I sell, or who to. I don’t care what they do with it, as long as they pay. These @#&%$ cheated me. The Lutanium wasn’t delivered on time. That’s why I hadn’t left the airspace when they arrested me.”

“Racsaddian Absinthe is very hard to come by,” Kristoph added. “I’ve only ever seen it in single bottles at any one time. And they’re usually in a locked cabinet behind any bar I have been in. How did you acquire enough to make a significant deal?”

“I didn’t,” Oakdaene admitted. “I sold the ignorant scum a freighter load of Denebrian gin with green food dye added. They have no taste buds, anyway. They can’t tell the difference.”

“Apparently they can,” Pól remarked dryly. “If you were caught before you left their airspace.”

Oakdaene nodded miserably.

“Schadenfreude is an ugly word,” Kristoph said. “And as my dear wife once remarked a long time ago in a literature seminar, very difficult to spell. So we will try not to indulge ourselves too much. There’s another phrase Marion might apply to this situation. Just Desserts. There’s also one from her world about being hoist by one’s own petard, but I can’t be bothered explaining what that one means. I think you get the picture. The Celestial Intervention Agency have entire memory wafers devoted to your offworld criminal activities. Since I became president the director of that organisation has informed me of twenty-five separate illegal acts carried out by you on planets which Gallifrey has no formal diplomatic ties with and, it goes without saying, no extradition treaties. Lack of hard evidence prevented the CIA from arresting you. A certain amount of deviousness allowed you to get away with it so far. But it appears that your luck ran out this time.”

“So have the last laugh on me Lœngbærrow. I know you’ve wanted to for a long time. You, the mongrel son of a Caretaker witch, married to a foreign whore... How we fell so low as to have you as our Lord High President, Rassilon only knows.”

Kristoph gave no outward appearance of being angered by those words. He would have been little use in the CIA all those years if he allowed himself to be riled by a pitiful excuse of a prisoner such as Oakdaene was right now. Pól Braxietel was close enough to him to feel the surge of rage inside his head. He marvelled at his apparent composure.

“Is that why you requested me as an observer of your sentence?” Kristoph asked. “So you could hurl petty insults at me? I would say it was unbecoming of a Time Lord. But you have already redefined the term.”

“I requested you because of familial connection,” Oakdaene answered. “We are... cousins... by marriage.”

“Only by a very long stretch of the definition of ‘familial connection’,” Kristoph replied. “We are hardly bosom friends, Rogaen. We never were. Even when we were children... when your brothers....”

“If I’m going to my death, soon, I’m not going to do so thinking about those two fools,” Oakdaene snapped. “I have one last request to make. For the sake of family, for the sake of Oldblood honour, I place a geas upon you to carry it through.”

Pól Braxietel’s eyes narrowed in surprise. A geas, a solemn and unbreakable obligation, was not something that was lightly put upon anyone, least of all a man of Kristoph’s political and social stature.

But by custom, Kristoph didn’t even have the right to refuse. Even without hearing what the geas was, he was bound by it.

“Get me out of here,” Oakdaene said. “Before they kill me.”

Kristoph gave no reaction.

“That’s your geas?” Pól queried. “You can’t...”

“He can,” Kristoph said quietly. “A geas put upon an Oldblood by another Oldblood in extremis makes no distinction between lawful and unlawful. If he had asked me to assassinate his executioners, I would be obliged to do it.”

“It’s not one of the Laws of Time,” Pól told him. “It’s just a tradition. Tell him no. You can’t do it, Excellency. It would debase the Presidency which you have upheld so finely until now.”

Excellency! Kristoph was well aware that Pól Braxietel, Castellan of Gallifrey, executive chief of the Chancellery Guard, Panopticon Guard and Presidential Guard, in short, all lawful means of enforcement on Gallifrey outside of the Celestial Intervention Agency, was a close enough friend to call him by his given name on all but the most formal occasions. But he had called him Excellency to remind him of the great power and responsibility he held.

“I know,” Kristoph answered. “But I have always upheld those of our traditions that were concerned with honour. It is the thing I hold highest of all Time Lord qualities.”

“I agree,” Pól told him. “But HE has no honour. He barely deserves the title of Time Lord. Only accident of birth and quirk of circumstance entitle him to be called ‘Lord’ even. You do not need to accept any obligation from him.”

Kristoph shook his head.

“Because he has no honour, I must.”

“Chrístõ Mian, you are a singular man even among our race,” Pól Braxietel told him. It was a compliment. He didn’t understand Kristoph’s reasoning entirely, but he knew that it was a matter of honour, and he respected that in his friend and in his President.

The huge iron outer door of the cell block opened with a crash. Three X’Hazzick guards and their captain marched in. One of the guards opened the cell door. The captain stepped inside. He stared at the prisoner with an expression of utter loathing before reading out the sentence passed upon him.

“Prisoner X’J145FO34’V is hereby sentenced to death by durance or to thirty X’Hazzick years in the penal scorbic mine of X’Azzan, whichever is soonest. There is no appeal. Sentence to be carried out forthwith.”

Lord Oakdaene screamed out loud as two of the guards unfastened him from the ceiling and floor and manacled him hand and foot. As he was led from the cell he glared at Kristoph, who stood by watching the proceedings.

“You are under geas,” he shouted. “Remember that.”

“I remember full well,” Kristoph replied. “You asked me to get you out of here before they kill you.”

Kristoph half smiled.

Pól looked at him and there was no half measure at all about his smile.

“Before they kill him.”

“Thirty X’Hazzick years are about fifteen Gallifreyan years,” Kristoph calculated. “Still, they’ll seem like an eternity to a man like Oakdaene.”

“Death by durance, or thirty years,” Pól mused. “In a scorbic mine, even a tough species like our hosts would find thirty years hard going. I expect most of them die by durance long before.”

“Scorbic is a very versatile chemical,” Kristoph noted. “But its price on the galactic commodities market is so low it scarcely covers the expense of getting it out of the ground. That’s why they don’t bother executing prisoners. They get their money’s worth out of them before they die of exhaustion.”

“The idea has its merits,” Pól said. “Did nobody explain it to Lord Oakdaene? I rather think he expected a quicker execution.”

“I think he did,” Kristoph replied. “That is why he put me under geas in extremis. Since the sentence includes the possibility of death, he is still in extremis and I am still under geas. But I am bearing in mind that he IS a Time Lord. We are a hardy race. Mining scorbic won’t do much for his complexion, but I really don’t think it will kill him as fast as the X’Hazzick think.”


“So, I will fulfil my obligation.” His smile widened. He turned from the now empty cell. Pól Braxietel followed him out of the grey, daunting prison. His TARDIS was parked nearby in its default form of a gunmetal grey cabinet. The landscape of X’Hazzick Major was so dreary even the semi-sentient chameleon circuit was at a loss to choose an incongruous form for the ship.

“Fifteen Gallifreyan years,” Kristoph said as he programmed his destination in time and space. “Thirty X’Hazzick years – to the very day. These chaps are very precise in that respect.”

The penal scorbic mine of X’Azzan - the barely habitable moon of X’Hazzick Major – had little in the way of hospitality for visitors. Kristoph and Pól merely waited outside the ugly iron gates until the prisoner was escorted to it. The gates opened. Lord Oakdaene stepped through them to freedom, his sentence over at last.

“You... failed me,” he said to Kristoph. “You were under obligation...”

“To get you out of here before they killed you,” Kristoph said. “Yes. I arranged for reports on your health to be sent to my TARDIS regularly. You were never in any danger of death, so I was not obliged to extract you until now. Come on.”

“Come on where?” Lord Oakdaene asked.

“Back to Gallifrey,” Kristoph replied. “You’ve served your sentence.”

He and Pól turned and headed back to the default grey TARDIS. Lord Oakdaene followed them into the console room. He watched Kristoph at the console, then glanced with relief at X’Azzan as it appeared in the viewscreen as a small grey globe that was getting smaller as they moved away from it.

“Thirty years of my life wasted,” he complained. “Trapped here... while you sat and waited...”

“I didn’t wait,” Kristoph told him. “This is a TARDIS, in case you hadn’t noticed. It took twenty minutes to get here from when we saw you last. Once you’ve had an ion shower and spent a little time in meditation in the zero room, and then put on some decent Gallifreyan clothes, you could probably claim to have spent some time in a health spa. You’ve certainly lost some weight around the stomach and developed one or two previously underused muscles. Even your wife might believe that story.”

“What?” Lord Oakdaene stared at him in surprise. “I don’t...”

“Your wife, remember her? She was having a rough day when Castellan Braxietel and I set out from Gallifrey. Word had got around that you had been arrested offworld. She was having a very hard time living it down.”


“We’re going back to Gallifrey now, to the day after we left. We won’t contradict the health spa story if anyone asks. And I’m prepared to play down those rumours about your arrest, because I really don’t want it to become common knowledge that an Oldblood, the patriarch of a long-standing Gallifreyan family, was involved in anything quite as seedy and distasteful as liquor smuggling. It really would be too embarrassing to all of us.”

Lord Oakdaene said nothing. He was lost for words.

“Go and get that ion shower, now,” Kristoph told him. “The smell you’re giving off really isn’t too pleasant in the close confines of a console room. By the way, Pól and I are the only people who know about this at the moment. First chance we get, however, we’ll be telling our wives and putting them under geas not to tell a soul, unless your wife utters a single disdainful word about either of them. If she does, the obligation is lifted and they will be free to spread the gossip far and wide.”

Lord Oakdaene still said nothing, but his face, beneath a layer of scorbic dust, flushed purple with indignation. Then he turned and headed towards the inner door.

Pól Braxietel waited until he was sure he was out of earshot before bursting out laughing.

Kristoph laughed, too.

“Actually schadenfreude, in certain circumstances, and in moderation, is rather a satisfying word,” he said. “But still difficult to spell.”