Even though the Lord High President himself had called for the official Inquiry into seditious teaching at the Arcalian Academy, he had no need to actually oversee that Inquiry. He could swear in any five High Councillors to sit upon the panel and report to him their findings.

It surprised nobody, however, when President de Lœngbærrow announced his intention to head the panel himself. Lord Dúccesci, as the most senior member of the Arcalian Chapter on the High Council was his vice-chairman. The Premier Cardinal who was Cerulian, Lord Arun, a Patrexean and Lord Cronuos of the lesser known Dromeian Chapter, made up the quorum. All of them were known as men of honour and of wisdom. No man of Gallifrey, Oldblood or Newblood, held that in doubt.

Whether they would uncover the truth behind the cult of Arcalia was another matter. There were some who thought the inquiry was a high profile waste of time. They believed it was a publicity stunt that merely paid lip service to the eradication of corruption within the educational establishments of Gallifrey. There were others who doubted that there was any corruption to uncover. They put the attempted assassination of the president down to youthful over-ambition and rejected the possibility that any member of the Arcalian faculty could have influenced their young minds.

The five men who arrived at the Arcalian Academy on the first day of Mí, knew that neither was true. The corruption existed and they were pledged to burn it, root and branch, out of Proud Arcalia’s heart.

The Presidential Inquisition was installed in the examination hall. High above their heads was a domed roof with the seal of Arcalia inlaid in gold. The floor was black obsidian with the same seal, again in gold. The walls were inlaid with gold, too, but they were hidden behind heavy black velvet drapes that hung from ceiling to floor. The table and high backed chairs set out for the Inquiry were black lacquered wood that was in keeping with the décor.

The chair set before the table for the witnesses was not in keeping with the décor. It was made of dull metal with a leather seat and back. The arms of the chair had special panels for the witness’s hands and there was a headpiece that was fitted once he or she was seated. It was not a chair that was made for anyone to relax in, and even if it had been merely a chair, sitting in it and facing those five stern faced men in their black and silver robes and skullcaps would have been daunting enough.

But the students who came, one at a time, to sit in that chair, had more than just those five faces to daunt them. They also had to deal with the fact that the chair, with the headpiece and hand panels, was a tool of interrogation. It was painless, it is true. It was meant for questioning witnesses, not suspects, and it was meant to be a way of corroborating their evidence. But it was a frightening experience, all the same, for the sophomore boy who had the misfortune of being the first of the witnesses to be called on the first day of the Inquiry.

“Please state your name loud and clearly,” Lord Dúccesci said. Then your age and your mother’s given name, just to establish the psychic connection with the machine.”

“I am Lucien Mordant,” the boy said after swallowing twice and managing to speak above a squeak. “I am one hundred and thirty-two. My mother’s name is Leeranne.”

As he spoke, a hologram appeared in the air above his head. It was a formless mass, yet, with a ribbon of green light running through it. But that was enough to tell the inquisitors that the boy had spoken truthfully on those three questions. The truth reader was calibrated correctly.

“Lucien,” Lord Arun said to him in a calm, reassuring tone. “You are a proud Gallifreyan, are you not?”

“Yes, sir,” he answered.

“And equally proud to be an Arcalian?”

“Not equal, sir,” Lucien replied. “Arcalia is my school. I am on the sophomore fencing team. When we beat Prydonia last term, I was proud of that. But Gallifrey is my world. I owe her my allegiance before all else... even... even my own House.“

Again the line was green. The boy’s profession of loyalty was sincere.

“You have admitted to being a part of the student group calling themselves Sons of Arcalia....” Kristoph made it a statement rather than a question. The boys had all been required to make a written testimony. Those who admitted to involvement in the seditious group were the first to come before the Inquiry.

“Yes,” Lucien answered.


“Because... Because my friends were in it. Riven Maxic, Gynnell Dúccesci... I wanted to be like them. But I wasn’t... I didn’t really understand it all. I’m not really interested in politics. I’m majoring in temporal physics. I want to do research on the Kasterborus station. Politics baffles me most of the time. But my friends…. I went to the meetings with them and listened, tried to take it all in. What the teacher was saying made sense at the time. He made it seem as if we really had to do something to stop the degeneration of our society into a... a... totalitarian dictatorship. I nearly felt as if I understood it. But....”

The inquisitors listened to his words. But they also watched the hologram above his head. The green line never once changed its shade. Lucien was telling the truth. But images appeared in the air along with it, and those images, though sometimes vague and shadowy, told a clearer picture of what the boys had been doing than the young science major could express in his words.

The images showed one of their gatherings. Nearly fifty of the students were in one of the meditation rooms of the Arcalian Academy, surrounded by symbols of calm and tranquillity. But they were far from calm or tranquil. They were waiting for somebody to come among them who had something to say to them. They formed a ring, seated on the floor, and took up a chant. They repeated a name over and over again – the name of their leader, their teacher.

“That’s no use,” Lord Arun said, expressing the disappointment of all the inquisitors. “Tau Rho isn’t his real name. It’s just one of those names the students use. I was Upsilon Mu when I was a boy.”

“This isn’t a boy they’re calling for,” Lord Cronuos pointed out. “Look...”

Lucien was still describing in halting words what he remembered from one of the meetings while his memory of it was concentrated by the truth machine and projected as a hologram. The students all watched in admiration as a figure materialised in the middle of the ring – a man dressed in black robes with the Seal of Arcalia across the front. He was also wearing a mask. It was silver, with a man’s features moulded onto it, but almost certainly not the features that lay beneath the mask.

“No good, unless we can see his face,” the Premier Cardinal said. “Lucien, did this man... Tau Rho... did he ever reveal himself to you?”

“No, never,” Lucien answered. “But he spoke to us in a soft voice... not hard and demanding like so many of the Masters. He asked nothing of us but loyalty. It was... I felt as if I liked him... as if I wanted to do his bidding. But... he had no use for a science major. I was not asked to be one of the core.”

“You may think yourself fortunate in that,” Lord Dúccesci told him. “That ‘core’ group stand disgraced before all Gallifrey. The rest of you merely suffered loss of extra curricular privileges.”

“Yes, sir,” Lucien said. He bowed his head as if in shame. “Sirs... may I ask... May I beg you…. Those extra curricular activities include access to the observatory outside of class time. I have told you all I know about Tau Rho. Might I be allowed....”

“The reward for telling the truth about wrong-doing is the cleansing of your own conscience,” Kristoph said. “The punishment must continue, at least until the end of term. If you continue to exhibit good behaviour, I am given to understand that your Masters may restore your privileges in the autumn. But it is entirely up to them. Even the Lord High President has precious little influence over the Educators of our world.”

“You may go, boy,” Lord Dúccesci added. “Thank you for your honest testimony. It will be noted.”

Lord Arun helped him to remove the headpiece. The boy walked quickly across the obsidian floor, his footsteps echoing in the silence. He was obviously resisting the urge to run.

The next boy was called. His name was Milan Gallipo, son of a Newblood Lord who’s deftness in the field of intergalactic finance had made him wealthy. His son shared his passion for economics, and just like Lucien whose thoughts were for pure science, he had become a ‘Son of Arcalia’ only because it was hard enough for an economics student to make friends and he wanted to fit in with the crowd. He found Tau Rho’s teaching compelling, but he didn’t fall under his influence completely.

And Tau Rho didn’t need an economist. Young Gallipo was left out of the Core. Again, as Lord Dúccesci pointed out, that was why he was still an Arcalian, studying within these peaceful and hallowed walls, not in the Red Desert with those who had so disgraced themselves by their actions.

They saw the depositions of four more young Arcalians before taking stock of the evidence they had gathered so far.

“Of course, there is nothing wondrous about the way he appears among them,” Lord Arun pointed out. “A simple teleport disc would do it.”

“Not so simple,” Dúccesci argued. “That is the Great Meditation Hall of Arcalia. It is shielded against both electronic and telepathic influences from without in order to ensure uninterrupted meditations. It almost has the aura of a Zero Room. No ‘simple’ teleport disc would get him into the Hall. He must have a very sophisticated teleport device. But I agree that is no great wonder. We are Time Lords. Such things are mere trinkets to us, and easily enough obtained. It’s not as if he used a Time Ring that would have to be registered with the Castellan, or a TARDIS which are even more closely monitored by the authorities. Teleport discs are not registered. Anyone could use one. He need not even be an Arcalian. He might be teleporting in from any location within the Capitol or beyond.”

“Don’t grasp at straws, Dúccesci,” Lord Arun told him. “The chances are it IS an Arcalian. Why else use boys from that Academy? You are here to judge impartially, remember, not to seek to excuse your Chapter from High Treason.”

“I do not seek to do any such thing,” Dúccesci protested. “I am merely pointing out that the conspiracy may well go beyond the Academy. If Tau Rho is identified as a master of these Halls, I shall be dismayed, as will all Arcalians. But I shall be glad to see such filth purged from our midst if it is so. If it is not, then it will be necessary to cast the scope of this Inquiry wider.”

“None of the boys saw his face. He wore that mask all the time.” Lord Cronuos moved onto the other point of interest to them all. “A clever conceit. Even the boys he brought closest into his confidence did not know his true face.”

“That mask,” Kristoph said. “It fits perfectly. That means it has been specially made, moulded to his own features. It would take a master silversmith to do that. Even on Gallifrey only a few men would be so skilled. That’s work for the Castellan and his men, seeking out the man who took that commission. With the will of Rassilon, an honest silversmith may have the information we need.”

“It is subtle stuff, even so,” the Premier Cardinal said. “Working upon the minds of our children... sowing seeds of dissension that might lay dormant for years... for decades...centuries... until those boys are men in strategic positions within our government.”

“But he showed his hand early,” Kristoph pointed out. “By compelling the Dúccesci boy to attack me, the plot unravelled.”

“The plot unravelled because you survived,” Malika Dúccesci told him. He had shuddered when Kristoph drew attention to the fact that it was his own younger brother who had committed that terrible act of treason. “If you had died... with the government in disarray, Gynnell would have become the lone scapegoat... perhaps executed, or committed to Shada... without anyone considering who was behind the plot. And this Tau Rho... whoever he is... could have continued to brainwash more boys and turn them to tools of his corruption.”

“For that reason among others we may be thankful that the plot did not succeed,” The Premier Cardinal said. “But what now? Do we continue to interview these boys? Is there more to be learnt from their testimony? Will they not simply corroborate each other?”

“We continue,” Kristoph said. “It is weary work. But we must try. It is possible one of them learnt something more than the others learnt – some clue to Tau Rho’s true identity...”

“We can only hope,” Lord Dúccesci agreed. He nodded to the Presidential guard who waited to call the next Arcalian sophomore to be questioned by the Inquiry. They saw ever more testimony about the charismatic figure who had persuaded so many youths to stray from their first loyalty to Gallifrey and the Lord High President of the High Council. Most of the boys were hesitant and vague in their oral statements, but that didn’t matter. The truth machine probed their memories of the events being recalled and provided a clear record of what had taken place.

“You found his words inspiring?” Lord Dúccesci asked a boy called Jerell Bourek who faced the five inquisitors late in the afternoon.

“I did,” the boy admitted.

“What was it that so impressed you?”

“I... don’t know,” he said after a pause. “I... can’t remember... only that... what he said was uplifting and inspiring... and... like nothing I ever heard before. It made me want to... to….” He bowed his head before the Lord High President himself. “My Lord... I am sorry. I was weak and foolish. I know that now. I was led astray by his words.”

“Yes, you were,” Kristoph replied. “But you didn’t act upon those words. Even on Gallifrey we don’t punish anyone for what they think, and rarely for what they say. It is deeds that are judged. What stopped you from joining the group who were prepared to follow Tau Rho into seditious actions?”

“He didn’t want me,” Jerell answered. “I asked to be one of the core, but he said my mind was weak. He said it was full of inconsequential matters... like the multidimensional chess championships.”

“You are good at multidimensional chess?” Lord Arun asked him.

“Yes, my Lord,” the boy replied. “But I was suspended from the Arcalian inter-Academy team when my involvement with Tau Rho was discovered.”

“That is a punishment you must bear until it is lifted,” Kristoph told him. “But you may bear this much in mind, young man. What Tao Rho saw as a weakness was nothing of the sort. He was unable to fully control you because your passion for multi-dimensional chess was stronger than his brain-washing. In other words, your hobby may have saved you from damnation.”

That had been the case with all of the boys who had not been admitted to the inner core. An overriding interest in chess, in science, botany, rock-climbing, had somehow been a shield against the baleful influence Tao Rho had over the likes of Gynnell Dúccesci who had been persuaded to assassinate the Lord High President, or Rivan Maxic who had been so enthusiastic a spokesman for the cult. They were young men whose ambitions lay in the political arena, and were somehow in tune with Tao Rho’s own plans.

How easy it was to misuse young minds. And how easily that misuse had been hidden within the walls of the Academy. It was a wake up call for them all. They could take nothing for granted about their society.

By the time the inquiry adjourned on its first day the only thing they knew for sure was that Tau Rho was a very real threat to the peace and stability of Gallifrey. Who he truly was, and what his real motive for his sedition might be, they were still far from discovering.

“Are you staying in the Capitol tonight?” Lord Dúccesci asked Kristoph as they prepared to leave the Arcalian Examination Hall. They were the last. The other three Inquisitors had already left for their homes. “My wife is at our town house. She would be glad to entertain you at dinner.”

“That is a tempting offer,” Kristoph answered. “But I promised Marion I would be home for a quiet dinner tonight. I look forward to the peace of my demesne on the southern continent and a few hours without worrying about conspiracies.”

“I understand,” Lord Dúccesci told him. “The company of my lady will be a balm to my soul, too.”

Then both men were distracted from domestic thoughts. They looked towards the far wall of the magnificent hall. The velvet drapes were disturbed by a sudden displacement of air, and a figure materialised. He was dressed in black and silver, with a mask of silver covering his face. He stared back at the two startled men through the eye-slits and laughed a cold, hollow laugh that sounded all the more sinister for being heard through the mouth piece of a silver face mask.

“Guards!” Kristoph cried out. He himself crossed the floor in an eyeblink. The men who had guarded the Hall through the day were close behind him. But they were not swift enough. The air shimmered and the figure vanished again.

Kristoph swore in Low Gallifreyan and pulled his sonic screwdriver from his robe. It confirmed the presence of decaying ion particle residue. It was a teleportation of a physical body, not just some kind of hologram projection. Tau Rho had briefly entered the room where the presidential inquisition were sitting.

“Blatant!” the Premier Cardinal declared. “He is taunting us.”

“That he is,” Kristoph responded. “Tomorrow, we begin our inquiry with a thorough investigation of how a teleportation device could penetrate the examination hall of the Arcalian Academy. Tonight... Dúccesci, I suggest that you and your lady wife come and have dinner with Marion and I and enjoy the tranquillity of the southern continent. My house is overrun by Presidential Guards who will ensure our safety. The Castellan can provide security for the other three members of our quorum.”

“You think there is need?”

“Let us not take any chances,” Kristoph replied. “Until this man is brought to justice, we must all be vigilant.”

Dúccesci nodded his assent to the President’s suggestion.

“He WILL be brought to justice,” Kristoph added reassuringly. “The Arcalian Chapter will be rid of his influence. Those boys we have seen today will yet sit in this room for their final examinations before becoming young Time Lords and loyal citizens of Gallifrey. I promise you that, Malika. On my Oldblood honour.”

“I believe you, sir,” Dúccesci replied gratefully. “Thank you.”