The camp in the Red Desert had no fences and no guards. A thousand miles of desert that was hostile to life in so very many ways was all the restraint needed to keep the Arcalian Renegades, as they sometimes called themselves, in their detention centre.

At least that was what those who devised the punishment thought.

Four boys blocked their minds from each other and from any telepathic mind that might be listening for unusual activity at the twenty-sixth hour when they ought to have been asleep.

Their plan had involved opening up a panel under the bathroom floor and crawling under the floorboards of the dormitory block. That brought them to an access grille that opened with a little physical effort. As they crawled through it felt good to stand upright and breathe the cool night air deeply for a moment. The first hurdle was over.

Now they had to get out of the camp itself.

They moved quickly and soundlessly, hugging the walls of the refectory hall and avoiding the wide parade ground where they assembled for roll call and drill daily. A full moon shone its silvery light down and made it a vulnerable place to be.

They slipped around the edge of the refectory and in moments they were outside the camp and their booted feet treading on desert sand. They still didn’t risk any telepathic communication or even an audible whisper. There was no signal between them at all. But as one, the four boys broke into a run.

They were young, fit, Gallifreyan boys. They had already spent several months in the desert and were acclimatised to its dry air. They were fully capable of a sustained run. The moonlight was more than enough for their eyes to process and they were perfectly able to see each other in the dark. They ran a full seven miles before they slowed and stopped to catch a breath and look back. The camp was barely visible in the distance. They knew they couldn’t possibly be seen by anyone looking out in this direction across the desert, and by morning their footprints would have been obliterated by the constant breeze that blew the dry sand into ever-moving drifts.

Mica Alep Vansig, acknowledged to be the best telepath of the four reached out carefully to see if there was any mind reaching back to find them. There was nothing. Their escape had not yet been discovered.

“All the same, we should keep telepathy to the minimum. Oral communication only,” Riven Maxic said. “Nobody should know we’re gone until roll call, not even the other boys.”

“Seven hours,” Gynnell Dúccesci calculated. “It’s not long enough. It’s more than a hundred and fifty miles to Dark Territory. We won’t make it before then.”

“We can still go back,” Nico Alep Vansig, twin brother of Mica, suggested. “It’s not too late. They won’t even know.”

“I’m not going back,” Riven said. “I don’t mind being punished for what we did. But if HE can reach us there... I can’t... I can’t bear it one more time.”

“I can’t go back,” Gynnell pointed out. “I’m the one he wants more than anyone else. I already have the President’s blood on my hands. He’ll never let me be.”

“I’m not so sure.” Nico said. He looked back towards the dark outline of the camp. “If we’re caught... it’ll be Shada for us.”

“It won’t,” Mica assured him. “Lord de Lœngbærrow won’t do that. He’s a good man. A fair man... He could have tried us all for High Treason and he didn’t. He won’t do that.”

“He’s a former assassin for the CIA,” Riven pointed out. “He’s not a soft touch. When he finds out that we’ve escaped from his punishment, he’ll be angry.”

“I think I’d rather face Lord de Lœngbærrow, even angry, than HIM one more time,” Gynnell said. “But if we stop talking and keep moving, we won’t have to do either. We can reach Dark Territory in nine hours. The last three will be difficult. Once the sun gets up the heat will be terrible. But we can do it. Come on. Let’s run again, put some more miles behind us. Then a forced march for as long as we can keep going without a rest.”

They ran for eight miles before they slowed again. Nico looked up at the stars and told his friends they had to bear left a little more. He was the navigator of their group, the reason they felt confident about striking out over the desert without a map or compass. They did as he said, moving now at a fast walk, breathing deeply and evenly, pacing themselves.

“Every step takes us further from home,” Mica said with a deep sigh when the burden of walking without any telepathic or oral communication between each other got too much. “The Capitol is behind us, as well as the camp. We’re going deeper into the desert.”

“That’s the idea,” Riven answered him. “We have to disappear, leave everything behind.”

“We’ll never see our parents again,” Nico pointed out.

“We knew that when we decided to do this. It’s no use getting upset, now.”

“I don’t have any parents,” Gynnell Dúccesci said. “And my brother will be better off without me. I shamed him. I know that. He can hardly bear to look at me when he visits. Besides, now his wife is having a baby... his own heir... he doesn’t need me. If he thinks I’m dead....”

“My father hasn’t even visited,” Riven admitted. “My mother only came once. She sends letters. But she can’t bear to see me. They’re both ashamed of what I did.”

Mica and Nico said nothing. The shame Riven and Gynnell’s family had experienced was counted double for their mother and father.

“They’ll all be well rid of us,” Gynnell said. “They can put the scandal behind them. And we... we need to forget we ever had families. We’re on our own from now on. We rely on each other. We trust each other, because we can’t trust anyone else. We daren’t trust anyone else.”

It was a dismal thought. They were breaking off the last connection they had with the society they came from, and their future prospect was a bleak one. Their destination was Dark Territory, that part of the Red Desert where strange minerals in the bedrock beneath the sand caused all machinery to fail, even something as sophisticated as a TARDIS. Teleportation and time rings were useless. Telepathy was impossible without actual physical contact.

It was the one place they knew they would be free of Tau Rho’s influence. He couldn’t reach them there. Whatever hardships they might face in the uncertain future they had chosen, at least their minds would be free.

That was the only reason they had considered such a desperate action. They had been relatively happy in the camp. They had buckled down to studying, drilling, eating and sleeping in the middle of the desert. It was harder than life at the Arcalian Academy, and the prospect of spending the next eighty years of their lives there, without even vacations home was daunting. But they accepted that it was their punishment for their involvement in a grievous action against the very fabric of Gallifreyan society and they had made the best of it.

But then the nightmare began – literally. Tau Rho found his way into their minds when they slept, night after night, filling their heads with his seditious influence that they had struggled to put behind them. They had tried to resist, but that only angered him. Mica had spent three days in the sick bay with migraine headaches that Tau Rho inflicted upon him, and they were left in no doubt at all that he could do worse. He could enter their minds at will. He could leave their minds broken. He could create fatal aneurysms in their brains....

If they didn’t get away from him they would either die or give in to the pressure and become his puppets again, committing treason against their will as his command.

That was why they were prepared to leave the camp and risk their lives out here in the desert. It was why they were prepared to be condemned as criminals when their flight was discovered.

Freedom from Tau Rho was the only freedom they valued, now. And this was the way to achieve that.

It was hard going. The desert was baking hot by day, but it was freezing by night. They ran every so often not just to put more miles behind them, but to warm their blood. After a time, even they, with their double hearts and their superior musculature, the physique that made their race gods among lesser species, began to feel tired and footsore. They rested more often than they had done at the start. And though they knew the dawn would bring new difficulties, they began to welcome the sliver of daylight that was on the western horizon. Whether they had reached the Dark Territory or not, they would have to seek shelter by the time the sun had fully risen. That meant they could rest, and that was starting to feel more important to them than anything else.

“Mica, where is it?” Riven asked as the first golden edge of sunlight broke over the horizon. “The shelter. If we don’t find it soon, we’ll be in trouble.”

“It’s here, somewhere,” Mica answered. “I memorised the chart. We’ve been walking in the right direction. It’s here... the place where we can rest until dusk. It’s somewhere close.”

“I hope you’re right, brother,” Nico said to him. “Because we’ll die before noon. We don’t have enough water to walk in the direct sunlight.”

“I know that,” Mica told him. “I’m telling you... it’s here. It was on the map I found when I was cleaning Lord Artemus’s study. It must have been left there when the CIA used the camp for training.”

“You should have taken it,” Riven said. “Instead of merely memorising it. What if your memory is faulty?”

“It isn’t,” Mica protested. “You trusted me until now. Don’t stop trusting me. There’s shelter somewhere near here. We just have to find it.”

For a long time, though, as the sun rose higher and the cold of night quickly gave way to the unbearable heat of day, they didn’t find it. They weren’t even completely sure what they were looking for.

“Those rocks,” Gynnell said presently. “They might not be what we’re looking for. But at least there might be a little shade.”

“They’re too far west,” Mica protested. “We daren’t veer off course by that much.”

Gynnell looked around him. In every direction there was nothing but iron red sand and bare rock scoured clean even of the sand. The one erratic outcrop was the only landmark to be seen at all, and the only hope they had of shelter.

Riven agreed with him. Nico hesitated. His first instinct was to side with his brother. But he, too, felt that the rocks offered more hope than miles of emptiness.

Mica swallowed his pride and accepted the majority decision. They turned west towards the rocks, all of them calculating their chances. Even if there was some shade, it would still be hot. They would use up a lot of water during the day. There would be less of it for the next night’s trek. And if they didn’t reach an oasis during that second night, then they really would be in trouble.

The rocks were deep red stone, streaked with a metallic ore. The outcrop was a good nine foot high and there was, indeed, a cooler, sheltered side. But it was obvious that the shade would disappear inch by inch as noon approached and they would be fully exposed to the sun when it was hottest. It really wasn’t hopeful.

“Wait!” Riven gave a cry of surprise. He knelt and scraped away the driven sand from the base of the outcrop. “There’s something here. A cave, I think. Help me.”

The four of them dug together with their bare hands until a hole was uncovered. It wasn’t a cave, though. It was a hole going down into the ground itself. It was dark. They had no idea how far down it went.

“There’s a ladder,” Gynnell observed. “Get out of the way. I’ll go first.” He crawled into the hole and found his feet on the rough rungs fixed to the side of the hole. He felt his way down in what was soon total darkness until he felt solid ground beneath him. He shouted up to his friends and heard them making their way down. Meanwhile he found a torch in the kit they brought with them and switched it on. He looked around at an underground room, deliberately cut out of the rock. One wall was fitted with shelves. He looked at them and gave a gasp of relief as he found hermetically sealed water bottles and boxes of nutrition wafers, basic survival supplies, as well as blankets that could be spread on the bare rock of the floor.

“What is this?” Riven asked when he reached the bottom of the ladder.

“It’s what we were looking for,” Gynnell told him. “The CIA survival bunker that Mica saw on the map.”

“It can’t be,” Mica said as he and his brother joined them. “This was off the route by a mile.”

“Then the route was wrong,” Gynnell replied. “Never mind that, right now. We’ve got food, water and a cool, shaded place to rest. We should eat the rations we brought with us and take a little water, and then try to sleep. Tonight we’ll move on. We’ll find the oasis inside Dark Territory and... and after that....”

After that didn’t matter. They were safe right now, and a blanket on a stone floor was as good as a feather bed to them. Only very briefly as they lay down together did they wonder if they were safe from Tau Rho’s reach in a room beneath the desert.