Jack stepped over the threshold into the TARDIS and looked around appreciatively at the black and red lacquered walls, ceiling and floor decorated with Chinese symbols of peace and protection. He wondered why a Time Lord felt the need for such things.

“Don’t underestimate the power of words,” Li Tuo said to him. “Especially words that protect. These charms are as good as an anti-transmat shield any day.” He took the remnants of Alden Fisher from Jack’s hand and placed them in a receptacle on the console. There was a series of whirring noises that suggested the artefacts were being scanned. Li Tuo nodded. “Yes, I think we can pinpoint the time and place of this man’s death. You understand that there is nothing you can do to prevent it, of course? As a Time Agent, the dangers of changing the immutable past must be ingrained in you.”

“Yes. I just want to know what happened, and why….”

“Why did you think it might have been you that killed him?” Li Tuo asked.

“I don’t know. A gut feeling… dreams where I feel as if some snatch of memory was coming back… details forgotten in the morning when I wake… but enough to nag at me like a loose tooth.”

“Are you a murderer, generally speaking?” Li added. “Is that something you can do without compunction? I speak as one who once held as reputation as a ruthless assassin, doing the dirty work of my government. I know where the lines are crossed, the grey areas men such as you and I walk. But murder….”

“No, I don’t think I am,” Jack answered. “But the suspicion… deep in my soul… I’ve got to know, that’s all.”

“Very well.” Li reached to initiate the temporal drive. As soon as he did a loud and insistent alarm sounded. He switched it off.

“What was that for?”

“It was a reminder that I’m only allowed to use my TARDIS to travel in time on this planet. I’m… you could say… under a kind of parole with conditions on my movements.”

“Your own people… the Time Lords… have exiled you to Earth?”

“I exiled myself here. They imposed the conditions when they commuted my death sentence.”

“None of them can leave their planet right now. You could escape their prison.”

“And go where? I’m an old man even by our standards and I’m tired of running. In this exile I have the comfort of friends… and lovers. Elsewhere I would be a stranger.”

“I… kind of understand that,” Jack said. “It’s kind of why Cardiff looks good to me these days. There are friends… and lovers… there for me.”

“We have some things in common,” Li admitted. “Too much, perhaps. I’m still not sure if you and I are friends, Captain.”

“Fair enough,” Jack glanced at the console. He understood some of what it did. But it wasn’t for him to interfere with this journey. He put his hands into his pockets and waited until the faint hum of the engines and the hypnotic sight of the vortex tunnel on the viewscreen got too much for him. He had to cover both with conversation.

“May I ask about your ‘lovers’?” he ventured. “You know about mine… you’ve met Hillary. And I told you about Alden. And you’ve guessed or read my mind about the man whose opinion of me I value so dearly. Between them they tell my story… lots of short, pleasurably hedonistic affairs, and a few deep, bitter-sweet ones that tend to end cruelly.”

“Time Lords tend to be monogamous,” Li Tuo answered. “I lost the first girl I ever loved to a good friend who deserved her better than I did. Since then I have been serially monogamous to some three hundred and seventy-five wives, sweethearts and concubines. Hedonism holds no attraction for me. And you can take it for granted that I come from the planet that defined the word ‘straight’, though my time in the universe has taught me to accept that there are other words and other ways of love-making and I’m passing no judgements on you, Captain Harkness as long as you pass none on me.”

“Three hundred and seventy-five wives!” Jack smiled wryly. “Kind of hard not to pass a judgement on that! I’ve met my match, anyway. And I thought they said that Time Lords were frigid.”

“Not this one, nor any Time Lord you’ve met, I think. But the ones you’ve met are singular men even among our race.”

There wasn’t much to say about that. Besides, a journey back in time a mere thirty years and in distance, a little over a hundred didn’t take long. He looked up to see the outskirts of Bristol solidifying on the screen.

“It doesn’t look familiar,” he admitted. “Except that I’ve visited Bristol in the present day. I thought I might remember something about the past when I got here.”

“You might when we step out of the TARDIS,” Li Tuo told him. “Chinese protective charms aside, we are in a state of grace within the capsule.” He reached under the console and brought out two metal wristbands with swirling symbols etched into them. “Perception filters,” he said. “Have you used the like before?”

“They make the wearer invisible,” Jack answered.

“Not invisible, exactly,” Li corrected him. “But as long as he doesn’t draw attention to himself, anyone who doesn’t expect to see him won’t. You must also be familiar with the Blinovitch Uncertainty Principle. Your earlier self is out there somewhere. You cannot physically touch him without serious consequences for you, if not for the universe as a whole.”

“Understood,” Jack said. “Covert observation only.”

“Very well. Let’s find out what happened here,” Li said. “Obviously I brought us back to an hour before your friend met his death. We have time to observe what you might call ‘the bigger picture’ of events tonight.”

Jack was extremely nervous about the ‘bigger picture’, especially its possible consequences for him, but he had to know for sure, so he followed Li Tuo out of the TARDIS and into the night. His vortex manipulator buzzed once as he stepped over the threshold. It was adjusting to the local time and date. It was two a.m. on the morning of April 25th, 1961.

The date meant nothing to him. The location was slightly familiar. He had visited it two days ago when the skeleton with the strange technology buried with it was uncovered.

“This is… or will be… Mason Towers,” he said. “They were built in the 1960s and demolished in the 1990s. The site looks much the same as this in our time. The foundations for the new low-rise housing project are being dug.”

“That was how your friend was found after all those years, of course. And it is easy to see how he was buried in the first place.”

They both stood at the muddy edge of a large square cut hole in the ground which had a layer of still setting concrete in the bottom.

Jack sincerely hoped his friend was dead before the stuff closed over his body. He’d been buried in concrete a couple of times and it was a horrible experience.

“Why on Earth were we here?” he asked. “Why would two Time Agents come to this place and time?”

“We shall know in a very short time,” Li Tuo answered. He turned at the sound of somebody using a laser cutter to break open the padlock and chain on the gate into the construction site. Jack caught his breath as he recognised himself, younger, cockier, sure of himself in ways that experience had jolted severely even if he hid that fact behind a mask of brazen self-confidence.

He wasn’t alone. Two other men slipped in through the gate with him. One was wearing a night watchman’s uniform and probably ought to have been on duty here on the site.

The other was Alden Fisher. Jack recognised him at once. His heart lurched as he remembered the passion, the love they shared as well as the adrenaline rush of action that so often fuelled the passion.

He had been in love many times since, though not as often as his Time Lord companion. Even so, the remembered pain of loss engulfed him for a moment.

Then he saw his former lover reach for a weapon and shoot the man in the night-watchman’s uniform. His body shimmered as the force of the bullet hitting his chest propelled him backwards. Before he fell his Human form had changed into something humanoid in shape but with a reptilian ancestry.

“What!” the younger Jack cried out. “You killed him. We were supposed to negotiate for the technology.”

“Negotiate what?” Alden Fisher answered, bending over the body that had begun to glow with an eerie green aura now. An aperture opened in the wounded chest. Fisher reached and took something from it. The glow faded. The body turned a chalky colour and crumbled until there was nothing left but a grey dust indistinguishable from a pile of spilled cement from the building process.

“We don’t have enough money to negotiate this!” Alden Fisher added, holding up a red jewel the size of his fist. “A Karalian Ruby Heart. Do you know what these are worth on the intergalactic market?”

The younger Jack didn’t answer. He was too busy pulling his gun out of the concealed holster and aiming it at his lover, an expression of confusion and betrayal on his face.

“It’s worth an entire solar system,” the older Jack answered for him. “That’s why the last members of the Karalian royal family sought refuge on other worlds, hiding themselves among the ordinary people, sometimes with the help of perception cloaks. They were scattered through time and space. Nobody was supposed to know where. Alden must have cracked some high level files to find out that there was one here on Earth.”

“You said we were here to buy a Solarian hyperdrive core,” the younger Jack said.

“Don’t be so naïve,” Alden responded. “I’m twenty-nine. That makes me a veteran in the Time Agency… practically a pensioner. I’ve got to look to my future. If I get out of the agency I could easily live to two hundred. I intend to do so in luxury.”

“Why did you bring me, then?” the younger Jack demanded. “I don’t want any part of this.”

“I was going to bring you with me,” Alden Fisher answered. “We were going to disappear together. But if you’ve got some kind of notion of ethics, of loyalty to the Agency….”

“It’s not about the Agency. It’s about cold-blooded murder….”

“Stop arguing with him,” his older counterpart murmured impatiently between gritted teeth. “Just shoot him, before he shoots you.”

Alden shot him. The younger Jack didn’t even cry out. The bullet hit him in the left temple and he fell backwards like a felled tree.

“No!” The older Jack screamed and ran towards his former lover. Li Tuo called out to him, but he wasn’t listening. He kicked the gun out of Alden Fisher’s hand and punched him in the jaw before the perception filter failed. He had drawn attention to himself good and proper. They fought hand to hand. It was a dirty fight. Alden Fisher was fighting against a man who wanted to kill him. Jack was fighting a man he wanted to kill.

And he did. He felt Fisher’s neck break under his hands. He felt his body go limp. He drew back and stared at the dead eyes of his one-time lover. He felt nothing. No sorrow, no grief, no satisfaction, either. He felt numb.

“Captain!” He heard Li Tuo call out to him. He was kneeling beside the bleeding body of his younger self, his hands over the wound in his head.

“I can’t die here,” he said. “I’m not meant to die.”

“You’re not dying. Not now. I’ve made sure the bullet hasn’t damaged anything vital. I can’t remove it altogether, but fifty-first century surgery can take care of that. You will suffer some short term memory loss, but there won’t be any permanent brain damage.”

Li Tuo rolled up the injured Jack’s sleeve and pressed the keys on the Vortex Manipulator before standing back. The time vortex surrounded Jack’s body and he disappeared.

“You’ve got to dispose of that body,” Li Tuo told him. “In the exact way it was found thirty years later. Otherwise there will be a paradox.”

Jack nodded. He lifted the body of Alden Fisher and dropped it into the foundation of the new high rise block of flats. The cement slowly covered it over as it sank. By morning the layer would have set. Nobody would set eyes on him again until the history of low cost housing in Bristol had turned full circle and the flats were demolished again.

“I did kill him,” Jack noted when he turned and followed Li Tuo into the TARDIS.

“Now you know the truth about what happened,” Li Tuo said. “You didn’t murder him. He tried to murder you. How do you feel about that?”

“I’m not sure I feel anything right now,” Jack answered. “I expect I will later, when I think about it, more. But I’m not going to shed any tears about him. He wasn’t who I thought he was.”

“That’s too often the case,” Li Tuo noted bitterly.

“I owe you one, though. Sending me back saved my life. 1960s medical knowledge would have left me dead or a vegetable at best.”

Li Tuo nodded in acceptance of his thanks. He went to the console and put the TARDIS in temporal orbit then he reached into his pocket and took out the ruby.

“I forgot all about that,” Jack admitted. He laughed. “There was a time when I’d have pocketed it myself… when I thought making money was all that mattered. That was a different time in my life… after I was the idealistic kid you saw tonight… and before I met my first Time Lord.”

Jack took the jewel and opened the TARDIS door. He stood on the threshold and threw the ruby out into space.

“I don’t need to buy a solar system.”

Li Tuo nodded again and set their course back to Liverpool’s Chinatown in the 1990s.

“I think we need another cup of tea,” he said.

“As long as I don’t wind up naked and a long way from home after I’ve drunk it,” Jack answered.

“You have my word of honour as a Time Lord of Gallifrey.”

“Good enough for me,” Jack decided.