Kristoph had heard the news about the disappearance of the SS Omega from the Diplomatic Corps just as he was changing in his chamber at the end of his session in the Panopticon. Remonte had called him seconds later having been given the news himself as one of Gallifrey’s offworld ambassadors. He had made his plans known to his brother and asked him to bring his wife and fosterling home for him. Remonte was glad to be of service, but he thought his brother unwise to be leading the search himself, and told him so.

“Brother of mine, this is not part of a grand plot to kidnap me,” he had responded. “Who would expect the Lord High President to go into deep space in search of a missing freighter?”

“Anyone who knows you, Kristoph,” Remonte had answered back. “Admittedly, that is a remote possibility. But there are other dangers and you should not knowingly place yourself into such jeopardy. You are the most important man on our world.”

“I am the most powerful, that is not the same as important. Any man of good character can be Lord High President. But only a handful of men understand the complexities of space travel as well as I do, and of them few could be contacted at this time. I go where my skills are most needed.”

“Good journey, brother,” Remonte had said, knowing that he could not dissuade him, and that he was now simply holding him up from beginning his task.

No, there was no need for him to remain in the Capitol as a figurehead president just now, Kristoph noted. But there was need right now for a man who understood how to pursue an investigation to its logical end, to solve mysteries, to cut through guile and deception, and seek retribution if it was deemed necessary.

As he homed in on the last known co-ordinates of the missing freighter, his communications console lit up with two incoming messages. The first was from a man he recognised as the Gallifreyan Ambassador to the planetary system of Vul in the distant star sector Vulpeculae.

“Excellency!” the Ambassador said with oily and insincere obsequiousness. “I did not expect you to divert your own efforts to this search.”

“Apparently nobody expected that, Ambassador Lessage,” Kristoph responded. “I did not expect to find you as part of this mission, either.”

That much was true. He had hoped for a couple of Celestial Intervention Agency men with experience close to his own.

“I was on business in this sector,” Lessage answered. “I was ordered to come to this co-ordinate and help with the investigation. I might add that I consider this an inconvenience. I DO still have business matters to complete.”

“Indeed,” Kristoph noted shortly. Vicane Lessage was his elder sister Oriana’s husband’s brother, and that distant kinship was close enough for his liking. If Lessage was doing business in the Argon sector it was almost certainly something of borderline legality in the Argonaun diamond market. Of course he would resent being interrupted in the course of that business by a mission of this sort, and Kristoph could hardly imagine him being much help.

“Prepare to run our TARDISes in tandem,” he said. “We need to co-ordinate our efforts.” Then he switched to the other incoming communication. He nodded with slightly more optimism as he saw the man piloting the third TARDIS that had reached the co-ordinate.

“Corsair!” he said. “I haven’t seen you for at least a millennium. You look a lot younger in this incarnation.”

“But I’m a thousand years smarter,” the stubble-faced man with deep set eyes and thick eyebrows responded. “Did I hear you addressed as ‘Excellency?’ Does that mean we’re in the presence of the Lord High President himself?”

“I left the Sash of Rassilon in my Chamber,” Kristoph replied. “We have no use for it here.”

“Indeed, not,” answered the Time Lord who had long before abandoned his family name and took The Corsair as his nomenclature. He was not from the Celestial Intervention Agency, but he had more TARDIS travel experience than any other Time Lord alive and he had proven courage, too. Kristoph was reassured by his arrival.

“I intercepted the distress signal from the freighter and headed straight here,” The Corsair added. “You will have noted already the presence of space debris in the co-ordinate, apparently indicating a catastrophic incident?”

“The ship exploded,” Lessage commented. Kristoph had not forgotten his communication was still live and that he was able to monitor the exchange with The Corsair. He had simply not regarded anything Lessage had to say as important. “There are no signs of lifepods. It must have happened too fast to launch them. All hands lost. Nothing to investigate.”

“Nothing!” The Corsair laughed coldly. “Look closer at that debris.”

“Look closer at what?” Lessage responded. “There is almost nothing left but dust and fragments of metal.”

“Both are of interest,” Kristoph said after glancing at his own console and the breakdown of substances found in the debris slowly spreading out from the point of cataclysm. “They prove at once that this is not the remnants of a Gallifreyan ship. There isn’t enough material for one of our deep space freighters, no matter what happened to it. Besides, the compounds are wrong. Common steel alloys, brass, fluoro-polymer of tetra-fluoro-ethylene…. This is of Human make. It isn’t even recent. It’s probably one of the old automated probes they sent out of their solar system before their own manned deep space programme began, something that has been out here drifting without power for centuries. I could well believe this had collided with the freighter. Such relics are hazardous to traffic, but it couldn’t have obliterated it so thoroughly that not even a particle of Gallifreyan alloy remains within the debris.”

“Perhaps you are mistaken,” Lessage suggested.

“Perhaps you are a fool,” The Corsair responded. “It is clear that something more than an ordinary accident has gone on here.”

“Piracy,” Kristoph murmured darkly.

“Mutiny,” Lessage commented. “Trusting Caretakers with valuable cargo – I’ve always said it’s a mistake. They’ll have taken the diamonds and run for a safe haven in a friendly space port. It is a waste of time looking for them.”

“I disagree with every part of your assessment of the situation,” The Corsair said in a contemptuous tone.

“As do I,” Kristoph added. “The men of our Gallifreyan Freight Service are the best and the most honest. They are loyal to our world and they consider the safe passage of any cargo a matter of honour. I am worried that they would have attempted to defend the ship and cargo against overwhelming odds and been massacred for their efforts. But we won’t know one way or another until we find the ship.”

“We won’t find it here,” Corsair pointed out. “Excellency, do you detect a trace of something else here? There has been a discharge of artron particles.”

Kristoph hadn’t seen that yet, but he would have got to it. The presence of those particles led him to three conclusions.

Firstly, the Freighter was the victim of an act of piracy.

Secondly, this was not the work of opportunistic space marauders lying in wait for a ship to come into the territory.


Thirdly could wait until he pieced together the evidence and he had something more than suspicions.

“Artron particle discharge, if done in a certain way, by somebody who knows what he is doing, can cause a temporal rift,” he said. “The ship could have been lost in time, not space.”

“Then it need not stay lost,” Corsair pointed out. “We have three TARDISes here. Mine is something of an antique, but it is fully functional. We can re-open the rift and reach the ship.”

“It takes a very precise calculation,” Kristoph pointed out. “And we must not lose hold of our originating position, because we would be travelling without co-ordinates and we risk losing ourselves, too.”

“I’m risking nothing of the sort,” Lessage said. “I was ordered to come to this co-ordinate to see what had happened. I’ve done that as far as I am concerned. I’m not going to risk my life for a ship full of peasants.”

Kristoph abandoned all pretence of diplomatic manner and his response to Lessage was filled with outrage and disgust. The Corsair kept his cool slightly better and merely called Lessage a snob and a coward.

“At least you might worry about the cargo of diamonds,” he added.

“If a cargo of diamonds goes missing, the value of the rest on the market increases, and on top of that the owners of the diamonds are compensated by the Freight Service.”

Kristoph held his tongue this time, but something in what Lessage said made him send a subspace message to Gallifrey requesting information. Meanwhile he wasted no further time arguing.

“Corsair, trace Lessage’s MAC code and take control of his TARDIS in case he tries to break formation. On my mark we open the rift together.”

It was dangerous. One or more of the three TARDISes could have accidentally broken free from the others, or all three could have been propelled out of the artificial rift by the sheer force of temporal physics working against them.

It was a hundred to one chance that they would come out anywhere, and a billion to one chance that they would come out anywhere near the missing Freighter.

“Billion to one chances happen nine times out of ten in a universe of skewed logic,” Corsair said with a grin on his face as they materialised in the same sector of space above the missing freighter.

“They do, indeed,” Kristoph responded. “I’m seeing lifesigns aboard, but they’re all concentrated in one place – a lower deck hold. The oxygen levels are disturbingly low. Elsewhere there has been catastrophic decompression. There is no air at all.”

“No damage, either,” The Corsair pointed out. “This was a deliberate act of sabotage.”

“The diamonds have gone,” Lessage noted. “They’ve been stolen.”

“To blazes with the diamonds,” The Corsair answered.

“My sentiments exactly,” Kristoph responded. “Lessage, stand by. We don’t need any help from you. Corsair, prepare to materialise in the cargo hold and give first aid to anyone in distress. I’m going to the bridge to see what I can do there.”

Lessage grumbled about the lack of interest in the stolen goods, but both Kristoph and The Corsair ignored him. Kristoph brought his own TARDIS to the ship’s bridge and extended the oxygen field so that he could reach the environmental controls. He was not entirely surprised to see that the life support across the entire ship apart from the one cargo hold was switched off. Switching it back on again was not difficult. It was not dissimilar to the life support system on his TARDIS. He made sure the cargo area was restored first, then the rest of the ship. In less than twenty minutes full life support was restored and soon after that the bridge crew, looking dishevelled, tired, but relieved, reached him. When they recognised the Lord High President they all bowed deeply to him, but he reminded them that he was not wearing the Sash of Rassilon and asked for a report on the crisis.

The report was given to him by the second mate. The Captain was missing and the First Mate was dead. He had been shot by the men who boarded the ship and forced the crew into the cargo hold at gunpoint.

“He resisted?” Kristoph asked.

“He tried to arrest the Captain,” the Second Mate responded. “The Captain betrayed us. He arranged for this all to happen. He brought us off course first of all. Then he let the ship get pulled into a vortex,” he answered. “When we came out of it, there was a fighter ship waiting. Men boarded. We were all locked in the hold. Air was running low. They meant for us to suffocate slowly while they stole the cargo. We had been there three galactic hours. We had less than an hour left before some of us died.”

Kristoph listened to the Second Mate’s report without comment, but he was seething with anger. He had vouched for the Caretaker crew’s honesty, and the courageous death of the First Mate vindicated him. The Captain was not a Caretaker. He was the younger son of a Newblood family.

He noted WHICH Newblood family, another piece of the puzzle.

“I’m going to get you all home,” Kristoph promised them. “Put the engines into static impulse mode and stand by for instructions.”

The Second Mate saluted. The other men bowed. Kristoph stepped back into the TARDIS and returned it to the position above the Freighter. The Corsair was waiting and immediately put his TARDIS into position. There was a thunk as the two capsules connected, then the door opened. The stockily built Time Lord with his distinctive Ouroborus tattoo on his arm stepped into the Lord High President’s console room and bowed to him.

“Don’t you start,” Kristoph told him. The Corsair grinned good-naturedly then became serious.

“Getting back isn’t going to be as easy as getting here, you know.”

“Yes,” Kristoph agreed. “I knew that would be the case. But we’ve got a lot of men depending on us figuring out a way.”