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

“Yes,” Kristoph agreed. “I knew it wouldn’t be. But we have a lot of men depending on us figuring out how to do it safely.”

“Putting the Freighter under ‘tow’ using the gravity forces from all three TARDISes together is the easy part. More difficult is getting the TARDISes and the freighter back to the time and space location we started from using that artificial time rift.”

“Yes,” Kristoph concurred.

The difficulty, of course, was the actual mass of the freighter which existed in one physical dimension and the relative mass of three dimensionally relative TARDISes working in unison. It was further complicated by the fact that they didn’t entirely know what their present temporal location was. It was a calculation even the best TARDIS pilot wouldn’t want to do manually.

“This might help,” The Corsair said, handing Kristoph a data wafer that he immediately slotted into the receptacle on his console. The information it contained was very interesting, indeed. It completed one part of the puzzle.

“This is my calculation for our return journey,” The Corsair added, handing him a data printout on an inch wide plastic cell. “Do your figures agree with mine?” Kristoph turned to his console which produced another printed cell from a slot. He studied the figures on both. His TARDIS computer and The Corsair’s had registered near identical calculations of their return journey.

“Within point-seven-seven-seven thousand recurring,” Kristoph noted. “I think we can call that agreement. We’ll go with it.”

The Corsair nodded and went back to his own console room through the connecting door. The door closed and Kristoph waited until he heard The Corsair on the communicator. They carefully synchronised their actions as they set the co-ordinates for that most complicated TARDIS manoeuvre. The engines of all three time and space capsules groaned with the effort of towing the Freighter Omega back through the temporal rift with them. Lessage yelled in outrage claiming that his TARDIS engine was close to implosion, but The Corsair laughed and called him a coward. Lessage protested about the insult to his honour, but Kristoph ignored his objections.

Finally they were in normal space again. The freighter was with them. The TARDIS engines were ticking over in quiet mode.

Two of them were, at least.

Lessage’s TARDIS was missing.

“What happened?” Kristoph asked. “Why didn’t Lessage come through the rift with us?”

The Corsair did not answer by the console communicator. Instead the door opened again and he stepped through.

“I cut him loose,” he admitted. “Sent him back through the Rift. You know why I did it.”

“I know that he was implicit in the piracy. I was slightly suspicious when I found him here at the co-ordinate in the first place. It’s not as if he was especially interested in finding the ship and her crew.”

“Then he mentioned the fact that the owners of the diamonds would be compensated for the loss,” The Corsair added. “And I know you sent an inquiry. He owned the bulk of the diamonds?”

“He did.”

“Doubtless he was planning to profit both ways - by taking a cut of the stolen diamonds and claiming compensation.”

“I imagine that was part of the plan.”

“And the final evidence of his complicity, of course, was the time-space co-ordinate from the other side of the temporal rift contained on his TARDIS database. He discharged the artron particles and opened the rift in the first place, thrusting the Omega into it, knowing that his associates would be waiting to rob the freighter at the other end.”

“Yes,” Kristoph again agreed.

“Then he planned to go through himself, collect his share of the diamonds at a pre-arranged place, and return, again a simple task when he had the co-ordinate safely in his database and knew he could not get lost. He was about to do that when you arrived at the point where the ship went missing.”

“Again I had worked that much out once I knew his vested interest in the cargo. The actions of the Captain himself was the only part I didn’t guess.”

“Lessage either bribed him or he was equally complicit. You will have noted his Newblood name. The family are connected to Lessage through the marriage of his daughter.”

“I noted as much. Of course it is obvious that The Captain murdered the First Mate. For that he will be declared Renegade and his name expunged. There are enough witnesses to his actions. He cannot hope to avoid being implicated. What a fool he was to give up his honour, his home and family for so little – for a mere share in a diamond haul. He might even lose his life, yet. The Celestial Intervention Agency will certainly put a man on the case. Before they subject him to their own brand of justice, they will have the whole story from him. They have methods of extracting information that a cowardly traitor like him will not withstand for long.”

Kristoph’s expression was hard as he said that. In his past he had dealt that kind of justice, he had extracted information from cowards and traitors of all sorts. He had little doubt that his successors in the Agency would do the same.

“Exactly so,” The Corsair said. “But until he is arrested, there is nobody to point the finger at Lessage. All we have is circumstantial evidence that a snake like him would wriggle out of. THAT’s why I cut him loose. His TARDIS was thrust back into the Rift without any co-ordinates. It could be a long time before he finds his way back to Gallifrey – if ever.”

“That’s a devious thing to do,” Kristoph said. “Not entirely ethical.”

“Neither is Lessage.”

“That is true. I shall have to report that his capsule was lost in the temporal jump, an unfortunate accident. His loss will doubtless be mourned by his family. My sister’s husband will become Patriarch once his older brother is officially declared dead. That will please her. It is fortunate that my own reputation is beyond reproach – and that it is generally known that my sister and I are not close. Nobody will imagine I did this deliberately in order to give her a social advantage.”

“Perish the thought,” The Corsair said. “But what now, Excellency? Do we bring the Freighter back to Gallifrey under tow through the vortex or should we head for the nearest space station – Argona III if I am not mistaken - and ensure she gets an overhaul before continuing on her journey?”

“That would be for the Second Mate – as acting captain – to decide. The crew were all at their posts aboard the Freighter when we brought it through the rift. There is no question of salvage rights for either of us. If the acting Captain wishes to continue the journey and his crew are in agreement, then that is what they should do.”

When asked, the Second Mate was very much anxious to continue the journey to trade with civilisations at the far side of the nine galaxies, if they had anything to trade with. The diamonds, he reminded them, were stolen.

“Let me deal with that,” The Corsair said. “I’ll rendezvous with you at Argona III in sixteen galactic hours.”

“What do you intend?” Kristoph asked, knowing that the reason The Corsair was known by that soubriquet was that he was borderline Renegade with the tentative approval of successive presidencies to carry out his largely undocumented activities in deep space, much as the Corsairs of old Earth history had the French government’s leave to carry out actions that would otherwise be called ‘piracy’.

“I intend to do something those of us who worry about Time Lord honour can’t do,” The Corsair replied. “Especially not you, Excellency. As I said, I will rendezvous with you in sixteen hours. Good journey, My Lord President.”

The ‘Excellency’ and ‘My Lord President’ were more than just formal words recognising his rank. They were, Kristoph realised, warnings that he should not enquire too deeply into The Corsair’s methods because he might be forced to withdraw that tacit approval.

“There but for the Grace of Rassilon,” Kristoph whispered as he watched The Corsair cross the threshold and close the door. Moments later he knew the other TARDIS was gone. He told the acting Captain of the Omega to allow his ship to be put under his pilotage as far as the space station, then the men could have ‘shore leave’ and a chance to call their loved ones. The murder of the First Mate, disappearance of the Captain and the loss of Lord Lessage and his TARDIS could all be reported as well.

Kristoph used the time to call Marion. He was surprised to see that she was still in Liverpool, but fully understood her reasons when he saw Rodan sitting on Li’s lap.

“My dear, here is somebody to see you,” he said and gave the videophone screen to Argis Mielles. The child’s face turned from strained hope to joy when she saw her grandfather. Kristoph let them talk for as long as they needed. Besides, that sixteen hour deadline was coming up soon, and he was curious to know what The Corsair was up to.

His curiosity was sated very quickly when he went down to the freight deck and watched the arrival of a small fighter ship that was broadcasting an intergalactic non-combatant signal to the port authorities. The signal meant that the armed ship was allowed to dock in the civilian port, but guards surrounded it and an official with an electronic tablet waited to question the pilot.

It was The Corsair who disembarked from the fighter’s cockpit. He produced documents for the official that identified him as a certified space salvage operator who was claiming this abandoned vessel as his legitimate bounty.

The official had dealt with such claims before. He had the correct forms for The Corsair to sign. Kristoph waited until the formalities were completed before approaching him.

“Abandoned vessel?” he queried.

“It was once I boarded it and ‘persuaded’ the crew to get into their lifepod,” he answered. “In case you haven’t worked it out, yet, this is the vessel that hijacked the Omega. The stolen diamonds are in the hold, along with a lot of booty from other acts of piracy. I expect the Intergalactic Police will have records of the legitimate owners. I should make a tidy sum in finder’s fees for that haul, plus I can sell the fighter for scrap.”

“So that’s what you actually do out here in space. You really are a Corsair – a pirate in all but name.”

The Corsair grinned. He knew that the Lord High President was not censuring him for his methods.

“The Gallifreyan diamonds weren’t reported missing, yet, so they don’t need to go through that process. If you take charge of them the Omega can continue its journey without any further trouble.”

“That is very generous of you, especially since you know that the owner of the diamonds isn’t in a position to claim them. You could have kept the lot.”

“I may be many things,” The Corsair replied. “But I am still an honourable man, and loyal to my world, to my Lord High President, and to Rassilon. If dishonour is brought on any of those, it is not by my hand, thought or deed.”

Kristoph nodded.

“I believe you.”

Hours later, Kristoph was able to bid a good journey to The Corsair and to the Space Freighter Omega. When that was done he made his own journey to Liverpool on the evening of Chinese New Years’ Day. Marion was the first to run to embrace him. Rodan, leaving Li’s arms for the first time was the second. Then she forsook Kristoph, too, as her grandfather stepped from the TARDIS. She hugged him happily.

“I brought him back to see her,” Kristoph explained. “We can take him back to the Freighter on our way back to Gallifrey. It won’t take long to catch up with them again. It will be an excuse to check on the morale of the crew. And I want to get the Second Mate commissioned as full Captain. He deserves as much. He took command in the crisis very well.”

“For a Caretaker?”

“For a loyal son of Gallifrey. I would reward another loyal son, but he seems satisfied with his salvage rights.”

“Loyal? He sounds like a Renegade in all but name.”

“Some would say so. I would not.” He glanced at Li and nodded imperceptibly. “We use that term too easily for men who deserve better.”