Kristoph materialised his TARDIS just outside the area of Liverpool known as Chinatown. Normally he would have gone directly to the Chinese garden at the back of Mai Li Tuo’s herbalist shop, but he felt he needed the time it took to walk up the road to gather his thoughts about the bad news he had to break to his friend.

He noticed that the dark blue Toyota 4x4 parked outside the shop had Cardiff plates on it, but that didn’t signify until he had been taken through to the garden by the young woman who served in the shop. He carefully observed the young man in semi-military clothes who was sitting in the pagoda with Li. The two of them seemed on friendly terms. But after all, Captain Jack Harkness worked for Torchwood, and their remit was to monitor and control alien life on planet Earth.

By ‘control’, they generally meant ‘eliminate’.

Harkness spotted Kristoph as soon as he stepped closer and made his presence known. He stood and saluted him. Kristoph returned the salute, as one former soldier to another.

“I did not expect to see you here,” he commented. “Is this official business?”

“Kinda,” Harkness answered in his mid-Atlantic accent. “I was just talking to Mr Li about…”

“Li is his given name,” Kristoph reminded him. “Chinese names begin with the surname. So that’s Mr Mai if you are going to be so formal.”

“I did not think to correct him,” Li said. “It is good to see you, my dearest and oldest friend.”

“I didn’t expect to be here,” Kristoph admitted. “I bring grave news from home. It would be better if….”

“I’ll push off and talk to the girl in the shop for a bit,” Jack Harkness said. “You guys obviously have stuff to talk about.”

He pushed off. Kristoph sat down. Li offered him tea. He accepted, but only because he was putting off the moment when he had to break his friend’s hearts. He was carefully blocking his thoughts. He wanted to find the right words. He still wasn’t sure what they were going to be.

He went for simplicity. He told Li what had happened quickly and directly. Li took the news stoically, as he expected him to do. He was a Time Lord. He didn’t wear his hearts on his sleeve. He didn’t cry. He couldn’t. He didn’t have tear ducts. Kristoph felt his inner sorrow all the same.

“It was kind of you to bring the news to me,” he said.

“The least I can do for you, old friend,” Kristoph answered.

“Lily… is she…?”

“My mother has insisted on at least two days’ bedrest. But she will recover, physically. Emotionally, the comfort of friends and time will heal.”

“Yes.” Li nodded. “Can I speak to her? The videophone….”

“She was sleeping when I left. I hope she still is. Marion would appreciate a word from you. She is worried for you as well as Lily. It would do her good to talk to you.”

“I will do that,” Li said. “Stay here, friend. We shall talk again in a little while.”

Li walked into the house. His step was heavier, slower than usual. He looked as old as he truly was. Kristoph was sorry to see him like that. But time and friendship would heal him, too.

“Hey….” Jack Harkness returned to the garden wiping a smudge of lipstick from his face. He had obviously gone further than talking to the girl in the shop. “Is he ok? What was the news that you brought?”

“None of your business, Captain,” Kristoph answered tersely. Harkness’s eyes flickered. For a brief moment he looked hurt by the brush off before he regained his composure.

“Hey, that’s… ok. I mean, you’re right. It’s just… I like the old man. When my boss sent me up here on… well, that’s need to know, too. I’m sure you understand. Well, look, I dropped by to see how he was doing. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“You work for an organisation dedicated to eliminating alien life on this planet, and you keep Li’s address in your filofax,” Kristoph answered. “There is a lot that is wrong with that.”

“He won’t come to any harm as long as I’m on this planet,” Harkness. “You have my word on that. I will protect him… and you… and… and any of your… kind.”

“That’s a very solemn vow,” Kristoph told him.

“Don’t laugh. I meant it.”

Kristoph knew he did. He could feel the sincerity of his intent as an almost palpable thing. Beneath an outwardly brash manner there was a kernel of honesty and integrity, possibly reserved for when he was in the presence of Time Lords.

“If, by my kind, you mean my wife and myself and our descendants, then all well and good. But if you mean my race, then you should bear in mind that we have rotten eggs in the basket. That is why Li and I worked for our external intelligence agency, tracking down Renegades. If you come across one of those, then be ready to fight with whatever weapons Torchwood has in its arsenal.”

Harkness frowned as he took in that information.

“As for ‘need to know’, I think you’d better come clean. You obviously wanted something from Li other than a bowl of green tea.”

“Local knowledge of this city,” Harkness admitted. “And possibly some wider knowledge of hostile alien species.”

“Which species?” Kristoph asked sharply. “If there’s something dangerous here then you can drop all that ‘need to know’ nonsense and tell me – either willingly or unwillingly. And don’t imagine for one minute I’d have any qualms about the latter option.”

Jack Harkness considered that statement for about ten seconds before making the right decision.

“Gebellians,” he said. “You know about that species?”

“Enough to know I wouldn’t want to meet one without a weapon in my hand,” Kristoph answered. “Li must have told you much the same thing if you asked him. We once had to destroy a space station that had been infested with them.”

“Yes,” Harkness admitted. “He told me. I told him about the Welsh village I had to sanitise in the 1950s when the population were turned into larva hosts. What I didn’t get around to telling him was that a pod of them landed somewhere in Liverpool two days ago. We tracked their descent, but we have no base in this part of England to respond to the emergency. Torchwood Glasgow is useless. London never seems to recognise any part of the British Empire north of the Home Counties, so it got dumped on Cardiff. I persuaded Alex that I could handle it. But….”

“You’re not so sure you can?”

“I didn’t say that. I just thought… seeing as there is a retired intergalactic assassin living here, I might get some experienced back up.”

“This isn’t a good time,” Kristoph told him. “It would be better if you left him alone. But if a pod has dug in anywhere in a city this size then you can’t handle it alone. And not with any weapons that exist on this planet in this century.”

“I work for Torchwood. We have plenty of special firepower. I came equipped.”

“I hope your special firepower wasn’t in the 4x4 you parked outside,” said Li Tuo, returning to the garden. “It has just been towed away. You’ve been parked in a thirty minute waiting zone for over two hours, my friend.”

Jack Harkness uttered an expletive that he learnt the meaning of in the space ports of the Gannymede quadrant and ran from the garden, charged through the shop, to the surprise of the girl he had been chatting up before, and out into the street where he shouted impotently at the low-loader that was already heading out of Chinatown with his Toyota on the back.

Kristoph and Li followed him out in time to stop him from raising a handgun and firing at the recovery vehicle.

“Put that away. This is twentieth century England not New York in the thirtieth,” Li told him, staying his arm with a strength that belied his apparent age. “There are better ways.”

Kristoph raised his sonic screwdriver instead. He pointed it at the low-loader. The vehicle stalled suddenly. While the driver tried in vain to restart it, Jack Harkness sprinted towards it and demanded his car back. That got him nowhere, of course. Kristoph calmly walked towards him. He touched Harkness on the shoulder and advised him to be still. Then he spoke very quietly and steadily to the driver, telling him that it was all a mistake and that there was no need to take that car away.

“How the heck did you do that?” Jack asked as he examined his car for damage and the low-loader drove away without its quarry aboard. “He wasn’t having any of it from me.”

“Power of Suggestion,” Kristoph answered. “It doesn’t last for long. He’ll be back in a few minutes. So if we’re going to track down that nest of Gebellians I suggest we get going now.”

“We?” Jack Harkness queried.

“Do you really enjoy dying?” Kristoph asked him. “Those creatures can rip you to shreds. It was either foolish or over-ambitious of you to try to take them without back up. Or were you hoping to join up with a retired Celestial Intervention Agency man on this operation?”

“I kinda hoped he’d be up for it,” Jack Harkness admitted.

“I hope your firepower is as good as you claim,” Li told him, opening the passenger door of the car. “I have no desire to die today.”

“Nor me,” Kristoph added. “My wife would be very annoyed. This is your operation, Captain. Your plan had better involve us all coming out alive.”

“You’re both coming?” Jack was more than a little surprised.

“If Torchwood are going to cause havoc in Liverpool, then I’m going to make sure no innocent lives are at risk,” Li told him.

“Lily is still sleeping,” he added to Kristoph telepathically. “Your mother gave her one of her special preparations to help her rest fully. I hope to speak to her when she wakes, but that will be a few hours, yet. I might as well do something until then.”

“Let’s not delay any more,” Kristoph said aloud. “If those things swarm, Liverpool could be laid waste in a few days.”

He climbed into the back of the car and made himself comfortable. Captain Harkness drove competently in the mid-afternoon traffic. Kristoph and Li both knew that he was reckless in most things, including his intimate relationships with both sexes, but when it came to manoeuvring a large car through a built up area he erred on the side of caution.

Which is not to say that he didn’t get as impatient as anyone else when they hit a tailback caused by roadworks on the junction of Paradise Street and the Strand.

“Goddamn it,” he complained. “In Cardiff I could have got a cute brunette computer hacker to get all the lights turned green and a clear road ahead all the way.”

“That’s cheating,” Kristoph told him, though with a wry smile. He had done exactly the same thing to the Liverpool traffic system in order to get Marion to the church on time for their first Earth wedding. Unfortunately it had taken several days to set that up and there was nothing he could do to help the situation now.

“We’re dealing with a Gebellian infestation,” Jack Harkness reminded him. “Cheating is allowed. By the way, what do you know about New York in the thirtieth century?”

“I know it was the most lawless place in the galaxy for most of that century, thanks to the abolition of the police in that city,” Kristoph answered. “I tracked down a Fraxian crack dealer there. He had been trying to set up business on Tibora, one of Gallifrey’s dominion planets and fled when the Celestial Intervention Agency got close, using rudimentary hypertime travel. He was making a profit in New York by the time I got there, and employed a gang to protect him from rival dealers. I wasted a lot of time fighting them off before I got to my target and finished him off.”

“Finished off, as in assassinated?” Jack Harkness asked. “And when you say you fought off his protection….”

“I killed them, of course. That was my job back then in the Agency. Surely that doesn’t shock you, Captain? Your own career has involved a fair amount of bloodshed.”

“It doesn’t shock me at all,” Jack Harkness answered him. “I was just thinking you are exactly the man I need on this mission. Somebody who isn’t worried about shooting first and asking questions later.”

“On this mission we’re looking for Gebellians,” Kristoph reminded him. “They don’t generally answer questions. I just intend to shoot them.”

As the Toyota finally got past the roadworks and picked up speed on The Strand, heading past the gentrified part of the old Liverpool docks and into the more industrial part, and from there into the mostly derelict parts that had yet to be turned into luxury apartments, leisure complexes and retail units he felt a brief uncertainty. He had not gone into a ‘hot zone’ for more than a lifetime. He knew he could still fire a weapon. He knew he could still hit a target. But was he ready for what lay ahead?

Was Li ready? He had been inactive for even longer. Were they both going to meet their deaths on a mission that wasn’t even theirs. Would Marion and Lily know an even greater grief than they had faced already today?