Gynnell Dúccesci was nominally in charge of the group of boys who set out in the early hours of dawn on their orienteering adventure weekend, but only because he was a prefect within the Desert Camp school. Once they had travelled beyond sight of the camp and were using the position of the sun to mark their direction, he readily gave way to Benic Allassi and Merrick Karn. They had far more experience than he did of living in the wild – eight years of it when they had been a part of the lost tribe of Arrachii, living in an earlier era of Gallifrey’s history beyond the gateway of the Northern Oracle.

They weren’t going anywhere near the Oracle on this trip, or any other. That part of the desert was a forbidden zone controlled by invisible but very real sensors monitored by the Celestial Intervention Agency. The boys all knew that very real penalties awaited anyone who tried to enter what they called, in hushed conversations, ‘The Zone’.

Perhaps any other boys of that rebellious age when rules and restrictions chafed would have found a way to disobey. But the young Arcalians had already had the most serious brush with authority possible. They were in the desert because the Lord High President himself had decided that it was the kindest way of punishing them for an act of High Treason. And it was the Lord High President himself who had made them swear a solemn oath not to go near the Northern Oracle ever again.

Disobeying a man such as Lord de Lœngbærrow would be worse than Treason. It would be a mark on their very souls.

Besides, they had an example to set. Along with the experienced Arcalians were three youngsters who hadn’t been sent to the camp as punishment, but as a reward. The school in the desert was no longer regarded as a place of confinement for troublemakers, but a centre of excellence where callow youths became young men worthy to be called Sons of Gallifrey. The patriarchs of highly regarded Oldblood houses were pressing to have their sons educated there.

But the first students to be sent to the desert by choice were not Oldbloods, or even Newbloods. They were a group of ambitious young Caretakers. And in the desert where airy ideas about bloodlines were meaningless they had fitted in better than anyone expected. They had made friends with the Arcalian renegades. They had settled into their academic work.

And now they were taking part in their first long trek in the desert, without adult supervision. They were enthusiastic for the adventure, quick to learn the techniques of desert survival from their more experienced friends.

But there was always one question on their minds, one that Gynnell wished they would just ask and be done with it.

Will we meet any Outlanders?

“We’re going north-north-east, well away from dark territory,” he had told them. “The Outlanders mostly live in that zone where modern technology doesn’t work. We’re planning to reach Dravian Bluff by tomorrow, camping tonight at an oasis roughly halfway there. The Celestial Intervention Agency had a remote base at the Bluff in the old days. There are still supply dumps underground, though we’re well equipped and have no need to touch anything. The Bluff is a moderately difficult cliff, just the thing for you newbies to cut your teeth on.”

Jase Wandell, Shill Kale and Ari Sorren looked at Gynnell Dúccesci with something like awe. He was the one who planned all these outward bound trips and got the activities approved by Lord Artemus. He chose the groups that would go on the trips. He maintained the solar-powered hover-trikes that allowed them to travel for hundreds of miles a day across the desert, two boys to a trike, taking it in turns to drive and to ride pillion.

“We’ll stop for lunch in a few minutes,” he told the group telepathically. “There’s shade up against that rock formation against the mid-day heat.”

“What rock formation?” Shill asked, following Gynnell’s pointing finger but seeing nothing. A few minutes later, as the hover-trikes skimmed six inches above the hard-packed and baked red sand, the lone outcrop of red bedrock became more obvious. It was the size of a house – a Caretaker house, at least, not the mansions the highborn boys were used to. The geological term for it was an ‘erratic’, meaning that it had been deposited there millennia ago by a retreating glacier The wind had weathered it over those intervening millennia, in some parts carving passages all the way through so that the same wind now whistled through it, creating an eerie and constant ‘music’.

“It’s a bit of a monotonous tune,” Merrick pointed out as they sat in the shade of an overhanging piece of rock. It was still hot but they were out of the full glare of the sun at its zenith. They ate rehydrated food from numbered boxes carried in their packs and washed it down with rehydrated fruit juice that started out ice cold but ended up lukewarm by the end of the cup, such was the searing temperature in the desert at mid-day.

“Downright annoying, in my humble opinion,” Benic commented about the music. “It’s a pity it can’t be tuned.”

“Maybe it can.” The other boys watched as Ari climbed nimbly up the side of the rockface and examined the holes where the wind was creating the sounds. He put his hand over one and then another and the tone of the whistle changed. He experimented for a few minutes before actually producing a little tune by blocking one then the other of the holes. The boys laughed and cheered his efforts.

“Fantastic,” Gynnell proclaimed. “I think this rock will have to have an official name on the maps in future – Ari’s Pipes.”

The boys agreed with his proposal wholeheartedly. Ari sat down again quietly. Outside of the unique community of the Desert Camp he could not have drawn that much attention to himself. He came from a people who did their work quietly and unobtrusively, cleaning offices, serving their masters in the great houses. Showing his natural talent for music to a group of friends who included the sons of High Councillors was only possible because he had been given the opportunity to call those boys friends and to stand out in their crowd.

“We don’t have much music in the camp,” Benic said. “Perhaps it’s time to start an orchestra. We have Ari for the wind section.”

“I’ll ask my father if we might have some instruments,” Merrick suggested. “Gynnell, your brother has already contributed the hover-trikes. Our House can make its donation to the school this time. A fine silver flute for Ari, I think.”

“We’d need a music teacher,” Gynnell pointed out. “I can’t imagine anyone with those skills wanting to work in the desert.”

“We’ll put it to Lord Artemus when we get back. He always listens to good ideas.”

That decided they settled down to rest quietly for a while. Between the thirteenth hour and at least three in the afternoon desert travel was both unwise and unpalatable. It was just too hot with the sun directly overhead. They talked a little more, mostly of trivial matters, gradually falling quiet and dozing lightly in the shade, lulled by the natural music of ‘Ari’s Pipes’.

When they woke they drank more rehydrated juice and ate energy bars before clearing any sign of their refreshments and setting off again on their scheduled trek. The hover-trikes had been left in the sunlight. The solar batteries were primed, but there was a slight drawback in that the saddles were now uncomfortably hot to sit on. That one complaint aside the renewed journey was a pleasant one. Ari proved that he could hold a tune telepathically, too, and amused them all with a selection of folk songs of the Yardages.

“We need a song for our school – an Anthem of the Desert,” Gynnell suggested. “Ari, give it some thought.”

“You mean, compose a song?” Ari was a little doubtful about that. “I can do tunes in my head, but I’m not so good at making up words.”

“I can do that,” Jase volunteered. For a little while he tuned out of the telepathic chatter. His thoughts when his friends touched on them were a collection of disjoined words and phrases. Then he called them all to attention.

Erei asagoi desortu rou
progeni prima aron dou
faro se inarun swaee, astari inarun chiie
Insu tateu inarun laee.


Oh asagaoi desortu charo
Oh asagaoi desortu fratiu
Asagaoi desertu achi incho
Ii duno o unfraee.

So the low Gallifreyan verse and chorus ran.

The desert sun burns hot and red
Warming the blood of its sons.
With strength in our limbs and truth on our tongues
And courage in our hearts.


Oh, my desert-sun friends
Oh, my desert-sun brothers
Desert-sun warms our hearts
In darkness or despair.

“There you go, Ari, fit a tune to that,” Gynnell said. “While Jase composes a couple of extra verses extolling the virtues of strength, truth and courage that the Desert Arcalians hold true to.”

Ari did just that. Before they had travelled another fifty miles he had taught them the tune telepathically. When they were all confident enough about it they sang out loud, their voices, ranging from Gynnell’s manly bass baritone to Shill’s high, clear tenor harmonised surprisingly well and the sound must have carried a long way across the empty desert above the hum of the solar powered hover-trike engines.

“A pity there is nobody out there to appreciate our efforts,” Benic commented when they stopped singing for a while.

“I hope there isn’t, anyway,” Merrick added. “Are you sure there are no Outlanders in this area, Gyn? I’d hate to think what they would make of it all.”

“I couldn’t be sure of anything as far as Outlanders are concerned. “They don’t follow any rules and nor do they have any set routes that they travel. But Braxietel told me his tribe don’t go this far south-west until later in the year.”

“How many tribes are there?” Jase asked. “Maybe we will come across some of the others.”

“I hope not,” Benic said with a fervour that surprised his friends. “I really don’t want to get involved with them again. I had enough of them with the Arrachii.”

“They won’t approach us,” Gynnell assured his friend. “Outlanders don’t want contact with us. I have a sort of ‘understanding’ with Braxietel. I show him my plans for treks, and he tells me if there is anything I ought to know about – animal herds or dangerous plants around the oases. But Braxietel isn’t a born Outlander. He’s a Time Lord who renounced our society. The others, those born to it, don’t want to get involved with us, in case we interfere with their life.”

“Why would we? There’s only six of us.”

“I don’t mean us,” Gynnell corrected. “I mean… us… as in Time Lords, the people WE come from. In the camp we are between the two worlds in a way. We still belong to the Capitol with the High Council passing laws and maintaining control over our lives. But we also know a little bit about their world, too, about living in the desert. We have it easy with lightweight tents and trikes, and rehydrated food packs, of course. They eat the flesh of animals they kill and make their clothes and tents of the skins.”

Merrick and Benic both nodded. They had lived that way for eight years. They had learnt not to mind the smell of untreated leonate fur clothes and to hunt and kill, to prepare and eat meat cut from the bones of the same animal. They understood completely what Gynnell meant about the two worlds.

“How could our society interfere with theirs?” Shill asked.

“You have to understand,” Gynnell answered. “The High Council don’t even officially acknowledge that anyone lives on Gallifrey outside of their law. And as long as the Outlanders keep their distance they are content to go on that way. Of course, we have stories, but they are mostly no more factual than tales of the Toclafane. Should things change, should there be a closer contact between Outlanders and Time Lords, then I think the Time Lords might well seek to curtail their freedom, bring them under our law.”

“That wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Benic said. “Our laws are fair.”

“Our laws are fair to us. But not to the Outlanders. Our laws are nothing to do with them,” Merrick argued. “And they WOULD be affected in all of the wrong ways. Their lives would change for the worse.”

“How?” Jase asked.

“When we were ‘recovering’ from our experience with the Arrachii,” Merrick continued. “The Lord High President talked to us quite a lot. He was concerned that we should be able to ‘integrate’ into the school again after living as ‘men’ in the tribe. One afternoon, he told me some things about the world his lady wife comes from. On Earth, he said, there were once many tribes in different parts of that planet where people lived much as our Outlanders did. In a place called America they roamed great plains hunting animals called ‘buffalo’. Then men with laws like ours came. They drew maps and said that the lands belonged to their government. They forced the tribes into places called ‘reservations’ and to keep them there they killed all the buffalo. It happened in a place called Australia, too, and in a land called Africa the tribes-people were taken away and made to be slaves of the lawmaking people. Much further back in their history, a tribe called Aztecs were simply massacred and their whole society destroyed in order to make way for those with ‘laws’ and maps.”

“It is true that Braxietel is the only one who knows about maps drawn on paper,” Gynnell said. “The others keep the topography in their heads. But I never thought of a map as a way of curtailing freedom before.”

“Then you ought to ask Lord de Lœngbærrow to take you with him to Earth,” Merrick told him. “There you need something called a ‘passport’ to travel across water separating two parts just like the straits that separate our northern and southern continents. But those kinds of changes, even if they have never heard of Americans or Australians or Aztecs, are just what the Outlanders fear. That is why they won’t cross our paths knowingly and we should try not to come into contact with them.”

The point was solemnly made. For a while all six boys travelled quietly, thinking about the fate of the American natives and their plains buffalo as outlined by Merrick. Then Ari started to sing again. They had become too solemn. They lightened their mood once more as the afternoon turned to evening and they drew near the oasis marked on Gynnell’s paper map where they planned to camp for the night.

The oasis was in a hollow and nearly impossible to see until they were right upon it. Even the boys with experience of tribal life were in awe of Gynnell’s pathfinding skills. They dismounted the trikes and wheeled them down through the trees bearing fruits that would supplement their evening diet, towards the cool, tempting pool of water in the lowest part of the depression.

Then their cheerful mood and their boyish adventure was plunged into horror. There were two men there by the water – one dying, one possibly already dead.

“Come on,” Merrick said. “We have to help them.”