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 lunch 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.”

He was the first to reach the two men. Gynnell was a close second. He examined both of them and confirmed that they were both alive, though only just and called to Shill to get the first aid kit from his pack and to Jase to get clean water from the oasis.

“What happened to them?” Ari asked. He assisted Gynnell with the in extremis man while Merrick and Shill attended to the other. Both had deep wounds on their bodies, probably caused by the long, sharp knives that lay near to them, the edges dulled by drying blood. The one close to death had almost lost his arm. It was hacked through with a very sharp weapon. The other had a gash on his side that was bleeding so badly that even a Gallifreyan with their ability to regenerate tissue and repair wounds could not begin to recover without help.

“A tribal fight,” Benic said. He was the only one hanging back. He looked at the two men with an expression of disdain. “They’re Outlanders, obviously. Look at them.”

That much had been obvious from a first glance. They were clothed in nothing but animal skins around the waist and their bodies were tattooed with symbols using a muddy brown colour of ‘ink’. Their hair and beards were rough and their skin tanned deeply under the tattoos.

“They’re from the same tribe,” Merrick pointed out. “The symbols on their chests denote that. I wonder if they were attacked by another faction and left for dead?”

“Do the tribes fight each other, then?” Shill asked in a worried tone.

“Not that I’ve ever heard,” Gynnell answered. “Besides, that’s not our concern now. We need to save their lives.”

“We shouldn’t interfere,” Benic said. “It’s THEIR way.”

“He has a slight point,” Merrick admitted. He was holding a tube of cream that was meant to be put over deep wounds to aid repair. Not only was it antiseptic, but it dried instantly into what amounted to a ‘skin’ over the wound and began the work of knitting the flesh back together. It was carried in the field medical kits for precisely this use – mending a wound that was too deep and too grievous to be allowed to repair on its own, especially in a hostile environment like the desert.

But it was a proprietary brand made in a factory in the Capitol – an invention of Time Lord civilisation. The Outlander method of caring for the injured was far different. Saving this man’s life by such a method was the very sort of interference that he had talked about earlier.

“No,” Gynnell insisted. “I know they probably won’t be grateful for our intervention, but I won’t sit here and let them die when we COULD help.”

He was examining the dying man’s arm. He could amputate it quickly enough. He had a good sharp knife in his belt for cutting meat if they hunted their own food on their trek. It could cut through a man’s flesh as easily.

But an Outlander with only one arm would be severely disabled. He was still relatively young, but he would not be able to hunt or build shelter. He would be an unproductive burden on his people.

Gynnell was young, himself. He wasn’t a Time Lord and wouldn’t be one for decades, yet. But he was strong. His mind and body was sharp. His natural extra-sensory skills were honed.

He placed one hand over the wound and the other on the forehead of the stricken Outlander. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He found his way into the mind of the unconscious man and soothed the searing agony that afflicted him in his dying minutes. Then he focussed on the wound. He saw in his mind the severed arteries and veins, the torn muscles and cartilage, the hacked bone, the flesh cut through. He willed them to repair. It was difficult and utterly exhausting. There was good reason why Gallifreyan surgeons used laser scalpels and micro-tools rather than healing with their mind. It was not easy to will a severed artery to fix together again while the blood was still pouring from it. Bone and muscle didn’t easily knit together. The nerve fibres were the most difficult of all. If those were not repaired then the arm would be put back on, blood would flow through it, the flesh would remain living tissue, but it would be useless.

“What happened?” Gynnell opened his eyes and noticed that the sun was low down over the oasis trees and there was less heat and light from it than there had been the last time he looked at it.

“You knocked yourself out for nearly three hours,” Benic answered him. “Complete mental lockdown. You overdid it with the telekinetic surgery, Gyn.”

“The man… his arm… is he….” Gynnell tried to sit up, but a whole constellation of silvery stars floated in front of his eyes and a multi-coloured aurora nearly blinded him. He closed his eyes and waited for his head to settle down.

“He’s going to be all right,” his friend told him. “You saved his arm and the other wounds are starting to repair by themselves now. He’s still unconscious. So is the other one. Merrick put them into a deep sleep. They should stay that way for the night. Now that you’re awake we can get away from here. With the trikes we’ll be miles away before they know anything about it.”

“I told you, we’re not going anywhere,” Merrick contradicted him. “Apart from anything, it’s too late to reach another oasis. We need to stay here overnight and you’re going to have to accept that whether you like it or not, Benic.”

“What’s the problem?” Gynnell forced himself up into a sitting position and THEN opened his eyes. That was a little easier. His vision started to focus. He saw the two men lying under silver emergency covers that kept their bodies at a safe and comfortable temperature. He saw the ‘newbies’ collecting water, picking fruit from the trees and piling wood for a campfire. Merrick was sitting close to the two patients, but Benic was as far from them as he could get without actually going behind a tree.

“Benic is the problem,” Merrick answered. “He doesn’t like Outlanders.”

“Well, you’re in the wrong part of Gallifrey, then,” Gynnell told his friend. “Since when did you have a problem with them, anyway?”

“Since I had to live with them for eight years, obviously,” Benic answered.

“None of us were thrilled about that,” Merrick pointed out. “But we did learn such a lot of amazing things. It was an experience… a useful experience. And none of us were hurt by it, really. You settled to the life as much as any of us did. You went hunting and took part in the rituals just like one of the tribe.”

“Only because I had no choice. I was glad to get away, get back to the camp, to normal life. I like these trips on the hover-trikes. We’re still us, still civilised. But I don’t want anything more to do with Outlanders, do you get that? Do you understand?”

“I don’t understand,” Merrick answered. “But if that’s how you really feel, then just sit over there and eat ‘civilised’ rehydrated food and drink rehydrated juice. The rest of us are going to have toasted ground cheese and oasis fruits and coffee made with fresh water over a camp fire and we’re going to make sure those men are fit and well before we go our way and they go theirs.”

It was true that he had lit the camp fire using a laser flame rather than the Outlander method of rubbing sticks together. His excuse was that it was still too hot for that much effort just to make coffee. Besides, they WERE city people. Using their technology to make survival in the desert easier wasn’t against the rules.

There weren’t any rules. That was the point of being out here in this way. When they had lived with the Arrachii, of course, it had been different. They had done as they did. But as Arcalians on a field trip, they did it their way.

“We really should get the tents up before we eat,” Merrick said, putting an end to the discussion. “Gyn, you take things easy. The newbies can do that. It’ll do them good. I’ll sort out the food.”

Benic DID choose to eat separately. He felt as if the others were snubbing him, but rather it was him snubbing them. The ‘newbies’ had never seen ground cheese before and fully appreciated the experience of eating it under the stars. It was the fruit of a plant that grew in well watered but hot places like the oasis, and had the consistency and taste of cheese. It toasted like cheese when stuck on a stick and placed into the fire and made for a pleasant alternative to the processed food in their packs. Gynnell started to feel a lot better with the food and drink to revive his spirits. Merrick kept a close eye on the two injured men, who slept on while their bodies repaired fully. The others talked quietly around the fire and after a while sung, too. After all, singing around a campfire was one of the most natural and normal things for anyone to do. Merrick mentioned that it was what the Arrachii did when the sun went down. They had tribal songs.

“Our ‘Anthem’ is a tribal song in its way,” Ari said. “It identifies who we are – the Arcalian Sons of the Desert. We’re a tribe of our own in our own camp.”

“Yes, we are,” Gynnell agreed. “And a good tribe, at that, pulling together for the good of all. At least… most of us are.” He glanced around at Benic. He had been a friend ever since they were all Tyros on their first day at the Arcalian Academy. He had weathered the storm along with them all after the Tau Rho affair. They had all settled down to life in the camp together. But his experience with the Arrachii had etched something into his soul and it was expressing itself now in disturbing ways.

Maybe he would come out of his funk when he realised how much he was missing out on. Everybody else was having a nice evening. Even Merrick joined in with the campfire jollity in between keeping an eye on the two sleeping men.

If not, something would have to be done. They were all friends. They couldn’t be at odds with each other that way.

“Hush a minute,” Merrick called out. “I think one of them….”

The group around the fire stopped their singing. They immediately heard one of the men murmuring in the dialect of the Outlanders. It was the one whose arm had been saved by Gynnell’s efforts. Merrick moved closer to him and spoke softly in the same dialect, reassuring him that he was safe. The man opened his eyes slowly. He spoke again, a little stronger, less incoherent.

“Ask him his name,” Gynnell told him. “Find out a little about him.”

Merrick asked the question, but the man raised a hand to him.

“It’s… all… right,” the man said to him in the ordinary Low Gallifreyan that they all recognised. “You speak the dialect well, but there is… no need. Help me to sit….”

Merrick did as he asked. Shill brought a plate of toasted ground cheese and gave it to the man, who thanked him sincerely.

“You’re welcome,” Merrick told him. “But I think my friends and I would like to know how you and your companion came to be in such a sorry state as we found you.”

“Is that coffee I smell?” he responded. “It must be a thousand years since I had a cup of coffee. A taste of that to soothe the dryness of my throat and I will tell you everything.”