Benic stayed where he was, slightly outside the camp, proper, his back pressed against a tree. Voron looked towards him silently. With the light of the campfire spoiling his vision he shouldn’t have been able to see him properly, but Benic knew he could.

“I know you have questions, boy,” Voron said after a long silence. “Why don’t you ask them?”

“I have nothing to ask you,” Benic answered. “Why would I want to know anything about you?”

“Your friends were curious enough. It wouldn’t be natural for a boy your age not to want to know something about a character like me.”

“Why did you betray our Time Lord society to live among savages?” Benic asked after a long silence.

“Savages?” Voron queried. “Because they do not live as Time Lords do, soft and effete, protected even from the harshness of the wind and rain by the envirodome does not make them savages. Because they do not need the written word to teach their young does not make them ignorant. The Outlander people have a civilisation of their own, a law of their own, and a sense of honour that is less often dishonoured than the high-minded Time Lord morality.

“Savages,” Benic insisted.

“You have lived with a tribe of Outlanders. You have the same knowledge your friend has. But he respects the way of life. Why do you not?”

Benic didn’t answer straight away.

“Something happened that affected you much more than it affected the others?”

“It is no concern of yours,” Benic insisted.

“That much is true. But your friends are worried about you. Your behaviour puzzles them. Why won’t you talk to them, at least?”

“I don’t… want any of them to know,” he answered. “It would change how they think of me.”

“And how do they think of you?” Voron asked.

“They think I am… normal… just like them.”

“And you’re not?”


Benic was silent again. Voron stood and walked towards him, half expecting the boy to draw away from him, even to run. He didn’t. Voron knelt close to him. He still didn’t move.

Which meant he DID want to talk about something, and might well choose a man he professed to dislike as his confidant rather than a friend.

“You’re afraid, even now, when the others are fast asleep, that your secret will become known to them. Remember, I am a fully transcended Time Lord. Be sure that I can project a mental block. We can talk openly and your friends will know nothing.”

Benic’s face, partially lit by the moonlight and the flickering firelight, took on a perceptible change. He looked relieved. Even so, it was hard for him to explain himself.

“How terrible is this secret of yours?” Voron asked him. “Did you kill somebody?”

“No!” Benic sharply denied such a thing. “No, I didn’t. At least – a man died – but I didn’t kill him. It was an accident. A man… a boy I would say if he was here with us. But there in the tribe he was a man. So was I. In the Arrachii, I was considered a man. I’m only a hundred and fifteen. I’m treated as a child in our society. But in the Arrachii…. I had to prove myself. I tracked down leonate and brought the carcass back to feed the people. I was a hunter… respected among the Arrachii… one who brought food is always respected.”

“Indeed, they are. The providers of food are important in Outlander tribes.”

“I was a man, and any of the young women of the tribe could be mine if I had chosen one. But I didn’t. They were beautiful creatures, and of course, dressed as the women of the tribes are… quite unlike the gowns worn by young women of Time Lord society….”

“Little is left to the imagination,” Voron agreed. “Indeed. But none of the Arrachii maidens with their attributes on display attracted you?”

“No, they didn’t. My friends didn’t take any interest in them, either, but mainly because we never gave up hope of returning to our own life, and if we had formed attachments of that sort it would be problematic.”

“Finishing school with an Outlander wife to provide for would be very difficult,” Voron agreed.

“It wasn’t just that. We had to stay with the tribe until there WAS a possibility of returning. But we never forgot who we really were, even though we wore skins and our bodies were covered in tattoos.”

Vorn nodded.

“The man who died…. His name was Loro. He was only ten years older than me, but he was a great hunter. He was quickest and most accurate with a bow. He proved it time and again, not only in hunts, but when the young men competed for sport using targets made of straw. It was Loro who taught me to use a bow. At first I was hopeless. My first attempts didn’t even reach the practice target, and it was barely ten paces away. Then most of them went wide. There were jokes around the campfire about the danger to life and limb when I had a bow in my hand. But Loro had faith in me. He told the laughing ones that I had it in me, that I would be a hunter before long. He patiently showed me how to make my arrow fly straight and true and hit the centre of the target every time. The laughter stopped the day that Loro took me hunting, just the two of us. When we returned, I had the sign of a hunter across my chest in the blood of the animal I had taken down with my arrows.”

“That is the tradition, of course. Later, you would be given a tattoo that marked you as one who had hunted meat.”

“Yes.” Benic pulled up his shirt and showed a small red mark on his left side. It was a very small but perfectly drawn arrow. “We had the tattoos removed in an ion shower,” he explained. “A very painful process. But I kept my finger over that place while it was going on. I wanted to keep that tattoo. Loro did it himself. If I close my eyes and think about it, I can remember his hands on my flesh, his fingers moving quickly as he pierced the skin with the needle and inserted the ink that could only be removed along with that layer of my epidermis.”

“Tattoos hurt, not only when it is being done, but for days afterwards.” Voron said. “That is why they are regarded as an indicator of courage among the Outlanders, and why we have so many of them. But the pain of that one is a pleasant memory for you?”


“Ah.” Voron said nothing else but that. Instead he reached out and touched Benic’s forehead. He gently pressed into his memories, touching them carefully, as if they might bruise if he was too rough. But he found what he expected to see. Benic and Loro became inseparable. They hunted together, sometimes spending many days out in the desert, returning victorious with their quarry. They ate together, slept in a hut of sticks and skins that they built together, Benic learning the skill of stretching hides over the stoutly planted wood to make a strong roof over their heads.

They slept on a single sleeping mat, close together, Loro’s arm protectively wrapped around Benic’s shoulders, or the other way around. They were men, they were equals, and they protected each other in the night.

But it wasn’t just protection, of course. Every man in a tribe was ready to protect his fellow tribesmen. The women were ready to protect the children should any danger threaten. It was a sign of affection for each other when Loro and Benic slept so close.

“You loved him,” Voron whispered out loud.

“I never used that word, or any Arrachii equivalent. Nor did he. But yes, it could be called love. I wanted to stay with him. I never told anyone, not my friends, not even him, but I had actually decided that I would remain with the tribe, with him, when the others returned. I know… I have a family, a mother and father, a sister. But their faces were much dimmer in my mind than the face of the man I slept beside at night. I wanted to stay with him and be a hunter alongside him for the rest of my life.”

“He’s the man who died?” Voron asked.


Benic didn’t say anything further, but again he didn’t stop Voron reaching into his mind and seeing his memories.

The two young men had been part of a large hunting party. A large herd of southern burr beasts had been spotted not more than five miles from the camp. Their hides were as prized as the meat on their well-muscled bodies. Three or four of the herd would feed the tribe well. If more could be killed there would be dried meat that could be eaten when the hunting was sparse. The party set out with high spirits and high expectations. The best tracker in the tribe led the way, a man who could almost smell the herd before they were in sight of it.

It was a huge herd when they did find it, bigger than any that were seen on Gallifrey now. In that time millennia ago when the Red Desert was still a fertile plain, burr beast herds could contain as many as a thousand individual animals, moving in an almost solid mass across the plain on their endless migration in search of grazing places beside sources of water.

The memory of the great herd was tainted by bitterness in Benic’s memory, and no wonder. Exactly what went wrong was not clear. His memories were fragmented by raw grief that had never fully been expressed.

When the hunters let loose their arrows, of course, the slow tread of the herd became a panicked stampede. Quite by accident Loro and Benic had been caught in the path of the oncoming hooves. There was just one chance – a small hollow in the ground, just large enough for one of them to lie flat. Loro had not wasted any time in discussion. He had pushed Benic into the hollow and covered him with his own body. When it was over, and their friends came to their rescue, Benic had two broken ribs and bruises all over his body, but Loro was dead, his back broken and his skull crushed by hooves pounding over him.

His broken body was carefully prepared. His friends kept a vigil beside him, and in the last light of the day the funeral pyre was lit. Benic didn’t cry, because Gallifreyans have no tear ducts and he could not do so, but his eyes watered as he gazed silently at the flickering light of that cremation fire. When he slept that night, he slept alone for the first time in years, and grieved in his hearts for that deeper loss than anyone ever knew.

“I am sorry,” Voron told him. “But why does that make you so bitter towards Outlander life?”

“I wanted to forget. I came back with the others, back to civilisation, back to school, back to being a boy, not a man. I thought it was the best way to forget how much he meant to me. Besides, it isn’t natural. Men are not meant to love other men. It is unheard of in our society. I knew I could never speak of it.”

“You have spoken of it to me. The burden is shared. Your grief is known, my friend. Perhaps that is what you needed all along. I think the bitterness is lessened by sharing it with me. But is there nobody else you could confide in – one of your school friends? The one called Merrick is a compassionate soul – a rare enough thing among our kind. Surely he would understand?”

“He knows that Loro was my friend. He doesn’t know how much more he was. I was afraid to tell him.”

“Don’t be. Find a quiet time, a quiet place, and tell Merrick. But let the memories out of the locked place that you have kept them and let the bitterness go. Treasure the memory of a time when you were a man of the Arrachii tribe and you knew a love as precious as I knew when I loved my Suras.”

“Loved?” Benic queried the past tense.

“Yes, loved. I had made up my mind as I told my story by your campfire. I intend to leave here before dawn. I will walk across the desert, away from the tribe I had made my home with. When Oron wakes, he will be the victor in our fight. He may return to our camp and take his wife.”


“I have made my mind up,” he insisted.

“Sir… do you mean…. Merrick saved your life. Do you mean to give it up in the heat of the desert?”

“I will take my chance.”

“There is no need,” Benic said. “There is food enough here. There is ground cheese and fruit. The newbies gathered more than we need. And we have hydrated food that you can take in case of necessity. There are spare water carriers. Take enough supplies to reach the first oasis on the way north-north-west.”

“Why that way?” Voron asked.

“It is a forbidden zone for all under the law of the Time Lords,” Benic pointed out. “But I don’t think one Outlander walking across the desert will be prevented. Go to the Northern Oracle. Wait until it opens for you. The Arrachii will welcome new blood, and I think you will like the fertile land and the rich hunting. And… when you meet Loro’s friends and kin… remember him to them for me.”

Voron looked at Benic and smiled softly.

“You offer me a chance of a new life when death was all that awaited me. I thank you for that.”

“Let’s get the provisions together and you can set off now, while there is still night left and you will make good progress. I will sit beside Oron until the others rise. I will tell them as much of this night as is necessary to allay their fears for you.”

“Again, my thanks,” Voron said. “My deepest thanks.”

“And to you, sir,” Benic answered. “For opening up my closed hearts.”

Oron woke with the sunrise. He was startled at first, and surprised that his wounds were healed. Benic told him of his still sleeping friends who had tended to him. He told a lie about the dead man whose body they had already dealt with in the proper way. Oron was saddened to know that his brother was no more, but perhaps a little relieved. He was alive and he could return to his people.

He did so after eating an early breakfast with the young Arcalians. Then they broke camp and went in the opposite direction to the Outlander. That evening they reached Dravian Bluff and made camp again, planning to stay for three days while they climbed the cliff and hunted for meat like tribesmen.

In the flickering firelight after the others had gone to their rest, Benic told Merrick the secret that had troubled him and soured the memory of his time with the Arrachii.

“Ben,” Merrick told him. “We all have eyes and ears. Do you think we didn’t know what was between you and Loro? That’s just another aspect of Outlander life that our society would never comprehend. We’re all destined to be married off to suitable women of our own class in the course of time, and we will be happy with that life. But you had a chance, for a brief time, to choose who to love. I’m sorry it ended as it did, but life for Outlanders sometimes does. That’s how it is for them. But remember him in your hearts. Let that love sleep in your mind. And don’t shut the memories out any more.”

“Voron said that, too,” Benic told him.

“Voron is a very clever man. He would have been a very wise Time Lord. I wonder why he turned his back on that life. I suppose we’ll never know.”

“I don’t think we were ever meant to know,” Benic answered. “That’s HIS secret.”