Melcus Bluff, the usually lonely high plateau on the southern plain was unusually busy on this crisp autumn morning under a honey coloured sky. A dozen strange contraptions that bore a passing resemblance to prehistoric birds were assembled near the precipitous edge of the great cliff. One by one these were launched into the air, controlled, more or less, by a youth who was strapped beneath the artificial wings.

Two of the young people being tutored in the distinctly unGallifreyan art of hang gliding were female. One was a Prydonian sophomore who was proving to be a brilliant scholar in the field of theoretical aerodynamics who was overdue a chance to get in some practice. The other was much younger than the other students but no less enthusiastic about learning a new skill.

Kristoph tried not to show favouritism. He certainly held to the belief that girls were as capable as boys in all things. Even so, he took a little longer checking that the straps holding the Prydonian girl onto the frame of the hang glider was secure.

"You're ready, Verema," he said, satisfied at last and standing back to allow her room for take-off. "Away you go."

Verema Ges ran the few steps and launched herself off the precipice. The thermals rising from the plain below caught the artificial wings and bore the craft upwards for a good fifty feet before Verema began to control her glide over the dizzying drop by shifting her body weight in opposition to the A-shaped control frame. Like the boys who had gone before her she couldn't resist a whoop of joy as she found herself defying gravity without resort to the exhausting mental concentration that levitation required.

"Now you," Kristoph said to the youngest of the adventurers who had come to the Bluff to experience the foreign sport he had introduced – at his own considerable expense – to the young people of Gallifrey. Rodan Mielles smiled happily as he adjusted her harness and pronounced her ready.

"Be careful, won't you," he added.

"Of course I will, papa," she answered. "Besides, I studied the theory just like the others. I won't be any more likely to have an accident just because I’m younger."

"Of course not," he assured her. "But Marion would never forgive me if you cane to harm."

He kissed her cheek before stepping back and letting her make the same jump into empty air that the others had already made. When he was sure she was safely airborne he strapped himself into his own contraption and launched himself off the Bluff.

It was a glorious sensation, one he had wanted to experience again ever since his summer visit to Brazil. He had to admit that the southern plain was far less striking than Rio harbour but the view was still quite and unique. The far horizon where yellow skies met yellow-bronze plain had just a glint of sparkling white that was the city of Athenica more than one and a half thousand miles away. A little higher and he might have been able to see a streak of blue that was the Straits and even the red cliffs that marked the edge of the northern continent. To the east, Mount Lœng and Mount Perdition, the two extinct volcanoes belonging respectively to the Lœngbærrow and Oakdae?e demesnes were sharply outlined against the sky. There was a sullen broodiness to both mountains that suggested bad weather in the eastern part of the continent, but that was a whole different micro-climate to here by the Bluff and nothing to worry about.

He knew he could have ridden the thermals for hours, but his students were on their first flight and most of them had landed quite quickly. He guide himself into a slow descent after just half an hour defying the laws of gravity and landed safely down on the plain near to where his students had gathered with their gliders looking like broken-winged birds.

"Is everyone safe?" he asked. "No broken bones? Nobody swept out to sea on a stray thermal?"

As it was thousands of miles north to the closest open sea most of the youngsters were puzzled by that idea. They were being taught to be young Gallifreyans, Time Lord candidates destined to take their places in an unyieldingly ancient society. They didn't quite understand the concept of humour – at least not coming from one of the respected elders of that ancient society.

“Well,” he continued. “If you want to go again, there’s only one way back up the Bluff.” He smiled and pointed to what looked like a crack in the high, wide, cliff face. They all knew it was actually a natural path, augmented in the steepest places by hand cut steps. It was the only way to the top that didn’t involve any sort of technology.

Of course, Kristoph could have arranged for his TARDIS to be waiting at the bottom of the cliff. They could all have piled into the console room, hang gliders and all. But this was an adventure, and the fun part came at the expense of physical exertion.

The glider wings collapsed down partly and carrying them for short distances wasn’t difficult. They had been built on the very principle of easy manhandling in that way. But carrying them up through a narrow defile between high granite rock faces was tricky. Everyone tried to avoid parts of their gliders catching against the rock. Ripping the lightweight synthetic fabric of the wings or breaking one of the struts would mean no second flight.

Everyone made it to the top without any mishap other than a few grazed knuckles from the narrower parts of the climb. They opened out their wings again and each student checked their own struts and harnesses. Kristoph double-checked everything, of course. One of the young men hid his blushes from the others as he spotted a loose strut that would have caused a catastrophic failure mid-flight.

“Impatience is a dangerous thing,” he told the young man. Around him there were a number of snapping sounds as other students realised they had made the same elementary mistake. “In hang gliding, as in many other pursuits careful and calm preparation cannot be overstated. How many of you would have suffered a life-threatening crash if I had not drawn your attention to the locking mechanism on the cross-struts?”

Eight of the students raised their hands, proving that truth being above pride for a Time Lord candidate.

“Reflect a moment on how I would face your parents after assuring them that this new sport was no more dangerous than hover-cycle racing and then put on your helmets and harnesses. This time try not to descend so quickly. The object of the sport is to stay in the air as long as possible, rising as high as you can manage and covering as many miles as a being free from the bounds of gravity might. A successful flight this time should bring you right back here to the top of the bluff where the TARDIS and, more importantly, your packed lunches, wait. Those who land on the plain below will get much hungrier than the rest.”

They were all enthusiastic to take off, but Kristoph’s warning had tempered their excitement and nobody left the ground without being double-checked for safety. This time the two girls went first, then the young men. Kristoph was, again, the last to step off solid ground into the clear air.

The special upward current called a ridge lift because it occurs where a rock formation like Melcus Bluff shifts a horizontal drift of air upwards caught his wings and he rose higher than before. In a few minutes the flat top of Melcus Bluff was far below him and the plain further still. Now he could see the glint of water that was the Straits between the northern and southern continents. Turning slowly and gracefully until he was looking south, he could make out the icy peaks of the southern polar region.

“Papa!” He glanced sideways and saw Rodan gliding alongside him. Beneath goggles and helmet she was smiling widely, enjoying the sensation of flight. She skilfully corrected her course and stayed a safe distance from his outstretched wings, but maintained the same height. Few of the others had made it this high. Most were several metres lower. Two or three had already landed on the Bluff, their mid-air gyres bringing them into land too soon. One was descending onto the plain and would have the long manual hall up the defile to negotiate alone.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked, reaching out telepathically to avoid shouting.

“It’s just as much fun as horse-riding,” she replied. Kristoph laughed softly. For Rodan that was extreme praise, indeed. “Thank you for letting me come on this trip.”

“I wouldn’t have organised it unless you could be here,” he answered. “It seems a long time since we’ve had any time together. It’s my fault. I’ve been busy – and when I wasn’t busy I was so consumed by weighty matters I would have been no good company for a young lady like yourself.”

“The weighty matters are gone now,” Rodan noted. “Your mind is light enough to carry your soul as these wings carry your body.”

Kristoph was surprised and proud in equal measure not only at her philosophical comparison of the physical and metaphysical definitions of weight but that she could read so much of his mind.

“Don’t delve too deeply into that realm, my dear,” he said. “I have buried experiences darker than the darkness of black holes in my subconscious and they are meant to stay there.”

She had no intention of doing so. She knew he had old secrets, but she had no reason to look at those. Indeed, she didn’t look any further at all. Instead he felt her voice in his head reciting a poem that had to have been taught to her by Marion, for he was full sure nobody else on Gallifrey knew of it.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

“That perfectly sums up the experience of hang gliding,” Kristoph admitted. “But bear in mind the poem was written by a pilot who died in a plane crash. Keep at least part of your thoughts on a safe descent from the ‘untrespassed sanctity’.”

“I will,” she promised. Then she turned her body just slightly to the right and caught an upward current of air he hadn’t even noticed. She was soon gliding higher than any of her young companions had dared. If any of them was going to ‘touch the face of god’, Kristoph thought as he turned his own wings to keep pace with her at a lower altitude, she was the one with the daring and the ambition to do so.

She was the very last to descend from the skies. Even the unfortunate youth who had landed below and made the long slow climb back to the plateau was waiting for her to return to solid ground. When she did, Kristoph reached her first and helped her to take off her helmet. She was flushed with excitement but perfectly safe.

“Are you hungry?” he asked her.

“Very,” she answered.

“Come and join the others. They have waited to start their picnic until you joined them.”

“Who is the child?" asked one of two secret observers who stood upon the plateau using the power of their strong minds to remain unnoticed even by the man once known as the Executioner whose skill at covert surveillance was considered unsurpassed.

"She is the favourite of the Lœngbærrow patriarch," replied the other observer. "The Caretaker child he took as his own for a time. He has bestowed many favours upon her. She is reputed to be independently wealthy from investments made in her name. She is expected to make a good marriage when she comes of age, despite her humble birth."

"Pah!" the first observer responded scornfully. "I care not for the gossip of Gallifreyan society. A 'good' marriage for the sake of financial gain! What a waste of such a vibrant mind. She could be so much more than wife to some grey-faced Newblood male."

"She certainly has courage," the second observer noted. "Did you notice how she had no fear of falling and how she controlled that strange, alien contraption so much better than any of the high born sons."

"I see. And I believe we have found the very child we have sought ... a child who will be the vessel of destruction for the patriarchs of Gallifrey."

The second and subordinate observer nodded in agreement before they left that lonely place using mental power unknown even to the greatest living Time Lords. Their departure was unmarked by the happy group of youngsters and their mentor. None of them guessed at the dark plots being made in secret places.