The Followers of The Master were picked up by Jamie’s colleagues in the Time Agent equivalent of a prison van. Jamie didn’t go with them.

“Come along with us,” The Doctor had offered. “Take the scenic route.”

Wyn, who had been contemplating the pitfalls of a long distance relationship with Jamie once she moved on, was delighted.

“You know they’re snogging again,” Stella complained as she came to see what The Doctor was doing in the console room. “They’re in the TV room, watching some old film, and snogging.”

“Don’t you snog?” The Doctor asked.

“Not like that. Not like its going out of fashion. Just, you know, boys, at the club, walking home, down at the bus shelter. Sometimes, Saturday afternoons, in the old haybarn at Evans Pryor’s farm. It’s… not as good as the magazines make it sound. When the girls in the stories are mad about a boy and the world spins faster and.…”

“The world spins at a constant rate whether you’re in love or not,” The Doctor said. “Although I admit it can feel like it sometimes. Don’t worry. You’re only seventeen. Plenty of time for you to discover the one that makes the world spin for you. Then it will be you forgetting that humans can’t actually breathe through their ears.”

Stella laughed. That was a pretty good description of what Jamie and Wyn were doing right now.

“Have you been in love, Doctor? True love, like that.”

“Yes,” he answered. “Oh yes.” His hearts played a bittersweet tune as he thought of Dominique, who he had loved for a lifetime, Rose, who he had WANTED to love for a lifetime, and who still haunted his dreams sometimes, his lovely first wife who had made him a father and grandfather the first time around. Yes, he had known true love. And it was beautiful. It was WORTH the inevitable grief that came from giving that love to Human women who faded and died. For a very long time, he had told himself it WASN’T worth it. He had kept himself aloof from romantic love. But he was wrong. Once every millennia at least, he needed to risk his hearts.

The rest of the time he had friends like Wyn, and surrogate daughters like Stella who filled the one gap in his life he had felt most keenly ever since his granddaughter moved on from looking after a time-bitter old man to find true love of her own. He looked at Stella and smiled warmly at her. Jo had been one of those surrogates and Stella looked so much like her that it was impossible not to love her in the same way.

Stella looked at The Doctor and wondered what he was thinking about. Then she came closer and hugged him - because he looked like he needed a hug.

“So, next stop the 51st century?” she asked. “What’s it like there? Earth is still ok, is it? Like, we haven’t blown it up or totally poisoned it or whatever?”

“Earth is a great place in the 51st century,” The Doctor answered. “You’ll like it. But I have a feeling Wyn is in no hurry to get there. I thought I’d engineer a little detour. A bit of a holiday. What do you think? Summer sun or winter sports?”

“Does it matter? We’ll get into trouble anyway. We always do. You’re a trouble magnet.”

The Doctor laughed. He looked at a list of possible places they could have a peaceful and untroubled time and smiled as he found the very thing.

“A space cruise!” Stella had laughed at the idea when he proposed it, and she was still laughing as she lounged by the pool on the fifth blissful morning. She looked at The Doctor, whose only concession to the fact that the pool deck was as warm as a Mediterranean beach was to take off his jacket and loosen his tie as he occupied the sun lounger next to her. Beside him, Jamie looked like something from an American glamour soap in a bikini top and sarong. If Stella had any ambitions for her future it was to look THAT good when SHE was forty.

Wyn was swimming. She was the only person who WAS. A swimming pool on a cruise ship, whether on water or in space was never really meant for serious swimming. People lay on inflatables or splashed around. But Wyn preferred to swim. Stella knew why. She was never particularly confident about her body, but in the water, weight and body mass didn’t have much to do with it. She swam as well, if not better, than most thin people and she actually did look graceful and athletic as she sliced through the water.

Stella looked up. On a boat, this would be the top deck with nothing but a blue sky and sun. On a space cruiser, it was still the top deck but it was enclosed in an exo-glass roof. It shielded the dangerous rays of the Orinic twin suns and transferred their heat and light to the deck so that it was possible to sunbathe safely while admiring the view of a solar system of six planets, all close enough to the suns to be tropical paradises. The Cruise Star Ship Douglas Adams, nicknamed The Heart of Gold for reasons most of the 34th century passengers didn’t understand, had already visited one of the planets, Orinic II. They had enjoyed a wonderful two days exploring the spice market of Orin City and watching multi-coloured birds flying in the powder pink sky by the great Orin Lake.

If there was one problem with these planets it was lack of imagination in their place names, Stella thought.

Wyn pulled herself out of the water and wrapped a sarong around herself as she came and sat with Jamie. Of course they kissed. Stella and The Doctor made a point of not watching.

“You’d think they’d be bored with all the lip suction by now!” she commented.

“You did a bit of it yourself last night in the ballroom,” The Doctor replied. “I saw you with that Jirudabuan boy.”

“He was cute. But I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again. I don’t think my mum would be happy if I became eighteenth concubine in the house of a Civil Registrar’s son!”

“Probably NOT,” The Doctor noted.

“Not exactly the King of Peladon!” she continued. “Just think! If mum had said yes, me and Wyn would be princesses!”

“You do know that Peladon is a desolate rock with nothing going for it except some minerals that half the galaxy want to take by force. The poor king spent most of his life appeasing would be conquerors. Believe me, being a part of THAT royal family would have been no joy.”

Stella sighed and burst into giggles as The Doctor hummed “One day my prince will come….”

“One day my prints will come, said the impatient detective,” he added.

“Speaking of detectives,” Jamie interrupted. “How much longer are we going to be staying? Doctor, I think your information must have been wrong. There is absolutely no sign of any kind of space-time contraband smuggling going on aboard this ship.”

Stella watched The Doctor’s face. His ability to tell a bare-faced lie without even a flinch or a flicker was actually rather amazing. It was a good job he was an honest man, generally speaking. If he was a crook or a conman he could fleece the universe with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

“My information is never wrong. Just hang in there and keep your eyes open. You never can tell. Could be anyone. Could be that bloke over there with the six arms and three women.”

Stella had been avoiding looking at that man. He was from a planet called Agorado and as well as the six arms he had a long, forked tongue and what he could do with it made Wyn and Jamie’s ‘lip suction’ look tame.

“I don’t think he has TIME to be a smuggler,” Jamie noted. “I really don’t know. I’ve checked the freight holds. The only non-contemporaneous thing on board is YOUR TARDIS.”

“The Doctor is the smuggler!” Stella laughed.

“Well, if anyone finds out that it isn’t a portable walk in wardrobe, they’ll charge him as one,” Wyn pointed out. “After all, it IS a crime to wrongly submit a bill of lading. He didn’t mention that K9 was on board, either.”

Jamie laughed. “I could just arrest The Doctor now and be done with it.”

“You’ve got a Vortex Manipulator. I could as easily arrest you. And by the way I’m a fully notarised member of the Gallifreyan Bar. If it comes to court, you’ll have a hard time making anything stick.”

Jamie looked at The Doctor and wasn’t at all sure if he was joking or not.

“We should stay until the end of the cruise,” he said. “I’m sure the smuggler will make his or her move before then.”

“If you say so, Doctor. I’m not so sure I shouldn’t just go.”

“Oh, please don’t,” Wyn begged. “The Doctor can get you back home in the TARDIS right on schedule. Stay here. Please.”

Jamie looked at Wyn and smiled. She reached and hugged her around the shoulders.

“I’ll stay. But I really shouldn’t. I’m sure this IS a wild goose chase. But if it turns out The Doctor is right, I’ll look an idiot.”

“And if he’s wrong, we’ll have a terrific holiday at HIS expense!” Wyn pointed out.

The Doctor turned and grinned at Stella. They WERE having a terrific holiday since it WAS a wild goose chase made up by him to keep Jamie with them a little while longer.

It was later, when they were getting ready for the evening dinner and dancing that Wyn slipped into The Doctor’s cabin. He was dressed in a neat black evening suit and tie and was fastening his cufflinks, a job all men had trouble with. Wyn sat beside him and took over the job.

“Are they real?” she asked about the very expensive looking cuff links with gemstones set in silver. “What are they? Rubies?”

“Red diamonds. Quite rare. Only a few places where they are to be found. One less now.”

She knew what he meant by that comment, and she knew it was probably better not to let him dwell on it. Anyway, she had something she needed to say to him.

“There AREN’T any smugglers, are there?”

“What makes you say that?”

“The fact that you haven’t done anything to find them. You’re just stringing Jamie along. For me.”

The Doctor didn’t say anything in response. But she knew she was right.

“Thanks,” she said. “I appreciate it.”

“I just hope I’m doing the right thing,” he added. “Wyn, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Why would I get hurt?”

“Because Jamie’s species… they’re very passionate people. But they’re not passionate for life. Their most meaningful relationships last about four months. You need to know that. I’m not saying it isn’t true love, but it’s just not for keeps.”

“I know,” she answered. “We talked about it. At least I KNOW the score. It’s better than when they promise forever and then turn around and ask if they can just be friends.”

“Just so long as you’re ok with that.”

“I’m ok with it. Come on. Let’s go and party.”

The Doctor gave her his arm and they walked together up to the Heart of Gold deck where Jamie and Stella caught up with them and The Doctor swapped sisters. He walked into the grand dining hall with Stella looking proud to have him as her ‘date’ for the night while Wyn and Jamie went together. They ate together at a table for four and then there was dancing. Jamie and Wyn made a beautiful couple. The Doctor took Stella out on the floor. They both noticed that Jamie was alternating between her male and female form each time the music changed.

“How come the clothes change, too?” Stella asked noticing that the male Jamie was wearing a rather suave dark blue suit and the female a pale blue evening dress.

“She owns an Empathy Suit!” The Doctor explained. “Special morphic fabric that alters according to the choice of the wearer. Very expensive for a Time Agent’s salary! She must have saved up for it.”

“Cool idea.”

“Very cool,” The Doctor agreed.

Stella had several offers from other men, and The Doctor was happy to let her be taken on the floor by the most Human looking of them, that is ones with the same number of limbs as she had. He, himself, was being eyed by some attractive females of several species, but he took a seat back at the table and watched Stella’s dance partners carefully in case any took too much of a liking to her.

“Dance with me?” Jamie asked The Doctor as Wyn came and sat at the table and motioned to a steward with a tray of champagne glasses. The Doctor stood and let her lead him out on the dance floor.

“None of those pheromone tricks,” he told her as a romantic tune played. “And no gender swapping, either. I come from the planet that invented ‘straight’.”

“Yeah, I heard that about Time Lords.” Jamie answered with a laugh. “I also heard that they call you the Renegade Time Lord.”

“Not in my hearing,” The Doctor replied, not joking any more. “Calling a Time Lord a Renegade is like… Well, it’s not a good word. And….”

“I’m sorry,” Jamie apologised. “I didn’t mean to say anything hurtful. You’re a nice man, Doctor. Wyn and Stella both adore you. I like you. Even though we keep getting off badly.”

“We’re not getting off badly. You’re ok, Jamie. You saved my life. That counts for a lot. And you’ve made Wyn happy. That’s even more special. Just so long as you don’t hurt her, then we’re fine.”

“I never intended.…”

But The Doctor wasn’t listening to her. He had stopped dancing and was standing there, rigid, his eyes not focussed on anything in this room.


“I can hear the Cloister Bell.”

“The what?”

“The Cloister Bell. It’s the TARDIS. It’s telling me something is wrong.”

“I can’t hear anything.”

“You wouldn’t. It’s reaching me telepathically. I have to.…” He turned suddenly and ran, colliding with two of the Agoradon’s wives as he danced with all three of them at once. The Doctor murmured his apologies and ran off again. Jamie turned and looked at Wyn and Stella who both looked back at him anxiously before Wyn tore off after The Doctor.

“No,” she called back as Jamie rushed after her. “You stay and look after Stella.”

Jamie looked at Wyn, then turned back and returned to where Stella was still waiting. She morphed into her male form, dressed in his dinner suit and took hold of Stella’s hand, taking her out onto the dance floor. Easiest way, he thought, of looking after her and taking her mind off whatever was bothering The Doctor and her sister.

“Doctor?” Wyn caught up with him at the entrance to the freight hold, where he had to use his sonic screwdriver to break in, of course, that being an area that was off limits to passengers.

“Something’s wrong,” he said. “Not smugglers. Something bigger than that. The TARDIS can feel it.”

The lock beeped rapidly as the 32 digit code was overridden and the door slid back. Worryingly an alarm went off, but The Doctor ignored it, dodging the assortment of freight, none of it contraband, until he reached the TARDIS. As he unlocked the door there was a shout from a security guard who had been alerted by the alarm, but he ignored him, too. So did Wyn as she ran inside the TARDIS after him.

“Master-Doctor, Mistress Wyn,” K9 intoned as he whirred towards them. “There is danger approaching.”

“I know,” The Doctor answered him. “Stay calm.”

“I am always calm,” K9 answered.

“It’s the Cloister Bell, isn’t it?” Wyn listened to the deep, sonorous bell that sounded loudly in the console room, though it had an echo to it as if it was coming from some other part of the TARDIS.

“Yes. I heard it. In my head. Something’s coming. Something really bad.” He turned on the navigation scanner and hit it twice to get the picture to display properly. When it did he gave a dismayed yelp. Wyn felt a slight movement as the TARDIS dematerialised and rematerialised almost immediately and the viewscreen showed them in space, hovering above the SS Douglas Adams. As the TARDIS revolved slowly she saw something else.

“It’s a time storm,” The Doctor said in answer to the question forming on her lips as she watched the swirling mass of light and shadow towards which the cruise ship was heading. The Doctor reached for the communications console.

“Bridge of SS Douglas Adams, do you read me?” he called. “I need to speak to the Captain.”

“The Captain is in the ballroom with his guests for tonight,” replied a voice. “Who is this?”

“I’m… I’m Captain John Smith of the SS TARDIS. Civilian exploration vessel. Turn your ship around. Take evasive manoeuvres. You and your passengers are in grave danger. Turn around now.”

“There’s nothing on our scanners. What do you mean ‘danger’?” replied the officer in charge of the bridge in lieu of the Captain. “I’m sorry, but you will have to be more specific before I can order a change of course. This isn’t a day shuttle. It takes time…”

“You don’t HAVE time,” The Doctor snapped. “Turn around NOW. Do as I say or….”

“Whoever you are, get off this channel. There is no danger and I am not….”

There was a moment when the officer’s voice was stretched like audible elastic and then static. Wyn cried out in horror. The Doctor looked up long enough to see the SS Douglas Adams being swallowed up by the time storm then he raced around the console, pressing buttons frantically. On screen, the time storm was coming closer to the TARDIS now, too. Wyn wondered whether going into it was a good or a bad thing.

“It’s BAD,” The Doctor said. “But we have to. We have to follow the ship. We’re their only hope of getting back.”

Then HIS voice became stretched and Wyn’s reply was, too. So were their movements. The Doctor reached out his hand towards her. She reached to him, but it took an eternity for their hands to grasp each other, and the console, the walls and floor of the TARDIS, and The Doctor, too, had a blue-white aura around them.

Then time snapped back to normal. Wyn swayed dizzily. She felt like her whole body had been given a local anaesthetic at the dentist and feeling was slowly coming back to her.

“We’re lucky,” The Doctor said. “The TARDIS protects us from the worst of the effects.”

“What about Jamie and Stella and the other people on the ship then?” Wyn asked.

Jamie came around slowly, feeling as if he had been under a general anaesthetic. He was lying on the ballroom floor, covering Stella, who was still unconscious. He knelt up and touched her face gently as she started to come around. Groans and moans and a few swear words around him suggested that everyone was recovering. There was a lot of broken glass and spilt drinks and food, but they all seemed ok. He turned and looked at the door to the kitchen area where their food had been prepared and ran towards it. One of the stewards had the same thought and began to run as well.

Inside the kitchen it was more serious. Two chefs had been badly burned after collapsing onto hotplates and Jamie and the steward both grabbed extinguishers to deal with small fires that had broken out when cooking oils had spilled over. There were cuts from sharp kitchen knives and one steward had a severe gash across his head from falling against one of the metal work surfaces. The steward reached for an intercom and called for medical staff to come to the kitchen before giving first aid to the nearest of the casualties. Jamie did the same until the medics arrived and then ran back to look after Stella.

She was trying to use her mobile phone. She was becoming frantic as it failed to work.

“The Doctor made it so I could call anywhere, any time, no matter how far,” she said. “But the signal seems to be scrambled. What happened? Do you know?”

“Felt like a time storm,” Jamie answered. “Who were you trying to call?”

“Wyn. But I can’t get through to her. I’m getting ‘number unobtainable’.”

Jamie pulled up his sleeve and tapped at the mini keys on his Time Agency standard issue wristlet. He tuned in the lifesigns monitor and scanned the ship for a passenger with two hearts, the unique presence of The Doctor. There was none. Nor, when he looked for its non-contemporaneous resonance, was there any sign of the TARDIS.

“They’re not on board,” Jamie said, reaching out to hold Stella’s hand. “The Doctor and Wyn and the TARDIS are not on the ship.”

“Where IS the ship?” Wyn asked as she looked at the empty space on the viewscreen.

“More like WHEN is the ship,” The Doctor answered as he looked at his scanners and came to the same hearts-churning realisation. “We could have been thrown out of the time storm in a different time. We’re in the same place, but not the same time.”

“It doesn’t LOOK like the same place,” Wyn observed. “There are only three planets and the sun looks really weird.”

“We’re in the future,” The Doctor explained. “A terrible war took place here - one with weapons capable of destroying planets and wounding the sun itself. It might even be the source of the time storm. That much energy expended could whip up anything.”

“And the ship? Was it caught in that war? Are they…. Doctor….”

“I don’t know, he admitted. “It’s not likely. There are millions of years they could have arrived in. The chances of them landing in the one where the war was raging….”

He didn’t give the odds. He didn’t want to work them out for himself.

“Most likely the ship was thrown out of the storm at a different point in time.”

“So we can find it?”

The Doctor paused. He looked down at the console.


“This system is a billion years old,” he said. “It will last, from this point in its history, another half billion years before that ailing sun finally dies. If I put the TARDIS into temporal reverse we could travel back through that billion years at the rate of one year per second. But it would take….”

“Years…” Wyn said. She tried to work it out in her head but the maths defied her.

“A little over thirty years,” The Doctor said, his own hearts sinking as he saw the expression on Wyn’s face. “If I put it into FAST temporal reverse we would travel at ten years per second. That brings the time down to THREE years. But there’s a chance we could miss the ship.”

“And what if it it’s FURTHER into the future than us? Not behind us.”

“Then we have to come back and start again from here. For about a year and a half.”

“We’d better try,” Wyn said.

“Forward or backwards in time?” he asked.

“Are you asking me to decide?”

“No. I can’t ask you to do that,” The Doctor answered her. “The lives of two people who mean everything to you are at stake. I can’t ask you to take a gamble like that.”

“They mean a lot to you, too,” Wyn pointed out. But we have to make a decision.”

“I know, but….”

“Master Doctor,” K9 interrupted. “Logically, the chances of the ship being BEHIND us temporally are greater since there are more temporal locations to search.”

“K9 says we go back,” Wyn said. “I think he’s right.”

“So do I.” He looked at K9, then Wyn. “Do we have a consensus? We go back?”

“Yes,” Wyn answered him. “Yes. Go back. For as long as it takes. Three years… Yes.”

The Doctor nodded and pressed a button on the navigation console then held down a lever. It was almost too easy to set the TARDIS in motion through time. Wyn automatically turned to look at the screen. Usually they travelled through the vortex and arrived in different places in a few seconds. This was very different. It was like watching a video in rewind, except it was the universe that was being rewound around her. Three thousand years passed in five minutes and she saw the destruction of the three planets in reverse. It was too fast to see what caused the disaster except that it was not a natural disaster. A war had raged and somehow they had destroyed each other, two planets being disintegrated and the third falling out of orbit and crashing into the sun, causing the chain reaction that turned it from a bright, warming, yellow sun to a dying red one.

As the years rewound the planets looked pretty again, but Wyn turned away from them. She couldn’t get away from the knowledge of what was to come and that tainted the beauty.

Besides, she was not interested in planets. She cared only for a ship that was lost somewhere amongst then, and Stella and Jamie lost with it.

Stella and Jamie didn’t think they WERE lost. They thought the TARDIS was lost. But they knew they were in trouble, even so.

The alien craft had moved into position over the ship not long after they all woke from whatever knocked them out. Through the exo-glass roof of the grand ballroom they could see its dark underside blotting out the starfield. Jamie and Stella held each other’s hands tightly as they looked up at it and wondered what sort of people were piloting it.

“I don't think they’re friendly,” Stella guessed. “That… just doesn't look like a friendly spaceship.”

It didn’t look a lot like a space ship from below, in fact. It looked like somebody had hollowed out an asteroid and fitted warp engine nacelles to it. Jamie thought Stella was right. His own gut instinct was to fear the new arrivals.

Then the air shimmered all around the edges of the ballroom and in a clear space in the middle. Jamie recognised multiple transmat beams when he saw them and braced himself for the worst. Moments later they were surrounded on all sides by possibly the ugliest vaguely humanoid species he had ever seen, dozens of them surrounding them and the leader and his attendants materialising in the middle of the ballroom.

They WERE bipedal like humans. But there the resemblance ended. The faces when they removed their helmets looked as if they were inside out. There was a skeletal structure that covered most of the features and rose to a horned peak at the back of the skull and over that what looked like sinew and muscle. Beneath the skeletal structure was red flesh. Red eyes looked out through the eye sockets and a lipless mouth was full of sharp incisors that they bared menacingly at the terrified captives. They were in robes of deep red decorated with ornaments made of bone and cloaks of red leather, similarly adorned. They wielded long whips that crackled with energy.

A man started to scream and one of the attendants of the leader cracked his whip. It caught the man around the neck and he was enveloped in electric blue light. Briefly the horrified witnesses saw a three-dimensional x-ray of his skeleton and then there was a ghastly rattle as his bones collapsed to the ground in a smoking heap.

As screaming and panic broke out the leader called for SILENCE.

At least Stella and Jamie heard him call for silence. The rest heard an alien language that frightened them even more.

“Why can we understand him?” Jamie whispered to Stella.

“The TARDIS does that,” she explained. “Some kind of psychic thing it does.”

Again the leader called for silence, and when he didn’t get it his attendants flexed their whip arms.

“Ok.” Jamie slowly reached and pulled out his Time Agency ID card and passed it to Stella. “Don’t want him to know I’m official.” He slipped off his wristlet that never left his arm and gave her that, too. Then he stepped forward, hands in the air.

“No!” he cried out pleadingly. “No, don’t. They don’t understand you. Let me…” He held up his hands to the leader. “He’s calling for silence,” he said louder for the people to hear him. “Please do as he says.” He turned back to the leader. “Let me translate. Let me mediate. Don’t kill anyone else just because they don’t know your language.”

“Are you the leader of this puny invading party?” the leader asked in a guttural voice.

“No,” he answered after considering for a brief moment whether saying yes was a good idea. “And we’re not invading. This is a cruise ship. Civilians. I’m just a passenger. But I’m the only one who can understand you. You need me.”

“Tell them to be silent.”

“Please,” Jamie pleaded loudly. “Everyone be quiet. I know you’re scared, but the best thing is to do as he says right now. And he wants silence.”

Silence he slowly got. Proof enough of Jamie’s usefulness. The leader fingered his whip and lashed it out towards Jamie, snaking it around his neck. But there was no murderous power in it this time. Rather it became a collar and leash to control him with.

“You will do as I say. You will give my commands to these prisoners.”

“Yes,” Jamie said. “Yes, just don’t hurt anyone else.”

“If you are not the leader, then who is? Tell him to show himself.”

“He wants the captain to identify himself,” Jamie said to the crowd. “Will the captain step forward, please.”

From among the crowd a man came forward. Tall, dignified in a smart uniform of white, blue and silver.

“I am captain of this ship,” he said. “I am captain Haddow Quinn. And you can tell that CREATURE that he is a pirate who has hijacked a civilian vessel and as such he will be severely punished.”

“If I tell him that he’ll kill you,” Jamie replied. He turned to the leader. “This is captain Haddow Quinn.”

“I do not care what his name is. What more did he say? There were far more words than that from his mewling mouth!”

“He said that this ship was pulled off course by an unknown force and if we have strayed into your sovereign territory he apologises and will order our return to neutral space at once.”

The leader cackled with laughter. “This system is ours by conquest, and all within it. You are ours to command. You will be sold as slaves for the greater glory of the Sycorax empire. But before that you will give information about your planet so that, too, can be conquered.

“We don’t all come from the same planet,” said the Captain when this was relayed to him. Jamie translated.

“Good. Then ALL of your planets will be conquered when you have all been interrogated to discover the weaknesses of your species.”

“At least let the women be,” the Captain pleaded. Jamie hesitated about passing on that request but the Sycorax leader insisted.

“Women? You make distinction between the sexes of your people?”

“Most humanoid species do,” Jamie pointed out.

“That is a weakness in itself,” the Sycorax replied. “It will prove useful.”

“Don’t say anything else unless it is demanded,” Jamie told the Captain. “These are intelligent beings. They will use anything you say.”

One of the attendants showed the leader something on a hand held computer. Jamie guessed it was a ships manifest or perhaps a lifesigns monitor. In any case, he knew, now, that there were other people aboard the ship than those in the ballroom.

“Tell the captain to bring the rest of his crew here to this room. They will be segregated by species and by SEX and interrogated. YOU will aid me in this by translating truthfully. Or you will die slowly, and agonisingly and your females will watch you suffer.”

Jamie passed on the message. The Captain looked as if he would refuse, but Jamie shook his head.

“They can just as easily transmat more of their people and either kill or round up your crew,” he said. “Having you ORDER them to surrender suits them better. They seem to enjoy humiliating people.”

The Captain looked at Jamie, held by his leash like the Sycorax leader’s pet and knew he was speaking from experience about humiliation. He reached inside his jacket. The attendants flexed their whips threateningly.

“It’s all right,” Jamie said. “He’s just going for his communicator.” At least he hoped that was what the Captain was doing. This was no time for a brave but futile gesture. He was relieved when he DID, indeed, bring out a communicator that allowed him to contact the rest of the ship’s complement.

“All crew present themselves in the Heart of Gold ballroom,” he said, and his voice echoed through the PA system of the ship. “All personnel. All engineering crew, bridge, cabin stewards, laundry, cleaning staff, kitchen, stores, entertainment staff, please come to the ballroom. Security detail under Lieutenant Beeblebrox, come to the ballroom according to emergency protocol. Thank you.”

Jamie happened to glance at Stella at that moment. She was scared, as everyone was, but even so she was suppressing a laugh. Something in what the captain had said struck her as funny. He looked back at the Captain and ran his instructions through his mind. The last part sounded like a code.

“What have you done?” he asked.

“Just be ready at my signal,” said the Captain.

“You can’t mess with these people,” Jamie told him. “We don’t know how many more of them there are up there. Look at the size of that ship. It could have thousands aboard. They could cut us all down in seconds.”

“ENOUGH talk,” snapped the Sycorax leader. “Tell the prisoners to divide into male and female and have the males separate according to species. The females will sit here, in front of me, and they will be obedient and quiet or they will be punished.”

Jamie passed on the message. If there WAS going to be a futile gesture this was the time with so many people moving around, and the staff and crew, everyone from pianists and singers to hairdressers, cooks, bed-makers, all came into the ballroom and were sorted into groups. The women were made to crouch on the floor around the Sycorax leader who took pleasure in having them at his mercy. Jamie wondered about Sycorax sexuality and whether he had in mind some kind of mass debauchery and decided he was glad to be in his male form just now, even though he was just as vulnerable as the women.

As they settled again in their segregated groups, he noted that there were no security uniforms among the crew that arrived. He doubted they were lead by anyone called Lieutenant Beeblebrox, an unlikely name even for the thirty-fourth century. That was the code word, of course.

“What HAVE you done?” he whispered to the Captain. Then he knew. The Captain gave his signal - one that was easy to recognise. He lunged at the Sycorax leader, bringing him to the ground. Jamie was dragged down, too, his throat constricted as the leash pulled tight. He didn’t see the security staff burst into the ballroom through the main door, the fire doors, the kitchen, opening fire on the Sycorax guards as the Captain squeezed the leader’s neck with his bare hands.

The battle was brief. The security guards had the element of surprise. They cut down the Sycorax guards. But their victory was even briefer. Moments later the air shimmered and twice as many Sycorax appeared out of thin air, whips cracking mercilessly. Two of them grabbed the Captain off their leader, who stood, dragging Jamie up with him.

“You are a foolish man,” said the Leader to the Captain. “And now you will die. But as you die. know this. Your futile gesture has brought only more death. The females will be sold to the brothels of the Empire for the use of Sycorax troops. The males will be sold as livestock. For food.”

The Captain said nothing in reply. His eyes told of his utter defeat. The Sycorax leader made a hand gesture towards the ones holding him. One of the crackling whips was slowly wrapped around his body, binding him. The Captain screamed as the blue light enveloped his body. But instead of instant death, this was slow and terrible. He burnt very gradually, his skin charring and blistering, his hair and clothes smouldering, his internal organs cooking. His screams echoed around the ballroom long after he was dead. It was even longer before his bones finally clattered to the floor.

Nobody dared scream. A few of the women sobbed quietly. Stella kept surprisingly calm. Jamie felt a surge of pride as he saw her comforting one of the Agoradon’s wives who was dangerously hysterical considering how intolerant the Sycorax were of anyone who made a noise out of turn.

It had been three hours. They had travelled one hundred and eight thousand years back through time. They had said very little to each other. The Doctor mentioned once that the planetary system was under some kind of military control. There were space stations over all of the planets that didn’t look like they monitored the weather or broadcast television programmes. Wyn didn’t care, even though The Doctor said that it looked as if some hostile force had conquered the peaceful system.

“It’s nothing to do with us,” she said. “These things happen, and even you can’t stop it. It’s part of the big picture. We’re only interested in the small picture right now. The ship, Jamie, Stella.”

She was right, of course. The Doctor knew it. The problems of this system, whatever they were, were not his concern. Even if they were, it was too big a problem for him to do anything about. The Doctor didn’t believe in that Earth axiom ‘fight the battles you can win’ but he did believe in fighting battles that it was possible to fight. That wasn’t one of them.

Sometimes being the conscience of the universe meant turning a blind eye to some of its most unconscionable parts.

“What’s that?” Wyn asked as something blinked on the TARDIS console. The Doctor bounded around to the communications panel.

“Yes,” he cried. “We’ve got a break.” Then his triumphant smile faded. He swallowed hard.


“The TARDIS has picked up a super-vortex signal from Jamie’s wristlet. I can hone in on it. We don’t have to search endlessly.”

“Well, that’s good news isn’t it?” But The Doctor’s expression didn’t look like it was as he set their co-ordinate and they entered the usual time vortex, heading directly for where the ship was.

“It’s an automated SOS signal. It activates if the wristlet is no longer on the Agent’s arm or if.…” He swallowed and looked at Wyn.

“If the agent is dead? If it can’t detect a pulse… that sort of thing.”

The Doctor nodded.

“I’m sorry, Wyn,” he said.

“She might have taken it off.”

“Yes, she might. Though I have to be honest with you. Time Agents almost NEVER remove their wristlets. My old friend Jack Harkness, even after he had quit the agency, he still showers with his on. He sleeps with it on. And… other things done lying down.”

“TMI, Doctor,” Wyn said, managing a weak smile through her grief. “Besides… how do you know your friend does THAT with his wristlet on. I mean… I know Jamie does. Because we have.… But you’re not….”

But if The Doctor was about to reveal he really WAS a Renegade Time Lord after all, she never knew. He was distracted by what he saw as the TARDIS materialised in ordinary space.

There was the SS Douglas Adams. But above it was another ship - if space ships could be organically grown from rock.

“It’s a sort of fusion process,” The Doctor said in explanation. Very big, powerful ships, but slow. If this one set off now it would reach the Earth solar system in about 500 years. If it knew where Earth was. Which it will if they extract information from any Earth born person aboard the Douglas Adams,” he added.

He looked at the star date. They were in what would be, in Earth years, 1506 AD. If they got information about Earth and decided it would be worth conquering it, they would arrive at about the year 2006.

The Doctor froze. He recognised the ship. He knew what species had hijacked the SS Douglas Adams. He had dealt with them before. In his own universe, before he crossed over into Nine’s. At Christmas 2006, in his universe, he had fought the Sycorax for the freedom of Earth.

In this universe that invasion had never happened. Nine had a peaceful Christmas with Rose and her family.

But if they got information now about what a teeming, busy place, rich in resources, the Earth was, that could change.

Not only did he have to save everyone on board the SS Douglas Adams, but he had to stop something much more consequential to Earth, his adopted home planet, where everyone he cared about lived.

To do that, he might have to do something terrible. Something he had raged about when Harriet had allowed Torchwood to do it to the Sycorax ship that had invaded Earth in that other time and place that seemed so long ago now.

There was a difference, of course. He had already defeated them that time. They were leaving. That was why he had been so angry. They attacked a retreating and defeated foe. But this foe still held hostages at their mercy. He saw them on the lifesigns monitor. Hundreds of innocent people, their species differentiated by different coloured blips on the screen. He didn’t tell Wyn, but he recognised Jamie, the Gendermorph from Haolstrom, close to what had to be the Sycorax leader - next to a faint and fading blip that still registered as organic matter though no longer living matter.

“Please don’t let that be Stella,” he prayed, though as a Time Lord he had no god to ask such a prayer of.

“They’re both ok,” Wyn said as she looked at the screen with him. “Jamie and Stella.”

“How do you.…”

“You told me, silly. People who have travelled in the vortex. They show up differently. They have a sort of glow. Look. They’re both there. They’re alive.”

“They won’t be for long unless we move,” The Doctor said. He was a bit annoyed with himself for missing what Wyn had pointed out straight away. But there was no time for his bruised ego. No time for qualms, either. Innocent lives were at stake.

More of them than anyone but he knew.

“Tell these mewling women to be quiet,” the Sycorax leader ordered Jamie. “Tell them to prepare to be transported to the Mothership. My troops have been a long time in space. They need entertaining.”

“No,” Jamie answered. “I’m not going to tell them that. You can kill me next. But I won’t do your bidding any more. I offered to translate your orders in order to save lives. But you take pleasure in destroying and I won’t….”

Jamie cried out in pain as the whip around his neck sent a jolt of electricity through his body. A warning jolt, he knew. His usefulness was not over yet. As he straightened himself up the Sycorax leader repeated his order to him.

“What’s this?” Wyn asked as the TARDIS materialised.

“The power source of the Sycorax ship,” The Doctor replied. “I’m going to… to destroy this ship and all the troops on board. The ones on the Douglas Adams… when their power supply is cut off, their weapons will be useless. They work by a hyper-kinetic connection.”

“I’m not even going to pretend that the word hyper-kinetic means anything to me. I have a post graduate degree in applied sciences from EARTH in the 21st century, and everything you say makes it redundant.”

“Just believe me, then. I know what I’m doing.”

“Committing an act of war,” he told himself as he stepped out of the TARDIS into the core of the ship’s power source. He felt the radiation as soon as he did. He had about 2 minutes before his body was so saturated with it his molecules would start to break down and he would be forced to regenerate. He needed half that to do what he had to do. It was almost too easy to kill thousands of beings at once. Such power should not be in the hands of one man. But if it had to be, he was the right man for the job.

Because at least he knew it was wrong. He didn’t do it with any sense of triumph.

“Ok,” he said when he ran back into the TARDIS and felt his body being cleansed of the surface radiation by the console room’s own automated systems. “Ok, we have four minutes to get us and the Douglas Adams out of range of the explosion.”

He materialised the TARDIS between the SS Douglas Adams and the Sycorax ship and pressed levers and pulled switches frenetically as he extended the TARDIS’s gravitational field to encompass the ship and then piloted it in what, for want of a better word, his human companions tended to call ‘impulse drive’.

In the Heart of Gold ballroom with its exo-glass ceiling, humans and Sycorax both saw what was happening. They saw the TARDIS materialise above them. They saw and felt the ship move rapidly away from the alien one. The exo-glass automatically darkened to protect their eyes against the explosion that turned the Sycorax mother ship to burning dust in a few seconds.

“Agghhh!” raged the Sycroax leader angrily and he flexed his whip to deal a death blow in retaliation. Jamie cried out in pain, but the crack of energy fizzled out after a few seconds. He was hurting badly from the massive shock direct to his heart, but he wasn’t a pile of smoking bones on the floor and he wasn’t slowly burning to death.

He was in trouble though. He clutched his chest as he felt it tighten painfully. He felt Stella’s arms around him as he sank to his knees. And as he slipped into unconsciousness he saw two of the other women attacking the now weaponless Sycorax leader, kicking him where it hurts – the same place as most other species - and punching him to the ground. Around the ballroom the same was happening to his troops, who found themselves outnumbered and unarmed.

Stella saw nothing of that. She only saw the TARDIS console room solidifying around her, then Wyn beside her, prying Jamie’s still body from her grasp.

“I think it’s too late,” she said. “You came too late. Doctor… I think he’s….”

Wyn thought so too as she held her lover in her arms. “She’s dead. I can’t feel a pulse. Her heart….”

“No,” The Doctor said in a voice that quavered with emotion. “No, I won’t let her be dead.” He turned to the TARDIS console and Wyn and Stella were amazed to see him kicking and hitting it. “Come on. You did it before. You saved Grace and Lee. You saved Jack through Rose. You can do it when you choose. Do it this time. Don’t let him die in the TARDIS. Nobody… nobody dies in the TARDIS.”

That wasn’t true. People HAD died before inside the TARDIS. But it was also true that some had lived. Sometimes the TARDIS could provide a miracle of its own and he was asking it now.

“Doctor!” Stella called out, wondering what he was doing, why he didn’t do something practical to help. She was kneeling with Wyn, holding her sister as she, in turn, held onto Jamie and kissed him. He WAS still in his male form, but she didn’t care. She loved him and her equally and her heart was breaking. She cried at the injustice of it all. They had defeated the aliens, saved everyone, except for Jamie.

“Doctor!” Stella cried out again. “Stop it. That’s not helping. Come and try something. CPR or something.”

The Doctor screamed as the arc of pure energy emerged from the console and went straight through his own body before enveloping Jamie. Wyn clung to him still and hoped that whatever it was The Doctor was trying to do could help.

Then she felt Jamie move. She felt his body shudder as he gasped for breath and his stilled heart beat once again. She saw him shimmer and turn to his female form, then back again twice more before settling in the female version, still dressed in the evening gown from the ball that seemed a long time ago now.

But Jamie’s life didn’t seem to be enough for the TARDIS. The Doctor stepped back from the console as the light increased. He was startled when both doors flung open and the energy poured out through it. He saw the pile of bones right outside enveloped and before his eyes flesh and sinew, organs and skin were replaced, even clothing covering the body before the Captain of the Douglas Adams struggled to his feet, staring in amazement at the blue box that had no business being in the ballroom of his ship.

The energy continued to fly around the ballroom and on the lifesigns monitor The Doctor saw what had been dead tissue traces become living beings. The TARDIS was bringing life back to all the innocent victims of the Sycorax attack.

“What happened?” Jamie asked as she looked up at the console room ceiling. “I thought I was dead. I felt dead.”

“Love,” The Doctor said. “My people didn’t do it. They never valued love particularly. But somehow… in all the years I’ve been flying this TARDIS… it learnt about love. I loved Grace and it let her and Lee live again. Rose… she loved Jack in her way and it gave him life. More life than he knew what to do with. And… and it saw how much Wyn loved Jamie and it let her live. And… and that love was strong enough to save everyone else, too. My TARDIS. It loves life as much as I do. It CARES.”

“You’re rambling, Doctor,” Stella told him. “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “All that matters is there are no needless deaths here.”

There would be no needless deaths in Earth’s future, either. He’d even saved Harriet Jones’s political career in this universe. Because he wouldn’t have to punish her for the needless deaths she had caused in the version of events he remembered.

The Sycorax deaths he had caused himself were for him to deal with in his own conscience.

“The ship is still thousands of years out of time,” Wyn pointed out. “How do we get it back where it belongs?”

“Er…” The Doctor looked a little unsure about that. He had almost forgotten about the time storm. But she was right. “I think….”

Whatever he thought went unexpressed. The TARDIS came to his rescue, sounding the proximity alarm that told him there was another ship approaching. His hearts sank as he wondered if there was another Sycorax ship in the vicinity. But then Stella gave a sudden yelp and grabbed at the wristlet on her arm. She gave it back to Jamie who looked at the message on it.

“It’s ok,” she said. “That ship… it’s the Time Agency, come for me. The emergency signal… they’ve come to rescue me.”

“They’ve got a time-drive ship?” The Doctor asked. Jamie nodded. “They can help. Between your lot and the TARDIS we can ‘tow’ the Douglas Adams back to the thirty-fourth century. They can arrest the rest of the Sycorax, too, and deal with them. There’ll have to be an incident report. Even if nobody is dead, there’s still an act of piracy to deal with.” He sighed. Making statements wasn’t something he enjoyed. He would prefer to leave and let others clean up the mess. But this time he doubted he would be able to.

He was right. They had to remain in orbit around Orinic IV for several days while the thirty-fourth century authorities tried to put together an incident report that they could possibly submit to public scrutiny that include statements about time storms and alien hijackers, exploding ships and people coming back from the dead, to say nothing about an antique police telephone box at the centre of it all,.

Wyn didn’t mind. It meant more time with Jamie. She knew that time was limited now. And she was not at all surprised when the last day came.

“I have to go back with them, this time,” Jamie told her as she came into the TARDIS console room where Wyn and Stella and K9 were with The Doctor, getting ready to set off now that the statements were made and they were free to go. “I have to go back on the Agency ship and make my report – about why I had to send an automated distress signal. I’m not in any trouble. But I do have to account for myself. And they won’t let me take the scenic route with you.”

Wyn looked disappointed. Worse than disappointed. She clung to Jamie’s arm tightly. The Doctor looked at them both.

“Will they take a passenger?” he asked. “In the Time Agency ship.”

“Huh?” Jamie looked at him. “Well, I suppose they could. It’s not usual, but it’s not against the rules.”

“Wyn, go with her. As captain of the TARDIS I’m giving you a three month leave of absence. Go to the fifty-first century with Jamie, and have a fantastic time together. Stella and me will enjoy some purely leisure activities. The mineral lakes of Kurhan should are opening up for winter skating parties, and there’s the Eye of Orion and Blackpool Pleasure Beach! We’ll have plenty of fun.”

Wyn’s eyes lit with joy as she ran to pack a case for her journey. Jamie tried to find a way to express her gratitude.

“What I don’t get,” she said. “You said your people… the Time Lords… you said you come from the Planet that invented Straight. But you have never worried about letting me and Wyn be together….”

“My people aren’t right about everything,” The Doctor answered. “They’re certainly no experts on love.”

“He’s not straight anyway,” Stella cut in. “Wyn told me about him and some guy called Jack.”

“I was teasing Wyn. Nothing went on between me and Jack, except a very special friendship.” He smiled. “He was one of your lot, Jamie. A Time Agent. You might know him, maybe. I always had an inkling Jack wasn’t his REAL name, but he’d stand out in a crowd even in the fifty-first century. Matinee idol looks, smile like a toothpaste advert, more ego than a whole boyband. And VERY flexible when it comes to ‘dancing’!”

“I think I know the one you mean,” Jamie said. “I ‘danced’ with him. Twice. Very flexible. But not my type in the end.”

Stella looked at Jamie and The Doctor and ran the last few sentences back in her head and THOUGHT she understood what they were both saying. But she wasn’t sure and she certainly wasn’t going to ask The Doctor to explain. She didn’t think that conversation was ever going to be repeated in front of Wyn, anyway.

“If I come across him again I’ll say hello from you.” The Doctor promised. Then Wyn was back with everything she thought she would need for three months in the fifty-first century. She hugged The Doctor, kissed him on the cheek and told him to look after Stella. Then she hugged Stella and told her to look after The Doctor. She took hold of Jamie’s arm and whistled for K9 who hovered dutifully at her feet.

“He might have to go in freight,” Jamie said, looking at K9. “But at least he doesn’t need quarantining.”

The Doctor and Stella watched them go then turned back into a much quieter TARDIS.

“Where shall we go then?” he asked her. “Blackpool? Orion? Kerhan?”

“Surprise me,” Stella answered.

The Doctor grinned and pressed the dematerialisation switch.

She asked for it.

There was a universe of surprises out there.