Chrístõ sat on the edge of his desk in his most informal and non-teacher like pose and listened to the discussion going on in class that loosely came under the heading of social studies. With four of the group due to leave in two weeks time anyway, he wasn’t even trying to teach them. If anything, listening to their views of their society, they were teaching him.

The subject was the age of consent in the Beta Delta system. There were debates in the Planetary Assembly that governed all of the inhabited Beta Delta planets about whether the age should be reduced to eighteen. Since this was the age that students left school and went to university, or could join the army, police or space corps, it seemed reasonable to many that they should also be allowed to marry and vote. But the traditionalists said twenty three was the proper age and should not be altered.

“It’s not a tradition,” argued Geoffrey Walker. “The age of consent was eighteen until 2295, when they raised it in order to reduce unemployment and over-population on Earth. But since the colonisation of new planets began, neither problem exists on Earth, and there is no danger of Beta Delta being over-populated.”

“On some planets we are all of us in this class old enough to get married,” Clara Corr, one of the youngest, at fourteen, pointed out. The students all looked at Chrístõ, the most travelled person they knew, for confirmation.

He laughed.

“You need to talk to Julia about that,” he said. “She knows a whole collection of planets where she reckons we could have got married years ago. Although I have noted that the societies where early marriage is allowed are lacking in other rights and responsibilities - like the right to choose who to marry, or not to get married at all. Especially in the case of young women.”

“What about your planet?” Marle asked. “You go to school till one hundred and eighty. So when are you considered an adult?”

“Nobody would consider getting married before the age of two hundred,” he answered. He didn’t want to get into the issues of universal suffrage on Gallifrey. He had always had his own issues with the definition of democracy on his homeworld, but since even the pretence of a fair and equal society had been destroyed by the Mallus invasion he was even more reluctant to discuss it.

“So Julia has a while to wait, then?” somebody pointed out. Chrístõ laughed. So did everyone except Noreen Massey, who looked at him with a rather disdainful expression.

“What happens on your planet does not signify,” she said in a cold voice. “You are an alien and a heathen and an affront to Jahweh.”

There was a stunned silence among the rest of the students. Chrístõ looked at her for a long moment before choosing a suitable reply.

“Affront to Jahweh is a new one on me. But I’m quite used to colourful and creative insults. You should have heard what some people called me at school.”

“Do not mock Jahweh,” Noreen responded.

“Don’t be rude to Chrístõ,” Lara Nuttino responded to her. “He’s our teacher and our friend.”

“He’s an alien,” Noreen insisted.

“Not according to my passport,” Chrístõ pointed out. “I'm a descendent of an Earth born Human and as such I am considered a citizen of the Earth Federation with right of abode in the Beta Delta system. I am no more an alien than anyone else whose parents left Earth to come here. Unless you wish to consider the idea that all of us, on a planet four years of hyperspace travel from Earth, are equally alien.”

He had often pointed that out to his class, as well as to Julia and her cousins and many of their friends. It never ceased to amaze him that the Humans who came to live all the way out here called other beings “aliens” in a pejorative way, but not themselves.

Noreen was not convinced by his argument and said so.

“Don’t worry about her,” Vern Koeting told him. “Her family belong to the Church of Jahweh. They come out with these ideas all the time.”

Noreen looked at Vern and slid a pamphlet across the desk to him.

“This is a gift to you from Jahweh,” she said to Vern. “To teach you the error of your ways.”

“Yeah?” Vern reached into his desk and took out a book. He slid it over to her. “This is from me to teach you the error of YOUR ways, Noreen.” Chrístõ saw that it was a copy of the first book he had ever read with this class – The Chrysalids. It seemed a long time ago now. It was only a little over a year, in reality. But he had far more memories to cope with in that year than everyone else.

“That book is an affront to Jahweh and a heresy,” Noreen answered and pushed the book away so violently it slammed onto the floor. Chrístõ bent to pick it up. Then he reached and picked up the pamphlet. It was a guide for teenagers - ‘Living by the Word of Jahweh.’ He flicked the pages, apparently idly, but anyone looking closely at his face would have seen his pupils dilating rapidly as he read every word on every page of the pamphlet and took in the information.

“John Wyndham was approved as literature by the Beta Deltan School Board,” he said. “However, “Sins of Youth” is another matter. According to the same School Board’s rules, dissemination of printed matter tending towards religious or political indoctrination on school premises is strictly forbidden. I will overlook the infraction this time, as well as your lack of respect for me and your fellow students. But I suggest you keep this and any other such reading material in your own desk, Noreen.”

The class all looked at him. They had never heard such a hard edge to his voice before. Their time as his students – his Chrysalids – had mostly been a positive and a pleasant experience. This was a disturbing change of atmosphere in their classroom.

“Chrístõ….” He felt Pieter Stein’s voice in his head and knew that he was speaking to him from behind a telepathic wall. “Don’t push it. She’s not the only one. There’s about twenty of them in school. They talk like that all the time just lately. I had a feeling about Noreen when she started wearing her hair in a Madden again.”

Chrístõ had noted that the girl was wearing her hair in a purple hairnet – the school colours – called a Madden. Julia started to style her hair that way from when she turned thirteen. It was common back on Earth. But on Beta Delta IV she found that most of the girls had abandoned the practice. It was, they all said, an outmoded idea. The fact that they were all under twenty-three was enough proof that they were ‘maidens’. And in any case, she had her hair in a pony tail or a carefully pinned bun most of the time for gymnastics practice.

“Jahweh thinks hair is sinful?”

“Jahweh thinks BREATHING is sinful,” Pieter replied scornfully. “It’s worse than when Madame Waterson started laying down the law about what we could or couldn’t do. At least she used hypnotism to get her way. This lot… They get it from pamphlets.”

“I’ve always been taught to respect other people’s religions,” Chrístõ said. “But I generally expect those people to respect me. I’m really not sure what to do about this.”

Noreen had gone quiet. So had the other students. He looked at them for a long moment, then called for a class vote on the issue of lowering the age of consent to close the social studies lesson. After that he gave them an essay to work on and retired behind his desk. He watched Noreen for a long time. She was doing her essay. Obviously obedience to him as a teacher was approved of by Jahweh. But her strange attitude had surprised and shocked him. Noreen had always seemed a nice girl. She was naturally gifted in many ways; a mathematician and an artist principally. She spent hours drawing minutely detailed flowers and plants, and could also dash off clever, funny caricatures. He opened his desk and looked at the one she had drawn of him, which the class had presented to him in a cardboard frame so it would not crease. She had seen him as comically tall and thin, dressed in black, as he always was, and, while perfectly humanoid, somehow resembling his sonic screwdriver that she had seen him use from time to time.

It had only been three weeks since she drew that picture for the amusement of all. How had such a change been wrought on a girl in such a short time? WAS it hypnotism? Such things were not unheard of. Was it a real religious conversion? If so, then he was sorry, because he always thought of religion as something that enhanced life, not suppressed it.

For that reason alone, he questioned the particular brand of religion Noreen was so keen on. It was so narrow and intolerant, if the pamphlet was any indication.

On the face of it, the ideas being espoused were not bad. Chrístõ himself approved of celibacy and sobriety in young people. He lived by those tenets himself, for that matter. But the pamphlet went beyond that. The children of Jahweh were told how to wear their hair, how to dress – especially the girls; what to read – only prescribed texts. He was puzzled by that one. How was he supposed to teach Noreen if she was going to refuse unprescribed texts?

A chaste life was demanded, of course. Noreen and other female children of Jahweh were strictly forbidden to consort with the opposite sex. When they reached the age of consent – 23 – a husband would be found in accordance with the will of Jahweh.

Girls were not expected to have careers. Wives and mothers were the will of Jahweh.

Chrístõ didn’t like any part of that. Totalitarianism went against the grain. He hated it. He would always rail against it, be it a political system or a religion that choked freedom of expression, freedom of choice.

But interfering in the religion of other cultures was against the rules he was taught when he was first allowed the freedom of the universe in his own TARDIS. It was not one of the immutable Laws of Time, but it was a rule that a young Time Lord was advised to follow.

He could do nothing, no matter how much he hated this new ‘religion’.

Three o’clock came and he was able to dismiss the class. Most of them went out in groups, with their friends, planning to do social activities later and over the weekend. Noreen, he noticed, went out alone. Perhaps there were other children of Jahweh she could meet socially, but he doubted that any kind of fun activities were planned. Fun seemed to be against the will of Jahweh.

On Fridays, he knew that Noreen used to be part of a small group who attended a ballet appreciation group that Mrs Corr ran. Julia had joined as soon as it was mooted, excited by the idea of talking about her favourite dances with a lady who was famous for performing them, watching video discs of the great prima ballerinas, and when possible, going to performances.

Ballet was obviously an affront to Jahweh, too. Julia confirmed when they were on the way home that Noreen had dropped out of the group.

And she wasn’t the only one.

“Tina, as well,” She said. “And she’s split up with Marius. She says he is unsuitable in the eyes of Jahweh as he wants to join the Space Corps and won’t go to service nightly.”

Chrístõ said nothing out loud, but there was a very rude low Gallifreyan word that stuck in his head.

“Billy Prior smashed up his Starship Belladonna model because Jahweh told him to,” Cordell said.

“He did what?”

“SS Belladonna… it’s the ship from Galaxyfleet X… the TV programme,” Michal explained. “Billy had a really cool model of it. All in exact detail. You could take off panels and see inside at the bridge and sick bay and engine room and officers quarters. It was brilliant. And he smashed it to bits with a hammer. And it’s stupid. He loved Galaxyfleet X. He was mad about it. He used to talk about the characters like they were real. Now he says it’s all….”

“An affront to Jahweh?” Chrístõ was very tempted to use that Low Gallifreyan swear word after all. “So am I, apparently, so they’re in good company. Me, Swan Lake and a space soap opera all offending Jahweh. I actually feel quite proud of that.”

The boys laughed. Julia didn’t.

“I don’t like the idea of you being an affront to them. They might hurt you.”

“How?” he asked. “They’re a small religious movement. I don’t like their teachings. But they’re nothing to do with me. Anyway, no need for you to worry about it. Mrs Corr is taking you to the City tonight, isn’t she? The Nutcracker at the Opera House?”

“Yes.” Julia smiled happily at the thought. “It’s going to be fun. Tina and Noreen are so missing out.”

“If they really believe in this religion of theirs, perhaps it has compensations,” Chrístõ assured her. Though he wasn’t sure he believed his own words when he said that.

After tea, though, when he drove Julia to the Corr home to meet her friends, he brought something with him that might be useful afterwards. He kissed her and told her to have fun, and promised to wait up to hear all about it later, then he drove to the Church of Jahweh.

The actual church was on the outskirts of town, near the highway. It was a traditional non-conformist chapel on the outside, at least, built of white-painted wood with a small campanile at the peak of the tiled roof. Chrístõ was curiously reminded of the sort of churches that were built in small frontier towns in the American West in the nineteenth century. In so far as the colonists of Beta Delta had also struck out in a pioneering spirit it was an appropriate architectural style. But appropriate was not a word he felt he would ever use about the religion practiced inside.

He parked his car a little way from the church and slipped his personal perception filter medallion over his head. He crossed the main road carefully, given that he was now nearly invisible to the oncoming traffic and mingled easily with the Followers of Jahweh as they arrived for their Friday evening service. He noted that they all came on foot. That was a traditional religious notion, of course. The Sabbath Walk was unusual only in this society where mechanical transport was commonplace.

He slipped unnoticed into the church and stood at the back where he could see everything. The interior was lit by central electric lights as well as some tall, plain candles in heavy candlesticks. It had rows of plain benches and no altar. On a raised dais at the far end of the church was a tall saltire cross made of some dark, strong looking hardwood.

That was unusual, he noted. Usually Christian churches had the traditional ‘Roman’ cross with the shorter crosspiece near the top. The saltire, or crux decussata, as he remembered from the depths of his knowledge of Earth theology, was the symbol of Saint Andrew, who was crucified on such a cross. A painful and lingering death, humiliating, too, with hostile crowds baying for blood. Chrístõ shuddered as he tried to imagine it. The body pinned by the four limbs, left to the elements for hours, or days, depending on the stamina and physical condition of the condemned man.

It always seemed to him, as an outsider, rather astounding that Christians took such a method of ignoble death and created from it a symbol of glory and resurrection. It said something very deep about their faith.

He turned his attention from the cross to the worshippers. They were very quiet as they took their places. Many were family groups. Men, women and children in sombre clothing, with impassive faces, sat together. He recognised Noreen with her parents and brother and Tina, Julia’s friend, with her family. There was a boy about Cordell’s age that may well have been Billy Prior. They were all quiet and still. There were no greetings to each other. There was no fidgeting or petty mischief from even the youngest children. Nobody seemed to be there reluctantly and sullenly.

The doors were closed and a man came forward and stood in front of the cross, facing the congregation. He asked them to bow their heads in piety and there was nothing unusual about that, of course. Then after the period of prayer the minister, leader, priest, whichever term they used, called out a man from the benches.

“Daniel Miller,” he declared. “You have sinned against Jahweh. You have been making false entries in the accounts of your business, garnering unlawful profit.”

“Pastor Reynolds,” Miller gasped. “How can you know…”

The Pastor looked at him coldly.

“You confess your sin before Jahweh?”

“Yes, yes, I do,” Miller added. “Please do not punish me. Please, I beg of you. Jahweh forgive me.”

Paster Reynolds shook his head and waved to four men who sat at the front of the congregation.

“Jahweh may forgive you, but you must be punished, first.”

Miller sobbed in fear as two of the men took hold of him and the other two did something to the saltire that laid it flat on the dais. Chrístõ watched in astonishment as Miller was tied to it, hand and foot, and it was raised up again. The jolt as it was fixed upright again must have jarred Miller’s body painfully. He continued to sob as his humiliation was complete. A woman who might have been his wife shifted in her seat very slightly but made no protest about his punishment.

Nor did anyone else. Chrístõ watched as the service continued. The congregation recited prayers, listened to tracts from the Earth Bible, listened to a sermon of the hellfire and damnation sort, and recited catechisms of what must be done to avoid staining the soul with sin.

There was a distinct theme to the whole devotion. Preparation for Judgement. Purging the body and mind of sin ready for the day of Judgement. And the way Pastor Reynolds preached, it seemed like the time for being purified was short. The day of Judgement was soon.

He wasn’t sure if that was significant or not. Maybe it was just the rhetoric of his kind of preaching.

The whole service went on for two hours, and all that time, Miller hung there on the saltire, his sobs of grief and pain occasionally heard above the sounds of the religious devotion.

Chrístõ wondered how long he would be left there. Even after the first hour his limbs must have been aching. Any longer and he would probably pass out from exhaustion and pain. Did they mean to let him die?

Chrístõ knew that it was not hunger or thirst or exposure to the elements that was the cause of death on a cross – of any shape. It was, ultimately, suffocation, when the body and spirit became too exhausted to push up the diaphragm and expel air from the lungs before taking a new breath. Would they kill a man for what amounted to a very petty case of embezzlement that would have got him three or four months in jail?

He was relieved when, after the last prayer, Pastor Reynolds ordered the men to lower the cross again and let Miller free. He could not stand unaided, but none would help him. He crawled to the place where his wife sat. She looked pleadingly at Reynolds, who nodded. She moved from her seat and helped her husband to stand. A teenage boy came to her side. Chrístõ noted the look on his face. He had been made to watch silently as his father was so humiliatingly punished! The father had to bear the knowledge that his son was watching him.

He waited until Miller had slowly walked up the aisle and out of the church, then he followed the family. They walked, very slowly, down the road until they were out of sight of the church, then Mrs Miller hailed a taxi. Chrístõ wondered if it was against the rules. But how else, after all, would they get home? Mr Miller was in no fit state to walk anywhere.

The rest of the congregation were coming out of the church now. It was over for the day. Chrístõ returned to his car and drove home. He had a lot to think about, but he put it out of his mind when Julia got home. He sat with her in the kitchen and ate supper and listened to her chatter about the ballet,

“When the war is over and I am free to travel again, we’ll go to see the premiere,” he said. “1892, in St. Petersburg. A beautiful city. You would love it.”

“Yes, I expect I would,” Julia commented. But she said nothing more about it. Chrístõ did say things like that from time to time. About what they would do when he could use his TARDIS again. But she didn’t let herself dream of those things. She didn’t know if they would ever happen. Maybe the war would never be over and he would never travel away from Beta Delta IV. For her, that would be a bonus in one way, because he would always be there, with her. But she knew it hurt him so much not to be the traveller and adventurer he used to be.

“There are plenty of ballets and operas and concerts here on Beta Delta IV,” she reminded him. “You can take me to them.”

“Yes,” he answered and smiled away the melancholy that could have enveloped him. He let her talk some more until tiredness was clearly affecting her speech, and then ushered her away to bed. He washed their supper plates and turned out the lights and went to bed himself, pushing away sad thoughts of TARDIS travel and disturbing thoughts of the Church of Jahweh as he let himself sleep.

The following morning, though, he brought Julia on a trip to the capital city. He left her at the museum of art and design, which was running a special exhibition about the costumes of the ballet she had seen the night before. He went to the Governor’s Mansion where, despite it being the weekend, he had been granted an interview with the man who was leader of the people of Beta Delta IV. He was offered tea in a pleasant drawing room and the Governor listened as Chrístõ spoke of what he had seen last night.

“There are some forty of these churches around the Beta Delta system,” The Governor told him. “Six or seven thousand worshippers in all. And there have been rumours of extremism. But it has proved impossible to put an agent in to find out. They seem to close ranks around any stranger who was not subject to their evangelising. How did you manage it?”

“Let’s leave that aside, for now,” Chrístõ answered. “But torture has long been illegal in the Earth Federation. Is there nothing you can do?”

“You have no actual evidence apart from your own testimony. Unless the victim made a deposition, there is nothing I can do. We need more to go on.”

“I’ll get you more,” Chrístõ vowed. “They have to stop this.”

“You come from an atheist culture, do you not?” The Governor asked.

“Not exactly,” Chrístõ answered. “Atheism is a denial of the existence of a deity. We don’t deny anything in a universe of infinite possibilities. We simply don’t have religion as a part of our lives.” He paused. “Why do you ask?”

“You have to understand my position. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Colonial Statutes. Official action is very difficult. With clear and specific evidence of illegal activities, it might be possible to act. But it must be more than the testimony of…”

“Of an abomination in the sight of Jahweh?” Chrístõ smiled ironically. “Do I understand, though, that you are… suggesting… that I might be an UNofficial agent of the Beta Deltan government?”

“I am suggesting nothing of the sort,” the Governor answered. “To do so would be quite unethical of me. And if you were injured or killed in the course of any investigation I have not asked you to conduct, the government of Beta Delta would have no liability. You understand that.”

“Perfectly,” Chrístõ replied. “Funnily enough, I’ve had a similar conversation that never took place with members of the Gallifreyan Government. They were even more obscure about what they were telling me not to do.”

“We understand each other, them?”

“We do,” Chrístõ answered.

“Good luck,” The Governor told him.

“So,” Chrístõ thought as he headed back to the museum to spend the day with his girlfriend. “I’m unofficially working for the government again. Different government, same terms.”

He was not displeased with the idea. He just wondered how he was going to get the evidence that was so desperately needed. A camera, perhaps, recording the service. He could do that with his perception filter on. There was no problem with that, except it meant spending yet more time in the presence of people who made his skin crawl.

What amazed him was that there WAS no hypnotism involved. There was no delusion of the minds. These people had genuinely decided that this was the way they wanted to live. They accepted the punishments of their religious leaders.

“Why?” Chrístõ wondered aloud.

“Why what?” Julia asked and he looked at her across the table in the café where they had come for lunch.

“Sorry, I was miles away. Thinking about the Children of Jahweh. They’ve been around for a while, haven’t they? They’re not brand new here?”

“Well, Tina’s family have always gone to that church. Noreen, too. But it used to be just an ordinary kind of thing except they had extra services on weekday evenings, and they wouldn’t eat certain sorts of food. But since pizzas and coffee weren’t on the list of banned foods we mostly didn’t even think of it. They didn’t get all uptight about things like music and dancing or TV. Tina was allowed to date Marius. She was just like the rest of us. She went to church for so many hours a week and got on with her life every other time. Then just recently, it started to change. Before she stopped talking to us altogether, Tina said that some kind of prophecy was upon them, and they had to get ready, purging themselves from sin, that kind of thing. And then they all started to get noticeably weird.”

“Prophecy? End of the world kind of prophecy, that sort of thing?”

Julia shrugged.

“More like the start of a new world – the righteous being saved. It’s got to be total nonsense. There’s nothing going to happen to this planet. But they believe it. And they seem to have this idea that it’s going to be soon.”

“Nothing IS going to happen to this planet,” Chrístõ assured both Julia and himself. It was creepy to think about prophecies of doom even if he didn’t believe them himself.

Did the Followers of Jahweh know something he didn’t? He shook his head and dismissed the idea from his thoughts.

“Never mind,” he said. “The end of the world isn’t nigh. So what about a concert this afternoon. Or a musical. Phantom of the Opera. I’ve never seen that one. Should be interesting.”

As important as it was, he put his unofficial assignment aside for most of the weekend, his quality time with Julia. He didn’t think about it much in the first part of Monday morning, either. The scheduled lesson was maths, which didn’t offend Jahweh much and so Noreen didn’t give him any trouble. Just before break, though, he was surprised when Julia came into his classroom without knocking.

“Chrístõ, will you come to the sickbay,” she asked. “Tina fainted in class, and… I really think you should look at her.”

Chrístõ sent his class for an early break and then came along with her quickly. The school nurse was attending to Tina, who was lying down on the examination bed.

“What’s wrong with her?” he asked. The nurse looked at him and wondered briefly why he had been called since Tina was not his student. Then she saw the look in his eyes and wondered why she questioned his authority.

“She is badly dehydrated and seems to have skipped several meals,” the nurse answered her. “A diet fad. I see them all the time.”

“Mmm. Fat is an affront to Jahweh, too, is it?” He looked at Tina. She was a slim girl, with no need for diets. But looking at her pale, drawn face he would have agreed with the nurse’s diagnosis if it wasn’t for the other things he knew about her recent activities.

“Fasting?” he asked. “Ritual fasting? For how long?”

She didn’t answer. He wasn’t surprised.

But then he noticed something else. He grasped her arm and stared at the red wheals on her wrists. He pulled back the blanket that covered her and looked quickly at her ankles.

“Rope burns,” he noted. “What was your sin, Tina?”

“She was seen consorting with a male who is not one of the chosen,” said Noreen. Chrístõ wondered how long she had been standing at the sickbay door.

“It was Marius,” Julia protested. “He tried to see her on Saturday afternoon. Even if that WAS wrong, which it ISN’T, it was him wanting to talk to her. It wasn’t her fault. Why should she be punished? Anyway, what did that to her? What caused marks like that?”

“Never you mind,” Chrístõ told her. “Tina, you have to tell somebody. The nurse, the headmaster, the police. This is wrong, completely wrong. You must.…”

“You must not listen to this alien,” Noreen snapped. “He will taint your soul. You will have to be purged again.”

“Who will tell?” Chrístõ asked. “You?”

“I will confess,” Tina answered. “I must be free of impurity.”

“Keep her here,” Chrístõ told the nurse. “Make sure she eats and drinks plenty of liquid. I’m going to speak to the headmaster. I think the police should be called.”

“No,” Tina cried out. “I hurt myself in the gym, that’s all. I’ve been overdoing things.”

“That’s a lie,” Chrístõ told her. “Isn’t that a sin?”

“I hurt myself in the gym, on the ropes,” she insisted.

“I’m trying to help you, you silly girl,” Chrístõ told her. “Julia, stay with her. See if you can talk some sense into her. She could do with a friend with her anyway. I’ll send a note to your teacher.”

He turned and saw Noreen dart away. He chased after her. There were things he needed to say to her, too. If she knew what had happened to Tina, if he could persuade her to talk to the police or a social worker, then they would have to act.

“Noreen,” he called out. “Please, wait. Let me help you.”

“Get away from me, alien.” He felt her reply in his head, and with it a telepathic blow that sent him reeling. He knew all of his Chrysalids were strong psychics, but he had never taught them to use that power as a weapon and he never expected it turned on him. He staggered and blinked as his vision was filled with the after image of a lightning flash in his head. When he recovered, Noreen was gone.

When he returned to his classroom, he wasn’t at all surprised that she wasn’t there.

“She ran out of the school,” Pieter told him. “I tried to contact her, telepathically. But she told me I was an abomination and closed her mind to me.”

“You’re lucky,” he answered. “She tried to fry mine. I just hope she’ll be all right.”

He set the class some work and sat at his desk. He was still slightly dizzy from the after effects of her psychic attack, and he wanted to gather his thoughts about this new development. His suspicions, even with the marks on Tina’s arms and legs, still amounted to nothing if the girl refused to corroborate his story. But he had a feeling this wasn’t the end of the matter. Something else would happen, yet. Something to push them all further over the brink of madness that they were poised upon.

He was right. It happened just after lunchtime when he was settling his students into a meditation period, something he felt they needed after a morning of upsets. There was a noise in the corridor outside. Then Julia again rushed into the classroom. This time he wasn’t surprised when she didn’t knock. She was crying and there was a bruise on the side of her face.

“Tina did it,” she told him as he pressed his fingers against the purple-blue mark. “I tried to stop them. So did Nurse Schiller.”

“Stop who?” he asked.

“Tina’s parents, and the Pastor from their church. They took her. There were other parents, too. All the Followers of Jahweh, they came and grabbed their children from their classrooms.”

“Oh, what now?” Chrístõ groaned. “Ok, go back to your own classroom. At afternoon break, call your aunt and ask her to come and pick you and the boys up. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. Marle, Laurence, you lead the meditation and later, you all have work set. I’ll trust you to get on with it.”

He hugged Julia and then rushed away. He had a terrible feeling that things were coming to a head for the Followers of Jahweh. He had to do something right now to protect the children, and the adults, too.

His car was in the car park, of course. He got in and drove as quickly as the speed limits allowed towards the church. His perception filter was in the glove compartment. He slipped it on as he parked. He noted that there were a dozen or more cars near the church. Sabbath Walks were abandoned today.

He slipped in unnoticed again, and was horrified at what he saw. There were at least twenty young people there, along with their parents. The children were all kneeling in front of the huge cross. Some of the men were erecting two slightly smaller saltires either side of the main one. Chrístõ’s hearts thudded. They were planning more punishments.

His hearts almost stopped in shock when Tina, already tired and weak, was brought forward and fastened to one of the new crosses. They didn’t tie her feet. They dragged on the floor. But she was tightly bound with her arms outstretched until the muscles were tightly pulled. She made no protest, neither did her parents. The Pastor was saying something about unholy influences upon her. Then he turned and singled out another.


She shrieked in horror.

“No,” she cried. “I have been obedient.”

“You are an abomination,” Pastor Reynolds said. You have used mental powers that come from the devil, not from Jahweh. That teacher of yours, the alien, has corrupted you, encouraging you to use these demonic faculties.”

“I haven’t,” Noreen protested. “I have tried not to. I have closed my mind to them all and given my thoughts only to Jahweh.”

“Them?” the Pastor looked at her as she was dragged up to the cross and the ropes fastened around her arms. “There are more?”

“Everyone in my class… except for the Corr children. But they’re abominations, too. They were born by unnatural means. The others… all speak to each other through their minds. And he encouraged them. The alien. And….” Noreen lifted her head and stared directly at the place where Chrístõ stood, halfway down the aisle between the benches. “He is here. He is using demonic tools to make himself invisible. He is THERE.”

The perception filter DIDN’T make him invisible. It made him unnoticeable. But it only worked if people didn’t expect him to be there. Now all eyes turned towards him, and they saw him. He fought three of them as they closed in, and he had the better of the fight. He was a master of the arts, after all.

But even a master could be felled by a crack on the back of the head by a large, heavy candlestick. He cried out softly as he fell to the floor and slipped into unconsciousness.

He came around aware of pain and the sound of somebody sobbing and begging his forgiveness.

“I forgive you, Noreen,” he murmured. “But I don’t forgive YOU!” He opened his eyes and stared at the man who was in the act of driving a steel pin through his wrist, fixing it to the saltire. The pain that woke him was from the pins that held his other wrist and his ankles to the other three arms of the cross. His trousers had been ripped as far as the knees to reach his flesh and his shirt sleeves were slashed. “Are you out of your mind?” He asked. “Do you know what you are doing?”

“Ignore the words of the demon,” commanded Pastor Reynolds. “He will die with the prayers of the righteous ringing in his ears, but we shall be deaf to his blandishments.”

He gritted his teeth against the pain as the pin was hammered through his flesh. It hurt beyond belief. It hurt even more when four men began to haul the cross upright and he felt the weight of gravity on his arms. He looked down at the Pastor and his henchmen and suppressed any desire to cry out, even when the jolt of the cross being fixed in place wracked his body. He turned his head either side and saw the two girls, Tina and Noreen, tied with ordinary rope to the smaller crosses. Tina was unconscious, but she was breathing, still. Noreen was awake, sobbing with fear and sorrow.

He turned to the front and saw the rest of the children knelt on the floor, still. They looked scared. Seeing members of their community ‘punished’ was one thing. Seeing attempted murder, seeing a man actually bleeding from his wounds in front of them, was another.

He was bleeding. The nails in his wrists and ankles cut through flesh and sinew and left open wounds that would not start to mend while he was pinned by them. They had missed any major arteries, though, and he could, for now, replace the blood that was lost almost as quickly. But it made him weak. There was nothing he could do to help himself.

Behind the children, the congregation sat, praying loudly, led by Pastor Reynolds. The adults were worried, too. He could see it in their faces, but they still seemed to believe that it was all right, that this was a sinner being punished by them, and that they were walking in the light of their god. That was the feeling he got when he focussed his mind on their emotions. They truly believed that they were doing good by killing him in this way.

Where were the police, he wondered. Why wasn’t somebody breaking the door down? And the answer was obvious. To the outside world, no crime had been committed. The parents who took their children out of school had the absolute right to do so. They had done nothing more than cause a commotion. Even if the Headmaster called the authorities there was nothing they could do. Nobody outside actually knew he was here. But, in any case, he had come freely into this building. He had not been kidnapped.

It was still only mid afternoon, still the middle of the school day. Julia was probably worried about him, but even she wouldn’t have a reason to raise the alarm until she got home and found he wasn’t there and hadn’t left any messages of any kind.

Nobody was going to help him.

The chanting of prayers echoed in his ears as they went on and on, and minutes stretched to an hour. He began to feel the ache in his arms and legs turning to constant pain before the first hour. By the second, it was unbearable. And yet, he bore it. He had no choice. He had to stay alive. He couldn’t die like this.

Apart from anything else, it made a ridiculous mockery of the religion these people claimed to believe in to crucify somebody whose first name was Chrístõ.

The thought almost made him laugh, but he was in too much pain to do more than cough violently and send throbbing spasms shooting through his whole body.

“Chrístõ!” He felt a voice in his head. It was Noreen. She sounded hurt even telepathically. “Chrístõ, I really am sorry. I didn’t expect them to do that to you.”

“I forgive you,” he answered. “I really do. Are you all right?”

“I’m hurting,” she told him. “But… I’m not as bad as Tina. She was punished all last night already. And she hasn’t eaten since Saturday. And I think she might be….”

“She’s alive,” Chrístõ assured her. “I can feel her. Can’t you?”

“Yes,” Noreen said. “But she’s weak. She’s not breathing very well.”

“Help her,” Chrístõ suggested. “You’re good at telekinesis. Better than me. And I’m… I’m hurting. It’s all I can do to help myself. But you can help her. Breathe for her. Put yourself into her body and press the old air out of her lungs and let her breathe.” He felt Noreen making that effort. It worked after the second or third attempt. “Don’t forget to breathe yourself.”

“Chrístõ,” she said after she had been doing that for a while. “It was all a lie, wasn’t it? There is no Jahweh.”

“I can’t say that for sure, Noreen,” he replied. “Jahweh is… it’s an old Earth word for God. I can’t say there is no such thing as God. But I don’t think it’s the will of any God, by whatever name, that you and Tina are hurt like that.”

“Or you? I said bad things about you. But you’re a good person, Chrístõ. And I believe in you. I know you’ll help us.”

“I’m having trouble helping myself right now,” he answered. “But I’ll try.”

That was his main reason to stay alive. So he could help put an end to this. But he was just as helpless now as he was when he was under Savang’s influence. He could do nothing for himself, let alone anyone else.

“You’re not alone, Chrístõ,” Noreen told him. “Jahweh is with you.”

“A minute ago you didn’t believe in Him.”

“That was… a moment of doubt,” she replied. “I was scared. I’m still scared. But… I think… I believe we will be all right in the end. I believe we will be delivered from this suffering.”

“Look after Tina,” he told her. “And… yes, pray. It can’t do any harm.”

The muscles in his arms and legs were burning knots of agony now. The limbs themselves were insensible. Even if he was released from the cross now he would not have the ability to crawl, let alone walk, let alone fight. He had trouble sharing Noreen’s faith. He had no god to put his trust in. He trusted himself and his own capabilities. And those were at a very low ebb right now. He was desperate.

Another hour passed with the prayers of the Followers of Jahweh still echoing in his ears. Tina drifted in and out of consciousness. Noreen kept up her efforts to help her. She kept up her own prayers, too. And Chrístõ noted that they felt much more real and sincere than those coming from the congregation. They certainly felt more pleasant to his own ears.

After a while, he noticed that some people had slipped away from the congregation. He didn’t allow himself to take any comfort in that. He had no illusions that they might have seen sense and were going to get the police. They were leaving with the consent of the henchmen on the door, going on some errand for Pastor Reynolds.

“Chrístõ, stay awake,” Noreen called to him, and he realised he had almost lost consciousness. That would be fatal. He pulled himself up, literally, heaving his chest up against the force of gravity and breathing hard. He thought he saw relief in the eyes of some of the youngsters still kneeling below him. They didn’t want to witness his death.

He didn’t want them to witness his death. He was very desperate for them not to have to see that.

It would have been easier to give in, to let himself slip into insensibility. But what would be the use of that? He had to stay awake. He had to fight, even if the only thing he was fighting was his own pain.

The pain told him he was still alive, still awake. He concentrated on the pain and knew that one thing, at least. He WAS alive.

The door crashed open and there were shouts and sounds of struggle. Chrístõ forced his head up and looked with tired eyes at the latest development. He cried out in rage as he saw the hostages dragged down the aisle and pushed to their knees in a space hastily made by the youngsters already there. Noreen cried out, too, as she recognised her classmates, all of the Chrysalids, and the Corr children, too.

The people she herself had denounced.

“Chrístõ!” He felt their voices in his head, all of them anxious for him. “What have they done to you?”

“I’m… all right…” he lied. “What happened to you all? How did they get you?”

Answers came back to him. Most of them had been grabbed near the school as they left at the end of classes. Nobody, of course, paid attention to what looked like parent near a school at tea time. Nobody questioned it when they were all bundled into cars and driven away.

“But…Chrístõ… How did they get YOU? How could they?”

“I made a mistake,” he answered. “I tried to infiltrate this place and they caught me.” He felt Noreen’s relief. He wasn’t about to tell the others that she had betrayed him. He still clung to a hope that they could all get back to some sort of normality when this was all over. And that meant Noreen was part of their class, part of the group of friends.

“These are the abominations,” Pastor Reynolds declared as he stood before his congregation and denounced his prisoners. “Today, they will die eternally as we live, in eternity. They shall see the black fires of hell. We shall ascend in flames of glory.”

“What?” Chrístõ hushed the cries of his friends as he tried to listen to what was being said now. “Oh, no. Oh, no. He is out of his mind. He has to be out of his mind. They’re ALL out of their minds.”

Around the church, several members of the congregation were pouring some kind of oil. The smell of it reached Chrístõ’s senses before any of the others.

“Please, stop,” he cried out telepathically. “Stop screaming in my head. You’re hurting me.”

“But, Chrístõ… they’re going to set fire to the building… with all of us in it.”

“Yes, I know… but I can’t think.”

The other youngsters were getting scared, too. Pastor Reynolds walked among them, putting his hand on their heads, reassuring them.

“It’s all right, children,” he said. “The righteous will be saved. Only the sinful and the abominations will burn.”

“You know that’s completely ridiculous, don’t you!” Chrístõ called out with all his strength. “You’re all going to die. These children and their parents will all burn to death and they may go to heaven if there is a heaven and they believe in it. I’m not saying they won’t. But they’re going to suffer terrible agonies first. They’re going to die screaming, because of your madness.”

“You’ll die first, abomination. You inhuman demon… You, who have already outlived the natural span of mankind, yet have the look of youth. You will die first, then these fiends in the guise of children that you have taught the dark arts. My people will be saved.”

“You’re mad!” Chrístõ repeated. “Completely mad. Maybe a few of your followers will realise that when they start to choke on the smoke, when they start to burn. Maybe it won’t be too late for them to stop you.”

“Enough,” Reynolds cried. He turned and raised his hands. Around the church the oil was ignited. Fire began to lick up the walls, casting strange shadows. The congregation drew themselves into the middle of the benches. Some of them, Chrístõ thought, might be having second thoughts now. But if they did, they had no chance of escape. Reynolds’ faithful guarded the doors.

“Christo… what can we do?” He heard Marle’s voice in his head. She and her brother drew closer. He felt her touch his ankle above where he was pinned. “What can we do?”

“Protective shield,” he answered. “Like you did in the cavern when you protected me and Pieter.”

“Yes,” she answered, a glimmer of hope in her voice. “Yes, we can do that. I’m not sure how long for, though. It might not be long enough.”

“We can try.” He heard somebody else, he wasn’t sure which of his Chrysalids said it, but it was a chance, a hope.

“Everyone close in,” Laurence said. “The smaller a space we have to shield, the better.”

They did so, gathering around the three crosses. The strongest telepaths among them concentrated hard on creating a shield. They were all astonished when it began to work. The church was starting to fill with smoke. People were coughing and choking. Some were screaming horribly. But they were breathing easily, still, within an invisible dome that covered them.

“Ok,” Laurence continued, taking charge. “Ok, keep concentrating. Don’t stop concentrating. But Marle, Angela, get those two down from there.” The two girls ran to unfasten the ropes that bound Tina and Noreen and lifted them to the ground.

“What about Chrístõ?” Marle asked. “What can we do for him? We can’t let him die.”

“Drop the cross down flat, at least,” Geoffrey said. “I don’t think we can get him off it without help, but we can protect him.”

Chrístõ sighed with relief as he felt the cross lowered. He looked up at the roof of the church, smoke curling around the rafters as the fire took hold. He felt a hand reach out to touch his. It was Noreen. Marle took his other hand and held it.

“We can’t get the nails out,” Marle told him. “They’re too strong for us to do it in any ordinary way, and it would take too much mental effort the other way. We’re all trying to keep the shield up.”

“The other children,” he said. “Let them in… I can feel their fear. Let them in.”

“Yes,” he heard Laurence say, “Yes, we’re doing that. They’re coming. The adults… Oh, they’re dying. They’re dying all around us. But… we’ve got most of the children safe. At least for now. Chrístõ… I don’t know how long we can hold on.”

Chrístõ didn’t know how long he could hold on. He was almost spent. He could hear the children sobbing all around him, as those they had been able to protect huddled close. Marle and Noreen lay down either side of him, holding onto his hands still, their heads close to his. He was comforted by their nearness.

“Sirens,” Glenda cried. “I can hear sirens. Fire engines.”

“They’re coming for us. We just have to… to hold out.”

The sirens stopped, but there were other sounds. The sound of the huge door being splintered by a fireman’s axe; the sound of hoses dousing the flames; shouted orders, muffled by smoke hoods. Then Chrístõ heard somebody swear close by him and he looked up to see a fireman standing over him. Other firemen were leading the children out of the smoke filled church, to safety. Marle and Noreen clung to his hands and wouldn’t go until the fireman gently told them to move aside while he did what he could to help. Chrístõ saw him raise his axe. He tried not to flinch as the wood next to his wrist was smashed through. The other side, too. Then his ankles. Paramedics wearing smoke hoods rushed to lift him onto a stretcher. Only when he was outside, being put into an ambulance, the two girls insisting on being with him, did he finally pass out from exhaustion.

He woke in a hospital bed. It was dark outside the window but there were lights around where he lay. He heard somebody sigh with relief and he was aware of two hands clutching both of his. He looked and saw Julia, closest to him. Beside her, was Noreen, her face pale and worried, but looking all right, otherwise. He turned his head and saw Marle there, too.

“They wouldn’t leave you,” Julia told him. “They told me what had happened. I saw the pieces of wood and the nails…”

His wrists and ankles were bandaged, but he knew that there were no wounds now. His body had mended itself while he was unconscious. He was all right. Noreen and Marle obviously were, too. He pulled himself up into a sitting position and reached out and hugged them both, as he had so longed to do when he was lying there in the church and they stayed by his side.

“Is everyone… safe?” he asked as those two gave way to Julia and he held and kissed her joyfully.

“Most of them,” Marle reported. “We saved all the children. Ten of the adults died before the firemen got to them. Pastor Reynolds was one.” Noreen stifled a sob. “It was grim. He poured the last of the oil on himself and set it alight.”

“What about your family, Noreen?” Chrístõ asked. “They were there?”

“They’re all right,” she answered. “They’ve all inhaled smoke. They’ve got to stay in hospital. But they’re alive. Tina’s family, too.”

“I’m glad,” he assured her.

“We were lucky,” Marle continued. “Chrístõ, this was planned by the leaders of the Church of Jahweh. All over Beta Delta there were mass suicides like this. For some reason today was marked as the Day of Judgement. Some kind of reading of a calendar or something. And they took sacrifices, too. People kidnapped for being unholy the way we all were. It’s really bad. The news is all over the TV. We’ve been interviewed by the press, already. There was a rumour going round. One of the adults told a reporter that YOU made a miracle happen. You created the shield that saved everyone.”

“Oh &^%$£”@#!” Chrístõ swore.

“It’s ok,” she assured him. “We all lied. We said that you just told us to get down on the floor, because that’s where the oxygen is in a smoke filled room. We said it was nonsense, and that there was no miracle. And that you were nearly unconscious anyway and couldn’t do anything else. The people who are saying ‘miracle’ are all being questioned by the police about their part in kidnapping us, anyway. They’re being classed as religious loonies who tried to burn themselves to death. So I think nobody will believe them, anyway.”

“Good,” he answered her. “I don’t want the Followers of Chrístõ building a church for themselves!”

Noreen said something quietly and Julia nodded.

“Noreen told us what she did. About betraying you and telling the Pastor about everyone in her class.”

“She told everyone?”

“No, just me and Marle. She said she couldn’t hide her shame. But we think it should stay our secret. There’s no need for everyone to know. It’s over and there’s no point in blaming anyone.”

“I agree. Come here, Noreen…” The girl moved forwards. Chrístõ hugged her tightly. “I already forgave you. There’s no more to be said. But, remember what else I said. Don’t give up believing in your god. Pastor Reynolds and the other leaders… I don’t know what got into them. They were wrong. You don’t get to heaven that way. You get there by living a good life for as long as you can.”

He took her hand and held it tightly. It was a long time since he read somebody’s timeline. He hated to do it, in case he saw something he didn’t want to see. But he did it now. He saw Noreen’s life stretched before her. He saw her going to college, getting married, having children, having a good career, and also, keeping her faith and becoming a lay preacher of the more moderate branch of Christianity that her family found consolation in after the fall of the Church of Jahweh. He saw her in robust old age, living a happy, contented life with grandchildren and great grandchildren, and dying, eventually, with all her worldly ambitions achieved, and ready to face whatever lay beyond.

“You’re going to be all right, Noreen,” he assured her.