The Dragon-Loge Marton, ruler of Loge, stood on the right hand side of Penne Dúre, King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado, as his second in command. On his left was the Matrix of Ay'Ydiwo, who was second in command to nobody. All three looked over the railing, down to the bridge of the Ruby of Adano, flagship of the Adano-Ambradon fleet and central command of the Allied Force. The Dragon-Loge’s own flagship, Dragon Royal IV flanked the Ruby, as did the Matrix’s master ship, The Sciritae II. The entire fleet was still cloaked, thanks to technology provided by their other ally, Lmevoi Jquiwr, whose flagship was also part of what would have looked a most spectacular formation if it could have been seen from any angle whatsoever.

They still had the element of surprise. But in a very short time the battle would be met. And none of them knew what might happen. The enemy had a vast battle fleet. The information they had received from agents in the Gallifreyan system would be disturbing if they didn’t know that the Allied Fleet could match it ship for ship, fighter for fighter, man for man.

“Wave One, led by the Sciritae II, with the Fahotti, Alterian, Lmevoi Jquiwran fleets under their command, will deal with the Mallus occupation of Kasterborus, the outer planet, and its orbit,” Penne said to the allies at his side as the battle plan appeared in a schematic on the large viewscreen. “”Thereby establishing an Allied cordon around the system, preventing the Mallus from either retreating or bringing in reinforcements.”

The leaders of two of the forces that had allied themselves with Adano-Ambrado for the liberation of the Gallifreyan system nodded. They approved wholly of the plan.

“Wave Two, acting simultaneously, under control of the Ruby of Adano, will go straight to Gallifrey itself. The Dragon Royal and the Loge Fleet will liberate Polafrey and also take out the communications array that the Mallus have established on the uninhabited Fibster. The Bell-Passic under the Haollstromnian Commander will likewise go to the aid of Karn. Both of those are heavily populated planets. Mostly civilian workers. They are the mining planets, source of Gallifreyan wealth. I am concerned about the loss of civilian lives when the Mallus respond to our attack.

“That cannot hold us back from the necessary action,” The Dragon-Loge said. “Some collateral losses are to be expected. But if we do not act, far worse civilian deaths will result. Not only this system, but our own, and others across this galaxy will be at the mercy of the Mallus if we fail. The civilian populations of Karn and Polafrey must take their chances for the greater good.”

“I’ve never liked that phrase – for the greater good,” Penne commended. “But in this case, you are right. There is no other choice. We risk all now for the sake of our own peace and our own future, as well as Gallifrey’s.”

“We only have to prevail in this campaign and the peace of the Galaxy will be assured,” remarked the Matrix of Ay'Ydiwo, smiling grimly with several sharp teeth revealed – as his reptilian species always did, regardless of their actual humour. “I have informants of my own in the field. The Mallus homeworld is far from stable, and has not been so for some time. This invasion was a tactical move on the part of the President-General. Mastery over the Time Lords and their Matrix was only one motive. Far greater was the glory in victory which ensured the popular support for his government. But after two years in which they failed to wrest the secret of time travel from the subjugated Time Lords, the population is restless again. The President-General is in trouble. And once the Allies take back Gallifrey it is certain that revolution will follow on the homeworld.”

“That is good news,” Penne replied. “It means that we have a finite enemy to defeat. There will be no relief force from the Mallus homeworld. Even so, once Kasterborus is secured, we will maintain a strong rearguard.

The real Admiral in command of the Adano-Ambrado fleet – Penne’s uniform was honorary, of course – approached, saluting the King-Emperor and his allies.

“We await your command, sire,” he said.

“My command is given,” Penne answered. “Good luck. The Blessing of Rassilon be upon you.”

Quite why Penne Dúre, who was born on Adano Menor and had never even heard of Rassilon, creator of the Time Lord race until a few years ago, had taken to invoking his blessing, was a mystery to everyone who knew him, especially those who knew that he always declared that he was Adanan, not Gallifreyan. But nobody doubted that a blessing of such magnitude was needed right now.

A klaxon warned everyone to be at battle stations – even though every crew member was already at their posts ready for action. The ship vibrated in a slightly more noticeable way as it increased speed. The Ruby of Adano and the battle cruisers, fighters and troop ships that were under its command had to be closing in on Gallifrey as Wave One opened battle at the outer planetary orbit. Their attack on the Mallus ships ringing the homeworld of the Time Lords had to be as near to simultaneous as possible.

“Rassilon’s blessing on you, Chrístõ,” Penne whispered as he thought of his dearest friend who was on the planet, with the Resistance who were to be mobilised to help liberate Gallifrey from the inside as well as the outside. “May you be safe, my brother. Wherever you are.”

 

Chrístõ was in the Prydonian Academy – in a room beneath the ruins of the great Dining Hall which had survived the direct bombardment of the Hall itself. He and Paracell Hext waited with the small force of young fighting men of Gallifrey for the moment when they were going to go into battle themselves.

Most were from the Chancellery Guard. They were not in their usual toy soldier uniforms, now, though. This was no time for red and gold and polished helmets and breastplates. They were all in practical fatigues. Chrístõ and Hext were dressed the same. For Hext, it wasn’t the first time. He had been trained in ordinary combat as well as the special fighting skills of a CIA agent.

It was the first time Chrístõ had worn anything remotely resembling a soldier’s uniform. But it certainly wasn’t the first time he had held a weapon. It wasn’t the first time he had been ready to fire one. It was the first time he had been ready to do so for days, preparing a battle plan, rallying the troops who looked to him for command.

It was the first time he had REALLY felt like a soldier.

He laid the semi-automatic bastic rifle across his knee and looked around the room. The men were all resting, but they were alert. It was only a matter of time. Hours, perhaps even minutes, before they would have the signal. They were all ready to fight, to kill.

So was he. He had been born a diplomat’s son. He believed fervently in diplomacy, in peace, first and foremost. But he was, paradoxically, also born the son of a warrior, and he knew that sometimes, diplomacy was no use. When the enemy had bombed and killed and subjugated your world, it was time to fight.

He thought he was ready. He thought he could pull the trigger of this weapon that felt so heavy in his hands and kill the enemy.

He knew he had to. He couldn’t hesitate, or falter, or worry about the morality of it. Morality didn’t come into it. What mattered was the freedom of his people from this savage enemy that had callously murdered so many Gallifreyans, including… He choked on the thought every time… including his own father.

Yes, he could pull the trigger. He could kill the Mallus.

But afterwards, how would he feel about that?

He worried that he might feel too much satisfaction in killing them. He had so many reasons to take revenge on them. He worried that he really might enjoy it too much. If he did, he knew he would be a different man than the one he wanted to be. He knew he would have failed his people, his family, his father’s memory.

“Chrístõ…” Hext’s voice whispered in his head. He looked up to see his friend watching him. He, too, had a weapon on his lap and looked tensed and ready to go into action.

“What?”

“Don’t wind yourself up with stuff like that. Your father wouldn’t want you to worry that way. And besides… when it’s time, you can’t have anything else in your head. You have to be single minded. That’s how your father did what he did when he was the Executioner, Chrístõ. He didn’t think about anything but doing the job, quickly and efficiently. And afterwards, when he had done it, he forgot it. He didn’t celebrate, he didn’t mourn the ones he had killed. He moved on. That’s what you have to do. It’s what I have to do.”

“How do you know…”

“He talked to me about it,” Hext answered. “When we were at the safe house. He talked about a lot of things. He talked about his life in the CIA. I know, he never spoke to you about that. He promised your mother he wouldn’t encourage you to follow him into that life. But me… I’m already there. So he talked to me of those things. He… also told me some things he wanted you to know. When we have more time… But anyway, your father’s advice… about being a warrior… is what we both need to take to our hearts right now. The rest can wait until Gallifrey is free.”

“Thank you,” Chrístõ told him. “I’ll… try to do as my father would want.”

“Your father would want you to be a man of peace,” Hext freely admitted. “But he would also know that peace this time has to be fought for.”

 

The Ruby of Adano and the Wave Two section of the Allied fleet moved in close to the Mallus ships ringing Gallifrey. They were still cloaked. The Mallus didn’t know they were there. Their encrypted communications told them that the sections that were to liberate Polafrey and Karn were also ready. The First Wave was about to attack the Mallus outer defences.

It all happened very fast. Suddenly, in an instant, the battle was engaged. On the big viewscreen Penne and his fellow commanders saw four thermic torpedoes launched from the still cloaked Ruby of Adano streaking through space towards the great command ship of the Mallus fleet. He heard the young officer at tactical command report that the Mallus still had their shields down just before the four torpedoes hit their carefully judged targets. They saw on the viewscreen the massive ship implode as one of the torpedoes ploughed straight into the ion core and set off a chain reaction.

That was only the first part of the battle. The Adano-Ambradan fleet fired on all four of the great motherships that had been in orbit around Gallifrey. All of them took direct hits. The blackness of space was illuminated by the fireballs of the burning ships, and the communications officer reported that the same was happening around Polarfrey, Karn and Kasterborus. The initial surprise attack was a success.

Penne shuddered. He was of Time Lord blood, regardless of where he was born. His natural telepathy manifested itself only very recently, but it was fully developed. He felt the deaths of so many souls at once keenly. He knew they were the enemy, but they were, nonetheless, lives cut short and their deaths weighed on him. And rightly so, he thought. He had ordered those deaths. He should feel something. But he didn’t consider that his soul was in any way stained by those deaths. His cause was righteous.

“The motherships are destroyed. The command structure is broken. But there are still battle cruisers in orbit and they are raising shields now that they know they are under attack. They are also deploying their fighter bombers.”

The Dragon-Loge reported this news to Penne and the Matrix as he came up the stairs from the floor of the bridge where he had been receiving similar reports from his own flagship. Loge, of course, was a system built on military might. Its hereditary ruler had learnt battle tactics from infancy. This was the first real battle he had been in, but he knew all the theory and he was proving himself an able tactician.

Penne was glad of that and hoped that nobody realised he had never studied a page of military tactics and would be lost without his military advisors.

“Their shields are going up!” Penne smiled a grim smile that almost matched the normal expression of the Matrix of Ay'Ydiwo. “Time for our secret weapon.”

“We should decloak, now,” the Dragon-Loge said. “Let the Mallus see the strength of the fleet arrayed against them now we no longer have the element of surprise.”

“I agree,” said the Matrix. “With their larger ships taken down we have them at a tactical disadvantage. It is even possible that some of the battle cruisers will surrender.”

“If they all did that, it would shorten the battle,” Penne said. “Yes, I agree. Let us decloak and face them head on.”

That message was sent not only to the section of the fleet going in to fight around Gallifrey, but those around the other planets of the system, too. They WERE formidable. And their shields remained intact while the shields around the Mallus battle cruisers were being brought down by another secret weapon that came from the same military technology as the cloaks fitted to all the allied ships. The thermic torpedoes that were fired at the Mallus were coated with Casssine Particles that acted like salt on ice, melting through the shields and allowing the torpedoes to hit the Mallus ships.

At least that was the theory. Until the first torpedo streaked towards the first battle cruiser, though, nobody was entirely sure it was going to work. There was a collective holding of breath until the tactical commander reported a direct hit. Then there was jubiliation all over the bridge, and on the bridges of the allied ships all across the Gallifreyan system as the commanders ordered the captains of their battle ships to engage the enemy with all weapons.

Penne felt again and again that shudder as many lives were snuffed out instantly on his command.

“Our shields hold,” the Matrix reported. “They are virtually defenceless. We have them at our mercy.”

“Mercy?” the Dragon Loge repeated scornfully. “They have shown none to the people of this system. They can expect none.”

And Penne could not disagree. But he would still count each life lost in the depths of his being.

 

“It’s time,” Hext said, standing and shouldering his weapon. Chrístõ stood, too. The men were ready. “Follow me. When we engage the enemy, don’t hesitate. Shoot first, shoot straight. Yes, they wear battle armour, and yes, they have skin like toughened leather. But they’re not invincible. Aim for the eyes or the thorax at the point where their armour and helmet meets. Those are their weak points and our advantage. Don’t show any mercy. They will show none to you.”

Everyone knew Hext spoke from experience. He was one of the few people who had actually killed Mallus already. They took his advice to their hearts.

Chrístõ was the nominal leader of this group of Resistance fighters. He was the one they looked to, because he was the true Son of Rassilon, with the genuine mark on his neck, hidden by the scar tissue. Hext was his willing second in command. But in this part of the operation to take the Citadel back into Gallifreyan hands, Hext took the lead for one simple reason. He knew a way into the Citadel through a secret way from here, beneath the Dining Hall of the Prydonian Academy.

WHY was there a secret way between the two buildings? Chrístõ had asked the question earlier when he outlined the plan. Hext had explained that it was put in place by the director of the CIA, his boss, a century ago. The director was a Prydonian, so had access to its halls. A secret way into the Citadel was, Hext said, useful for an assassin. Chrístõ had pointed out that nobody had ever been assassinated in the Citadel. Hext told him to check the Citadel library if it was still there, for councillors who had died suddenly of heart attacks or other natural causes and consider that the director of the Celestial Intervention Agency was a master with subtle poisons. Chrístõ decided he was glad he had not chosen a career as an assassin.

He had been offworld too long, Chrístõ realised as Hext led the way. He had been expecting some kind of tunnel under the buildings between the Academy and the Citadel. There was a dark corridor, but it ended in an apparently blank wall. A wall, however, with a very unique texture. Chrístõ reached and touched it, and recognised the energy signature of a static portal. He knew about such portals. They were often used by diplomats who were based on one offworld planet as an easy way to travel back to Galifrey. The other end of portal, he guessed, was not so far away as that.

“How do we know the Mallus aren’t waiting for us on the other side?” he asked.

“We don’t,” Hext answered, and he gripped his weapon and checked it was set for semi-automatic. Chrístõ did the same. Hext told the men to follow at ten second intervals and the two of them stepped through.

Chrístõ opened fire as soon as he stepped into the wider, more elaborately decorated corridor on the other side. Hext did, too. They both aimed well. Chrístõ tried not to be horrified by the pungent, dark green blood that poured from the thorax of the Mallus guard he shot in the few seconds he had before the creature took in the fact that he had apparently walked through a solid wall. Hext shot the other guard in the left eye. Both fell to the ground like toppled trees. Chrístõ and Hext stood back to back watching the two ends of the corridor as their men came through the portal and formed into two groups. Chrístõ was to lead one of them to the Panopticon itself, which had to be cleared of the enemy and the High Council, who were prisoners there, released. Hext, with the larger group of men was to clear the Mallus from what remained of the Citadel itself and hold it until the Resistance and the ground forces of the Allies, liberated the Capitol.

 

The Allied battle cruisers were bringing down the Mallus ships successfully without sustaining any losses themselves. For that, Penne was thankful. He had asked his own people, and the people of those planetary systems that had given their allegiance to this cause, to lay down their lives for a planetary system that for the most part stood aloof from the rest of the galaxy, hidden behind its transduction barrier. Every Allied life lost WAS a stain on his soul.

As yet, they had not sustained any losses. As yet the battle went their way exactly to plan. All that would change, soon, though. The battle in orbit around the planets was only half the job. Now that the enemy cordon around the planet was being replaced by an allied one, ground troops had to be deployed to physically take the towns and cities back from the enemy. That meant old fashioned warfare in the streets. It meant that the Allies may have to lay down their lives to protect the civilians who had already suffered much from possible reprisals by the enemy once it was on the retreat.

The preparations were well in hand. The ground troops, infantry and artillery from his own army, dressed in dark blue battle fatigues, were boarding the landing craft. The pilots of the light craft that would give air support to the army were going to their hangar bay. Medical and catering services were ready to follow when bases of operation were established.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” the Dragon-Loge asked Penne as he, too, stood ready to board a troop carrier, dressed in the same battle dress as the soldiers. Major Ruana Beccan of the Guardia Real, who had appointed herself as his personal aide, stood by his side. “You, going down there with the frontline troops. It is dangerous.”

“Chrístõ is down there. And his friend, Hext, without whom we would not have half the intelligence we have about the Mallus operations. And Chrístõ’s father. He is there, somewhere. I owe it to all three of them.”

“You owe it to your people to stay alive.”

“I wouldn’t have a people to rule without Chrístõ and his father.”

“Nor would I,” the Dragon Loge admitted. “The Ambassador’s advice to me helped me to root out potential insurgency and stabilise my government. You are right, my friend. Our place is down there on the planet.” The Dragon Loge called to his own military Aide and said he would be going with the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado down to the planet. He said he would change into battle-dress in the landing craft. He gave his crown and seal of office to the Aide and told him to give them to the Matrix of Ay'Ydiwo for safe-keeping until his return. Then he stepped beside Penne as they moved towards the hangar bay with the first company of ground troops.

 

Chrístõ ran along a familiar corridor that he knew would lead to the public gallery of the Panopticon, the central hall of the Citadel, and the debating chamber of the Gallifreyan government, as well as the repository of the Matrix, the great sum of Time Lord power. This was the prize the Mallus sought and he had to take it back from them.

He had lost count now of the number of Mallus guards he had killed. He had stopped thinking about it. He did so without any emotion, any satisfaction except that he, himself, was still alive and still fighting. He saw the guards that patrolled the corridors of the citadel as no more than obstacles in his path.

They had suffered casualties. One man had been shot in the head as they fought a Mallus guard patrol. Three others were walking wounded. They brought them along in the rearguard of the company. Chrístõ promised they could rest when they reached the Panopticon. He hoped that wasn’t a lie.

He and three of the men he led broke open the door to the ante room where visitors were admitted to the gallery. Four Mallus were lounging on the chairs as if they thought their duty an easy one. Chrístõ himself shot two of them through their vulnerable eyes and the other two were killed before they even had a chance to reach for their weapons.

“We won’t have it so easy inside the Panopticon,” Chrístõ told his men. “These were careless, but the ones on duty there won’t be.” He set two men to guard the door from the corridor and another to attend to the wounded.

“Perception filters,” he said, looking towards the security desk where, in normal times, visitors were given the medallions which made them virtually invisible and unobtrusive to the councillors in the chamber below. He found a box of them and picked one up. They had not been used for a long time. Even Gallifrey’s not quite democratic form of government had ended with the invasion. But he could tell it still had power.

“We have an advantage,” he said as he slipped a medallion around his neck and passed the box around his men. “We’re at war. Anything that gives us the upper hand is to be seized upon.” He could still see them, and they could still see him, of course, because they knew he was there. But the Mallus would not expect them and would not see them, at least until it was too late.

He detailed three men to come with him through the inner door to the gallery. They did so quietly. The gallery, and the Panopticon as a whole, was sound-proofed. The guards within did not know of the gunfire outside. They still had the element of surprise.

The two Mallus guards inside did turn to look at the door as it opened and were puzzled to see nobody come through. They had the presence of mind to raise their weapons, but they had no time to do anything more. One was killed by a knife plunged into his thorax. The other had the same knife thrown in his eye. The sound of them falling to the floor was muted as the gallery had thick carpets that muffled footsteps.

Chrístõ calmly took back his knife and stepped forward to the edge of the gallery. He looked down and suppressed a cry of disgust at what he saw there.

The floor of the Panopticon, looking down from the gallery, had a huge mosaic of the Seal of Rassilon in real gold that shone in the natural sunlight that came through the glass ceiling a great, dizzy height above. It was a fine, beautiful thing that the Mallus had defiled in the worst way possible – by making it into an instrument of torture. He looked with sympathy at the nearly naked man laid across the seal, tied by ropes that stretched his limbs painfully. Chrístõ remembered the attempted ‘crucifixion’ done to him not long before and knew just how much this victim was suffering. It was still not quite dawn yet and he had some relief. But when the sun came up, he would be horribly exposed. If he was not allowed water, it would be a slow, painful death.

There were four guards surrounding him, and Chrístõ was shown a hand held lifesigns monitor carried by his lieutenant, a man called Dennac, that showed two more hidden from their view, under the gallery. Chrístõ nodded and gave a silent signal that the men interpreted without question. Abseilling from the gallery to the debating floor of the Panopticon was something close to treasonable, he reflected. But it was the quickest way down and they still had the element of surprise.

As he slid down the slender rope, with his gun set to fully automatic, taking out the two guards beneath the gallery while his men dealt with the other four, he briefly wondered what Pieter and the other climbing enthusiasts he knew back on Beta Delta IV would think of him right now. But then his feet touched the marble floor and he ran, pulling his knife from his belt again. His men covered him as he went to give relief to the pitiful victim of Mallus abuse.

“It’s all right now,” he told the man. “I’m here to help you. Don’t try to move yet. How long have you been like this?”

“Two days, I think,” the victim answered in a weak, cracked voice. “I didn’t think I would last much longer…” Then Chrístõ felt his telepathic voice instead, and it was also weak. To his surprise, the victim spoke his name. To his even greater surprise, he recognised the telepathic voice.

“Uncle Remonte…” He answered telepathically as he cut through the last of the bonds. “Oh… you’ve… they forced you into a regeneration.”

“Twice now,” he replied. “I can’t feel my limbs. But… help me to stand, please…”

“Take it easy,” Chrístõ told him. “You’ll be all right. I’ve got you.” He helped him to stand up. The feeling was slowly coming to his legs and he managed a few steps, supported by his nephew, enough to get him to the councillor’s benches under the gallery where he was able to sit. One of the men brought a piece of torn curtain, a fine piece of velvet that once hung across the door to the councillor’s chambers. He wrapped it around Remonte. He reached on his belt for his water pouch and put it to his lips to drink. As he did so, gratefully, Chrístõ noticed that his eyes were sightless. He had been two days exposed to the full glare of the sun. His retinas were burnt out.

“That will repair, in time,” Remonte said. “If I live to get the needed rest. Chrístõ… I never thought to hear your voice again. Does this mean…”

“The liberation of Gallifrey is happening, now. We’re securing the Citadel.”

“The other councillors… what’s left of them…” Remonte told him. “They’re being held below… The Mallus built cages…. They… we’ve all… for so long… They wanted the secret of the Matrix… They… they’ve tortured all of us to try to…”

“I know,” Chrístõ answered. “I know. I’m sorry I took so long… I wish I could have been here sooner. We’ll get the others. But tell me where they are…where below… How many guards…”

Remonte did his best to tell him. But he was exhausted. The effort to speak, either in words or telepathically, was draining him. Chrístõ knew the information might not be complete or reliable. He would have to go carefully.

“Chrístõ,” Remonte said as his strength began to fail him. “I need to tell you… your father…”

“I know… they killed him,” Chrístõ answered, trying to keep his emotions in check. “I know. Don’t… You rest. I’ll come back for you in a little while.”

“Killed… Chrístõ… no… They…” But his strength was drained. Chrístõ gently laid him down on the bench and covered him. He detailed a man to take care of him while others took up defensive positions around the Panopticon. That was their job now. To hold this chamber while Hext and the others secured the rest of the Citadel building – that part of it that had not been destroyed in the first bombardment, anyway. All of the tower that housed the communications network, the Transduction Barrier controls and central security was gone, of course, as well as the part of the building directly beneath. But the Citadel was a vast building and much more of it remained, slowly being taken back by Gallifreyans.

 

The ground troops were to take the two main cities of Gallifrey. Two companies split off as soon as they entered the atmosphere, accompanied by fighter bombers, to liberate Athenica, the peaceful city of art and justice on the Southern Continent. One more company would secure the space port outside that city. Five companies headed for the Capitol, the huge metropolis on the Northern Continent.

Penne and the Dragon-Loge were with the company that landed in the middle of the Capitol. The other four companies were strategically positioned to surround the city and work their way inwards as they spread out. Air support dealt with the Mallus artillery posts positioned on the top of the tall buildings, that would have easily cut down the ground troops.

It was hard work clearing a city as large as this of an enemy that was dug in for so long. It meant clearing buildings one at a time, establishing an ever widening cordon from the centre. Most of the commercial heart of the city had been taken over by the Mallus and they had to fight hard to dislodge them from the buildings. Further out, they came to residential zones where pitched battles took place in the street while the civilians hid in the cellars of their homes, terrified. Most didn’t know what was happening until the Allied troops found them. News of liberation cheered them, but they were told to remain where they were, still. There was danger in the streets of the Capitol, yet.

As Penne had predicted, there were casualties. Few, it had to be said, but still too many for his liking. The medical corps landed quickly and had established a field hospital, but in many cases there was little hope. He felt the allied deaths more keenly than those of the enemy. The one consolation was that the allies were succeeding in defeating the enemy. They were formidable, with their tough, grey, hidelike skin and their battle armour. But they were not invincible and well trained soldiers of Adano-Ambrado were killing them. They fought to the last, though. They refused to be taken prisoner. They had to be killed. Penne wasn’t sure what that signified. The hope was that any Mallus in the small towns and villages stretched across the vast plains and mountains of Gallifrey would surrender when the fleet was defeated and the main bulk of the ground forces finished off. But if they had such an attitude, then it was possible that skirmishes with small groups, perhaps using civilians as hostages, could continue for days or weeks.

“Sir,” Ruana Beccan called to him as he waited with some of the troops to begin the next push that would bring the Citadel into the Allied cordon. She pointed out two Gallifreyan citizens who were coming towards them, flanked by Adano-Ambrado soldiers. He and the Dragon-Loge prepared to meet with them.

“Your Majesty,” said the first of the two men, bowing his head respectfully to Penne. “I remember your last visit to this world of our. Then, too, you came to our aid. We should be ashamed to need your assistance so often. I am Paracell Hext, senior. I believe you have met my son. This is Silis Bonnoenfant. We are here to show you a safe way into the Citadel to join with my son and the Son of Lœngbærrow in securing that building.”

“Then I am delighted to meet you both,” Penne said. “This is the Dragon-Loge Marton, another ally of Gallifrey. But let us not waste time in such formalities. Take us to the Citadel, if you please.”

 

Chrístõ brought a small group of men with him to the sub-basement. Dennac stepped alongside him with his weapon ready. They fully expected to engage the enemy. And they did, several times, before they reached the place where the prisoners were being kept. He had always been rather scathing of the Chancellery Guard. Their uniforms gave them a look of pompous ornaments and many of them acted in an arrogant manner to go with it. But he had a new found respect for their courage and skill and had to admit that he owed his life to them at least twice.

They fought Mallus guards at every level as they descended to a place that he only vaguely knew. Most Gallifreyans didn’t know it existed at all. A generation or two ago it had been the headquarters of the Celestial Intervention Agency, before they had a building of their own. It contained, among other things, detention cells and interrogation rooms, some of which had been places where torture was applied to suspected traitors. Chrístõ had few illusions about the mercy his own people had for those who disobeyed the law.

And now the Mallus had made this dark place of torture and detention again. He and Dennac dispatched two Mallus guards with speed and skill and forced open a steel door.

The room inside was vast. It was probably nearly as big as the Panopticon somewhere high above. He wasn’t sure what it had been used for originally, but now it was a prison. A huge cage was erected, with guards patrolling the narrow way between the bars and the wall around it. Those guards were dealt with quickly and the only entrance to the room secured by his own men as Chrístõ set to work with his sonic screwdriver, unlocking the cage. He closed off his breathing, as most of the men with him were also doing. The combined smell of blood, sweat and other bodily fluids was dreadful. At least a hundred people were confined in the cage. Male and female, old and young. He recognised the 8,000 year old Premier Cardinal, a frail old man who looked frailer than ever, now, and the Inquisitor, a once elegant lady, now turning her face from him in shame as she sat on the grubby floor in a robe that was nothing but a dirty rag.

All the Councillors, High and Ordinary, were here - all but the President, who the Mallus had executed, and the Chancellor – his uncle – who they had done their best to kill. There were others, too. He recognised teachers from the Prydonian Academy, and their counterparts from the other academies, and others who might have commanded enough authority to lead a counter-revolution against the Mallus. All had been taken and imprisoned here so that the people they allowed to remain free would be leaderless and powerless.

They were all in a terrible state. They had obviously been kept here for as long as the invasion had lasted with only the minimum food and water and hygiene. They were thin and malnourished beneath their rags, with hair and beards uncombed and unwashed. They looked at the young Gallifreyan who opened the cage as if he was a hallucination.

“I’ve come to take you out of here,” he said. “This is… the war is almost over. The Mallus are being driven from the Capitol. We’re here for you.”

“By Rassilon!” exclaimed one old man in robes that had once been scarlet and gold. “Lœngbærrow… You are… the Lœngbærrow boy.”

“Lord Pargemus,” Chrístõ replied, bowing his head in respect to the Master of Applied Political Studies and Law, a hard taskmaster who had given top marks most begrudgingly to only a few rare individuals. He had been most reluctant of all to admit that the half-blood should be one of them.

Chrístõ’s blood boiled as he saw that proud man turn away in shame rather than look him in the eye. He was a broken, beaten prisoner. They all were.

“Sir, come with me,” he said, reaching out his hand to his former master. “All of you… can you walk? We’ll help any that can’t.”

“We can walk, most of us. All except…”

“What is happening?” somebody else said. “Are the Mallus beaten?”

“Not completely, yet,” Chrístõ answered truthfully. “We have not had word, at least. But it won’t be long. I think we are winning.”

The news went round the captives and even those whose limbs ached from tortures they could hardly bear to talk about, found the courage and strength to stand and walk from their prison. Only a few needed help. Very quickly the cage was empty, apart from one still figure lying on what had once been a velvet robe of office but had been made into a barely adequate bed.

“Father,” Chrístõ whispered in a hoarse voice as he knelt and touched the still body that he recognised despite weeks of hair growth. “What… what have they done to you?”

He wasn’t dead. Of that much he was assured. Nor was he in a deep state of trance or any other form of self-induced suspended animation. His heart still beat steadily. But he was unconscious and seemed to have been so for a long time. Chrístõ noted a bowl with a very unpalatable thin gruel in it and a plastic cup of water. It seemed as if the other prisoners had been trying to feed him and keep him alive.

“What happened?” He tried to look into his father’s mind. He was shocked at what he found. There was almost no brain activity. His mind seemed almost vacant, as if sections of it were actually missing. “I’m here, father,” he whispered, knowing that he could not be heard. “I’m here for you.” He lifted him in his arms and turned to leave the cage. He was the last. Dennac flanked him and two more men took up a rearguard as they made their way back up to the panopticon.

“They’re going to need food and medicine,” Chrístõ said as the men under his command gave the water they carried to the prisoners, a comfort they accepted gratefully. Chrístõ laid his father down on the floor and put a little water in his mouth, but he was too deeply unconscious to swallow it.

“There’s nothing to be done for him, just now,” said his uncle Remonte, telepathically. “Not while we are still at war and cannot use any form of TARDIS travel.”

“I don’t understand,” Chrístõ answered. “What have they done to him?”

Remonte stood up from the bench where he had rested and stumbling, hesitantly, followed Chrístõ’s voice. He knelt beside him and reached to touch his brother’s face.

“They tortured him until he was near death,” he said. “They wouldn’t let him die, because he was the last former president. The last one with the secret they wanted so desperately. But they brought him so close…. This man… this frail, beaten body… this tortured mind… was all that stood between them and mastery over time and space… over galaxies. He held out as long as he could. Then he did the only thing he could do. He…”

The great ceremonial door that was opened on the greatest of occasions with pomp and solemnity, crashed open, making the nervous souls of the newly released prisoners jump. Chrístõ reached for the gun he had set down as he tended to his father, but left it down again with relief as he saw Penne and the Dragon-Loge enter along with dozens of Allied soldiers. He saw that they brought with them rations and medical supplies and men and women who wore the insignia of the non-combatant medical corps. They established a field hospital for their own wounded and the three men he had left upstairs.

One of the wounded that was laid down on a stretcher drove the relief from his mind and filled him with a new grief.

“Hext!” he cried, leaving his father and uncle to go to his friend’s side. He was horrified when he saw the wounds he had sustained. He was lying on his stomach because his back had a raw, bloody wound and one arm was gone. Bloody, ragged stumps were all that remained of his legs. Penne knelt by him. He had blood – Gallifreyan blood – on his face and on his battle uniform. Chrístõ realised that it came from Hext’s body.

“We came into the Citadel… we had just met up with his company and were coming to find you, when we ran into the last group of Mallus still to be neutralised. They were outnumbered but they would not surrender. They… they had some kind of bombs… like grenades… but much more powerful. They chose to kill themselves and take as many of us with them as possible. Hext… shielded me. He pushed me to the ground and covered me with his own body. He took the full force of the blast.”

“My son… was a hero…” said Hext’s father who came to kneel by his side. “He did his duty to the last. There was a time when I thought him a failure, a fool. But in the end…”

Chrístõ saw Silis Bonnoenfant, the mysterious stranger, put a comforting hand on Hext senior’s shoulder.

“Don’t let him die,” his father begged as the Adano-Ambradan medical officer examined him. “He’s my eldest son. My heir. He can’t… can’t die.”

“He’s too badly wounded,” the officer replied. “I’m sorry. If he was any other humanoid species he would already be dead. Your kind… I’ve seen many of them recover today from their wounds. But not from such injuries as these. He’s too far gone even for that.”

“He can’t even regenerate,” Chrístõ noted bitterly. “He’s too young. He’s only three hundred and fifty.”

“Forced regeneration,” Remonte said telepathically, and Chrístõ knew that all those gathered by Hext’s dying body heard him. “It can be done. I remember… When my brother came back from the last great war… terribly wounded, physically and mentally… forced regeneration saved his life. He was much the same age as young Hext.”

“Then… can’t we…” Chrístõ reached and touched Hext’s face gently. There was a very slight twitch of his cheek, as if he knew he had been touched. He was alive, and the thought of watching him bleed to death from those ghastly wounds was too horrible.

“It will cost another Time Lord one of his lives,” Remonte said. “Our father gave himself to save his son. But…”

“I am already on my last incarnation,” Hext senior said. “But to save my own son… I would… I would willingly…”

“No,” said Silis Bonnoenfant. “No, my friend. Let me.”

There was a collective gasp around the Panopticon as he said that. Men and women all looked around at Silis in amazement. Chrístõ wondered what it was about him that they all found so astonishing, but he had no time to consider it now.

“Do it,” Hext senior said.

“Please do it,” Chrístõ added. “Save him. He risked his life for us all. For me, for my father, for Gallifrey.”

“Many have died for Gallifrey today,” Penne noted. “Some of them didn’t even know where it was until I asked them to fight for it. But if this one life can be saved, then don’t waste any more time.” He stood, lifting Chrístõ up along with him. “Come with me. We don’t have enough medical officers. You’ve got the skills… the other wounded need you more right now.”

He was being distracted. Chrístõ knew that. Penne knew that Hext needed nobody else other than his father and Silis right now. Chrístõ could do nothing to help him. But he could help the others. He could bandage wounds. He could do what he could for the others. Most of the Gallifreyans did have the ability to heal themselves, though prolonged captivity in terrible conditions had sapped their strength and what they needed most was the food and drink that the soldiers had brought. Even so, eye drops in eyes that had become accustomed to a dark dungeon and were now having trouble with the daylight were a relief, as well as balms for cracked and dry skin. He brought the eyedrops and balm to Remonte, though there was little to be done about his blindness except time and patience. There was nothing at all he could do for his father.

In the midst of his ministrations, there was news they all wanted to hear in the form of a communication brought to Penne by one of his own officers. It had been sent by the Matrix of Ay'Ydiwo, who had accepted, on behalf of Penne and the other commanders the unconditional surrender of the most senior Mallus officer left alive. Those officers were now prisoners aboard the Ruby of Adano and what was left of the Mallus ships were being boarded by Allied officers and men to arrest all the crew and put the ships under their command. On each of the populated planets, the ground battles were all but won, as the Mallus were ordered to surrender.

“The Matrix was right. The news of the successful counter-attack sparked a popular rebellion on the Mallus homeworld. The government who sent the invasion fleet to Gallifrey has been brought down. They no longer have anyone to fight for.”

The news was greeted with relief. But there was more. A terrible codicil to the surrender.

“In some places, the Mallus are refusing to surrender,” Penne said. “They know they have nothing to go home to except ignominy. One captain blew up his own battle cruiser rather than give in to us. And there are reports of pockets of Mallus using those same vicious grenades as we encountered to kill themselves. Some have made sure that non-combatants are killed with them… a last vicious act of war…”

“Act of war!” The Dragon Loge replied angrily.

“A war crime,” Chrístõ said, his own tone matching that of the Dragon-Loge. “One of many. Tortured prisoners, civilians molested. The President… my father… all the others they killed in cold blood… There should be a reckoning.”

“It’s over, brother,” Penne said gently. “That’s all we need to know for now.”

“It’s not over for me. My father… Hext… so many others…”

“Chrístõ…” He heard Remonte’s voice in his head. “Go to your friend. He needs you.”

Chrístõ turned and ran across the floor to where Hext’s father bent over the body lying on the floor. It was Hext. Of course it was. The rags of his clothes still hung on him. But his body had changed. It was whole again. And his face was new. He looked young, still. He seemed almost as young as Chrístõ. He was blonde, where before he had been dark haired. His complexion was paler than it used to be. This new body had yet to walk in the sunlight. He opened his eyes slowly, and they were a sapphire blue.

“Wow,” Chrístõ said. “You’re a good looking man, Hext. You’ll never get around to taking me to the Conversatory. The women will be beating me to it.”

Hext laughed softly and reached out. Chrístõ let him put his hand on his shoulder to lift him into a sitting position. He looked around. He saw his father and gripped his hand thankfully. Then he turned and saw Silis and he cried out in alarm.

“Oh, no! No, you shouldn’t…” He and Chrístõ both caught hold of Silis as he collapsed upon them. He was breathing shallowly and his hearts were fibrillating.

“What’s happened to him? I thought he was strong enough…”

“He wasn’t on his last regeneration,” Hext senior confirmed. “Far from it. He should have been able…”

“No,” Hext said. “Oh… I can feel him still. We’re connected, yet. He is still on his third regeneration. But he is over 10,000 years old. He… the reason… No… He says I can tell you, Chrístõ… when we’re alone. But nobody else in this chamber. He says… he wants you to know that your mother was the most beautiful woman he ever met and… Ohhh. There’s a story there. I can tell you that, too. He says he promised you. And… he is glad to have met the son of Marion. And happy to have done his duty for Gallifrey.”

Hext gave a mournful cry as Silis’s soul slipped away from him, the connection broken as his life ended. Chrístõ let go of his friend and let his father comfort him as he turned, instead, to lay the body of Silis Bonnoenfant on the floor, straightening his limbs and closing his eyes.

“Goodbye,” he whispered. “Friend of my mother. I am sorry I never got a chance to know you better. Rassilon’s blessing on you now.”

“We never did right by him,” Hext senior said. “Now it’s too late. He gave me my son’s life. And I can do nothing for him.”

“He will be honoured,” said the Inquisitor as she stood and looked down at the body of that brave man. “All who died in the name of Gallifrey will be honoured – Gallifreyan and alien. But he will be remembered with special tribute.”

“I don’t think he wanted that,” Hext answered her. “Just make sure his body is given the proper rite due to him as it is to all of our kind. That is enough.”

“It will be done,” the Inquisitor said. “Chrístõ… your father… He will be taken now to the zero room under the Junior Senate Hall. It is not far, and though he will not recover there, he will get no worse while preparations are made.”

“What preparations?” Chrístõ asked. “What is wrong with my father? What did they do to him? Will somebody tell me. What preparations?”

“Take my arm, Chrístõ,” Remonte said. “You will be my eyes as we accompany those who are tending to him. And I will explain what must be done – what you must do for him.”

Chrístõ stood and gave Remonte his arm. They walked alongside the stretcher upon which his father was placed. As they stepped out of the Panopticon with all the special anti-telepathic dampeners that surrounded it, they were both aware of the sense of relief and jubilation across the whole of the Capitol, across the whole of Gallifrey, as the news of the liberation spread. For them, though, the news was still bittersweet. One brave man lived. But another lay dead and the one dearest to them both, brother and father, was desperately ill.

If he died, the cost of this victory may be too high, altogether.