“This place is fantastic,” Julia said as they wandered through the market of Xiang Xien, the chief township of the planet also called Xiang Xien. “It’s so beautiful. All the colours and the smells, the sounds.” She stopped and listened to the trills of song birds in bamboo cages at one stall and the tinkle of windchimes blown by a slight breeze, and somewhere nearby a tune being played on a Yangqin. The smells mostly came from the spices being sold on one stall and tempting hot food on another. The colours were made up of the multi-hued spices and songbirds, paper lanterns and also dozens of highly coloured silk banners that hung across every aisle in the market and from the roofs of every high building around it. In a traditional dress of heavily embroidered silk and satin that complemented the similarly traditional outfits Chrístõ and Hext were wearing she felt fully a part of that colour, and she liked it.

“It is very interesting,” Romana commented. “Though I feel… so many people around me. It is claustrophobic. And the sounds… they may be beautiful but too much of it is just noise.”

Romana had reverted to her silk robes with the veil around her face on this expedition. They gave her some small defence against the crowds that disturbed her so much. She felt apart from them.

“I like it,” Hext said. “But be careful. Let’s not get separated. And try to look out for Chrístõ’s father.”

“It’s so very busy,” Chrístõ commented. “I’m having trouble reading any telepathic minds at all.”

“Can we not just enjoy this place for a little while?” Julia asked. “It’s wonderful. It… reminds me of Li Tuo.”

Chrístõ bit his lip and said nothing in reply to that. He had felt the same ever since they stepped out of his TARDIS. Especially when it disguised itself as a closed herbalist shop that looked uncannily like Li Tuo’s old shop in Liverpool’s Chinatown. He had learnt to live with the loss of his dearest friend, but here, now, the old pain stabbed him in the hearts again.

“It’s a colony planet established by the Chinese government in the late 23rd century,” he said. “China was always over-populated. The possibility of moving some of its people to new planets appealed to them long before the west caught onto the idea and founded systems like Beta Delta.”

“How come it’s so old-fashioned?” Julia asked. “On Beta Delta we have technology - cars, television, space ships. Here, it looks like they’ve gone back to the time that Li Tuo liked, when there were just rickshaws and mule packs and people wore old fashioned clothes.”

“There was a rebellion in 2321,” Chrístõ answered. “Xiang Xien declared itself independent of the Earth Federation, cutting itself off from all extra-terrestrial communications and returning to a pre-industrial feudal society. The Government on Earth decided it wasn’t worth sending troops to quell the rebellion and let them get on with it. And it looks to me like it works. They’re a prosperous, peaceful people with a stable economy based on agriculture and mineral production.”

“It still seems over-populated,” Romana commented.

“Let’s see if we can find a quieter spot,” Hext suggested. “I must say, I could use a bit of clear air. I’m beginning to get a headache.”

“Another one?” Chrístõ frowned. “I’m beginning to worry about you, Hext.”

“I’m fine,” he answered. “Romana is right. After a while all this colourful culture just seems like noise.” He consulted an interactive map in his hand. “There is a park of some sort just along this way. Let’s sit down and think about what we’re doing instead of wandering around aimlessly like a bunch of sightseers.”

“Good idea,” Romana agreed. “Who knows, perhaps Chrístõ’s father will be there. Perhaps he’s had enough of the market, too.”

“Oh, I almost forgot we had a mission,” Julia said with a guilty sigh. She had been enjoying the market. She would have liked to have spent more time there. But remembering Chrístõ’s father lying in the Zero Cabinet back in the TARDIS, she knew that there was no time to spare for such indulgences.

“Maybe we’ll come back here again, some time,” Chrístõ promised. “Just the two of us. I’ll buy some of those beautiful, colourful silks and Princess Cirena’s dressmaker can turn them into gowns for you.”

“That would be nice,” Julia answered. “But of course, finding the younger version of your father is the most important thing, right now. This is his fourth life, now, isn’t it? I don’t suppose you even know what he looks like?”

“He always had brown eyes like mine,” Chrístõ said. “That’s all I know. When we find him, I’ll know him by his telepathic identity imprint. And he’ll know that we’re Time Lords, too. But it’s just like a needle in a haystack at the moment. What is he doing here, anyway? What business would a CIA agent have here? It seems a million light years from anything that would be important to Gallifrey.”

“It might have helped if your father had talked to you about his work,” Hext said to Chrístõ as they passed between two stalls selling very finely painted china plates that Julia would have liked to have looked more closely at. “I can’t believe he never said a single word to you about his work in the Agency. Not one colourful adventure for his son to admire him for?”

“I admired my father for his work as a diplomat,” Chrístõ answered. “He didn’t want me to know about this part of his life. My first memories are of the Ambassador’s Residence on Ventura IV, and after that, when I was older, diplomatic receptions and conferences on space stations and far off planets. He wanted me to follow him in that life, not as an assassin.”

“The Celestial Intervention Agency is about more than just assassination,” Hext protested, bristling at the implied criticism of his own career choice. “We are Gallifrey’s first line of defence against alien interference.”

“They didn’t do too well against the Mallus,” Julia commented, then instantly regretted it when she saw Hext’s hurt look.

“We were betrayed from within,” Hext responded. “The Celestial Intervention Agency… our headquarters was one of the first buildings to be bombarded when they broke through the Transduction Barrier and attacked the Capitol. Many good men were killed. Those who escaped were scattered and leaderless. We did what we could. Many more gave their lives in the resistance, and in the final battle.”

“She didn’t mean it,” Chrístõ told him telepathically. “She doesn’t know what it was like. I tried not to worry her with too many details.”

“I know,” Hext conceded in reply. “I didn’t mean to sound harsh. I shouldn’t have… So much for emotional detachment.”

“Emotional detachment never prepared us for what we’ve been through lately,” Chrístõ told him. “You lost far more friends and family than I did in the war. We all forgot that.”

“I’ve had enough time to come to terms with it,” he answered. “I shouldn’t feel so disturbed by it all. It’s this headache. It’s making me…” He shook his head and smiled at Julia, who was starting to wonder what was being said telepathically behind their eyes. “I get grumpy sometimes. Don’t take it to heart. Just give me a good kick and wake me up to myself.”

Julia laughed and the slight tension between them all was lifted as they reached the edge of the market and slipped down a narrow, cobbled street that took them away from the crowds. It did become much quieter as soon as they left that area behind. The tall tenement houses either side blocked the noise. But they were disappointed when they emerged from the street. The park that Hext had noted was not open to the public. It was surrounded by a high wall and sentries with wide bladed dadao swords hanging from their belts guarded the wrought iron gate.

There was a small crowd lining the road leading to the gate. They seemed to be expecting something.

“Excuse me,” Chrístõ said to a man who stood waiting. “I am a stranger here. Can you tell me what is this place and why is it guarded?”

“This is the Mandarin’s Palace,” he was told.

“Ah!” That explained much. The Mandarin, in pre-revolutionary China, was the most powerful man in the district, a combination of major landowner and magistrate. His palace, as well as being his showpiece home, would also include a prison and courtrooms for meting out justice, and very often a place of execution, too. “What is the name of the Mandarin, may I ask?”

“He is Yan Xin Xu,” he was told. “He is a powerful and respected leader. Today he sits in council to try a notorious outlaw, Wu Rong Feng. Wu has killed a hundred men, and has now been brought to justice. We are waiting for him to be brought to the Palace for trial. He is being escorted by the Mandarin’s guards and should be arriving very soon.”

“Chrístõ,” Hext said to him telepathically. “This is nothing to do with us. We should get out of here.”

“Yes, you’re right,” he agreed. “I don’t think Julia should be looking at mass murdering outlaws. And I’m sure Romana doesn’t want to see him, either.”

But they quickly found they couldn’t get away. More of the Mandarin’s guards had taken up position behind the crowds. The street they had come down from the market was blocked by them. Nobody was leaving the area until the prisoner and his escort were safely within the Palace grounds.

There were murmurs from the crowd and a shout went up. The guards stood alert with their hands on their weapons. There was a sound of horses, at least half a dozen, Chrístõ guessed, all moving at a canter, but in near perfect synchronicity so that it was almost one loud hoofbeat.

And then the guards and their prisoner came into view. Two heavily armed men on horseback were up front, and two behind. Four more flanked the prisoner who was lashed to the reins of the horse he rode in the middle of them all. He was as expressionless as the guards who surrounded him and neither prisoner nor guard took the slightest notice of the cheers and jeers of the crowd as they passed by and turned about in front of the Palace gate.

A man rode up to the gate from the Palace and it was flung open for him. He was dressed in the same livery as the guards, but his uniform was more elaborate, with a silver breastplate and helmet as well as a great deal of leather.

“Tong Fu Wa,” whispered the man next to Chrístõ. “He’s the Mandarin’s chief advisor and prosecutor. He will also be the executioner when Wu has been sentenced.”

“Innocent until proved guilty counts for nothing around here,” Chrístõ noted telepathically. “Perhaps this isn’t such a perfect society, after all?”

“We don’t know enough about it to judge,” Hext answered him. “Besides, when it comes to mass murderers we don’t tend to worry about such niceties in Gallifreyan courts, either. Look at the trial of your cousin….”

“Don’t remind me,” Chrístõ answered, sounding nearly as irritable then as Hext had earlier when his raw nerves had been touched.

“In any case, you said this form of government is traditional on that planet Earth you’re so fond of.”

“I don’t like all of Earth’s traditions,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Besides…”

He froze in mid-sentence. As Tong Fu Wa’s horse halted in front of the escort, the prisoner, Wu Rong Feng looked around, and Chrístõ was sure he was looking directly at him. He felt the prisoner’s eyes boring into him before one of the guards prodded Wu with the flat of his sword and forced him to face Tong.

Then Chrístõ spotted something else. It could easily have been missed by anyone else. For that matter, he and Hext were the only two people who would even have known what it was. A flash of red light on Tong’s helmet, a colour that shouldn’t have been there. Chrístõ focussed on it and followed the thin red beam, almost invisible in the strong sunlight, up to the roof of the building on the corner of the side street behind them. The assassin was well hidden inside the attic window, but the very tip of his sniper’s rifle was visible.

Chrístõ began to shout out a warning, but it was too late. In the same moment, Julia and Romana screamed in horror, as did many others among the crowd. Tong Fu Wa’s head was split open by the two bullets – the double tap of a professional killer - that hit him between the eyes, piercing the metal helmet as if it was no more substantial than a cloth cap. He toppled slowly from his horse as the Palace guards looked around in astonishment and began grabbing random members of the crowd accusingly. The ones guarding Wu Rong Feng closed in around their prisoner lest he attempt to escape in the confusion.

“No!” Chrístõ shouted loud enough to attract the attention of the guards. “No, up there. That window. That’s where the killer is.”

Of course, the assassin would have been ready to move as soon as he fired his deadly shots. But the way the guards, alerted by Chrístõ’s warning, converged on the row of houses it seemed scarcely possible that he would evade capture for long.

Then Chrístõ found himself seized by the arm. Julia yelled out and clung to him. Romana, too. Hext protested loudly as the guards took hold of him.

“Don’t try to fight,” Chrístõ told him telepathically. “There are too many of them. Wait for a better moment.”

The four of them were propelled towards the gate, escorted by guards in a strange procession. They were behind the body of Tong Fu Wa, gathered up in his own cloak and carried reverently by four guards and in front of the original cavalcade of prisoner and escort.

Julia clung to Chrístõ’s hand fearfully. Hext put a protective arm around Romana. None of them were sure what was happening. Where were they being taken? To the Mandarin’s prison? To be tried as accessories to the assassination? Were the guards under the impression that they were implicated in it?

Once inside the gates, which were slammed shut and double guarded, the prisoner was taken towards a large, heavy, metal studded door into that part of the Palace that was a prison. The rest of the party continued to follow the body of the Mandarin’s chief advisor up a flight of steps and into a cool hall with a white marble floor and silk hangings on all of the walls. The body of Tong Fu Wa was placed on a table there and an honour guard of four men surrounded it.

Chrístõ and his friends, meanwhile, were ushered up a flight of stairs and through three silk hung doors before they found themselves in the Mandarin’s luxurious private reception room, an elegant place with a big, wide window along one wall, and the rest hung with silk. The floor was polished wood with fine rugs placed here and there. There was a low table with silk cushions and a desk near the window at which the Mandarin sat.

He, like the room, was rich in silk and embroidered fabric. He was tall for one of Chinese ancestry and broad shouldered. The stiff collar of his costume, which was only a little less elaborate than the formal wear of Time Lord society, made him look even broader and ensured that his head was always held high and proud.

The superior of the guards escorting them spoke quickly. The news of Tong’s death had already been conveyed to the Mandarin, but now he learnt of the actions of the stranger who had shouted a warning, though it had been too late, and had been able to point to where the murderer was hidden.

The Mandarin stood from his place and came towards them. He put his hands together in a pointed arch in front of his face and bowed his head to Chrístõ. He reciprocated, remembering that it was a respectful greeting that Li Tuo had taught him when he first met the old man. Hext glanced at him and copied the gesture. It was not expected of the women.

“My thanks to you,” said the Mandarin as he dismissed the guards and ordered a servant to fetch comforts for his guests. He bid them all sit around the table on the cushions. Chinese green tea was brought to them along with bowls of traditional sweetmeats that Chrístõ had eaten many times with his old friend and with Chinese people that he had encountered when he travelled to Songshan to spend time learning the Shaolin arts. He encouraged his friends to eat some of the food, knowing it would dishonour their host not to do so.

“It is most kind of you, sir,” Chrístõ said on behalf of them all, adopting his most aristocratic manners. “I am Liu Shang Hui, son of the Mandarin of the Southern Province. This is my aide, Lin Ai Guo and the Ladies Xiao Wen and Shu Chun who travel under my protection. We were on our way to introduce ourselves formally to you, sir, when we were caught up in the terrible business outside your gates. I regret my warning came too late. I understand that the dead man was an important member of your household.”

“His loss is grievous to me,” the Mandarin answered. “But your ladies are distressed. I regret that they were witnesses to this crime, and we need not talk of it further in their presence. My wife, Lady Liu Shu will take them to the female quarters and see to their comfort. It is a quiet place, where they may recover from their ordeal.”

“My thanks to you,” Chrístõ answered. Julia looked reluctant to leave his side, but he knew Romana was only too glad to hear of a quiet feminine quarter within the Palace. A young woman came forward. She had been so quiet in her corner, behind a large tapestry frame, that she had been unnoticed until now. She bowed to her husband and then left the room, accompanied by Romana and Julia.

As they were leaving, a guard came into the room. He bowed low before the Mandarin and informed him that the assassin had been taken, alive, and was being brought to the Palace.

“Have him brought before me, here,” the Mandarin said. “I will look into the eyes of this murderer and see his black soul. Let my two courageous guests also look closely upon him and be gratified that they helped capture the fiend.”

The guard bowed again and rushed out to do his master’s bidding. Very shortly there were heavy footsteps outside and four guards dragged the prisoner inside. He was of Oriental appearance, but Chrístõ found himself reeling in shock as he felt a telepathic blow to his head.

“You bloody fool,” said the prisoner’s inner voice as it pressed into his mind. “You gave me away. I had my TARDIS nearby. I was ready to go as soon as I was sure Tong was dead. But you pointed the guards right to me.”

“You’re a Time Lord!” Chrístõ was astonished. So was Hext who easily picked up on the angry words. But the prisoner had no time to answer. He was forced down on his knees in front of the Mandarin who demanded his name.

“I am Mai Li Tuo of the Southern Province,” the prisoner answered. Chrístõ almost fainted with shock.

“Li Tuo?” he said telepathically. “No…. it can’t be. You’re…. you will be… I mean… You’re…”

“I am a dead man, thanks to you,” replied the young Time Lord known to his comrades in the Celestial Intervention Agency as Lee Koschei Oakdaene, the name yet to be expunged when he became, instead, the Renegade who called himself Mai Li Tuo. “The method of execution here is beheading. And that is one death a Time Lord cannot regenerate from.”

(comments after part two of this story.)