Chrístõ watched the route planner in the hover car carefully. The place he was heading towards could be dangerous to the unwary. The Calderon, that great double lake some several hours drive south-east of the Lœngbærrow demesne was rarely visited, and those who did were best to go carefully in the last few hundred yards. The magnetic forces under the lake affected any kind of mechanical or electronic engine, with potentially fatal results.

And besides, he was driving his father’s car. Well, one of the fleet of cars in the garage, anyway. One of the smaller ones for personal use, not one of the chauffeured limousines. Even so, he didn’t want to have to explain how it ended up in the Calderon.

He parked well away from the affected area and walked right up to the waterside. He looked into the crystal clear water. The fish that swam in the Calderon had evolved slightly differently to other fresh water fish on Gallifrey. They had extra fins. Scientific studies had shown that these helped the fish know which way was up when the magnetic forces shifted and they might be uncertain about that.

It looked like an empty, wild place. But Chrístõ was one of the few people who knew better. He walked around the lake to the place where a spur of land almost cut it in two. He didn’t actually know whether this was one lake that had been split by sedimentary deposits or two lakes that had been joined by erosion. It could have gone either way in the distant past. But he did know that the spur held the Calderon’s great secret, and that it would be revealed to him soon.

He smiled as the tower shimmered into view before him. The Tower of Silis Bonnoenfant. Even though that mysterious man was gone now, he had a feeling those who knew of the existence of this tall, slender, impossible building would always call it that. Silis would be remembered by those few.

The door at the bottom of the tower opened. Chrístõ waved in return to the gesture from Paracell Hext as he waited for him.

“Thanks for coming,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you would…”

“I wouldn’t miss our date,” Chrístõ answered in a good humoured tone. “We’ve waited long enough. The Conservatory is still closed. But this is… an interesting alternative. Nicely intimate.”

Hext grinned back at him. It had been a long standing joke between them, of course. But except that they were not in any way romantically inclined towards each other it was a sort of ‘date’. Dinner was involved, anyway.

“I’ve fixed the hydraulic lift,” Hext added as he brought him into the cool, airy ante room at the base of the tower. He pointed to a raised flagstone in the floor. Chrístõ looked up at the square hole in the ceiling directly above. It went up a long way. As tall as the tower was from the outside, some Time Lord technology made it even more so inside. “It’s better than the transmat every time I want to go anywhere, and the stairs are seriously not an option.”

Chrístõ agreed with him about transmats. He stood on the flagstone and Hext stepped up next to him. He pressed a small hand held device. The lift rose. Chrístõ decided that closing his eyes was pointless and it was far too late to decide he was scared of heights.

A few minutes later he stepped off the lift as it came to a stop in the room he remembered from when it was the refuge of the Resistance. It had been tidied up and furnished very nicely as the main room of a bachelor apartment, with a sofa and armchairs, dining table and desk in clearly demarcated areas. There was a drinks cabinet, too. Hext told Chrístõ to help himself while he disappeared into the adjoining kitchen.

“You’re actually living here?” Chrístõ asked as he poured a long glass of lime and soda water with ice for himself.

“Yes,” Hext answered as he brought two plates of a beautifully prepared Cúl nut salad through and put them on the table that had been set for two people to enjoy dinner. He poured himself a drink and invited Chrístõ to sit. The two of them observed a moment of reflection that in other cultures might be called ‘grace’ before beginning to eat their starter course.

“I checked it out,” Hext added. “Silis had no living relatives. So I applied to the land registry and bought it… the lake, the land around it, and the tower.”

“Silis gave his life for you, Hext,” Chrístõ said. “It’s appropriate. But do you intend to become a hermit like him?”

“For a little while at least. I feel the need for peace and solitude. The invasion, exile, coming back here to the Resistance, the war… and then our mission together… I feel wrung out. I need to unwind myself emotionally.”

“I know the feeling,” Chrístõ admitted. “But will you return to the Celestial Intervention Agency?”

“There is no Celestial Intervention Agency at the moment,” Hext answered. “I am the most experienced agent left alive. Not the oldest, I think, but the most experienced. We lost a lot of good men. I think… it’s probably going to fall to me to revive the Agency.” Hext looked at Chrístõ’s expression and laughed. “Yes. I know. It’s ironic. Not so long ago I was probably the worst agent they had. I made some stupid mistakes. And I’d be dead if you hadn’t pulled me out of trouble. Funny how things turn around.”

“We were enemies once,” Chrístõ said. “Funny doesn’t begin to describe it.”

“I still have the mark, you know,” Hext told him. “When I regenerated… my face, eyes, hair, my body, skin tone, size of my hands… even my voice was different. But I still have the fake birthmark – the Mark of Rassilon.”

“We’re Time Lords,” Chrístõ reminded him. “We don’t believe in superstition. But…”

“You’re still the one all the prophecies are about. You have the real Mark beneath the scar that I was responsible for inflicting on you. But I think I might have been co-opted to have a bit of a destiny myself. I need to do a bit of thinking about it. That’s why I need my hermitage, here. But I think… when I’m ready… this would be a good place to start rebuilding the Celestial Intervention Agency. This could be the new headquarters. The land around the Calderon is deserted enough for training exercises, and there’s room to billet agents and brief them on their missions. There’s a whole floor I can use for the computer databanks – restore our intelligence network.”

That sounds a wonderful plan,” Chrístõ told him. “Good luck with it.”

“Thanks.” Hext stood and took the plates from their starter and was a few minutes in the kitchen before returning with an aromatic baked fish dish. Chrístõ guessed it had probably been caught in the Calderon. Most people on Gallifrey ate synthesised food derived from the Cúl nut. But vegetarianism was far from compulsory and especially in the countryside it was perfectly acceptable to make use of available food sources.

It tasted delicious. The fish was flavoured with citrus and herbs and stuffed with roasted vegetables.

“When did you learn to cook, Hext?” he asked.

“I didn’t,” he answered. “It’s… a lot more of Silis’ soul went into me than I think anyone intended. It wasn’t quite a full Rite of Mori, but I seem to have inherited a lot of his talents. Fishing and hunting wild game, and cooking what I catch. I’ve been painting, too. It’s quite a restful occupation. I think it may be what I need to give me a sense of proportion when I set to work on the Agency.”

“Yes, that sounds a good idea,” Chrístõ agreed. They ate the fish quietly, and Hext brought the main course – wild game pie and more roast vegetables. He opened a bottle of chilled white wine to go with it. For a minute or two the conversation was just about Hext’s inherited cooking skills and the quality of the wine.

“Chrístõ,” Hext said after the small talk had slackened. “Join me.”

“Join you in what?” Chrístõ looked at the food in front of him and smiled. “I’ve already got a future wife. I’m not sure she cooks as well as this, but… Seriously, you’re not my type.”

Hext laughed.

“I’m not the one who’s relationship with Ambassador Cam Dey Greibella took up a whole memory cell on the CIA database. Not to mention the security camera footage of you kissing a Human called Jack Harkness in a Gallifreyan State Building.”

“He kissed me,” Chrístõ protested. “And Cam and I were always just good friends. As… I hope… we shall be… our past notwithstanding…. And this is just dinner.”

“What I meant,” Hext said when he had managed to get the idea of the two of them as a romantic item out of his head. “Was… joining me in running the Celestial Intervention Agency. Be my associate… partner… deputy director, whatever title you choose. Help me with the work. I know you’d be good at it.”

Chrístõ looked at Hext through the liquid in his wine glass. He felt he needed the distance it created as he considered the proposal. It was a startling notion.

It was a tempting one in many ways. Hext was right. The two of them together could do great things. There were few people on Gallifrey with as much field experience as they had. They were both skilled with weapons and unarmed combat, and had done their fair share of espionage and undercover work. They were the best people to train the new agents.

He felt the soul of Li Tuo stir within him. It was an ambition that his old friend would thoroughly approve of, sweeping away the corruption that so disillusioned him and starting again, building an Agency that would truly and loyally protect Gallifrey from all its enemies, foreign and domestic.

But it wouldn’t just be about training. Sooner or later he and Hext would send agents out to do Gallifrey’s bidding. He, who abhorred violence and valued life, would send other men to kill, to assassinate, to be killed if their missions failed. Did he want that blood on his hands?

What would his father say? He had hidden his past from his son because he wanted him to be a peacemaker. Yes, Chrístõ had learnt to use a sword and a pistol quite early in life. But as the sports of a young nobleman, not to be used in battle. He had learnt martial arts as a means of honing mind and body, to be used defensively if he must.

What would Julia say? He knew she had her heart set on him coming back to Beta Delta IV with her. And that had always been his plan. The idea of living here with Hext in bachelor seclusion, working together, was tempting. But in their days of rest, since they returned to Gallifrey, he had been thinking more than anything about his students and what he might achieve with them in the coming academic year. That was the ambition that stirred his own soul the most.

“Sorry, Li,” he thought. “I’m not you. And you never wanted me to be. I must follow my own path.”

“Yes, you must, Shang Hui.” He felt he heard the reply deep within him. He put down his wine glass and looked directly at Hext.

“No,” he said. “No, Hext. I can’t. I’m not a CIA man.”

“You’re smarter than most CIA men,” Hext told him. “Including me, a lot of the time.”

“Maybe,” he answered. “I’ve never danced to another man’s tune, Hext. Above all else, I value my freedom to choose my own destiny. In the Agency, I couldn’t do that. I’d be doing what somebody else tells me – even if it’s you. And what happens… If I was in my father’s shoes in Amsterdam… I couldn’t have fired that gun. You know that, don’t you?”

“Chrístõ… I thought you talked about that with your father. I thought you understood…”

“I have,” he answered. “My father thinks we are alike. We both make hard decisions because we must. And he’s right. Except… Except for that one difference. I couldn’t have summarily executed anyone, no matter what they had done. And I think… A director of an Agency primarily involved in assassination who can’t bring himself to do the job isn’t much use.”

“As long as it’s your decision, Chrístõ,” Hext conceded. “Not… I know your father wouldn’t like it. And nor would Julia. But neither of them have the right to choose your future for you. Not after you just said all that about choosing your destiny.”

“Julia has a right. She is my future wife.” Hext gave a wry smile when he said that. Chrístõ thought it shouldn’t go unchallenged. “No need to be jealous. You’re a good cook, but it would never work between us.”

Hext laughed out loud.

“If you don’t stop teasing me you won’t get dessert,” he answered. “Seriously, Chrístõ, I do respect your reasons for turning me down. It’s a pity. I think we would have worked well together.”

“Talk to my father,” Chrístõ told him. “There’s a lot he could advise you about. He doesn’t like to talk about that stuff to me. But he’ll talk to you.”

“I’ll do that,” Hext answered. He stood and took away the plates and returned with the dessert he had mentioned. Crème brûlée with fresh whipped cream. It was delicious.

“So… what are your plans, Chrístõ?” Hext asked as they again slipped into quiet self-reflection. “Are you going to leave Gallifrey again?”

“Yes,” he answered. “I still have a job on Beta Delta IV. I’ve been thinking… I should get a flat… a place of my own. Julia’s guardians are good people. They like having me around. But after all, I intend for us to get engaged when she’s seventeen. And it would not be appropriate for me to live under the same roof after that, even if we no longer insist on chaperones for betrothed couples.”

“A flat?” Hext grinned. “Can you cook, Chrístõ?”

“Not Crème brûlée and game pie,” he answered. “But I can knock up omelettes and salads. I’ll figure out the rest. It’ll be my base, my anchor, as this tower is for you. I will teach my students. At weekends, and vacations I will travel, with Julia at my side. I might do some diplomatic work, still. I liked doing that. And… possibly… if you need a bit of espionage doing… you can call on me. But just intel, not assassinations.”

“Fair enough,” Hext conceded. “If you ever change your mind, the offer is still open. I still think you and me together would have been a great team. We could have made a great difference to Gallifrey.”

“The Mallus have already made a difference to Gallifrey,” Chrístõ answered. “I’d be happy to see it as it used to be. I don’t want difference, change…”

“Then it’s as well you’re going to return to your exile,” Hext answered. “The Gallifrey of our childhood is gone forever. It’s going to change. Whether we want it to or not. Too many good men died. Silis… his House, his line is ended now. There are others… Ussian, Drogban… those Houses are gone now. Gallissa, Kannois, Bórusson and Dúccesci have lost their heirs…”

“Dúccesci!” Chrístõ exclaimed. “Malika Dúccesci? The Lacrosse captain of Arcalia!”

Hext nodded.

“I only found out yesterday. You remember he was born with a defective regeneration gene. He couldn’t heal himself when wounded. The Mallus…” Hext swallowed hard and blinked as he thought of it. “To make his father yield to them… they… tortured Malika – ripped him apart – literally – with his father watching.”

Chrístõ didn’t know what to say. He knew Dúccesci as a moral coward and a bigot. But he would not have wished such a death on him. But the bigger picture was clear. Four houses had lost their heirs. The lines were broken. Gallifrey’s wounds would show for generations to come.

Hext refilled their wine glasses.

“To the memory of Arcalia’s Lacrosse captain,” he said, lifting his glass in toast. “And to all those who didn’t make it.”

Chrístõ drank that solemn toast with his friend. They didn’t let the sombre thoughts bring down their mood, though. Shocks like that, after all, were something they had both lived with since they returned to Gallifrey. Every day they learnt of some friend or acquaintance, an old teacher, an old school friend, who was dead. They learnt, also, of people who had survived, and rejoiced. They both thought kindly of those who died, even those they disliked, such as Malika Dúccesci. Like everyone else on the planet, they slowly came to terms with what had happened and began to pick up the pieces.

For Chrístõ, that meant leaving again. He wondered if people would think ill of him for doing that. Did it seem like cowardice?”

“No,” Hext assured him. “Anyone who says anything of the sort will answer to me. You’ve done your share and more. Don’t you give it a moment’s thought, Chrístõ.”

“Thanks,” he answered, grateful for Hext’s support.

They moved from the table to the soft furniture and relaxed with coffee and brandy. Their talk was sometimes sombre as they talked of those lost friends and acquaintances, sometimes lighter as they talked of easier things. The night drew in and Chrístõ, quite reluctantly, reminded Hext that he had a long drive home, yet.

“And don’t even think of suggesting that I stay the night,” he added. “We already settled that you’re not my type.”

“I’ll walk with you,” Hext answered. “It’s a warm night. The walk will be pleasant.”

They went down in the hydraulic lift, and out into the moonlit night. There was a perfect moonpath across the Calderon, silvery-bright, with not even a ripple to disturb it.

“Beautiful,” Chrístõ said.

“We have a beautiful planet.”

“Yes, we do.” He looked up at the moon, recognising its familiar patterns of craters and peaks that he had known since his childhood. In a few days time he would be looking up at the Beta Delta moon again, and he would probably feel a nostalgic twinge for home. Of course he would. But he had made up his mind. He had chosen to be an exile again.

At least this time he was an exile by choice.

They walked slowly, around the lake, admiring its loveliness. When they reached the place where Chrístõ left his car they stood in silence for a while, looking at each other in the moonlight.

“Goodbye, Hext,” Chrístõ said at last. “Good luck with… everything you want to do. I’m sorry I couldn’t be a part of it as you wanted. But I wish you well.”

“You, too,” Hext answered. “And… even if I’m not your type…” He reached out and Chrístõ was surprised to be hugged fondly by him. “Good luck, Chrístõ. May the blessing of Rassilon always be upon your journey, however long it is.”