The TARDIS was on autopilot through the vortex. Chrístõ was sitting cross legged on the floor in a rough triangle with Garrick and Cal. They were all very still. Chrístõ was teaching both Cal and Garrick, using that strange method of transmitting information from his brain to theirs in short, dense bursts. Garrick was catching up fast with what he needed to know for his age. Cal still had a lot to learn, especially about Gallifrey and the Time Lords. If he was to become a Time Lord candidate and go to the Academy on Gallifrey there was a lot he had to know.

Julia watched them for a while, but seeing three people concentrating so hard made her fidgety. She went to the kitchen and made coffee and sandwiches. By the time she got back they were finished. Chrístõ stretched his long legs in a more informal position. Cal did, too. Garrick shifted around and sat in Chrístõ’s lap as Julia put the tray down between them and they enjoyed a picnic on the floor.

Cal was a little distracted. Julia thought he looked almost as sullen as he used to be before Chrístõ helped him find out about himself.

“It’s… not very nice… finding out that my father was a criminal and my brother a murderer,” Cal said. “My half brother…”

Julia looked at Chrístõ and Garrick. They seemed so nice together. Chrístõ had one arm around the boy as he drank milk and ate some of the sandwiches. They were half brothers, but Chrístõ had come to love Garrick. That was never going to happen between Cal and Epsilon.

“Epsilon won’t be released from Shada for three thousand years,” Chrístõ said. “By then, you’ll be patriarch of your House, Cal. He won’t be able to cause you any trouble.”

“Epsilon would hate Cal, wouldn’t he?” Julia said.

“A lot of people are going to hate him. He’s going to face worse prejudices than I did. I’m a half blood, but at least my father and mother were married. They’ll hold that against him.”

“You’re painting a grim picture for me,” Cal told him.

“I know. But it’s worth it. Believe me. Being a Time Lord is your destiny. Your birthright. And it’s the greatest thing anyone could be. We hold the universe in our hands. We’re revered as gods by many people across the galaxy.”

Julia giggled, and pointed out that he was a god with peanut butter down his shirt. Garrick had been a little careless with his sandwich.

“This young god-to-be has a lot to learn about table manners,” Chrístõ said as he wiped his shirt and his half-brother’s fingers. “But even covered in peanut butter, I am still a prince of the universe. The dignity of my race has survived through worse assaults upon it than that.”

Cal and Julia both smiled at the way Chrístõ rose above that assault upon his personal dignity.

“We’ll be at Orissa III very soon,” he said. “Garrick, you help Julia to tidy up our picnic and then she’ll take you to get changed. Cal, you can help me with our final landing calculations.”

Cal approached the TARDIS console hesitantly. The machine still bewildered him even though Chrístõ had shown him it in detail.

Chrístõ smiled brightly.

“I’m going to teach you to pilot a TARDIS,” he said. “I thought Garrick would be the first one I’d get to train up. But I’ll show you first. Take the navigation control. Mind Humphrey, sleeping under there.”

Cal glanced under the console and reached a hand into the dark shadow that was emitting a low snore. The snore turned into a purr as Cal ‘stroked’ him, then back to a snore, though possibly a fake one.

“He’s very strange,” Cal commented.

“He is, that,” Chrístõ answered. But I like having him around. Times when I had nobody else for company… but that doesn’t happen much these days. I always seem to have plenty of friends along with me now.”

“I never really had any friends,” Cal said.

“You will,” Chrístõ assured him. Now that you’ve got passed the things that troubled you and made it hard for you to reach out to people. Besides, you’ve got me, and Julia, and Garrick. And you’re getting on better at the school now that we’ve cleared up all the misunderstandings.”

“I don’t really belong in the school…”

“You belong in my class, learning from me. And meanwhile… seven minutes before we materialise on Orissa III. Let’s go and get ready to be diplomats.”

Cal wasn’t really ready to be anything, but Chrístõ thought he ought to see something of the universe, and his father suggested the diplomatic invitation to visit Orissa III, one of Gallifrey’s many political and trade allies in the Caelum quadrant. Garrick was looking forward to the trip. So was Julia. She enjoyed attending diplomatic functions as his companion. She liked it when people thought she was his wife.

Chrístõ was surprised by her choice of outfit for meeting the Grand Duke and Duchess of Orissa. It was a deep red calf length pencil skirt with a silk blouse and a waist length jacket that matched the skirt. She had a wide brimmed hat with it and a pearl and diamond choker and earrings to complete the look. She had got Garrick dressed, too. He was in a little suit of pale blue trousers and jacket with a white shirt.

He looked at both of them and the word ‘retro’ came to mind. Julia’s outfit looked straight from the 1950s.

“Have you been doing twentieth century history in school,” he asked her as he and Cal, in black and silver robes appropriate to young members of the diplomatic corps joined her in the console room.

“Me and Carrie have been doing a project about great women of the 20th century,” she answered. “Last week we did Jacqueline Kennedy.”

Yes, Chrístõ thought. That was it, exactly. Julia could easily have passed as the young wife of a president! And Garrick… Chrístõ recalled the iconic pictures of John Kennedy junior as a boy. Julia, whether deliberately or not, had made Garrick into a little duplicate of him.

Chrístõ took Julia’s arm and Garrick’s hand. Cal walked beside them as his diplomatic aide. They stepped out of the TARDIS into a lovely garden with something like roses but with a scent more like night jasmine growing over ateliers and arches all around.

Julia looked up at a purple sun in a purple sky. Chrístõ had already explained that was caused by particles in the atmosphere and that the sun was a plain yellow one like most suns were.

That was not the most unusual thing about their arrival on Orissa III. What was most amazing was that the garden was at the top of a tall building, on the flat roof. All around, for mile after mile, was a city of tall buildings with gardens on top. The people of Orissa lived in the sky.

Literally, they did. The next thing Julia noticed after the gardens was that the sky was full of what looked like giant birds, but were, in fact, people with feathered wings. The men were all shirtless and sun-bronzed as they flew effortlessly in the air. The women wore dresses with floating skirts and halter necked bodices that were backless to allow free movement of their wings.

“Oh, my, how lovely,” she whispered in excitement before adopting a suitably composed expression. An honour guard in silver-grey uniforms with apertures in the back for their wings formed up as the Duke and Duchess of Orissa came to greet their honoured guests. Julia noticed that they had their wings folded under silver cloaks and walked lightly on the ground. Were they being polite to their flightless guests, or did they consider flying under their own effort beneath them as aristocrats of their people?

“Good day to you,” Chrístõ said as he bowed to the Duke and Duchess and received a bow in return from the Duke and took the Duchess’s hand to kiss. “I am Chrístõ Cuimhne de Lœngbærrow of Gallifrey. May I present Cal Lupus of the House of Oakdaene and my fiancée, Julia Sommers of Beta Delta.”

Cal matched Chrístõ’s manners in greeting the Orissan nobles. Julia smiled brightly as the Duke, a handsome man in his mid 40s, took her hand and kissed it before she made a very proper curtsey to the Duchess and received one in return.

“Fiancée?” the Duchess queried. “Why then… when I saw you I thought that this little boy must be your own heir.”

“This is my brother,” Chrístõ explained as Garrick tried to hide behind him, losing his nerve a little in front of so many strangers. “He needs to get over his shyness before he can follow in my footsteps as a diplomat.”

“He is charming,” the Duchess told him. “Our own son will love to meet him. Come. We have transport to take us to the reception.”

Julia had to make a great deal of effort to retain her poise and composure as they saw the transport. It was an elegantly carved wooden boat, like a big Venetian gondola, suspended beneath a huge balloon. A dozen sun-bronzed Orissan men in smartly pressed white trousers and caps but no shirts, piloted it as the Duke and Duchess and their honoured guests took their seats. The boat moved slowly, gracefully, through the ‘streets’ between the buildings. In the roof gardens that they passed people gathered to cheer them. Julia waved graciously, like a cross between Jacqueline Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain in the same era. Chrístõ waved, too, and so did Garrick. As long as the people were at a distance he could play up to them. It was just when they were close to him that the shyness came upon him. He would get over that, in time, too, once he knew there was nothing for him to be afraid of among strangers.

Cal needed to get over a certain reticence among strangers, too, Chrístõ noted. He watched everything around him and was clearly taking it all in. But it was hard to tell if he was enjoying the journey or not.

“Is this the way people travel if they don’t want to fly?” Julia asked as she looked down at the ground far below and noted that the streets were paved with what looked like marble flags. “What about down there? Does nobody use the streets?”

“Ordinary Orissans fly,” the Duchess said. “The gondolas are our royal carriages, our… limousines… I think that is the word for the mechanical vehicles I have seen on other worlds where people are flightless.”

“Our people enjoy seeing us travel in splendour,” the Duke added. “As you see from the way they cheer as we pass.”

“It’s a lovely way to travel,” Julia agreed. “But does nobody go on the ground at all, here?”

“Goodness, no,” the Duchess answered with a shudder. “It’s so dark and airless down there. I think I would faint if I went below thirty floors.”

“The lower parts of the buildings are used only as storage, warehouses and such,” the Duke explained. “Or for housing the power generators, server units for our computer systems, or mundane things like laundries. Those of our subjects who work in those places are glad to rise up at the end of their day’s toil and enjoy their leisure gardens and the fresh, clean air of Orissa.”

Chrístõ glanced down at the marble paving far, far below. For a people descended from birds, this lifestyle made perfect sense, of course. Though he did wonder where the fumes and used air from power generators and laundries and such things went to. There was no sign of any pollution down there. Heavier than air gases would accumulate as a fog at the base of the buildings, but there was no sign of aj such pollution. He made a note to ask somebody about it, later.

But now they were arriving at the palace. And it was a breathtaking sight as they approached. This grand building had not one, but a dozen roof gardens on tiered levels. Archways and fountains, sculptures and rose ateliers made each one a grotto of peace and splendour, and the wide lawn on the lowest level led right into the Throne Room of the palace. The grass merged seamlessly into the plush carpet as they passed from outdoors to indoors. The Duke and Duchess took their places on the two thrones, and Chrístõ, Julia and Cal were invited to sit on only slightly less opulent chairs on the same raised dais. Garrick looked around uncertainly, wondering if he had been forgotten by the adults. Then a door opened next to the throne room and a boy aged about six, shirtless but wearing gold embroidered trousers emerged. He stepped towards Garrick and greeted him.

“This is our son,” the Duchess said. “Cerrass, this is Garrick of Gallifrey. He does not have the gift of flight, so don’t let him go near the drop off, but you may play with him in your dayroom.”

Chrístõ was surprised when Garrick smiled and let Cerrass take him by the hand. He felt his brother’s pleasure when they stepped into the room behind the throne room. It, too, was open to the air, with the indoors merging with the garden outdoors. There were two other children there, as well as two nursemaids to look after them. Garrick joined in their games happily. Chrístõ was surprised to find that his brother was talking to them. He rarely talked out loud, and when he did it tended to be short sentences. But it didn’t seem long before he was actually chatting with the lively Orissan children.

“Your brother will be quite all right,” the Duke told him. “Cerrass enjoys having the company of other children.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ agreed. “He seems to be happy.” Then he turned his attention to the formal presentations. The lesser lords of Orissa were presented to him and Julia as the honoured guests of the Duke. This was something Chrístõ was fully used to. So was Julia by now. What surprised him was how much she enjoyed the formalities. She actually tried hard to remember all the names of the people she shook hands with. She wanted to be the diplomat’s wife that they all took her for.

After the presentations were over, the aristocrats of Orissa took their places around the throne room and settled down for an afternoon of entertainment. And it was spectacular stuff. A group of male and female Orissans flew down from the terraces above and performed an aerial ballet that had Julia sighing with joy and working out how some of their mid-air pirouettes might be adapted by a dancer for whom gravity was a factor.

The ballet was followed by a display of mid-air acrobatics with fire juggling thrown in that Chrístõ thought very impressive. Some of their movements were similar to Sun Ko Du, though obviously not intended to be combatant.

After the acrobatics was some fine, operatic singing, and after that was over a mime troupe presented a play about one of the present Duke’s ancestors who freed Orissa from a great peril called the ‘Orac’. The Orac, apparently, was a creature from the underworld of the planet that stole children.

Chrístõ watched for a while, and then stood quietly and headed for the door into the ducal heir’s playroom. He wasn’t sure what it was about the play that disturbed him so much, but he had a strong urge to check, with his own eyes, that Garrick was all right.

Garrick was perfectly fine. The young heir, Cerrass, was playing with a huge, elaborately designed puppet theatre and Garrick was making his own contribution with his virtual reality lapin that gambolled among the marionettes. He was providing his own story to go with the one his young host was telling. The other children, the sons and daughters of the aristocrats in the throne room, were laughing and enjoying the show. The two nursemaids were sitting quietly, glad to have their charges so fully occupied.

Garrick certainly seemed to have lost all his shyness around the young Orrisans, anyway. He said as much to one of the nursemaids.

“Bless him, he’s happy.” She said. “It’s a shame he’s handicapped so, though. I don’t know how you manage without flight. To be confined to the ground all of your lives…”

Chrístõ had never thought of himself or Garrick as handicapped. He smiled at her words.

“We… adapt to our circumstances,” he said. “Just don’t let Garrick forget he doesn’t have wings. I don’t want him falling over the edge.”

The nursemaid smiled and assured him that she was fully aware of how to look after one wingless child. Chrístõ was quite satisfied that his half brother was in good hands and returned to the throne room.

The mime play was complete. There was a ripple of polite applause that seemed muted compared to that given to the ballet dancers and the acrobats. The Duke and Duchess seemed particularly unimpressed and gave a very perfunctory response.

A play about children being taken by dark-clad bogey men! Chrístõ thought about the way it had made him feel about Garrick. Perhaps it made them just as uncomfortable about their son. And after all, as political leaders they must have faced the possibility of their son being kidnapped or threatened. The play served as a reminder of that vulnerability.

The mime artists stepped forward and bowed to the Duke and Duchess, and then one of them spoke. That surprised everyone. Mimes were not supposed to speak while in costume even when they had finished performing. That was an unwritten rule all across the universe.

“Sire,” the mime said. “Please accept our play as a reminder of the real and present danger that casts a shadow over Orissa at this time. Our children….”

“Stop.” The Duke rose from his seat. “You will not bring these conspiracy theories into my Court. Be gone from my sight before my palace guards eject you by force.”

The man tried to speak again, but the Duke was clearly angry. He retreated quickly, along with his troupe. Chrístõ watched them as they left the Throne Room.

“I am sorry that our entertainment was marred by that spectacle,” the Duke said to Chrístõ and his companions as he sat down again and a group of dancers in bright costumes took to the air in front of them. “Please do not let it spoil your enjoyment.”

“I won’t,” Chrístõ answered. “But… may I ask… what was he trying to tell you? Is there any substance in what he was saying? The… Orac… is there…”

“It is a foolish superstition,” the Duke said, cutting him off quickly. “Ambassador, I beg you, give no further thought to the incident. I am only sorry, ashamed and astonished, that a subject of mine should see fit to make a scene before you and your gracious lady.”

“I shall not let it colour my opinion of Orissa and its people,” Chrístõ replied diplomatically. “Still less its Duke.”

He turned his attention to the entertainment. But he didn’t put the incident from his mind. Rather, he gave it deeper and further thought.

“There is something he wants to hide,” Cal said to him telepathically. “The Duke… he knows not everything is sweet in his Duchy.”

“I agree,” Chrístõ answered him. “But… what? Surely if it is something to do with the children… surely he would not overlook such a thing just to save face in front of us?”

“They seem a very proud people,” Julia noted. Chrístõ was surprised to hear her voice in the telepathic conversation. But she was wearing her brooch on her blouse, of course. “Very proud.”

“They have much to be proud of,” Chrístõ observed. “This planet is beautiful. The people are happy and prosperous. They have education and health care for all. Nobody lives in fear…”

“Somebody does,” Cal pointed out. “That man who tried to tell the Duke… he was deeply troubled.”

“I’d like to help him,” Chrístõ admitted. “But I’m here as an ambassador, as the Duke’s guest. I’m not sure how much I can do without causing offence or creating an interplanetary incident. My father sent me here as his representative. I wanted to do him proud...”

“Chrístõ, you wouldn’t even think about it, usually. You’d do whatever you could to help somebody in trouble.”

“I know,” he admitted. “But that’s when it’s just me, Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow. But when I’m Ambassador de Lœngbærrow, it’s different.”

“That man needed help,” Julia insisted. “You can’t turn away from him just because you’re an ambassador. What’s the use of that? Just sitting around watching people dance and going to parties. You’re better when you’re just Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow who cares and who gets things done.”

“She has a point,” Cal said. “You didn’t think twice about helping me, even when I didn’t want to be helped.”

“I’ll try to find out what’s going on,” he promised. “But I have to be careful. You both must understand… I’m representing Gallifrey, and my father. I can’t dishonour either by any kind of precipitous action.”

The entertainment was over. The Duke and Duchess rose from their thrones and the aristocrats all bowed to them as they left the Throne Room followed by the Ambassador from Gallifrey and his entourage. They went through to the playroom, where Cerrass ran to his mother and father and Garrick came to Chrístõ’s side, smiling widely and anxious to tell him all about his afternoon. Chrístõ was thrilled to hear him talk. His vocal skills were a worry to him and his parents. But now it was as if a stream had been suddenly undammed. Chrístõ listened to him happily as they followed the Duke and Duchess out into the rooftop garden and from there, to a smaller version of the gondola that brought them to the palace. This one was used to travel down to the private quarters of the Duke and his family. Again there was a very lovely garden that merged into a pleasantly appointed drawing room. Cerras and Garrick continued to play together in the garden. The Duchess sat in the garden with them and Julia joined her while Chrístõ and Cal talked affairs of state with the Duke.

“Sir,” Chrístõ said when they had dealt with the formal matters. “I know it is none of my business, but please would you tell me what it was that caused the upset during the entertainment. Why was that man so upset?”

“A foolishness,” The Duke insisted. “I assure you, Ambassador, there is nothing to worry about.”

Chrístõ wanted to press it further, but he knew he couldn’t. He let the conversation return to the trade agreements between their two worlds and there really was no way to broach the subject again.

But later, when they were conducted to their chambers to rest and refresh themselves before the grand ball in the evening, Julia had something to say.

“The Duke wouldn’t talk,” she said to Chrístõ as she got Garrick into his pyjamas and got him ready for bed. “But the Duchess did. Chrístõ, as many as fifty children are missing from the city. They’re taken in the night, from their beds. Nobody knows how. The Orissan police force is ornamental rather than useful. They’re good at flying in formation wearing uniform trousers. This story about the Orac is the only theory anyone has. The Duke and Duchess are both scared, but they don’t know what to do. I told her that you can help. She practically begged me to ask you.”

“So I have the Duchess’s permission to act?” Chrístõ smiled wryly. “But not the Duke’s. It’s a start. But how much truth is there in this Orac story?”

Garrick began to speak, so fast that nobody could catch a word, at first. Chrístõ lifted him on his knee and put a hand on his forehead to calm him.

“You know something, child?” he asked.

Garrick did. He spoke again, a little slower, and he illustrated his words with holographic projections, enhanced by his sonic screwdriver device. He told them what his friend, Cerrass, had told him in the course of their playing together. He described dark creatures with short bodies and long limbs that crept into the bedroom of the young heir a few nights ago and tried to take him. He was saved by the intervention of his nursemaid, who had raised the alarm and brought the palace guards to the nursery.

“They look like gollums,” Julia said, and Chrístõ agreed with her. That literary allusion summed them up.

“Orac?” He turned the word over in his mind. But it was just a word. It meant nothing.

“According to the legend, they live in the underworld of Orissa, deep below,” Cal said. “That’s what it said in the play we saw. I think those people were giving us clues. The play was their way of telling us what has to be done.”

“In the play one of the Duke’s ancestors went down into the underworld and rescued the children,” Julia added. “But this Duke seems scared to do that.”

“Not everyone can live up to their ancestors,” Chrístõ responded. “I’ll talk to the Duchess and put a plan together. But the question is, if they tried to get Cerrass, here in the palace, what’s to stop them trying again? What about Garrick? Is he going to be safe while we’re at this ball?”

“I’ll look after him,” Cal offered. “If anything occurs…”

Chrístõ looked at him steadily. Not so long ago he had been the threat that Garrick had to be protected from, an angry bundle of negative emotions who didn’t know who to trust or believe. Now he was ready to be Garrick’s protector.

“This was meant to be your first official ball as a diplomatic representative of Gallifrey,” Chrístõ pointed out to him,

“I’m not sure that’s my kind of life, anyway,” Cal admitted. “It all seemed rather boring this afternoon. I’d be more use to you looking after your brother. You can trust me….”

Chrístõ’s thoughts were carefully hidden then. He remembered that Cal was the son of a man who had betrayed Gallifrey in many heinous ways and brother of his own fiercest enemy, Epsilon. And yet, he did trust him. Cal was not tainted by either of them. His misplaced anger had made him dangerous for a while, but now he knew the truth he was promising to be a loyal friend.

“Yes, I can,” Chrístõ decided. “Yes, all right.”

The ball should have been an exciting, glittering one. Chrístõ and Julia were guests of honour and the lords and ladies of Orissa were anxious to court their favour. But both of them were aware that the ball was being held under a cloud. There was a grave crisis on Orissa and the Duke’s answer to it was to pretend it wasn’t happening.

But it was happening for all too many of the people in the beautiful ballroom with one side open onto a garden terrace and a stunning purple moon rising as the night darkened. Chrístõ could feel them as a jarring note in his head when he let his mind reach out and touch them all. He focussed particularly on one couple, Lord and Lady Gorm. Their clothes were as fine as any others. Their smiles were as bright. But behind the smiles they were grieving for a child who was missing for more than a week. The Duke had forbidden them to speak of it, or to be absent from his Court. But Chrístõ could feel their grief, and he understood it.

And he meant to do something about it.

For the first part of the night he was on edge. Those jarring notes around him distracted him, and he made mental contact with Cal so often the boy was starting to get irritated by it. He insisted every time that Garrick was safely tucked up in bed, reading Watership Down and creating virtual reality rabbits all over his bedspread and might actually fall asleep if the telepathic energy settled down. Chrístõ accepted that censure from his young apprentice and gave his attention to Julia instead. She had continued her Jackie Kennedy theme with a white satin gown based on the one the historical First Lady of the USA had worn at her husband’s inaugural ball.

“I don’t mind the fashion,” he pointed out as he danced with her on the terrace with that beautiful purple moon bathing them in ethereal light. “But don’t forget that story has a very sad ending and I don’t want to play the role too closely.”

“It’s just the clothes,” she assured him. “I like them because I feel older in them.”

“That’s because nineteen fifties fashions didn’t make much distinction between old and young,” Chrístõ explained. “The concept of ‘teenager’ didn’t really begin until a few years later. Young women dressed in the same styles as their mothers. Anyway, you look fantastic and you make a wonderful diplomatic wife.”

“And you make a wonderful diplomat,” she assured him.

Then he felt Cal calling to him urgently. He stopped dancing and broke from Julia’s arms. As he tried to fix on Cal’s telepathic signal he became aware of other people in distress, non-telepaths, but so upset that they almost overwhelmed them.

He made a judgement call. He summoned one of the palace guards, a strongly built man with a lot of upper arm strength.

“I need to get to my chambers, quickly,” he said. “I don’t have time for balloons and gondolas. Can you take my weight?”

“Yes, sir,” the guard replied.

“Ok. Julia… Oh, no. It’s the Duke’s son… go to the Duchess. Tell her she needs to send guards to the royal nursery at once. And stay with her. She’ll need a friend.”

Julia ran to do his bidding. Chrístõ allowed himself to be held under the arms by the guard as he flew off the edge of the terrace. He looked down once. He saw the city lights stretching out and patches of darkness between the buildings that were long, long drops if the guard made a mistake. He thought about closing his eyes, but the darkness behind his eyes was worse. He focussed instead on the purple moon until they reached the floor where their guest rooms were.

Garrick was there. He was sitting on his bed, playing with his virtual reality lapin. He looked unharmed. Chrístõ assured himself of that right away. Then he turned and gave his attention to Cal. He was lying on the floor, face down. He had been knocked cold by something. Chrístõ turned him over and noticed that his lips were slightly blue. He looked as if he was suffering from mild hypoxia, but he was breathing now, and starting to come round. Chrístõ put him into the recovery position and then turned to the creature that had been underneath him.

It was exactly what Garrick had described to him earlier. Short, no more than about four foot in height, thin, with long limbs. The creature’s flesh was dark grey, almost black, and felt like the flesh of a shark, rubbery and smooth.

The creature was in trouble. It, too, seemed to be suffering from a respiratory problem. It was gasping for breath and turning an even darker grey.

It was a monster, a creature that had tried to kidnap Garrick. But it was in trouble. Chrístõ did his duty as a doctor. He tried to give the creature mouth to mouth resuscitation, blowing air into its lungs.

He was distraught when, instead of getting better, the creature went into a tonic-clonic seizure, spasming painfully before becoming limp and unresponsive. Chrístõ bit his lip as he examined the creature and knew it was dead.

“Chrístõ,” Cal whispered hoarsely as he tried to lift himself up from the floor. “It… doesn’t breathe oxygen… it…” He reached out his arm towards something that had been cast aside as Cal had grappled the creature. Chrístõ picked up the object and saw it was some kind of mask. It looked as if it had a catalysing conversion module within it, that took in the gases in the atmosphere around it and converted them to the kind that it breathed. He had similar helmets in the TARDIS that gave out oxygen rich air in almost any atmosphere where an oxy-compound, even carbon monoxide or other poisons were present.

He gave a sad groan as he realised that this mask did the opposite. It took oxygen rich air and turned it into carbon monoxide.

He had killed the creature by trying to put oxygen into its lungs. It was already dying from hyperoxia – excess of oxygen in its blood, and he had made it worse with his life saving attempt.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he laid the creature down on the floor and straightened its rubbery limbs. “I am so very sorry.”

He had never taken the final exams, he had never taken the Hippocratic Oath. Technically he wasn’t a doctor. But he tried to act by the principles and tenets of one whose job was to relieve suffering and prevent death. That his actions had caused or hastened this creature’s death by a grievous medical error distressed him so much that he was unaware, at first, of voices coming closer. He looked up to see the Duke and Duchess and several of their guards landing in the garden terrace. Julia was there, too, brought by one of the strong guards. She ran to him and wondered why there were tears in his eyes. He explained quickly. She looked at the dead creature and shuddered.

“Chrístõ, some of them took the little boy, Cerrass, the Duke’s son.”

“Oh, no!” He stood, clutching Julia’s hand, and looked at the Duke and Duchess. The Duchess was in floods of tears, as were her ladies in waiting who flew in and flocked around her. The Duke was holding back his tears, but Chrístõ was astonished when he stepped towards him and then knelt in supplication.

“My Lord,” he begged. “I was told that you could help us, but I was stubborn and proud. I did not want an outsider to know of our troubles. I forbad any in my court to tell you of the Orac… even those whose children were already taken. I was angry at that honest citizen who brought his entreaty to me. Please… forgive my foolishness… help me, find my son…. Find all of the children, if they be alive. I will reward you in any way I can. My fortune is yours if you will only return to me my precious blood.”

“I don’t need your fortune,” Chrístõ replied. “You said ‘help me’. That’s a plea I would refuse at peril of my soul.” He took the Duke’s hand and raised him to his feet. “But I need to know the full truth now. No matter how shameful it might be, please tell me everything.” He looked around him. Julia was sitting with Garrick, protecting him. The Duchess was with him, too. Her own child was missing, but she gave her attention to the one who was safe.

Cal was at his side, ready to do anything he asked. Chrístõ knew what to ask him to do.

“Have one of your people take my aide to the garden where I landed my ship,” he said to the Duke. “I need him to bring it here.”

“Me… fly the TARDIS?” Cal was astonished. “I don’t know how.”

“I know you don’t,” he said. “Go to the navigation drive and input Theta Sigma 98653E5Alpha Delta. That initiates a homing programme. The TARDIS will lock onto my DNA and find me.”

Cal repeated the long alphanumeric code perfectly. His half Gallifreyan brain could easily cope with that much information. The Duke nodded to one of his men and Cal was taken into the dark sky. Chrístõ felt his initial alarm before he relaxed and knew that the guard would not drop him. He turned back to the Duke with a questioning expression.

“Yes,” the Duke said. “I knew about the Orac. I had never seen one in my lifetime until a few months ago. They were the stuff of fairy tales told to me as a child by my nursemaid. The Orac would come up from the underworld and steal away naughty children. When I was older, I understood that they truly did exist. They are flightless creatures of the darkness. Their bodies evolved millennia ago to breathe the fumes and stale air below. That is why our world is so clean, why our air is so fresh. The output from our industries gives them life. For all these centuries, they have lived below, separate from us, yet in a way, dependent on us as we were dependent on them.”

“Symbiosis,” Chrístõ said as a brief comment on the relationship between the two races.

“No, not even that,” the Duke admitted. “We knew they existed, told the fairy stories to our children. We have plays like the one you saw, in which brave Orissans fought the Orac. They are untrue. We never even had so much contact with them. But the myths remained… they were just…”

“The Earth word is bogeymen,” Chrístõ said. “And they exist, too. But that’s another story. Why have they been taking your children? And why?”

“Four months ago, a group of Oracs came above ground. They came in the night and demanded a secret audience with me. They wore masks so they could breathe…” He glanced at the one Chrístõ held in his hand. “They told me that they wanted equality with the Orissan people. They wanted the rights and privileges of citizenship. They were no longer prepared to be myth and legend, shadowy figures of fairy tales. They wanted to make a Treaty with me…”


“And I refused,” the Duke answered. “I had them forcibly removed from my Throne Room. There was a scuffle, and two of them were pushed over the edge… they died, of course. The creatures…. The Orac… they can climb… that’s how they get up here, clinging to the walls, climbing like… like nothing else on this planet. We are creatures of the air. We are graceful and elegant. We do not crawl on our bellies, clinging to the mortar… I was repulsed. I could not consider their proposal. And… the leader… after seeing two of his kind killed by my guards… He vowed revenge. He said he would take what is most precious to us. I put guards on our treasure houses and art galleries. I… didn’t put guards on the bedchambers of our children…”

“The instinct to fear what is not like you is natural to almost all species in the universe,” Chrístõ told him. “But as leader of your people, your duty was clear. You should have met their terms. You brought this upon yourself. And your little boy, and so many other children before him, have suffered for it.”

The Duke nodded. He had no words to excuse himself.

“I already said I would help,” Chrístõ told him. “Have no fear on that account.” He looked around as the TARDIS materialised in the form of a large, elaborately carved wardrobe fit for a chamber in a Ducal palace. Cal opened the door. “Julia, bring Garrick inside. The one place I know you’re both safe is within the TARDIS.” Julia did as he said. He turned back to the Duke. “I’ll return with your children. But when I do, you know what you must do, don’t you?”

“I do,” the Duke replied. Chrístõ scanned his mind quickly, to assure himself that he was not planning some revenge against the Orac. He wasn’t. His shame was such that he was incapable of any further deceit.

“All right,” Chrístõ said and he turned and stepped into the TARDIS. He understood the Duke’s actions. But they angered him all the same. He felt disgusted that a world that appeared, on the surface, to be so beautiful and enlightened, hid such a dark secret.

But innocents who had no part in the deceit were suffering, and Chrístõ would not contemplate that. He went to his console and put it into hover mode. Julia and Garrick, sitting on the sofa, mere passengers on this trip, looked at the viewscreen and saw the faces of the Orissans as they watched it rise up and then hover over the empty space beyond the terraced gardens in the sky of the Ducal palace. Then it began to descend. The view, at first, was of well lit windows. Then as they passed below the levels where Orissans could bear to live, it became dark. Oppressively dark. Julia turned her eyes away from the screen.

Chrístõ handed the hover control over to Cal as he delved underneath the console and found two helmets of the kind he had been thinking of earlier, that would convert noxious gasses to oxygen rich air. He knew they would be needed soon. Meanwhile he went to the environmental console and studied a detailed map of the surface of Orissa.

“There,” he said to Cal. “Steer us towards that tunnel entrance right below the palace itself. That’s the way into the underworld.”

Cal did so, a little nervously, but appreciating Chrístõ’s trust in him. Chrístõ patted the edge of the console and secretly thanked the TARDIS for letting it be guided by a novice pilot.

It got even darker as the TARDIS entered the underworld. Chrístõ reached across the console and switched on an exterior light that showed a corridor that had once been painted with a mural of gold and rich colours. They were faded now, and it was difficult to see what the pictures were meant to represent, but people with wings featured a great deal.

“The Orissans must have had houses nearer the ground before they began building high,” Chrístõ commented. “Trying to distance themselves from the Orac, I wonder?”

The TARDIS reached the end of the corridor, but there was a stairway. That surprised him. Orissans didn’t use stairs. He recalled meeting one at a state dinner on Adano-Ambrado and the poor man was thoroughly confused when faced by the staircase that led down to the grand ballroom in the Ambradan palace. They flew everywhere. Their great buildings above had shafts such as other species would have lifts in, but they simply flew up and down them between floors.

But here there were stairs.

“We’re in the Orac city,” Chrístõ observed. “They’re flightless. They have stairs.”

“I wonder how two species developed so very differently on one planet,” Cal asked. “Is it likely that they were one species at some point in their history?”

“It’s perfectly possible,” Chrístõ answered. “If one scion withdrew below ground and the other remained above… the ones below ground completely lost their ability to fly and over the centuries, their respiratory systems changed so that they breathe carbon monoxide… the by-product of the fumes pumped down here by the Orissans. Yes, that’s possible. It’s… wrong on so many levels. But at least I have a chance to put things right. Keep your eye on the screen. At the bottom of these stairs, turn right. There is a large room… and I’m seeing lots of lifesigns. Hundreds of them. They must be Orac.”

“You want me to pilot the TARDIS right into the middle of hundreds of those creatures?” Cal was hesitant. “Chrístõ… that one… the dead one… it was strong. I had trouble fighting it… they could tear us apart. You mean for us to go out, obviously. That’s why the helmets. But they’ll massacre us.”

“Chrístõ…” Julia looked at him fearfully.

“You and Garrick stay right here,” he said to her. “You stay safe. Cal and I are going out there. As diplomats.” He looked at his unofficial diplomatic aide. “You’ve never lacked courage before. Come on. Put the helmet on.” Cal did as he said before steering the TARDIS into the great hall. Chrístõ wondered what exterior shape the TARDIS had taken. Something spectacular, judging by the way the Orac all parted around it.

He brought the TARDIS to a stop in front of what looked like a darker version of the thrones in the Orissan throne room. They were made of dark wood with intricate carvings, some of which seemed to be Orac faces displaying various expressions.

He and Cal stepped out of the TARDIS, wearing the helmets that gave them clean air. The atmosphere in the lower part of the Orac Throne Room was thick with carbon monoxide, nitrogen and several corrosive and carcinogenic poisons.

All of those were heavier gases than oxygen. Chrístõ looked up through the slightly grey ‘air’ and saw that nearer the high roof there was clean air. The Oracs, of course, exhaled oxygen and it would accumulate above.

In that oxygen rich part of the room, was a structure that could only be described as a huge birdcage. The missing Orissan children were all in there. They were all alive, though very subdued and clearly frightened.

He stepped towards the Throne where an Orac sat with a black gown wrapped around his thin body. Chrístõ bowed his head respectfully. Cal followed his example.

“I am Chrístõ Cuimhne de Lœngbærrow, Ambassador from the planet of Gallifrey in the Kasterborus constellation. Do I have the honour of addressing the leader of the Orac people?”

“I am Callo, Prince of the Orac,” he replied. “But you are an ally of our enemy, the Orissa.”

“I am here to be an ally of the Orac, too,” he replied. “As you see, I have no wings. I am not one of them. I know that a great many wrongs have been done to your people. More, perhaps, than you could begin to know. But you have done wrong to them. These children…” Chrístõ pointed to the cage. “You have to let me take them back to their families. If you agree to that, then I can assure you that the Duke will agree to the negotiations you wished to put before him previously.”

“There are no negotiations. Our reasonable demands for equality were met by violence. Two of my men were cold-heartedly murdered by the Orissans. One of them was my own brother.”

“I am sorry about that,” Chrístõ said. “And… you should know that one of your men was accidentally killed tonight, during your attempt to kidnap more children. That was regrettable. Very regrettable. But it would not have happened if you had not engaged in such a reprehensible action. And it is in order to prevent any further harm that I beg you to reconsider. Let me intervene between you and the Duke of Orissa. Let me ensure that justice is done.”

There was a long pause when he had finished speaking. Chrístõ knew there was nothing else he could say. Either his powers of diplomacy were enough, and the prince would accept his proposal, or this could be the beginning of a civil war between the Orac and the Orissans. And what would become of the child hostages then? He looked up and saw the frightened faces looking back at him, wings fluttering helplessly, hands clutching at the bars of their prison.

Whatever happened, he couldn’t go back without the children, even if he had to use the TARDIS to materialise in the cage and take them by force.


The Duke and Duchess of Orissa were in their Throne Room. They were alone but for a few guards. Neither spoke. There was nothing to say. They had put their hopes in the Gallifreyan ambassador, and now all they could do was wait.

The sound of the TARDIS materialising startled them. They both stood and watched as what looked like a gilded birdcage with crystal glass between the bars appeared in front of the thrones. A door opened in the cage and Chrístõ and Julia stepped out. Chrístõ was carrying a child in his arms. Behind him came Garrick and Cerrass, the Duke’s son, while Cal brought the other children out of the TARDIS in pairs of two at a time.

The Duchess ran to her son. The Duke would have, too, but Chrístõ stopped him.

“This is the son of the man you refused to listen to, earlier,” he said. “He was one of the first to be taken. He has been kept as a hostage for seven weeks while you refused to admit there was a problem. He has been fed. He has not been harmed physically in any way. But he was a prisoner in a strange place, far from his parents, far from the light and air. He needs the best of care to recover from his ordeal. So do the others. Will they get it?”

“Yes,” the Duke promised. “Yes, they will. Yes, of course, they will.”

“Very well,” Chrístõ said. He placed the child of the mime artist on the throne that the Duke had stood up from. He was almost asleep, and the soft, gold embroidered pillows were comfortable. “I will leave that to the Duchess to organise. Meanwhile, you will come with me.”

Chrístõ turned back towards the gilded cage his TARDIS had showily chosen for a disguise this time. He looked back once to ensure that the Duke was following him. He closed the door as soon as the Duke was aboard and dematerialised the TARDIS.

“Why am I here?” the Duke asked. “Why are they here?” He pointed an accusing finger towards the prince of the Orac and his entourage.

“I brought the children back,” Chrístõ said. “Now it is time for you to keep your side of the bargain. Look at the screen. We are in orbit above Orissa. This TARDIS belongs to me, and I am a fully accredited member of the Gallifreyan diplomatic corps. You are, therefore, standing in Gallifreyan territory. This is a neutral ground where you can discuss your differences, and, more importantly, what you have in common with each other.”

“We have nothing in common,” the Duke protested.

“Yes, you do,” Chrístõ told him. “You have the same DNA. I noticed that when I went down to the underworld. The room full of Orac, and the Orissan children, too. And yet the lifesigns monitor showed only one species. Orac and Orissan are the same. You have simply evolved according to your environment. The flightless Orac live in the carbon monoxide of the underworld. They cannot live above ground without gas converting masks. You, the oxygen breathing, flying Orissan, cannot survive in their environment. But you need each other. You know that. And you owe each other the mutual respect of two communities who share one planet. So… you will sit down with me now and discuss terms by which Orac and Orissan will live in peace and with equal status.”

Again, both sides could have ignored him. That they sat and discussed terms with him was a small miracle. But in a shorter time than he first imagined, a basis of an agreement between Orac and Orissan was forged.

“I’ve just negotiated my first Peace Treaty,” he said to himself as he set the TARDIS to return the two delegates to their respective throne rooms. And he felt that, if his father, known to many as The Peacemaker, could see him right now, he would be smiling.