Chrístõ looked out of the car window at the Ambradan plains either side of the single straight road. It was desolate territory where few people lived. No wonder the Adano-Ambradan state prison was built there.

The building was still some eight miles ahead, a grey blot on the landscape that he avoided looking at. Prisons disturbed him. Even when he visited them for official reasons, such as this, he had an irrational fear that he wouldn’t be allowed out again.

“I know it’s a lousy job,” Paracell Hext said to him. He looked around at his companion in the back seat of the official Adano Ambrado government car. “It would be more fun staying in the royal palace, taking baths with the Emperor while Julia talks about ballgowns with the Empress and your little brother hangs out with Corwen and Cal learning to be a young Lord.”

“That isn’t why we came here, though,” Chrístõ admitted. Then he explained his odd phobia about prisons.

“I know,” Hext told him. “I get that feeling, too.”

“Your bedroom is two floors above the Celestial Intervention Agency’s detention and interrogation centre. You’re practically a prison governor.”

“I still hate places like this,” he answered. “And I’d rather not have to do this. Not now. It’s not exactly fair.”

“It’s horrible,” Chrístõ admitted. “But if it has to be done… let us do it… you and I… rather than anyone else. It’s our duty and our responsibility.”


They said nothing else for a while. Chrístõ continued to look at the empty plains to the left of him instead of looking ahead to the building that was coming rapidly closer. He didn’t look at the grim high walls and the grey stone building inside until they reached the gates and he had no choice. He looked around as their credentials were inspected and the car went through to the outer compound.

Their credentials were checked twice again as they passed through the security system. There wasn’t much doubt about who Chrístõ was, of course. His face was familiar to all Adano-Ambradans. He was the crown prince and their King-Emperor’s doppelganger. They bowed to him even when they were asking him to submit to a body search.

“They’re efficient,” Hext commented. “Can’t argue with that.”

“Come this way, your highness, your lordship,” said a female guard in a dark blue uniform. Chrístõ and Hext followed her up a flight of steps and into a room with a heavy, dark wood-panelled door. It was a sparsely furnished room with a long, wide table and chairs set either side of it. They sat in two of the chairs and waited.

It wasn’t very long before a second door at the far side of the room opened and the prisoner was escorted in. Chrístõ suppressed a gasp as he saw her. It had been a little more than a year since he last saw Savang Hadandrox as a prisoner of Adano Ambrado. They hadn’t expected her to be very much changed in such a short time. They were both surprised. There WAS a distinct difference to her. She looked serene, resigned, as if she had accepted her fate.

Except she didn’t know what her fate was.

She looked healthy. Her complexion was pale, because she was allowed very little outdoor exercise, but her cheeks were full and her eyes bright. Her hair was tied in a neat pony tail at the back of her head and she was wearing a simple but surprisingly fetching cotton dress in a bright red and yellow flowered print. It didn’t look like prison issue clothes. Chrístõ recalled seeing prisoners in the educational facility on their way through the prison. Male and female alike wore a shapeless grey overall.

She said nothing as the guards told her to sit down opposite the two important visitors. She obeyed. Her expression was impossible to read. She was a prisoner, after all. And between them they had put her there. They hardly expected her to be pleased to see them. But other than that there was no telling if she was angry with them or scared of them. She simply sat down and waited for one of them to speak.

“What are those… on her wrists?” Chrístõ asked as she was ordered to place her hands flat on the table. He noticed wide metal cuffs that fitted close to her slender, feminine wrists.

“Telepathic suppressants,” one of the guards said. “To prevent her using her alien mind to influence the guards.”

“I see,” he answered. “All right… we were told we would be allowed to interview the prisoner alone. You can go now. If you’re needed you will be summoned.”

Being the crown prince helped to silence any possible arguments about that. Chrístõ watched the guards retreat out of the interview room then he stood up quietly and went to the water dispenser on his side of the table. He poured a plastic cup of the cold water and pressed it into Savang’s hand.

“Telepathic suppression dehydrates the body,” he said. “If you need more water during the interview, just say so.”

“Thank you,” she replied. Then without being asked to venture the information she spoke again. “They let me have plenty to drink. The food is good, too. I have no reason to complain.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Chrístõ said. “Savang… you… know who we are, don’t you?”

She looked directly at him for the first time since she sat down and nodded.

“Chrístõ… how could I forget you?” she said. “You were kind to me, even though I had hurt you so very much. You’re the first person who has ever been kind to me.”

“I’m sure that isn’t true. I know your parents. They love you very much, despite all that you have done.”

Savang said nothing in reply to that. She sipped the water and looked at Hext.

“You know who I am, too, don’t you?” he said. “I arrested you when you tried to kill Chrístõ’s mother. I interrogated you when you were a prisoner of the CIA in the Capitol… before the war. You escaped from my custody…”

“Paracell Hext, yes. I know you, too,” she said. “I remember everything. I am ashamed of a lot of it. But I remember everything. Every little detail. The treatment they give me here… it makes me remember it all. Even the parts I would want to forget. The dark, painful memories. They make me remember it all. So I can admit my faults and be healed.”

“That’s why we are here,” Hext told her. His voice was firm, businesslike, but not unkind. “Savang Hadandrox, the High Council has requested that I assess your mental state and determine if you can stand trial on Gallifrey for your crimes against Gallifreyan citizens. You were, of course, found guilty while mentally unbalanced of kidnapping the crown prince of Adano-Ambrado. You were sentenced to be held here at the pleasure of the King-Emperor and to receive treatment for your mental condition.” He paused for breath and looked at her steadily. “The King-Emperor has already informed me that he would not stand in the way of your extradition to Gallifrey if it is judged to be appropriate. Do you understand what that means, Savang?”

“If you think I’m sane enough I’ll be taken back to Gallifrey and put on trial there…. For the same crime I have already been convicted of here. I kidnapped the crown prince of Adano-Ambrado AND a Gallifreyan citizen… Chrístõ is both of those things at once. I committed one crime. But they want me to be punished twice.”

“Kidnapping the Lœngbærrow heir is only one of the crimes against you,” Hext pointed out. “You still have to be tried for your part in the abduction not only of the Lœngbærrow heir, but the heirs of Arpexia, Hext and Dúccesci, theft of a travel capsule, attempted subversion of the time continuum by retrospectively killing the future wife of Lord de Lœngbærrow… escaping from Celestial Intervention Agency custody, further abduction charges and possibly charges of treason and collaboration with the Mallus.”

“I did nothing of the sort. Those creatures made my skin crawl. I only took advantage of their presence to make my escape. I admit so much. But collaboration… never.

“If the High Council order me to do so, I have some unpleasant ways of testing the truth of that assertion, Savang,” Hext told her. “The mood on Gallifrey in the aftermath of the Mallus is unsympathetic towards collaborators or those even remotely suspected of it.”

Savang looked distressed by that, far more than any other crime levelled against her. Chrístõ thought that strange. She had never really expressed any loyalty to Gallifrey before. But the Mallus really were unpleasant creatures. They made his skin crawl, too. Perhaps the war had pricked even her national pride.

“You understand,” Hext continued. “Your crimes under Gallifreyan law are far greater than those you were convicted of under Adano-Ambradan jurisdiction. That is why your extradition is sought. And why…”

Hext stopped. He had interrogated prisoners before. He had never felt so uncomfortable about telling them the plain truth.

He didn’t have to. Savang sighed and shook her head.

“If you determine that I am sane, then I will be tried on Gallifrey and sentenced to death,” she said. “At least two of those charges are capital crimes under our law.”

“No,” Chrístõ assured her. “No, that won’t be the case. The Lord High President himself has given assurance that you won’t face the death penalty. He has promised your parents. They were both resistance fighters in the war against the Mallus, Savang. War heroes. The President has already granted commutation as a reward to them for their service.”

“Shada then,” she said with another deep sigh. “A fate worse than death.”

Chrístõ couldn’t look at her. He agreed with her description of the cryogenic prison where those convicted of the most heinous crimes were frozen, their bodies ceasing to function, ageless, timeless, but their minds just about aware of what was happening to make it thousands of years of hellish torture.

“Shada is… it’s life, anyway,” Hext told her. He held the same opinion, but he felt he wanted to try to soften the blow.

“If you find that I am still insane, then I stay here, in this place.”

“Yes. If your treatment is not complete, you will remain as a prisoner of Adano-Ambrado and continue to receive all the help available to you here. Your status will be re-assessed at a later time.”

“A stay of execution,” she remarked. “I can save you a lot of trouble. I am sane. For the first time since I was a child, driven out of my mind by exposure to the Untempered Schism, I am sane. I see it all clearly. I understand the psychosis that drove me to commit terrible crimes. I see that I was utterly mad. And I am sorry for the harm I did. Especially… Chrístõ… I am especially sorry for what I did to you… all the hurt I caused you.”

“Savang…” Chrístõ looked at her. She sounded believable. He wanted to believe her. He wanted to forgive her. That didn’t change anything. She would still be tried. That terrible sentence hung over her. But he, personally, wanted to tell her that she was forgiven as far as he was concerned. If she was to be condemned to a living death in a cryogenic chamber on Shada then he wanted her to know that, first. It might be some crumb of comfort to her.

He leaned towards her, stretching out his hand to touch hers. But Hext pressed him back. He felt him reach out to him telepathically at the same time.

“No,” he said. “It could be an act, still. She was always clever, sly and deceitful. Don’t let her have any leeway until we’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” Chrístõ insisted. “She’s… different. I believe her.”

“No,” Hext added more forcefully. “Chrístõ… sit back. Don’t make physical contact with her. If you do, it’s possible the telepathic suppressant might not work. She could reach your mind… and you know what she did to you the last time.”

He sighed and leaned back. Savang looked disappointed. He felt bad about it. Yes, she had committed some terrible crimes. But the worst crime of all, he still believed, was the one committed by Gallifreyan society against her when she was still an innocent child. And even though he was only incidentally connected to that, he still felt partially responsible for her.

Hext opened a large file of papers. They were the personality profile he had to use to determine whether Savang was sane enough to be tried for the crimes she committed when she was insane. He asked the questions slowly and carefully. Savang answered them. And she was answering them properly. She didn’t try to be anything other than a slightly scared and very vulnerable woman who didn’t know if she had either of them as an ally right now.

And by answering truthfully, and completely sanely, every answer she gave brought her closer to Shada. Chrístõ listened to her speaking clearly and carefully to Hext and wanted to scream at her to stop. He wanted to protect her from herself.

“I’m getting that way, too,” Hext told him telepathically. “I’m still not one hundred per cent certain… but she doesn’t feel like the dangerous, twisted fanatic that she was. Adano-Ambradan mental health care has much to commend it. She has been insane for most of her life… near enough a hundred and ninety years. And finally, they have stripped all the delusion bare and found the rational mind beneath…”

She asked for a drink of water. Chrístõ stood and fetched it. When he turned around he was surprised to see Hext moving the heavy table aside. He told Savang to stand up and she obeyed. He moved the three chairs so that they were in a small, sociable ring instead of either side of an interview table. He sat her back down. Chrístõ gave her the water. She thanked him.

“All right,” Hext said. “We’re going to continue. But… we’ll do it in a civilised way. We’re all three of us Gallifreyans. We know how to behave. Savang… I’m trusting you. That’s a rare thing for me. I’ve interrogated some of the scum of the universe and I don’t give them an inch. But I’m trusting you.”

He reached out and took her hand, the very thing he had expressly forbidden Chrístõ to do an hour ago. He winced as if in pain. Chrístõ looked at him in alarm.

“No,” he said telepathically. “She’s not doing anything to me. It’s these wristlets. They’re very powerful.”

“Are they hurting her?” Chrístõ asked. “I thought they just stopped her using her telepathy.”

“Does it hurt?” Hext asked her directly. “I’m sorry I can’t take them off right now. But if they hurt… I can call one of the guards…”

“They don’t hurt if I don’t try to use that part of my brain,” she answered. “I’ve got used to not using it. Nobody else here is telepathic anyway, so I don’t need it. I’m sorry that you felt it. I don’t wish to cause anyone else pain.”

“It took me by surprise, that’s all,” Hext answered. “I’m all right now. I’m setting aside these tests for a minute. We all need a break, I think. I want you to talk to me and Chrístõ as if we were just three friends meeting up after being apart for a long while. Tell me about what you’ve been doing since we last met.”

She told him about the treatment she had received while in prison on Adano-Ambrado. Three different psychiatrists had been assigned to help her. At first the treatments had been distressing. She had been kept under control by use of drugs that dulled all her senses, not just the telepathic ones. They stopped her harming herself or anyone else. She had been put through several sessions of electric shock therapy and a whole set of treatments with a machine developed by Adano Ambradan scientists that was meant to electronically identify the malfunctioning parts of her brain. That had all been quite painful and distressing to her. As she talked about it her eyes were sad, and she actually trembled as she remembered a particularly hard session when she had been physically ill by the end.

“It was vile,” she said. “But it helped me. The treatments made me face up to the truth… face up to myself. I started to get better. They reduced the drugs very gradually. I began to feel better. I woke up one morning… I was in my cell… I was a prisoner. But there was sun shining in through the window and it looked and felt so wonderful. And when I was given food it tasted sublime… my allotted time in the exercise yard… walking on my own two feet… I felt as if I was doing all those things for the first time in my life. I actually felt happy. Yes, I was happy. I knew I would never be allowed to leave this prison. But I was happy living one day after another with the one freedom I never had in all my life – the freedom to think clearly. They taught me to do things to occupy my time… simple things like… like this…” she touched the skirt of the dress she was wearing. “They taught me to sew. At first I wasn’t allowed scissors. They brought the pieces already cut and I was watched carefully. The needles and pins were all counted afterwards. But I made dresses for myself. They let me wear them instead of prison clothes. It is part of my treatment… to feel my own worth… wearing the clothes I have made.”

“It’s a very pretty dress,” Hext told her. Chrístõ agreed. Both of them were surprised when she smiled. It was a genuine, honest response to their compliments. She blushed slightly. Two men, two good looking men at that, had complimented her and it gave her a moment of pleasure.

“I’m glad,” Hext said to Chrístõ telepathically. “She’s had a really rough time. And even though the therapists have been kind to her, she’s still a prisoner. There can’t be a lot to smile about.”

“What are we going to do?” Chrístõ asked. “I know the law is clear on it. She can be extradited. She can stand trial. But what purpose does it serve? What use is there in putting her in Shada? Nobody will tell her she’s wearing a nice dress there.”

“I know,” Hext admitted. “It’s cruel. This place is better for her. It’s a prison… but it’s a good prison where rehabilitation of prisoners is the key purpose. And she will continue to thrive here. Shada…” He mentally shuddered. “You’ve been there?”

Chrístõ’s telepathic answer to that question was a distressed flash of broken images and emotions, all of them dark and frightening. He didn’t even like thinking of Shada.

“We can’t do it,” Hext said. “She doesn’t belong there. Not now. I’m going to end this. I’m going to recommend that she remains here on Adano-Ambrado and continues the treatment she is receiving.”

“Good,” Chrístõ answered. “Hext…”

Paracell Hext turned to look at the prisoner. With her own telepathic abilities suppressed she had no idea what they had been talking about. She didn’t know that the director of the CIA, a man who had no compunction about applying painful methods of torture to prisoners brought to his mysterious Tower, was prepared to treat her kindly. She looked nervous and worried.

“Savang…” He began to say. Then his train of thought was derailed by the last sound he expected to hear in this place.

“That was gunfire!” Chrístõ said.

“Automatic weapons,” Hext added, rising from his seat and reaching instinctively before he remembered that he had surrendered his own side arm at the first security gate.

The prison guards carried weapons, of course. This facility incarcerated more than just confused young women. There were some convicts who had committed the sort of crimes Shada WAS intended for. But the weapons they carried were pistols and energy bolt crossbows. How was an automatic weapon being fired? And who was firing it?

The question was partially answered when the door behind them crashed open and a man dressed in what in all times and all places was called ‘paramilitary uniform’ brandished a fearsome weapon that wasn’t of Adano-Ambrado manufacture.

“Who are you?” the intruder demanded. “What are you doing in here?”

“We are visiting a prisoner,” Chrístõ answered.

“Civilians?” the intruder looked uncertain for a moment, then he waved his gun threateningly. “Out.”

Chrístõ looked at Hext. There were two of them, and both experienced at unarmed combat. But they knew that weapon would have a hair trigger. It would take a split second for them both, and Savang, to be riddled with bullets.

“Out,” they were ordered again. Hext reached and took Savang by both hands. He drew her close to him and shielded her from the gunman with his own body. Chrístõ put his arm around Hext’s shoulders and shielded them both as they moved out of the room. In the corridor, more gunmen were shouting at disarmed prison guards as well as a group of people who seemed to be nothing more than kitchen staff and support workers. They were all made to run, spurred on by bursts of gunfire until they reached a large room set out as a gymnasium. There were a group of people there already, being held at gunpoint. Most of them were in grey shorts and t-shirts and must have been lower category prisoners enjoying a recreation hour. Now prisoners, guards, workers and visitors were made to sit on the floor while the gunmen patrolled, looking them over. Chrístõ tried to avoid their gaze.

“If they find out who I am...” he pointed out telepathically. “They’ll know they’ve got a prize… the Crown Prince of Adano… Penne’s nominated heir…”

“They might not know,” Hext answered. “Maybe they’re not from Ambrado.” He turned his attention to Savang. She was sitting close to him. One arm was around her, still. She didn’t seem to mind. He reached with his other arm and touched one of the wristlets. Again he felt a dull ache in his psychic nerves. “Chrístõ… do you have your sonic screwdriver on you?”

“Yes. But it’s no use as a weapon,” he answered. “Not against rapid fire projectile rounds. I can disarm the energy bolt crossbows with an EMP but…”

“It’s for her,” Hext explained as Chrístõ gave him the tool. “You’re their first prize. If they’re taking us hostage, then they’ll let you live longest. But the inmates are expendable. These mark her out as a prisoner.”

The sonic screwdriver’s whirr seemed ominously loud as he applied it to the two wristlets and broke their locks. He slid them off her wrists, noting how smooth and glossy the flesh was beneath. She had been restrained that way since she was first brought here as a prisoner a year ago.

Neither Chrístõ nor Hext were sure what to expect when she was released. They were half prepared for the old, deceitful, sly Savang to arise. They weren’t expecting her to sigh softly and collapse in Hext’s arms.

“Is she…” Chrístõ looked worried. Hext supported her with one arm and put his hand on her forehead.

“She’ll come around in a minute or two,” he said. “She fainted from the shock of being released from the suppressant. But I’m not sure… I don’t think any of our race has ever been suppressed for as long as she has. I hope…”

He was right. She groaned softly and opened her eyes. She looked up at him, surprised to be held so very tenderly and tried to speak.

“Pa… rr…rrr…” she managed.

“Paracell,” he corrected her. “Daft name. Blame my father. My mama, Rassilon have mercy on her sweet soul, used to call me Parry when I was younger. Nobody else ever did. But if that’s easier…”

“Pa..rry…” She whispered the two syllables and it seemed to exhaust her. Hext held onto her and looked around. There was a water dispenser on the wall, but he doubted if any of the gunmen would permit its use. They were pushing more and more people into the gymnasium and making them sit down on the floor. They all seemed to be guards and prison workers. Where the rest of the prisoners were, neither he nor Chrístõ wanted to speculate.

“Here.” Hext was surprised when one of the guards shuffled towards them, trying not to look as if he was moving at all. He passed something to Hext. It was a foil disc about the size of a coin - an automatically rehydrated juice pack. He pressed the centre and it expanded into a small cup with liquid inside. He put the cup to Savang’s lips and she drank the contents. She began to look better already. She managed to sit up properly, though she seemed content to let Hext continue to keep one arm around her shoulders.

There was a sudden rise in noise by the gymnasium door and the gunmen all snapped to attention. A man stepped into the room. He had the look of one for whom others came to attention. His paramilitary uniform was neater than the rest and he was flanked by two armed men who clearly meant business. He looked around the room and then waved imperiously, expecting silence. When he didn’t get it, he gave another wave and the two men fired above the heads of the hostages.

“I am Colonel Razok of the Free Loggia Army,” he said when he had a shocked silence. “I am here to liberate my superior, General Sorek, from this imperialist prison. However, I do not seem able to locate him presently. If anyone would care to inform me where he is, I will be extremely grateful.”

Nobody answered. Razok waited a full thirty seconds then he ordered his henchmen to fire over their heads again. When the screaming stopped he repeated his question, but more forcefully. Slowly, a man stood up. He looked like a senior guard.

“Sorek is not here,” he said. “He was taken last night in secret, in case an attempt was made to free him. He was extradited back to Loggia to stand trial for his attempted assassination of the Dragon Loge Marton.”

Razok took in what he was told calmly. Or so it seemed at first. Then he nodded to his henchmen and they opened fire on the guard.

Again he waited until the screaming stopped.

“That was not the answer I wanted to hear,” he said. “Nor was it the answer you wanted. I intended this to be simple. Sorek would be freed and you would all get to live. Now, we must go through tedious hostage negotiations with your government using your lives as bargaining chips. I hope, for all your sakes, the Emperor thinks you’re worth the trouble. Otherwise I will have to waste bullets killing all of you.”

Nobody doubted that he meant it.

Razok glanced around at them all again. Chrístõ turned his face away. He still didn’t want to be recognised. The ordinary henchmen may not be familiar with the Adano-Ambradan line of succession, but Razok looked like the sort of man who would know things like that. Certainly he would want to make use of a high profile hostage.

Razok seemed satisfied. He turned away and left the room, giving orders to his men to keep the hostages quiet. They positioned themselves around the room carefully. Chrístõ and Hext both noted that there were no blind spots where the guards couldn’t see what was happening. There were few exits from the gymnasium, anyway. It was, after all, in a prison.

There didn’t seem to be much either of them could do to put a stop to the gunmen.

Chrístõ remembered Penne telling them about Sorek yesterday afternoon. The King-Emperor had taken him and Hext off to one of his bathing sessions, and they talked about affairs of state as always. After discussing their own sad duty at the state prison, Penne had mentioned the other ‘celebrity’ inmate. Sorek had been commander of the Loggian army, but launched an attempted coup against the absolute ruler of that system. The coup had failed. Drago was alive and well and hot with anger. He had declared that all the conspirators should be put to death. Sorek and a handful of his people escaped and Penne was almost as angry as Drago when he discovered that they had tried to hide on Adano Gran. His own special forces had stormed the house where Sorek was trying to muster his scattered followers. Sorek was taken alive and imprisoned until extradition could be arranged. Penne had reminded Chrístõ and Hext that he had abolished the death penalty in the Adano-Ambradan system. Even so, he felt no guilt about sending Sorek back to Loggia to face a firing squad. He had, after all, committed high treason and he should face the consequences. Hext had agreed wholeheartedly. He had sent four men to the atomising chamber in the past year for their traitorous collaboration with the Mallus. Chrístõ had been less unequivocally in favour. He never liked the death penalty even in the most extreme cases. And he had not been able to get thoughts of Savang and the sentence that hung over her out of his mind.

“Everyone was talking about it here, too…” For a moment neither Hext nor Chrístõ had realised that Savang had spoken telepathically. Then both looked at her. Hext still held her. He had no intention of letting her go. In fact, he pulled her closer to him, enclosing her in both of his arms. She reached out and put one arm around his neck and leaned her head against his chest. Chrístõ looked at them and thought they looked well together. Paracell Hext was a very handsome man. She was a pretty young woman and there was something touching about the way he was offering her such physical protection. Anyone looking at them would never realise that she was his prisoner.

“You can communicate with us now?” he asked.

“Only just,” she answered. “My head aches. I’ve lived with the suppressors for so long… my telepathic nerves are weak.”

“Take it easy,” Hext told her. “Don’t overdo it. You’ll get better, slowly.”

“If I have the chance,” she replied. “They’ll put them back on, won’t they? The prison authorities won’t let me use my telepathic powers.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Hext answered. “The prison authorities are the governor and his chief warden and they’re sitting over there looking as if they’ve wet themselves. ”

Savang sighed with something like relief. Being completely free of all restraint apart from a strong pair of arms that felt warm and comforting around her was a pleasant aspect of this otherwise terrifying experience. Then she shuddered and stifled a cry of alarm. Her eyes opened wide with horror.

“I felt it, too,” Chrístõ said. “Something has happened…” He closed his eyes and concentrated. He let his mind reach out beyond the room he was in. He drew a mental map of every other organic life in the prison. Razok and his closest henchmen were in the governor’s office. Elsewhere there was a large group of lifesigns. They had to be the general population of prisoners. Razok’s people must have herded them all into another part of the prison, perhaps the mess hall or some other large communal area.

But most of those lifesigns were disappearing. They were dying.

“They’re killing the ordinary prisoners,” Savang said. “They’re shooting them down… they’re trapped…. Nowhere to run. It’s… it’s monstrous.”

Chrístõ bit back empathic tears. He could feel her distress as well as those dying souls elsewhere in the building. Yes, some of those being killed were murderers, rapists and worse. But their cold-blooded extermination sickened him.

“Savang,” Hext whispered out loud. He spoke to her telepathically too. He needed to calm her. He couldn’t let the guards see that she was distressed, and besides, a trauma like this might undo all the efforts and send her back to her state of madness. “Savang, don’t think of it. Close your mind to it and listen to me. Look at me. Concentrate on my face, on my voice.”

Chrístõ was astonished when he actually heard Paracell Hext singing telepathically. It was a simple little song, a southern Gallifreyan folk song that most children of their world learnt at some time in their lives. Chrístõ remembered his nursemaid singing him to sleep with it when he first came home to Gallifrey as a little boy who didn’t sleep well at night. It was a soothing melody and it had that effect on Savang. Her mind calmed. She visibly relaxed as Hext rocked her very gently in his arms.

“You know what that means,” Chrístõ said when the song was over and they could talk again. “Razok hasn’t got very many men. He eliminated the need to spread his forces.”

Hext said a word in low Gallifreyan that summed up his thoughts. Savang blushed at it and he smiled and apologised to her for it.

“It’s barbaric, but it makes a sick kind of logic,” Chrístõ added. “And… knowing that gives us an edge. We could do something about this.”

“Do what?” Hext shook his head. “The two of us?”

“Three,” Savang said. “I can help.”

“No,” Hext told her. “You’re not fully fit. And even if you were…”

He had been about to say that she was still a convicted criminal herself, and that he couldn’t trust her. But he looked at her, half sitting, half lying against his chest. This was the most intimate she had been with another living being for a year. And he could see right into her mind. She was an open book. She had no walls to hide behind. There was no deceit, no guile.

And in the whole universe, there were just two people that she trusted and believed in. And she was ready and willing to help them. She would do battle with them.

“This isn’t work for women,” Hext said, and he and Chrístõ both suppressed yelps as she responded with an outraged telepathic cry.

“The Sisterhood taught me I was equal to any MALE Time Lord,” she said. “Better, even. I have all the skills you two learnt at the Prydonian Academy… and more besides. Neither of you can do this!”

She almost spat out the word ‘this’ and as she did so the lights all went out, plunging the windowless room into darkness. It lasted only seconds and when the lights returned the guards gripped their weapons and ordered everyone to be quiet and still.

Savang gasped and swooned in Hext’s arms, worn out by the psychic effort. He stroked her head gently.

“That… might just be useful as a diversionary tactic if it didn’t leave you half unconscious in the attempt,” he said. “You’re not strong enough, yet.”

“I’m getting stronger,” she assured him. “At least admit that I can be of use.”

“An hour, maybe,” Hext said. “Two at best. You might be strong enough by then. If Razok holds off from killing anyone else…”

“If Penne can play the negotiation game with him for that long…” Chrístõ added. “Mind you, he won’t just sit back in his throne room. He’ll send his Operaciones Especiales in. Razok must know that. If we can just hold on, maybe we won’t have to do anything.” He laughed softly. “It would be a refreshing change, being rescued instead of being the one doing the rescuing.”

Hext saw the joke, too. It was the humour of two war veterans who remembered well those who didn’t survive the assault on the Citadel and the rescue of the Gallifreyan High Council from the Panopticon.

“I’d be perfectly happy with that scenario. But if it comes down to the two… the three of us…”

“If it does, we’ll be ready,” Chrístõ said. “You and I can handle ourselves. And Savang has quite a few tricks up her sleeve if she’s well enough. The best thing we can do is keep quiet and calm and give her chance to gather her strength.”

“I agree,” Hext said. “Hold on…” Savang looked disappointed when he took his arm away from her. But he quickly moved into a more comfortable position and held her again. “My arm was going to sleep like that,” he said. “But you stay right there, where you’re safe.”

Savang sighed softly and pressed closer to him. Chrístõ watched them and thought there really was no pretence, now. Hext was really cuddling her affectionately.

“It’s what she needs,” Hext told him, shielding his words from her now that her telepathy was growing stronger. “I know her parents do still love her, but she’s been estranged from them for years. The Sisterhood were hardly full of loving kindness. About the only time she’s really experienced any affection was the time when she made you think that you were her lover. It’s what drove her over the top to begin with, feeling that nobody would ever love her.”

“She was driven mad thinking I would never love her,” Chrístõ pointed out. “She was quite specific in her unrequited affections.”

“I think, quite possibly, she might be over you,” Hext told him with a broad smile.

“Paracell Hext… are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?” Chrístõ asked, reading everything into that smile that was meant to be read.

“It would keep her out of trouble,” he answered. “It’s an idea…”

“Don’t say anything to her,” Chrístõ warned. “It would be unfair to build up her hopes. As things stand, she is still a convicted prisoner on this planet, and awaiting sentence on ours. You can’t even think of anything else…”

“I’ll need to pull some really big political strings. Might be the time to take advantage of the fact that my father is the Lord High President.”

Chrístõ said nothing. The idea had some merits. But too much still stood in the way. Besides, they were all still hostages of a political fanatic. That was their first priority. And for a little while, at least, the only thing they could do was sit quietly and hope that Penne’s own people could sort the problem out first.

It was close to an hour later when something new began. The gymnasium doors crashed open, making everyone jump, including the armed guards. Colonel Razok strode in, followed by his two henchmen. They, in turn, were followed by four more men carrying a camera and a small, portable televideo broadcasting system. They took a few minutes setting up their equipment, then one of the henchmen put a chair in front of the camera. Razok, meanwhile, walked among the hostages, looking at them all. Most of them looked away from him. Even the group of inmates didn’t want to make eye contact with such as him.

Chrístõ looked away automatically. So did Hext. Savang wasn’t looking his way, anyway. She was looking at Hext, as she had been doing for most of the hour while she sat enclosed in his embrace. When Razok grabbed her arm and pulled her away from him she cried out in grief. Hext instinctively tried to stop him taking her, but a crack on the side of his head from the butt of a henchman’s gun sent him reeling.

“The Emperor is being recalcitrant,” Razok said as Savang was made to sit on the chair in front of the camera. “He refuses to act until he is shown evidence that I really do have hostages. So we’re going to broadcast to the nation. Everyone will see that I am not a man who bluffs. Nor am I a man who makes empty threats.”

One of his men signalled and a light on top of the camera flashed red.

“Tell the people of Adano Ambrado who you are and where you are,” he said to Savang. She looked at him and then just once, dared to look at Hext. She felt his reassurance, as well as his advice about what to say.

“My name is Savang Hext,” she said. “I am here with my husband, the inspector of prisons, at the Ambrado state prison in the province of Ambra-Delta, to see if the prisoners are being kept in good conditions. I am…” She faltered and looked up at Razok. Her frightened, uncertain expression was perfect for his needs. A more confident speaker might have been unconvincing. “I am one of the hostages being held by Colonel Razok. We…” Again she looked up at him. He spoke to her. She repeated his words. “We will be killed, ten at a time, every half hour… unless the Emperor makes arrangements for the release and safe passage of General Sorek. I… I am… imploring his Majesty… imploring him to… to…”

Savang gasped as Razok raised a pistol to her head.

“This is a demonstration of my sincerity,” he said coldly as he pulled the trigger.

There were screams and cries of dismay all around the room, but none cried out as loud as Paracell Hext. He sprang up from where he was sitting and ran, ignoring the angry shouts of Razok’s henchmen. He gathered Savang’s limp body in his arms.

“I’m sitting down,” he replied to the repeated orders. “But I’m taking her with me. Get back from me… You… murdering…” The word he used was rarely spoken even in Low Gallifreyan. Even so, its meaning was obvious to anyone whether they understood the language or not. Even Razok paused as he met Hext’s enraged eyes. He waved his henchmen away and turned to repeat his demands to the television camera, having made certain that he had the attention of an entire planetary system.

“Let me see,” Chrístõ said as Hext knelt and laid Savang down gently on the floor. “I might be able to help…”

“You’re not a good enough physician, Chrístõ,” Hext answered. “He shot her in the head at point blank range… she’s… she’s…”

Hext was a pure blood Gallifreyan. He had no tear ducts. But he shook with grief as he stroked her face. There was blood spattered over her cheeks from the ghastly exit wound rather than the surprisingly small entry point. Her eyes were staring and empty. He closed them gently. As he did so, he gave a soft gasp.

“Chrístõ,” he whispered telepathically. “Did you…”

“Yes,” he answered. “Yes, I felt it, too. There’s…” He reached out and touched Savang’s forehead. She was cold – far colder than ordinary death. Anyway, he knew that she wasn’t dead. He had felt the jolt of brain activity just as Hext had. As they both watched her face began to look like alabaster.

Chrístõ glanced around. Nobody was looking at them. Nobody wanted to look at two men grieving over a dead woman. The possibility that they could be the next to die gripped them all too deeply already without that.

“But she can’t regenerate,” Hext said. “She’s not old enough. She was born the same year as you. She isn’t even two hundred, yet.”

“She was trained by the Sisterhood of Karn. They Transcended her… their method is different. They have no constraints… perhaps…”

“I hope so.” Hext continued to stroke her face. It didn’t feel like flesh any more, and his hand tingled as if she was electrified. Then he suppressed a gasp and he couldn’t take his hand away. He felt as if a conduit ran through his hand from his hearts to hers. He felt her body take something from him – a measure of that artron energy that suffused the bodies of all Time Lords. She took a little of his being. He felt he would have given her far more if she needed it. But she didn’t. Her energy force just needed that little extra to help complete the process.

“She looks the same,” Hext commented as he felt her face become warm flesh once again. He touched her head, running his fingers through her hair, feeling her intact skull beneath, the dreadful wound a thing of the past.

“The Sisterhood seem to know some tricks we don’t,” Chrístõ commented. “For once, I’m glad of it.” He watched as Hext lifted Savang into his arms, cradling her head. He was not at all surprised when he kissed her lips.

“Pa…rry…” she whispered as he drew his head back. “Parry…”

“You remembered,” he said with a smile. “How do you feel, precious?”

“I feel… strong,” she said. “I felt it… the transfer of energy from you to me… I have you inside me… and I feel strong. Parry… I’m ready.”

“Ready for what?” Chrístõ asked.

“Ready to fight back. We’ve got to now. If we don’t… he means it. He’ll kill ten people… He’ll do it.”

“Whatever we do, we have to do it fast,” Chrístõ said. “We have to disarm sixteen men at once, including Razok.”

He had been thinking along the lines of a time freeze. Both he and Hext could do that. But Savang had ideas of her own.

“The guns are no problem,” She said, standing up and closing her eyes. Chrístõ and Hext watched in amazement, and no little admiration, as a white, shimmering aura surrounded her and she began to levitate. There were murmurs of surprise and fear when the hostages recognised her as the woman Razok had killed – now floating in the air surrounded by white light. The form of religion followed on Adano Ambrado was one which featured something very much like angels, and right now Savang looked like an angel.

An avenging angel with a look in her eyes that should have struck fear into those who had done her harm.

Razok looked at her in astonishment for a brief moment before he ordered his henchmen to open fire. Savang reached out one hand, palm out. The bullets were stopped in mid-air and slowly disintegrated, as did the guns they were fired from. Razok growled angrily and drew his pistol from his hip holster - the same pistol with which he had killed this woman once already. He aimed at her head and emptied the magazine. Not one single bullet hit her. They all disintegrated in mid-air. Razok screamed in frustration as the pistol in his hand was reduced to molecules.

Chrístõ and Hext both moved quickly, but it was Hext who reached Razok first. Two rapid martial arts movements brought him to the ground. Hext knelt with his knee in the small of Razok’s back and applied pressure to a place on his neck that made him scream in agony while it rendered him temporarily paralysed.

Chrístõ tackled the two henchmen, bringing them down with more of the same martial arts. He didn’t even need to slow time. He turned and stood back to back with Hext as they fought Razok’s men. By the time they had rendered four more of them unconscious, though, the fight was over. They turned to see one of the henchmen being pummelled to the ground by two of the gym kit wearing inmates. The prison guards, meanwhile, redeemed themselves by finishing off the rest and handcuffing them behind their backs so they could be no trouble to anyone even when they regained consciousness.

“There are still more of them outside,” Hext pointed out. “It’s not over yet.”

“Yes, it is,” Chrístõ answered. There were new sounds beyond the walls of the gymnasium. Energy bolt crossbows were being fired in rapid succession.

“Everyone listen,” Hext called out urgently. “Lie down on the floor quietly with your hands over your heads. The Operaciones Especiales are on their way. They’ll come in shooting and you don’t want to be in the crossfire.”

He looked up at Savang. She was still hovering, though the glow was fading. He reached out his arms and as she descended he caught her. He kissed her on the lips very quickly before he pulled her to the ground with him. He covered her slender body with his own as they lay quietly, waiting for the doors of the gymnasium to crash open to admit the Adano Ambrado special forces. As expected, they came in shooting. Bullets flew through the air. But there was no target to shoot at. Their commander called for them to ceasefire as they spread around the room. Chrístõ slowly stood up and identified himself to the commander. The man saluted him crisply before listening to his account of how he and Hext and other hostages had succeeded in bringing down Razok and his men.

Savang Hadandrox woke to see the sun shining through the window as it had done every morning for the past year. But she wasn’t in her cell this time. She looked at the big floor length window with silk curtains tied back. The window opened out onto a balcony that overlooked the royal gardens. She was asleep in a soft bed in the palace of Adano Ambrado. She almost didn’t believe it.

Nobody had said anything when Paracell Hext held her by the arm and walked out of the prison building with her after the siege was over. He had helped her into the official car and he and Chrístõ had sat either side of her as they drove out through the gate. He had said nothing, but Hext had held her hand in his throughout the journey. She had expected the car to turn around any moment and return her to the prison. Instead they came to the Imperial Palace. Hext continued to hold her hand as they went to the throne room and were met by the Emperor himself and his queen. The emperor had thanked her for her part in bringing the hostages to justice.

Hext had told the Emperor that she was tired and needed quiet. A room was hastily made available and a servant woman had helped her into a nightdress and put her to bed before Hext came to talk to her. He told her she was safe, and that she would be looked after. He also said he might not be there in the morning. There was something he had to do. But he promised to try to be back as soon as possible.

Nobody had said anything about what she should do in the morning. For the past year, she had waited until her cell was unlocked, then she had gone to the showers and dressed and then gone to the women’s refectory for her breakfast, and then to the day room where she had done her sewing or read books. Every day she had gone to the therapy room and talked to one of the psychiatrists about how she felt about her life. She had been allowed out to walk in the exercise yard. She had eaten an afternoon meal in the refectory and gone back to her cell in the evening.

She looked at the bedroom door. It probably wasn’t locked as her cell door was. But she wondered if she was allowed to go out of this room.

The door opened and a servant came in with a tray. The breakfast and the pot of coffee smelt delicious. While she ate, the servant laid out clothes for her to wear and asked if she would like her to run a bath or would she prefer to shower.

She hadn’t been allowed to take a bath since her incarceration.

“Yes,” she said. “A… a bath would be lovely.”

She ate the breakfast and drank coffee, then stepped into the en-suite bathroom. The big, wide sunken bath with gold taps and blue and white tiles was full of scented water. She threw off her nightdress and stepped into it. She felt the water envelop her body and sighed contentedly. It still felt like a dream. Perhaps it was. Perhaps she would wake soon and find herself in her cell after all.

She enjoyed the bath for as long as she dared then rose and dried herself and dressed in the clothes that were left out for her. Soft lace lingerie and a velvet gown. She couldn’t remember when she last wore anything as nice as that.

She looked at the door again and still wondered if she was allowed to step outside. Again the question was answered when there was a soft knock.

“Come in,” she said and her hearts skipped strangely when Paracell Hext stepped into the room.

“You said you wouldn’t be here this morning,” she said.

“It very nearly isn’t morning,” he answered. “You slept in very late. You went through quite an ordeal yesterday, after all. A regeneration cycle, then… well, I’m still not quite sure what you did… the levitation… it’s a good trick. But it wore you out. Anyway, it’s nearly midday. But that’s all right. Everything is sorted, now. Come on.”

He reached out and took her hand. She walked with him out of the bedroom and along the plush carpeted, gilded corridor, down a wide flight of steps and out through a door into the formal garden. The midday sun was warm on her face and the scent of flowers was a new and pleasant sensation for her.

There were two people waiting by a tinkling fountain. At first she didn’t recognise them. Then she gave a startled cry and let go of Hext’s hand as she ran to her parents.

He watched the reunion with a satisfied smile. That had been the easy part of his quest back on Gallifrey, persuading them to come and see their daughter for the first time in decades. After a few minutes, he joined them. Savang looked up from where she sat next to her mother and smiled at him.

“Thank you,” she said. “It was kind of you….”

“Did your father tell you…” he said. “The Lord High President has granted you a full pardon. There are no charges against you on Gallifrey. The Emperor of Adano-Ambrado has done the same. You’re a free woman, Savang. Your life is ahead of you, to do with as you please.”

Savang looked at him and tried several times to speak. Eventually she managed one question.

“What… will I do with it?”

“Well…” Hext glanced at her parents. They nodded and stood up. They walked away as Hext sat beside her and took her hands in his. “Your mother told me something earlier. She said that, when you were a young girl, you had a particularly special dream. You wanted an Oldblood heir to come to your father and ask to make a Contract of Betrothal.”

“Yes,” she said. “But my parents didn’t think any Oldblood would want me… because I was… was…”

“I’m not from one of the Twelve Ancient Houses,” Hext said. “But I am the first born son of an Oldblood House. And I have spoken to your father. The contract is made. If you will have me.”

Savang stared at him. Now she was sure it was a dream. If it was, it was a cruel one. She had been content with her life. The sun coming through the little window into her cell made her happy. Living each day knowing that she was sane was enough. But to wake now, after dreaming of such a thing would make that captive sunshine a little less bright.

“I mean it, Savang,” he said as he reached to hold her in his arms. “Your father and I agreed that the grand Alliance in the Panopticon would not be appropriate in the circumstances. But the Emperor of Adano Ambrado has said he would be glad to conduct a shorter form of the ceremony tomorrow afternoon in the throne room - just as soon as the Empress’s seamstresses can make a passable gown for you. It won’t have the diamonds on it that you should have, and I… can’t offer you a mansion to live in, either. But I have a very pleasant set of rooms in a Tower beside a crystal lake. It will be a quiet little home, for just the two of us, away from the mad bustle of Gallifreyan society. Perhaps later, when you’re ready to face all of that, we can move to the Hext demesne. But I think you’ll like my Tower for the time being.”

Savang shook with emotion. If she was any other humanoid species she probably would have burst into tears. Hext put his hand under her chin and turned her face towards his. He kissed her fully on the lips as he had longed to do. After a little while she stopped trembling and responded to his kiss.

Chrístõ and Julia watched from a distance. Both were anxious for Hext – and for Savang for that matter. They wanted it to work out right for her.

“I think she might have said yes,” Chrístõ said at last as the kiss lengthened and they both turned away to give them the privacy they deserved.

“Is he really in love with her?” Julia asked. “It seems rather fast, somehow.”

“He says it’s the only way to keep her out of trouble,” Chrístõ answered. “But… actually, yes, I think he has fallen in love with her. And she has fallen in love with him. I think they’re going to be just fine. She has her hearts’ desire, and he has somebody to share his Tower with. He was rather disappointed when I said no to his proposal. Savang will be much better for him.”

“I should think so,” Julia said with a laugh. “I’d better fetch her to talk to Cirena’s dressmaker. And Penne will want you and Hext to join him in his bath to talk about the wedding.”