“You know, we’re only here to make them look good,” Glenda Ross said as she half-turned in her seat and looked at her boyfriend standing with the two other men of their party in a huddle by the lounge bar. “They don’t actually need us for any other purpose.”

“That’s what being a diplomat’s wife is mostly about,” Julia commented as she ate the olive from a non-alcoholic Martini and sipped the drink with the air of somebody who was accustomed to this lifestyle.

“You’re not a diplomat’s wife, Julia,” Glenda pointed out.

“I will be, when Chrístõ and I are married.”

Glenda half smiled. Julia always said things like that. She knew what her future held. She looked forward to it all happening for her. It wasn’t quite so simple for her and Cal. They maybe didn’t have such a bright future. They were just making the most of the present.

Savang Hadandrox glanced at the men and then looked into her drink as if she was looking for portents of the future. She was uncomfortably quiet. Julia and Glenda were both trying to help her to enjoy herself, but she only seemed happy when Hext was at her side. Even though he was a few yards from her, in plain sight, she seemed bereft.

“It’ll be all right, later,” Julia told her. “There’s a formal dinner, they’ll have to dance with us.”

Savang smiled.

“I like dancing with Parry. He’s so very attentive.”

“Not as much as Chrístõ is,” Julia countered. “He’s even learnt a few steps of ballet so that he can dance with me.”

“I don’t think Cal would do that. He’s not very graceful in that way. But I think he’s fantastic, anyway.”

“It’s funny,” Julia said quietly. “Hext and Cal were both enemies once – to Chrístõ I mean. But now they’re friends. They trust each other completely.”

“They’re of a kind,” Savang told her. “All three of them… they’re all borderline Renegades, standing apart from Gallifreyan society.”

“Don’t let Chrístõ hear you say that,” Julia replied. “Renegade. He gets angry about that word.”

“I don’t mean it in a bad way,” Savang assured her. “Not… like the notorious ones, Salayavin or Gellovia… or… or even… Epsilon…”

Julia shuddered at mention of that name. The others were just historical figures. Epsilon was too close for comfort.

“They’re none of them like that. Not even Cal, and he’s of the Oakdaene blood. But they’re all a little rebellious in nature. They don’t fully embrace the Time Lord ethos of non-interference. They don’t sit quietly studying the universe from afar. They belong together. Three righteous renegades.”

She sounded proud of them in that way. Julia looked at Chrístõ and remembered the many times he had stood up for the weak and oppressed on other worlds, and the great and terrible effort he made for the sake of his own world when it was in need. She thought of the courage Cal had shown by his side on several occasions already. She remembered how brave Hext had been in the war, and in the aftermath. Yes, Righteous Renegades was a good description. Though she still wasn’t sure how Chrístõ would react to it.

“They’ve blocked us all out of their conversation,” she noted. “Whatever it is, it must be important.”

“It is,” Savang confirmed. “I can’t quite make out what they’re saying, but they’re very serious about it. It’s something big.”

“You can read them?” Julia asked her. “We can’t.”

“I’m a super telepath,” she reminded them. “It’s not easy to keep me out. But even Cal… and he’s just learning to use his abilities… even he’s blocking me.” She smiled softly as Hext looked her way. He smiled, too. “That was a rebuke,” she said. “Parry told me to stop trying, because this isn’t something I should know.”

“Tell him, from me, they’re all male chauvinist pigs!” Julia replied. “Especially Chrístõ.”

Paracell Hext felt his wife’s telepathic response to him.

“Apparently were all male chauvinist pigs for leaving them sitting there while we talk business,” he told his companions. “I expect Savang got that expression from Julia. Nobody on Gallifrey ever uses such a term and Glenda is too much in awe of our Time Lordliness to compare us to farmyard animals.”

“They’ll get over it,” Chrístõ said when he stopped laughing. “Besides, this has to be important. Or you wouldn’t be here.”

“It’s very important,” Hext replied before reaching into his pocket for a device. It looked like a very small radio – except it didn’t receive sound – it rebuffed it. The air around the three men shimmered momentarily and everything became very quiet. The light Alterian jazz music playing softly and the buzz of conversations around the room stopped. So did the telepathic conversation Hext was having with Savang. They were in a null bubble.

“It really works!” Cal was surprised. “I can’t sense any telepathic voices other than ours.”

“Excellent,” Hext said of the device provided by the Platform Five space station for the privacy of guests conducting private business affairs in the public areas. “I think I’ll order some of these. I can see possibilities for espionage. Meanwhile…”

His light mood darkened as he passed a palm sized data recorder to Chrístõ. He and Cal both read the information on the tiny screen quickly, instantly memorising the details of the criminal Hext was pursuing across the galaxy.

“A scientist,” Chrístõ noted. “Born on Karn, working at the research station on Kasterborus. Why is the Celestial Intervention Agency interested in him?”

“Because he’s a threat to Gallifrey,” Hext answered. “Read on.”

Chrístõ and Cal both continued. A few minutes later they were done. They looked at each other in shock as Hext erased the hard drive on the data recorder and then dropped it back into his pocket.

“This man…. Werrun Koe…” Cal said slowly. “He has created a weapon that can make earthquakes happen.”

“A subsonic geothermic disrupter cannon,” Chrístõ added.

“We know of three occasions when it has been used so far,” Hext said. “Three months ago there was a quake centred just outside the central city of Ligyatta…”

“Gallifrey’s dominion planet in the Arina system?” Cal proved that his studies of Time Lord external politics were going well. Chrístõ recalled the last time he and Hext had been to that planet. There had been death and destruction then, too.

“The quake occurred in a place with no previous tectonic instability. Five thousand, four hundred and twenty people died, countless more injured, homes and infrastructure disrupted.” Hext sighed before he passed to the second example. “Yesterday, on Adano Menor, a quake on the seabed in the western ocean caused a tsunami that washed over the east coast of the greater continent. The casualties still haven’t been calculated, but they could exceed those on Ligyatta.”

“There was an earthquake on Adano Menor?” Chrístõ’s usually pale face blanched even further. “I hadn’t heard…. Is.. Penne… Is he…”

“The King-Emperor is doing what royalty do in times of crisis and disaster,” Hext remarked dryly. “He’s visiting refugee centres and hospitals and reassuring his subjects.”

“I’d better call him, later,” Chrístõ added. “But… you said three occasions…”

“New Canberra in the Beta Delta system isn’t anywhere remotely close to a fault line. They would never have built a city there if it was.”

“What!” Cal caught his breath as Chrístõ exclaimed aloud. “You mean…”

“Does that mean it was a directed attack… against us… against the Time Lords?” Chrístõ asked. “A Gallifreyan Dominion… a planet ruled by a Gallifreyan descendent… and the one planet in the Earth Federation where two Gallifreyans are living?”

Hext reached out a hand to his shoulder. Chrístõ realised he was swaying slightly. He was thinking of the earthquake that struck the centre of New Canberra. The epicentre was so very close to the school where he was, but he thought it was a freak, if natural, disaster. This made it sound as if it was personal.

“So many people died,” he said. “Students… parents… teachers… Because of me? Because I was there?”

“If anyone but you had said that it would seem egotistical,” Hext told him. “But….”

Hext paused. Chrístõ looked at him.

“It WAS personal?”

“It was an attack on a high-profile Time Lord – an Oldblood heir, and a war hero. You’re still talked about at home in hushed tones. Attacking you was a way of letting our government know that he can strike anywhere, any time.”


“Money,” Hext answered with a disgusted expression. “The oldest reason in the world. He wants money. A lot of money. One hundred billion gold cressits just to start.”

“He’s out of his mind,” Chrístõ commented. “Our government will never give in to blackmail.”

“That’s why his ‘demonstrations’ took place on other planets, under other jurisdictions. The Ligyattan government are demanding that Gallifrey remembers the definition of the word ‘Dominion’ and protects them. Penne Dúre isn’t demanding any such thing. His space fleet is ten times the size of ours anyway. He’s prepared to do the protecting of his own system. But he has told The President that he expects the Time Lords of Gallifrey to keep their Renegades under control. I was listening in on the videophone conversation. It sounded like he was ready to declare war on us if we don’t.”

“Well, I doubt that,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Penne is the strongest ally Gallifrey has. Did your father believe he would, though?”

“My father respects Penne Dúre’s views on matters of mutual interest,” Hext answered diplomatically. “And they’re of one mind about Werrun Koe. They want him caught before he causes any further harm. They want him made to pay for the deaths he’s caused already.”

“Including those on Beta Delta?” Cal asked. “I haven’t lived there long, but my foster mother knew some of the people who died. They deserve justice, too.”

“That’s the other problem,” Hext told him. “The Earth Federation haven’t been told that this wasn’t a natural disaster. But they have scientists, too. They can do the geology. And when they do… It gets political. The Federation lost ground to the Adano-Ambradan led Allies after the defeat of the Mallus. Their position of neutrality hasn’t won them any friends in galactic diplomatic circles. If they find out that a Gallifreyan is responsible for the attack on an Earth colony, then…”

“Sweet Mother of Chaos,” Chrístõ groaned. “This is bigger than blackmail. The Earth Federation might use it as an excuse to break off diplomatic relations with the Allied Bloc. They could even declare war on Gallifrey.”

It was almost unthinkable. But they were thinking about it. The Earth Federation represented the largest and most widespread race in the galaxy – Humans, from their homeworld, Earth - across all their colony systems. They had diplomatic relations with other power blocs including Gallifrey, Adano-Ambrado and Loggia, the Haollstromnian sector, as well as Fahot, Alteria, Lmevoi Jquiwr and Ay'Ydiwo. Between them those Allied races equalled humans in number and in technology and military might.

The idea of the Earth Federation going to war against the Allies was terrifying.

And where would that leave him, and Cal, born of Human mothers and Gallifreyan fathers? What of their relationships with Human women? If they chose to fight with Gallifrey, what of the homes both had made in the Earth Federation? If they stood with the Federation, would they be accounted traitors to Gallifrey?

“That’s why Koe must be brought to justice,” Hext said. “And quickly, quietly, before Penne Dúre sends in his space fleet.”

“Where do we begin?” Cal asked.

“We don’t know,” Hext admitted. “Koe stole a type 45 TARDIS with a DRD suppressor. His ransom demands came on a super-light wave burst transmission that took my agents two days to trace back to a dead satellite orbiting a pulsar star in the Cassiopeia sector. We don’t know where to find him. We just know we’ve GOT to find him.”

“That’s not much to go on,” Chrístõ pointed out. “I could say something really scathing about the Celestial Intervention Agency right now. Something on the lines of – ‘it wasn’t like this in my father’s day’.”

“Your father knows even less than we do right now,” Hext told him. “I already asked his advice. He suggested briefing you on the situation. Where we go from here…” He sighed. “Koe is the one in control of this. And somehow we’ve got to take back that control.”

“Then…. Until we know how to do that, we can at least pretend to the ladies that there’s no problem and we’re here to see the Canes Venatici Nebula burning,” Cal suggested. “They’re all really annoyed at us, now.”

“Yes,” Hext agreed. “Let’s do that. I’ll be notified when we have any further contact with him, anyway.”

He pressed the null bubble device again and the sounds of Platform Five’s hospitality lounge came back to them. So did the telepathic voices of all three women, united in feminine disgust at their treatment. They were placated with kisses and compliments and they allowed their men to take their arms as they headed up to the great domed panoramic observation deck.

The Canes Venatici Nebula had been a constant feature of that part of the galaxy for a thousand millennia, a great dust cloud made up of carbon, hydrogen and helium particles named by humans who spotted it through their telescopes even before they learnt to travel beyond their own solar system. But in the galactic standard year 4323 it exploded. Scientists later concluded that it had been the zero point of some kind of massive, cataclysmic explosion that ignited the particles.

And a hundred years later it was still burning. It was one of the great wonders of the universe. The Burning Nebula was one of the ‘must sees’ of the ultimate Grand Tour for those who could afford to travel the galaxy for fun.

And it was spectacular. Even Chrístõ, who had travelled further in the universe than any of them, was impressed. He relaxed in a reclining chair. Julia sat in his lap and leaned back against his shoulder as they looked up at the technicolour phenomenon that made the blackness of space seem even blacker. Beside him, Cal was holding Glenda in the same way. Hext and Savang were even more intimate. They were in a tight embrace, kissing fondly. Neither were looking at the Nebula with their eyes. Instead they were experiencing it telepathically. Their minds wandered beyond the exo-glass dome and floated freely in the vacuum beyond.

“Wow,” Julia whispered out loud after glimpsing their extra-sensory enjoyment. “Can we do that?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” Glenda added.

“I’ve never tried,” Cal admitted.

“You’re a strong natural telepath,” Chrístõ told him. “You should be able to. Follow my lead.”

He closed his eyes and clutched Julia’s hands in his own. He concentrated on seeing with his telepathic eye the view he had been looking at in the ordinary way. He felt Cal do the same. Then, together, bringing their Human girlfriends with them into the vision, they felt their minds rising up towards the dome and through it as if it was no more than a soap bubble. In their imaginations, six bodies that had no business being exposed to the emptiness of space floated freely, bathed in ochre and vermillion, brilliant copper, emerald and cinnabar.

“This is what it’s all about,” Chrístõ said. “This is what I strove for all those years. To be able to loose my mind among the stars. To be a part of them.”

“I don’t think its what our masters at the Prydonian Academy thought it was all about,” Hext answered.

“None of our masters ever came to Canes Venatici,” Chrístõ responded. “It should be compulsory. We’d be a much more interesting race if we did.”

Hext laughed at his philosophy, and his laughter seemed to be in harmony with the pyrotechnics of the Nebula.

Then they all felt the jarring note. Something else was there. Another mind. One that wasn’t laughing.

The vision dissolved and they all found themselves back in the panoramic deck.

Almost all of them.

“Where’s Chrístõ?” Julia asked. There were no lights on the deck. The colours of the Nebula danced around them, still. And in its glow, Chrístõ was clearly missing.

“He’s gone.”

“He can’t be,” Cal protested. “Platform Five is shielded against transmats and any other kind of transportation devices. We even needed permission to land our TARDISes here.”

“There was something there,” Savang answered. “Something took him. I don’t think it WAS a transmat. It was something mental… a strong telepathic mind… like… like mine.”

“You mean…” Hext gripped his wife’s hand. He remembered the first time he had met her, when she was one of the sinister Sisterhood of Karn. She had been able to kidnap grown men and children in an eyeblink by the power of her highly tuned mind. She only used that power now to get from their apartment at the top of the Tower to the lake without using the transmat.

“I think Chrístõ was taken by somebody with the secrets of the Sisterhood,” she confirmed. She turned to Julia, who was being comforted by Cal and Glenda. “It wasn’t me, I promise. I would never…. I owe so much to Chrístõ. My life, my freedom. I wouldn’t…”

“I believe you,” Julia assured her. “But who HAS taken him?”

She looked at Hext. His face was drawn in a terrible way. She knew there was no point in trying to use her telepathic brooch to read his thoughts. They would be blocked to her rudimentary abilities.

“It’s Koe,” he whispered in a cold, bloodless way. “He’s made contact…. By taking Chrístõ.”

Julia didn’t cry or scream. Hext felt a surge of pride in her. She was bearing herself as stoically as a Gallifreyan would. But she might well have fallen down if Cal and Glenda weren’t flanking her.

“My TARDIS,” he said. “Now.”

“No,” Julia said. “HIS TARDIS. If we’re going to find him, it’ll be with a machine he’s symbiotic with. Cal can pilot it. Chrístõ has trained him.”

“Good point,” Hext conceded. “Come on.”

Chrístõ opened his eyes. He recognised a stasis bond holding him in place on a straight backed chair, giving him just enough movement in his neck to turn left and right. He saw that he was in a TARDIS console room. From what he could see in the limited view he had, it was a much more modern one than his own, with shining frosted glass hexagonal panels on the walls. They weren’t just ordinary glass. He could feel the power surging through them. Telepathic power. This TARDIS was operated by thought control alone.

“Very clever,” said a voice. “You’re everything I heard about you, Son of Lœngbærrow.”

“Only a few people, a few precious people, call me that,” Chrístõ answered. “You… will call me Lord. I am the heir to the patriarchy of one of the Twelve Ancient Houses. And you… Werrun Koe…. You’re a Newblood. A lowly one at that. Almost a Caretaker.”

He had never pulled rank on another Gallifreyan that way in his life. Something inside him boiled, though, when he heard himself addressed that way. He made a guess at who he was speaking to. The accent was that of one born on the outer planets of the Gallifreyan system, and he spoke in a mixture of Low Gallifreyan and Caretaker patois. The line between workers and the lower Newblood managers on the mining planets was often blurred that way. Very likely Koe’s mother was a Caretaker.

And there was nothing wrong with that, of course. Chrístõ had fond memories of his grandmother, Aineytta de Lœngbærrow, who was his aunt’s personal maid before the then Lœngbærrow heir fell in love with her. There was nothing wrong with such blurring. What counted for him was heartfelt and unwavering loyalty to Gallifrey.

And Koe was a traitor and a mass murderer.

“My Lord Koe is a genius,” said another voice, and Chrístõ tried not to cringe as cold fingers touched the back of his neck. They were long, slender fingers, made even longer with fingernails that could almost qualify as talons. He was sure they were sharp enough to slash his throat with if he moved any further than he was allowed.

The fingers belonged to a woman. She looked, in Human years at least, about fifty, though with still striking features. She wore a crimson red robe with a hood that covered deep black hair.

Chrístõ knew what that signified. She was one of the Sisterhood of Karn, though he had never heard of one of them who called a man ‘Lord’. Feminism had never made much headway on Gallifrey except among the Sisterhood, who proclaimed themselves stronger and better than men. Usually they yielded to none, and to offer fealty to any but their own elders was unthinkable.

She stepped away from him and Koe moved forward. The two embraced briefly and crimson painted lips touched on thin, bloodless ones. He recognised the man from the data Hext had shared with him. In truth, though, he knew very little else about him. He had no idea why he had become a traitor, or why he had developed such a terrible weapon.

“I developed the Subsonic GDC for the defence of Gallifrey,” Koe said in answer to the unasked question. “No more would we be helpless in the face of enemies such as the Mallus. With my weapon, we could strike first and ensure our supremacy in the Nine Galaxies.”

Chrístõ was appalled.

“A weapon of mass destruction – used to strike first – is not a defence of Gallifrey. It makes us aggressors, conquerors. The High Council would never…”

“The High Council were fools who thought as you do,” Koe spat. “They banned me from completing my project. But you know I have done so despite their help. My Lady’s encouragement was all I needed. Now, with my work despised and rejected, I shall make it the downfall of Gallifrey. You… favoured son of Rassilon… Galleia brought you here to witness the latest demonstration of my power, so that you can go back to the High Council, on your knees, and beg them to pay the ransom I have demanded and they have thus far refused to pay.”

“What demonstration?” Chrístõ asked, though he knew there was only one possible target within range. He tried to remain calm as a section of the wall in front of him resolved into a viewscreen. He saw Platform Five illuminated by the myriad colours of the nebula.

Koe and his ‘Lady Galleia’ simultaneously reached out their hands either side of the console. They neither of them touched a single switch. He felt a surge of telepathic power and the time rotor glowed red and yellow. On the screen he saw Platform Five begin to shake uncontrollably. If it was not so terrible, it would be amazing – an earthquake in space.

“You turned a TARDIS… a capsule for peaceful exploration of space and time – into a weapon of mass destruction!”

“I have dispensed with useless pacifism,” Koe replied. “See the power that is at my command!”

Chrístõ could see only too well. He tried desperately to remain calm and unmoved by the sight of the massive space platform being shaken and torn to pieces. He concentrated on the lessons in Emotional Detachment that his teachers at the Prydonian Academy tried to instil into him. He tried not to let it hurt him deep in the core of his soul when he saw the observation dome crack open like an egg. He stayed calm as bodies, too tiny to recognise at this distance, tumbled helplessly, asphyxiated within seconds of being exposed to the vacuum of space. He was numb, mentally and physically as he saw further the main body of the station cracking under the strain. It didn’t completely disintegrate, but its back was broken. The structure was damaged beyond repair. He watched it stop spinning slowly as the artificial gravity drivers failed. Inside, those who couldn’t reach oxygen masks or compression pods would be dying.

Anyone in the dome was dead already. That stark, dreadful fact danced macabrely in his mind. They never stood a chance once the exo-glass broke open.

“He’s hiding his true feelings,” said the woman, Galleia. “He has loved ones aboard the platform. He’s dying inside out of grief for them.”

“Bring those feelings out, my dear,” Koe said. “Let him suffer openly.”

She laughed coldly as she approached. Chrístõ again had the urge to cringe as she put her cold hands on his forehead. He resisted the power of her finely tuned mind as it pressed its way into his own. But he knew she was too strong for him. The more he struggled, the more excruciating the pain. She was making it hurt, deliberately.

Both of them wanted to hurt him. He could feel their hatred like an entity in itself. The panels that absorbed the telepathic power like solar sails absorbed the energy of stars, concentrated their hatred, too. He could feel himself under attack by their enmity towards him.

He didn’t waste his breath asking why they hated him. He knew it wasn’t personal. They both saw him – a high ranking Oldblood – as the symbol of their own oppression – real or imagined. They had him at their mercy, and they meant to make him feel every moment of agony.

“He grieves!” Galleia exclaimed triumphantly. “He had a betrothed one aboard the Platform. He’s thinking of her… mourning her. And his friends, too. But mostly the one he had affection for. Oh…. Oh… a Human, no less. The Son of Lœngbærrow is in love with a Human… a dead Human. She died in agony, screaming for help. And you were not there to save her this time. You failed!”

He was feeling all of that. He felt grief. He felt despair. He felt horror. He felt his failure, in the last, to save those he loved. Yes, he did. But he tried as hard as he could not to let his torturers see his pain. He forced himself not to cry, not to let himself be overwhelmed by grief and blinded to the fact that he still had to free himself from the stasis chair and destroy these two traitors who threatened his world and any world they could threaten with their terrible weapon.

“No, Shang Hui,” said a quiet voice within him. “Justice, not revenge. That is your duty to those you love, and to Gallifrey.”

“I know, Li,” he answered. “I know my duty. But….”

“Who is he speaking to?” Koe demanded.

“I know not,” replied Galleia. “He is in turmoil within. It may be his mind is unhinging.”

She laughed coldly and drew close to him, grasping his face in her long-fingered hands. He felt her fingernails dig into his flesh and he felt her breath against his cheek as she pushed her face nearer.

“You will cry, half blood,” she said. “Then with your hearts burning you will return to Gallifrey and beg them to pay before the pain you are suffering is repeated a thousand fold.”

He fully believed her. The cannon was clearly unstoppable. And he was still powerless. His own mental skills were nowhere near powerful enough to fight back, as much as he desperately wanted to.

Then Galleia jerked away from him as if an invisible force had pulled at her. She screeched in anger and hit out physically.

There was nobody there. Galleia’s arms flailed in empty air. Then she was pushed again and fell to the floor. Koe exclaimed angrily and tried to reach out to her, but something forced him back.

Christo had almost guessed what was happening. He could feel the psychic presence now. Somebody else was here, within the console room. Somebody who was fast, and whose mental capabilities rivalled Galleia’s.

Somebody else who had been taught by the Sisterhood.

He felt movement near him and then a lightness as his arms and legs were freed from the stasis. Then a whisper by his ear.

“Keep still for the moment. When you have a chance, take down Koe. SHE’S mine.”

That made sense. Chrístõ stayed apparently immobile as he watched Galleia fighting her invisible opponent. Actually, of course, she wasn’t invisible. She was just moving so very fast she was almost occupying a different dimension. Galleia was fighting empty air because she wasn’t able to synchronise her own body with her opponent.

“It’s you!” Koe screamed in rage and came towards Chrístõ with murderous intent. If he had been trapped, still, he would have been in trouble. But he was ready. He met his attacker with quick, skilful martial arts moves. Not that he had an easy time of it. Koe fought back. He might be a scientist, but he was also a Time Lord. He was strong.

“Keep him occupied,” he was told. “It’s his mind that powers this TARDIS. If you can distract him, the defence shields may come down long enough for the others to reach us.”

He fought Koe physically, and mentally. On that level, they were certainly equals, and it was a hard fight. Chrístõ reeled dizzily as Koe assailed his mind relentlessly. But he was just as relentless in his own attack. He remembered that he had to take this man alive. Justice had to be done in the sight of many interested parties. But short of killing him he could make him pay for what he had done. He could sear his mind with all the grief and horror that he had held inside himself while he was at the mercy of Koe and his sinister paramour. He could make him pay for all the hurt he had caused to him and to others.

Around the console room, the frosted glass panels flickered. Shadows darkened on them as Koe’s concentration wavered. The TARDIS lurched as the orbit decayed with nobody at the helm. Chrístõ glanced at the viewscreen and noted that it was falling towards the Nebula. That was dangerous. Of course, the TARDIS could withstand the inferno. But it needed all its shields at full strength and he was breaking them down.

“Chrístõ!” He heard Savang’s voice out loud, not in his head and risked looking around at her. She was visible now. She was kneeling on the floor over the still form of the woman who called herself Galleia. She looked exhausted.

“What’s happened?” he managed to ask without ceasing his own mental fight with Koe and physically pinning him to the ground at the same time.

“She’s dead,” Savang answered. “I think… I think I burnt out her brain.”

“No!” Koe screamed with rage and grief. “No!”

His anger gave him strength and he managed to throw Chrístõ off him, breaking the mental assault at the same time. He stood up as Chrístõ reeled dizzily and tried to regain his hold. Koe reached the console and the time rotor wheezed into life. At the same time, the panels flashed deep red and orange and a deep, sonorous bell rang out from deep in the bowels of the TARDIS.

Chrístõ knew what it was. Koe had initiated a self destruct. His TARDIS was running back in time through the vortex and counting down to an artron explosion.

He had initiated the time rotor because he knew there was another TARDIS trying to materialise within the console room now that the shields were down. He was running towards destruction and taking his enemies with him.

“You killed the woman I love,” Koe said. “You’ve killed me. My mind is… is damaged. But you’ll die with me. You can’t escape. This TARDIS will be my tomb. And hers… and yours.”

“So be it,” Chrístõ replied. “If this is the end of your madness.”

“Chrístõ,” Savang was beside him in an instant. He felt her arms around his neck. “Your TARDIS is slaved to this one. I can feel it. But they can’t materialise. The shields are still holding. But we have one chance. When this ship comes out of the vortex, I can take you with me. Just hold on tight.”

He understood what she meant. He reached and held her around the waist, pressing her slender body close to his. He briefly remembered the time when she had kidnapped him and befuddled his mind so that he thought she was his lover. He remembered holding her that way and liking it.

“It’s a million to one chance,” he said. “We have seconds to get it right. Chances are we’re going to die together.”

“No, we’re not,” Savang promised. “You can’t die, Chrístõ. I’ve felt your timeline. You’re going to outlive us all. You’re going to be a greater Time Lord than any before you. Trust me. You’re going to live. Even if I don’t.”

He felt the change in the engines. The TARDIS had come out of the vortex. He glanced at the viewscreen and saw a grey mass. They were inside the Nebula, before it caught fire.

He heard the cloister bell ringing ever more loudly. The self destruct was seconds away. Then he felt Savang tighten her hold around his neck and the ground fell away from beneath him. He saw the dust of the Nebula surrounding him as their two bodies, pressed close together, fell, twisting and turning. He closed off his breathing. So did she. But that bought them only minutes. They still needed another miracle.

They got one. The grey dust of the Nebula dissolved into the bright interior of his TARDIS. Somebody had initiated a gravity cushion and they hovered in mid air before gently landing on the floor. He was on his back and Savang was lying on top of him. Then the view darkened as they were both enveloped in one of Humphrey’s all-encompassing hugs.

Then a pair of strong arms lifted Savang. Hext held her tightly. Chrístõ pulled himself upright before Julia reached him.

“You were all in the TARDIS when the Platform was destroyed,” he said. “I thought you might… I hoped… When Savang transported herself aboard Koe’s ship… I hoped. But I couldn’t be certain until this moment. It feels good to hold you again, sweetheart.”

“You seemed to be enjoying holding her for a little while,” she teased him.

“She saved my life,” he admitted. “Her ability to move her body in space… she had to be holding me close to her for it to work.”

“I know,” Julia told him. “I’m not jealous. But… what happened to the man who….”

Chrístõ looked around. Cal operated the viewscreen. The TARDIS was in the middle of an inferno. They all stared at it for a long moment before Cal initiated the time rotor and sent them back into the Vortex.

“He destroyed his own TARDIS,” Chrístõ said. “And… in so doing… he ignited the Nebula. That’s how it began. A deluded man who knew he was beaten… desperate to take his enemies to the grave with him.”

“We didn’t even know WHY he did it,” Hext pointed out. “It wasn’t really about the money, surely?”

“No, it was deeper than that,” Chrístõ admitted. “I saw it in his mind. He really believed that the best way to defend Gallifrey was to attack her enemies first. He developed his terrible weapon for that purpose. And when the government rejected the weapon and him... I’m not sure how the woman came into it…”

“She was rejected, too,” Savang reminded them all. “I saw it in her mind as we fought. She was one of the Sisterhood, of course. The male dominated High Council has never treated them fairly. You know that. But… she fell in love with Koe… and then the Sisterhood rejected her, too. All she had was him. So she joined him in his insanity…”

“I think there’s a lesson to be learnt,” Hext said. “Of course, we cannot accept his point of view. Aggression can never be part of Gallifrey’s relationship with other races. But we should have found a way to channel his genius in other ways. We should have been able to make use of a man like him in better ways. And the woman… it is high time we did something to bring the Sisterhood into our society, instead of ignoring their existence.”

Savang looked at her husband. He was speaking from the heart. She had told him about her own life with the Sisterhood. He understood. She reached and kissed him gratefully.

“Meanwhile, the best we can do is get back to Platform Five,” he added. “My TARDIS is still in the transporter bay, emitting an emergency signal. Help should be on its way. But we’ve got two ships that can render assistance in the meantime. We can save as many as we can.”

Chrístõ nodded and set his TARDIS on course back to the point where it followed Koe’s ship into the time vortex. It would have been a grave contravention of the Laws of Time to try to arrive any earlier than that. Those who had died already had to stay dead. But Hext was right. They could save the rest.