Chrístõ looked at the viewscreen. The TARDIS was in orbit alongside the huge space station, but he had not yet initiated the landing in the delegate’s hangar bay. He needed a moment to collect his thoughts before he took on the mantle of diplomat in what was going to be his most difficult conference, yet.

“There’s an incoming communication, Chrístõ,” Cal said to him. “Security Level One.” He moved around the console and keyed in his security password. Cal stepped back quietly. This was a private conversation between delegates and he was there as an aide. It was his role to be discreetly unobtrusive.

“Penne!” Chrístõ smiled as the King-Emperor of Adano Ambrado appeared on the screen. “You’re at the Conference of Demantur, personally? You didn’t send ambassadors?”

“I am,” he answered. There was no smile on his face, and his answer seemed terse. Chrístõ sighed. He knew why. Everyone was terse right now. In a day or two they may have gone beyond such an easy description of the political mood in this space quadrant.

“Penne… of all people, WE don’t fall out over this.”

“We will always be blood brothers, Chrístõ,” Penne answered. “We will always be friends. But this is a difficult situation. You have to understand that. Effectively, you have aligned yourself with the enemy. The Earth Federation…”

Chrístõ sighed.

“The Earth Federation is not your enemy, Penne. In any case, I am not…”

“It isn’t our ally, either,” Penne responded before he had finished speaking. His tone was haughty. Penne Dúre, King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado was reminding his friend that he outranked him. “The Federation’s interests in this instance are counter to the interests of the Adano-Loggian bloc. Are you ready to oppose your own Gallifreyan representatives as well?”

“Penne, I am not here to oppose any of you. What made you think I was here representing the Earth Federation?”

“You were mentioned in despatches,” Penne answered. “My External Service Department reported…”

“Your intergalactic espionage department have been gathering information about me?” Chrístõ didn’t look pleased.

“You are my Crown Prince. It is necessary, sometimes, to… know what you are doing.”

“Then I’ll send postcards. Don’t spy on me. And in any case, your agents have it wrong. I’m not representing the Earth Federation. I am here as a super-plenipotentiary, representing ALL your interests. I’m a member of the Gallifreyan Diplomatic corps, of the Adano-Ambradan Royal Family, and a citizen of the Earth Federation. I’m here to stop you all going to war with each other over the Disputed Demantur System.”

“That may be beyond your capabilities,” Penne commented. “You should know that Adano-Ambrado and Loggia stand together on this. And if it comes to a military campaign we have several advantages over the Earth Federation, including proximity. The main Earth fleet is based around the Sol system. It would take them months to send an expeditionary force. By which time we would have possession of the Demantur planets.”

And where would Gallifrey stand if they did? Chrístõ wondered. Neutral, he hoped. But his planet’s interest in Demantur was obvious. Would the Time Lords fight their allies for it?

“I’m going to do my best to stop it getting that far,” he said. “Penne… I am here to act without favour to any one side. I should tell you that… as much as I value our kinship… our brotherhood… I would have to regard this attempt to pre-empt the first session of the conference by contacting me privately as… inappropriate.”

“Chrístõ!” Penne feigned hurt. Or perhaps he genuinely was. “I just wanted to invite you to join me in a friendly bath. Just as we always do when fate brings us together.”

“No, not this time, Penne,” Chrístõ told him. “It really would look as if I was in private consultation with you. We have to keep this strictly business. That’s why none of our wives or fiancées are with us on this trip. There are no social events, no receptions or balls where politics are set aside. Politics are what this is all about.”

“I wonder what it will all be about when we are done here?” Penne mused. “What will this do to friendships, personal and political?”

“I do not know. I really don’t know. And that’s what scares me.”

It was only one aspect of the Demantur dispute that was worrying him. Most of all it ripped his hearts out that the three races he cared most about, Human, Time Lord and Adano-Ambradan were in such a state that Penne was actually talking about launching his battle fleets in open aggression.

Demantur. That one, simple word was starting to haunt the dreams of fifty billion people across the galaxy. For millennia it hadn’t even been an issue. The star and the three planets that orbited it were hidden in the middle of a near impenetrable ion field. Even TARDISes couldn’t get through it. Gallifreyan astrologists found a way to scan the inside of the field. They measured the intensity of the star and the orbits of the planets. They took readings of the probable atmospheric conditions and chances of viable life existing on all three worlds. But they couldn’t physically visit them.

Until two years ago, when Earth Federation scientists noted that the ion field was thinning. An Adano-Ambradan research ship confirmed their findings. At the same time, the Gallifreyan science corps came up with a long range prognosis. Ordinary space travel to the Demantur planets would be possible in less than ten standard galactic years.

It was then that the Earth Federation registered their intent to claim the three uninhabited planets for colonisation. Immediately, Adano-Ambrado and Loggia objected on the grounds that Demantur lay equidistant from their two systems and they should have joint sovereignty over them. Neither system was so over-populated that they needed the planets for colonisation, but they had both received interesting mineralogical reports, and saw the possibilities for mining and export of various precious metals and gemstones.

And that was when Gallifrey stepped in, claiming the mineral resources for themselves. There were bitter words between Penne Dúre, the Dragon Loge Marton and the Gallifreyan High Council followed by a tacit agreement to a boundary commission report on power sharing in the Demantur system.

Meanwhile the Earth Federation refused to accept any mineral interests from either Adano-Loggia or Gallifrey. They insisted that the planets should be settled by large scale farming co-operatives producing food for export to those colony planets where it was needed.

The King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado sent a carefully worded reply that was polite and diplomatic on the surface, but when read between the lines, expressed his disbelief in the Earth Federation claim that they were only interested in planting wheat fields on top of what was possibly the largest deposit of diamonds in the known galaxies.

The Dragon Loge Marton didn’t even pretend to be polite or diplomatic. He called the President of the Earth Federation a liar publicly and openly.

Chrístõ’s first reaction to both his friends was to laugh. It was so characteristic of Penne to be smoothly sarcastic while maintaining a pretence of diplomacy, and so characteristic of Drago to say exactly what he thought when he was angry.

The Earth Federation’s reply was nothing to laugh at. The President was extremely upset by the response from what was, after all, a major cultural, political and military alliance that rivalled Earth on all three fronts.

When Gallifrey started to look as if it might break the agreement with Adano-Loggia, war on all sides was starting to look inevitable.

Then the Emperor of Regia Omnia offered to broker a pact between the four interested parties, acting as a neutral observer with no stake in the outcome.

Regia Omnia! Chrístõ recalled his last visit to that planet. He was a national hero there after he had stopped a terrorist attack on their space station. He was one of the few non-Regia Omnians to have been awarded their Medal of Valour. He wondered if that was anything to do with the Emperor’s offer to get involved in their political crisis.

He was pretty sure it was why he had been asked to sit on the adjudication panel. While the Emperor of Regia Omnia had no personal stake in the matter, Chrístõ had the most to lose if a war broke out between Earth, Adano-Loggia and Gallifrey.

“It would be bad for me, too,” Cal pointed out. “I don’t want to have to choose between the Earth Federation where I was born and Gallifrey, where everyone says I belong. And even though I hardly know him, Penne Dúre is my closest living relative – at least the closest who isn’t in a cryogenic prison cell.”

Chrístõ felt a little guilty. Cal was right. He was affected in exactly the same way. He, too, had emotional and physical ties to all three places. He didn’t want a war to rip his hearts apart, either.

“I’ll do my best,” Chrístõ promised. “But… I’m not even sure… I’m not sure I’m a good enough diplomat to carry this off. I wish my father was here. I wish… Cam… I wish Cam was here. He’s a much better negotiator than I am. I wish there was somebody I could turn to for advice.”

“There isn’t,” Cal told him. “And… maybe that’s the point. You can’t ask anyone else for help. You have to do it yourself. That’s the difference between us, Chrístõ. You’ve always had your father to help you out if you were really desperate. I didn’t. I had to do it for myself. Now, when it really matters… you’re on your own. So… get out there and prove that you’re as good as people tell me you are. Otherwise you’re just a rich man’s son who likes to play at politics.”

Chrístõ was surprised by Cal’s words. But even more surprised to realise he was right.

“I was moaning, wasn’t I?”

“Downright whingeing,” Cal replied. “And it ill befits a son of Gallifrey.”

“It ill befits a man of any sort,” Chrístõ agreed. “On Earth, in Celic mythology, the great hero warrior, Cú Chulainn had a charioteer called Loegaire, who responded with harsh criticisms when he would have given in to despair, and thus spurred him on to victory. Keep on giving me that barbed spur, my charioteer.”

He smiled at Cal, who nodded in understanding. Then the two of them completed the landing procedure that brought them to the hangar bay of the diplomatic space platform.

They were met by two poker-faced young men in the uniforms of the Regia Omnia Imperial Guard. That meant lots of brass plating and purple cloth that made them look slightly more silly than the Chancellery Guard of Gallifrey. But their purpose was obvious – to escort him safely to the office where he would make ready for the conference.

It would take more than a smart office to make him ready for this, Chrístõ mused as he sat at the big, polished desk that was his for the duration of the negotiations along with a long bank of computers and a fully stocked bar.

He ignored the bar, and looked at the message on his desk telling him that the secretary to the Gallifreyan delegation wished to speak privately with him.

“Send a memo to all four delegations, please,” he said to Cal as he settled at the side desk. “I will not speak to any of them or their secretaries in any private capacity whatsoever without the full consent and knowledge of the other delegates. No favouritism, especially not for Haddick Lessage. Just because he’s married to my aunt doesn’t give him any special privileges.”

As Cal did as he asked, he took a close interest in the computer. His fingers glided skilfully over the keyboard as he remote accessed his TARDIS database and downloaded everything it had on the planetary system of Demantur.

“Do you know, they can’t even decide on the name of the place,” he sighed. “In the Gallifreyan files it’s called Gyémántot.”

Cal looked up from his own task. He smiled ironically.

“The Loggian delegation want it to be renamed ????????.”

“No chance,” Chrístõ replied. “The conference stenographers won’t put up with any name that can’t be spelt on a standard 112 character keyboard.”

Cal laughed. Then he watched curiously as Chrístõ reached for his sonic screwdriver inside his robe and held it up above his head. On the edge of his hearing Cal was aware of a slightly irritating whine, and then three electronic fizzing sounds – one underneath the water carafe on Chrístõ’s desk, one behind the imperial crest of Regia Omnia on the wall and another under the keyboard on his own desk.

“Listening devices,” Chrístõ said. “I figured there would be. I doubt if it was the Regia Omnians. Probably either Penne keeping an eye on me again or the CIA.”

“Well done,” said a disembodied voice. Cal looked around in panic, but Chrístõ turned his head as if he knew exactly where the invisible speaker was. “You really should be an active Celestial Intervention Agency man. You’re smarter than any of the agents at my disposal.”

“Then pray I never go rogue,” Chrístõ replied as Paracell Hext lifted the perception filter from around his neck and put it in his pocket. “You heard me say that I won’t meet with anyone from the Gallifreyan delegation,” he added.

“I’m not with the delegation,” Hext answered. “I’m here to look after you. At your father’s request.”

“My father thinks I can’t look after myself?” Chrístõ scowled. “How old does he think I am?”

“Not old enough to regenerate if there is an assassination attempt,” Hext replied. “I’ve got five of my own men here, unknown to the Gallifreyan delegation or the Regia Omnian security. They’re here to make sure you’re safe, Chrístõ.”

“Lucky me,” he remarked dryly. “I know I can still trust Penne with my life. So am I to assume that the Loggian, Earth and Gallifreyan delegations might all want me dead?”

“The way this situation is developing I’m not prepared to trust the Adano-Ambradans, either,” Hext answered.

“No, that I won’t accept,” Chrístõ answered. “But if it makes you happy to suspect everyone equally, then carry on. Just… Hext, give me your word that you ARE here to watch my back, not to pull some coup for the High Council.”

“You don’t trust me?”

“Your father is the Lord High President.”

“The Celestial Intervention Agency doesn’t answer to the President,” Hext reminded him. “And I don’t answer to my father.”

“Good.” He noticed Cal’s frantic hand signals. “The session is about to start. You’d better hide yourself again.”

Hext slipped the perception filter back on. Chrístõ and Cal could both still see him because they knew he was there. But the Regia Omnian guard who entered from the conference hall door didn’t. Chrístõ stepped forward towards the door. Cal wished him luck. He felt as if he would need it.

The conference hall was large, but it was surprisingly quiet. The huge observation gallery was empty. No observers were allowed. Even the press gallery was closed. On the main floor, four distinct camps were formed. As he took his own seat at the chairman’s table, next to the Emperor of Omnia Regia, he looked around at the delegates. Penne was the chief representative of Adano Ambrado, of course. He was dressed in formal robes and seated in a chair that was higher and more elaborate than those of his counsellors and lawyers. The Dragon Loge Marton was seated at his own portable throne with a male and female slave in skimpy clothing kneeling either side. Two advisors sat on seats below his throne dais.

The Earth Federation delegates all looked like British civil servants, though apparently one of them was Australian and was the vice-President of the Federation. They all looked at Drago with ill-disguised disdain, seeing in him a decadent and ineffective hereditary leader. Chrístõ thought they were in for a shock later. Drago might have inherited his power, and he was certainly decadent. But he was a sharp witted man for all that.

The Time Lords, of course, tended to regard all other races as inferior. They had a certain regard for Penne since he was of Gallifreyan birth, even though he was from a dishonoured family line. But the common view of the Human race was that they were socially and intellectually inferior. They were forced to deal with them collectively, because the Earth Federation, having colonised so many formerly uninhabited systems, covered so much of the galaxy. The sheer numbers of Human beings made them a force to be reckoned with.

On balance, Chrístõ thought, between the Human race in their teeming masses, the Time Lords with their intellect, and Penne and Drago with their cunning, they were all forces to be reckoned with. This was going to be hard work.

And so it proved. Two hours into the session Chrístõ thought his head was going to explode. They had not even got beyond the first page of the agenda because the four delegations could not make up their minds what to call the system. Demantur was favoured by the Earth Federation. The Gallifreyans insisted it was Gyémántot, and Drago kept referring to it as the almost unspellable ????????.

When Penne got in on the act and insisted that the system should be called Timantin, Chrístõ glared angrily at him before turning to speak to the Emperor of Regia Omnia who sat by his side as moderator of the conference. He listened to his advice and then stood and addressed the delegates.

“From here on, the planetary system will be called Diemwnt. I am calling a two hour recess while all the documentation is reprinted with the new and definitive name of the planetary system. Then we shall get on with the important issues.”

The Emperor stood, thereby giving his authority to Chrístõ’s pronouncement. The delegates stood respectfully. Chrístõ turned to head towards his chamber, guarded by two of the Regia Omnia soldiers. The Emperor did the same, heading towards a slightly bigger and more elaborate door which was guarded by four men with heraldic devices on their breastplates.

Chrístõ was at the door when it exploded outwards, almost disintegrating into fragments of wood. He acted instinctively, diving to the floor and covering his head. When the debris stopped falling he stood up and looked around. The four men with the heraldic devices were covering the Emperor with their own bodies while others came running to secure the area. Chrístõ pulled a splinter of wood from his arm and looked around to see that the two guards were shocked but unhurt. Their position at the sides of the door had protected them.

Then he ran into the devastated room. Two names were on his lips. But as he pushed away the debris that blocked his way across to the wreckage of his aide’s desk he felt a touch on his arm. Hext was there. But he couldn’t reveal himself. There were Regia Omnian guards pouring into the room. He was aboard the space station illegally, and somebody had planted an explosive device in the chamber of the super-plenipotentiary. He would look like the number one suspect.

“Cal!” Chrístõ let out a cry of grief as he pulled aside the heavy oak top of the desk and saw his friend lying there, limp and still. He lifted him carefully. He was alive. But he was badly injured. His leg was partially severed and there was a bloody gash in his side where a piece of twisted metal had only just missed his vital organs.

“Get out of my way,” he snapped at the guards who tried to assist him. “Clear the way to the hangar bay. My ship… has medical equipment…”

“There is no way through to the hangar,” somebody told him. “The station is in lockdown. Come this way.”

Chrístõ wanted to argue about it. He really wanted to get Cal back to the medical room on board his TARDIS. But a lockdown was standard procedure in the event of a terrorist attack – and this had all the hallmarks of one. He followed the guards to a room that was set up for basic first aid. It was hardly adequate. But it would have to do.

“Let me through!” demanded a familiar and imperious voice as Chrístõ began to properly assess Cal’s wounds. “The boy is my blood kin. I demand that you let me…”

“Let him in,” Chrístõ responded. He looked around briefly as Penne stepped into the room. “Do I have your word of honour that this was nothing to do with you?”

“Do I need to give it?” Penne asked. “Like I said, he’s my blood kin and you… I would never…”

Penne wasn’t usually lost for words. But the suggestion that he had anything to do with this atrocity appalled him. Chrístõ let him off the hook.

“Sit down, your Majesty,” he said. “And roll up your royal sleeve. There’s too much damage for somebody as young as him to cope with on his own. His regenerative functions won’t work fast enough. He needs a blood transfusion.”

“Sire…” Major Ruana Beccan, Penne’s faithful military aide pushed past the Regia Omnian guards at the door. “Sire… you cannot… your royal blood is too precious…”

“This boy’s life is precious,” Penne replied. “Major… if you are worried, you may stand guard over us both. We cannot be sure the perpetrator of this crime isn’t still at large.”

Chrístõ said nothing. He was rigging a very basic gravity transfusion from Penne’s arm to Cal. That done, he used his sonic screwdriver to start closing the dreadful wound in his side and the even more complicated repairing of the damaged leg. The fresh blood helped. He could see Cal’s body starting to fight back for itself. But it was too slow. He was very weak.

“Sire…” Ruana Beccan protested as she saw Penne swoon from lack of blood. He looked pale. Chrístõ stopped the transfusion.

“No,” Penne begged him. “Keep going. The boy needs it.”

“No,” Chrístõ said. “You can’t risk your own health. I’ll have to…”

If he had to give blood himself it would be difficult to look after Cal if his condition worsened. But it was the only thing he could do. He started to roll up his sleeve.

“I can help.” Chrístõ turned as a voice spoke to him in Gallifreyan. He looked at the chief Time Lord delegate but for a moment he didn’t remember his name.

“What happened to the security in this place?” he asked. “There was a terrorist attack, and yet people are still wandering around unchecked.”

“I am a member of the Gallifreyan High Concil,” replied the Time Lord. “I hardly think I am a suspect in this…”

“Why not? The Time Lords have plenty of reason to want to shut me up.”

“The Time Lords owe you their freedom. I owe you my life, Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow. I… only regret that the liberation came too late for my son. But… let me do for this young man what I could not do for him…”

Chrístõ looked at the Time Lord again, and his name fell into place.

“Lord Dúccesci,” he said. “The only help this boy needs is strong blood from one of his own race. If you are prepared to forget that he is a half blood… the sort your family has always derided…”

Dúccesci took the seat that Penne moved away from, aided by his faithful Major. He extended his arm. Chrístõ set up the transfusion again and turned his attention to Cal. He was starting to look better now. The wound in his side healed slowly. The injury to his leg was more complicated. There was bone and cartilage as well as flesh to repair.

And he was still deeply unconscious. Chrístõ put his hand on his forehead and reached into his mind. He saw his last memory replaying, of being caught in the blast wave of the explosion, then a blissful silence. His brain had shut down to protect him from the agony of his wounds. He would be all right in a little while, though. The wounds were nearly repaired. The pain would ease, soon.

“This was meant for me,” Chrístõ said to all within his hearing. “Cal… is still a child by our own world’s standards. He should be in school. He would rather learn at my side, as my apprentice. So I brought him here. I thought it would be a learning experience for him. Instead, he suffered these terrible injuries because somebody couldn’t trust me to make the right decision about those damned planets.”

“Chrístõ,” Penne said. “If Cal is going to be all right now, perhaps you and I should…”

“I can’t leave him.”

“Yes, you can,” Lord Dúccesci said. “I’ll stay by him. Let me do that. Our enemies murdered my son in front of my eyes. Let me protect this boy as I couldn’t protect my own.”

Chrístõ looked at Lord Dúccesci. He couldn’t remember ever meeting him before. He knew of him by reputation, as a hard traditionalist Time Lord who had said scathing things about half bloods in the past. But the war had changed him as it changed many other people.

“Chrístõ!” Penne’s voice was urgent. He turned and followed Penne out of the room. Ruana Beccan walked at her king-Emperor’s side. As soon as they were out of earshot of the Regia Omnia guards she spoke.

“They’ve got a suspect in custody,” she said. “A Gallifreyan.”

“One of the delegates?” Chrístõ asked in astonishment.

“No,” said Paracell Hext’s voice and Chrístõ felt his hand on his arm. When he looked out of the corner of his eye he could see him at his side. He was still wearing the perception filter.

“They’ve got one of my men. He made a mistake and was seen by the Omnian guards. They know he’s not authorised so obviously they assume he’s the bomber.”

“Do I know for certain he isn’t?” Chrístõ asked. “Hext, who can I trust here? You and the Celestial Intervention Agency are the experts at assassination…”

“Which is why you know it wasn’t anything to do with us. Bombs! When have the Celestial Intervention Agency ever used anything so crude? It wasn’t me, it wasn’t any of my men. But Chrístõ… I think I know who it might have been. And I think I know why. Will you come to my TARDIS. All of you. This is something that should be witnessed by somebody who isn’t representing Gallifrey.”

“That’s why I got Chrístõ out of the medical room for you,” Penne told him. “Major Beccan will accompany us, of course.”

Hext was still hidden by the perception filter from everyone who didn’t know he was there. Penne Dúre and his aide knew he was there. So did Chrístõ. He looked at him closer now as he stopped by what was labelled as a stationery cupboard – if the high security space station had stationery cupboards on its main forward deck. Hext looked as if he had narrowly survived a bomb blast himself. His clothes were rags and there was blood on his shirt collar.

“I did,” he said. “I was blown back into the outer corridor.” He opened the TARDIS door and they all stepped inside. “I was just coming into the room to talk to Cal. He told me he’d found an encrypted file about those damned planets and he started to unlock it using your security code. Did you know he has access to that?”

“He’s watched me open secure files. He must have memorised the code. Smart kid. But…”

“Chrístõ, the code was the trigger. It set off a chain reaction that turned the air in the room into a blast wave. And… It was meant for you. Cal wasn’t meant to find the file. You were.”

“That makes me really want to know what’s in it,” Chrístõ said. He crossed to the console and opened up the Time Lord database entry on the planetary system he had recently renamed as Diemwnt from the Welsh word for Diamond. He found the encrypted file quickly enough. He might not have done if he hadn’t known where to find it. He was on the point of opening it with his own encryption code.

“If I use the same code we’re going to get roasted, aren’t we?” he said. Hext reached and moved Chrístõ’s hand from the keyboard. He typed in another code.

“Your own encryption?” Chrístõ asked.

“No,” Hext replied. “I’m director of the Celestial Intervention Agency. I know the personal codes for all of the High Council.” He looked around and smiled faintly. “If my theory is correct, the only person who can open this file is the one who set the trap. I’ve made my guess about which of the Gallifreyan delegates it is. But I could be wrong. It’s a one in three chance…”

Chrístõ stood his ground. Ruanna Beccan tried to shield Penne, but he quietly pushed her to the ground and covered her with his own body.

“I’m of Gallifreyan descent,” he told her. “My royal personage can take a blast better than you can, Major Beccan.”

She protested loudly, but Penne was adamant. Hext completed the code and pressed enter.

Nothing happened. Penne stood, lifting his military aide with him. She again registered her objections to his actions, but he swung his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek briefly. Hext was surprised at Penne’s unprofessional attitude towards his military personnel, but Chrístõ just grinned and shrugged and put it down to Penne Dúre being completely himself.

“We’re alive, Major,” the King-Emperor reminded the surprised young soldier. “That’s what matters. Now, what’s in this blasted file, anyway?”

He bounded across the console room and joined Hext and Chrístõ at the communications panel. For several minutes they all three read the data in astonishment. When they were done they looked at each other without need for words, spoken or telepathic.

“I think we’re going for a field trip,” Hext said at last. The other two agreed. “Chrístõ, grab the drive control and help me steer through the ion field. Your Majesty, cupboard under the environmental control, total environmental control perception filters for all of us.”

Chrístõ gladly took up the subordinate role in Hext’s TARDIS. Penne, King-Emperor as he was, bent to find the curious looking medallions that would allow them to explore the planets of the Diemwnt system without any possibility of them being observed. Major Beccan checked her side arm. Hext smiled warmly at her.

“Unless that’s to keep his royal Majesty’s sexual advances at bay, you won’t need it,” he said. “There’s nothing on those planets that threatens us. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”

She brought the gun anyway, but Hext was right. There was nothing to harm them on any of the three planets and much that surprised and delighted them. After three days of exploration they were almost reluctant to return to the space station.

“I’m not looking forward to the political machinations,” Penne said with a deep sigh. “For a little while I forgot we’re on the brink of war over those planets.”

“No, we’re not,” Chrístõ answered. “I know what to do now. There won’t be a war. There are going to be some repercussions on Gallifrey, though.” He looked at Hext. “That’s down to you, of course. But it goes without saying, I expect you to take the investigation all the way. Even if the president himself is implicated… no whitewash. No cover ups. No nepotism.”

“I don’t believe my father was a party to this,” Hext said. “It isn’t… he’s a good man.”

“I believe he is, too,” Chrístõ replied. “But I’m not prepared to take this on faith. You find out, if you value our friendship, if you value the oath we both took as Time Lord graduates, and if you love our world and what it is supposed to stand for. If any of that matters to you, Hext, then you’ll be what my father always was when he was in the Agency – the surgeon cutting the cancer from the flesh of society, no matter how painful it has to be.”

There was a look in Chrístõ’s eyes as he spoke. Paracell Hext saw it and shivered.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I will. Meanwhile… I’ve set our arrival for an hour after we left. That’s still within the recess you demanded. Nobody should be panicking yet.”

“Take us close to the first aid room,” Chrístõ said. “I want to make sure Cal’s all right.”

Cal was better than he expected. He was sitting in a chair, talking to Lord Dúccesci. Somebody had found him an undamaged robe to wear and he hardly looked as if he had suffered a major medical trauma only a few hours before.

“Chrístõ!” Cal jumped up from the seat and ran to him. For a moment, in front of Lord Dúccesci, the boy seemed uncertain, then he hugged his friend and mentor fondly. He was, after all, a half blood, and one brought up among humans. His Gallifreyan stoicism was easily overridden by his Human emotionalism.

Chrístõ had no such excuse. Cal’s wellbeing had been at the back of his mind for the past three days, though, and he was relieved to see him looking as good as he was.

“Lord Dúccesci,” he said when he finally remembered his Time Lord dignity. “The conference will reconvene very soon. I have an announcement to make. Afterwards, I wish to speak to all of the Gallifreyan delegates in my chamber.”

“You don’t have a chamber, Chrístõ,” Cal reminded him. “It was blown apart.”

“There’s enough of it left for what I need to say,” he answered with an icy edge to his voice. Lord Dúccesci looked at him and decided not to question him, or to point out that he was, after all, a very young Time Lord and he, and the other delegates, were senior in years, experience and social position.

He turned and left the room. Cal walked with him. Chrístõ said nothing, but at the door to the conference hall he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and nodded reassuringly. Then he entered with him at his side. A Regia Omnian guard brought a chair forward so that Cal could sit beside him as his ally, as his charioteer who would urge him on if his courage failed.

The delegates filled their places. The Regia Omnian president took up his seat. He nodded to Chrístõ who stood and faced the assembly.

“Before we go on, I just want to say that the bomb attack on my chamber was nothing to do with this conference. It was an attack on me by an enemy I made in another place and time. The one responsible has been arrested and will be dealt with in due course by the justice system of my world. I apologise for the upset and delay that was caused and we will now return to the issue of Diemwnt.”

He looked at the delegates slowly, noting which looked relieved that somebody else was taking the rap for the failed assassination attempt, and then he looked up at a large display screen that flickered into life. The delegates looked in surprise at the pictures of the three disputed planets from space, then at what was clearly video footage from the surface of the planets. They looked at fantastic deposits of the highly compressed carbon commonly called diamond, but often known as demantur, gyémántot, timantin, ???????? and diemwnt. There were gasps of surprise. The precious gems that everywhere else in the universe had to be mined deep underground, lay on the surface of the planet, glittering cold and brilliant.

“Yes,” Chrístõ said. “But I have here a report from a Gallifreyan mineralogist who visited the planet more than 3,000 years ago. Apparently there was a brief time when the ion field weakened and our people got a survey team in. It confirmed that the diamonds are not pure. They are contaminated with several highly corrosive minerals. I could get really boring about mineralogy right now, or you can look at the file yourselves and confirm that the diamonds are absolutely valueless on the intergalactic gemstone markets. There is no profit to be made from mineral exports from Diemwnt.”

He glanced around at the four separate delegations. Even the humans who claimed that their interest was in colonisation looked disappointed. One of them, the President of the Earth Federation, with a strong Australian accent, asked if there was any possibility that the poisons could have leached out of the diamonds in the millennia since the first report.

“I took samples myself,” Chrístõ answered. “I examined them under careful laboratory conditions. I showed my findings to the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado who witnessed my experiments at all stages. He will confirm that the diamonds of Diemwnt are still unviable.”

That seemed to settle that matter. Then Chrístõ turned back to the video screen. There was more to be seen.

“This is part of a video made by that Gallifreyan survey team,” he said. “As you can see, Diemwnt Two, the middle planet, is inhabited. The people are carbon based humanoid lifeforms, but not as standard lifesigns monitors would recognise, especially not through the distortion of the ion fields. But you can see…”

He paused. Yes, they could all see. They watched the carbon based humanoid lifeforms of Diemwnt Two with wonder and awe. They were a fascinating subject. The Gallifreyan survey team three thousands years ago had spent a lot of time filming them. Dozens of hours of footage was in the locked file. From behind their perception filter duck blinds they had observed a species that looked as if it was made of liquid ice moving fluidly around their town built of the readily available building material – diamond. They held their humanoid form, with a head, trunk, limbs, only so long as they kept moving. If they stopped, something extra-ordinary happened. The surveyors had filmed a group of them for almost an hour, sitting on a wide set of steps in the middle of the town. It was something like an informal Roman forum, where they talked among themselves in a language that even Gallifreyan technology could not translate. Every so often, one of the humanoids would seem to melt into a formless puddle. They would slide off the steps and then reform and join their friends again or walk on to other business. They were not harmed by the ‘melting’. It seemed to be a normal thing for them to do if they were immobile for too long.

The scene changed. It was a different day. The light was brighter. It was a different season, and more than three thousand years later, but the Diemwnteans were still living just as they had done before, enjoying their conversations in their forum, melting and reforming at their leisure.

“The Diemwntan people are composed of the same material that the diamonds are composed of. They are, almost literally, living diamonds, liquid diamonds, even. And no, none of us have ever seen anything like it. They are a unique species. It goes without saying that they are a species with no official First Contact with other worlds. That is the reason why the original Gallifreyan survey team decided to classify their findings. To protect this unique species. But the thinning of the ion field means they can no longer be secret. Now they must be protected by Treaty. And it just so happens that the four most powerful political blocs in the Galaxy are already gathered here in this place. I’ll be asking all of you, Earth Federation, Adano-Ambradan, Loggian and Gallifreyan, to iron out the details between you. But I am quite sure that you will be guaranteeing no forced relocation of the Diemwntan people, no colonisation of the planets, no mining or other exploitation of their land, and a commitment to protect the system militarily should any government not party to this Treaty attempt to invade the Diemwntan system.”

The expression ‘you could hear a pin drop’ was appropriate. There was an absolute silence while the four delegations considered the turn of events. Instead of staking their claim in a planetary system that would bring them untold wealth, they were being asked to commit to a costly programme of conservation and protection of a planetary system that was off limits to them and to everyone else.

And it was quite clear they had no choice. Any delegation that refused to sign up to a Treaty that protected a unique race would be denounced by the others and castigated by the wider galactic community.

The Diemwntan Protection Treaty was all but complete by the end of the first day, guided by the Emperor of Regia Omnia. There were only a few small details left to be ironed out and everyone was satisfied that it would be done.

Then Chrístõ went to the wrecked chamber. He stood among the devastation. The broken doors were guarded by Hext’s men including the one who was arrested earlier. The three Gallifreyan delegates were surprised to see the Celestial Intervention Agency director there but said nothing.

“I think you know why I called you here,” he said.

“To explain why you have cost our government billions of credits by forcing us to sign this protection Treaty and preventing us from claiming the mining rights…”

“No,” Chrístõ said. “You’re here to tell the truth about why the original survey of the Diemwntan system was covered up. Our people knew three thousand years ago that the planets were inhabited. And the reason we covered it up WASN’T to protect those inhabitants. It was because, sooner or later, the issue of mining rights would come up again, and as long as one single Diemwntan was alive, there would be no chance of that happening. I am fervently hoping that no Time Lord, at any time, ever contemplated the genocide or removal of the people just so that they could make profit.”

“You call yourself a Gallifreyan and even consider that we would do that…”

Chrístõ looked at the Time Lord who had said that. Lord Mírraflaex. His expression was cold.

“I am not so sure any more. Do I know Gallifrey well enough to be sure that genocide would not be committed in her name? Are we the people I thought we were, or are we capable of such atrocities?”

“Gallifrey was not the only interested party,” Mírraflaex pointed out. “How sure are you about the Adano-Loggian pact?”

“Penne and Drago have both assured me that they knew nothing of the report. And how would they? It was suppressed at the highest level by members of the Gallifreyan High Council.”

The fact that Chrístõ referred to the King Emperor of Adano-Ambrado and the Absolute Ruler of Loggia by their first names went home with the Ambasadors forcefully. As he knew it would.

“Well, if you’re so keen on truth being known,” Lord Mírraflaex said. “Why did you tell the conference that the diamonds are worthless? If you’re so clever, you must know that was a false report.”

“Yes, I knew it,” Chrístõ said. “I thought that bit might as well stand. It helped put the Earth Federation off. I really wouldn’t put it past them to do something to the indigenous population if they get in the way of profit. It wouldn’t be the first time. But how did you know it was false, Lord Mírraflaex? Unless you had access to the file. Unless you were the one who sealed it with a booby-trapped code that would seriously injure or even kill anyone who tried to open it.”

Lord Lessage and Lord Dúccesci both looked at Lord Mírraflaex. Lessage swore at him in Low Gallifreyan and called him a loose tongued fool. Lord Dúccesci swore at him in Low Gallifreyan and called him a disgrace to the name of Time Lord. Lord Mírraflaex swore back at them both. That interchange told all present quite a lot about all three men.

“Yes, it’s a lie,” Chrístõ said. “The diamonds on all three of those planets are pure. They are worth… well, at current market prices, what are they worth? I don’t think we could put a price to them. But that’s why the false information was prepared, of course. High quality diamonds in those sort of quantities would flood the market. Diamonds would become valueless, as common as rock salt. And a huge chunk of the Gallifreyan export trade would collapse.”

“Now the truth is known,” Lessage said scornfully. “That’s why you went along with the lie. Not because of the Humans and their pathetic efforts to corner the market. But to protect Gallifreyan profits. Your motives are no different than ours, for all your high-minded talk about honour.”

“There are planets less wealthy than ours that would suffer from an intergalactic slump in diamond prices,” Chrístõ said. “I was considering them, first and foremost. But I am also wondering just how many Gallifreyans would have shares in the mining consortium that was going to go to Diemwnt secretly. A few tons of high grade diamonds a year leaked into the market would turn huge profits for those involved.”

“The Lœngbærrow family has diamond interests,” Lord Lessage pointed out. “You’re not a bystander in this.”

“If that is true, then I shall be advising my father and Uncle Remonte to tear up any share certificates they may have purchased from the consortium. We will take a loss, no doubt. But we can afford it. Any other Gallifreyan of honour and integrity will do the same, before the consortium is wound up and those who were party to the deceit prosecuted.”

“I am your uncle,” Lessage pointed out. “Does blood count for nothing with you? Are you a son of the House of Lœngbærrow or just the spawn of a weakling Human?”

Chrístõ held his breath. He turned deliberately away from Lessage. He knew well enough that his uncle’s position in the diplomatic corps was a tenuous one. His father had pulled strings to find his brother in law a paid position because his gambling debts were bringing him close to bankruptcy. He did it out of kindness to his sister.

But Lord de Lœngbærrow would not turn a blind eye to this. If Lessage did not quietly resign from the diplomatic corps he would have him publicly shamed.

Lessage had acted out of greed. But he was not the one who had planted the explosive device that nearly killed Cal. He turned his eyes back upon Lord Mírraflaex. Chrístõ knew full well that the title ‘Lord’ was honorary in his case, because he was a diplomat. He was the second son of the House of Mírraflaex and that meant he had neither title nor property except by his older brother’s generosity or his own endeavour.

That was why he had buried the file that proved Diemwnt was an inhabited system that could not be claimed by any other government. It was also why he sought to falsify the diamond report. He saw the profits to be made by secretly mining on the planets.

And to protect those interests he was prepared to commit murder.

Hext moved forward along with his own men. Mírraflaex listened carefully as he was informed that he did not wish to put any Time Lord in restraints until they were aboard the Agency ship. The dignity of Gallifrey would be maintained in front of her Allies. But he was under arrest and if he resisted he would be rendered unconscious and brought to the ship on a stretcher. A cover story about sudden illness could be put out.

Mírraflaex decided to go with the agents on his own two feet. Lord Lessage looked like he might have to be rendered unconscious at first. Then he, too, accepted that he was under arrest and went quietly, flanked by CIA men. Hext looked at Lord Dúccesci.

“I am inclined to agree with the Lœngbærrow heir, that you are not involved in the more serious aspects of this affair,” he said. “But my investigation IS going to be thorough and you will be the focus of much of it. Your association with those two makes it inevitable. I suggest that you come along with me, now, and make as full a statement as you can, telling me the absolute truth about what you know. Honesty is your only protection now, sir.”

Dúccesci nodded and stood. He bowed his head towards Chrístõ and then walked quietly and with dignity towards the door. Hext walked at his side as if they were just two Time Lords talking about the price of exports. Cal watched them go, then turned to Chrístõ, who stood in the midst of the debris strewn room silently.

“He… he’s a good man,” Cal said. “He told me about his son… what happened to him. He couldn’t… he isn’t…”

“I hope you’re right,” Chrístõ answered him. “I want it to be true. But his son’s murder doesn’t make him innocent. It’s not as simple as that. He may have suspected something and turned a blind eye. He may have…”

Chrístõ stopped and shook his head. There was no point in speculating. He had to put his trust in Hext and his agents to uncover the truth, and in the justice system of his world to be hard on those whose actions warranted it and wise with those who deserved leniency. But let the surgeons do their work and make Gallifrey a healthier, more honest place when they were done.

“You and I,” he said, quietly to Cal. “We’re different from most Time Lords. We have seen so much more of the universe. We have stepped away from our world and looked back at it from afar. We’ve seen it as others see it. We will always have that unique perspective, you and I. And I’m glad of it. Now… Come with me to the Adano-Ambradan imperial quarters. Penne still wants me to join him in one of his baths. You can join us. Call it an educational experience.”

“What is educational about taking a bath?” Cal asked. But Chrístõ just laughed and turned towards the battered doorway. Cal followed him, hesitantly but ready to learn what his mentor thought he should learn from such an experience.