Chrístõ had thought long and hard about Julia’s seventeenth birthday. He wanted it to be a special day for her.

It was always going to be special, of course. It was the day both of them had looked forward to for a very long time. On this day she was old enough to be officially betrothed to him. He had carefully written the Bond of Betrothal document which her guardians would sign. He had arranged for a ring to be made out of Gallifreyan gold and a diamond he had chosen himself from among the finest and rarest ever found in the Lœngbærrow mines.

But he wanted it to be a day to remember.

He wanted it to be lavish and expensive.

That was no problem. He had only rarely used the allowance he received from the family estate as the heir of Lœngbærrow in the past couple of years. He had plenty of money to spend.

Even so, Lord de Lœngbærrow raised a few questions with his son when he found out he had actually hired a whole space station for the party.

“It’s not a space station as such,” he explained to his father. “It’s more like the space equivalent of a marquee with catering and valet parking. It’s called Platform One.”

“Yes, I know it,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said on the screen of the TARDIS videophone monitor. “I also see you’ve invited something like two hundred people and engaged a live band… Ice Garden.”

“They were honoured to be asked,” Chrístõ pointed out. “They play ‘Gallifrey: Our Home’ on electric guitars.”

“Do they really?” Lord de Lœngbærrow’s expression was hard to gauge. He could have been amused or angry at the idea of the Gallifreyan National Anthem being made into a rock number.

“Yes, they do,” Chrístõ replied. “You’ll see.”

“Just as long as you don’t think you’re in over your head.” Lord de Lœngbærrow smiled wistfully. “I proposed to your mother in the cloister room of my TARDIS, you know. It was a quiet, beautiful moment between the two of us.”

“Do you mean I ought to do that?” Chrístõ asked. “Just take Julia somewhere quiet and give her the ring?”

He reached into his pocket absently. The box with the ring nestled inside was there. He touched it as if reassuring himself of that fact.

“No. Your mother was an orphan with no family to be a part of her betrothal. And besides, I think our way of doing these things would have frightened her. You know, I had only known her a few weeks, and she was still coming to terms with the fact that I came from another world. But I knew I wanted to be with her, and giving her that commitment of the hearts was the best way to do that.”

“I didn’t know that,” Chrístõ said. “That you had known my mama only such a short time before you asked her to be your wife.”

“There is much that you don’t know about your mother, my son. I found it hard to talk about her with you. I should remedy that. Perhaps we can find some quiet time in the midst of all these grand celebrations. But, Chrístõ, try not to lose sight of what is important. In the midst of the banqueting and dancing, you and Julia need to find the perfect moment that the two of you will remember all of your life together.”

“Perfect moment?” Chrístõ looked at his father on the screen. He was puzzled. His father had never struck him as the overly sentimental sort. It seemed an odd thing for him to be talking about.

“You’ll know when it happens. When it does, a room packed with people will feel as if it only has the two of you in it and even without a time fold it will feel as if the moment could last forever.”

“You think that we’ll have a moment like that today?”

“I think you will. But you won’t be able to predict when it happens. And you won’t be able to force it to happen. And I can assure you that all the money in the universe spent on the venue, the band, the dinner menu, won’t make it happen. It will happen because the two of you love each other deeply and you’ve waited for this day for six long, eventful years.”

Chrístõ smiled faintly. He wasn’t sure if that just added another worry to the list that was already piling up in his head. He wasn’t going to admit it, but this lavish party had been exhausting to organise and he WAS feeling just a little bit out of his depth.

And now he was expected to enjoy a perfect romantic moment in the middle of it all.

He said farewell to his father and closed the communication. He would be seeing him in an hour, anyway, when the TARDIS reached Platform One. It had already been there four times as he ferried most of the guests to it from Beta Delta. Then he had cheated slightly by putting it into temporal orbit around Lambda Orionis and spent twenty-four hours in deep meditative trance in his zero room before returning to Beta Delta IV in order to collect Julia.

She came into the console room just as he was closing the communication. Chrístõ looked around at her and smiled warmly. She was not yet dressed for dancing. Her ballgown and accessories were in a box which had been delivered to her dayroom aboard the Platform. For the concert that was the highlight of her afternoon, she was in one of her Jaqueline Kennedy inspired outfits. This time it was a sleeveless coral pink linen dress with a v-neck and A-line skirt with a little belt at the waist. She had gloves and a sheer silk headscarf in a darker coral and two rows of pearls around her neck.

“Very lovely,” he told her. “Very suitable. I wonder what Cirena’s dressmaker has come up with for later, though?”

“You will find out later,” she replied. “It will be a surprise. You look nice, too.”

He was already dressed in a black silk suit with a blue shirt and tie beneath. It was more elegant than his familiar leather jacket but not as spectacular as the one he intended to wear later.

“Come here, and let me find out if that lipstick is kiss proof,” he said in response. She laughed and let him test it thoroughly. It was a pleasant diversion from watching the TARDIS slip through the time vortex. It thoroughly amused Humphrey, hiding under the console. He had long ago perfected a wolf-whistle, and used it to good effect now.

But it wasn’t that perfect moment his father had spoken of.

He wasn’t disappointed. There was plenty of time for it to happen.

“Later, when you do that, we’ll be engaged,” Julia said with a bright smile. “After six years, it will finally happen. I’ve been looking forward to this since I was eleven.”

Chrístõ reached absently for the ring box again. He could bring it out now and they could be engaged already. But he had planned where and when he was going to do that. It wasn’t time yet.

“I sometimes wondered if it was fair, telling you when you were still just a little girl, that you were meant to be my future wife. But I was afraid, if I didn’t, I might lose you to some other man. I wanted to keep you for myself.”

“Never any danger of that,” she assured him. “You were my hero from the start. My fairy tale prince who rescued me and took me away from all the sadness. How could I not love you? Even Brian Drennan couldn’t make me forget you. You’ve always been the special man in my life.”

“Brian Drennan is my closest rival, then?” He smiled teasingly. He had given her the chance to live a normal Human life. And part of that had involved collecting posters of the lead singer of Ice Garden. It was what teenage girls on Beta Delta IV did. He didn’t mind that. She kept pictures of him much closer to her bed than any pop star.

“Not even close. Brian is a good singer and a fabulous guitar player. But you’re a prince of the universe. He can’t beat that.”

Then she claimed a kiss from him. It lasted as long as the one he had given her, and it was nice. But it wasn’t the perfect moment, either.

Although the Earth did move for them.

Or more correctly, the TARDIS floor shook alarmingly. Chrístõ broke away from their passionate embrace and leapt towards the drive control.

“We’ve come out of the vortex in the right place, but we’re in the middle of a Geisson Crystal storm.”

“What is…”

“They’re very rare and amazing,” Chrístõ answered. “Geisson crystals are like… imagine a snow storm in space… made up of billions and billions of diamonds. Only they’re not really diamonds. They’re a crystalline structure like quartz. But they look amazing.”

“They sound scary,” Julia said. Under the console, Humphrey trilled his agreement. The crystals were hitting the outside of the TARDIS with a sharp sound like a hailstorm. But Chrístõ had already said that they were much harder than ice and she wondered if the TARDIS hull could be penetrated.

“Not a chance,” he assured her. “But I can probably do something about the noise. Hang on.” At the environmental console he increased the protective shield around the TARDIS and the noise stopped. Then he reached for the door control and took Julia’s unresisting hand as he stepped towards the threshold.

“Oh!” She looked out at the amazing phenomena. The invisible shield was a few inches away from the door and the crystals, most of them tiny, but some as big as marbles, were hitting against it constantly. They caught the light from inside the TARDIS and refracted it into the colours of the spectrum. “It’s really beautiful. The shield will hold, won’t it?” She put her hand out and tried to imagine what would happen if the crystals flew at her face. She would be cut to ribbons in seconds. It was beautiful but frightening.

“The shield will hold indefinitely. It’s powered by the Eye of Harmony. You are perfectly safe to enjoy it. Call it an unexpected birthday treat.” He hugged her gently then moved away, leaving her to enjoy the sight while he studied the environmental monitor and then reached to open a communication with the Chief Steward of the Platform One hospitality facility. Julia turned from looking at the crystal storm and watched him as he informed the Steward of the direction, speed and density of the storm and advising him to increase the shields and stabilisers.

“Do you think there might be problems?” she asked. “Could the party be spoiled?”

“Not if the staff are forewarned. They can deal with it. Platform One doesn’t have shields powered by an Eye of Harmony, but they’re still very good. After all, they provide hospitality in all sorts of places. Some people like to have birthday parties while watching stars go supernova or in the middle of plasma storms. Now they know what to expect, they can be ready for it. The only vibrations we should feel are when Brian makes that guitar of his sing like an angel.”

Julia laughed and turned back to look at the storm. Then she gasped softly.

“Chrístõ… is it supposed to do that?”

He looked up from the console and then stepped closer. He stared at the wall of crystal that was forming in front of their faces. It was solidifying as he watched, forming a formidable barrier. He dashed back to the console. His eyes widened as he read the data on the environmental monitor.

“It’s forming a shell around the TARDIS,” he said. “The shield is acting as a magnet for the crystals. They’re piling up… like… well, I don’t know what it’s like. I’ve never seen anything do this so quickly.”

“Is it dangerous?” Julia asked.

“No, not really. We can dematerialise and leave it behind. It’s not a problem. There will be a sort of TARDIS shaped shell of crystals floating around space for a while until it breaks up on its own.”

Julia laughed nervously at the idea and stepped away from the door. Chrístõ closed it in preparation for dematerialisation, then frowned and looked closer at the dials on the drive console.


“It’s not letting me dematerialise. The crystals have some sort of energy dampening effect. I can’t…”

“We’re trapped?” Julia looked worried.

“We’ll be ok,” he promised her. He opened the door again and looked at the wall of crystal. He reached out carefully and touched it. It felt solid. It was already several inches thick. He closed his eyes and concentrated, looking with his mind at the molecular structure of the crystal.

He opened his eyes and took out his sonic screwdriver.

“Get down behind the console and cover your face,” he warned Julia. “I’ve turned off the shield and we might get particles flying in.”

“What about you?” Julia asked as she obeyed his instruction. Humphrey huddled around her, though he would be little protection against flying crystals if that happened.

Nothing happened. The sonic screwdriver failed to scratch the surface. Chrístõ looked at his favourite all purpose tool and frowned.

“Sonic vibration isn’t enough. Neither is the usual laser tool. Need a focus.”

He went to the console and opened a cupboard below it. Julia watched as he found a small velvet bag and tipped out a half a dozen small industrial diamonds. He selected one and carefully inserted it into the tip of the sonic screwdriver. Then he warned Julia to get down again. This time he shielded his own face with his arm as he aimed.

This time it worked. The crystal wall shattered. There was an eerie noise as the whole carapace shattered around the TARDIS. Chrístõ dropped to the floor and flattened himself against it, but there was no need. The shield automatically re-engaged. He jumped up as soon as he knew it had done so and hit the dematerialisation switch.

“It’s ok,” he said. Julia stood up and stepped towards him. He hugged her close as the TARDIS completed its materalisation on the parking level of Platform One. “Are you ready to enjoy your birthday and our engagement party?”

“Yes, I am,” she replied. “We’ll… not tell anyone we had trouble getting here.”

They agreed on that before they stepped out of the TARDIS and were met by the Chief Steward. Julia was accomplished enough at meeting new species, by now. The fact that the Steward had a bright blue face did not bother her at all. She smiled graciously as he led them to the turbo lift to what was called the Manchester Suite, the place where the guests were all gathered and where Ice Garden were ready to play.

Julia almost fainted with joy as they entered the high ceilinged reception room. They were greeted by an electric guitar fanfare and cheers from all of their invited guests. All of Julia’s school friends were there and all of the past and present Chrysalids, invited as Chrístõ’s guests. Julia’s aunt and uncle and her two cousins were there. Cal and Glenda smiled warmly at them. So did many of Chrístõ’s friends from Gallifrey. Chief among them were Paracell Hext and his wife, Savang. His father and Valena were there, with Garrick looking a bit shy among such a crowd, but nonetheless thrilled to be included. Camilla and Kohb had made it. They greeted them fondly.

Chrístõ’s Human friends from twenty-first century Earth were there. His father had collected them from Liverpool. He and Julia were glad to see Terry and Cassie, Sammie and Bo, both couples looking well, and enjoying their first space trip since choosing to settle on Earth.

Penne and Cirena were there, along with Princess Nestista and her husband, Julio Romano, and the young Prince Corwen with his fiancée, Marissa Luca. Of course, Penne had his chief bodyguard, Colonel Ruana Beccan close by his side, but otherwise his presence was low key. He had, at first, refused the invitation, on the grounds that it was Julia’s birthday party, not a state visit, and his presence would overwhelm the occasion. But Chrístõ had prevailed upon him. This was his day, too, and he wanted his best friend, his blood brother, to be there.

“It’s good to see you,” Julia said, hugging Penne. “But no crown switching games, today. I’m getting engaged to Chrístõ, not you. You’re already married.”

“I promise,” Penne answered. “Go on, now. You’re the guest of honour today. The band are waiting.”

Julia smiled widely as the crowd parted to let her go up onto the stage. Brian Drennan, the man who made all of her school friends swoon and forget their dignity, reached out and took her hand and sang a verse of ‘Happy Birthday’ to her solo before encouraging the whole crowd to join in with it. Then Chrístõ joined her on stage, taking her hand. Brian Drennan began to play a slow electric guitar riff. At once, all of the Gallifreyans among the crowd, even Penne, who was only nominally a Gallifreyan, Kohb who had been away from his world for a long time, now, and Cal who had never really belonged there, stood to attention. It was never played with electric guitars on Gallifrey, but they all recognised their National Anthem – Gallifrey: Our Home – and all respected it. The Human and other species among them didn’t know the tune, but they understood that it was important and for the space of that haunting tune nobody moved. Chrístõ wished he could see his father from where he was standing. He would have liked to see his reaction.

The last notes of the anthem hung on the air. The band paused for a few seconds. Brian Drennan shook both their hands and asked the crowd to give a cheer for the guests of honour, Julia and Chrístõ. They stepped down from the stage in the midst of the cheers and joined in with the dancing as Ice Garden launched into one of their most famous numbers. Chrístõ glanced around now and saw his father and stepmother at the side of the dance floor. This was not the sort of dancing they were accustomed to and they were sitting it out.

After three very energetic numbers Julia was happy to come and talk to them.

“That is a very unusual rendition of our national anthem,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said to his son. “Do they usually include it in their repertoire?”

“Only when I’m at the gig, I think,” Chrístõ answered. “I should introduce you to Deccan Rowe, their manager later. He’s a loyal Tiboran who was of great service to me and to Gallifrey during the invasion. He would be honoured to meet you.”

“I would be honoured to meet him. Are these musicians playing later, at the formal ball?”

“Yes, they are,” Julia told her future father-in-law happily. “They’re all classically trained, you know. They know how to play ballroom music as well as rock. It’s just that they’re famous for this.”

“Father, you and mama lived in the city of Liverpool for at least five years. You can’t tell me you didn’t learn to appreciate the Beatles, at least. Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Lightning Seeds, Space, The Boo Radleys, The Christians…”

“Just because you’re getting engaged tonight doesn’t mean you can start disrespecting your father,” Lord de Lœngbærrow replied. “And as a matter of fact, I do quite like The Beatles. Do you think those young men do requests?”

“Already in hand,” Chrístõ promised. He smiled as the band finished a fast number and then a solo guitar began to play a slow, sweet refrain. Chrístõ noted his father’s expression as he recognised the song that had stayed with him for nearly two centuries. If he wasn’t a Time Lord, he might have had tears in his eyes. His eyes were glassy and his lips trembled just a little, especially when he heard the last part of the third verse.

“Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns…It calls me on and on across the universe.” He spoke the words aloud in a hoarse, emotion laden voice. Then the man who was once called The Executioner, who dealt cold death to the enemies of Gallifrey, embraced his son for a long, long time, his head pressed against his shoulder. For the length of the last chorus of the song, it felt as if there was nobody else in the room except the two of them and the music seemed to come from a different place entirely.

When it was over, Chrístõ reached and took Valena’s hand. She knew full well why that song meant so much to her husband and had waited quietly as he shared a brief remembrance of his first wife with his son.

“This day is about the future,” he said and pressed Valena’s hand into his father’s. Then he took hold of Julia’s hand and led her back onto the dance floor. He glanced around once and noticed that his father and stepmother had yielded to the inevitable and were dancing, too. Everyone was dancing. This part of the day that had cost him so much money and so much time to organise was a great success.

He still didn’t find that perfect moment with Julia. He still wasn’t worrying. It would happen.

Meanwhile, even he got hot and breathless dancing among the press of friends and family. He drew Julia away from the dance floor and towards the big window that was a central feature of the Manchester Suite. It was as tall as a cathedral window and just as grand, except it looked out onto space. The view was part of the package. Chrístõ had chosen from a whole range of spectacular nebula and auroras and other space phenomena something he knew his guests would enjoy looking at when they weren’t dancing or eating the food that was being prepared three floors below in the kitchens. The view was of the Pallonian Falls, so called because the nebula was shaped like a long waterfall and the light from the Pallonia X star reflecting off it made it look like an endless cascade falling from one point in deep space to another. It was very lovely on its own, but it always reminded Chrístõ of the waterfall that tumbled down Mount Lœng back home on Gallifrey.

It would have been a very fine sight if it had been possible to see it.

“The crystal storm,” Julia said. “It’s caught up with us. Just as you told the Steward it would.”

“Yes. It has. And it’s even denser than I predicted. But the shields are holding. We didn’t even know it was happening until we looked. We’re all quite safe in here.”

He stood and looked at the storm with Julia. And he tried not to worry about it. But he couldn’t help it. This didn’t look right at all.

“Sweetheart,” he said. “Why don’t you go and talk to Camilla and Kohb for a bit. I need to go and make sure the… the catering is on schedule and…”

She looked at him quizzically. Checking on the catering did sound a bit of a lame excuse. But on the other hand, he had spent the past few weeks almost in a delirium organising this event. He wanted to be certain it was all still going to plan.

The Steward’s office was on the floor below the Manchester Suite. He took the turbo lift and then walked quickly along the corridor below, avoiding the short blue-faced ancillary staff who made absolutely no attempt to speak to him. There was, he thought, some kind of rule about them not communicating with the guests unless spoken to first. He didn’t like that idea at all but right now he didn’t have time to worry about it. He was aware, even if they weren’t, of a noise that could only mean one thing. The crystal storm was homing in on the shields around Platform One the way it had done on the TARDIS.

He stopped by an observation window. It wasn’t as big as the one above in the Manchester Suite, but it was big enough to see that something sinister was happening. The crystals seemed to be collecting on the exo-glass window itself. It looked as if there was no shield at all.

Which is what had worried him when he was watching the storm with Julia. It was why he needed to speak to the Steward.

If the shields were down, just how strong was exo-glass? Could it withstand the pressure of a wall of crystal forming around it?

If the shields were down, WHY was the crystal being attracted to the Platform?

The second question occurred to him right after the first, just as he reached the Steward’s room and reached out to open it.

The door slid sideways electronically and he stepped inside just in time to see the Steward die horribly. His face was literally melting in the heat ray that enveloped him. Chrístõ turned his head to see the bald-headed, red-faced humanoid that held the ray gun and moved quickly to disarm him. The ray gun skidded across the floor as Chrístõ kicked it out of the killer’s hand with a high Gung Fu movement, but disarmed he was still a force to be reckoned with. Chrístõ found his martial arts skills of precious little use as he grappled with the surprisingly strong being. He held his own for a while, before losing his footing and crashing to the ground. Then he found out that the red-skinned humanoid also had incredibly long fingers that tightened around his neck. He closed off his lungs and recycled his breathing as he struggled against the attempt to strangle him.

Then he felt his assailant pulled away and he looked up to see his father and Paracell Hext together subduing him. He struggled to his feet, rubbing his neck until it felt normal again.

“He killed the Steward,” he managed to say. “And… the Platform is in danger. The shields are down and…”

“What’s it all about?” Paracell Hext demanded of his prisoner. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

The prisoner said nothing. Chrístõ’s father bent closer and put his hand on the red forehead. The prisoner screamed as the Celestial Intervention Agency’s best operative forced his way into his mind. He kept on screaming for several minutes more, even after Lord de Lœngbærrow withdrew and stood up straight above him.

“Shut him up,” he said to Hext, who promptly hit him hard across the jaw and knocked him out cold.

“I didn’t bring magnacuffs,” he said. “They tend to spoil the look of a silk suit, and I thought I was off duty. Have you got your sonic screwdriver on you, Chrístõ?”

“I never go anywhere without it,” Chrístõ replied reaching into the inside pocket of his slightly dishevelled silk suit. He passed it to Hext who used it to place the unconscious killer in a temporary stasis field. “How did you two know I was in trouble?”

“You think a trained Celestial Intervention Agency man doesn’t know there’s a problem on this Platform, right now?” Hext asked.

“I saw you leave the party,” his father told him. “And warned Hext that there was something wrong. And I was right. This… creature… it’s a Balloan. A hired mercenary. It came aboard the Platform in disguise… notice the blue dye on the back of its neck. It was disguised as one of the Steward’s race… Callhoan. It threatened to kill the Steward unless he switched off the shields – then killed him anyway.”

“But… why?” Chrístõ asked. “This is a private party. Why would anyone want to…”

“A private party for the Crown Prince of Adano Ambrado, with the King-Emperor, his queen and heirs all present. It was an attempted political coup. Hext, this creature should be handed over to Penne’s security detail. I’ll be talking to them later. I saw several names of high ranking Adano-Ambradons who paid his fee.”

“An attempt to kill every possible claimant to the Adano-Ambradon Empire?” Hext shook his head.

“Wouldn’t have happened if I’d taken Julia to Earth Park in the moonlight to propose,” Chrístõ said. “This party really was bigger than I could handle. I should have considered this possibility.”

“Don’t worry about it,” his father told him. “Let’s get these shields back up and then get back to our women before they suspect there’s a problem.”

“There’s a problem,” Chrístõ replied. “The shields won’t go back up. The crystals are already forming a skin around the whole platform. Somehow the hull has been turned into a crystal magnet. Sooner or later, it will crush the Platform.”

“We have three TARDISes between us,” Hext pointed out. “We can evacuate.”

“No,” Chrístõ said. “We had a problem with that already today. TARDISes can’t penetrate a crystal wall.”

“What do we do?”

“What I did last time,” he answered. “Break through the crystal wall. Once we do, when it’s broken up, we need to get the shield back up and reverse its polarity so that it repels the crystals instead of attracting them.”

“How do you intend to do that?” Hext asked. He looked at Chrístõ and saw the image in his head of what he planned. His face blanched. “Rassilon save us! You can’t be serious. You could destroy the whole Platform trying.”

“Which is why we DO need to evacuate everyone into the TARDISes. Hext, you get the kitchen staff and all those blue plumbers, flower arrangers, waiters and chambermaids rounded up into yours. Father, you and I will get the guests safe out of harm’s way. Then I can do what I have to do.”

If he could think of any other way, he would have done it without scaring everyone and spoiling the party. But he wasn’t at all sure what he planned was even going to work. He had to protect the lives of everyone he had brought to this place and time. All of the guests were there because he wanted to throw a grand party. All the staff were there for the same reason, to cater for his party. He had to make sure they were safe.

His announcement that they all had to make their way down to the parking level and get into the three TARDISes was met with shock and some few protests. The loudest came from Camilla and Kohb and his Earth friends who reminded him that their children were in a crèche on the mezzanine level.

“Get the children and hurry,” Chrístõ told them. “Please, all of you. This is serious. You must go.”

Julia was the last to start to move. Chrístõ stood by the stage where the band had left their instruments. He looked at her standing there obstinately.

“Go with my father,” he told her. “Keep yourself safe.”

“What about you?” she asked. “I don’t want to lose you. Not today. I wanted this to be a special day.”

“It will be,” he promised. “When this is sorted out, we’ll get on with the party. Later, you and I are going to be formally engaged and Ice Garden are going to play a special song just for us and… it will be all right. But right now I need you to be safe, inside the TARDIS.”

“The first day we met… when I was only eleven, we fought the vampyres together. But today, when I’m seventeen, and almost your fiancée, you want me to be safe.”

“Yes,” he told her. “Please, Julia. If this goes wrong, I have a chance of survival. I’m a Time Lord. But you’re Human. You would die. Please go, sweetheart. Run as fast as you can. I can’t delay much longer.”

He grasped her around the waist and kissed her. That definitely wasn’t their perfect moment. It was a kiss born of desperation in a moment of tension.

“I just want you to know… you haven’t failed in your promise.”

“Which promise?” he asked.

“That all my birthdays would be happy ones. You haven’t failed, Chrístõ. This has been a wonderful birthday.”

She suppressed a sob and clung to him more tightly.

“When we’re married,” he said. “I’m going to take a job with the Gallifreyan Civil Service. I’ll be bored stupid, but at least it’ll be safe. We can live a quiet, uneventful life.”

“You wouldn’t know what to do with a quiet, uneventful life, Chrístõ,” Julia told him with a catch in her throat. She reached out and touched his face gently and then turned and ran. He saw his father waiting for her at the door. He grasped her hand and folded time so that they both vanished from sight quickly.

He waited a few more minutes to be absolutely certain that Julia and his father were both safe. Then he stepped towards the great window. He closed his eyes and focussed his mind. There were shields within the Platform to prevent telepathic conversations. This was a venue for business meetings and even high stakes gambling events sometimes. The shields prevented insider dealing and cheating. But Hext was a very good psychic and he wasn’t bad, either. He felt him momentarily and knew he was at the central computer control deck with all of the shield commands at his fingertips.

“Get ready,” he said before breaking off the too tenuous and wearying connection. Then he reached for his sonic screwdriver. He looked at it carefully. The diamond that controlled the laser the last time had disintegrated by the time it broke through the crystal wall. He would need another one.

He reached into his pocket and took out the jewellery box. He looked at the ring inside. Julia had never even seen it. She would have been so delighted by it. The diamond was a special one. A White Point Star it was called. It was one of the purest and rarest forms of diamond on Gallifrey, and it was ONLY found on Gallifrey. None of the diamond mines in any other part of the known galaxies produced them. They were beyond price. In his father’s lifetime, only two had ever been found in the seams that ran underneath the family estate. This was the second.

It was beautifully set in white gold and it shone like a star. He had longed to place it on Julia’s finger and seal their Bond of Betrothal with it.

But there was a greater need. He used the very finest level of the sonic screwdriver’s laser mode to detach the jewel from its setting and then fixed it in place on the tip of the same tool. He took a deep, deep breath, knowing it could easily be his last and aimed it at the centre of the huge exo-glass window.

The shields were down and the exo-glass was weakened by the pressure of the crystal wall pressing it inwards. It cracked immediately. Chrístõ stood his ground as shards of it fell inwards. He kept hold of the sonic screwdriver even though it was burning hot. The White Point Star concentrated the power from within the screwdriver and focussed it on the crystal wall beyond the glass window. But that much power produced within such a small tool had its limits. If it didn’t work in a few seconds…

The sound of the exo-glass breaking had been ear-splitting. The sound of the crystal wall breaking up was even more so. Chrístõ flattened himself on the floor as the remaining window glass flew out into deep space. The room was decompressing rapidly. He heard an eerie sound and saw Brian Drennan’s guitar flying through the air above his head, the strings vibrating as it was pulled towards the vacuum. He reached out and grabbed it, holding it down beneath him as he tried to resist being pulled towards the window himself.

He knew it would take fifteen seconds for Hext to get the shields up once the crystal wall broke up. It had only been about eight seconds. It felt longer. His mind was full of dreadful thoughts about what might go wrong in the remaining seconds – including his own death of asphyxiation, or ripped to shreds by the crystal storm that was still raging around the Platform.

Then he heard the sound of a TARDIS materialising. He knew it wasn’t his own. The engine sound was just a fraction different. He heard a door slide open and felt the pressure of a body on top of his, holding him down. He dared to look around and saw his father’s hands with gravity clamps strapped to them, pinning him to the floor.

“You think I would leave you to die alone?” he heard him say. “Keep still, my boy, a few more seconds.”

They seemed endless, those seconds. But at last they both felt a popping in their ears. They looked up and saw the shimmer of the shield going up around the Platform, and then a curious crunching noise as the exo-glass automatically repaired itself. Chrístõ felt his father start to stand up. He began to do the same before Julia ran to his side and tried to kiss him.

“Wait,” he begged. “Let me get a couple of breaths first.” He breathed deeply and replenished his burning lungs before he claimed the kiss he thought he so richly deserved. As he did so, out of the corner of his eye, he saw two more TARDISes materialise in the rather devastated Manchester Room. Short blue ancillary workers began to tidy up the mess. The members of Ice Garden emerged from his own TARDIS along with Cal and Glenda and most of the students of New Canberra High School. Chrístõ stood and walked towards Brian Drennan.

“I… saved your guitar,” he said, handing it to him. Brian took the instrument and looked at it. He tightened one of the strings and plucked it experimentally.

“I think you saved more than my guitar,” he replied. “Give us fifteen minutes to sort things out, we’ll try to get the concert started up again. Least we can do.”

And that was that. The staff quickly and unobtrusively ensured that normality was restored. Even before the band was ready to play again small blue waiters were passing around trays of champagne to the guests. It was amazing how easily they managed to put the crisis behind them.

Chrístõ hadn’t quite put it behind him. There were some things that were worrying him. but he did his best not to let Julia know. When Ice Garden struck up their first song after the hiatus he danced with her joyfully. He kept her close beside him as the band gave their all for the man who had, among other things, saved Brian Drennan’s favourite guitar from oblivion.

When they were done, for now, a little later than planned, everyone had a short rest period. Chrístõ took Julia to her own private dayroom with a comfortable bed, tea and coffee and bottled water, an en suite bathroom and all she needed to rest up before getting ready for the evening that promised to be as exciting as the afternoon had been.

Chrístõ wanted to rest, too. But first he sought out Paracell Hext.

“The prisoner is secure in the brig of my TARDIS,” he assured him.

“Your TARDIS has a brig?” Chrístõ smiled wryly.

“Yes, it does. Savang and I will stop off on Adano-Ambrado on our way back to Gallifrey. There are prisons there fit for that kind of low-life. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

“Only one thing,” he answered. “But you can’t help me with that.”

He left Paracell and headed to the parking level, planning to take at least twenty minutes in the zero room with his mind as still as possible. He was surprised to find his father waiting for him.

“This morning when we got ready to come here, I had a curious premonition of need and brought this,” he said.

Chrístõ looked at the diamond solitaire set in gold that had been pressed into his hand. He knew it well. It was the engagement ring his father had given to his mother, over two hundred years ago, in an intimate moment between the two of them in the Cloister Room of his TARDIS.

He had never noticed until then how similar that diamond was to the one that had been reduced to ashes when he used it to enhance the laser in his sonic screwdriver.

“It was a White Point Star, too?” he said. “I never realised.”

“I never envisaged you having a career as a diamond cutter,” his father told him. “No reason why you should have known. I don’t think I ever told your mother how very valuable it was. Anyway, it is yours now. To give to Julia as a symbol of the Bond of Betrothal between you. I am sure your mother would approve.”

“Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns,” Chrístõ murmured as he turned the ring over in his hand and saw the facets of the diamond sparkle joyfully.

“Go and enjoy your day now, my boy. You’ve done your duty. Now it’s time to claim your reward.”

He took his twenty minutes of perfect quiet and then showered and dressed in the suit he intended to wear for the evening. It was silk, shot through with red and gold thread, the colours of Prydonia subtly blended into his preferred black. His shirt was red satin and his tie of the same silk as his suit. Gallifreyan red diamonds glittered at his cuffs and on his collar and on a tiepin with five small jewels set in it. He didn’t often dress quite so flashily, but this was a special day.

And it really felt like one, now. He smiled confidently as he placed his mother’s engagement ring in the box where the brand new one had been and slipped it into his jacket pocket.

Then he went to find Julia.

When she emerged from her dayroom to meet him, his smile broadened and his hearts swelled with pride.

“You look stunning,” he told her. “Cirena’s dressmaker has surpassed herself this time.”

“You always say that,” she answered, but with a beaming smile.

“And it’s always true,” he replied. This time, the dress was deep red, in figure hugging iridescent taffeta. It had two thin spaghetti straps which Chrístõ, a man who knew a fair bit about gravity, didn’t actually believe played any part in holding up the bodice at all. His eyes stayed for as long as he dared on the expanse of smooth flesh between her slender neck and the top of the dress. A necklace of red diamonds enhanced that flesh, as did droplet earrings and a bracelet to match. The bodice was decorated with hundreds of small diamonds, red and white, and there were diamonds glittering randomly across the whole dress, and more in her hair which was elegantly fastened up and on the matching red high heel shoes that helped her look a little taller than she was. They were only a fraction of the number that would grace the wedding gown she would wear to become his wife. He considered them a down payment on that day.

Her make up was beautifully done, too, making her look like a sophisticated young woman. And she was. In the six years since he had found her as a frightened child, she had learnt so much about being a Time Lord’s Lady. Valena had tutored her. So had Queen Cirena. She knew how to walk and dance in heels with her head high and her back straight. She knew how to mingle with guests and say the right things to diplomats and diplomat’s wives.

And beneath all that she was still the girl he loved. Next week she would be bending her petite figure around a set of asymmetric bars at the inter-planetary gymnastics finals, and a few weeks after that she would be wearing that unflattering purple uniform and sitting her final examinations as a school girl.

But right now she was his Lady. He took her by the hand and walked to the turbo lift that brought them to the grand dining hall. They took their places at the top table for the sumptuous meal that was still delicious even though the preparations had been seriously interrupted when the kitchen was evacuated. Julia drank non-alcoholic champagne along with all the other underage guests. The adults drank the very best of the real thing. They toasted the health of the birthday girl. They toasted Julia and Chrístõ as they prepared for their formal Betrothal.

After the meal, it was time to return to the Manchester Suite again. The staff had been very industrious during the interval. The room was now decorated in silver streamers and above the stage was a banner wishing Julia and Chrístõ a happy engagement. Ice Garden, having enjoyed the banquet along with the guests took their places on stage and announced that the first few sets would be slow ones. Then they played some of their own hits and others as slow waltz tunes for a gentle, quiet kind of dancing unlike the frenetic stuff of earlier. Chrístõ held Julia in his arms and danced joyfully with her.

They had been doing so for an hour when he decided it was time. He nodded to his father and Valena, and to Herrick and Marianna Sommers. With Julia at his side, they all went into a small side room that had been made ready. The Bond of Betrothal document was produced. He set it in front of Herrick, who read it carefully and expressed his surprise at the figure that was written on the cheque pinned to the last page of the binding contract.

“You have two boys to educate to the best of your ability, sir,” Chrístõ told him. “This will set your mind at rest about their future.”

“We could have three or four more children and educate them to the best of our ability with this,” Herrick pointed out. “It is more than we…”

“It is the tradition of my world,” Chrístõ insisted. “Please accept, sir, and sign the Bond. It means so much to Julia.”

“How could I possibly refuse?” Herrick signed the paper. By Gallifreyan law, the Bond was made. Julia was betrothed to Chrístõ, and the contract was binding upon them both.

But law went alongside tradition. Chrístõ stood and took Julia’s hand. He walked back into the main room, and up onto the stage. The music died away and the guests watched with bated breath.

Chrístõ knelt. He brought the box with the ring in it out of his pocket. He opened it and held it up.

“Julia,” he said. “I kneel before you, now, begging you to give me your hand, to promise yourself to me as my bonded fiancée, my future wife, my soulmate in endless undying love.”

Julia looked at him. She caught her breath, then almost too soft for anyone else to hear replied to him.


He took the ring and slid it onto her finger. Then he stood and embraced her in his arms. He was aware of music playing. One single electric guitar played the melody from that song that had meant to very much to his mother. His hearts almost sang along by themselves as he kissed his fiancée.

The crowded room contained only two people sharing one perfect happy moment.

At last.