“Why, in the name of Chaos, did anyone choose to live on this insane planet?” Paracell Hext complained as Chrístõ drove the all terrain land car across a barren, rocky and uneven surface that was actually marked on the maps as a road. It had been recognisable as one a few miles back, but now it was impossible to tell it apart from the barren plain around it and they would have been hopelessly lost without satnav.

“Humans chose it because it was the first planet they reached outside of their own solar system,” Chrístõ answered him. “Proxima Centauri, named after the star it orbits, the closest star to Earth. When they arrived here it was a fantastic achievement for them.”

Hext could have said something cutting about Humans and their achievements as conquerors of space, but out of respect for his companion he didn’t.

“It was not a success,” Chrístõ added. “Proxima Centauri is tidal locked to its star. There is no day or night, only a permanently dark side and a permanent day – this being the daylight side. Humans hated living in a place where they couldn’t measure their lives by a cycle of day and night. And they didn’t like red skies except at sunset and sunrise. As soon as they were allowed, most of them moved on from here to more suitable colony systems like Beta Delta. But about fifty thousand of them stuck it out here.”

The eerie red sky was darker than usual because something like a quarter of it, in the direction they were headed, was covered by an ash cloud from an active volcano. The colour of the underside of the cloud was an angry dark crimson. Lightning caused by the micro-weather system within the cloud forked down from it periodically. The volcano itself loomed ever larger by the minute.

Driving TOWARDS such a thing seemed like an insane thing to do. It probably was. But they had a mission.

“So that explains why HUMANS would live here,” Hext said. “They’re stubborn and persistent and they would never admit they were wrong to establish their first deep space colony here. But then WHY in a million years would a Time Lord want to live here?”

It was a rhetorical question. He wasn’t expecting an answer. The Time Lord in question was a fugitive who had disappeared from Gallifrey during the Mallus invasion. The craft he escaped in had been thrown back in time through a freak time ribbon and he had subsequently lived on Proxima for a century, almost as long as humans had lived there. Since he only became a wanted man when his timeline caught up with his disappearance from Gallifrey, he had done so in relative peace. But justice, in the form of Paracell Hext, director of the Celestial Intervention Agency, and Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow, who he invariably called upon when his missions involved Human planets, was on its way. They had an extradition warrant signed by the Lord High President and orders to take whatever measures were necessary to bring this wanted criminal back to Gallifrey.

“This is what I find hard to believe,” Hext commented, looking at the datafile on his hand held computer. “According to the Proxima Centauri census and tax records, Destri has been married for the past twenty-five years.”

“Why is that unusual?” Chrístõ asked. “He made himself a normal life here, thinking he was safe from discovery.”

“He is married to a man called Peter Alden.”

“Everywhere else in the galaxy except Gallifrey they have a word for that. And in most Human communities, except for a few ultra religious ones, it is socially acceptable.”

“I know that,” Hext answered. “I’ve seen enough of the cosmos to realise there ARE other ways of life than ours. But I never imagined a Time Lord would... it’s not our way.”

Chrístõ thought briefly of his old friend, Kohb, and his very intense and unique relationship with the gendermorph Cam Dey Greibella. Kohb loved both the classically handsome Cam and the stunningly gorgeous Camilla equally, but Chrístõ had never actually asked what permutation he usually went to bed with.

“Actually, there was a phase when I thought you fancied me that way,” he told Hext with a sly grin. “After Liberation... when we were working together for so long... Then you invited me to the tower for dinner that time... I really did wonder if you were going to ask me to stay the night...”

Hext laughed.

“I wondered the same about you, back then. I thought it was because of your Human side... the over-emotional tendency of your mixed blood. And you have spent more time with gendermorphs. To say nothing of your close relationship with the Emperor of Adano-Ambrado, who I’ve never been quite sure about, even though he’s of pure Gallifreyan blood. Those baths of his...”

“Penne is a shameless rogue,” Chrístõ pointed out. “But he’s never actually made a pass at me. As much as I love him, I’d break his arm if he tried. As for you... you still invited me to dinner. You must have been a bit tempted,”

“Call it curious,” Hext managed to say. “If you’d actually made any kind of move... I would have had to break BOTH your arms.”

“Same goes for you,” Chrístõ answered him. “I think that proves that Time Lords are just as prone to such tendencies as any other species. But we got through our youthful curious stage in the course of one dinner date and then settled down with women. Destri... must have been more than just curious. But so what? They’ve been together twenty five years. That’s about as long as my parents were married. In Human terms that’s a solid relationship. Good for them.”

“Not so good since we’re here to bring Destri back to Gallifrey,” Hext said. “He was sentenced long before we were born to live out his natural existence in internal exile on an isolated island in the Great Ocean. He wasn’t supposed to have a husband with him to make the exile tolerable. It’s our job to split them up.”

“And he must know that,” Chrístõ pointed out. “If we’re going to do this.., we’d better get on with it. Before he runs or...”

“Kills us both and dumps our bodies in the path of that volcano.”

“I don’t think he would do that,” Chrístõ argued. “He’s a Time Lord. It would be dishonourable to...”

“Chrístõ, you’re too innocent for this work,” Hext told him. “Destri betrayed the Time Lord concept of honour when your father was your age. Don’t you know what he did?”

“Yes, I do,” he answered. “I read the file. But my father told me some more about him. He was one of the few people who had contact with him in his exile. My father told me that Destri isn’t a man to be feared... and that we would not have any trouble bringing him in if we treated him with respect.”

“Your father is a man whose opinion I value,” Hext observed. “But in this instance... No, I must use my own judgement.”

Chrístõ had some more thoughts about that, but he kept them to himself. Besides, the ‘road’ was badly broken up now and driving was difficult. The volcano currently causing problems had obviously been active before. The craters in the road and the erratic lumps of solidified lava were testament to that. Indeed, the instability of the region was the reason why they were approaching in this manner. As well as the usual problems of ash clouds, falling debris and rivers of lava, the volcano caused ionic disruption in the atmosphere that seriously disrupted TARDIS navigation. They had been forced to leave Hext’s time machine in the protected habitat of Proxima City VIII, one hundred and fifty miles back, and make the last part of the journey this way. They had a portable stasis chamber and a small arsenal of weapons with them on the assumption that Destri would not come quietly. Chrístõ was not looking forward to the return journey with their prisoner incarcerated in the back of the car.

That is if they ever made the return journey. He looked at the volcano with trepidation. It was still at the stage of producing copious amounts of ash and flying pumice. But that was the preliminary stage before the lava flows that would make this area completely inimical to any organic life.

The compound of low, single storey wooden buildings surrounded by a wire fence looked as if it was the only place where organic life still existed. And even that was uncertain. Chrístõ drove through the open gate, wondering if it actually had been abandoned already. Their man might well have fled the volcano along with the Human residents. If so, finding him again was going to be difficult.

It wasn’t deserted. Hext exclaimed in surprise to see a gaggle of rather poorly dressed children sitting on the wooden veranda of a larger building marked with an old fashioned Red Cross symbol. As the car approached, a man ran out of the building and dangerously stepped in their path, raising his hand to persuade them to stop.

Chrístõ braked and unbuckled his seatbelt. Hext’s hand reached first to check the pistol in his pocket.

“There are children here,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Keep the gun out of the way. What is this place, anyway?”

“Who in the name of Chaos are you?” the man asked when Chrístõ jumped out of the car. “Who would come to the back end of hell just as it is about to spew fire?”

Chrístõ was about to answer the question when Hext got out of the car and raised his pistol despite his injunction.

“I am Paracell Hext, director of the Celestial Intervention Agency,” he said. “And you are under arrest, RubenGreyheartfelldaren de Argenlunna, AKA Destri, as a fugitive from Gallifreyan justice.”

“It’s him?” Chrístõ glanced at Hext then back at the man. “It’s THAT easy?”

The man who called himself Destri for reasons not explained in the CIA file didn’t blink as he looked down the barrel of Hext’s gun. He certainly didn’t look scared.

Which just might have been because of the other man who stepped out of the Red Cross building with a laser rifle that he sighted first on Hext’s skull, then Chrístõ’s. When he indicated by his open hands that he was not armed the red line of the sight swung back to Hext again.

“I don’t know who you are,” the other man said. “And I don’t care. You have a vehicle with a working engine. I have fifty people to evacuate and a bus that needs spare parts. So just step over there and be quiet and you can come with us when we move out. Any trouble and we’ll leave you to walk. That’s if you can walk faster than lava.”

“I’m faster than you,” Hext remarked coolly. “I could shoot you both before you can pull the trigger.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Chrístõ intervened. “Nobody is shooting anybody. Hext, I told you we don’t need to do it this way. Put down your gun. And you... whoever you are. Do you intend to commit murder in front of these children?”

“No, he doesn’t,” the man Hext had identified as Destri said. “Peter, do as he says. This is not the time or the place. You, too, young man. I have no intention of running from you. I have responsibilities here.”

Both men lowered their guns, but the tension between them remained. Nobody moved from their positions for a long, drawn out interlude that was broken at last only by a loud explosion from the volcano. Destri didn’t flinch, but Peter Alden glanced up at the mountain nervously and the children squealed and ran. One of them cannoned into Chrístõ who bent and looked at the little boy briefly before he struggled out of his grasp and ran into the Red Cross building.

“When you say you have fifty people here,” Chrístõ said to Destri. “Do you mean fifty of these children? Are you the only adults here?”

“We are now. There were never very many people interested in Maylor children. Most of those employed to help lived in the nearby village and have gone already.”

“Then our mission can wait. You said the engine of our vehicle would provide parts for yours. Do it. Hext, don’t look at me like that. I told you, my father believes he is a man of honour. Besides, I can’t drive away and leave these children to their fate even if you can.”

Hext sighed and shrugged, indicating that he was giving in to the inevitable.

“Destri... you are under my parole,” he said. “Once these children are safe, I am taking you back to Gallifrey. If I have to chase you to do so, it will go hard with you. It would not be the first time the director of the CIA has had you tortured at his convenience.”

Destri said nothing out loud, though something may have passed between them telepathically. Chrístõ didn’t notice. He was watching the volcano.

“Ruben,” Peter said in urgent tones. “If we stand a chance of getting the bus fixed and getting away from here before Sun Flare, we have to get on with the repairs.”

“Stop wasting time,” Chrístõ said. “Show me these buses. Hext, help them get the children ready, with whatever they’re bringing with them.”

Chrístõ got back into the car. Destri himself got into the passenger seat and directed him to the place in the complex where the two buses were kept. He was relieved to see that the vehicles were under a roof and in good condition. He was half expecting a pair of rusting old charabancs choked up with volcano ash.

“What do you need from this engine?” he asked as he opened the bonnet and pulled out his sonic screwdriver.

“Fan belt and radiator,” Destri answered. Chrístõ glanced at the offroad SUV and then at the bus and frowned.

“It’s highly unlikely that they’re compatible,” he said. “The bus engine has to be bigger, surely?”

“Not on Proxima,” Destri told him. “Here, there is one standard engine size for all vehicles, from trucks and buses to tractors and utility vehicles. Nobody is prepared to import spares to different specifications.”

“Well, that’s fortunate.” Chrístõ began to unfasten the radiator using his sonic screwdriver which made it a little easier than with conventional tools. “This is a hired vehicle, you know. We’re going to lose our deposit when we don’t bring it back.”

Destri looked at him anxiously for a moment until Chrístõ grinned widely.

“The High Council of Gallifrey are paying all our expenses,” he said. “I think you might as well enjoy the irony of that.”

Destri smiled as he took hold of the radiator and watched Chrístõ equally expertly detach the fan belt from the hired car. They transferred them to the stricken bus and began the second part of the mechanical transplant operation.

“You said to your friend that your father trusts me. May I ask... I have lived so long here, without need of my telepathic abilities. And the ionic storms make it difficult anyway. It’s hard to read your psychic ident. Who is your father?”

“Lord de Lœngbærrow,” Chrístõ replied. “He seemed in two minds about you when he knew of my mission here. He said it was imperative that you be brought back to Gallifrey... to justice. But at the same time, I think he regretted the necessity, as if he liked you, and didn’t mind that you had escaped from us.”

“Your father does not LIKE me,” Destri responded. “But he doesn’t bear grudges. And he is a fair-minded man who has always treated me better than I deserved to be treated. I... am glad to know that he survived the war. And you... Is it true that you are the Child of Rassilon?”

“So they say. For my part I am the son of a good man and a gracious woman. And I don’t ask to be anything more than that. I do my best to make sure neither of them could be disappointed in me.”

“That’s a good ambition. I hope you live up to it.”

Chrístõ’s reply was forgotten as the volcano rumbled loudly and a shower of red hot pumice fell through the air. Whatever it hit, wood, glass, metal, plastic, it went straight through. Chrístõ saw the roof of a long low building that must have been a dormitory for some of the children catch fire and several pieces fell through the roof of the garage around them as they worked. Destri confirmed that the dormitory was empty. The children were all gathered in the Red Cross building, ready to move out at a moment’s notice. Chrístõ tried not to think what would have happened if, by sheer bad luck, the pumice had hit that building instead.

“Right now, my only ambition is to get this engine fixed and get you and your people out of here,” he said. “I don’t think we have much time left. Has anyone given you any predictions of when the main caldera will blow?”

“Even Time Lords have no way to predict such things. Mere humans can only guess. I hope we aren’t too late. We were promised a plane. But the ash cloud... it cannot fly through it. At least that was the excuse. I think they couldn’t be bothered wasting a plane on us.”

Chrístõ nodded and finished securing the fan belt. He climbed into the bus and pressed the starter motor. The engine burst into life. He told Destri to take the other bus and they moved them out of the garage, driving carefully past the burning building. The fire looked as if it was ready to spread to the rest of the complex. But if nothing else went wrong, everyone would be gone by then.

The children lined up patiently, despite the obvious anxiety. Before each one climbed onto one of the buses they were given a hypodermic injection. Chrístõ watched for a moment before helping Peter with that while Hext and Destri checked the names of the children as they boarded a bus. Every so often they looked nervously at the volcano and the rapidly spreading fire and hoped they would be ready to move, soon.

At last, Destri did final head counts and then Peter ran to drive the second bus. Destri took the driver’s seat in the first one.

“You go with Peter,” Chrístõ said to Hext. “You can share the driving with him. I’ll stay with Destri.”

“I’m not letting him out of my sight,” Hext argued.

“These buses match each other for speed,” Chrístõ pointed out. “He’s not going anywhere you’re not. Go on.”

Hext decided not to argue. Chrístõ closed the door and sat in the drop down seat usually reserved for a tour guide on these kind of buses. He watched as Destri started the engine up again and the bus moved off out of the complex. The children behind him were quiet. He watched them for a little while. He wondered if they were upset about leaving what was obviously the only home they had, or relieved that they were on the way to safety.

Possibly both.

“Where are we actually going with them?” he asked Destri. “I never thought to ask.”

“There is another hospice near Proxima City Prime,” Destri answered.

“That’s three thousand miles away,” Chrístõ pointed out. “You’re driving all that way?”

“No, only to Proxima City VII,” he answered. “There’s a railway from there. We can use a couple of wagons.”

“That’s still five hundred miles. What’s wrong with Proxima City VIII? That’s only a hundred and fifty miles. We drove from there. It’s a murderous road, but it’s a much shorter journey.

“They won’t let Maylors in.”


Chrístõ recalled everything he knew about Maylor disease. It was a blood disorder similar to leukaemia in its symptoms, but highly infectious. In the twenty-fourth century Human colonies it had become what leprosy was on Earth in medieval times. Sufferers were isolated from society in camps such as the one that was now a burning ruin behind them.

There was no known cure.

“How come you’re involved with them?” he asked. “We... Gallifreyans... we’re immune to that disease.”

“Five years ago, Peter was infected,” Destri answered. “I wouldn’t leave him. We both volunteered to come out here. They allow adult sufferers to work with the children, at least until they die.”

“Peter doesn’t look ill. Come to think of it, none of these kids look as ill as they ought to be. That medicine you were giving them...”

“It isn’t a cure. It keeps the symptoms under control. They can live longer and in less pain. How long, I don’t know yet. I’ve only been treating them for a few years.”

“You developed a serum? You actually found something that would improve and prolong the life of a Maylor sufferer? That’s... amazing. They... the Human government... ought to be celebrating your achievement. They should be fighting the two of us to stop you being deported.”

“Kind of you to say so,” Destri told him. “But it’s not as easy as that. Nobody celebrates advances in the treatment of the Forgotten.”

Chrístõ got ready to say something, but a flash of red reflected in the rear view mirror and distracted him. He turned and ran to the back of the bus. The children were all turning in their seats, too. He could see Hext doing the same in the other bus, and he felt the forward momentum as Destri hit the accelerator.

The volcano had blown its top. Huge plumes of black smoke were billowing into the sky, feeding the clouds already hanging there. Red hot lava was pouring down the side of the mountain. The glow lit the underside of the clouds eerily.

They were still only a few miles from the hospice, still in the danger zone. Hot pumice fell through the air beside, behind and in front of the buses. Chrístõ swore a very rude low Gallifreyan swear word as the roof of the bus was ripped open and a piece the size of a football dropped straight through, burning through the floor just as fast and leaving a hole in the aisle. The children in the seats closest to it screamed loudest, but all of them were on the verge of hysteria. Chrístõ felt a bit like screaming, too. But he kept his cool as he knelt down to look through the gap and satisfied himself that there was no damage to the chassis. Then he took a long stride over the hole and ran to the front of the bus where Hext was calling him on the two way radio.

“Are you lot all right?” he asked.

“We’re still moving,” he answered. “But the kids are scared.”

“So are these ones. Do you know any Human songs, or something. We’ve got to take their minds off what’s behind them.”

“They like ‘Yellow Submarine’,” Destri told him.

“Really?” Chrístõ smiled. “My mother sang that to me when I was little. Before I even knew what a submarine was.”

“I don’t think this lot DO know what a submarine is,” Destri commented. “But they like the song.”

Fleeing across a desert from a volcano, on a planet four point two light years away from the nearest submarine, and more than two hundred years after the song was written, Chrístõ led two busloads of children in ‘Yellow Submarine’. Around them the sky darkened as the ash clouds got thicker and blacker. It really looked as if night was going to fall on the day side of Proxima Centauri after all. They seemed to be out of range of the falling pumice, at least. But they were far from out of the danger zone.

“We’re going to have to stop, soon,” Destri told him between songs. “It is less than ten minutes to Sun Flare.”

“The buses will be affected?”

“We have to stop and switch off all the electrics, otherwise they will be fried by the electro-magnetic energy in the Flare.”

“And this happens every evening on this planet?” Hext asked. “Why does ANYONE live here? It’s a nightmare.”

“The Flare is the only way we know it is ‘evening’ as those of us not born here know it. Even within the environmentally protected cities, shielded from the EM, the end of the working day is marked by it.”

“And it goes on for how long?”

“Six hours,” Destri told him.

“Then we have a problem,” Chrístõ said. “I don’t think we’re far enough away from the lava flow, yet.”

They travelled for another five minutes before Destri stopped the bus and switched off all the electronic controls. Behind him, Peter did the same. The adults all got off the buses and came together to assess their situation. They looked back at the road they had travelled already. In the far distance they knew the hospice was gone. It was in the direct line of the main river of lava, which was coming towards them at a discomforting speed.

“We have no choice but to follow the road,” Peter noted. “The buses would soon break down if we went out on the plain. But the lava is following the same route – the lowest point of the plain.”

Chrístõ looked the other way.

“There’s an incline,” he said. “The plain starts to rise.... maybe about twenty metres by the highest point... which is about a quarter of a mile away.”

“That would be above the lava?” Hext asked.

“Lava flows downwards, it obeys gravity. We’d be safer if we could keep going.”

“But we can’t drive the buses for another six hours.”

“We have to abandon one of them,” Chrístõ decided. “The one with the hole in the floor, preferably. And we push the other one.”

“We push... a bus?” Peter was astonished.

“The children can walk a quarter mile. The exercise will be good for them. Peter, you get in, take the handbrake off and manually steer. We push... the three of us Time Lords with our extra stamina, superior cardiovascular system and denser skeletal structure... we can push the bus a quarter of a mile uphill.”

“Chrístõ, you really have the best ideas for a romantic evening out,” Hext told him.

“I do, don’t I! Come on. Let’s get organised. You and Peter get the kids off the buses. Give them a carton of orange juice and a bar of chocolate each from the food supplies and start another song up. Destri and I will shift all the supplies to the one bus.”

They did so to the sound of ‘Old MacDonald’ and the distant rumble of the still angry volcano as the eerie light of the flaring sun created a red aurora in the clear part of the sky to the east and made the cloud covered part to the west look even stranger. They stored the food and medical supplies and then they set off on this much slower part of their journey. The children were in better spirits than he expected. They formed a neat crocodile and sang their songs as they walked. It felt like an adventure to them.

It felt like hard work to the three Time Lords pushing the bus slowly and surely along the rough road. They were going much slower than the children could walk. But they were moving. They were going uphill, away from the lava.

Chrístõ looked back. The lava flow was definitely closer. The gap between it and the abandoned bus was narrower. By the time they reached the higher ground, he was sure the place where they stopped would be engulfed.

And he was right. From the top of the rise they all looked back and saw the lava reach the other bus. The tyres burst and it sank down into the river of almost white hot molten rock before it was completely overwhelmed. The sight of it frightened the children. They started to ask if the lava would reach them.

“No,” Chrístõ assured them. “No, it won’t. This incline will act as a barrier. It will slow it down, force it to re-distribute...” He stopped talking. The children didn’t understand all of the words he was saying, even though he wasn’t being particularly technical. “Lava is lazy,” he said. “It doesn’t like going uphill. It would rather go sideways. We’re safe up here on the hill.”

But the children didn’t like looking at it, and the air felt hot and uncomfortable. The wind was blowing across the plain and it was carrying the heat from the volcano with it.

“Let’s move on,” he said. “The plain levels out for another two or three hundred metres, then starts to go downhill again. We’ll be sheltered from the wind, and out of sight of the lava flow. Pushing downhill will be easier. Peter just has to keep a bit of handbrake on to stop the bus running away from us.”

“Chrístõ, this really IS a fantastic date,” Hext commented. But he took his share of the burden without complaint as they pushed the bus slowly along the flat part of the raised plain, then the slightly easier downward incline.

The children were much happier now they couldn’t see the lava behind them. But they were getting tired. After all, they were not fit, healthy children. They were children suffering from a cruelly debilitating disease.

“The road is better, now,” Hext pointed out. “It’s a lot smoother. Not so many potholes. But there’s a lot of ash in the air. Even though it’s cooler here it’s still not easy to breathe.”

“There’s going to be a lot more ash, yet,” Chrístõ said. “It rose up high into the atmosphere, but now it’s drifting down again. It could blanket the ground for a hundred square miles or more. It’s going to make driving a problem.”

The ground levelled out again after another half mile. But now the children were too tired to go on. They piled back onto the bus. Sitting three or four to a seat wasn’t a very comfortable way to sleep, but they leaned on each other’s shoulders and drifted off. The adults stretched out in the aisle between the seats. Peter and Destri lay side by side. Hext looked at them and wondered again how such a relationship could have come about. But there was something else about them that was on his mind.

“Chrístõ,” he whispered. “Are you awake?”

“Yes. Somebody needs to be. I can sleep while we’re moving again when the Flare is over. We’ll have trouble with the ash. There’s no getting around that. But we should make some progress. Once we’re clear of the ash, we’ll be all right.”

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Hext commented. “I’ve been thinking about it. The whole journey. We still have to get to the other side of the damn continent, to that other hospice.

“WE don’t,” Chrístõ pointed out. “The children will be safe once we get to that railway station at Proxima City VII. We could do what we came to do then.”

“And you’d be happy to do that? Leave them in some railway station? That’s not like you, Chrístõ.”

“I was trying to think practically... logically... like a Time Lord. Instead of an emotional Human. We need to get this mission over with...”

“Time Lords can be emotional, too. Destri is. Peter told me something about him, while he was driving the other bus.” Hext sighed before he went on. “The medicine the kids all had before we set off... It’s a serum made up from his blood... Destri... Ruben as they all call him. Gallifreyans... we’re naturally immune to that disease. We’re immune to most diseases. He found out that he can make the medicine by extracting something from his own blood. He does it every other day... to make up new batches.”

“That’s a really selfless thing to do... really brave. My father was right about him.”

“Yes. But he’s still a convicted criminal on Gallifrey. And we still have to take him in. And... you know what that means, don’t you?”

Chrístõ nodded unhappily. Yes, he understood. And he didn’t like it.

“We’ll talk about it again,” Hext said. “Like I said, we’ve a long way to go... and I think we’re going all the way. Never mind the railway station. We’re going to make sure those children are in the care of people who’ll look after them properly before we do anything about Destri.”

“I hoped you’d say that,” Chrístõ replied. “You decided a lot faster than I thought you would. I expected to have to appeal to your better nature for at least another day.”

Hext laughed. He knew he’d been hooked.

The Flare finally came to an end and the sky settled down to a reddish grey. The ash cloud lay low over the plain as Peter and Destri distributed food among the children and Chrístõ and Hext cleared the ash that had settled away from the air intakes and the front windscreen of the bus.

“If we get more than a couple of hours before the carburettors get clogged up we’ll be lucky,” Chrístõ said. “Best get going, though.”

The bus was crowded. But the children didn’t complain. They slept a little more. It was still quite early in the day.

Two hours later, the carburettors clogged. While Chrístõ and Destri cleaned them out, Peter, assisted by Hext, gave the children their first dose of medicine of the day. They set off again and managed another two hours before the ash caused them problems again.

“Right, I’ve decided,” Chrístõ said when he got into the bus again. “We’re not heading for Proxima City VII. We’re going to Proxima City VIII. It’s closer. We’ll make it before the next Flare.”

“But they won’t let the children in,” Destri reminded him.

“Our TARDIS is parked there,” Chrístõ told him. “We’ve got room for everyone. There’s unlimited supply of fresh, cool orange juice. And the train can shunt off, too. We’ll take them straight to the hospice.”

“You’ve got a brig aboard your TARDIS, too, I suppose,” Destri said.

“Yes,” Hext told him. “We have.”

“We get there faster, you get me as your prisoner, sooner.”

“I’m thinking of the children,” Chrístõ assured him. “This way is better for them.”

“I agree,” Destri said. “We’ll do it your way.”

The bus shuddered to a halt again. This time the radiator was clogged up with the ash. It took longer to clean than the carburettors. Chrístõ wished he’d cannibalised the other bus before they left it. He could have simply swapped the parts. But hindsight was a wonderful thing. He did his best. They set off again.

By fits and starts, they slowly covered the distance to Proxima VIII. There was still an hour to Sun Flare when the bus came to a final halt outside the protective dome. Some of the ash had even reached as far as here. The dome had a sprinkling of it all over that gave it a matt finish instead of its usual reflective glow.

Paracell Hext went to fetch his TARDIS. While he did, the children received their second dose of medicine for this day.

“I’m told the serum is made up every other day,” Chrístõ said as he helped Peter to administer the hypodermic injections. “So tomorrow you’ll need more of it.”

“Yes,” he answered.

“If they couldn’t get the medicine...”

“They’d get weak and sick again very quickly. Most of them would die within a year. I’ll probably last a bit longer. I’ve been receiving the serum for longer. And I’m stronger to begin with.”

“He tried it on you, first?” Chrístõ asked. “You were his guinea pig?”

“He gave me blood transfusions twice a day... from his own veins. He’d have done the same for all of the children if he could. The serum doesn’t take as much out of him as whole blood and there’s enough for all.”

“I understand,” Chrístõ said. “I suppose... it’s not possible to synthesise the active ingredient...”

“I know why you’re asking that question,” Peter answered him. “I worked it out. You know, he told me somebody would come for him, sooner or later. I always hoped that it wouldn’t be in my lifetime.”

“Do you know what he did? The reason why he has to come back with us?”

“I do. He told me a long time ago. The whole story. He’s a traitor responsible for the deaths of thousands. He told me because... he wanted me to know exactly who he was... he wanted me to love him unreservedly, knowing the whole truth about him. And I have. Because he’s not the man he was then... he’s made up for his crime long ago. He’s more than made up for it.”

“I agree,” Chrístõ said. “But it’s not my decision. Nor is it my friend’s. We have to do what our government demands.”

“I know. So does he. And... neither of us will stand in your way. If it’s what must be done.”

“You should,” Chrístõ told him. “You should fight every inch of the way. I would. It isn’t fair. I would fight somebody like me coming along with a damned extradition order to destroy everything you love.”

Peter didn’t reply. They finished administering to the children just before the sound of a TARDIS materialising disturbed the peace of the day. Hext opened both doors wide and they counted all of the children inside. He told them to sit in a ring around the edge of the console room. Then he gave them orange juice and put the TARDIS into temporal orbit. Chrístõ was surprised by that.

“I contacted the hospice outside Proxima Prime,” he said, going to the door and opening it. He stood on the threshold looking out at the view of Proxima Centauri from space. The ash cloud from the volcano was a conspicuous feature over a quarter of the hemisphere. “I thought it would be useful to let them know we were arriving earlier than expected. Turns out there’s been some stupid administrative error. The hospice at Proxima Prime was never expecting them at all. It has no room for fifty children. It doesn’t want them. And nobody else does, either.”

“What?” Destri stepped closer. “What do you mean?”

“You called them the Forgotten,” Chrístõ reminded him. “It seems they’re far more forgotten than you thought.”

“Then what will happen to them...”

“It’s time we returned to Gallifrey,” Hext said, apparently ignoring Destri’s question. “You knew it had to happen. This TARDIS is officially designated as a Celestial Intervention Agency prison ship. You are to all intents and purposes in my custody. You must have realised as much.”

“I did,” Destri admitted. “Before I stepped aboard, I knew.”

“If we take him back, we’re condemning them... Peter and the children... to die painfully. They need him.”

“I know that.” Hext sighed. “The last time you and I went to bring a prisoner back to Gallifrey I ended up marrying her. If I don’t bring Destri back to his island exile I’m going to seriously jeopardise my reputation as a hard man who criminals and Renegades should fear.”

“Nuts to your reputation,” Chrístõ told him. “Their lives are at stake.”

Hext turned away from the door and closed it. He went to the console and initiated the vortex drive.

“That’s why we’re ALL going back to Gallifrey,” he said. “I called my father. I’ve persuaded him to allow a concession to Destri’s sentence of exile. Your father backed me up. He thinks it’s time the prisoner’s good behaviour should be taken into account. He will be allowed to have his family with him on the island.... a spouse and fifty adopted children. There’s room enough for them. And even though it’s meant to be a prison, it’s very beautiful. Lots of fresh air, the sound of the sea. They’ll have to make do with tents for a while, until some kind of permanent structure can be arranged. And they’ll have to really get used to the taste of fish. There’s not much else in the way of food around there until supplies can be sent in. But they’ll be safe on a quarantine island where their dangerously infectious medical condition can continue to be treated.”

“Wow,” Chrístõ responded. “Wow... Paracell Hext... your reputation as a hard man is in tatters as far as I’m concerned. You’d better hope I can keep a secret. That’s.... I couldn’t have thought of a better solution myself.”

He smiled widely and hugged Hext tightly for rather longer than friendship required. Destri looked at them both curiously.

“I thought I was the only Time Lord with those sort of inclinations,” he said.

“You still are,” Hext assured him. “I’m married and Chrístõ has a lovely fiancée. But he’s half Human. He lets his emotions get the better of him all the time. I used to beat him up at the Prydonian Academy for it. But he never seems to learn.”

“He takes after his mother,” Destri replied, to Chrístõ’s surprise. “Anyway, if I am your prisoner... do you want to put me in your brig? Or... will you accept my word of honour as a Time Lord that I won’t attempt to escape?”

“Your word of honour will do,” Hext replied. “But next time I chase a Renegade across the galaxy he damned well IS going in the brig, in chains, and I’m getting the sonic whips out. Somebody has to feel my wrath one of these days.”