“Julia is missing.” The news echoed in Chrístõ’s head as he programmed his TARDIS to take him directly to the Academy. It took only a few minutes, but it was time for the questions to crowd into his head. How was she missing? How long had she been missing for? She was safe when he saw her to her door yesterday evening. What happened after that?

He materialised the TARDIS outside the dormitory block, where it settled into a new disguise as a duplicate of the hire car he had used all day yesterday. He barely glanced at it, though. He rushed straight into the building and demanded to see the Head of the Junior Department. He was directed to her office door, but advised to wait. He didn’t take the advice. He walked right in on Miss Dorothy Appleton, startling her and the two girls she was speaking to.

“Where’s Julia?” he demanded. “What happened to her? She was in your care. She ought to have been safe.”

“Sarah Seers said she saw her with a man yesterday,” one of the two petite girls with pony tails and the waiflike look of gymnasts who didn’t eat desserts told him. In fact, the first five words came out as a garbled and elongated sibilant, but he got the gist of it.

“That’s exactly what is worrying me,” Miss Appleton said. “It looks as if she might have run away with some boyfriend or other. It happens sometimes. Girls can’t settle down to the discipline of the Academy and when there are young men about....”

“Have you called the police?” Chrístõ asked.

“Yes, but since it seems as if she left willingly.... they don’t consider her to be a cause for concern.”

“Don’t be so bloody stupid. I AM her boyfriend and I have no idea where she is. I wouldn’t be here if I did.”

“You are?” Miss Appleton looked confused. So did the two girls. “But I thought you were the one who paid her fees. I assumed you were her guardian...”

Of course, it was the air of authority that he had assumed when he walked into the office. The Head of Juniors didn’t see a young man in a casual leather jacket. She saw somebody who was superior to her in so very many ways.

“I’m her legally betrothed fiancé and she has no interest in any other man. Call the police back and tell them this is an abduction. No, on second thoughts, don’t bother. They’ll only get in my way. I’ll find her. Show me her bedspace, her locker. Let’s put to rest any suggestion that she left of her own accord.”

Miss Appleton got ready to tell him that letting a man into a girls’ dormitory was out of the question, but there was something in Chrístõ’s expression that brooked no refusal.

“Maria, Fiona, will you please show Mr de Leon where Julia sleeps. I must speak to the vice principal about this matter.”

Chrístõ followed the two girls up three flights of steps to the top floor of the building. He walked through the common room where a dozen girls stopped talking and stared at him, and on into the dormitory itself.

Julia’s bedspace, separated from the next by a thin wooden screen and a dressing table fixed against it, was neat and strangely unlike her bedroom at home. There, among posters of Ice Garden and other pop bands, she covered the walls and her dresser with pictures of him. Here, there was nothing except a poster with the logo of that upcoming Olympiad that so preoccupied the minds of the Academy students. On her neatly made bed was the doll that Marianna gave her for her fifteenth birthday - the one whose clothes changed with Julia’s due to a telepathic empathy membrane in the default outfit it wore. He picked it up and looked at it carefully. It was dressed in a blue tracksuit and trainers.

“Do you know if she was wearing something like this when she went out this morning?” he asked the two girls.

“Yes,” the girl called Maria said. “I was awake, and I saw her in the tracksuit. She always goes out for a run on the beach before breakfast. But she didn’t come back this time. She was missed at roll call.”

“Ok,” Chrístõ conceded. He put the doll down on the bed and turned to the cabinet. He opened the top drawer and noticed that all the jewellery she had taken to the Academy with her was there. He opened the ring box to check that the diamond solitaire was safely put away. Another box contained her diamond brooch. If only she had been wearing that, he might have been able to connect with her telepathically. But she wouldn’t wear something that valuable to go jogging.

She didn’t wear her favourite pendant, either. That was on top of the framed photograph of him, next to her diary. Chrístõ reached for that. He hesitated before opening it. He had never read her diary before. It was an invasion of her privacy. But it was just possible that it might contain some clue about what happened to her.

“If she ran away, maybe she wrote down where she was going,” Fiona pointed out.

“Why would she run away?” Chrístõ asked, irritated by the insistence that Julia had gone willingly. “She said she was happy, here.”

“Yeah... but... well... she isn’t…” Maria answered in an uncertain tone. “She doesn’t exactly fit in. She doesn’t seem very dedicated, for one thing. It’s like gymnastics is just a hobby for her, as if it doesn’t really matter.”

“I mean, she doesn’t even read GG,” Fiona added.

“GG,” Chrístõ was looking through the most recent pages in Julia’s diary and apparently not paying much attention to either girl, but in fact he was reading quite a lot between the lines. Julia had only been at the academy for three weeks, and yet she had already been weighed and measured by her peers and found wanting.

“Gymnastic Girl,” Maria explained, pointing to a communal bookshelf by the main door where a bunch of magazines with colourful glossy covers were stacked. “She said it was boring, and the stories were unrealistic.”

“They probably are,” Chrístõ remarked. “Aren’t you all a little old for comic strip magazines, anyway? I know Julia hasn’t run away. There is something far more sinister happening to her than that. But if I find out that anyone has been making her feel unwelcome here because she doesn’t get collywobbles when somebody mentions the Olympics and she has better things to do in her spare time than read newsstand fiction, then it will go hard with that girl. When I get her back, I expect you two to be much better friends to her than you’ve managed so far.”

The two girls opened their mouths to speak, then closed them again. An expression of absolute contrition crossed their faces. Chrístõ noted it with satisfaction and continued looking through Julia’s diary. Apart from Sarah Seers, who apparently considered herself above everyone else anyway, she didn’t seem to find the other girls unfriendly and genuinely WAS happy apart from missing her home as any girl going away for her education would. Not being an avid reader of Gymnastic Girl wasn’t a serious social handicap as far as she was concerned.

He found the last entry, the one covering the day he had spent with Julia. He was surprised to see the references to a metallic blue car at regular intervals during the day. She had said nothing to him. She explained why in her diary entry for her own eyes only. She confessed to herself that she hadn’t wanted to spoil the day by making it seem as if there was a mystery going on. She wanted the day to be happy and uneventful.

Yes, he agreed. It could just have been coincidence. Metallic blue was a popular colour.

But in hindsight, noting the numerous times she had seen that car in the course of the day, he knew it was anything but coincidence. The driver of the metallic blue car was stalking her, waiting for a chance to grab her.

A chance that didn’t come until she went for a run on her own this morning.

He went to put the diary back and then changed his mind. He put it in his pocket instead.

Then he noticed the doll. It wasn’t wearing a tracksuit any more.

He picked it up and looked carefully at the electric blue calf length dress with a tight waist, a high neckline and capped sleeves, all edged with lace.

It was a pretty dress, but Chrístõ was certain Julia didn’t own anything like that. He had certainly never bought her anything in that shade of blue or in that style, and he was certain that Julia, clothes shopping for herself, would not have chosen that dress.

It proved two things, though.

First, Julia was alive. The empathy membrane would not have reacted that way if she was not.

Second, she was someplace where she could put on clothes, even if they weren’t her own.

Both thoughts were comforting. But he was no nearer finding out what happened to her.

He kept the doll as he turned and walked away. Fiona and Maria didn’t follow him. Downstairs, Miss Appleton thought better than to ask any questions as he strode across the foyer and out of the door.

Julia opened her eyes slowly. They seemed heavy and her head was fuzzy. She felt an uncomfortable tightness around her chest and realised she was wearing a dress with a sculpted bodice that zipped tightly at the back. It felt as if it didn’t quite fit, as if it had been made, unlikely as that was, for somebody about a half inch smaller across the chest and in the waist than she was.

She sat up and noticed that she was lying on a bed in a room with blinds across the window. It was a very beautifully furnished room in its way. It would suit a girl about three years younger than she was, who was still interested in dolls. There was a shelf full of very expensive ones in fine dresses, mostly with frills and flounces. There was a huge dolls house, too, the sort made to be admired rather than played with.

She stood and went to the window. Behind the blinds the window was securely locked and there were shutters outside. She went to the door and wasn’t entirely surprised to find that locked, too. Whoever had brought her here intended for her to stay.

Her head still felt woolly, but the details were coming back. She had gone down to the beach early to run along the sand. It was one of the things she especially enjoyed about the location of the Academy, and as long as she signed the fire book on the way out there were no rules against it.

She hadn’t really noticed anything except how fresh the air was and the softness of the damp sand as the tide receded. She certainly didn’t notice the car that stopped on the road above the beach – a metallic blue car – or the two men who got out of it. At least not until it was too late. She tried to run the other way, but there were two of them and they cornered her. Then there was a cloth across her face, and a smell of ether, then nothing.

She looked at herself in the mirror on the white dressing table full of girlish fripperies like bows and hair ribbons. She thought she was still wearing her own underwear, but somebody had put her into this tight fitting dress.

And if it was one of those two men, then there would be some extra charges on top of kidnapping when this was over.

Chrístõ put the TARDIS into hover mode and piloted it along the coast road where Julia had walked yesterday. Somewhere in the quarter of a mile between the gate of the Academy where there was a man who checked everyone in and out and the place where he had parked to wait for her, Julia had first seen the metallic blue car.

But there was no trace of it now. It had been a brief incident, nearly twenty-six hours ago. There was nothing to be seen, nothing even the TARDIS could detect now.

Of course, he was in a time machine. In theory, travelling back twenty-six hours and seeing what happened was easy.

In practice, it was extremely dangerous and against any number of very serious laws of Time for him to do that.

He couldn’t interfere with anything that happened yesterday. He couldn’t speak to Julia. He couldn’t warn her to take the threat from that blue metallic car seriously. He certainly couldn’t interact with himself twenty-six hours before.

Of course he couldn’t. That would cause a paradox. But what if…

He looked at the doll. He had left it on the command chair that he so rarely used when he piloted the TARDIS. It was still in the blue dress. Julia was wearing a blue dress that he was sure didn’t suit her one little bit. If that was the worst thing she was suffering, then it wouldn’t be so bad. But he was sure it wasn’t. Even if nobody was hurting her, even if she was simply locked away somewhere until a ransom demand was made, she must be scared and worried.

Actually, Julia wasn’t scared. Perhaps it was the drug they used to knock her out. She felt it was still in her bloodstream yet, dulling her senses. She wasn’t scared. She wasn’t worried, because she knew Chrístõ would know she was missing by now and he would leave no stone unturned until he found her.

But she was angry. She was angry about being grabbed by two strange men on a beach she knew she would never feel safe on again. She was angry about wearing a blue dress that she didn’t like and which was too tight for her to breathe properly. She was angry at shuttered windows and locked doors.

There were a lot of other things she was angry about, but they could wait for now. This stupid blue dress and this room with shuttered windows and locked doors would do for now.

Chrístõ looked again at the strangely dressed doll, then he looked at the last pages of Julia’s diary before making a decision.

He couldn’t interact with her. He couldn’t stop her on the road and warn her. He couldn’t stop the car from following her. He couldn’t do anything to stop her being taken by strangers this morning when she went out on the beach for a run.

But if he didn’t interfere, if he let it all happen just the same, there was nothing stopping him from observing. Observation without interfering wasn’t against the Laws of Time. Indeed, it was positively encouraged.

“I'm not breaking the rules, Humphrey,” he said as he engaged the temporal manifest and set his target time and location according to the clues in Julia’s diary. “Really, I’m not.”

Humphrey trilled encouragingly. He didn’t know what the Laws of Time were anyway. He just knew that his friend was worried.

The TARDIS materialised on the coast road, near the place where Julia first saw the metallic blue car. He noticed that the doll had changed outfits. It was now wearing the pastel blue day outfit Julia had chosen for her Saturday outing. That meant that he didn’t know what was happening to her on Sunday, but it couldn’t be helped.

He stepped out wearing a perception filter medallion and looked around to check that his time machine had disguised itself as a section of the wall that marked the perimeter of the Academy’s extensive grounds. He waited and watched. In a very few minutes he saw Julia walking along the road. His hearts fluttered oddly watching her, knowing that she couldn’t see him. He almost forgot to pay attention to the metallic blue car when it drove past her and then stopped only a few yards from where he was. He looked at it carefully, noting the registration number and the polarised windows that meant he couldn’t tell who was inside. He knew there was no point in trying to use any of his extra-sensory skills. It was an executive model with elements in the paint on the bodywork designed to stop any kind of electronic or telepathic espionage. It would be like trying to get through a brick wall with his brain cells as a battering ram.

But the registration number was something. He wondered why Julia hadn’t made a note of it herself. She really was trying not to make anything sinister of it and to just enjoy her day.

She was close enough for him to take three steps and embrace her when the car sped away. He hardly dared to breathe. Perception filters were not invisibility shields. They could fail in certain circumstances. It was only because Julia fully expected to meet him further along the road that she didn’t see straight through the filter at him.

“Be careful, sweetheart,” he whispered when she had passed him by. He turned back to the TARDIS and waited until she was well out of earshot before dematerialising.

Julia heard footsteps outside the door, then the sound of keys and a lock turning. She backed away towards the window, even though there was no escape that way.

A smartly dressed middle aged man with neatly combed hair and highly polished shoes stepped into the room. Behind him came a woman in a simple black dress of a domestic servant. She was carrying a tray with a bowl of soup and a bread roll on it.

“I don’t want that,” Julia told her. “Who are you and why did you bring me here?”

“We are your new family,” the man replied. “At least, I am. Mrs Green is my housekeepeer, of course. But she has been here so long, she is like a family member. As will you be, when the transformation is complete.”

“What are you talking about?” Julia demanded. “What is going on? If you think you can hold me for ransom, forget it. My fiancé will make you sorry you tried that game with him.”

“Fiancé?” the man said with a calm smile on his face. “I don’t think so. You’re too young for a fiancé, Lauren.”

“My name is Julia.”

“Not any more. You are Lauren Trelawney. This is your room. You will stay here under lock and key until the transformation. Afterwards, it won’t matter. You won’t want to be anywhere else. We will begin the procedure this evening. In the meantime, you should eat a little something. And get some rest.”

“Take your food and go away,” Julia said, grabbing the bread roll and throwing it at Mrs Green. “When Chrístõ gets here, you’ll all be VERY sorry.”

“This house stands in extensive grounds, in which attack dogs roam freely,” said the man. “Inside the house I have guards. They carry guns. Anyone who comes here uninvited will be sorry. Now rest, Lauren. There is much to do.”

The man turned and left the room. Mrs Green followed. She left the bowl of soup. Julia looked at it. She was a little hungry, since she had been taken prisoner before breakfast. But there was a principle at stake. She picked up the bowl and threw it at the door. It smashed satisfactorily and the soup made a greasy stain on the back of the door.

She went to the wardrobe in the corner of the room. There were dozens of dresses in it, all as frilly and stupid as the one she was wearing. A chest of drawers revealed jumpers, t. shirts and skirts that were far less flouncy. She pulled off the dress, not caring that it ripped slightly and put on some clothes that felt a bit more sensible to her. Then, since there was nothing else to do, she lay down on the bed again.

She was still angry. But she was also thoughtful. Why was there a wardrobe and chest full of clothes for a girl more or less her size? Where was she? And was she, by any chance, called Lauren?

Chrístõ materialised the TARDIS at the spot where he had stopped the hire car just so that he could share a kiss with Julia. He was there first, with the TARDIS carefully cloaked behind a wide range perception filter since there was very little it could disguise itself as in a lay by beside the sea. While he was waiting he ran the car registration through the computer. It took a very short time to establish that the metallic blue car belonged to a Mr Laurence Trelawney. A little further digging established that Mr Trelawney was a wealthy businessman with interests in real estate all over New Brisbane. He was also a philanthropist and a patron of the arts. The New Brisbane Opera House acknowledged an annual financial gift from Mr Trelawney. The Botanical Gardens also benefited from his generosity.

So did the Academy for Sporting Excellence.

All that sounded healthy enough. And it gave an innocent reason for Mr Trelawney to have been at every one of the places where Julia thought she had seen the car.

Except here. Chrístõ watched as the same car pulled into the lay-by where he had stopped just to reach over and kiss Julia. Why would Mr Trelawney, or any of his staff, if that wasn’t his own personal car, be there unless it was to trail Julia and look for an opportunity to get near her.

There never was such an opportunity. He hardly left her side in the course of yesterday. Just to be sure, Chrístõ followed them to each of the locations where they spent the day. In the Botanical Gardens he thought there were some men who might have been following them around, watching Julia as she enjoyed her day. It made him angry, watching those strangers intrude upon what he had thought were private, intimate moments between the two of them. The memory of holding her in the little folly under the willow trees, felt tainted by the knowledge that danger was so very close to them both.

He wondered why he had not sensed the danger yesterday. But why would he? It had been an ordinary day. They had done ordinary things together. He had no reason to suspect anything was wrong. He had not looked at car registration plates for stalkers or scanned faces for evil intent.

Only now, in hindsight, with the car registration plate and the faces from the crowd memorised did it all fit together. He saw the same car, he saw the same faces when they went shopping, when they ate, when they went to the Opera. The car tailed them back to the Academy later. When he stopped and showed his ID at the gate, the metallic blue car drove on. There was nothing else they could do. They had no legitimate business in the Academy at eleven o’clock at night. There was no opportunity to take Julia from her dormitory. The safety of students within the campus at night was taken very seriously.

So they waited for her in the morning, when she went for her run. Perhaps they waited all night for an opportunity to grab her.

The doll was wearing the blue tracksuit again when he took the TARDIS to the beach first thing on Sunday morning.

That really was the hardest part of all, watching helplessly as the two men closed in on Julia, pressing the rag across her face, grabbing her up when she collapsed and bundling her into the back of the car. He wanted, desperately, to rush out of the disguised TARDIS and grab her back. There were only two of them after all. He could handle them easily. Julia would be safe and none of the events of Sunday morning would have happened.

But just thinking about that sort of paradox was dangerous. Just how dangerous he realised moments later when a red light lit up on the communications panel and began to blink urgently. He almost decided to ignore it. He knew it was a message from Gallifrey and right now he didn’t want to talk to anyone there. Julia was his only priority.

The blinking increased in tempo and a beeping noise that was impossible to ignore accompanied it. At the same time, a signal flashed up on the drive console telling him that all TARDIS operations were temporarily suspended.

He sighed and reached to press the button next to the light and stood back as a bright beam coalesced into a nearly solid hologram projection next to the console.

“Ah, it’s the thought police,” Chrístõ said in a bitter tone. “Don’t tell me, I’ve been causing ripples in causality with my treasonous ideas.”

“You know perfectly well that even THINKING about creating a paradox while you’re inside a TARDIS is picked up by the Matrix,” the hologram of Paracell Hext replied. “The Keeper of the Keys was having double palpitations. But I just knew it was you when I saw the data. What the hell are you doing, Chrístõ?”

“I don’t have time for this,” he responded. “I have to get Julia back.”

“You’re risking a sanction under Section III of the Laws of Time because something has happened to Julia?” Hext’s expression had been hard, but now it softened into concern. “Tell me.”

Chrístõ gave him a condensed account of Julia’s disappearance and his attempt to find out who had taken her.

Hext sighed.

“Your TARDIS could have accessed the security systems at any of the locations you visited yesterday. You could have traced the car that was following you using the CCTV archive.”

Hext was right about that. It would have been the simple way to do it.

“I don’t think like a spy,” Chrístõ replied in his defence. “Especially not when it’s personal.”

“No. You think like an emotional Human. It will be your downfall one day. This was very nearly the day. Anyone else would already be recalled to Gallifrey and heading straight for my interrogation chamber. I’ve got a brand new set of electronic whips I haven’t broken in, yet.”

“That’s not funny, Hext,” Chrístõ told him.

“And I can’t cover for you every time you do something reckless. You presume too much from our friendship.”

“I don’t presume anything,” Chrístõ answered. “Look, I’m not going to cause a paradox. Yes, I was tempted. When I saw those thugs manhandling Julia, I wanted... But I know my duty to Gallifrey. And as long as it doesn’t get in the way of my duty to her, I’m going to do what I can to get her back.”

“Of course you are,” Hext conceded. “Say the word and I can be there with back up. After all, you are technically one of my agents.”

“This isn’t agency business. It’s just... just a kidnapping.”

“Are you sure about that?” Hext asked. “Why would the richest man on that planet want to kidnap Julia? It can’t be about money and it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with you...”

Chrístõ paused. He hadn’t actually thought about that. He knew who had taken her and how. Why hadn’t even entered his head.

“When she’s safe, I’ll ask him,” Chrístõ vowed. “Hext, I give you my word I won’t break any of the Laws of Time. I won’t break any ordinary laws of Beta Delta, except possibly the one about breaking and entering. But my CIA credentials give me immunity from that kind of crime, anyway.”

“All right,” Hext conceded. “Good luck, Chrístõ.”

The hologram faded. The light stopped flashing and the drive control signalled that it was engaged and ready.

The door opened again. Mrs Green entered with another plate of food. She looked critically at Julia.

“You looked pretty in the blue dress, Lauren, dear,” she said.

“I looked like a little kid,” Julia replied. “And I am NOT Lauren.”

“You will be,” Mrs Green answered cryptically. “It would be better if you just got used to it. The process could be dangerous if you resist.”

“Resist what? What’s going on? Why am I here? And who is Lauren?”

“She is the sweetest child in the galaxy,” Mrs Green replied. She put the food on the dresser and went to the wardrobe where she took out a dress in a shade of yellow usually only seen in synthetic custard. It had frills.

“I’m not wearing THAT,” Julia told her. “And you can take that food away. I’m not eating it.”

Actually, she was starting to feel VERY hungry now, but she was determined not to eat anything provided by her captors. And she wasn’t wearing that dress.

“Mr Trelawney wants you to look pretty,” Mrs Green told her.

“Mr Trelawney can go jump in the river,” Julia replied.

“Oh, my dear, I do wish you wouldn’t be difficult about this. I’m afraid he will be very angry if you don’t co-operate. Please, won’t you put the dress on.”

“It won’t fit. Lauren is smaller than me. She probably doesn’t eat puddings.”

“Please don’t speak of her in that mocking tone. Mr Trelawney won’t like it.”

“I already told you what Mr Trelawney can do,” Julia said. “And Lauren can join him.”

Mrs Green had seemed quite mild-mannered up until then, so Julia hadn’t expected her reaction to that comment. She reeled back from the sudden and vicious blow to the side of her face.

“Don’t speak of Lauren that way. She is a good girl. A nice, polite, well behaved girl. Don’t you say a word against her. Now put the dress on or I’ll call the manservants to hold you down.”

Julia sobbed quietly because her face was badly bruised and she felt hurt and humiliated. Mrs Green stood over her as she took off the skirt and jumper and put on the dress. It was tight, barely fitting. She felt constricted in it.

The door opened again. Mr Trelawney was there. Julia backed away from him instinctively.

Chrístõ noticed the doll change clothes as he materialised his TARDIS outside the high metal fence of Trelawney’s house. In order to avoid a paradox his planned rescue had to be in real time. It was now nearly four hours after Julia was grabbed from the beach. She had been a prisoner in this house all morning.

It was a big house, set back behind the fence of strong iron railings in extensive grounds. It looked a lot like the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s Residence on Ventura where he lived his first years. Except the Residence didn’t have barbed wire on top of the fence and it didn’t have vicious attack dogs roaming inside. He saw three of the animals, as well as the near invisible repellent shield that kept them away from the driveway while a grocery delivery van returned from business at the servant’s entrance and passed through the electronic gates. As soon as he was gone, the shield turned off. The dogs had free reign in the grounds.

The Residence on Ventura didn’t have dogs. But it did have anti-transmat barriers in place. And so did the home of Mr Laurence Trelawney. The TARDIS couldn’t penetrate them accurately. If he tried, he risked materialising through a wall. He would have to get across the fence and run the gauntlet of the dogs to reach the house. He would have to break in, and then find out where Julia was.

“Start thinking like an agent,” said a voice. Chrístõ turned, startled, and saw nobody at first. But he knew he wasn’t hallucinating. He focussed on the figure standing a few feet away from him wearing a perception filter that no longer worked because he knew he was there.

“Hext... I told you I could handle this myself.”

“And I decided you could use some help. And here you are, standing outside the gates, wondering what to do, next. We’ve both got perception filters. They won’t work on the attack dogs, so we’re going to have to run for it. But if we can’t outrun a dog over... what... six hundred yards to the servant’s entrance at the side of the house... then we don’t deserve to consider ourselves physically superior to humans.”

“We?” Chrístõ questioned.

“Yes, we, you stubborn half-blood. Dogs outside, armed guards inside the house. Rassilon knows what else. You need all the help you can get. And, by the way, Julia is in that room, up there under the gable in the east wing.”

“How can you know that?” Chrístõ asked. “Telepathy is as useless as a TARDIS with the anti-espionage shields around the house.”

“That window is tightly shuttered. It’s the only one that is. That’s where she is.”

“Why didn’t I notice that? I should be sharper.”

“You’re worried about Julia. It’s clouding your judgement. That’s why you need me.”

“I’m not....” Chrístõ protested. But maybe it was true.

“There was another reason why I came,” Hext told him. “The reason why. I found out about Trelawney. He’s a rich man, but he doesn’t have the one thing that matters most to him. His daughter, Lauren. She died three years ago, aged fourteen... if she had lived, she’d be the same age as Julia, you understand.”

“I might be emotional, but I can do elementary maths.”

“This is what she looked like.” Hext waved his hand in the air and created a hologram image of a girl. She was a petite girl, wearing a blue dress with frills on it. “She... looks a lot like Julia.”

“She doesn’t look anything like Julia,” Chrístõ responded. And he was right. Her features were different. Her eyes were blue. Julia’s were brown. She had lighter hair and it was styled in impractical ringlets that Julia would utterly despise.

But in a general way, she did look like her.

“That’s why Julia was kidnapped... to replace his daughter? But she’ll never let him. She’ll fight. She’ll...”

“Calm down,” Hext told him. “Come on. We’re going to get your girl. Calmly. Without your emotions getting the better of you.”

With that he stepped back three paces and took his coat off. He threw it over the barbed wire before he leapt at the fence and scrambled over, landing ungainly, but safely, on the other side. Chrístõ followed him. Hext reached and yanked his coat down from the wire. It tore badly, but he put it on, anyway.

“The dogs will pick up our scent,” Hext pointed out. “We need to move, now.”

They didn’t fold time. But they ran as fast as they could. Behind them, they heard a dog bark, then there was more than one dog, and they were chasing them. Perception filters didn’t work with dogs.

They ran neck and neck across the grounds. They were equally matched for stamina and fitness. But so were the dogs. Hext yelled in pain as he was brought down by a huge, heavy sinewed animal with teeth that fixed around the top of his shoulder and bit down hard.

Chrístõ grabbed his sonic screwdriver and searched for a setting he dared use on the animals. They were, after all, just doing their job and he didn’t want to harm them. Hext was pinned down and two other dogs closed in menacingly. Their job description could well include eating intruders.

But that didn’t mean he could decapitate them with the laser mode.

He put the sonic screwdriver away and reached out his hand to touch the dog that had Hext on the floor. He connected with the top of its head and radiated calming thoughts, finding the part of the dog that really just wanted a warm hearthrug and a chew toy. It was a struggle. Meat eating animals tended to be a mass of base instincts. But it worked enough to let Hext struggle to his feet while the animals squared off against each other. He was bleeding and sore, but he was ready to go on.

They ran together until they reached the servant’s entrance. It was locked. Chrístõ started to find the lock picking setting on his sonic screwdriver but Hext, breathing hard and holding his left shoulder stiffly, reached with his right for a pistol concealed under his shirt. The lock exploded in the sonic blast and he pushed it open roughly. A few seconds behind him, Chrístõ heard the sound of a fist connecting with a jaw.

“Stay down or I won’t be scared to do to you what I did to the door,” Hext told the security guard as he stepped over him. “Chrístõ, get his gun.”

“I don’t…” Chrístõ began.

“Do you want to stay alive long enough to get to Julia?” Hext asked him. “We’re visible, by the way. Perception filters are no use if people expect to see you. And these people now know there are intruders in the building. Get the gun, shoot to wound. I’ll be doing the same. We have no mandate to kill, here. But when you’re up against somebody with a gun, they tend to react better if you’ve got something more visible than Sun Ko Du to use against them.”

Chrístõ grabbed the gun and stepped over the guard, too. He ran through the corridor behind Hext, who, despite having a lethal sonic disrupter gun in his hand, merely used the butt of it to knock out the unarmed butler who came out of his room protesting about their noise. Likewise, two footmen who tried to bar their way were sent to an uncomfortable mid-morning sleep.

He was less kind to the two security guards they ran into in the main hall. Two rapid shots each left them on the floor with wounds to gun arms and legs. Chrístõ turned at the sound of a door opening and did the same to a third guard.

“Upstairs,” he said as he shoved the gun into his belt. “Julia…”

He raced up the wide, plush carpeted staircase. Hext followed this time. He was trying to read the building, to know where the guards were, and what danger they might be walking into. It was difficult. The house was permeated with anti-espionage shields of all sorts. They played hell with his telepathic nerves.

Even so, he had honed his skills in the time since he became Director of the CIA. He had made sure he was at the peak of his abilities as a Time Lord. Unlike Chrístõ, who, frankly, had got lazy living among humans and not using his natural skills often enough.

“Chrístõ,” he said when they reached a landing halfway to the top of the house. “Julia is in a locked room one more floor up. Go get her. There’s something I need to go look at down this way.”

“What?” Chrístõ asked.

“The reason for all of this, I think,” he answered. “Go on. Be careful.”

Chrístõ looked back long enough to see Hext push back an elaborately embroidered tapestry on the wall and use his own sonic screwdriver on the door behind it. He turned and continued on up the stairs. There was only one door on this floor, and he knew it was the right one. He could hear voices behind it. One of them was Julia. She was crying. There was a woman, too. And a man. He was alternating between angry demands and pleading cajoling.

Chrístõ didn’t bother to listen to what he was saying. He pushed open the door with his shoulder. He had the gun in both hands, holding it steady. It felt wrong. He had vowed never to use weapons like that again after the Liberation of Gallifrey. But Hext was right about that much. This was the way to get the attention of certain kinds of people.

“Stay where you are, and put your hands up,” he demanded of the two people he found inside the bedroom. The woman who was trying to tease Julia’s hair into silly ringlets, immediately did as he said. But the man was not so easily cowed. He moved faster than a Human was expected to move, and before Chrístõ could do anything about it he had Julia in his grasp.

“Don’t come any closer or I’ll break her neck,” he said. “Put the gun down and step right back.”

Chrístõ kept the gun trained on the man. He was tall, at least six foot. Julia was only five foot two. She wasn’t a particularly effective Human shield. But it meant that the only clear shot he could risk was to the head. He would have to shoot to kill if he was going to use the gun to resolve this situation.

“You must be Mr Trelawney,” he said, keeping his voice as calm and steady as possible, and ignoring the sounds of four more gunshots on the landing below and groans of pain. “How many guards do you actually employ? I think you might be running short of them by now.” There was another noise, the sonic disrupter pistol being discharged at something electronic. He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. Mrs Green had tried to move towards the door. “Madam, I don’t know how you fit in here, but I suggest you stay right where you are. I was brought up to respect women, but if I find out you’ve had any part in hurting my girl, you’ll be sorry. Julia... it’s all right, sweetheart. Just stay calm. I’m not going to let him hurt you.”

“Chrístõ,” Julia managed to say. “You don’t know what he wants to do. He... he wants to get his daughter back. Using me as...”

“I know,” Chrístõ replied. “I worked it out. Well, actually, that’s a lie. Hext worked it out. He thinks like a field agent. Which is to say he thinks like a criminal a lot of the time – or a desperate man. You’re a desperate man, Mr Trelawney. I understand that. And if you hadn’t kidnapped my fiancée, I might have had some sympathy for you. But as it is, all I see is a man who paid other men to grab a young girl off a beach and make her your prisoner.”

“It was for Lauren,” Mrs Green said. “He did it for her.”

“I know,” Chrístõ replied. “Yes, I know that. Lauren, who tragically died, along with Mr Trelawney’s wife, in a car crash three years ago. She was fourteen, a little immature for that age, still fond of dolls and dresses with frills. I think she must have been a bit too much of her daddy’s girl. He doted on her. Which is all very well in its way. But when she died... grief is a terrible thing. But it’s a natural thing. We all go through it. We get over it. Except you couldn’t get over it. And that’s why you kidnapped Julia. She’s the right size, the right look. The right age – Lauren would be seventeen by now, a young woman like her. You wanted your daughter back. But you can’t. She’s gone. Julia can’t replace her.”

“Chrístõ... it’s more than that,” Julia said. “He didn’t just want to dress me up like Lauren. There’s something else. He keeps talking about a transformation...”

“I don’t know what that’s about, and I don’t care,” Chrístõ said. “Mr Trelawney is a very sick, sad man and he’s going to jail.”

“I’m going nowhere,” Mr Trelawney insisted. “I mean it. Drop that gun and back away or I will kill this girl. I will find another to fulfil my purpose.”

“No, you won’t,” Hext said. Chrístõ saw both Julia’s astonished face and Mr Trelawney’s look of horror and knew there was something strange about Hext’s entrance. But he resisted the urge to look around. He kept his eyes and the gun in his hand fixed on Trelawney while his friend moved across the room and placed the limp, still body of a girl on the bed. He placed her carefully and straightened her limbs before touching her face very gently.

“Oh, my God!” Julia exclaimed. “Is that… But how… she’s been dead for three years…”

“Not quite,” Hext answered her. “She’ll be dead in about three minutes. I disconnected her from the life support machine. Her brain activity is slowing. Her heart and lungs will stop without a machine to keep them going artificially.”

“No!” Trelawney screamed and launched himself towards the bed, pushing Julia aside as if she was no longer of any interest to him. She ran to Chrístõ, of course. He put the gun in his belt and held her in his arms as he watched the final chapter of a bizarre story.

Hext moved away from the bed, side-stepping an hysterical Mrs Green who rushed to the girl, too.

“She didn’t die three years ago,” he said. “Not completely. He refused to let her die. He kept her on life support.”

“And you disconnected that life support?” Chrístõ looked at his friend curiously. “You… killed her?”

“She should have died three years ago. He interrupted the process. I let it complete. Do you have any idea what he wanted to do to Julia?”

Chrístõ didn’t answer. He was still wondering how somebody he called a friend could do what Hext had just done.

“He had equipment down there in the room… equipment to perform a psych transfer. Do you know what that is?”

“It’s a piece of technology which transfers the consciousness… the intellect… the mind… from one person to another. It’s illegal in the Earth Federation. It’s illegal in every civilisation I have ever visited and countless more I know of because the process effectively kills the mind of the recipient, making their body into a host for the transferred mind.”

“That’s why I disconnected her life support… let her die. So that this can’t happen again. It’s over.”

Julia shuddered and looked accusingly at Mrs Green.

“You were going to let him do that to me?”

“Why not? You’re nobody. Just another girl. One of hundreds at that school you go to. Lauren was special. Her life was worth more than yours. And…”

The woman burst into tears. Julia turned away from her.

“Nobody’s life is worth more than another person’s life,” Chrístõ said. He looked at the girl lying on the bed, a girl who looked a little bit like Julia in some ways.

And who was dead, now.

Laurence Trelawney turned from the bed and flew at Hext with a rage of grief and pain in his eyes.

“Murderer!” he screamed. Chrístõ reached into his belt for the gun he didn’t want to use. He didn’t have to. Hext punched Trelawney in the jaw so hard he fell straight to the floor, knocked out cold.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“What about them?” Chrístõ asked. “Shouldn’t we call the local police? Trelawney has committed so many crimes. And his staff have colluded with him.”

“Most of his staff are bleeding on the carpets,” Hext said. “Trelawney… I think he’s been punished enough, seeing his daughter die twice. I think we should just leave, quietly. But… it’s not up to me. Julia…”

Julia touched the bruise on her face where Mrs Green had hit her. It hurt, but it didn’t seem very important, now.

“I wasn’t scared,” she said. “I knew Chrístõ would come for me. I want… some new clothes and something to eat. And after that… I need you two to come up with a way to explain where I’ve been all day that won’t mean every girl in the Academy is banned from going for a run on the beach in the morning.”

“He should go to jail for what he did,” Chrístõ protested. Then he looked at the dead girl and the unconscious man. “No, you’re right. Let’s go.”

He turned to the door with Julia. Hext turned back once and looked at Trelawney. He was beginning to come around.

“I am the director of the Celestial Intervention Agency of Gallifrey. I know a hundred different ways to cause excruciating physical pain, not including the electronic whips I haven’t had chance to try out on a prisoner, yet. I am skilled in covert assassination, and I’ve carried out executive orders more often than my two friends there will ever know. And I will be watching you from now on. If you step out of line, you won’t know what hit you. Nod if you understand me.”

Trelawney nodded. Hext turned and joined Chrístõ and Julia. They walked down the stairs and out of the house, down the driveway and out through the main gate and on to Chrístõ’s TARDIS. He put it in short hop mode and landed it in the car park of the same shopping mall they had visited yesterday.

After Julia had bought a whole new outfit of clothes that fitted comfortably and had no frills, they ate lunch. Julia had a dessert. She had missed breakfast and she was very hungry.

“I did go missing this morning, though,” she pointed out. “I’ve been missing all morning. I could tell them I ran away because I was miserable. But… I don’t want to tell people that. I’m not miserable. Sarah Seers is the only girl I don’t really like, and she’s going to get her come-uppance one of these days. I don’t want them to think I’m unhappy. But I don’t want them to know I was kidnapped, either. I want to be known there for being good at gymnastics, not as the reason why the beach is off limits and there are curfews and rules that affect everyone.”

“Maybe the beach should be off limits,” Chrístõ suggested. “You WERE kidnapped from it.”

“No,” Julia insisted, and Chrístõ hardly got a word in for the next five minutes as she explained why seventeen year old girls needed to be free to decide for themselves what their limits were and why even he had no right to decide how she should live her life.

“When you’re married, there are some wonderfully archaic sections of the Alliance that you can invoke to keep her in line,” Hext told Chrístõ.

“Do you invoke them with Savang?” Chrístõ asked.

“I wouldn’t dare.”

“That’s what I thought. But what do we do about Julia’s problem? She does have a point. I can’t just say she’s with me. I was the one who insisted she HAD been kidnapped.”

“Take me back in the TARDIS to breakfast time,” Julia suggested. “And it will be as if none of it happened.”

Chrístõ explained why doing that would be a paradox that would get him arrested and taken back to Gallifrey in chains to be the subject of Hext’s first practice session with his electronic whips.

“You wouldn’t?” Julia looked at Hext. Then she remembered that, only an hour ago, he had disconnected a life support machine and let a girl die. Maybe he would do it after all.

“Julia,” Hext said quietly. “I hope you understand why I did that?”

“I do,” she answered. “I wish you hadn’t had to. But I do.”

“So do I,” Chrístõ added.

“As for the electronic whips… I sincerely hope I never have to use them on you, Chrístõ. But you push the envelope so often. If you don’t rein in that Human emotionalism of yours, you’re going to end up as Gallifrey’s most famous Renegade. But… I am the Director of the Celestial Intervention Agency. And I can do things you can’t.”

“Without being called a Renegade?” Chrístõ was biting back the urge to respond even more cuttingly to that remark from Hext, but he was sensing something else on his friend’s mind and he let it pass for now.

“You can’t go back in time, Julia. We can’t have two of you in the same time, even if one of you is locked in Trelawney’s house and the other at morning service at the Academy chapel twenty miles away. That’s what causes the paradox and upsets the space time continuum. But, if I retrospectively change the records at the Academy so that Julia was given permission to spend Sunday with her fiancée, then she won’t be missed at roll call. The Department Head won’t call Chrístõ…”

“But she did call me. I spoke to her, and two girls called Fiona and Maria…”

“She didn’t, and you didn’t,” Hext said. “What do you think, Julia? Shall we have you back at the Academy for supper? That gives you a couple of quiet hours with Chrístõ. Does that sound all right?”

“I get the electronic whips for thinking about causing a paradox – but you’re allowed to create one.”

“Privilege of rank,” Hext answered. “I’ll sort it out after lunch. You’ll probably feel a bit dizzy when the paradox catches up on you. So don’t do any driving. Julia, you won’t notice anything. You’ll still remember what really happened. But when you get back to school nobody will be worried about you. And Chrístõ will owe me a favour, which I will be calling in one day. But he needn’t think it grants him immunity to electronic whips.”