Julia smiled as she passed the statue of St Christopher, patron saint of travellers inside the entrance to Cologne’s magnificent gothic cathedral. He was a saint she had reason to pay homage to. She had travelled much further than any of the 20,000 visitors who walked past his icon every day. Chrístõ offered her the whole universe on a plate every time she travelled with him.

This weekend, he had chosen where he wanted to bring her. He had not said what he had in mind but he promised romance at every turn and they had begun promisingly enough with dinner and dancing on the Orbital Restaurant of Omicron Psi. They drank champagne - in moderation - and while Julia slept in her bed aboard the TARDIS Chrístõ piloted it to Earth. She woke up on the banks of the River Rhine in Germany in the early twenty-first century. The Cathedral bells as they invited early morning worshippers to Mass attracted her. Chrístõ came with her. He didn’t identify with any Earth religion, but he liked churches and cathedrals and he appreciated the rituals of the services and the faith of the congregation around him. Afterwards he held her arm as they walked back up the aisle, past the fifteenth century statue that shared the same name – more or less – as him.

“You’re my Saint Christopher,” she commented as she looked at the little plaque beneath the figure. “Christophorus in German.”

“Actually, in my own language Chrístõ means something completely different,” he said. “But it doesn’t hurt to have a patron saint smiling on us as we go on our travels.”

They stepped out of the cathedral with its wide façade and two great spires that had ranked as the highest structures in the world when the six hundred years long building work was completed in the nineteenth century. Traffic was busy already in the city and a passenger train set off noisily from the nearby railway station. It didn’t really seem like a romantic place to be, but Chrístõ obviously had some kind of plan in mind. He led his fiancée by the hand through the traffic to a set of steps that brought them up onto the walkway and cycle path that ran alongside the wide Hohenzollernbrücke, the solid, functional, tied arch bridge that carried six sets of railway lines across the Rhine. Two trains rushed past at the same time as they stepped onto the walkway. Julia covered her ears against the noise and watched a long line of freight cars rush by with names of German industries on their sides. It was only just gone when a passenger train that had only just started gathering speed from the station passed in the opposite direction.

There was a lull for a few minutes and Chrístõ took her hand and walked part of the way across the bridge. The view was spectacular, but Julia wasn’t sure the noise of the trains made it worthwhile.

“It wasn’t the view I brought you for,” he said to her. “It was these.”

He pointed to the incongruous objects fixed to the metal fence between the walkway and the railway lines. They were literally hundreds of padlocks of different sizes and shapes. When she looked closely she noted that there were names inscribed, engraved, or just scratched or written with indelible marker pen on each of the locks. They were the names of couples, some accompanied by love hearts or other symbols of romance.

Chrístõ handed her something small but heavy. She looked at the bronze coloured padlock with two names beautifully engraved on it. Chrístõ and Julia. The letters were partially interlocked as if to indicate that they were inseparable.

“It’s an Earth tradition from the early twenty-first century,” her fiancé explained. “Lovers fix a padlock to the bridge then throw the key into the Rhine to symbolise that nothing could ever unlock their hearts from each other.”

“Oh!” Julia looked along the length of the fence at just how many people had done that already then she looked for a space where their padlock could be fixed. Chrístõ held the little key while she did it. Another train went by while she was locking it in place and a man on a bicycle sped past, waving and shouting something in German.

“He said ‘good luck’,” Chrístõ told her with a smile. She turned from locking their love onto the Hohenzollernbrücke and took the key that he offered. She hurled it into the Rhine. She lost sight of the tiny key long before it hit the water, but she imagined it sinking down through the water and settling among the hundreds of other keys going rusty on the river bed.

“I should think the silt quickly covers them up,” Chrístõ noted. “But it is amazing to think of all those keys down there, all the same - ours among them.”

He looked down at the fast flowing river while Julia walked along the fence reading some of the names of other lovers who had come to the Hohenzollernbrücke.

“Kurt und Meinhilde,” she read. “Margit und Conrad, Billy and Jess, Diarmuid agus Máire. Those two are Irish. They travelled a long way to seal their love.”

“Not as far as we did,” Chrístõ noted.

“Nikolaus und Oskar? Isn’t that two boys?”

“True love comes in many shapes and forms. Good luck to them.”

“Kristoph and Marion….” Julia reached out and touched one of the locks. It was neatly engraved just like theirs, but not in English, although she was familiar enough with the swirling script. “Chrístõ, this one is in Gallifreyan.”

“Yes,” he said. “My mother and father came here once. That’s how I knew about the tradition. Father told me about it. He thought you might find the idea appealing in the same way my mother did.”

“What are the chances of finding that one among all of the hundreds that are here?” She reached and touched it and thought of Chrístõ’s Human mother and his Gallifreyan father coming to the Hohenzollernbrücke to declare their love in the same way they had done.

“We’re carrying on the tradition,” Julia said. “Maybe… one day… our son will bring his fiancée here and do the same.”

“Maybe he’ll start the tradition on Gallifrey,” Chrístõ suggested. “We have a few bridges in the Capitol that would do nicely.”

“I can’t imagine this happening on Gallifrey,” Julia answered. “It’s not the sort of place where spontaneous things happen.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Chrístõ conceded. “I shall have to direct our son to the Hohenzollernbrücke as well. Three generations sealing their love over the Rhine.”

Another train screamed by. Julia clasped her hands to her ears.

“Where is everyone going in such a hurry?” she asked when it was quiet again. “Why don’t they just have a nice walk?”

“Other people have places to be. They don’t have our leisure to enjoy being together.” Chrístõ walked beside her as she read more of the padlocks. There were lovers from all over the world who had come here with their locks and keys. There were more like Nikolaus und Oskar to be found, as well as a Dorothea und Mathilde. Chrístõ touched some of the locks himself and felt the stories behind them.

“Emmerich und Claudia,” he said. “I can feel what they were thinking as they fastened their padlock. Emmerich was a soldier on leave. They sealed their love before he had to leave her for a while.”

“I hope he came back safely,” Julia said. She looked at Chrístõ for confirmation of a happy ending.

“I can’t tell,” he answered her. “All I can sense is a brief snapshot of time when the padlocks were fastened to the fence. The emotions of the moment imprint themselves on the locks. But I don’t know what happened before or after that.”

“I think he did,” Julia said with a smile. “I think he came back and they were married and they’re happy.”

“You’re a romantic,” Chrístõ told her. “It’s all that ballet you’re so interested in.”

“Hardly,” she laughed. “Most of the romances in the classical ballets end in tragedy, lover’s suicide pacts or dying of consumption or curses. But I think most of the people who came here are all right. I don’t think anyone would go to this much trouble if they didn’t mean to be together forever.”

“Hopeless romantic,” Chrístõ insisted. “But that’s all right. I love you that way.”

“Tell me about some more of them,” Julia said. She touched the padlocks, but she wasn’t telepathic. She couldn’t read those ‘snapshots’ the way he could. She wished she could. The hundreds of lovers on the bridge intrigued her.

Chrístõ touched her forehead and closed his eyes for a few seconds. He opened them again and smiled at her.

“Try now,” he suggested.

Julia touched one of the locks, put on the fence by Lukas und Magda. Her eyes lit with joy as she felt the love the two young people had for each other when they closed their padlock on the fence. They were very young, only seventeen, and about to go to separate universities, but they pledged themselves to each other on this bridge.

For Nicole und Franziska and Dolf und Erich it was not so easy. Both couples pledged to each other in both joy and sadness knowing that being together meant cutting themselves off from their families who disapproved of their kind of love. Julia wished them all well and hoped their loved ones would come to understand.

Chrístõ walked along the bridge a little behind Julia as she enthusiastically experienced those glimpses of other people’s romances. He looked out over the wide Rhine that split the city. There was a coal barge moving slowly upriver. He followed the movement of it idly as he listened to Julia’s chatter.

“That’s funny,” she said. “This one doesn’t have names. Just….”

Her voice was drowned out by the sound of another freight train on the tracks, but Chrístõ had turned to see what had puzzled her so much. She was reaching out to touch one of the padlocks.

Then Chrístõ screamed, even though his voice was lost in the thunder of the freight cars rumbling past. He tried to reach Julia but the air felt like treacle. He couldn’t get to her even though she was mere feet away from him.

The train was gone, and so was Julia. Chrístõ stopped screaming. There was no point. He had to think, now.

Julia screamed as she found herself in the dark. It wasn’t cold, and she could breathe, but she couldn’t feel any floor beneath her feet and she felt as if there were no walls or ceiling anywhere near her, either.

After a timeless interval – it might have been seconds or several minutes - she noticed that she was standing on a floor made of some kind of white material. There were walls around her, and a ceiling above made of the same white substance. There was light from somewhere but there were no obvious light fittings. Every surface in every dimension was featureless.

“Shut that noise up,” said a rough voice. She stopped screaming purely out of shock and spun around to see the man who spoke to her. He was tall, broad-shouldered, dressed in a loose grey robe. He had an unshaven chin and a hooked nose and hard eyes of chilling blue. His mouth was twisted in a sneer. He pointed a long, thin finger at her. It almost looked as if he was scanning her with it the way Chrístõ used a sonic screwdriver.

“Human?” he said, with the same sneer evident in his tone. “Not what I expected. Yet you could not have come here unless you had Artron energy in your body. You’ll do as bait, at least, even if you can’t get me out of here.”

“Who are you?” she demanded, trying to keep her voice steady. “Why have you kidnapped me?”

“Don’t you listen, girl?” he snapped. “You are bait. You must know a Time Lord. Not the one I hoped to snare, but any Time Lord will do. He’ll have to come to you. And when he does, he will be the prisoner here, and I will be free.”

Julia looked at those eyes again. They were chilling, and they were also absolutely mad.

Chrístõ knew straight away which of the padlocks fixed to the fence Julia had touched. It was the one that didn’t have a pair of names on it, just two symbols. To a Human who was educated in such things, they were a pair of letters from the ancient Greek alphabet. To him, they were part of the forty-six character Gallifreyan alphabet. The letters meant the same in either language. There was a long, complicated reason for that about which he cared little right now.

He could feel the energy when he went near it. Artron energy with the polarity reversed. It was a magnet to attract a time traveller. Anyone who had ever been in a TARDIS for any length of time was infused with positive Artron energy. It was harmless in that form, and it had a lot of very useful properties, but any contact between an organic body suffused with positive energy and an object giving off the levels of negative energy he was sensing would be immediate and dramatic.

“Julia!” he cried out. His cool logic and emotional detachment lasted just long enough to stop him from touching the padlock. That would take him wherever she was, of course. But doing so without knowing where he might end up would be foolish. It was obviously a trap, and even for Julia he wasn’t about to walk into it.

But he needed help. He couldn’t do this alone.

“Where am I?” Julia demanded. “Is this a TARDIS?”

“Does it look like a TARDIS?” the man replied. “This is a prison. And I have endured it for three thousand years already. Three thousand years… never aging, in a time neutral capsule that could have been ten thousand years or two minutes in the place where you found it. I am worse now than I was frozen in Shada.”

“You were in Shada… the Time Lord prison?” She knew of it. Epsilon was taken there when his trial was over. Chrístõ shuddered every time it was mentioned as if it was the most fearful place in the universe. She had every reason to believe it was. In Shada, prisoners were cryogenically frozen for thousands of years, their bodies suspended in time, but their minds, according to the Gallifreyan scientists who studied them, aware of the passage of the long years. Most of them went mad.

And this man had escaped from there, or was taken from that place, into what was, undoubtedly, much worse. Here he was fully awake.

She looked around. The room was hexagonal, and the walls continued all around without a door. There was nothing in the room except a mat like the one Chrístõ sometimes used instead of a bed when he was practicing his long meditations.

“I’m Human,” she pointed out steadying her voice and giving it the semblance of much more courage than she really had at this moment. “I eat and sleep and I… go to the toilet. I don’t think you really want to be stuck in here with me for very long if there are no other facilities than this.”

The man laughed hollowly.

Chrístõ forgot to breathe or blink as he ran back across the bridge and dodged the morning traffic on some of Cologne’s busiest roads. Tears were streaming down his face from his all too Human eyes. Emotional Detachment was failing him completely as he avoided pedestrians who swore at him in German and ran towards the closed down newspaper stand near the Cathedral that bore the familiar Greek-Gallifreyan letters TS in amongst the names of German newspapers. He pushed the door open and closed it behind him before taking a deep sobbing breath. Humphrey swept towards him with a concerned trill and seemed to know what the problem was without him saying anything.

“Shhooo…lia…!” he mourned. “Pre…ttty… Shooo…lia!”

“I’m going to find her,” Chrístõ assured his odd friend. He wiped the tears from his eyes and composed himself before sending a secure priority communication to Gallifrey. Paracell Hext responded to his call straight away, reading the urgency almost as easily as Humphrey had.

“What or who is Tau Rho?” Chrístõ asked without any preliminaries.

“A dangerous criminal who should still be in Shada for the next ten thousand years,” Hext answered just as quickly. “He’s on the Agency’s most wanted list, has been since he escaped. You were still at the Academy. I’d only just graduated. It’s a long story. Your father could tell you. He had a lot to do with putting him on ice in the first place.”

“I don’t have time for long stories. I don’t have time to contact my father, even. Tau Rho… He IS a Time Lord… a Renegade Time Lord?”


“He has Julia.”

Hext’s face blanched. Chrístõ briefly explained what had happened.

“You can’t tackle Tau Rho on your own, Chrístõ. Wait. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”

“I don’t think I can wait,” he answered. “I just needed to know WHO I’m dealing with.”

“A very dangerous man. Julia is in a lot of peril. But you can’t rush headlong into this. You have to know….”

“Tell my father,” Chrístõ said. “Tell him to find me on the Hohenzollernbrücke. He’ll know where that is.”

“Chrístõ!” Hext tried to tell him something else but he had already cut the connection. He ran to the door then ran back again. He went to his dojo and found a pair of short butterfly swords that he thrust inside his jacket.

Then he was ready.

“Time is neutral in here,” Tau Rho said, laughing again. “If your Time Lord does not come to get you, then you, too, will be here for the eternity I am doomed to endure. You will not need to eat or drink, or sleep, or… use the toilet. That is what it means. Everything stands still. That makes it even more terrible. There isn’t even hunger to mark the passage of days. But at least, now, I have company. You will make the endless time pass for me.”

A terrible thought occurred to Julia. She backed away from Tau Rho and his cold eyes.

“I have short nails. Long ones aren’t so good for gymnastics. But if you touch me, I can still scratch your eyes out, and I know exactly how long it takes for your species to grow them back.”

“I am not interested in that sort of thing,” he responded. “I am not an animal. There is information I should wish to have from you, though. The name of the Time Lord you are associated with. Who should I expect to challenge me?”

“I don’t think I’ll be answering that question,” Julia responded. “And the thing about scratching your eyes out still stands.”

“You won’t be able to do that if your arms are paralysed,” Tau Rho told her. He raised his own arm and pointed. Julia cried out as she felt a sharp pain in her shoulders. She tried to move her arms and couldn’t.

“Don’t,” she begged. “I’m a gymnast. I need to use my limbs. Don’t take away the one thing that matters to me.”

“What is a gymnast?” he asked. He waved his arms again and a hologram appeared in the air. It showed a girl performing rhythmic gymnastics. “An acrobat! The foolery of peasants who wish to impress their betters. Is that all you are? Why should a Time Lord of Gallifrey waste his attentions on you? Are you his servant, or some kind of concubine?”

“I am neither,” Julia replied. She found that she could move her arms again. The paralysis was merely a demonstration of his power over her. She lifted her left hand and the engagement ring that she only wore when she was away from the sports college sparkled in the light. Tau Rho looked at it and gasped. He reached out quickly and grasped her hand.

“A white point star! A stone like that, of such fine quality, is cut once in a millennium even on Gallifrey. You are betrothed to an Oldblood? Which?”

“I won’t tell you,” Julia said firmly. “You can find out simple things like what a gymnast is, but I have been trained to block my thoughts. You will know the name of my bonded fiancée just before he takes your head off.”

“You have spirit, for such a fragile species,” Tau Rho commented.

“Yes, I have,” Julia replied. “And fingernails, teeth, knees, feet, and you may be a Time Lord, but I know which parts of your species are vulnerable. Whatever tricks you play, I will fight you, somehow. I don’t think you can really harm me with that voodoo stuff. Maybe I’m not so fragile after all.”

She felt him rise to that challenge. He WAS powerful. Chrístõ and every other Time Lord she had ever known had to touch her physically in order to enter her mind and try to read it, but this man could do it even from the other side of the room. She put all of her thoughts, especially those about Chrístõ and his family, behind the strongest mental wall she could build, but she was powerless to stop him breaking it down, and as her defences crumbled he smiled joyfully.

“So, you are promised to the son of the House of Lœngbærrow! The child of my greatest foe… the one who imprisoned me.”

“Yes,” Julia responded. “And if his father defeated you, then Chrístõ will, too. He is strong and clever. He has defeated worse than you already. If you can see who he is, then you can see what he is capable of.”

Again she felt Tau Rho moving through her mind. He found her earliest memory of Chrístõ when he defeated the creatures that murdered all of her family. He saw his fights with all kinds of evil, the battle to free Gallifrey from the Mallus, and much more.

“Yes, the son is at least as powerful as the father. But I am stronger than both. Your brave hero will die at my hands and you will watch.”

“You will die at his hands,” Julia responded. But a moment of doubt crept into her mind. This man was very powerful. Maybe Chrístõ couldn’t beat him?

Tau Rho laughed his cold laugh again.

It WAS a criminal offence to carry edged weapons on the streets of German cities, but he couldn’t risk taking the TARDIS near that source of negative Artron energy. He had no choice but to run back through the crowds and the traffic.

When a policeman called to him to stop, he ignored him. The officer gave chase, but Chrístõ could always run faster than any Human, even without folding time, which he didn’t want to risk in these circumstances, either.

He took the two butterfly swords out as he mounted the walkway of the Hohenzollernbrücke. Pedestrians saw a desperate young man in a leather jacket wielding two weapons and hurried to get out of his way. The police officer who had given chase kept his distance but called out to him to surrender. He didn’t, of course. He felt with his mind for that padlock that wasn’t put there out of love. The negative energy was a beacon. Still holding the swords in both hands he touched it once. He felt himself pulled from the temporal and spatial dimension that the city of Cologne belonged in. Darkness surrounded him as the neutral time envelope closed.

Then he was in the hexagonal white room. He saw Julia crouching in the corner, hiding her head in her hands. He saw the Renegade called Tau Rho standing over her.

“Pick on someone your own size,” Chrístõ demanded. He adjusted his hold on the two swords as Tau Rho faced him. The Renegade was unarmed, of course. But that didn’t mean he was defenceless. Chrístõ felt the mental blow when he raised his hand and pointed at him. His body was a weapon, a powerful one. He understood how immediately. He felt it when their minds touched. Instead of going mad cryogenically frozen on Shada, Tau Rho had patiently honed his telepathic senses.

He was very strong. Chrístõ felt a moment of self-doubt. Could he even get close enough to this man to use the ordinary weapons in his hands? Did he have the mental strength for a psychic duel?

If he didn’t, Julia was at his mercy. He had to fight, even if it was to the death. He shielded his mind and pressed forward, slashing through the air with the double swords. Tau Rho stepped back and avoided the razor sharp blades once, and parried with a painful mental attack that sent Chrístõ staggering backwards, reeling from the shock.

He recovered quickly and attacked again, physically and mentally. This time he managed to cut Tau Rho across the face and shoulder, the first a glancing blow that bled only for a short while, the second deep and debilitating. The mental blow he responded with was weaker. He needed the energy to repair his wounds.

But he did so very quickly, far more quickly than ordinary Time Lords could, and the fight was redoubled.

“Chrístõ, don’t weaken,” Julia told him. “Hold on. You’re not alone. I can help.”

“No!” he responded. “Keep away. You don’t know what this man is capable of.”

He again pressed forward, the double swords slashing at his enemy, but he couldn’t get close enough to deal a killing blow. Tau Rho pressed him away with a wall of psychic energy. He fell back and almost lost his footing.

Then Tau Rho was dealt a blow he wasn’t expecting. Julia moved quickly across the floor in a series of cartwheels or flips, whatever they were called. Chrístõ had never mastered the terms for the floor movements she performed so skilfully. Halfway between a handstand and a twisting movement in the air she kicked Tau Rho in the back. She was a slightly built girl, weighing a little more than seven and a half stone, but she put most of that weight into the kick. Tau Rho was distracted. Chrístõ pressed his advantage, aiming for the Renegade’s neck. Severing the head was a gruesome but certain way of killing a Time Lord, and the blades were sharp. Julia screamed in horror as she saw the head fall back. She moved away from the pool of orange blood that spread across the floor as the body fell.

“It’s all right,” Chrístõ said, dropping the swords and reaching for her. “It’s over. He’s dead.”

“No!” Julia cried out. “He’s not. I can still feel him in my head. Chrístõ… look!”

Chrístõ turned. Tau Rho’s body was glowing with Artron energy. It should have been impossible. Severing the head prevented regeneration. He shouldn’t have been able to do that.

And he shouldn’t have been able to do what he did to Julia. Chrístõ was still looking at the glowing body, watching for signs that he was regenerating against all likelihood. He didn’t see her pick up the two swords and run at him until it was almost too late.

“Julia!” He was so shocked to see the girl he loved wielding those deadly blades at him, murderous intent in her beautiful eyes, that he didn’t even defend himself for nearly ten seconds. Then he grasped her two wrists tightly. His reach was longer than hers. The butterfly swords were a little shorter than his arm from elbow to wrist. He was able to hold the blades away from his own face while he forced her to drop them. She fought against him with a strength that didn’t come from within her own body. Tau Rho was fighting him through her, channelling his strength through her slender limbs.

“No, Julia,” he begged as she forced his hands up to protect himself. Then she gave a startled groan and dropped the blades. He saw what happened. The white point star in the engagement ring had caught the light and it flashed in her eyes. Light reflected from a perfect Gallifreyan diamond, mined from the soil of that world, broke the hold Tau Rho had on her. She stepped back from him in horror as something of what she almost did registered in her mind, but Chrístõ didn’t have a moment to spare to comfort her. He grasped the swords again and turned to the reforming body of Tau Rho. He was halfway through the regeneration process. His body within a fire of Artron energy was malleable. He couldn’t be killed yet. But there would be a brief time when the body was almost formed when he could strike. It would be a cold-blooded execution, something he said he could never do. But this time he knew he had to.

“No, you don’t have to, my son,” said a voice he knew so very well. His father stepped forward wielding a long sword with engravings on the blade that Chrístõ knew even though he had only occasionally seen the Sword of Lœngbærrow, the heirloom passed from father to son through eight generations. He stepped back, grasping Julia in his arms and turning her face away from the sight as his father stood over the reforming body and waited for that moment when Tau Rho was vulnerable. He turned his own face away as he heard the sword moving through the air and slicing through flesh. Then there was another sound. He turned and saw his father’s hand held out over the decapitated body, which was smouldering faintly before bursting into flames.

“The only sure way of disposing of a Time Lord body,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said to his son as he turned away. “Come here, both of you. Hold this.”

He held out what Chrístõ recognised as a time ring, a less than satisfactory method of travelling in time and space that his people used only when absolutely desperate. Julia took hold of the bracelet with elaborate markings around the edge. So did Chrístõ. They felt their stomachs churn as they were thrust briefly into an unprotected vortex. Then they were swaying dizzily and holding onto the steel fence that stopped foolish people from falling into the Rhine from the walkway on the Hohenzollernbrücke.

“It’s night,” Chrístõ noted. Cologne cathedral was beautifully uplit. The bridge itself was bright with lights that both decorated it and safeguarded the trains on the tracks. A freight train roared past while he was taking in the presence of yet another Time Lord. Paracell Hext used a powerful laser tool to cut the padlock with the symbols of Tau Rho etched into it. The thing dropped to the concrete floor of the walkway. Hext kept the laser on it until the metal became red then white hot and melted into a puddle of liquid metal that ran into a narrow gully at the bottom of the fence.

“Time was neutral inside Tau Rho’s prison,” his father explained when his voice could be heard again. “Hext and I waited until the police had stopped looking for a suicidal sword wielding maniac who jumped from the bridge.”

“So there isn’t a warrant out for me, then?” Chrístõ asked. He had dropped the swords before he took hold of the time ring. He wasn’t breaking any laws now.

“Was he… in there?” Julia asked looking at the glossy stream of molten steel on the walkway. “Was it like a TARDIS, only much smaller?”

“No, it was a portal to another dimension entirely,” Hext answered. “When Tau Rho escaped from Shada, he thought he was being helped by an ally, but it was actually a Celestial Intervention Agency man working to expose a ‘Cult of Tau Rho’ that had gained some misguided members. He trapped the Renegade in a temporal prison. The entrance to the prison in our reality was in the form of a padlock, which was thrown into the Vortex. The chances of it landing on any inhabited planet were a million to one. The chances of it landing somewhere that it could be found by somebody who had travelled in the Vortex and who could unlock it were a billion to one… ten billion.”

“Next time, just throw the key into the Rhine,” Julia said. “He’s gone. There’s no question about that?”

“He was killed, twice, and his body burnt. The doorway to his prison is destroyed. Tau Rho is gone. His name need never be mentioned again,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “It is over.”

“Good,” Julia said. “Because however long it was for you lot, I was there for hours, and he was wrong. I AM hungry, thirsty and I need to go to the toilet. So get me back to the TARDIS and then point it to the nearest all night restaurant.”

“My chariot is right here, my dear lady,” Paracell Hext responded. He waved his hand in the air and a default TARDIS in the form of a grey metal cabinet with the symbols of the Celestial Intervention Agency on the door appeared out of thin air. “The bathroom is second right through the inner door.”

Julia ran for it. Chrístõ stepped into Paracell’s console room and sat wearily on the sofa. His father came to sit next to him while Hext searched for the other part of Julia’s request.

“Hext said that Tau Rho was a long story and that you could tell me it,” Chrístõ said. “Is it a story that could be told over dinner?”

“No,” his father replied. “That’s one for when we’re alone, sharing a glass of single malt and with nothing else on our minds. I probably should have told you about him before now. But I always intended you to be a diplomat, a peacemaker. You should never have had to face him like that.”

“I want to be a peacemaker,” Chrístõ said. “But sometimes it isn’t easy. I just wanted a romantic weekend with my girlfriend.”

“Yes,” his father sighed. “I used to have the same problem.”