The hired limousine pulled up outside the illustriously named Imperial Hotel in the centre of New Brisbane. The two passengers waited for the driver to open the back door. Julia got out in that smooth, elegant way that aristocratic ladies like Valena d’Arpexia de Lœngbærrow instinctively knew and she had learnt in etiquette classes. Chrístõ stepped out after her and took her arm. A porter came to get her suitcases and the doorman saluted as they stepped into the hotel foyer.

“Welcome to the first part of your Christmas holidays,” Chrístõ said to her as her luggage was taken straight up to her suite. “Come on, we’re having lunch in the Connaught Room.”

The Connaught Room was an elegantly appointed private dining room for those guests who could afford to pay for such extra service. The two men who guarded the door weren’t in the employ of the hotel, though. They were darkly clothed and sombre-faced Celestial Intervention Agency operatives. They nodded to Chrístõ and Julia as they went to join his father and stepmother as well as Paracell Hext and his wife, Savang.

“Garrick!” Julia cried out in surprise and ran to greet Chrístõ’s half brother with an affectionate hug that he reciprocated gladly. “You didn’t tell me he was here! He’s not coming to the Opera House tonight, is he? Surely he doesn’t want to see a seven hour ballet?”

“He thinks he does,” Valena answered her. “When he found out you and Chrístõ would be there he insisted he would be coming. I expect he’ll have fallen asleep by Act Two. But he wants to try to emulate his big brother.”

The words ‘half-brother’ were on Chrístõ’s lips. He always corrected anyone who forgot that he had a different mother. He was distracted by a glass of amber coloured liquor that his father pressed into his hand. He looked at it hesitantly.

“I heard you developed a taste for Racsadian Absinthe a while ago,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said to his son. “You can hardly refuse a good single malt imported from Scotland any-more.”

“I swore off alcohol after the absinthe incident,” Chrístõ answered with a blush of embarrassment as he remembered how he had disgraced himself that night. He noticed Paracell Hext grinning conspiratorially at him. “It really isn’t fair of you to pull rank at the Celestial Intervention Agency in order to check up on me.”

His father laughed and swallowed his own drink. Chrístõ sipped his slowly as Paracell came to join them.

“My father will be joining us later this afternoon,” he said. “He is in conference with the Beta Deltan Governor. The object of this visit was, after all, forging trade and diplomatic ties with the Earth Federation colonies, not just seeing my kid brother’s stage debut.”

“I take it Penne and Drago aren’t here yet?” Chrístõ said in reply.

Paracell Hext was the son of the Lord High President of Gallifrey. Even so, he found it a little disconcerting when Chrístõ called the King Emperor of Adano Ambrado and the Dragon-Loge Marton of Loggia by their first names. He took a moment before answering.

“The hotel is still functioning normally. The foyer isn’t full of Royal Guards and nobody is trying to get the Dragon Loge’s throne through the Conference Suite doors or run a swimming pool sized bath for the King-Emperor.”

“That would be a no, then!” Chrístõ noted with a grim smile.

“Seriously, there isn’t a hotel on this planet that’s ready for guests like those two,” Paracell added. “The last I heard their flagships were passing the outer planets of the Beta Deltan system. They’re going to slide into synchronous orbit over the city and transmat down for the gala. The King-Emperor’s baths and the Loge’s thrones can all stay aboard where they belong.”

Chrístõ laughed and agreed that would be the least disruptive solution to the problem of two very ostentatious royals visiting New Brisbane. It made things much simpler now, too. Penne was his blood brother and he liked Drago despite his tyrannical rule over his people and his misogynistic ways, but he was glad of the chance for a relatively simple lunch with his own family and friends.

Julia was happy. She spent much of her time talking to Garrick who wanted to chat to her about his schooling and his favourite leisure pursuits. Valena and Savang had their own conversation about Gallifreyan social gossip that she joined in with from time to time, even though she was out of touch with much of it. Chrístõ talked with his father and Paracell, first about political affairs on Gallifrey and then, perhaps inevitably, about the security arrangements for the gala event at the New Brisbane Opera House.

“The problem is one of jurisdiction,” Paracell explained. “The Beta Deltan security service have been told to liaise with Penne Dúre’s colonel-in-chief who is convinced she should be in charge of all the arrangements. A Marshal Hain of the Loggian Guard thinks he is superior to all of us, and I’ve already got the Presidential Guard and my own agents at the Opera House making a nuisance of themselves around the final dress rehearsal.”

“We should be thoroughly well protected,” Chrístõ commented.

“We’ll probably be killed in the crossfire between all four sets of security when they mistake each other for terrorists,” his father remarked. “Imagine the disaster with the heads of three allies of the British Federation assassinated at the Ballet!”

Chrístõ laughed. Paracell Hext didn’t. He bit his lip thoughtfully.

“Chrístõ, you could use your royal influences to help me. Joking apart, I’ve got to be able to pull rank on all these separate security agencies. I need background checks on all the Adano-Ambrado and Loggian personnel. I need….”

“Paracell, have you been to the USA in the 1950s?” Chrístõ asked. “I can’t imagine anywhere else in the galaxy you could have become so paranoid about security.”

Paracell wasn’t amused. He seemed to be taking the matter all too seriously. Chrístõ did his best to reassure him.

“I’ll talk to Penne and Drago later. But I don’t think it will make much difference. Colonel Beccan regards the protection of the King-Emperor as her personal mission. She’s literally taken a bullet for him more than once. And I think Marshall Hain was born in uniform. They’re pretty much implacable when it comes to security issues.”

Implacable was a phrase that described Paracell, too. On the surface, he seemed to be there in a social capacity, with his wife at his side looking pretty and more confident about herself than she used to be. He was having lunch with friends. But his head was spinning with anxieties.

“The Earth Federation IS an ally of Gallifrey,” Chrístõ reminded him. “We’re among friends.”

“The Earth Federation has the most open borders in the five galaxies,” Paracell replied. “Humans only outnumber the non-Human species living in the colonies because of their propensity for out-breeding everybody else. That’s why you and Cinn have no problem living among them. But it also means just about any kind of terrorist or assassin could live among them, too.”

Chrístõ wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He still thought Paracell was being paranoid. It was true that the Earth Federation had far more species diversity in it than the more or less homogenous Gallifrey or Adano Ambrado, and the Loggian Empire which rarely welcomed foreign residents. But the idea that Beta Delta was a hotbed of intergalactic sedition was a little far-fetched.

It spoiled the meal for him. He had been looking forward to seeing his father and half-brother, and to talking to Paracell as a friend, instead of taking Celestial Intervention Agency orders from him. But it seemed as if Paracell couldn’t forget, even for the duration of lunch, that he was the Director of the Agency and that he was there to protect the Lord High President of Gallifrey from those real or imagined threats.

After lunch, Julia wanted to take Garrick to the park.

“He may be nearly ready to face the Untempered Schism and start on the path to becoming a mighty Time Lord,” she said. “But he’s still only a seven year old boy who would love to spend the afternoon with swings and slides and roundabouts.”

Lord de Lœngbærrow was happy with the idea. He and Valena were going to visit the New Brisbane Art Gallery for the afternoon. Garrick would enjoy the park much better. Chrístõ, for choice would have gone with Julia and Savang and his half-brother, but Paracell asked him to come to the Opera House, and there was something about the way he said it, both in spoken words and a telepathic urging, that brooked no refusal.

“Chrístõ, I’m not being paranoid,” he said telepathically as soon as they were a distance from the hotel. “There IS a real and present danger.”

In a very short burst of information directly into his brain Paracell explained what had happened the last time he was on Beta Delta V. Chrístõ was startled by the elaborate nature of the plan. It was almost too elaborate to have worked.

“Why didn’t Cinn tell me about it?” he asked. “I’ve been in touch with him all along, making sure he was all right on his own in this big, frightening world full of non-Gallifreyans who don’t recognise his Oldblood superiority.”

“Because his big brother’s orders trump yours and I told him not to talk about it,” Paracell answered. “All I’ve been able to learn since the incident is that they were going to strike at the gala. What I don’t know is who the target was… if it was the Lord President, or either of your two royal friends. I don’t know if there will be another attempt, and frankly I would rather call the whole thing off than risk a high profile assassination that could cause repercussions throughout the galaxy.”

Chrístõ was well aware of what those repercussions might be, for the galaxy, and for them personally.

“You’re worried about your father….”

“Yes. I am, of course I am. I don’t want to see him killed. And I will do all I can to make sure he is safe. At least I have the men to do that. But what if the King-Emperor or the Dragon Loge were the targets? Their armies would pour fire upon the Earth Federation in retaliation… and Gallifrey would be caught in the middle of it all since it has diplomatic ties with all three governments.”

“I don’t want Penne assassinated, either,” Chrístõ pointed out. “He’s my friend.”

“Then help me in this.”

Without thinking about it their feet had brought them to the front of the Opera House. They both looked up at the graceful edifice modelled on Milan’s La Scala.

“This isn’t me being paranoid,” Paracell said. “It’s me having some very strong precognitive flashes. Something is going to happen here tonight, and I don’t know if I can stop it.”

“Maybe….” Chrístõ began. Then he yelped. He felt as if he had experienced a precognitive flash himself. The silver specks in front of his eyes and the proto-migraine it left behind were exactly the same.

“Garrick!” as the pain died down he recognised the scream in his head as his half-brother’s still rudimentary and half trained telepathy.

“Savang!” Paracell put his hand to his forehead. Chrístõ felt that, too. Savang was a very strong telepath and her psychic scream drowned out Garrick’s.

“Julia!” Chrístõ turned and started to run, cannoning off pedestrians and almost being hit twice by road traffic as he ignored everything but the terror in his hearts. He barely even registered the fact that Paracell was running alongside him, or that he had drawn a sonic pistol from inside his coat. He just kept running to the park where Julia had taken his half-brother.

“No!” Paracell expelled that one word with his exhausted breath as he raced onto the children’s playground and stopped. He dragged a lungful of air into his body and stared around at the huddle of frightened parents and children by the swings and two men, one sprawled across the sand pit, his blood soaking into the sand, and the other hanging off the still slowly revolving roundabout with an entry wound through the back of his head and a much larger exit wound obliterating half of his face. Paracell turned the man in the sandpit over. Chrístõ stopped the roundabout but he didn’t need to touch him to know he was dead. The killers had known exactly how to kill Gallifreyans – by shooting them in the lower back of the head and destroying the medula oblongata.

They both looked around with sinking hearts.

“Garrick, Julia!” Chrístõ spoke their names fearfully.


“What happened here?”

Paracell reached into his pocket for a small wallet containing psychic paper. It identified him as a plain clothes policeman. He held it up and asked the question of the eye-witnesses. Chrístõ’s hearts sank as he heard their replies. Paracell’s agents had been shot. Julia, Savang and Garrick had been grabbed by three men whose faces nobody could accurately describe. They had been pushed into a hover-copter that descended quickly and was gone again before anyone could do anything.

“You could have done something,” Paracell said angrily to a man who clung to two little boys. “You could have helped them.”

“He couldn’t,” Chrístõ told him with a calm tone that belied the turmoil in his mind. “He had to think of his own children. These people would have killed anyone who got in their way. Parry, you’ve got to get the Earth Federation authorities here. This is their jurisdiction. They can take statements and investigate what happened.”

“My wife was taken,” Paracell replied. “I’m not going to let some Human police officer deal with this. Besides….”

The Human police were coming. The sirens drowned his words.

“Do what you have to do,” Chrístõ told him. “I… I’ve got to tell my father and Valena that Garrick is….”

Paracell was a pure Gallifreyan. He couldn’t cry. Chrístõ could, but he fought the tears, swallowing the tight lump in his throat.

He turned and hurried away, heading towards the Beta Deltan Art Gallery whose domed roof shone in the winter sunlight. He reached the front steps in time to see his father and stepmother emerging. Garrick’s psychic cry was too weak to reach them here, but his father and mother had felt instinctively that something was wrong with their child.

Chrístõ grasped Valena’s hand as he broke the news to her. His father grasped him around the shoulders and held him up as he added that Julia had been abducted, too.

“Two Celestial Intervention Agency men shot down, a getaway vehicle on hand. This was very carefully planned,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said.

Valena let out a low keening cry. Her husband’s arm was around her shoulders, too. He held his wife and son. He was their strength and support in this terrible moment.

They walked back to the hotel together in a daze, all of them feeling utterly helpless. Chrístõ had fought all kinds of evil. He had helped defeat the Mallus and free his own world from tyranny. His father was The Executioner who had coolly and without undue emotion killed so many enemies of Gallifrey that his name was legend.

But they could do nothing right now, because they knew nothing except that those nearest to their hearts were in the hands of murderers.

When they stepped into the hotel Paracell Hext was there already, arguing with four Federation police officers.

“This is an internal matter of the Gallifreyan government,” he told them. “Your job is simply to secure the area where the incident occurred. My people will interview the witnesses. I will decide what further action is necessary. You will not interfere with my investigation.”

“Hext, you can’t do that,” Chrístõ told him telepathically. “You don’t have that sort of jurisdiction here.”

“I have my reasons,” Hext replied. “Take your father and stepmother to their suite. I’ll talk to you in a minute.”

Chrístõ started to protest. So did his father about being ‘taken’ anywhere by his son, especially at the peremptory orders of the Celestial Intervention Agency.

“Just do it,” Paracell Hext told them both. “This is bigger than we thought.”

They went up to the top floor of the hotel, where three of the best suites were reserved for the Gallifreyan delegation. The President himself had the largest, with his diplomatic entourage and security staff. Lord de Lœngbærrow had taken rooms for himself, his wife and child as well as Valena’s maid and Garrck’s nanny. Chrístõ had booked a suite with two bedrooms and a drawing room with a balcony.

The corridor between the suites was crawling with Presidential Guards as well as Paracell’s agents, but Chrístõ wondered how useful they would be if there was another attack. The two in the park had been killed before they had time to protect Julia and Garrick.

Even Savang, who was a woman of phenomenal power, had been taken in moments. What sort of kidnappers were they dealing with?

Paracell Hext came to them a few minutes later as they sat in the luxurious drawing room of the suite. There was a tray of tea on the table in front of them but nobody wanted refreshments. They wanted answers. They looked at Paracell, expecting him to have them.

“Hext, what the hell are you doing?” Chrístõ demanded. “Why have you countermanded the local authorities?”

“I can’t risk them getting involved,” he replied. “The kidnappers… said they would kill one of… one of our….” His voice faltered momentarily. He breathed in and started again. “Somebody will be killed unless the police are called off. I couldn’t risk it. Besides… I do have jurisdiction. All those affected are Gallifreyan.”

He seemed to have gathered a modicum of emotional detachment in his last words. Chrístõ almost lost any he still had left.

“Julia is Human,” he pointed out with the last calm breath he had.

“Julia is formally betrothed to you. That makes her a Gallifreyan citizen. Don’t argue semantics, Chrístõ. This is too serious.”

“You think I don’t know that? My brother… he’s seven years old. My….”

“My wife,” Hext reminded him. “We’re all emotionally involved. That’s WHY they were taken.” He reached into his pocket and took out three envelopes. Two of them were addressed to Chrístõ and his father. The other to Paracell himself. All three had been opened carefully already. “These were left at the hotel reception. I’ve already scanned them. There’s nothing so obvious as fingerprints, no DNA in the saliva on the seal. They were delivered by a courier who picked them up from a source that already proved to be a dead end. You’d better read them.”

Chrístõ and his father reached for the envelopes addressed to them. They read the notes inside.

“No… they can’t… they cannot be serious!” Lord de Lœngbærrow gasped. “They cannot believe that I would do this… not even to save my own son’s life.”

Chrístõ said nothing. His father had summed it up. He reached out and took the note addressed to Paracell Hext. He read it quickly.

“They ARE serious,” he said. “But it’s insane to think that we would carry this out.”

“Is it?” Hext asked. “I love Savang. You love Julia. Your brother….”

“Both my sons mean everything to me,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “They are my heirs… my future. My own immortality.”

Valena said nothing. She was beyond speech. She too reached for the envelopes and read what was demanded then she turned to her husband in horror. She still couldn’t speak. Even her telepathic voice was struck dumb by the enormity of it all.

“I’m taking my wife to our room,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “She needs to rest.”

That much could not be denied. Chrístõ watched them go then he turned to look at his friend.

“You can’t do it, Paracell,” he said. “Not even to save Savang’s life. You can’t do it.”

“You think I intended, even for a moment, to carry out this foul instruction?” Hext replied. “Any more than you could do what you’ve been told to do.”

Chrístõ looked down at the note addressed to him.

He had been told to kill the Lord High President of Gallifrey before the end of the gala performance tonight or Julia would be murdered.

Hext had been instructed to kill Penne Dúre, the King Emperor of Adano-Ambrado.

Lord de Lœngbærrow, the Executioner of old, was ordered to assassinate the Dragon Loge Marton.

“It’s insane,” he repeated. “They can’t expect us… to commit treason… regicide… our own lives would be forfeit….”

“Which might well have been part of the plan,” Paracell Hext told him. “Remember… my father was chosen as President only because yours was too ill to take office in the aftermath of Liberation. There is no question in anyone’s minds about who would be his successor if anything happened. But if he was under indictment for the murder of the Dragon-Loge….”

Hext took a deep breath before continuing.

“YOU are Penne Dúre’s heir. Corwen, his natural son, is not strong enough to rule a system like Adano-Ambrado. He would be usurped in a week.”

“Is that what this is all about?”

“Your father joked about it earlier. The leaders of three of the strongest political blocs in the galaxy murdered – and the blame falling on the fourth – the Earth Federation. Even if we managed to avoid war, our governments would be in turmoil. We would be weak… open to attack, both politically and militarily.”

“Then there is no question about it,” Chrístõ said in a dry voice. “We can’t do it. Julia… Garrick… Savang…. They’ll be killed. Because we can’t. Hext, I don’t think I could anyway. Murder your father in cold blood….”

“It’s your brother’s life on the line, too,” Paracell Hext said numbly. “I wasn’t sure….”

“No,” Chrístõ insisted. “I couldn’t. Don’t think of it for one moment.”

“I’m not certain I feel the same way. Penne Dúre… I’ve met him many times. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a fine political administrator, even if he has some odd personal habits. But I don’t owe him any particular loyalty. I probably could kill him if I really thought that would save Savang.”

Chrístõ didn’t reply to that. He was wondering if the Dragon-Loge Marton’s life was more precious to his father than Garrick’s. He didn’t doubt for one minute that The Executioner could kill in cold blood.

But his father was a pragmatist. He knew that the lives of billions could be destroyed if this plot was carried out. Even if his hearts broke his son’s life could not be put before the fate of those billions.

All three of them stood to lose the most important people in their lives.

“No.” Lord de Lœngbærrow came back into the room. “No, we will not be blackmailed into committing unthinkable atrocities. And not one drop of blood precious to any of us will be spilt. Do these people… whoever they are… imagine they are dealing with weak willed cowards who will bend to their demands? If so, they will rue their mistake very briefly and very soon.”

Even Chrístõ, who knew his father’s reputation, was startled by his words. Paracell Hext was completely taken by surprise.

“I may have retired from the Agency, but I am no dotard, Hext,” he said, turning a gaze on the Director of the CIA that powerfully, and without any words, spoken or telepathic, reminded him that he was a very young Director who was in the presence of a man with experiences far beyond anything he could ever hope to gain in his lifetimes.

He turned to look at his son with a gaze that was just as unflinching and with just as much meaning conveyed in it. Chrístõ understood the message fully. Why was he sitting there talking about political assassinations when three people they all cared about were being held captive somewhere on this planet? Why wasn’t he tearing it apart, brick by brick to reach them?

“I don’t know where to start,” Chrístõ said feeling as if it was a lame excuse.

“Of course you do,” his father replied shortly. “They used a hover-copter in the abduction. They didn’t use a transmat or any teleportation device. They didn’t use broadcast wavelengths like the Vardans or vortex manipulation. They are still on this planet, somewhere. The range of a hover-copter can’t be more than a few hundred miles. We have TARDISes at our disposal. Yours is the most up to date, Hext, with full stealth capability, and a fully secure brig for any prisoners we might take.”

“We need yours, too, father,” Chrístõ said. “We should slave one to the other and bring them both.”

“A range of two hundred miles gives a search area of 125663.70614359 square miles,” Paracell Hext pointed out as he overrode the protocols and slaved the two TARDISes to work from one console. “That’s assuming they can’t refuel or change to another means of transport. They could even have reached the space port and left the atmosphere by now.”

“That’s why you should have worked with the local authorities,” Lord de Lœngbærrow told him with a note of censure in his voice. “They would have shut down the port and they could have halted and boarded any craft that was still in Beta Deltan airspace. But since the object of the abduction is to force their demands on us, I think it much more likely they are still on the planet, probably not far from the city, because they will want to stay in touch with their colleagues.”

“What colleagues?” Chrístõ asked.

“The ones who will be watching tonight to see if we go ahead with the assassinations. This is a conspiracy, not the act of a lone gunman.”

“My point still stands. How do I find them, even with a TARDIS?”

“You’ve managed to find me when I’m about to break the laws of time even when I’m millions of light years away,” Chrístõ pointed out.

“That’s because you cause wobbles in the Matrix,” Hext replied. “I thought I might be able to contact Savang once I had the TARDIS to augment my telepathic nerves. She can talk to me across deep space without even shutting her eyes. I felt her warning when she was taken like a bullet in the head. But now there’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t mean she’s hurt,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said in softer tones than before. “Their base might have some kind of psychic shielding. Lead lined walls can block even Savang’s power. Focus, Hext. She needs your mind clear, not going over a thousand ways she might be being hurt.”

“The answer is DNA,” Chrístõ said. “I found Remy in 1940s Germany because my TARDIS looked for my symbiotic DNA. That’s why we brought my father’s TARDIS. Use it to find his DNA in Garrick.”

“I should have thought of that, myself,” his father sighed. “We’re all acting on our emotions. We’re missing the obvious.”

He turned and crossed the threshold between Hext’s and his own TARDIS. Chrístõ followed him. He glanced around once at the wood panels of his father’s console room. Some of the panels were decorated with carved images telling stories from Gallifreyan legend. The Pazzione was among them. He had almost forgotten that was the reason they were all together on Beta Delta V. A ballet, even one starring Cinnamal Hext, had paled into insignificance next to the terrible events that were unfolding.

“There is nothing wrong with having emotions,” his father told him as they worked at the console together. “We all have them, even stoical Time Lords. But at times like this we must guard against them overruling our minds. We’ve all made too many mistakes already out of fear for our loved ones.”

That was all he said. Chrístõ looked at his father. His face was inscrutable. He was setting aside emotions, fear for his child’s life, in order to focus on saving him. It was what they all had to do.

An insistent beeping sound from the environmental console caused the inscrutable expression to flicker considerably, even so. There was hope. The TARDIS had found a DNA trace. It wasn’t anywhere near the two hundred mile range. It was just outside New Brisbane’s northern suburb.

“What is this place?” Paracell Hext asked as Lord de Lœngbærrow took over piloting the two TARDISes towards the source of the signal. “I’m seeing no lifesigns at all for at least a quarter of a mile in any direction. Are you sure it’s the right location?”

“We’re sure,” Chrístõ told him. “And in answer to your question, it’s a cemetery. The municipal cemetery for the New Brisbane district.”

“Cemetery? Does that mean….”

“Focus,” Lord de Lœngbærrow reminded Hext. “Lead disrupts lifesigns monitors, too.”

The TARDISes materialised on the edge of the cemetery, beside a stand of trees. They stepped out together and looked around. It was getting dark now, early evening in winter. There was sleet in the air. But none of the Time Lords were concerned about personal comfort.

“I thought we’d have to fight somebody,” Paracell said. “They just left them here without a guard?”

“If this is what it looks like, they wouldn’t need a guard,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said tersely. “Garrick must be terrified. My poor boy.”

“There!” Chrístõ said, pointing to a place where turfs had been replaced over three recently dug graves. “Come on… quickly.”

He began pulling the turfs off by hand before Paracell handed him a spade. Three such implements had been discarded nearby. They worked at a grave each, shovelling frantically. Twice, Chrístõ time folded so that he could gain precious minutes. His hearts thudded in his chest as he wondered what he might find beneath this soil. Had the kidnappers murdered them already? The DNA trace made no distinction between living and dead tissue.

His spade made contact with something solid a mere three feet down. He wrenched with his bare hands at the lid of the metal casket. It was heavier than it needed to be. That was the lead lining his father had predicted. But he forced it open and scooped his seven year old half-brother up out of the narrow space beneath. Garrick was pure-blooded Gallifreyan. He didn’t have tear ducts. But he could make a distressed sound when he was scared, and a relieved one when he was in the arms of his older brother.

“It’s all right, Garrick,” he told him. “It’s over now. It’s all over. We’ll get you back to your mother, soon.”

Chrístõ looked around. He saw his father lifting Savang out of the second coffin and using his sonic screwdriver to remove the psychic dampening cuffs that had stopped her employing her phenomenal psychic powers to fight back. At the same time Paracell Hext laid Julia on the ground. Chrístõ clung to Garrick and watched as his father ran to her side and began to give her mouth to mouth resuscitation. Savang flew to her husband’s arms. He didn’t begrudge them their reunion, but he was trying not to show how frantic he was about Julia.

He looked down at the coffin he had taken his half-brother from. It was a very narrow space. He saw something metallic – an oxygen bottle. But even that wasn’t very big. Savang could recycle her air and conserve it. Garrick couldn’t, but he was only small. There was more air around him to begin with. Julia was Human. She had no Time Lord tricks to save her own life with.

Then he heard her cough and she struggled to sit up. His father gathered her in his arms and brought her to the TARDIS. Chrístõ followed with Garrick, followed by Paracell and Savang. In the warmth and safety of the console room he was at last able to assure himself that she wasn’t hurt and hug her as if he would never let her go again.

“Do you know how many times I’ve been kidnapped since I’ve known you,” she told him. “Why am I marrying you? I think one of our wedding presents should be a gold edged ransom note.”

“Just as long as you WANT to marry me, still,” he said.

“I will, as long as you always come and get me when I’ve been kidnapped.”

Chrístõ promised that very sincerely as Paracell Hext set their destination. It wasn’t the hotel where Valena waited for news of her son, though. He was surprised when they materialised on board the Ruby of Adano.

“We need to discuss security for this damn ballet tonight,” he said.

Paracell’s idea to flush out the conspirators was daring but surprisingly simple. It needed the co-operation of the three heads of state whose lives were threatened, though, as well as the Governor of Beta Delta. They needed the co-operation of the Opera House management, too. The most amazing thing was that the arrangements were all made in time for the gala.

Julia, Savang and Garrick didn’t arrive by limousine and walk the red carpet as planned. They were already in their seats when the VIPs were escorted to their places. They sat in the back of the royal box where they wouldn’t be seen by anyone looking up. After all, the conspirators thought they were still suffocating slowly in the cemetery where they had been left.

Chrístõ and Hext sat with them. So did Valena. Garrick leaned close to her and her arm was around his shoulder. Lord de Lœngbærrow sat next to Lord Hext. Penne and Drago, both wearing gold circlets to denote their royal status to anyone who didn’t guess that from the entourage around them were sitting up front where everyone in the theatre could see them. Cirena was at Penne’s side, elegantly beautiful as always.

Paracell Hext was last to arrive. He sat next to Chrístõ just as the overture began. He was anxious for the plan to go well.

“Aren’t you pleased for your brother?” Julia asked him. “This is his first performance in front of an audience.”

“I’m still not sure what to make of that,” Hext answered. “It really is unprecedented for an Oldblood to take part in something like this. It’s just typical of Cinn to go and do something so completely outrageous.”

“Just wait. You’ll be proud of him.”

Hext didn’t say anything about that. Perhaps as the Pazzione got underway and Cinnamal and Jennica took centre stage, unfolding the tale of Lord Russali and Lady Andressa in dance and music, he did feel something like pride. Perhaps he was stirred by the spectacle. But if so, he did so in only a very small part of his mind. He was too pre-occupied with the drama that had unfolded in the last few hours. His eyes were constantly moving around the darkened auditorium to the men he had posted at all the exits, scanning the faces of the audience, looking for those equally distracted from the performance on stage.

As the house lights came up for the long interval between acts four and five, Chrístõ was the first to play his part in a sketch he felt he probably ought to have rehearsed at least once before the one and only performance. Even so, he acquitted himself well. Everyone in the audience heard his cry of ‘Sic semper tyrannis’ before he shot the Lord High President of Gallifrey and then grabbed the velvet curtain and used it to swing over the edge and jump onto the balcony below. One man had actually risen from his seat amidst the cries of shock and consternation. Chrístõ grabbed him and pushed him to the ground. He knew he hadn’t made a mistake. This was the man who had killed Paracell’s two agents in the park and had put an ether soaked rag over Garrick’s mouth to subdue him while he was bundled into the hover-copter. His thoughts were clear enough.

“Stay down or I’ll make you scream,” Chrístõ said. “I’m a pacifist, but for people who hurt children I can get very violent.”

Two Celestial Intervention Agency men came to take the kidnapper away. Elsewhere in the auditorium four more men had been rounded up. They had all hidden their thoughts behind carefully constructed mental walls, but when it looked as if the plan was working, they revealed themselves. Hext’s men moved in quickly and took them prisoner.

Chrístõ took a more usual route back to the royal box, through the well-lit corridors. As he did, he heard an angry and distressed cry. Cinnamal Hext, still wearing part of the stage armour of the Warrior Lord Russali and carrying a blunted sword, flew at him.

“It’s all right, Cinn,” Chrístõ promised him, disarming him of the sword easily and holding his wrists against the angry blows he tried to administer. “It’s all right. Your father isn’t hurt. Nobody is who doesn’t deserve to be. We decided not to tell you what was going to happen in case it distracted you from your performance.”

Cinnamal looked at him and caught his breath. His eyes were wide. He had forgotten to blink in his distress.

“You’d better come and see for yourself. Then you’ll need to hotfoot it back to the stage door. You’ve got three more acts to get through.”

He brought Cinnamal to the box. His father was in the process of pulling a bag of stage blood from under his stained robe. He was laughing with relief as he reached to hug his younger son.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to match my son’s acting talent,” he said. “Perhaps it actually runs in our family, after all! I’m quite all right, my boy. Don’t you worry.”

“Where’s Parry?” Cinnamal asked. “Is he….”

“He’s fine,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “He’s making sure all the conspirators are safely locked in his TARDIS. He said he would be back in time for Act Five.”

“He really wants to have a go at them with his electronic whips,” Penne Dúre added with a grim smile. “But he said he would wait until after your performance.”

“I hope so,” the Dragon Loge Marton remarked in a bloodthirsty tone. “I think I would like to see that.”

Chrístõ was quite sure he didn’t want to see it. Paracell’s thirst for exotic torture was something he didn’t quite approve of, even when kidnappers and murderers were being subjected to it. He was glad to leave him to it. There was a lot more to this than they yet knew. The few men taken in the auditorium were unlikely to be the actual brains behind such a plot to destabilise four planetary systems in one go. But that was the work of men like Paracell who delved into murky worlds. He was glad to leave him to it.

And meanwhile the audience was being urged to regain their seats. The second half of the Pazzione would begin just as soon as the lead dancer had got his breath back.