"THIS has to be the prettiest sky I ever looked at," Terry said as he lay on the grass in the warm late afternoon and looked up at THREE suns and four moons in one sky. Cassie sat beside him peeling a strange local fruit that smelled like an orange but had a reddish colour and hundreds of little pips that when bitten unleashed an even sharper citrus taste on the tongue. She took a segment for herself and put a piece into Terry's mouth, stopping him talking for a moment.

"I don't know," Cassie sighed as she looked up. "I think our own familiar Earth sky has a lot going for it."

"Well, that's true," Terry agreed with her. He, too, sighed.

"You want to go home?" Chrístõ looked up from where he was lazily looking up at the sky through half closed eyes. "I thought you liked exploring with me."

"Not to STAY," Cassie assured him. "But it does seem like AGES since we were on Earth. We've been to loads of planets and space stations. We've ridden plasma storms, watched stars go supernova - which by the way is something I will never forget if I could live as long as a Time Lord. But, you know, it IS nice to go back to our own planet sometimes."

"One day we'll have to, I suppose," Terry said. "We've still got to finish university."

"But not yet." Cassie again sought to assure Chrístõ whose eyes were open now, and there was a sad look in them. "You'd miss us, wouldn't you, Chrístõ."

"Yes," he admitted. "But then, one day I have to go back to finish university, too." Chrístõ looked at Bo and Sammie. They both looked at each other and he knew without using any of his telepathic powers, what they were both thinking. They had no life to return to on Earth or anywhere. He saw Sammie touch Bo's hand and she responded by closing her other hand over his. Chrístõ turned away quickly. He didn't want them to see him watching their moment of intimacy. The fact that they were both lost souls with no place to call home was a slender bond between them, but it WAS a bond.

"Before I do, I will make things right for both of you," he promised.

"We'll make out ok," Sammie answered and Chrístõ noted the way he seemed to be talking for both of them, as if it was expected that, when they left him, it would be together. He knew Sammie and Bo were good friends. But they were not yet lovers. At night Bo still went to sleep in HIS arms. She still reached for him and wanted him beside her. She still called him her love. He had rescued her from torture and misery and possibly even death. That was a strong factor in her deep affections for him. But slowly, very slowly, those affections were being transferred to Sammie, who was doing his part gently and quietly, walking beside her, talking with her, being there for her. Chrístõ slowly withdrew from that role and gave them the space to grow together.

"I think we ought to go find a place to eat dinner before the Carnival starts," Chrístõ decided. He didn't want to talk any more about how long any of them could be together. He DID have to go back to Gallifrey when he was 200. That gave them nine years. It seemed a long time to his Human friends, but not so long for him. And he WOULD miss them, and he would miss the life he had with them, the freedom to go where and when he chose. Even if he went into the diplomatic corps as he hoped, following in his father's footsteps, he would not be able to choose where he would go. He would be told which planets he must represent Gallifrey on. He had been born into that life. He was a diplomat's son. He had travelled in hyperspace when he was six weeks old. He had lived on a dozen planets by the time he was twelve. And his father had never had a choice about it. Nor about who his friends were. Nine years when he was allowed to be who he wanted to be didn't seem a lot compared to 3,000 years or more of being told what to do. But he meant to make the most of it, and he meant to keep his friends with him for as long as he could.

With three suns and four moons it was rare for Port Vella, the main port and metropolis of Coronula VIII not to be bathed in light day and night. It happened just once every eleven and a half years when the sun and the planet and the moons were in a certain alignment that all four of the moons were dark. And on that night the people of Port Vella held their Carnival of Light, replacing their moonlight with lantern lights, fireworks and colourful pageantry and their universally famous Race of Fortitude, played out under the lantern-light to test the endurance of competitors. And Chrístõ wanted to see it all, because by the time it came around again he would be back on Gallifrey, locked into the life he was destined to live. 500 years from now, when he was Lord High President of Gallifrey, when he had a hundred other things to think about, he wanted to be able to remember days like this.

They ate their dinner at a dining room with a southern seaview. The four suns went down over the southern horizon one by one. The plate glass window they sat by had special filters so that the spectacle of light could be watched comfortably without hurting the eyes.

"The suns here go down in the South?" Sammie looked at Chrístõ. "Isn't that a bit strange?"

"No," he said. "It's only because you're used to the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. That's because your world has a North-South axis. But this one has an East-West axis."

"What does yours have?"

"North-South," he said. "But our sun rises in the West and sets in the East."

"Can't take anything for granted around you, can we," Sammie said.

"That's the great thing though," Terry said as he looked out over the beautiful seascape. "All our expectations, all our certainties are no more and we know so much. Even our own planet. We've seen it the way only a handful of other people have seen it - from space. We've seen the 21st century, we've seen the 13th century. Chrístõ has shown us so much it's a wonder we find anything new and exciting any more. But we do."

"That's the difference between you two and Bo and myself," Sammie said. "You're here for the thrill. Because Chrístõ asked you to come with him. "But we're here because we have nowhere else to go."

"I don't want to be anywhere else," Bo said. "I love being with Chrístõ in the TARDIS, being able to go to these wonderful places."

"I'm not saying I don't love it. One reason I joined the army was the chance to go places, do stuff, that others couldn't. And no, not just KILLING people, Terry. I saw that look on your face. And the TARDIS is my way of seeing much more than I could have dreamt. But the point still remains - Bo wasn't asked to come, neither was I. And I don't know where either of us will go afterwards or what will become of us. Or if any of us will ever see each other again."

"Oh, I hope we will," Cassie said. "Chrístõ, you promised you would come and see us when you are Lord High President. The TARDIS can bring you to us even if its five hundred years later."

"Would you like that?" he asked. "Ten or fifteen years from now in your time, when you are great archaeologists with a knowledge of Earth history beyond any of your peers, would you like it if you were visited one day by a middle aged man who looked a little bit like me…"

"You would be welcome any time, Chrístõ," Terry told him. "Be sure of that."

"And you, my precious Bo," he said. "Would you welcome me as a guest in your home when I am a middle aged bureaucrat of my planet, who has forgotten the good times?"

"Yes, my Chrístõ," she said. "You would be my honoured guest. I would make the tea ceremony for you and honour you."

"Would you do that for me?" Sammie asked her and she blushed and smiled and bowed her head to him.

"Yes, my Sammie, I would."

"Well, Chrístõ, when you're tired of my company, make sure you drop me off in a time zone where I can go to tea with Bo. Don't leave me a century apart from everyone."

"Of course I won't," Chrístõ promised. He sighed and looked out of the window at the setting suns. He didn't know why today everyone's thoughts seemed drawn to parting again and again. The more they tried to avoid the subject the more they came back to it.

"I will always remember you, Chrístõ," Bo told him. "My saviour. I am glad for my life that you gave back to me." She turned to Sammie. "Aren't you glad too, my Sammie? When Chrístõ took the metal from your body and I gave you my blood, I was happy for your life. I was so glad you lived."

"I owe Chrístõ a lot," Sammie admitted. "But Bo, you're worth living for." She blushed and turned her eyes down decorously as he paid her a tender compliment. "When I first opened my eyes and saw you… I wanted to be dead because I thought Heaven was worth it with an angel like you to take care of me." He blushed then, realising what a corny line he had just used. But Bo smiled at him even though she would not lift her eyes to him now. He was paying court to her openly and as befitted her upbringing as a well-mannered young woman of nineteenth century China she kept her eyes downcast and smiled only to herself

Chrístõ smiled secretly, too. That was the boldest move Sammie had yet made to her. And it seemed to have worked. He watched as she dared to lift her head just once. Their eyes met and he reached out his hand to her. There was a magical moment when he thought they might have kissed. It was the moment when the last of the suns dropped behind the horizon and the crowds outside cheered and lit the lanterns all down the promenade and fireworks began to light the darkened sky. Chrístõ had the feeling they only held back because of him. Neither wanted to betray his affection for them. Even without kissing, though, he knew that the fireworks in their two heads made the ones outside pale in comparison.

After their meal they joined the throngs on the promenade for the torchlight parade. The lanterns that disappeared to a pinpoint in the distance bathed the promenade with a light brighter than any moonlit night. Torchlit floats and marching bands, dancers and acrobats formed the parade that added sound and colour to the Carnival sensation. Fireworks continued to light up the sky with their brief meteor showers and everyone caught the mood. As the parade passed, the spectators joined the end of it, waving hand-held lanterns that hawkers sold up and down the line so that, eventually, everyone reached the place by the long stone pier at the end of the promenade where the Race of Fortitude would begin at midnight. But there were still several hours to go and the Carnival went into overdrive. The friends found themselves in a riot of colour and light. Bo, especially, became intrigued by the fire jugglers and the fire eaters. Her eyes shone as she saw brightly clothed men throwing wheels of fire into the air and catching them as they turned in a wide circle. Even more amazing were those that swallowed gouts of fire.

"I can do that," Chrístõ said and his friends looked at him, wondering if he was bragging. But he never did brag. If he said he could do something he was almost certainly an expert. And on this occasion he was able to prove it. The chief juggler, taking a break while the rest of his troupe performed heard him say that and beckoned him over.

"You are a fire juggler?" he asked him. "You are a fire eater? What about knives and swords?"

"All of it," he said.

"If you tell the truth, I should like to see," the man said, inviting him to step forward. "If you lie, you could die tonight, my friend."

"I am not lying," Chrístõ said and he took up four of the burning circlets and began to throw them into the air skilfully. He moved into the main part of the arena where the performance was taking place and called to the other jugglers to throw him more objects. Different objects, he told the audience, were more tricky than even a dozen of the same object. They took up the challenge and Chrístõ found himself juggling five rings, two burning clubs and five long and very sharp knives. The professionals stood and watched and threw the fire-eaters brands to him. He caught them with ease and threw the rings and clubs back at them in exchange. Now his circle of flying objects consisted of the tools of the fire-eater and sword swallowers art. And he drew applause and gasps of astonishment from all as he in turn put out the brands in his mouth and swallowed the knives. He threw the brands to one of the jugglers and the knives, after he withdrew them from his throat he threw with precision into a target set up some fifteen yards away, each time hitting the centre. Finally when his hands were free he was thrown a long sword. He caught it by the centre of the blade and held it above his head for a long half minute and then he adjusted its position in his hand and turned his head upright and swallowed the sword right up to its hilt. As he did so he dropped to his knees and the man who had invited him to prove himself beckoned to Bo, who was standing more anxious even than his other friends, on the edge of the arena. He told her to remove the sword. She did so carefully, half afraid to find his strange orange blood upon it, proof that his throat or stomach had been pierced by what she knew was a REAL sword. She held it up and it glinted in the light of the burning torches around the arena with nothing more than his saliva upon it. She adjusted her hold on the sword and in a swift spinning movement turned towards the target. She released the sword and it flew through the air piercing the target dead centre between Chrístõ's knives before splitting it in two. Audience and professionals alike gasped in amazement, too stunned to applaud. The lead man told them both to take a bow, but as Bo put her arms about his neck and kissed him that seemed to the audience a better way to end his act.

"You did not lie, my friend," the juggler's leader said as the scheduled performance went on and Chrístõ returned to his other friends. Bo returned to Sammie's side, and that was very well, but Cassie took hold of him and kissed him and he felt her tongue probing his mouth.

"I had to know," she said as Terry took her back in his grasp. "I was sure you would be burnt or cut. It was for real?"

"It was," the juggler told her. "We have no fakery in our act. But your friend has no fakery either. He could join our troupe tomorrow."

"I am only an amateur," Chrístõ said.

"Well, you should at least be taking part in the Race of Fortitude," he was told and Chrístõ said he might just do that if entries were still open.

They moved on, and in another part of the Carnival Sammie found something HE was good at, something that would make Bo gasp with as much admiration for him as she had done for Chrístõ. He felt he needed to regain something of her favour. He wasn't sure if Chrístõ realised that they had become rivals for her affection, but they had. The more so here, today, than anywhere else. It was not a bitter rivalry. He considered Chrístõ his friend in a way he never expected to call anyone a friend who was not 'regiment'. But they both loved the same woman and though he did not want to cause his friend pain, he didn't want that pain himself.

So he took up the rifle he was offered at the target shooting sideshow that was up against the seawall at the edge of the Carnival site. He loaded it with what looked to him like a .22 low velocity round and lined the rest of the bullets up on the top of the seawall where he could pick them up by feel alone without having to see them in the dark. He took careful aim as balloons filled with some phosphoresence that made them glow in the night sky were slowly released and floated up and out over the sea. He let the first few reach at least thirty metres before he fired. Each one exploded into coloured ribbons of fire satisfactorily. As a crowd gathered to watch Sammie display his talents the sideshow operator let more balloons go at once, having first filled them with a different gas that allowed them to rise faster and higher and explode more spectacularly when Sammie pierced each one of them. He was providing a one man pyrotechnic display that was as spectacular as Chrístõ's act, which he had found frankly amazing.

He never missed, not even when they sent six, seven, eight fast balloons up at once. Even though the rifle was an awkward single shot breach loading fairground rifle that he had to reload after each shot, which needed so much pressure on the trigger that his fingers began to ache, even though the ammunition had very little velocity and it took a lot of skill to sight it properly, he never missed. Finally they challenged him with ten, set off together but with different levels of gas so that they rose at different speeds to confuse his anticipation of where they ought to be as he lined up his sight. The audience counted down how many he had to go. He almost missed the last one. They had not put any phosphorous in it, and it was harder to see, but the movement of the red coloured object against the black sky caught his attention while it was still some five metres within the maximum 100 metres he thought this shonky old gun could manage and as a flare from some other pyrotechnic elsewhere lit it momentarily he fired. The balloon exploded more loudly and brightly than any before. It had been rigged as a finale to his demonstration and it surprised even him. He checked that the rifle was empty and the breach open and he placed it down on the stall with the remaining rounds beside it and turned to receive the applause of appreciative spectators. Bo ran to him and congratulated him and kissed him on the cheek. Far less demonstrative than when she kissed Chrístõ, but it was sweet all the same and she consented to be hugged by him. He heard Chrístõ say he was going to find out where to sign up for the Race of Fortitude and looked up from her sweet embrace.

"Hang on, count me in on that, too," Sammie said and caught up with him. Terry took Bo and Cassie both by the arm and followed behind.

"You're a pair of show offs," Terry said to their retreating backs. He was starting to wonder if they had BOTH lost their marbles. The one-upmanship displayed already had been enough.

"Terry, just for the record," Cassie said, as they went to the place where entrants were signing up before being sent to a large tent to change. "You don't have to swallow fire or juggle anything or shoot anything to prove yourself to me. And you DON'T have to prove your fortitude. You proved your love for me the day you stood up to your father and told him never to say that word in front of me again."

"There's enough macho stuff going on here without me," Terry said with a hollow laugh as he hugged his sweetheart close to him and tried to be as reassuring as possible to Bo who looked anxiously for the two men who had her affections in measures that even she could not calculate the balance of just now.

The first part of the competition was a barefoot race along the beach to the far end of the bay, where they would then swim back to the pier - the tide was already coming in and the beach would disappear rapidly as the running race progressed. They picked up talk around them of how in past years stragglers had to run through the incoming tide. After all the competitors had reached the pier they would be tested by two further feats of stamina and courage, which changed from year to year but were always fearfully hard.

Chrístõ and Sammie both emerged from the tent with the other competitors, some hundreds, all young, fit men like themselves. They were all dressed in a sort of body hugging stretchable garment that would serve for running and swimming, and presumably the last two tests as well. Chrístõ's slender, lithe body covered from neck to ankle in the green-blue fabric looked almost snakelike as he stretched himself in warming up exercises. Sammie in a purple garment looked excitingly muscular. Cassie and Bo were not the only women who noted the way his body flexed as he prepared for the race. They were both the subject of much female admiration. Both girls took a fiercely proprietary view of BOTH their friends and were satisfied by the space they cleared with their glares. Terry wondered if he SHOULD have a go, but Cassie took an even more jealous hold on him and warned him not to even think about it.

At a signal the route along the beach was lit up with hundreds of lanterns, each one lighting up in turn. They watched as the line of light turned seaward in a wide arc and began to make its way back over the sea towards the pier. They were puzzled at first how that was until the nearest lights were lit and they saw that hundreds of miniature boats, each about three feet long were anchored in a line in the water, each with a lantern in it.

"Sammie, are you sure about this?" Terry asked him as he stood waiting to be called. "This looks tough."

"You think I'm not up to it? I AM a trained SAS officer. There's nothing here I haven't handled before while somebody was trying to kill me at the same time."

Nobody asked if Chrístõ was up to it. They knew he had superior strength and stamina. They had seen it many times. They didn't even wish him luck. They all fully expected him to succeed. Bo and Cassie kissed both of them and Terry shook hands with them. Sammie winked at Chrístõ and said it looked as if their friends didn't expect them to live through the race. Chrístõ grinned back at him.

"You'd better," Terry warned him. "You'd both better live through it. And one of you had better win."

"We'll try," Chrístõ laughed. "Some of these people have done this before though. We'll be up against it as first timers."

Then it was time for the race to start. They lined up on the beach with the other competitors. There was a count of three and then a starting pistol and they sprinted away, some from a standing start, others from a professional crouching position. Many spectators had already gone ahead along the promenade to watch the runners as they progressed along the beach. Bo and Cassie said they were exhausted just watching and that they would wait for them to return on the swimming leg. In any case, they could see before they had gone out of their view that their two men were among the front runners.

"Do you think Chrístõ will win?" Cassie asked as they leaned over the seawall and watched as the running figures became small and indistinct. "He is a Time Lord after all. Two hearts and strength beyond most men."

"I think Sammie might also have a chance to win," Bo said. "Though Chrístõ is strong, of course."

"It's not a matter of who wins the race," Terry told them. "It's which of the two beats the other. This race isn't between hundreds of people, its between the two of them."

"What do you mean?" Casssie asked him.

"Haven't you seen it?"

"Seen what?"

"They're competing with each other," Terry explained. "Sammie's army training against Chrístõ's Time Lord advantages. It's more than a race to them."

"Why?" Bo asked.

"Because of you," Cassie told her, understanding Terry's meaning at last.


"Because they're both in love with you, Bo." Cassie took her hand. "Surely you knew that?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes, I have known for a long time. But I don't want either to be hurt because of me. And this race…. It's dreadful. So many ways they could be hurt."

"Who do you want to win?" Terry asked.

"Does it matter?" Cassie looked at him. "She doesn't have to choose between them because of this 'test'. Let her choose with her heart."

"I love Chrístõ," Bo said. "But he…. He doesn't… And Sammie is…. I am… I…" Cassie put her arms about her as she began to cry. "I don't know," she sobbed. "I love them both. Chrístõ wants me to… he wants me to be with Sammie. But my heart burns for him. I hold him next to me at night and wish we could be true lovers. Wish he would be mine wholly. But then…. Sammie…. He smiles at me and my heart belongs to him. He is… so strong and brave. A warrior."

"Why does Chrístõ want you to be with Sammie?" Cassie asked. "I never understood that. I've seen him encouraging you two to be together. But why?"

"It is our destiny," Bo said.

Cassie was on the verge of an exclamation when a shout went up from the crowd and they looked around. The swimmers were in sight. And two were clearly in front as more lanterns were trained over the water. Chrístõ and Sammie were neck and neck a full ten metres ahead of the nearest competitors. Terry ran towards the pier. The girls followed close behind him. They got there in time to see the two reach the end of the pier and grab the ropes that dangled down into the water. They climbed hand over hand up the ropes quickly and emerged onto the platform above and ran down the pier, still neck and neck. They both looked freezing cold, but the endurance continued. Terry gave a shout of astonishment as he saw what the next test was.

"You have got to be joking," he said and Cassie gave a gasp of horror.

"No!" she shrieked. "They can't."

Bo's eyes widened as she approached the barrier between the competitors and the spectators. A stretch of ground at least thirty metres long was covered in red-hot coals that glowed brightly in the darkness of the night. Her friends put their arms about her as they all three watched fearfully.

"Chrístõ could do it," Terry said. "He's done scarier things. He can slow time or stop himself from feeling the pain. But Sammie…."

"Sammie is a warrior," Bo said. "He is strong. He has endurance. I think he can…. But…"

"They're both going to try." Cassie whispered. They clung to each other in fear for their two friends, and yet hoping that both would succeed in this daring test.

Chrístõ looked at Sammie beside him as they stepped up to the edge of the fire test. He looked back.

"You can do this easy," Sammie told him. "You have tricks you can do."

"No tricks," Chrístõ told him. "A fair competition."


"Can you do this?"

"I can if you can."

"I've done it before. Have you?"

"I can if you can."

"Its all about mind over matter," Chrístõ told him. "For a Time Lord or for a Human. You have to focus on the end of the track, not on your feet. Look straight ahead, move as fast as you can, and don't think about how much it hurts."

"I've done that," he said. Thirty K of Congolese jungle, he remembered, with a bullet in his thigh and an unconscious colleague on his back. This was thirty metres. "No problem."

They both tensed themselves as they were given a five second warning from the adjudicators who sent the competitors off on the next stage at times equal to their finishing the swim. They went together, 45 seconds ahead of the next man. They both breathed in and stepped back several paces before the whistle blew and they both took a run at it. The fact that their feet were still wet and cold from the swim made the first steps easy. The coals hissed as the water dripped from their bodies. Neither felt the first step. The second was not too bad. After that, it hurt. But they kept going. They picked up the pace, taking long strides, keeping going, eyes focussed on the end of the torture. Again, they were neck and neck as they reached the end of the burning path.

Both stepped off the agonising surface together. But apart from allowing their feet to sink into the soft, cool grass there was no respite. They had only a few seconds before they had to begin the final part of the endurance. It looked like an army assault course with a vengeance. Almost every step was some obstacle. And it ran for maybe five kilometres in a wide torchlit circle coming back to where a lantern-lit finish post and winners podium was set up.

"This is your territory," Chrístõ said to Sammie.

"Yes, but I'm betting you're going to be good at it," he replied. "No tricks still?"

"None," he said as they got ready for the signal to start the next leg together.

"I need to get something from the TARDIS," Bo said and she turned and ran as she saw them begin the course.

They reached the first obstacle together. Sammie knew it was called a step frame. Chrístõ didn't care what it was called as they both leapt onto the lowest of the wooden beams and used the momentum of that first leap to bridge the gap to the next level up. The third step was a drop down which was painful on their calves and then they had to jump back up to the fourth and fifth which were progressively higher. Chrístõ hesitated as he balanced on the top beam, uncertain what he was supposed to do next. He saw Sammie leap across the water filled ditch and land and roll and followed him, but by the time he had got to his feet Sammie had several metres lead on him and he had to sprint to catch up as they reached the walls.

The first was only a six foot wall and they climbed it unaided easily, though it pulled on their muscles and the drop down the other side was no fun. The twelve foot wall had scaling ropes but after coming up the side of the pier the only challenge was that they were by now feeling the strain on their arms and legs. The eight footer needed a run up to make it. Chrístõ missed it the first time and he saw Sammie jump from a few feet away and grasp the top of the wall and 'walk' it with his feet. By the time he had copied him, jumping into the water ditch the other side that eased his aching feet Sammie was again well ahead of him. This time he found it harder to catch up in the fifty metre run before the next obstacle. And Sammie's feet must have been in a worse state than his. He always knew Sammie was well trained and physically fit, but it was the first time he realised just how fit.

Chrístõ’s lithe body was slightly better suited to climbing the fifty metres of metal frame up to what Sammie would call a Burma Bridge, basically three ropes in a rough v-shape. Chrístõ stepped quickly along the bottom rope using the two guide ropes either side to steady himself. In the dark the depth beneath him was something he didn’t worry about. Sammie stepped onto the ‘bridge’ a few seconds behind but even with mind over matter the rough rope hurt his blistered feet and he didn’t make such good time as Chrístõ. For him, a Master of Sun Ko Du, having hand holds was the equivalent of training wheels

Sammie was only a few steps behind even so as he saw Chrístõ disappear over the edge of the twenty-five metre bridge, lithely descending a rope to the ground at the other side. He wished fervently for a good pair of army boots and a thick pair of woollen socks but pushed on anyway, ignoring the raw pain from his feet.

Chrístõ had pulled well ahead in the run up to the water tunnel. Torchlight glinted off the dark, ice cold, uninviting water but he didn't hesitate as he closed his lungs and dived in. He could barely see even with his Time Lord advantages but he felt his way to the tunnel opening. Claustrophobia hit him as he entered it and absolute darkness engulfed him for much of the twenty-five metres he had to swim. He tried not to remember his childhood near-drowning experience but the slight glimmer of the torchlight in the pool at the end of the tunnel was a sweet relief to him. As he pulled himself out of the water he looked around and wondered how far behind Sammie was. He couldn't see him so he assumed he was already in the tunnel. He ran on towards the next challenge, knowing that his friend would be right behind him any minute.

The first part of the next obstacle was a climb up a loose cargo net that was annoying to do but relatively easy. But as he balanced on the thick beam at the top Chrístõ felt himself out of ideas. Obviously they had to get to the other side of the deep water-filled ditch below using one of the two ropes stretched across. But they were not stretched tight enough for a simple tightrope walk and he had no idea how else to cross it. He tested it to see if he could walk it but almost immediately slipped down, and ending up clinging by one hand to the rope and with the other inching himself back up the net to the 'safety' of the beam. As he did so, he felt the movement of the net as Sammie began scrambling up it.

"What's up?" he asked as he reached the top.

"I've no idea what to do," Chrístõ admitted and wondered for a moment if Sammie would just abandon him.

"Hand over hand," he said. "Follow my lead." And he leaned forward and pulled himself onto the rope, wrapping his legs around it and then allowed himself to roll around so that he was hanging upside down like a sloth on a tree branch, legs crossed over the rope and moving hand over hand forward. Chrístõ didn't like the look of it one little bit but he copied Sammie. He knew he had lost the advantage now. He was inching along while Sammie was moving confidently.

"Do you think anyone is actually watching?" he heard Sammie shout back cheerfully. "Here we are risking our necks when we could just stroll around these things!" He laughed but nervously. It wasn't that he had a problem with heights, but he would REALLY be glad to get this one over and done with and get down to the ground again.

He was chasing Sammie all the way in the run to the next obstacle. This was another high climb up metal bars and he was starting to dread what he would find up there.

His hearts leapt for joy when he did stand on the narrow platform at the top. The torchlight shone onto a six inch wide plank stretching into the darkness. He saw Sammie more than halfway across already at a confident run but he smiled as he stepped onto the plank and began to sprint across. This was a training height in the Malvorian monastery. Masters would perform elaborate fighting moves at the top of high chasms with mountain winds whistling around their ears.

He reached the other side neck and neck with Sammie again and they reached together for the metal ladder that took them up another 10 metres before they grasped the ropes they had to descend to the next obstacle.

This was easy too. Every playground in every school in the universe must have had monkey bars. Chrístõ remembered being appallingly bad at it as a child. He had weak arms for a Gallifreyan - everyone derisively put it down to his half-blood - and fell off after two or three rungs. But later, when he had built up his muscles with regular disciplined exercise, inside and outside the martial arts dojo, he learnt to do it easily. He and Sammie almost laughed as they crossed this obstacle, especially knowing that they were over halfway and they were the only contenders. They thought they had heard somebody behind them before the water tunnel but since then nothing.

As they dropped down from the monkey bars, in the distance they saw a red glow.

"Not more hot coals?" Sammie groaned as they ran towards it.

"They wouldn't do that to us twice, surely?" Chrístõ said, though not entirely certain. If he ever met the masochist who designed this course….

They stopped and stared for a moment at the two metal bars laid horizontally across a pit of flames. They tentatively stepped onto the bars and realised that they were actually cool, not the burning hot they both, Sammie more so, dreaded.

They never did it with flames underneath them, but Sammie had done this many times when he was in the Parachute Regiment, before he was accepted into the SAS. Chrístõ, also was confident. The flames were not as frightening to either of them as the aforementioned masochist had clearly expected. Halfway across Sammie actually turned around and started talking to Chrístõ who was a pace and a half behind. Chrístõ grinned and turned a graceful cartwheel that put him ahead. As he stood up again Sammie turned to face him and suggested that they were getting a bit cocky and maybe they should just carry on walking the rest of the way.

At the end of the bars they noticed why they were cool. Water was running through them into the ditch at the end of the flame pit. Neither fancied getting wet again, and they were none to sure how deep it was, so they jumped it, side by side, before running on again.

"Bloody hell! Now what!" Chrístõ exclaimed as they stared at the fiendish obstacle that next lay before them. They looked down at what looked like a blanket of thorns half a metre from the ground. "Are you sure we can't just walk around?"

"Commando crawl," Sammie told him. "Keep your head down. Crawl on your back, like a caterpillar, pushing with your hands and legs. This is bloody vile but you'll be ok."

Chrístõ looked at it and decided that THIS was the one he was going to have nightmares about in years to come. As he manoeuvred his body in under the horrible blanket he saw the razor sharp thorns pointing at his face. He knew he could recover his youthful good looks fairly quickly in the event of an accident, but even so he didn't relish getting his face scratched to pieces. He kept his head low and pushed himself along. He was slower than Sammie who kept singing snatches of some daft song about what you couldn't do to a hedgehog no matter how drunk you were. Sammie reached the open well ahead which at least meant he didn't get to the really rude verse of the song. But Chrístõ had a feeling he was letting his race down by being beaten by what he had always been told was a 'puny' and insignificant species.

"Oh yeah!" Chrístõ muttered as he finally looked up at the stars and scrambled a few feet more before he was free of the wretched thing and stood up. At least he could still run faster than any Human, even an SAS and Para trained one.

They weren't far off now. Chrístõ could hear on the edge of his hearing the crowds at the finish line. But in front of that there was a kind of rumbling noise coming from what must be the next challenge. Again, what fiendish thing was ahead? It looked to Chrístõ like a giant grain elevator such as he had seen on the fertile plains of the northern continent of Gallifrey. There were two openings in the front of it, both covered by hanging chains like a sadistic bead curtain. The rumbling noises were louder now and came ominously from inside this strange contraption.

"Remind me why we're doing this," Sammie asked as they looked at it.

"To decide which of us is taking Bo to the New Dawn dance after this," Chrístõ told him.

"We're going to be fit to dance after?" Sammie bent low and massaged his calf muscles. They ached beyond anything he had known outside of a combat zone. "You brought us to this planet. You knew about the Carnival and this race. Did you know it was going to be as bad as this?"

"No," Chrístõ admitted. "I thought it was just like a triathlon type of thing in the dark. Are you sorry you got involved?"

"No. Are you?"


"Ok. Let's get it over with. On three."

As careful as he pushed the chains aside, Chrístõ got a crack on the back of his head as they swung back. He heard Sammie yelp as the same thing happened to him, but that was the last he heard of him for the time being. They seemed to have entered simultaneous corridors, dimly lit through opaque portal-like windows with torches outside. In the dim light he saw moving objects ahead. Strange shapes that swung back and forward across his path. He knew he could see them better than Sammie would and that would give him a precious advantage. It wasn't just about who took Bo to the dance. There was actually much more at stake than that, and they both knew it. This was the Arthurian trial by ordeal to win the hand of the fair lady.

Sammie couldn't see a thing at first. He stood inside the chain-mail door and let his eyes adjust to the dark. As well as those woolly socks and strong boots right now he would have sold his soul for a pair of night vision goggles. Gradually he began to make out the moving shapes ahead. This was not something he had come across in any of the assault courses he had trained on, but he understood well the simple but potentially fatal idea. Timing and precision in his movements were required to get past each swinging object and reach the top of the steeply angled corridor.

The steep angle was the worst of it, Chrístõ thought. He was already exhausted from the gruelling first parts of the race and the more than two and a half kilometres of the final course. Every bone in his body ached and he just wanted it to be over. It was tempting, he thought, to time fold and slip through the sandbags that dropped down from the roof and great logs of wood that seesawed back and forward across his path, and the spikes of wood like vicious stalagmites and stalactites that went up into the ceiling and down into the floor continuously.

But he had promised not to use any of his Time Lord tricks. His eyesight was natural to him. So was his superior respiratory system and musculature. They were his edge. But time folding - well that was natural to him too, but it definitely came under the heading of tricks. And he would not cheat with so much at stake.

Aren't you supposed to lose anyway, Chrístõ, his inner voice told him. She belongs with him, not you.

Yes, he told himself, but I'm not going to deliberately lose. He has to beat me on his own merits. Now shut up. I don't want my brains bashed in by a lump of wood because I'm talking to myself."

Sammie was doing ok so far. As he made it past the first deadly threat he remembered an old joke from basic training about how one of these days the sandbags would fight back. It looked as if they had. And he didn't even have a bayonet to stab at them with. He counted the time it took for the giant log to swing by and then took three steps to safety with his breath held.

Then the spikes. They were tricky because the ones at the top were starting to come down before the bottom ones had begun their descent. There was no time when both were receding at the same time.

Then he saw the only way to get past. He lay down beside the spikes and waiting until the bottom ones were completely down into the floor and he rolled himself forward and upwards. The top spikes never came far enough down to reach him.

He stood up and saw faint starlight ahead. But he was not fool enough to think he was out of the woods. He spotted the trapdoor that opened onto a lethal drop. Ok, there was a safety net there. They obviously didn't want to be sued by grieving relatives of endurance athletes, but it would have been the end of his chances in this race that he had almost completed.

Was it really for Bo? Were they really competing so that the winner got to keep her? Surely SHE had some say in it. But the thought that she WAS the real prize, not the trophy and title of Fortitude Champion was a spur. It lifted his heart when the aching tiredness would have dragged him down. It made him want to win so badly.

But could he? Chrístõ was a Time Lord. He'd been told often enough how physically superior he was. Did he REALLY stand a chance?

Well, YES. His special forces training had been up to Chrístõ's alien physiology so far. And if he kept his word this time and didn't time fold or play any tricks, then his only advantage here was better eyesight. He COULD win. He WANTED to win. And as the often clichéd motto of his regiment said, Who DARES wins.

Sammie dared.

Chrístõ breathed in deeply as he emerged onto the platform at the top of the dark and strangely stuffy corridor. He heard footsteps and turned to see Sammie.

"Another rope to climb," he said, swinging one of the two to him. Sammie caught it and tested it and they both climbed together, hand over hand, feet pushing against the metal wall that rose a further fifteen metres before what they supposed was the last obstacle in their path. When they emerged at the top they could both see the lantern-lit promenade stretching before them. They could see the crowds below. What Chrístõ didn't see to begin with was how they were meant to get down.

"Death slide!" Sammie cried out exuberantly. "Yes!"

"WHAT is a death slide?" Chrístõ asked wearily.

"Have you ever done a parachute jump?" Sammie asked.

"No!" Chrístõ answered.

"Well, it's nothing like that," Sammie grinned as he held out the contraption attached to a near invisible cable that Chrístõ realised he was supposed to hold onto. "You go first," he said. Then I know you're safe."

"I'll beat you if I have that much of a start on you," Chrístõ protested. "We said fair competition."

"Don't bet on it," Sammie grinned as he made sure Chrístõ's hands were securely through the straps and holding tight and pushed him off. There was an interesting Doppler effect on the Gallifreyan swear word he screamed at Sammie.

Reaching up to the cable where it came closest to the platform he pulled himself up so he was lying across it on his stomach. He turned slowly and wrapped his legs tightly around it just as he had done on the hand over hand rope. He placed his arms around the cable with his elbows out like a pair of wings but his hands not touching the cable. He loosened his leg grip on the cable and started to slide forward. He passed Chrístõ like a rocket before he was even halfway down. It was insane, it was lethal, but it was faster.

As he passed over the promenade and heard the yells of the people below who had seen what he was doing he realised they were going to land in the sea. Earlier when they ran and then swam past they had been too preoccupied to notice the cable stretching down to an anchor point. When he was about five metres above the water he let go of the cable and shallow dived into the sea.

Chrístõ saw what he had done and carefully pulled his hands one by one out of the straps, holding onto the handles still. When he was about the same distance from the water, he let go and threw himself into a forward dive.

The momentum of Sammie's dive had already brought him a good halfway to the steps up out of the water before he surfaced for the first time. He took a gulp of air and kicked off again with a strong front crawl. Chrístõ emerged just behind him and struck out for dry land just as strongly. By the time they reached the steps it was neck and neck again. They clambered carefully up the algae covered and slippery steps and as they reached the top the stewards cleared the way to the finish line. It was a straight race between two evenly matched runners, Time Lord versus Human, both equally exhausted, equally tortured by the course they had negotiated, equally traumatised by the fact that the course designers seemed hell bent on killing them.

The cry went up around the crowd behind the barrier at the winning line as they emerged onto the promenade. Bo stepped forward under the barrier and stood in front of the line they had to cross. One of the stewards stepped near her as if to tell her to go back but there was a look in her eyes that told HIM to back off, and he did.After the heart stopping moment when she saw how Sammie had chosen to come down the Death Slide nobody was going to tell her where she could stand to greet them both at the end. She stood there resolutely and watched as the two men her heart was torn between sprinted the last hundred metres of the race. Neither seemed to have the edge on the other.

It was a dead heat between them right up to the line. She saw the whites of Sammie's eyes as he pushed himself ahead, chest forward, putting his last ounce of strength into the effort. She knew he was falling over the line not running and reached out her arms to catch him as he broke the ribbon. As she clung tightly to him she saw Cassie and Terry also break through the barrier and catch Chrístõ before he, too, collapsed from exhaustion.

For a minute or two there was nothing but sound and light around them as people cheered and cameras flashed and the stewards tried to pry the winner and runner up from the arms of their friends.

Sammie looked at Bo and tried to speak but all that came out was "Wa…."

"What is it?" she said to him. "My Sammie, what do you need?" He mouthed silently to her again and she understood. "Water!" she cried. "Somebody get him some water." A bottle was passed to her and she opened it and gave it to him. He took a deep draught and then spat it out onto the floor. The taste of seawater still stung his mouth but he was able to swallow the second mouthful and feel more Human again.

"Oh, Sammie," Bo cried as she held him under the arms and tried to support him. He was still gasping for breath but he responded to her embrace. "Sammie, you must sit," she told him, and she brought him to the edge of the winner's podium and made him sit down on it. Then she took a pot of ointment from her pocket and knelt and began to massage it into his feet. He sighed with relief as the cool, pleasant smelling balm eased the pain he had endured all the way around the assault course. In the lantern light she could see his feet were blistered and burnt, and bruised but her medicine was helping. She looked around and saw Chrístõ standing behind her, held up by Terry and Cassie. "You should sit down, too," she said. "Let me attend to you."

"I'm all right," he insisted. "I can mend remember."

"I don't care what you say," Bo said. "Sit down here and let me look after you." Chrístõ sat beside Sammie and as she massaged her cooling ointment into his weary feet he put his hand on Sammie's shoulder.

"Well done," he said. "You beat me even with your feet burnt."

"You held back," Sammie said to him. "You must have done."

"I didn't," he assured him. "I told you, fair competition. You won, fair and square. You won the race. You…." His eyes flickered for a moment. "You won, Sammie. Well done."

"You gave the rest of us heart attacks when you came down that slide," Cassie told him. "But you definitely won."

Sammie grinned and as Bo finished tending to Chrístõ's feet he lifted her up. He stood and put one arm around her as he pulled her close. With his free hand he lifted her face up to his and he kissed her fully on the lips. "You won, Sammie," Chrístõ had said. "Well done." As she responded to his kiss he knew he had.

There was a prize-giving ceremony, of course. Sammie received a beautiful silver trophy, Chrístõ a slightly smaller one for coming second, and a young local man who came in a full five minutes after took the third place prize. All were applauded loudly.

Afterwards Chrístõ spared them both a walk and summoned the TARDIS to the front of the pier where it disguised itself as a closed up souvenir booth. The two of them showered and changed before the ball that continued the festivities till dawn. Chrístõ wore a scarlet silk shirt under his usual leather jacket, his concession to the demand that ball-goers wear bright colours. Sammie emerged from the wardrobe in a similar silk shirt in bright orange-yellow beneath a cream-coloured suit. He walked a little gingerly but when it was suggested that he sit out this part of the proceedings he said he was fine. Bo came to him in a gold cheongsam dress with a side slit to her thigh and took his hand, smiling. Chrístõ looked at them and smiled, but Cassie, as she stood with Terry, the two of them in their own colourful finery, saw his eyes and knew his smile was hiding broken hearts. She took his hand along with Terry as they all walked together to the place where the ball was taking place, an outdoor dance floor ringed with lanterns that lit it beautifully.

Sammie and Bo danced in each other's arms, their eyes fixed on each other. As Terry nodded in understanding Cassie took Chrístõ by the arm and brought him onto the floor.

"Why have you let her go?" Cassie asked him as they danced. "You love her."

"She was not meant to be with me. Sammie is her true love."

"Not meant…."

Chrístõ sighed and told her about Li Tuo's prophecy about them both.

"Li Tuo would know, wouldn't he."

"Yes, he does. Sammie will love her for eternity. Or as near eternity as Humans can have. He will be gentle with her. He will never hurt her. They will have children together and live happily. And I bless them both."

"But you're hurting," Cassie said, pressing her hands against his two hearts. "You're hurting, Chrístõ, my beautiful alien. You don't want to lose her."

"No, I don't," he admitted. "But it's the right thing. It's right for them both."

"What if Li Tuo had never told you what he did? You would have kept her. You would have made her yours for good."

"But he did. And look." They both turned. Sammie and Bo had stopped dancing. They were kissing as the dance went on around them. They looked happy. "It was the right thing. And you should be dancing with Terry." He took her to her own lover and gave her to him. He watched by the side of the dance floor as his four friends danced, two beautiful couples. He smiled as he watched them. Yes, it was right. He was relieved in a way. For too long they had lived a lie. She was meant to be with Sammie, not him.

He danced with other girls. It was a party and he had offers from many of them, and he danced. He enjoyed himself. Once he even danced with Bo. She felt small and fragile in his arms as she always did. She looked happy. He kissed her once, for old time's sake. Then he gave her back to the man she belonged to now.


It was, indeed, dawn when the ball ended. The first of the three suns came up over the city to the north and bathed the scene with light that paled the lanterns that had shone brightly through the night. The last dance was danced in warm daylight, Chrístõ holding in his arms a beautiful blue-skinned girl from the Psi Quadrant who told him he was the most handsome white-skinned man she had ever met. Then as the music ended people drifted away, slowly and reluctantly as people do when they have had a good time, but with their thoughts on cool sheets in bedrooms with filtered glass to shut out the sunlight as they slept away the after-effects of their all night Carnival of Light.

By the time Chrístõ and his friends walked along the promenade to the pier and their disguised TARDIS, they were the last people on the seafront. Their footsteps echoed in the sudden silence after the festival and they found themselves talking in whispers.

"Tell the truth now, Chrístõ," Sammie said for the umpteenth time. "You let me win the race. You held back in the last sprint."

"I didn't," Chrístõ insisted yet again. "You beat me fairly. Accept it."

"You beat him, Sammie," Terry told him. "Human stamina outdid Time Lord. It doesn't happen often. Enjoy it."

"SAS stamina," Sammie said proudly. "Training and discipline."

"You were wonderful," Bo told him, hugging his arm. "My warrior, my Sammie."

"You both left all the other competitors standing," Cassie said. "You should both be proud. An awful lot didn't make it past the hot coals. That was scary though. Are your feet all right, Sammie?"

"Bo's Chinese ointment did the trick," he said. "My feet ache from dancing, but I'm ok."

"That was a crazy thing to expect people to do," Terry said. "I think…."

His voice was drowned suddenly by the sound of engines and Cassie screamed as she saw a heavy duty military style car swerve off the road and cut off their path in front. Turning she saw another do the same behind. A third car screeched to a halt beside them. The sea wall separating the promenade from the sea was on the fourth side. There was no escape.

"Who are you?" Chrístõ demanded, stepping forward and putting the women behind him. "What do you want?"

There was no answer but a gun aimed at him. For a brief moment he wondered what kind of strange gun it was, then for a moment more, as he saw the tranquilizer dart puncture his shoulder, he knew. He felt himself falling, felt his body becoming numb with the neural-inhibiting poison, then his brain shut down and he felt nothing else.

"Chrístõ!" Bo and Cassie caught him as he fell. Terry tried to reach them but he was grabbed from behind by a rough hand and a gun barrel pointed at his head. He looked around at Sammie and was bewildered to see him not trying to fight their assailants - though he knew that would be suicide - but backing away towards the seawall. In one swift moment he vaulted over the wall. The splash as he hit the water was lost in Bo's terrified scream. Then a hand clamped down over her mouth and Terry saw a syringe jabbed into her arm before she fell into unconsciousness. A moment later Cassie was dragged away from Chrístõ's prone form and rendered helpless the same way and Terry sighed as he felt the prick of a needle in his neck. Just before everything went black he heard one of their captors report that there was no sign of a body in the water and that 'the other one' must have been dragged under by the current.