Julia and Glenda reluctantly changed out of the fabulous evening gowns they had worn for a State Dinner at the Imperial Palace of Adano Ambrado. Cal sighed as he changed from his sumptuous robes into the ordinary clothes he wore in his everyday life on Beta Delta.

Chrístõ was the only one who seemed happy to be back in his usual dark cotton shirt and trousers with his old leather jacket completing his ensemble. He cheerfully locked the gold crown he had worn all weekend in a cupboard under the console.

“It’s strange,” Glenda commented. “You are the one among us all who was really BORN an aristocrat, yet you can’t wait to hide every sign of it and look like an ordinary man.”

“He doesn’t need the trappings,” Julia pointed out. “He still looks like an aristocrat in that old jacket. The crown is there in spirit. You just have to watch him in action – the unworthy cringe before him.”

“When was the last time anyone cringed before me?” Chrístõ answered good-naturedly as he set the TARDIS on course for the Beta Deltan system and ordinary life for them all.

“That time when we were in New Melbourne and that traffic warden tried to claim you were double-parked.”

“Well, he was definitely unworthy, but he didn’t exactly cringe. He just didn’t get away with giving me a ticket I didn’t deserve.”

“He cringed,” Julia insisted. Glenda and Cal both smiled knowingly. They hadn’t witnessed that particular occasion, but they could picture the scene very well.

“He was relatively easy compared to the Transduction Barrier Monitors on Gallifrey,” Chrístõ conceded. “Those people have minds like steel traps and ice in their veins. No traffic warden could measure up to them.”

His companions laughed again. Then Julia moved closer and smiled winningly at her fiancée.

“You’re not just taking us straight home again, are you?” she asked. “Can’t we take a little detour, like you and Cal did at the start of term?”

“Cal and I can afford to take detours,” Chrístõ answered. “If you girls take too many extra days out of your timeline you’ll be the oldest graduates in Human history by the time your courses are finished.”

“It doesn’t have to be a whole day,” Julia pleaded. “Just an afternoon somewhere interesting, a couple of hours….”

Chrístõ looked at Cal for back up, but clearly he was siding with the girls. He wanted to put off ‘real life’ for a little while.

“Ok, pick a binary number in the space-time spectrum,” Chrístõ told them. “Julia, give me three digits, Brenda, give me another three, Cal, you complete the co-ordinate.”

They picked the numbers and Chrístõ put the randomly chosen co-ordinate into the navigation drive before initiating the new journey.

“This planet is called Prauck Eshanath,” Chrístõ said as he opened the TARDIS doors and invited his friends to step out.

“Easy for you to say,” Glenda remarked. The others giggled. The planet’s given name was a tongue twister, but Chrístõ had pronounced it correctly first time. He smiled knowingly and continued to recite the planetary information from his TARDIS database.

“By the definitions laid down by my people it is Designation 7 Alpha. According to Earth colony definitions it’s a Class M planet, similar in climate to the temperate zones of Earth. It has a humanoid population of just over sixty million who live in peace and prosperity with art and culture as their primary occupation.”

“They sound like a great bunch to spend an evening with,” Julia agreed.

“If we can find any of them,” Cal added, glancing at the lifesigns monitor. “Population six million, but it doesn’t look as if they live around here.”

“They don’t?” Chrístõ moved around the console and looked at the data Cal had accessed. He was right. The monitor indicated only a handful of people in the immediate vicinity.

“But this is a city.” Glenda had actually stepped across the threshold of the door and was looking around at the place outside. “Come and look.”

“Well, there’s nothing else to do,” Chrístõ agreed. He took one last look at the monitor and joined his friends outside the TARDIS.

He emerged into a wide, beautiful plaza in the midst of a magnificent city of high buildings topped with crystal spires and domes. The facades of the buildings resembled the classical period of Earth architecture – or the Areclian mode on Gallifrey. Finely carved pillars held up porticos with elegant friezes telling stories from antiquity. The plaza was clean and quiet, the wide paved area broken by sculptures and carefully pruned trees. The loudest sound was the rush of water in the fountains that cooled the air.

Which was strange, of course. A plaza like this was made for people - but there were none.

“Chrístõ!” A terrifying thought struck Julia’s mind. “What if there’s radiation of some kind – or bacteria. Perhaps the people have been evacuated.”

“No,” Chrístõ assured her. “The TARDIS would not have opened its doors if there was anything dangerous outside. It would have protected us. No, this place is perfectly safe in that way.”

“Then what DID happen to the people?” Glenda asked. “Where is everyone?”

“Does it matter?” Cal responded. “We just wanted a bit of a look around. Let’s do that, with nobody trying to sell us anything or get us to take part in a survey.”

Chrístõ agreed to the idea, but he really couldn’t appreciate the architecture and the sculpture for their intrinsic beauty or admire a city built by a people as culturally enlightened as his own while the puzzle remained to be solved.

His friends noticed that and tried to persuade him to relax.

“But it doesn’t make any SENSE!” he protested. “WHERE have the people gone, and WHY?”

“That building is the Imperial palace,” Julia said, pointing to the longest and highest building facing onto the plaza, its dome catching the sunlight splendidly. “Why don’t we look for answers there?”

Chrístõ didn’t think there were any more answers there than anywhere else, but the others thought it was worth a try.

“Strange entering a palace without ANY guards wanting my credentials,” he commented as they climbed a magnificent set of wide, long, marble steps that began in the plaza and continued inside the building, through the gilded entrance hall.

“When was the last time you went into a palace and they ASKED for any credentials?” Julia replied. “No palace guard on Adano-Ambrado would challenge you.”

“I like that he is so used to visiting palaces he knows what the protocol SHOULD be!” Glenda remarked. “To the Palace Born.”

“Son of a diplomat,” he pointed out. “I spent my formative years walking backwards on red carpets while bowing every six paces.”

The steps ended on a wide, curving gallery with gilded balustrades that continued around the circumference of a grand, palatial room. Below was a floor at least two hundred metres in diameter laid with a beautiful mosaic depicting a sort of wheel of life – if life was one long party of feasting and enjoyment.

Above was that huge dome that could be seen from outside. The scientist in Chrístõ was immediately curious about the way it appeared to be clear glass, yet the direct sunlight was diffused to prevent the room below becoming an unbearable hothouse. Some clever but probably quite simple science had gone into maximising the natural light without all of its disadvantages.

In the middle of the mosaic below was some kind of arrangement of silk cloth forming a very badly made tent. All four of the visitors looked at it curiously before they moved towards the gilded staircase down to the main floor. It was clearly out of place there – the only thing they had found that WAS out of place in the perfect but empty city, and that made it of extreme importance to them all.

It was, without doubt, the worst tent anyone had ever constructed. Chrístõ and Cal who had done quite a bit of camping and hiking on the plains of Gallifrey looked with justifiable superiority at the rough construction. It consisted of bamboo poles fastened together with what looked like silk headscarfs and covered over by lengths of silk and satin sheets.

“No wonder it was put up inside,” Chrístõ commented. “It would never stand up to a breath of a summer breeze on the southern plain.”

“I don’t think that was what it was meant for,” Glenda remarked. “Somebody just wanted to hide inside.”

Cal and Chrístõ looked at each other. Glenda’s Human telepathy had read the emotions faster than their Gallifreyan senses that were channelled towards thoughts rather than feelings. Now they reached out and touched the sense of concealment, of self-isolation.

Julia wasn’t picking up any of those senses, but she felt very strongly that there was somebody inside the clumsy tent. She stepped forward and pulled a sheet of vermillion cloth aside.

“You shouldn’t be here,” said the young man who sat on a bed of silk cushions in the ‘lotus position’.

“I’m not sure you ought to be, either,” Julia answered. “What’s going on around here, and why are you here on your own?”

“I have sent everyone away,” replied the young man. I alone remain to face the last day myself. You should not be here. The city was emptied.”

“We’re not from the city. We’re from offworld,” Chrístõ explained. “We don’t know anything about your world. I am Chrístõ de Lœngb?rrow, Time Lord of Gallifrey, Ambassador of my world, Guardian of Causality, Keeper of the Legacy of Rassilon, Defender of the Laws of Time.”

“He also moonlights as the Crown Prince of Adano Ambrado,” Cal added.

“And he’s a very good English lit. teacher,” Glenda added.

“I am Prince Susheel Dev Betham,” replied the young man. “I am Regent of Prauck Eshanath… or I was. Now, I am just a man with the sins of all his people upon him, awaiting my fate.”

Julia was closest. She stepped into the makeshift tent and sat down in front of the prince. She noted that he had some food supplies of a sort with him – a huge basket of fruit, a wheel of cheese, several loaves of bread.

“If you’re preparing for a long wait, you have the wrong sort of food. You ought to have tins and rehydrated rations that will keep.”

“I’m not going to be waiting for long. The end will be tomorrow morning... at dawn.”

“What?” Julia drew back from the Prince as he spoke. There was an air of fatalistic resignation about him that was frightening.

The others drew closer to hear what was being said. Chrístõ knelt beside Julia and studied the Prince carefully. He looked about twenty-five by Human standards, which were the average for the sapiens species of the universe. He was good looking in a vapid kind of way with a rather weak, thin mouth and eyes so pale blue they were almost milky. His skin was pale, too, though his features were of the type usually associated with the darker complexioned people of the Indian subcontinent and their descendants.

“What is wrong with the planet?” Chrístõ asked. “My ship detected no tectonic instability or core failure. There are no extra-terrestrial bodies on an immediate collision course. If there was any danger of a planet-wide disaster we would not have landed here. My ship would have refused to accept the co-ordinate.”

“I wouldn’t be sure of that,” Cal told him telepathically. “The TARDIS would probably pick a planet that’s about to be blown to atoms just to give you an exciting challenge.”

“Well, this time it didn’t,” Chrístõ replied. “I checked everything before we stepped out of the door.”

“There are no signs to be seen in the nature of the planet,” Prince Susheel explained. “No science can explain what is coming. It was forecast by our greatest astrologer.”

“Astrologer?” Glenda queried the word that many people confused with another when they spoke in haste. “Don’t you mean ‘astronomer’?”

“I told you no science has been of any use in this matter,” Susheel reminded her in a mildly chiding tone. “The End Day was predicted by the casting of the runes. She cast them several times and they told the same terrible story each time.”

“Rune stones?” Chrístõ and Cal both echoed the words together.

“You are clearly not of this world,” Susheel told them. “Or you would not be so sceptical. The Runes have guided the good government of our people for a millennia. Those gifted with the power to read them are among our most highly respected elders. Indeed, many of my own family are rune diviners. It is how my ancestor, Saleel Dev Betham became the first king of the once scattered Eshanath people and built the great society we have enjoyed since – its fine cities and great art and culture.”

“Are YOU a diviner of Runes?” Julia asked.

“No. The gift has not been bequeathed to me. My mother is the highest born diviner in all of Prauck Eshanath. Queen Larissa Dev Betham. She is the one who predicted the End.”

“I see…” Chrístõ commented, though he wasn’t sure he did. This all seemed quite ridiculous. “And where is your mother, the great Rune Reader?”

“More to the point, where are all the people?” Glenda asked. “Sixty million of them, according to the TARDIS database.”

“I was coming to that,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Please tell me it isn’t something insane like mass suicides. I will be VERY annoyed if it is.”

“There WERE a few people who did foolish things,” Susheel admitted. “But only a very few. My people… all of them… even the dissidents and protesters… they were all accommodated upon the great ships.”

“Sea ships?” Cal found himself unaccountably thinking of huge ocean going craft. But that would make no sense. If the planet was actually going to be destroyed, then being on water would be no safer than on the land.

“Space ships,” Susheel explained. “Forty huge ships, each accommodating millions of our people in cryogenic sleep. They set off three weeks ago for the outer edge of the solar system, where they will wait in low power mode until the tribulation is over and it is possible to return to the new world that will come when this tainted one is destroyed.”

“So you think that the planet will still be intact afterwards… just not habitable?” Chrístõ asked the next question. There were so many to ask. Susheel was willing to answer them, however. Perhaps his vigil had become just a little too lonely and their arrival gave him a welcome diversion. “What exactly are you expecting? A great flood, a fireball… some kind of avenging angel?”

“I don’t know,” Susheel admitted. “Only that it will wipe every living thing from the planet and let it begin anew.”

“It is a beautiful planet,” Julia said. “This city is magnificent. I think it is a SHAME. Why must it be destroyed?”

“Because we have fallen into the sin of pride. All our great achievements have made us proud and haughty and we have allowed ourselves to believe we are too perfect beings.”

“You said earlier, that you were a man with all the sins of your people upon you,” Glenda remembered. “So you intend to die, taking the sin with you.”

“That’s been done before, you know,” Julia said. “Though not quite like this. Do you mind… could I have a piece of that fruit? It’s actually quite warm under this canopy and just looking at it makes my mouth water.”

“Of course,” Susheel told her. “Please, all of you, share my food. There is more than enough. I brought all I could carry from the kitchen. Eat with me. There is time, yet, before the tribulation begins. You can safely stay until sundown, at least.”

“My ship can leave your solar system in an eyeblink,” Chrístõ said. “I fully intend to stay with you until dawn. We all will. I am curious about just what is going to happen.”

“Are you serious?” Cal asked. “We’re staying until….”

“Nothing is going to happen,” Chrístõ replied telepathically. “This is a load of nonsense. Reading the future in the rune stones… predicting the end of the world… the sin of pride! Absolute rubbish. We’re staying here until Susheel realises that he’s been had, and then we’ll go and fetch those ships back here and send the people home.”

“Of course,” Cal acknowledged. “You’re right. It has to be nonsense. Listening to him, though, the way he talks… I got myself sucked right in. I actually believed it was real.”

“So did I for a moment,” Chrístõ admitted. “But it IS nonsense. I’d quite like to meet his mother when this is over and see what she has to say about her predictions.”

“Where is she, by the way?” Glenda asked the question rhetorically, in telepathic conversation with Cal and Chrístõ, then turned and asked it of Susheel Dev Betham.

“She is in her tower,” Susheel answered in a surprised tone, as if it was strange that anyone should ask the question. “The tall, slender tower on the other side of the great city square. She has lived in the rooms at the very top ever since my father died and the regency passed to me.”

“So she expects to be swept away by the tribulation, too?”

“No. She says that she alone will be saved. The runes told her so.”

“This gets dafter by the minute,” Julia whispered, turning her head to speak to Chrístõ without Susheel hearing her. Chrístõ said nothing in reply, but he rolled his eyes as if agreeing wholeheartedly with her.

“So I suppose your mother must be a very humble woman who hasn’t committed the sin of pride,” Glenda ventured. “That’s why she expects to survive the end of the world?”

Susheel looked at her with a puzzled expression.

“That’s a strange notion,” he said. “If you had met my mother, you would never think of her as a humble woman. She was always every inch a queen. I never quite lived up to her expectations. I am not a strong person. I was often ill as a boy, and I am not good at fencing or riding. I have a skin condition that is exacerbated by bright sunlight – that is why I made this cover to protect myself. I am the one thing that mother is NOT proud of, despite all my efforts to be a good Regent.”

What sort of a mother was that? Of the four of them, only Glenda still had two living parents, but none of the companions could imagine their mothers, alive or dead, being anything but proud of them.

“Yet, it is a fair question” Susheel continued. “I do not know why it is that she expects to be spared. I only know that I do not. I am only glad that my little sister, the Princess Royal, is safe aboard one of the ships. She is only twelve years old and a sweet child. I have missed her since The Departure. Her laughter could fill even the great hall outside here.”

For a little while the prince’s face was animated and his smile genuine. Then his odd reality caught up with him. Julia and Glenda both fell for the sorry look that came over him. They reached out sympathetically and touched his hands.

“You are kind,” he said. “My last hours are so much sweeter for this congenial company. It is better than I hoped for… more than I deserve.”

“I don’t think so,” Glenda told him. “You seem like a good man to me. You did the right thing for all your people. They’re safe… and you’re… prepared to give up your own life for them. That makes you very brave and very… very good. And you deserve much more than we can offer just by sitting here sharing your food.”

“I agree,” Julia said. “Chrístõ… I think he deserves to be saved along with his people. We could take him away in the TARDIS when we leave.”

Chrístõ didn’t say anything. Perhaps he knew what Susheel was going to say.

“No. I must not go. I cannot be saved. The fates demand a sacrifice. I give my own life because I have no right to ask it of anyone else. But I won’t cheat the fates. I die with my world at dawn, tomorrow.”

“But you can’t!” Julia and Glenda both protested. But Chrístõ touched them both on the shoulders gently.

“It is his choice. We must not try to influence him. Let him be, girls.”

They both started to protest, but there was something in Chrístõ’s gentle but persuasive tone that silenced them.

They turned back to Susheel and talked to him about his life as Prince Regent. The term ‘regent’ meant something quite different on his world than they understood. He wasn’t standing in for a king who was too young or too ill to rule. He was Regent until he reached the age of thirty-five when he would marry a princess and they would be crowned as King and Queen together.

Or that would have happened if the world he had known was not coming to a terrible, abrupt halt. The two girls grieved for what would not be even more than Susheel did. He was fully resigned to his imminent end.

They reminded themselves that they did not believe in the ‘tribulation’, and that the world was NOT going to end at dawn, but it was still difficult to shake the sadness for the end of what seemed, to them, to have been a very beautiful civilisation with a brave and wonderful leader.

“It’s getting dark,” Cal noted. He stepped out of the ‘tent’ and looked up at the dome above them. the sky was a deepening purple-blue with stars brightening in it as the night drew in.

Susheel lit candles within coloured glass lanterns to light his tent and continued his vigil. His new found friends sat with him. Sometimes they ate a little fruit or drank fruit juice from thick-walled stone jars that kept the contents cool.

As the night drew in they left the tent from time to time and stood looking at the starlit sky through the dome. It was very beautiful, especially when a big moon the colour of pale strawberry milkshake came into view.

Near midnight Julia found even the great hall under the dome too claustrophobic. She wandered out into the square. It was beautiful in the night. There was still power in the city and the beautiful buildings and the sculptures and monuments all had subtle uplighting to show them off without causing light pollution that spoiled the beautiful sky.

Chrístõ quietly joined her. He put her arms around him and held her close. She pressed her head against his shoulder and sighed deeply.

“It’s all so sad,” she told him. “And… and frightening, too. I’m scared of what’s going to happen in a few hours.”

“Nothing is going to happen,” Chrístõ assured her. “This is all completely wrong. He picked out the silhouette of the tower against the sky. It was the one building not uplit, which made its single light in the very top room distinctive. “I don’t know what Susheel’s mother thinks is going to happen, but she is quite mistaken. Worlds don’t just end because runes say so. Nothing happens because runes say so. It is superstitious nonsense.”

“I know,” Julia told him. “I know all of that. I can think rationally and know that it’s all going to be fine. But then I wonder if I’m wrong, and there IS going to be a great Tribulation, and I feel scared. I don’t want to die here, Chrístõ.”

“You won’t. I promise we will leave before dawn.”

“With Susheel?”

“I wish we could. But it would distress him too much. He is a decent man, but so firmly wrapped up in that ridiculous superstition that it would do him no good to try to break him out of it by forcing him to go against his beliefs.”

“What’s going to happen when he finds out there isn’t a tribulation… if there isn’t one… I mean, if you’re right… as I’m sure you ARE when I stop thinking like him and think logically…. Isn’t he going to be devastated that his beliefs are all nonsense?”

“Yes, I’m rather afraid he is. But he will have to deal with that in his own way. We must have nothing to do with it.”

“I think I understand. But it is still quite dreadful.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ agreed. “It is. It’s certainly not the pleasant evening we wanted. But we can’t leave yet. In fact, I have no intention of leaving.”

“We’re not going to abandon him. He needs us. It’s going to be a long night, though.”

It WAS a long night. Glenda and Julia didn’t quite make it. They fell asleep despite their own efforts. Chrístõ covered them with silk sheets and put cushions under their heads and let them be. He and Cal kept the vigil with Susheel.

But even though time can seem to slow or quicken depending on perception, in reality it passes in a regular, unchanging and unremitting evenness. The last night of Susheel Dev Betham passed like any other. Though the sky was still inky black through the dome above the hall, but when Cal went to get a breath of fresh air, he could see a pinkish tinge on the horizon.

Dawn was breaking.

“The thing is,” he said. “Dawn is a rather vague time. Does it mean when the sun starts to appear on the horizon or when it’s fully up? And anyway, it already will be dawn out at sea. Who’s dawn does it mean?”

“When the sky lightens above the palace – in the dome above us,” Susheel explained. “Dawn over the city. That’s what the Runes told.”

“So it should be another hour,” Chrístõ calculated.

“You should get ready to go.”

“Not yet. Soon.”

The last hour passed quietly. The sky lightened over the city. Chrístõ kept sitting within the silk tent as the lanterns were put out.

“Please,” Susheel begged. “The time is short. You must wake the girls and go, now.”

“Soon,” Chrístõ said again. “My ship has a special function. I can bring it to us if I have to. We can leave in a matter of minutes.”

“You should come with us,” Cal said, trying one more time, despite Chrístõ’s injunction against any persuasion. This time, though, Susheel actually looked as if he was considering the idea. As the moment of the expected tribulation came ever closer he was clearly scared, despite his attempt to be steadfast.

Chrístõ waited quietly, aware of every passing moment within the very atoms of his Time Lord body. He clung to his own theory about what was going to happen – or not happen – and waited to be proved right or for it not to matter any more.

It was fully light when Julia and Glenda woke, rubbing their eyes and looked around. Chrístõ and Cal were standing up. Susheel was on his knees, his hands covering his face. He was making a soft noise that wasn’t quite crying.

“What happened?”

“Nothing happened,” Chrístõ answered. “It’s two hours past dawn and the world keeps turning. The Tribulation hasn’t happened.”

“Good,” Julia said. “It’s all over.”

“Not quite,” Cal responded quietly. “Not for him.”

“What did I do wrong?” Susheel asked plaintively. “I was ready to give myself up to the Tribulation. Why didn’t it take me?”

“Because…” Chrístõ began. Then he heard a surprising noise – footsteps on the marble floor of the hall. He stiffened warily. It was a steady footstep, like that of a soldier. This could be danger.

Cal recognised his friend’s caution and moved quietly, bringing the girls and Susheel to the back of the tent and crouching defensively in front of all three as Chrístõ moved equally stealthily to the entrance.

He was surprised by what he saw. It was a woman who strode across the marble floor. Women rarely strode. The only one he knew who did was Madam Charr, the formidable ethics teacher at the Prydonian Academy. This woman reminded him of Madam Charr, crossed with Boudicca and Genghis Khan. She was as wide as the latter and wore chain mail and leather that would have made the Mongal warrior weep. She was actually an inch taller than he was and for the first time since he left school he felt the sort of sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he got when the aforementioned teacher approached.

“Who are you?” she demanded, giving Chrístõ a withering look. “What are you doing here? Where is my worthless son?”

She didn’t wait for an answer. She swept by him. Susheel stood, looking far less a prince than he had done before. Chrístõ thought he understood why. There was something about the Queen that made men go weak at the knees.

“Hiding behind women!” The Queen’s voice was filled with contempt as she regarded the prince. “How natural for you.”

“Mother, what is happening?” Susheel asked. “Why did the Tribulation not happen? Why am I still alive?”

“You fool,” she responded. “You stupid, superstitious fool. There IS no Tribulation. There never WAS.”

“But….”

“It was a con?” Julia remarked.

“A… con?” Queen Larissa had obviously never heard the word before, but she seemed to guess its meaning. “Yes, if you care to call it that. It was a ruse… to rid the planet of its useless, feckless population. All but this idiot, of course. He decided to stay. I hoped he would make an end of himself sometime in the night. I should have known better of him. A coward to the last. I knew I would have to deal with him myself.”

She was his mother, even if it was hard to see any family resemblance between the slender and pale-faced Prince and the tank-built Queen. Nobody expected her to do what she did next. The dagger was pulled from the belt at her waist in an eyeblink and she lunged towards her son.

Cal was caught off guard, but he moved equally quickly, putting himself in front of the Prince. Glenda and Julia both screamed as the dagger sliced into his side. The Queen pulled her arm back ready to lunge again, dispatching the interloper before reaching Susheel.

But Chrístõ grabbed her chunky wrist and held it in a vicelike grip, forcing her to drop the dagger. He pressed his fingers against her neck in a move taught to him by the Shaolin monks. It paralysed the nerves in all the limbs but allowed the victim to breathe and speak easily.

The Queen collapsed in a heap on the floor. Chrístõ bound her arms and legs with lengths of strong silk while she was helpless. He felt a well-schooled gentleman’s guilt at being so rough towards a woman, but that did not stop him making the knots tight.

“Cal, are you all right?” he asked when she was fully under his power.

“I’m fine,” he answered. The wound was slight, though it had bled quite a bit before it began to heal. Glenda was tending to him, tearing silk-satin into strips to make bandages. They wouldn’t be needed, soon, but she was determined to nurse him until then.

Julia was clinging to Susheel, her face as pale as his, trembling with delayed shock at the sudden violence.

“It’s all over now,” Chrístõ assured them all. The queen was regaining the feeling in her limbs and he allowed her to sit on a large cushion, but she was under his command.

“Now, perhaps you will tell me what this is all about,” he said to her. “Why the charade? Why did you try to murder your own son?”

“He was a loose end. The last one to be tidied up. This planet… is worth far more without the people. It is a valuable source of Lutanium ore. But ancient superstitions prevent any form of mining.”

“She cooked all this up in order to SELL the planet to the highest bidder!” Cal worked it out while Chrístõ was still refusing to believe it because he couldn’t imagine anyone being so monumentally callous.

“Mother!” Susheel was shocked beyond belief. “That can’t be true. It can’t.”

“Of course it’s true!” she replied contemptuously. “And why not? What does it matter?”

“Our people… my sister… our world… all that we have achieved.”

The queen snorted as if to imply that none of it, not even the princess, her daughter, meant anything.

“It is TREASON!” Susheel stepped towards his mother with anger and grief on his face. For a moment he looked as if he might strike her, but he, too, had been raised as a gentleman.

“I disown you,” he said in a calm, measured, kingly tone. “You are no longer my mother, no longer Queen. You are a traitor.”

“Good man,” Chrístõ told him. “What do you want to do with her?”

Susheel looked uncertain. He had disowned her, but any form of capital punishment clearly unsettled him.

“I have a suggestion, your majesty,” Cal said. “If you will trust my council.”

“I trust you, my friend,” Susheel answered. He listened to Cal’s idea. It was not only a just punishment, but an appropriate one, too.

The Prince Regent travelled in the TARDIS with his new friends and with the captive former queen, now bound by a stasis field that kept her fully immobile. The trip to the outer edge of the solar system where the population of Prauck Eshanath was waiting in the cryogenic ships took a very short time.

It took only a little more time to put the prisoner into a cryogenic chamber and release the princess and most of the palace guards and servants. They were made comfortable aboard the TARDIS while Chrístõ and Cal went to the bridge of the main ship and programmed its return to Prauck Eshanath. They did the same for the other ships with a week’s delay between each one. It would take at least that long to revive all the passengers and arrange for their return to the homes they had left behind.

“When that is done, the ship with the queen aboard can be sent into orbit around the planet,” Chrístõ said. “It will remain there indefinitely. Should you ever feel you want to grant her a pardon, you may do so. You are Regent. In time you will be King. It is your decision, as are any changes you want to make to the way your people live.”

“What sort of changes?”

“Gradually phasing out dependence on Rune Readings in favour of meteorology and other real sciences,” Chrístõ suggested. “It won’t be easy, but I think you’ll manage. You’re a better man than the queen gave you credit for. If you have any doubts, let me introduce you to another king I know. He has a peculiar fetish for long hot baths, but that aside he would prove a useful ally if you choose to expand your dealings with other worlds.”

“You are a good ambassador,” Susheel replied. “And a friend I found in the last time and place I expected to find one. What can I do to reward you?”

“Nothing, only be here, still ruling a happy, contented people the next time I come to this world,” Chrístõ answered. “Meanwhile, I think Julia and Glenda are making friends with your sister. They will be introducing her to the concept of ‘fashion’ – something that girls start to learn about at her age. You may want to revive some quality seamstresses in the first batch of your citizens, followed by some silk weavers.”

“I will take all of your advice,” Susheel promised. “And it shall all be done.”