Chrístõ woke in his bed, certain that somebody had called his name. But he was alone in his bedroom apart from Humphrey under the bed. He was alone in the house. Cal had been around earlier, along with the last of the original Chrysalids who were in their last semester of high school with exams and university on the horizon. They had eaten Chinese take-out and talked until the last prawn cracker had been eaten. After they had gone home he had gone to bed happy with his quiet life on Beta Delta and slept soundly and dreamlessly.

Except for the voice.

“It wasn’t you, was it, Humphrey?” He leaned over and looked under the bed. There was a pure black shadow hunkered in the corner faking the sound of somebody breathing in their sleep. The darkness creature might have opened its eyes and looked back at him but he couldn’t really tell. “Never mind, I must have been dreaming.”

Then he heard it again, inside his head.

“Who is that?” he answered. “Friend or foe?”

“I don’t have to be either,” replied the voice, stronger now. “I’m your cousin. You’re stuck with me, either way.”

For a stomach lurching moment he thought of Epsilon, who was his cousin by marriage in the complicated way of Gallifreyan family trees. Then he remembered the mild-mannered son of his father’s younger brother. Remy was much easier to forget than Epsilon. He was so much less trouble – most of the time.

“You’re contacting me telepathically? Where from?”

“Director Hext’s TARDIS. It’s psychically enhanced. But I was the only one who could reach you. Our blood tie, I suppose. Chrístõ, we need help.”

“What sort of help?” Chrístõ answered. He was already pulling on his clothes. He was obviously not going to get any sleep, now.

“We’re all trapped, in the TARDIS.”

“You and Hext?”

“Not just us… there are six other Celestial Intervention Agency men and two Celestial Intervention Agency women… and… a fugitive who escaped and sabotaged the internal defence system with some kind of insane programming that turned the TARDIS against everyone.”

“How….” Chrístõ began, but Remy’s voice was starting to sound faint. There might not be much time for explanations. He needed more crucial details like the space-time co-ordinates for Paracell’s Celestial Intervention Agency TARDIS.

Remy sent them in a painful micro-burst of psychic information, then he yelped as if he was in pain.

“Serves you right for the headache you inflicted on me,” Chrístõ told him.

“No… it’s… the cogs,” Remy answered with genuine fear in his voice. “They’re coming for me again. Chrístõ, help. I don’t know how much longer I can hold them off.”

He felt the psychic connection break off suddenly and he was left with nothing but Humphrey’s fake snores to break the silence.

Did Remy REALLY say that the clocks were coming for him again or had the message become scrambled at that point?

“I’m on my way,” he said, in the hope that his response would get through to Remy and reassure him. He headed to his TARDIS, parked in the corner of the bedroom, masquerading as a wardrobe. Humphrey trilled with interest and followed him in.

“I’m not sure how much help you can be, old boy,” he said to his strange pet as he put the co-ordinates into the navigation console. He noted that it appeared to be somewhere in deep space. That would mean docking with Hext’s TARDIS in a vacuum. Tricky, but far from impossible.

“Rescuing Paracell Hext!” he laughed softly to himself. Humphrey trilled as if he got the joke. “I’ve done that quite a few times already. What would he do without me to pull him out of a hole?”

All joking apart, he spent the hour it took his TARDIS to cross the light years of space and eons of time to check up on the compatibility issues involved in docking a Type 40 TARDIS and the Type 53 that Hext was using as his official Celestial Intervention Agency transport.

He also checked what his TARDIS’s database had to say about the internal defence system of a Type 53.

What he read made him glad he had one of the ‘older’ and ‘unreliable’ models that Paracell was frequently scathing about.

“This is going to be a challenge from minute one,” he told himself. Humphrey trilled in sympathy.

At least the docking manoeuvre worked well. The two time and space capsules were vastly different in design, but they WERE designed by the same temporal mechanics. The doors fitted together easily. Chrístõ stepped from his own console room to the other without the slightest change in atmospheric pressure to mark the fact that two dimensionally relative craft were joined in deep space.

But when he stepped into the other console room he was astonished – mainly because it didn’t look at all like a console room. Instead it was fitted like an Edwardian drawing room with wide rugs in a vaguely Egyptian design on the floor. Two long sofas with soft plum upholstery and a lot of mahogany sideboards filled the floor space. A glittering affair of brass and opaque glass with the warm glow of gas lighting hung from the centre of the ceiling.

There was a wooden door with a brass knob leading to the interior space. Chrístõ tested it and found that it was locked. His sonic screwdriver couldn’t budge it. Nothing would, not even the code used to seal rooms in Paracell’s secret Tower.

Somewhere beyond that door, Remy, Paracell and a dozen other Celestial Intervention Agency men and women were trapped. He couldn’t be thwarted at the first step by mere woodwork.

Of course, it wasn’t woodwork as such. The interior of a TARDIS was made of far stronger stuff. But it was stuff that could be manipulated by the Artron energy at the heart of it all. The fugitive prisoner was obviously a man who understood TARDIS matrices. He had used the internal defence system to create a house of tricks where nothing could be relied upon, even the ordinary senses of sight and touch, and where even opening a door was a challenge.

Who WAS that fugitive, Chrístõ wondered as he stared at the door rather longer than somebody of his intelligence and wit ought to have done. Who could have tricked the Director of the Celestial Intervention Agency into trapping himself in his own TARDIS? That took quite some wit and intelligence in itself, as well as the temporal mechanics to override all of the ordinary TARDIS protocols as well as the extra Celestial Intervention Agency security.

He could be up against somebody who might actually be smarter than he was, Chrístõ reasoned. He wasn’t being arrogant, and he was fully aware that the lives of his friends were at stake, but at the same time he felt a thrill as he rose to the challenge, pitting his own mind against the one who had set the traps that lay before him.

“What wits,” he chided himself as he failed yet again to work out how to open the door.

Humphrey trilled encouragingly.

“Quite right, old boy,” he agreed. “I have to look at this from a different angle. The fugitive is somebody really clever, with a talent for puzzles and a devious streak. So WHAT has he done to this door?”

He stood back and looked around at the walls, fitted with a dado rail from which paintings hung. Most of them were rather woolly impressionist landscapes, but one caught his eye. It appeared to be a painting of the console room in this peculiar configuration.

Except the door was open.

He looked closer at the painting, and then at the room.

It wasn’t QUITE the same. The sideboard should be in line with the sofa, and the long mirror on the wall a little more to the right. The decanter set on the second sideboard was central with the two candlesticks either side. There should be a lamp on the occasional table beside the left hand sofa.

Moving furniture around was an odd way of getting a door to open, but it worked. He heard the click of the lock disengaging distinctly. He strode across the floor and grasped the brass doorknob.

He yelped in pain as an electric shock ran up his arm. It was by no means a deadly voltage, but it was unpleasant. He stepped back and looked around, then he went across to the fireplace and swapped around two glass ornaments at each end of the mantle.

“Ok… let’s try again,” he said aloud. Humphrey tried to go first, guarding him from any possible danger, but since his body was made of darkness it could hardly be injured by a booby trap.

The door opened safely this time. Chrístõ stepped into a corridor of dark mahogany panelled walls with doors every few feet. It seemed to go on into infinity without any turnings, but he guessed that was just one of the tricks.

It actually didn’t go very far at all. The whole thing was a visual trick – a forced perspective painting on the wall only twenty metres in front of him. There were only six real doors, three each side – all locked, of course.

There was a door set into the wall in front of him, too, the outline of it just visible from close up. There was a strange noise coming from beyond the door – a loud ticking and whirring as of something clockwork with cogs and springs.

Cogs! Cogs not clocks. He hammered at the door and called out urgently.

“Remy, are you in there? It’s me, Chrístõ. I’ve come to help you.”

“Chrístõ!” Remy called back from behind the door. “How did you get here? Oh no… Chrístõ, stand back. The cogs are moving again. The wall….”

It took him a few moments before he realised that the wall was pressing against his feet. He stepped back and watched the floor being eaten away until he was up against the wall again. He looked around and noticed that the door behind him, the one that had taken him so long to open, was closed again. He walked back to it and tried the handle. He was only slightly surprised to find it locked.

The wall was still coming towards him. It didn’t take much imagination to work out what would happen when it had covered the whole of the short corridor.

“Remy, what’s on your side of the wall?” he called out.

“A bare room with lots of cogs spinning on all the walls. When it comes back towards me there’s hardly any room. I have to crouch down into a tiny space to avoid being ripped apart.”

“I’m going to have trouble, too, if it gets much closer,” Chrístõ answered. The wall was still moving steadily closer. He put out his hands to protect himself but the wall pressed him back towards the unyielding door until he was holding his breath in less than six inches of space. He turned his head sideways to give his skull a little more space, but if it carried on he would be crushed to death.

It stopped at last. Slowly the pressure on his body eased. He breathed in deeply and looked at the receding wall.

“Remy, are you all right in there?” he called out.

“Yes, for now. But the cogs are coming towards me again.”

“I don’t think this is meant to kill either of us. There’s JUST room to survive. But there must be a way out. The door from the console room opened when I worked out the trick, so surely there is a way to stop this.”

“If there is, I can’t see it,” Remy answered. “I’ve been stuck in here for hours. I just keep thinking about Ricce Amycus. Do you now Ricce?”

“Vaguely. He was a sophomore when I was a tyro at the Academy. He was good at two things – code-breaking and eating.”

“Yeah. I hope he’s in a room full of cream pastries. He’ll be able to munch his way out. But he would NEVER get into the space behind here.”

“We shouldn’t laugh about that,” Chrístõ told his cousin, though the idea of the chubby young Time Lord whom Hext had taken on for his cryptology skills holding in his waistline in this tight situation was just a little bit funny.

“Chrístõ, have you looked at the side walls?” Remy asked.

“They haven’t been my main priority,” he answered.

“There are pictures on some of them. Look at them.”

Chrístõ looked. He saw the images Remy was referring to. They appeared on the left and right panels closest to the console room door. They were carefully etched into the mahogany and then gilded.

They showed sets of cogs turning, the teeth neatly connecting so that they drove a lever at the top.

“Remy, are the cogs pointing towards you, not flat against the wall?”

“Yes. That’s what makes them so frightening – huge metal teeth coming towards me.”

“Test one of them - see if it will turn flat against the wall.”

Remy did that. He reported that they were on hinges that allowed them to be pushed.

“Ok, I think the panels show sequences of cogs that you have to set. Turn the cog at the top left. Then the one next to it, the one down from that one, then the next right, then the two below that one, two more to the right of that one, and then two above that one.”

“Ok, but I’m running out of time to do anything.”

“Do as many as you can, then get into your space until we’re running back again.”

There was a sound of the cogs being slammed back against the wall and gradually the sound of a mechanism working.

There was a clunking noise and the wall stopped moving when it was more than three quarters of the way back to the point where Remy was glad to be a slender man.

Chrístõ expected a door to open releasing Remy, but it didn’t. The door back to the console room opened, and so did one on the left, expelling several tons of water and a sodden young man dressed in black who gasped for air and struggled to stand up.

“Clem Mastri,” Chrístõ said, reaching out to help him to his feet. “I remember you from the Tower, the last time I visited Hext. You’re one of his new recruits.”

“Yes,” the agent answered. “We’re all new on this trip except for Remy. Director Hext thought it would be good for us to get some field experience. I don’t think he expected me to drown in his TARDIS, though.”

Chrístõ looked inside the room Clem had fallen out of. It was hexagonal with opaque smoked glass walls, ceiling and floor, all glistening with water droplets.

“It went all the way up to the roof?”

“It did that over and over again,” Clem answered. “It would fill up, then empty again. I was underwater for about fifteen minutes each time, recycling my breathing. I thought I was never going to get out.”

He was a Celestial Intervention Agency man, trained to deal with all kinds of dangers. Even so, it must have been terrifying for him going underwater time and again, holding on to the very limit that a Time Lord could recycle his breathing, wondering if he was going to die this time.

“The console room looks a bit strange, but rather comfortable. Go and sit down and rest while I see if I can locate the rest of your comrades.”

Clem wandered through to the Edwardian style console room and sat down on one of the plush sofas, wetting it thoroughly. Chrístõ didn’t think it mattered. He was perfectly sure it wasn’t Paracell’s choice of furnishings, anyway.

“Remy, I think we have to try other cog permutations to open the doors and get to the other men. I’m going to give you another set. I’m going to do it telepathically. All this shouting is starting to make my throat sore.”

“We can’t do that,” Remy called back. “The walls in here are lined with lead. I can’t reach you at all.”

That was a nuisance. He really WAS tired of shouting. Then Humphrey trilled at his side and slid towards the concealed door.

“Can you get through the cracks, old boy?” Chrístõ asked.

Humphrey trilled a sound with an affirmative tone.

“Can you look at these pictures and somehow explain the pattern to Remy?” Chrístõ added. That was complicated. Humphrey really didn’t have much in the way of communication skills. “You could float next to the cogs he has to turn, maybe?”

Humphrey thought he could do that. He studied the sequence Chrístõ pointed to and then slid through the door crack the way an insubstantial darkness creature ought to be able to do. Shortly after the sound of the cogs slamming into place and then their movement in concert with each other was followed by a clunk. The door on the right, directly opposite the water trap that Clem had been caught in, opened.

For a moment nothing happened. Then something began to ooze out of the door. It was soft pink and looked, at first, like some sort of foam. Chrístõ approached very carefully and used his sonic screwdriver to pull a piece of it off for analysis. As he did so he became aware of a sweet smell, like warm sugar. He put the piece of stuff he had pulled out into his mouth. It melted at once.

“Candy floss!” He was probably one of the few people of his race who had ever seen candy floss – it was certainly not a part of Gallifreyan cuisine – and he had NEVER seen that much of it in one place.

Then a vaguely humanoid candy floss man pushed through the mass of the stuff. Chrístõ stared as it mumbled and tried to wipe its face, only succeeding in getting more of it over its head. It finally pulled a large piece away to reveal the round features of Ricce Amycus.

“You got trapped in a room full of candy floss?”

“I… was trying to eat my way out,” Ricce answered, still a little muffled.

Chrístõ pulled another large piece of floss from Ricce’s shoulder and ate it.

“It’s a good job our species don’t suffer from diabetes. Why don’t you go and join Clem in the drawing room – aka the console room. You’d better sit on the other sofa, though. He’s dripping wet and you’re covered in sugar. You might just melt together and turn to toffee.”

Ricce groaned at the mention of the word ‘toffee’. He looked as if he had swallowed enough sugar to last him all thirteen of his Time Lord lives.

Chrístõ was still laughing when he reached out to speak to his cousin again.

“The fugitive you were transporting… who is he?”

“His name is Le Marrant,” Remy answered.

“That’s not a name, it’s a pseudonym, a nickname. It means The Joker.”

“I didn’t know that. Does it matter?”

“I’m not sure. Send Humphrey back out to get another configuration. We still need to find six more of your friends and Hext.”

“Yes, we do. Goodness knows what they’re all going through,” Remy agreed. He waited until Humphrey came back with the third configuration and then set to work pulling and pushing the cogs.

The door on the second right opened. Chrístõ looked to see what would pour out of it to add to the now rather sticky combination of water and melting candy floss.

Nothing came out, but he heard voices inside moaning in fear.

He stepped inside the door and looked around at a very strange place. He was standing on a near invisible gravity shelf where two of Paracell’s finest were crouched together, their eyes tight shut. Above, below and around him was a dining room to match the console room drawing room – complete with lots of mahogany and gleaming flatware and cutlery, sparkling glasses, a fine chandelier and sideboards set out for breakfast with kedgeree and fruit, porridge, bacon and sausages.

The unusual thing was that the room was slowly spinning around them - floor became walls, ceiling became walls and then floor continuously.

Chrístõ laughed scathingly as he worked out what was happening. “Stand up, you two, and look around you. This is a trick.”

“It’s not. We’re spinning around. We can’t reach the door,” moaned the agent called Seg Leven. His partner, Lim Dega, couldn’t even open his eyes and look any more. “We’ve been here for hours. We don’t know what to do.”

“You can try THINKING. Paracell’s finest, indeed. You’ve been taken in by an optical illusion. Think about it. We’re supposedly upside down now. So why isn’t your hair all standing on end, Lim? And why isn’t the food flying off the sideboard?”

“Some kind of gravity cushion, I suppose,” Lim answered daring to open his eyes for a moment. Why did you come in here, anyway? You’ve trapped yourself.”

“No I haven’t, and the gravity isn’t doing anything it shouldn’t. Look.”

He reached in his pocket for a cotton handkerchief. He dropped it onto the ceiling below. Seg and Lim both watched as it tumbled down onto the wall as it turned.

“The ROOM is in a sort of drum, revolving around you. This platform is swinging back and forward slightly to give the illusion of movement, but you’re not turning upside down at all. On any planet where they have such things, it’s a fairground attraction – a rather dull one once you work it out, at that.”

Seg and Lim slowly stood and watched the handkerchief tumbling like a very small washload in a very large dryer. It broke the illusion and they both understood what was happening, now.

“But we still can’t get out,” Seg pointed out.

“The door is behind me,” Chrístõ answered. “It’s another optical illusion – one piece of identical wall slightly back from the other. Come on, let’s stop wasting time.”

He turned and stepped back into the curious and now very sticky corridor that smelt exactly like a fairground to anyone who had ever been to one.

Seg and Lim followed him, mumbling excuses for themselves.

“I haven’t decided if I should tell Hext, yet,” Chrístõ told them. “On the one hand, it seems cruel to tell him how completely dumb you were. On the other hand, if you ARE that dumb he needs to give you a lot more training before you go out on your own on a field mission. You two up against a serious Renegade like Morbius or even Epsilon would be a liability.”

The two looked suitably chastised. Chrístõ sent them to join the other two in the faux drawing room.

“Four down,” he said to himself. He looked around at the three open doors and three still firmly shut ones. Four more agents and Paracell Hext had to be behind those, and then there was Remy stuck behind the wall.

A lot more work to do, yet.

“Humphrey, take the next configuration through to Remy and let’s get on with this.” Humphrey probably didn’t understand the word ‘configuration’, but he did what he had been doing all along.

The third door slid open. He stood back from it at first, but when nothing happened he drew closer. He stared at what he thought was a second door made of glass. Then he realised that it was a wall of ice.

And beyond the wall was the shadowy black-clad figure of another one of Paracell Hext’s junior agents. He was alive. He was moving, possibly to keep himself warm.

“Stand well back,” Chrístõ called out and reached for his sonic screwdriver. The laser mode cut through ice easily enough. He stepped back as a door shaped slab fell out and landed with a crash on the floor that was already covered in sugary water. Chunks of ice now floated in the mess.

He looked into the room and saw that all of the walls were covered in at least six inches of ice. In the middle of the floor was the agent, Adem Desini. He was walking on a small treadmill that operated a very small column of warm air that kept him from freezing. He looked exhausted.

“I don’t know if I dare step off the treadmill,” he said to Chrístõ. “The ice freezes so fast, I might get frozen to the floor.”

Chrístõ widened the field of the laser and pointed it at the icy floor, creating a thawing mush.

“Run for it,” he said. Adem nodded and stepped from the treadmill. Immediately the warm air current was gone and frost formed on his shirt, but he ran to the door and escaped his icy prison at last.

“I think it is entirely possible that tea may be available in the console room,” Chrístõ told him. “Just the thing you need. Ricce has plenty of sugar.”

Adem didn’t know why that was funny but he went to the room where his friends were waiting. Chrístõ sent Humphrey back to Remy and turned to the next door wondering what sort of peculiar trap lay behind it.

He was more than a little surprised to see a wide and beautiful scene inside the door. Lush tropical greenery gave way in the distance to a beach with golden sand. That, in turn, edged the turquoise water of a sheltered bay.

Of course it was an illusion created by the TARDIS. What puzzled him was how benign it seemed to be. Everything else so far had an element of danger. Rooms full of water and ice were nasty. Even Ricce might have choked on the candy floss. But this looked nice.

Perhaps there were hidden threats. There might be sharks in the water or man-eating predators in the jungle.

As he considered those possibilities he spotted two figures walking on the beach. They were too far away to put names to faces, but they were obviously the two female agents that Remy mentioned.

He tried calling to them, but they were too far away. He would have to go in there and get them.

He turned from the door and went to the Edwardian drawing room where the first four victims of Le Marrant’s mischief were looking wretched, still.

“Just borrowing this,” he said, picking up a Louis Quatorze high-backed chair and carrying it back into the corridor. He wedged it in the doorway before he stepped through into the tropical paradise.

It was beautiful. The sun was warm in a cloudless sky. The trees were full of ripened fruits. Chrístõ tasted one as he rambled leisurely. There was a pleasant scent from the purple flowers on bushes that filled the gaps between the trees. It was a thoroughly nice place to spend a little time.

He wondered why he had been suspicious of it. There was clearly nothing dangerous here. It was absolutely wonderful walking along the beach with the soft sound of the tide lapping the sand and the mixture of perfume from the flowers and clean salt air was his idea of paradise.

He reached the place where the two young women were lying on towels wearing nothing very much. Three small pieces of fabric and some straps holding it all together stood between them and indecorum.

“Hello,” he said. “Are you the owners of this beach?”

“I don’t think anyone owns this beach,” said one of the women. In the back of his mind he had an idea that he had met her before, and that her name was Marran. “But we’ve had a very nice time here. Nobody seems to mind.”

“Would you like some fruit juice?” asked the other, possibly called Ellian, reaching for a jug by her side. “There’s plenty.”

“Yes, I would like some,” Chrístõ answered. He sat beside the women and admired their golden suntans. They were both very attractive. He wondered why they were here alone. They ought to be betrothed by now.

He sipped the juice. It tasted like the fruit from the trees he had passed and smelt a little like the flowers on the bushes.

“Betrothed?” That word stuck in his mind. He wondered why.

Then an image swam into his mind, of a girl as lovely as these two were, but who almost never sunbathed. She didn’t like having a tan. No, there was something else… tan lines spoiled the look of her legs when she was performing….

He pictured a young woman with nut brown hair and eyes but fair skin, wearing a costume of shimmering colours, dancing and spinning with a long length of ribbon.

“She’s the one I’m betrothed to. I don’t belong here,” he said aloud. He looked at the two women. He looked at the drink in his hand, wondering where the jug and the juice actually came from. Where, for that matter, did the beach towels and the skimpy garments come from?

“Lotus Eaters,” he added as the fog of delusion cleared and he remembered much more. “The lotus eaters forgot their mission and wanted to stay where food and drink and good things were plentiful. But it’s a trap. We all have our duties.”

“What?” the two women looked at him curiously.

“Agent Marran Gyes, Agent Ellian Santon, we have better purposes than this. Come on.”

His sharp tone puzzled them at first, then the clouds began to clear from their minds, too. They looked at each other and their eyes widened.

“What are we WEARING?” Ellian asked.

“We were meant to be taking the prisoner to the brig,” Marran remembered slowly. “Director Hext had finished interrogating him and we were detailed to walk him back to the cell.”

“There was a strange smell… a really beautiful smell… like fruit and flowers….”

“And Le Marrant said the same thing you did… about Lotus Eaters….”

“And that’s the last thing I remember….”

“He tricked you, just like everybody else. You had the better deal, believe me. And if you don’t, ask Adem or Clem, or even Ricce. I think even he had too much of a good thing.”

“I’m not going to ask them anything dressed like this,” Ellian said.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that,” Chrístõ replied apologetically. “But we do need to get out of this room before you get sucked into it all over again.”

The two women followed him towards the door that appeared in thin air just before the jungle thickened. The chair wedged into it made it all even more startling. Chrístõ let the women go first before pulling the chair away and letting the sliding door close.

When the two women went into the console room/drawing room the four men already there looked around and kept looking. Chrístõ strode across the room and pulled down the curtains at a faux window. He gave one each to the women to wrap themselves in.

“You’re all Time Lords and Agents,” he said. “I expect you all to act accordingly. Who’s still missing apart from Remy?”

“Director Hext and Shelo Leme,” Ricce answered.

“Leme was off-duty, in his room,” Clem added. “But the way Le Marrant configured the TARDIS there’s no way of knowing what’s happening to him, now.”

“I’m sure he’ll be all right,” Chrístõ assured him. “I don’t think Le Marrant intended anyone to die. He just wanted you all inconvenienced.”

“Inconvenienced?” the six agents, one soaking wet, one shivering, one sticky, two chastised and two embarrassed, all echoed his words with various levels of bemusement.

“I’ll try to think of a better word to describe this while I go and rescue the others. Maybe Hext will have a word for it, too. I expect mine will be the more polite one.”

He left them to ruminate over their experiences and sent Humphrey with the last but one sequence.

“There’s only one more sequence after this one?” Remy asked.


“Two more doors.”

“Looks like it.”

“So what about me? Isn’t there a sequence that gets me out of here?”

“I’ll get you out, Remy. I promise you. But it looks as if I need to get the others first, then work on you. Are you ok in there? I know it can’t be very comfortable, but you’re safe now that the walls have stopped moving?”

“I’m….” Remy paused. ‘Ok’ was a foreign word that Chrístõ had picked up in his life amongst humans, but his cousin understood the meaning of it. “I’m tired and fed up, which I don’t think qualifies as ‘ok’. But I’ll manage.”

“Ok, let’s go for the next door.”

Remy did his part. The fifth door slid open and a billow of hot steam poured out. Chrístõ waited for it to disperse before he risked going into the hot, moist Turkish Bath. The smell of the steam was tinged with the salt-sweet smell of a Gallifreyan body sweating profusely, and he saw a shape within the white mist that proved to be the last of the trainee agents. He recognised him as Ediy Cadente despite the fact that he was naked and lobster red all over. He was sitting as far from the steam inlets as possible, but there was little relief to be had.

“Come on,” Chrístõ said, helping him to his feet. “You need a towel and a cold drink. You might have to settle for a curtain and a glass of soda water from the drinks cabinet, but you’ll be all right once your body cools down.”

He must have been in there for hours. A Time Lord is capable of regulating his body temperature in all extremes, but there comes a point when even he can’t take any more. Ediy was dangerously dehydrated as well as over-heated.

But only one thing worried him as he stepped out of the steam room.

“The women… I don’t want them to see me like this.”

“Stay there while I get you that curtain,” Chrístõ said. “But don’t worry about the ladies. They’ve got no reason to worry about how you look.”

He wrapped Ediy toga style so that he was decent before the female members of the team and poured him a glass of soda water. The others had helped themselves to the contents of the decanter set. He noticed there was plenty of ice in the bucket and wondered about that until he remembered that there was still plenty of it in the corridor.

“I hope we’re nearly through, now,” he told them all. “There’s just Hext to find, and Remy to free from behind the wall.”

“You’re forgetting Le Marrant,” Clem reminded him.

“I’m assuming Le Marrant isn’t a prisoner,” Chrístõ answered. “He did this. He must have known how to get past the traps. He must be roaming around somewhere. But we’ll catch up with him once I get Paracell free. He can use the default codes to reset the TARDIS and then we get our joker back into the brig.”

He was making promises he didn’t know he could keep, but the dishevelled, traumatised and just plain embarrassed agents put their trust in him.

“One more time, Humphrey,” he said as he returned to the corridor. “At least, I hope so.”

Humphrey took the last sequence to Remy. Chrístõ listened to the cogs being set and then the mechanism engaging. The last door opened. He heard a disturbing hiss of air rushing into a vacuum. The room within had been vented.

He rushed in, disregarding the possibility of the door closing again. If Paracell was in there, then he could be in trouble.

He was there, kneeling upright in a position of deep meditative trance. His eyes were open, but unfocussed. Chrístõ touched him gently on the shoulder and felt the absolute stillness of his body.

Then Hext breathed deeply and his heart beat strongly. He reached out and grasped his friend’s arm.

“Chrístõ… how did you….”

“Oh, you know. I was fast asleep in my bed and I got a desperate message to come and rescue you… the usual thing!”

Hext took another deep breath and struggled to his feet. He stepped towards it and viewed the floor covered in sticky sugar water and shards of ice. He was about to make a sarcastic remark when Remy called from behind the wall.

“Chrístõ, what if I turn ALL the cogs at once? Maybe that will release me.”

“No,” Chrístõ called out. “It might do ANYTHING. Wait.”

But Remy had already started slamming the cogs into place one by one. He didn’t hear the reply. Humphrey squeezed himself through the gap and bowled towards Chrístõ and Hext, hunkering down in the far corner of the room Hext had been trapped in.

“He thinks we’re safe here,” Chrístõ pointed out, stepping back from the threshold. Hext looked at the darkness creature and decided to trust him just in time. The final cog was in place and the moving wall began to push forwards faster than before. They watched as the wall passed the doorway. Remy was clinging to the cogs and riding with them. When it reached its furthest extent it immediately began to rush back again.

“Remy, in here!” Chrístõ called out to him. He reached out his hand. His cousin grasped it and escaped into the small side room. The wall of cogs passed them. “Quick, now,” he added. “Before it starts to come back.

All three of them made a run for it, dashing through the open door to the Edwardian drawing room. Hext looked around in surprise both at the décor of his console room and the physical state of his young agents.

“Default Mode 4-3-5-Omega-Kaplan-6-7-3-Alpha-Zero-Zero-Zero,” he called out in a strong, decisive voice. “Reset.”

The air shimmered. Around them all the Edwardian drawing room dissolved and the more familiar if less cosy console room solidified. The two sofas and the drinks cabinet remained as bizarre souvenirs of the strange adventure, but otherwise all looked normal.

“I couldn’t do that until I was back here in the console room,” Hext explained. “Le Marrant blocked the voice command everywhere but here.”

“What about Le Marrant?” Remy asked. “He’s still loose in the TARDIS, somewhere.”

“No, he isn’t,” Seg Leven reported. He had gone to the console as soon as it appeared and immediately ran a lifesigns check. “There’s nobody else in the TARDIS, now. He’s escaped, somehow.”

“But he couldn’t,” Hext protested. Then everyone heard a familiar but unexpected sound. A TARDIS was docking with this one. Chrístõ ran to the main door and opened it as soon as it was safe to do so. He saw his own TARDIS console room beyond.

There was a hat-stand just inside the door with a piece of parchment pinned to it. Chrístõ reached for the sheet and read the note.

“It’s from Le Marrant. He used my TARDIS to escape while I was stuck in the corridor. He’s sent it back, with his THANKS!”

Paracell Hext swore in Low Gallifreyan.

“The arrogance of the man. That must have been the plan all along – to get somebody to come here with a TARDIS that he could steal.”

“Borrow,” Chrístõ corrected him. “But….”

He turned to Remy. A penny dropped. Several of them, in fact.

“Remy, the first thing you said to me was ‘How did you get here?’. And then later you said the cog-room was lead-lined. You couldn’t get a telepathic message to me on the other side of the wall, let alone across time and space.”


“Le Marrant pretended to be you, sending out a distress signal to me. He knew I’d come to the rescue.”

“Arrogant, and clever,” Hext conceded. “But when I get my hands on him…. He put my agents lives at risk….”

“He never intended any of you to be seriously hurt, let alone killed,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Some of you were uncomfortable, and you’re all embarrassed to have fallen for his tricks. But nobody is hurt. Some of these kids actually stood up to some tough stuff really well. They’ve all learnt something about themselves that could make them better agents in the long run.”

All of the trainees looked at him gratefully, the more so those who had been taken in by deceptions a more experienced agent might have seen through.

“I’ll be interested to hear their reports,” Hext said. “And yours, Chrístõ.”

“Give them all time to shower and change and make it stories to tell over dinner at the Intergalactic Bar and Grill. They do the very best steaks in the galaxy and I think we ALL deserve one – on your expense account, of course.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Hext agreed. “By the way, next time you’re home, ask your father about Le Marrant. He goes back to his time as an agent. He’ll probably enjoy the fact that I completely failed to capture him, too.”

Chrístõ decided he definitely WOULD bring the subject up when he was on Gallifrey again, but steaks all round, first.