Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow frowned deeply, his eyes expressing displeasure as he moved around the console to answer an incoming communication.

“What’s the matter?” Riley Davenport asked him.

“Gallifrey calling,” he responded. “Specifically, Paracell Hext. I predict our visit to Plato’s Athens will be postponed.” He looked at Riley and grinned. “Of course, your interest in ancient Greece is mostly sun-bronzed young Greek men, and I probably should try to discourage such promiscuous behaviour, but it’s still disappointing.”

“I suppose Hext is your boss in a way,” Riley suggested.

“Don’t let him hear you say that. It’s more an informal agreement to take on missions his agents can’t handle.” Christo watched as the screen resolved into Paracell Hext’s face. Was he looking tired? Was fatherhood plus running the Celestial Intervention Agency taking its toll?

“Does the name Rondin Devos mean anything to you?” Hext asked without any preamble.

“Only as ancient history. He’s before my father’s time. A brilliant scientist. He invented the H.A.D.S. system for TARDISes and made Time Rings ACCURATE. He’s dead, surely? He hasn’t been heard of for centuries.”

“He left Gallifrey during the Sarre war,” Hext replied.

“Left?” The simple word begged a query. Few Time Lords just ‘left’ Gallifrey. He couldn’t be a Renegade, because Renegade names were expunged. He would never be spoken of again. His achievements in temporal mechanics would be forgotten.

“There’s nothing on record, but I asked your father. Apparently, Devos was angry about one of his inventions being used as a weapon in the war. He was a pacifist. He decided to leave our society altogether. He left, and a little time after his TARDIS returned on auto-pilot. He had found an uninhabited planet in the Nexus Cluster and vowed to stay there, disdaining all contact. I suppose we were too busy with the war, and nobody had time to chase him up.”

“So what’s changed?”

“The planet he settled on – NE652?G8 – sometimes known as Corroras - was passed very closely by a comet a few weeks ago. It caused severe disruption to the planet’s orbit and brought it into closer proximity to a large gas giant in the same system. The gravitational forces are tearing it apart. It has weeks – possibly days - before it becomes an asteroid belt.”

“That’s bad,” Chrístõ concluded.

“We don’t know if Devos is alive or dead. There has been no contact from him. But if he is alive….”

“You want me to find him?”

“I can’t justify the resources for a major search, but if you go… if you find him and persuade him to leave before it’s too late….” Hext shrugged. “Your father called Devos a stubborn old #@&@#*©€, and thought he might resent our interference.”

“He’d rather die with the planet?” Chrístõ smiled at the Low Gallifreyan swear word from his father. The politest equivalent was curmudgeon, and that didn’t come close.

“Who knows,” Hext conceded. “Anyway, at least go and find out if he’s still there. If you strike out, nobody will hold it against you.”

“Not sure I’m going to give in that easy. I’m too young to be an ‘old #@&@#*©€’, but I can be stubborn.”

“No kidding,” Hext replied dryly. “Is that eager young human still with you?”

“If you mean Riley, then, yes,” Chrístõ glanced at his travelling companion. “Eager?”

“That’s the word one of my agents – who will remain nameless for fear of embarrassing his family name – used – the morning after the Naming Ceremony. Anyway, he’s company for you, I’m sure.”

“Hext, you’ve spent too much time in seedy space port bars. Riley IS just a friend. Send me the co-ordinates for that planet and I’ll see what I can find.”

He wished his friend well and sent his love to Savang and baby Heléne, then closed the communication. He turned to the drive console. The co-ordinate was already there.

“So… we’re going to a planet that’s about to fall apart, to find an elderly Time Lord who might refuse to be rescued?” Riley summed up the mission succinctly.

“Interesting enough for you?”

“As long as we leave well in time to avoid the actual planetary break up.”

“Don’t worry, I fully intend to be long gone. But I’m going to bring Devos with me if he’s alive.”

“Hundreds of years living alone. He’ll be a queer type to deal with. Is insanity something Time Lords suffer from?”

“I sometimes think it’s the normal state of mind for Time Lords,” Chrístõ replied. “But you could be right. We have no idea what to expect of Devos.”

He wasn’t sure what to expect of the planet, either. He put the TARDIS in temporal orbit over NE652?G8 – aka Corroras. It was a strange enough place even before the recent disaster.

“The atmosphere is oxygen-nitrogen rich, but less than a mile high. Mostly ocean. One small continent with a very peculiar topography. Notice those mountain ranges. Their peaks are outside the atmosphere in a lifeless vacuum. Outside of the ‘bowl’ that they form there has only ever been minimal land based life – insects, small reptiles that burrow amongst mossy growths on the bare rock. Everything that evolved, trees, grass, mammals, did so in that relatively small area of a few thousand square miles. The lifeless peaks and lack of any passes through the ranges just cut off every possible escape.”

“That’s a remarkable thing on its own,” Riley observed. “But it makes our work easier, doesn’t it? If your Time Lord is here, he’ll be within the ‘bowl’, surely?”

“Unless he has an unusual fondness for swimming,” Chrístõ confirmed. “I’ll check that area for lifesigns.”

He was preparing to do that, focussing the search specifically on Gallifreyan DNA, when a proximity alarm alerted him to the existence of another craft in orbit.

“That’s a big ship,” he said, viewing the outer hull and comparing it to potentially dangerous warships in his database. The eventual match was rather more reassuring. He opened a hailing channel and contacted the communications officer, giving his own galactic identification code.

“This is the Zoo Ship Steve Irwin,” the officer informed him. “We’re picking up the animal lifeforms from Corroras before it goes critical. Everything that walks, crawls or flies will be in stasis by the time we’re done. The ZS Gerald Durrell already has the marine life in wet tanks ready to leave orbit.”

“Everything?” Riley queried. “You can do that?”

“Well, there might be a few earthworms and burrowing beetles that we can’t get to, but everything else will be saved. We’ve got a terraformed zoo planet ready and waiting for them to begin new lives.”

“Very commendable,” Chrístõ replied. “I’m here to pick up a non-indigenous specimen that might not appreciate being put in a stasis hanger. Have you seen any sign of him?”

“Oh, yes!” The communication officer’s voice rang with laughter. “He’s been teleported aboard four times by accident and demanded to be returned to the surface each time. The daft old codger says he’s going to stay to the end. Our captain says we can’t force him to go against his will, and the way he swore at our medical officer the last time, nobody wants to do that, anyway. She was just trying to give him a quick health check.”

“Sounds like I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Chrístõ reasoned. “But I’ve got to try.”

“He put an anti-transmat shield around his homestead after our last encounter. I’ll send you the co-ordinate. He’s all yours.”

“Thanks. Good luck with your work.”

He closed the communication and grinned at Riley.

“This is getting interesting.”

“To say the least. This chap doesn’t sound like he wants rescuing.”

“No, he doesn’t. But I’m going to have to try. Maybe I can make him see reason. I AM one of his own race. That might still stand for something.”

He wasn’t entirely hopeful, but he set the TARDIS down outside the area where the anti-transmat field extended. He and Riley stepped out onto a grassy plain that extended to the mountains in every direction. A few trees broke the monotony and, to the west, a small octagonal dwelling, like a futuristic version of a yurt, was surrounded by a cottage garden of vegetables.

“Devos’s place, I suppose,” Chrístõ observed.

“It feels strange around here,” Riley said. “So very still. You’d think there would be a breeze. And it is so quiet.”

“The birds have gone,” said a surprisingly feminine voice. Both men turned to see a young woman with fragile, almost childlike features. She was wearing a simple cotton dress and a shawl with soft shoes on her feet.

“I liked the birds,” she added. “Father says they have gone away. I will miss them.”

“Father?” Chrístõ queried. “Do you mean…. Rondin Devos? Is he… are you….”

“Yes, he is my father,” she answered. “Come, I will take you to see him.”

She headed towards the dwelling. Chrístõ and Riley looked at each other, an obvious question on both of their faces. The answer to it lay in the little house.

They followed the girl.

Inside the dwelling they found signs of a simple but comfortable lifestyle. The living room contained easy chairs beside a fireplace and a table with chairs for eating meals. The fire was artificial, giving the appearance of logs but giving off heat and light from a small fusion chamber. The overhead lamps came from the same power source.

“Father, we have visitors,” the girl called out cheerfully. A man came from the kitchen. He pushed the girl behind him and told her to get on with her chores. His tone was rough at first, but then he softened towards her, putting his hand gently on her cheek before she went to do his bidding.

His expression when he turned to look at the newcomers was dark again. He was aged by any standard, though with a sturdiness and erect posture that suggested good health. His hair and beard were peppered with grey and his eyes hooded, but bright and clear, still.

“You are from Gallifrey,” he said to Chrístõ. He looked at Riley curiously. “You do not. Have the rules changed? Do Time Lords travel in TARDISes accompanied by aliens?”

“I do,” Chrístõ answered. He stood formally and bowed his head. “I am Chrístõdavõreendiamondhaertmallõupdracœfiredelunmiancuimhne de Lœngbærrow. I acknowledge you as Rondin Devos, a Time Lord and an elder of my world.”

“You have manners, at least,” Devos replied gruffly. “I knew your grandfather. A great scientific mind. Does he live, still?”

“No, sir. He died when I was still at the Academy.”

“I don’t imagine he is the only one. I have lived beyond my time.”

“Is that….” Riley began, then stopped, his face flushing with embarrassment.

“You were going to say something, boy?”

“I wondered… is that why you won’t leave the planet… because you’ve lived so long. It… can’t be easy living as long as your people do….”

“Sir….” Chrístõ cut in. “He is Human. Don’t be angry with him. It is my fault for not properly explaining about our long lifespans.”

“The boy is not entirely wrong,” Devos conceded. “Oh, sit down, for Chaos’ sake. You’ve come into my home. Unless you wish to leave right away, sit. I hear the rattle of the teapot. Lillian has rarely had a chance to play hostess. Don’t disappoint her.”

They sat, though they hardly felt as if they had been given a hearty welcome. Presently Lillian came with a tray. She had made tea of the sort traditionally served on Gallifrey – herbal infusion without milk but sweetened with natural sugars. There were a kind of biscuits, too, homemade, not quite regular and a little too hard. The two visitors tried them out of politeness. The girl smiled happily to have pleased her guests and sat at Devos’ side.

“She tries hard,” he said, patting her arm paternalistically.

“Is her mother… gone?” Chrístõ asked, as diplomatically as he could be.

“I have no mother,” Lillian said in a gentle voice. “Father made me.”

“Made you?” Chrístõ looked at her carefully. Yes, there was something not quite right about her. She didn’t breathe as she should, nor blink. Of course, he occasionally forgot to do those things himself when he was agitated, but never when sitting at peace in his own home.

He turned from her to look at Devos, but something else caught his eye. He fixed his gaze upon a curious ‘decoration’ in the corner of the rom. It looked like an artificial tree with curious balloon shaped ‘fruits’ hanging from it. The fruits glowed faintly. That was why he had not noticed it fully before. It ought to have shone brightly enough to illuminate the room.

“That’s an Arch. Recon.,” he said. “Or it was. You took it out of your TARDIS before you sent it back to Gallifrey?”

“A what?” Riley dared ask.

“Architectural Reconfigurations System,” Chrístõ explained. “It’s a piece of Time Lord technology, used to create… well, architecture mostly. This dwelling, I suppose, and whatever was needed to maintain it. And… Oh, I just realised. You invented it, didn’t you? Along with the HADS and the Time Ring technology. That was the technology you didn’t want using as a weapon. It’s what made you leave Gallifrey during the Sarre war.”

Devos said nothing, but Chrístõ knew he was right on all counts. He thought about what the Arch. Recon. was capable of doing and knew that it could have been used to create all kinds of weapons that a pacifist could not tolerate.

“What is it?” Riley asked.

“A matter distributor. It takes atoms of matter and makes them into whatever you need – as long as it’s basically mechanical, that is. I remember a student in my class who tried to make dinner with it. He has a beautiful art installation in his TARDIS of a table full of tantalisingly delicious looking artificial food.”

Riley laughed as he was meant to. Even Devos managed a smile.

“Personally, I never liked the idea of creating things without effort. There’s one in my TARDIS. I’ve never used it, even for its proper purpose of replacing damaged components, let alone….”

He looked again at Lillian, then he stood and approached her. He touched her arm, feeling the softness of her flesh. He looked into her eyes. If he hadn’t just guessed the truth, he never would have taken them for anything but the real thing.

“Father made me,” she said again as he felt an artificial pulse in her wrist.

“You created a daughter using the Arch. Recon.?” He knew full well the technology could certainly do that. Atoms could be arranged in any form, even thoroughly realistic flesh. But he could not quite believe that Devos had actually done it. The moral implications were huge, let alone the emotional attachment that went both ways between Devos and his ‘daughter’.

“Not long after I arrived here,” the old man explained. “For company, of course. This planet suited me in every other respect, but loneliness set in sooner than I expected.”

“I can imagine,” Chrístõ assured him. “I suppose there’s no legal reason…. None of the laws of time expressly forbids it. Yet I never expected Time Lord technology to be used in such a way. I’m… surprised.”

“You mean she’s… a robot?” Riley asked, finally catching up with the conversation between the two Time Lords. He had heard of the concept of a robot, a mechanical being. It was the stuff of certain types of fiction in his time. But if he had ever read such fiction, if he had ever imagined a robot, he had certainly never imagined one like Lillian.

“THAT’s too crude a word for her,” Chrístõ said. “She’s an artificial life form, perfect in every anatomical detail, I should think. I’ve no intention of inquiring into that. But created just as she is, as you see her, never aging, never ill or infirm. Some would think her a perfect life companion.”

“She is my daughter,” Devos insisted. “And she will be with me here to the very end.”

“You mean for her to die with you?”

Devos looked at the girl.

“I mean to die with her.”

“That’s the same thing,” Riley argued.

“It’s not,” Chrístõ told him as a sort of understanding dawned. “What’s the problem, Devos? Why can’t she leave the planet?”

“Look at the Arch. Recon. It’s not what it ought to be. When I disconnected it from the artron energy of the TARDIS it all but died. Once I transplanted it, of course, it automatically found the nearest power source – the quark matter core of the planet. Not as powerful as artron energy, but good enough.”

“Yes, I suppose it would do that,” Chrístõ conceded. “But….”

“When I took one of the globes and used it to make her, the energy that was converted into matter was drawn from the planet itself. Her heart is made of core matter. She belongs to this planet, and it won’t let her go.”

“I don’t quite understand that.”

“Those damn busybodies who took all the birds and animals…. They accidentally transmatted me aboard their ‘Ark’. But their technology couldn’t take her. The planet pulled her back. Even if they had got her aboard, it would not have let them leave orbit. Her heart and the planet’s heart cannot be separated.”

“I have a TARDIS,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Surely….”

“Even a TARDIS wouldn’t be able to leave the planet with her aboard. This was never an ordinary planet. Quark Matter is not an ordinary core material. That’s why the comet caused such terrible devastation. It ripped a hole in the planet’s soul and it’s dying now. Nothing anyone can do. And we’ll die with it.”

He put his arms around Lillian as he spoke. She pressed close to him. Chrístõ saw that there was a deep, unbreakable bond between them, and if it was true that there was a bond just as strong between the girl and the planet then nothing he could say would change Devos’s mind.

“I’m sorry we intruded upon your privacy, sir,” Chrístõ said. “We should go.”

Riley was surprised. He thought Chrístõ would have argued more than that. But he followed his friend out of the little house, across the stretch of plain to where he left his TARDIS.

Chrístõ put the time machine in temporal orbit again. He looked at the planet on the viewscreen, then studied the environmental data. The planet had a few days, yet. The damage done deep within the core wasn’t visible, yet. There were few worrying effects, but it wouldn’t be long before tectonic upheavals would start to tear the surface apart. After that, the break up would accelerate exponentially.

“There’s nothing you could do?” Riley asked.

“Nothing. He’s right. Quark matter is strangely jealous. It won’t let her go, and he won’t leave her.”

“What if….”

Chrístõ looked at his friend. He was open to any ‘What ifs’ he had. Any straw he might clutch.

“You said once that this TARDIS was indestructible. Capable of riding through a volcano, that sort of thing. Suppose... we put them in here… and just wait. Once the planet has finished tearing itself up, there won’t be anything to pull her back.”

Chrístõ thought about that for a while. It made a sort of sense, if leaving a TARDIS on the surface of a planet in its terminal moments could be considered ‘sense’.

“No,” he concluded. “The TARDIS certainly could survive the forces the dying planet would exert, but I doubt the people aboard would, especially you. Do you want to be pounded to death?”

“Not much. It was just a thought. I mean… if there was a way…. You want to save them, don’t you?”

“If there was anything at all we could do, then yes, yes, I would do it. But I can’t see how.”

“What now? Are you going to report back to Hext? Do we leave orbit?”

“No,” Chrístõ decided. “On both counts. I know I should, but I want to stay. I should stay. Just in case he changes his mind. I feel I should give him that much. The TARDIS will be safe in temporal orbit until very near the end.”

Riley was glad. He didn’t want to just abandon the old Time Lord to his fate.

“He doesn’t seem like a bad man,” he observed. “I suppose he just feels very strongly about… she really IS his daughter, isn’t she… even though she isn’t quite… real.”

“She is real, just not in the way you understand. I suppose… in a way… his creating her with the Arch. Recon… it was, for him, like making a baby in the ordinary way. She was hi just like any child. It’s the strangest relationship I have ever heard of, but it is a real relationship.”

Riley didn’t quite get it. Why would he? In his world there was only one way to be a parent. There was only one definition of life. It was too much for him to get his head around.

But he understood love, at least, and he understood that it was love that kept Rondin Devos on a dying planet, rejecting all offers of rescue.

“Think of something, Chrístõ,” Riley whispered.

But there didn’t seem to be anything Chrístõ could do. He watched the data screen for hour after hour, seeing in levels of tectonic activity and core disruption the advancing end of the planet. Riley quietly brought cups of tea and sandwiches to him. He drank the tea sometimes or let it go cold perched on precarious parts of the console.

When his body clock told him he was tired, Riley made himself a bed on the sofa in the corner of the console room. Chrístõ clearly had no intention of sleeping during this fateful vigil. The room, as if sensing the change in mood, dimmed its lights automatically.

Riley wasn’t sure how long he had been sleeping when Chrístõ shook him awake.

“I think I have an idea. We have to hurry. Things are bad down there.”

Riley looked at the viewscreen and knew that Chrístõ wasn’t exaggerating. The cool blue ocean had almost disappeared, swallowed by great cracks that went right down to the core. The mountains that protected the inner plain of the continent were breaking up, falling in huge, cataclysmic landslides. Jagged red lines of erupting magma split the flatlands.

“I need you to go to the cloister room for me.” Chrístõ outlined his plan and gave Riley his role to play as they materialised awkwardly near the dwelling. The ground was trembling beneath the TARDIS, but it was just about stable enough for the few minutes he hoped they needed to be there. “That’s the best way you can help. The air out there is full of toxins that you don’t want to be breathing. I can recycle my oxygen long enough to get there and back.”

“Don’t take too long.”

Chrístõ didn’t need that warning. He ran across the trembling ground, the toxic air smelling of sulphur and worse. He hammered at the door of the dwelling and when nobody answered he used his sonic screwdriver to burst the lock.

Devos and Lillian were crouched on the floor near the Arch. Recon. tree, hugging each other tightly. Chrístõ ran to them as the house threatened to shake itself to bits.

“I know what to do,” he said. “Please, come. There’s very little time.”

Devos looked at him suspiciously. Chrístõ touched his forehead and transmitted his idea in a micro burst. It was easier than explaining in words.

“Rassilon’s Beard! That could work!” Devos stood, lifting his daughter with him. “Lillian, come, child. We must leave our home, now.”

“Quickly,” Chrístõ urged them. They didn’t need much encouragement in that way. Neither stopped to try to take personal things from the dwelling. They knew it was too late for that. They held each other tightly and hurried through the thickening soup that still passed as atmosphere. The TARDIS in its default mode was almost invisible through it all. Only its rectangular shape defined it in any way.

Riley opened the door as they came close. Chrístõ reached the threshold first, thrusting Lillian into the safety of his travelling companion’s grasp. He turned to Devos and saw the ground beneath the old man’s feet give way.

“I’m not losing you now,” he said as he reached out one hand, grasping tight as Devos was left dangling over a debris filled chasm. For a moment both could have been dragged down, but with one muscle-wrenching effort he pulled him back. They both fell inside the TARDIS. Riley closed the door behind them as Chrístõ sprang to his feet.

“Did you get it?” he asked.

“There,” Riley answered, pointing to the brightly glowing Arch. Recon. ‘fruit’ beside the drive console. “Do we have time?”

Chrístõ glanced at the datascreen. The TARDIS was on the edge of what was very nearly the last bit of land left. Its own gravity dampeners were holding the ground together for as long as it possibly could.

“Touch and go. We might end up testing your theory, after all.”

“I didn’t have a theory,” Riley protested, but Chrístõ was already moving on. He turned to the bewildered girl, still clinging to her father.

“Lillian, trust me, now, please. Lie down here on the floor and close your eyes. I can’t promise this won’t hurt, but when it’s over….”

“I’ll be by your side, child,” Devos promised as she looked fearfully at him. She did as he asked. Chrístõ took the Arch. Recon. globe and knelt beside her. He placed the globe on her chest above her heart and thought about what he wanted it to do, trusting to his symbiotic connection to the TARDIS to do the rest.

By the drive control, where Chrístõ had instructed him to be, Riley watched in amazement as the glow from within the globe enveloped Lillian. She cried out in agony and Devos grasped her hand tightly, willing her to have the strength to withstand what was happening to her.

“It’s working,” Chrístõ said in a relieved tone. “The artron energy from my Arch. Recon. is overriding the Quark core energy in her being. It’s replacing it… like a blood transfusion and a heart transplant all at once. She won’t be tied to the planet anymore.”

Pure blood Time Lords don’t cry. That was an established fact. But there was something making Devos’s eyes glassy. He looked at his daughter as the glow subsided and then at Chrístõ. He knew he had been handed a miracle he hadn’t dared to hope for.

“Riley, the Fast Return Switch, now!” Chrístõ called out as he felt the TARDIS shift under him. Riley pressed the switch. Moments later they were in orbit around a planet that wouldn’t be a planet in a very short time. A shock wave buffeted the craft. Everyone was thrown around, but even Riley only suffered few bruises before Chrístõ was able to shift the TARDIS to a safer place at the edge of the solar system.

“We made it?” Riley hardly dared to state it as a fact. He made it a question instead. “We all made it?”

Lillian was standing up, a little shaky, holding onto her father’s arm. She was scared, still a little stunned by having all of her atoms reorganised, but wide eyed with realisation that she was still alive.

“We made it. The planet is gone. Nothing but rocks and dust. But those earthworms and bugs the Zoo Ship couldn’t reach are the only casualties.”

“We’re alive,” Devos said. “What will we do now?”

“There is nothing stopping you coming back to Gallifrey,” Chrístõ reminded him.

“I can’t call it home after all this time,” Devos admitted. “Besides, Lillian doesn’t belong there.”

“I know where they should go,” Riley said. “The same place as the birds went – the ones Lillian liked to listen to.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ agreed. He checked his console and set the TARDIS in pursuit of the Zoo Ship Steve Irwin. That wasn’t difficult. A hyperdrive ship of that size was no match for Time Lord technology. He hailed the ship and arranged to materialise aboard.

Less than an hour later the matter was settled. Rondin Devos and his daughter, Lillian, would travel with the zoo ship to the terraformed planet where the animal life of Corroras was being relocated. They could make a new home there, too.

“The birds will be there,” Lillian said, happily. “I always liked to hear them.”

“You’ll be fine,” Chrístõ told them both. “But just in case….” He gave the girl a white cube that glowed from within. It had Gallifreyan symbols on all six sides. “Just a pretty thing to put on a mantelpiece, but if anything happens that the two of you can’t deal with, send a message to me.”

Devos looked about to refuse the offer of future assistance. Something of the pride that had kept him an exile for so long returned. Then the old man realised that Chrístõ had given the hypercube, a Time Lord communications device, to Lillian, not to him. He understood why. It didn’t need to be spoken of.

“Thank you,” he said quietly. “Good journey, my friends.”

“Good journey to you, too,” Chrístõ answered before he and Riley returned to the TARDIS and left the Time Lord and his daughter to continue their journey to their new planet and a new life.