The two travelling companions were in good spirits. They had just left the planet of Vorgis Tempura, a technologically advanced society that nonetheless held the chivalric arts in high esteem. Chrístõ had taken part in a six-day tournament to become the champion of broad sword combat with Riley as his slightly bewildered but enthusiastic squire. They had been fêted at banquets every night, and Chrístõ had received numerous approaches from fathers of beautiful young women with handsome dowries. He had declined them all politely, of course.

But as the TARDIS entered the time vortex the entire communications console lit up. Multiple transmissions were coming in. Riley recognised that one of the video communications was from Paracell Hext, the director of the Gallifreyan Celestial Intervention Agency. The other was from a distressed woman wearing a cerise silk gown and a coronet. Yet another was from a man dressed in leather and gold who bore himself like a young Genghis Khan. He was seated upon a black lacquered throne decorated with fearsome carvings of mythological beasts.

“Don’t even go there,” Chrístõ told Riley when he expressed curiosity. “Dragon Loge Marton, I have answered your call first, granting you priority even over Queen Cirena. What news have you?”

“I only know what my spies tell me – that Penne Dúre is missing. As Adano-Ambrado’s closest political friend, my fleet is standing by to bombard any planet that issues a ransom demand.”

“That is a worthy undertaking on behalf of the Loggia Empire,” Chrístõ answered. “I thank you for such loyal friendship. But hold off until we know more about the circumstances. I should talk to Cirena. Let me speak with you again.”

“I await your decision,” Marton responded. Chrístõ switched to the lady in cerise silk.

“Your Majesty,” he said, bowing his head respectfully. It didn’t escape Riley’s notice that Chrístõ had not bowed to the young Genghis on the black lacquer throne and despite the appearance of ultimate power no such obeisance had been demanded.

He accounted himself the equal of the tyrant with a battle fleet in readiness!

“Chrístõ,” replied the distressed Queen of Adano-Ambrado. “I’m so glad I managed to make contact. I am beside myself. I don’t know if he is alive or dead. The Dragon-Loge is ready to go to war against whoever he deems responsible. And when he’s done…. Adano-Ambrado without Penne as its leader…. Friend or no friend, Marton must be thinking of ways to add our empire to his own.”

“Corwen is Penne’s natural heir… and even if he is deemed too young and inexperienced, Marton knows I’m in the frame, too. He wouldn’t dare attempt a coup.”

But Chrístõ wasn’t entirely certain of that. Nobody was sure whether the Dragon Loge valued friendship above conquest.

“Where are you? Do you want me to come to you?” he asked.

“No,” Cirena answered. “No, I don’t think I could bear it. To look at you is hard enough without him near me. I have enough protection, and I have the comfort of friends. Chrístõ, find him, please. Get him back here before Marton isn’t the only ambitious ruler looking to take advantage of our weakness. Get him back to me and to our people.”

“I will,” Chrístõ promised. He looked at the other incoming call and quickly wished Queen Cirena strength and courage in this hard time before turning to Paracell Hext.

“What can you tell me?” he asked without preamble.

“Dúre was attending a galactic conference on the planet Ozümüz . In the middle of the night his State Rooms were breached. Four of his Guardia Real were killed and the King-Emperor taken from his bed. He put up a fight. There was blood on the floor, and it wasn’t his, but there was evidence that a neural inhibitor was used. That would finish the argument all right.”

“Even if he was knocked out, how did they get him out of his room without being seen?”

“That I won’t know until I get my best agent to Ozümüz to investigate,” Hext answered.

“Who’s that?” Chrístõ asked.

Hext smiled wryly and raised an eyebrow.

The penny dropped.

“As if I’d be going anywhere else! Is there anyone trustworthy I should expect to co-ordinate with?”

“The commander-in-chief of the Guardia Real – A Field-Marshall Beccan. I’m sending you a co-ordinate to meet with him.”

“Her,” Chrístõ responded quickly. “Field-Marshall? Penne gives that lady promotions for birthday presents. He’ll have to invent a new rank for her one of these days.”

“Well, she’s your liaison. I know how important the King-Emperor is to you. I won’t bother going on about how important Adano-Ambrado is to Gallifrey. This isn’t about trade and diplomacy to you.”

“No, it isn’t. I’ll... I’ll be in touch when there’s something to report, Hext.”

He closed the call and turned to the drive control. He programmed the TARDIS destination for the capital of Ozümüz, a planet with mineral reserves that made it an important trade ally with Adano-Ambrado and just about any other political hegemony in the galaxy. He quickly noted that Ozümüz, while populated by humanoids with a biology similar to Earth born humans had lived in isolation from the rest of the universe until First Contact was made only two decades ago. This conference, instigated by the absolute monarch, The Attaman Ozümüz, was their first step towards full diplomatic and trade alliances beyond their own skies.

“The king-emperor…. The one who is missing…. He looks like you.” Riley made it a statement, not a question, though there were a hundred of those in his expression.

“The likeness is a trick of genetics. Our brotherhood was forged in battle. Before we land, you ought to also know that I’m his designated heir. I’ve got a crown in a cupboard for when its needed. People bow to me. It can be disconcerting.”

“He’s a VERY good friend?”

“VERY. If… when… he’s safe… there will be bathing and long stories.”


“That’s a long story on its own.”

The TARDIS console signalled that they had landed at the co-ordinate. Riley wondered if Chrístõ would be wanting the crown he mentioned.

He didn’t. He put his ordinary leather jacket over his ordinary shirt and slacks as if he wanted to look as unlike royalty as possible. Riley wondered about his own role in this and decided that being at Chrístõ’s side, much as he was in the tournament, was the best he could do.

The first thing Riley was aware of when he stepped out of the TARDIS was how very alien this world was. Every building he could see was a twisted, impossible antithesis to the rectangular form he understood, the form that obeyed the laws of gravity. He saw tall buildings with wide top sections that were supported by impossibly thin bases, spiral shapes, buildings with sections cut out of the middle, spherical buildings, cones and inverted cones.

The TARDIS was parked several hundred feet up what looked much like an Aztec stepped pyramid on a wide apron of sculptured garden that included a lawn of purple grass.

“It’s not that far off in your world,” Chrístõ told him as he looked around in wonder. “Post modernism in architecture even makes London look a lot different to how you know it.”

Riley took his word for that. In any case, his attention was distracted from the architecture by the appearance on the lawn of a woman wearing a well-fitting military uniform in powder blue and silver. She wore a peaked cap and burgundy lipstick. Riley wasn’t accustomed to women in the military except in ancillary roles. A senior officer - and one wearing cosmetics - was a new concept.

“Sire….” The officer stepped closer then saluted to Chrístõ, barely acknowledging Riley at all.

“Field Marshall,” Christo answered. “What news is there?”

“Sire….” She said again in a voice too small and cracked for an officer.

“Take off that cap, Field Marshall,” Chrístõ told her. She obeyed. “There. Now I don’t have to worry about your rank. Ruana….”

As he called her by name he drew her close in a comforting hug. Two stray tears escaped from her eyes.

“I’m sorry, your Highness,” she managed as she wiped the tears from her face. “Seeing you… like this… it is difficult.”

“You’re permitted one very short cry. Then we’ll get down to business,” Chrístõ told her. She sobbed and rested her head against his shoulder for a moment before drawing herself up again and replacing the cap. “Ok, now, please show me the scene of the crime. I am sure others have been over it, but I am pulling rank on them all.”

Ruana Beccan already looked pale, but as she brought Chrístõ and Riley into a marble floored reception room her face was bloodless. The reason was clear enough. Four coffins covered with the flag of Adano-Ambrado – a blue diamond on a ruby coloured field – were being guarded by young soldiers in powder blue who diverged from their vigil long enough to salute Chrístõ.

“I am sorry for your loss,” he said, pausing to pay his own respects before they passed into an ante-chamber beyond the reception. “Truly sorry.”

“They were all young, on their first offworld assignment,” Ruana Beccan said in a carefully measured voice. “I only wish I had been on duty, but I went to my bed when his Majesty retired.”

“Having risen before he did and stood by his side all day,” Chrístõ reminded her. “You are permitted to rest, Field Marshall. Besides, could you have done anything more than they did?”

There were obvious signs that something had happened in this room. There was a torn tapestry, broken vases, and blood on the very expensive carpet. Even if the signs hadn’t been so clear he could feel the sudden, violent death as if it were a forensic clue.

“Three died here. One… Major Decker… ran into his Majesty’s bedchamber and was killed trying to defend him with her own body.”

Chrístõ nodded. If she had been on duty, Ruana Beccan would have given that same devotion to her King-Emperor.

“You mean… a woman was on guard and died saving this King?” Riley may not have been tactful in the way he phrased his question, but he was so confused by now he couldn’t help himself.

“Riley’s society doesn’t allow women to be soldiers,” Chrístõ explained quickly. “Whereas Penne Dúre positively encourages it.”

Riley was still puzzled, but Chrístõ was impatient to investigate his friend’s disappearance. He opened the door to the inner chamber, the bedroom from which Penne was kidnapped. Again, there were signs of struggle and indications that some effort towards a forensic examination of the crime scene had been attempted.

Chrístõ looked at the blood on the tossed bedclothes. None of it came from a Gallifreyan. The largest stain was from the Adanan officer who had been killed protecting her king. The rest belonged to one of the abductors. Ruana Beccan explained that an ornamental dagger belonging to Penne Dúre had been collected by the local authorities who made the preliminary investigation.

“He wounded one of them.” Chrístõ smiled thinly. “It doesn’t help unless the man is fool enough to walk into a hospital, but good for Penne for not taking this lying down. Paracell Hext was right about them knocking him out with a neural inhibitor. I can smell the chemical cocktail, still.”

He closed his eyes and prepared to ‘read’ the immediate history of this room. Any number of people had moved around the room. Their activity made it difficult, but he tried to get past that to what happened so suddenly and violently during the night.

He had almost managed to create a mental picture of the scene when his concentration was broken by an electronic surge. He opened his eyes and stared at a holo-flat, a TV screen that appeared out of empty air. The image it was broadcasting was a dreadful one. Chrístõ’s two hearts thumped heavily as he saw Penne lying nearly naked on a hard stone floor, gagged and blindfolded, his legs and arms shackled.

“Is he…” Riley began to ask the question nobody else dared ask. Ruana Beccan pressed her lips together, not daring to speak.

“No,” Chrístõ insisted. “He’s breathing very faintly. The neural inhibitor should have worn off by now. I think he’s actually practising the deep level meditation I taught him years ago. He’s using it as a defence mechanism against his predicament.”

“Oh, my King,” Ruana whispered.

“This is a public broadcast,” Chrístõ observed, pushing his personal feelings down. “Everyone on this planet can see it.”

Riley had only a short acquaintance with televisual broadcasting, but he understood that it was distressing to Chrístõ, to say nothing of Field Marshall Beccan, to see their King in such dreadful circumstances. He tried to imagine how he might feel if George V was the prisoner of some foreign force.

He would be outraged, of course, and ready to fight to his last breath for justice.

“What is that?” Chrístõ asked. A symbol had appeared on the screen – a stylised lightning flash over a hammer. It was like a cross between the symbol of Communism in mid-twentieth century Earth and Fascism in the same era.

The symbol was replaced by a video of a man sitting at a table in front of the same image etched on the wall. The man was dressed in a black military style tunic. He looked about forty-five, maybe fifty, with features that might be considered handsome except for a ‘port wine stain’ birthmark across the left cheek. The birthmark was shaped something like a lightning flash.

“He is Tok Ozümüz,” Ruana Beccan explained to Chrístõ. “Brother of the Attaman Ozümüz. He has vehemently opposed the expansionist policies of the legitimate government.”

Chrístõ made a mental note to update the TARDIS database. He had read fully about the Attaman’s attempts at establishing ties with other planets. It was a commendable exercise that could only be for the good of the Ozümüzan people. There was nothing about a brother, let alone one who led a vehement opposition.

Tok Ozümüz was very clear about that opposition. He used words like ‘racial purity’, ‘self determination’ and ‘political autonomy’ a lot. The gist of his argument was that Ozümüz should not be making friends with other worlds. He firmly believed that they should remain aloof, insular, providing for themselves and having no part in outside politics or trading.

Which was a perfectly acceptable political viewpoint. Gallifrey had pursued such a policy during several epochs of its history. Riley, if asked, would doubtless point to the Irish Free State and the self-sufficient aims of the Sinn Fein government in its first decade of existence.

But neither Gallifrey nor Ireland had resorted to kidnapping a man who came to them in peace under a diplomatic banner.

Neither would consider threatening that man’s life unless every foreign embassy prepared to leave within the next fifty hours.

“Is he mad?” Riley asked.

“Yes,” Ruana Beccan answered. “He must be. We knew there WAS an isolationist faction, but if there had been any suggestion of insurgent activity from them we would have been better prepared. As it is, the Ruby of Adano has only a small military force aboard, and only a few of us… more or less ceremonial… came down to the planet with the King.”

Chrístõ had some thoughts about that, but before he could voice them the images on screen changed. This time he was aware that this was a private communication, directed to this room, and two way. He could respond to the man who appeared on screen.

He was aware, also, that he was looking at the brother of Tok Ozümüz, the Attaman Ozümüz. The two men were identical apart from the port wine stain. The Attaman’s was on his right cheek.

The Attaman’s expression betrayed surprise.

“Yes, doppelgangers are in vogue, here,” Chrístõ remarked. “I’m the Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado and I think you need to explain why you downplayed the danger from your extremist brother.”

The Attaman was clearly disconcerted by Chrístõ’s reading of his political situation and launched into a long-winded answer to the question that managed to explain absolutely nothing.

“What has been done about rescuing his Majesty from the insurgents?” Chrístõ asked, cutting him short. Again, the answer was long on words and short on detail. Attaman was clear on one thing, though. He refused to allow the Gardia Real to investigate. He could not risk a foreign agency policing Ozümüzan citizens, even those who had chosen the path of terror.

“That is outrageous,” Ruana Beccan responded. “Our people were murdered. Our King is a hostage, and we can do nothing?”

“It is correct,” Chrístõ said. “No state can tolerate the interference of a foreign army. It is tantamount to invasion. Lord Attaman, you have my word that no member of the Gardia Real of Adano Ambrado will interfere in the investigation. Be warned, however, that we expect you to deal swiftly and thoroughly with these terrorists. If not, all of Ozümüz will suffer. Do you know of Adano-Ambrado’s chief ally, Loggia?”

Attaman clearly had.

“One word from me and the battle fleets of Loggia, under the command of the Dragon Loge Marton will surround your planet and reduce its cities to rubble. Do not presume that I would hesitate to do that if Penne Dúre is injured in any way.”

Riley Davenport looked at his friend in astonishment. He had never expected such threats from him. He never expected such words, delivered with a force that would wither lesser men, from somebody he knew as a pacifist and a man of mercy.

Attaman Ozümüz didn’t know that Chrístõ was a pacifist and a man of mercy. A very real fear showed in his eyes.

“I shall expect updates within the hour,” Chrístõ snapped as he pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and aimed at the holo-screen. It winked out of existence. He adjusted the sonic and held it up as he turned around, scanning the room.

“Some form of transmat was used,” he said. “The abductors took the guards in the ante chamber by surprise that way. Then they grabbed Penne and removed him. I felt the ion residue as strongly as I could smell the neural inhibitor. Quite how a society developed transmat technology before it had interplanetary travel I don’t know. It is unheard of. But the point is, while I’ve been talking I was able to get a trace back. Even with the number of people who’ve tramped around here since the abduction I’ve got a reading on the point of origin.”

“You mean you KNOW where the King was taken?” Riley asked after examining the words carefully and rearranging them in his own idiom.

“Yes. Come on.”

Riley didn’t hesitate. Nor did Ruana Beccan. They both followed him out to the lawn where the TARDIS was parked. Chrístõ turned and looked at the Field Marshall.

“I need you to resign your commission with immediate effect.”


“You heard me give my word that no member of the Gardia Real would interfere in the investigation. As a civilian you can do as you please, as can Riley and I since we’re not even Adano-Ambradan.”

Ruana Beccan smiled faintly and resigned from the army by the simple act of removing her cap of rank and her tunic bearing the Gardia Real insignia.

She followed Chrístõ into the TARDIS as a civilian.

“Don’t worry,” Chrístõ told her as he went to the console and plugged the sonic screwdriver into the drive control. “Penne will have a great time awarding you all those ranks again.”

“I hope he is alive to do so,” Ruana answered.

“He’s alive. Be sure of that. And be sure I’m not going to let anyone on this disturbed planet do him any further harm.”

Ruana nodded, not trusting herself to say anything else.

“You really do love him, don’t you,” Riley said as he and Ruana waited for Chrístõ to confirm their destination. “The King, I mean.”

“Everyone in the Kingdom loves him.”

“That’s true,” Chrístõ admitted, looking up from his work. “Penne started off badly, but he’s managed to become a very popular monarch. There are a couple of old Barons on Ambrado who pay more land tax than they like, but the ordinary people adore him.”

“Yes… but… I’m sorry if this is none of my business, but… you talk of him as if its more than that.”

“It is,’ Ruana admitted. “I love him deeply with all of my heart and soul. I have been one of his Royal Guards ever since the Corps was founded. I have been beside my king in many deadly crises and seen his courage first hand. Yes, I love him, and I know he loves me. If he were any other man, and I any other woman, I should probably be his lover in every way. But he is devoted to his queen. Though he flirts with every woman or man he meets, he has never faltered in that devotion.”

“It’s a close thing,” Chrístõ noted. “But, yes, Penne has taken to monogamy surprisingly well.”

“He repays my love with promotions,” Ruana confessed. “He gives them to me the way another man might give a woman diamonds. They are a mark of his love for me.”

Riley still didn’t understand. Chrístõ smiled faintly.

“You have to be Adano-Ambradan to fully understand. The important thing is finding the King-Emperor… for all our sakes. For the people of this planet, even. Marton may not wait for my go ahead if he finds out that the Attaman’s own brother is responsible for the abduction.”

“He would do that?”

“I just might inflict some rough justice myself if what I’m seeing here is right,” Christo answered. “Ruana... Look at this. Tell me if it is what I think it is.”

She stepped forwards and looked at the image on the screen.

“No!” She stepped back from the screen in outraged horror. “No. It can’t be so….”

“What is it?” Riley asked. “What’s the problem?”

“Not a problem as such, more a deepening mystery.” Chrístõ pressed the drive control and there was a very brief sense of movement before the TARDIS came to a standstill again. “The point of origin of the transmat used to kidnap Penne Dúre is within the Attaman’s Palace. Tok Ozümüz is running his insurgency from inside his brother’s own stronghold.”

“And he doesn’t know?”

“That’s a very good question. Let’s find out. Before we do, though - what with us not being a legitimate army - I don’t want to kill anyone if I can help it. Ruana, you have a ‘stun’ setting on the side arm you are still carrying despite having resigned from the army.”

“I do,” Ruana answered, adjusting the weapon immediately. “That setting hits anything with a cerebral cortex so hard they wake up the next day with a blinding and debilitating migraine. I don’t use it very often, but today is the day for it.”

“Just point it the right way, please,” Riley told her. “Best I can do is some boxing skills.”

“That’ll do. Don’t worry too much about the Queensbury Rules. Just go in hard and fast.” Riley grinned. Christo scanned the area outside the TARDIS before opening the doors.

“I expected a dungeon,” Riley commented as they walked on plush carpets along a gilded gallery hung with fine tapestries and works of art. “Something hidden away where nobody went very often.”

“So did I,” Ruana Beccan added. “What is going on here?”

“I don’t understand the whole picture,” Chrístõ replied. “But Penne Dúre is a prisoner somewhere near here.”

“You know for sure?”

“I can feel him. We’re the only two Gallifreyans on this planet. I can sense his presence even though he’s not conscious at the moment. It’s that room. The one with two guards outside.”

“Two guards in the uniform of the Attaman's personal security detail,” Ruana pointed out.

“Yes, I noticed that. We can ask them about that or we can knock them out, rescue Penne, and ask questions later.”

Ruana Beccan's expression made it clear which option she preferred. Christo, despite his pacifist leanings, fully agreed with her.

They moved closer to the guarded room without speaking. None of them looked as if they belonged in the Ozümüzan Royal Palace, but they walked confidently and without any sense of furtiveness, and they were within a few paces before the guards realised there was a problem. Chrístõ signalled to his companions. Ruana Beccan stood back. Her migraine inducing weapon was too noisy for a surprise attack. Chrístõ took one guard with a roundhouse kick from the eastern martial arts tradition. Riley got close enough to the second man with an upper cut that rattled his teeth before he fell.

“I don’t know how many guards might be inside,” Chrístõ admitted, stepping over the two unconscious men. “I’ll go first…..”

“No, I’ll do that,” Ruana insisted, raising her gun. “I’m the professional soldier, here. With or without rank I’m supposed to protect you, not the other way around.”

She was right, of course. He had been trying to be chivalrous where it wasn’t needed. He nodded in agreement then reached to open the door. Ruana ducked low and rolled as she had been taught many years before. She fired her gun twice before Chrístõ and Riley followed her in. They found two incapacitated guards and Ruana bending over Penne Dúre, pulling off the gag and blindfold and tugging at his bonds.

“He’s not breathing,” she said anxiously before leaning over to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation.

“He’s in a deep trance,” Chrístõ pointed out. “He doesn’t need resuscitation. He should be capable of coming out of it by himself.”

“I’m not sure she’s listening,” Riley told him.

“Neither is heI’,” Chrístõ confirmed. He smiled as he felt Penne’s consciousness begin to surface. “Behave yourself. You’re a married man and that is a very fine officer you’re taking advantage of. Come on, Penne. We need to solve a mystery, yet.”

“What mystery?” Penne asked as he opened his eyes and looked up into Ruana Beccan’s relieved face.

“The mystery of how you were the prisoner of a revolutionary movement inside a royal palace. I suggest we go and ask The Attaman Ozümüz to explain.”

“I agree,” Penne answered. He clung to Ruana's arm and scrambled to his feet. He was wearing nothing but a pair of blood stained and crumpled pyjama bottoms, but he drew himself up like a man born to be a ruler of other men. Despite her own instinct to hold on tight to him, Ruana stepped back and let him stand unaided.

“Keep that weapon on stun in case of trouble,” Chrístõ said to Ruana. He walked beside Penne with their two friends as a rear-guard. They didn’t need to shoot anyone. They met with guards, courtiers, servants of all sorts, but even in his state of undress Penne was able to command them. By the time they reached the Attaman’s throne room he was fully expected.

“His Majesty is not Present,” said a worried aide as they entered the gilded room.

“I’m here,” Penne answered. He stalked up to the throne and sat upon it. Ruana Beccan found a fur-edged cloak and put it around his shoulders before standing at his left side. Chrístõ stood on his right. Riley stood at Chrístõ’s side. Penne looked at the number of the Attaman’s people in attendance before speaking to Ruans Beccan. She used her military communications device to contact the military contingent aboard the Ruby of Adano.

“I don’t like doing this. It smacks of ‘coup’,” he said. “But we need to even the odds.”

“I only promised there wouldn’t be a military raid to rescue you,” Chrístõ admitted. “Besides, it is about time the Ozümüzans discovered that transmat is pretty universal.”

The Ozümüzans were disconcerted when a company of Penne’s best troops arrived in the throne room and took up defensive positions. Penne ordered them to lower their weapons until needed and expressed the firm hope that they would not be needed. The chief Aide nodded to those of his own people who had weapons and they were put away while everyone waited.

They waited only a very short time before The Attaman Ozümüz entered the throne room dressed in a silk robe with a high collar that covered his neck. He walked right to the base of the throne dais and looked up at Penne, sitting in his place.

“I… am relieved to see you, safe and well, your Majesty. But….”

Penne said nothing. He looked hard at the King whose throne he was usurping.

“His Majesty was being held prisoner here in your own palace,” Chrístõ said. “We’re waiting for you to explain that. Tell your personal guards to back off, incidentally. This is already a serious diplomatic incident. You don’t want to make it worse.”

The Attaman signalled to his men to holster their weapons and stand back. The Adano-Ambradans maintained their détente.

“We’re still waiting for your explanation,” Christo reminded the Ozümüzian king.

“I... am astonished,” the Attaman said. “I had no idea that....”

“You had no idea that the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado was a prisoner within a hundred yards of your own throne room?” Ruana Beccan demanded. “How could you not know a thing like that?”

“He knows,” Penne Dúre said unexpectedly. He rose from the throne and pointed an accusing finger. “He knows. He is the one who kidnapped me.”

“No,” Riley answered him. “He’s the Attaman. It was his brother who kidnapped you.”

“No,” Penne insisted. “It was him. He has no brother. It's him. He came to my room. He killed Captain Decker. I wounded him. Look at his neck, below the collar.”

“He killed….” Ruana began.

“Keep your weapon holstered,” Chrístõ told her firmly. “Go and examine his neck.”

The aide stepped forward as if to bar her, but something in her eyes sent him back again. She pulled the Attaman’s collar down and revealed a bandages wound. Even the aide was alarmed by the confirmation of his crime.

“Ruana, step away from him, now,” Christo said to her. “Riley, you stand by that aide. Feel free to box his ears if he tries any funny stuff. You... Attaman... stay right where you are. Keep your hands where I can see them.”

“How dare you speak to me that way....” Attaman began. Like Penne, he had a way of drawing himself up above common men, but in that room, at that moment, he was not among common men.

“I dare,” Chrístõ answered. “My father taught me to value humility, so I don’t often mention that my people were lords of time and space since most of the universe was in its infancy. I don’t mention that it is within my power to go back to before you existed and erase you from the fabric of time itself. But all of that is true, so don’t even think about threatening me. I outrank you by a million steps on the ladder and I can crush you in an eyeblink.”

He didn’t raise his voice. His words were calm and measured, and all the more terrifying for it. The Attaman visibly deflated before him. Then Penne Dúre cried out in surprised astonishment. The others saw why moments later.

They had all identified The Attaman by the position of his birthmark on the right cheek. But as they watched, the crimson lightning flash faded from that side and appeared on the left.

“He has no brother,” Penne explained. “I know the official records say he has, but late last night I saw a confidential report prepared by one of Dragon Loge Marton’s spies. The twin brother died at birth. At least… his body died. This man… somehow absorbed his twin’s soul or essence or… whatever you want to call it. He has been two people in one all his life… two personalities… two political views, as it turns out. One of them a very dangerous view for himself, for me, and this planet.”

The aide again made a tentative move forward. There was an expression on his face suggesting that he and a select few had kept that secret for a long time.

“Sweet Mother of Chaos,” Chrístõ breathed. “Is that even possible?”

It certainly seemed to be. Tok Ozümüz swore in his own language and called them all filthy foreigners, which was far less insulting than the vernacular curse had been.

“Your sort will poison the blood of Ozümüz,” he added. “Leave my world or you will be slain where you stand.”

“I’m seriously considering that as a strategy,” Penne observed. “I’m not feeling particularly amiable towards a man who murdered my people and kidnapped me, and even if I could get past that, there is no point in a trade agreement with a ruler who can break his word on a mood swing. I’m ready to pack up and leave, and to advise anyone else I have influence with to avoid this planet like the plague.”

“No…..” Ozümüz groaned as if in real pain. Before their eyes his birthmark switched sides again. “No, I must not… Please….” He looked at them all with a contrite expression. “I am sorry. I did not intend…. For the good of my people I wanted. But… but… my… Agghhh….”

As he struggled to stop his xenophobic alter ego taking over again, Attaman lunged forward and grabbed at Ruana Beccan’s gun. She reacted quickly, but not quickly enough to stop him grasping the weapon. Instead, she turned and ran to throw herself over Penne, protecting him with her own body as she was trained to do.

But Penne wasn’t the target. Chrístõ, Riley and the King’s own aide lurched forward to try to stop him as he turned the gun on his own head. He screamed and fell in a crumpled heap.

“Everyone stand back!” Chrístõ called out urgently and authoritatively. “Everyone stand still. Nobody leaves this room until I say so. Ruana, let Penne stand up before he takes advantage again. You… Aide person... you come here and watch me examine your king so that you can’t accuse me of doing him any harm.”

He knelt beside the stricken Attaman. He noted that his face was pale, and that the birthmark appeared to be halfway between fading from one side and appearing on the other. He was struggling to speak, but his words were ragged and incoherent and gradually trailed off altogether. Chrístõ touched his forehead and felt his broken mind.

“The gun was still set to stun, but he pointed it directly at his own head. The damage is massive, and I rather think its permanent.”

“What does that mean?” the Aide asked.

“It means your King is brain dead,” Chrístõ replied. “He… basically isn’t your king any more. His heart still beats but he will never wake again, never give another order. He is essentially dead. Who is his heir?”

“There isn’t one. He isn’t married. He has no children, no brothers.”

“That’s a dangerous position for a planet to be in, with the Dragon Loge Marton and a dozen others ready to move in on you.”

“Let it be known,” Penne Dúre announced with a sudden and undeniable command. “To all outside this room, The Attaman suffered an unexpected and untreatable brain aneurysm. Nobody needs to know any more about the circumstances than that. Do I have the solemn word of all here about that?”

After a few moments of uncertainty Penne’s air of calm authority won through. Everyone agreed that the simple story would be the one history would remember.

“Send at once for medical assistance,” Penne continued once he had those solemn oaths. A courtier ran to do his bidding. The Aide covered the Attaman with a cloak and put a cushion under his head. There was nothing else to be done for him.

“He will be given the very best of care, but his capacity to rule is ended,” Penn continued. “Ozümüz must be organised on a basis of universal adult suffrage to elect a new ruler, be it a king or President or any other word. Until that is done, I am placing the planet under the Joint Protection of Adano-Ambrado in my own person and Gallifrey, in the person of my trusted friend, Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow. There will be no threat of invasion or oppression. The people of Ozümüz will be safe. The trade and diplomatic ties I came here to negotiate will be renegotiated when I have somebody to negotiate with. Now, everyone go about your business quietly and with due reverence to your former king.”

That much was done. Penne Dúre was satisfied.

“I think I need a bath,” he said. “Will you be joining me, Chrístõ?”

“I will. So will my good friend, Riley Davenport, who has no idea what he’s letting himself in for. But first, you have to speak to your Queen and assure the Dragon Loge Marton that he can stand down his battle fleet. And, by the way, I made a civilian of your highest-ranking officer. Later, you’ll have to reverse that.”

Penne turned to Ruana Beccan and smiled warmly at her. She blushed. As a civilian she could do that. Later, she would have to remember her rank.