Chrístõ parked his TARDIS in the suburban street and walked up to the ordinary house where, eight years ago, he had brought Julia to live an ordinary, safe, life with her aunt and uncle.

The door opened before he could knock. They had been waiting for him. Marianna’s expression as she embraced him spoke volumes. Herrick's face told of family angst as he brought his guest in and closed the door.

Most telling of all, the two teenage boys, Julia's cousins, normally excited by his visits, came down the stairs quietly and sat in the drawing room without a word.

True to her calling as a houseproud wife and mother Marianna brought tea and sandwiches for her visitor, but Chrístõ really didn’t want refreshments. Even the two boys weren’t interested in food.

“What's happened?” he asked plainly. “How did I get a message from Julia saying that she was calling off our engagement and she didn’t want any further contact with me?”

“She’s not the only one,” Cordell Sommers said. “My friend, Gery… his big sister has left home. His parents are in meltdown. There’s at least a dozen more….”

“All grown up girls… like… over eighteen, old enough to leave home,” Michal added. “At least, I think so. I don’t really know THAT many older girls. But Sadie has been acting a bit weird…”

“Sadie is his girlfriend,” Marianna explained. Michal looked embarrassed. He was seventeen and relationships with the opposite sex were still tricky.

Any other time Chrístõ would have been sympathetic, but just now his own anxiety was overwhelming.

“She sent an email,” he said, pulling a crumpled printout from his pocket.

“We had a letter,” Marianna said, passing him the evidence in a pale pink envelope. “It IS her handwriting, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” Chrístõ confirmed. “But what is this all about? She says here that you are never to contact her again.”

“Ferris Assher,” Herrick responded.

“And who is that when he is at home? And what does he have to do with Julia?”

“He’s a seducer of women,” Cordell remarked out of the blue. His mother gasped in shock.

“He is not! Where did you hear that? At least, I hope it’s not that. Bad enough he has persuaded so many to join his cult….”

“Cult… as in religious organisation?”

“So it is claimed,” Herrick said. “And of course, the Colonial Constitution under which Beta Delta is governed guarantees religious liberty. As long as everyone who joins the Priory of Assher is over the age of consent and gives no indication of being coerced, even the governor cannot act.”

“If the age of consent hadn’t been reduced last autumn Julia would have been safe,” Marianna added. “I am sure the pressure to change the law has something to do with Assher. He only began recruiting afterwards.”

Chrístõ was reading over the letter and email again, looking for some clue, some hint, a word that stood out, suggesting that Julia had been coerced and was now trying to tell him that.

There was nothing of the sort. It looked as if she had renounced her betrothal to him with her eyes wide open.

But he refused to believe it.

“Where is this cult based?” he demanded.

“Butterfield Lake,” Michal answered. “You know, the place with the cabins. There’s a house there, too. It’s been empty for ages but they’ve bought it and put a fence all around. Even the lake is private now. Everyone was annoyed about that even before they started recruiting people and all of that stuff.”

“Julia was held for ransom there before,” Chrístõ recalled. “What’s with that place. Ok. I’ll take the TARDIS. Quicker than the car.”

“You’re going there?” Marianna asked.

“I’m bringing her back. I don’t care what they say, and I’m damned if I care about colonial constitutions.”

In fact, he did, but he was angry about this whole situation and determined to have his way.

“I’ll come with you,” Herrick decided. “We’re ALL concerned about her.”

“No,” Marianna said. “Let me. If we get a chance to talk to her, maybe she’ll listen to me… I’m the closest she has to a mother.”

“Yes, all right,” Chrístõ decided with a hint of impatience in his voice. “Come on, then. Let’s not waste any more time.”

Marianna didn’t waste any time. She quickly grabbed a coat on the way out as she hurried to match Chrístõ’s long stride. She was still buttoning it when she stepped into the TARDIS and he shut the door behind her.

Slightly nervously she stepped towards the complicated and alien console where he was fixing their destination. There was something she knew she had to ask and he wasn’t going to like it.

“Chrístõ, have you considered the possibility… with or without pressure from Assher… that Julia might have changed her mind about marrying you?”

Chrístõ looked at her quizzically. The thought had never crossed his mind. He didn’t even fully understand the question.

“When you brought her to us, she was thirteen, a child, but there and then you presented your Bond of Intent. You made it clear that you were going to marry her, and she was happy with the idea. But she was THIRTEEN. She was not emotionally, morally or legally ready for that commitment. Later, you formalised the arrangement with the Betrothal document, and then she was ready to make the decision, but I wonder if all of us just assumed it would happen? Did she ever really have a choice? What if… now she is a little older, and the romantic ideas of a teenager are behind her… what if she had thought again?”

This time his expression was one of concern.

“Has she said anything to suggest that… she doesn’t love me?”

“I am sure she loves you. But being married to a Time Lord, with all that entails, might be frightening her.”

“We probably should talk about that,” Chrístõ conceded. “If she really feels that way….” He sighed deeply. “The Bond of Intent…. All those years ago… I didn’t know you and your husband. I didn’t know if you would put obstacles between us. I wanted to make sure I still had the legal right to see her, to….”

He paused. He thought Marianna understood, anyway.

“If we had grown apart, I would not have pressed the legal argument. I would have dismissed the Intent. Even now… the Betrothal… I would not force her if….”

He paused again. His eyes flashed with sudden realisation of something important. He turned from the Console and wrenched open a concealed door into a room he used so rarely even he forgot it was there. It was little more than a cubicle containing an antique writing desk, the sort with dozens of drawers and pull down panels. He unlocked one of the larger drawers and took out a piece of crisp, never folded parchment covered in legal text and signed in three places.

“I should have thought of this. They HAVE to give her back to me.”

Marianna was puzzled, but if Chrístõ had an idea about getting Julia back from the clutches of Assher and his secret cult then she would go along with it.

“You DO want to marry Julia?” This was another question she felt she had to ask and this was as good a time as any to ask it.

“Of course I do,” he answered. “Why would you think otherwise?”

“Because when all is said and done, you only made the Bond of Intent because some kind of prophecy or fortune telling said that it was meant to be. Isn’t it possible both of you are just doing what is expected of you? What if the prophecy was wrong?”

“It wasn’t. I love Julia. If I ever doubted it... which I never have... getting that email was a stab in both hearts with a poisoned blade. I felt as if my universe was crashing in on me.”

“That sounds like love to me,” Marianna agreed. “I only hope your plan, whatever it is, works.”

“So do I,” Chrístõ admitted with just a waver of doubt in his voice. The email had done more than inflict some poetically emotional hurt on him. It had shaken his confidence, his certainty, about everything. He was second guessing everything he did.

And Marianna's questions were just a bit too close for comfort. He had spent the past ten years of his life assuming that he was going to marry Julia, that he was going to love her deeply for all of her life, based on a prediction. It was a prediction from somebody he trusted with his life, and he had no reason to disbelieve it.

But was predestination really a basis for relationships? For the first time since he had met Julia he was actually wondering about his – and her – future.

“No!” he told himself, squashing the doubts. “I love Julia. She loves me. We ARE going to be married and that’s why this is a lot of nonsense. Julia is not joining some strange religious cult.”

He had intended to bring the TARDIS directly into the house at the centre of the Priory of Assher, but something registered on the environmental console and he first materialised his ship on the road beside the main gate.

“What’s going on here?” he asked Marianna. On the large widescreen he could see a large crowd and a small number of police trying to maintain control. There was a lot of shouting going on. Men in long blue robes with hoods stood beyond the closed gates of the fenced off complex watching the demonstration while maintaining a pretence of being disinterested and unconcerned.

“They’re parents of young people Assher has persuaded to join his cult,” Marianna answered. “If I didn’t have the boys to care for I’d be here with them. I wouldn’t let up until….”

Marianna gave a silent, dry mouthed, tearless sob that betrayed the full extent of her anxiety.

“We’re getting Julia back,” Chrístõ insisted reassuringly. There was a steely look in his eyes that made Marianna believe him.

He adjusted the TARDIS controls and it rematerialised a matter of fifty metres away in the entrance hall of the mock Victorian house at the centre of the estate that had been a public park until the Priory of Assher had taken it over. The young man in blue robes who was acting as receptionist was still reeling from the arrival of a large mahogany cabinet in the middle of the floor when Chrístõ emerged and imperiously demanded to see Assher on an urgent legal matter. As Marianna followed him out she heard the receptionist protesting that Father Assher saw nobody without an appointment and Chrístõ making it clear that he would brook no refusal.

She was not at all surprised when the receptionist gave in and contacted his spiritual leader by the unspiritual internal phone system. A fraught minute later they were granted a brief interview.

Another blue robed young man brought them through the heart of the ‘Sanctuary’ as it appeared to be called. They passed rooms where men in blue and young women in pale yellow robes meditated or attended lectures on the healthy mind and body and other apparently innocuous occupations.

Chrístõ was unconvinced. There had to be more going on here than healthy living. Besides, he didn’t like the design of the female robes. They came with a veil over their faces.

Chrístõ knew of religions that required women to cover their faces. He knew of some secular societies with similar ideas. In almost every case the covering of the face was a way of restricting the activities of women and designating them as subservient to men and, in more than one case, the property of men.

He recalled that up to a few years ago it had been a tradition in the Earth colonies for teenage girls to wear a sort of hairnet called a ‘Madden’. It was a symbol of ‘maidenhood’. Julia and her friends had been among the first girls to reject the ‘Madden’. They were still at school. If that didn’t mark them out as ‘maidens’ then a hairnet wasn’t much use.

And yet these girls who embraced liberation and equality were now willingly submitting to a dress code that set them apart? Chrístõ didn’t believe that for one moment.

He and Marianna were shown into a comfortably furnished office occupied by a tall, blonde haired man aged perhaps somewhere in his late thirties. He had striking blue eyes and a composed expression like a monk, the image completed by a cowled robe of deep purple. Despite this, Chrístõ was not disposed to regard him as a holy man.

“My fiancée is here among your group,” he said, choosing a neutral word to describe the people he had seen on those peaceful study halls. He wasn’t prepared to call them acolytes or followers, disciples, anything of that sort.

“Your Fiancée?” Assher responded. “I think not. The Priory Daughters renounce all outside ties.”

“Julia is not permitted to renounce the Bond of Betrothal that exists between us,” Chrístõ said, pulling the document from his inside pocket and laying it before Assher. “As you can see, the contract cannot be broken except by mutual consent, and I do not give that consent. I have invested a great deal of time and money in her education, in her training to be a worthy wife to a Time Lord. She WILL marry me, whether she wants to do so or not. I will not be cheated of my investment by you or her. Have her summoned immediately. I am taking her back where she belongs, under the strict supervision of the guardians I appointed to ensure no interference with my bride. “

Assher examined the Bond document carefully. It was perfectly clear. Breaking the Bond had to be agreed between them.

Yes, if it truly came to such a pass, he would give his consent. He would not force her into marriage against her will. He would not be so cruel.

But Assher didn’t know that. The man's face froze in a darkly angry expression as he read the unbreakable contract in full. He flung the document back at Chrístõ and turned to the young man who had escorted the unwelcome guests.

“Bring the girl here,” Assher said, coldly. The young man rushed off. Chrístõ stood, saying nothing. Assher sat, silent. Marianna bit her lip nervously and wondered what was likely to happen next. Would Julia be happy to see them? Her letter had seemed real. Did she really want to stay here as part of this odd community, and what would Chrístõ do if she told him that?

The question was answered shortly. A slight figure in a pale yellow robe and face covering veil came into the office. When she saw Chrístõ and Marianna she gave a despairing cry and tried to turn away.

“I’m here to take you home, away from this nonsense, “ Chrístõ told her firmly. “There will be no dispute. Do you have any personal possessions to collect?”

“We have no need for possessions,” Julia answered, her voice slightly muffled by the veil.

“Then come, right now,” Chrístõ told her. “I have made the legal position clear. You answer to me in every way.”

“Go in peace,” Assher said. “I cannot stand in your way.”

“But I don’t want to go,” she protested. “I want to stay here. Father Assher, don’t let him take me away!”

“You will sit right there and do nothing,” Chrístõ ordered him. “Your followers will stand away and do nothing to hinder me. Is that clear?”

Assher nodded. Chrístõ took hold of Julia by the arm and firmly steered her out of the room despite the near hysterical tears and pleas that came from beneath the veil.

“Let me stay,” she insisted. “I want to stay. I am to be a Bride of Assher.”

“No!” Marianna exclaimed in shocked tones.

“I don’t know what that means, and I don’t care,” Chrístõ answered, adjusting his hold and swinging her into his arms. Carrying her, even struggling and kicking, was easier than trying to make her walk. “The only bride you’re ever going to be is mine.” He looked at her hands as he thought of something. “Where is your engagement ring? It means more to me than every diamond in the galaxy. If it is in this building anywhere I’ll tear the place down to find it.”

Julia said nothing. She bit his shoulder deeply. He ignored the pain.

“The ring is at our house,” Marianna assured Chrístõ. “She left everything there, all of her clothes, every piece of jewellery you ever gave her.”

Marianna was sure Chrístõ didn’t really care about the value of the ring. She remembered that it had been his mother's engagement ring. That was why it mattered to him.

They reached his TARDIS in the entrance hall. Julia was still screaming. Many of Assher’s followers were coming to see what was going on. None of them dared challenge Chrístõ.

His key was in his pocket. He couldn’t reach it while holding onto Julia. He kicked the bottom of the door and it swung inwards. A TARDIS could be opened just by a Time Lord's will. He had rarely done so, but he was in no humour to let anything stand in his way and the semi-sentient machine recognised that.

Marianna followed him inside and closed the door. She was astonished by the sudden change in Julia's behaviour. She stopped struggling and sobbed in a softer way. Chrístõ let her out of his grasp. She wrenched the veil from her face and breathed like a drowning woman taking gulps of welcome air.

“You came for me,” she said to Chrístõ.

“Well, of course I did,” he answered. “I love you. “

“I love you, too,” Julia responded with feeling.

“Are you sure about that?” Chrístõ was forming a theory about the shift in mood. “You don’t want to go back out there and be a Bride of Assher?”

Julia looked at the view screen where dozens of robed figures were hovering around the TARDIS door. She shuddered.

“No, get me away from this horrible place,” she replied firmly.

“Your wish is very definitely my command,” Chrístõ answered and swung around to the Drive control. Julia let Marianna hug her gently before asking if she could change her clothes.

“Plenty of stuff in the Wardrobe,” Chrístõ told her. “Shove that thing in the trash compactor when you're done with it.”

Marianna went with her. By the time they returned, Julia wearing a knee length sweater dress and tights, the choice of casual style for gymnasts and ballet dancers, as Chrístõ had come to recognise, the TARDIS had returned to the suburban street where the Sommers family lived. She clung to Chrístõ's hand tightly as they walked up the garden path and into the house.

She clung even more tightly as her two cousins, who had never demonstrated their affection before, tried to hug her, both at the same time. Herrick and Marianna were both talking at once and she was overwhelmed.

“I feel very odd,” she said. “May I just lie down in my room? “

“I'll bring you a cup of tea,” Marianna told her.

“Milk and three sugars, please,” she said, proving that she had thrown off the desire to drink the healthy herbal infusions of the Assher regime. She still clung to Chrístõ’s hand. He was glad. He didn’t want to let go.

She didn’t undress, but lay on top of the bed in the quiet, cool room. For a long time, she didn’t talk. She drank the tea Marianna brought and was quiet again for a while more.

“I was hypnotised, wasn’t I” she said at last.

“I think so,” Chrístõ answered. “I’m not sure how it was done, yet, but the TARDIS cut you off from the influence and let you think clearly.”

“I went along there with some of my friends,” she explained. “It was meant to be a sort of open morning with herbal teas and healthy snacks and some lectures and videos about Assher’s philosophy. I wasn’t really interested but some of the other girls were. I think it might have been the herbal tea... something in it that fuddles the mind, but suddenly I wanted to join the community. I wrote those letters....” She looked horrified. “I didn’t mean any of it. I wasn’t thinking like me at all. I was... somebody else… somebody who didn’t love you like mad and who really wanted to be a Bride of Assher.”

Chrístõ frowned. He still didn’t like the idea of that.

“Exactly what IS a Bride of Assher?” he asked carefully. “You don’t mean that man wanted you to marry him?”

“No,” Julia answered after thinking deeply. “No, there are these men… twelve of them. He calls them his sons, though I don’t think they really are his flesh and blood. But he planned to find wives for them all. Several wives. He wanted eight each… Ninety-six wives. He only had eighty-five, yet. Eighty-four, now. He can’t go ahead with the wedding until he has the full number.”

“Is he out of his mind?” Chrístõ asked. Then something else occurred to him. “There are half a million people in New Canberra, and he seemed to have no trouble attracting people. Not that I’m complaining, but how come he’s having trouble recruiting that many brides?”

“Finding women in their early twenties with the ‘qualifications’ is proving difficult. This IS the twenty-fourth century.”

Chrístõ was puzzled for a moment, then the penny dropped.

“He needs ninety-eight ‘maidens’ for his ‘sons’. Where did this nutjob get his ideas from?”

“A vision,” Julia answered. “It’s all in the Book of Assher. We had to study it. His plan….” She paused in thought. “There was something about leaving in a ship, for a new, pure world…. The Sons of Assher and their wives and… and their children.”

“Over my dead body,” Chrístõ responded. “I’m going to call the Governor. He couldn’t act against Assher as long as everyone had joined his community voluntarily, but hypnotism is just a form of coercion. You might need to make a formal statement, then he can send in the National Guard and break the whole thing up.”

“Can it wait until tomorrow?” she asked. “I feel so tired. I feel like I just want to rest for a while.”

“If he's still short of his ninety-six maidens I think we'll be all right. I’ll call the Governor in the morning. You get as much rest as you need.”

He left her to undress and get into bed properly. Later he brought her some food and they talked again. She told him a little more about the regime within Assher’s Priory. Ascetic meals, early rising and lots of meditation and exercise didn’t sound especially bad. Nor did the isolation from the complications of the outside world. He had accepted such a lifestyle himself when he went to the Shaolin Temple in China or the Malvorian retreat to study Sun Ko Do.

But he had made those commitments voluntarily, and nobody was trying to marry him off in a manner that went against his personal understanding of what marriage was.

Polygamy wasn’t evil in itself, either. He knew of many cultures where it was accepted. But again, it ought to have been a matter of choice. Using hypnotism or brainwashing to coerce the Brides of Assher wasn’t acceptable.

While Julia slept he talked about these things with her aunt and uncle, and, to some extent, to her cousins. The two boys were a little disappointed that he had brought Julia back with no more than a legal argument and that his plan to pull down the House of Assher would involve no more than a warrant signed by the Governor and a police raid. They had expected him to go in like a one-man commando unit in the night.

But there was no need. The ordinary authorities could act now that he could bring evidence of foul play. He could concentrate on looking after Julia. She had told him many times during the day that she loved him and, of course, that she was still his fiancée, despite letters written while under Assher’s strange influence. All the same he knew this was no time to take her love for granted. Multiple romantic treats were called for.

Planning those treats gave him happier hours before he went to bed than he had expected when the day began. He slept an untroubled sleep until just before a grey, winter dawn when something woke him with a start.

He listened carefully for a few moments, remembering that he hadn’t slept in a house full of people for a while and it could have been innocent – somebody going to the bathroom or getting a glass of water.

But the muffled cry from Julia’s room was no mistake. He swung out of his bed clad in black satin pyjamas and moved swiftly across the carpeted floor in his bare feet.

His bare feet were the last thing one of the two intruders saw when he launched a high Sun Ko Do kick at the side of his face. The other went down just as quickly with a Gung Fu punch that proved mixed Martial Arts could be as effective as any single discipline. He turned to lift Julia from the floor near the open window where she had resisted being bundled out onto the garage roof below. At the same time, Herrick came running to assist. His two sons only came to be nosy. His wife stepped past them all to make sure Julia was unhurt.

“That window needs a lock on it,” she told her husband scathingly. “It's too easy to reach. We’ll be burgled one of these days.”

“We live in a low crime city with a Neighbourhood Watch scheme,” Herrick protested. “We....”

He was stopped mid-sentence by a stereo exclamation of ‘Urgggh' from the two boys and a low shriek from Marianna.

Chrístõ looked down at the two unconscious would be abductors. When he knocked them out they looked like perfectly usual humans dressed in dark clothing. With the conscious control over their morphic field disrupted they had reverted to something with leathery skin and whip like tendrils that ripped through their shirts.

“Their names WERE Shem and Malaky,” Julia said. “Two of the Sons of Assher that he's planning to find eight wives each for.”

Her voice was surprisingly calm considering that she had been selected as one of the wives. Marianna’s face was frozen in horror as she remembered visiting the lair of these monsters.

“You mean...” she began.

“Never mind,” Chrístõ told her. “It isn’t going to happen. Marianna, I doubt anyone is going back to sleep. Knock up some coffee and an early breakfast. Herrick, help me get these two into my TARDIS. I can put them in stasis until the rest of their brothers are rounded up. I'll call the Governor on the way. I'm not waiting for morning.”

“Chrístõ.... You're going back there... to tackle Assher and his sons on your own?”

The triumphal ‘Yes!” from Michal and Cordell was glared down by Julia who embraced Chrístõ possessively.

“You could leave it to the police,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be you.”

“The police will be expecting humans. I need to get there first and deal with these. Don’t worry. I'll be careful. “

“You’re never careful,” Julia told him. She reached to kiss him, ignoring the juvenile comments from her cousins then hurried to help her aunt with the early breakfast rather than watching him leave on such a dangerous mission all alone.

Of course, he didn’t have to be alone. He could have picked up Cal from the other side of town. He could have contacted Paracell Hext and a troop of CIA men could have used emergency transmat conduits to reach him in minutes. It was mere stubborn pride that made him go alone to tackle the man – or whatever he was – who had tried to take Julia from him.

The word some of his former tutors at the Prydonian Academy would have used was ‘rash’. They would doubtless have blamed the unGallifreyan emotionalism of his half Human blood.

They would probably be right.

But none of his tutors had ever had a fiancée. What did they know about situations like this?

He called the Governor as promised. The Governor wasn’t thrilled about being woken up at least an hour before he had to be, but quickly roused all his faculties when he learned that there was Constitutional justification to put an end to the Assher situation.

“I’m going in right now,” Chrístõ informed him. “The Constitution only protects Beta Delta citizens. These characters are nothing of the sort. I'm going to make as much trouble for them as possible.”

“I advise against it,” the Governor told him.

“I know,” Chrístõ answered. “So do my Prydonian masters and my girlfriend, but I do have this stubborn rashness about my character.”

The Governor agreed with that self-critique and wished him luck. Chrístõ set the TARDIS controls for the same place he had been yesterday, which meant the coordinate was already programmed into the drive control and he got there almost instantly.

There was nobody in the reception this early in the day, but the denizens of the Priory of Assher were already up and about their daily regime. Meditations and yoga occupied most of them, but a low sound attracted him to the ‘education' room.

This was where all the young ladies with the right qualifications were. They sat on chairs watching a large video screen on which hypnotic patterns of light entranced them. The sound was like white noise but he suspected there was something subliminal within it.

There were probably chemicals in their food and drink that made them suggestible, too. He had suspected as much from the first time he saw Julia meekly accepting the dress code. The fact that the TARDIS broke the hold over her confirmed that it was all just manipulation.

The ladies were obviously given extra conditioning every morning. It kept them in thrall for the day.

He watched at the door to the education room for a moment longer then moved to a second door which, as he suspected, led to a control room where the hypnotic audio visual was being operated by one of the male followers. Knocking him out with a quick selection of martial arts confirmed that that this one was Human. The main objective was recruiting the ‘Brides’ for the ‘Sons’ of Assher – Chrístõ inserted the inverted commas in his mind – but there were also young men who had been brought in to make up the numbers, as it were.

Stepping over the unconscious man he quickly examined the controls.

They were simple enough. He very quickly turned off the audio visual in the other room. The would-be brides looked around in confusion. Some of them pulled off their veils and pushed back hoods. They still looked a little hypnotised, though. Despite misgivings about their clothes they weren’t leaving the Priory in outrage and anger. There was something else.

His hands passed over another set of controls.

“Clever,” he whispered as he recognised a chemical formula on one of the control screens. It was something like the natural pheromones that Haolstromnian Gendermorphs like his friend, Camilla, exuded with such entrancing effects on all gender permutations within range. This one was artificiality created to complete the glamour Assher had over his ‘followers’. The pheromones were being distributed in the air throughout the house and even around the gardens. He wasn’t sure why that should work. Surely the chemical would dispense in the open air?

But it didn’t matter. What did matter was that he could switch it off. It might take a little while to clear away, but once it did everyone should come to their senses.

The louder and more perplexed murmurings from the room next door suggested that heads were clearing already. All he had to do was sabotage some computer programmes so that nobody could start the processes up again.

When he stepped out of the control room he knew for certain that minds were clearing. Men and women in robes were looking at each other and wondering why they were wearing robes.

All but one man who grabbed Chrístõ angrily.

“Where is my Sophie?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” Chrístõ answered. “YOUR Sophie? Wife... Girlfriend? “

“Fiancée,” replied the young man, accepting that Chrístõ wasn’t responsible for their predicament and letting go of his leather jacket. “It was her idea to come to the Priory. She said there were free courses... Healthy living, that sort of thing.”

“Fiancée?” Chrístõ queried. This was the Twenty-fourth century and Beta Delta was fairly liberal, notwithstanding that odd fashion for the Madden. Plenty of unmarried women weren’t strictly entitled to wear such a garment. Glenda had moved in with Cal and nobody questioned what bedroom she slept in.

He wasn’t going to ask a complete stranger about his love life.

“She might be in the audio-visual room with the other ‘selected' women,” he suggested. “It would be a good idea if you were to help them find their coats and then lead them out of this place.”

The young man thought that was a good idea, too. Chrístõ left him alone and headed in the opposite direction. He passed several more puzzled Humans and gave them the same advice about leaving the Priory. The relatives maintaining their vigil had a couple of coaches and a supply of coffee and sandwiches. They would all be safe.

The only residents not heading towards the front door, ten of them, he noted, were all in one room on the second floor set aside for a higher level of meditation. Chrístõ listened for a few minutes then locked the door, sealing it with his sonic screwdriver in welding mode. They could, he supposed, climb out of the window, but that would take them a while, what with them having a lot of trouble sorting out arms and legs from feelers and tendrils.

He wasn’t sure why their morphic fields were failing. Perhaps the level of anger among the awakening ‘followers’ was having some kind of effect on them. Perhaps they needed the pheromones for a secondary purpose as well as entrancing their ‘Brides'. He didn’t really care as long as they were exposed as the shape shifting deceivers they were.

He headed for Assher's office, wondering if the ‘Father’ knew that his ‘sons’ were reverting to their inhuman forms and their ‘brides' making a run for it across the lawn.

The answer to that question was clearly ‘yes’. Chrístõ dived across the room and grabbed at Assher’s arm, wresting the revolver from his shaking hands.

“You’re in big trouble,” Chrístõ told him. “But that isn’t the way out of it.”

“I’ve been such a fool,” Assher said as Chrístõ made the gun safe. He sat back in his seat with a resigned and dejected air. “I really did want to build a place of meditation and healthy living, but nobody was interested until the Ribomi found me. They... they showed me how to ‘persuade’ people to join my priory. They convinced me...”

Assher shook his head.

“No... I convinced myself... that what I was doing wasn’t coercion, that the hypnotism, the mind control, was only a way of getting them to come here, that ultimately they were happy and resigned to the purer life I offered them.”

“Then you deluded yourself even more than you deluded them,” Chrístõ told him. “And what about the ‘Brides’?”

“They were the price for my success. The young women... The Ribomi told me that they would be treated as queens, given every luxury they might wish for, live in palaces.... “

“Even if that were true... and I think it unlikely... and even if the Ribomi were a compatible species, which is also doubtful considering their true form... do you really think that would make up for being taken from their homes, their families and friends? How stupid, how cruel, how self-absorbed could you get? All that misery for your ambition to be some sort of health guru?”

Assher hung his head in shame. He said nothing. He had enough sense, at least, to realise there WAS nothing he could say that would excuse his shameful actions.

“The police are here,” Chrístõ said glancing out of the window. “So is the Governor. I recognise his car. I suggest that you fully cooperate with the inquiry that is going to unfold. I am going to do you one favour, though. I'll take your alien conspirators away. Admitting to using mind control to mislead all those people will be enough to put you behind bars for a good few years. No need for people to know the whole nasty story. I know a penal salt mine in the Raxon Quadrant that I can take the ‘Brothers’ to.”

Assher looked almost grateful for that measure of kindness from Chrístõ.

“It's not for your benefit, “ Chrístõ added. “The Governor is a decent sort. I'm saving him the headache of having to decide how to deal justice to the Ribomi. Beta Delta has no prisons for non-humans.”

Delivering twelve prisoners in individual stasis cells to the penal mine only took a few hours by TARDIS. He got back to Beta Delta in time for a light lunch and a live news report about the arrest of Ferrar Assher on multiple kidnap charges.

“Nobody else on Beta Delta knows that the Ribomi were not Hunan,” he told the assembled Sommers family over coffee and dessert. “I hope you will all keep it that way. Nobody else needs to know how close all those young women were to a nasty fate.”

“We really were going to be married to aliens with suckers and feelers and....” Julia asked.

Chrístõ knew the question would be asked. He also knew that the truth would be the best, for Julia and the rest of the family.

“Suckers, feelers, basically an insect descended DNA. They are completely biologically incompatible with Humans. They didn’t want ‘Brides’ in the sense you or I understand... which is a very small mercy. But Ribomi aristocrats do regard a seraglio of assorted females of different species as symbolic of their social status. It is a practice banned by at least three intergalactic laws, and I have already contacted two agencies that will be looking into sanctions against their planet.”

“Good,” Julia said. “Serves them right. And Assher. He deserves to go to jail.”

“Will you stay a while, now that you're engaged to Julia again?” Cordell asked Chrístõ.

“I was never unengaged to Julia,” Chrístõ answered. “Her renunciation was invalid since she wasn’t in sound mind when she made it, and besides, I hadn’t agreed to dissolving the Bond. In answer to your question, yes, I’m staying for a few weeks. After all, it is Julia's twenty first birthday, soon. I had some big-time celebration treats planned. I will have to go and pick Riley up again afterwards, though. I left him in twenty-first century Greece photographing an archaeological dig at what might turn out to be the tomb of Alexander the Great.”

Julia smiled happily at the prospect of quality time with her fiancé. On her left-hand a priceless white point star diamond glittered as proof that she was well and truly betrothed to him. She had often left it off for gymnastic training and dance practice, or other practical reasons, but from now on she had no plans to ever take it off.