“Wow… that is impressive,” Chrístõ said. Nobody heard him say it except Humphrey, the indefinable darkness creature hunkered in the shadows under the console. He knew his words were wasted. Humphrey’s idea of ‘impressive’ was unlikely to be the same as his.

“It’s not your fault, Humphrey,” he said as he clicked through several close up and long-range views of the Cyno-Varga Star Net, a mega society of a hundred million billion souls living within artificial habitats all in the same close orbit around a single star, directly harnessing its energy. The long-range view revealed millions of faintly glowing, slowly spinning spheres in a ‘net’ around the star. Close up, each sphere was the size of an average moon, with the artificial living space for millions inside the outer shell.

The Cyno-Varga Star Net, known for short as CyVaStaN, was one of the Seventy Wonders of the Fifth Galaxy. He had seen the first eight of them already in his travels. This was number nine.

He wasn’t here as a mere tourist, though. He had an invitation. He reached for the communication array and allowed himself a half smile as he saw the identity mark of the Gallifreyan Diplomatic Corps. He sent his own identification and was rewarded by a slender gravity tunnel to follow down to the Cyno-Vargan Intergalactic Habitat – the sphere containing the embassies of all the planets and social orders who took a diplomatic interest in the system.

Naturally, Gallifrey had an interest, here. But it shared the Habitat with at least fifty other governments, forming a diplomatic enclave where the representatives of those governments could mix and mingle socially with the people of the Cyno-Vargan system – or at least those who were rich or powerful enough to be invited to the parties.

He materialised his TARDIS directly in the Gallifreyan Embassy sector. There he was surrounded by gilded and ornamented symbolism of his home world in the mouldings on the high ceiling and murals on the walls. The reception hall was surprisingly reminiscent of the ante rooms of the Panopticon.

It was clearly meant to be imposing and perhaps even a little daunting.

For a Time Lord who had been away from home for a while, it actually felt warmly familiar and comforting. Chrístõ smiled ironically at himself for allowing such feelings. He had spent all of his post-Academy time trying to stay away from Gallifrey and its rigid hierarchies. He shouldn’t be so pleased to be back in its collective bosom.

It WAS Gallifreyan diplomatic territory, of course, and he was dressed in the formal robe and high, stiff and very uncomfortable collar of an ambassador. He accepted the respectful bows of the purple-cloaked Embassy guards. He was expecting to be formally greeted and was ready to make his own obeisance to superior members of the diplomatic community.

Instead, his collar was knocked askew by a crimson-robed whirlwind who appeared out of nowhere, calling his name enthusiastically. It took a few seconds to identify the whirlwind as his half-brother, Garrick.

“Hey, kiddo,” he said, possibly the least Ambassadorial greeting ever uttered. He held the boy at arms-length as a dutiful aid approached and attempted to straighten the collar.

“Leave it,” he said after the man had adjusted the collar as much as any such item of clothing could be adjusted. The aide backed away. Chrístõ looked at his half-brother critically.

“You’ve grown… a lot. How old are you now? Twelve?”

“Fifteen,” Garrick answered. Chrístõ knew that, of course. The three missing years were the ones when Gallifrey had been at war and he had been an exile. His brother had grown from a baby to a boy in that time and it was a part of his life neither of them could get back. They could only make up for it when they could.

“Still a baby by our standards,” Chrístõ said, much to Garrick’s chagrin. “Yeah, I know. You hate being the youngest. Believe me, it’s better than being the only child. A lot less lonely, anyway.”

Garrick laughed, perhaps a little hollowly. Of course, with Chrístõ offworld so much he practically WAS an only child. And he was, at this stage in his life, enduring a daily slog of private tutoring in preparation for the Academy and all the trepidation that entailed, without any advice or support at all. Lonely didn’t even begin to describe it.

“I don’t mind being the youngest. It’s being fifteen that I really hate.”

“We need to have a long talk before I leave,” Chrístõ said to his half-brother.

“You’ve only just got here,” Garrick pointed out.

“Yes, I have. And before I take this damned collar off I do need to present my credentials to the Ambassador.”

“You mean Father?” Garrick queried.

“Not until I am out of this annoying outfit and we are in the private quarters,” Chrístõ answered. “Protocol must be observed.”

Garrick nodded and half-smiled, then adopted a thoroughly respectable expression, straightening his own robe as they headed to the Ambassador’s Office. He knew how to behave like a member of Gallifreyan aristocracy.

The Office was more like the Throne Room of any respectable monarchy. At the far end of a carpet made of deep red and possibly real gold their father stood on a two-stepped dais. He was dressed in full ceremonial robes with a very high, very stiff collar and a silver and red skull cap that both of his sons had eschewed on this occasion. Apart from the actual Sash of Rassilon worn by the Lord High President, which was notoriously heavy, the tight-fitting skull cap, sometimes embedded with gems, was the most uncomfortable item of ceremonial dress ever designed. But it added a whole new level of ostentatious authority to the regalia.

Chrístõ waited until two newly arrived Ambassadorial aides presented themselves before he stepped forward, his brother at his side. Both bowed low before the Ambassador, then Chrístõ formally presented a small, tight scroll that contained his credentials as an informal member of the Gallifreyan Diplomatic Corps.

“In the name of Rassilon I present myself to you, my Lord Ambassador,” he said in a cool, measured tone. As he did so, some of his earliest memories passed through his mind. When he was a very small boy and his father was Ambassador to the allied planet of Ventura, he was often somewhere close by when visitors were presented in this way. He also remembered playing the role - wearing something absurd like a curtain and mimicking the lines as he presented a tube of sweets to a large teddy bear wearing a cardboard collar. His father had been amused by the game and predicted that he had a great future in the Diplomatic service.

And perhaps he might, at that. At least part of this invitation to the Cyno-Vargan Embassy was to discuss his future career – after he was married to Julia and resigned to a settled life as a high born Gallifreyan citizen.

“You are welcome, Son of Gallifrey,” his father replied to his presentation. “The full honours and protection of the Ambassador’s Service are conferred.”

Then he smiled and shook his son’s hand warmly. Anything closer, for example, hugging, would not be appropriate, or, indeed, possible, in their formal clothing.

But he knew full well that such signs of affection would come later. He was happy to see his father in the temporary role he had accepted in the first Gallifreyan Embassy to be established at Cyno-Varga.

“I shall not detain you further,” his father added. “Garrick is anxious to show you around. I shall see you both at dinner.”

“Then I will not disappoint him,” Chrístõ answered before bowing again and stepping back four steps before it was appropriate to turn and walk away. He kept his formal step. The robe and collar demanded formality. By his side, Garrick emulated him. He knew, without looking, that their father would be smiling proudly at them both.

“Father has taught you, well,” Chrístõ noted as he changed in the room set aside for him in the Residence where Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow were waiting. He had left his leather jacket in the TARDIS, deciding it was a little TOO informal for Embassy territory, but the black silk shirt and pants in a fashion similar to the Salwar Kameez of the Indian Subcontinent felt and looked in keeping with his personal style. “You’ll make a good diplomat when you grow up.”

“I don’t want to be a diplomat,” Garrick answered very quickly, as if he had given the matter a lot of thought. “I want to join the Celestial Intervention Agency like you and cousin Remy… and… father. It’s my mother who wants me to be a diplomat.”

“All mothers do,” Chrístõ answered. “It’s a safer occupation. Fathers, too, for that matter. That’s why I’m not actually an official Celestial Intervention Agency operative. I just do a bit of offworld research when my expertise is needed.”

Garrick didn’t look as if he believed that. He had heard at least some of the stories of his older brother’s experiences and they coloured his imagination in brighter hues than they should.

“You do amazing things, at least. You travel and you have adventures. I would like to do that.”

“I think you should be careful not to talk about that in front of your mother as well as the Celestial Intervention Agency ambitions,” Chrístõ warned him. “I’ll get blamed for putting ideas into your head. Besides, you haven’t even started at the Academy, yet. You’ve got a lot of learning to do before they let you take your own TARDIS out for a spin around the Galaxy.”

Garrick sighed.

“My best friends, here… Samou and Theo… they’re from Ventura and Adano-Ambrado… and they’re nearly finished school. I’m not even started.”

“I know. I had that kind of problem when I was your age. It’s a nuisance. The prospect of nearly two hundred years of school isn’t thrilling, either. But the rewards are worth it. We are one of the greatest races in the universe. We have great powers, great….”

He paused and laughed. Garrick looked at him curiously.

“I was getting lost in Hollywood tropes,” he said. “Just remember, everything that’s frustrating you right now… I’ve been there, got the t-shirt....” Again, Garrick was puzzled by cultural references he had picked up from his association with Humans. “You can talk to me. That’s what I mean.”

Garrick didn’t say anything. He just embraced his older brother in a way he would never do outside the privacy of their home. He was, after all, a fifteen-year old boy. In any species that was an age when hugging a family member wasn’t done.

“Come on. I want to show you EVERYTHING,” the boy said enthusiastically. “Well… everything we can fit in before dinner. This place would take hundreds of years to see ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.”

That was certainly true. Even one planet like Earth offered years of interest. A solar system even more. But the Star Net was almost too mind boggling for a Time Lord to fully encompass. Millions of artificial worlds in an artificial orbit, all harvesting the renewable energy of the star in order to not only survive but to thrive. It was an ingenious solution to the problem of population expansion and consummation of resources.

“The Embassy sphere has an orbit equivalent to a Vargan day,” Garrick said as he guided his older brother along an observation platform with curving exoglass walls rising from floor to the far wall, giving an almost all-round view. The view through the glass was intriguing. There was a starfield above and below but straight ahead they could see another of the artificial habitats like the one they were standing in. A second and third habitat could be seen beyond it, smaller due to distance.

To the right as they stood was a glorious aurora of colours twisting and dancing. The light danced off the artificial sphere in their view, and almost certainly the one they were viewing it from.

It was a ‘dawn’ as the sphere turned on its access towards the star. Chrístõ noticed the exo-glass automatically darkening as the light intensified. By the time they had turned fully into the light it closed completely. Exposure to the full glare of the star would be life-threateningly dangerous.

“A Vargan day is….” Chrístõ began.

“Four and a half Gallifreyan hours,” Garrick told him. “We can watch the ‘sunset’ before dinner, and another ‘dawn’ before bedtime.”

“I like sunsets,” Chrístõ commented. “They make every sky on every world look like Gallifrey’s sky.”

“You mean… you actually MISS being home?” Garrick asked him, rather incredulously. “I thought you loved being out there.”

“I do. But… it’s home. Do you miss it? This is your first long posting away from Gallifrey.”

“Mostly I forget I’m away,” Garrick admitted. “Our Embassy looks so much like the Citadel and the other Embassies where my friends are look the same but with their own planetary heraldry all over them. I come up here to remind me that I really am millions and millions of light years from Gallifrey and somewhere really amazing like a Star Net.”

“Sounds like you’ve been cooped up inside too much all around,” Chrístõ commented. “When you’re back home on Gallifrey, I need to take you to some of our wide-open spaces. Hang gliding off Melchus Bluff, hovertrikes across the red desert. You need to really feel what Gallifrey has to offer.”

“Mother doesn’t like me doing dangerous sports,” Garrick pointed out.

“FATHER will have to be persuaded NOT to come with us,” Chrístõ responded. “He’s the one who taught me HOW to drive a hovertrike and I’m told he actually introduced the sport of hang gliding to Gallifrey before I was born. You’re definitely going to learn those things and Valena will just have to bite her perfectly manicured nails until we’re back in one piece.”

“You’d do that with me? It sounded… earlier… as if you wanted me to stay safe and be a diplomat.”

“I don’t want to encourage you to consider a career in the Celestial Intervention Agency before you’re even in the Prydonian Boy Scouts. But a bit of extreme sports won’t hurt you… well, not much, anyway. We’re Gallifreyan. Our broken bones mend.”

Garrick laughed at the dark joke.

“Better not say THAT in front of Mother,” Garrick warned.

“Like I said, Valena will have to learn to live with that. You ARE a boy. You have to do the things boys do. And don’t tell Julia I said that. She has some human ideas about gender equality that haven’t actually reached Gallifreyan society, yet.”

“They will when she marries you.”

“Yes, they will. Twenty years from now I may be taking a DAUGHTER hover-triking over the Red Desert once our genes are thoroughly mixed.”

They both laughed. It felt good to do that. Chrístõ briefly recalled how he had dreaded and resented the birth of a half-brother by his father’s second wife. But it had been impossible not to love the child he grew into, and the chance to be an older, wiser guide through his formative years was exciting.

Just so long as they didn’t mention the more extreme end of their plans to Valena.

At dinner, there was no getting away from the subject of ‘Chrístõ’s offworld adventures’. Garrick made sure of that. Chrístõ was careful not to talk about any of his battles with ancient demons or malevolent entities. He didn’t even mention the thoroughly incompetent aliens stealing ships from Earth’s oceans that he had recently encountered. He did talk about scuba diving with the crew of the Marine Wanderer and even the early part of the expedition in the Negev desert – the part about horses and camels and sleeping under canvas. He didn’t mention the deaths of almost everyone in that party.

Valena asked quite a lot of questions about how safe scuba diving was. It was a hobby she had never heard of. The one ocean of Gallifrey didn’t hold much interest to anyone in that way. Her questions were valid. Chrístõ answered them honestly.

“I’d like to do that,” Garrick pronounced. “It sounds fun.”

“I imagine it is something Chrístõ could teach you,” his father said before his mother could say anything. “In the future, that is. There ARE no oceans in an artificial system like Cyno-Varga. But we can arrange something when you are a bit older.”

“Yes,” Valena agreed, but perhaps because she had no choice, now. It occurred to Chrístõ that he might have been a weapon in a small war between mother and son about how much freedom he ought to have.

Afterwards, Garrick brought him to the observation platform again. They watched the ‘sunset' as promised. Garrick apologised for his mother.

“Don’t be too hard on her,” Chrístõ told him. “There are good reasons why she wants to wrap you up in cotton wool. Your illness when you were a baby, then the war - when she wasn’t sure if she was going to lose all of us. Be patient and we’ll prove to her that you can do a bit of extreme sports without killing yourself. She’ll come around eventually that way.”

Garrick grinned conspiratorially.

“Ok,” he agreed.

“No, don’t say that,” Chrístõ responded. “Father HATES me using that expression. I’ll be in trouble with if you start copying me.”

“Ok, I won’t,” Garrick responded just because he was fifteen and that sort of humour appealed to him. “Come on… I want to show you something. It’s really… what’s the word for it… for something really amazing.”

“Some humans say ‘awesome’,” Chrístõ answered. “But maybe a bit too much. They devalue the ‘awesomeness’ by applying it to the mundane. I, personally, favour ‘cool’. But that might not be fashionable around here.”

“It’s… not quite right for what I want to show you,” Garrick admitted. He had brought his older half-brother to an exit from the observation platform that was meant to be for ‘maintenance only’. It didn’t actually say they couldn’t go that way, especially since they were sons of the Ambassador and could go where they pleased, but the fact that the door was locked suggested that it was prohibited.

“No problem,” Garrick said with a grin. He reached his hand towards the lock and narrowed his eyes in concentration. Chrístõ felt a brief jolt in his head as his half-brother used telekinesis to unlock the door.

“Very good,” he said. “For your age. Mind you, I can’t even do that, now. I was a dunce in telekinetic classes. Then again…”

As they stepped through into the maze of maintenance corridors that any Embassy or Palace inevitably had, he felt a strange conflict of interests. On the one hand it really wasn’t THAT long since he was a child with a mischievous disregard for rules and even less for personal safety.

On the other, he was an adult, now, and expected to set an example to the boy.

“That was a bit TOO easy, really,” he admitted. “It makes a mockery of our internal security. I probably ought to tell somebody to put anti-telepathy shields on the doors.”

But there was nobody to report the matter to, and Garrick was enthusiastic about something. He was happy enough to join in the mischief.

“Through here,” the boy said, pulling open what looked, at a casual glance, like an ordinary access panel. Only the bright light streaming from it indicated something more dramatic and more dangerous.

“Garrick!” Christo called out in alarm as his half-brother jumped into the light and disappeared. He lunged for the access panel and stared into the painfully bright light.

It was a shaft, maybe six feet in diameter. He looked up and estimated that it carried on for at least ten miles.

Looking down it was ten, twenty times that. The end was impossible to see even if the light wasn’t blinding.

This shaft went right through the habitat sphere. The best label he could think of was a ‘light well’. The walls were covered in millions of miniaturised solar panels, converting the light to energy and distributing it throughout the habitat. It was probably only one of many such ‘wells’ that drew upon the energy of the star within the Cyno-Varga Net in addition to the outer skin of the habitat sphere itself that had to be similarly designed to ‘harvest’ light.

Garrick was a few hundred feet below, walking on what, from his perspective, was a side wall. The boy waved cheekily and performed a forward roll before landing on the opposite side of the wall.

‘Side’ wasn’t quite right. The shaft was cylindrical. Curved walls didn’t have ‘sides’, but Chrístõ was too startled to worry about basic geometry. He was more concerned with the fluid nature of gravity that was allowing Garrick to bounce around as if none of the usual rules applied.

He stepped forward and felt the momentary optical confusion as his body adjusted to walking perpendicular to the door he had stepped through.

‘Walking’ wasn’t quite the word, either. He wasn’t actually touching the curved wall, floor or whatever it might be called. He moved his legs and ‘paddled’ through the air.

He was slower than Garrick, who had obviously played in the shaft before, discovering how to move easily in the strange gravity. Eventually, though, he caught up with him.

“What do you think?” Garrick asked with a wide grin on his face. “Awesome or cool? I think it’s a bit too warm to be ‘cool’, really.”

“I think it is dangerous,” Chrístõ answered. “You shouldn’t be doing this, especially not alone. If you had an accident….”

“I’m not alone. You’re here. And usually my friends are with me. I told you about them… Samou and Theo. Theo found the shaft first. He learnt to ‘skim’. Come on… let me show you.”

He turned and adopted a position uncannily like a surfer waiting for a wave on a sun-drenched coast somewhere on Earth. He ‘skimmed’ along the shaft faster and faster, adjusting his balance with his arms. Chrístõ had no option but to race after him. Fortunately, he KNEW how to surf and got the hang of this variation easily.

He was trying to decide whether to be angry with his half-brother for such reckless behaviour or proud of him. He had found something that ticked all of the boxes for a thrilling activity along with the added bonus of not quite being ‘permitted’. It was an escape from his mother’s over-protectiveness while never technically going out of the bounds he had been set. They were still within the Embassy Habitat.

And it was ‘fun’ in all the ways any of his own extreme hobbies from scuba diving to riding a TARDIS on the surface of solar storms were fun. The walls flashed by in a dazzle as he focussed on the silhouette form of his half-brother ahead of him and worked out how to speed up, cutting the distance between them.

On the whole, he wanted to congratulate him, but he knew he shouldn’t. If Valena found out he had encouraged something like this she would turn into a private source of light and heat in her rage.

Besides, he WAS an adult. He was supposed to disapprove of such recklessness.

But he WAS having fun in a way he hadn’t for quite a long time. In his mind he railed against the burdens of adulthood as he drew level with Garrick and they vied for the ‘lead’.

He was aware of a change in the gravity as they approached the ‘centre’ of the sphere. It was heavier, though still not so heavy as to interfere with their progress. After a while he felt it lightening again and he knew they were heading towards the other end of the shaft.

“Garrick… is there….” He began, but while he worried about what there might be to stop them from falling out of the shaft into empty space he had lost the narrow lead in their ad-hoc ‘race’. He had to try to catch up.

He was sure he actually could see the end of the shaft when Garrick suddenly disappeared from in front of him. After a brief panic he was relieved to see that there was another access panel like the one they had entered through. Garrick had grabbed it and swung out of the shaft. Chrístõ almost overshot it, but grasped an edge and pulled himself out.

For a moment he had to lie still as he felt the ‘normal’ gravity pressing him down and the ordinary light of the corridor sucking at eyes that had been used to the hyperlight of the shaft. Slowly his body adjusted to normality. He stood up next to his exhilarated, laughing half-brother.

“Awesome,” he agreed. “But where are we and how do we get back to our Embassy?”

“We’re in the Adano-Ambradan embassy,” Garrick answered.

“Ohhh!” Chrístõ groaned. “That will be awkward. People are going to think there’s a royal visit going on.”

Garrick reached into his pocket and pulled out two metallic discs on ribbons – perception filters. Naturally, a fifteen year old boy had reason to be inconspicuous. He came equipped for such an occasion.

It certainly helped avoid awkward questions as they came out of their service corridor and made their way down a wide marble and gilt staircase past a larger than life mural of the King-Emperor and Queen of Adano-Ambrado. Garrick laughed at the accidental resemblance between his brother and the King. Chrístõ found it just a little bit embarrassing, which added a new level of mirth to the situation for the boy.

They escaped the Adano-Ambradan Embassy without anyone running to fetch a red carpet. A series of turbo lifts brought them back to the Gallifreyan sector at possibly half the speed that ‘light skimming’ had taken them from it.

“I won’t tell your mother,” Chrístõ promised. “But promise you will never go into one of those shafts alone. It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Garrick agreed to that much of a restraint.

“It’s more fun with others, anyway,” he pointed out. “Can we do it again, tomorrow?”

“Possibly,” Chrístõ answered cautiously. “How about you introduce me to those thrill-seeking friends of yours, first?”

Garrick smiled. It looked like having his older brother around for a while was going to be good.