“Tell me this isn’t something else that your parents don’t know about,” Chrístõ said as he walked with a small crowd of teenagers in one of the ‘shared’ zones on the Cyno-Varga Embassy Habitat sphere. This part looked like a very pleasant atrium with chairs and tables in amongst cooling fountains and abstract sculptures. Staff from many different embassies met there to discuss matters of intergalactic importance, or possibly their gowns for the next inter-Embassy ball.

But that was for the older people. The children of the ambassadors had another destination in mind. Chrístõ let himself be guided by Garrick and his friends, hoping they could be trusted not to be up to something dangerously out of bounds.

They entered what looked like an ordinary Turbo lift. It was, in fact, a localised transmat. The atrium vanished and a few slightly nauseating seconds later they stepped off the transmat platform onto a tropical beach.

“Nice,” Chrístõ remarked as he looked at the turquoise tide washing up onto the clean, white sand of a curving bay. Far above the high water mark was tropical forest creating a fully private retreat. There was a discreet changing area and showers for before and after swimming and a selection of sun loungers with woven rush shades. A fruit bar with ice dispensers and a well-stocked refrigerator for al fresco meals completed the slice of paradise.

It wasn’t a hologram. This environment was in a real sector of the Habitat sphere. The tide was controlled by artificial gravity and the two yellow suns in the azure sky were hydrogen cells, but it was real in every other sense. The waves were real. The sand was real. The cool – non-alcoholic - fruit drinks at the bar were real.

“All for us for the day,” Garrick said enthusiastically. “It’s available for private booking by any of the Embassies. I got it for today. I thought you’d like it.”

“I’m impressed,” Chrístõ told him. He looked at the horizon and smiled. “If we were to sail that way, there’d be some sort of wall, I suppose. I had some trouble with that sort of thing recently. One of those stories for when your mother isn’t listening. But this is fine as a nearly real leisure facility.”

A seagull flew overhead. Chrístõ looked up at it then looked at his half-brother questioningly.

“The birds are real. And there are fish in the water, too. Some people like to come here to catch them.”

“And insects,” complained Theo, the Adano-Ambradan Ambassador’s son, who flicked away something with a lot of extra legs.

“None of them are dangerous,” Samou, the Venturan Ambassador’s daughter, who preferred to be called Sam, assured him. “You’re a wimp, Theo.”

Theo flicked an insect at her and she flinched enough to prove that she, too, was averse to such things.

“Are you all right, kiddo?” Chrístõ asked the fourth member of the teenage group. Xeelo was Xylothian, humanoid like his companions but with pale, hairless skin and eyes the colour of the sand. He had been enthusiastic to come to the private beach, but now that he was here he didn’t seem to be enjoying himself.

“Yes, sir,” Xeelo answered. “I feel a bit too hot, but this iced water will help.”

“You don’t have to call me sir,” Chrístõ assured him. “None of you do, especially you, Theo. Forget that I’m the Crown Prince of your world. I’m just Garrick’s big brother and I’m here for cool drinks and swimming.”

“My father said I should obey the protocols,” Theo responded.

“Yes, but I’m the Crown Prince and I can overrule your father,” Chrístõ answered him. “First names will do.” He looked again at Xeelo. The boy really didn’t look well compared to the others. But maybe that was normal for his race. Chrístõ didn’t know much about Xylothian physiology. Nobody knew very much about their physiology, their culture or anything else. They were very new to intergalactic diplomacy, having been an insular world, rejecting offers of friendship, until a decade ago.

That probably accounted for Xeelo’s shyness. He was still getting used to being among people who looked, sounded and acted differently.

But the others had all experienced that, taken from their home-worlds by their diplomatic parents and thrust into new environments. They were all inclined to be kind to him.

“Cheer up, Xeelo, we’re going to swim in a bit,” Theo told him. “You like swimming.”

Not only did Xeelo like swimming, but he swam very well, in fact. When the youngsters had a race between two agreed points he beat everyone by several lengths. Second was Sam, who was another natural.

“It just goes to show that two hearts and an advanced cardio-vascular system don’t always count for everything,” Chrístõ remarked to his brother.

“I don’t get much chance to go swimming at home,” Garrick admitted as he accepted a fruit drink from the bar and sat with his friends. “There is only the river, or the pool at the Lodge, but I have to get somebody to drive me there, and I hate to bother mama’s chauffeur.”

Theo admitted to living in the capital city of Ambrado, which, as magnificent as it was, had no swimming pools.

“I’ll mention that to Penne when I see him next,” Chrístõ promised. “It isn’t fair that he takes three-hour baths in ten-metre wide pools while his people have no opportunity to swim.”

Everybody laughed. The way he said it sounded as if the King-Emperor was being a selfish tyrant denying his people a basic right. Besides, Penne would almost certainly order fully equipped fifty metre pools in every district once he was aware of the idea.

“We have a heated pool at home,” Sam admitted. “I swim every day.” She certainly looked as if outdoor exercise was a regular feature of her life. As a betrothed man he wasn’t supposed to pay too much attention to girls, but dressed in a bathing suit with a pair of shorts and a shirt on top she displayed the same sort of well-toned limbs that Julia had with her daily routine of gymnastics.

“My home is on an island,” Xeelo explained in an unexpected moment of openness. “All our homes are on islands. Xylothia is an ocean world. Our ancestors built the islands upon coral reefs. Our home is partially built on the land, and partially on stilts that are secured on the ocean floor. My bedroom is over the water. I can step out onto the balcony and dive straight in.”

“That sounds beautiful,” Chrístõ said. “I didn’t know your planet was like that. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about Xylothia at all.”

“We… are very private,” Xeelo admitted. “We have never associated with other races until recently. Our customs… our ways… are not shared with others.”

“That is surely going to change now that you have diplomatic ties with other worlds.”

Xeelo didn’t seem sure about that.

“This Embassy is an experiment. But there are many of our people who don’t like it. They want my parents and the staff to come home. They want to close our planet to strangers and remain in isolation.”

“That would be a pity,” Chrístõ said. “Friendly association with other worlds has to be good for any world. Adano-Ambrado certainly benefitted from it in only a few years.”

“That is true,” Theo confirmed.

“I think the isolationists are growing in their influence,” Xeelo continued. “My parents are worried. The best they can hope is that we will be recalled. The worst would be civil war because of it.”

No wonder the boy was socially awkward, Chrístõ thought. With his family in the middle of such political turmoil and their future uncertain.

“It’s worse than that,” Garrick said to him telepathically, while appearing to be examining the fruit in his drink. “I heard father talking to the Xylothian Ambassador. Civil war is almost unstoppable. It could happen any day. And if the isolationists have their way, his family will be in trouble. Like… French Revolution trouble.”

“Don’t start a sentence with ‘like’,” Chrístõ admonished his half-brother. “You picked that habit up when you stayed on Beta Delta with me – right after you stopped sucking your thumb.”

“That’s also where I heard about aristocrats being executed just for existing in France,” Garrick pointed out, ignoring the thumb sucking reference. “It scared me knowing we WERE the sort of people who the revolutionaries came for. Now, Xeelo and his family are the people the isolationists would kill. Even if they spare him for being just a child, he has to be scared for his mother and father.”

“Has the Ambassador asked for asylum with any of the friendly governments?” Chrístõ asked.

“No. Father suggested it, but the Ambassador was really funny about it… almost like the idea was an insult. I think he really wanted to do it, for the sake of his family. But… I think there’s something they all keep secret – Xeelo and all the adults of his Embassy. Something they daren’t let other races see.”

“Like… what?”

“Don’t start a sentence with ‘like’,” Garrick retorted with an impish smile. “I don’t know,” he added. “I’ve thought about it. Maybe they eat live frogs for dinner. Do you notice Xeelo has only had iced water while we’re having fruit cocktails. Or it could be something really gross to do with their bodies….”

Garrick’s capacity to imagine ‘really gross’ was limited, but some images flashed through his mind.

“I think father should talk to the Ambassador again,” Chrístõ said. “If it really is that dangerous, they have to accept the help of the diplomatic community. Even if they DO take their clothes off to dine or reproduce by mitosis, they can’t risk imprisonment, or even execution, by going back. By the way, mitosis is unheard of in multi-cellular organisms. Have a word with your biology tutor. Meanwhile, do all you can to be nice to Xeelo.”

“I’m nice to everyone – except Father’s secretary, Farrun. He doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m a spoilt brat.”

“You’re the Ambassador’s son. Rise above it.”

Everyone except for Xeelo was talking about lunch. Chrístõ investigated the refrigerated cabinets under the bar and found something very like smoked salmon and a collection of salad vegetables. He prepared plates for everyone except Xeelo who told him that he could not eat until he returned to his residence in the evening.

“Is it a ritual fast?” Chrístõ asked. It was the most obvious reason why he had refused food and drink. “Do you follow a religion that requires abstinence?”

“Not… exactly.” The boy’s pale face coloured just a little as he struggled to find an explanation without revealing a secret he clearly couldn’t divulge. “It’s… difficult.”

“You don’t have to tell,” Chrístõ assured him. “But we’re supposed to be swimming again, later. Can you do that without food? Most people of any species need nutrition to do exercise.”

Xeelo showed him three white pills in the palm of his hand.

“Energy capsules,” he said. “I am permitted to take these. They will stop me feeling weak before… before the time.”

‘Before the time?’ That was an odd turn of phrase, too, but Chrístõ felt he couldn’t pry any further. His concerns about the boy’s immediate health were answered, at least.

“All right. But come and sit with us. You are still part of our crowd even if you’re not sharing our lunch.”

The others were noisy and boisterous over the meal. Xeelo was relatively quiet, but he tried to join in with the conversation. He didn’t understand the jokes most of the time, and living on an isolated ocean world he was at a loss when the other three talked about horses. Both Adano-Ambrado and Ventura had a long tradition of teaching horsemanship to the sons of aristocrats, and Garrick had visited both worlds often enough to learn to ride. But even when they moved on to other subjects it was difficult to bring him into the conversation. He had so very few experiences in common with the other youngsters. Mostly he sipped his water and listened to their easy chatter.

After lunch, when they swam again, Xeelo came alive once more. Despite looking so fragile he was faster than anyone in the water. He could even swim underwater for longer than everyone except Christo who had fully developed his ability to recycle his breathing.

It was a good afternoon, culminating with a high tea courtesy of the fridge under the juice bar. Still Xeelo couldn’t eat, but he tried to be cheerful. Chrístõ noted how much of an effort it was, and the habit he had of looking at the artificial suns. They had been designed to ‘set’ over the horizon with the colours turning deep shades of red. Eventually they would ‘turn off’ altogether while a pair of silvery moons would rise along with a night sky of stars. Romantic moonlit walks along the beach had been programmed into the leisure facility.

But nobody in their party had any such ideas. They were all expected to leave the ‘paradise’ in time to dine with their respective families. Chrístõ supervised the tidying up of the area around the fruit bar before they headed to the transmat platform.

But that was where the day took a troublesome turn. After several minutes waiting for a more or less automatic process to start, Chrístõ used his sonic screwdriver to examine the platform.

“It’s out of power,” he said. “That really shouldn’t be possible. These things have trilithiate power cells. They should last for centuries with only occasional maintenance.”

“We’re stuck?” Garrick asked. His friends all looked anxious. He, less so. He was with his brother on what looked a lot like an adventure.

“I hope not,” Chrístõ answered. “Is there another platform? Surely there has to be more than one, in case they had to evacuate the facility for some reason.”

“Up there, in the trees,” Sam told him, pointing to the dark line of vegetation that bordered their beach paradise. “And one right at the far end of the beach.”

The far end was hard to see in the rapidly dying light, but it was walking distance.

“Garrick, Theo, you two go and check that one. Take one of those battery-operated lamps from the bar. Sam, Xeelo, you two stick with me. If one of the platforms is working, Garrick and I can reach each other telepathically.”

He watched his half-brother and friend head along the sand until they could only be seen as the flicker of the ornamental lamp before he and the other two youngsters trudged up to the trees.

They found the transmat platform in a clearing surrounded by trees bearing several different kinds of fruit.

The platform was inoperative.

“We really are trapped here?” Sam asked, panic rising in her voice.

“We can’t be,” Xeelo added. “I must be home before the twentieth hour.”

“We’ll ALL be missed by then,” Chrístõ promised. “You’re all children of Ambassadors and I’m the Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado, remember. There will be Gardia Real storming the beach just for me. Besides, we haven’t heard from Garrick and Theo. Let’s pick some fruit while we’re waiting. Those are breadfruit from Earth. They’re very nutritious, and a bit like bread, hence the name.”

It was a way of taking their minds off a potential problem, and it was working until Garrick contacted his brother telepathically and reported that the third platform was out of service.

“Come on back to the bar. We’ll eat breadfruit and see what we have in case we need to camp out for the night.”

That idea thrilled both Garrick and Theo, both of whom liked the idea of an unexpected night under the stars – even artificial ones.

Sam wasn’t so happy, and Xeelo was terrified by the very thought.

“I’m… nearly of age,” Sam pointed out as they all met up again on the sun loungers that no longer had any sun to lounge under. “Spending the night… without a chaperone… with men.”

“I am a Time Lord of Gallifrey,” Chrístõ assured her. “Our honour is a byword throughout the twelve galaxies. Plus, I am formally betrothed. My fiancée would have strong words if I did anything inappropriate. The same goes for Garrick. I can also vouch for the honour of Adano-Ambrado on Theo’s behalf. I’m sure Xeelo’s people can be trusted, too. Assuming a bunch of transmat mechanics don’t turn up within the hour, you will be perfectly safe. You have my word.”

Sam accepted his reassurance graciously. Theo and Garrick looked at their own feet shyly, as if neither had noticed that Sam was a girl before and now couldn’t stop noticing.

Especially Theo who glanced at her once and had to disguise his blushes.

Xeelo said nothing, but in the light of the ornamental lamps his face was chalk white, his pale eyes sunk into the sockets. He was afraid of something far worse than gender etiquette.

“I don’t think it will get very cold,” Chrístõ added, trying to be positive about the situation. “Artificial skies don’t lose heat the way real ones do. But I’m good at camp fires if the need arises.”

“There are some solar heaters in the cupboard with the spare beach parasols,” Theo told him.

“Camp fires are more fun,” Chrístõ suggested.

“F…f…un?” Xeelo stammered. “I… c…c…an’t. I must go home. I must… must be private.”

“Like I said,” Chrístõ assured him. “People will know we’re missing very soon. I bet we won’t even be late for dinner.”

He did his best to disguise his concern. One of these three transmat platforms breaking down was possible, though it would be a dereliction of duty by the maintenance staff. All three seemed, to him, unlikely - unless it had been deliberate.

Sabotage of Embassy facilities? Why would anyone do that? As far as he was aware, the Cyno-Varga system was peaceful. There were no terrorist groups or underground movements to disrupt life in any of the habitats.

The Xylothian situation was worrying, but this was a neutral facility, and besides, why would the isolationists want to trap the Ambassador’s son with children from other races? That was the opposite of what they wanted.

There was the possibility that they were all being held to ransom by some criminal element. Given their net worth to their families it could not be discounted.

But if any criminal gang thought HIS father would wait around to pay a ransom, they were very stupid. And he wasn’t joking when he mentioned the Gardia Real.

He doubted they would be trapped here for long.

All the same he began to make plans. First, he sent Garrick and Theo scampering back to the treeline for firewood. He firmly believed in women’s equality and Sam could have helped, but she was too busy holding Xeelo’s hand. He looked one step away from a complete nervous breakdown, shivering and murmuring incoherently.

“It’s all right,” Chrístõ assured him. “We’ll have a fire in a minute. You’ll warm up nicely.”

“I… am… not cold…” he replied through chattering teeth. “I am… Oh… I cannot. I must not….”

He broke free from Sam’s grasp and ran away up the beach towards the first transmat platform. Chrístõ looked at him, then at Sam.

“I can make a fire,” she said. “Go after him.”

It was a short pursuit. The boy was never going to outrun him even at the best of times. In the dark, hampered by his blind panic, he was tripping through the dry sand, stumbling forward on sheer emotion. He fell twice and struggled onwards. The third time he fell and didn’t get up. Chrístõ reached him moments later.

“I have to get away,” he moaned. “I… cannot let… you see me….”

“There’s nowhere to get away to,” Chrístõ told him. He lifted the curiously light figure gently and carried him. He felt cold, his skin clammy from sweat that had cooled. His face was whiter than ever, as if he had no colour left in him at all.

Sam had earned her girl scout fire making badge by the time he got back to the makeshift camp and was boiling water for hot drinks. That refrigerated unit at the bar proved useful for all occasions. The boys were cutting up the breadfruit and wrapping slices in foil to place in the fire.

“You should eat something,” Chrístõ told Xeelo as he placed him near the fire and wrapped several big beach towels around him for warmth. “I think that’s half your problem.”

“I cannot eat, now,” Xeelo answered forlornly. “It will begin soon.”

“Here,” Samou said bringing a steaming cup. “It is green tea, just water with some flavouring. No calories, no nutritional value at all, but comforting. My mother has dieted since I was born, for fear of losing her figure, and she drinks gallons of green tea every day instead of ‘snacking’.”

“It can’t be against any religious dictate to drink that,” Chrístõ confirmed. Xeelo took the tea and sipped it slowly while everyone else had milky coffee and hot slices of baked breadfruit that smelt and tasted like bread but with the texture of boiled potato.

Everyone noticed that Xeelo was increasingly hiding some intense pain. Chrístõ tried to examine him, but he flinched away.

“I understand that you’re scared, and that there is a huge secret going on… but you’re with friends. Whatever it is, you can trust us all.”

“No alien has ever witnessed the Haxxan,” Xeelo said. “It… is not permitted.”

“What is the Haxxan?” Chrístõ voiced the question everyone wanted to ask.

“It is… when a Xylothian boy becomes a man,” Xeelo reluctantly confessed.

The other males of the group looked at each other, silently contemplating what that meant in their own cultures. Sam demurely looked away from them all.

“Theo and Garrick are thinking all sorts of odd things,” Chrístõ told him. “And poor Sam is trying not to think of anything at all. You are going to have to explain to put them all out of their misery.”

“It is… how… we grow from infancy to childhood… then to adults,” Xeelo explained after searching the faces of his friends for any sign of anything but sincere concern for his health and safety. “I have already gone through the first three stages. This is the last. When it is done, I will no longer be a boy. I will no longer ‘play’ as the others do. I will be expected to take my place in Xylothian society.”

“You mean… that overnight, your body will change the way it would take several years for most humanoids?” Theo asked. “That’s…..”

“That’s why you were determined to have one last day with your friends,” Sam guessed. “Because you won’t be able to after this.”

Xeelo nodded weakly.

“My parents didn’t want me to leave the residence today. I begged them to let me have this time. I promised to observe my fast and to be home before the twentieth hour. But now….”

He groaned out loud despite an heroic effort not to show his pain. Chrístõ pressed him down onto one of the sun loungers and, despite his protestations examined him carefully.

“It’s going to get worse, isn’t it,” he said as he felt Xeelo’s stomach heaving with the physical changes that began inside his intestines.

“I won’t feel any pain once the process begins in earnest,” he answered. “But you will all be revolted by the sight. That is why no non-Xylothian is allowed to be present.”

“Don’t worry about that. We’re NOT going to be revolted. We’re going to look after you.”

There was, as yet, just about time for the expected rescue to arrive. But the hope was fading as the artificial moons brightened. Garrick and Theo pulled down the rush sun shades from over the picnic table and made them into a screen that could be pulled around the sun lounger where Xeelo lay. It wasn’t exactly the seclusion he had fretted over, but it gave him a little comfort. Now he would not revolt his friends.

Chrístõ stayed with him until the Haxxan began fully. It took two painful hours before his body reached the crucial but blissfully unconscious part of the process.

When he came from behind the screen all three of the other youngsters were still sitting around the fire. They looked at him expectantly.

“No,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you what I’ve seen. The ‘secret’ is important to Xeelo. It’s important to his people. Nobody is going to try to look. Either you go and grab loungers for yourselves and get some sleep, or you can sit by the fire with me. I’m staying awake to look after all of you.”

“We’ll stay with you,” they all agreed.

“Unless you can make another screen, I can’t really sleep, anyway,” Sam admitted. “Not in the presence of males.”

“Even if we go to sleep, too?” Theo asked. “Even if we turn the other way.”

“Even if you sleep upside down with your heads in ice buckets,” Sam answered.

“I didn’t know Ventura was so strict about gender segregation,” Chrístõ admitted.

“I’m nearly sixteen. No longer a child. Next month I begin my ‘finishing’ year. No more playing games… especially not with boys. I suppose I’m like Xeelo. I wanted to make the most of my last few chances to be a child… to swim and wear shorts… for it not to matter that I’m a girl.”

“I never thought of you as a girl,” Theo told her. “When you were younger, you used to have short hair and you always wore boys’ clothes.”

“I thought I wanted to be a boy,” Sam confessed. “I think my parents worried about me for a while. But… I want to be a woman. I want my debutante ball. I want to wear pretty dresses and meet young men. I want to get married and have a home of my own. I want all of that. I want to grow out of being a tomboy… but not for a little while longer.”

“I think I’m meant to be one of the young men at your debutante ball,” Theo admitted. “And… that seems like something I’d really want to do. But… not yet. I want a bit more time to be a boy, first.”

He probably meant that, too, but there was something about the way he smiled at Sam and the way she blushed and turned her attention to making more hot drinks that wasn’t lost on Chrístõ, who felt suddenly so much older than all of them.

“Maybe being a kid for another hundred and fifty years isn’t so bad,” Garrick admitted. “I don’t have to grow up, yet. I don’t have to decide anything except if I can be bothered with cutting up another breadfruit and call it supper.”

Preparing late night food and drink allowed the conversation around the camp fire to become a little less earnest in the wake of those teenage confessions. After a while it flagged altogether. Theo was the first to fall asleep. Sam tried to stay alert, but eventually slid down onto her own sun lounger. Chrístõ put a large beach towel over her. It didn’t quite fulfil the Venturan demand for a separate sleeping place, but it would have to do.

Garrick had more stamina than his friends. He sat next to his older brother, tending to the fire and looking up at the artificial moons to see if they showed any sign of waning.

Chrístõ checked on Xeelo from time to time. All - at least as far as he could tell with his limited understanding of Xylothian physiology – seemed to be going well.

“I know,” Garrick whispered when he came back to the fire.

“Know what?”

“You let your mental walls slip. I know what’s happening to Xeelo. He’s… like a caterpillar inside a cocoon… metamorphosing.”

“On your honour, you tell nobody about that,” Chrístõ told him. “You don’t even let Xeelo know that you found out. But seeing as you do know, now… in another hour, when it starts to get light… you can go and catch some fish. There’s a net hanging up behind the showers.”

“Fish? Why?”

“Xeelo needs protein in the form of raw fish when he wakes. He told me about it. I promised we were not going to be revolted by any part of his transformation… but I’m not talking about a tastefully arranged platter of sashimi. It’s more… visceral… more… Gollum.”

Some time in his education Garrick had done some Earth literature. He understood the allusion. He grimaced but promised to do what was necessary. As the artificial sky started to lighten he took the net and waded out until he was waist deep in the water. He came back with a modest catch that he put into an ice bucket before lying down on the sand beside the fire and closing his eyes ‘just for a little while.’

Chrístõ took the fish and left it behind the screen. A little later, with the artificial suns beginning to warm the sand again he heard some sounds that were best not dwelt upon.

Then he heard another noise. It was coming from under the sand just where the incoming tide turned it a dark, wet brown. He stood and walked towards the surf. He heard Theo and Sam calling out in alarm and Garrick running to catch up to him.

“What is it?”

“I… think....”

He didn’t get around to explaining what he thought. The wet sand rose up and split open to reveal a doorway that slid aside to allow four soldiers of the Gardia Real to rush forward.

“It’s all right,” Chrístõ told them. “You can stand down.”

“Father!” Garrick cried out on undisguised relief as another figure stepped forward from the emergency tunnel. He forgot all about being the dignified and reserved son of an Ambassador and ran to an embrace that Chrístõ was almost jealous of before he decided to throw his own dignity aside and claim a hug for himself.

“I knew you’d come,” he said. “I hoped it would be sooner….”

“We didn’t know where you were,” Ambassador de Lœngbærrow told his two sons. “We’ve been searching. Is everyone all right?”

“Everyone is fine,” Chrístõ answered. He turned to look as Xeelo, a foot taller and broader of shoulder, and wrapped in towels because his clothes didn’t fit any more, walked on unsteady new legs, Theo and Sam flanking him in case he faltered. “The Xylothian Ambassador and his wife need to know that their son….”

“The Xylothian Ambassador isn’t the Ambassador any more. The Embassy has been closed.”

“The revolution?” Xeelo heard the news as he stepped closer. His voice was deeper. He was surprised by it even in the midst of the greater concern.

“Your parents are in the Adano-Ambrado residence,” he was assured. “Your father was prepared to surrender, but at the last minute he and his wife and some of the staff made their escape. You, too. That’s why the Gardia Real came along – to guarantee your safety.”

“Not for me or Theo, then?” Chrístõ asked.

“You might have been an afterthought,” his father replied with a conspiratorial smile. “Come on, all of you. I think you’ve had enough beach fun by now.”

All the worried parents were at the Adano Ambrado residence. Sam cried freely in her mother’s arms. Theo brushed manly tears from his eyes as he was reunited with his family.

It was hard to say whether Xeelo’s parents were more emotional than Valena who held onto Garrick so tightly that it started to be an embarrassment to him as well as a breathing problem.

“What was the problem?” Chrístõ asked his father. “Mechanical breakdown of all three platforms?”

“Sabotage,” Lord de Lœngbærrow answered. “Farrun - my secretary… former secretary, I should say.”

“The one who doesn’t like Garrick?”

“Later, I need to talk to the boy… if Valena will let him out of her grasp. It seems he HAS been playing practical jokes on staff members… buckets of water in doorways, live reptiles in desk drawers… something unpleasant in the drinking fountain.”

“Oh, that’s not good,” Chrístõ agreed. He tried to remember if he had done anything like that when he was fifteen.

He was sure he hadn’t.

“I will have to punish him,” his father went on.

“Do you mean Garrick… or your secretary?” Chrístõ asked.

“Both. I’ll have to think about what to do about Garrick. Farrun… no child’s prank justifies putting all of you in danger, to say nothing of the diplomatic scandal. He will be sent back to Gallifrey and handed to the Castellan. The parents of the other children could expect no less than that.”

“I have an idea about Garrick,” Chrístõ said after agreeing that Farrun deserved such a punishment. “I’ll talk to you and Valena later. First, I think Xeelo’s parents need to speak to me. I hope I can set their minds at rest about last night, even if the bigger picture isn’t so bright for them all. Then I could use some breakfast and some sleep… a LOT of sleep. I will need all my wits about me to persuade Valena.”

It took a LOT of persuasion to sell his idea to his father and stepmother. Valena was especially resistant, but at the end of his visit to the Gallifreyan Embassy at the Cyno-Varga Star-Net Garrick came with Chrístõ into his TARDIS.

“Just remember,” he told his half-brother sternly. “This isn’t a treat. It’s part of your punishment for playing pranks on the Embassy staff. I’m supposed to teach you a sense of responsibility.”

“But that’s just what father told my mother, isn’t it?” Garrick asked. “I’m not REALLY being punished by being allowed to come on with you and see EVERYTHING instead of being stuck in the Embassy. Especially now Xeelo and his family have gone to live on Adano and Theo and Sam have discovered they LIKE each other. Staying there without anyone to break the rules with really would be punishment.”

“I have rules,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Rule One… always do what I tell you. Rule Two…. No, actually, Rule One covers it. And now, let’s go…. somewhere interesting, possibly even awesome.”