The two young Gallifreyans walked up from the marina where the TARDIS was nicely disguised as a white-sailed yacht with the name ‘Dulcibella’ out of literary irony and the symbol TS in a pleasing calligraphy. The sun was warm, but not unbearably so. The modern town of Baia sat around the ancient ruins of the Roman Baiae on the side of a slope so that it could be viewed almost in its entirety even from the Marina.

“If the town is so crowded it is a strange idea to leave such old and useless structures in place rather than building anew,” Garrick commented as they passed a huge ruin taking up as much ground area as the foyer of the Opera House in Gallifrey’s capital city. Tourist signs identified it as the Tempio de Venere – or Temple of Venus in the English language Chrístõ usually used when on Earth. “Surely the space taken up by these ruins could be put to more efficient use.”

“You need to learn about history, my dear brother,” Chrístõ told him. “And archaeology. Not to mention the economics of tourism. These cafés and shops do business because those ruins bring in the visitors.”

They came up from the waterfront to the narrower Via Lucullo, a mixture of private homes, cheap hotels, small shops, cafés and bars. They headed to one of the latter called Café American where the outdoor seats under a green canopy were crowded. Two seats had been saved for them, even so. Chrístõ grinned widely and introduced his brother to Riley Davenport and Colm O’Sullivan while the busy waiter came to take their order.

“Welcome to the sunny Neapolitan coast,” Colm said to them both. “Where your pale complexions mark you out as new arrivals. You’ll be inundated with strange men selling even stranger souvenirs as soon as you hit the beach area.”

“We weren’t planning to visit the beach,” Chrístõ answered good naturedly. His friends in the marine archaeology business had every opportunity to cultivate healthy suntans. He and Garrick didn’t. Even if they wanted to, their Gallifreyan DNA interpreted tanning as cellular damage to the skin and automatically repaired it. They would still be pale even after a day in the sun.

The coffee order arrived. They sat back leisurely and listened to a group of tourists at the next table as they tried to pronounce a troublesome word – the name of the town itself with its confusing lack of consonants.

“It’s By…eye,” Garrick commented with an air of absolute certainty. “We went to dinner in Rome with a man called Suetonius and he talked about visiting the imperial villa at Baiae for the summer.”

Colm and Riley smiled knowingly. They understood about their friend the time-traveller. Chrístõ gently chastised his brother about non-contemporaneous name dropping.

“It’s a pity you didn’t go with him,” Colm remarked. “You could help us out with mapping the ancient city. We’re trying to ascertain which Roman families owned which villas. It’s slow going, piecing together bits of pottery and metalwork pulled up from the seabed.”

“That would be cheating,” Chrístõ told him. “You’re supposed to do it the hard way. But we’re here to help out for a few days. Garrick’s learnt to scuba dive. He’s ready to enjoy the experience of a real marine archaeological dive.”

“Don’t forget to let the dive master have a copy of his licence,” Colm said.

“I’ll do that,” Chrístõ answered, making a mental note to acquire a licence that was valid in this decade and on this planet. The dive school he had taken his brother to was on Beta Delta Three in the twenty fourth century.

But that didn’t get in the way of any of the plans being outlined over coffee. Colm and Riley had taken the afternoon off to show their friends around those parts of ancient Baiae that hadn’t slid into the bay of Naples half a millennia ago.

The Café American was an unlikely sounding but actually quite correct start to a day’s tourism among the ruins. Beyond the little shopping area called Piazza Alcide De Gasperi, which would have looked nicer if it hadn’t been lined with overflowing plastic bins waiting to be emptied, the best of the ancient wonders were preserved in the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baiae. Even from their seats outside the café they could see the first of those wonders. Colm showed Garrick their walking itinerary for the afternoon on a rough map drawn on the back of a napkin.

Garrick still didn’t quite understand why there were thousand year old ruins among the modern town. His experience of Gallifrey’s cities didn’t involve anything like that.

“That’s because most of our existing buildings ARE more than two thousand years old,” Chrístõ pointed out. “We have High Councillors in the Panopticon older than that. The Citadel has been around since before Human beings evolved from apes.”

“I don’t think all of us have even done that,” Riley commented as he noticed a lobster red man in mustard-yellow knee length shorts hurling an empty beer can at the over-filled rubbish bin. It bounced off the top and rolled a short way in the time it took for the man to open another can.

Riley was sometimes considered old-fashioned, but his friends agreed with him on the subject of litter.

“A tourist,” Colm noted. “Giving us all a bad name.”

“How do you know he’s a ‘tourist’?” Garrick asked. “He didn’t speak any language.”

“Only tourists have tans brighter than their clothes,” Colm answered. “You two excepted. And the shorts… not what a local would want to be recognised in.”

“It IS much harder to recognise locals from tourists around Baiae any other way,” Riley observed. “In the last places we visited, the Greek Isles and the coast of Spain, the people all looked very much poorer. Not just in their clothes, but their general healthiness. Even the younger people had that leathery, worn look of people who work hard under the sun every day, and a ‘tiredness’ in their eyes.”

“Both Greece and Spain have had a decade of economic hardship by now,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Italy survived that a little better.”

“There is that,” Colm agreed. “But I also read somewhere about the people of some Italian region living longer than anywhere else in the world. Something to do with plenty of olive oil instead of saturated fats and fresh fruit and veg in their diet.”

“That’s Sardinia,” Chrístõ said. “Which is a different region entirely. But I really don’t know how scientific the claim is. Besides, the Greeks and Spanish eat plenty of olive oil and fresh food, too.”

“There might be something in it,” Garrick suggested. He had been looking around the piazza, eliminating sunburnt and badly dressed tourists, and studying native Baiaens carefully. Even among the older people there wasn’t so much of that ‘leatheriness’ that Riley had mentioned. They all looked healthy. He picked up the little glass jug of olive oil that every café table in the Mediterranean sported and studied the contents.

“Though I see nothing in this oil that prolongs health or youth,” he pronounced.

“Well, then there must be another ancient Roman bath that we haven’t excavated, yet,” Colm suggested. “A fountain of youth.”

There was general laughter at the idea, but Garrick was still thoughtful. The idea that the people of Baiae were healthier or longer-lived than other humans intrigued him. He was still getting used to how short their lives were, and anything that prolonged them at all had to be good.

“Don’t worry about it, kiddo,” Chrístõ told him. “Finish your coffee and we’ll go and explore the ruins – the Roman ones, NOT the High Council of Gallifrey. And when we’re hot, sweaty and dusty but still not lobster coloured I’ll buy you your first genuine Italian ‘gelato’.”

Garrick was still not the entirely sure what ‘gelato’ was. Gallifrey was famous for many things, but sweet frozen desserts weren’t one of them. The promise of such a new experience brought a smile to his face as they rose from the table and stepped from the pavement café to the busy street.

What happened next was puzzling. One moment all four of the visitors were turning towards the piazza, the next Riley was falling sideways into the path of an oncoming car. As its horn blared out a warning, Chrístõ was a blur of folded time. He grabbed his friend out of danger and both ended up in an ungainly heap beside the overflowing wheelie bin with an assortment of unsavoury rubbish dislodged onto their heads.

The car carried on down the road with only a momentary check in its speed. The lobster coloured tourist looked at them and tossed his second beer can into the road before wandering away. Garrick and Colm helped them both up.

“What… happened?” Colm asked.

“I don’t know,” Riley admitted. “It was… as if something… somebody… pushed me into the road.”

They all looked around. The tourist hadn’t been close enough to push him. Nor were any of the patrons or staff of the Café American. Many had stood up in alarm when it looked as if Riley was going to be hit by the car, but that moment had passed by and normality resumed.

“It FELT like it,” Riley added. “But I could have… just tripped.”

He looked down at his feet to see if his shoelaces were untied or some other explanation for falling over on a perfectly flat pavement. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Riley was new to the concept of cushion-soled trainers, but he understood how to lace them properly.

“No harm done,” Chrístõ said, pulling a piece of overripe banana skin from his hair and tossing it back on top of the bin. “Let’s go and see some ruins.”

They crossed the piazza following the tourist signs for the Tempio di Diana. They got a good view of the ruin in question from just behind the tourist information and ticket booking office where a modern day amphitheatre had been created with a curved sweep of tiered seats in front of a semi-circular space bounded by a low wall. The Tempio, beyond the wall, formed a natural backdrop to the performance area.

“There’s a play on tonight, after dark,” Garrick said, examining a leaflet handed to him as they crossed the piazza. Chrístõ glanced at it and admired the image of the Tempio subtly uplit behind the actors.

“Free entry, donations gratefully accepted,” Colm noted. “I think we could give that a go after dinner.”

With that plan made they found the path around the amphitheatre and out towards the ruins. It was a rough track made of loose gravel, some of which might actually have been the missing half of the graceful dome that was the Tempio di Diana. After centuries of seismic shifts in this actively volcanic region it resembled half of a cracked egg. There was some scaffolding at the side where conservation work was being done and signs of careful archaeological exploration of an undercroft nearby. The inside of the ‘shell’ was actually fenced off from the general public, but the archaeologists were part of a team from the University of Salford. Colm knew them from joint digs in the past and they were able to come off the tourist path and get a closer look at the ruin and the work being done to find out more of the history.

Garrick wasn’t especially impressed. The unfinished nature of the structure worried him.

“We could just take the TARDIS back in time and see it when it was new,” he suggested as he stood under the remaining bit of domed roof.

“That would be cheating,” Chrístõ told him. “Plus, it would do Colm and his colleagues out of a job.”

“And we’d all be arrested for trespassing,” Colm added. “This WAS part of a private villa belonging to one of Rome’s great families. That was Baiae’s purpose in its heyday. It was a luxurious seaside getaway for the super rich. Partying and licentiousness were the order of the day, but only for invited guests.”

“With temples?” Garrick had been puzzled by that since they arrived. He knew about the partying and understood what ‘licentiousness’ meant in general terms, though his sheltered upbringing in the care of his doting mother didn’t furnish his imagination very much in that direction.

But temples in his understanding of the word, didn’t go with any of that sort of thing.

“The confusion is understandable,” Colm said. “It makes more sense with some of the other so-called temples.”

They got ready to move on from the half shell of Diana from where they could still see the roof of the café across the piazza and didn’t quite feel totally immersed in the two-thousand-year-old history of Baiae.

Crossing the rough ground towards the official path, Garrick fell over with a noisy yell. Chrístõ lifted him to his feet while Riley gave a reassuring wave to the archaeologists who had allowed them to stray onto ground not covered by liability insurance.

“Nothing to worry about,” Chrístõ told his brother. “Not for somebody who surfs light tunnels.”

“My foot feels funny,” Garrick admitted in a slightly shaken voice. Light surfing didn’t tend to have so many sharp surfaces. Even so, the grazes to his hands, knees and face were mending as he spoke.

“You’ve broken an ankle bone,” Chrístõ confirmed, bending to examine the left foot. “The lateral malleolus, if you want to know. Colm, hold him steady. Riley keep a look out for civilians.”

He used his sonic screwdriver in simple repair mode to mend the bone. Garrick’s Gallifreyan DNA would have done the job in a short while, of course, but this saved him some pain and discomfort.

“Chrístõ, I don’t think this was an accident,” he said telepathically as the bone knit together seamlessly. “I don’t just FALL down. You know that. I’m sure something tripped me up.”

Chrístõ glanced around casually, or as casually as he could make it. The ground was rough and there were tufts of grass, trailing brambles, plenty of stuff to trip on, but Garrick was sure it wasn’t that simple.

“There was something else,” he protested.

“Let’s keep it quiet,” Chrístõ told him. “Don’t spoil the afternoon for the others.”

Garrick put his mended foot down on the path. He was good to carry on. He swallowed his conviction that he had been deliberately tripped. They carried on walking along the path that was supposed to bring them to the rest of the archaeological sites of Baiae.

Either they weren’t paying attention, or Colm’s napkin map was not quite accurate. They emerged instead onto another main road.

“Via Terme Romane,” Riley observed. “Well, we’re not too far away, then.”

“Good name for a road,” Colm added. “Does what it says on the tin.”

Chrístõ was the only other member of the quartet who recognised the cultural meme, but all except Garrick understood that Roman Baths Road put them on the right track.

Cultural memes were forgotten momentarily as all four pressed against the hedge to avoid a speeding car that roared by. When it was gone they walked on until they found the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baiae.

This, too, did exactly what it said on the tin. It was an imaginative attempt at combining archaeological exploration with a public park where sun-drenched lawns were laid out between the historical sites and benches set where the views over ancient and new Baiae could be enjoyed in comfort. On a warm afternoon it was being enjoyed by a cross section of society from family picnickers to students with an interest in archaeology to tourists with their sunburn and inappropriate clothing trying to get their heads around the long history of the site.

When their party reached the so-called Tempio di Mercure, one of the best preserved of all the Roman buildings, it was quiet. The students had already passed through and the tourists were queuing for ice creams at a traditional hand cart pushed by an enterprising and surprisingly spry old Baiae citizen.

They stepped inside the wide dome originally built of grey brick and faced with limestone. They all looked up automatically at the oculus that let in light and air to the bowl shaped room. All but Garrick automatically thought of the Pantheon in Rome with its similar opening. He thought of the Panopticon on Gallifrey which had a similar light well in the high ceiling.

“This is where the confusion began,” Colm explained. “In the enlightened and educated nineteenth century, the people who started to piece together what these ruins were about found huge spaces like this with statues of the gods in the niches around the edges. They assumed they must be temples and gave them names like ‘Tempio di Mercure’. But they missed a vital point.”

Colm pointed to the floor beneath the walkway set in place for visitor safety. Several feet of not very enticing water covered it.

“This wasn’t a temple. It was a bath, used not only for hygiene, but a fair amount of the licentiousness we mentioned earlier.”

“How does licentiousness happen in a bath?” Garrick asked in all innocence. His older friends laughed. Chrístõ smiled and told him that was not the sort of subject an older brother was supposed to introduce to him.

“We can get a bit of a PG sense of what went on,” he added, reaching for Garrick’s hand while urging his friends to do the same, forming a linked circle. He closed his eyes and let his mind reach out across the centuries. It wasn’t difficult. Two thousand years wasn’t long for a Time Lord, and all he really had to do was skip the empty years when the building was a ruin and find the memory of when it was used by wealthy Romans on their summer holidays by the sea.

Around them it was like a very stunning CGI effect in three dimensions. The mouldering walls and roof were clad once more in white limestone and decorated sumptuously with gilded mouldings and frescoes of the gods at play. The statues were restored to their niches. The floor was a fine mosaic that incorporated semi-precious stones. The water that filled the bath was clean and comfortably warm for the dozen naked Romans who occupied it.

They weren’t swimming. They were banqueting. Fine food actually floated on rafts and they helped themselves as they pleased. Goblets of wine were brought by servants wearing just a little more clothing than their masters. A lyre player with a loincloth for modesty sat on the poolside playing music.

There was licentiousness in so far as men and women were kissing and fondling each other with complete abandon in between their feasting. If any of them were married to each other it didn’t seem to matter. Nor did any conventions of gender. It would have shocked many of those nineteenth century visitors, which was perhaps another reason they decided this was a temple.

Chrístõ let the image dissolve before anything even more likely to qualify as licentious occurred. The empty, echoing dome seemed darker afterwards, and Garrick was distinctly blushing. He was unaccustomed to nudity. He hadn’t even played any team sports that required communal showers at his age.

“Anything you don’t understand, you can talk to father about,” Chrístõ told him. “It’s definitely not MY job.”

Garrick got ready for a cheeky answer, but Colm yelled in panic. When they turned he was hanging by one hand over the railing, perilously close to falling into the pool of stagnant run off water that remained of the once glorious bathing pool. He was easily rescued by Chrístõ and Riley hauling him back up to safety, but his explanation of what happened raised many questions.

“I was PUSHED!” he declared. “Pushed so hard I went right over a waist high railing. I didn’t do that by myself.”

“I think it’s true,” Riley added. “We were still holding hands. I felt him wrenched away from me. As if… some force wanted to separate us.”

“Homophobic ghosts?” Chrístõ queried. But he was not taking the matter lightly. Not now. There had been too many accidents this afternoon.

“Somebody with a perception filter?” Riley suggested. “That’s possible. We did it plenty of times to get around the ancient wonders.”

“Yes, but we weren’t stupid enough to push anyone around. Any sort of interaction like that would have broken the perception filter and made us visible. This is something else.”

“But you DO believe there is something?” Garrick questioned. “You thought I was exaggerating.”

“I thought it was unlikely that we were being stalked by an invisible entity in Italy,” he answered. “But I’m not so sure, now. I think something very odd is going on, here.”

His solution to the problem was one that puzzled his friends. He held up his sonic screwdriver and adjusted a setting on the very tiny panel. His friends all felt their ears pop as if the atmosphere had changed around them.

“I’ve put up a shield around us,” he explained. “Invisible or intangible, anything coming near us will register like a fly landing on a spider’s web. Let’s head back to the twenty-first century and buy Garrick his first gelato.”

They walked casually, Colm answering some of Garrick’s questions about the Roman villas of Baiae. They were aware of Chrístõ’s shield mostly because insects turned away from them. That proved a secondary advantage as the afternoon turned hot and sticky.

They bought the gelato back at the American Café where they retrieved their earlier seats. They settled in for a relaxing late afternoon talking about archaeology, about diving, about everything and anything.

Every so often they came back to the mystery. They dismissed the possibility that they were all just clumsy. They came back several times to whether the mysterious attacker was intending to cause them real harm.

“When I fell,” Riley said. “The car coming down the road could have been coincidence. They might not have meant to hurt me that much.”

“I’d have probably needed a tetanus shot if I’d gone into that water,” Colm admitted. “But it was hardly a lethal attack.”

“It’s as if something wants to get rid of us, but not to actually kill us,” Chrístõ agreed. “Well, that makes a refreshing change for me. Things are always trying to kill me. But it doesn’t bring us closer to understanding what’s going on.”

They ran out of explanations by the time they had finished a round of coffee to follow the gelato. Afterwards they headed back to the marina. The light was fading and after enjoying a fabulous sunset they changed their clothes and met back up again to enjoy an evening meal at a marina side restaurant.

After that they headed back to Piazza Alcide De Gasperi. The bins had been emptied and hidden away where they belonged. The Piazza by night looked more enticing than it did by day. Uplights set in the concrete made coloured pools of light and shadow.

“What’s going on in that backpack?” Colm asked as he glanced at the wobbling bundle Garrick was carrying.

“I thought I’d bring Humphrey out for a night time excursion,” Chrístõ answered. “He can sit at our feet while we’re watching the play.”

Although the amphitheatre with the uplit Tempio di Diana seemed the place for ancient Greek and Roman plays, the performance tonight was a modern comedy written by a local playwright. It was in Italian, of course, but Colm was fluent in the language and Riley was still taking advantage of his time in the TARDIS which allowed him to understand any spoken or written language. They all enjoyed the humour thoroughly.

Humphrey didn’t understand the jokes, but at their feet he giggled and trilled in imitation of the audience.

Then he stopped giggling and bowled away in a hurry. Chrístõ leapt up from his seat and gave chase. His friends followed a little more slowly, caught unawares.

Chrístõ followed Humphrey’s deep shadow across the piazza towards the steps leading back towards the Tempio di Diana. At this time of night it was a deserted place, so nobody except for his friends saw him dive upon what looked like thin air.

When they caught up, Chrístõ was wrestling a strange looking man to the ground. He was pale skinned and bald, skinny inside a black robe that shimmered oddly as if it was only partly there.

“It’s called a ‘shimmer cloak’,” Chrístõ explained. “Used by Denobian assassins to blend in with whatever environment they’re in. That could mean looking like a local species or just being invisible.”

“Assassin?” Garrick looked worried. “Who is he trying to kill?”

“Nobody,” the Denobian protested. “I’m not an assassin. I left the service many years ago. I am in exile on this world.”

Chrístõ looked at the Denobian critically. Could he believe him? Denobians were high on Paracell Hext’s list of dangerous species. He trained his agents to beware of them.

But his attacks this afternoon were almost benign, and he had surrendered easily.

“What are you up to?” Chrístõ asked. “Why have you been following us, all day?”

“I didn’t mean you any harm. I just wanted you all to go away. I had to stop you from discovering the secret.”

“What secret?” Chrístõ pulled the Denobian to his feet but kept his sonic screwdriver trained on him. It was in penlight mode, but it looked as if it could be a weapon. It had the desired effect of keeping the man from trying to escape.

“I heard you… talking. I was in the café…. I heard you talk about the fountain of youth.”

“What?” The four friends looked at each other in astonishment. That had been part of a casual conversation they had almost forgotten about, a throwaway line that they hadn’t even thought about all afternoon.

“Wait… does that mean there IS a fountain of youth?” Garrick asked. “You mean you’ve been trying to hide something like that from us?”

The Denobian sighed deeply as four men looked at him intently. He nodded slowly.

“You DO have a fountain of youth?” Chrístõ asked in confirmation.

The Denobian nodded again.

“Show us,” Chrístõ said forcibly. “Then I’ll decide what to do with you.”

He could arrest the Denobian and hand him over to the Celestial Intervention Agency. He had full jurisdiction as Hext’s special agent. Hext would probably interrogate him then have him sent to the special section of Shada, the Gallifreyan prison planet, reserved for alien threats.

But he felt about seventy-five percent sure that there was something about this situation that didn’t require such heavy-handed tactics.

“Show us, now,” he repeated.

The Denobian turned and indicated a path. Chrístõ pushed him gently but firmly and let him lead the way.

It was a long walk, at least as long as they had walked through the park in the afternoon. They recognised many of the landmarks they had visited in daylight. They knew finding the place again wouldn’t be difficult.

The Denobian brought them to one of the less frequented Roman baths, one with less interesting features for the tourists and nothing for the archaeologists to bother about.

There were lights around the pool – not decorative uplighting, but electric torches. A handful of people were bathing in the deep water. They were all elderly, but healthy and surprisingly agile.

“You know, I’ve seen a film like this,” Colm remarked. “It’s something to do with you, is it?”

“My spaceship crashed here many years ago. It was made of Calcinated Alyxode, a substance hard enough to withstand space travel, but designed to dissolve leaving no trace to be discovered by the enemy. The dissolved elements leaked into the pool, giving it restorative properties. A few people found out about it, and they told their friends. Now… hundreds of them come here. It is a secret to outsiders, but the people of the town know.”

“It… is just a restorative?” Chrístõ asked. “It keeps the worst aspects of old age at bay… arthritis, cataracts…? It doesn’t do anything stupid like making them live for ever or resurrecting the dead?”

“It cannot do that,” the Denobian answered. “I don’t even know how long it may last. Perhaps the effects will lessen in time….”

“Very likely,” Chrístõ confirmed, though he was only vaguely aware of Calcinated Alyxode and its properties, let alone the effect it might have on human beings. It was something he might have to discuss with Hext some time.

But not right now.

“So… you just hang around the town as a sort of… what… a guardian of the baths?” Colm asked. “Making sure nobody guesses the secret? To stop it ending up being exploited or turned into an exclusive spa for the rich?”

“I do no harm,” The Denobian answered. “I… live quietly. I do no harm.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad,” Garrick said to his brother telepathically. “You… don’t have to take him to Hext, do you?”

The other two were looking at him as if the same thoughts were in their minds.

“It’s very dark, here,” Chrístõ said after a moment’s thought. “Very disorientating for strangers to the area like the four of us. It’s not likely we’ll ever find our way back here in daylight.”

That was patently untrue, but the Denobian understood the purpose of the lie.

“Let’s just try not to fall over our feet on our way back to the Piazza. I think the play might be over, but we can get a late-night drink at the Café American before bedtime.”

“Just the one,” Colm agreed. “We’ve got a dive day tomorrow.”

“Oh, yes,” Chrístõ thought. “I still have to sort out Garrick’s dive licence before I go to sleep.”