Time Lords cannot cry. That does not mean they cannot hurt. That much was obvious to anyone who saw Penne kneeling beside the body of the young woman in the uniform of his Guardia Real who had been assigned to protect the Princess. Her throat had been cut. A crime scene investigator would conclude she was taken by surprise by an assailant who came up behind her and reached around her neck to slash just once with a very sharp knife.

“Six more like this,” Sammie said. SAS officers CAN cry but they try not to. He was biting back his feelings. He held his wife’s hand tightly. She, too, was holding back her grief. She, too, had come to know the people they had specially trained to protect the royal palace and those within it. The deaths of seven of those people all at once shocked her. The six female soldiers of Penne’s personal bodyguard stood close to their King with their faces apparently emotionless, but Chrístõ saw that they all blinked rapidly. He recognised it as his own way of holding back tears.

“Could we have taught them more?” Bo asked. “Given them better skills.”

“No,” Sammie assured her. “There was no more we could do. We trained them well. But this time they failed. A determined enemy got through.”

Penne stood up from the dead woman and went through to the bedchamber. There were signs of a struggle. The bedclothes were awry and a china vase had been smashed on the floor. Sammie bent and picked up a cloth lying by the bed. He sniffed it warily.

“Chloroform,” he said. “Or something like it.”

“As simple as that,” Chrístõ sighed. “Kill the guards, knock out the Princess and escape unchallenged.” He turned to Sammie. “Go to the TARDIS. Run a trace to see if any craft left the planet. Is she here still on Adano-Gran or have they taken her beyond our reach?” He went at once. Bo said she was going to arrange for the bodies to be attended to.

“Have them brought to the great hall,” Penne told her. “They will lie in state and we will mourn them together at the proper time. Meanwhile….” He paused as the Ambassador appeared. He looked grim.

“Videophone message,” he said. “Come quickly.”

He was talking to Penne, but Chrístõ came anyway. In the drawing room The Ambassador switched on the video screen. None of them recognised the elderly man who appeared but he was clearly a man of importance, dressed in silk and satin and with a circlet of gold on his greying head.

“Who are you?” he demanded of Penne. “I have to talk to my daughter, the Princess Cirena. She must return to Terrigna IV at once.”

“I am Penne Dúre, King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado. I regret to inform you that your daughter has been abducted.”

The King of Terrigna IV blanched at the news. He stepped back from the video screen as if he had suffered a physical blow.

“Already. It has come to this.” The King looked on the point of breakdown. “All is lost. My reign crumbles. My enemies are closing in and now they have my daughter. I am lost.”

“We will get your daughter back,” Penne promised him. “I have already begun enquiries. I will not rest until she is safe. You may be assured of that. I…” He paused. “My military forces are new. Untested in battle. But they are strong. They have been trained to protect my whole planetary system. But if there is any aid I can offer…”

“Why would you help me?”

“Because your system is the next one to mine, and it matters to me that it is not taken over by despots. And because… Because in a very short time I have come to care for your daughter. What matters to her matters to me. I can have an expeditionary force in your quadrant within a few hours to assist you.”

“The offer is a kind one.” The King said. “For the moment I must decline. I cannot, I dare not, involve any other world in this matter. My enemies would become YOUR enemies and your people would suffer.”

“Your enemies ARE my enemies. Their agents have already caused death here. They drew first blood.”

“I will remember that I have an ally,” The King told him. “Please, meantime, do what you can to find my daughter.”

“I’ll do that,” Penne told him. He cut the connection. He looked at his closest friends and advisors.

“You have a strong military force in terms of numbers,” The Ambassador told Penne. “You have battleships with the hyperdrive capability that can reach the Terrigna system in a matter of hours, fighter pilots who have demonstrated skill at close quarter fighting. But they have none of them seen battle before. And to try them in a fight for another man’s territory is a risky enterprise. Whether you win or lose, your people will blame you for their deaths.”

“Cirena told me about her world last night,” Penne said. “Her father is a good ruler. But he has a bitter enemy - the leader of the coalition of the southern continent. He styled himself “General” and took over part of the army and most of the space fleet. He means to defeat those loyal to the King and establish military rule.”

Chrístõ looked at his father. “The internal civil struggles of a world such as Terrigna – that is exactly the kind of situation our people will not interfere in.”

“Not directly,” the Ambassador said. “We have been known to indirectly influence such events. When it suits Gallifrey’s own interests. But in this case, you and I and Penne are the only Time Lords with an interest in Terrigna IV.”

They both looked at Penne as he used the videophone to call his own military commanders and tell them to mobilise for war. That he knew how to do. But the immediate task of rescuing his Princess he was less sure of. He turned to his friends.

“What do I do?” he asked.

“We go and find out if Sammie has anything to tell us,” Chrístõ said. They turned to leave but the videophone signalled an incoming message. They turned back to see a man in the uniform of a General of the army of Cirena’s home planet. Penne knew at once it was the ‘General’ of the opposition army.

“You will pass this message to the King of Terrigna IV. If he wishes to see his daughter again he must give up his throne and all claim to titles and land and leave the planet within eighteen Terrignan hours.”

“A General resorts to abduction?” Chrístõ looked at the man curiously.

“This is my last offer. If civil war is to be avoided the King must abdicate. If he will not do so for the wellbeing of his people, he will do it for his daughter.”

The connection was severed. Chrístõ immediately went to the videophone control. He typed quickly on the console and the screen filled with apparently incoherent data.

“You can’t be trying to trace the call?” Penne said to him. “It was too short. And he is sure to have used a scrambler.”

“Yes it was, and he did. But it was only coming from a relatively short distance. What is the second planet from your sun called?”

“A-A2,” Penne told him. “It's one of the colony planets. We have mining camps and a small space port there. That’s all.”

“You have a Princess there,” Chrístõ said. “Come on. My TARDIS.” Bo appeared at the door as they turned once more to go.

“Bo,” Penne said. “We need the Operaciones Especiales. Two squads.”

Bo nodded and went to organise the elite force. Chrístõ looked around at his father who nodded to indicate that their actions were the correct ones. Chrístõ thought momentarily of many occasions when he wished he had that nod from his father – wiser and more experienced than he could ever hope to be – as sanction for his actions. Too often difficult decisions were his alone to make. For once, he felt grateful for the moral support his father was there to give him.

“I will contact the King again,” The Ambassador said. “I will let him know that demands have been made through us. I will try to find out about the immediate political situation. Perhaps my skills as a negotiator may be of use. - though I don’t hold out much hope. This military coup has been coming for some time.”

Chrístõ nodded in return and then he and Penne sprinted down the hall, his faithful bodyguard following, out to the garden where the TARDIS had been left in its ornamental folly disguise. Sammie was there already. Bo and the two six person squads of the Adano-Ambrado special forces followed quickly. They, like their comrades of the Guardia Real were surprised by their mode of transport, but took the word of their commander-in-chief, their King-Emperor, that it was the very best transport for a covert extraction operation.

“What about Terry?” Sammie asked.

“He and Cassie are as well out of this,” Chrístõ said. “Cassie definitely can’t be involved. And Terry needs to look after her.”

Sammie thought about that for a moment as he took up the navigation position at the console.

“If you mean to take on those hazardous presets for the Time Lords there are going to be a lot more situations where we’ll have to let Terry wait behind to look after Cassie.”

“Yes, I know,” Chrístõ sighed as he set the TARDIS in flight to the second planet of the Adano-Ambrado system. “I miss them both at the controls here. They are both better navigators than you.”

“They had more practice. You skipped about the universe with them for six months at least before I fell in your door.”

“Terry and Cassie WILL want to go home sooner or later anyway,” Chrístõ mused. “Even if they don’t, they should. Their baby should be born on Earth. It has to have that sense of place, of belonging. It must have its roots somewhere.”

“We should have those roots, too,” Bo reflected. “Sammie and I… Now that we have done as much as we can in training Penne’s army, we ought to think about the future.”

“I was hoping you might both stay here,” Penne told them. “As my special military advisors.”

“We’ve thought about it,” Sammie said. “And there are good reasons to do so. After all, neither of us has any place to go back to on Earth. Even so, we both do feel that it IS our home. It’s where we’re from, even if we’re not from the same century.”

Chrístõ concentrated on the drive console, even though there was nothing he needed to do to pilot the TARDIS the relatively short distance to the colony planet. Whether they stayed on Earth or on Adano-Ambrado they would be leaving HIM. The three months he had spent on his own were tolerable because he knew it was only an interlude. But to leave all his friends and go on without them was a lonely prospect. He looked into the dark corner of the console room. He saw Humphrey’s shadowy form there. He would be sad, too. Without the ‘nice ladies’ as he called them, Chrístõ wasn’t sure the wandering life had anything to offer even their ‘boggart’. He’d have to think about finding a new home for Humphrey, too.

“Will they be able to detect our arrival?” Penne asked. “We need the element of surprise.”

“Not in the TARDIS,” Chrístõ said. “There’s no scanner or detector outside of Gallifrey itself that can detect a TARDIS approaching.”

“So… what’s the plan?” Sammie asked. Chrístõ realised they were all looking to him. It was hard to say who ought to be in command right now. Sammie and Bo were effectively the commanders of the military unit. Penne was their ruler. He, when all was said and done, was the outsider. But they all looked to him instinctively. Penne, especially, looked uncertain of himself now. He had promised he would rescue the Princess. But when it came down to it, he was not a fairy tale Prince Valiant. And there was much more to it than charging to the top of the highest tower cutting down dragons and ogres in his path.

He put the TARDIS into orbit over the planet. It was a dry looking place with very little water, but a breathable atmosphere. Chrístõ set the scanner to plot the life signs on the mostly uninhabited planet. They mainly centred on a single settlement, the township of Nuevo II. Beyond the settlement, which had grown around the spaceport and the principle mining camp, there were smaller centres where Human activity was going on.

Penne looked at the screen and sighed.

“This makes me seem like a terrible leader,” he said. “But although I sent colonists to these planets this is my first visit to one of them. I have no idea what is normal and what may be an enemy encampment.”

“Sire,” one of his personal guards spoke up. He recognised her as being called Ruana Beccan and she wore the insignia of a Lieutenant. “Sire, my brother is chief of the mining operations. I have visited this planet many times.” Penne stood back to allow her to view the screen. “This isn’t right,” she said after studying the lifesigns for a few minutes. “This area here was one of the first test mines, but it was abandoned after only a few weeks because the gems taken from it were impure. The mine at Neuvo II proved to have a better yield and the first mine was closed. But this indicates a great deal of activity around it.” Chrístõ refined the scan, closing in on the area. “Yes,” Lieutenant Beccan said. “Those patterns show spacecraft have landed there. And there are far more lifesigns than an abandoned mine ought to have.”

“Sounds like our target,” Sammie said. Penne agreed. He looked at his soldiers - the six of his personal bodyguard and the twelve special forces men and women, trained for just this sort of operation but never yet tested in real combat. He was not exactly experienced himself. He had a reputation as a military leader. He had become ruler of a solar system-wide Empire through conquest. But only by the most unusual circumstances had he beaten the former rulers of Adano-Gran and Ambrado-Uno. His rise from Lord of the smallest of the three inhabited planets to King-Emperor over them all was an incredible fluke and he would be the first to admit it. A moment of self-doubt took him. Then he drew himself up and faced them all AS King-Emperor, as commander-in-chief, and sent the Operaciones Especiales under Bo and Sammie’s command to scout the area and find out exactly how strong the enemy was.

The Gallifreyan Ambassador to the Empire of Adano-Ambrado was drinking orange juice in the breakfast room. Terry and Cassie came in. Cassie was still at the stage in her pregnancy when mornings were difficult. The Ambassador allowed himself a wistful remembrance of when his first wife was carrying their only child. She had suffered from what Humans called Morning Sickness for nearly seven months of the sixteen it took for a Gallifreyan child to be born. Cassie would have a much easier time of it with only a nine month pregnancy. He smiled indulgently and stood to hold a chair for her before pouring her a glass of the fresh, cool, juice.

“Where is everyone?” Terry asked and was astonished when the Ambassador told him what had transpired in the night.

“They just let us sleep?” He was indignant. “Chrístõ just took the others off in the TARDIS and he didn’t even tell me?”

“What could you do?” Cassie asked him. “I’m sorry for Princess Cirena. She is nice. I talked to her for ages last night. And she wasn’t at all snobby like I thought a Princess would be. But I don’t want you going off and risking your life for her. I need you more.”

“Cassie is correct,” the Ambassador said. “Your duty is here, Terry, looking after your young wife and your child.” He smiled at Cassie. “There is nothing sweeter and more miraculous than new life. I remember when Chrístõ was born. After so many years I am to be a father again in only a few weeks. And despite the difficulties I know when I see my new son he will be all I hoped.”

“Chrístõ isn’t happy about that, is he,” Cassie said. “Your new child – a pureblood Gallifreyan. He feels….”

“I know what he feels. I hope he will feel differently when his brother is born. But even if he does not, my love for him – for both my children – will be unabated.”

“It's funny he can accept Penne as a ‘brother’ and even call him that, but not…”

“Yes.” The Ambassador sighed. “Though I can almost see how that would be. Penne – despite who he really is – a son of the House of Ixion – he has a place in my hearts, too. I would adopt him as my own if it were permitted. It would give me pleasure if he called me father as he calls Chrístõ brother.”

“I really disliked Penne when we first met him,” Terry said. “He has changed a lot. Even though he is an Emperor now, not just a Lord, he’s less snobbish now than he was then.”

“I hope he’ll be all right,” Cassie said with a sigh. “I hope they’ll all be all right. Penne, Chrístõ, Sammie and Bo. And the people they have with them.”

“My own thoughts are with them,” the Ambassador said. “But I am also concerned about the situation on Terrigna IV. The King’s forces have little chance of success. He will be deposed, possibly killed. His only hope is the promise of an expeditionary force from Adano-Ambrado. But that means a local civil war becomes an inter-planetary matter. And the responsibility for that lies squarely on Penne’s shoulders.”

“Like the Americans in Vietnam,” Terry said. He didn’t expect the Ambassador to understand that reference, but he did. And he agreed. And he didn’t want to see Penne’s Empire dragged into a long drawn out fight with thousands of casualties causing bitterness among his own people.

“How did the kidnappers know where Cirena’s room was?” Cassie said out of the blue as Terry coaxed her to eat some breakfast. Both men stared at her. The Ambassador’s expression hardened. The simple question was such an obvious one. He wondered how he had not thought of it himself.

“There is a traitor in the palace,” he said. “Terry, make your young wife comfortable in the drawing room then come along with me. You and I must become an investigative team again.”

 

“It looks as if the Princess is below in the mine,” Sammie reported when he and the reconnaissance group returned to the TARDIS disguised as a rock formation with a dark opening that might be a cave. “There is a heavy guard on the mine entrance. Armed men patrolling the outer perimeter fence.”

“And another thing,” Bo said. “The General… He left while we were watching. He had a space shuttle parked – a small one.”

“The sort that would be used to travel up to a ship in orbit,” one of the men said. “He must have reinforcements up there.”

“Or he’s hurrying back to direct his civil war,” Chrístõ added.

 

General Baqra Geint WAS hurrying back to direct his civil war. He had handled the abduction of the Princess himself. But now she was safely incarcerated where neither the Terrignan loyal forces nor the Adano-Ambradan’s were likely to look. He didn’t need to waste any more time on that matter. His goal was in sight, one way or another. If the King abdicated the coup might be relatively bloodless. It might even be confined to the single life of the King himself – in a public execution that sent a clear signal to his followers.

No, he thought. The Princess would have to be killed as well. Otherwise those still loyal would gather about her as a figurehead for their cause and attempt to restore the monarchy.

Well, it might be worth returning to that miserable rock to do the job himself. He recalled the satisfaction of the silent kill, a sharp knife through the soft part of the neck, the slight resistance when it went through the trachea, the warm spurt of blood from the jugular. A Princess’s neck would cut just as easily.

He laughed coldly as he felt the change in the engines as the battle cruiser entered hyperdrive to return to the Terrignan system.

 

“Eighteen Terrignan hours?” Terry mused as he walked beside the Ambassador to the quarters where the Princess Cirena’s retinue were lodged overnight. “The time the General gave the king. Stupid question, but how long is that in our hours?”

The Ambassador gave the matter about half a minutes’ thought. “Gallifreyan and Earth hours are the same length,” he said. “Although we have 26 such hours in our day. Terrignan hours are shorter. Eighteen Terrignan hours are about nine of OUR hours. And by Adano Gran time which is slightly different again, it's a little less than six.”

“That’s not very long,” Terry said. “Do Chrístõ and Penne realise that?”

“Good question.” The Ambassador made a mental note to contact them as soon as he could.

“Why can’t you just contact Chrístõ by telepathy?”

“I can’t just do that when he’s offworld. I’d need to go into a meditative trance and focus on reaching him. I can’t really do that here and now.”

“So it's not like a sort of radio you can tune in and out of.”

“No. Telepathic contact requires deep concentration and a lot of care. Used wrongly it can overload the brain and kill one or both parties. Besides, he’s an adolescent - I’m his father. Gallifreyan young tend to resent the intrusion of their parents into their private thoughts.”

“Yeah.” Terry smiled. “I used to feel that way about my bedroom before I left home.”

“We’re not so different as we think we are,” The Ambassador observed.

“One thing you have to realise,” Chrístõ said. “If you want any element of surprise you have to get there on your own. The TARDIS is a stealth ship in space. It can’t be detected by anything apart from another TARDIS. And then only if the other TARDIS pilot has the key to the lock on the Dimensional Recognition Device. But when it materialises or dematerialises it makes an unholy noise and displaces air. You KNOW when it's about. I can’t get you any closer without alerting the guards.”

“Ok, so we go in under cover of night,” Sammie said. “The Especiales are trained for that sort of thing.”

“We can’t wait that long,” Bo protested. “They have an innocent girl there. They could be hurting her right now.” She shuddered as she thought of some of the things she knew men could do to a girl who was unable to fight back.

“Sunset is an hour away,” Chrístõ told them. Bo looked at him in surprise. “Yes, I know it's only a couple of hours since dawn on Adano Gran. But Adano Gran has a different orbit to A-A2. Here it's nearly the end of the day.”

Bo didn’t QUITE understand. Even after travelling in space and time with Chrístõ, after a year living on a planet hundreds of light years from Earth with a completely different sun, moon and stars to those she knew, in her heart she could not quite overcome the traditional belief of her people that the Earth was the centre of the universe and the sun, stars and moon lights fixed upon the cloth of the sky.

But if Chrístõ told her it was almost nightfall when her brain told her dawn was only a little while ago, then she believed him.

She turned to her six person squad and began to brief them on what they were going to do to extract the Princess from her subterranean prison.

Sammie turned to his squad and briefed them on giving cover to the extraction squad.

Penne looked at them and wondered what his role in all this was. For now, it was simply to wait and to worry. He was desperately worried about Cirena. He was worried about the people he was sending into immediate danger to rescue her. He was worried about the five hyperspace battle-cruisers he had in orbit. They awaited his word to go into battle for the first time, not for Adano-Ambrado as they expected, but for a world they hardly knew. Meanwhile, down on the ground, on all three of the major planets, his regular army were mobilising to defend his people if there was any attempt at a retaliatory attack.

He worried about his people. He worried if he would still have their love and respect if his concern for one woman proved too costly for them.

 

Cirena’s travelling entourage included six ladies in waiting, three maids, a footman, and the crew of the stellar craft that brought her to Adano-Gran. At the Ambassador’s command, they were all assembled in the King’s dining room. All were subdued. The Princess’s abduction and the unrest on their home planet worried them all. But one, the Ambassador knew, had another anxiety. That one was anxious about being discovered as the traitor who let the abductors into the palace to abduct and to murder.

The Ambassador sat at a table facing them, looking, Terry thought, like a magistrate sitting in judgement over them. He took a seat at the end of the table as if acting as his clerk. The Terrignan’s came forward one at a time to answer questions and give account of themselves. None thought to question his authority to do so. One look at the Ambassador’s face seemed to settle the argument.

His questions were brief. Terry wrote down names and their alibi for the night. But he knew the Ambassador was scanning each of them telepathically to find the guilty mind behind the frightened faces.

He found it. One of the ladies in waiting, by name of Leia Groeding, told the Ambassador that she had slept the night soundly and knew nothing. But inside her mind he saw a seething guilt. The woman had been shocked by the easy way her comrades murdered the palace guards. It had troubled her mind all day. But she was in no doubt about her loyalty to her uncle, Baqra Geint. She had done her uncle’s bidding willingly, believing firmly in her heart that the King should be deposed, and a military government under the General put in place for the good of all Terrignans.

Ridiculous! The Ambassador thought. He’d seen worlds crying out for a revolution against despotic governments. But Terrigna was not one of those. Besides, he had seen many Kingdoms that were content. He had NEVER seen contentment within a society ruled by the military.

He said nothing to the woman. He let her go on thinking her secret was safe as he dismissed them all.

“That was a waste of time,” Terry said as he closed his notebook.

“You think?” The Ambassador smiled grimly. “The one in red. Wait a few minutes. Then we follow her.”

 

“No,” Sammie’s voice was adamant. “No, you CAN’T come with us.”

“I am commander-in-chief of these troops. Of YOU,” Penne argued. “If I wish to lead them in this, who can deny me?”

“I CAN,” Sammie repeated. “And you are NOT my commander-in-chief in point of fact. I am not an oath-sworn member of your military force. I am their trainer, in a temporary capacity. And my tenure ends when we get back from this mission with your Princess.”

“He’s right,” Chrístõ told him, laying a brotherly hand on his arm. “You’re good with a sword or pistol, but you’re not trained in covert operations. Nor am I. You have to leave it to them.”

“Sire!” Ruana Beccan spoke up. “You must remain here. You cannot risk your life. Where would we all be without you? The Empire of Adano-Ambrado is not the planets of the solar system. It is YOU, my Lord. You united us and made us a single entity with a common purpose. If you die, we will be fighting among ourselves in weeks. You MUST let us protect you.”

“We have no more time to discuss it,” Sammie said. “We have to move.” He lifted his own M-16 assault rifle and held it ready. There was a metallic echo as his troops, blacked up ready for a night operation, did the same with their 25th century versions of the same gun. The Adano-Ambrado army was green, but it was well equipped. The diamonds and rubies and other mineral wealth of the system had bought the best ordnance in the galaxy.

Chrístõ opened the doors and the two squads moved out. As they melted into the darkness his Gallifreyan eyes with their night vision stayed on Bo, dressed in camouflage and blacked out face, yet unmistakeably feminine in her movements. It was almost impossible to reconcile the delicate oriental flower that he and Sammie both loved with this shadowy figure capable of dealing sudden death to her enemies. But they were one and the same. So much had she grown since he rescued her from a life of misery as the bedroom slave of a blackguard.

“Show me how to contact my ships,” Penne said, looking at the communications console.

“Not yet,” Chrístõ told him. “We have to maintain radio silence until we have everyone back on board. Then you can give the command.

 

They tailed the woman stealthily. Terry knew that the Ambassador was more than just a politician. In his younger days he had been a special operative. Stalking a woman who had no idea she was even suspected was a simple manoeuvre for him. The two young women of the Guardia Real he brought with him were equally skilled at moving unobtrusively, even dressed in the distinctive powder blue uniforms.

Leia Groeding slipped into the room. It was quiet. Her roommates were still consoling each other over cups of tea. She reached under the bed, pulled out the portable burst transmitter, and began to send a coded message to her uncle.

The door opened. Leia span around and stared as the Ambassador and the Human male entered the room, followed by two of the palace guards.

“What message are you sending?” he asked her sternly. She tried to deny it but the burst transmitter was irrefutable evidence of her guilt.

“I sent a report to say that the King of this planet has gone to try to rescue the Princess. He will fail. My uncle will ensure his death along with hers. He will add Adano-Ambrado to HIS empire when he is ruler of the Terrigna system.”

“You are as mad as he is,” Terry said as the Guardia Real put her under arrest.

“Take her away and secure her,” the Ambassador told the guards. “Make sure she has food and drink and no means of hurting herself. Her fate will lie with the Princess. She may want to return her to Terrigna to face their justice, or she may let Penne’s courts try her for crimes committed here. Either way she is too dangerous to be allowed to go free.” He turned to Terry. “We’ll let Chrístõ know he can expect trouble. Then let us return to your lady, who will, doubtless, be fretting for you.”

“I’ve only been away from her a few hours,” Terry said. “Surely she won’t fret THAT much?”

“You don’t know pregnant women,” The Ambassador told him. “They need us more than they let on.” He sighed as he thought of his own wife and the rift between them and hoped that one of these days SHE might need him.

 

Sammie’s team took out the guards with silenced and laser-sighted guns. They concealed the bodies and took their places. One shadowy guard looked much like another in the dark. They bought Bo and her team time to get into the mine and find the Princess.

“This way,” she told her team as she checked the portable life signs indicator on her wrist. It didn’t work as effectively as the one in the TARDIS. Even if it did, this was a diamond mine, with any number of other minerals and rock strata layered into it. Signals bounced off the walls and confused the indicator. But generally she knew just how many people there were ahead of them and where. She knew she and her team were going to have to kill most of them. Despite being trained in methods of killing people silently and quickly and effectively, she also respected life in all its forms and taking it disturbed her. But she had trained these soldiers to defend Adano-Ambrado and its people. And that meant that, sometimes, they had to kill.

Besides, these people had kidnapped a young woman. They meant her harm. She was fighting back an urge to rip them apart with her bare hands out of vengeance for every moment of fear and pain she had gone through herself at the hands of her own abductors.

Making it not personal was a problem for her.

 

General Baqra Geint’s ship came out of hyperdrive on the edge of the Terrignan system. There were five planets in the solar system. The one closest to the sun had a sulphur atmosphere and was useless as anything but an interesting light moving across the sky and marking the seasons of the year. The fifth was a frozen giant inhospitable to life outside of the hermetically sealed habitats of the survey geologists. Of the other three, two were good for nothing but farming. While Adano-Ambrado grew rich from the precious minerals of its colony planets Terrigna fed itself. Terrigna IV, the central planet was overpopulated. It needed firm government. It needed enforced restrictions on childbirth to reduce the population. It needed compulsory relocation to the colony planets for the unemployed. It needed, in short, organising.

Baqra Geint knew how he wanted it organising. Free thought? A licence to anarchy. Thought should not be free. Thought should be regulated. People should be regulated.

Subjugated?

Yes. He was not afraid of the word. Yes. Subjugated. Kept down, kept quiet, kept efficient.

And it didn’t need a King.

It didn’t need at least half the population of the planet. He wondered if he could get away with culling them directly.

When he was President, he could do what he wanted. Line them up and kill every other man, woman or child in the line. When he was President he could do that.

 

The mine was heavily guarded. But they had the element of surprise. They got through the main tunnel without losing any of their squad. They left a trail of death behind them. Bo’s conscience fought its own battle between hatred of those people for what they had done and her repugnance for taking life.

The Princess. She was what mattered. She was the innocent party in all of this. She was the reason they were there.

The lifesigns indicator showed that the tunnel opened out ahead into a cavern, either natural or manmade. There were a dozen or so people in the cavern. One of them, behind some kind of barrier, was almost certainly the Princess. She silently indicated to her troops what they had to do.

They had the element of surprise. But they had a fight of it. Two of her squad fell as the guards responded to the assault. Two dead for the Princess’s life. Nine, Bo amended, remembering the seven already killed. As she crossed the floor pulling her Shaolin sword from its sheath on her back she reminded herself that THEY started this by killing her people and kidnapping a woman. The dead and dying enemy deserved no sympathy from her.

The crackle of a radio transmitter made her spin around. She launched a deadly throwing star at the head of the communications officer. But it looked as if he had already sent a message. Their one mistake. He should have been taken out first and the transmitter destroyed.

“Break radio silence,” Bo said to her own communications officer with a portable radio. “Warn Sammie…. Warn the backup squad I mean.”

Sammie acknowledged the message that reinforcements were coming without emotion. He got his people in position and prepared to stand their ground moments before four shuttle craft descended. They would have twenty to thirty men in each, he guessed. He didn’t like those odds. He lined up the grenade launcher and fired. Two of the shuttles became mid air fireballs that fell erratically, one crashing into the third and taking it down with it. But the fourth landed safely, troops pouring out of it even as he lined up his sites once again to fire a high explosive grenade. The fourth shuttle exploded. There was no escape for those Terrignan troops who were already clear of the blast. He had narrowed the odds, but enough of the enemy remained to give his squad a fight of it.

Bo looked at the locked door to a closed off cell at the back of the cavern. The only other unaccounted life-sign was behind it. She raised her sword and sliced the lock from the solid door. As she opened it, the Princess drew back from the sudden light, blinking and crying for mercy.

“Come quickly,” Bo said gently as she reached out a hand to her.

“Who is it?” the Princess asked, unable to make out more than a silhouette in the doorway.

“I am Hui Ying Bo Juan,” she told her. “I am here to bring you to safety. To the King-Emperor who cares for you so much he risks his Empire to defend you.”

“Penne?” she asked. “He sent you for me?”

“He is near, waiting for you.” Bo lifted the woman up. She was not a Princess just now, only a frightened woman who was still not certain she was safe.

And she wasn’t, yet. As they made their way back up the tunnel they could hear gunfire outside. Sammie’s squad had silencers, so she didn’t hear their responding fire, but she knew there was a fight going on at their only exit from the mine.

 

“Come on,” Penne said when they heard the situation report. “We’ve got to get in there. And get my flight command on communications now.”

Chrístõ nodded. Covert operation was no longer an issue. He made contact with the flagship of the space fleet and let Penne tell the captain to stand by. Then he dematerialised the TARDIS. It rematerialised exactly where he intended it to be – directly in front of the mine entrance, the door facing into the mine. As they opened the doors they saw Bo’s squad approaching. The troops fanned out and joined their comrades fighting the Terrignan reinforcements. The King’s bodyguard got into position to give covering fire as Bo and the Princess ran for the safety of the TARDIS.

“We have the Princess,” Penne told his fleet commander. “Get the fleet to Terrigna as fast as you can. There’s nothing stopping the general from launching his attack on the capital city now.”

That done he turned and went to Cirena. He embraced her in his arms. She looked at him as if he personally had rescued her just like a fairy tale prince.

“I’ll never let you out of my sight again,” he told her as he kissed her gently. “Never again.”

“I never want to be anywhere else,” she replied.

Chrístõ allowed himself a smile. So love at first sight DID exist. He was happy for them. That tender moment was a mere interlude, however. Their feelings for each other were still peripheral to the far bigger picture of a war that still had to be fought for the sake of Cirena’s home world.

 

Sammie glanced at the TARDIS – it had not bothered with a disguise. It appeared simply as a wide rectangular box of a grey metallic colour with the symbols of Rassilon that designated it of Gallifreyan origin and the that marked it as Chrístõ’s own ship. He wondered if that was its ‘default’ shape.

“The Princess is safe,” he called to his troops. “Fall back into the ship.”

He himself took the rearguard, the last to reach the TARDIS door. He took down the last three of the enemy in his retreat. The guns fell silent at last. But he had to step over the bodies of two of his own as he did so. They had not had it all their own way.

Four dead, three wounded. Bo was giving first aid to one of them as he stepped into the TARDIS and Chrístõ closed the door. The Princess left Penne’s side and knelt by one of the wounded men. She did her best for him, but he was dying. All she could do was give comfort.

Chrístõ set the TARDIS to return to the palace then he came to the side of the dying man. He looked at the Princess. She was crying.

“Don’t let him die,” she said as she cradled the man in her arms. “Not for me. I don’t want people to die for me.”

“You’re a Princess,” he told her. “People WILL die for you. It goes with the territory. Somebody will always be there to take a bullet for you.” He examined the man. He WAS beyond all help. Chrístõ could only do one thing. He passed his hand over the man’s forehead and took his pain away. He died quietly, painlessly, in the arms of a beautiful woman. There were worse ways.

The other two wounded he was better able to help. He had them moved to his medical room where he had skill enough as a surgeon to remove bullets from flesh and suture the wounds. Lieutenant Ruana Becccan and the young man of the Especiales whose name he did not know would both live. He was glad of that.

But he knew there would be far more deaths before this day was done. The two lives he had saved were a small victory. The rescue of the princess only the first act of the great drama unfolding.

 

The Ambassador had turned the royal drawing room into a communications centre. Two more video screens had been set up. On the main screen, he was talking to the King of Terrigna IV. Meanwhile in his peripheral vision he watched the progress of Penne’s fleet through hyperspace and the bombardment of the Terrignan Capital that had begun as soon as the rescue of the Princess had been reported.

“If we hadn’t tried to get the Princess, would it have been better?” Terry asked. “Could we have bought them time by leaving her with her captors a little longer?”

“No,” The Ambassador told him with certainty. “I’ve negotiated peace treaties between the most argumentative races in the universe. I was doing that the day my son was born. I’ve done it time and time again since. And I know when a party is not interested in peace. Baqra Geint is NOT interested in peace. He wants bloody war on those who oppose him. He wants the capital in ruins and millions dead so that the other millions will obey him. The man is a dangerous lunatic. I only wonder why those who follow him don’t realise it.”

“We’ve had madman leading people in Earth history,” Terry said. “Have you heard of Adolf Hitler?”

“I have,” the Ambassador said. “Chrístõ spoke earlier about our people not interfering in merely internal affairs of other planets… I pleaded for THAT man’s dealings to be an exception to the rule. I regret that the Council ruled against me. They would rule against my direct interference here, too. But events have overtaken us.”

 

Bo took the dead man to lie with the others in the great hall. She thought sadly of four others whose bodies remained on A-A2, as well as the countless enemy dead. She knelt before the eight silent biers and bowed her head, her sword on the floor in front of her as she paid tribute to those who had died honourably. She hoped they had not died futilely. She hoped there would not be so many more that these eight paled into insignificance.

She remembered the day the slavers had come to her village. She had been there only by chance, visiting her family for a few days before returning to her chosen life of contemplation and learning. The men of the village had put up a fight. She had fought along with them, and she had killed many of the slavers. But they were too strong. Her last memory of her home village was the smoke rising from it as the slavers set what had no value to them alight. She knew her parents were among the dead. She had never truly mourned their loss. Her own nightmare had begun from that moment. It had not ended for five years, until Chrístõ and his friends came and woke her from it. Now, in the company of the dead of another battle in another place, she mourned for all the needless death that she had seen in her relatively young life.

 

The Princess ran into the drawing room followed by Penne and Chrístõ. She cried with joy when she saw her father on the video screen. His eyes lit with relief and delight, too. For a moment, nothing else mattered than that she was alive and able to talk to her father again.

But the fact remained that he was talking to her from a palace under bombardment. All was still in doubt.

“Father,” Cirena told him. “The Adano Ambrado fleet is on its way.” She looked at Penne for confirmation. He was watching the two screens that showed the Terrigna battle ships bombarding the planet and the Adano-Ambradan fleet coming out of hyperspace and moving into intercept formation.

“It may be too late,” the King said. “There are thousands dead already in the capital. The palace here stands only by sheer chance. A direct hit and we will be destroyed.”

“Father, my friend here…” she pointed to Chrístõ. “He has a ship that could bring you to safety.”

“Yes, I could,” Chrístõ told them, wondering why he had not thought of it.

“I cannot desert the people,” The King said. “That would be dishonourable. I have never done a dishonourable thing. Even Baqra Geint cannot lay any such accusation against me, for all he finds objectionable to my reign.”

“Sir, nobody would think the less of you…” Chrístõ began.

“I would think less of me,” he replied. “Can your ship save all of my people?”

“No,” Chrístõ admitted. “I would have time to evacuate those within your palace if you can gather them together.”

“Those outside my palace would still be left at the mercy of my enemy while I escape. No. I ask the Adano-Ambradan King to give my daughter asylum. And the few of our people who are with her….”

“Sir,” Penne said, his arm around Cirena’s shoulder. “I mean to make your daughter my Queen in the fullness of time. She shall be loved and cared for.”

“Cirena,” the King replied. “Are you happy with this arrangement? It is very sudden.”

“I love him, father,” she told him. “Though I have known him only a short time I do love him. But for this trouble at home I should be very happy.”

“Then you have my blessing,” the King assured them both. “My last wish is fulfilled. My daughter is safe and happy. If I must die, I die content.”

“No!” Cirena cried. She turned to Chrístõ. “Please go there. Bring him to safety.”

“I think I ought to try,” Chrístõ agreed. “I understand his reasons, but he cannot throw his life away while there is a chance I could rescue him.” Chrístõ turned and ran to his TARDIS. He knew it would be a close thing. Time Lord he may be, with a ship capable of travelling in space and time. But the laws of causality must be observed. He could not turn back the clock and arrive on Terrigna before the bombardment that was now going on. He COULD set his TARDIS to arrive in the same moment he left this location, even thought it would take him an hour in his own personal time to make the journey. But he could not go back on that personal time. What had happened had to stay happened.

These immutable laws that he had learnt as theory as a student were written not by his people, but by nature, by physics. Breaking them did not just earn severe penalties under Time Lord law. They could destroy the universe if the paradox was severe enough.

 

“Treachery!” Baqra Geint’s voice echoed around the room as the video screen showing the Terrignan battle fleet changed to an incoming communication from within the flagship. “Why have the warships of Adano-Ambrado entered our system? No declaration of war has been made. It is an act of piracy.”

“You were not so fussy a few hours ago when you murdered my people and abducted the Princess,” Penne replied coolly. “You committed the piracy. But if you wish a formal declaration of war then so be it.” He turned to the other screen and connected with his own fleet commander. “As of this moment a state of war exists between Adano-Ambrado and the military usurpers of Terrigna IV.” He was informing his own people as well as Baqra Geint. In the same breath he turned to his fleet commander. His tone was decisive as he told him to “Open Fire!”

Adano-Ambrado was a new military force, but the mineral resources of the system had bought the best ships available, and if the crews were untried in war they knew what they had been trained to do. They did it well. As their battleships opened fire on the Terrignan ships their small, light, but deadly fighter craft emerged like wasps from a nest and engaged with the Terrignan fighters.

Dogfights in space. Terry left Earth before Star Wars gave Humans a cultural frame of reference for this kind of warfare. The best he could muster was the Battle of Britain. But he reminded himself this was not a film he was watching but real life and death as the Adano-Ambrado fighters outpaced the slower, older Terrignan craft. Meanwhile the battle cruisers fired heavy missiles at each other. Both had shields but the Adano-Ambradan ships had better. One of the four Terrignan cruisers took a direct hit to its power drive and exploded instantly, taking with it four Terrignan and one Adano-Ambradan fighter that were caught in the blast. In response four Terrignan fighters tried a Kamikaze run at the Adano-Ambradan flagship but they rebounded off the shield and were shot down before they could regroup.

A second Terrignan ship was badly crippled by Adano-Ambradan torpedoes and was sent hurtling into the Terrignan moon. Meanwhile the dogfight was almost over. The last of the Terrignan fighters burned up in the atmosphere of the planet as the Adano-Ambradan squadron drew back to defend their mothership.

 

“We’re finished,” Geint’s second in command said to him as they watched the radar screen and saw too many blips representing their ships wink out. “Sir, we must surrender.”

“I will not,” Geint snarled and made contact with his only other remaining ship. “Attack their flagship,” he ordered.

“We cannot,” the captain of the ship told him. “We have taken too many hits. Our weapons array is damaged. We have nothing to fight with – even if we had their shields are impenetrable.”

“Ram it,” Geint ordered. “Fly into it at full speed. The shield cannot withstand THAT. Sacrifice yourselves to the glory of Terrigna.”

“Sir…” the captain stared at him in disbelief.

“Sir…you cannot….” His second in command began.

“I order you,” Geint screamed and cut off the communication. He watched as the ship turned and began to accelerate towards the Ambradan flagship. He turned away from the screen as the two ships fell from orbit in a blazing, tangled wreckage. He was smiling in satisfaction at wounding his enemy so grievously.

“Sir!” His second in command was outraged. “You sacrificed our people and theirs when we had already lost. That was….. That was barbaric.”

“Was it indeed?” Baqra Geint snarled “Not as barbaric as this…” And he laid in a course on the navigation panel of the last remaining Terrignan ship. The second-in-command stared at the course setting as the ship turned and began to descend through the atmosphere.

“The Central Caldera?” the man gasped in alarm. “You mean to fly the ship into it?”

“I’ll have victory one way or another.”

“You’ll destroy the planet. You would cause an eruption that would rip Terrigna IV to pieces.”

“If I cannot rule, nobody shall,” Baqra Geint vowed, his eyes glittering insanely. His second-in-command realised, too late, that the General was quite utterly, murderously, mad.

All three screens went blank at the same moment. Cirena screamed as the connection with her father was cut. Penne tried to make contact with his fleet while the Ambassador tried to re-establish the videophone link with the palace on Terrigna IV.

“Where’s Chrístõ?” Cassie suddenly cried. “Was he… is he…”

“I don’t know,” the Ambassador said. “He hadn’t reached the palace. I know that much.” He put his hand on the Princess’s arm gently. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t reach your father. It isn’t just interference. There is no connection to be made on the other end. I fear the worst.”

But he had no idea what the worst was. Only when Penne connected at last with his fleet did any of them realise what had happened. The shocked face of the captain of the second ship, now acting as flagship, appeared on screen.

“Sire,” he exclaimed. “Your majesty – The planet is gone. It was blown to pieces.” He pressed a button in front of him and they looked with horror at the scene. Where there had been a planet with a population of a billion, now there was nothing but burning rocks and a moon split into two misshapen asteroids that careened off into orbits of their own. “One of our ships was damaged in the blast. It has lost hyperdrive. With your permission, sire, the remaining ships will escort it back to Adano-Ambrado by standard drive. It will take us 26 hours, but we will not leave our comrades behind.”

“Do that,” Penne said. “And well done. You fought well. You have proved that Adano-Ambrado is capable of protecting itself and its allies, too. When you return, we will mourn those we have lost and rejoice for those we have saved.”

“Is Chrístõ one of those we have lost?” Terry asked as he held Cassie by the shoulder. He looked around. All those who loved him dearly were there, except Bo who was still keeping a silent, lonely vigil for the dead of the first phase of these terrible events. The Princess’s wailing keen for her father, for her world, echoed in all their hearts as they wondered if there was to be one more victim before all this was over.

Then the viewscreen flickered again. The Ambassador said something that everyone knew must be a Gallifreyan swearword. They saw the TARDIS interior looking like it had been ripped through by a tornado. Part of the console was blackened as if by a fire. And as they watched they saw Chrístõ pull himself into view. He was bleeding from a gash on his head that his regenerative cells had not begun to mend and he held his arm as if it was broken. The way he pulled himself up by his good arm and leaned against the inoperative console told them that at least one leg was hurt too. At first, he seemed unable to speak as he faced the videophone screen. When he did it was painfully and slowly as if his ribs were crushed and breathing difficult.

“I’m sorry,” he gasped. “I didn’t make it. The TARDIS came out of the time vortex just as the planet exploded. Cirena, Princess, I am sorry. If I hadn’t waited – A few seconds more would have been enough. I was too late. My TARDIS was caught up in the shock wave. It… it is badly damaged. I can’t dematerialise and… I don’t think I can hold this position. The planet is gone. There is no orbit to lock into. My TARDIS is dead in space.”

“Hold on, my son,” the Ambassador told him. “I’m coming for you.” Without further hesitation, he turned and ran from the room. His hearts pounded in his chest as he reached the suite of rooms given over to him as the Ambassador and adviser to The King-Emperor. His TARDIS stood in the corner of the drawing room disguised as a door to another room, though anyone who knew the layout of the palace would know that it was an external wall. He set the co-ordinates for Terrigna IV – or where Terrigna IV used to be.

His son’s TARDIS was trapped in the vestigial gravitational field that kept the debris in orbit. It would, in time, form an asteroid belt, circling the Terrignan star for eternity. It would be forgotten that it was once a planet teeming with life. As he drew close the Ambassador felt a deep sadness come over him, as if the billion souls were crying out to him, as if among the debris of rock and dust, they, too, remained as pitiful remnants of what was.

He shook his head at such a fanciful idea. There was only one soul among the debris, and his TARDIS was locking onto it. He slaved the damaged engine to his own and brought the two TARDISes together to a safer orbit before he opened both doors and stepped onto his son’s ship.

“Chrístõ,” he cried as he rushed to his side. Chrístõ was lying on the floor beside the damaged console. His body WAS beginning to mend, but he was clearly in a lot of pain. Both his legs were broken, and his arm, and as the Ambassador ran his sonic screwdriver over his body in diagnostic mode he saw several broken ribs, a fractured collarbone and a severe concussion. On top of that, he was badly burnt along one side of his face and shoulder.

“Father?” he spoke weakly. “Is it you? Or am I dreaming?”

“It's me,” his father said, lifting him in his arms and bringing him to his own TARDIS. He laid him on a couch and went to set his course back to Adano-Ambrado before coming and sitting by his side. “I’m proud of you,” he said. “As always.”

“But I failed,” Chrístõ sobbed, his Human tears betraying the sorrow in his Gallifreyan hearts. “The King… I didn’t reach him in time.”

“I know,” the Ambassador said. “But I am still proud of you, for trying. I’m proud of you for not giving up until the last possible moment, and not even then. And I am proud that you didn’t even think of trying to cross the line of causality and buy the time you didn’t have. You have tasted the bitterness of failure today. And yes, it is bitter. There is nothing more bitter. You’ve learnt that you can’t do everything, that you have limitations. It took me another hundred years beyond your age to learn that lesson.”

“When did YOU ever fail, father?” he asked and groaned as the pain of his broken body overwhelmed him.

“Many times,” he said. “Too many times to tell the truth. But I won’t fail you now.”

None of his injuries were so critical that his body could not repair itself. But Chrístõ was so distressed by the destruction of the planet and his failure to rescue the King or any of his people that it was inhibiting his recovery. The Ambassador put his hand on his son’s forehead and sent him into a deep, dreamless and painless sleep. As his body relaxed his repair functions were able to work at last. The Ambassador held his son tightly in his arms as he slept and recovered.

“You’ll always be my son,” he whispered. “My precious child.” He was an adult, an independent young man, and one who had proved himself time and again, exceeding the expectations even he, his father, had of him. But he was, at the same time, the vulnerable little boy whose laughter and tears had been so equally precious to him.

The next days were difficult ones for the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado. There were those who criticised him for plunging the Empire into a war that was nothing to do with them. The lives lost on Adano-Gran, on A-A2 and in the space battle in the Terrigna system were all held against him. But far more of his subjects supported him, seeing in the victory over a tyrant who had murdered Adano-Ambradans in cold blood a clear indication that their Empire, though a new player on the galactic political stage, was a strong one which could defend itself and its allies.

The Princess won over many who might have been critical. When she stood with Penne at the memorial service held to commemorate the Adano-Ambradan dead AND those who died in the destruction of Terrigna IV, those who attended and those who watched the event on their public service televideo were entranced by her grace and beauty. When she spoke of her grief and her hopes for a new future they took her to their hearts and even though it was a time of official mourning they looked to a bright future when their King-Emperor would take her as his Queen.

 

“Even so,” Cassie said as they returned to the palace after the memorial. “It can’t be easy for her. She has lost so much. Her father, her friends and relations, the planet she was born on. Even though Penne intends to marry her and she will never want for anything, I do feel sorry for her.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ said. He bit his lip as he thought about it. “How… how does anyone begin to live with that - with being the last survivor of your whole world?” He looked at his father who walked beside him and thought of his home planet. He had his own reasons for not returning to Gallifrey just yet, but the knowledge that it was there, when he did need it, was important to him. It was where his roots were, his place in the universe no matter where else he might be. If those roots were severed, he was sure he would feel just as hollowed out inside as Cirena was feeling now.

 

He walked with his father to where their two TARDISes were parked. He had stayed for the memorial, but now the Ambassador was returning to Gallifrey for a short time. Valena was very close to giving birth and despite the bitterness between them he wanted to be there.

“I missed your birth, Chrístõ,” he told his first born son. “I won’t miss this chance.”

“I do understand,” Chrístõ told him. “You’ll be returning here?”

“There is work for me here. There is a need for my skills. Far more than there is on Gallifrey at present. But you won’t be here when I return, I suppose?”

“We are moving on in a few days, as soon as I have finished repairing my TARDIS. We have all spent long enough here. It is Penne’s world, but it is not ours. I know we shall return. I would not miss seeing Penne become a married man.”

“That is a miracle we shall all enjoy seeing,” his father agreed. “Though I DO believe he might have realised the joys of fidelity since Cirena came into his life.” He hugged his son and kissed him on the cheek and then he went into his TARDIS. Chrístõ stood back as it began to dematerialise and the air displacement ruffled his hair. He missed his father already. But he glanced at his own TARDIS. A universe of adventure and discovery, and just enough of the danger that set the adrenaline coursing through his blood awaited him yet.