He knew it was unbecoming of him as a diplomat, a man of position and dignity, but The Ambassador broke into a run as soon as he saw his son’s TARDIS materialise in the garden, resolving itself into an ornamental folly. He was there waiting when the door opened and Chrístõ stepped out.

“My son,” he whispered as he hugged him tightly. “I have missed you so much.”

“I have missed you, father,” he told him. Then they both became dignified again. The Ambassador shook hands warmly with all of Chrístõ’s Earth friends who he had come to know in recent times; Sammie the former soldier, with whom he shared some deep secrets about the grey areas soldiers sometimes walked in, Terry, who had been a good and faithful friend to his son, and their two wives, the pretty, delicate oriental flower who he had once hoped would be Chrístõ’s wife, now joined with Sammie, and Cassie, the beautiful and gentle Earth Child to whom motherhood clearly came so naturally. The Ambassador kissed her fondly, and when she offered the child to him to hold he did so gladly.

“It is a long time since I held a baby called Chrístõ,” The Ambassador said with a smile. “It is a fine name. Though not an Earth name. It may be well to call him Chris among your Human friends.” He remembered his own sojourn among Humans many years ago. “My wife, bless her memory, knew me as Kristoph when I first courted her. She never quite got used to Chrístõ, even when we returned to Gallifrey.” He gave the child back to its mother and turned back to his son. The others all smiled as he saw the young girl who clutched Chrístõ’s hand and tried to hide behind him, an attack of shyness coming upon her. “Who is this pretty child?”

“I’m not a child,” she protested, forgetting her shyness in her indignation. “I am twelve.”

“That is a child by any social standard,” The Ambassador replied. “On our planet that is a mere infant. When Chrístõ was that age he…”

“Father, please don’t tell stories about when I was a little boy to the woman destined to be my wife,” Chrístõ begged.

His father looked startled.

“Your….”

Chrístõ gently pressed the girl forward, his hands on her shoulders protectively.

“Julia,” he said. “May I present to you The most Gracious Gallifreyan Ambassador to the Empire of Adano-Ambrado. Father, this is Julia. She is the one Li Tuo prophesised I should meet, the woman who will be my wife and my soulmate.”

“I am honoured to meet you, my dear,” The Ambassador said, hiding his surprise at the implications of his son’s words. They would discuss the matter later. But now he knew his role both as a diplomat and as a prospective father-in-law was to put the child at ease. He extended his hand to her and she reached to shake it.

“I am… honoured to meet you, sir.”

“Let us not be so formal,” The Ambassador said as they walked towards the palace. “Are you well, child?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Chrístõ looks after me.”

“Chrístõ is a good boy,” The Ambassador said. And then he looked around and smiled. Here was somebody else who had forgotten that he was supposed to act with the dignity of his high position.

“Penne!” Chrístõ shouted and ran to embrace his blood brother, the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado. Nobody who knew them was surprised by their emotional reunion. But they all heard Julia’s gasp of astonishment as she saw them together for the first time. The Ambassador reached and took her hand and although she had been overawed at meeting him for the first time, she found his hand reassuring now.

“But he looks just like….” she began.

“He’s grown his hair a little,” Cassie noted. “I think it looks better short. I might give him another trim later. Remember that pretentious pony tail he used to have when we first met him.”

“Still a very handsome man,” Bo agreed.

“VERY handsome,” Julia said. “But…. I don’t understand. He’s the king? The one who is getting married?”

“He is.”

“He looks like my Chrístõ.”

Everyone noted the use of the word ‘my’ there. Bo gave a sigh nobody else heard. She had called him ‘my’ Chrístõ for a long time. Her feeling wasn’t QUITE jealousy. She loved Sammie wholeheartedly. But perhaps a little regret. No, not even that. Nostalgia perhaps, for those days when she had been his.

Julia let go of The Ambassador’s hand and stepped closer. Chrístõ saw her and took her hand in his as he introduced her to the King-Emperor. She stared, though she knew it was rude. She could not get over the idea that her Chrístõ was NOT so unique as she thought he was.

“Chrístõ has told me about you,” Penne said. “He tells me you are a dancer. I hope you will perform for me and my princess.”

“I should like to,” she said. “But…” She knew he was a king. The gold circlet he wore on his head, contrasting with his dark, naturally curling hair, was proof of that. But at the same time….

She reached her two hands out and placed them over his hearts.

“You are EXACTLY like him,” she said.

“I am of the same race as Chrístõ,” he told her. “But we don’t know why it is we look alike. It is a coincidence. But a happy one. I have never regretted looking like him, even when we were being shot at and didn’t know which of us was the target.”

“Shot at?” Julia looked at them both fearfully.

“Nothing of the sort will happen here,” he assured her. “My Guardia Real protect me and all of my friends.” And as they approached the palace from the private garden the Guardia Real flanked the group. Chrístõ smiled to see that those soldiers in the powder blue uniforms who fell into step closest to the King-Emperor were female. The one thing that definitely marked them apart was Penne’s insatiable interest in women. Perhaps when he became a married man things would settle down.

 

On the other side of the capital city of Adano-Ambrado the spaceport was busy. The First Class Arrivals terminal saw a stream of important people, crowned heads and presidents from all over the quadrant, arriving to attend the wedding of the year. Limousines drove away every few seconds with another group of honoured guests going to the palace.

Rõgæn Koschei Oakdaene was used to being a person who went through the VIP section. It galled him to be shuffling through the third class barrier under the close scrutiny of armed soldiers who glared suspiciously at every passenger who came off the shuttle.

He had decided not to arrive in his TARDIS. The Chancellor had a whole entourage and some of them might just be smart enough to recognise Gallifreyan technology, even cloaked, and be suspicious. He had left it parked on the nearest space station and come by shuttle.

“Ok, so what’s THIS then?” the customs officer asked as he viewed the huge wooden cabinet that Kohb was pushing along on a trolley.

“What does it SAY?” Rõgæn asked snappily.

“Morlen Kohbran’s Amazing Vanishing Cabinet!” The customs officer read. “So what does it vanish?”

“Anyone I choose,” Rõgæn replied. “Do you want to be the first?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the importation certificates. “Everything is perfectly in order,” he said.

“You’ll still need to open it.” Rõgæn sighed, but he more or less expected that. He opened the cabinet and stood back as the officer ran a scanner over the interior. “It has hidden panels?”

“Well obviously,” Rõgæn said impatiently. “It is a conjuring trick. Part of an ACT for the royal entertainments! The hidden panels are part of it. Look.” He reached and slid one panel back and it revealed a selection of ropes and leather restraints and handcuffs. “Want to try them out?”

“That will do,” the officer said. “Go on, get your contraption out of here. You’re holding up the queue.”

Rõgæn smiled as he beckoned Kohb to follow him. Power of Suggestion was a handy trick that was far beyond the mere sleight of hand. In fact, that panel covered the most important part of the cabinet. The part that would kill the first Gallifreyan to step inside it. But the customs officer saw what he expected to see. The tools of the trade of a second rate side show with a little bit of bondage thrown in.

Power of Suggestion worked best on those with limited imagination.

 

Julia had no idea where Chrístõ was, but she wasn’t worried. She was happy here in the wing of the castle called the Queen’s chambers. She had spent a pleasant hour with Bo and the princess who was going to be Queen in a few days. Talking with one woman who had once loved her Chrístõ and another who loved a man who was his double was interesting.

“What is this room?” she asked the soldier in powder blue who stood on duty by a closed door.

“This is the royal nursery,” she replied. “You may go in if you please.” Julia opened the door and stepped inside. It was a very pretty room decorated with colourful friezes of fairies and elves around it that would amuse a small child. There were several cots where babies were sleeping. There were two other people in there already. One was Cassie who was feeding baby Chrístõ. Julia went and sat with her.

“He HAS grown,” Julia said, petting the baby. “He was so tiny when he was born.”

“Yes,” Cassie said with a smile. “How have you been since then?” she asked. “Are you happy travelling with Chrístõ?”

“Yes, I am,” Julia told her. “I love being with him.”

“I’m glad. I envy you in a way. I enjoyed travelling with him. Seeing so many wonders. Even some of the frightening times – I hated them happening, but looking back it was wonderful.”

“Yes,” Julia agreed. “It's better to look BACK at the frightening times.”

“Do you know who that lady is there, by the way,” Cassie asked indicating the finely dressed woman who, nonetheless, was sitting as Cassie was, with a baby at her breast. Cassie knew there was a huge class gulf between them, but there was something about motherhood that seemed to level such gulfs. She had found her pleasant enough as they attended to their babies and talked together.

“No,” Julia admitted.

“You should,” she told her. “That’s Chrístõ’s stepmother.” Julia’s eyes widened as she looked at the woman. Then she stood and walked towards her.

“That…. That baby…. He’s Chrístõ’s brother?”

“He is,” the woman replied. “Though my stepson has yet to acknowledge him as such. And who might you be?”

“I am…” Julia hesitated but decided she might as well tell the truth. “I am… going to be Chrístõ’s fiancée when I am old enough.”

“You are an Earth Child, are you not?”

“Yes, I am.” Again, simple honesty seemed the best answer.

“I wonder….” Chrístõ’s stepmother looked at her closely and seemed to be considering something. “Chrístõ is himself a half blood. I wonder… If he takes an Earth Child as his wife…” Then she shook her head and smiled warmly. “But that is in the future. A long way in the future, I think. Who knows.” She finished feeding the baby and fastened her dress demurely before winding him. “Would you like to hold him?” she asked. Julia took the child in her arms. He was a very beautiful baby. He had brown eyes just like Chrístõ’s, she noticed. He must get that from his father, she thought. His mother’s eyes were a piercing blue.

There was something else about the baby’s eyes though. They were not like Chrístõ’s in one sense. Chrístõ had tear ducts just like hers. She had not seen him cry. But she knew he could. But the baby, like his mother and Chrístõ’s father, had only a sort of indentation in the corner of his eyes where the tear ducts would be, and as she held him she saw a sort of membrane blink across those lovely brown eyes, washing and lubricating them.

“Garrick is a pure blood,” his mother said. “Chrístõ’s mother was Human.”

“Yes,” Julia said. “I know. But I didn’t know that other Gallifreyans had different eyes.”

“I expect there is much you don’t know about Gallifrey,” She said. “You will have to be educated in the etiquette of a woman of our social status.”

“I shall do anything that will help me to be a good wife to Chrístõ,” Julia said. “Why has he not seen his brother before?”

“Because he has not been back to Gallifrey for many years and this is the first time I have been offworld,” his stepmother explained. There were, of course, many other reasons. But she would not cloud the child’s mind with those complications.

Valena Arpexia de Lœngbærrow sighed deeply. She had striven to overcome her stepson’s coldness towards her. She had WANTED him to accept her, even love her. He had managed at best to be civil to her. She knew he hated her. And she knew why. He didn’t want his mother supplanted in his father’s hearts.

Not that she ever HAD. Despite what anyone thought, she had fallen in love with Chrístõ Mian de Lœngbærrow. And he had loved her. But never as deeply or as all-encompassing as he had loved his first wife. Even giving birth to a son had not been enough to make him forget his Lady Marion.

What was it about Earth women that so fascinated the Lœngbærrow men? Whatever it was, she envied them. Twenty-six years Chrístõ Mian had been married to his first wife. A fraction of time by Gallifreyan standards. But if she was his wife for five hundred years it would never mean as much to him. And her son would never have the same place in his hearts as his half-blood first born son did.

Valena sighed and took her baby back into her arms. Garrick was hers. She loved him dearly. And since he WAS her own father’s heir, and would inherit the Arpexia estate when he came of age, there was no need to resent Chrístõ’s primogeniture. But it did gall her that she and her child would always be second place. That was why she HAD pressed her husband to at least allow Garrick to SHARE the first born status with Chrístõ. When he refused she had pressed to have her pureblood son granted the full right of primogeniture, and there were many who would have supported her in the claim if she had taken it to a higher authority. But she loved her husband. She loved his son, and if she ever hoped to have that love returned she could not have done that to them. She had to accept that second wife, second child status.

Julia knew nothing of this as she stood watching the baby and mother. She only knew that these were people who would be a part of her life in time to come.

“It must be strange for Chrístõ to have a brother who is only a baby when he is a grown man.”

“Yes,” Valena answered. “191 years between. Even for our people, that is a big gap. But I hoped it would be easier for him to accept it than it has proven.”

“When he sees his baby brother, I am sure he will love him,” Julia said. “I think he is lovely.”

“I think you are a very sweet child who will be good for Chrístõ,” Valena replied wholeheartedly. “If you can melt those stony hearts of his and bring him to understand that I bear him no ill will….” Her own nictating membranes blinked rapidly. Julia looked at her and wondered if, after all, Gallifreyans COULD cry.

“No, we can’t,” Valena said, and Julia remembered that the one thing they COULD do is read minds. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel hurt. These past few years have been difficult for us. This is not a happy family just now. But by the time you ARE old enough to become a part of it I hope these present trials will be resolved.”

 

“She is a very pretty child,” Chrístõ’s father told him as they sat in The Ambassador’s drawing room. “Vampyres! The universe contains some dreadful horrors. It is a miracle she is alive. I am proud of you, my son. Not only for fighting those creatures – but for the mature way in which you have taken on the responsibility for the child.”

“What else could I do?” he said. “She needed me.”

“Indeed,” his father nodded. “And yet, I am not sure it is entirely appropriate that you are travelling alone with her. She is so young. And so are you.”

“I am old enough to be responsible for myself. And for Julia,” he said.

The Ambassador smiled as he glanced at the untouched glass of whiskey by his son’s side. “Do you still prefer to drink milk?” he teased him.

“Yes,” Chrístõ answered good-naturedly. “And I still don’t believe that strong alcohol is what marks a man from a boy.”

“I agree,” Penne said as he stretched himself lazily across three-quarters of the large sofa where Chrístõ sat with him. “The love of a good woman is what marks a man from a boy. And we both have that. Even if Chrístõ’s woman is not quite old enough for him yet.”

Chrístõ got ready to respond to his friend’s teasing, but the door opened and they looked around to see their two women. Penne sat up straight as Cirena came in, holding hands with Julia.

“Chrístõ, your young lady was looking for you,” Cirena said. Julia ran to him and he reached out his arms to cuddle her on his knee lovingly. Cirena laughed and perched herself on Penne’s knee.

“We were talking,” The Ambassador said. “About making sure you are properly educated, Miss Julia. If you ARE to be the wife of a Gallifreyan who we fully expect to be Lord High President in his turn there is MUCH you must learn.”

“I know,” she replied. “Chrístõ’s stepmother already told me.”

“Valena is here?” Chrístõ looked startled. “I thought…”

“Since the death of her father we have been somewhat…. Reconciled,” The Ambassador said. “I asked her to be here on this prestigious occasion when it would be appropriate for an Ambassador to be accompanied by his wife.”

“I remember mother attending grand balls with you,” Chrístõ said. “One at least… She wore a blue dress with hundreds of diamonds on it. She was like a diamond herself.”

“You were four years old,” The Ambassador remembered. “It was the wedding of the Venturan prince. The ruler of the planet we lived on when you were a child.”

“The planet my mother died on,” Chrístõ added. “But seeing her in that dress… I remember that.”

“I’m glad you have memories of her,” his father told him. “So do I. But even Time Lords cannot live in the past. ESPECIALLY Time Lords. There are Laws preventing us from going back into our personal timelines, no matter how precious the memories are.”

“Chrístõ,” Julia cut in. “I saw your brother.”

“Half brother,” Chrístõ automatically corrected her. “He’s here too?”

“Of course,” The Ambassador said. “He is too young to be left in the care of nursemaids.”

“He’s a beautiful baby,” Julia told him. “He has the same eyes as you, Chrístõ, except he doesn’t cry.”

“That’s not the only difference,” Chrístõ said. His voice had a coldness on the edge of it that even Julia recognised.

“He’s your brother, Chrístõ,” she told him.

“Half brother,” he said again. And he was aware of his father’s distracted gaze and the puzzled look Julia gave him. Penne and Cirena had eyes only for each other. They missed the subtle tension in the air.

“In any case,” The Ambassador said, breaking the tension. “Julia, my dear, I hope you will consider yourself a part of our family even though it is some time before you can officially be one of us.” Julia smiled happily at that idea and snuggled even closer to Chrístõ. The Ambassador nodded. It was a strange and unexpected resolution of Li Tuo’s prophecy, but both Chrístõ and Julia seemed content with each other. He was satisfied.

Family. Chrístõ thought about that word as he walked along the quiet corridor, acknowledging the salutes of the Guardia Real sentries posted by the occupied rooms. He wondered if they all realised he WAS The Ambassador’s son and not their Lord and King. Either way, he had the freedom of the palace, of course.

He had called Penne brother nearly as long as he had known him. They were as close as brothers could be. Sammie and Terry, too. He had come to love them as close kin, and Bo and Cassie, even Julia, were like sisters. Li Tuo, was a second father to him. He had grown up an only child, a lonely child, but right now he had a warm, loving family around him here in this palace and he loved them all.

Except….

He stood and looked at the door to the royal nursery. He wondered idly why that needed a guard. But of course there were so many important guests at this wedding, and many of them had children. And they had to be protected.

“May I enter,” he asked. He saw the guard’s eyes flicker as she looked at him. The fact that he asked the question told her that he was NOT her King, but the King’s closest friend. She bowed her head respectfully to him and told him he may enter.

There were two nurses on duty in the room, softly lit with lamps that revolved slowly and cast coloured patterns of nursery scenes around.

“I wish to see the child of the Gallifreyan Ambassador,” he said after preventing the two women from bowing to him and identifying himself. “He is my… he is kin to me,” he amended. He tried. But the word ‘brother’ did not seem to fit still.

“This one,” the nurse said and brought him to the cot where the baby was sleeping beneath a light up mobile that depicted Gallifrey’s solar system. He looked at the red globe of his home world and felt a twinge of homesickness and a nostalgic memory of the mobile that hung over his own cradle as a child. Gallifrey and Earth had been the two globes that had lit up the darkness for him as he slept. But Garrick would never know the beautiful blue planet. HE came only from Gallifrey.

He looked at the child and was startled when his eyes opened. Julia was right. They DID have the same eyes. Except this pureblood child did not cry.

He reached out his hand and touched the child’s face. The first physical contact with his half-brother. He wasn’t sure what he expected to feel.

He felt nothing.

“I don’t love you,” he whispered. “I don’t hate you either. You are what you are, and you can’t help that. But I don’t love you.”

“He is due for a feed,” the nurse said to him. Chrístõ was startled to realise she was so close by. He wondered if she had heard what he had said. “Would you like to…”

He turned. She held out a feeding bottle.

“Doesn’t his mother….?”

“Ladies of high status almost never feed their babies during the night,” the nurse said. “The feeds are prepared in advance.”

“My mother always did,” he said. “I remember.” It was one of those fuzzy memories that he could never quite fix upon, but he DID recall his mother sitting on a rocking chair by the window in the moonlight. He knew he must have been very tiny then. Maybe no older than Garrick was now. But he DID remember being in her arms, being fed and being loved by her. He looked down at the child and felt sorry for him that his mother didn’t love him as much as his mother had loved him.

“Yes,” he said taking the bottle and reaching to pick up the child, his half-brother. He sat in a sort of wickerwork chair by the cot and held the baby safely in his arms as he fed him the bottle of milk. No, he thought, he still didn’t love him. But he maybe felt something. A small connection. The baby looked up at him. Their eyes connected. They both had their father’s eyes. Once or twice when he was feeling bitter in the past year or more he had harboured the thought that maybe Valena’s child was not his father’s. He didn’t mean that she might have committed adultery. But he was aware that Gallifreyan DNA worked strangely. He knew there was very little of his mother’s DNA in his own being. He was almost a carbon copy of his father. He had hoped that the Arpexia genes might override the Lœngbærrow ones in this case. Then he would have no reason to think of the child as related to him at all.

But there was no doubt. Chrístõ scanned him mentally as he held him. Garrick, too, was almost entirely his father’s son. He WAS a Lœngbærrow. He WAS his brother.

“But I DON’T love you,” he said again. “You’re not MY mother’s son. She died a long, long, long time ago. Your mother…. Your mother is a pureblood Gallifreyan. You are a pureblood. We can never be the same. We can NEVER really be brothers.”

A tear fell from his Human eyes and rolled slowly down his cheek. He wished he DID have some feeling in him. This emptiness felt wrong. But as much as he tried he couldn’t love him. He just couldn’t.

He finished the feed. He winded him as he knew how. He found nappies and changed him and put him down again in his cot and he sang a soft song that his mother had sung to him. Strangely, not an Earth song, but a Venusian lullaby. Venusians looked like Humanoids but their method of childbirth was not. The females gave birth only once in their lives, to about a dozen glassy eggs with a nucleus inside that remained in the nursery for a year growing into the baby Venusian. The mother and her mate in turn would sit for long hours encouraging them to grow by singing these songs. Chrístõ wondered how they could bear it, because quite often less than a quarter of the eggs would mature. It must be heartbreaking for them seeing most of them wither and die. But somehow it worked for them. Venusians thrived and passed on their songs to the next generation.

He wasn’t sure how his mother learnt such a song, but she did. And he in turn now sang it to his half-brother as he slept.

“I STILL don’t love you,” he whispered as he walked away from the cot. “But I wish you no harm, little one.”

The nurse watched him leave. She looked at the baby he had sat with for nearly a full hour, caring for it in every way.

If that wasn’t love, she thought, then she must have misunderstood its meaning all her life.

 

“I can’t make it out,” Valena said as she pushed a lace embroidered perambulator along the walkway between the sideshows and entertainments that made the streets of the city crowded but colourful. “This morning when I went to the nursery to feed Garrick, the nurse told me that Chrístõ came in and sat with him during the night, actually held him and fed him and looked after him. But this morning at breakfast he hardly even acknowledged me.”

“He does act very out of character about your baby,” Cassie admitted. “He is wonderful with Chrístõ junior.”

“I am glad he saw his brother,” Julia said. “But how funny of him to do it in secret.” Julia walked beside Valena. She at least enjoyed Chrístõ’s stepmother’s company. Valena talked kindly to her and seemed to like hearing her talk about ballet and especially about Chrístõ.

“Chrístõ is a man of deep feelings,” Bo commented as she walked alongside the Princess Cirena. For the morning at least Cirena had decided to do without an official Guardia escort, arguing that since Bo had TRAINED the Guardia she would be as useful if anything occurred. They were a relatively free group of friends who went to view the street entertainments, despite one being a princess and the other the wife of an ambassador.

“Where is he this morning?” Valena asked. “I was hoping to talk to him after breakfast, but he and Penne both vanished.”

“Penne has taken him for one of his long baths in his big pool,” Cassie said. Everyone giggled at the idea. Penne always enjoyed spending time with Chrístõ in that way. He said he enjoyed his company. They all knew that Chrístõ found it just a little embarrassing, but refrained from teasing him openly about it.

“Well, perhaps there will be time later. But meanwhile we MUST find this young lady a dress that befits the future wife of a high ranking Gallifreyan for tonight’s ball.”

“It will be my first ball,” Julia said. “I hope I will know what to do.”

“I am sure you will, my dear,” Valena said. “But if you are in any doubt, I will help you.”

Bo and Cassie, with Cirena dropped back a little as Valena steered Julia towards a dress shop.

“Is Valena for real?” Cassie asked. “Christo has always described her as something like the wicked stepmother from Cinderella. But she SEEMS nice. Especially to Julia.”

“Chrístõ misses his mother,” Bo said. “That is why he cannot accept Valena or the baby.”

“It would seem to be so,” Cirena noted. “I think she IS genuine. I think she would like to love Chrístõ very much if he would let her. We must try to find a way.”

“Leave it to Julia,” Cassie said. “She’ll sort him out. She may only be twelve, but she’s a smart girl.”

“Hey,” Julia came running to them. “Come see this. You must. Come on….”

She ran back to where Valena was standing watching a sideshow that was set up at the junction of two of the wider streets of the city. The others caught up quickly and watched with them as a man in a black robe and flowing cloak performed some very impressive magic tricks.

Impressive to most people anyway.

“Chrístõ can do the sword swallowing,” Bo said. “We’ve seen him do it.”

“He can’t make the sword rise up again though,” Cassie added.

“Chrístõ is not very good at telekinesis,” Valena said. “It was his poorest school subject. His father said so. But this young man is VERY good at it. And you know, I do believe he IS Gallifreyan. I must have a word with him after his set. I wonder where he is from.”

“You have this sort of thing on Gallifrey?” Julia asked. “Magic shows?”

“We have many things,” Valena said. “Though this kind of performance – it would only be done by the lower castes. The Caretakers – that is what we call those people who perform the more menial roles in our society. Some of them aspire to be entertainers. This one is very good.”

The act finished and the cloaked man took a bow. Valena called to him as he made to leave the temporary stage he had performed upon and he came towards her dutifully.

“I was right,” she said. “You ARE Gallifreyan. I can sense it. You are a VERY strong telepath for a Caretaker.”

“I am Morlen Kohbran,” he said. “At your service, madam.”

“Kohbran!” she was surprised. “Oh, I think I know you. Mataliu Kohbran…. He was butler to my father for many years. Was he…”

“My father, madam. He died last year.”

“I am sorry to hear that. My father himself died recently, very suddenly.”

“I know,” he said. “I hear news from home from time to time. Chancellor Arpexia was well respected, madam.”

“Kind of you to say so,” Valena said. “Oh, but… please…” She turned to Cirena. “Would it be possible for this talented young man to present his magic show as one of the entertainments at the ball tonight?”

“I think that would be delightful,” Cirena agreed. “Present yourself at the palace later, and show this…” She handed him a gilt edged introduction card.

 

“Well,” Rõgæn smirked as he looked at the card. “I NEVER thought it would be that easy. They set up security tight as a drum around the palace. And then they hand us an invitation. My cousin will be DEAD before midnight and nobody will ever trace it to me.”

“They will trace it to ME,” Kohb protested. “That lady…. Lady Valena… she knew my father.”

“You’re not important,” Rõgæn said with a shrug. “You just do what you’re supposed to do.”

“I’m not sure about this. WHY do you want to kill this man… what has he done to you?”

“He was born!” Rõgæn growled. “He was born and the stars stood still! Everyone on Gallifrey took a step back and breathed in. A half-blood with the Mark of Rassilon! Every half-baked soothsayer and mystic on the planet had theories about his Destiny! His timeline was read and the results are in a locked file in the High Council’s office. Nobody may know. I don’t reckon it says anything that matters, but the fact that it is there, and it is secret, meant that he was marked out as ‘special’. When he went to school I managed to rouse enough antipathy against him on account of his mongrel blood to make his life a misery. But it didn’t stop him coming out better than me in every single subject. My father thought I was a failure because I didn’t shine academically like my precious cousin. Even most of the teachers came out on his side in the end. And by the time he was a senior at the Academy all the girls started to fawn over him anyway. They all thought he was so handsome, and talented. He just makes me sick. A half-blood with the universe handed to him on a plate.”

Kohb listened to his master’s invective with an impassive look on his face. His father had such a look when he was in the presence of his masters. Inside, though, he was wondering. Was that REALLY a reason for such bitter hatred? The fact that his cousin was better than him at school? For this he wanted to kill him in what Kohb thought was a thoroughly gruesome manner.

Caretakers weren’t supposed to judge their masters. They were supposed to do their bidding without question.

But what if their master’s bidding was a terrible and horrible crime? And he knew it was wrong?

“You’re not important,” Rõgæn had said. Kohb wondered if he was ready to take a fall for his master.

 

“My last ball as a single man,” Penne laughed as he stood by the big mirror and looked at himself with just a touch of his old vanity. “I sometimes wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I had so much fun as a lecher!”

“You know you don’t mean that,” Chrístõ said with an indulgent smile at him. “You love Cirena.”

“Yes, I do,” Penne said. “I adore her. She’s been good for me. I’ve hardly even looked at another woman since I met her. And yet until tomorrow night we….” He laughed. “Celibacy was a new concept for me. But it is worth it. For my princess. She is wonderful. She’s not just beautiful. She is a clever woman too. She has ruled the remains of her father’s empire so very wisely. Your father drew up an interesting Constitution, you know. She remains Queen of Terrigna in her own right even when we are married. And I am King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado with her as my queen consort. Our empires are joined by marriage, but not merged. Your father believes it is better that way. There will be no resentments or rebellions about which should be the most powerful territories, or where the governments should sit. And we do not become such a HUGE single empire that we attract those who might seek to conquer us.”

“My father is a very able diplomat,” Chrístõ said.

“Your father is a wonderful man,” Penne told him. “He treats me like a son. I... I love him… more than my own father. Because I don’t think I ever really loved my father at all, and knowing the terrible things he did even his memory is not something I can cherish. But your father has been there for me, guided me… if I am a good ruler of my people… it is because of him.”

“He is a very caring man,” Chrístõ added.

“I thought at first it was just because of… of my resemblance to you. He still sometimes calls me Chrístõ by mistake, you know. But it seems not to sadden him like it used to. Now he smiles as if it was a great joke. Because he knows…. No matter how huge my Empire is, I could never walk in YOUR shoes, Chrístõ. You will always be a better man than I am.”

“That’s not true. I am still just the son of a diplomat. You ARE a king. And you are king by right not inheritance. You’ve earned your crown.”

“The crown is the only thing that is different about us.” Penne looked at them both in the mirror and it was literally true. They were dressed identically. Their robes were black edged in silver with a mantle of deep red over them. Both wore large silver medallions with the crest of Adano-Ambrado engraved upon them and the only thing that set them apart was the gold circlet that rested on Penne’s dark hair. He lifted it from his head and placed it on Chrístõ’s instead. “Now you are the King-Emperor and I am the diplomat’s son,” he said.

“The diplomat will know the difference,” Chrístõ said. “So will the princess. And so will my friends.”

“But nobody else will.” Penne laughed at the idea of this subtle deception. Chrístõ did too. They hugged each other in a brotherly way and then turned to leave the private chamber.

 

Rõgæn was annoyed. It was his own idea, of course, but being regarded as the mere assistant of a Caretaker galled him. And it galled him, too, that Kohb seemed to go along with the pretence too well. He had given him orders even when there was nobody else around to listen to him giving them.

“Just remember YOU are the one being paid by me,” he snarled. “And be careful with that. It’s not JUST one of your pathetic illusions. That’s a serious piece of technology.”

“What exactly does it do?” Kohb asked. “How will it kill your cousin? I always thought a transcended Time Lord was virtually impossible to kill.”

“Oh there are lots of ways to kill a Time Lord. A couple of bullets in the right part of the brain does it. Cutting off the head does it, too. Cutting out their hearts would do it. Dropping them in molten lava….”

“It will cut off his head?” Kohb asked. That seemed the only one of those methods that seemed practical in this situation.

“No, that would be too easy, too quick,” Rõgæn sneered. I want my cousin to suffer the worst agonies for as long as possible. This will do that. He will hurt so much… and I will enjoy every moment of it.”

“You’re a heartless maniac,” Kohb thought, but behind a carefully constructed mental wall. He didn’t know how good a telepath his master was, and he didn’t want him reading private thoughts like that.

 

“Great heavens!” Penne whispered aloud as they stepped into the drawing room of the Queen’s Chambers. All of the women who sat or stood waiting for the men in their lives were looking utterly beautiful in their own way. Valena was elegant in a Gallifreyan ballgown of russet coloured taffeta, Cassie in white voile that set off her brown skin, Bo in a red Cheongsam dress embroidered with golden plum blossom. But the brightest stars in the room stood side by side by the ornamental mantel. Cirena, was in a dress that looked as if the fabric was spun silver. It fitted close around her bosom and then fell straight to her feet encased in matching shoes of silver. The neckline and sleeves and the hem were all edged with real rubies – from the mines on Adano-Menor, Penne thought with a smile. A girdle of the same rubies marked her trim waist and she wore a silver circlet on her head, again with the same gems set in it. She truly looked like a princess and her dress was worth a king’s ransom. He wondered if the wedding gown tomorrow could possibly outshine it.

And a close second to the princess was the girl by her side. Penne blinked as he saw Julia and reminded himself she was twelve years old. Because if he didn’t know he would have taken her for several years older.

Chrístõ gasped too and stared at the girl he loved as a sister and who was destined to be his wife. The bodice was royal blue satin embroidered with a darker blue leaf pattern. It was ‘off the shoulder’ and accentuated her blossoming figure as it curved out over her petite bosom and in at a tight waist before flaring out into a wide satin skirt with a stiff overskirt of thin, see-through chiffon over it. Her long dark hair was piled up in a sophisticated top knot trimmed with feathers and pearls. A blue satin choker with more pearls and matching earrings finished her look. She stood with her gloved hands clasped together in front of her, a little nervous, perhaps. She knew she was a twelve year old girl made up to look like a woman by the combined efforts of Valena and her other friends, and she was anxious to carry off the sophistication she had yet to learn.

She was also puzzled by the two men who stood looking at her. She looked at the one who wore the crown – who had been most surprised by her. And she stepped up to him and kissed him on the cheek.

“Chrístõ,” she said. “You look beautiful.”

“Just what I was going to say to you,” he told her. “You knew me?”

“Yes,” she said and didn’t offer up any explanations of how she had guessed. Cirena stepped forward and kissed Penne and suggested that, for now, they might put the crown on the correct head. Chrístõ passed it to him and after settling the circlet on his head Penne took his princess by the arm. Chrístõ took his own young prom queen and fell into line behind Penne. The other men joined them outside as they walked to the grand ballroom. The Ambassador in Gallifreyan formal robes took his wife by the arm and walked in step with his son. Terry and Sammie in smart black silk suits with the arms of Adano-Ambrado on their tie pins followed with their wives.

 

Rõgæn was in the viewing gallery above the main ballroom along with many others like himself who were part of the entertainments but not actually invited guests at the ball. He stood when the king-emperor appeared at the top of the grand staircase, and remained standing for the Adano-Ambrado national anthem in his honour, but only because it would have looked odd otherwise. He had, of course, seen the banners and posters of the royal couple about the city. He had noted the remarkable resemblance between the king-emperor and his cousin and added that to the number of burning resentments he had against him. Chrístõ was a guest of honour. Bosom friend of the king. He, Rõgæn Koschei Oakdaene was a non-entity, hired help, an entertainer.

Or so they thought. Later, the king-emperor was going to be a unique model again, mourning his doppelganger’s death.

“Are they brothers?” Kohb asked. “They ARE identical.”

“No,” Rõgæn said. “His weakling Human mother was lucky to have one child, let alone two. It’s some coincidence, but that’s all it is.”

“How do you know which one is him?”

“He’s the one with two hearts and no crown,” Rõgæn said. “Obviously.”

 

“You’ve switched again, haven’t you,” Julia said as she danced with the man everyone else thought was The Ambassador’s son. “You’re Penne… the king.”

“How did you guess?” he asked as he glanced at Chrístõ dancing with his princess.

“Your eyes,” she said. “Chrístõ has tear ducts. You don’t.”

“You must have been looking very deeply into my eyes to know that,” Penne told her. He touched her cheek gently. “You love him very much, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said. She smiled sweetly at him. “Do you and Chrístõ often play this game, switching so that nobody knows which of you is which?”

“All the time,” he said. “But we never seem to fool those who love us the most. Still, you’re dancing with a king, little lady. Doesn’t that feel good?”

“It’s nice,” she admitted. “But I’d like to dance with Chrístõ again when this set is over. He is MY prince.”

“So you shall,” he promised. “And I shall have my princess back.”

 

Valena sighed as she walked in the formal garden outside the ballroom. Every door was open and the music spilled out into the warm, summery evening with the moon rising and bathing the scene with light. She looked at her husband. He seemed to have warmed to her a little more since she had joined him here. Away from Gallifrey and its blood ties and blood feuds and political machinations he seemed a kinder man. She hoped it would last.

“Why the sigh?” he asked her.

“This is my first ball since the period of mourning for my father. I feel a little…”

“I understand,” he said. “After Marion died, getting back into these social occasions our position requires us to attend was hard for me.”

“Why did you marry a Human woman?” she asked. “Knowing how fragile they are. You would have been better off choosing one among our own people.”

“I lost out on the woman I first loved. Did you ever meet Lady Lilliana De Argenlunna?”

“Yes, but only in her declining years.” The one thing she DID have in common with his first wife was an age gap. Chrístõ Mian was already in his last regeneration and over 4,000 years old. Valena was only six hundred and in her second regeneration. She belonged to a different generation to her husband. Lady Lilliana was a renowned beauty in her youth, but she had died of old age when Chrístõ was still at the Prydonian Academy. “I never knew you…”

“The Silver Lily. She was my first love. When I was Chrístõ’s age. But she chose another. I buried myself in work and told myself I would never fall in love again. Then I met my Lady Marion.”

“An Earth Child.”

“Very much a child,” he said. “She was 19. But in Earth years that is an adult woman and it was not inappropriate for me to court her. I loved her dearly. And I lost her, and again I buried myself in other things, in the care of my son, in the politics of our world and told myself I would never love again.” He looked at Valena and he sighed.

“I am a disappointment to you,” she said. “I have never measured up to her.”

“I never expected….” He stood and faced her and put his hands on her shoulders. “Valena, did you marry me because you loved me? Or for my status.”

“I loved you, Chrístõ Mian,” she said. “I… I still do, despite the rift that lies between us. But do you…. have you any feeling for me other than contempt?”

“Of course I do, my dear,” he assured her. “I am sorry there has been this rift. The reasons for it…. they’re not your fault entirely. I would… if we could… You DO look lovely tonight, you know. Nobody would take you for six hundred years.”

“Age and appearance are meaningless to us, anyway,” she said. “But Chrístõ Mian… please… tell me that a reconciliation is possible between us.”

“I believe there is hope for us,” he told her. “If these old resentments can be forgotten.”

“Good,” she whispered. “Because… because I am with child again.”

“You are?” The Ambassador was startled. “When?”

“The night my father died. You took me to your bed. I felt… not as if it was in comfort for my loss, but as if you were staking your claim, your ownership of me. But we lay together as man and wife and…. It is a daughter. Chrístõ and Garrick will have a sister.”

“That is wonderful,” The Ambassador said. He pulled her close and kissed her. Yes, he thought, the resentments must be set aside now. Even Chrístõ’s.

“Let’s go inside,” she said after a while. “It’s cold out here. And besides, the entertainment will begin soon. Chrístõ’s young lady is going to dance for us, and there is a rather magnificent magic act that I spotted earlier today. Very fine young man, one of our own, you know. Or… well, a Caretaker class anyway. But from Gallifrey. His father worked as butler to my own father for many years.”

“Really?” Valena looked at her husband. She wasn’t sure but she thought there was a slight note in his voice. A coldness that she thought had been banished in the earlier warmth. Then he smiled. “I am sure it will prove very interesting,” he said, and took her arm gently.

 

Julia’s interpretation of Stravinsky’s Firebird in the costume Chrístõ had specially had made for her enchanted everyone. Afterwards Valena helped her back into her beautiful blue ball gown and fixed her hair again.

“You look lovely, my dear,” Valena told her. “The star of the show.” They stepped out of the dressing room together and then Valena pulled her back inside. There were two people walking past and they were arguing loudly. They waited until they had gone.

“That was the magician,” Julia said. “The one you said was from Gallifrey. But who is that other man? I didn’t see anyone with him earlier.”

“Nor did I,” Valena said. “But he is ALSO Gallifreyan. Except….” Valena shivered. She had not had physical contact with him so she could not read his mind, but something about him disturbed her, and not only the fact that he was a VERY angry man.

“Let’s get back to the ball,” she said. She felt a strong desire to be among other people, to be near her husband and others who would protect her. She wasn’t sure WHY she felt in need of protection, but she did.

“Oh!” She cried as they turned the corner and saw the two men again. The one who had disturbed her so much was standing over the other and he was bleeding from a deep wound in his stomach. “Oh no!”

Valena screamed and hoped she would be heard beyond this backstage area. But there was too much noise from the choir singing a raucous Adano-Ambradan folk song on stage. Julia screamed, equally to no avail as Valena fell to the ground, her throat cut and blood pouring from it. The man looked at her and growled and hit her across the head. She fell across Valena’s still warm body. She was still semi-conscious when she felt herself being dragged away.

 

Neither Chrístõ nor his father were too concerned that Julia and Valena had not returned. They both assumed the two were chatting together and had lost track of the time, though by the time they had sat through a performance of a Pergonian Love Song – Pergonians wrote songs that went on for at least thirty minutes and were illustrated by actors performing the story , they were starting to wonder.

“That magician Valena was interested in is up next,” The Ambassador said. “She surely wouldn’t want to miss that.”

 

Julia regained consciousness painfully. She sat up and looked around her. She was in one of the dressing rooms backstage. Valena was there, too, and so was the magician. She knelt up and looked at them both. Valena looked dead. She was afraid even to touch her.

“She’s dying,” Kohbran said as he struggled to sit up. Julia looked at him and wondered how he could even do that.

“You’re Gallifreyan, of course,” she said. “You can heal. But… why can’t she?”

“She is,” he said. “But by regeneration.”

“By what?”

“She’s a Time Lord. When they are fatally injured their bodies transform. The molecules are rearranged and they live again – the same brain, the same memories, but in a new body. That’s happening to her.”

“Oh!” Julia reached out and touched her. She seemed cold. But her hearts were beating very slowly. She WAS alive. “Can… can Chrístõ do that?”

“Chrístõ?” Kohbran looked at her. “Chrístõ is the name of the one my Master wants to kill. He won’t have a chance to regenerate. I tried to stop him. I told him I would not have anything more to do with this horrible thing. He turned on me… as you see.”

“He wants to kill Chrístõ?” Julia’s voice was shrill with fear, for herself and for her man, as well as for Valena.

“He hates him with a terrible, terrible hate such as I have never seen in any man. He WILL kill him and there is nothing we can do to stop him.”

“There must be something!” she cried. “Chrístõ!”

 

“I am worried,” Chrístõ said. “After this act is done I am going to find them.”

“I agree,” The Ambassador said. “This is not good.”

“That isn’t the same man we saw this morning, surely,” Cirena said. She sat between Penne and Chrístõ and his father had moved next to him in the seat Julia was absent from. Chrístõ currently had the crown, she noted. It had passed between them so often she had ALMOST become confused. She looked at the man on stage again. He was wearing a leather face mask, which was obviously part of the act. But even so she was sure this man was taller than the one they had talked to, and the hair looked different. She was puzzled. But the act looked much the same as she saw earlier.

Audience participation was a big part of it. The magician had invited several guests to take part in wondrous things. He had made eggs appear in people’s mouths and hatched them into doves. He had made the hair of the wife of the Ambassador of Cromolon B. stand up on end and then turn blue instead of the bright pink it was before. He had levitated several young women.

“And now,” he said, “for the grand finale of the act, I should like a volunteer to step into Kohbran’s Vanishing Cabinet. And he seemed to be looking around the audience before pointing to one in the royal party. “The one who looks so much like our beloved king-emperor,” he said. “Won’t you come up and try out my cabinet.”

Penne grinned and stood up. This was one of the advantages of letting Chrístõ wear the crown for a bit. Nobody would DARE invite the king-emperor to take part in a magic act, but his friend still had that freedom.

“Penne, my love,” Cirena said. But then she stopped. She wasn’t sure WHY she suddenly felt apprehensive, but there was no need for it, surely. This was just another illusion.

“Be careful,” Chrístõ told him telepathically. “YOU are the king, and you’re getting married tomorrow.”

“It’s ok,” he assured him. “These things are just tricks. There will be a false floor and I’ll have to wander a couple of passages in the basement of my own palace till I get back to the ballroom.”

“See if you can see my stepmother and my young lady while you’re there,” Chrístõ answered him and he laughed.

“Step inside Kohbran’s cabinet,” the magician said as he took Penne by the hand and placed him inside the box which was just big enough for an adult to stand inside. “The Vanishing Cabinet of Morlen Kohbran,” he repeated. “Remember that name when you wonder where your friend has gone!” He closed the cabinet door and gave a laugh that froze the hearts of everyone who heard it. There was a flash that left imprints on their retinas and a smoke effect and when they blinked and looked again the cabinet was gone, and so was the magician.

The audience were puzzled. Some of them clapped. Others murmured apprehensively. This didn’t look entirely right.

Chrístõ stood. So did his father. They looked at each other.

“I can’t feel him telepathically,” Chrístõ began. “That cabinet must be lead lined.”

“Where did it go?” The Ambassador asked.

“Chrístõ!” Everyone turned as Julia ran into the ballroom. Her dress was torn and her make up streaked down her face. She fell into his arms. She looked at the crown. “Chrístõ… it is you?”

“It’s me. But….”

“Valena is hurt, and somebody wants to kill you… the magician…” she gasped.

“Guards!” Sammie yelled, jumping up from his seat and becoming animated. “Everyone stay where you are,” he shouted as the guests began to move in panic. Stay in this room. Stay seated. The king has been kidnapped and there are people injured. But everyone stay calm, please.” The Guardia Real rushed to his command. He sent them to make a search.

“Take me to my wife,” The Ambassador said to Julia. “Please…”

“Go with him,” Chrístõ told her. He turned to Cirena. “I’ll find Penne. Don’t you worry.” He jumped up onto the stage and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. His first suspicion was confirmed. There were resonances of a teleport beam. Localised, he thought. The cabinet was probably still in the building, somewhere.

But it was a big building.

 

Penne was starting to hurt. He felt as if his body was being microwaved. The orange-white light that eminated from both sides of the cabinet was a radiation of some kind and it was penetrating his very molecules. He pushed against the door but his hands hurt as if they were burning. He half expected to see blisters and blackened skin. Instead he saw his flesh almost translucent and his veins glowing with the same colour as the light, as if they were carrying the radiation through his body.

This was meant to kill him, he realised.

It was meant to kill Chrístõ.

The man had not called upon him, the king-emperor, but his friend. He didn’t know they had switched the crown.

This elaborate thing was to kill Chrístõ.

And kill him in a horrible, painful way. Even more painful than the Peine Forte machine that Chrístõ had been subjected to in his stead a long time ago. Ironic, he thought as he let out a low scream of agony that he was unable to suppress. Chrístõ had been put into that contraption for HIM. Now he was being murdered in place of Chrístõ.

“Cirena,” he called out. “My princess.” He would willingly give his life for Chrístõ if it were not for her, and for his people. His hearts quailed as he thought of his faithful people who would be left leaderless without him.

Strange he thought. Once he would have been afraid for his own life.

“Chrístõ, that’s your doing, my brother,” he said aloud. “I used to be a self-centred coward. I would have been begging for my own life. But here I am dying and I can only think of you, and Cirena, and my poor beloved empire that needs me still.”

He screamed louder than ever as the energy, the radiation, whatever it was, enveloped him. His body seemed to be surrounded by a glow and it felt as if it was eating away at him from the inside and the outside, too.

 

“Valena!” The Ambassador burst through the door and cried out loud as he saw his wife lying there. He knelt by her side. He looked at the man who was sitting with her. He saw the orange blood on his clothing and guessed he, too, had been a victim of the lunatic who had hurt her and kidnapped Penne Dúre.

“She is in a self-induced stasis,” the man said. “Prior to regeneration.”

“She is that badly wounded?”

“He cut her throat,” Julia said, gulping for air and choking down her sobs. “She lost loads of blood. More than I saw Chrístõ lose when he mended himself.”

“There is a limit even for us,” The Ambassador said. “When our veins are too empty for the hearts to pump blood, even we cannot repair ourselves except by regeneration.” He touched his wife’s forehead and willed her to rise out of the trance she had placed herself in. She gasped as she looked up at him.

“I’m sorry, my love,” she told him. “I am so sorry…”

“So am I,” he said. “It would have been so wonderful…”

“I didn’t want to let myself change until you were with me,” she said. “So that you would know that… if there was another way…”

“If you don’t, you’ll die anyway,” he said. “I am sorry, my dear. So very sorry. But I want you alive.”

He clutched her hand and she gasped again. The process was beginning, he knew.

“What…” Julia wasn’t sure how to ask the question. “Why is she… if she is going to live… why are you both sad?”

“She told me a few hours ago that she is pregnant. But… regeneration… the unborn child will be destroyed by the process. She will live… but our daughter won’t.”

“Oh!” Julia sobbed. She reached out for The Ambassador’s hand and for Valena’s with her other hand “Oh I am so sorry for you both.”

“Human compassion is a beautiful thing,” The Ambassador said. “It is why I love your race so much. Thank you, my dear.” He looked at his wife. They both did. Her body was enveloped now in an orange-white glow. Beneath it her features were like chalk, and they almost seemed to be crumbling. Julia looked at The Ambassador and asked if this was normal.

“It happens in different ways. Sometimes it is gentle like this. Other times it is a more violent thing. The last time for me, I felt as if I was being shredded and Chrístõ told me the glow was like an inferno enveloping me. That was when he was able to talk about it. He was so shaken from witnessing my regeneration he could hardly speak at all for days. Then it took a lot of coaxing before he would talk about it to me.”

“This is normal for you? For Time Lords?” She looked at Valena’s body again. It didn’t look like flesh any more. It was more like a chalk figure of a person, with just vague impressions of a face, and of hands and fingers. The legs seemed fused together as one solid thing.

“Yes, but please, don’t let it frighten you away. Chrístõ loves you dearly.” She would never witness it happening to Chrístõ, of course, he thought. He would not be old enough to regenerate until long after she was dead of old age. But this was one of many things she would have to come to terms with, as his Marion had come to terms with them.

 

“They’ve found the cabinet!” One of the Guardia Real ran into the ballroom shouting the news. Chrístõ ran. Behind him Terry and Sammie followed him at a run. And their women followed. Cassie and Bo with the princess. He turned to tell them not to come. He didn’t know what danger there might be. But even Cirena, a woman who had been raised as a princess, sheltered from trouble, from danger, had that determined look of one who would not waste a moment in argument while the man she loved was in trouble.

“What about the man who did this?” he asked as he ran after the Guard.

“They have him in custody,” she answered. “But he refuses to tell anyone how to open the cabinet, and…. Oh…” She was a trained soldier, but she sobbed then. “We can hear him screaming. The king… that cabinet… it’s not just a box. It is making a sort of noise and it feels hot to the touch and inside…. he’s being slowly killed.”

“Oh Rassilon help us!” Chrístõ whispered loudly. “An artron chamber!”

“A what?” Sammie looked at him as he kept pace with him and the young soldier of the Guardia Real as they ran along a corridor of the royal palace.

“Artron energy is what powers the TARDIS. It is also what enables us to regenerate. An artron chamber…. It's a method of execution that was banned on our planet because it is too slow and painful. We used the atomisation chamber instead because that is instant and almost painless. The Artron chamer first strips away the lives of the Time Lord …. His in potentia future lives…and then ages him until his body crumbles. And… it can take anything up to an hour, but it must feel like eternity to the one subjected to it.”

“And Penne is…” Cirena cried out in horror as she heard Chrístõ’s words. “Oh no!”

“Here,” the soldier told them and they ran into the room. It was a disused office on the third floor, and Chrístõ was willing to bet it was a completely random choice. The short range transporter had simply left the man and the cabinet in a different location from which he had hoped to make his escape.

“Penne…” he called out in his head. “Can you hear me?” But it was no use. The chamber WAS lead lined to prevent the artron energy escaping. He went to it and touched it tentatively. It was hot to the touch, but for him, not unbearable. He felt around until he found the lock under a concealed panel.

“Deadlock seal,” he groaned. “Sonic screwdriver won’t open it. I need the code… eight characters… 34 to choose from…” He could have worked out how many combinations that made in his head, but his head was full of the horrible sounds of his friend’s agony. He knew Penne was no coward. For him to be crying out like that he must be hurting terribly. His hearts were breaking knowing there was nothing he could do.

“6y7pßO8x!” He heard the voice in his head first. A telepathic message from a stranger. He began keying it in even as the stranger ran into the room shouting the combination out loud. He half turned and saw the man. Julia was at his side and behind them was his father and…

The door opened suddenly. There was an orange flash as artron energy discharged into the air and then Penne’s body collapsed into his arms.

His living body. He could feel him alive, JUST. But he could well understand why Cirena had let out the most heartrending scream when she saw him. As he laid him on the floor gently he saw Bo and Cassie holding her upright and holding her back.

He knelt by Penne’s side. He supported his head gently, though it was a wonder he could bear any touch at all. His whole body was burnt and blistered. His face was barely recognisable, there was so much damage. Only his eyes seemed untouched as they looked up at him through swollen eyelids that were too painful to fully open or to close, either.

He was in terrible pain. Chrístõ could feel it now that he was released from the cabinet. He could feel him telepathically. His thoughts were incoherent, fragmented. He was fighting consciousness and losing. That was a good thing, Chrístõ thought. He would die quietly, unaware of what was happening. But Penne seemed to be fighting it.

It had been meant for him, Chrístõ knew. The one who did this, the one they had in custody, planned to murder him with that dreadful contraption. Instead, Penne was dying. He held him closer. While he still could. He was the closest thing he ever had to a brother. And he loved him as a brother. And he cared for him as a friend, too. He didn’t want him to die. But he was powerless to stop it.

Penne reached out his burnt and blistered hands and clutched at Chrístõ’s robe.

“Who will care for my people?” he whispered. “I wanted… to be a good ruler.”

“You are,” Chrístõ said, proud that his last thought had been, not for himself, but for his people. If he had ever doubted it before, he didn’t now. Penne was a good man.

“Somebody will follow your example. They will be fine.” Chrístõ desperately wanted to give him some comfort, soothe his pain. He hoped someone WOULD follow his example and take care of his people. He deserved that much of a legacy. “Sleep now, Penne. Sleep easy. You deserve that.”

“Can’t sleep,” he said. “Too much pain. Anyway… want to be with you.”

“Oh, Penne… I…” Chrístõ flinched at the ear-splitting sound behind him. He looked up. Sammie had taken a gun from one of the Guardia and opened fire on the machine with it. He shouted at him not to waste ammunition, but as he spoke something even he didn’t expect occurred. A golden light emerged from the broken machine, arcing in the air and bearing down on Penne. It enveloped him for a moment then disappeared. Even if he hadn’t been holding him and felt it in his own soul, he would have known what was happening. They were his twelve extra Time Lord lives returning to his body.

But that was no use. He was too young to regenerate. He was going to die still, along with his other lives. There was nothing he could do.

“Chrístõ….” Sammie bent and picked something up from the debris of the machine and gave it to him. It was the Ring of Eternity that he had given to Penne when he became a Time Lord. He looked at it in the palm of his hand. Was it his imagination or did it glow?

He looked at Penne’s hand. His fingers were badly burnt and swollen. He wasn’t sure how the ring could have fallen off. But it was his ring. He slid it onto his finger.

“You ARE a Time Lord,” he said. “You can at least die as one.”

“Chrístõ….” Penne groaned. “What’s happening to me?”

“You’re dying,” he said. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do.”

“No,” Penne said. “This… isn’t dying. It’s… it’s something else.” He held up his hand and he and Chrístõ both stared at the ring. It WAS glowing with a fiery orange-red. So was his hand. And the glow was spreading. Chrístõ felt Penne’s whole body vibrating as the glow enveloped him. He wondered if it was safe to be holding him, but he felt he couldn’t let him go. If he was dying he wanted to comfort him. If he wasn’t, he wanted to take care of him until….

“What’s happening?” Cirena broke from Bo and Cassie and knelt by Chrístõ. “Is he…”

“I don’t know what he is at the moment,” Chrístõ said. “I think…. I hope….” He watched with bated breath, hoping against hope.

Slowly, beneath the glow he saw Penne’s body changing. The burnt and blackened body seemed to melt away into a featureless mould of a body shape and then slowly took on a new form. He WAS Regenerating. Chrístõ didn’t understand how. Penne was too young…

Of course… The machine had taken his lives, and then it had begun to take THIS life. BY AGING HIM. His body HAD been aged. His body WAS ready to regenerate.

But it was not working as it should. The features that had appeared in place of those Chrístõ knew so well did not seem to be holding. The glow pulsated and his features seemed to melt again and reform – and again. And again.

The features changed and melted away twelve times. Chrístõ didn’t count them, but he knew that’s how many times it had happened. Because he realised what WAS happening. This was not a natural regeneration. And he was very badly injured. All his lives were being used in stabilising his body before the regeneration could be completed with his FINAL, his thirteenth life. Chrístõ hugged him close as the glow faded at last and he felt him breathe, felt his hearts beat.

“I…” Penne looked up at his blood brother. “I’m alive?”

“Yes, you are,” Chrístõ said, tears of joy pricking his eyes. “And you’re a good looking man.” Chrístõ laughed as he looked at the same face he had always known. His own face, though his hair was long again, as it was when they first met. Chrístõ ran his hands through the thick black curls and touched the smooth, flawless skin of Penne’s face. Given the random nature of regeneration it was something of a miracle. On top of the miracle they already had by him being alive at all.

“Penne…” Cirena cried, reaching out and taking him in her arms as Chrístõ stood up. He turned and Julia ran to him, Cassie and Bo pressed close and hugged him, too. Terry and Sammie stood back and just nodded to him in the way of friends who understood each other. He looked at his father and at Valena.

He knew it was her, because of her psychic resonance. But she had regenerated. She was a little taller, a little slimmer, a few years younger looking, perhaps. She had green eyes now, and flaming red hair.

“You… you regenerated?” he said. “You were hurt so badly? I’m so sorry about that.”

“I’m alive,” she told him. “That’s all that matters.”

“You…” He turned to Kohbran. “You knew the combination of the deadlock seal. You must have been involved….” His face was angry and Kohb shrank back instinctively.

“HE was used,” Julia said, speaking up for him. “The one who wanted to kill you, Chrístõ… he used Kohb… that’s his name… Kohb. He used him. But Kohb knew it was wrong. He tried to stop him. He was hurt, too. But he helped me escape and get to you… He did the right thing. Don’t punish him, please.”

“That’s the truth, Chrístõ,” Valena said. “He tried to stop him and he was stabbed.”

“Who is he?” The Ambassador asked. “Who did this, and why?”

Kohbran told them his name. They all knew the WHY now.

“Take me to him,” Chrístõ said as he stood and helped Penne to stand with him. He was shaken, but he looked fine. And Cirena clearly had no plans to let him go. His father turned to Valena and said something to her. She touched his hand and then went and stood by Julia, holding her back from following Chrístõ as he left with his father and two of the guards.

“He will have to be brought back to Gallifrey,” The Ambassador said. “He must be tried by our laws.”

“Two counts of attempted murder…”

“He will be sent to Shada.”

Chrístõ and his father both shuddered. Neither of them had ever been to the prison planet but they knew it was regarded as a fate worse than the instant and painless death of the atomising chamber.

“He deserves it,” Chrístõ said. “And I never thought I would say that about anyone.”

“Oh no….” The Ambassador stopped and looked at the open door and the two dead sentries.

“He got away!”

 

“Epsilon got clean away,” Chrístõ sighed. “There were at least two ships that entered hyperspace before we could close the spaceport. He would have been on one of them.”

“He’ll be caught,” Penne assured him. “Your father tells me that your own people are searching for his TARDIS. The universe is not such a big place that he can avoid capture for long.”

“I wish it was a bigger place. Big enough for me never to set eyes on him again.” He sank into the warm water of the bath Penne insisted they share on the morning of his wedding. “Are you really all right, brother?” he asked. “You went through a dreadful ordeal.”

“I am all right. But… I... can’t regenerate now….”

“It took all twelve lives just to keep you alive. It’s not fair. I know but… if you look after yourself, you can still live to as much as a 1,000 years. Time enough to take care of your people. Time enough to get married to Cirena, produce an heir and teach him to be a good ruler after you. You’re alive, Penne, that’s what matters most.”

“Yes. I’ve decided to be lenient with Kohb, by the way,” he added. “His only crime was being used by Epsilon… Rõgæn whatever you call him. And he did redeem himself in the end.”

“I’m glad of that. One less life ruined by Epsilon’s murderous schemes. Poor Valena. She went through nearly as bad an ordeal as you.”

“Is that a friendly feeling towards your stepmother?” Penne smiled.

“Julia likes her. That’s a point in her favour. But… I have only one mother. She sleeps in my mind. She always will. And Penne, you’re the only brother I can ever acknowledge. Valena has to understand that. Even if I can be friends with her, I will never call her mother. I will never call her son brother.”

“You’re a Time Lord, Chrístõ,” Penne reminded him. “Never is a long time.”