“This is the place,” Julia said as the TARDIS materialised. She looked at the viewscreen which showed a rather impressive late 20th century building. “Cardiff International Arena. Venue for the UK Under 16s Gymnastics championships, 2014”

“Do you realise that if you win this competition, nearly 300 years before you were born, it is a paradox.”

“I’m not intending to win the WHOLE competition. The main prize is for teams anyway. I want to enter some of the individual events. Just to see if I’m up to standard after not having anyone to practice with.”

“You’ll win everything you enter,” Chrístõ assured her with an indulgent smile. Though if he was honest he didn’t know enough about gymnastics to say for certain. He thought she looked absolutely beautiful when she performed on the asymmetric bar and the beam.

But then again he was rather biased.

“Come on then,” he said. “Let’s get you signed up.”

Signing her up was easier said than done. It took a great deal of Chrístõ’s Power of Suggestion to persuade the woman at the desk in the foyer that he was a bone fide, accredited gymnastics coach and that his trainee WAS entered in the individual Bar, Beam and Floor competitions. The paperwork was somehow found and Julia Sommers, born April 3rd, 2002, was duly entered for the Under-14s events and went to get ready for a practice session in the main hall.

Christo never tired of watching her perform. Neither did Natalie. Both tended to take rather more credit than they were entitled to for her skill and beauty as she bent her lithe body into shapes and positions they could hardly believe possible. And as far as either of them could see there was nobody else practicing who looked any more skilful than she did.

“She’s so beautiful,” Chrístõ smiled proudly as he watched her practice her floor exercises. “And she’s mine. My beautiful future wife.”

“What if she’s not beautiful when she grows up?” Natalie said. “Will you still love her?”

“Yes,” he replied but maybe too quickly. Natalie looked unconvinced.

“I was pretty when I was twelve. But by the time I was seventeen I was just the fat girl in the corner with no date. Been that ever since. Handsome boys like you don’t even look at people like me. You see straight through us as if we’re not even there. We… at best get called great troopers, helpful, friendly, lovely personality… but the handsome boys don’t look for personality.”

“I do,” Chrístõ protested. “What I loved first about Julia… her courage when she helped me defeat the vampyres.”

“You might be the exception, Chrístõ. You’ve always been kind to me. But I wonder… if you’d seen me at my school prom – would you have danced with me?”

“Why would I have been at your school prom?” Chrístõ asked, mainly because he didn’t want to answer the question. Because she was right. At the formal balls they had at the Prydonian Academy and the diplomatic functions he attended with his father he was never short of dance partners. Pretty girls flocked around the good-looking son of the former Lord High President while their parents considered whether his half-blood could be set against the advantages of linking their daughters with the House of Lœngbærrow. If there were dumpy wallflowers sitting miserably in the corner he never knew. He never saw those corners. But even if he had, no, he probably wouldn’t have asked those girls to dance.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He looked at her. She was crying as she reflected on a loveless life that was never going to change now. He felt like a heel. He felt he WAS the handsome boy of her prom year, with the prom queen at his side, breaking the hearts of those who didn’t measure up to the perception of beauty and perfection. He felt he was all of the men who had been cruel to her, all those who had sniggered behind her back, who had treated her as less than a woman all her life, who had let doors close in her face when they would have held them open for a pretty woman.

“Natalie,” he said and embraced her in his arms. He put his hand on her brow and he closed his own eyes in concentration.

And they were there. It WAS her graduation ball. She was seventeen, she was a fat girl, in a dress that didn’t suit her, because it was a larger size of a dress meant to look good on a thin girl. She had too much make up on. Her hair was over-elaborately done to try to accentuate some part of her that wasn’t unattractive. Even her feet seemed too large in the ‘court’ shoes and she really couldn’t walk in them, let alone dance.

“Natalie," he said, and he took her hand. He was the prom king, the most popular, most handsome. All the girls wanted to be by his side. All the boys wanted to be him. It was the last dance of the evening, the romantic one. And he took Natalie out on the floor. The other girls all looked on in envy as he took her in his arms. The spotlight turned on them and the smile in her eyes seemed to be heightened in its light. He had chosen her out of all the girls. She was the one he thought most beautiful, most charming. He danced close to her, so that she could feel his hearts beating. Her arms were around his neck and his around her shoulders, pressing her near. She had to look up to see his face, for he was so tall, but when she did he was smiling lovingly at her, driving out the fear that any moment, with the spotlight on her, she was going to trip over the hem of her dress and make a laughing stock of herself in front of them all. He made her feel beautiful and graceful. And as the dance ended he bent his head and inclined hers up to meet him and he kissed her the way she had always longed to be kissed.

Natalie opened her eyes and found herself in Chrístõ’s arms, and he WAS kissing her, the way she had wanted to be kissed when she was seventeen. She savoured the feel of his lips on hers, his hand on her cheek, the other around her neck pressing her to him. She wished it would go on forever. But it couldn’t.

“Natalie, you are beautiful. And don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise,” he said when at last they broke apart.

“Oh,” She burst into fresh tears. After forty-five years of loveless life, the brief moment of feeling loved and wanted overwhelmed her. “That felt so real… the dance… being held so sweetly… the kiss. No, it couldn’t have happened. That’s not how the prom went.”

“Yes, it DID,” Chrístõ said. “That’s how you remember it, isn’t it?”

“No. I remember….” She stopped. She remembered being the happiest girl at the prom, dancing the last dance with the most handsome, the most popular boy in the school, and him kissing her in front of everyone, so that they had no doubt he loved her above every other girl in the school. “Oh!”

“That’s your memory now, Natalie. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.”

“I won’t,” she said, smiling and blushing and crying at the same time. Chrístõ….” She stopped and took a deep breath. “Chrístõdavõreendiamönd-haertmallõupdracœ-firedelunmiancuimhne de Lœngbærrow, I don’t believe you are a man at all. I think you are an angel.”

“I’m a man, Natalie, believe it. And YOU are a woman, a very lovely woman who I am privileged to know. And I shall ALWAYS remember you.”

“It’s not fair. I am going to die just as I found the perfect man.”

“We’ll always BE perfect. Life won’t sour it or disappoint us.” He kissed her again, this time on the cheek. “I love you, Natalie Beech.”

Julia came running breathlessly then and he caught her up in his arms and she sat on his knee, talking excitedly. Natalie smiled. What had passed between them WAS just a moment. He did it out of his limitless compassion for others, rather than because he truly loved her in that way. She knew that. She had no illusions that she and Chrístõ could be an ‘item’. But he did it, also, because he loved her in a different way – the love of a friend. If he had not loved her THAT way, he could not have cared enough to make her feel loved the OTHER way. She smiled and told herself not to be so daft. That made no sense. It didn’t in words. But in her head, it did. And she still had the memory of dancing with the most handsome man in the school at her prom.

Natalie smiled, satisfied at her own brief love life and looked at Chrístõ and Julia as he hugged her close and kissed her cheek tenderly. As peculiar as that relationship was, she thought it WAS a beautiful one. She knew that, no matter what, Chrístõ would love Julia without condition. Even if she was the most beautiful woman in the universe on her wedding day – and Natalie thought she probably would be – one day she would be 50, 60, 70, and her beauty would have faded. But she knew for certain Chrístõ’s love for her wouldn’t have. Julia was a lucky woman, Natalie thought without any envy or jealousy. She had her one perfect memory to warm her. Not the prom, though that was wonderful, but opening her eyes as the dream faded and finding herself, dumpy, old, dying Natalie, who messed everything up, being kissed – really kissed - by the most wonderful man in the universe.

“Were you watching?” Julia asked as Natalie brought herself back to the present moment.

“Yes, I was. You looked beautiful out there,” Chrístõ assured her. “The best.”

“Not technically best,” Julia answered. “That would be that girl, there. She is SO exact in her movements. She is perfect.”

They watched as a girl in a black leotard with a diagonal silver stripe across the front of it prepared to go onto the practice floor. She stepped light as a feather onto the performance area and began a routine of what Chrístõ and Natalie, lacking the vocabulary, habitually teased Julia by calling ‘fancy cartwheels’. But even they could see that the girl was good. And they listened as Julia explained how each of her moves was so technically perfect.

“She lacks style though,” Julia added as the girl finished her routine. “It all looks rather mechanical at the moment. As if she is just going through one set movement after the other. She would lose points for that. It should flow, like ballet. And at this level she should have some individuality about her.”

“Is this girl only twelve years old?” Chrístõ teased. But he knew Julia had loved gymnastics since she could walk and her parents had encouraged her. Until disaster had struck on board the Starship she was travelling to her new home in she practiced daily in the gym there and she never missed practice in the TARDIS unless they were mixed up in some adventure that kept them away from it for more than a day.

“She is perfectly right,” a voice said and a woman moved beside them. “You are not this young lady’s trainer, I take it, since you don’t have any technical knowledge.”

“No,” Chrístõ said. “Julia is my sister. I am here as her chaperone. Natalie here is her legal guardian and private teacher for everything not sports-related. Her trainer is ill.”

“That’s unfortunate,” the woman said. “I am Belinda Martin. I have a team entered in the competition. They’re warming up over there. But I couldn’t help overhearing what Julia said just now, and I was thinking the same thing. Julia… would you like to show your brother your routine again and I could explain the difference to him.”

Julie dropped the wrap she put around herself while cooling down and ran lightly to the practice floor. She performed a routine of ‘fancy cartwheels’ that Miss Martin explained was nearly as technically perfect as the girl who had gone before, but Julia had a style of her own. Her movements between the set exercises the judges marked were fluid and balletic and she had her own style of moving.

“She does ballet?” Miss Martin guessed. “I’m thinking Firebird.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ was surprised. “You can tell these things?”

“Oh yes. And so will the judges. Your sister ought to score much higher than that other young lady because she will make up technical points lost by having a very beautiful style and expression.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” Chrístõ said as Julia came back to his side flushed from the exercise. He put her wrap around her and asked if she was done yet.

“I need to practice my rhythmic routine,” she told him. “With the ribbons. The first heats for that and the floor exercise are this afternoon. Then the beam and asymmetric bars are this evening.”

“You’ve got a very busy day,” Chrístõ told her. “Are you sure you’re up for so much?”

“Of course I am,” she assured him. “It’s only four disciplines. Besides, look…” She took the entry card from him and ran her finger down the list of competitors in each discipline. “That girl… her name is Nadine Cole. She’s in SEVEN different events. Beam, Assymetric bar, vault, floor, Trampoline, Rhythmic, AND the demonstration only aerobic dance event.”

“What?” Miss Martin looked at her entry card and then looked around in surprise. “That is far too much for an individual entrant to take on. What is her trainer thinking of?”

“Gold medals, I imagine,” Chrístõ said. “That’s every event for women in the competition.”

“Yes. I have girls entered in all of those. But no one girl is in more than four events. Most are sticking to one or two disciplines they excel at. Their points all go towards the team result in the end. Which is what we’re hoping for.”

“Well, there is nothing in the rules,” Julia said. “But I wonder if that’s why she has so little style. She must spend so long just practising the routines.”

“She must have no LIFE beyond gymnastics,” Natalie said. “I feel sorry for her.”

“You don’t understand about ambition,” Julia told her. “Gym is LIFE for those who enjoy it.”

“But you don’t,” Natalie said. “You do other things.”

“Oh, I have ambitions, too,” Julia told her. “I’d like to win medals and feel I am the best in what I like doing. But I won’t do it all my life. After all, there was this wonderful Chinese fortune teller once who told me I would marry my prince charming when I am 23.”

“Very few ladies carry on much beyond that age anyway,” Miss Martin said. “Julia, you have the right idea. Get your gymnastics medals while you’re young and then you have the rest of your life ahead of you still. And I do hope you meet your prince charming.”

“Oh, I have already,” she said with a smile. Miss Martin laughed and wished her good luck in her chosen events and went to call her team together. As she did so, a man pushed past her rather rudely. She stumbled and called Chrístõ a sweet boy when he caught her arm and steadied her.

“Unlike him!” she added looking at the retreating back of the man. “Very rude. I’ll bet he’s a parent. These events always bring out the worst in the mummies and daddies of the ‘little darlings’.”

“He’s with Nadine,” Chrístõ noted. And they looked and saw him go up to the girl as she came off the practice beam. He said something short to her and turned. She followed him silently.

“He seems a bit cold towards her,” Miss Martin added. “Ambitious parents are usually more gushing than that.”

“He was sitting behind us when we were talking about her lack of style,” Natalie said. “I think he may be a bit upset at us.”

“Well,” Miss Martin said. “If he can’t accept fair criticism… Like I said, pushy! Well, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. We’ll see how she does in the events.”

“She was a nice lady,” Julia said when Miss Martin was out of earshot. “But I didn’t think much of that man… Nadine’s father.”

“Well, it takes all sorts,” Chrístõ noted. “Meanwhile, can we get away from gymnastics for an hour? You need to eat and have a rest period before you perform. Let’s find a restaurant.”

They may have walked away from gymnastics, but Julia was still talking about it all the way to the restaurant and all through their meal and back to the Arena again in time for Julia to warm up for her first competitive heat.

“That’s odd,” Chrístõ said as they passed through the car park at the side of the arena where he had parked the TARDIS disguised as a catering van with a discreet symbol on the side.

“What’s odd?” Natalie asked. Julia was still in the middle of a description of some technical move that made Chrístõ feel dizzy thinking about it but she stopped and looked at him.

“That van there…” He pointed to a black transit van with a silver stripe down the side that put all three of them curiously in mind of the costume worn by the earnest young Nadine earlier.

“What about it? Apart from it's parked in the staff section and doesn’t have the right sticker in the window for that?”

“There’s something… I can feel something… I thought for a moment it was another TARDIS. It’s not. But there is an energy source inside there. I can feel it.”

“Trouble?” Natalie asked. “I hope not. I thought we were just here to see Julia perform.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “But we haven’t got time right now. Julia needs to get changed and warmed up for her event.”

They carried on walking but the sound of the van door opening made Chrístõ turn and look. And he was surprised to see Nadine step out of the van, followed by her father. He turned his head away, feeling strangely that he didn’t want them to know he had seen them.

But there WAS something disturbing about that van, and he fully intended to check it out later.

Julia’s first event was Rhythmic gymnastics. Chrístõ watched carefully. He still couldn’t say what was a technically perfect routine, but he loved to watch her create what he thought was poetry in motion with a long coloured ribbon on a stick which she whirled around her body as she performed the required movements.

“The new leotard looks beautiful on her,” Natalie whispered. Chrístõ smiled. He’d had it specially made. She was the only gymnast on Earth representing Gallifrey, with the Seal of Rassilon in gold thread across the front of her leotard.

“She is very good,” another voice whispered and they turned to see Miss Martin sitting behind them. “She should qualify for the next round easily.”

And her marks certainly agreed. She came to sit with them afterwards and they watched one of Miss Martin’s girls perform a routine with a lightweight ball that she balanced while going through the moves. And then came Nadine Cole, and Julia sat up attentively and watched. After a half a minute of her routine with a long silver baton with short ribbons on one end Chrístõ noticed that Miss Martin was also watching closely.

“Wow,” Julia whispered. “SHE has improved since this morning. She has STYLE now. She’s totally different.”

“Well, maybe this is her better discipline?” Chrístõ suggested.

“Maybe,” Julia conceded doubtfully and clapped graciously as Nadine received the top marks in the event heat.

When they came to the floor routines even Chrístõ and Natalie could see the difference. Nadine went on straight after Julia and they could see that her performance now was very different.

“Ok, it's possible she is one of those people who don’t show their full talents in practice,” Julia conceded as she came to sit with them. “But I don’t get it. She is MILES different from earlier. It's like she’s done a year’s practice in the lunch break.”

“Maybe that van IS a TARDIS,” Natalie whispered. “She went off and practiced and came back.”

Chrístõ laughed at the idea and thought that it almost certainly came under one of the rules about misuse of time travel. Whatever that energy source he detected though, it WASN’T Time Lord technology.

“Perfect marks,” Julia said with disgust. “Nobody can beat her, now. But the top four go through. I’m third at the moment.”

“That’s ok then,” Chrístõ told her. “You can beat her in the next round.”

“I can’t,” Julia said with a sigh. “I’ve put my best into it as it is. I can’t do better than that.”

“You will,” Natalie told her. “You’re going to get the gold medal and we’ll be so proud of you.”

“Will you settle for silver?” she asked. “I REALLY don’t think I can beat Nadine.”

“Silver will be fine,” Chrístõ said. “I don’t want you to push yourself too far. Just for a medal. I care more about YOU. And don’t ever forget that.”

Julia came second to Nadine in the rhythmic heats and third in the floor exercises, and she was satisfied with that for now. But Chrístõ thought she DID seem intense when he took her away for tea afterwards.

“You don’t understand,” she said when Chrístõ assured her again that she didn’t have to get the top medal. “You’ve never competed for anything.”

“I’ve competed all my life,” he said. “To prove that I was equal to the full blooded students at the Academy I always had to be BETTER than them. Far and above the rest so that there could be no doubt about it. As for competitions like this… well I DID win the under 200’s Sun Ko Du competition when I was 150. I had to beat off a LOT of competition. My cousin Epsilon was up against me in the semi-final. He was very angry when I beat him. Another thing he hates me for.”

“Sore loser?” Natalie said.

“VERY sore,” Chrístõ agreed. “So whatever happens in these competitions, don’t you go holding grudges, Julia. If Nadine takes all the gold medals… well, she must have worked hard for them. And if that man is her father, then she must be a sad, lonely girl with nothing but gymnastics to think of.”

“She is, I think,” Julia agreed. “I was talking to some of the other girls in the changing room. They’ve tried to be friendly with her but every time he sees her with anyone he moves her away. It's like he doesn’t want her talking to anyone. And do you know, she doesn’t change with us. She goes out to that van.”

“That’s strange,” Natalie said. “I don’t think I’d want to get changed in the back of a van, anyway. But what is it all about?”

“Somebody thought maybe he was giving her banned drugs. But they do tests. So she’d be caught.”

“If it was that simple,” Chrístõ thought aloud. “But all the performance enhancers in the universe don’t make somebody a better gymnast in the afternoon than they were in the morning. Anyway, whatever it is, YOU are going for at least an hour’s sleep before you start all this up again this evening. You’ll be worn out otherwise.”


The evening events were almost the same pattern as before, except that, in the beam Julia came a much closer second to Nadine, failing to quite attain the full technical score, and on the asymmetric bars she came joint first with perfect tens each.

“I don’t think her father is happy about that,” Natalie commented as they watched him escort Nadine from the Arena. “Do you think he’s the sort that might hurt her for not doing the best she could.”

“Well that’s silly,” Julia said. “She DID the best she could. She got the top score possible. So did I. That’s why we were JOINT first. There was no better either of us could have done.”

“You were wonderful,” Natalie told her. “I think you WILL beat her tomorrow.”

“Not unless she makes a mistake,” Julia said. “And she doesn’t seem to do that very often.” She turned as some of the girls she had got to know in the changing rooms and waiting to perform called her name and waved as they went to their hotels for the night. She waved back cheerfully. “That’s another thing,” she sighed. “Making friends I will never be able to see again. Because I don’t even come from this century.”

“When you are done wandering around with Chrístõ and settle down you’ll make friends,” Natalie told her.

“I never want to do that,” she said. “If being with Chrístõ means not having any other friends, then I’d rather be with Chrístõ.”

“Come on,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. “Hot milk and an early night for you.”

“Cocoa,” she insisted. “Not hot milk.”

“With marshmallows?” Julia’s grin settled the question.


Natalie came to the console room after seeing Julia to bed. He was sitting in the command chair watching the viewscreen which showed the car park outside, lit by security lights. He seemed to be focussing on the black van with the silver stripe.

“Chrístõ,” she said. “Can I talk to you?”

“Of course you can.” He looked up and reached his hand out to her. She stood beside the console and he looked up at her despite his interest in the viewscreen. “What is it?”

“Julia,” she said. “Her future. Have you really thought about it?”

“Well, yes. We’re going to be married. I hope I’ll be in the diplomatic corps by then and we’ll be posted to some interesting planet….”

“Not THAT far ahead,” Natalie insisted. “I mean before then.”

“I’m looking after her. She’s fine.”

“Yes, she is, for the moment,” Natalie agreed. “She’s a lovely girl and anyone can see you’re devoted to her.”

“I love her. And she loves me.”

“Yes,” Natalie smiled indulgently. “Though I hope you don’t say that to anyone else. It might be thought inappropriate. Chrístõ… what she said earlier about having no friends because you two travel all the time… That’s ONE reason. Then you have to consider… after I’m gone…”

“Natalie… there’s no need to think of that yet…”

“Yes there is. I’m not going to be with you forever. Six months… maybe a little more. You look after me so well. I think I might beat the original estimate. But not by much. And then… Chrístõ I want you to promise me something right now. When I’m gone… When I’m not able to take care of you both… will you please find her aunt and uncle on Beta Delta IV and take her there. Let her have an ordinary life with the ballet and gymnastics and a proper school and real friends.”

“I lose you and then have to give up Julia, too?” Chrístõ looked at her sadly. “It’s a lot to ask.”

“You’re not a selfish man, Chrístõ,” She told him. “You won’t keep her with you just because YOU need her. If she is to be your wife one day, then it is better she grows up with her family. You lead a dangerous life and she shouldn’t be exposed to it. She needs to spend more time doing gymnastics and ballet and making friends her own age. She needs to learn to be a young lady who CAN be the wife of an ambassador or maybe even President of your world. Visit her, of course. Buy her presents. Court her when she is old enough. She loves you as a big brother at the moment. You need the space so that the two of you can grow in the kind of love that DOES lead to marriage.”

“Natalie…” He reached and took her hand and held it for a long time. “You’re a very special woman and you are perfectly right.” He sighed. “I am a Time Lord. And most of my friends are Humans. I am going to spend a long time losing people. It grieves me that… that you will be the first.”

“Just promise me, Chrístõ. After I’m gone…”

“I promise,” he said. “I promise you, Natalie.” Then his attention was drawn back to the black van. The door had opened and Nadine’s father stepped out of it. He took a few steps before lighting a cigarette. He smoked it quietly and then turned and went back into the van.

“That’s REALLY odd,” Natalie said. “Are the two of them staying the night in that van?”

“Apart from us, most of the contestants and their families are in hotels around Cardiff. Is it possible they can’t afford anywhere else to stay?”

“Well, that’s a NORMAL reason for their behaviour. Might even explain why they’re so stand-offish. If they don’t want to let on that they’re short of money. But so many other things seem to be odd, don’t they. What was it you said about a strange energy?”

“I felt something as I passed the van. But I’m not sure what.” He sighed. “I don’t know. I should leave it alone. It’s none of our business. These are odd people but really they are doing nothing wrong. And yet…”

“You’ve got a hunch and you think you ought to do something about it?”


“I trust your judgement, Chrístõ. Go with your instinct.”

“Well, we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Chrístõ said. “You should get your sleep too.”

“Yes.” She leaned towards him and kissed him on the cheek gently. “Goodnight, Chrístõ,” she said and disappeared into the corridor. He smiled and reached to turn down the console room lights and stretched out on the cabin bed in the corner before he put himself into a deep, slow, meditative trance for the night.


“They DID spend the night in that van,” Natalie said as she glanced back from the entrance to the Arena. Chrístõ didn’t turn to look, but viewed them in the reflection in the glass door. Nadine and her father both climbed out of the back of the van. Nadine was clearly already in her practice leotard with a coat around her. Her father spoke to her and she followed him into the Arena. Chrístõ pulled Natalie and Julia aside and let them in first. He bid them a cheerful good morning, but the man barely replied and the girl said nothing at all.

“VERY unfriendly,” Natalie said.

The morning practice sessions went well. But again Julia felt sure she could not better the performance by her nearest rival for the medal places, Nadine. She was resolved to taking second or even third place in the floor exercises with one of Miss Martin’s team competitors doing a very good performance, too.

“Miss Sommers!” As they returned to the Arena after lunch one of the competition officials called Julia. “I’m sorry, but we seem to have mislaid the sample you gave this morning for the routine testing. Can you please pop along upstairs and give another.”

“Yes, of course,” Julia said, and she skipped off quickly.

“I am thinking of making an official complaint about that,” Miss Martin said. “Yesterday they lost the sample from one of my girls the same way. I think their security is lax.”

“They do the testing in a room upstairs?” Natalie asked. “Big room with a frosted glass door and one of those locks with the keypad that needs a code to open?”

“Yes,” Miss Martin said. “I suppose it’s not a permanent laboratory. The event organisers are using it during the competition.”

“I saw Nadine’s father coming out of there yesterday,” Natalie continued. “I was looking for the toilets. And I got lost.” She paused as Chrístõ gave a knowing laugh. “Yes, I KNOW, me and my sense of direction. But anyway, I was coming along that corridor and I saw him come out of the room. He looked furtive. But I didn’t think anything of it. He hasn’t exactly been open and friendly all along.”

“He’s been in the test lab?” Miss Martin looked surprised. “But that could only mean...”

“He’s tampering with the samples,” Chrístõ surmised. “Swapping samples from a random contestant – your girl yesterday, Julia today – for Nadine’s. Maybe he is using some kind of drugs on her and he has to cover it up.”

“But that is SO illegal. If he is caught she will be banned from competing for life.”

“It's just guesswork,” Natalie said. “We can’t say anything until we know for sure.”

“Which is why I intend to have a look at that van,” Chrístõ said. “You look after Julia when she gets back. Tell her I’ll be back in time for her first event.”

With that he moved quickly, exiting the Arena by one of the firedoors that brought him directly to the car park where his TARDIS and Mr Cole’s van were both parked.

The sonic screwdriver made short work of the lock and the van door swung open. Even at a glance Chrístõ was surprised by what he saw. When he climbed in and examined it carefully he was even more startled and intrigued.

This had nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs anyway, he realised straight away.

They were right about Cole sleeping in the van. There was a low camp bed taking up floor space. But there was no bed for Nadine. Instead there was a sort of chair made of metal, with restraints for arms and legs.

And the rest of the inside of the van was one big computer; a huge server and two terminals and keyboards for data entry. A programme was running and Chrístõ reset it to the beginning and watched the monitor for a while, understanding as he did so just what it was all about.

There was a noise behind him. Chrístõ didn’t move. He could see Mr. Cole standing there in the doorway in the reflection on the monitor screen.

“So now you know?” Cole said.

“Yes, I know. Most of it anyway,” he answered. “I’m a little unclear on a few things. Like how and when and why. But I do understand WHAT you’ve done.” He could see the man approaching and he got ready to turn and grab him.

“I can’t let you continue this,” he continued calmly. “You know it’s wrong, don’t you.”

“I can’t let you STOP me,” Cole answered and Chrístõ moved just a fraction too late to prevent him grabbing a heavy wrench from the tool box near the doorway and bringing it down on his head. He felt his skull fracture and his brain concuss as he fell. He was aware as he slipped into unconsciousness of Cole dragging him out of the van. Then his brain shut down to repair itself and he didn’t know anything for a while.

When his brain decided it was safe to operate again he became aware first of all that he was in a very uncomfortable and very unpleasant smelling place. His still fuzzy brain just about identified it as an industrial size rubbish bin when he became aware of a mechanical noise and the bin he was lying in tipped up. When he opened his eyes he was looking down at the teeth of a dustbin wagon’s crushing mechanism. He grabbed the side of the bin and screamed for help as his legs dangled perilously close to being mangled. He had been told once that losing a hand or a foot wasn’t a major problem to a Time Lord. He could grow a new one in a few months. But he didn’t know ANYONE who had tried it and he didn’t want to be the first of his generation to find out how many months ‘a few months’ actually was.

“Bloody hell!” he heard somebody swear and then there was a shout for the machine to be switched off. Hands wearing industrial strength gloves reached to help him down and he thanked the bin men profusely for their timely action.

Time! He glanced at his watch. He had been unconscious for more than an hour. Brain damage always took a while to repair. He scrambled in his pocket for his wallet and rewarded his rescuers with a generous tip and apologised for holding up their work and then he ran back to the Arena car park. Cole’s van was still there. So was his TARDIS. He went to the TARDIS. He had a pressing desire to change his clothes. Somewhere near the Cardiff International Arena there must be a sushi restaurant and at least one curry house. The waste from neither made very good perfume and they did nothing for leather.

Five minutes later, dressed in a duplicate outfit and smelling faintly of lemon scented hand wash foam and sandalwood leather preservative he stopped just long enough to double check something on his database. A final piece of the puzzle slipped into place.

He should get back to the Arena now. If only because Julia would be worried. He knew Cole wouldn’t harm her. He hadn’t meant to ‘kill’ him. He remembered the man’s panicked exclamations before he blacked out. He had only intended to knock him out for a while. But of course his body went straight into repair mode with his heart and lungs near stopped and his temperature dropping rapidly, and the man was left with only one thought – how to get rid of the body.

He tried not to think what would have happened if he had been unconscious for another few minutes.


“Chrístõ!” Natalie cried out to him as he came into the Arena by the competitors entrance. “Where were you? Are you all right? We were worried about you.”

I’m all right now. Where is Julia? And where’s Cole and Nadine?”

“Julia is getting ready to go on to do her rhythmic exercise routine. Oh, Chrístõ, she’s already done the floor exercises, but she was so worried about you that she completely messed up. She came last. She was so upset.”

He looked around and saw Julia standing ready to go onto the floor when her name was called. He stepped forward a little more as she turned sadly to look back to Natalie. When she saw him her face lit up and she almost missed her cue, but when she turned back and skipped lightly into the middle of the performance floor she was smiling happily.

He waited until the end of her routine. He waited until her results were awarded and hugged her tightly as the perfect tens were displayed. As Nadine Cole stepped up to the floor she could only match the top mark and take joint first place with her.

Meanwhile, he needed to deal with Mr. Cole. He looked about and saw him standing nervously by the performance floor. One of the stewards told him he had to move away and he turned. His face paled as he saw Chrístõ but maybe there was something of relief in his expression, too. The man had not meant to be a murderer, of course.

“Come outside,” Chrístõ said. “We need to talk.”

“Yes,” Cole said. “I’ll come with you… just as long as you let her…”

“She’s fine,” Chrístõ told him. “For now, anyway.”

They walked together back outside to the car park.

“I thought…” Cole said. “I thought… How did you…”

“I’m stronger than I look,” Chrístõ answered. “But that’s not what I want to talk to you about. I’m sure you realise that.” He looked meaningfully at the black van and then at Cole. He clearly wasn’t about to volunteer any information so he took a deep breath and began to fill in the blanks himself.

“This is 2014. Even rudimentary time travel is not a possibility yet. Another fifty years into the future. 2064. By then a really smart and obsessed scientist might manage it. Especially if enough anachronistic parts wound up on Ebay. They were starting to do that even now, but the temporal mechanics knowledge was still too thin.” He looked at Cole. “I notice you’re not arguing. I’m right so far, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” he said tersely.

“The artificial intelligence technology was about ready by then, too. Computer chips were developed that really COULD learn. Artificial skin was being developed for use on burn victims. Putting the two technologies together made her a very remarkable prototype. That’s all she must be, of course. You would never be able to mass produce. This came under the same taboos as Human cloning. No Earth government will EVER licence this sort of thing.”

“I never had any intention of mass producing. I just wanted… Nadine..”

“Yes, of course you did,” Chrístõ said. And there was a note of sympathy in his voice. “I understand that. But this is completely wrong. You must know that.”

“How did you know?”

“Time travel always leaves a distinctive residue. It hangs on everyone and everything. I could almost smell it on your vehicle. And ok, so you’re from the future and you want to enter a competition in 2014. I can’t object. We came to do the same thing. But Julia is a flesh and blood child. Nadine… Really, the skin texture, the movement, it's all very remarkable. I’m guessing speech is a problem. That’s why you keep her away from the other girls. And of course you had to do something about the samples for the drug testing.”

Cole said nothing. He just nodded.

“The way you were able to train her using the computer to install the skills in her AI brain is very impressive. It didn’t fully work the first time. She had the technical skills but not the Human factor – the style. You had one heck of a busy lunchtime yesterday. ”

“When I heard your sister and that woman talking, I realised I had to fine tune the programme.”

“Well, ok, fair enough. And I think I understand. I don’t know what it is to lose a child, but I can understand your grief. Your need to recreate her. She was killed only last week. She was entered in this competition but she died before she had the chance to prove herself.”

“Not my child. Nadine wasn’t my daughter. She…”

“Of course!” Chrístõ looked at the man. He was about fifty-five years of age. Assuming his estimate of 2064 as the earliest possible development of both the time travel and the AI technology that made Cole about five years old in 2014.

“I found the obituary. Parents, Frank and Mary Cole. One younger brother. Luke, isn’t it?”

“I was always a brilliant student. Sciences came as easy to me as gymnastics were to Nadine. But my parents never noticed. They mourned Nadine till their own deaths. They always talked about how she could have made it. How there were scouts for the Olympic team at this event. How Britain would have won gold in 2016 instead of silver and bronze if Nadine had been alive.”

“So you invented a Nadine. You built an AI unit to look like her, a gymnastics champion like she was.” Chrístõ paused. “It's kind of ironic. There are parents in there who are so ambitious their children have nothing but gymnastics in their lives. You built a child that literally is a gymnastics performing machine. I think some of those parents would place an order with you right now.”

“What do you intend to do?” Cole asked.

“I don’t know,” Chrístõ said. “If you were from my world you would be in severe trouble for breaking the Laws of Time. But Earth doesn’t have any laws against it. I doubt if there are even any rules in the British Amateur Gymnastics Association against entering artificial lifeforms. Let her have this competition. But I can’t let her enter the Olympics. If the scouts approach you, you have to say no. Otherwise I WILL stop you.”

For a moment Cole looked at Chrístõ and saw a teenager in a leather jacket and wondered what he could do to prevent him doing anything. Then he looked into his eyes and saw something else that made him very, very certain that disobeying his direct order was a bad idea.

“Let’s go and watch the performances,” Chrístõ told him. Cole nodded and walked back into the Arena. Nadine was waiting silently. He touched her on the shoulder and she followed him to a seat. Chrístõ went with Julia and Natalie and sat to watch the last of the floor exercises before the afternoon break. The last of the disciplines were in the evening before the medal ceremony ended the two day event.

“One gold, two silvers,” Chrístõ said with a smile as he watched Julia receive the joint gold for Rhythmic gymnastics with Nadine, who had proved the star of the show by winning all seven of her individual competitions. When the overall individual scores were announced they were proud of Julia’s bronze. Miss Martin was delighted that one of her girls took the silver and Nadine got a standing ovation as she was awarded the gold.

Then something happened that Chrístõ had not expected. Nadine suddenly seemed to crumple and collapse in on herself. Julia and Miss Martin’s girl both reached out to stop her falling off the podium. A moment later Chrístõ was there, lifting her into his arms. Later people swore he was standing twenty yards away a moment before. He carried her to the side of the arena and told everyone to stand back, pulling out identification that told those who came close that he WAS a medic. Cole was by her side, too.

“I used a directional EMP. I killed off her brain,” he said. “I thought… easiest way. She had her glory. But now it’s over.”

Chrístõ gently took the gold medal from around her neck. Gently, yes. Because even if she wasn’t a Human life, he had enough experience of the universe’s diversity to recognise that she was a kind of life, and that life was over now. He gave the medal to Cole. He put it in his pocket along with the other seven she had won. Then Chrístõ let him pick her up and he walked with him outside. He watched him climb into the front of the van with her. Chrístõ looked around. There was a security camera that was going to have some very odd pictures if anyone looked at them. The black van started to drive away as normal and just as it reached the exit from the car park it faded away, the sound of its engines lingering just a little longer than the sight of it.

“They’re gone?” Julia asked as she came to his side.


“He killed her,” Natalie said. “I know she wasn’t really alive, but…”

“Yes. But… I understand why.”

“Julia!” Miss Martin came running towards them. “Julia, there are some people who want to talk to you. From the Olympic Committee….”

“Oh!” she said. She looked at Chrístõ. “Oh, but…”

“Please would you pass on our apologies to the committee?” Chrístõ told her. “And tell them that Julia is taking a year out from competitive gymnastics in order to concentrate on her academic work.”

Julia nodded. Miss Martin looked startled.

“But the Olympics?”

“Some of your girls were offered the chance too, weren’t they?” Chrístõ said to her.

“Why, yes. They were.”

“Then you go on and make arrangements for them and don’t you worry about us,”

“I don’t mind about the Olympics,” Julia said. “Although… I wish I could see Miss Martin’s girls win their medals. That at least would be a compensation.”

“Well, that’s not problem,” Chrístõ said. “We can do that tomorrow. 2016 Olympics. No problem. Best seats in the stadium for the opening ceremony!"