Prologue

They had left Aneth amid the tears of those who never expected to see them again, handed over to the warlike Skonnons as part of a terrible "Pact". Now, however, they were returning home in triumph, the Pact with Skonnos finally ended, their people finally free. And it was all because of Seth, Teka thought to herself as she sat beside him at the controls; he had defeated the Nimon, just as she had always known he would. She owed him her life, as did all the young Anethans who would otherwise have become the Nimon's latest victims.

The planets of Aneth and Skonnos had a long and troubled history. Long ago, the Skonnons had conquered Aneth, only for their Empire to collapse following a devastating war on Skonnos. For a while after that, the Anethans had enjoyed a life free from fear - until the day a patrol from Skonnos arrived and demanded the surrender of seven hymetusite crystals and seven teenagers. These were to serve as a "tribute" to the Nimon, a powerful horned creature which had arrived on Skonnos not long after the war ended. Threatened with being reinvaded if they did not comply, the Anethans had reluctantly done as they had been ordered. But the Skonnons had returned the next year and every subsequent year, each time demanding the same thing.

Over the years, many heartbroken Anethan parents had pleaded with their ruler, King Aigus, to save their sons and daughters. But Aigus was powerless; not even he dared stand up to the might of the Skonnon Empire, which, though a shadow of its former self, was still feared throughout Aneth. And, on the Skonnons' most recent visit, he had even been forced to surrender Teka, the young girl he had adopted as his heir since his wife had failed to produce any children. But he had recently learned that he had a son, Seth, by one of his many mistresses and had decided to send the youth to Skonnos on a mission to destroy the Nimon, including him in the tribute to avoid arousing the Skonnons' suspicions. This, he knew, was the only way the Anethans could ever be free of the Pact.

Now, returning home to Aneth aboard a commandeered Skonnon spacecraft, Seth glanced across at Teka. She believed he was a hero, as did all the other youngsters who had been part of this final tribute, but the truth was that he was nothing of the kind. He had never wanted to be a hero; that was a role forced upon him by circumstance. And he was not really Aigus's son, any more than Teka was the king's daughter.

"We're nearly home, Seth," Teka said, her words cutting through Seth's thoughts. "And just think - you're the one who saved us all!" She gestured towards the other young Anethans, three girls (Dia, Arlu and Panne) and two boys (Vando and Sedus), who had also been shipped to Skonnos as part of the Pact.

Seth was very fond of Teka, but she did seem to expect rather a lot from him; the way she spoke, anyone would think he had single-handedly defeated the Nimons. Nimons, plural - it had turned out that the Nimon on Skonnos was the spearhead for the latest planetary conquest by this race of parasitic nomads. No-one knew where the Nimons had originally come from, but, via hyperspace technology, they had roamed from planet to planet, bleeding each one dry before moving on to the next. And Teka believed that he, an ordinary teenaged boy, had been the one who had put a stop to all that.

"I think you'll find the Doctor and Romana helped a little," he told her. The Doctor and Romana were two Time Lords who had crashed their TARDIS into the ship which had been taking the Anethans to Skonnos. And it had been with their help that the Nimons had been defeated, most of them being trapped on Crinoth (the planet they had targeted before Skonnos) while those already on Skonnos were killed when the Complex which had housed the original Nimon was destroyed. If it hadn't done so already, Crinoth would shortly explode, taking all the Nimons with it.

"Maybe," Teka admitted. "But your father's got a welcoming party organised in your honour."

Seth sighed. He had agreed to join the transport to Skonnos because Aigus had convinced their people that he was the only one who could free them from the Pact, which had already resulted in many young people being sent to Skonnos, never to return. But he had had doubts about the mission from the start - after all, if none of the others who had been offered as tribute had ever returned, what hope did he have? Especially since no-one on Aneth really knew what the Nimon was like, or even how powerful it was. The only Anethans ever to get close enough to find out were those sent to Skonnos under the terms of the Pact and they were all dead, their bodies having provided sustenance for the Nimon.

Though Seth had to admit that he had helped to defeat the Nimons, as well as the Skonnons' power-hungry leader, Soldeed, he felt Teka was giving him more credit than he deserved. He was just a normal boy who had had the status of hero thrust upon him. And the fact that he had been involved in bringing down the Nimons would only add to that reputation, a reputation he would now have to spend the rest of his life trying to live up to.

Soon, a planet appeared on the viewscreen, a planet none of those on board the Skonnon craft had ever expected to see again. "Look, Seth!" Teka called, pointing to the screen, her voice filled with excitement. "That's Aneth! We've made it!"

Hearing her voice, Dia, Arlu, Panne, Vando and Sedus crowded round to see for themselves. Soon, they too were exclaiming happily over the thought of seeing their families again and even Seth, the reluctant hero, felt a small surge of excitement. But the mood was broken as a thought suddenly occured to Dia. "Wait a moment," she said. "We're in a Skonnon ship."

"So?" asked Teka.

"Well, don't you think we'd better radio ahead? We don't want to start a panic." Dia's fears were well founded; if a Skonnon craft showed up on the Anethan radar system at a time when no transport to collect the annual tribute was due, the people might fear it heralded an invasion. Though this particular ship had been painted white to make it seem less threatening, that would not show up on radar and it would appear no different from any other ship from Skonnos.

Teka nodded and pressed the switch which activated the ship's communication system. "This is Teka calling Aneth Space Control," she said into the microphone. "Seth's done it! He's defeated the Nimon! He's the hero of Aneth!"

"Message acknowledged. Where are you?" Even though this message was from a girl no-one had expected to hear from again, the man at the command post gave the standard response.

"I'm in a Skonnon spacecraft - one that's been painted white," Teka added to clarify. "Seth and the others are with me. Tell my guardian . . . Tell King Aigus we're coming home."