It had never happened before. It just didn’t happen. The Lord High President might visit the great academies for graduation ceremonies and inauguration of the Chancellor, but he didn’t visit ordinary little schools for the children of Caretakers.

“Well, perhaps it is well overdue for him to start,” was Marion’s response to those who expressed amazement at the idea. “He is President of all Gallifreyans, not just the rich ones.”

“Quite right,” agreed Thedera de Máscantaen, Kristoph’s aunt, and patron of the Lœngbærrow estate school. “When Moony was President I always reminded him of that.”

Marion smiled at the pet name that Thedera always used for the former Lord de Lœngbærrow, who had held the post of President when Kristoph was a young man. That was several thousand years ago and his term of office was two centuries. Marion tried not to think of that, though. It was a bit too mind-boggling. And it made it even more difficult to think of that grand, dignified old man as somebody called ‘Moony’.

“He is only coming because his wife insisted,” Marion said. “I had lunch with her two weeks ago and I was talking about my work with the children. She was interested, of course. And she suggested coming to see the school. I think she meant in a casual, friendly kind of way. But the whole thing escalated.”

She frowned as she looked out of the classroom window at the Chancellery Guards in their bright red and gold uniforms standing to attention all around the building. And they were just the visible sign of the security procedures. She glanced towards the village hall, the second tallest building after the school itself. She could see dark clad men on the roof. There were some on the school roof, too. It bewildered her that a man as pleasant as the incumbent president of Gallifrey should need so much security. Who would hate him so much?

“People who think he is too pleasant and who would prefer a hardliner as leader of the Gallifreyan people,” Thedera whispered. Marion was still surprised when she realised that her friends could read her thoughts. But she didn’t mind so much when it was a thought she would have expressed out loud anyway.

“The next President is not likely to please them, either, then,” she said. Then she realised she probably shouldn’t have said that and tried not to think of Lord and Lady Stillhaeven.

Thedera smiled.

“I didn’t know the choice had been made,” she commented. “And I did think my own dear nephew was a more likely choice.”

“Kristoph has ruled himself out of the nominations,” Marion told her.

“A pity. He would have made a good President.”

“I’m sure he will, one day,” Marion answered. “But not with me as his First Lady. That would not please those hard-liners, either. I know the sort of people you mean. The ones who would keep Gallifrey as a closed up society, shunning the rest of the universe, and regarding people like me as unwanted aliens.”

“Yes.” Thedera was forthright about it. There was no point in trying to be anything else. Marion knew the facts as well as anyone. “Although, of course, his former profession and his reputation for no-nonsense politics would settle them down a bit.”

“But he has said no,” Marion reminded her. “There is no chance of it happening, now.”

“A pity, all the same,” Thedera repeated. “Anyway, we should go and take our places. The presidential transport will be arriving very soon.”

Marion walked with Thedera out of the empty classroom and out onto the steps where the headmistress, Madam Malcuss, was already waiting with two of the senior teachers. She looked nervous. This was a proud moment for her. But a daunting one, too.

“Lord Gyes is a very nice man,” Marion assured her. “There is nothing to be afraid of.” But she realised that wasn't very reassuring after all. It just reminded Madam Malcuss that Marion was a person who knew the President by name. Most people called him ‘Excellency’. The social gulf between the headmistress of the school and her kindergarten teacher widened a little. Marion wished it hadn’t. She was, after all, only Lady de Lœngbærrow by marriage. She was born just as humbly as anyone in this village.

There was a clatter of ceremonial swords as the Chancellery guards all came to attention. On the rooftop there was a mere flicker of movement as the snipers took up position. Then the presidential transport hovered down from the sky and landed in front of the school. Marion heard Madam Malcuss take a deep breath as the Lord High President, Attis Gyes, and his wife, Lady Bellira Gyes, stepped out, flanked by Chancellery Guard officers in their high plumed helmets and extra shiny breastplates.

Thedera, as the school patron made the formal introductions. Madam Malcuss curtseyed very carefully to the President and First Lady. Marion curtseyed, too, though she had often been their dinner guest and they had come to dinner at Mount Lœng House. It seemed the right thing to do on this occasion.

“The students have prepared for your visit,” Madam Malcuss managed to say as she led the VIP guests into the school.

“Oh, but they didn’t have to,” Lady Gyes said. “We would have been happy to see them in their classrooms doing their usual lessons.”

That had, of course, been the idea when she and Marion talked about it. But the simple plan had grown. Now they entered the school assembly hall and as one the neatly dressed school cohort rose to their feet. They were aged from twenty years of age down to four. The most senior of them were hoping to be accepted in one of the Academies with scholarships and bursaries in a few months. The youngest were just beginning the training that would lead them to that goal.

There was a musical cord from the electronic piano by the stage and the students began to sing the Presidential Anthem, a short but rousing tune that expressed the majesty and dignity of office. As they did so, the President and his wife mounted the stage and stood by the two chairs set out for them. Madam Malcuss and Lady Thedera stood with them. Marion took her place with her kindergarten class, as did the other teachers.

The Presidential Anthem came to a rousing end and there was a very brief pause before another tune began. This was the Gallifreyan National Anthem. Gallifrey, as Marion had often noted, was far from an equal society. The Caretakers of this school were the lowest class of citizens. But they were proud to be Gallifreyan. They sang their anthem happily, with their hands upon their left hearts. The President and his wife did the same. For the length of that anthem they were equals, united in that national pride.

When it was over, the President smiled warmly at them all and told them to sit. The older students sat on chairs. The younger ones sat cross-legged on a mat in front of them, looking up with awe-struck wonder at the most powerful man on their planet. He glanced down at them and smiled especially warmly at the little ones. This didn’t leave them any less awe-struck, but some of them managed to smile back.

He made a short speech in which he praised their efforts to get the best possible education they could get. He talked about ambition. He knew they all had ambitions and he shared each and every one of them and hoped they would achieve them. He said he knew there were many obstacles to every dream. But for those with determination to surmount those obstacles, there would be rewards at the end. He promised them as much.

Marion looked at the faces of some of the older students. They believed what he was telling them. But they knew only too well that the obstacles were huge. Most of them aspired to become Time Lords. That meant graduating from one of the academies. And that was a long, difficult process. No Caretaker had ever achieved it, yet. The odds were stacked against them. But the President was encouraging them to try.

Of course, by the time they were at the Academy, he wouldn’t be president any more. And who knows who would be in charge by the time they came to graduate. Marion tried not to think that it would be nearly two hundred years away and she wouldn’t be around to see it. But she had helped most of them prepare for their entry exams and she, too, shared their hopes and ambitions.

He concluded his speech and there was a polite round of applause as he took his seat. Then a group of the older students came forward and performed a piece of drama based on the story of one of the President’s own ancestors, a man called Lorenzo Gyes, who many thousands of years before had discovered that the second moon of Gallifrey was unstable and was going to explode. He had, at first, been disbelieved and nobody took any notice. But finally, almost at the last minute, he persuaded people who lived in a certain part of the planet that they had to evacuate before burning meteorites came falling through the atmosphere. Most of the really big pieces of the damaged moon had landed in the unpopulated middle of the red desert, in an area that became known as ‘Dark Territory’ because of the strange magnetised rocks buried deep in the soil. Some of them fell in other places, though. The great lake called the Caldera was formed by one large piece that fell. Another was alleged to have destroyed the last land link between the northern and southern continent, a three mile wide and fifty mile long spur called Arcalian’s Bootlace. From then on there were two separate landmasses that gradually moved further apart through the natural forces of continental drift.

But thanks to the courage of Lorenzo Gyes, only a few foolish people who ignored the warnings lost their lives. He was hailed as a hero and the name of Gyes was honoured for generations.

The President himself led the applause as the play ended. Then he listened to a choir made up of the children of the middle school singing patriotic songs, and a shorter play by the infants and kindergarten children based on a poem composed by young Genessa, the poet of Marion’s class. The play was about a magical place where a waterfall turned objects to stone.

“Such imagination,” said Bellira Gyes later when the formal presentation was over and the President and his wife talked with the teachers of the school. “A petrifying waterfall! Amazing.”

Marion smiled and wondered whether to explain that such a thing really did exist and her students had seen it with their own eyes on their recent field trip. But she felt slightly at a loss to explain the phenomena to the President’s wife. It felt like something magical and not quite real from this distance.

“It just goes to show,” the First Lady continued. “We really must take more care for the needs of these children. This is a model school, showing what can be done by those prepared to make the effort. We should have more like it.”

“On Earth,” Marion said. “At least the part I come from, and many other parts, schools are provided by the government and children are educated for free. They don’t have to depend on a generous estate owner like Kristoph to provide for them.”

“It would take some persuading to make the High Council agree to publicly funded education for Caretakers,” The President said. He smiled at Marion. “Change comes slow on Gallifrey. One thing at a time. For now, be glad that you are doing your small part here at this fine school. Others may well follow your example.”

“I hope so,” she answered. She wasn’t sure that would happen. Gallifrey was a difficult place to make good things happen. But she was proud of her own efforts. She was proud of her students, and especially of their efforts to impress her friends the President and his wife.