Marion parked her car in the rooftop car park of the Magistry of Southern Gallifrey in Athenica, the beautiful white city by the straits that separated the two continents. She put Rodan into her pushchair and she settled happily, clutching a doll that was wearing a matching dress to her own. Marion stood for a little while by the ornamental parapet, one hand rocking the pushchair gently. She looked out from that vantage point over the water. In the distance she could see the dome of the Capitol reflecting the midday sunlight. Beyond it the land was a deep ochre colour – the Great Red Desert. It looked beautiful from here. She didn’t really care much for the Desert close up. It was a bit too desolate. Kristoph had promised to take her for a trip across it by hovership some time, but she wasn’t sure she really wanted to.

Even the Capitol wasn’t a place she was especially fond of. She didn’t mind the Conservatory, but she always felt a visitor to the Capitol. Many of her friends had town houses there and spent at least part of their time there. But she much preferred to live in the countryside on the Southern Continent, where her home was.

The reason, of course, was that Mount Lœng House looked like an English Georgian House – although she had been told that the style was actually Post Cerulean. Even with a yellow sky above her head she didn’t feel she lived in a strange, alien place. She had adapted easily to life there.

But the Capitol, with its fantastically tall buildings, all encompassed in that great protective shield, looked exactly how she always imagined a city on another planet to look, and she never could quite get over how alien it was, even now, when she had lived here long enough to think of herself as a Gallifreyan citizen and to have embraced the culture fully.

She loved Athenica, the capital city of the southern continent. It was alien, too, in its way. The silence and the fact that there were no cars in the streets, and everyone wore robes and walked quietly, talking to each other telepathically, was unlike anything she knew on Earth. But the peace of it enchanted her, and she loved to come here for an afternoon and enjoy the museums and art galleries, or sometimes the theatre.

That was her plan for today. She was going to surprise Kristoph. He was busy here at the High Court, dispensing justice, of course. But she hoped to have lunch with him and then spend the afternoon enjoying the culture of Athenica and then they could go home together after his work was over. Kristoph’s chauffeur could take his car back while she drove him. She liked to do that. Kristoph was always so much the master of everything, but when she drove her own car and he sat in the passenger seat he deferred to her will. She would take the scenic route home, going along the coast for twenty or thirty miles. It would be quite beautiful with the sun going down to the east. Then when they reached the wide, sandy estuary of the River B?rrow she would turn inland and follow the river until they reached the Lœngbærrow estate. Maybe she would keep on going and they could go and spend the late afternoon at the Dower House with Aineytta and the former Lord de Lœngbærrow before returning home for dinner.

“Let’s go and find Kristoph,” she said to Rodan, who gurgled happily at the idea. She headed towards the lift that would bring her down to the Magister’s chambers. It was not an automatic lift. There was a liveried attendant on duty who bowed politely to the wife of the senior Magister and set the lift in motion. He knew her by sight, of course. She had come to the High Court often enough to meet Kristoph.

When she stepped out of the lift into the wide, airy corridor the guards there also bowed politely to her. They knew who she was. It was quite a heady thought, in a way. This floor was restricted to the Magisters and the clerks of court and a few other people. She was one of the few who could walk freely here without being challenged.

She found the High Magister’s chambers and opened the door to the outer office where a clerk always sat at a highly polished desk. His name was Dallan Levass, and she knew he was the younger son of a minor Newblood House. He was hoping to gain promotion within the Gallifreyan Civil Service and Kristoph thought he most probably would. He was a quick-witted young man.

“Is his Lordship in his Chamber?” she asked.

“No, your Ladyship,” he answered. “I don’t think the morning session has finished yet.”

She felt a little disappointed. But of course, the court sessions could often overrun. She hoped it wouldn’t be too long, or Kristoph wouldn’t have time to go to lunch with her.

“If you would like to wait inside…” Levass stood and opened the big oak door to the inner Chamber and held it for her. She wheeled Rodan’s pushchair into the room and steered towards the long leather sofa by the window. It had a magnificent view over the main city square with the portico of the Great Library directly opposite. She sat there and lifted Rodan out of her pushchair. She let her sit on the plush carpet and play with her doll. Presently, Levass brought a pot of herbal infusion and some biscuits. She gave one to Rodan, which proved something of a mistake. It was very crumbly, and most of it ended up in the carpet. She picked up as much of it as she could, because it didn’t seem fair to the Caretakers whose job it would be to clean the office later.

She sat and drank the herbal infusion and looked out of the window at the peaceful view for a while. But when she turned and looked the big clock on the wall showed it to be twenty five minutes past thirteen. Surely Kristoph should be finished soon?

She waited until it was nearly one in the afternoon and then stood up and looked out of the chamber.

“Is the session not finished yet?” she asked. “Surely…”

Dallan Levass immediately opened a channel to the clerk of the main court. He spoke to him briefly and then turned back to Marion.

“I’m sorry, madam,” he said. “The session finished half an hour ago. Lord de Lœngbærrow left in his car without returning to his Chamber.”

“Oh.” Marion was taken aback. “That’s… unusual, isn’t it? Is there something wrong? Did he say where he was going?”

“No, madam,” Levass replied. “I am as surprised as you are. It is very unusual for him to leave without any instructions at all.”

“Oh.” Marion sighed. “Ok, thank you very much for your help. I suppose I’d better…”

She went back to the chamber and looked around. She had sat in this room many times, but had never really had anything much to do with what went on it. She went to Kristoph’s big, highly polished desk and sat down on the comfortable leather chair. She reached out and touched the screen in front of her. It immediately came on like any computer screen. Unlike most of the computers in the High Court, it didn’t have the Seal of Rassilon as the desktop theme. Instead it had a picture of herself with Rodan sitting on her knee in a matching gown. It was one of the pictures taken at Rodan’s first birthday. Marion was pleased to see that picture. It was nice to think that Kristoph would sit here and look at it when he was working. She and their fosterling were always foremost in his thoughts.

She reached out again and touched the icon that opened Kristoph’s business diary. Today’s page immediately appeared on the screen. She was surprised. It showed him in court all through the morning, but the afternoon, up to five o’clock, had the initials VD’A written across them.

She clicked to get the next page. Again the afternoon was taken up by VD’A, whatever that was. And again the next day.

What was Kristoph doing? Even his clerk didn’t know. And he had said nothing to her about doing anything unusual this week.

What could VD’A possibly mean? She was puzzled. But whatever it was, it was important to Kristoph. He had hurried from the court to go to it.

She sighed and turned off the screen. She put Rodan back into her pushchair and wheeled her out of the chamber and back out into the corridor. It was a little busier now. The court sessions were over and clerks and secretaries and some of the magisters were around. She almost walked past Lord Dvoratre, one of Kristoph’s closest colleagues until he called out her name.

“Oh, hello,” she said, stopping in her tracks. “I…”

She wasn't sure what to say. She couldn’t find her husband and she was puzzled by his scheduled appointments. But she couldn’t really tell Lord Dvoratre that.

“The problem with this building is all the shielding that prevents the use of telepathy. But I can see from your expression that you are troubled. Would you like to come to my chamber for a moment?”

It was a kind offer. She accepted it gratefully. She liked Lord Dvoratre. He was very much of the same opinion as Kristoph about most aspects of Gallifreyan politics and Gallifreyan society in general. And he was the grandfather of her friend, Hesthor.

Indeed, as she sat and accepted a glass of iced water from him as refreshment he began by asking her about her recent trip to Minas Liumnea and she was happy to pass on the news that Hesthor was really enjoying her new life as the Vice-Consul’s wife. But then she came to the issue that was bothering her. She told him how disappointed she was that Kristoph was not here and then mentioned how she had checked his diary and found the mysterious entries for three days in a row.

Lord Dvoratre paused before answering the unasked question.

“All I know,” he said. “Is that Lord de Lœngbærrow asked me to take his afternoon sessions for these three days. Other than that, I am at a loss. He did not tell me anything about the reason for his absence. I am surprised that he did not tell you. I thought you were in his confidence about most things.”

“It must be some official business that he cannot discuss with me,” Marion concluded. “Of course, that happens a lot. He never talks about his cases until they are over and done with and sentences passed.”

“That is common with us all,” Lord Dvoratre said. “Even in private with our wives, we find it prudent not to make any kind of judgement until all the facts are known. But I must confess I don’t know what official business he has that isn’t conducted within this building. And why hasn’t he given his clerk any details of where he has gone? It is perplexing. But I don’t think it is anything you ought to worry about, Marion. And doubtless Kristoph will tell you when it is appropriate to do so.”

“Of course, he will,” Marion replied. “I am being silly, worrying so. It’s just that I was looking forward to spending a little time with him. I had it all planned and now I’m disappointed.”

Lord Dvoratre came up to the roof top car park with her and gallantly helped her to settle Rodan into her seat. He said goodbye to her and wished her a safe journey home.

She didn’t go home. After making plans for the day, going home would seem empty and dull. She drove, as she had planned to do later, along the coast to the B?rrow estuary and then followed it inland. She kept going until she reached the Dower House.

Aineytta was pleased to see her, of course. They sat in the garden near the river, with one of the maids given the sole task of watching Rodan as she played and steering her away from the tempting water’s edge. They drank what Marion regarded as the best herbal infusions on the planet. Aineytta prepared the leaves herself from the plants she grew in her herb garden.

“There’s a hint of Gris flower in this, isn’t there,” Marion said. “I recognise the taste.”

“It sharpens the mind and invigorates the body,” Aineytta told her. “My dear husband drinks it often during the day. He says he would fall asleep in the afternoon without it.”

“But he’s retired,” Marion pointed out. “He’s allowed to fall asleep in the afternoon.”

“Try telling him that,” Aineytta replied with a smile. “He is as active now as he was before Kristoph took over the management of the Estate. He still finds excuses to go off for the day discussing the price of silver ore with the mine overseers or attending the diamond auctions to ensure Lœngbærrow diamonds are fetching full price. That’s where he is today. Though he has good reason, I suppose. There is a very large and fine cut diamond being sold today. He is interested in the price it is going to fetch – and who might be interested in buying it.”

“Do you think Kristoph went with him?” Marion asked. “He cares about the estate, too. He isn’t especially interested in diamonds, except having them made up into gifts for me. But he might attend an important auction, surely?”

“I don’t know,” Aineytta admitted. “What makes you think he might?”

Marion repeated the story of her wasted journey to Athenica. Aineytta was puzzled, too. And something else, perhaps. When Marion mentioned the initials in his diary she seemed upset.

“What is it?” Marion asked. “You know something?”

“I’m not sure,” Aineytta answered her. “But, Marion, don’t you have a social diary, for noting down all the luncheons and teas and dinners you attend? I thought everyone in Gallifreyan society had one.”

“Yes, I do, of course,” she replied. She reached into her handbag and pulled out a slim postcard sized LCD screen. It was touch operated with a virtual keyboard at the bottom of the screen containing all 56 letters of the standard Gallifreyan alphabet. Aineytta took it from her hands and studied it for a little while then gave it back to her. She smiled gently.

“You write your appointments in English?”

“Yes,” Marion admitted. “I can read and write Gallifreyan, of course. But when I am writing notes for myself I always write them in English. It’s just… my little quirk, I suppose. I have macros for all the names. I type “ADL” for you, and CH for Calliope, or…”

Aineytta showed Marion her own diary. It was in Gallifreyan, but that wasn’t the only difference. Aineytta didn’t use macros to spell names in full. She used initials. Marion saw lunch with herself next week marked as MD’L. an afternoon with Lady Lily was marked LD’A.

“I know it’s silly putting you down by your initials,” Aineytta said. “As if ‘Marion’ wouldn’t be plain and simple. But that way of shortening the names is a common convention. When I was first betrothed to his Lordship, and had my first diary, Thedera taught me how to use those initials.”

“Then… VD’A….” Marion looked through Aineytta’s diary for those initials. Then her heart froze as she realised who they referred to.

“Aineytta,” she said, in a choked voice. “What reason would Kristoph have… that he can’t or won’t tell me… for spending three afternoons this week in the company of Valena d’Arpexia?”

Aineytta looked at her and bit her lip anxiously. Both of them had obviously thought the same thing.

And neither could quite believe it.