Marion stepped into the TARDIS console room in the outfit Kristoph had asked her to wear. He looked at her and shook his head sadly.

“I am sorry that is necessary,” he said. “Azonean etiquette is rather…”

“Backwards thinking, misogynistic,” Marion filled in the words Kristoph hesitated over.

“I was going to say proscriptive,” Kristoph responded. “But those words also fit. I AM sorry about it.”

“Even Prince Kalle with his funny ideas about women didn’t expect them to cover every inch of their flesh from head to toe.”

“That’s because he WANTED to see their flesh. I’m not sure he’s a very good example of a liberated man. Besides, I wanted you to put all that behind you. As for the Azonea… I am trying to be open minded. I have to judge fairly and impartially whether Gallifrey should have diplomatic ties with the planet. I am doing my best to think of this idea of female attire as just a cultural difference.”

The traditional Azonean gown was attractive, it had to be said. It was made of fine silk satin with rich embroidery over it. The high neckline and long sleeves were not unlike a cheongsam dress from China. Marion had several of those, some made in Imperial China by highly skilled artisan workers. They, too, represented a certain attitude to women. The tight, long skirt forced them to take small steps while a man in a wide robe could stride ahead. But the gloves and the embroidered veil which covered her whole face completed the image of a subjugated woman.

“How exactly do I eat like this?” Marion asked. “I thought there was supposed to be some kind of reception!”

“I really don’t know,” Kristoph answered. “I have never been to this planet before.”

It was a beautiful planet in many ways. As they were driven from the space port through the principal city, Azonac, Marion thought it was very striking. It was almost entirely built of pale blue marble like stone which was used to create great towers and magnificent domed edifices. It reminded her in many ways of Athenica, the quiet capital city of Gallifrey’s Southern Continent, except that it was much noisier, since the Azoneans weren’t telepathic and they had ground vehicles that made the streets busier.

“It looks like a chewing gum manufacturer’s wildest dream,” she whispered to Kristoph as they walked up the wide, sweeping steps to the entrance to the Presidential Palace. They were expected. A phalanx of guards in a darker blue uniform with lots of silver trim saluted them as they were shown the way to the President’s Chamber.

The Chamber well deserved the capital letter. It was close enough to a throne room, with a raised dais where the elected leader of the Azonean people sat on a chair that was elaborate enough to be a throne. On one side a woman dressed much as Marion was sat quietly. On the other side were two men in embroidered robes who were obviously senior members of the government. The blue uniformed guards lined the chamber on either side.

The President was a man in his late middle age with a trim beard and eyes the same shade of blue as the buildings of Azonac. Kristoph bowed to him in formal fashion. Marion curtseyed in the way he had instructed her and then stood back a few paces as Kristoph presented his formal credentials recognising him as the appointed Ambassador from Gallifrey.

“You are most welcome, Ambassador,” said the President. “We shall begin discussing the matter of trade relations at once.” He waved his hand to the woman and she stood, bowing to him before stepping towards Marion. “My consort will accompany your woman to the female quarters. She will be sent for when you require her.”

Kristoph’s expression didn’t change. He nodded his head and then turned to look at Marion. Her expression couldn’t be seen beneath the veil, but he knew she wasn’t especially happy.

“I will see you later,” he whispered as the President’s consort came to her side and two guards flanked them both.

Marion said nothing. There was no opportunity for her to speak. She turned and walked away with the other woman and their male guards. She wondered if they would stop her if she announced that she wanted to go back to the TARDIS. She wished it was a bit closer to them. It had taken nearly an hour to drive from the space port in the official car. And she doubted she would know the way back to it on her own.

But she felt that much out of sorts here in this place. She really did want to go to the TARDIS and stay there until Kristoph had finished his business here and they were ready to depart.

But she couldn’t. She had to go where the guards were going, along with the President’s consort. The women’s quarters were certainly a long way from the luxurious Presidential Chambers. They walked down a long flight of stairs and then along a wide, carpeted corridor that had guards posted every few yards. Then through a double door which also had guards on it.

Inside, Marion was immediately reminded of Prince Kalle’s seraglio. There were several dozen women there, all well dressed, and healthy looking, but with that look of being powerless to change their destiny that the wives of the prince had.

“Oh, I am NOT staying here,” she said in a weary tone. She turned and looked at the guards. “One of you take a message to my husband. I wish to return to our diplomatic craft at once.”

The guards ignored her. She repeated the message. Nothing. She turned to the President’s consort.

“What’s the matter with them?” she asked.

“They do not do the bidding of women,” replied the Consort. “You must wait here until you are summoned. Come and eat. We are well provided for.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that before,” Marion retorted. She glanced around and noted that most of the women were not wearing their veils within their quarters. She pulled her own headdress off and cast it aside.

“Why do you put up with it?” she asked. “Being treated like this?”

But there was no adequate answer to the question. They obeyed the law that had always existed that said that women must live in such a way.

She was hungry, so she ate. The food was good. But she was not happy with the situation at all.

Of course, she had never taken part in diplomatic matters with Kristoph. She was always with him simply to look attractive at his side and attend social functions. But being pushed aside as casually as this made her angry.

The President’s consort lost interest in her and wandered away to another room. Marion sat quietly and hoped that Kristoph would not take long to decide that Azonea was not a good trade partner for Gallifrey. Then they could go.

An hour passed. She was starting to feel bored when one of the women came to sit next to her.

“Do you want to see what they do to women who disobey?” she said.

“No, not especially,” Marion replied, knowing it was probably something terrible.

The woman was dressed in silk pants and a loose shirt in the style called Shalwar Kameez in India. Marion had some very nice outfits in that style herself. But she watched in horror as the woman pulled up the sleeves of her kameez and showed something that horrified her.

The woman’s arms were amputated just below the elbow, and in place of flesh and blood were rubber prosthetics that looked real until you touched them. Her hands were rubber, too. There was a sort of crude mechanical movement that allowed her to hold a spoon to eat with or to dress herself.

“That… is a punishment for disobedience?”

“I let my veil fall in front of a man who was not my husband,” the woman said. “I was punished this way, because I do not need hands to be an attentive wife in the bedroom.”

“I’m sorry,” Marion told her. “That is terrible. I will… I will…”

What could she do? If she told Kristoph, he would certainly stop the negotiations. But what would that achieve? It wouldn’t stop this abuse carrying on.

“I can help you,” she decided. “I can take you away from here. If we can get out of the palace.”

“There isn’t any way to do that,” the woman said. Then she looked around in alarm. The president’s consort was standing near to her.

“If you can help, take me, too,” she said.

“I… didn’t say anything,” Marion answered her carefully. “Besides, you said you were happy here. Why are you…”

“Nobody is happy here,” she replied. Then she pulled up her own sleeve. She, too, had a prosthetic arm. Hers looked more expensive but that was hardly a comfort. “If you promise to get us ALL away from here, then I will show you a way out of the palace.”

“All…” Marion looked around. She counted twelve women. It was just possible one or two might slip away in the streets. But not twelve.

“I have a plan,” said the President’s Consort. She outlined it to Marion.

“Why didn’t you put this plan into action before?” Marion asked. She wasn’t entirely sure it wasn’t a trap. The Consort had not seemed unhappy before.

“There was nowhere to run to. They would find us and punish us again. But you could take us away… take us to where we would never be found… Where we would be safe.”

She wasn’t sure, still. It could be a trap. But she felt she ought to try,

“All right,” she said. “Let’s do it.”

The first part of the plan was relatively easy. The two guards didn’t expect the concerted effort by the women and were easily rendered unconscious. They were bound and gagged and locked in the consort’s private boudoir while the two tallest women dressed in their uniforms. At close quarters they still looked like women, but if they didn’t talk to anyone, they might get away with it.

The rest of the women put their veils on and formed a crocodile with one soldier at front and rear. They looked as if they were being escorted perfectly properly from one part of the palace to another. The disguise held remarkably well. Even when they passed real guards, they did no more than nod in acknowledgement. None of them spoke to the women. Marion thought there was something psychological about it all. The guards saw each other in the simplest terms – as a man in a uniform. They saw the women as even less – as second class citizens beneath their veils. But the ploy worked and they reached the car pool unchallenged. There, another necessary act of violence was necessary. The president’s consort rendered her husband’s chauffer unconscious and they hid him in the boot of the official stretch limousine while Marion put on his uniform and sat in the drivers seat with one of those disguised as a guard in the passenger side. It was a tight squeeze for the other women, four each to the two long seats in the back and the rest crouching on the floor, but the back windows were tinted and the whole car was bullet proof.

Again as they drove out of the car pool the guards saw uniforms, not faces. Marion was nervous about the driving. The Azonean car operated a little bit differently to her hover car. She had to remember that the brake and accelerator were on different pedals and that the unit of speed was geths per hour. But she kept the car steady as she headed to the space port.

The security guards at the space port were a little more alert. They demanded that the driver of the limousine roll down the window and present credentials. Marion looked at the guards, then looked at the women in the back of the car.

“Hold on tight,” she said. Then she reversed a few yards, put her foot down on the accelerator and crashed the car straight through the barrier. The guards scattered, but the sound of bullets hitting the back window proved that they had quickly regrouped. Marion drove quickly along the lines of space shuttles and light craft until she reached the one that wasn’t really a shuttle at all. She stopped the car as close to the door as possible and ran to open it before calling to the others to run inside. The guards were gaining on them and bullets hit off the side of the disguised TARDIS as they reached the safety of the console room. As soon as the last woman dashed through the door Marion reached to close the door.

“Is everyone all right?” she asked. “Is anyone injured…”

Ironically the only woman who had been hit by the bullets held up her prosthetic arm and showed the holes through the plastic.

“All right,” Marion said. Then she looked around at the whole group of women. They were looking at her. They were waiting for her to say something. “This… ship… belongs to the Gallifreyan ambassador. That makes it a roving embassy of Gallifrey, and under intergalactic law nobody can touch you in here. It would be an act of war against Gallifrey if they did. So… you’re all safe.”

It didn’t sound safe. A rain of bullets were still hitting the outside of the TARDIS. Marion went to the console and made the one simple manoeuvre she knew how to do, putting the TARDIS into temporal orbit. The noise stopped. The women all relaxed a little. They looked at the viewscreen and saw their world from space. It was obviously a startling sight to a lot of them.

Marion wondered what to do next, though. She couldn’t do anything else with the TARDIS, and they couldn’t stay in temporal orbit forever.

Then the telephone rang. It took her by surprise, but when she picked up the receiver and heard Kristoph’s voice she was relieved.

He was relieved when he heard her voice. But as she explained what had happened, his voice sounded increasingly concerned.

“Marion,” he said. “Do what I tell you now, very carefully.”

He instructed her as she moved around the console and programmed the TARDIS to materialise where he was. He was in the ante-room of the President’s Chamber. There were guards with him, but as soon as the TARDIS materialised he was ready. He folded time and became a blur as he raced for the door. Marion closed it behind him and he sprinted to the console and slammed his hand down on the fast return switch.

When they were safely in temporal orbit he looked around at the group of women who stood or sat around his console room looking at him expectantly.

“Marion,” he said. “This isn’t a good idea. I SHOULD take all of these women back.”

“If you do, they’ll probably been killed. Look at what has been done to them already.”

He said nothing in answer to her. He simply went to the videophone. The women all exclaimed in fear when the President appeared on the screen looking extremely angry.

“I regret I have to recommend to the Gallifreyan High Council no trade or cultural links with Azonea as long as your government continues to support the abuse of the females of your world. I will also be recommending to our many political and trade allies that they cease trading with Azonea until clear and transparent signs of social reform are confirmed by an independent body of observers.” He paused before he continued speaking. It wasn’t long enough for the President to reply, but just long enough to get his point across. “I am also bound to report to you that a number of Azonean women have sought political asylum aboard this diplomatic vessel. You are well aware of the rules governing such requests. I am duty bound to offer them safe passage to a neutral planet. Any interference would be construed as an act of war. And you do not want to declare war on Gallifrey.”

The President was very angry. His words made that clear. But it was also clear that Kristoph was right. He had no power to take the women away again. They were free of him.

“You shouldn’t have done it this way, Marion,” he said as he set a new course through the time vortex. “When we get back to Gallifrey I am going to have to explain all of this to the High Council. They aren’t going to be pleased.”

“I’m sorry if I have got you into trouble,” she told him. “But I couldn’t leave them. I really couldn’t. They wanted to escape.”

“I will deal with the High Council,” he assured her. “WHEN we get back. We’re taking a short trip to Ventura first. My brother will arrange for the women to stay as guests of the Gallifreyan Embassy there while their case is heard by the Venturan government. They should grant them right of abode as political refugees.”

“Oh!” Marion was relieved. She had not thought that far ahead yet. She had thought vaguely of bringing them back to Gallifrey. But there were many problems with that. This seemed like a better solution. Ventura was a planet with very liberal social customs. The refugees from Azonea would be safe and happy there.

“Please let me know the next time you plan a revolution, though,” Kristoph said as he reached and embraced his wife.

“I will,” she promised.