Marion was enjoying one of her mornings teaching at the Estate school. Her students were preparing for the vernal equinox festival with songs and recitations that they had practiced until they knew them by heart. It had been a happy experience so far. It was exactly the sort of day she had hoped to enjoy when she first decided she wanted to be a teacher and went to the training college on Earth. Of course, there was hard work for her and for her students, but it was hard work that they all enjoyed, and the time went by pleasantly.

They stopped mid-morning for cúl nut milk and biscuits. Marion drank the delicious, ice cold milk with her young students and looked forward to the second half of the morning. After lunch, she was meeting Kristoph in Athenica. He was attending a State Ceremony at the Hall of Justice. As Lord High President he was there to hear the Magisters and Inquisitors of the Southern Circuit renew their oaths of allegiance to Gallifrey and to the High Council. It was an excuse, of course, for them all to parade in front of the public service broadcasting cameras. Afterwards there was a banquet at which she, as First Lady, would wear an elegant gown that wouldn’t come close to Kristoph’s regalia for magnificence.

But for now she was a teacher and happily so. She was looking no further than reading a book to the children. She took the book out of her desk and read the first page to herself. It was a book she had liked when she was a child. It was one she had come to love all over again when she came to Mount Lœng House. The Secret Garden, a story of rich but unhappy people brought together in hope through a rose garden and the power of nature itself, appealed to her in a new way when she came to own her own beautiful rose garden. She wasn’t quite sure how it would go down with her students. Some of it might seem incomprehensible to them. But they had grasped the complexities of the Narnia stories and Watership Down, and even The Hobbit. Perhaps they would understand more than she thought they would.

“Come and sit down now,” she called to them and they came and gathered on the big rug by the wide window that looked out over the southern plain. It was sunny and the yellow sky was clear. She could see Melchus Bluff as a mere smudge on the horizon and a little closer, the cluster of buildings that was the gold mine where most of the men of the town worked. There were silver mines and diamonds on the plain, too, all part of the Lœngbærrow demesne, source of the family wealth. Marion had never seen the others, though. This one, a mile distant from the town was the one she knew most about from the children of the miners who she taught. She knew all about the miles of tunnels below the ground, some of them actually running under the town itself, deep, deep below, and the ore that came up every day to be smelted into bars of pure gold.

The workers never owned any of the gold. But they had good homes and free health care and education. They were content. And so were their children who looked to Marion for a story to pass the hour before lunch.

She turned from the view and sat comfortably on the padded window seat. She opened the book and began to read.

“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.

It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression. Her hair was yellow, and her face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been ill in one way or another. Her father had held a position under the English Government and had always been busy and ill himself, and her mother had been a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and amuse herself with gay people....”

Of course, she immediately had to explain to the children about India and the difference between English people such as herself and the Indian people under British rule. That proved simpler than she expected. The children of Caretakers understood fully about castes and class distinctions, about servants and masters. And because they were Gallifreyan children with some unique abilities, Marion only had to picture in her mind a white Memsahib in her colonial home with native servants for them to produce holographic images in the very air that illustrated the story fully.

“This story isn’t really about that sort of thing, though,” she told them. “It’s about a garden and two children who find happiness there.” Then she considered the plot more fully and realised that, in fact, it was all about that sort of thing. The two children who belonged to the big house with the gardens were inextricably linked with the servants and working class people around them.

It WAS about people like them. They were the servant class and she was the lady of the manor.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good story to read to you, after all,” she thought aloud. “When I was a little girl I thought it was really nice, being all about roses and gardens and sad, lonely people finding happiness. But maybe there’s more to it than that.”

But the children wanted to know more and she went on reading.

“....When Mary was born she handed her over to the care of an Ayah, who was made to understand that if she wished to please the Mem Sahib she must keep the child out of sight as much as possible. So when she was a sickly, fretful, ugly little baby she was kept out of the way, and when she became a sickly, fretful, toddling thing she was kept out of the way also. She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived.... The young English governess who came to teach her to read and write disliked her so much that she gave up her place in three months, and when other governesses came to try to fill it they always went away in a shorter time than the first one. So if Mary had not chosen to really want to know how to read books she would never have learned her letters at all...”

Marion stopped reading, not because there were any questions this time, but because she found it difficult to read the words. They seemed to be blurred. She moved the book closer to her face, but that didn’t help. She put it on her knee and her knee was shaking. She looked around and saw the plants in the pots on the windowsill trembling and then the books on the bookshelf shuddered and the pots of pencils and paints below them rattled. The children clung to each other in fright as the whole room shook.

Marion turned quickly and looked out of the window. She saw a plume of smoke coming from the pithead a mile away. Then she turned back quickly.

“Children, get up, quickly. Move away from here... get away from the window.”

She ran with them to the far end of the classroom and told them to get down on the floor. She crouched with them, covering her face moments before the big window shattered. The window seat where she had been sitting and the big rug in front of it were covered with dangerous shards of glass. If they had been sitting there, still, they would all have been cut badly.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The shaking continued. The room, the whole school, was being shaken to pieces. There was a terrible crashing noise as if the roof above them was collapsing. Marion told the children to get under their work tables. They did so quickly. She crawled under one of the tables with two of the children, trying to make herself as small as possible and hoping that the tables were strong enough to protect them when the ceiling gave in and the whole of the upper floor crashed down onto them.

And perhaps they would have been if the floor hadn’t given way as well. Marion screamed out loud and clung to the two children closest to her as they found themselves falling through the empty space beneath the wooden floor that had proved disturbingly insubstantial. She tried to protect them as they landed on rubble in the crawl space beneath the school and rubble and debris, concrete, wood, dust and plaster, fell on top of them. Marion felt two small hands still in hers before a lump of something hard connected with her head. There was a brief pain before she passed out.

In his old Chief Magister’s office in the Halls of Justice, in the city of Athenica, Kristoph was putting on his robes of state, helped by the newly appointed Gold Usher and one of the Presidential Guards. He stood patiently as the heavy Sash of Rassilon, made of panels of solid gold, was placed around his shoulders. That and a high collar were an almost intolerable weight upon him. He wondered why Lord High Presidents didn’t suffer permanent back injuries by the end of their terms of office. But he was proud to wear it, all the same. He stood proudly as the final touches were made to his regalia.

His preparations were disturbed by the sudden arrival of the Premier Cardinal with a distressed expression on his face. Kristoph knew even before he spoke that something was very wrong.

“Excellency, there has been an accident. A terrible accident... An explosion in the south deltic mine.”

“How many men?” Kristoph asked. “How many got out safely?”

“We have no figures, yet,” the Premier Cardinal answered. “But there could be many dead. The explosion ripped through the tunnels, collapsing sections for many miles underground. We don’t even know yet the full extent...”

Kristoph was already lifting the collar from his shoulders and tugging at the Sash of Rassilon.

“Get me a phone. I need to call my wife. She’s in the town. She will be concerned. Have a car ready for me. I’m going there at once.”

“You’re going to the mine, Excellency?” The Premier Cardinal was surprised by that.

“Of course I’m going. It’s MY mine... the family property... on our land. I’m responsible for the lives of those men. Sweet Mother of Chaos, I’ve been shown geological reports every week. There was never any sign of structural weaknesses. What could have caused such a thing? If there is any fault of mine... if I’ve overlooked some safety measure that could have been in place...”

“Excellency...” The Premier Cardinal said again. “It might be better if...”

“Get my car ready,” Kristoph said, ignoring his protests. He had rid himself of enough of the heavy regalia to walk at speed, now. He left the chambers and turned towards the turbo lift to the rooftop car park. The Presidential Guard hurried to form a protection detail that followed in his wake. On the roof, there was a confusion as the President’s car took off straight away without an escort. The entourage had to hurry to catch up.

“I can’t get through to Marion,” Kristoph complained as he sat in the back of the Presidential limousine and tried once more to dial his wife’s number. “There isn’t a spot on this planet, not even in the high mountains or the deepest valleys that there isn’t telephonic reception. But I can’t reach my wife less than four hundred miles away on the Southern Plain.”

“It is possible the ground relay is damaged, Excellency,” said his driver. “I understand there was a severe earth tremor after the initial explosion.”

“How severe?” Kristoph demanded. “What about the town itself? Is my wife safe?”

“Excellency....” The driver was listening to an audio message. Then he directed Kristoph to the videoscreen in the back of the limousine. It was receiving satellite images of the affected area of the Southern Plain.

Even a close up view of the pithead showed nothing but billowing smoke. There was no way of knowing who was alive or dead beneath it. Infra red overlays showed sporadic fires. Another overlay indicated where shockwaves had spread through the tunnels deep below ground.

One of those tunnels, long depleted of ore, ran under the edge of the town. Kristoph groaned as he saw the pattern of shockwaves running through it. And when the satellite picture showed the damage to the town he was horrified.

“The school!” he exclaimed. “Marion.... she’s at the school.”

The satellite view of the school showed nothing but smoking debris.

Marion could be dead or injured in those ruins.

Hundreds of men could be dead or injured in the mine.

“Take me to the school,” he said to his driver.