Kristoph was trying to work in his own study on the east side of Mount Lœng House. It was the half yearly accounts for the Lœngbærrow Estate, and they were extremely complicated, the more so since there was so much expense involved in the building of the new school and other buildings damaged by the explosion. The repairs at the mine itself were an entirely different set of figures in a large file sitting on the shelf beside the desk. He would get to those later. But he would prefer not to have to think about them right now.

Not that he was worried about the amount of money it was costing. Even with the Southern Deltic mine out of action the other two mines on the estate and others he had shares in on Polarfrey and Karn were profitable. The aftermath of the disaster ate into those profits, but he was still a very rich man. These accounts told him as much as he worked through them, but it was still a job he hated doing.

But that wasn’t what made him sigh and lean back in his chair, wishing this tedious job was done and out of the way. a

It was the occasional sound of children’s voices drifting on the autumn breeze that really made him wish he was free of obligations right now.

He had steeled himself to block out the cheerful sound and buckle down to the job in hand when a ball sailed in through the open window and landed, quite by coincidence, in the waste basket by his desk.

He stood up slowly and picked up the ball. It was of Earth manufacture, being of soft red plastic. It bounced very well when he experimented with it. Of all the games played with balls on Gallifrey: Lacrosse, played with fierce rivalry amongst the Academies, Decket, which was similar to the Earth game of cricket, and one played in zero gravity rooms called Freemont, none of the balls were ever red, and they didn’t bounce.

And Gallifrey was the poorer for it in his opinion.

He opened the window and looked out, but there was no sign of anyone who might have thrown a ball into his waste-basket, and the children’s voices seemed further away, now.

He put the ball in the voluminous pocket of the informal gown that he was wearing – a far less complicated piece of clothing than he was required to wear when he was at the panopticon, or even in his previous work as a Magister. He stepped out of his study, surprising the Presidential Guard on duty outside. The Guard surprised him a little, for that matter. For an hour as he attended to the purely domestic affairs of his own House he had forgotten he was also the Lord High President and had a uniformed man outside his study door.

“You don’t have to attend upon me,” he said to the man. “I am going to the white drawing room to talk to my wife. She doesn’t like having Presidential Guards hovering.”

“I will remain here, Excellency,” the Guard replied. Kristoph crossed the hall and stepped into the white drawing room.

At once, he felt as if he had entered a different house entirely. His study was a sombre place where he used to read through case notes for trials he was presiding over as magister and where, now, he kept double deadlocked dispatch boxes containing documents that were vital to the welfare of the whole planet.

The white drawing room was bright and airy, with pictures of Marion’s home town on the light coloured walls. The furniture was simple but elegant. The French windows, open on the fine, warm, autumn afternoon, completed an easy, carefree feeling that he didn’t get in his own room.

Marion was sitting on a chair with a girl on her knee. They were reading a book together. It was Watership Down and the girl was creating holographic rabbits in the air as the story progressed. Two other children were building what he recognised as a model of the Panopticon out of coloured plastic bricks.

“Since when did we have Lego in this house?” Kristoph asked after watching the construction for a while.

“Oh, I picked up several boxes when I was in Liverpool last week,” Marion replied. “I thought the children would enjoy it. I can’t imagine why a world so technologically advanced as Gallifrey has never invented building bricks for children. It teaches them so many practical things. Those two might well turn out to be great architects in their time.”

“They well might,” Kristoph agreed. “Where are the rest of the children? I thought your school had more than three in it.”

“They’re outside having a recreation hour,” Marion answered. “You know, nobody on Gallifrey ever thought to invent rubber balls for children to play with, either. I bought some of those in Liverpool, too.”

“Rubber balls?” Kristoph smiled and leaned over to kiss his wife on the forehead, then he stepped out through the French window. The children’s voices were much louder, here. He followed the sound through the rose garden to the lawn beyond the neatly cut hedge. He stood and watched the games going on in the autumn sunshine. Four little girls were taking part in a skipping contest. He couldn’t remember skipping ropes ever being part of his childhood or that of his sisters. They must have been bought in Liverpool, too. A half dozen boys were playing catch with a blue ball that matched the one in his pocket. A movement in the trees on the edge of the lawn made him look up and he spotted several youngsters in among the greenery. Tree climbing, at least, WAS a Gallifreyan childhood pursuit. Those particular trees were younger than he was, but there were others on the far side of the house that he had climbed along with his partners in mischief, Laegen and Lee Oakdaene and Jules D’Alba. Those had been only their first adventures before they were old enough to venture out on hover trikes in the desert or attempt to climb mountains instead of trees.

Marion thought he had a deprived childhood because he never played with Lego or bounced a ball on the west patio, but he remembered it being a perfectly happy and more or less carefree time. It was a VERY long time since he was as young as these little ones, but he could remember if he tried. Outdoor games always appealed to him more than indoor ones. Once he was old enough to be let out of sight of his nursemaid he grew strong on fresh air and the acceptable risks of childhood play. He ruined plenty of clothes with mud and broke his share of bones before he was old enough to mend automatically.

Sometimes his father had come out into the garden and played with him. Not with a ball or anything like that. But he had played running games and a version of hide and seek that involved locating the hidden one by telepathy. And from a very early age, he had enjoyed staying up late with his father and going up to the roof of the east wing where a telescope was installed. He never matched his father’s interest or his knowledge of astronomy, but the sight of distant stars and planets probably woke the yearning to travel that was at the heart of many of his career choices.

Perhaps if his father had bought him enough boxes of Lego to recreate the Panopticon in scale model he might have stayed at home and got into far less danger.

But he doubted that. The blood of adventurers flowed in his veins even if it had skipped his father’s generation.

He stepped forward and brought the red ball from his pocket. He turned it several times, feeling the weight and judging the force necessary to throw it the required distance. Then he tossed it towards the boy who had just thrown the blue ball to his friend. He was surprised to find himself on the receiving end so soon, but caught the ball neatly. When he looked to see where it came from he dropped the ball in shock before kneeling with his head bowed. The other boys, and the girls in turn, all realised they were in the presence of the Lord High President and bowed to him. He sighed. These children were his wife’s students. They didn’t bow to her. They thought of her as a surrogate mother and sat on her knee to read stories. But every time he met them they reacted as adults had told them to react, by stopping what they were doing and paying obeisance to him.

“No, don’t do that. Please, don’t do that, any of you. I just came out here to... to play ball with you. I thought that’s what you wanted. After all, you threw it in through my window.”

Three of the boys blushed nearly as red as the ball, answering the question he hadn’t planned to ask about who was responsible.

“Come on... throw that one back at me,” he said, pointing to the boy with the ball. He hesitated for a moment and then threw it. Kristoph caught the ball easily and then threw it to a different boy, who was so surprised he nearly didn’t move at all. He missed the ball and raced to pick it up. Meanwhile, the boy with the blue ball threw it to Kristoph who was ready and pitched it back into the game. The next thing, two balls were thrown back at him. He caught one but missed the other. The boys laughed. The girls watched as he picked up the missed ball and threw both of them again.

A little later, Marion came looking for Kristoph. She was surprised to see him in the middle of a game in which he was part of a ring of children who were throwing and catching a red and blue ball alternatively. They missed no opportunity to test his reflexes by throwing both balls at him together time and again. Sometimes he caught both. Sometimes he missed one. Sometimes he missed both of them and laughed with the children at his own clumsiness.

Marion wondered if he was missing them deliberately. She had been told often enough that he was one of the Celestial Intervention Agency’s best operatives. He was a skilled swordsman and a sharp-shooter. His reflexes were honed. She couldn’t imagine him fumbling a small red ball unless it was to make the children laugh.

She left him to his game and went back to her drawing room. A half an hour later her peace was interrupted by children’s excited voices. Kristoph came in with a little girl holding onto his left arm and three boys on his right hand side.

“Everyone is tired and thirsty after the game,” he said. “Is there any chance of orange juice, possibly even coffee. That would be for me, of course.”

“Every possibility,” Marion answered, ringing for Caolin and giving him an order for refreshments. “Have you had a pleasant afternoon?”

“I have had a wonderful afternoon. I should play ball on my own west lawn more often.”

“I think you should,” Marion agreed. She saw the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eyes. He had obviously enjoyed himself playing with the children. “It seems to have done you good. This morning at breakfast you looked tired. Now you look full of energy.”

“Playing with the children is a far more pleasant way to spend an afternoon than working through the estate accounts. I’ve still got to finish those, later. But I feel a lot happier about doing that after my afternoon holiday.”

Marion smiled at him. She had been worried more about him than herself in the weeks since the accident at the mine. He had taken on all of the burden, the responsibility, the guilt, even though it was in no way his fault. He had started to look weary of that burden, and she had wondered how she could relieve it for him.

She never imagined the answer would be so simple.