Rika had never visited Liverpool’s Chinatown before. It was new to her, as was meeting the owner of the little herbalist shop, Mai Li Tuo.

“I have heard good things about you, sir,” she said, shaking hands with him. “From Marion, most especially.”

“And I have heard good things about you, dear lady,” he replied, bowing to her in the Chinese way and inviting her to sit in the pagoda shaped gazebo in his back garden. It was early October, but there were ornamental braziers lit around the oriental meditation garden and they warmed the air enough to sit comfortably in the mid-afternoon. Li made sure all three of the ladies who had come to see him were seated comfortably before he began to prepare Chinese tea in the traditional way using an oil-filled heater to boil the water as they watched.

“It is good to see you, Li,” Marion told him. “I haven’t visited for a while. The duties of the First Lady of Gallifrey are time consuming.”

“I have heard all about it from Lily,” Li told her. He smiled warmly and familiarly to his own Lady of Gallifrey. She blushed slightly under her exquisite face make up, but there was no denying the fact that she and Li were lovers. Indeed, under the statutes of 14th century China, they were man and wife. But that was a secret only Marion knew and she would not share it even with her sister in law.

“So I don’t need to fill you in on the social gossip from home, then?” Marion said to him. “Lily has already brought you fully up to date.”

“I know about everything, social and political that is happening on Gallifrey,” Li replied. There was a note in his voice that jarred with the pleasant surroundings and the otherwise delightful social setting of Chinese tea among friends.

“Then you know it’s today?” Rika asked. b

“I know. And I understand that’s why the three of you came here, seeking sanctuary from the affairs of our world.”

“Let’s not think of it,” Marion said. “There is no point in us coming here, to avoid it all, if we’re going to sit here and talk about it.”

But she knew that was exactly what they would be doing.

“Kristoph is there, of course?” Li asked her. “At the Panopticon.”

“It is his duty. Along with the Premier Cardinal and the Chancellor. The rest of the High Council don’t have to be present. But the High Inquisitor and the Magister of the Cruciform will be. And the Castellan.”

“Yes.” Li nodded. He knew only too well the procedure in cases such as this.

“The final decision lies with Kristoph,” Marion added. Again, nobody needed to be told that. They were only too aware of the burden that was placed upon the Lord High President at such times.

At least, everyone else was. It was the first time for Marion and she could only guess what her husband was thinking in these hours. He had said very little to her about it. Most of what she understood to be happening came from listening to the talk of her friends.

“Since we can’t avoid the subject, even two hundred and fifty million light years away,” she said. “Li... won’t you tell me what you know about it. You must have... when you were director of the Celestial Intervention Agency there must have been times when you helped bring criminals to justice.”

“Mostly, the justice I dealt was swift and unexpected,” Li answered. “As an assassin for Gallifrey, I tended to save our world the trouble of a trial and execution. But... yes... I was a witness to such an event twice in my time as the Director.”

“And both times the man was guilty?”

“One time it was a woman,” Li said. “That was a shock to the complacent among us.”

“A woman?” Marion was shocked. Rika was interested. It was the first time she had heard this. Lily sat back in her chair and sipped her tea.

“Alissa Temaire,” she murmured. “I knew her as a girl. We attended deportment classes together. Alissa Draven as she was before her marriage to the younger son of Temaire. Draven was a Newblood House. Her father made his money by trade in the Orion sector. But marrying into an Oldblood family was a coup for them. Even one that was probably less wealthy than they were. Their lands were on the edge of the Red Desert, and they had not been well managed. Young Temaire probably married her for the Draven business connections rather than the other way around. So we all said at the time.”

Li sighed. This was merely background detail to a much darker tale.

“How often has it been said,” Li noted. “That two sons in an Oldblood House is a bad thing. Too many blood feuds have been between brothers. Too many arguments that have led to the courts of law have been about rights of succession under our too narrow terms of inheritance.”

Marion and Rika exchanged glances. They both wondered if Li knew that Rika was with child.

“Yes, I know that, my dear,” Li told the wife of the House of Lœngbærrow’s younger son. “And I don’t include Kristoph and Remonte in such a statement. They are a credit to our world. The true affection that exists between them is commendable. And you two wives are assets to them both. But when I think of Alissa, I can’t help also thinking of Idell, and the animosity she bore towards you, Marion. There is an expression in High Gallifreyan '#&¥€Æ ¥#$ £¥Œ@ ÆŒ@#@ ÄŸ#£'. The closest to it in your culture, Marion is ‘There but for the Grace of God.”

Marion understood the expression but was puzzled how it applied to her or to Idell Malthis.

“Alissa Temaire gave birth to a son,” Lily explained. “Two weeks before her brother in law’s wife also delivered a son. The younger child, of course, was heir. And jealousy seethed within Alissa’s heart. She wanted her child to inherit the name and the fortune, such as it was.”

“As Idell wanted for her son,” Rika reminded Marion.

“Yes... but...” Marion knew already that this story ended with an execution. So it wasn’t hard to guess what came next. “She murdered her baby nephew?”

“And his mother and the wet nurse who was in attendance with them. She poisoned both women, and when the baby fed... he, too, was poisoned,” Lily explained.

“Worse, still, she tried to plant evidence blaming the Temaire Patriarch – her brother-in-law,” Li added. “But the investigation easily saw through her thin alibi. She confessed under questioning by the Castellan. The trial didn’t take very long. Her husband had already renounced her by then. She was a lonely woman when she stood up at her trial. A reviled creature that nobody had the slightest sympathy for. And the death sentence was easily passed. The Artexian patriarch was Lord High President at the time. It’s usual to hear one or two, maybe a half a dozen pleas for clemency from friends of the condemned. He didn’t receive a single one. When the day came... her husband and brother in law stood impassively as she was brought to the atomising chamber. They had no sympathy for her at all. Indeed, I was almost convinced they would choose the right to throw the switch – to initiate the execution. It is the right of victims of a convicted murderer to do that if they so wish. As it was, the Castellan performed the necessary task. Afterwards, I don’t believe her name was ever uttered in Gallifreyan society again. At least until now. Among ourselves. And I doubt it will ever be spoken again.”

“I don’t think Idell was as mad as that,” Marion said. “She wouldn’t... I am sure she wouldn’t.”

“Alissa wasn’t mad,” Lily pointed out. “If she were, if it could have been proved that she did what she did under any delusion, she would have gone to Shada instead, to be cryogenically frozen for a thousand years. We don’t execute the insane. Only those who commit murder in stone cold sanity. And it was deemed that she had done so.”

“Poisoning a baby seems an insane thing to me,” Rika said. “And she was a mother, herself. How could she?”

None of the women sitting there under the wooden roof of the pagoda could comprehend it.

“There but for the Grace of God...” Marion murmured. “What was the other execution you witnessed, Li? Please tell me it wasn’t as horrendous as that.”

“This one... I did bring to justice,” Li answered. “He was the only follower of Lissandro Harpaindrix Gellovia to be publicly executed.”

Lily shivered. Even Rika and Marion looked disturbed. They were both too young to remember. Marion only knew the name because she had overheard Kristoph speaking to other people about it when he was Magister of the Southern Continent. It was a name that resounded in the Gallifreyan justice system like Doctor Crippen did in England. It was a notorious case that set precedence for future trials.

“His crimes were committed on other worlds, beyond Gallifrey’s jurisdiction. But such was the outcry that the High Council demanded he was brought back for trial, and as many of his followers as possible. That last injunction to the Celestial Intervention Agency was important, you understand. As many of his followers as possible. When we tracked him down to a monastery on Ghoufya... it’s a planet in the Leonite sector...”

“A monastery?” Marion queried.

“It used to be that, a place of peace and contemplation. Then Gellovia murdered the peace loving brotherhood and installed his fiendish cult. They unleashed their foul deeds upon the helpless people of the region.” He looked at the three women. “Lily, you remember the reports from the time, and I am sorry for that. Your sweet mind should not have been sullied with such things. Rika, Marion... for the sake of your children yet unborn, don’t ask me to embellish further the nature of the corruption committed by that gang. Suffice to say, the battle between the forces of light and the forces of dark was a bitter one. Twenty good men died. Fifty of the Gellovians. In the confusion a dozen or more of them fled and it took eight decades for the CIA to track them down and deal swift justice to them. Gellovia WAS taken and his trial was a notorious one. On a technicality he escaped execution and was sent, instead, to Shada. Personally, I was satisfied. He could only be atomised once. It is a relatively painless death, over in thirty seconds. But it is said that the inmates of Shada die every day, their brains trapped within frozen bodies, just aware enough of the passage of time to know utter desperation. For a while, I actually travelled to that cursed place regularly just to watch Gellovia suffering.”

“Li!” Marion was shocked. “I never thought of you as a vindictive man. That seems...” But Lily shook her head. It seemed for their generation it was an understandable reaction. She briefly wondered just how horrible Gellovia’s deeds might have been. Then she decided she didn’t want to know.

“What about his one follower?” Marion asked, almost reluctantly.

“Lipan Malik,” Li said coldly.

“What?” Rika was shocked. “But that is a Caretaker name.”

“So it was. Malik was a bright young man and rose as far as a Caretaker might be able to rise without help. He wasn’t at the monastery with the others. He was in the CIA. He was one of us. He revealed his true identity when he killed two of my men and caused another such mortal wounds he had to regenerate. He was standing over the body, waiting for his chance to kill him again when he was taken by...” He glanced at Marion and half-smiled. “Agent de Lœngbærrow captured him. He is legendary within the Agency as the hardest, most uncompromising assassin we ever trained. But he didn’t kill Malik.”

“I know why,” Marion said. “Kristoph wouldn’t kill a Caretaker in cold blood. He always tried to show leniency to them when he was Magister. So... he arrested Malik instead of killing him there and then. He let him be taken back for trial?”

“He was given every opportunity to show that he was duped by Gellovia, that he was acting under duress or some form of psychic influence. But even under torture he coldly admitted to being a supporter of the madman. And every test we knew showed him to be utterly, completely sane. There was no question about his guilt or his sanity. The only question was whether his execution should be public or private.”

“I don’t understand the difference,” Marion pointed out.

“Usually, the public execution is for men... or women... of note, of the high caste families. Caretakers who commit crimes of passion, or of greed, are usually dealt with in a simpler way. They are executed privately, within the prison. The name of the sentenced man is reported, and it is over with. Public executions are as much about shaming the condemned, and sending out a message that high ranking men and women have a standard to uphold and those who backslide won’t be tolerated. But Malik was aligning himself with Gellovia, and it was decided that he should be executed in public, so that it was perfectly clear to all that this evil cult had been destroyed, root and branch.”

“And rightly so,” Lily said. Rika agreed. Marion wasn’t so sure. She came from a culture where the death penalty had been abolished. She found it distressing to hear about these past cases, and even more so to know that it was happening today. On Gallifrey, a man was going to be executed, unless at the last minute the Lord High President issued a pardon or commutation.

“And you know he won’t, don’t you, Marion,” Li said. “Kristoph is not going to stop this execution.”

“Yes,” Marion sighed. “I know that.”