Kristoph sat in The Lord President’s chamber and watched the public service broadcast of the preparations outside in the plaza unhappily. He had no doubt about the necessity of this procedure, and showing it on the PSB was equally necessary. It was the one certain way of getting any message to the greatest number of people on the planet. But he thought the commentator was taking far too much pleasure in his task.

“Will somebody get that fool off the air,” he complained. “This is a public execution, not a garden fete. He doesn’t have to describe in cheerful detail the interior décor of the atomising chamber, or give a moment by moment account of what happens to the condemned inside it.”

“I will attend to the matter, sire,” said an official who bowed low and then stepped out of the chamber. Kristoph wondered briefly if that was a good idea. It sounded like he had just ordered a subordinate to go and suppress the media. That wasn’t his intention at all. He just wanted a better quality of broadcasting.

The door opened again and he looked around to see who it was. Despite this being his private quarters in the Citadel, it might as well have been fitted with a revolving door today. So many people had been in and out with various messages for him, none of them vital, none of them the messages he expected to receive.

“Remonte!” He stood, smiling joyfully to see his brother standing there. Both men were dressed in sombre black on this dark day, but they embraced fondly and Kristoph was genuinely glad to see him. “Is everything all right? What brings you here at this time?”

“My wife is from Polafrey,” Remonte reminded him. “This is a matter that has grieved us both, even far away on Ventura. Rika has gone to Liverpool with Marion and Lily for the day. All three of them are well out of it. But my place is with you, my brother.”

“My thanks,” Kristoph said. “My grateful thanks.” He stood and went to the door. There was a Presidential Guard outside. “Nobody is to come into this room for the next hour unless they are bringing a plea on behalf of the prisoner. That is the only business I will accept at this point.”

The guard took note of his injunction. Kristoph closed the door firmly and turned to the cabinet where he kept his personal supply of imported whiskey made in an obscure corner of an obscure world registered in the Gallifreyan database of planets as Sol 3.

“Islay single malt,” he said, pouring two glasses. “Made with pure, clean water that has filtered through layers of peat before springing up from the ground.”

“I always wondered why that is considered a good thing,” Remonte said as he accepted the drink. “Doesn’t it make the liquor taste of soil?”

“Redolent of the Highlands,” Kristoph answered, feeling the burning in his throat as he swallowed a gulp of the amber coloured liquid. “Marion says things like that to me, too. She also wonders why I bother since alcohol has no affect on my constitution.”

“So why do you?” Remonte asked. “The taste is intriguing, I admit. But I see no special point to it.”

“I suppose it must be psychosomatic,” Kristoph admitted. “I find a glass of whiskey helps me to relax when I am tense. But as the active ingredients do nothing for me, it is clearly just a case of matter over mind.”

“Well, I don’t know when anyone on this planet has been more tense than they are today,” Remonte admitted. “So I’ll give it a try.”

Remonte swallowed the whiskey slowly. Kristoph refilled his brother’s glass and his own.

“I haven’t received a single plea for clemency,” he said. “Do you know when that happened last?”

“I don’t know,” Remonte answered. “I didn’t think it had. Even Lipan Malik... his mother and some few of his community asked for commutation.”

“Alissa Temaire.”

“I’d forgotten about her.”

“I wasn’t here. I was doing my duty for Gallifrey elsewhere. But I heard about it. Renegades are expunged. Their names never mentioned again. But executions... they create ripples that go on for centuries. Even now, we know those names. By the time they’ve sat and drunk Chinese tea in Liverpool and fretted over this, no doubt Marion will know those dark stories, too.”

“I thought they were supposed to be getting away from it all.”

“But they won’t be able to. None of us can. This is occupying the minds of every citizen of Gallifrey today. I’m sure even Li will be thinking about it.”

“Well he might. He could have faced the same fate himself.”

“He never would,” Kristoph replied. “I would not have subjected him to this.... this...” He waved impotently at the video screen where the commentator continued to describe the scene in front of him. The plaza in front of the citadel was getting very busy, now. The Chancellery Guard was a thin red line in front of the onlookers who gathered. “I would have killed him myself, first. A quick, clean kill.”

“Atomising is clean. It is quick,” Remonte told him.

“It takes thirty seconds and the screams are horrendous. Besides... the prisoner has to spend twenty six hours in chains, in an isolation cell, thinking about those thirty seconds. I wouldn’t have done that to Li. For the sake of friendship, I’d have cut his head from his body and be done with it.”

Remonte said nothing in response to that. Li’s friendship with Kristoph was inextricably connected with that part of his life that his brother knew least about.

“I don’t oppose our death penalty,” Kristoph added. “Not when it is so plainly deserved as it is in this case. I hope Dalaq is suffering endless repeated mental agony thinking about those thirty seconds of real pain he is going to be facing in two hours and thirty-five minutes.”

“If there is a plea...”

“I’m going to refuse it,” Kristoph answered. “And if your next question is about Presidential discretion...”

“It wasn’t. But if you want me to ask....”

“If I’m not going to be swayed by a plea on his behalf, I’m certainly not going to be swayed in my own mind. He is going to the chamber. There is no decision to make.”

“Good,” Remonte said.

Kristoph was surprised. His brother smiled wryly.

“You think because I’ve had an easy life, spending most of my days in committees and on the floor of the Panopticon, not racing around the universe beheading traitors, you think I can’t be single-minded about something like this, too? He deserves to die. What he did was vile. It was cowardly and dishonourable. It was beneath the dignity of one of our race. I still find it hard to believe what he did. And the only way to rid Gallifrey of such filth is to dissolve the putrid flesh into atoms and scatter the atoms to the four winds.”

“It pains me to hear you speak that way,” Kristoph said. “You’re my gentle little brother, the political thinker and philosopher. You shouldn’t think about death. That’s my domain.”

“It used to be. Now, they call you the Peacekeeper in diplomatic circles. I meet so many people who know you by that epithet. Not...”

“The Executioner.”

Remonte shook his head.

“I’ve never known you as that. But... today it... almost seems appropriate. You have the final word on the matter.”

“And my word is already known. I won’t change my mind.”

Remonte was satisfied by that assurance. He sat quietly for a while, sipping his refilled glass slowly, savouring the taste of distilled grains and water that filtered through the soil on a planet so far away even its star was dim in the Gallifreyan night sky.

“Brother, did you ever wonder how the word ‘Caretaker’ came to be used to describe the lower caste of our society?” he asked presently.

“I really don’t know,” Kristoph admitted. “It has been so for millennia.”

“I sometimes think the name is wrong. WE should be the caretakers. We have a duty of care to them.”

“I think you have a point,” Kristoph agreed. “Though you’ll find few among the aristocracy who would accept it.”

“But it’s why this case has made me so angry,” Remonte told his older brother. “Why it has shaken us, even on peaceful Ventura, far from the complexities of Gallifreyan life. Rika... when I first approached her in a... romantic way... when I made her my mistress... if she had refused... as I had every reason to think she would, being a well brought up, honest girl... I would never.... If she had refused my attentions, I would have backed away. I would not have pursued her if I hadn’t known that she felt something for me in return.”

“I never doubted that. If I thought for one minute that you were forcing unwanted attentions on a servant, I would have dealt with you sternly, be sure of that. There is a whip somewhere in the cellar, from when our grandfather kept a wolf pack for hunting.”

Remonte grimaced. He knew Kristoph meant it.

“What he did... the brutal murder of a helpless woman... and her whole family... a Caretaker family with no defence against his rapine...”

“It is beyond all comprehension,” Kristoph agreed. “To think that a man of good name and breeding should do anything so vile.”

“All because she would not give in to his attentions... because she felt nothing for him and wanted none of it.”

“Quite so.”

“There was talk among our servants.... Rika is... well, she is not exactly familiar with them, as such. She IS the ambassador’s wife, after all. There has to be demarcation. But she listens to their chatter. And it was commonly thought among them that he would ‘get away with it’ because he is Oldblood and they were just Caretakers. There was a lot of angry talk below stairs. I began to wonder if there was going to be a mutiny among our servants. And... I think if the trial had gone any other way, I’m not sure there wouldn’t have been. Any verdict but guilty would have been an outrage.”

“The same sentiments were expressed in the kitchen parlour of Mount Lœng House,” Kristoph admitted. “And I imagine in all the Houses of Gallifrey. But the threat of unrest among our servant classes was not a factor in reaching the guilty verdict. The plain fact that he was guilty sufficed. Rassilon defend us from ever having to put a man to death just to placate a mob.”

Kristoph turned to the video screen again. The word ‘mob’ made him look with rather more attention than before at the crowds. They were mostly Caretakers. He wondered what would happen if there was an eleventh hour commutation of the sentence. But the possibility of a riot in the streets of the Capitol was not swaying him from that decision, either. The plain fact was that the man was guilty. Plain justice was going to be done.

The Lord High President and his brother, the Ambassador to Ventura, were left in peace until twenty-five minutes before the appointed hour. Then the Premier Cardinal stepped inside. He didn’t need to say anything. Kristoph rose from his seat and tried to straighten his collar. Remonte stood and adjusted it for him. Then they walked through the Citadel, the bastion of Gallifreyan law and justice. The Chancellor and the Castellan joined them along with the Magister of the Cruciform who had tried the prisoner. They all stepped out into the cool autumn morning. It was now fifteen minutes to the thirteenth hour, noon. It had taken a full ten minutes to walk to their appointed place. Kristoph looked dispassionately at the chamber, placed in the centre of the plaza. It looked something like a decompression chamber used by divers on planets where deep water exploration was common. It was only slightly more complicated than that. Inside was a metal chair fixed to the floor, with anklets and manacles to secure the prisoner. When the door was sealed there was said to be something like twenty minutes of air inside. But the formalities of the execution did not take that long.

The prisoner was brought out of a different door exactly two minutes after the President took his place. He was dressed in a plain black robe and sandals, bare-headed and handcuffed to his guards either side. He was brought to stand before the President as a matter of formality. Kristoph stood and looked at him for no more than a few seconds before nodding to the guards. He was turned about and marched to the chamber. It took a few minutes to secure him fully and to close the door. It was two minutes to the hour when the guards walked away. A silence came over the murmuring crowds. When the Chancellor walked across the marble paved ground his footsteps echoed loudly. On the very hour of thirteen, he pulled the large, heavy switch that initialised the atomiser. There were no screams to be heard. The chamber was sound-proofed. There was nothing but a low hum that seemed all the louder in the silence. It lasted exactly thirty seconds, just about long enough for the Castellan to walk away back to his place beside the Lord High President. Two guards stepped up to the chamber and unsealed the door. The chamber was empty.

The crowd remained silent. There was no cheer of satisfaction, no groan of horror at the deed that had been done. They simply accepted that it had been done, each knowing in his or her own mind how they felt about it.

The Premier Cardinal stepped forward and spoke.

“The execution of Bartis Dalaq having been duly carried out under the supervision of the Lord High President of the High Council, I hereby command the citizens of Gallifrey who have been witness to the same to depart now to their homes.”

The people did so in the same quiet, their footsteps and some small whispered voices hardly disturbing the scene. The only voice that could be heard clearly was the commentator for the Public Service Broadcast who was still describing the event to the public.

“For Rassilon’s sake!” Kristoph swore as he turned away. “It’s not radio. The man is describing images the people can see on their video screens.”

“It’s a well known fact that journalism is the preserve of the academic failures of our schools,” Remonte commented.

“But do they have to be complete imbeciles?” Kristoph asked. Then he shook his head. “This day is affecting our moods, too much. There are some small formalities I must attend to, but when I am done, you and I will shake the dust of Gallifrey from our feet for a while. Let us join our women in Liverpool. I don’t believe you have ever eaten a Chinese meal, brother of mine.”

Remonte had to admit he had not. He didn’t wonder at his brother’s changing mood. He, too, felt relief that it was all over. This ‘Chinese’ meal would not, in any sense, be a celebratory one. But it would be one they might enjoy in a much better frame of mind than any they had eaten in the past few, tense days.