The public gallery of the Panopticon was crowded, mostly with students from the Academies studying politics at first hand. Nevertheless, a seat was reserved at the very front for the wife of the Lord High President.

She had not yet taken that seat. She was sitting in the Presidential Chamber watching the proceedings on the Panopticon floor on the Public Service Broadcast. She intended to go to the gallery later, before the all important vote of the High Council on the Caretaker Vote, but that was hours away, yet. She didn’t want to sit there so long. The only people who did were those earnest young political students who dreamed of wearing the robes and collars of the High Council themselves one day.

Kristoph was already wearing his robes and collar. Marion had helped him into the elaborate formal regalia before he went to a sub-committee meeting with the Chancellor and Premier Cardinal. She was alone in the elegantly decorated Chamber. A Panopticon Guard had brought her a pot of herbal infusion, which she drank slowly, noting that it was a commercial brand, not quite as good as the fresh blends Aineytta made, and not a patch on a good pot of English tea, but a welcome refreshment all the same.

There was a light knock on the door, quite unlike the crisp knock of the Guards or the resounding thump that High Councillors tended to have. She called out and was pleased when Talitha Dúccesci entered the chamber.

“Hello,” Lady Dúccesci said in a hesitant voice. “I was told that you were here. I thought you might like some company.”

“I would, indeed,” Marion replied inviting her to sit and take a cup of the infusion. “I feel a little out of my depth. I don’t usually attend High Council sittings. But this one is important to Kristoph.”

“I don’t usually come here, either,” Talitha admitted. “Lord Dúccesci thinks politics are unsuitable for women. But he insisted that I should be here today.”


Talitha blushed uncomfortably as she remembered who she was speaking to. But there was nobody else in the room. It was fully sound-proofed and shielded against psychic intrusion. Nobody sympathetic to her husband’s political view would know what she was saying or thinking just now.

“He said I should be here to see what he calls the ‘ridiculous’ Caretaker Franchise Bill defeated,” she said at last. “He thinks I am too familiar with Caretakers and it is time I realised my position as an Oldblood and theirs as servants.”

“Oh dear,” Marion sighed. It was her fault that Talitha was familiar with Caretakers. She introduced her to a great many of them in the Reading Circle and the free library projects that were now springing up all over both continents and even within the Capitol itself. Talitha was a patron of two libraries and had held fund-raising luncheons to buy books for them. That had brought her into contact with even more of the ordinary working class people who were so rarely seen in Gallifreyan social circles.

Marion wondered if that was the main reason why Lord Dúccesci so despised the Caretaker Franchise Bill and wanted to see it, and Kristoph, who championed it, defeated – because his wife was finding a new kind of independence in her social causes.

“I don’t know what he’ll do if it isn’t defeated,” Talitha added. She looked so worried when she spoke that Marion wondered if her husband might take his anger out on her in some way. Just how would you recognise a battered wife in a species where bruises and broken bones mended easily?

“I think his Lordship is wrong,” she went on. “I believe the Bill will pass. A lot of the High Councillors are in favour of it. And a lot of the ordinary Councillors, too. And the Lord High President himself, of course.”

“He has to be. It’s his Bill. But that does not mean the Bill will pass. Kristoph IS only president because Lord Stillhaeven was taken ill. There are Councillors who don’t think he should be... because he wasn’t Lord Gyes’ first choice. They think he isn’t a properly chosen President.”

“A very few think that way, Marion,” Talitha replied. “The rest know that Lord de Lœngbærrow WAS Lord Gyes’ first choice, but he privately declined the honour in favour of Lord Stillhaeven. And since he was Lord Stillhaeven’s first and only choice, that makes him the choice of two duly inaugurated Presidents. He is more properly chosen than any President we have known for generations. I think he is a very fine President. And....”

Talitha paused again. It was difficult for her to speak of her own opinions freely, even within the Presidential Chamber. Marion was just realising how different those opinions were to her husband.

“It is a good job Lord de Lœngbærrow isn’t seeking the Women’s Franchise,” Talitha admitted. “I don’t know what I would do with it. I couldn’t possibly vote against my Lord.”

“Yes, you could,” Marion told her. “The election of Councillors is by secret ballot. He wouldn’t know.”

“Yes, he would,” Talitha said. “I am no good at keeping my thoughts behind mental walls. He sees right through me. But he knows I’m just a silly woman with ideas beyond my station and they don’t count for anything, so he doesn’t care what I think... as long as I don’t say anything when he or his councillor friends are listening.”

Marion felt very sorry for Talitha. It sounded as if she really was quite subjugated by her husband. Kristoph treated her quite the opposite way. He valued her opinions, even on complex political matters. He listened to her, and even amended his own opinions sometimes if she had an idea he hadn’t considered before. In that way, she felt as if not having any franchise in the not entirely democratic Gallifreyan political system wasn’t so bad. Her voice was heard through him.

But she was unique in that respect. Lady Lily was a woman of position and power, but it was social rather than political. The same might be said of Lady Oakdaene among her own social circle, which only rarely intersected with the one that revolved around Lily. Kristoph’s Aunt Thedera was a woman with strong opinions on every subject. Her husband was probably the only Time Lord who could be described as ‘hen-pecked’. But Lord Máscantaen was a very minor member of the Council, and she had far less second hand influence than Marion did. Lady Arpexia had defied her husband insofar as she remained friends with Marion despite his dislike of foreigners. Her daughter, Valena Arpexia, had asserted her independence far enough to become a junior inquisitor, but neither could prevail upon Lord Arpexia to change his vote in the Council.

Yes, Marion thought. She was probably the only woman in Gallifreyan high society who had any political power at all.

“Use it for good, Marion,” Talitha said to her. Marion had forgotten for a moment that her friends here on Gallifrey were all able to read her thoughts. “Use it for good.”

“I will,” she promised. “But Talitha... if you knew what I was thinking just then, what about...”

“He doesn’t hit me. It isn’t like that. He’s just... a very powerful man. And he thinks that women should do as they are told. And I do, most of the time. I don’t mind obeying him except for the Reading Circle and the libraries. I enjoy those things so much. If he lets me do that then I don’t mind the rest.”

“On my world, women don’t have to put up with that sort of thing,” Marion said.

“But this isn’t your world,” Talitha reminded her. “Really, I am happy. I love Lord Dúccesci. He is my husband. I made my Alliance vows to him. And I won’t break them. Last week, he said it was time I had a baby. And he’s right about that. He needs an heir, after all. A son would be a blessing on us both. And it might soften his hearts a little.”

Marion wasn’t so sure. Again the contrast between her marriage and Talitha’s was so stark. She longed to give Kristoph an heir as an act of love. For Talitha it was an act of duty towards the man she made a binding vow of Alliance with.

There was no time to think of it further, though. A Panopticon Guard knocked politely and said he was there to escort Marion to the public gallery. Talitha Dúccesci came with her and sat beside her when one of the young students gallantly gave up his place to her and went to the back.

The High Council were in their places. Kristoph was in his, on the Chair of Rassilon. The Councillors were seated below the public gallery. Gold Usher called upon Lord Dúccesci to give his final remarks about the Bill due to be voted upon. He stood and talked about the genetic unsuitability of Caretakers to have any say in Gallifreyan government. He insisted they were of lower intelligence and likely to misunderstand and misuse the political power offered by the Bill.

Marion sighed deeply as he went on for nearly thirty minutes on those same lines. When he was done, Gold Usher called upon Kristoph to speak. Because he was Lord High President, everyone bowed when he stood. But that didn’t mean they would accept what he had to say. There were a few murmurings from the ranks of the Councillors as he spoke of the proven intelligence of Caretakers who took whatever educational opportunities they had and used them to the full, some of them using what they learnt to become self-made men, running businesses that the Aristocrat classes used daily, the restaurants and bath houses of the Capitol, the craft workshops where their robes were fashioned, where the jewels were fixed into their ceremonial collars - skilled work done by men of intelligence who paid taxes on their earnings and were entitled to have some say in how those taxes were charged and how they were spent.

Kristoph was eloquent. The murmurings quietened as he came to the conclusion of his remarks. He sat down. Gold Usher formally announced the end of the debate with three strikes of his staff against the black lacquered floor. There was a long silence before he struck four more times. The vote in respect of the Caretaker Franchise Bill would now be taken.

The Fifteen High Councillors and the Chancellor and Premier Cardinal didn’t have a secret ballot. Nor did the Lord High President. As the echo of Gold User’s staff died away he stood up from the Seat of Rassilon and walked to a hexagonal table of shiny black obsidian with circular grooves carved into it. One groove was in the centre of the table, two either side, and fifteen more arranged in groups of five around them. Kristoph placed a gold ball into the centre place. When he had resumed his seat, the Chancellor and Premier Cardinal cast their vote, with a gold ball for yay, and a red one for nay. The chancellor placed a gold ball. The Premier Cardinal placed a red one.

There was a shocked silence followed by a murmur that went around the Panopticon like the audible equivalent of a Mexican Wave.

The Premier Cardinal had voted against the Lord High President. Such a thing had not happened in living memory, and that meant as much as five thousand years.

Marion breathed in deeply. She had no psychic ability at all, but she felt she knew what everyone around her was thinking. The Premier Cardinal was against the Lord High President and his Bill.

But they were wrong. Marion knew that. He had discussed the matter with Kristoph so very often over dinner at Mount Lœng House, in private discussions in the study that Marion had not been party to, in both open and secluded debate in the Panopticon. The Premier Cardinal did not believe that the Bill went far enough. He wanted suffrage for all adult Gallifreyan citizens, male and female, Oldblood, Newblood and Caretaker. He had wanted Kristoph to put that much greater and more revolutionary legislation before the Councillors. Marion had agreed with him. It was what she wanted, too. The Premier Cardinal had cheerfully teased Kristoph about that, telling him that he had her support against him.

But Kristoph DID want that universal suffrage. He told the Premier Cardinal that he did. He knew that such a measure would be rejected out of hand by the Councillors. Getting the lesser measure passed would be hard enough. The rest was work for another day. The Premier Cardinal disagreed. He thought they should push for the whole measure at once. He couldn’t understand why Kristoph wouldn’t do that.

Marion understood. She knew that he was being a far more astute politician than the Premier Cardinal. He was introducing a bill that had a fair chance of passing rather than wasting time and effort on one that would fail.

The Premier Cardinal had been unhappy with the decision of the Lord High President. He had voted against the Caretaker Franchise as a protest against Kristoph’s refusal to favour the Universal Franchise.

It was only one vote. It might not matter. There were other High Councillors who would vote for the Bill, and the secret ballot of the ordinary Councillors still had to be taken. The Premier Cardinal’s protest vote may not harm the chances of the Bill passing.

The rest of the High Council placed their gold and red balls on the table. The murmurs increased to such a level that the Gold Usher had to strike his staff against the floor again and call for silence.

Eight of the fifteen High Councillors had voted against the President. Again, this had not happened for millennia. The chief argument against the Gallifreyan political system was that it was undemocratic and that the Lord High President’s influence over the High Council’s open vote was so absolute that it was rare for them to go against him.

But Lord Dúccesci was a High Councillor. So was Lord Oakdaene, Lord Arpexia and Lord Ravenswode. Lord Patrexean, Lord Charr, Lord Koschei and Lord Mírraflaex had voted with them against the Lord High President.

The Lord High President, Chancellor and the seven High Councillors who had voted with them made nine votes. The eight dissenting High Councillors plus the protest vote of the Premier Cardinal made nine votes.

The High Council was split equally.

It all depended, now, how the ordinary Councillors had voted in their secret ballot taken after the High Councillors made their open vote. Gold Usher struck the floor again and called upon the Councillors to make their vote anonymously by passing, one by one, through an archway and pressing one of two buttons while they were hidden inside it. That took some time. There were over three hundred Councillors. But when the last one had resumed his seat the second part of the voting process was done. Gold Usher stepped under the archway and emerged with the result of the ballot in an envelope. Very slowly he walked across the wide Panopticon floor and mounted the dais before the Seat of Rassilon. He handed the envelope to the Lord High President, who began to open it.

Then, in the absolute silence there was a strange swishing noise. Kristoph dropped the envelope seconds before he collapsed to the ground. Orange blood stained the front of his robe where the bolt from a crossbow protruded from his chest.

Marion turned her head from the ghastly sight to the scuffle happening on one side of the gallery where the Panopticon Guard were disarming a youth with a crossbow. Then she looked back at the dais, where Gold Usher bent to examine the stricken President and with surprising calm called for the Chief Surgeon.

Then she found her voice and screamed.