Marion’s scream was nearly drowned out by Talitha’s. She wasn’t looking down at the dais where the Lord High President lay wounded. She was staring at the young man who was being taken away by the Panopticon Guard. She was calling out a name in the midst of her distress, but Marion didn’t hear it properly. Her mind was spinning with terrible thoughts and the reasons for her friend’s distress didn’t signify yet.

“Madam,” said a Panopticon Guard to her. “You must come with me. Gold Usher has ordered me to protect you.”

“I need to be with my husband,” she said in reply. “I must know... is he...”

“Madam,” the Guard insisted. “Please come...”

Marion was surrounded by Panopticon Guards, now. They were protecting her with their own bodies in case there was another assassin who might attack her. They were urging her forward up the gallery steps. Talitha was being swept along with her. Marion grasped her hand firmly. The two women were hurried out of the gallery while everyone else was held in their seats. They were escorted down the corridor and then through a nearly invisible door set into the wall. Beyond that was a narrow, dimly lit corridor. The two women had to move in single file with guards in front and behind. They went up two flights of steps before emerging into another public corridor and into an ante-chamber with a door beyond it guarded by the red-uniformed Chancellery Guards who outranked the Panopticon Guards. The Chancellor and Premier Cardinal were there, along with Castellan Braxietel and Gold Usher who seemed even more anxious than anyone else. He was insisting that somebody fetch Lord Dúccesci.

“Why?” Marion asked him. She had many questions she needed answers to, but that one struck her as the most immediately pressing. “What do you need him for?”

“The President spoke his name before he lost consciousness,” Gold Usher explained. “He was naming his successor. He must be brought here...”

“Successor?” Marion’s voice was hoarse as she considered what that meant. “You mean he...”

“Oh no!” Talitha cried out. “Oh no. He isn’t... He wasn’t...”

“He WASN’T naming Lord Dúccesci as successor,” The Chancellor said, after consulting the Captain of the Panopticon Guard. “He... was accusing him. It was... It was his half brother, Gynell Dúccesci who shot the President. He thinks his Lordship is a conspirator.”

“Talitha!” Marion looked at her friend in astonishment. Gynell was the name she had called out before. Marion couldn’t remember ever seeing the boy who was arrested when she had visited the Dúccesci house. But that didn’t matter just now. What mattered was the terrible implication in her words.

“Marion, it isn’t true!” Talitha assured her. “My Lord can’t be involved. I promise you he isn’t. Whatever madness has taken Gynell, he wasn’t a part of it.”

Marion didn’t know what to think about that. But it didn’t seem to matter. Her opinion wasn’t sought. The Castellan gave orders for Lord Dúccesci’s detention. Talitha begged him, but he shook his head grimly.

“The evidence is circumstantial,” he said. “But it IS compelling. I have to question him.”

The Castellan left the ante-chamber along with the Chancellery Guard captain and four of his men. That left the place much quieter and far less crowded. Marion sat, drawing Talitha down into a chair beside her. She looked at Gold Usher.

“What is happening? Where is Kristoph? Is he...”

“He is within the emergency room,” Gold Usher said, indicating the guarded door. “The Surgeon is attending upon him. I know nothing more about his condition. We must all be patient.”

“I don’t want to be patient,” Marion told him. “I want to be with him.”

But she knew that wasn’t possible. The Surgeon had to do his work. All she could do was wait.

She did so as calmly as she could manage, despite fearing the very worst.

Talitha was more distressed than she was, in fact. And little wonder. If her husband really was connected with this attempt on Kristoph’s life...

“He wasn’t,” Talitha again insisted. “Marion, even if nobody else believes me, I hope you can. Malika is single-minded and set in his ways. He is bitterly opposed to the Lord President’s liberal agenda. But he’s not a murderer.”

For a moment, Marion wondered who Malika was. She had never heard Talitha call her husband by his first name. She always called him Lord Dúccesci, or ‘My Lord’. It was a measure of how worried she was about him.

“Even if he isn’t... his brother seems to be,” Marion had to admit, though she felt terrible saying it aloud when she saw Talitha’s stricken expression. “We were both there. We saw the Guards take the weapon from him....”

“Half brother,” Talitha said almost automatically. “Malika’s father was married twice. Malika’s own mother died when he was a student. Their father died when Gynell was in his fifties. Gynell’s mother moved out of the Dower House of our estate to her father’s home. The boy visits us regularly. I suppose he has heard Malika’s opinions about Lord de Lœngbærrow’s Presidency. But I never imagined... I would never have thought he was capable... And I cannot believe that Malika...”

“If he is innocent, then the Castellan will find him so,” Marion assured her. “Pol Braxietel is a good man. He won’t press him if he is innocent of this. But I don’t know what will happen to Gynell.”

“If Lord de Lœngbærrow dies... the charge will be High Treason,” Talitha said. “There is no doubt what will happen to him. There can be only one penalty.”

“He can’t die,” Marion said. “He can’t. Not now. He can’t.”

But wanting it to be so wouldn’t make it happen. Marion knew that. Kristoph could be dying right now. It might already be too late.

She looked at the Premier Cardinal and the Chancellor.

“If he is dying, I must be with him,” she said.

“No,” the Chancellor replied. “If he is dying it is WE who must be with him. He is a Time Lord. He is the highest placed Time Lord of us all. He has access to the Matrix. There are procedures when such a Time Lord is dying. And there is no role for a woman, least of all a foreign born woman, in those procedures. I am sorry, but you cannot enter the Chamber until these procedures are complete.”

“What procedures?” Marion asked. But she knew there would be no answer. Her imagination coloured the possibilities in sombre tones. She imagined the death rituals of Time Lords only too easily. She could see Kristoph, lying within the emergency room, dying by inches, yet aware of what was happening around him, aware that his friends were preparing for his death.

Aware that she was not there.

“No,” she said firmly, standing up and pushing the Guards aside with a strength she didn’t know she had. She threw open the double doors and ran inside.

The Surgeon was leaning over Kristoph as he lay on a table. There was a linen sheet beneath him, and it was covered in blood. The Assistant Surgeon turned to see Marion watching. His apron was bloody.

“Madam, you must not be here,” he said.

“The next person who tells me what I must not do is going to regret it,” she replied. She stepped closer to the table, and she was horrified by what she saw. Kristoph was lying there with his chest cut open and the surgeon was actually removing his heart from his body.

But he was alive while it was being done. and he was awake. He turned his head slowly and saw her. His deep brown eyes were glazed but he recognised her. He reached out his hand weakly. She grasped it and was glad to feel his fingers squeeze hers.

“What is happening?” she demanded of the Surgeon. “What are you doing to him?”

“I have removed the heart that was pierced by the crossbow,” the Surgeon replied. “The damage was too great. He could not begin to repair his body until it was cut out and the arteries sealed.”

“But...” Marion watched as he completed the operation and began closing Kristoph’s chest using a laser tool that left no scar to show where the incision had been made.

“He isn’t going to die?”

“That remains to be seen. He is weak from the procedure.”

“I’m not going to die,” Kristoph whispered hoarsely. Marion gave a soft cry and kissed him on the forehead. His hand tightened on hers.

“Is that true?” Marion asked the Surgeon. “Is he going to be all right?”

“The immediate danger is passed,” the Surgeon confirmed. “But he only has one heart. It will take several months for the organ to regenerate. Until then, he will be weak. He will not be fit to resume his duties as President.”

“Nonsense,” Kristoph murmured. Marion looked at him. His eyes were open, still. But he wasn’t focussing on anything, and though that had seemed to be a reply to the surgeon’s words, it might just have been a random word that fitted by coincidence.

“Why is he like this? Why are you operating on him without anaesthetic?”

“Anaesthetic?” The Surgeon looked as if the word was alien to him. “You mean... soporific drugs to render the patient insensible? Such things would be fatal to a Time Lord. He is in a second level trance... or he is supposed to be. He is forcing himself to remain lucid in order to prevent a constitutional crisis.”

“A constitutional crisis? What does that...”

“Presidential incapacity,” the Surgeon explained patiently, though in a tone that suggested he had better things to do than go through such matters with her. “If he loses consciousness even for a few minutes, Gallifrey effectively has no President.”

“He’s putting himself through all this... for Gallifrey?” Marion touched her husband’s face gently. “Kristoph... don’t. Your life is more important. Gallifrey has had plenty of Presidents. It will have plenty more. It doesn’t need you to suffer for it.”

He blinked his eyes once and turned his face to kiss her hand.

“This is a good sign, isn’t it?” Marion asked. “He knows I’m beside him.”

“I don’t believe his Lordship is in the habit of kissing anyone else’s hand,” the Surgeon replied. Marion was puzzled for a moment before she realised that the Surgeon was trying to make a joke, to reassure her. “Yes, it’s a good sign. My work is done. He just needs rest.”

The Assistant Surgeon brought a white cotton rest robe and began to put it on Kristoph. Marion took it from him and dressed him herself before he was transferred to a comfortable bed. Marion sat next to him, still clinging to his hand. He still kept saying things from time to time. Sometimes they made sense, such as when he squeezed her hand and told her he loved her. Other times the remarks made no sense at all. Marion had no idea what the words ‘hypnosis’ and ‘obfuscation’ had to do with anything. The phrase ‘grassy knoll’ did have something to do with Presidential assassinations, but it didn’t seem to relate to what had happened to him.

The outer doors opened. The Premier Cardinal and Chancellor tried to come in. Marion was startled when Kristoph half rose from the pillow.

“Get out!” he yelled before slumping back down onto the pillow in the same barely lucid state. The Chief Surgeon repeated his instruction and pointed out that he overruled everyone in the chain of command when the President’s health was at stake. The two most senior men in the Gallifreyan government after Kristoph retreated quickly. The Surgeon came to the bedside and carefully examined his patient.

“His remaining heart is strong. It is coping. Don’t worry about these random outbursts. His mind is perfectly intact. He just needs a little time.”

“Time...” Kristoph murmured. “Time is the fire... in which we burn.”

“That’s a line from an Earth poem,” Marion said. “He said it perfectly described a Time Lord. I think you are right. He just needs....”

“The boy...” Kristoph said. “Where did they take the boy?”

“Hush,” Marion told him. “Hush, my love. Don’t you worry about anything but getting well.”

“I am well,” he answered her. Marion looked at his face and saw his eyes wide open and focussed on her. “I wasn’t for a while. I’ve been as close to death as I’ve been for a very long time. But I’m quite well now.” Marion tried to stop him, so did the Surgeon, but he insisted on sitting up in the bed. “The boy... where is he?”

“What boy?” Marion asked.

“The boy with the crossbow. The one who shot me. What have they done to him? They mustn’t hurt him. I have to see him. Where are my clothes?”