The last time Marion had gone on a yachting trip with Hillary and Jean-Claude it had to be cut short because she took ill. This time she was fully determined to enjoy the experience, and so were her friends. She was seated comfortably on the deck of the sleek yacht called The Christiana. She was kept supplied with fruity drinks and tasty treats while Kristoph, looking very relaxed in cotton slacks and an open necked shirt, joined the two Haolstromnians dressed in impeccable white and blue sailing suits in managing all the complicated things to do with the sails that allowed them to race across the calm blue sea with ease.

“When did you learn to sail?” Marion asked her husband. She wondered sometimes if there was anything he couldn’t do.

“I haven’t,” he replied. “These two are teaching me on the job.” Hillary and Jean-Claude both laughed with him. Marion smiled and lay back in her seat. The feel of the yacht cutting smoothly through the water was very relaxing. She was enjoying herself thoroughly. The blue sky of Haollstrom was clear and the sun shone down from a little past its zenith. They had been sailing for an hour now and had left the jetty beside Hillary’s lighthouse far behind. Indeed, they had left the mainland behind now. There was no land to be seen except a few small offshore islands that Jean-Claude said were not at all interesting. There was nothing going on there except gallup-fishing. A gallup, as Marion knew, was a crustacean something like a lobster, a delicacy that the aristocrats like Hillary and Jean-Claude consumed in many exotic ways when they had guests to dinner.

The fishing industry, of course, was one of the few exceptions to the unusual stratification of Haolstromnian society in that it took place on the surface. Most of the working people lived below ground in the huge subterranean cities where the industrial plants were. The green and pleasant surface of the planet was owned by the aristocrats. Most of it was given over to their palatial estates, which included farms where the only other major outdoor work for ordinary people took place and the public parks and holiday centres for the workers.

Marion had seen some of the parks. They were beautiful places where the working classes were free to relax in their leisure time. But she had never visited one of the holiday parks. From what Hillary had described they seemed rather like Butlins camps with accommodation, restaurants, swimming pools and various leisure activities. They were completely free to any worker and his or her family who completed a set quota of production. It was the reward for service. Although Marion had some reservations about the way Haolstromnian society worked, she thought that was a very generous idea. Kristoph agreed, but warned that it would never work on Gallifrey and he was not, under any circumstances, going to introduce a Bill providing free holidays for Caretakers to the High Council.

Jean-Claude took a break from sailing and came to sit with Marion, having shimmered briefly and filled out the sailing suit in a completely different way as the beautiful Claudia-Jean.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked Marion.

“Oh, yes,” she replied. “Not the least bit sea-sick and loving every bit of it.”

“Glad to hear it. Hillary was so excited about you two coming to visit that I ought to have been jealous.”

“I didn’t think Haollstromians got jealous,” Marion replied. “Your relationships are so free and easy.”

“Yes, they are, but I’m not ready to share Hillary with anyone, yet. He has been so wonderful to me through my pregnancy, and she’s very fond of my little Danielle. I think we may go a little longer than the usual pair-bonding time. But whenever he talks of you and Kristoph… there is a glint in his eyes. Though I’m not at all sure which of you she most wants to see.”

“I think it is Kristoph,” Marion said, smiling at the way Claudia-Jean switched personal pronoun all the time when talking of her lover. “Hillary always had a thing for him. She calls him her one unrequited love. He always resisted her pheromones stoically.”

Just then, Kristoph proved her wrong by allowing Hillary to kiss him amorously. The fact that he was in male form still and had a trim bear didn’t matter at all. Kristoph smiled warmly at him afterwards and then looked around at Marion who waved and smiled good-humouredly. Then he became busy with some rope that didn’t have any obvious immediate use in sailing the boat.

“Well, he can never resist her kisses,” Marion amended. “But she never got him into her bed. His Gallifreyan honour would not be bent so easily.”

“Hillary has some things to say about Gallifreyan honour,” Claudia-Jean teased. “But my old rival for his love isn’t the only one. She always talks about you, too.”

“Hillary is a very dear friend,” Marion said. “I love her very much as that. But she knows I am faithful to Kristoph. It is different for us. We stay together for life and we don’t ‘stray’ from each other – kisses aside, that is.”

“Oh, I know, my dear,” Claudia-Jean assured her. “Neither of us would ever think of coming between you and your life-partner. I do think the ‘straying’ is what has kept Hillary and I together for so long, though. She enjoyed her recreational fun with that Human, Captain Jack, a little while ago, and throughout my pregnancy I was regularly going to a rather beautiful physiotherapist for intimate sessions. ‘Straying’ makes coming back to the fold all the sweeter.”

Marion nodded in understanding. Of course, she was the one who introduced Hillary to Jack and anyone who knew either of them would have seen the end result of such an introduction from the start. As for Claudia-Jean’s concept of physiotherapy….

Marion decided to change the subject.

“What is that island in the distance, now?” she asked. “It looks bigger than the others we’ve passed.”

“That is Sarabetal,” Claudia-Jean responded. “It’s one of the really popular holiday parks.”

“Where the workers go for their leisure breaks?” Marion confirmed. “May we have a closer look?”

“You are convinced that our workers are not as content as we believe them to be, aren’t you?” Hillary said when the suggestion was passed on to him. “If it will convince you, of course we may go to Sarabetal.”

Kristoph helped Hillary to change tack and the yacht began to close in on the island. As they got closer Marion could see that there was a single conical mountain to the east of the island and the rest of it rose gently to the west where there were some spectacularly high cliffs and a lighthouse that used to warn sailors away from some jagged reefs that were exposed at low tide and deceptively hidden at high tide. Directly in front of them was a sandy cove with a pier jutting out from it. The pier was the sort Marion was used to in England, with a theatre and amusements on it, but there was also a landing stage where they could moor the yacht.

“Is that a volcano?” Marion asked looking at the mountain. “It looks as if it might be.”

“It was thousands of years ago,” Claudia Jean answered. “But it has been dormant so long nobody worries about it. The heat produced by the caldera is piped through to the resort. It warms the rooms and the water in the swimming pools. It provides power, too, using a thermal generator. The island is totally self-sufficient in that way.”

“Wonderful,” Marion said. “But what if it erupted?”

“Marion, trust you to think of the worst,” Hillary teased her. “It hasn’t done so for thousands of years. Why would it do so on the day we visit?”

“If you had been in as many sudden ion storms in the time vortex as I have, you wouldn’t trust anything about nature,” Marion replied. “But I didn’t really mean while we’re here. I meant… when anyone is here. There are hundreds of people just on the beach. I hope there are evacuation procedures.”

Claudia-Jean assured her that there were as Hillary and Kristoph brought the yacht alongside the landing stage. The arrival of a sleek and expensive yacht was a cause of interest and excitement on the beach and by the time they had ascended the steps to the main deck of the pier there was a man in harbour-master’s livery there to greet them and officially welcome them to the island. He walked with them along the pier to the entrance to the resort itself where the manager was waiting to give the aristocratic visitors an impromptu tour of the facilities.

That wasn’t exactly what Marion wanted to do. She really wanted to mix with the people and found out if their holiday resort really was everything the manager said it was.

“Let’s escape,” Kristoph whispered to her. He winked at Hillary and took Marion’s arm as they slipped through a gate to the water slide. They went to the changing room and swapped their sailing clothes for swimming gear and joined the queue climbing the steps to the top of the slide. When it was their turn they started off together on the two lane slide. Marion looked at Kristoph as he set off and laughed as she tried to imagine what Gold Usher would think about the dignity of the Lord High President just now. Then she forgot everything except the thrill of sliding down a watery chute that twisted and turned several times then went through a green-tinted tunnel before she was tipped into the deep pool at the bottom. Kristoph landed in a separate section of the pool for safety, but they both swam out together and looked at each other, laughing.

“I think I could do that again, couldn’t you?” he said. Then he grasped her hand and headed for the steps again.

“If they knew we were aristocracy they would probably have a lift just for us,” Kristoph said as they prepared to climb up the steps for the fourth, and what they had decided would be the final time. You could have too much of a good thing, after all.

“That’s what’s so much fun about it all,” Marion said afterwards when they had dried off and put on their clothes and were exploring the fun fair that sprawled over several acres of the resort. “They don’t know that we’re different from them. Our wet bodies are just like theirs sliding down the chute. There really is no such thing as aristocrats and workers. It’s all just accident of birth. It’s the same on Earth, and Gallifrey, or Ventura or any of the places we have visited as privileged VIPs.”

“I agree,” Kristoph told her. “But there isn’t much chance of changing that on any of those planets, least of all Gallifrey.”

“I think it would be hardest on Earth, really. Because there are so many different societies with different values. At least the other planets only have one system, good or bad as it is.”

That was as much politics as Kristoph was going to have while they were in a place with side shows where he could win a huge stuffed toy by firing a rifle at a target. Marion watched as he hit the bullseye six times in a row and accepted the gift gratefully. She tried not to think about how he learnt to be such a sharp shooter. That was a skill he used only at the fair these days.

“We’ll take it to the hospital on Ventura the next time we go,” she said.

“Of course,” Kristoph agreed. “Should we find Hillary and Claudia Jean again, now?”

“Not yet,” Marion answered. “I think I should like to try that.” She pointed to the big roller coaster that went right over their heads in a rush of air and a doppler sound of screaming passengers and wheels freewheeling on the track.

“That is far less amazing than riding the TARDIS on solar wind,” Kristoph pointed out, but he understood the fascination of things that were driven purely by hydraulic winches and gravity. He joined the queue with her and they soon took their places in a three person car with the big teddy-bear sitting between them. The attendant made sure the safety bar was in place and then the ride moved forward slowly. It climbed very high into the air before the first drop which, to Marion’s surprise, went into a transparent tube of some strong material and actually went into a deep, clear lake. Above them people were enjoying more leisurely rides in multi-coloured boats before they emerged from the water again and up another slope by the momentum of the first downhill run. This time when the ride reached the bottom it sped along through a zoo with exotic animals on either side of the transparent tube before another high slope and another thrilling plunge.

Eight minutes later they had seen almost the whole resort in the fastest tour imaginable. Marion’s legs felt as if they HAD been riding a solar wind. Kristoph helped her out of the car and kept hold of her hand until she felt steady again.

“Come along, you two,” called a familiar voice. Claudia Jean waved to them. “We are invited to lunch in the grand restaurant and then the afternoon performance of the Cirque Magnifique. Ringside seats, of course. You can even bring your new friend if you like!”

Marion smiled and clutched the bear happily. She thought the facilities on Sarabetal were very good so far.

And there was absolutely no sign of the volcano erupting and spoiling it all.