Keeping cool had become the most important occupation of the day in the northern hemisphere of Ventura IV at the height of the hottest summer for exactly fifty years. Windows were open wide all night long in hope of drawing in a cool breeze. By day it was impossible without air-conditioning fans working flat out and a non-stop supply of iced drinks.

For the rich, there was the possibility of leaving the city for rural retreats. The Gallifreyan consulate didn’t keep a summer house, only the winter lodge, but the Earth Federation Ambassador had a villa in the eastern hills. Lady Margery Stevenson, friend to both the Ambassador’s wife and his sister-in-law, the visiting First Lady of Gallifrey, invited both women to join her there.

They travelled by open-topped car. It was too far a journey for the horses that Venturan citizens preferred. The three ladies travelled along with Rodan who was dressed to match them in a dress of light blue and her own parasol, and Rika’s son, Remy, proudly wearing a little sailor suit and his first proper shoes. The little son of the Gallifreyan Ambassador, fastened in a special child seat, was the proud subject of conversation for part of the journey.

“He has grown so much,” Marion commented. “It seems only yesterday he was new born and now he is almost three years old.”

Both of her companions knew that Marion had missed a year of Remy’s growing up in a coma induced by the plague that kept Gallifrey under quarantine for so long. That was all in the past, now, though. There was no need to be worried when something like that inadvertently reminded them of that dark time.

“Little Lord Remy can start learning to ride when we get to the villa,” Lady Margery said. “There are dwarf mountain ponies trained to harness that he will be able to sit upon. I am surprised he didn’t start already. The sons of Venturan gentry are introduced to the saddle as soon as they can walk.”

“I never really thought about it,” Rika answered. “Even though horses are so important here on Ventura I hadn’t imagined Remy learning to ride at all. We don’t have horses on Gallifrey and it ISN’T considered something that Oldbloods need to know about.”

“Both Kristoph and Remonte know how to ride,” Marion pointed out. “And Remy was born here on Ventura, after all. I am sure he would love to learn.”

“I would like to ride,” Rodan said. Then she reminded Marion of the ballerinas who danced on horseback at the French circus she saw not so long ago.

“I don’t think you’ll learn to ride like that in one summer season,” Lady Margery told her. “But I am sure there will be a pony for you, to ride in the villa stables.”

Rodan smiled contentedly and day-dreamed of horses as the car climbed the green foothills of the eastern mountains. The villa was in those foothills, with the high mountain peaks behind it and the wide plain upon which the city was built before it. The higher they rose, the more breathtaking the view, but the breeze was only a little cooler and the sun still as hot.

The sun wasn’t the only body in the sky that heat was coming from. Marion looked up at the huge moon that dominated the sky. It was, she knew from so many visits to Ventura, a twin planet, Ventura Minor. It was uninhabited, with no surface water, but covered in wide prairies of dry grass.

And those prairies were burning. Ventura Minor was usually a soft honey colour. Now it was a hellish red and it was radiating heat – nowhere near as much as the sun itself, but enough to raise the air temperature a few extra degrees and ensure that the night never cooled as much as it ought to do, leaving the baking world unrefreshed when the dawn came once more.

The orbit of both planets was elliptical, and brought them, once every half century, to their closest point to the sun. This was the reason why the prairies of Ventura Minor were burning and why Ventura IV was experiencing such a hot, hot summer. It was perfectly natural. But Marion, who had not spent as long on the planet as much as the two Ambassador’s wives, found it more than a little disturbing to look up at that burning moon.

“It will be better next week,” Rika assured her. “The moon will be waning. Besides, the fires will almost be spent by then. It will start to cool. When next year’s growing season begins it will look pale green with the new shoots, then it will be honey yellow again - at least so I am told by those of the Embassy staff who were here fifty years ago when it last happened.”

“I must believe them, then,” Marion said. “But it really is strange, isn’t it? A burning moon and such heat from the sun at the same time - it is hard to believe this is a natural thing to happen.”

“There will be a bumper crop of Aridu this season,” Lady Margery said. “The staple food crop of northern Ventura. See the fields beyond the city.” She pointed to the arable lands that lay between the capital city and the sea. They were a golden yellow colour. Close up, it would be possible to see that the crops were at least two metres tall and bearing heads of fat Aridu pods that contained the grain from which flour was ground to make the delicious bread, white and wholegrain, which was a delicacy of Ventura. It also went to the food processing plants where the protein was used to synthesise other foods much as the Cúl nut was used on Gallifrey.

“So it isn’t too hot for it to grow?” Marion asked.

“On the contrary. This weather is wonderful for Aridu growing. The farmers will make good profits and the processed grain can be stockpiled against the possibility of bad harvests in future seasons.”

“So the farmers are happy, at least,” Marion noted. “I do feel for the ordinary workers in the towns coping with the extreme heat. We are privileged to be able to come here into the hills.”

“Electricity is free on Ventura,” Rika pointed out. “Generated by solar power, of which there is also an abundance in this time. It drives the air conditioners and fans, and desalinates vast amounts of water. The open air public swimming pools are made available for workers to enjoy at the end of their day’s labours. This is an enjoyable time even for the lowliest of people.”

“It’s not like on Earth in your century,” Lady Margery explained to Marion. “When long weeks of hot weather and little rain led to droughts and famines. So do not fret, my dear. You may enjoy our luxury with a clear conscience.”

Lady Margery made light of it, but Marion HAD been feeling guilty about being able to escape from the sweltering city in this way. She was reassured by those explanations of what the working people of Ventura were doing in the heatwave and was able to fully appreciate the splendour of the villa when they finally arrived.

“It’s like Simla in India in the days of the British administration,” she said about the two storey house made of light wood with a tiled roof and balconies at all of the upper floor windows as well as the shaded veranda all across the front. It faced the setting sun and it would be delightful to sit out there after sundown, even with the burning red Ventura Minor still visible against the constellation rich sky, and look across the plain, across the pattern of street lights in the city, to the lighthouse on the Great Promontory before the sea reflected the moon and stars all the way to the horizon. In the morning, the bedrooms would still be shaded with the sun rising behind the mountains and breakfast on the veranda would be delightful.

A Venturan tea, with an iced variety of the infusion of dried leaves favoured by the Earth Federation Ambassador’s wife as well as the First Lady of Gallifrey was set out on that veranda when they arrived. Servants took their luggage to their rooms while they sat and enjoyed a refreshing drink as well as dainty cucumber sandwiches and fruit scones with cream and jam.

Rodan and Remy both enjoyed the tea thoroughly, especially as they got to sit at the table with the grown ups. They needed cushions to raise them up, but they both ate politely, copying the manners of their elders. Remy had a mishap with a scone and got cream and jam down the front of his sailor suit, but he had been trying very hard up until then to be the little man in the otherwise female group. His nanny cleaned him up and he and Rodan played on a swing for a little while before they were both taken to the paddock to be shown the horses they would learn to ride upon in coming days.

“Letting Rodan learn to ride is going to be one of those things that marks her out from other Caretaker children,” Marion pointed out. “We meant to be more careful not to spoil her in those ways. But I think it is too late, now. She has already travelled more widely than most Oldbloods and has enjoyed all the privileges we can give her.”

“She is a delightful child,” Lady Margery told her. “Not at all spoilt.”

“I agree,” Rika added. “She is a fine little girl.”

“She calls Kristoph and I papa and mama. We have encouraged her to do so. That is one thing I hope will continue when she goes back to live with her grandfather. I think, this time, there will be no point in pretending that she doesn’t mean a great deal to us, and that we shall continue to have an influence on her upbringing. She will NEVER be an ordinary Caretaker child. She will be a talented and clever one with far more choices in her life than any other.”

And that certainly seemed to be true when, later, they went to the paddock to see how the children were getting on. Remy was sitting on the tiny little pony that looked as if it had been made just for him. There was a special harness to stop him falling and the trainer kept hold of a leading rein as he sat and guided the pony in a wide circle around the course. He was pleased and proud of his achievement.

Rodan was even more pleased. She still had a leading rein, but she didn’t need a harness. She was wearing a long riding skirt and mounted on a side saddle like a real young lady and she actually managed to guide her pony over small jumps. She had progressed that far in a single session.

“Well done, my dear,” Marion told her when she finally dismounted and came to her. “That is absolutely wonderful. Now come and have some supper and we will see if we can contact your grandfather by videophone and you can tell him all about it.”

“I want to tell papa, too,” she said.

“That’s even easier. We don’t have to book the call to the city. But supper first.”

The meal was laid out on a table on the veranda. It was cooler now that the sun was setting, but only a little bit. The longer they could all stay outside, the better.

It was a cheerful meal. Remy and Rodan were both talking about their equestrian achievements. Marion and Rika were both justifiably proud of them.

Afterwards, Marion made sure that the call to Argis Mielles aboard the Deep Space Freighter Omega was connected first. Rodan smiled brightly at her grandfather and told him about her pony called ‘Alexi’ who she was learning to ride. He smiled warmly back at her and told her he was glad she had the opportunity to do something so wonderful.

“Please forgive us for indulging her,” Marion said to him. “She deserves to have such chances. She will never forget who she is. She talks about you all the time. She actually does miss her home with you, no matter how luxurious her life with us is. She even has the date of your return marked on a calendar. You need never fear that we are buying her affections from you.”

“I don’t worry about that. You and his Lordship have been good parents to her. She is a happy child. I thank you for that.”

Marion called Kristoph next in the city. He was delighted to hear of Rodan’s achievements. Her smile was equally bright as she told him all about it.

“Tomorrow I expect you will jump even higher,” he told her. “Enjoy yourself, my dearest one, and I will talk to you again tomorrow night.”

Again, Marion wanted to talk after Rodan was done.

“I think we may have to get special permission to bring a pony back to Gallifrey,” she said. “Rodan is quite enthusiastic about her new hobby.”

“That might be possible,” Kristoph said. “But say nothing to her for now, in case of disappointment. And speaking of disappointment, Remonte and I will not be joining you at the villa this weekend. Nor, I think, will Lord Stevenson. There are problems here in the city.”

“What sort of problems?” Marion asked.

“The heat is rising faster than anyone anticipated. There is talk of evacuating the city. Remonte is starting to send non-essential Embassy staff home to Gallifrey. Lord Stevenson is doing the same. I am remaining here with my TARDIS in case it may be of use in an emergency.”

“I thought this was an extreme but natural weather pattern,” Marion said.

“Everyone thought so. But there is some reason for concern. If it becomes necessary I will come for you all. Lady Margery and the staff there at the Villa, too. I promised Lord Stevenson I would look after them in the worst case scenario. But for now, do try to enjoy yourselves, and try not to be too concerned.”

“I’ll try,” Marion promised. She talked a little more before closing the call. She sat quietly on the veranda and watched the sun setting over the horizon. Ventura Minor looked bigger and redder than ever in the dark sky, and more than a little sinister. She wondered just how serious the problem below in the city really was, and just what Kristoph wasn’t saying about it.