It was four days after the ladies had left for the mountains. Kristoph finished what had become a regular evening chat to Marion by videophone and then went back to the private drawing room of the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s residence where his brother and Lord Stevenson, the Earth Ambassador, were deep in conversation. Aides for both men came in and out of the room bringing messages and taking new ones away. The floor length windows called ‘French style’ in Lord Stevenson’s residence where the term had any meaning, were wide open and the air was a little cooler now that night had fallen, but there was still a sticky and oppressive warmth that was even making the Gallifreyans, who could alter their body temperatures at will, feel uncomfortable.

“Are we doing the right thing?” Lord Stevenson asked. “Sending even more of our people away, I mean. It smacks of panic measures, a degree of cowardice, even.”

“They are going to be switching off the mains water tomorrow in order to conserve supplies,” Kristoph answered. “Even the desalination units cannot cope at this stage and they must introduce rationing. The less people we have here using the resources, the better. Besides, nobody would think it cowardice while we in the highest ranks remain here. Even the Crown Prince remains in his palace, directing what measures he can to the assistance of the ordinary people.”

“You could go,” Remonte told his older brother. “You were here on a State Visit. Nobody would think badly of you for taking Marion and Rodan and going home to Gallifrey.”

“I would think badly of me for leaving you in a crisis. And I am sure Marion would not leave Rika while she is worried. The children and our ladies are safe in the hills. As long as that is true you have my help and assistance. And remember, of course, I am far more than a figurehead President. I have skills that may yet come into play if the crisis deepens.”

“The crisis will certainly deepen,” Lord Stevenson admitted. “Lines of people waiting to be given water rations under a baking sun will not do so patiently. Tempers will flare. A riot could be sparked as easily as a grass fire in this heat.”

“The embassies have enough personnel left to secure them against attack if such a thing should occur,” Remonte pointed out. “But Rassilon forbid that it should come to that.”

Lord Stevenson agreed with his sentiment if not the invocation of the Creator of Time Lords. They all felt an unusual sense of powerlessness. They were men who were used to taking command of situations and bringing them under control. But there was nothing they could do about the weather on Ventura and even less they could do about the political problems it would lead to.

The only thing they could do, if worst came to worst, was leave the planet along with their families and all of their staff, and all three men agreed that they would do that only as the very last resort.

“The Crown Prince deserves our support for as long as it is possible,” Lord Stevenson added. The two Gallifreyans concurred. The Earth Ambassador finished his drink and stood, declaring that it was time he set off back to his own residency. He stepped towards the open door to the garden, then stepped back again. Kristoph and Remonte both stood at the peculiar noise outside that had disturbed their friend. It was like a sudden rush of rain but with a dry sound rather than what would be a very welcome and cooling shower.

“The garden!” Lord Stevenson exclaimed. “What has happened to it?” Kristoph and Remonte both looked out onto what should have been an immaculate if rather parched lawn with flower beds and topiary around it. The grass and flower beds and the hedges were all covered in something grey.

Remonte stepped over the threshold and was surprised when his feet crunched on the grey stuff. He bent and reached out his hand, then recoiled in horror. He found a handkerchief with which to pick up a sample.

“What is it?” Kristoph asked.

“Insects,” Remonte answered, opening up the handkerchief on his palm to reveal what must have been something like a grasshopper. The creature was dead, its delicate wings and exo-skeleton burnt to an ash-grey. “All the insects have baked in the heat… and dropped out of the sky.”

“I haven’t even seen an insect during the day,” Remonte commented. “And now it’s too hot for the night-flying ones?”

A servant came into the drawing room bringing a bucket of ice for the drinks. He put it down and came to the door where the three Lords pondered the odd situation.

“It’s all over the city, your Excellencies,” he reported. “Everywhere is covered in them.”

“Hipolito,” Remonte said to the servant. “You’ve been here a century at least as head footman. Have you seen anything like this before?”

“No, sir,” he answered. “I’ve seen two of these hot summers and it was never as bad as this. If I didn’t know better I’d think the doomsayers were right. This is surely a bad sign.”

“The doomsayers?” Kristoph queried.

Lord Stevenson sighed.

“I’ve seen them in the streets, with placards. They were banned from the video-broadcast or the radio, and the printed press won’t pay them attention, but there are no laws to prevent them having their say in public. They think this is the fulfilment of some ancient prophecy of the end-time, when Ventura Minor will crash into the planet, destroying all life. Utter nonsense, of course.”

“Such things HAVE been known to happen,” Remonte pointed out. “But I doubt it is happening here and now on THIS planet.”

“Even so, many people are afraid that it is coming to pass,” Lord Stevenson contended. “And fear is a plague that spreads widely and quickly in the right climate.”

“Are we absolutely certain they’re wrong?” Kristoph asked. His brother and the Earth Ambassador looked at him critically. “We do not dismiss prophecies lightly on our world, Remonte, and certainly not in our own family. Our mother herself is a seer of renown. If she predicted such a disaster the High Council would listen carefully. But such thing aside, what about the science of this matter? Has anyone considered the possibility that insects burning in the air might be a sign that a planet-wide cataclysm is upon us?”

“If they have, they would have reported to the Crown Prince,” Remonte answered. “He has not said there is anything to worry about.”

“I wonder….” Kristoph mused. They all three knew the Crown Prince well. They had attended many official functions at the palace as well as private dinner parties. He was a level-headed man who ruled the planet with a firm yet fair hand. If there was any danger at all, surely he would be at the forefront of efforts to circumvent it?

“What are you thinking, brother?” Remonte asked. He had felt all of those thoughts about the Crown Prince, but he knew there was something else beneath it, something that a former Celestial Intervention Agency man concealed without even thinking about it.

“I am thinking I would prefer to see the evidence with my own eyes,” Kristoph answered. “My TARDIS is in the garage with yours, I presume?”

“Of course.”

“Come on, then. Arthur, would you care to join us?”

Lord Stevenson accepted the offer without being entirely certain what he had got himself into. He had very little time to worry about it, though. He had barely come to terms with the interior of Kristoph’s TARDIS before they were in orbit above the planet, coming into close proximity with Ventura Minor.

“I knew you chaps had some superior technology, but this is beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said. “This is how you normally travel?”

“Not always,” Remonte answered. “We have ordinary sub-light vortex craft, too. I only use a TARDIS if I absolutely have to.”

“Even so….” Lord Stevenson stood at the open door and looked down at the planet where he had been standing a few minutes before and then at the angry red globe that was the cause of much of the concern on that world. “From here it looks even more like a portal to hell,” he added.

“Yes,” Kristoph agreed. “And if these figures I’m looking at are correct, it could well be the truth.”

“Brother… do you mean….” Remonte looked at him in shocked surprise. So did Lord Stevenson.

“My God, you don’t mean to say the prophecies are right?”

“They may well be, if nothing is done,” Kristoph answered. “It has nothing to do with the burning, or even the intensity of this summer heat. Those are all quite natural to Ventura and its twin planet. But the fire didn’t start spontaneously this time. Look at this.”

Kristoph brought up an image of the ‘dark’ side of Ventura Minor on the main screen. He overlaid that with a deep scan that mapped the surface of the planet beneath the burning vegetation. Neither Remonte nor Arthur Stevenson were as well versed in the sciences as Kristoph, but they could all see a deep, wide crater that was not there a few months ago.

“A comet passed by a few weeks ago,” Remonte pointed out. “It was a source of excitement for everyone….”

“It was the first of the ‘signs’ for the doomsayers – followed almost immediately by the burning of Ventura Minor.”

“None of the Venturan astronomers noticed that a chunk of the comet had ripped off and smashed into the planet, sparking off the fires?” Kristoph asked.

“Apparently not,” Remonte answered.

“And none of them noticed that the impact threw the planet out of its proper orbit by nearly four degrees?”

That was news to the two ambassadors who both lived on Ventura and were always kept informed of anything vital to the welfare of the planet.

“Four degrees? Is that dangerous?” Remonte asked his brother. “It sounds… small.”

“It is small. But it still changed the trajectory of the planet. The danger isn’t immediate. You would have until next spring to pack the furniture up and head home to Gallifrey. After that Ventura Minor would be so far into the gravitational pull of Ventura IV that it would start to break apart. The fragments crashing down into the oceans or onto the landmasses would cause planet-wide life-destroying devastation.”

Kristoph spoke in a calm tone, despite the severity of his words. Remonte and Arthur both looked at him curiously.

“Would have….” Lord Stevenson queried. “Future conditional…. Does that mean there is something that they can do to stop it?”

“There’s something I can do right now if the two of you lend a hand at the controls. Remonte, you’ve operated a TARDIS plenty of times, don’t look so startled.”

“I’ve operated one using pre-set destinations and an auto-pilot,” he answered. “I’m not an expert like you.”

“And I wouldn’t know where to start,” Lord Stevenson added, glancing at the array of blinking lights and incomprehensible buttons and levers on the console.

“Remonte, take hold of the Addison Regulator… the lever over there with the yellow light beside it. Arthur, you don’t have to operate anything but I need you to read out figures on those two dials there. One mustn’t go above 600 and the other mustn’t drop below 100 or we’ll make a rather spectacular meteor shower over the equator.”

Kristoph himself was operating four different levers at once, none of which even Remonte knew the purpose of. Neither of his helpers understood what he was trying to do, except that it was meant to stop the future destruction of Ventura IV and Ventura Minor.

If it didn’t destroy them, first. The way the engines protested and the ominous toll of the cloister bell deep below them was disturbing. Kristoph assured his two helpers that the stresses on the TARDIS were still within acceptable limits. Neither was completely convinced until he finally locked off the controls and told them that the job was complete.

“We did it?” Remonte asked. “We altered the orbit of Ventura Minor?”

“We moved it back those four crucial degrees,” Kristoph confirmed. “The End of The World catastrophe is averted.”

“Good,” Arthur Stevenson simply said. He gave a long, deep sigh and then breathed in again.

“I think we can do one more thing,” Kristoph added. “Arthur, close the door. You really don’t want to see outside when I do this.”

Lord Stevenson did as he said and came back to the console. He watched Kristoph working at the environmental controls. He was aware of a movement beneath his feet, as if the TARDIS was revolving slowly.

“We’re actually revolving very fast,” Kristoph explained. “The internal gyroscopes stop us from feeling it. We’re in low orbit over Ventura Minor where I’m creating some atmospheric excitation.”

“I beg your pardon?” Arthur replied.

“He’s making it rain!” Remonte exclaimed. “You are, aren’t you? You’re making rain on a planet where it NEVER rains.”

“Seeding the upper troposphere with h2o crystals – ice to you. Once the process has begun, it should spread naturally. Cloud cover will form right across the planet and the rain will start to douse down the fires. It will take a few hours. There is a lot of vegetation burning. I might even have to pop up here and repeat the process a couple of times, but it has started. I think we can leave it alone for now. There is another errand we must run tonight, back on the planet.”