The morning was actually a whole two degrees cooler than it had been for the past week. The cooling of Ventura Minor made that much difference. It still hung in the day and night sky, but now it was a sullen burnt brown colour in contrast to the yellow sun.

Kristoph and his brother stepped out of his TARDIS and strolled around to the paddock beside the house while Lord Stevenson stepped inside to order three extra breakfasts from the cook. They stood in the shade of a spreading acia tree and watched the children riding their ponies in the relative cool of the still early morning. Rodan was clearly confident. Her pony was no longer on a leading rein. She was riding at a fast trot around the paddock and jumping small hurdles easily. Remy, meanwhile was learning to sit up without a safety harness. He looked confident, too, as he walked the pony around a full circle without so much as wobbling.

“Let’s leave them to their lesson,” Kristoph said. “They’ll get excited to see us and forget how much fun they’re having already.”

They headed back to the veranda where they were greeted by their wives. Lady Margery joined them with her husband and a servant brought coffee and croissants as a preliminary to the more substantial breakfast being prepared.

“We weren’t expecting you,” Rika said. “Not that we’re complaining.”

“We had a very busy night, and decided that we deserved to join our ladies in the hills to rest from it,” Lord Stevenson answered her.

“Does that mean the crisis is over?” Marion asked. The other two women looked at her curiously. They didn’t even know there WAS a crisis.

“The heatwave continues,” Kristoph told them. “But it is within normal expectations. There should be no need for water rationing and life can continue satisfactorily.”

“It was a close thing,” Arthur Stevenson remarked, and of course, Kristoph had to admit to his part in averting the destruction of Ventura IV. Marion took it philosophically. She was used to Kristoph doing things like that. Rika was pleased that Remonte had helped in the heroic action. Lady Margery was disturbed by how near the planet had come to such a terrible end but was relieved by her husband’s explanation of what had happened.

“But surely somebody must have KNOWN about it?” Marion pointed out. “The Crown Prince… he has been assuring people all along that there is nothing seriously wrong with the weather and that it is just the fifty year cycle. He surely wouldn’t lie to his subjects about something so desperate? He would tell them the truth and start to organise an evacuation.”

“That’s just what we thought when we went to the palace last night,” Kristoph confirmed. He took a drink of his coffee and sat back, looking up at the morning sky with the sun still to rise up above the mountains behind the villa and Ventura Minor looking brown-black but quiet for the first time in weeks. “It was quite an interesting interlude.”

It was nearly midnight by the time the two Ambassadors and the Lord High President arrived at the Venturan royal palace. The Crown Prince had already retired for the night. They waited patiently until he was roused and came to his private office with his ermine-trimmed velvet robe over his pyjamas. He greeted his VIP guests cordially despite the disturbance they had caused to his bedtime routine and invited them to sit and take refreshments.

They accepted the hospitality, but Kristoph wasted no further time before explaining to his Royal Highness just what had occurred. He listened solemnly and intently to their account of the disaster that had been averted. From the window of the office Ventura Minor could be seen in the night sky. He noted that the burning red was turning to brown along one edge as the rain clouds drifted across its atmosphere and doused the planet-wide conflagration.

“You can do such wonders?” he asked at last. “Moving the planet back into position and even putting out such fires?”

“I can, Highness,” Kristoph answered.

“Then I am greatly in your debt, Excellency,” the Crown Prince said. “As are all of my people… even though they know not what you have done for them. But I wonder why I knew nothing of this until now? My astronomers surely knew? Our observatories are the very best in the quadrant. They are given virtually unlimited resources.”

“That is a vital question, Highness,” Remonte told him. “I think you should ask them.”

“I fully intend to, at once,” the Crown Prince decided. He beckoned to his Privy Councillor who stood quietly by while his audience with the ambassadors was going on. He instructed him to summon the Chief Astronomer immediately.

“Now, Highness?” the Privy Councillor queried. “At this hour?”

“At this hour,” the Crown Prince repeated. “He is, after all, a man who spends his life observing the stars. I should expect him to be awake.”

The Privy Councillor decided not to risk any more questions given the angry glint in the Prince’s eyes and hurried to do his bidding.

“Will you stay awake, my friends?” the Crown Prince asked.

“I thought I was tired,” Lord Stevenson said. “But it’s such a warm night, sleep would be impossible, and I am curious to see how this turns out.”

“Time Lords don’t need as much sleep as other humanoid species,” Kristoph added. “We shall be quite happy to see this through to its conclusion.”

The Crown Prince laughed hollowly.

“I AM accustomed to a good night’s rest, but I shall have to forfeit it on this night. Excuse me while I dress more appropriately.”

The Prince withdrew. When he returned he was wearing his ermine robe over a dark uniform of the Venturan Space Fleet that he had served in as a Captain when his father ruled the planet. He bore several ribbons for active service in the name of Venturan peace and galactic-wide prosperity. It was a forceful reminder to all coming within his presence that he was a man of accomplishment, not merely one who had inherited a title.

The man who was brought into his presence understood the point very well, but he nevertheless stood proudly, meeting the Prince’s gaze resolutely and paying no attention to the three foreign dignitaries who witnessed his audience.

The Crown Prince got straight to the point, asking why he was not informed of the danger to the whole people of Ventura.

The reply surprised the prince and his guests equally.

“It is written,” said the mature and white haired Professor Ematrius, Chief Astronomer to the Court of Ventura. “The doom of Ventura would come with a fiery vengeance. Sire, you know the texts….”

“I know of a book of mythology that includes some lurid notions,” he answered. “When I was a boy I saw an illustrated copy that frightened me so greatly my father had it banned from the royal library and from the list of books my tutors might use in my education. Neither he, nor I, have banned it from publication altogether, but we have made it clear that the Book Of The End is no more than fiction and nobody should take anything within it literally.”

“And that refusal to accept the Truth distresses many of your subjects, Highness,” Ematrius answered. “Those who have accepted that the Day of Doom is imminent and have made preparations for it.”

“What preparations?” The Prince asked coolly. “I am aware of some fools bearing placards and shouting nonsense in the streets. But they are hardly prepared for anything.”

“We are prepared to die,” Ematrius answered. “We have settled all our affairs, repaid debts, made amends for wrongs, and are ready for the appointed day when we shall welcome the conflagration with the certain knowledge that our souls will enter the realm of Bahali cleansed of all worldliness.”

Kristoph and Remonte both looked at the man in utter bewilderment. Both of them knew about religious beliefs in countless different societies, but they came from a race with no concept of a higher Deity, no heaven or hell by any name to which they might go in the afterlife depending on their conduct in their corporeal life.

Time Lords certainly prepared for death. They had pre-cognisance of their own mortality and would always settle their affairs where possible – including repayment of debts and amends for any wrongs they had done to others. That part of the Professor’s words they understood.

But that preparation would – with a few rare exceptions - come at the end of an exceptionally long life, not in the prime of it. And it was not welcomed with the eagerness that Ematrius suggested.

Lord Stevenson just shook his head and looked out of the window at the cooling moon in the night sky.

“How can a man of science and learning, who is in such a position of authority and respect, be a part of such an irrational cult?” the Prince asked. It was a rhetorical question. He didn’t expect an answer, but Ematrius gave one, anyway.

“As Chief Astronomer I have been able to observe all of the signs, and to warn the faithful of the coming day.”

“But you didn’t think to tell me, or anyone who might be able to do something to prevent the disaster.”

“The unworthy should not be forewarned,” Ematrius answered. “They will be consumed amidst confusion and fear.”

“And that includes your Crown Prince?” the Prince asked. “Am I considered unworthy?”

There was an edge to his voice as he spoke. He was controlling his anger, but only just.

“You have poured scorn upon the texts. You are, indeed, unworthy. You, too, shall lie as ash on the ground in the End.”

“I think not,” The Crown Prince answered. “The End of the World has been called off. My friends here have corrected the error in the orbit of Ventura Minor. It is not going to rip itself apart and fall onto us. Science has triumphed over your mythology.”

“What!” Ematrius turned to look at the three visitors for the first time since he entered the Prince’s private office. “You dare to interfere with what is foretold? You dare to defy the Lord Bahali’s plans for his chosen people?”

“Yes, we defy such nonsense,” Lord Stevenson answered. “Men, women, children frightened into thinking their lives are about to end just because a book says so – others left in ignorance of the very real danger to them. I’ve never heard anything so insane.”

Kristoph and Remonte both looked at their Human friend and nodded. He came from a world that had many religions and millions of people who took them very seriously. But even he had expressed exactly what they had thought about the cult that existed on Ventura.

His words only served to anger professor Ematrius even further, though.

“Heathens, blasphemers!” he cried with his eyes burning with rage. Even so, none of them expected anything more than his verbal ire. They were unprepared for the sudden lunge he made, pulling a small silver dagger from his pocket and aiming it at the nearest man.

Unprepared though he was, Kristoph moved quickly and the dagger was knocked from the professor’s hand before it was plunged into Lord Stevenson’s heart. He tried to reach for it again, but the former Celestial Intervention Agency man was more than equal to him. He restrained him quickly and handed him over to the palace guards who answered their Prince’s call for assistance.

“Detain him,” the Prince ordered. “He is a traitor who put the lives of all Venturans at risk. That was enough even before the attempted murder of an honoured diplomat of an allied government. His fate will be decided when I have slept on the matter and have a cooler head than I have just now.”

“And that was the core of it,” Kristoph finished as he sat under the shade of the veranda and watched the first rays of the morning sun reach the front garden. “Nobody had known until now that the Chief Astronomer was also the High Priest of a group of End of the World fanatics.”

“He really would have let everyone on the planet die, without giving them any warning?” Marion was astonished. “Even the children?”

“Even the children,” Remonte said. Rika shuddered and gripped his hand firmly. “He seriously believed that he should allow the planet to be destroyed.”

“Thank heavens you stopped it happening,” Lady Margery said. She clung to her husband, shocked to hear of his close call with death. “But what about those followers who really believe the end of their world is coming? What will they do when it doesn’t happen?”

“I am a little concerned about that,” her husband admitted. “There have been cults of that sort on Earth in the past. Foolish people have committed mass suicide or worse because they believed that judgement was imminent. I hope the Crown Prince can do something to prevent any such tragedy here.”

“He will do all he can to reassure his people,” Kristoph said. “The fact that the fires have been put out on Ventura Minor might help. People will see that as an indication that the worst is over. It should feel as if it is. The nights will be cooler without the heat coming from there and that will help make the days more bearable, even for those of us who still have duties in the city.”

“Does that mean you have to go back?” Rika asked.

“Not just yet,” Remonte assured her. “We intend to have a good breakfast once the youngsters join us, then a peaceful day here with our ladies. We saved the planet overnight. We deserve a break from diplomatic affairs.”

“We most certainly do,” Kristoph agreed. Lord Stevenson concurred.