Rodan was in her element. Not only was she enjoying a fantastic world that few children her age could possibly have a chance of visiting, but there were horses, too. The Lord High President of Gallifrey and his wife and foster daughter were riding very fine horses in a beautiful landscape on a perfectly ambient afternoon. Rodan was mounted on a chestnut gelding that she took to immediately and rode with absolute confidence. Kristoph was on a black stallion and Marion was riding pillion behind him dressed in a russet coloured habit with an ankle length skirt that allowed her to straddle the horse safely and still look as elegant as if she was riding side-saddle.

They weren’t on the planet of Aabessia underneath its artificial sky, but inside the magnificent steel ring that surrounded the planet. This was where the Aabessians came to enjoy the very best of leisure pursuits. On the planet itself every piece of land that wasn’t a town or city was farmland. It was needed to feed a population that had boomed rather than declined in the years since they took to life under their steel sky. But any Aabessian who wanted to enjoy riding or cycling, rock climbing, paragliding, sailing, or any other healthy pursuit did it within the ring.

“It’s actually a realisation of something humans dreamt of in your time,” Kristoph told Marion as she looked up at the peculiar ‘sky’ above her. It was impossible not to know that she was in a huge doughnut-shaped construction. The beautiful wooded valley with a winding river running through it curved up at the edges to meet a ‘sky’ that was artificially created daylight with fine weather clouds floating across eggshell blue and a simulated sun dipping past its zenith. When it ‘set’ later in the day, the sky would become translucent and a view of the starfield outside would be visible until the ‘dawn’. Day and night were an equal ten hours each and the weather was always summery except for two hours in the middle of the night when carefully controlled rain fell to water the land and feed the rivers and lakes.

Marion expressed her surprise at that revelation that the wonderfully technological Aabessians had not thought of this idea first.

“Yes, indeed,” Kristoph assured her. “An American physicist by name of Gerard K. O'Neill came up with the idea of two counter-rotating cylinders connected at each end by a rod via a bearing system. They would rotate so as to provide artificial gravity via centrifugal force on their inner surfaces. This is only very slightly different to his vision in that the cylinder has no ends but is a torus – that’s the correct geometrical term for a doughnut, of course.”

“I never knew that, either,” Marion admitted. “Though I don’t feel I should regret that lack of knowledge. I doubt very many people, even on Gallifrey, know the proper geometric term for a doughnut.”

She thought about that and laughed.

“Actually, I don’t think anyone on Gallifrey even knows what a doughnut is!”

“I am quite sure they don’t, but you would be wrong in your other assertion. Spatial geometry is a compulsory pre-requisite to the study of temporal physics, which any Time Lord hoping to travel in the vortex has to understand fully. We DO know what a torus is.”

Marion accepted his correction.

“I am quite partial to doughnuts, too, as a matter of fact,” Kristoph added. “Though I really prefer the ones with cream and raspberry jam in them.”

Rodan expressed a preference for jam doughnuts, too. Marion laughed.

“I don't think either of you are going to get your wish. We're heading for that inn by the river just by the foot of the mountain for lunch, and I doubt if they have doughnuts. I expect there will be something on the sweet trolley to suit you both, though.”

The inn was still so far away it looked like a pottery miniature, yet. Rodan didn’t mind. It meant she still had plenty of time to ride before reaching a place where good food was available. That was her idea of a pleasant prospect.

Marion was starting to get a little weary of horse-riding by the time they reached the inn. She was happy to climb down and stretch her legs before sitting down on a comfortable bench under a sun shade. The landlord of the inn came out with a menu and a large jug of iced water flavoured with sugar, lemon and ginger. It was a recipe that was new to Marion, but she thought it was the very thing after a morning in the saddle. After seeing that the horses were tethered next to a trough of feed and plenty of drinking water Kristoph and Rodan joined her in that aperitif while choosing their food.

“This is nice,” Marion said as she settled down to enjoy the salmon pate starter she had chosen. Kristoph was enjoying the same, while Rodan had selected a pastry with melted cheese in the middle which she called a ‘croissant fromage’ in testament to her favourite language after Gallifreyan and English.

“Apart from anything else, it has been very nice not being accompanied by your protection detail,” Marion said. “Just the three of us enjoying the amenities.”

Kristoph nodded and glanced at the two men in walking boots who were enjoying a meal at another table. They were two of the protection detail. They had been following at a discreet distance using personal perception filters and anti grav boards that allowed them to move at a speed equal to the cantering horses.

Not that he expected any trouble. This was a beautiful place, but it was deliberately made so. It was carefully planned and even more carefully controlled. Nothing ought to happen here.

But two of his protection detail were there, all the same, just in case.

He ate his starter and main course in perfect security and contentment, knowing there was nothing to worry about.

They were enjoying a choice selection of patisseries for desert when he discovered how wrong he could be.

“Kristoph!” Marion said with a note of urgency. “There’s something funny going on.”

He looked around. Rodan was giggling as she held her food plate. Half a lemon cream filled pastry was lifting from the plate. Marion was having the same problem with her own food. She put her fork over her strawberry tart and forced it down. Kristoph watched his slice of gateaux rise up nearly six inches from the plate which was floating above the table. He forced the cake onto the plate with one hand and pressed the table back down with the other.

“I’m pretty sure this isn’t supposed to happen,” Marion said.

“It must be a problem with the artificial gravity,” Kristoph commented. “It’s nothing… I’m sure… just a very slight fluctuation.”

Rodan giggled again and grabbed the pastry off her floating plate. She ate it while floating three inches above her chair. Marion didn’t think it was particularly funny and grabbed hold of her leg to prevent her drifting away.

“It’s stopped now,” Kristoph said as Rodan came back down onto her seat again. “Finish your food while I just…. I want to talk to those two gentlemen over there.”

Marion hadn’t even noticed the two men before that moment. Now she paid more attention to them and recognised them as part of the Presidential entourage despite their civilian clothes. Of course, they HAD to be around somewhere. It was too much to hope for that they would be left in peace for a day.

Kristoph was speaking very quietly to the men. He might even have been communicating telepathically. At the same time one of them was using a slimline mobile phone to speak to somebody who was making absolutely no argument. He came back to the table.

“We’re going back to the main planet right away,” he said. “I’m sorry about this, but I don’t want to take the risk of a more dangerous problem. A shuttle will be here in ten minutes.”

“What about the horses?” Rodan asked. “We can’t leave them here.”

“Yes, we can,” Kristoph told her. “The innkeeper will stable them until they can be sent back to the riding centre. They’ll be quite all right.”

“No,” Rodan insisted. “We can’t leave them. We left Alexis when the house was on fire. And now… we’re going to leave more horses to go floating up to the sky.”

“They won’t….” Marion began. Then she felt a strange sensation. Her feet were leaving the ground. She reached out for the table, but it was rising up with her. Kristoph grabbed her and Rodan and pulled them close. He had wedged his feet under the wrought iron fence that surrounded the outdoor dining area. He held onto them until the strange problem with the gravity subsided.

As soon as he let them go, Rodan ran to check on the horses. Kristoph went with her. despite his assurances the animals were in distress. They were tangled in the reins that held them to their tethers. Rodan watched anxiously as he freed them and calmed both of them down.

“They’ve got to come with us,” she insisted. “They’ll get hurt if they stay here.”

“All right,” Kristoph conceded in the face of her distress. “We’ll bring the horses. Go and tell you mama to ask the landlord if he wants to bring his family, too. I won’t abandon them if they want to come. There’s plenty of room in our shuttle.”

Rodan did as he said. The landlord of the inn was frightened. So was his wife. Leaving their home and business was upsetting, but they got ready to evacuate with the Presidential party.

Kristoph was the last to board the shuttle. He was making sure there was nobody else around, a lone hiker seeking refuge, perhaps. There was nobody. He turned to climb the steps when the gravity failed again. He felt himself pulled away from the shuttle.

“Kristoph!” Marion had been waiting inside for him. She reached out and grabbed his arm but she could feel him being pulled away from her. She called out for help and the protection agents helped to haul him into the shuttle. It was far from a dignified entrance for the President, but he was safe. Once the door was closed the cabin was pressurised. The gravity outside – or lack of it - didn’t affect them.

But the problems outside were increasing. That much was obvious as they travelled back towards the shuttle dock where they could leave the Ring and head back to the planet. The shuttle was impeded several times by objects that ought to have been firmly fixed to the ground – bicycles, picnic tables, fence posts. Marion pulled the blinds down beside her seat because she didn’t want Rodan to see a goat floating by, its legs flailing helplessly and its mouth opening as if it was crying out in panic. She couldn’t hear through the exo-glass windows but she knew that it must have been a very frightened animal.

Nearer the space dock there were people in distress, too. The gravity hadn’t completely failed, but it was bad enough that anyone who couldn’t hold on tight to something solidly fixed was floating freely. One man tried to grab hold of the aileron at the side of the shuttle, but it was going too fast. Kristoph watched him float upwards out of reach of help even if they could have opened the doors in flight.

“What happened?” Marion asked. “This is more than a glitch. People are going to die. It’s horrible.”

“I don’t know,” Kristoph answered. “I have never heard of such a thing happening before. The Aabessians are such amazing technicians, the very idea of something like this is unthinkable.”

And yet they were looking at a tragedy in the making as their shuttle edged carefully into the space port and approached the special airlock that let shuttles out of the Ring.

The shuttle suddenly lurched sideways. Everyone cried out in alarm except for the pilot who swore loudly in Low Gallifreyan before apologising to the First Lady for his rudeness.

“What was that?” Kristoph asked.

“Another shuttle cut in front of us,” the pilot replied. “It almost rammed us. It was deliberate – to stop us from getting to the airlock first.”

“Excellency, the Aabessian authorities are ordering that shuttle to halt,” the co-pilot added. “They want to speak to the pilot… about an attempt to sabotage the Ring.”

“This ship has tractor control,” said one of the protection agents. “It is a former Celestial Intervention Agency vessel.”

“Stop that shuttle,” Kristoph ordered.

The co-pilot operated the tractor control and halted the rogue shuttle after a very short fight. A few minutes later it was flanked by Aabessian police craft and taken into custody.

“We can leave now,” the pilot confirmed. “We’ll be back on the planet in a few minutes.”

Some hours later Kristoph sought out his wife and foster daughter in the makeshift stable at the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s residence where they were staying. The three horses were perfectly happy with their temporary surroundings. Rodan was happy to have a chance to look after them overnight before they were taken back to their proper home on the Ring.

“It won’t happen again, will it?” she asked. “The gravity going wrong?”

“No, it won’t,” Kristoph promised. “The saboteur has made a full confession. He was attempting to blackmail the government by threatening to destroy all the gravity and kill many thousands of people. His attempt failed. A lot of people were injured, and quite a few animals suffered, too, because they were so very helpless. Yes, Rodan, you were right about the horses. We saved them from being hurt. I shouldn’t have refused the first time you asked.”

“It was just blackmail… for money?” Marion asked.

“A great deal of money,” Kristoph pointed out.

“But just money, not politics, not… anything to do with us being here from the dominion government of Gallifrey? It wasn’t… an assassination attempt on you?”

“No, it wasn’t,” Kristoph assured her. “The saboteur didn’t even know we were going to be there today. He was simply a very greedy man who cared nothing for the safety of others as long as he could get what he didn’t deserve.”

“I’m… relieved,” Marion told him. “I really thought it might have been….”

“You mustn’t think of that sort of thing,” Kristoph told her. “It will spoil your enjoyment of the places we visit. I told the Aabessian President that we would be staying the full length of our official visit, despite the fright we all had today, and in a few days’ time when the Leisure Ring is re-opened for business, we will be spending the day there again. Rodan will want to personally see that the horses get home, obviously, and it will reassure the people if we are seen to give the facility our patronage.”

“I can look after the horses until then?” Rodan asked.

“Indeed you can,” Kristoph assured her. “But walking pace only on the stallion. He’s too strong for you to go galloping on.”

Rodan didn’t mind having rules imposed on her as long as she got to spend time with her favourite animals.

Marion thought about visiting the Leisure Ring again and decided she could certainly do that if she was sure that she could keep her feet on the ground.