From any viewpoint the sunrise on Alusoose was spectacular. Yesterday morning the President of Gallifrey and his party had viewed it from space, where it was breathtaking. The mesosphere of the desert world’s atmosphere contained an unusual level of ionised gamma particles, and the reflected sunlight flared like a corona of light around the planet.

As spectacular as it was, Marion wasn’t sure she liked it. She admitted as much to Kristoph. It looked as if the planet’s atmosphere was on fire, and that was a bit TOO much like what had happened not so long ago on Ventura.

But their hosts expected them to be enthusiastic about a view of their planet that was only seen by those who could afford to take the thermosphere shuttle or who were VIP guests.

“I AM enjoying the shuttle,” Marion admitted. “It really is the smoothest journey I have ever enjoyed – apart from TARDIS travel, that is.”

Kristoph smiled as she added that codicil to her remark.

“It is smooth because of the way the shuttle skims along the interface between the thermosphere and the mesosphere. Imagine it like water-skiing – the skis moving quickly, gracefully and easily over the one element – water - while you are immersed in the other – air.”

Marion laughed.

“I’ve never tried water-skiing. I imagine I would end up fully immersed in the water.”

“Ice-skating?” Kristoph suggested.

“Covered in bruises and not at all graceful about it,” Marion retorted.

They both laughed. It pleased their hosts who imagined that they were enjoying their trip fully. Marion didn’t tell them that she had been just a little upset by the view of the sunrise over the planet. It would have been so disappointing to them.

The shuttle circled the planet running just ahead of the rising sun. The ionised particles in the mesosphere appeared to be chasing the shuttle. Marion still felt it a little disturbing, even though she knew it was just an effect and that there was nothing dangerous happening to the planet below. The flares and spikes of red-orange that reached up from the mesosphere like tongues of fire were nothing of the sort. The planet below was hot and dry, but no more than the Sahara of Earth or the Great Red Desert of Gallifrey and the people lived under protective shields that kept even that heat from affecting them.

She kept telling herself that, but still she was glad when the shuttle accelerated away from the sunrise and into the black of the night in the eastern hemisphere before beginning its descent back towards the planet. The desert surface was completely dark except for the places where the shielded cities were. Those looked like glowing stars in a constellation of their own. The biggest was the capital, of course, Alusoosea City, but there were several other large cities and numerous smaller settlements in which a population of over two million people lived.

There were, in addition, so Marion had learnt, tribes of nomads who travelled the deserts on three humped, long necked creatures something like camels with all of their possessions in their saddlebags. But they were less likely to meet them on this trip than the Outlanders of the Red Desert whom Marion had never seen in person despite hearing many stories about them.

The shuttle landed in a place called the Valley of Lava. It would have sounded worrying if the VIP guests and the paying visitors had not been assured that the lava had stopped flowing a thousand years ago. What remained was a landscape shaped by volcanic eruptions that was prized by painters, photographers and poets as well as volcanologists.

It was still dark when the shuttle landed on a specially built platform and the roof split apart and folded down with a slight hiss of hydraulics. The pressure inside and outside the cabin had been equalised first and the only difference was a cool pre-dawn breeze bringing a fresh and unrecycled breath of air to them all.

Stewards brought coffee and croissants on trays as the guests waited in expectation of the second most spectacular way to view the dawn on Alusoose.

It began, as dawn on any planet does, with a lightening of the sky – in this case to the south-west. As the dark brown turned a dark-orange it was possible to make out some of that amazing volcanic topography.

A thousand years ago, when the volcano erupted, it had done so on the bottom of a wide, fast flowing river that had long since dried up and become desert. When the lava pushed up from beneath the ground the water had cooled it immediately, forming the eerie structures that the visitors now gazed upon. There were curling masses of black, solidified lava that looked for all the world like waves of water that had been petrified in a single instant before they had come crashing down upon the shore. There were tall, tree like structures with branches that had never moved even in the strongest desert wind for that thousand years. There were shapes sculptured by the action of cold water and hot lava that, to the imaginative eye might by figures of men standing with sword hands raised or hunched crones with cloaks around their shoulders, or dragons about to stretch their wings and fly.

All this they saw against the gradually lightening sky, but it was nothing to how it looked when dawn broke and the huge yellow sun rose into the sky above the lava valley. Then the lava formations no longer looked merely black. Crystalline elements within them caught the rays of the sun and reflected them so that it actually looked as if a yellow river of lava was pouring down from those petrified waves, as if the dragon had fiery eyes, and the huddled crone a body that glowed with an inner light.

The sun continued to climb in the sky until its whole huge mass could be seen, a terrifyingly big ball of heat and light that was much, much closer to Alusoose than the suns that warmed either Earth or Gallifrey were. Now the roof closed again over the shuttle and its passengers. The heat of the day was starting to be over-powering and so was the direct light from the sun. The windows automatically tinted so that the passengers might view the sunspots and the huge, swirling solar flares without damaging their eyes.

“You find this mostly terrifying, too, don’t you, my dear?” Kristoph said to Marion gently.

“Yes,” she admitted. “I’m not used to being this close to a star. Our own sun – the Gallifreyan sun… and the Earth sun… they both seem so much gentler than this. Yes, I know. It’s only because we’re so many millions of light years away from those suns and Alusoose is about as close as Venus is to the Earth sun or Demos to the Gallifrey sun.”

“Not just that,” Kristoph reminded her. “The Alusoosean sun is ten times bigger than those. It is a red giant. And it is far more volatile than our smaller yellow suns. That is why the sunrises are so spectacular. It is all just physics.”

“I feel as if it’s about to expand outwards and swallow the planet, and all of us with it,” Marion admitted. “And, of course, it will do that one day, won’t it?”

“Every star will do that one day when it reaches that point in its life cycle. Earth’s benign sun, and lovely Pazithi the star that lights the Shining System will one day engulf and destroy the planets they have nurtured and given life to, like the Titans devouring their own children. It will happen here much sooner than it will on our beloved worlds, but even here it won’t be for another billion, billion years. The lives of stars are longer than even a Lord of Time can encompass in his imagination.”

“I prefer not to think about all of that,” Marion said. “I’ve seen so many wonders of the universe at close quarters – black holes and supernovas, nebulae and… and phenomena that don’t even have names… and most of it is frightening.”

“That’s because it is a reminder of how vast and old and yet, at the same time, relatively young, the universe is,” Kristoph told her. “It is a reminder to you that your place in it is such a very small one.”

“And yours, surely?” Marion said.

“Time Lords never suffer from that worrying feeling of smallness,” Kristoph admitted. “That is one of the effects of facing the Untempered Schism. We look upon the whole universe in an eyeblink. We see infinity’s boundaries, as impossible as that sounds. We are shown eternity wrapped in a moment. And we are told that we are masters of it. Even a terrified eight year old feels great when he knows that he is the most important being in the whole of Creation.”

“Humility isn’t something Time Lords suffer from,” Marion joked. What Kristoph described was almost impossible for her mind to encompass. But it made her concern about the sun of Alusoose pale into insignificance. Even that was only one star in the billions upon billions that were in even one galaxy among the billions of those that existed.

“No, for the most part humility is for lesser beings,” Kristoph conceded. “Lords of Time is not merely a poetic term. But I like to think we have other qualities that stand in its stead. If we choose, we can have a great deal of empathy for others. And some of us temper our superiority with the knowledge that even we, masters of eternity, can always learn something new about the universe we live in.”

“Good enough,” Marion told him. “But just think… in a few months time… when we get back from this tour of the dominions – Rodan will be facing the Untempered Schism. She will learn that her place in the universe is as a master of it. What will knowing that do to her?”

“We will have to see,” Kristoph said. “Don’t worry about that. I will be her mentor on that day. I will see that no harm comes to her through that experience.”

“I know that she won’t come to any harm,” Marion assured him. “But will she be our little girl when it is done? Or will she be an enlightened being who knows so much that she won’t be a child at all any more?”

“She will be our Rodan,” Kristoph insisted. “Let us not think of anything else. Meanwhile, look at the last wonder of the Alusoosean sunrise.”

She looked and shivered in dread fascination as an object flew across the sky much faster than seemed in any way safe. The Alusoosean moon orbited the planet eighteen times in the twenty-eight hour day, leaving the appearance of a vapour trail in its wake that was, in fact, dust in the atmosphere that was drawn by the gravity of the moon.

At night, the moon had a honey-yellow colour. By full day it was russet red. At this time, with the newly risen sun’s rays glancing obliquely at it, the moon looked like a black-brown sphere that was burning from within its core. It was, like the lava flow in the valley, merely an optical illusion. The light that appeared to be within the moon was just the reflection of crystalline formations on the surface.

That was the end of the wonders of an Alusoosean sunrise. The stewards brought more coffee as the shuttle rose up into the lower troposphere for the journey back to the capital.

The Lord High President of Gallifrey and his First Lady returned to the Palace at the heart of Alusoosea City where whole wing had been given over for their use during their state visit. Rodan was awake and having her breakfast in the drawing room of her very own suite of rooms within that wing. She had been more than a little surprised by the idea of her own drawing room, her own bathroom with a sunken bath big enough for her to swim back and forward in it, and a bedroom with floorspace wider than the whole of the little house on the southern plain that her grandfather built. Marion had been concerned about the grandeur of it for one child who they had promised not to spoil with too much luxury. Even the rooms she had in Mount Lœng House seemed small in comparison to this, but once she got over the surprise, Rodan took it all philosophically. In any case, with the full programme of daily excursions she didn’t spend very much time in the rooms.

“I’m going to the zoo, today,” she reminded her foster parents. “To see all the different Alusoosean animals.”

“Yes, you are,” Kristoph said. “I’m coming with you. Your mama is going to have a morning’s rest after her early trip to see the Alusoosean sunrise.”

“Yes, I am,” Marion admitted, stifling a yawn. “You have an absolutely wonderful time, my dear. I shall have an absolutely wonderful sleep.”

“There are horses at the zoo,” Rodan pointed out, as if that was a guarantee that she was going to have a wonderful time.

Marion hoped that her delight in such things really would remain after she faced the Untempered Schism, but she had promised Kristoph she would not worry about such things, and she kept that promise as she kissed her foster child and told her to bring back a souvenir – not a horse – from the zoo and retired to her bed chamber for the rest she very much needed, now.