What is it?” Marion asked. “What has happened?”

“The Lord High President is missing,” Lord Dúccesci told her. “Along with the Chancellor and the Premier Cardinal. They have vanished from the Chamber.”

“What do you mean, vanished?” Aineytta demanded. “How could they ‘vanish’?”

“I do not now,” Lord Dúccesci admitted. “But when Gold Usher went to ask them to begin the procession they were gone.”

“They left the room?”

“There was a guard outside the door. They didn’t come past him. And there is no other way out of the Lord High President’s chamber.”

“Then how could they have vanished?” Marion asked. “What is going on, Malika?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted solemnly. “I really don’t. I just brought you the news because I knew you would be concerned. The Presidential Guards are searching the building….”

“I want to see my son’s Chamber,” Aineytta said in a firm voice that brooked no refusal. Marion had wanted to say the same, but she really wasn’t sure she could.

“Come along,” Malika Dúccesci said in a quiet tone. He obviously wasn’t sure what would be achieved by letting the two women into the scene of the ‘crime’ – if there was one – but he valued Aineytta’s wisdom in many things, and knew from his wife that Marion’s ‘foreign’ logic could sometimes triumph over the stoic Gallifreyan mindset. Perhaps they could think of something.

The Panopticon Guards were not happy about the presence of the women, but Lord Dúccesci reminded them that they were the wife and mother of the Lord High President, and as such had every right to enter his Chamber whether he was present or not.

It all looked perfectly normal. There had obviously been no struggle, and if the three men didn’t go out through the only door, then where could they have gone?

Marion went to the window and looked out. It was thirty storeys down to the plaza below. The people going about their business looked like ants. She vaguely recalled Kristoph telling her about a medieval bishop imprisoned in the Tower of London who escaped by tying bedsheets together and climbing out of the window, but the Presidential Chamber had no bedsheets, and besides, if Kristoph was agile enough on an ordinary day, he was encumbered by his formal regalia, and neither the Chancellor nor the Premier Cardinal were especially athletic men.

That was a ludicrous idea. They didn’t climb out of the window.

“There is something in the air,” Aineytta said. “Stand still, Marion, and you, Malika. Let me try to sense it fully.”

She closed her eyes and held out her hands as if divining for water.

“Yes,” she said presently. “There has been a discharge of ion energy. You know what that means?”

Marion did. Lord Dúccesci didn’t.

“It’s to do with transmats,” she said helpfully.

“But transmats cannot be used within the Citadel,” Lord Dúccesci pointed out perfectly logically. “There are shields of all kinds to prevent time rings or static portals, or any sort of transmat technology.”

“Nevertheless, that is what was done, here,” Aineytta insisted. “It is strongest there, by the desk. Marion, is there any object there that is unusual?”

Marion had visited the chamber many times. There were familiar things on Kristoph’s desk. He kept pictures of her and Rodan, as well as his mother and father and his brother and his family. There was his old fashioned fountain pen in its holder and the inkwell beside it, for the occasions when he signed physical papers as opposed to the electronic ones that were more usual. There was a perpetual calendar….

“That,” Marion said, pointing to a small sphere, about the size of a tennis ball. It was made of opaque glass and mounted on a silver stand. It looked like any ordinary desk ornament, but Marion knew Kristoph didn’t have such a thing.

“Don’t touch it!” Aineytta called out a moment too late. Lord Dúccesci had seized the globe, and as soon as it was in his hands it lit with green-silver energy that spread through the room. Marion couldn’t help swooning as her body began to be drawn into a transmat field. That kind of travel always made her a little nauseous.

She swayed dizzily, fighting off the sick feeling, aware that she was in a very dark room. The light of a small torch illuminated very little, but she felt reassuring arms around her shoulders.

“Kristoph!” Aineytta called out to her son. “Oh, my dear boy, we have found you, at least.”

“Who touched the sphere?” asked the Premier Cardinal.

“I did,” Lord Dúccesci admitted. “I had no idea it was anything untoward.”

“It was a transmat trigger,” Kristoph explained. “Don’t blame yourself, Malika. The Chancellor fell for the same trick. I, for my own part, had not even noticed the thing on my desk. I don’t know how it got there.”

“Where are we?” Marion asked. “Are we still within the Citadel?”

“If we are, we are in one of the sub-basements,” The Chancellor said.

“Yes,” Aineytta confirmed. “I can feel the depths.”

“If we’re in the Citadel, then we can’t be in any danger,” Marion suggested. “And surely we can get out of wherever we are.”

The penlight that illuminated a small portion of their surroundings was Kristoph’s. Quite why he had a torch in the pocket of his formal robes nobody had asked.

Unfortunately, the one thing he hadn’t been carrying was that multi-purpose tool, his sonic screwdriver.

Which meant that when they felt around the dungeon room and found a door they had no means of unlocking it.

“That’s the trouble with the men of our world,” Aineytta said. “They are too reliant on technology. They don’t use the power of their minds often enough.”

She stepped towards the door and pressed her hands on it. The four Gallifreyan men felt the telepathic energy she was generating as a physical sensation. Marion just knew that she was doing something amazing.

What she was doing was reminding the wooden door in the oldest part of the Citadel that it had once been a tree. Slowly, but not so slowly as nature, the boards began to sprout small branches upon which leaves unfurled. They dug roots down into the floor, breaking the surface. The door filled out into a trunk that grew up and out until it resembled a very old oak tree.

It kept on growing and the wall around it crumbled away as the branches forced themselves into the space. A hole big enough for the women to get through appeared below the main supporting branch. They waited until a little more of the wall had crumbled and the men could get through.

“You will need to take off your collars,” Aineytta told them. “It is a tight squeeze, still.”

“We are the highest ranked men in the High Council,” the Premier Cardinal protested. “We must be properly dressed.”

“I still have the Sash of Rassilon,” Kristoph pointed out. “I cannot take THAT off. It is too important.”

“Well, don’t blame me if any of you get stuck,” Aineytta told them. “Come, Marion.”

They climbed through the hole and waited for the men to join them. It was a struggle to maintain the dignity of their office while half-crawling through a dusty, debris-strewn hole. There were howls of pain from the Chancellor who banged his head and stubbed his toe, and a lot of rustling from robes made of cloth not meant to suffer such punishment. Nobody wanted to ask which ancient piece of formal regalia suffered the tear that everyone heard.

“Where are we, now?” Marion asked as her eyes became accustomed to the very little light from a single fitting some fifty yards along the corridor they found themselves in.

“We’re in the old, Celestial Intervention Agency headquarters,” Kristoph answered. “They moved to custom-designed quarters several floors above about five hundred years ago, but I remember this. The cells and interrogation rooms are along that way and the forensic department and director’s office straight ahead.”

“Lead the way,” Aineytta told him. “Has anyone yet worked out WHY such a trap was set?”

“Yes,” said the Premier Cardinal. “I think I know. It is an ancient law. If the three prime members of the High Council do not appear in the Panopticon by the end of the First Hour of the Vernal Session they may be impeached and replaced by the first three ordinary Councillors who put themselves forward. I believe this is an attempted coup.”

“A bloodless one, at least,” Kristoph admitted. “Alas, it is quite true. And it is already a quarter to thirteen. We have only fifteen minutes to reach the Panopticon.”

“Then let us hurry,” Aineytta urged. “Is there no quick way to get there – apart from transmat portals, at least.”

“There are some passages,” Kristoph admitted. “Used by the Celestial Intervention Agency. Do you trust my memory of them?”

The vote was unanimous. They did trust him. When they reached the main part of the old Celestial Intervention Agency offices he showed them a secret door that opened to a voice command. It still worked. Kristoph was a senior agent when this place was still operational. The door mechanism recognised his voice pattern.

“Very useful,” Lord Dúccesci commented.

“We’re lucky these old passages haven’t been sealed,” Kristoph answered as they stepped into a narrow corridor with rough stone walls. He waved a hand which operated low-level lighting and led the way to the first of several sets of stairs.

“Are you all right, Marion?” he asked, noting that she was out of breath at the end of one particularly long stairway. “We can take a breather.”

“No, we can’t,” she told him. “You have only minutes. Go on without me.”

“No,” Kristoph told her. “I won’t abandon you. It is only a little way, now. We should make it.”

“A few minutes late may prove interesting,” Lord Dúccesci said cryptically. “If it is the absentee clause that is going to be invoked.”

Nobody asked him what he meant. Even the senior Time Lords saved their breath for hurrying along the final corridor that led to the Panopticon.

The First Hour was sounded by a loud, booming gong as they reached a nearly invisible doorway. Kristoph opened it with a whispered code and stepped out. The others followed quietly. They found themselves in a small stairwell directly below the dais where the High Council sat facing the ordinary councillors when they were not in Committee session. The empty seats above were conspicuous.

“Good heavens,” Marion whispered. “Have you seen yourselves?”

Kristoph and his colleagues looked at each other. Their fine robes were in a sorry state, covered in dust and plaster. Their faces were grimy, the carefully applied make up covered with the finer grains of falling debris from the wall Aineytta had destroyed. The dignity of their Office was seriously impaired.

“We shall have to put up with it,” Kristoph said, polishing the Sash of Rassilon with the sleeve of his gold robe. “Wait one more minute to see if Dúccesci is right.”

Everyone else had guessed, now, what was about to happen. They all heard the voice of a councillor who stepped onto the Panopticon floor and began to claim that the Lord High President, Premier Cardinal and Chancellor should be impeached for failing to enter the Panopticon before the appointed Hour.

“But we did,” Kristoph called out, striding up the steps and making his appearance to the amazement of the assembly and the utter confusion of the man who had tried to impeach him and the two lords at his side. “We reached the Panopticon on the Hour, despite being abducted and imprisoned to prevent us from getting here at all. Guards, seize the Lords Mandal, Barro and Hexin. The charge of High Treason may be waived if they admit to the abduction and the flouting of Citadel transmat regulations.”

Two of the three men were seized at once. Lord Mandal, the ringleader, tried to evade the guards and almost reached the door but was tripped by the sudden appearance of a thick tree branch ripping through the floor.

“Oh dear,” Aineytta commented. “I’m afraid I may have caused quite a lot more damage than I intended.”

“We’ll forgive you, mama,” Kristoph said. “Now let me formally adjourn the Session for twenty minutes while we all wash our faces and make ourselves properly presentable, and perhaps we can have the procession and formal opening that was intended.”

“Well, Thedera said afterwards when the women joined their men in the Panopticon foyer. “This one will be remembered as the Opening when the President nearly didn’t turn up at all.”

“Not as the one when a tree grew in the Panopticon?” Marion queried. “Surely that’s going to be a tale to tell in years to come?”

“That, too,” Thedera admitted. “If they will believe that once the floor has been mended.”