The Panopticon was dark. The only light was a diffused glow through the glass dome high above – the Gallifreyan moon in her bronze aspect. That faint light was just enough to outline the unusual shape of a narrow bed placed in the centre of the hexagonal dais where the Lord High President usually sat on ceremonial occasions.

Upon that bed a Time Lord was dying.

Malikahathanmachsolace Dúccesci was nearing the end of his last life. He was doing so peacefully and with all dignity afforded to him and according to the tradition of his race.

When it was over, his mind, with the accumulated insight of thirteen lifetimes as the leading climatologist of his world, would be added to the matrix, the pycho-electronic accumulation of all the knowledge and wisdom of every Time Lord that ever lived. Or more correctly, perhaps, every Time Lord who died quietly in circumstances of his own choosing. There were a few who died far from home in sudden and violent circumstances and their knowledge was lost.

Kristoph de Lœngbærrow had always expected to be one of those. Only in very recent years had he begun to live the quieter life that led to a peaceful death with the proper rites accorded to a Time Lord.

The idea of dying peacefully here on Gallifrey passed idly through his thoughts as he sat in the unaccustomed position of the public gallery. He was waiting there with the son of the dying man, the present Lord Dúccesci. It was not quite time to be at the bedside, but the dark and the quiet provided solace in these long hours.

The Lord High President with his unique interface with the Matrix through the Coronet of Rassilon was always present on these occasions. The Premier Cardinal would always be on hand, too. How many others would keep the vigil could vary. There had been former presidents who were attended by every adult member of their dynasty as well as the entire assembled Council.

Malika Dúccesci was the only family member in attendance. His father’s younger brother was dead and his nephew, Ginnell was under-age. The duty fell upon him alone.

“I didn’t expect it to happen so soon,” Malika admitted in a low whisper as he looked down to see the Premier Cardinal coming to anoint the dying man according to custom. A faint smell of the spiced oil could be detected even in the gallery.

“Nor I,” Kristoph replied. “I knew, of course, that his health was not great, but I thought he had a half century at least.”

“His body was less frail than his mind,” Malika continued. “His grasp on reality has been increasingly weak for some time. But now the cancer of the liver is spreading faster than his body can regenerate cells. It is the end, after all.”

There was a philosophy that held that Time Lord minds were immortal within the Matrix, and therefore it was never the end, but Kristoph wasn’t going to burden his friend with that just now. He was losing his father tonight and no words could soften the blow.

Then Dúccesci looked around in surprise. A sound had echoed through the Panopticon – one that had never been heard within its walls before.

“Birds,” he said. “Straits gulls at the dawn tide. I remember the sound so well. Our summer villa by the sea. The sound would wake me when I was a boy. My father would be awake long before. He would be walking on the sea shore, studying the shape of the clouds on the horizon as the sun rose – or the lack of them. By the time I joined him he could say exactly what the weather would be for the day. He was never wrong. His long term models for our planetary climate were more scientific, but his instinct for short term weather changes was phenomenal. I only wish I had inherited even a fraction of his skill.”

“His predictions about the weather in the Great Desert in the next millennia are his great legacy to our society,” Kristoph told him. “Our scientists are already working on solutions to the problems a prolonged dry period and rising temperatures will bring.”

“The desert was his special interest, but he returned to the sea when he was done. He loved the summer villa.”

As Malika said that, a new sound was heard – unmistakeably the sound of the tide rushing onto a sandy beach.

“His mind is creating the sounds, isn’t it,” he said.

“Yes,” Kristoph replied. “He is remembering the peaceful places where he was content through his life and the background energy from the Matrix that is concentrated here in the Panopticon is recreating the strongest memories.”

“It is good to know that he is at peace in these last hours – and thinking of happy times.”

The screech of the gulls and the whisper of the tide was followed by another peaceful sound – the laughter of children. Malika was visibly affected by the memory.

“My brother and I at play on that same beach,” he said. “Sometimes it seemed as if father was too wrapped up in his great projects to notice us, but he did, after all.”

“I often felt the same about my father when I was young,” Kristoph recalled. “He was more often to be found on the roof with a telescope than in any room of the house. If I had need of his advice I would generally find him there. He would test me on the constellations above our heads before listening to my problems.”

“Will we be like that with our own sons?” Malika asked. “I hope any boy of mine will KNOW I am always available for him.”

“Likewise,” Kristoph agreed. “But I don’t think either of us was truly neglected, and we have proud models for our own actions as parents.”


Malika was quiet for a while, listening to the sounds that his father remembered so clearly that they manifested themselves in extremis. They were a comfort to him as he faced the great loss of his parent.

“It is time to go down there,” Kristoph told him gently after another hour had passed. The two men quietly left the gallery and walked along the well lit corridor and down the staircase to the lower corridor and the ante-chamber leading to the grand entrance to the Panopticon floor.

Gold Usher and the Chancellor joined them there, both dressed in plain black and silver robes instead of the colourful regalia of an ordinary day in this place. Kristoph’s aide brought him the Coronet of Rassilon, a band of precious metal studded with large jewels that sat heavily on his head. it was more than just an ornament. The metal was infused with artron energy and the jewels were a focus for the Matrix’s phenomenal power. It allowed the Lord High President to make direct contact with those many generations of Time Lord minds within it.

This was the first time in his presidency that Kristoph performed the Rite of Passing, but he was ready for it. The Coronet not only allowed him to make contact with the minds of past Time Lords, but to draw upon them for the strength he needed to help his friend through these hours.

It was customary not to speak while positioned around the dying Time Lord. Even so, Dúccesci couldn’t help a brief exclamation when the air above his father’s bier was lightened by a vision of a wide, white sanded beach with the tide washing over it as the sky turned from the bright red of dawn to the burnt orange and lighter yellow of a fine summer day on Gallifrey. The sound of Straits Gulls and the washing tide, as well as the laughter of children could be heard again, but now there was a visual context for them.

Kristoph knew that it was the connection with the Matrix through the Coronet that allowed for such strong visualisations. Dúccesci almost certainly knew that, too, but right now his emotions were overriding his intellect and it just seemed like a miracle. He trembled visibly as he reached to touch his father’s hand, sharing completely the vision from the past.

“It is close, now,” The Premier Cardinal whispered above the sounds. “We must be prepared.”

Everyone WAS prepared for the mental jolt they would feel when the body ceased and the mind of the Time Lord transferred to the Matrix. What they didn’t expect was the powerful vision that overwhelmed the calm one that had been maintained until the point of death.

It began in the Red Desert. A hot wind that they could almost feel even though it was merely a vision scoured the sand until all that remained for as much as fifty square miles was bare rock. The yellow sky turned dull orange-black with the sand held in the atmosphere by the phenomenal air pressure. Meanwhile the wind grew even hotter as it swept across the desert, whipping and whirling, picking up even more material and holding it in the vortex of a massive double tornado.

“It’s not possible,” Gold Usher cried out as the wind actually whipped at his clothes and his thinning hair was blown awry. “A vision so complete that it manifests itself so… so… completely.”

Forming grammatically correct sentences was difficult in the circumstances. The heat and the power of a desert storm troubled them all as they fought to keep to their feet and maintain the dignity of the death vigil. Dúccesci threw himself over his father’s body as if to protect him from the force that his own mind, in the moment of transfer to the Matrix, had created.

The others were just too astonished by what they were seeing to wonder about where it was coming from. They stared into the eye of the storm as it passed across the Red Desert at phenomenal speed and approached the great glass-like envirodome that protected the Capitol from the elements.

The ordinary elements, at least. It was never built for the terrible force that was unleashed on it by nature itself. The double tornado was bad enough, tearing at the dome, weakening the very fabric of the great shield. But then all of that sand and rock that had been dragged up into the sky dropped onto the dome at once. The sound of it cracking open like a giant egg was louder than the storm itself, but the devastation could only be guessed at because that was where the vision finally collapsed and the Panopticon was silent, still and dark once again.

“He’s gone.” Dúccesci’s voice, dull with grief, filled the silence after a few stunned minutes. The men around him remembered what they had been there for in the first place. The Premier Cardinal again anointed the corpse of Malikahathanmachsolace Dúccesci. Gold Usher closed the dead Time Lord’s eyes and folded a black satin cloth over his face. Later, the body would be sewn into a shroud and prepared for a funeral pyre, but not just yet.

Kristoph removed the Coronet from his head. It felt even heavier than usual and he wanted to distance himself from the minds of all those great Time Lords of history.

“I think you need some time alone,” he said to the grieving son. “We’ll return in a little while to complete the ceremonial duties.”

Dúccesci nodded. Kristoph led the other two men out of the Panopticon. They said nothing until they reached the Presidential Chamber which was protected by anti-telepathic fields.

“What do you think we saw?” Kristoph asked his two most senior colleagues on the High Council, two of the most intelligent men on the planet.

“A vision from the mind of a man who had lost touch with reality for a very long time before his death,” The Premier Cardinal answered. “A delusion.”

“Perhaps not,” Gold Usher argued. “What we saw up until the moment of death had veracity. I think….”

He paused, unsure about what he had seen.

“I felt it more strongly than either of you,” Kristoph told them. “The connection to the Matrix through the Coronet enhanced my experience, allowed me a closer association….”

“As it should, of course,” Gold Usher noted.

“I felt the difference between a vision of the past and one of the future. What we saw was a warning, a vivid and exceedingly coherent vision from the greatest climatologist in the history of our world. He was telling us to prepare for a disaster that will come at some time in the future. Whether it is imminent, sme time within our lifetimes or not for several millennia I don’t know. Climatology is far from my specialist field. But we should begin to make preparations. We must see that those who do know about these things constantly measure the temperatures, the wind speeds, the patterns of weather around the Red Desert – even in those zones where it is difficult to make accurate measurements of anything. We must strengthen the envirodome over the Capitol, and do it all without letting the ordinary people of the city know that there is anything to be concerned about. That much is imperative.”

“You are certain it was not just the ramblings of a madman?” The Premier Cardinal asked. “To take such measures – expensive measures – on such a basis might be considered frivolous.”

“I for one would prefer to be thought frivolous than incautious,” Gold Usher answered. “If we ignore the warning, then posterity will find us accountable.”

“It was not the ramblings of a madman,” Kristoph assured them. “The precognitive vision began a micro-second after death occurred. The mind had already joined with the Matrix and was free of the bond that joined it to the body. It was as strong as it had ever been when the late Lord Dúccesci was young and vigorous, and it was supported by the combined wisdom of our ancestors. There is no doubt. It was a warning. It was the very reason the Matrix exists and we WILL take note of the warning.”

His colleagues accepted his word. They agreed to do what had to be done to avert that future disaster while sworn to secrecy on the Seal of Rassilon itself.

That done they returned to the Panopticon and kept company with Malika Dúccesci until the dawn light began to filter greyly through the dome above their heads. Finally, as the great chamber filled with light they brought him away to eat a little breakfast and talk through his grief until he was ready to go home to his wife and begin to face the future without his father – a process every sentient being in the universe except those born by clone batch or in surrogate farms went through at some time in their lives.

Kristoph returned to his home and assured his wife that Lord and Lady Dúccesci were as well as might be expected, then proposed an afternoon at the Dower House.

He felt the need to spend some time with his father.