Kristoph looked at his wife and smiled warmly. She was fast asleep on the long sofa in Mai Li Tuo’s comfortable living room above his Chinese herbalist shop. They had spent a pleasant day on Formby sands, a place where Marion had often played as a child. She had rekindled some of those memories as they sat on a picnic blanket in the lee of a dune of soft sand, and added some pleasant memories of grown up pleasures as they stretched comfortably together under a blue sky and warm sun that had blessed their visit to the North-West of England after their more exotic stay in Rio de Janeiro.

When they got back from their so very unsophisticated outing she had declared that she needed a long hot bath to get the sand out of her hair and every other part of her body she could mention. Li presented her with a pot of herbal bath salts and she enjoyed the simple luxury of a bath for as long as she could before hunger drove her to dry and dress herself and emerge to enjoy a seaweed soup and spring roll supper.

Now, with her hair still a little damp and her face pink and scrupulously clean, she slept, certain that the two men she trusted most in her life would let nothing, not even a dark dream, disturb her.

“I know what she means about the sand,” Kristoph said with a deeper smile. “It does get everywhere. Though Formby is a mild place, all considered. Do you remember the Acaturian Desert where we wore masks to prevent the sand scouring the flesh from our faces?”

“I remember well,” Li answered. He poured two glasses of rice wine and they silently toasted the memories of times past. Kristoph drank and remembered, before being brought back to the present when Marion turned slightly in her sleep. He pulled a blanket around her and kissed her forehead tenderly before resuming his seat opposite his old friend.

“She is truly recovered from the illness that blighted our winter,” he noted. “It is a great relief.”

“She is well,” Li answered. “But, my friend, how is it with you? Despite your extended holiday time, you seem troubled.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“It is.”

“Back then in the desert, our mission was simple – find and kill a worthless piece of scum that did not deserve to live. Even the target knew he was unworthy. He gave himself up to our execution in the end as if he knew it was inevitable.”

“But now things are far more complicated.”

“The Arrette affair….”

“You are still brooding about that?” Li sighed and looked at his old friend with deep eyes that had seen so much.

“Brooding isn’t exactly the word,” Kristoph argued. Then he shook his head with a wry smile. “No, you are right. I AM brooding. That case… the murder itself in all its brutality, and the motives for it….”

“The people we executed were traitors, thieves, cold blooded murderers who took life for their own advancement or to conceal their actions.”

“Not because they had suffered years of mental and physical cruelty, or because they loved the one who had suffered so much.”

“A tragic scenario.”

“Yet, they were guilty. I could have set aside all emotional matters and arrested them all, had them tried in the usual way and punished as our law prescribes – with death sentences all round, no appeal, no mitigating circumstances.”

“There are no mitigating circumstances for premeditated murder,” Li pointed out.

“There are not. And the fact that highly compelling testimony was presented is not wholly why I was lenient with the culprits. I let them go into exile because I wanted to protect the names of two old and revered Houses. I helped to promulgate the lie that all is well in our ancient society.”


Kristoph looked at his friend quizzically.

“Ah? That is all you have to say after I confess my most troubled thoughts to you?”

“Your inner turmoil about this matter has been obvious to me for a long time,” Li admitted. “You have strong mental walls, but I have known you long enough to make windows of most of them. I know that is the core of the trouble – but to hear you confess it in words is revelatory.”

“You have live on this planet too long, Li, old friend. You should know that psycho-analysis does not work on Time Lords. We are too complex for the simple catharsis of baring the soul.”

“Some doubt we even have souls,” Li agreed.

“I don’t. But that is another matter. Old friend… confidant… rival in love… comrade in arms. I need your advice, now. With all of my doubts, my second guessing and my disillusionment with all that I should hold sacred in my bosom… should I resign my position as Lord High President?”

“Is THAT where this has been going?” Li asked.

“I have been giving it serious thought for quite a while,” Kristoph admitted. “I have told nobody – not even Marion. But I have thought about it very seriously.”

"What do you think Marion would say about you making such a decision?"

"I don't know. I think she might be pleased. The duties have always been onprous to her. The nuisance of the Presidential Guard around us.... She never asked for any of it. She fell in love with a literature teacher with a somewhat shady past. She accepted me as lord of the manor and as Magister of the southern court. She never expected anything as life changing as the presidential nomination."

"You took on the job in exceptional circumstances, of course."

"There was little choice in the matter. Lord Gyes named me when we thought he was dying."

"A wise choice."

"You think so?"

"I know so. Look at what you have achieved in such a short time - more than some presidents achieved in a hundred years - and all during an emergency tenure forced upon you as much as anyone else. There would be no shame in announcing your resignation."

"Only the ignominy of going down in history as the third shortest presidency in history- after Boothen Arcalian who collapsed and died two minutes after accepting the Coronet of Rassilon, and Artur Prydon who was impeached after only three hours in office."

Both men laughed at that notorious affair from long before they were born that was still recalled as a political joke from time to time.

"My father remembers that day," Kristoph said. "He told me the story when I was a boy. He reminded me of it not long after my inauguration."

"How long after?" Li asked.

"Four hours. He told me I was the third shortest serving president at that point and urged me to make a better job than the other two. I think he was joking. I'm sure he expected me to do well."

"And you have. The Caretaker Suffrage Act was a major achievement. The Guild Act which means industrial strife is never likely to rear its ugly head again is another. The Athenian Assembly will be another when it is passed. Those are all worthy changes to Gallifreyan law. You have also guided our people trough trade and diplomatic ties with more planets than I have remembered to count."

"I did so much?"

"You did, and you know it."

"If I choose to resign I won't manage to get female suffrage through the High Council. Marion will be disappointed about that."

"You get to choose your successor. Let him take up that mantle."

"There is no councillor I hate enough to punish with that poisoned chalice of a Bill," Kristoph remarked dryly.

"Who do you think you would choose?"

"You," Kristoph answered without a moment's hesitation.

"Flattering, but impossible. I am still under exile upon this world."

"We could invoke Article Seventeen. As a candidate yout could not be prevented from returning to Gallifrey and you cannot be indicted for any crime during the election process."

"But I can be after the inauguration. That is how Prydon was impeached after three hours. If the clerk of court had been more efficient it would have been even sooner."

"You would be the best man I could name," Kristoph promised him. "My second choice would be my brother, But I doubt he would accept. Like the two of us, he has discovered that Gallifrey is easier to love from a distance. He is happy in his position as an offworld ambassador. Rika is happy as an ambassador's wife. She is accepted on Ventura as that. I would not want her to be known merely as the 'Caretaker' wife of the Lord High President."

"They learnt to accept an alien wife."

"Marion made them accept her with an inner strength they never expected. I don't think Rika, for all her charms, has that quality. No, I shall leave my brother and his family alone and not burden them with the weight of Gallifrey upon them."

"There are other worthy men, of course."

"There are. I shall find one who will be prepared to shoulder that terrible burden. One who thinks much as I do about the need for reform."

"Anyone but Ravenswode," said an unexpected voice. Kristoph and Li both looked around. Neither had realised that Marion was awake. They didn't know how long she had been listening to them talking so earnestly about a matter that would change so much.

"Certainly not Ravenswode," Kristoph agreed. He went to her side and leaned over to kiss her fondly. "I would join my brother on Ventura if such a man were in supreme authority on Gallifrey. And I think quite a few more Time Lords would follow me into exile. But whoever else I choose you will know before anyone else, my dear. We will talk about everything before any final decision is made. "

"You have decided to resign?" He had not, in fact discussed that with her, but she had known for a while that it was on his mind.

"I have. I should have talked with you about that, too. But my mind has been in such turmoil. I did not want to trouble you with my dilemma."

"I think you've made the right decision." she assured him. "You have not been happy for so long. It is time to put it all behind you."

"If it were just for my happiness I would not abandon my responsibility. I believe it is the best for everyone - for me, you, and for Gallifrey."

"Then it must be right," Marion said. "Are there any more spring rolls in the kitchen? I feel a little hungry. "

"So do I," Kristoph agreed. "Now that the decision is made, I feel very hungry."

"I shall call the Welcome Friend," Li decided. "They will send around a late supper for us."