Liverpool was in the midst of one of its wettest winters in decades. Rain continued almost all day and all night with very little respite. Even the middle of the day was depressingly grey and dark.

In the late afternoon of such a day Arges Mielles looked out of the window at the wet pavements that were starting to reflect the orange glow of streetlamps on the darkening street in the heart of the Chinatown district of the city. He thought wistfully about the snow-bound winter on the southern continent of Gallifrey. His unbidden sigh attracted the attention of the other Gallifreyan sitting in the drawing room with him. The old man known in the local community as Mai Li Tuo nodded in understanding.

“I have become accustomed to English winters in my exile, here,” he said. “But sometimes I do long for a deep bronze sky and clean white snow.”

Arges was still surprised to be sitting in company with an Oldblood who spoke to him as if they were equals. It surprised him nearly as much to realise that they had memories in common of growing from boyhood to manhood on the southern continent with its clearly defined seasons unlike this region of planet Earth.

“So long as Rodan is safe here, the weather does not matter,” Arges admitted.

"It is a subject that continually occupies the minds of humans," Li pointed out with a wry smile.

"So I have found. It is only one of many things about humans that I find rather puzzling. Their behaviour towards each other is inexplicable. I cannot understand why one species divides itself into so many factions – and so many of them at odds with each other. Countries - regions... Even a city like this one has its divisions - Reds and Blues, Scousers and Woollybacks... whatever either of those words mean."

“I have never quite understood that aspect of the Human race,” Li conceded. “But for the most part, they are a tolerable species. Most of them aspire to make the best of themselves. Kristoph has seen them much further into their evolution than this particular century and he says that they DO eventually put most of their differences aside in order to meet with other races of the galaxy on good terms. But they are some way off that ideal, yet. For our purposes, the important thing is they have no official contact with extra-terrestrial races and no space programme beyond their own solar system. There is no easy way for the Sisterhood to insinuate themselves into Human society, while the teeming multitude of humanity here in this city provide those of us who have learnt to fit in with a perfect way to hide in plain sight.”

“Rodan is happy among these people, that is certain,” Arges concluded. “I never realised she had so many friends here.”

“Marion has been bringing her here since she was a baby. She has grown up with the local children who know her as my kin. That is why she is out this afternoon at the community centre making paper lanterns for the forthcoming Chinese New Year, happily putting the reason for her temporary exile here out of mind.”

“I am glad that she has friends, here. We have few neighbours at home. Perhaps that is not so good for a girl like Rodan as it is for a retired old space dog like me. Small wonder she sought other company and was so easily lured by the wrong kind."

"Do not look for reasons to blame yourself," Li advised him gently. "Those damnable women would have found other ways to ensnare her once they had fixed upon her as the means to their end.”

"His Lordship assured me many times that this matter is no reflection upon me as a parent to her. Yet I cannot but feel that I might have seen that something was awry."

"The Sisterhood have had many generations to perfect their devious ways."

"I did not even know such a cult existed until they turned their attentions to my granddaughter," Arges admitted. "Their history has been kept a secret from the ordinary people of our world - known only to High Councillors and to the Celestial Intervention Agency, I suppose?"

There was the mildest of accusations in his tone - as much as a Caretaker dared in the face of an Oldblood.

"It is true," Li answered. "We, your assumed superiors have kept all too many things from the common knowledge. Yet secrecy is not always the wisest or best policy. You have a right to know how these women came to threaten your family's peace and safety."

Li brought a fresh pot of Chinese green tea and poured a steaming cup for his guest and then for himself before going on with his story.

"It is important to know that the first 'Sisterhood' were not Gallifreyan women, and the planet they are indigenous to - a planet they called Karn is in the Quintus solar system, not Pazithi Gallifreya. The planet we now know as Karn, the third planet from our sun, was originally called Khargn, a simple phonetic coincidence that led those who knew of them to assume a closer kinship existed."

"That is a great coincidence," Arges noted.

"It does not stretch the credibility much further to know that the DNA of the people of the Quintus Karn is only three chromosomes apart from that of Gallifreyans. When this was first discovered in the latter part of the Second Omegan epoch we Gallifreyans were exploring the planets orbiting the other stars in the Kasterborus constellation. You are probably familiar with the spaceport cities of many of them. When we found civilisations whose intelligence and sophistication was close to our own we established diplomatic and trade ties."

Arges nodded. As an old hand in the Gallifreyan merchant fleet he was familiar with a score of those planets and their people - at least the people who worked in the spaceports or the reasonably priced hotels in its hinterland.

But his ship has never docked on a planet called Karn by any spelling. Indeed, the Quintus star system had never been a stop off point for any ship in the merchant fleet.

"You would not. It is very firmly off limits, not only to our fleets, but any others who value their own lives. Eons ago when our exploratory craft reached that bedevilled planet they found an intelligent but unaccountably superstitious people with a strange demographic anomaly. Females - the dominant gender socially and politically - outnumbered the males by a ratio of something like nine to one. This did not worry the upper ranks of their society since they had something very unique, unusual and potentially devastating at their disposal - a naturally occurring elixir that prolonged life and made procreation unnecessary."

"Continuing the race through new generations is not the only reason for procreation," Arges remarked. "Most peoples I have met consider family to be a comfort. This community you live in holds family very highly. I have noticed that much about them. Rodan calls you Zufù to her friends – grandfather – as a sign of respect, not of blood kinship – because family is so very important."

Arges did not mention how he felt about another man fulfilling that role for Rodan. At first he had been a little resentful – if only in secret – but he had come to realise that Rodan loved both of her grandfathers and looked to them both for the love and protection she so vitally needed in the crisis that surrounded her.

"Time Lord society holds family to be a sacred thing, too," Li observed. "It is one of our better qualities. In my experience races that dispense with such ties - for example the Sontaran with their clone reproduction - are more likely to hold life itself too cheaply. Nevertheless, we did, initially, form ties with the people of Quintus Karn. Unusually, and for reasons buried in history, we permitted colonies of their people to migrate to our system- mainly to the then unpopulated planet that came also to be known as Karn. The 'religion' practiced by the higher born women attracted many Gallifreyan women, especially younger daughters without dowries. On Pazithi Karn the difference between the migrants and our own blood was soon forgotten."

"And the Sisterhood was still approved of by the High Council?"

"It was, but here is where it becomes rather less honourable on our part. The Sisterhood were tolerated because we knew that the rites performed in their Chapter Houses conferred upon them powers we ourselves coveted. Even the best trained Time Lords rarely achieve telekinetic skills such as they possessed. We were jealous. There is no better word for it, no more honour in it than that. We were also frightened of such power held by women. Our misogynistic tendencies were raised in the worst way. Propaganda and manipulation of the historical records began to paint the Sisterhood as a sinister and disloyal cult and within a few generations of such marginalisation they had begun to be exactly that. An edict from Lord High President Ellison Lundar prohibited members of the cult from travelling from Karn to Gallifrey. At the same time we began sending colonists to establish mining outposts and, at the same time, designated three fifths of the planet as nature reserves, they were pushed even further into secret, underground sects. It was a self-perpetuating problem that still haunts us today."

Arges said nothing. He was a loyal Gallifreyan citizen who trusted the High Council to act in the best interests of all. He was shocked to realise how deceitful the High Council's treatment of the Sisterhood had been.

"That was not the worst of it. Remember Quintus Karn. In the four millennia that had passed since our people made contact with that planet the population had atrophied. There were no males left and all natural procreation had ceased. They were using the elixir to prolong the lives of the remaining population. That was bad enough, but the High Council shamelessly exploited them, obtaining quantities of the elixir for their own purposes. It does not prolong our lives, but it can save a badly injured Time Lord from death and in rare cases when regeneration is stalled it can be used to complete the process. It was for that reason alone we had anything to do with Karn at all. Our ties were of no benefit to the people there in any way. And that was before Morbius went there."

Li noted that Arges Mielles had heard of Morbius. That was no surprise. His name was still a by-word for evil in the galaxy and a stain upon the reputation of the Time Lord race that they still could not erase.

"His crimes were unspeakable. The ailing population were reduced to mere pockets of survivors. The planet was rendered a wasteland. When he was finally brought to justice the Sisterhood demanded that he was executed there, in the presence of their leaders. Even then, greed for the elixir ensured that Time Lords would continue to make their presence felt. The Sisterhood withdrew even further into their secretive, protective and ultimately murderous factions. Thus, on two worlds, both called Karn, we, the Time Lords, despite our assertions that we are an honourable race, have been responsible for sowing seeds of bitter dissent."

"Small wonder they wish harm upon the High Council," Arges commented. "Though it is treason to say so, of course."

"Treasonable words against the High Council of Gallifrey mean nothing under this roof," Li reminded him. "Yes, it is plain to any who know the true facts that the Sisterhood have been treated unjustly. They have a terrible grievance against the High Council if not Gallifrey as a whole. But any sympathy I may have for them is diminished by their attempt to use an innocent child to perpetrate their act of revenge. They must be stopped and they must be punished proportionately to their crime and within the law. And that is what Kristoph and Malika are making certain of on Gallifrey while we protect our precious child here on Earth.”

“Indeed, I hope it is so,” Arges agreed diffidently. He was still worried about even thinking disloyal thoughts and he was uncomfortable every time Li used the given names of Oldblood Lords so familiarly. It was a reminder that he was a guest here of a man who, despite his humble lifestyle and a generous and friendly nature, was still born much higher than he was in the social strata of their home world.

“Yes,” Li assured him. “It will be done. How quickly, we cannot be certain. They must lay plans quietly in order to close the net around those with evil intentions. Until then we are both exiles, far from the machinations of Gallifreyan politics. Put aside your concerns about blood and rank. We are equals among Earth men.”

“I….” Arges began, uncertain, still, how to respond to such egalitarianism. Then he forgot about such things as they both heard the side door downstairs open and close. A moment later Rodan came into the drawing room. She was carrying two handmade paper lanterns with exquisite Chinese characters drawn upon them. Both included a Mandarin compound character that translated as ‘grandfather’. She gave one each to Li and to Arges – her two grandfathers.

“The character is interesting,” Arges noted. “? - It looks very much like a man with two swords standing guard over a bowing figure.”

“The elder figure offering protection, the younger offering deference and respect,” Li concurred. “My adopted people have very succinctly represented the relationship between grandfather and grandchild. You should make another lantern like this one, Rodan. Keep it for yourself as a reminder of why you should never have secrets from those who love you – because we cannot protect you and it is a mark of disrespect to us from you.”

“I will do that,” Rodan promised, bowing her head for a moment to show the deference and respect she sincerely meant for them both. Then she ran to hug Li and Arges in turn and to sit beside them to eat noodle soup and spring rolls and talk about the New Year preparations. She expressed a hope that they could stay until after the festival that proved she was not unduly concerned about the conspiracies of the Sisterhood nor anything else that might be happening on Gallifrey in her absence.

Her two grandfathers both agreed that it should not be any other way as long as they were there to protect her from such things.