Verema Ges, promising sophomore at the Prydonian Academy walked into the grand foyer of the Citadel, the government building at the heart of Gallifrey's glittering first city known simply as The Capitol. She was heading for the Panopticon, the great Hall where the government of Councillors, High Councillors, Cardinals, Chancellor and Lord High President sat to discuss the laws to be made for the betterment of the Gallifreyan people. There was nothing unusual in that. She had sat in the visitor's gallery many times before. Students at the academies were encouraged to do so.

Verema's mission here today was not to improve her knowledge of constitutional matters and she steeled herself not to appear nervous as she passed through the security portal under the watchful eyes of two Panopticon Guards. The automatic sensors detected nothing dangerous on her person and she was not on any list of banned personages so the guards allowed her into the security cleared zone beyond the public foyer.

She headed towards the stairs to the public viewing gallery, but before she reached them she turned down a narrow corridor few visitors and even fewer of the councillors knew about. It was used by the cleaners and janitors who went in and out of the Panopticon unobtrusively every day doing their inconspicuous jobs.

It was almost laughable that the security of the Panopticon could be so easily outwitted. The sensors completely failed to recognise the device she was carrying as a threat of any kind. Even if the guards had searched her, they probably wouldn't even have seen the danger. The device that could destroy the Panopticon and probably much of the central part of the Citadel was no bigger than a pocket watch. It was made of a metal that hid its contents from sensors, and even if she had opened it those contents would have appeared to be no more than a mildly perfumed cosmetic such as girls often carried in their hand bags.

Such was the ingenuity of the Sisterhood with subtle chemicals. The men who thought they knew so much more about such things would be astonished to learn what women who were denied the benefits of an Academy education, of clean, state of the art laboratories, had managed to learn by their own wits.

Some of them were going to learn at first hand - if only very briefly - what the Sisterhood were capable of.

The door into the Panopticon WAS locked, but only by a simple mechanical device that could be undone with an equally simple application of telekinesis. She had learnt to do such things within a few days of attending the Sisterhood's training sessions.

The door unlocked. She stepped through into the Panopticon. She hid herself between the rows of seats for ordinary councillors until a janitor finished arranging carafes of water on the octagonal High Council table of polished obsidian. When the man was gone she crossed the floor to the table and glanced across it. As well as water carafes and glasses there was, in the middle of the table, a rather esoteric arrangement of stone and precious metal that a graduate of the Cerulean Academy had presented as a piece of art. The device placed on the structure looked as if it belonged there - at least as much as any other component of the artwork did, anyway.

She turned and walked away, back to the door which had been locked again by the janitor who brought the water. She used her telekinetic skills again to unlock it and quickly slipped along the passageway.

She went quickly and quietly up the stairs now and found a seat in the public gallery. It would look odd if she left straight away. She sat and watched as the Panopticon floor filled with Councillors, as the High Council table was occupied by the fantastically dressed men and women who were the inner core of Gallifreyan government. She waited until the Lord High President himself entered the Panopticon in ceremonial fashion and took his seat before she left the gallery.

Nobody asked why she was leaving so soon after the day's proceedings had begun. Nobody searched or scanned her. She left the Citadel more easily and quickly than she had arrived.

She crossed the square outside and went into Valentins. She was shown a seat and the waiter took her order for coffee.

As she sat drinking and quietly looking out of the window at the busy square in front of the Citadel somebody sat in the seat opposite her. She was surprised to recognise Lady De Lœngbærrow, wife of the former Lord High President and her present tutor in classical history.

"Madam," she said. "I... I...."

"You don't mind me sitting here, do you?" Marion asked. "I'm waiting for my husband. He has some business with Lord Dúccesci... His Excellency the Lord High President, I should say. Malika and his wife have been to dinner so often I can't quite come to terms with all that official titling...."

Verema turned her head away and looked out of the window. Everything was quite normal. Any moment now it would not be.

Marion was still talking. Verema hardly heard a word. The thoughts in her own mind were too loud. Thoughts about....

What was she thinking about? What was the noise that seemed to fill her ears, blocking out all other noises and invading her mind?

"It’s sort of like travel sickness," Marion told her though she hadn’t complained at all. "I can't quite explain it properly. It’s something to do with dimensional portal over vast distances causing neural disruption or... something like that."

"I don't understand," Verema answered her. "What portals? Why does my head hurt so much?"

"Here's Kristoph, now," Marion said calmly. She moved to another chair brought by the maître-d while her husband sat down directly in front of Verema. He held up a large violet coloured gem that caught the light in a hypnotic way. Verema looked at it for a few seconds and her headache cleared.

"Oh!" She exclaimed in shock as the mesmeric influence was broken. "Oh.... Oh, my Lord. You must get the people out before it is too late. The device... It will explode any moment."

"It exploded fifty seconds ago," Kristoph told her calmly. "But nobody was hurt. There was nobody to be hurt where you left the device."

"I didn't mean to," the terrified girl confessed. "I mean... I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't.... My head... It was as if it wasn't me thinking the thoughts. It wasn't me taking a bomb into the Panopticon. It..."

She looked out of the window again.

"Nobody was there.... What do you mean? The Panopticon was full of people. The Lord High President... the Chancellor…. Everyone was there."

"Yes, everyone was in the Panopticon. But when you went through that door from the janitor's corridor you didn't go into the Panopticon. You went into a computer simulated model of the Panopticon set up in the middle of the Red Desert. The bomb went off there quite harmlessly."

"Oh, thank goodness for that!" Verema was visibly relieved. "But that means...."

"Yes, we knew what was planned. We started investigating after young Rodan told us of the conspiracy. We learnt quite early on that you were their alternative, a girl from a good family, beyond reproach."

"I never would... They did things to my mind."

"I know that. So does the Director of the Celestial Intervention Agency. We didn't know if it was meant to be a suicide mission. There were men ready to get you out of there. Marion was here to look after you if you returned. In a little while we're going somewhere quiet. Your parents will meet us there. You will give a statement to an Inquisitor."

"An Inquisitor?" Verema looked worried again.

"It is a frightening word, but I'm talking about Valena d'Arpexia. Her mother drinks coffee with yours. It will be fine."

"What about the Sisterhood?"

"Well, they will have worse headaches than you. The dimension portal the Celestial Intervention Agency set up around their Chapter House brought them to a time-locked dungeon on the uninhabited side of Polafrey. It was made to look like their Chapter House so that the plan would not be revealed. Around about now they should be realising that they have been tricked and that they are all under arrest. I'm just waiting for the confirmation before we leave here. I think another round of lattes and some of Valentin's signature fat free butternut cookies will pass the time."

"I'm not hungry," Verema said mournfully.

"Of course you are," Kristoph answered. "You're ninety-six. Being hungry is mandatory at that age. Don't worry. You are not under arrest, nor will you ever be, unless you get caught off campus after curfew, anyway. You are our chief witness to the fact that these cowards used a young girl to carry out their evil intent. Your statement will be the end of the matter for you.”

Verema was partially relieved. She accepted the coffee and cookies, as well as the casual conversation Kristoph led her into, talking of the hang gliding sessions that she enjoyed very much and about her studies at the academy which she found much less satisfying because the assignments she was given were too easy and she could not move forward fast enough.

“We have got to find a way to stop talented young women from becoming frustrated with the pace of their education and straying into the path of the unscrupulous and the manipulative,” Kristoph said. “Rodan wanted to run before she could walk, too, and that brought her to the attention of those damned Women. It is our fault, your forebears – especially the males of our species. We have too long assumed that our girls are only at the Academies in order to get to know future husbands among the academic and sporting elite. We MUST change our attitudes or we will face another backlash as dangerous as the one we have avoided today.”

Verema was surprised by such a confession from one of her elders. Marion nodded as if she heartily agreed with his assessment.

“I think I can help you, at least,” he added to the girl. “But we will talk of it later. When you have finished your coffee we will go to the safe place.”

Verema had expected to be taken to the office of the Castellan within the Citadel or something equally daunting. She was surprised when Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow brought her to the town house of Lord Dúccesci, the Lord High President. His wife, Talitha, greeted them as honoured and welcome guests and conducted them to her finely appointed drawing room where Inquisitor D’Arpexia and Verema’s parents, were already waiting. Lady Ges looked distressed. Lord Ges looked angry, though that melted away as the two of them embraced their daughter emotionally.

Refreshments were served. The whole proceedings were kept civilised and as pleasant as possible. Verema told the truth as far as she knew it. Much of it matched exactly young Rodan’s experience with the Sisterhood – enticed by the promise of skills she would not learn at the Academy and the friendship and companionship of women with real power and independence from men. When it was done, Valena pronounced herself satisfied that it was a true deposition and announced that the file was closed with regard to Verema Ges’s role in the affair.

“Won’t there be a trial?” the still concerned young woman asked. “Won’t I have to give my evidence… with them watching.”

“No.” Kristoph glanced at his wife, who gave him a sharp look. “Gallifrey is in the happy situation just now of having three former presidents living and in sound mind. With the present incumbent we are enough to enact a little used piece of archaic law that allows us to bypass the whole legal proceedings and pass sentence of exile upon the Sisterhood. Marion thinks we should not have done that. She believes that laws of that sort could be used to suppress legitimate challengers to the government. And she is right. I think we ought to amend the law to make it six living presidents in future, to ensure at least one of them isn’t a tyrant. But where these women are concerned, my conscience is clear.”

“Exile?” queried Lady Ges. “What does that mean, exactly?”

“They are to be transported to Quintus Karn, the planet where the Sisterhood first named themselves and developed some of their formidable skills. It is a dark, dangerous world, but the Women who are long established there will take them in. They will have nothing to fear from us, nor we from them.”

“I’m not entirely satisfied with that,” Marion pointed out. “I think it highly possible that a few may still be at large here on Gallifrey. Verema and Rodan may both still be at risk of their vengeance.”

“I agree,” said Lord Ges. “Can we be sure that our daughter is safe?”

“I have considered that very seriously,” Kristoph answered. “In truth it cannot be ruled out. We COULD arrange for a guard to watch her every day, impose a strict curfew, ensure she does not leave the Academy campus without an escort. But we have already decided that Verema should not be punished, and besides, that would only make her even more frustrated with her Academy life.”

Verema looked from her parents to Lord de Lœngbærrow, who appeared to have a plan.

"I believe it is time that the Desert Camp took in girls. Academic standards are so high there that even Prydonian fathers are requesting places for their sons. The extra-curricular activities are the envy of other schools, and it is the safest place any of our children could be. Three thousand miles of desert lie between them and anyone with ill intent."

Verema hardly dared to look at her father. It was exactly the chance she longed for - a school where she could rise to the challenge every day.

"Yes." To her surprise it was her mother who spoke first. "Yes. If I had been offered the chance at her age, I would have jumped at it. Our daughter needs the chance I never had ... To be more than just a wife and mother. Yes, let her go to the best school on the planet and be whatever she wants to be."

Lord Ges might have had something to say, but he knew there was no point.

"Isn't there a waiting list for the desert camp?"

That was certainly true. The camp set up to accommodate a group of boys who had been duped into taking part in a presidential assassination was now the most desired school place of all.

"A presidential recommendation will smooth the application," Dúccesci assured him. "Meanwhile, spend some time with your daughter. and don't forget to value every moment."

"What about Rodan?" Marion asked when the Ges family had gone home thanking Providence that something terrible had been averted. "She may be at risk, too."

"The only thing stopping her from enjoying anther few months in Liverpool is anxiety about getting back to her horses. Between Aintree and Formby beach there are plenty of riding schools. I'll arrange for the horses to be stabled there. A spring and summer learning everything she needs to learn from Li should satisfy her hunger for knowledge and with her two grandfathers protecting her she will be safe."

"And so will we all," Dúccesci added. "As long as there are no other women we have wronged in any way.”