Marion sighed happily as the spa attendant massaged her shoulders and neck while the deep cleansing mask cooled on her face. Beside her, Talitha Dúccesci was enjoying the same pampering. It was one of the perks of being spouses of delegates at the Trans-Federation Galactic Trade Conference.

The attendants were both handsome young men wearing something like Roman togas. It was the costume of the servant class of the Poslodi planetary system which was hosting the conference.

Marion had asked Kristoph how he felt about her being left in the care of these ‘poslugi’ while he was in the conference hall. He said it was quite all right as it was utterly unthinkable for any posluga to act inappropriately to a poslodavac – the higher class of Poslodi – or their guests who were afforded the same high status. Marion wondered briefly if that was because the people of Poslodi had a high moral code or because they had gruesome punishments for servants who took liberties with ladies.

She decided that she didn’t want to know. In any case, a shoulder massage was as much intimacy as she required from her personal posluga.

Talitha seemed to be enjoying the experience, too. Despite being the wife of a High Councillor for decades and having fully adapted to being the wife of the Lord High President, this was her first diplomatic Conference and, surprisingly, her first offworld experience.

She had been nervous of the prospect of meeting so many new races of people in one place.

Marion, who had once felt out of place amongst such crowds, fully understood her misgivings and had assumed the role of experienced diplomatic wife, guiding her through the pitfalls. She explained how to deal with personal pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’ with the hermaphrodite Alpha Centauri diplomat and spouse and how to shake hands with the Ambassador from the planetary state of Fahot who was seven feet tall and five feet wide and appeared to be made of living concrete. The handshake could result in bruising unless performed correctly.

It was something of a surprise to Marion to realise that she was the experienced diplomatic spouse. It really didn’t seem so long since she was thrust into this often confusing and more often terrifying life. She was surprised how much she was able to pass on to Talitha in the way of advice as well as just how many of the diplomats and their spouses she actually knew as personal friends. She was able to introduce Talitha to so many of them, breaking the ice that would otherwise seem impenetrable.

Even so, both of them were glad of an afternoon in the luxurious personal spa that went with their suite of diplomatic rooms. They both felt as if the noise of the banquet and ball last night was still ringing in their ears. Two attendants who only spoke when spoken to were enough company for now.

But there was only a limited time that anyone could spend in a spa. There was a definite point when necks and shoulders had been massaged enough. Marion asked the two attendants to prepare tea in the drawing room while she and Talitha showered and dressed.

That much was done, but when they were sat down with the tea, Talitha turned to the two men with a surprising instruction.

“We won’t need any attendance now until our husbands return from the conference hall. You may return to your quarters until then.”

“Madam, the quarters are off limits during our work time,” answered one of them nervously.

“You are not permitted a break?” Marion queried. The two men looked at her as if they did not know what a break was.

“We are at your command, madam, until our work period is over.”

“Very well,” Talitha said. “Then go to the kitchen where you prepared our tea. Make a drink and sandwiches for yourselves. Sit down and eat them, slowly. That is my command.”

The two looked puzzled by the intruction, but they had no choice but to obey. They bowed to the two women and then withdrew.

“Even Lord Ravenswode, known as the worst employer on Gallifrey, allows his servants to retire below stairs when their duties are done,” Talitha said in a low but utterly outraged tone when they were alone.

“It does seem harsh,” Marion admitted.

“It’s worse than that. I was listening to their thoughts. I know I shouldn’t, not with non-telepathic races, but when he was massaging my head it was impossible not to feel the contact.”

Marion understood perfectly. Kristoph often massaged her head when she had a headache and she could almost feel his thoughts as he soothed away her pain.

“Polin… that’s the name of the one who was attending to me….”

“Oh,” Marion groaned. “I have no idea what the other one is called. I never asked. I should have done.”

“His name is Dario,” Talitha replied. “But if you’d asked he probably wouldn’t have told you. They are not supposed to be familiar with the poslodavac they serve.”

“Knowing their names is not ‘familiar’,” Marion protested. “I know the names of ALL our staff at home. The idea of them being nameless underlings in the background of my life is… unthinkable.”

“Yes, I agree. But that’s still not the worst of it. They both come from Poslodi IV, which is a very small, arid planet with nothing but mining colonies – a bit like our own outer planets. This is Poslodi II, where the poslodavac live. They only get to go home for a few days every half year, and then only if they’ve saved enough to afford the shuttle fare. They get paid so badly they have to go without a lot of things – I mean essentials like food – to afford it. Most of them live on scraps from the kitchens, and if they were caught they would be punished for doing that. It is practically slavery.”

“That’s bad,” Marion agreed.

“Polin’s mother is very ill. She’s probably dying. Needless to say health care for their class isn’t very good. He has sent every credit he has to pay for medicine, which means even if he was able to get his leave brought forward, he can’t afford to go home to see her.”

“And all that was in his mind while we were enjoying lazing around being pampered by them.”


“I don’t feel quite so good about that, now. I didn’t know they were so badly treated.”

Talitha agreed.

“I’ve got a housemaid whose family are on Polafrey. If she needed to go home, I know Malika would arrange for her transport, straight away. He would not be so cruel.”

“Lord Ravenswode probably would. But he’s the exception. Here….”

“He’d be right at home lording it over the poslugi. Marion, we have to do something to help him.”

“Yes, we do. But what? We could give him money, but if he’s not allowed the time off….”

“We can’t EVEN give him money. They’re not allowed to accept gratuities from guests. If he was found with any more than his wages it would be confiscated and he would be punished.”

“That’s outrageous. They work so hard. They all do. Last night at the reception there were nearly as many poslugi serving us than there were guests and that affair went on for six hours. THEN they would have had to clear up. And I bet they didn’t get to sleep in the next morning.”

“I never even thought of that. I must say I don’t tend to think too much about what happens after a party is over. I must have gone to my sleep many times and found all traces of a dinner party swept away the next morning. I think I ought to appreciate my staff much more than I do.”

Marion nodded in understanding. She had never taken her staff for granted. She remembered well enough living a simpler life without people to wait upon her, but she had frequently retired to bed after exhausting evenings without a lot of thought about the work still to be done.

But anyone working after midnight at Mount Lœng House definitely had the chance to sleep in the next day and they were paid extra for the late night.

“Of course,” Talitha added. “What the poslugi really need is a change to the whole system – better wages, proper terms and conditions... the sort of things that the Caretakers demanded on Gallifrey when your Kristoph was still President.”

“In the long term, that would be the best thing for them all.”

“The trouble is I don’t think any demand from the poslugi would be treated as fairly as that. The poslodavac see them as nothing but cheap labour.”

“Then they’re probably not organised in any way to make representations to the poslodavac. They probably don’t even know that organising themselves to demand better conditions is possible.”

“I think I should tell Malika about their situation,” Talitha considered. “He might be able to take up their case with the government of Poslodi.”

“No,” Marion told her friend. “No, he won’t be able to do anything. I was always asking Kristoph to do things like that when he was President, but he almost always couldn’t do anything. Diplomatic channels are slow and cumbersome and if the governments involved don’t want to change their unfair systems, then they just ignore it all anyway.”

“Then what is the use of all this diplomacy? Why do we want trade links with a planet like this?”

“I don’t know. It is the same on Earth. The British government – my country - has links with all sorts of countries with terrible Human Rights records. They’ve even sold weapons to regimes they knew would use them to oppress and invade weaker nations. And yet we would think of ourselves, our country, as ‘good’.”

“Gallifrey IS a good place,” Talitha insisted. “My husband is Lord High President of a fair, honest government. If I thought otherwise, I would not be here. I would not want him to BE president if I thought otherwise.”

“I agree,” Marion said quietly.

There seemed nothing more to say. When their two attendants returned to the drawing room, having enjoyed as much of a break as they dared, both women contrived to give them light duties, arranging flowers and breaking ice for cold drinks. They felt morally unable to ask them to do more.

Malika and Kristoph returned to the suite for the Poslodian equivalent of teatime. Polin and Dario served a light meal then withdrew from the company of their superiors. They could be heard working in the kitchen as Marion and Talitha talked about the problems of the poslugi class in general and Polin’s dilemma in particular.

“Marion is right,” Kristoph admitted. “There is nothing much we can do through diplomatic channels. You’re not the only visitors who have noted the slavish conditions of the poslugi. An official remonstrance is to be tabled.”

“It’s not enough,” Talitha complained.

“Even if it could help long term, it can’t do anything for Polin and his sick mother,” Marion pointed out. “He needs help right now.”

“At least we CAN do something about THAT,” Malika Ducesci replied.

“You can?” Talitha was surprised. It seemed as if her husband was tied by diplomatic protocol. She had not expected a solution from him.

“Let me speak to that young man,” he said quietly.

He left the tea table and went to the kitchen, a place that poslodavac were not expected to go. There was a long conversation in there before Malika returned to the dining room with Polin at his side looking more than a little bemused and a little bit scared.

“It turns out,” Malika said. “That I need to visit Poslodi IV to look at some mineral surveys. I’ll go right away. No time like the present even for a Time Lord. I will be taking the presidential shuttle and this local man as a guide. I should be gone for a couple of days. Kristoph, I trust you can take over both my social and diplomatic duties for that time? I may miss some important debates and a couple of evening receptions.”

“I believe I can manage all of that,” Kristoph replied. “After all, the Voivode of Dionusi has fifteen wives in attendance. I won’t look out of place escorting two ladies to the ball.”

Malika agreed that it would be quite appropriate.

Marion and Talitha just smiled widely and gratefully at him for coming up with a solution to a very small part of a much wider problem.