Malika Dúccesci stood by a window on an upper floor of the Hospital at Copper Town on Poslodi IV and watched a fire in the distance. It was the militia barracks blazing away. The militia men were scattered, some choosing to fight with the Poslugi, others obeying their officers and fighting against them, some just going home to protect their families in this strange and dangerous time.

It had all happened in a very short time, or so it seemed to Malika. It was only yesterday evening that he had arrived in the poverty stricken settlement where Polin’s mother lived. He had been appalled by the ramshackle houses built with second hand pieces of wood, metal and polythene sheets. The smell of an open latrine used by at least thirty such overcrowded households was obvious even though it was dug downwind of the dwellings. A well yielded a brown coloured liquid that bore little resemblance to potable water.

“Your mother isn’t the only sick person here,” Malika noted. Polin nodded. He had realised as much in the first few minutes back at his home village. Those still able to move around wearily drew that evil looking water because they had nothing else. “Sweet Mother of Chaos, don‘t they know that must be the source of the illness? See if there are enough of them fit to dig a new well. Failing that, at least tell them to boil that awful stuff.”

Polin sighed. It was so obvious, yet it took a stranger to point it out. He found a few men who could still work and sent them to find spades. Meanwhile, he turned towards his own home. Malika followed him.

When he entered the ‘shed’ – he refused to call it a house – where Polin’s mother ‘lived’ he knew his first guess about the illness was right. He found the middle aged womanlying in a low bed of sweat soaked rags in a dangerous fever. He was no physician, and he knew little enough of the sicknesses of vulnerable, short-lived non-Gallifreyans, but he recognised that malnutrition played a large part in her condition. A well fed, strong constitution might have ridden out the worst of the symptoms, but she had nothing left to give.

“You said there was a hospital?” he said to Polin. “She should be in it.”

“It is sixty miles away, in Copper Town. We have no vehicles here except handcarts.”

“We have the shuttle I brought you in. Find a blanket or… something….” He looked around and realised that a whole blanket was a luxury too far. He took off his own coat. “Wrap her in this. I’m going to see who else needs hospitalisation. I’m bringing them all.”

“Sir...” Polin began. “We… ask nothing of anyone.”

“I know you don’t. You don’t have to ask. You don’t have to beg for charity. I refuse to stand by and let people die of neglect and want while their overlords have every luxury. I am taking the sick to hospital. That’s that. Does this hospital charge the sick and dying for their care?”

“Yes,” Polin answered. “It was built to treat the copper miners, but they must pay insurance from their wages to use it. Anyone not insured will be billed.”

“The bill will be paid. Get your mother ready to be moved.”

Thus he had taken charge, transporting twenty people - six women, five men and nine children - to the hospital in the mining conglomeration called Copper City. The hospital proved to be modern, clean and well equipped, though rather short-staffed. Medical qualifications were the preserve of the educated Poslodavac, and most of those preferred to work in the hospitals on the Capital planet, treating their own class.

Malika had sent a message ahead warning of their arrival, but even so twenty patients at once stretched the resources of the emergency department. Malika strongly suspected they would have been turned away without his money. Since all of his patients had their beds, medicine and food paid for in advance, they were accepted and accommodated with only minimal argument in an unused ward where their common symptoms might be treated together.

Malika’s first impression was corroborated by the doctors who came to examine the patients. They sick were all affected by the contaminated water, their conditions exacerbated by poor diet. They would get well with medicine and good food, especially when Malika insisted on extra fresh fruit and vitamins going onto his account. But what would happen when they went back home? Nothing would have changed. Nothing did for the Poslugi. The thought depressed him more than it should considering that he was a stranger who hardly knew any of these people.

“Sir, you don’t have to stay here,” Polin told him as the morning after dawned with news that all the sick had survived the night, though most were still dangerously ill and in

need of constant care from extra nurses drafted in at Malik’s expense. “You have done enough. You should return to your own place.”

“If I go, they might think my money is going with me,” Malika replied. “It is the only reason your mother and the others are being so well looked after. They might be less inclined to do so without me.”

“But you cannot stay indefinitely, sir.”

“No, I can’t. We shall compromise. I will remain at least until tomorrow. By then most of your people will be responding to treatment. I will feel I can go in good conscience.”

“We owe you so much, already.”

“You owe me nothing. I was born into wealth. I have never known want. I have never SEEN want on such a scale until I saw your village. Even Outlanders live better on my world. To let our servants or their families live like that would be unthinkable. And the worst is I know I have hardly scratched the surface of the problem by bringing these few people to clean beds and solid food for a time. I am ashamed I cannot do more.”

“Even so, sir, you would be safer with your own kind, and I should be glad to know that you are returned to them.”

Polin seemed as if he wanted to say more but his tongue was bound by something more than embarrassment at having to accept a rich man’s charity. Malika was puzzled but did not press the matter. Poslugi had so very few things to call their own. At least they could have their own private thoughts.

Near dusk of that long day, though, he began to realise exactly what Polin feared. He was in the Administrator’s office, ensuring that every medical need of the people he had brought into the hospital was covered by a rolling transaction on his personal bank account when there was a surge of voices beyond the door. The Administrator looked up in surprise as a junior doctor rushed in with the news that the Poslugi had risen up against their rulers.

“They’ve done what? How could they? How could those peasants have weapons, let alone the insufferable nerve to do such a thing?”

“The militia are deserting, bringing guns to arm their brothers from the mines and the villages. They are taking over the town hall and the revenue office. They are taking any Poslodovac they find as hostages.”

“The militia – the men who protect the Posladavac - are recruited from among the Poslugi?” Malika shook his head. “It is only a wonder they never did this before. You treat those people worse than animals then give their sons guns and uniforms and expect loyalty from them? You fools, you absolute fools.”

The junior doctor was startled by Malika’s assessment of the situation. The Administrator even more so. He turned pale as the implications of the uprising sank in. The hospital he ran treated Poslugi from the copper mines because it was better to have healthy workers in such industries. But he had no love for the wretched labouring classes, and he doubted they had any for him. If they came for him he could expect no mercy for the man who wrung every last cent from them in those insurance premiums.

“Lock all the doors,” Malika said while the Administrator broke into a cold sweat and sank low in his seat, grasping a desk calculator as if it might prove a defensive shield. “Everyone inside these walls carries on working for the well-being of the patients. Neither side of whatever is going on out there makes this hospital into a battleground. This is neutral territory.”

The junior doctor looked from Malika Dúccesci to the Administrator. One was firm and confident and radiated authority with every inch of his aristocratic being. The other looked as if he was about to pass out from shock.

“Yes, sir,” he said to Malika. He didn’t actually know who he was. He little suspected that his air of authority came from being Lord High President of his own world, but he recognised that authority and acted upon it. “I’ll get that done at once, sir.”

In that way Malika left the Administrator amongst his balance sheets and took effectual control of the hospital. He made sure everyone understood what was happening and what was expected of them. There was fear and disconcertion, but Malika’s assertion that the hospital would remain neutral assured most of them that they were safer carrying on their duties within its walls. Only two men, both doctors, wanted to leave.

“This hospital could be the next target of the rebels. We’re not staying to be murdered by filthy, ignorant peasants.”

“You are doctors,” Malika replied shortly, not much liking the ‘filthy, ignorant peasants’ bit. “No matter what your social rank, you took an oath. Your duty is to treat the sick and wounded regardless of who they are. Go back to your posts and do that duty.”

One of them took his words to heart. The other scoffed at the idea of working through the night under siege for the sake of sickly Poslugi. He headed to the locked and barred main door. As he did so, bullets strafed the street outside.

“We’re all here for as long as this lasts,” Malika told the reluctant doctor. “Go back to work.”

He went back to work.

By midnight everyone was used to the sound of gunfire outside the hospital, but there had been no attempt to encroach upon the building except one incident at a side door accessed by an unlit alleyway. Malika went to see what was going on and found two nurses and the hospital pharmacist trying to prevent three men in civilian clothes but armed with automatic rifles from entering the hospital.

“We have wounded men,” one of the rebels explained. “You must let them in.”

“Let me see,” Malika ordered. “Stand back and lower your guns. I am a neutral in this affair, as is every member of staff in this hospital. Do not point your guns at any of them.”

The men obeyed. Malika looked at the three wounded men lying on the ground.

“This man is dead,” he said quickly assessing them. “The other two… take their guns and any ammunition they have. They come in here merely as casualties of this affair. The rest of you go away. Take your war far from this building.”

The nurses helped him carry in the unarmed wounded. The pharmacist closed and locked the door. The neutrality of the hospital was preserved even as the honour of the medical profession was upheld by the treatment of the wounded combatants.

What worried Malika in the quiet moments was how little he knew about what was happening. There had been very little hard news. The most reliable rumour was that the uprising had been deliberately timed to take place here on Poslodi IV and on the ‘Capital’ planet of Poslodi II at the same time. That meant that the delegates would be under siege, too. His wife and his friends shared the same danger he was in.

What would happen? Would the Poslugi be crushed by their Posladavac overlords with the majority of the militia on their side? In that case there would surely be reprisals against the sort of people he had seen in Polin’s village – people who were already broken by the grossly unequal social system.

Or would the Poslugi overthrow their masters, would they be the ones taking vengeance for generations of misery? They wouldn’t be the first popular movement to do so. Talitha had shown him a book once from one of Marion’s libraries. A Tale of Two Cities. In one of those cities the aristocracy had been dealt with mercilessly by the risen populace.

In that event, would diplomatic immunity mean anything, or would the delegates at the Trade Conference just be more Posladavac to be brought down? That thought worried him deeply as the slow night wore on and the fires in the distance grew hotter, the sounds of gunfire louder.

More wounded came to the doors. Rebels found the side door with no lights and were made to leave their weapons and any indication they were anything more than civilians caught in the crossfire. Once, a well-dressed officer came to the main door under a flag of truce and demanded safe haven for his men who had been ambushed by what he called ‘Poslugi filth’.

Malika enforced the same rule. Nobody carrying weapons or bearing military insignia was allowed into the hospital. The wounded were brought in without their militia jackets. The officer was sent away with his flag. The noise of gunfire in every direction resumed shortly after he was gone.

Whose side was he on? More than once Malika had thought about that. He was an aristocrat, after all, an Oldblood of Gallifrey, and Lord High President at that. If the Caretakers of his world rebelled he would be the one to order their suppression, to punish the ringleaders.

Yet he had seen the poverty and degradation of the Poslugi and knew they had good reason to rebel. He felt that they were the ones with the just cause. He dreaded a suppression that was sure to be brutal.

But if the rebels won the day would they care which aristocrats had been kind to them? Would he be taken by them as an example of their oppressors despite his efforts to keep this hospital as a place of refuge for those who needed it?

Either scenario sickened him.

The dawn saw a pall of smoke over Copper Town and sporadic gunfire in the distance. The hospital had taken in dozens of casualties from both sides. Many of them were

resting in neutral beds in the same rooms. Several were lying side by side in the morgue, their deaths as painful and difficult regardless of whether they were Poslugi or Poslodovac.

Malika found himself in the ward where most of the sick from the village had been put to bed. Polin was there by his mother’s bed. He had spent the night caring for them all, fetching water, bathing fevered foreheads, doing what he could to free up the staff to look after the casualties of war who occupied every other spare bed. He was tired, but he had brought everyone through the night.

“Out of interest, did you know anything about the uprising?” Malika asked. That question had puzzled him in the course of the day.

“I knew there was a movement. My friend Dario always had pamphlets. I used to burn them in case our quarters were searched. I suspected he was deeper into it than he told me. But I thought it was all talk… secret meetings, brave speeches. I never thought they would do it. Now that they have... I fear for their lives… for all our lives.”

“So do I,” Malika said. “I wish….”

His wish went unsaid. There was a new uproar in the corridors. He went to find out what was going on.

“The rebels have the Capital,” he was told. “They have burnt the Senate. The government are in prison. A provisional government of the Poslugi is being formed. All Poslodovac must swear allegiance. Until then they are under house arrest in their mansions with no servants to take care of them.”

“A Brave New World,” Malika said in response, though he wasn’t sure where the phrase came from. “I still hear gunfire outside, so it isn’t over, yet, even if all that is true and not just another rumour. Meanwhile, this is still a hospital. Everyone has duties.”

But the guns outside fell silent after a while and reliable messages came through confirming a ceasefire. Not long after that Malika was able to contact the Gallifreyan deputation on Poslodi II. After speaking to Kristoph very quickly Talitha took over the vid-phone.

“I’m glad you’re all right,” she told him. “I was worried. Everything is fine here. The provisional government has guaranteed our diplomatic status. Would you believe that Dario… the Poslugi who gave Marion a back massage and made our meals…. He is actually

the provisional President. Nobody knew he was really the rebel leader on Poslodi II. He’s made contact with Kristoph. He wants to talk to him about interplanetary support for the new, democratic Poslodi society.”

“They need to learn the definition of ‘democracy’, first,” Malika remarked. “Taking control by force of arms is all very well, but they need to get the people’s mandate by peaceful means, too.”

“I’m sure Kristoph will explain that to them, too,” Talitha replied. “Or you can, if you like. I’m just glad it’s all over. Or it will be when you’re with us again.”

“I’ll be on my way just as soon as I find the Administrator of this hospital, dust him off and settle the bill.”

“The bill?” Talitha repeated, wondering if she had heard right. Malika laughed and promised to explain later.

He was just glad to have lived to have the chance to explain anything.