Marion welcomed Aineytta de Lœngbærrow, Lady Thedera de Máscentaen and Lily D’Alba-D’Argenluna to the white drawing room. Caolin served refreshments. It had all of the appearance of a pleasant mid-afternoon gathering.

But it wasn’t. The silence that grew longer was palpable. Three people who usually had plenty to say to each other found it difficult to say anything.

“The cúl nut trees are close to harvesting,” Thedera tried, glancing out of the window at the copes not so far away. “The roses are past their best, though.”

Marion laughed suddenly, a nervous laugh of somebody who wasn’t meaning to laugh at all.

“I’m sorry,” she added quickly. “It’s just that you sounded like a spy in an old black and white film giving a secret password to another spy.”

None of her friends had ever seen a black and white spy film, so they really didn’t understand what she meant, but they all fully acknowledged that Thedera’s attempt to open a conversation about cúl nut harvesting or late roses was never going to work today.

“It’s an anxious day,” Lily admitted. “All of us feel it, deeply, every time this matter comes up for discussion.”

“Every five hundred years.” Marion smiled wryly. “Should I feel some sort of awe to have experienced it this once in my lifetime… something rarer than Halley’s Comet?”

That, of course, was another reference that meant little to her Gallifreyan friends. The explanation distracted them from the main topic of interest for a minute or two, but then they found themselves thinking about it again.

“Kristoph said it was like a parole hearing,” Marion said, bringing them round to the nub of the matter head on. The word ‘parole’ was foreign to her companions, but they grasped the meaning well enough. “On Earth, things like that happen all the time, every day, I expect. But nobody outside of those personally involved worry about them.”

“It’s because Jerrell Rone’s actions went against every precept that we live by, nearly bringing the very name of Gallifrey into disrepute,” Aineytta explained. “The things he did….”

“We don’t even know for certain WHAT he did,” Thedera added hurriedly. “The exact details of his experiments are sealed by the court of inquisition that tried him. We just know it involved children and was utterly outrageous. I’m afraid speculation and gossip has filled in the rest.”

Marion frowned. The sort of crimes that were outrageous and involved children that she had ever heard of certainly would tarnish the reputation of Gallifrey.

“Not THAT,” Thedera exclaimed. Marion remembered, too late, how easy it was for her Gallifreyan friends to read her mind. “Do people on your planet really do… THAT?”

“Some do. And they go to prison for it when they’re caught. But that’s not what you mean?”

“In many ways it was worse than what you thought of,” Aineytta said. “But perhaps we need to go back a bit. We need the whole story from the beginning.”

“Yes, please. The first I heard of this at all was when Kristoph told me he had to go to Shada with a group of other qualified Magisters. He said it was a difficult time and he didn’t want to talk about it until it was over. I suppose that was about staying neutral and non-prejudicial.”

“I don’t think that is possible in this case,” Lily commented. “But Rassilon bless him for trying.”

“Lily and Kristoph were children when it all happened,” Aineytta said. “We who were adults felt the shock of it all the hardest, and we have not forgotten.”

“Rone was a brilliant scientist,” Thedera continued. “A biologist and virologist. He eradicated four of the very few diseases that our race was vulnerable to. He was rightly fêted as a great man, a hero of Gallifrey. But when his wife fell ill….”

“Frey Rone,” Aineytta said with a deep sigh. “Daughter of the House of Mírraflaex. She was a beautiful, fragile flower, pale green eyes, perfect skin, golden hair. Rone adored her. Everyone did. They were a beautiful couple. When they appeared in public all eyes turned on them. Then she sickened. She was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Novak Syndrome. At first she just looked pale and became very thin, then she fell into a coma. He put her in a stasis chamber to prevent her getting worse, and devoted every moment of his time to finding a cure.”

“So far… nothing terrible,” Marion observed. “But it must be about to get worse.”

“It seemed as if he had found something that could help,” Thedera continued. “But he wasn’t allowed to develop it here on Gallifrey. It was deemed unethical.”

“It WAS unethical,” Aineytta cut in. “It was a terrible idea. I could never understand where he got the idea from. The High Council rightly barred him from continuing his research. He argued with them, but to no avail. Then he left Gallifrey. He took his wife with him, still in stasis. For about ten years nobody knew where he had gone. Then a Celestial Intervention Agency man tracked him down to a planet called Tricadia. Its population is humanoid, but pre-industrial, with no contact with extra-planetary races. Any contact with such people would be against the Laws of Time, but he did far worse. He kidnapped people, drugged them and performed experiments. At first it was adults, but then he started taking children. The people thought there was some kind of monster preying on their littlest ones, and they were right. Rone was the monster, taking their children… doing dreadful things to them, then dumping their bodies in the river when he was done.”

“No!” Marion was already horrified. She thought it couldn’t get any worse.

“They say he killed a hundred children to extract something from their bodies that would cure his wife.”

“And it worked. He had actually isolated an enzyme that repaired the genetic damage. He recovery took time, but one day she actually woke from her coma fully recovered. He was overjoyed. For him it had been worth it. Unfortunately for him, it was only a week later that the Celestial Intervention Agency tracked him down. He was arrested. They were both brought back to Gallifrey. The High Council tried to keep the full horror of his actions quiet, but the trial became notorious. He would not plead guilty. His wife was not indicted, of course, and she ensured that the proceedings were open and public. Foolish woman. She couldn’t have known the truth. She was convinced he was innocent and wanted all of Gallifrey to see him vindicated.”

“Innocent?” Marion could not quite believe that the word was used in connection with that man.

“I think a few people believed her at first,” Thedera pointed out. “But as the evidence came out, when images from his mind were seen on the viewscreens… images of his experiments… even she had to realise what he had done. But he insisted that he had not broken any laws. He made a long… and I mean long… interminably long… speech about how the ends justified the means in science. He claimed that the ephemeral lives of those children were unimportant because he had found a cure for Novak Syndrome.”

“He can’t be serious.”

“He was. He seriously believed that. He even believed that the inquisitors would agree with him and exonerate him.” Ainyetta shook her head. “We are known as an arrogant race, self-serving… but there are limits. Of course his defence was dismissed. He was sentenced to ten thousand years in cryogenic prison on Shada, with a reconsideration of his case every five hundred years. That much is given to all cryogenic prisoners.”

“But that’s not the whole story,” Thedera pointed out. “When the sentence was announced, Frey, his wife, for whom he had done all those terrible things, requested that she should share his sentence. She would not live on without him. Either she would be frozen along with him, or she would kill herself.”

“The request was granted,” Ainyetta added.

“So they’re frozen together.” Marion imagined them in one cryogenic unit, perhaps embracing each other as the fluid enveloped them. Aineytta and Theodora both shook their heads.

“The robot wardens at Shada have no romantic sentiments,” Ainyetta explained. “They were fortunate enough to be confined side by side.”

“It is more than they deserve,” Theodora added. “He would have been vaporised if a unanimous decision had been reached. As it was, two of the inquisitors felt his previous good name should be taken into account.”

“Would she have been so willing to follow him to THAT fate?” Aineytta asked. Her tone was sharp and curiously unforgiving. Marion was surprised by that even after hearing the full story.

“Oriana and Kristoph were children when it all came out – children no older than those he butchered for his own ends. My blood ran cold, and it does so whenever that man’s name is mentioned. As for Frey, if she could still love him knowing what he did, then I cannot feel any warmer towards her.”

Thedera agreed. Marion thought she understood, though she felt a small twinge of sympathy for the woman who obviously loved her husband very deeply.

“I was only a child, too,” Lily said. “I was shielded from the full horror of it all. But I did have a nanny who told me that Jerrell Rone would take me if I misbehaved. At least until my father heard about it and dismissed her. I was getting nightmares about him.”

“Moony would have done the same to anyone who had even mentioned that man’s name to our children,” Ainyetta agreed. “But now my little boy is a man, and it falls to him to decide if the monster and his foolish wife deserve to walk among us again.”

“Never!” Thedera declared. “Never while any of us live who remember his crimes. Let Kristoph and the others charged with this decision make the only judgment that can be made. They must stay where they are.”

“They couldn’t possibly be accepted in our society,” Lily confirmed. “And they would not be allowed to leave Gallifrey. They would be pariahs. I doubt anyone would even look at them, let alone speak a word.”

“How could they possibly live like that?” Marion asked.

“They can’t, and they won’t,” Thedera insisted. The others agreed. Marion found it surprising from three people she knew to be generous and forgiving in all other matters. She especially found their feelings about Frey Rone surprising. Was there no sympathy for a woman who simply loved a man who had done wrong?

“No,” Aineytta told her. “Not this time. Not for her. Nobody who remembers can even think of it as a love story, at least not unless it is a dark, terrible one. He murdered children for love of her. She condoned that horror out of love of him. It almost destroys the idea of love.”

“When you put it that way, I see what you mean,” Marion admitted. “What a dreadful story all round. The lives destroyed. The parents of the murdered children, their own families living with the shame. Yet, still a hard decision for Kristoph. No wonder he didn’t want to talk about it.”

It was late when Kristoph arrived home. His mother and aunt, as well as Lily, were still with Marion. They had kept her company during the anxious hours. He kissed them all fondly in the main drawing room and accepted a double measure of imported malt whiskey before he spoke on the important matter.

“The sentence is resumed,” he said. “They were revived to give their own account of themselves. They were allowed to sit next to each other, holding hands. Then Jerrell Rone insisted that he had no remorse. He would do the same again if it would save her life. No remorse, not a flicker of regret. The wretched woman…. She wouldn’t even look at any of us. She only had eyes for him. Lord Charr headed the panel. He offered her the chance to leave Shada, to be rehabilitated into society, but she would not have it. There was no other decision to be made. Back to cryogenic prison for them both for another half a millennium and somebody else will be responsible for the decision. I’m just glad it’s over for now.”

“We all are,” his mother told him.

“Supper is waiting for you,” Marion told him. “Let’s all enjoy a meal and put this day behind us all.”

“Yes, indeed,” Kristoph agreed as he accepted a second glass of malt from Caolin and let the stress of a difficult day fall from his shoulders.