Marion had spent far too much time on planets with unusual indigenous species to be surprised by anything much. It was Lily who couldn’t take her eyes off the long, luxuriant, lilac furred tail that the Steward looped over his arm as he walked ahead of them. Their luggage for the three night stay on the diplomatic ship SS Isle of Capri slid along effortlessly on an invisible anti-grav pad. They, themselves, were being gently conducted by anti-gravity fields in the floor. The luxury afforded by this state of the art ship extended to guests not having to walk anywhere.

“If you think that’s wonderful, wait until you see the conference room later,” Kristoph told her. “To say nothing of the ball tonight.”

Lily smiled. She had been pleased to be invited to accompany Remonte as he and Kristoph represented Gallifrey at this intergalactic trade conference. In the past, of course, Remonte would have attended official functions with Idell perfectly poised and elegantly dressed for the occasion. But that was another life. Now he asked his brother’s oldest friend and the most elegant lady he knew to join him in honouring their homeworld.

“This is your suite, sirs, madams, said the Steward with the elegant tail as he unlocked a door that seemed to be covered in purple fabric with a beige coloured handle. He gave the biometric key card to Kristoph once the door was open. “Exactly as you requested it, sir.”

Marion and Lily both stared around as they stepped into the room – if room was an accurate word for it. It seemed BEYOND that simple word for an enclosed space within a larger enclosed structure.

“You requested THIS?” Marion asked in surprise.

“I didn’t expect the purple sand,” Kristoph answered. He tipped the Steward and he left them alone in their customised executive suite. They all looked around, trying to take it all in.

It was a huge room, hexagonal in shape, and as wide as a good sized “in the round” theatre. Marion looked up at the ceiling and saw that it was a graceful dome that looked just like a planetarium, with planets, moons, stars, slowly revolving. At least until Kristoph snapped his fingers and it faded up into a warm, summery sky – except that instead of blue as on Earth or yellow-orange as on Gallifrey, it was a sort of mauve colour. More purple.

The floor was sand. Soft, sun-warmed sand, very fine. Purple, of course. A deeper colour than the ‘sky’. It was piled in great dunes at one end of the room, sloping down to a smooth, semi-circular beach. There wasn’t any sea, but there was a soft sound as of waves washing on sand and the air conditioning had a pleasant, cool feel and smell of sea air.

Lest they should think they WERE at the seaside, the walls were definitely walls, although they had a sandy sort of texture and were alternatively purple and beige with long, plush curtains like the sort old fashioned cinemas used to have inbetween – deep plum-purple, of course. There was no obvious door on any wall, not even the one they had come through.

One end of the room had no curtains. There the dunes were highest and above them a dense clump of palm trees cast their shadow.

“There’s no furniture.” Marion pointed out. “Where do we sleep? Where do we sit?”

“We sit here,” Kristoph said and he gently moved her a few feet to the left. At once she saw that there was a pair of luxury sofas on the apparently flat beach. It was an optical illusion like a real life version of those 3d pictures where a rabbit appears if you concentrate and don’t let your eyes completely cross themselves. Now she knew it was there she saw it easily. She and Lily sat on one sofa and Remonte and Kristoph took the other. Kristoph lifted a cover over a coffee table between them to reveal a pot of coffee and a tray of sandwiches as well as a big basket of exotic fruits – all of them purple or beige.

“Are all the rooms like this?” Marion asked as she enjoyed the mid-morning snack in such a lovely place. The sea air and the soft sea sound was so lulling and nice that even though she was puzzled by it all she was willing to enjoy herself.

“There’s a range of choices,” Kristoph told her. “There’s a forest one with leaf litter carpet, a grassy meadow with dandelions and daisies – and purple grass. There are all sorts of variations and you can order customisations…”

“As long as you like purple?” Marion laughed. “Do they… the people with the lilac tails… what are they called… are they colour blind? Or… maybe they see things in a different spectrum?”

“They’re called Vulpesi.” Kristoph answered her. “Although that’s a general term. They come from a planet called Eukady, but they consider themselves to be of no place, taking that generic name that simply indicates that they evolved from a fox-like ancestor as we evolved from apes. They are the ultimate neutrals. That’s why they staff this ship. They are completely impartial from all political factions. Purple and beige are the colours of the Diplomatic Transport Service. Nobody told them they COULD use other colour schemes in the suites.”

“Purple sand is fine,” Marion conceded.

“It’s delightful,” Lily added. “But I would really like to shower and change into a day dress. Can you show us where the bedroom and bathroom facilities are now, please, Kristoph, dear?”

“Just let me have one more cup of coffee,” he said. “It’s very delicious. It’s real coffee, too, not the processed Cúl nut that we have at home. I want to savour it.”

He savoured his coffee, and then he brought them all to the far end of the room where they walked up the dunes, finding them easy enough to walk on. The sand was only a few inches deep, and it didn’t drag their feet as a real dry sand dune would. They descended the other side into a valley, shaded by the palm trees, which was one of the bedrooms. The bed, with purple covers, was another optical illusion that resolved itself when they stood near it. The dunes were an illusion, too. Kristoph pushed at one sand dune wall and it resolved into a wide wardrobe and dressing table. At the other side of the room he pushed opened the sliding door that led to a luxurious bathroom complete with huge sunken bath, shower and toilet facilities.

“The other room is through here,” he said and opened another almost invisible door that brought them to an identical bedroom.

“All very well,” Marion pointed out. “But I count two bedrooms and two double beds. Haven’t they realised that we’re NOT two couples.”

“I was just thinking of that,” Lily added.

“Oh, not to worry,” Remonte said. “I’ll sleep on the sofa on the beach. It’s perfectly comfortable.”

“That doesn’t seem fair,” Marion told him, but he assured her he would be fine and Kristoph said that there were species taking part in the conference who would regard a sandy beach or a dandelion covered lawn as sheer decadent luxury.

“The SS Isle of Capri caters for all tastes,” Remonte added with a smile.

“As long as you don’t hate the sight of purple,” Marion added with a smile.


They all took showers and changed from their travel clothes and then Kristoph and Remonte left the ladies alone on the ‘beach’ while they went to what they described as a very dull sub-committee meeting before the main conference later. Marion and Lily discovered that the sofas weren’t the only beach furniture and settled down on two purple sunloungers and drank ice cool purple drinks with long straws.

They were relaxing perfectly happily in that way when they were disturbed by two young women with very long legs, short skirts and even shorter tops - with long tails wrapped around their arms. They came through the beige wall right in front of them, which shimmered slightly as if some kind of transmat technology was involved.

The two women stared at Lily and Marion and seemed puzzled.

“I’m sorry,” said one of them. “We seem to have the wrong suite. You didn’t order our personal services surely? We were expecting to entertain a Monsieur Porris and his plus one.”

“I have no idea who he is,” Lily answered. “But you certainly HAVE got the wrong suite and I shall be asking the Steward later why there is an open transmat link to a private room.”

The women apologised and disappeared through the wall which shimmered again. Marion was blushing as she realised what sort of ‘personal services’ Monsieur Porris was expecting. She gave an astonished “Ohhh!” and asked if they actually DID that on this ship.

“Apparently they do,” Lily replied disapprovingly. “’All tastes catered for’. The mind boggles. We should be grateful they were humanoid, I suppose!”

They relaxed again for a full twenty minutes before they were again disturbed by arrivals through the transmat point. This time it was two young men in very short togas and sandals and their tails wrapped over their shoulders who announced that they were their entertainment, as ordered.

Marion hid her face in the lounger as she dissolved into a fit of laughter. Lily told them in no uncertain terms that they had ordered nothing of the sort and dismissed them, demanding that the Steward present himself to explain these unwarranted intrusions.

The hospitality manager himself turned up, in a sharp suit with his well-brushed tail curled around his arm. He apologised profusely several times and personally saw that the transmat was closed to anyone but the key holding guests.


Remonte and Kristoph laughed when Lily and Marion related the story over lunch on their private beach. Especially their description of the two youths in the togas.

“The ‘entertainers’ are all vetted, of course,” Kristoph pointed out. “We needn’t worry about assassins or espionage. But if they don’t take care they will lose their reputation as a suitable venue for diplomatic events.”

“You mean to say that these people are employed, just like the Stewards and the other staff?” Marion asked in astonishment. “Really, that is too much.”

“I don’t approve, either,” Kristoph admitted. “But not all cultures are as strict as ours about such things. We must live and let live as it were. As long as no more of them turn up unexpectedly.”

After lunch, Kristoph and Remonte were ready to spend the afternoon working. Lily and Marion came with them to the conference chamber and were escorted to the viewing gallery above.

The conference chamber was, of course, magnificent. It was semi-circular, like a fully opened Japanese fan. There were still two sections of it at either end closed off by long curtains that came down from a high roof the colour of mother of pearl. The roof glowed with a diffused light that beautifully illuminated everything. The curtains were completely sound proof so that last minute committee meetings could go on behind them while the delegates were assembling.

There was a huge, fan shaped stage in the centre of it all, on which, for this occasion, the long table where the nominated chairperson, secretary and other officials sat. Around that tiers rose up like a Roman amphitheatre. The viewing gallery for the guests was above it with only four rows of graduated tiers and a sloping glass window between them and the floor below – bullet proofed for security. There were no ordinary seats, but the delegates and visitors sat on the wide, deep steps that looked as if they were made of a greyish purple granite but in fact moulded around the individual when they sat. This made perfect sense since the delegates were of all shapes and sizes. Even among the humanoids there was every possible body shape between the two extremes of the stick thin representative of a race called Jut-Jos who reminded Marion of the Ents from Lord of the Rings, and the Ambassador for the planetary state of Fahot who was as wide as three average humans side by side and seemed to be made of half-set cement. Then there were any number of limbs to be accommodated, tails, wings, and other appendages. And the non-humanoids were another problem entirely. The seating arrangements on the Isle of Capri DEFINITELY catered for all.

Lily and Marion sat on the front row where they had a perfect view of all but the back tiers of the delegate seats which were directly below the gallery. Remonte was in the front tier, directly in front of the chairperson’s table. Marion wondered where Kristoph was until she saw him come out from behind one of the grey curtains and take up the chairperson’s seat. He had been nominated by the other delegates for that important position. She and Lily both felt a surge of pride as he opened the debate and skilfully guided it through some very difficult issues. Marion grasped that Gallifrey was one planet in a loose trade federation of some twenty-five, a little like the EU on Earth, who were considering admitting new members, but only if those applicants met certain requirements. Two were dismissed because they advocated slave trade and cannibalism. Another was hotly debated with Gallifrey leading the objections. Their chief export was a mineral which was used to produce bombs capable of ripping a hole in a planet. Not something that had ever been an issue in any EU meeting, Marion thought. But Kristoph took it all in his stride and was able to prevent the debate becoming a bitter argument.

As the vote to admit the planet with the bomb-making minerals was taken Lily took out her make up mirror and held it up so that Marion could see a man sitting on the back row of the viewing gallery. He was a dark looking character, with a stubbled face that made him seem even darker and unfriendly.

“Don’t look around,” she said. “But THAT is Lord Oakdaene, husband of Minniette Oakdaene. You have heard him mentioned from time to time, I think?”

“Kristoph called him a shrewd businessman,” Marion confirmed. “Although I think the word ‘shrewd’ covered a lot that went unsaid.”

“Indeed,” Lily answered with tightly pursed lips. They both noted that Lord Oakdaene seemed agitated by what was going on below and when the vote went against the planet in question he got up from his seat, which immediately sprang back into a step shape, and strode away. His face was stormy.

Marion noticed a man get up from a seat further along the front row of the gallery. He walked away in a manner that suggested he was in a bad mood. He met with Lord Oakdaene at the exit and they spoke to each other as if they were acquainted.

“Now WHY would a Gallifreyan businessman be upset about Acezipo not being admitted to the Federation?” Lily wondered. “Why would he be interested in Vessilium exports?”

“I don’t know,” Marion said, because she really didn’t know. But Lily was insistent that it pointed to something important.

“I think I shall talk to Kristoph about it, later,” she said. “Lord Oakdaene’s ‘shrewd business’ is something his former colleagues at the C.I.A. tend to keep a watch on. He might want to tell them about this.”

“I don’t like the idea of Kristoph having contact with those people,” Marion admitted. “They might want him to go off on their work again. But do you mean to say you think Lord Oakdaene is a crook?”

“Hush,” Lily warned her. “That’s not something we say aloud about a Lord of Gallifrey. Especially when there is no evidence to support it. Let those whose job it is to pry watch him. Though what we think in private is another matter.”

Marion accepted that. She had no wish to think about any member of the Oakdaene family anyway. She much preferred to watch Kristoph as he continued to guide the conference in what she certainly thought was the right direction. By the end of the session there was still much work to do tomorrow, but the delegation broke up in a good mood ready for the ball that would take place later.

The same great room that had been the conference room was transformed only a few hours later for the ball. Marion proudly walked in there on Kristoph’s arm, dressed in a silver-grey gown that matched the room, being modelled on a fan shape, with an elaborate bodice front, strapless and tapered from her shoulders to come to a point at the waist where a skirt fanned out to her feet. Lily was in a simple long white gown with silver trimmings and a chain of small diamonds actually threaded through her white hair so that it shone in the light. Marion wore the diamond necklace Kristoph gave her for her first, Earth wedding, which she loved. The red hue added the right amount of colour to the dress. She was proud to see so many envious eyes look at her.

She danced with many of the male delegates. It was quite usual to do so, she knew. Kristoph danced with the wives and concubines. He was very skilful at knowing which hands to hold when presented with more than one pair. Marion was a little flustered when a man with six arms presented himself as a dance partner. She was more than a little wary of where the four spare arms kept going, and thought he needed to look up the words ‘gentleman’ and ‘diplomat’ in some intergalactic dictionary. She was glad to sit down with Lily afterwards and watch Kristoph and Remonte dancing with two very attractive ladies with six pairs of arms and two wings each.

“It’s a pity Hillary isn’t here,” Marion admitted. “She is very good with the clingy ones. If they really persist she changes to her male form and they stop trying to touch her in those places!”

Lily laughed. Then her laughter died and she made a disgusted sound in her throat. Marion looked to see Lord Oakdaene, accompanied by what was OBVIOUSLY one of the female ‘entertainers’.

“I actually feel quite SORRY for Minniette,” Lily said. “This is a prestige event and he brings a hired woman. It is an INSULT to his wife. It really is. Thank heavens it is unlikely to get back to her. Kristoph and Remonte certainly wouldn’t talk about it, and neither shall we. And the diplomatic staff would never gossip. But really, he is a disgrace to his family name.”

“I didn’t think the name of Oakdaene meant all that much,” Marion commented. “Or do I have it wrong?”

“Oakdaene is a fine old family. Or it was until HE became patriarch. And that’s another story.” Lily glanced at Lord Oakdaene and his shameless antics and then looked at Marion. “No, you probably should know. I see that Kristoph has not told you before.”

“Told me what?” she asked. “I know we’re vaguely related. Orianna is married to Minniette’s brother, I think it is. I think one day I will draw a big chart of who is who so I can keep up.”

“Then you need to put this on the chart. Lord Oakdaene is the youngest son of the former patriarch of that family, who was a very honourable and noble man. His first son renounced the title of primogeniture and sought a contemplative life in one of our closed communities, the Brotherhood of Mount Lœng. They live a quiet, separate life in a monastery on the mountain that overshadows the Lœngbærrow estate.”

“Yes, I know of it,” Marion told her. “Kristoph has talked of it.”

“The second son inherited the title originally, but lost it when he became a criminal and a Renegade. The third son thereby inherited absolutely.”

“A Renegade…” Suddenly Marion understood. She knew that word meant something terrible in Gallifreyan society, but had only heard it applied to one man. “Oh, Lily. Do you mean….” She found it hard to say it aloud. “Li… He’s… He’s of the House of Oakdaene?”

“He was the middle brother. And you and I both know he is no criminal, which is more than we can say of Lord Oakdaene for certain. His older brother is a good man, a wonderful man who it is a privilege to know. Nobody has seen him for many years, so cloistered is he in the monastery. But he is often in our thoughts in the best way.”

“I never guessed. Lady Oakdaene is a horrible woman, and I really don’t think I like Lord Oakdaene very much. It’s hard to think that they are related to Li. I adore him. I love him as a friend.”

“I love him as much more,” Lily said with a blushing smile. “Think of him fondly when Minniette Oakdaene is being her usual nasty self, and remember that it IS an honourable House and an honourable name even if those who hold the title don’t behave honourably.”

“I will,” Marion promised. “Oh, but the intrigues of Gallifreyan life are SO deep, aren’t they! They make me dizzy.”

“I quite agree,” Lily told her. Then she smiled as their own Gallifreyan men came to them. Remonte offered his arm to Marion and said it was almost the last dance and he had not yet had the privilege of dancing with her. Kristoph took Lily onto the floor. Then for the last dance they swapped partners. Marion danced close in Kristoph’s arms and smiled lovingly at the one Gallifreyan she loved above all others.

They were tired when they returned to their fantastic room. The planetarium sky darkened the ‘beach’ as they had a last drink together. Then they all mutually decided it was time for bed. Kristoph caught hold of Marion’s hand and turned to Remonte.

“Tonight, you may have the bedroom, brother,” he said. “I think I should like to spend the night on a soft sandy beach with the sea breeze and the sound of lapping water, and the woman I love in my arms.”

Marion was surprised but not unhappy with that idea. She said goodnight to Remonte and Lily as they headed for the two sand dune hidden bedrooms and saw the desire in her husband’s eyes as he reached to unfasten her fan shaped dress and prepared to fully appreciate their customised suite on the SS Isle of Capri.