The nursery for the children of the delegates at the Treaty of Xansei Zian was a bright, busy place where a dozen or more neatly dressed nursemaids tried to satisfy the needs of all the children at once. Among the oldest, at nine years old, was Kaye Barr Dey, Hillary’s child. She and a group of her peers held court in the book corner, while a crowd of five year olds led by her sibling, Cam, played in the Wendy house.

Even though the babies all looked well taken care of, it took some time before Marion could be persuaded to hand Rodan over to the nursemaid. She wanted to give her so many instructions about her feeding and changing.

“Marion,” Kristoph told her gently. “These young ladies do this for a living. They are professionals. They know all about the optimum temperature for a bottle of formula. Rodan will be perfectly happy with her.”

“It’s the first time I’ve left her with strangers,” Marion protested as he reluctantly left her fosterling in the arms of the nursemaid.

“She won’t come to any harm.” Kristoph assured her. “Now, come along. We have an hour before dinner for drinking cocktails and mingling with the delegates and their wives, consorts, concubines and brood mothers.”

“And Hillary.” Marion smiled widely at the prospect of meeting up with her old friend in a formal capacity rather than their afternoons at the lighthouse. She spotted her easily, of course. Even in a room full of people dressed in the height of fashion Hillary managed to outdo everyone for elegance. She was dressed in a sleek green satin dress that accentuated her figure and a chocolate brown sheer silk shawl over her bare arms. Her make up matched the colour scheme. Brown and green eye shadow picked out flecks of both colours in her eyes and she had deep brown highlights on her cheekbones and lip colour like a mint chocolate cream. Marion wondered if the humanoid man with the almond shaped pale orange face that she had been flirting with had been longing to taste her lips.

“He’s an Orridan,” Kristoph told Marion. “They have no pheromones of their own. So when Hillary turns all of hers on, the poor man has no defence at all. It’s a wonder he wasn’t proposing to her.”

“He was,” Hillary replied as she kissed Kristoph on the cheek, proving that the mint chocolate was firmly fixed on her lips. “I declined gently, of course.”

“You are a disgraceful woman,” Kristoph laughed. “And now you turn your attentions on me, knowing that I am spoken for.”

“That is merely a kiss for friendship, as well you know,” Hillary answered. She turned and kissed Marion on the cheek, too. “My two dearest friends. I am glad to see you both. I am especially glad you are here, Kristoph. We have need of the Peacemaker. They are all very friendly over cocktails and canapés, but did you hear that the Binyass delegates threatened to pull out?”

“Oh, they always do,” Kristoph answered. “It’s a very worn out trick by now. They do it in order to get trade concessions in the bag even before the start of negotiations. One day, we really ought to call their bluff.”

“This is why we need the Peacemaker,” Hillary told him. “You have far more experience of these things than any of us. But Marion doesn’t want to talk about trade concessions, I am sure. I expect she wants to bring me up to date about little Rodan’s development since I last came to tea with you all.”

“This is only a three day conference,” Kristoph replied. “You’d better keep to the digest version.”

Marion laughed at his gentle teasing, and noticed several men, including the Orridan, look her way, their interest caught by an attractive woman who was laughing.

As Hillary and Kristoph mingled and talked about the Binyass problem with other delegates, she found herself with plenty of company.

She hadn’t done this sort of diplomatic mingling for a while. Once, it had terrified her to be out of Kristoph’s sight in such a room. But now she found herself easily slipping into the role of delegate’s wife and enjoyed herself in company with men who brought her drinks and women who admired her dress and asked her where it was made. She enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the first and second wives of the Axxigean Ambassador who both showed pictures of their children to her. She proudly showed photographs of Rodan in return and didn’t at all mind their sympathetic looks. Axxigeans gave birth to at least four babies every year. The first wife had fifteen children already and the second had nine. They couldn’t quite understand how one child was enough to satisfy her husband. And Marion couldn’t quite think how to explain to them that one child was enough for her species. She accepted their condolences and tried to find a way to change the subject.

When she joined Kristoph and Hillary to go through to the banquet, she was surprised to find that Hillary had changed. Now he was dressed in a smart chocolate brown silk suit with a satin shirt and tie that looked as if they were made of the same fabric as the dress of earlier.

“I have been asked to accompany the Lady Ambassador of Karije VI to dinner,” he explained. “Diplomacy is a curiously misogynistic game and an unaccompanied lady, even one of such accomplishments in her own right as Madam Karra, upsets the seating arrangements. As one of the few unaccompanied delegates I am, of course, happy to oblige.” He winked at Kristoph. “Before he decided to settle down and become a family man, I used to claim him for myself.”

“Don’t do anything outrageous with Madam Karra,” Kristoph told him. “Such as taking her out into the garden and turning on the pheromones, and then reverting to your female form.”

“Not in this jacket,” Hillary answered. “Besides, we are on a space station. There is no garden.”

“There is a very romantic observation deck,” Kristoph pointed out.

“Indeed, there is.” Hillary gave a wicked smile. “I had better go and find my partner for the evening. But Marion, my dear, later, I shall seek you out for a dance or three, and Kristoph can entertain Madam Karra.”

“I look forward to it,” Marion answered. She was used to that kind of arrangement, too. She knew she would be expected to dance with many of the male delegates – those that were distinctly identifiable as male in this multi-species conference. Kristoph would find her in time for the last dance, of course.

The dinner was a sumptuous meal, served on silver plates by liveried servants. Marion found herself seated opposite to Kristoph at their table, with the Genullan ambassador by her left side, a very nice man with waxen skin and vestigial gills behind his ears. On her right was the Philai of Dacia, who was at least seven feet tall and very pale skinned. He didn’t eat the same food as the rest of them. He was brought a dish of what looked like bird seed which he ate with a silver spoon. His digestive system, he explained, was quite different to most humanoids and this food gave him the necessary nutrition.

“You are from Earth?” asked the wife of the Genullan Ambassador. “I have heard of that planet. It has huge oceans, and yet all of the sentient lifeforms live on the land.”

“Yes,” Marion answered. “Is…that wrong?”

“Not as such,” the Genullan lady told her. “Just a little puzzling to us. It seems a waste of such a resource. Our world has only ten percent of landmass. Our floating cities are beautiful. During storms they can be submerged and lie on the bottom of the ocean. Watching a large city emerge into the air after a storm is quite spectacular.”

“It sounds wonderful,” Marion conceded, though her imagination didn’t quite completely encompass the vision of a floating city, let alone one that was submersible.

“We should pay a courtesy visit some time,” Kristoph suggested. “We have not travelled offworld very much in the past year, and I think Genulla would be an excellent choice.”

“Yes, I would like that,” Marion said. The reason they had not travelled much, of course, was her pregnancy, and then the period of mourning that followed. She used to enjoy visiting new places.

Now she could enjoy them all over again, with Rodan travelling with her. It would be nice to do that.

The conversation turned, of course, to the Conference that was taking place the next day. Tonight was social, of course. But in the morning there were important issues to discuss. Quite apart from the Binyass demands, there were four new planets applying to join the trade federation of which Gallifrey and Haollstrom were founder members. Two of them were desperate to join because they were very poor and there was an ever present danger of famine. Membership of the Federation would ensure their future.

“I didn’t know famine was a problem,” Marion said as she received a cup of very good coffee from one of the waiters. “We’ve just eaten a magnificent meal, and tomorrow the fate of starving people will be under discussion. It seems wrong.”

“I quite agree,” said the Philai of Dacia. “Even I have enjoyed a sumptuous repast, though it did not appear so to you. The Malpan application should be straightforward. It will all be settled tomorrow morning. But Anazide V will be tricky. I would be against admittance myself.”

“Even though you would keep them from starving?” Marion asked, surprised.

“The famine on Anazide V was caused by war, not natural forces,” the Genullan Ambassador explained. “The ruling government is shaky at best and if it should fall the military junta that would take over, would not be interested in feeding the hungry. Membership of the Federation is not usually granted unless there is a stable administration. We would not even be considering it except that they put forward the plea of immediate need. And that may not be enough.”

“Oh, dear,” Marion replied. “It is like some of those African nations on Earth, where the government take money meant for food aid and buy weapons instead.”

“Exactly so,” Kristoph told her. “The High Council of Gallifrey would not ratify their membership under such circumstances. They are not even in favour of aid packages while the future is so uncertain.”

“Then people will suffer?” Marion felt even less happy about the meal she had enjoyed.

“We will endeavour, tomorrow, to find a solution to the dilemma,” Kristoph assured her. “The Anazide people will not be forgotten. But do not let that put you off enjoying the dancing later. They will not be helped by you fretting over them.”

“The only fretting I do is about Rodan,” she answered. “I am going to check on her before the dancing starts.”

“As if I could possibly stop you,” Kristoph answered with a smile. He kissed her on the cheek and told her not to be too long as he wanted to dance the first dance with her.

The corridors of the space station were quiet. Here and there she saw a security guard on duty. They nodded courteously to her as she passed, but certainly didn’t hinder her. The nursery was quiet, too. Most of the children were asleep. A few babies were having night feeds. Marion went to Rodan’s cot and saw that she was starting to wake up. She picked her up and went to where the milk was kept. She was glad to sit with the nursemaids and feed her own child.

As she was finishing up, the door to the dormitory where the older children were sleeping opened. Kaye came out, in a pink nightdress. She wanted a drink. One of the nursemaids fetched her some orange juice and she sat with Marion while she drank it.

“Is my parent at the party?” she asked.

“He is,” Marion answered, feeling, as usual, a little awkward about the personal pronouns as they applied to Hillary. Kaye looked like a girl today, of course, but she could also look like a very charming boy. “He’s escorting a very elegant lady. But he promised to dance with me, later.”

“I wish I could go to parties,” Kaye said.

“You will, when you are older,” Marion answered her. “And I’m sure you’ll have as much fun as your…as Hillary does. But I’d better put you back in bed for now, though.” She held Rodan with one arm and reached to take Kaye’s hand.

She took her into the quiet dormitory and was getting her into bed when she heard a sound that she never thought to hear in a nursery. It was a gunshot, surely. And one of the nursemaids was shrieking with fright. Marion put Rodan down on Kaye’s bed and crept to the door. She looked out through the crack and saw three men shouting at the nursemaids and telling them to put up their hands and be quiet. They were hostages of the Anazide V Military Front.

“Oh!” Marion closed the door fully and quietly pulled a chair up to jam the handle. She turned and looked at Kaye and the other children who woke at the noise and stared around fearfully. “Oh, dear.”