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4: `I bet you even put knickers on her.'
few elderly women, laden down with raffia baskets of shopping, or people
closing up their premises. A few stringy dogs sniffed their way around the
shop doorways, or curled up tiredly in the shade. This deep into the city, the
streets were narrow and uneven – deep, cool canyons in the heat of the day’s
end. But it would soon liven up, Calamee had explained when they’d seen a
stack of vast, papier-mâché puppets in a small square. Children were fussing
around them, laughing and squealing – and the Doctor could see how truly
tatty the city was. It had evidently been built with either an eye on economy,
or with a less-than-expert labour force. Walls of buildings, plastered in white
and cream and taupe, bulged disturbingly, or else leaned out so far into the
narrow streets that the occupants of the upper storeys would have had no
problem shaking hands with their neighbours on the other sides. Washing,
strung out between balconies, flapped listlessly, barely touched by the weak
breeze that trickled through the streets. Away in the distance, the Doctor
could hear church bells, clumsy and tuneless.
Saiarossa seemed like a city desperately struggling not to collapse. Like an
elderly woman plastering herself with make-up in an attempt to hold back the
indignities of age, it looked sad and rather pathetic. Murals of people he didn’t
recognise, surrounded by angels and wearing halos, adorned crumbling walls;
metal spars and girders jutted skeletally from cracked walls. It reminded him
of Venice, a city sliding graciously towards its final end. More skinny dogs
roamed the streets, and haunted, tired eyes stared hack at him from cracked
and dirty windows. The ground beneath him was a mess: broken and uneven,
sprouting weeds and even a fully grown tree bearing small, pallid fruits like
deformed oranges – it looked as if it had been laid in one, long seamless
ribbon, perhaps by machine when the city had been built. But the years had
taken their toll, and it was now full of potholes and wide, grit-filled cracks.
‘We’re here,’ said Calamee, glancing up and down the street as if they were
about to enter an opium den. They were in front of a blue door, its paint
flaking and chipped. In a niche at the side of it was mounted a painted wooden
statue of the Virgin Mary, her face and hands black, as was the raised heart,
carved on to the centre of her chest. It had evidently been there some years,
judging by its condition, and the Doctor couldn’t help but notice the tired look
in its eyes. Or maybe that was just him, projecting his own weariness. At the
other side of the door was a wooden plaque, hand-painted in blue and white,
proclaiming that they were outside ‘The Church of the Forgotten Saints’.
How appropriate. He looked up at the tiny building: it didn’t look much
like a church to him (but, as he kept reminding himself, what did he know?).
Calamee tried the door, but it was locked. She pressed a small button at the
‘I’m surprised,’ said the Doctor. ‘You don’t strike me as the church-going
type.’ He pulled away from Nessus as the mokey woke up and reached out for
‘I’m not, but this is where Mother and Father used to come before they
moved to Santa Anghelis and found a posher one.’ She glanced up at the
buildings towering over them. ‘I was born not far from here, believe it or not.
I was confirmed here.’
The door opened a few inches, and the face of an elderly man peered out.
He eyed Calamee dubiously, but when he saw the Doctor, there was an audible
inhalation of breath.
‘Father Roberto?’ said Calamee. ‘My name’s Calamee Fischer. You remember me?’
Father Roberto opened the door wider and leaned out a little.
‘Child, you’ve grown!’ he said, almost disapprovingly. He was short and
quite pudgy; a halo of fuzzy grey hair wrapped itself around the sides and
back of his head, and he looked as though he hadn’t shaved for a few days.
He looked the Doctor up and down.
‘And who’s this?’
‘They call me the Doctor,’ said the Doctor, holding out his hand – which
‘Do they indeed? And what would St Thomas have made of that, I wonder?’
Roberto’s voice was full of suspicion – and, thought the Doctor, perhaps with
good reason: if even he didn’t know quite what he was doing here, he could
hardly blame the Esperons for wondering too.
‘Can we come in?’ asked Calamee, when it seemed that an invitation was
not to be forthcoming.
‘I suppose,’ Roberto said grudgingly, after giving the Doctor the once-over
again. He stepped back and opened the door wide. Calamee stepped inside
and the Doctor followed.
They were in a deliciously cool hallway, illuminated only by light spilling
from an open door at the end of a short corridor. The air was rich with the
smells of leather and camphor, tobacco and incense, and a heavy scent of
flowers. Father Roberto padded away down the corridor, leaving Calamee
and the Doctor to follow him.
‘You’re sure he remembers you?’ the Doctor whispered.
‘Well, he’s let us in, hasn’t he?’
They stepped out into a stunningly beautiful little courtyard. The walls were
high and painted white, the ground beneath them paved with huge, creamcoloured flagstones. All around them were vast pots and basins and tubs,
gushing forth a giddying variety of flowers. Some crawled across the flags
beneath them; others struggled up wires and makeshift trellises, fastened to
the walls. Some just burst from their pots, like living fibre-optic lamps. The
scent was dizzying. Up above them, high, high above, was a small square of
vivid indigo sky, like a lid on this magical world.
‘This is quite, quite beautiful,’ said the Doctor, almost breathlessly, realising
that Father Roberto was waiting patiently, hands clasped behind his back. For
a moment, the sternness of his expression melted, and he gave a little nod. He
was wearing an old pair of brown leather trousers and a matching waistcoat,
under which he had on a dark green shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. He looked,
thought the Doctor, more like a down-at-heel country gentleman than a priest.
‘Can I get you something to drink?’ Roberto asked, and they both gratefully accepted a cup of tea. Father Roberto slipped away while the Doctor and
Calamee found a small, cast-iron bench to sit on. Nessus peered around curiously, sniffing the air, following the weaving of insects with his big, expressive
‘Wow,’ Calamee said, lifting him down and setting him on her knee. ‘This is
something, isn’t it?’
‘A keen gardener,’ said the Doctor. ‘How long ago did you last see Father
Calamee gave a shrug, reaching up to sniff a huge clot of velvety purple
flowers dangling from a basket on the wall above her. ‘Probably about five or
six years ago.’
‘He must have made quite an impression on you, if this was where you
thought to bring me.’
‘I s’pose. He always seemed a decent sort – and anyway, our new church is
miles away. If the Guard are still after you, it doesn’t make much sense to stay
out in the open any longer than we have to.’
The Doctor looked at her.
‘You’re rather enjoying this, aren’t you?’
‘All this – the running around, the hiding, the escaping. All this tedious
Calamee snorted and smiled. ‘Tedious? This is the most fun I’ve had in
years.’ She obviously realised what she was saying and pulled an apologetic
face. ‘Sorry – I know this is important. I’ll try to take it seriously. Honest.’
The Doctor hmmed good-naturedly ‘So what’s your plan?’
‘Well, you’ve brought me here. What do I do now?’
‘Um. . . I hadn’t thought that far ahead.’ She gave an awkward smile. ‘But
Father Roberto will know what to do.’
‘Father Roberto will know what to do about what, child?’ came Roberto’s
voice from the corridor as he returned with a wicker tray of tea things. He set
them down on a tiny table that the two of them hadn’t noticed, hidden away
under sprays of creamy yellow blossoms.
‘About me, Father,’ said the Doctor.
‘And how, exactly, do you think I can help?’ The Doctor noticed that Roberto
seemed to be addressing Calamee, and ignoring him, as he poured the tea into
tiny bone china cups and handed it to them, indicating the sugar bowl. The
Doctor shook his head.
‘I feel light-headed enough in this beautiful garden already,’ he said with
what he hoped was his most winning smile. ‘I don’t think I could cope with
the sugar rush.’
Roberto didn’t seem to warm to the Doctor’s attempt at humour, and pulled
up a little stool from opposite them. The Doctor noticed he wasn’t drinking
himself. He sipped at the mint tea as Roberto pulled out a little leather pouch
of tobacco, and set about rolling himself a match-thin cigarette.
‘The Doctor’s an offworlder,’ began Calamee, all of a sudden. ‘And he needs
‘You don’t say?’ replied Roberto archly, looking at the Doctor directly for
almost the first time since he’d let them in. ‘An offworlder? I’d never have
guessed. And what kind of help would an offworlder be looking for from an
Calamee looked at the Doctor expectantly, like the parent of misbehaving
child being called to account in a headmaster’s study.
‘As far as I can recall,’ he said obligingly, ‘I came here recently – possibly
just a few hours ago, probably not more than a day or so – and something
happened to me that. . . well, that I can’t remember.’
Roberto regarded him silently – and clearly suspiciously. He lit his cigarette
with a tiny silver lighter and drew thoughtfully on it for a few moments, puffing out clouds of surprisingly pleasant smoke. The Doctor took a deep breath,
and felt an odd longing to have a drag on the cigarette himself.
‘And how do you think I might be able to help him?’ Roberto addressed his
question to Calamee, even though he continued to stare at the Doctor.
‘Calamee was kind enough to rescue me from the Imperial Guard,’ the Doctor said. ‘I’ve just spent half an hour locked in the Palace – well, not so much
locked as left in a room with an open door. Which is often the same thing,
‘No,’ said Roberto. ‘I don’t think it is.’
‘Well, it is if all you can do is sit there and stare at the open door, wondering
why it’s open. It might as well be locked. You’re a prisoner in any case.’
‘I don’t imagine you’ve come here to debate philosophy, have you?’
‘No, no. Anyway, as it happens I didn’t just sit and stare at the open door –
I decided to leg it. The Imperial Guard started chasing me, and Calamee very
kindly brought me here.’
‘And why would that be, Calamee?’
‘We were hoping – I was hoping – that you’d give him sanctuary,’ said
Roberto grinned from ear to ear. ‘Sanctuary? Sanctuary, girl? D’you think
we’re living in the middle ages?’ He shook his head as he chuckled and took
another drag from the cigarette.
‘Don’t you do that any more?’ She seemed genuinely surprised.
Roberto finished laughing. ‘I’m not sure we ever did, did we?’
‘Oh yes,’ said the Doctor. ‘Once upon a time it was rather a thing.’
‘An expert on human history, are you? So your memory hasn’t gone completely then?’ He gave a wry smile, but the Doctor wasn’t sure whether it was
in disbelief at the Doctor’s story or not. ‘Well, well. That’s one thing I wouldn’t
have taken you for. There aren’t many of us left, you know?’
‘Experts in human history?’
Roberto nodded, and suddenly the Doctor realised that the priest seemed
much warmer towards him. There was still suspicion and distrust in his eyes,
but he was definitely thawing.
‘Something of a black art,’ Roberto said. ‘If you’ll pardon the expression.
D’you know Espero’s history?’
‘I don’t even know my own. But go on – is there some sort of moratorium
on it, then?’
‘We made a big mistake,’ Roberto said, his eyes drifting over the swathes
of blooms that hovered around them, like clouds of brightly coloured ink in
water. ‘We thought we knew better than history.’
‘Espero’s founders – the cardinals, bishops and businessmen that funded the
colony. They elevated the idea of ignorance as bliss to a whole new level.’
The Doctor leaned forward.
‘Tell me more,’ he said.
‘Looloo!’ snapped Sensimi. ‘Stop that!’
The little creature looked up at the princess with a mixture of fear and
surprise in her eyes, her tiny paw clotted with cream from the bowl on the
kitchen table. Slowly and guiltily, she sneaked it towards her mouth, her eyes
never leaving Sensimi’s.
‘Disgusting creature,’ muttered Javill as he swept in from the hallway. ‘It
shouldn’t be allowed near food.’
‘It’s a she, Javill, and wherever I go, Looloo goes.’
Sensimi’s brother paused as the kitchen staff rapidly found excuses to be
elsewhere and he sneered at the mokey, as it sat on the edge of the granitetopped table.
‘And why do you have to dress her up like that? Just look at her – it’s not
natural, putting a dirty, hairy little thing like her in a dress and a tiara.’ Looloo
was now intent on cleaning the cream from between her fingers. He dipped
his head slightly to the side as he tried to peek up her dress. ‘I bet you even
put knickers on her.’
‘She’s perfectly housetrained. And she looks adorable like that, don’t you,
baby?’ Sensimi crossed the kitchen and swept the confused little creature up
in her arms, squeezing her so tight that Looloo’s eyes bulged, and a thin trickle
of creamy drool ran out of her mouth and down the back of Sensimi’s blouse.
Javill tried not to laugh.
‘Mother’ll have her put down if she catches her in here.’
‘She will not,’ insisted Sensimi, whirling round, still gripping on to her precious baby. ‘I’ll tell Father. He’ll have you put down.’
‘Just wait, Sensimi,’ Javill warned. ‘Just you wait. As soon as. . . ’ He stopped.
‘When Mother’s in charge, things’ll be different around here.’
Sensimi’s eyes flared defiantly. ‘I know what you were going to say. “As soon
as Father’s dead.” That was it, wasn’t it?’
Javill gave an uncaring shrug. ‘We both know he’s old, Sensimi. He’s not
going to live forever. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop being
such a pain. You know the title will pass to Mother and then to me. It’d be
awful if you pissed off everyone above you, wouldn’t it?’
‘He’s not. . . he’s not gone yet,’ she said, heading for the door. Looloo
squeaked and reached out over Sensimi’s shoulder for the rapidly receding
bowl of cream. ‘And while he’s still here, you better be very careful.’
‘Ooooh!’ mocked Javill. ‘I’m so scared, little sister. Whatcha gonna do? Set
the mokey princess on me? Get her to dribble me to death?’
Sensimi felt her face redden as she paused in the doorway, a cutting riposte
almost on her lips.
‘Pig!’, unfortunately, was all she managed to come out with. ‘Bloody pig!’
It wasn’t until Looloo started squealing in earnest, halfway up the main staircase, that Sensimi realised how tightly she’d been squeezing her. As soon as
she released the pressure, Looloo scrabbled to get free and climbed up on to
Sensimi’s shoulder where she pointedly finished cleaning her paw.
‘Don’t worry, baby,’ Sensimi cooed. ‘We’ll make sure that nasty brother and
that nasty mother get what they deserve, won’t we, eh?’ She reached up and
stroked her mokey’s neck, and Looloo responded with a little throaty grumble,
already forgetting about almost being hugged to death. ‘Daddy’s going to
outlive them all, isn’t he? Yes he is.’ And with Looloo grabbing on to her hair
for dear life, she headed up the stairs to the bedrooms.
She passed a couple of the Palace staff, ignoring them as they bobbed and
curtsyed, and deposited Looloo on her bed.
‘Be good for Mummy,’ she said, before slipping back out into the corridor.
Through the open windows that let out on to the courtyard at the centre
of the Palace, she could hear the clanging and drilling and shouting of the
work on the stage from where her father would make his birthday address
tomorrow. Running through the details of her plan, she headed down one
of the sets of back stairs to the main kitchens, away from the family kitchen
where she expected Javill would still be. A few of the staff were still bustling
about, most of them so tied up with making sure everything was in order for
tomorrow that they hardly noticed her. Those that did tried their hardest to
pretend they hadn’t seen her and quickly found reasons to be somewhere else.
So it was relatively easy for Sensimi to take a big pan into the meat store and
to begin to help herself.
Imperator Tannalis shuffled along the corridor that ran around the courtyard.
He’d been advised to use a walking stick (having already turned down the idea
of cybernetic callipers) but was having none of it. He was the Imperator, and
if he couldn’t celebrate his 120th birthday on his own pins, then he wouldn’t
celebrate it at all.
Alinti’s visit had raised his hackles, and he wanted to check that she hadn’t
tried to sneak something tacky into the celebrations. He paused and slipped
on to one of the numerous balconies that looked down on to where his stage
was being noisily bolted together. There was something simultaneously sad
and exciting about all the people below him, running around, shifting chairs,
hanging up flags and banners. He recognised the crests and logos of many
of the other states and nations on Espero, flapping apathetically in the warm
breeze, but frowned at the couple he didn’t. A TV crew was conducting an
interview with Minister Djelardine just in front of the stage: trust him to be
stealing some of the glory. Tannalis sighed with a smile. What did it matter?
He’d made his decision, little did that harpy Alinti know. That was why he’d
summoned Djelardine, to finalise the arrangements.
‘Can I get you anything, Your Highness?’
He turned suddenly at the voice. It was Farine, one of Sensimi’s maids. She
hovered solicitously behind him. Tannalis grinned wolfishly at her – and then
realised that it probably just made him look like some sort of old pervert. Nice
rump on her, though, Tannalis thought wistfully. A bit of something to get hold
of. The contrast between the shy, amply bosomed girl and his shrivelled old
crow of a wife made him smile. His philandering days were behind him now,
but it would still be nice. . . just once more. . .
He waved her away with a regretful shake of the head. King David managed
to get away with it, with Abishag, but he doubted that he any longer carried
the weight of such a figure.
‘I’m fine, girl. That woman of mine running you all ragged, is she?’
Farine dipped her head, not answering, but Tannalis could see it in her eyes.
‘Don’t you worry about her,’ he said. ‘She thinks she rules the henhouse, but
this old rooster’s still got a bit of life in him.’
Farine bobbed and scurried off. If he’d been up to it, he’d have teased her
a bit more about what she and Sensimi were up to. He might have been old,
but he wasn’t stupid. There were more than just his own plans afoot in the
‘How can we know where we’re going, when we don’t know
where we’ve come from?’
‘Espero was meant to be a fresh start for humanity,’ said Roberto. ‘The Ecumenical Council decided that all we needed to make Espero thrive was a faith
in God and the goodwill of the colonists. Obviously, we brought some technology with us, but we were naive and trusted in the promises of HomeWorld
– the corporation that sold us the planet – that Espero was a paradise, rich in
resources, a ripe fruit just waiting to be plucked. We were gullible, desperate
to leave Earth, to get away from the hegemony of the West, of North America
and the Eurozone.’ At this, he raised an eyebrow almost imperceptibly at the
Doctor. ‘We were blinded by the opportunities that we saw out here – the
chance to make our universe, in our own image. History, we were told, would
‘So you were sold a pup? Espero, I mean.’
‘HomeWorld told us that Espero had everything we needed. They showed
us mineralogical surveys and climatological reports. It looked like a paradise.
And you can imagine how desperate the Ecumenical Council was to find a
new paradise. Humanity had screwed up the last one we were given, and this
was another chance. Perhaps our last.’ He smiled, but it was a cold, dry smile.
‘God was giving us another chance at Eden, so we grabbed at it with both
‘But there was a serpent?’
Roberto gave a shrug. ‘If you believe in original sin, then yes – there was a
serpent. Our own stupidity, brought with us, packed into every bag and box
and suitcase, wrapped in every fold of cloth and every wrinkle of every man,
woman and child that made the journey. The Council told us that, in order to
start afresh properly, we had to throw away millennia of human history. No
looking back, no living in the shadows of the past.’
‘You wouldn’t be the first colony to set out with that ethos. But if you don’t
mind my saying so, isn’t it a rather strange attitude for a religious organisation?’
Roberto nodded ruefully. ‘Our faith,’ he said, ‘was one of the few things
that we were going to take with us. At the time, so I understand, it all seemed
to make perfect sense. God would lead us into the new Promised Land – we
needed nothing but faith and the Holy Church. So the only records we brought
with us were sacred writings and a few technical manuals. Nowadays, people
suspect that there was more politics than belief behind the decision, rumours
that some of Earth’s major powers secretly put up the money, just to get us
Roberto gave a sigh, and his gaze drifted around the courtyard, around the
little paradise he’d created for himself here. The Doctor wondered whether
many people used his church for worship any more, or whether this oasis was
all that kept Roberto going. ‘It was hell. The colonists arrived in their new
Eden to discover that the resources HomeWorld had promised were buried too
deep for the minimal equipment that we’d brought. The climate was hotter
than we’d expected, there were insects everywhere. Fresh water was hard to
find. The first fifty years almost saw Espero wither and die.’
‘But didn’t you get help from other Earth colonies, or other alien civilisations
The Doctor caught the expression on Roberto’s face as he said the word
‘It’s the word “alien”,’ explained Calamee. ‘It has a lot of bad connotations.
We use the word “offworlders”.’
Roberto continued. ‘The other colonies had their own problems – they were
too wrapped up in setting themselves up, fighting for their own survival. Oh,
we told ourselves that soon they’d be visiting us, trading with us. The Council
promised us that we’d be at the centre of a revival of faith in this sector.
They opened visitor centres and embassies, expecting an influx of fascinated
offworld cultures, eager to learn about us, eager to be embraced by Mother
He fell silent.
‘It never happened?’ said the Doctor gently. Roberto looked at him and
shook his head. He dropped the butt of his cigarette on to the floor and
ground it out with his toe.
‘We were fooling ourselves,’ he said sadly. ‘We had nothing that anyone
wanted. Oh, we had offworld visitors during the first century – they came to
say hello, to see what we had to offer. But when they saw how little we had,
how utterly, utterly mundane we were, they left. And never came back. The
embassies went unused, the visitor centres were closed down. And Espero
retreated into itself.’
‘But what about your faith? Surely that must have kept you going?’
‘Oh it did. It was the only thing that did. For a while. But for many people,