Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

He was one of the Oz’o, identified by the light yellow colour of his clothes. The nearest Oz’o settlement was at least thirty miles downriver. If he had run all that way, no wonder he was exhausted.

“They’re… all… dead,” he said in a cracked voice. “The Sargos killed them… all of them.”

“The… what?” Chris asked.

“The… the Sargos,” he repeated before exhaustion and shock overtook him again.

“Get him into a tent, bathe his injuries, give him liquids,” Chris ordered with the authority of a tribal leader that sent people doing his bidding. “And somebody tell me what a Sargos is.”

“A Sargos… is impossible,” Magree answered him. “It is a myth… a tale told by campfires to frighten the young and the infirm of mind. There is no such thing.”

“That boy seems to think it is real,” Chris pointed out as Carya and some of the Lau’ni women took charge of the injured youngster, carrying him gently away into a tent to look after him. “Yes, I know he is delirious, but something has happened, and this Sargos is our only clue at this moment.”

“We should go to his settlement,” Lee-in, chief of the Lua-ni said.

“I agree,” Magree added. “If something has attacked them… whatever it is… mythical, impossible or a very real threat… we must look for other survivors and bury the dead.”

“Yes, we must,” Chris agreed. “Magree, a dozen of your best riders can take as many of Lee-in’s men riding behind them. Bring spears. Cól, Gill, you two ride well. Come on with us. Marton… take a guide from among the Ru’ta-eg and ride back with him to where we left my TARDIS. I might need it, and you are the best pilot. Bring it here. The rest of you help keep guard over this camp in case… well… just in case.”

He didn’t want to suggest out loud that the danger might come here. But since he didn’t know what the danger was, he couldn’t be certain it wouldn’t.

“If you’re going, I’ll ride with you,” Tony volunteered to Chris. “I’m not the best camel rider, but I can hang on. I’ve done advanced first aid. I can help if you find anyone wounded.”

“If you fall off, we’ll have to leave you,” Chris told him. “We can’t wait for you while people could be dying.”

Tony nodded and reached out to climb onto one of the camels that had been brought for the journey. He managed it on the second attempt. Nobody teased him. This was too serious a time. Chris got up in front of him and rode with Magree and Lee-in at his side – three tribal leaders at the head of the group that followed – a mixture of Ru’Ta-eg, Lau-ni and Earth visitors.

They had expected to be riding at this time. The Ru’Ta-eg would take advantage of the cool air early in the morning to travel faster than they would an hour or so later when it started to get hotter. The only person who would have worried about that was Gill, since they only drank a pint of sweetened camel’s milk each before starting off, preferring to breakfast after a few hours of travelling.

But this was not such a morning. They drank their milk hurriedly as a guard against the dangers of dehydration in the heat and set off at a cracking pace with breakfast far from their minds. There was death in the desert – a death other than accidental – falling from a camel at speed - or misfortune - defending the herd from a predator – the kind of death the Ru’Ta-eg and the Rua-ni took for granted.

Chris and his friends were all aware of the confusion in the minds of both sets of tribesmen as they travelled towards the Oz’o settlement. They were shocked by the thought of violent death, especially when it was largely unexplained. All they had was the suggestion from the boy of some mythological killer.

“Magree,” he said. “What is the Sargos? I accept that it is mythological. But it would help me to understand the boy’s words if I knew….”

“It is an Oz’o story,” Magree answered. “A huge creature that comes out of the river like a fish that has discovered a way to breathe… a creature capable of swallowing a man.”

Chris understood why Magree dismissed the possibility of a Sargos. The Ru was a wide, deep river, but no wider or deeper than the Thames at the point where it lazily drifted past his home on Earth. The idea of a man-eating monster hiding in its depths was almost inconceivable.

Almost – because Chris had been taught by his great grandfather not to dismiss any possibility. Besides, SOMETHING frightened that boy so much that he ran thirty miles in the night to find somebody to help him and his people. It wasn’t a desert wolf or any ordinary threat that the people of the Ru’is’ha faced.

The problem occupied his mind as they followed the Ru downriver to where it began to widen into its estuary. Of course, he reasoned, a creature could have evolved in the ocean that lay beyond the desert, covering the other half of the planet. The great grey waters had hidden depths that had never been explored.

But then why would it come to land and attack people now? Magree had dismissed it as legend, and the thing about legends is that they weren’t seen frequently enough to be counted as more than that.

The problem was still whirling around in his mind when they came in sight of the Oz’o settlement. They were settled people. Their homes were permanent structures, unlike the tents of the Ru'ta-eg and the Lau’ni. They were rounded huts made of woven reeds and supple sticks cut from esh trees and made waterproof with a coating of thick clay from the river bed.

An all-pervading smell began a long way out from the village. Lattice-work fences hung with gutted and salted fish to dry out in the sun were placed downwind of the settlement, but on any given day women were probably sitting outside their individual huts slitting open fresh fish and cleaning them. The smell probably never went away.

You obviously had to like fish to be an Oz’o, Chris thought.

“I don’t mind them fried or grilled,” Gill remarked telepathically. “But this is a bit much.”

“We finally found something that puts you off food,” Tony responded. He slid from the camel as Chris slowed it. He hadn’t fallen off, but he was glad to get down and walk into the village while the others were tying up their camels.

He was the first to find the bodies. Chris and the others from his group felt the wave of revulsion that came over him before the Ru’ta-eg and Lau’ni heard his yell. They were the first to run to his assistance.

“They ARE all dead,” he said, swallowing a sob. “Men, women, children….”

He pointed to one of the huts. There was a disturbing sound of flies buzzing inside. That didn’t bode well at all. There was a smell, too, that Chris didn’t like.

“Tony, try to compose yourself,” Chris said gently. “We knew we were going to find bodies. I know it isn’t pleasant, but don’t lose your head over it.”

He meant it kindly, and Tony accepted it, but nothing would impel him to step into another of those huts. Chris went in, closing off his breathing.

It had only been a few hours. Whatever attacked them came in the night that had just gone. But it had been a warm night – it always was in this desert climate, and Chris suspected that flies were always a problem around the fish processing that went on in this community. The dead had attracted them almost immediately.

It was a heart-rending sight. As Tony had already observed, men, women and children were dead. There were indications that the men had tried to defend their families. Two of them, a middle aged man and a youth, were lying nearest to the door while a middle aged woman and a younger one were attempting to protect two small boys.

It looked as if none of them had stood a chance. Whatever killed them, it did so instantly.

But what did kill them? He knelt and examined the youth. He was closest to the door with the sunlight on his body. Chris turned him gently and examined what looked like a burn mark across his chest.

But not from fire. It was more like the mark left by contact with a powerful electrical source.

Lightning left marks like that. But lightning didn’t kill everyone in a village.

“Chris!” He felt Cól’s urgent telepathic voice. “I’ve found some kids – alive.”

He left the sad house and followed Cól’s voice in his head to a larger hut, used, if the smell was any indicator, for storing the dried fish. Cól was inside, recycling his breathing as he had been taught to do in such situations. Chris just decided to put up with it.

Behind the racks of fish were three frightened youngsters, two boys and a girl who drew away from the movement before realising that he was like them.

“It’s all right,” he said in the dialogue of the estuary people. “You’re safe now. Come on, little ones.”

The girl let him lift her into his arms. The two boys were brave enough to walk by his side. Outside they cried in grief. Even though most of the dead were inside the huts, they knew that the silent village, with only strangers to be seen within it, was not the home it used to be for them. Everyone they knew and loved was gone.

“I’m sorry, little ones,” Chris told them as he brought them away to the place where they had tied up the camels, away from the village where the Lau’ni and Ru'ta-eg were bringing all the bodies out of the houses and covering them with wood and reeds ready to cremate them. It was the only thing to do in the heat of the day. The parents of these children must have been among the corpses, and it was better they didn’t see.

“Who put you in the fish store?” he asked them.

“My brother, A’ki,” said the girl. “He told us to stay there, because the Sargos was coming.”

“He ran to get help,” one of the boys explained. “But he hasn’t come back.”

“Is he about sixteen, blonde hair, freckles?” Chris asked. He looked at the little girl. She was a lot like the youth who made it to the camp. He touched her on the shoulder. It was enough to make a mental contact with somebody already exhibiting a lot of emotion. He easily saw her memory of her brother grabbing her from her bed and running with her, finding the two boys alone by their home and grasping them, too, then the dark of the fish store, frightened and alone, clutching each other.

“Did you see the Sargos?” he asked, using the word that came into her mind.

“No.” The girl shook her head, but the two boys shuddered. They had seen it. Chris reached out to them and his telepathic senses were overwhelmed by the grief and horror in their minds. They had seen their father killed by the creature that had come without warning during the night.

He tried to look at their memory of the creature, but the image was distorted by their grief and horror.

“Trust me,” he said very quietly, and put his two hands on their foreheads, gently entering their minds. He found those terrible memories and soothed away the pain, blurring the edges of the grief. He didn’t take it away altogether. They needed to know something bad had happened, and to go through the grief process that leads, ultimately, to healing, but he took away the worst of it so that they could remember clearly without being overwhelmed, so that they could stop remembering when they wanted to sleep without nightmares.

“Yes, I see,” he said. “Oh, yes, I do. I am so sorry, my poor children. This should never have happened on your world. I am so VERY sorry.”

He hugged all three children, then straightened up and looked around. Tony was there, along with Cól and Gill. They had come away from the sight and smell of the mass funeral pyre now that the job was in hand.

“We counted nearly fifty bodies,” Gill said with a suppressed sob. “Magree said that was almost certainly everyone. A settlement like this wouldn’t be any bigger than that. He also said….”

“We probably won’t even know all their names. They don’t have writing among their people. They communicate orally, only. We can’t even record the names of the dead.”

“That’s all right,” Chris told them. “If their way of life doesn’t use written words, then they don’t expect to be remembered that way, with names on a memorial. That’s our way of doing things. In a cruel, hard way, it’s one of the things I brought you here to learn… different ways of life.”

They nodded in understanding.

“What now?” they asked.

“Now, we….”

Chris stopped. There was a very familiar sound in the air, then a large boulder appeared where there hadn’t been one before. He smiled for the first time for several tense hours. Marton had arrived with his TARDIS.

“Well done,” he said when the young man opened a door in the boulder. “Just what I need right now. Marton, we’ve got a Rutan invasion to deal with.”

“Rutan?” Marton stepped out of the TARDIS and looked around as if he expected to see the aliens around him. “Green, amorphous amphibious creatures, capable of storing electrical energy within their bodies and using it as a weapon against their enemies or prey?”

“Textbook explanation,” Chris said. “But you’ve obviously never met one.” He turned to look at his other friends. “Cól, Gill, take the children back to our camp by camel. They need food and sleep and a lot of kindness. They’ll get all those things there. Tony, I won’t inflict any more camel riding on you. Come with me and Marton. We’re going to check out the river by TARDIS.”

“We are?”

“Yes, we are.” Chris helped lift the three children up onto the camels, Cól managing the girl and a boy while Gill took the other boy. “Go on, ride carefully but swiftly. Take a path that avoids the river, if you can, though I think it is hot enough now for safety.”

The two young men bid farewell to their mentor and urged their camels on. Chris stepped into the TARDIS with his other companions and immediately set the TARDIS to hover mode above the river. He had two choices, both equally valid. He could go upriver, or down.

He chose to go downriver because of one obvious point. The Lau’ni camp was upriver and that hadn’t been attacked. The enemy had not got that far before the dawn brought a heat that it couldn’t tolerate, driving it into the water again.

Water was their natural habitat. On the Rutan homeworld they lived in submerged cave systems that had never seen daylight. Chris had never been there, but there was a very detailed description of the dark, but pure water that filled the interconnecting caves. The only light down there was created by the Rutans themselves, a fluorescent green from within their bodies. The humanoids with aqualungs who had explored and mapped the caves knew to put off their torch beams and hide when they saw that green ahead. Even then there had been casualties. The mere touch of a Rutan feeler was deadly. The electrical force stored within an adult was enough to kill fifty people.

When they were in air, they made it cold. A sudden drop in temperature was another clue to their presence. But the desert sun even a half hour after dawn was too strong even so. They would have sought cold, deep water before their bodies could be desiccated by the unremitting heat.

The river widened as it reached its estuary. It also got shallow and muddy around the edges at low tide, but there was a deep channel in the middle that merged with the ocean. The TARDIS computer automatically monitored the level of salt and fresh water in the channel as well as its temperature and depth – and searched for alien organic life that produced electricity within its own body.

Everything looked normal. He wondered if he ought to go upstream again or if he should do some kind of wide search of the ocean itself. That might be impossible. Oceans were deep. It was difficult to find anything within them.

“There’s something on the scanner, Chris,” Marton told him. “Out to sea, about five miles.”

“What?” he asked.

“Something that doesn’t belong here,” Marton confirmed. “It’s mineral content is completely alien to this planet, and certainly to the sea bed.”

“He’s right,” Tony added. “And, look… a mile radius around the object… there is no animal life at all. Either the fish have been killed, or they’re giving it a wide berth.”

“Ohhhh!” Chris exclaimed. “I think I know what it is.” He closed his eyes and concentrated on the alien object in the sea. His companions noticed the course change and increase in speed.

“We’re heading for the object?”

“Yes,” Chris answered. “If I’m right, it’s a Rutan craft.”

“Ah!” His two friends exchanged glances, wondering at the nonchalant way he announced the presence of an enemy ship.

“No, it’s not an invasion fleet,” he assured them. “At the most two Rutans travel together.”

“Two Rutans are two too many,” Tony pointed out, aware that his sentence sounded odd, but remembering the devastation in the village and considering grammatical construction unimportant in the circumstances. “Why do you think they came here? What does this planet have that they want?”

“I don’t know,” Chris answered. “I expect we’ll find out.”

The craft was impressive if it was appreciated simply as an example of universal diversity. It was a slightly irregular one hundred and twenty eight sided polyhedron – a hecatoicosioctagon for anyone who could be bothered to pronounce such a word. It was about the size of one of the Oz’o mud huts but entirely made of a crystalline structure that was accreted rather than built. Even the controls for the pilot were a crystal matrix that stored star charts and navigation information. Chris wasn’t entirely sure what its power source was. Perhaps the Rutans used their internal electricity to propel it through space.

If so, it was the most eco-friendly space ship in the known galaxies, created using a renewable fabric, powered by an endless supply of organic power with no waste products to pollute any atmosphere they came into.

But admiration of the Rutan technology couldn’t take away from the fact that Rutans were malevolent enemies of any other lifeform.

“There are no Rutans aboard,” Chris concluded. “It’s safe to materialise on board.” He calibrated that manoeuvre using the manual controls rather than the power of his mind. He wanted to be absolutely accurate. He wasn’t sure what would happen if the TARDIS materialised through the crystalline outer skin.

What the TARDIS materialised into was a crystal honeycomb lit from within by a pulsating green light. The spaces between the crystal walls were filled with a liquid which the TARDIS identified as almost pure water that had been filtered several times through a Rutan’s digestive system.

“Uggh!” All three men commented and decided that they had no need to go outside even in scuba gear.

“The crystal matrix must be semi-telepathic,” Tony noted. “I can sense something.”

“Me, too,” Marton added. “I can’t quite understand… it’s like machine code or hexadecimal, but I don’t quite grasp it.”

“It’s duotrigesimal,” Chris said. “Base 32, if you prefer. That must be the base code of the crystal form. I wonder if it is semi-sentient. Have the Rutans enslaved it in some way?”

As he spoke he was mentally translating the duotrigesimal language into hexadecimal which he and his brother had both learnt to parse mentally when they were teenagers. Tony and Marton hadn’t, but the more of the data he understood the more they picked up subliminally from him.

“Oh!” Marton commented after a while. “So that’s why….”

“It still doesn’t excuse what they did to the people,” Tony added. “But we know why they’re here.”

“They have to be stopped,” Chris said. “They can’t come here. This is an inhabited planet. They have no right. They should have found a place where they would cause no harm to other species.”

Rutans didn’t care about other species. They were only interested in propagating their own lifeform and defeating the Sontarans, their eternal enemy. Any other species was swept out of their way.

But that still left Chris with a dilemma. As much as he grieved for the Oz’o who had died, he was a pacifist and he couldn’t kill. He couldn’t hunt down the Rutan that had come to this world and wipe them out. It went against everything he believed in.

“But we have to do something,” Tony reminded him. “Our friends are camped upriver. Shone is there. And Carya… Darryl and Dale, all of Magree and Lee-in’s people. What if those things reach them?”

“We’ll stop them. I fully intend to do that. But I don’t intend to kill them if I can help it. There’s a difference between stopping something and killing it.”

His friends fully understood. Marton was careful never to kill anything. He was too afraid of The Master’s personality surfacing within him if he let anger and violence overcome him. Tony came from Liverpool, a city known for music, art and culture in his century. Killing things was never something he imagined doing until he joined a Sanctuary of peace and tranquillity.

“Let’s get out of here,” Chris added. “Back upstream. Now we know that’s where they intended to go, we can trace them. I suspect they’re laying low now, waiting for sunset and the heat of the day to dissipate. We might just take them by surprise… and hopefully by the time we do, I’ll have worked out a way of immobilising them long enough to remove them from this planet and take them somewhere they can’t cause any harm.”

He was looking closely at the TARDIS data as they headed upstream again. He was looking for the tell tale signs of Rutans at rest underwater – the reduced temperature, electrical discharges. He was disappointed and worried when they reached the devastated village and had found no such sign. Did that mean that the Rutans were further upriver – closer to their friends?

The unmistakeable smell of funeral pyres had been replaced by a more general burning smell, now. Magree and Lee-in had ordered their people to break up the village, tearing down the huts and throwing the debris onto the fire along with the blankets and sleeping mats where the dead had lain.

“Chris,” Magree called as the TARDIS came to a halt on the edge of the now extant settlement. “Talk to this man. He’s a messenger from an Oz’o village across the river. He has something important to say.”

Chris looked at the worried man wearing the yellow clothing of the fishing tribes. The demolition of the village clearly distressed him, and he had obviously heard the fate of the people there. But there was something else bothering him.

“We have the creature,” he said to Chris. “The Sargos… we captured it.”

Magree winced at the use of the mythological name for the killer creature. He still denied that there was such a thing, despite all that had happened.

“You captured it?” Chris asked. “Alive?”

“It… was alive,” The man answered. “Come, I will show you.”

Chris glanced at the boat made of woven reeds that the man had rowed across the river in. Even if one of the Rutan was dead, there was at least one more in the river. He didn’t want to go across in that.

He could have brought the man in his TARDIS, but he was trying to minimise the contamination of this non-industrial world with his Time Lord technology.

“Go back to your people,” he said. “I’ll follow you.”

He watched as the man paddled his boat the quarter of a mile across and slightly up the river. If there was any danger of it being attacked, he wouldn’t stand by and watch, of course, but he hoped it wasn’t necessary.

It wasn’t. The fisherman made it to the far shore. Chris went back to his TARDIS and set it to cross the river in a much quicker way. It materialised a little way from the village and he and his two companions walked the rest of the way.

This village was almost a duplicate of the one they had found on the other side of the river. The jarring difference was that everyone here was alive and well. Women were gutting and cleaning fish, children were playing. Old men were mending and making nets. The man who had sought them out brought them to the place where they dried the fish on the lattice fences.

Chris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There was a Rutan hanging on the lattice. It’s thin skin was dry and cracked. The flesh within was almost completely desiccated.

It wasn’t quite dead. A feeler reached out as Chris stepped closer. He stepped back hurriedly, but he felt there was no danger any more. The Rutan was powerless. Hanging there in the blistering sun was a terrible way for an amphibious being to die. It was a cruel torture. He felt a little sympathy for it, though he still couldn’t forget what had happened to the people on the other side of the river.

He gasped as he felt a weak telepathic signal reaching out to him in the same way the feeler had. He let that reach him. He felt the dying creature’s most recent thoughts. Yes, it had been in agony, and he WAS sorry for that. If something had to be killed, it ought to have been quick.

He also felt its less recent memories. He saw it being scooped up in one of the big nets the Oz’o use, pulled from the water, electrocuting everything it could reach, but mostly only reaching fish.

The people on the other side of the river fished with small, individual nets cast by one man. The people on this side used big nets that a dozen men cast and pulled to shore together. A small difference that distinguished the two fishing communities, a culture within a culture and the difference between one village being destroyed and the other destroying the enemy that would have attacked it otherwise.

“I can’t save you,” Chris said telepathically. “It’s too late for that. You’re almost dead. You shouldn’t have come to this place. It was your mistake, and you’re paying for it. But so are the people who belong here.”

He felt the Rutan’s death as a sudden emptiness in his own mind. He breathed out slowly. He didn’t feel sorry. He thought he ought to. His life was meant to be about compassion and understanding of all things.

But he still couldn’t forget what this creature and its mate had done to that village.

“Mate?” Marton queried as he and Tony walked with Chris back to the TARDIS. “I thought Rutan’s reproduced asexually.”

“Apparently that’s one thing about Rutans that we’ve all had wrong,” Chris answered. “They DO have male and female. The male has to fertilise the female before the reproductive process which IS a form of schizogony – multiple cell division – hundreds of copies of the parent splitting off from her body and becoming individuals in their own right.”

“Which of the pair was it that they caught in their nets?”

“The male,” Chris answered. “It attacked the first village… before being caught in the big nets of the one on the opposite bank. The female escaped upriver.”

“Upriver? Then our people are in danger,” Tony pointed out.

“No, at least not yet,” Chris answered. “She was going upriver to complete the process… you know… like….”

“Like salmon?” Marton was the one who made the connection. “They live out at sea until the time for mating, then travel upstream to spawn. That’s what the Rutan female is doing?”

“Yes,” Chris said. “And we have to stop her. She could produce hundreds of young. When they grow they’ll be a blight on this world. They’ll infest the water and attack the land at night. They’ll destroy the way of life of every one of the tribes of the Ru’is’ha. The Oz’o and the Go’hai, first, preventing them from fishing and farming on the river banks. But then the rest, the Lau’ni will be doomed if they can’t water their herds and the D’oon and the animals they hunt will be next. Then the Ru'ta-eg. The Rutans will destroy them all.”

Again they were searching for a drop in temperature and electrical discharges in the water as a clue to the location of the other Rutan.

They found the signs in a place ten miles upriver from the camp where they had spent the night. There, the river tumbled down a high, wide cliff in a magnificent waterfall. The pool at the bottom of the falls was so deep that the water near the bottom was calm despite the endless roiling maelstrom on the surface.

The temperature of that calm was nearly freezing and there was so much electrical discharge going on the water would be deadly to any organic being within it that didn’t have a natural means of resistance.

The TARDIS was a safe place to witness something that had obviously not been witnessed by anyone before – the birth of Rutans. Chris made sure at least part of the process was recorded. Knowing the truth about Rutan reproduction was important.

But he also knew he had to stop it happening here. There were already at least fifty or more three inch long mini Rutans floating around the adult.

“I could transmat her into the TARDIS, along with her young,” he said. “I can send them to the reflecting pool in the cloister room. They can survive in there until I can transplant them to an uninhabited planet.”

He calibrated the transmat beam to do just that and reached to switch it on. It enveloped the Rutan and its young in a beam of actinic blue and white light. But to his surprise it didn’t transport them to the cloister room. The Rutan fought back, disrupting the beam with its electrical discharge. After a few minutes Chris stopped trying before it damaged the circuits.

“Any other ideas?” he asked his companions.

“A big net?” Marton suggested. “Like the villagers used.”

“Yeah, I should have brought one,” he responded with a note of sarcasm. Then he yelped in shock. There was something else out there in the water. It was a large fish – a very large fish. It had to be about the size of a great white shark, which was a ridiculous size for a freshwater fish.

It was, Chris guessed, something like a lungfish. Its pectoral fins looked as if they could be used like limbs to drag it over land.

“It’s the Sargos that the Lua’ni talk about,” Tony guessed. “It IS real. It must live up here in the deep water pool and only go downriver in flood times when the water is deep enough.”

“That’s a theory,” Marton added. “I knew there had to be something in it. Myths have to come from somewhere, and Magree and his tribe don’t spend as much time by the water as the Lau-ni people do. His scepticism was misplaced.”

Chris agreed with both of them, but he didn’t tell them that. He was too busy watching what was happening in the water. The Sargos, if that was its name, was actually attacking the Rutan. It fought back, of course, but the Sargos just seemed to soak up the electricity.

“It’s an electric fish,” he said, reading the data the TARDIS was gathering on the biology of the new species of fish. “It can produce electricity within itself, too, and store it like a battery. It’s a match for the Rutan.”

And so it proved. The Rutan was actually tiring. Its internal light was dimmer and it might have been deflating slightly. It was certainly struggling. The young it had already produced were floundering around it.

“Should we do something?” Marton asked.

“I don’t think we can do anything,” Chris answered. “I can’t think of anything. Besides, maybe we shouldn’t interfere. This is nature… this is the fauna of the Ru’is’ha fighting against an alien creature in its environment. The fishing people caught the first one – that’s right, too, in its way, though I wish they’d made a quicker, cleaner kill. That was justice for the people of the other village. And this… this is how it ought to be. We should… do nothing.”

It was hard to do that. Chris was a pacifist, but the same DNA was in his veins as in his brother who fought everything. He wanted to try to save the Rutan from the Sargos or save the Sargos from the Rutan, or save the young Rutan from both, but he was helpless to do any of those things. All he could do was watch and record the events like a natural history television producer.

It took a long, violent, terrible hour before it was over. The Sargos swallowed the last of the Rutan young as the shredded remnants of the dead parent fell through the calm water to the bottom of the pool. Chris sighed deeply. It was over, but it wasn’t any kind of victory, except possibly for the Sargos.

“Let’s get back,” he said. “We can tell everybody at the camp that it’s all right now. The alien threat to their way of life is gone.”

That news, at least, was received with relief by their friends among the Ru’ta-eg and Lua’ni. By the time the sun went down on that difficult day something almost like the peaceful idyll of life on the Ru’is’ha had returned. The four Oz’o orphans were still coming to terms with the loss of their home and family, and going through the grieving process. The Lua’ni were kind to them. It seemed likely that the two young boys might be adopted by the herdsman tribe. The womenfolk had taken a shine to them. The older boy talked about joining the village on the other side of the river – the one that had captured the killer Rutan. He wanted to go back to his own kind of people, the fishing folk of the Ru estuary. His sister would have a home there, too. they could begin to pick up their lives and forget the day the Rutan came to their world.

“They’ll be all right,” Chris said as he sat in the firelight with his wife at his side. “They all will. Life on the Ru’is’ha will go on as it always has done. And that’s as it ought to be.”

Carya nodded and moved closer to him. Then both watched as Gill proved that he really could eat half a llasm sliced up on a wheel sized piece of leven bread dripping with esh.

“I hope they’ve saved the other half,” Carya remarked. “He will want a snack in the middle of the night.”