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

Brenda Campbell sighed happily and looked up from the reclining chair where she was relaxing. The roof a few feet above her was hung with stalactites.

Or was it stalagmites?

No. She remembered the mnemonic from school – ‘stalactites stick tight to the roof. Stalagmites might reach up from the floor to become pillars.’

Right first time.

The stalactites weren’t the only feature that made this a very unusual spa experience. Instead of a sauna and steam room this was an underground cavern with a thermally heated lake and naturally humid air that cleansed the pores of the skin as part the totally relaxing experience away from all outside distractions.

And this incredible place was on Earth, plain old Earth, not some exotic place millions of light years away.

Tuscany, in Italy to be exact, a place with benign seismic forces that provided the warmth to this wonderful underground grotto without any danger of volcanic destruction.

A fast, rhythmic splashing made her look down at the subterranean lake where her husband and his brother swam by, matching each other for strong, even strokes. Both men were fit and well-toned and they were quickly gone from her immediate view, crossing the lake that was far wider, longer and deeper than any commercial pool, the water crystal clear and infused with health promoting minerals.

The brochure that tempted them to this double second honeymoon holiday had promised as much, and so far it had been everything hoped for.

Beside her, Carya, her sister-in-law, sighed with frustration and put down a paperback book she was attempting to read.

“I have tried,” the dusky beauty said. “I really have tried. But I do not understand the poetry of this man.”

“What man?” Brenda picked up the book and looked at the portrait of a late nineteenth century Tuscan on the cover. “Giuseppe Giusti. Why would you try to read something like that?”

It wasn’t a language barrier. With assistance from the TARDISes they regularly travelled by both women could read Italian. But that didn’t mean that poetry written by a man who lived in a different time, country and culture to anything either of them knew would make any sense.

“I am trying to be ‘cultural',” Carya answered. “Chris understands poetry and art and music. I would like to talk with him of such things.”

Brenda understood. Carya had always felt a little out of touch with the people around her. Chris's students in his Retreat tended to be bright, educated young people for whom the things Carya mentioned were easily accessible. None of them would ever look down on her for her lack of formal education, but she still felt she was missing so much.

“You have a culture,” Brenda assured her. “Your people have songs and poems, stories and legends of their own. You should value all of that, just as I value the culture of my planet. But if you want to learn about Earth poetry, I don’t think you should start with Giusti. The only reason any of us have heard of him is because his family owned the villa that was turned into the hotel we’re staying in. There are plenty of other poets you might like. Only... Not Wordsworth. I had enough of him going to school in the Lake District. I promised to burn the next one of his books I saw.”

Carya looked worried, but Brenda assured her she was joking.

“Really, you don’t need to worry. Chris adores you. He doesn’t care if you can talk about literature with him. I can’t talk about cars, but Davie still loves me. It is a close thing sometimes between me and an engine block, but I usually win.”

Carya looked relieved. She sat back and closed her eyes, relaxing fully without worrying about obscure Italian poets. Brenda did the same, banishing Wordsworth and his daffodils from her thoughts.

Both women opened their eyes again as two people came to sit beside them. The woman, who despite being in her late forties took off her hotel monogrammed dressing gown to reveal a well shaped body in a yellow swimsuit. She had introduced herself at breakfast as Anna Luca, a ‘Toscana’ – woman of Tuscany – from Florence. She was here at the Grotta Giusti spa resort with her son, Angelo.

Angelo was a sad case. He looked as if he was at least twenty years old, but he had some kind of brain malfunction that made him mute and barely aware of his surroundings, unresponsive to any stimuli except his own mother’s voice.

His mother took off his dressing gown and sat him in a reclining chair. He curled up in a strangely animalistic way and closed his eyes. After a while he started to snore softly – almost like a cat's purr.

“Has he always been that way?” Brenda asked, a question everyone who had seen them around the resort facilities had wondered. “Or was it an accident! A brain injury of some sort?”

“He was ill, five years ago, when he was fifteen,” Signora Luca answered with the tone of one tired of the explanation. “A brain fever that caused him to withdraw from the world. I take care of him.”

“Of course,” Brenda answered, marvelling at her dedication to her son. Bringing up twins was hard enough but having to care for a grown up child was beyond her imagining.

She looked at the young man. He seemed content enough, a faint smile on his lips as he slept. Only the strange way he was curled up suggested anything out of the ordinary. Brenda was trying to think what it reminded her of. All she was sure of was that it wasn’t how human beings usually slept.

“In my village,” Carya said. “There is a man affected in just such a way. The Elders say he was kissed by the moon. He is treated kindly, but nobody knows how to break the spell.”

“Spell?” Signora Luca looked strangely disturbed by the word. “Angelo isn’t under any spell. It is a medical condition. He has seen many doctors.”

“Just a figure of speech,” Brenda assured her. “Carya's people have a very colourful turn of phrase.”

“I am sorry if I caused any offence,” Carya said in her gentle unassuming and thoroughly sincere way.

Signora Luca seemed pacified. Brenda, though, wondered if the apology had really been necessary. Carya had not said anything offensive. Signora Luca was strangely over-sensitive.

As the conversation faltered, Signora Luca pulled on a face mask and laid down, quickly seeming to fall asleep. Brenda and Carya talked in low voices about going to lunch soon and about the massage and beauty treatments they had planned for the afternoon.

Their men finished swimming and they all went to shower and dress leaving Signora Luca and her son in the grotto. They emerged into a spring sunshine in a private park halfway up a hill that afforded a gentle view of undulating fields, green with this year’s crop of grapes for the popular local Chianti wine.

A path brought them to a terrace where lunch tables were set with jugs of olive oil as the chief condiment. A waiter brought a large shared platter of cheese, four different sliced Salamis, tomatoes, olives and fresh bread. They helped themselves, washed down with a bottle of that crisp Chianti, lingering over the meal as four people on holiday were at liberty to do.

The conversation drifted over many subjects. Tuscan culture was one of them, though not the poetry of Giuseppe Giusti. It was another Giuseppe from Tuscany, the composer, Verdi, who had called the Giusti caves the Eighth Wonder of the World when he had been a guest at the villa.

“Was he unwell?” Brenda asked, recalling with fondness several dates Davie had taken her on when they were engaged – to premieres of great operas like Nabucco at La Scala in 1841. “Did he come for his health as so many people did?”

“I don’t think so,” Davie answered. “He was a friend of Giusti.” He noticed Carya's eyes roll at the name, but didn’t comment. “I suppose he just enjoyed the chance to relax like everyone else.”

“Does that mean there isn’t any special health-giving magic in the caves?” Carya asked, her voice tinged with disappointment.

“Oh, there is,” Chris assured her. “The minerals infused in the water are purifying, and the warm, humid air is good for all kinds of real ailments as well as the mental wellbeing that comes with relaxing in this peaceful environment.”

“Then perhaps it will help Signora Luca's son,” Carya suggested.

“That depends exactly what's wrong with him,” Chris said. “What did she say it was?”

“Brain fever,” Brenda answered.

“That’s a bit vague,” Davie commented. “And a bit old fashioned, too. More what they'd say back in Verdi and Giusti's time. This is the mid-twenty-first century. They call that sort of thing meningitis and treat it with antibiotics. And I’m afraid when the treatments don’t work all the health spas in the galaxy won’t help.”

Carya was disappointed to hear that. Her kind soul had hoped for such a cure.

“Signora Luca didn’t come here to find a cure for her son,” Brenda said. The words came out all of a sudden, without thinking, and she regretted the horrified expression on Carya's face as she explained. “It’s been puzzling me since we were in the cave. I wasn’t meaning to read her mind or anything, but the closeness of the environment or maybe her sitting so near to me, I had a strong sense of what she was feeling. And it wasn’t motherly concern for poor Angelo. He's with her because she can’t leave him anywhere else. He's her sole responsibility. But this is her rest cure, her holiday, not his.”

Carya was the most shocked by such a revelation, but the two brothers looked at each other in consternation, too. That wasn’t what either of them called parental love.

“We shouldn’t judge her,” Chris said. “We have no idea what she has gone through. Our children are healthy and happy and being spoilt rotten by grandparents. We cannot condemn a woman who is so much less fortunate.”

Carya nodded in agreement with his gentle conclusion. Davie and Brenda tried to be as charitable, but neither had Chris's deep spirituality or Carya’s gentle view of life. They couldn’t help feeling that Signora Luca was a cold woman.

But she wasn’t their concern for the afternoon. They forgot about her as the women went for their massages and beauty treatments and their husbands joined a bus tour to one of the local vineyards.

They didn’t think much about her later when they dined in the former ballroom of the Villa Giusti, now converted into a Michelin starred restaurant. Local white truffles were on offer among the starter courses and succulent steaks in mushroom and garlic sauce were followed by a Tuscan dessert called torta coi bischeri.

Signora Luca and her son didn’t appear in the restaurant and even Carya didn’t worry about their absence. After dinner the two couples walked in the villa’s private grounds under a cool, moonlit sky until they were ready for bed.

Brenda expected to sleep well after a good dinner that included more of the Chianti as well as a sweet, thick liqueur that infused the dessert.

But she didn’t. She woke up after only an hour, disturbed by the sound of a cat mewing loudly somewhere very close to the villa.

Mewing was too small a sound to describe what the cat was doing, in fact. Yowling was a better one, though Brenda wondered if that was a real word.

The cat mewed even louder. Brenda decided that she didn’t care about correct English language. Yowling perfectly described the horrible noise the animal was making.

She knew she wouldn’t get to sleep again until it stopped.

And that didn’t seem at all likely. The noise went on without a moment’s respite. Surely the creature had to pause for breath from time to time?

She tried a pillow over her head to no avail. Then she remembered that the window was open. The evening air had been so warm and fragrant when they came to bed it had seemed a shame to close it.

The air was still warm and fragrant, but Brenda decided enough was enough. She got out of bed and went to close the window.

She paused before completing the operation and looked out to see if she could spot the noisy animal. The luxurious room looked out over the park and across the vineyards beyond the private sanctuary. All of that scene, bathed as it was in moonlight, was a peaceful nocturnal setting.

The cat was somewhere close to the villa.

She leaned out of the window to look and listen. In truth, it sounded as if the cat was inside the villa, making its cacophony from another open window somewhere in the floor above.

That was odd, since these were all guest bedrooms and pets were not allowed. Perhaps it was a trick of the night-time sound. Perhaps the cat was further away after all.

“Are you all right, sweetheart?” Davie asked, embracing her from behind. She hadn’t heard him getting up from the bed, but it was nice to feel his arms around her. It would have been quite romantic if it hadn’t been for that wretched cat.

“How did you manage to sleep through it?” she asked. But she knew the answer. Davie probably wouldn’t have been asleep, but in some level of deep meditative trance that did his body as much good as two weeks of bathing in the Grotta Giusti lake. He would probably invent a new form of renewable energy and plan the twenty-fourth century revival of the Paris-Dakar rally at the same time without feeling anything but awake and refreshed in the morning.

“Horrible racket,” he agreed. “Where is it coming from? Is it trapped or something?”

“I don’t know,” Brenda answered. “I’d better close the window. Shame. It was nice having it open. But I’ll never sleep otherwise. And I WANT to sleep!”

“Leave the window,” Davie said to her. He found his sonic screwdriver on the bedside table and adjusted it carefully. Brenda looked at him in surprise. She could still hear the soft, warm breeze blowing and a distant sound of an owl hooting, but the cat was silent.

“I’ve screened out the frequency of the cat's mewing, just in our room. Everyone else will have to put up with it, but I can’t have my wife kept awake.”

“Even if I do occasionally share your favours with a racing car, I am so lucky to be your wife,” Brenda commented as he led her back to bed.

Even though she did sleep well after Davie’s sonic intervention, Brenda looked as if her night had been disturbed when she came to breakfast the next morning. Chris and Carya both remarked on how tired she looked. Davie was puzzled, too. He thought he had solved the problem.

“I slept, but I had really odd dreams,” she admitted.

“What about?” Chris asked. “Or is it all fading away leaving an uneasy feeling that you can’t quite identify?”

“Cats,” Brenda stated firmly. “Mostly it is faded, like you said. But cats were involved. One cat, anyway. And... I felt.. as if the cat was trying to tell me something important.”

“I'm no expert on interpreting dreams,” Davie told her. “But I'd put most of that down to being woken up by all that noise. You were thinking about the cat as you went back to sleep.”

“You’re probably right,” Brenda admitted.

“Funny, but we didn’t hear it at all in our room,” Carya mentioned.

Even booking retrospectively it had been impossible to get two rooms next to each other in the popular hotel. Brenda and Davie had what was called a ‘Park View' room, looking over the front of the Villa. Chris and Carya were in a ‘Mountain View' room which, of course, had a breathtaking view of the mountains, though as pointed out on TripAdvisor, it was necessary to ignore the kitchen yard and the bins immediately below.

“You would think the bins would have been of interest to the cat,” Chris considered. “It should have been us with the noise, not you.”

“Funny thing is,” Brenda added. “I haven’t seen a cat in the grounds at all. In fact... Listen to all the birds. THEY aren’t worried about a cat. Birds don’t sit around tweeting to each other with a tree climbing predator around.”

“Well, you didn’t dream it entirely,” Davie assured her. “There WAS a cat making an almighty row. Anyway, never mind it. What are we doing today? More time in Dant Alighieri’s Heaven, Hell and Purgatory?”

“I understand THAT culture,” Carya said. “In the guide book it says that the three caves were named for the work of another Tuscan poet. But I don’t think any of the caves are at all hellish. They are equally nice to relax in.”

“That’s where that imagery falls down,” Davie admitted. “Let's stick with Verdi’s Eighth Wonder.”

“Actually, I might go back to the room and have a quiet lie down,” Brenda decided. “I do feel I want a bit more sleep.”

Davie was concerned about her, of course, and it took some persuading to keep Carya from acting as her companion-nursemaid like a poor relation on the Grand Tour in one of E.M. Forster's novels of Society manners. But eventually Brenda achieved the peace she sought. She watched out of the window as the three headed off with a picnic for a day exploring the lovely Tuscan countryside. She also watched Signora Luca heading off to the caves with her shower bag containing towels and dressing gown.

Her afflicted son wasn’t with her this time. Brenda recalled that he hadn’t been with her at breakfast, either.

Perhaps he had been troubled by the noisy cat during the night, too. But had she just left him in the room by himself? That didn’t seem quite right.

She leaned out of the window a little and turned to look up at the rooms facing the front of the Villa. She still wondered if the cat was in one of them, despite the ‘no pets' policy of the hotel.

She was a little surprised to see, not an illicit pet at the window of one of the upper floor suites, but Angelo staring out. Brenda was concerned at first, but she saw that the windows in the rooms advertised as a family suite were fixed with childproof catches so that they only opened a few inches. Angelo couldn’t fall out.

Funnily enough, as she assured herself of that, she was sure his window was about where she thought the cat's meowing had come from in the night – a little to the right and above her own position.

Was Signora Luca hiding the creature? Was her son alone in the hotel suite with a cat? That seemed a very odd arrangement altogether.

Still, it was Signora Luca's problem, and she didn’t seem to be somebody who wanted others to interfere in her affairs.

She turned from the window and went to the bed. She really did need to sleep.

She woke up a few hours later feeling hungry. She ordered a room service lunch and ate it by the window, enjoying the view.

Most of the guests had been to lunch and soon went out again. She noticed Signora Luca heading towards the caves, still without Angelo.

She looked up to the window. It was still open, but there was something odd about it. The gap looked as if it were blocked by a large piece of green fabric that was pressed up against the window.

As she looked, squinting to focus from the odd angle, she had a terrible idea of what it was at the window.

And it was that thought along with an element of the insatiable curiosity that infected the family she was married into that got the better of all her other instincts.

That was why a simple idea like calling reception and saying that there was something wrong with the window didn’t occur to her.

Instead she brought Davie’s sonic screwdriver from the side table where he had left it for the day and walked along the quiet landing and up the stairs. The chambermaids had all done their work in the morning. A few doors had ‘Non Disturbare' signs hung on them where guests were wanting a quiet time in the afternoon.

The suite occupied by Signora Luca and family had just such a sign on the door handle, but Brenda suspected it had been there since breakfast. She had no evidence, but she was certain that Signora Luca hadn’t been back to the suite for several hours.

Brenda applied the sonic as a very adequate master key and slipped inside.

The drawing room was empty and quiet, but amongst the tasteful decor there was irrefutable evidence that Signora Luca had a cat. A large bowl of milk was deliberately placed under the window.

That explained a lot. Signora Luca had brought a pet which had been concealed in the suite. Hence its miserable yowling at the window all night.

This ‘family suite' had two bedrooms leading off the drawing room. One door was open. The creams and perfumes on the dresser pointed to this being the mother’s room.

Brenda opened the other door.

The first thing she noticed as she stepped inside was a smell she hadn’t known since before the twins were toilet trained.

The second thing she noticed was the state of the bed. The duvet and pillows had been ripped to shreds. Feathers and hollowfibre material still floated in the pungent air.

She spared a thought for the chambermaid who would have to clean up this room as her eyes turned to the partially-obscured window.

It wasn’t curtains blocking the light. They were shredded, too.

It was Angelo, his back, clothed in rags of a pair of green-blue pyjamas, was partially wedged in the opening as if he had tried to get out through the few inadequate inches. His face was flushed and perspiring as if he had been struggling for some time, but exhaustion must have overtaken him and now he lay across the sill with his eyes closed.

Brenda approached the window cautiously, wanting to help, but wondering how she could do so, and whether she really SHOULD help. There was something very strange going on in this room and she wasn’t sure if she wasn’t out of her depth already.

As she approached the window, Angelo opened one eye and glanced at her. His expression was hard to read. It was strangely inhuman. More like an animal.

More like....

“It's all right,” she said gently, despite the hairs on the back of her neck prickling warily. “Don’t be frightened. I just came to see if I could help you.”

Angelo opened both eyes and looked at her with an expression she really didn’t like at all, but her kind nature overcame the indefinable fear.

She hoped Angelo realised that she wanted to help him. For one moment she thought there was a flicker of understanding.

Then Angelo screeched in a manner that bore no relation to human speech but was definitely on a familiar theme. Brenda stepped back warily but not quite fast enough as Angelo leapt from the windowsill. She screamed as his hands slashed out at her in a way that human hands, even some very well manicured ones, shouldn’t.

“Angelo, no!” she cried out as she tripped on what she vaguely recognised as a squeaky cat toy and fell, helpless to prevent the attack. All she could do was cover her face and hope it would stop while she still had some clothes on her body.

Davie opened the hotel room door, wondering if his wife was still asleep.

He was shocked to see her sitting on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a dressing gown and applying ointment to some very deep scratches on her arms, legs and neck.

“What happened?” he asked as he crossed the room followed by Chris and Carya. “What did this?”

“A... A... Angelo...” She stammered as Carya took over tending to her wounds. “He....”

“Angelo?” Carya examined the deepest of the scratches. “Angelo did this?"

“Angelo... isn’t.... At least I think.... He's not completely human. He.. has retractable claws like a cat. And… when he'd finished treating me like a mouse he’d caught he lapped up a bowl of milk.”

“Did he have a litter tray?” Davie asked. The question came out despite himself.

“I’m not even going to discuss THAT,” Brenda answered. “I’m not kidding. Somehow or other... Angelo not only acts like a cat... moves like one... curls up to sleep like one... He IS a cat.”

“How is that possible?” Carya asked. It wasn’t that she disbelieved Brenda’s story. It just seemed impossible.

“Transmogrification," Chris said.

“This happens so often there's a word for it?” Brenda asked.

“The word is really just a clever way of saying ‘alteration’,” Davie explained. “But in fantasy books like Harry Potter and in certain discredited genetic experiments it can mean turning a human into an animal.”

“Well, that’s it!” Brenda exclaimed. “Somebody has done genetic experiments on Angelo.” In her mind she ruled out magic. Her husband carried a sonic screwdriver not a wand.

“The experiments were discredited in the twenty-fifth century in the Altaran Cluster,” Davie explained. “This is Tuscany in the twenty-twenties.”

“Signora Luca is from Florence,” Chris pointed out. “There is something of a precedence for Florentines getting ahead of their era scientifically. Our old friend Da Vinci....”

“One way or another, I think we need to talk to Signora Luca,” Davie decided. “She might be a bit stroppy about you breaking into her hotel room, mind you.”

“Only to HELP,” Brenda protested. But Davie smiled warmly at her. She was only upholding a family tradition of universal busy-bodying, after all.

Carya was a little nervous about approaching the mother of a transmogrified cat-man, but she was not going to be left behind, either. She and Brenda followed their men up to the family suite. Davie knocked firmly on the door. After a brief pause the door opened on the security chain. A sliver of worried face pressed against the gap.

“Va via!” she cried out. “Go away... Or I will complain to the manager.”

“I'm sure the manager would be thrilled to hear about the ripped up bedding and a certain unpleasant mess on the bedroom carpet,” Davie answered. He applied the sonic to the door as he spoke and the chain dropped off. He pushed the door open and firmly but gently pressed Signora Luca aside.

Angelo was sleeping on the sofa in a fresh pair of pyjamas. He was calm, now, a distinct purring sound coming from his throat.

“He was experiencing a downswing, today,” his mother admitted. “I shouldn’t have left him alone.”

“But you didn’t want to spoil your holiday,” Brenda responded sharply. “So you locked him in and went off for a sauna.”

Chris leaned over the sofa and gently examined the afflicted young man.

“I was right,” he said in shocked tones. “His DNA has been contaminated with cat genes... And some kind of... absolutely no pun ... some catalyst... fused them together. “

“How could you possibly know that?” Signora Luca snapped before realising her mistake.

“How could YOU know that?” was Davie's riposte. “Sit down, Signora, tell us everything, and be glad its us, not somebody less understanding. “

“Angelo was such a sweet child,” Signora Luca admitted with a deep sigh. “So loving to me. But... When he was a teenager, he changed. He didn’t want to be with me. He wouldn’t kiss me goodnight. “

“That’s being a teenager,” Chris said, winking at his twin. “We didn’t kiss our mum when we were that age. We do now, because we've got kids of our own and we appreciate what we put her through. But not at fifteen.”

“I wanted my little boy to... to stay my little boy,” Signora Luca explained, ignoring Chris’s perfectly sensible explanation of teenage boys. “I took him to my uncle. He is dead, now. A car accident. But he was a leading geneticist. He told me his work could turn back the years. Angelo would be my precious, loving boy again. And... He is all of that... loving and sweet, always at my side.... Except for the downswings. They are always difficult. They start in the night... The howling ...”

“You monster!” Brenda snapped. “You let somebody turn your own son into a... a... a freak... causing him goodness knows what mental anguish... all for your own selfish reasons. You can't seriously think this is the best for him. And what if he attacks somebody else during a ‘downswing'. He could easily kill.”

“I just wanted....”

“YOU wanted!” Brenda cut Signora Luca off mid-sentence. “When you have children it isn't about what YOU want. It isn't about what THEY want, either. It IS about what’s best for them. And what you did... is certainly not what’s best for Angelo. “

Davie started to say something but changed his mind. Brenda had summed it all up.

“I can help him,” Chris said very quietly as Brenda squared up to Signora Luca for a potential – no other word would do – catfight.

“You can?” Everyone turned to look at him, even Signora Luca.

“The Chameleon Arch in my TARDIS. I can modify it to separate the DNA strands. It will be painful, but afterwards he will be free of the mental and physical torment you put him through, Signora Luca.”

“Torment?” she gasped. “I thought.... “

“You thought wrong. I've seen into his mind. Even in his calm hours he is bewildered. He can’t understand why his mother is keeping him trapped in a terrible limbo of half-existence.”

“You foolish woman,” Carya said, the worst condemnation of all, coming from such a kind and non-judgemental soul.

Signora Luca looked at her son, then at the four people around her. All but Chris were disgusted by her. He was too concerned about Angelo to pass any judgement, not even with the expression in his eyes.

“Limbo....” Chris repeated the word he had used a few minutes before. “Actually, that might help. Brenda, Carya, in half an hour, bring Angelo and his mother down to the caves. We’ll meet you there.”

As the brothers left the suite, Brenda glanced around.

“We’ll pass the half hour with tea on the terrace. These rooms still need some serious cleaning. “

It was an awkward half hour for Signora Luca, in company with two women who had made it clear that they disliked her intently. She may have been wondering what was going to happen to Angelo. Could those two assured looking young men really help him?

They went down to the caves at the appointed time, passing through the three areas called Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, and reaching a fourth, Limbo, again referencing Dante’s Inferno but proving to be a quiet cave with a deep, warm pool and stalactite hung roof.

Brenda and Carya both knew that a thick pillar formed by the meeting of a stalactite and stalagmite was actually Chris’s TARDIS. He had brought from it a small object that looked like rock crystal carved into a pinkish-blue skull cap.

Chris gently laid the cap on Angelo’s head and pressed both sides by his temples. The cap vibrated steadily and there was a slight glow around it.

Angelo cried out. His voice echoed disturbingly around the cave. Davie adjusted his sonic and held it in the air. The sound of his cries became muffled as if in cotton wool.

“We don’t want to disturb other customers,” he said. “I told the manager that we were doing a special kind of hydrotherapy for the boy. Which isn’t too far from the truth."

Chris slid into the pool, still dressed in a white dressing gown. He lifted Angelo into the warm water and held him floating on his back. Brenda thought it looked less like hydrotherapy than a Renaissance artist’s idea of what John the Baptist did in the River Jordan.

Angelo’s cries got worse, at one time sounding more like an enraged cat than Human. Then they started to subside. The young man began to move his arms and legs with almost true movement. Chris took off the cap and set it aside, then held Angelo securely as he let him go under the warm, cleansing water three times.

The third time, as he cane up, the boy's lips moved. He turned his head and called out in a clear voice.

“Madre... mia madre.”

“Go to her,“ Chris told him. Angelo broke from his hold and swam to the edge of the pool. Signora Luca jumped in, fully clothed, and reached to embrace him.

The boy kissed his mother.

“See... I told you,” Chris said as he swam to the edge and pulled himself out of the water. “No fifteen year old kisses his mum, but a twenty year old will.”

When Signora Luca and Angelo looked around, the four young people were gone. They hadn’t even noticed the strange noise that echoed around the cave or the absence of a limestone pillar.

The two couples were sitting on the terrace eating fruit and drinking wine when Signora Luca and her son came back from the caves. Both looked happier than seemed possible not so long ago.

“She might make a better mother, now," Brenda remarked.

“That’s up to her," Chris said. “We can’t do any more.”

“We have other things to do,” Brenda decided. “Like introducing Carya to art and literature. All those names we've been dropping all day – Verdi, Dante... Da Vinci. You expect her to keep up? We need to get to know some of the more interesting people. Which won’t include Giuseppe Giusti.... Or William Wordsworth.”