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

Jenny Flint walked through the orange grove at the edge of the estate blissfully. The smell of freshly ripened oranges was overwhelmingly delicious. She had always loved oranges, craving them even as a child when she saw them sold at the market near her London home. Later she managed to buy one once a month by carefully hoarding pennies. At Paternoster Row there was always a bowl of them on the sideboard in the drawing room. Madame liked them because they reminded her of the citrus fruits that grew in the warmer climate of her own youth, when the island of Britain was still part of a tropical supercontinent surrounded by a warm sea teeming with life.

Jenny didn’t know much about that tropical world, and she was coming to realise that she didn’t know a lot about her own world. She especially hadn’t known how glorious oranges were when they grew on trees in an orchard that sloped down to a turquoise coloured sea.

They had arrived in Menton when the oranges were blossoming. That had been heavenly in itself, but watching the hard, green fruits swell and turn to yellow then orange had been a joy all through the summer. Now, in the last two weeks of their sojourn on the Riviera, they were finally ripe.

She reached out her hand and picked a fruit from the nearest tree. She held it close to her face for a while, enjoying the sharp, clean scent. Then she pushed a thumbnail into the waxy skin and began to peel the orange. She discarded the inedible but so very fragrant skin in the leaf litter and pulled the juicy inner flesh into segments, eating them with the same slow care she ate those rare ones of childhood, appreciating every last tangy bite, every drop of juice.

Not only was it an utterly sublime experience, but it was one she could enjoy over again. She reached again and picked another fruit.

She picked four more and put them in the pocket of her cool sundress, not minding the weight of them at all.

She ate her second orange as she walked down to the sandy beach that was private to the villa. Beaches were quite unknown to her as a child. The closest she got was playing in the mud at Rotherhithe when the tide was out, and that was a very different place to the warm, blue Mediterranean.

It was a pleasant walk along the sand. The fact that there weren’t very many more of them left didn’t bother her too much. Going home to London would be nice, too, and there would be wonderful memories from this trip to talk about in the winter evenings. She could tell Joe and Millie about the oranges. They could share their memories from their summer in Brighton.

But right now, she was living in the moment with the warm sun on her face and soft sand beneath her feet and fresh oranges to eat.

Of course, something had to disturb the peace and tranquillity.

Jenny ran to the man lying in the surf, sure he must be drowned, a casualty of sine fishing boat mishap. Though he was a tall, full grown man she pulled him easily onto the dry sand beyond the reach of the surf and turned him over onto his back.

He WAS breathing, rather raggedly, and painfully, as if breathing through his mouth was new to him.

It probably was. She watched as a pair of gills either side of his face dissolved away. She was ignoring the webbed hands and feet until they, too, became ‘normal’.

She was also ignoring the fact that he was naked. There weren’t even rags of a shirt or trousers on him. He had been naked before he got into difficulty and was washed ashore.

His body was sun-bronzed all over confirming the suspicion that he didn’t usually wear clothes very often.

But the all over suntan didn’t completely disguise the fact that he was also very badly bruised all over his body, from his face where his cheek was swollen and a long cut extended under his eye to his torso and his arms and legs that were not so much black and blue as purple, red and black.

She wondered if the sea could do that, or if he had been beaten by other sun-bronzed and probably naked men.

“Are you all right, now?” she asked him in English and then French. If his natural place was the sea, as certain clues suggested, she wasn’t sure what language he should speak, but those were the obvious ones to try.

“I… I… am… Gullah,” he said in the Mentonasque dialect spoken by many natives of this French town. Gullah was obviously his name, which wasn’t exactly an answer to her question.

“I’m Jenny,” she replied. “Can you stand? I think I ought to take you to the house.”

He nodded and struggled to stand. Jenny helped him up. He looked down at his feet, unused to seeing them in the ‘dry’ form. He took a few tentative steps holding onto her arm before he felt safe to walk unaided.

Guiding a naked man through the orange grove and then the ornamental rose garden was a strange experience. Before as she wandered leisurely down to the beach she was sure she was quite alone. Now she felt as if there might be witnesses all around to the fact that she was walking with a naked man. There was a gardener and his boy around somewhere and a couple of house servants. Usually they worked quietly and invisibly, but she fully expected this to be the inconvenient exception.

But she made it to the house without any shouts of indignation or kitchen girls screaming at the sight of a trouserless man. She got him to the drawing room where there were silk throws over the soft furnishings and tied one of them sarong style around his waist. He still looked strange, but nobody needed to scream.

She rang a bell that brought a maid running.

“I need tea and sandwiches,” she said to the local girl who came in every day to serve the villa’s summer residents. “For two people. If there is any smoked salmon or foie gras in the kitchen they will do.”

The girl glanced at the strange man then looked away with only a shade of embarrassment. A man without clothing was actually rather less strange than the rest of this household. She took his presence philosophically.

Jenny did wonder briefly if salmon was a bad idea with a man who came from the sea. Were fish his cousins or something? But when the food was brought he seemed undaunted by the fillings, only the idea of a sandwich.

That wasn’t new. The French maid had to be shown how to make sandwiches, a peculiarly English idea, when they first arrived in Menton. By now she was getting it right. The triangles of bread were thin and dainty, a little chervil sprinkled on the nearly see-through slivers of smoked salmon and a sprig of parsley on the plate.

Jenny ate one to show Gullah how. He took one of the sandwiches tentatively and seemed pleased by the taste. He ate several more before Jenny introduced him to very milky tea, not too hot for his unaccustomed mouth.

“Can you tell me what happened to you?” Jenny asked as she ordered more sandwiches. He was clearly hungry by the way he devoured the food.

“Cast out,” he answered. “Elders of my tribe were angry with me. I was... beaten... and cast out... to die.”

Jenny was horrified at the cruelty of such a thing. But then she thought again. Perhaps he had committed a terrible crime in his tribe. He might be a murderer or a molester of women or children. She carefully reached to ring another bell.

Strax appeared very quickly, wearing his usual butler’s uniform with his thick neck straining the widest collar available. Jenny invited him to sit and take tea. He took his thick bottomed ceramic tankard with a wide handle from the sideboard. Tea cups were no use to him.

“Why were you cast out?” Jenny asked now that she had a bodyguard against any inappropriate behaviour from the castaway.

“I love the high Elder’s daughter,” he answered. “But I am a soldier. I am beneath her. Churro… the Elder… forbad us from meeting, but we defied him.”

His grammar was improving as he got used to speaking. He described in increasing detail a secret relationship with Savara, the beautiful daughter of Churro and the furore when they were discovered.

Jenny was sympathetic. Strax… not so much.

“If you are a soldier you should have no thoughts of ‘love’,” Strax remarked scathingly. “No Sontaran would be so distracted from his first duty.”

Gullah glanced at Strax and made no comment. Jenny did not add anything in the way of explanation. She had heard something of the Sontaran method of reproduction. Love didn’t come into it. Indeed, it was only because Strax had lived among humans for a time that he had even heard of the concept.

It was better than being a murderer, Jenny added to herself. If that was the whole truth of it. She hoped it was. It meant that she was right to rescue Gullah and bring him to the house.

The chief doubt in her mind was whether Madame would think it right. She was not yet returned from a visit to the town where she had been viewing the site of an arcehological excavation that interested her. What would she think when she found that another stray creature was in her home? Would she be sympathetic to Gullah’s plight? Jenny wasn’t altogether sure.

The question was answered very shortly when Madame came home and entered the room she had expected to be private to herself and Jenny. She looked at the still only partially clothed stranger with undisguised curiosity. Jenny quickly explained his circumstances.

“That explains the saltwater smell,” she said, her nostrils dilating meaningfully. “But do you mean to say there are two-legged mammals in the sea around these parts? I thought only the great whales and the dolphins were among the warm-blooded sea dwellers.”

“I am of the Merran,” Gullah answered her. “Humans know us as merman, though they think we are nothing but legend. We have lived beneath the warm waters that humans call the Mediterranean as long as it has existed as a body of water.”

“About a million years, then,” Madam noted. “Still, you would be considered usurping newcomers to my sea-based brethren. You are perhaps fortunate that this Mediterranean is, itself, a relatively new body of water. There would not be hibernation pods beneath it. Otherwise your tribe would not have survived.”

Madame Vastra spoke with the superior tone she so often took as one of the ancient people who claimed ownership of the Earth long before warm blooded mammals walked erect. It was a tone she tried not to use so much in London, where the achievements of mankind had to be acknowledged, but faced with another species of hitherto unknown ‘apes’, something of her old acerbity reared itself.

‘You are welcome to the sanctuary of this house for a while, at least,” Madame told Gullah. “But you will need to think about what you intend to do in the future.”

“I do not know what I shall do,” Gullah responded with downcast eyes. “I cannot return to my tribe. But a future without Savara… I cannot contemplate it. I would rather die….”

Jenny was, again, sympathetic to a tale straight from the more romantic of the cheap fiction she had read, but Strax and Madame both reacted less kindly.

“Pull yourself together,” Strax said. “Despondency is unbecoming of a soldier.”

“If you are determined to die, there is nothing we can do to stop you,” Madame added with the acerbic tone again. “Be pleased to do it elsewhere then we do not have the burden upon us.”

Jenny was shocked by those cruel, indifferent words, but they seemed to have the desired effect on Gullah. There was no more talk of dying and when Madame sent him along with Strax to borrow suitable clothing from the gardener he made no complaint.

“You understand the dialect of the local land apes,” Madame said when he was suitably dressed and returned to the drawing room. “But that is surely not your native tongue?”

“It is not,” Gullah answered. “It is not possible to speak my language in air.”

“But you are able to walk among the humans and assimilate their language. I presume you have done so in the past?”

Gullah nodded, but it seemed as if he was not ready to divulge how often he or others of his aquatic race left the sea and mingled with the local people. That was a secret he had no intention of betraying even though he was an exile.

But Madame wasn’t looking for secrets of that sort. She had enough of those herself. She had no intention of pressing him that way.

“You could pass for human,” she said after a long, silent time of contemplation. “There is no reason why you couldn’t make a new life for yourself around Menton. There are surely jobs to be had for a strong young man who is willing to work. ‘

“I shall be an exile from all I have ever known,” he said very solemnly.

“I am not unsympathetic to that,” Madame told him. “I have faced that same exile. It is painful, but with resignation to ones fate it is bearable.”

Gullah didn’t quite look convinced. Jenny understood why if nobody else did. Gullah had been separated from his lover. That was a pain that took longer to be resigned to.

Strax took it upon himself to prevent any musing about his loss. He took Gullah under his command, setting him to work around the villa. In the course of three days the building acquired a wooden veranda overlooking the citrus groves, every floorboard sanded smooth, every upright supporting the roof straight and strong, every tile on that roof fitting neatly. When that was done, Strax proposed a ‘gazebo’. At least, that is what everyone thought he meant. His pronunciation of the word was haphazard, but his description of what he proposed he and Gullah should build seemed to make sense.

Anyway, the sounds of wood being sawn, cut and smoothed was a background to a peaceful villa until near sunset of the fifth day of Gullah’s exile.

Jenny and Madame were enjoying that sunset together in the private garden where a lizard woman and her wife might hold hands together without any adverse comment. They talked about the glorious colours of the sunset and the warmth of the evening, and very little else. Their relationship was at the stage where everything else two people holding hands might say was long ago said.

Then the peace of the day was penetrated by a terrible scream. Jenny and Madame both looked around, trying to find the source of the noise that seemed to come from every direction at once.

When Gullah ran past them, calling out in a pitch higher than a male of any species ought to achieve they at least knew that the sound had come from the beach. They hurried after their guest, aware that Strax was not far behind them.

“I believe it is the war cry of a Gaar beast,” he said. “They are sent ahead of the main fighting force by the Gaares infantry.”

“Somehow, I doubt it,” Madame replied. “Don’t do anything precipitous until I say so.”

It could well have been a war cry, but neither Jenny nor Madame really thought so. There was something more desperate than that in the tone.

They reached the beach in time to see Gullah lifting a body from the surf. As he turned, Jenny noted long white hair, not blonde, but actually white that contrasted with golden tanned skin.

That wasn’t the most remarkable thing about the body he held onto protectively. The torso was a naked young woman, but from the waist down were fish scales and an impressive tail.

“A mermaid?” Jenny whispered loudly. Even when Gullah h ad said that his people were called merman she hadn’t thought of the ‘traditional’ image of them. Was it only the women who had tails or had Gullah been further along in his transformation when she found him?

“So it would seem,” Madame answered her. “Is she alive?” The last was aimed at Gullah.

“She is in danger,” he replied. “She has never adapted to air before. She needs to be in water until she is ready to attempt the transformation again.”

“Get her to the house,” Madame immediately ordered him. “Put her in the bathroom. There is plenty of water and no danger of attracting unwanted attention.”

Gullah hurried away. Madame and Jenny, with Strax again lumbering on behind, followed. By the time they arrived there was a sound of running water from the bathroom. Indeed, by the time Madame mounted the stairs there was water starting to run down them in a veritable cascade.

The bath was overflowing. The mermaid was lying with her head beneath the surface, blowing air bubbles from her gills. Her huge tail was slapping up and down, creating waves that added to the overflow along with the constantly running tap.

“She has to keep moving, even if it is only her tail, otherwise she will die,” Gullah said.

“Like a shark,” Jenny commented. “Sharks can’t stop moving in water or they would drown. I… read about it in a nature article in Strand Magazine….”

“Very well,” Madame decided. “Strax, get a mop.”

There were servants who could clean up the water, of course, but Madame thought it prudent to keep the number of people who knew about the houseguests to a minimum.

Gradually the panicked splashing eased to a slow undulation of the tail. The mermaid breathed gently under the water. Gullah lifted her head slowly, and she breathed air through her mouth. He lifted her into a sitting position and slowly her gills disappeared. She breathed wholly through her mouth and nose. Gullah lifted her from the bath. Jenny passed him a large, soft towel to wrap the mermaid in as her tail turned first to webbed and then to ordinary feet.

“I have dresses that will fit,” Jenny said. “Bring her to my room.”

Madame nodded her agreement with that plan. Gullah carried the girl to the master bedroom then retreated, recognising the customs of human gender boundaries.

As she helped the girl to dress Jenny gleaned from her, in halting Mentonasque, that she was, as everyone had guessed by now, Savara, the daughter of the Elder Churro whom Gullah loved. She had run away to find him.

“Females of our tribe do not walk on the land as often as the men,” she explained. “I have never done so before. The transition was almost too much.”

“Why not?” Jenny asked. “Why don’t you visit the land as often as the men, I mean? “

“Maids do not leave the village. We remain to tend to the home and be ornamental to our menfolk.”

Jenny gave an ironic laugh.

“Nothing changes,” she said. She held out a pair of soft Turkish slippers. “Anyway, put these on your feet and you’ll do fine for the drawing room.”

The slippers were the most puzzling part of the dressing for Savara. Not actually having feet before this day it was strange to now wrap them in cloth to walk upon the mostly carpeted floors of the villa.

Madame was gracious to the new refugee from the sea and invited her to sit on the chaise next to Gullah, who held her hand tightly in his.

They were happy. They had found each other and a place of safety.

But it was not so easy as that.

“This is NOT the end of the matter,” Madame said. “You were an outcast, Gullah. Your tribe didn’t care what happened to you. But your sweetheart is the Elder’s daughter and she has run away to be with you. I do not imagine anyone will be happy about that. In my own people blood has been spilt for less. We must expect some retribution, and it will come to this house before long.”

“I have no wish to cause you any more trouble. We will go,” Gullah answered.

“I expect the trouble will come whether you are here or not at this stage,” Madame told him. “We have aided both of you. We have already made ourselves the enemies of those who will come. Is that not so?”

“It is so,” Gullah admitted. Savara gave a soft cry of despair. He held her hand tightly and promised to defend her to the last.

“That’s the spirit, boy,” Strax declared. “We should all Br proud to die in battle alongside you.”

Madame was less sanguine.

“I do not intend to be beaten by fish people. The land apes are bad enough. We shall make a stand. What weapons are your tribe likely to use?”

Jenny thought of tridents and underwater spears as depicted in fanciful tales of mermaids and underwater beings. Gullah’s actual answer to the question surprised and dismayed her. Tridents and spears would have been less frightening.

But Madame was adamant that they would, none of them, be beaten by the merpeople and began to make arrangements. She first made sure all of the household staff were sent away for the night. She would have nobody involved who did not need to be there. Then she had Strax fasten tight the shutters on all of the windows while she herself bolted every door. Strax complained that a siege was very bad battle strategy and nobody disagreed with him. Historically, sieges rarely did work out well for those being besieged, but they had no other plan.

They ate supper in a darker but soundly closed house and then made ready for the onslaught that was fully expected.

It began a little before midnight when the tide was highest on the beach beyond the orange grove. The first sign was a battering as of rain against the shutters of the lower floor windows. The battering got louder and more persistent as if a tropical storm was hitting the villa.

“It’s the wrong way round,” Jenny pointed out. “Rain cones from above. This is being driven upwards. It hasn’t reached the upstairs windows, yet.”

“But it will,” Gullah said miserably. “The Merran have power over the sea. They will drive the tide up onto the land. They will drown this house and every soul within.”

“We shall see about that,” Madame said firmly. There was a look on her face that made even Jenny shiver. She was a proud Silurian. Her people were older than any species on this planet. She was not going to be defeated by any of the least important of Earth’s latter day creatures.

But what could she do about it? Jenny listened to the worsening storm. As predicted it soon reached the upper floor and crashed against the eaves of the roof itself. They were all trapped inside the house, merpeople, human, Silurian and Sontaran, and all helpless.

Or were they?

The sound of the storm created by the merpeople tribe increased by the minute. So did the height the blasting wind and water reached. As roof slates slid and crashed, exposing the thin felt covering beneath and letting the salt water pour down through the attic and onto the upper landing, Jenny jumped up in sudden excitement. She rounded on the two exiles from the sea.

“If your tribe has power over the sea… then, surely, so do you?” she asked. “Instead of sitting there holding hands… you could fight back.”

Madame looked at Jenny and her lips moved soundlessly. She had missed that point herself. Jenny was the first to think of it.

“I agree,” Strax said. “It is shameful for a warrior to wait in expectation of defeat when there are weapons to be used. If I had a battle cannon, I would have gone out and dealt with the invaders. I said they might prove useful on this trip, but apparently the ‘customs post’ at Calais would have proved an obstacle to their transport.”

“Yes, it would,” Madame insisted. “besides, battle cannon capable of punching holes in the moon are not traditional holiday luggage. But Jenny has spoken wisely..” She turned to the two merpeople. “Do you have such skills?”

“We do,” Gullah answered. “But Savara is weak. I don’t think she….”

“I’m not weak,” Savara contradicted him. “The journey here exhausted me and the transition was difficult because I was so inexperienced. But that was many hours ago. I am fully recovered. My powers are as great as yours… or any of our people.”

“But they are many beyond these walls. We can feel their presence. At least twenty of them.”

“I know. My father and four of my brothers are close. I can feel them calling to me. They wish me to return to them. If I do… they might be persuaded to let everyone else here live.”

“Might?” Jenny queried.

“My father is full of anger and desire for vengeance,” Savara explained. “But he might be generous if I….”

“No!” Gullah insisted. “No, I will not let you go to him. Not now that we are together. I would rather die than face our separation again.”

“Surrender is not the way of Sontar,” Strax pointed out.

“Nor of my people,” Madame added. “Nor is begging for mercy from angry fathers. But we are distracted. The question is, can you fight back?”

“Fight... no....” Savara answered after some thought. “But we can at least defend these walls. Gullah… my love….”

She stood, wobbling momentarily, but only because she had forgotten how feet worked. Gullah rose, too. They stood facing each other in the middle of the drawing room and pressed their palms together. They looked into each other’s eyes and the pupils turned an actinic shade of blue-green, like the sea with an electrical storm running through it, if that were possible.

At first there was no obvious sign that they were making any difference. Then the maelstrom outside the house began to lessen. The noise and the vibrations of torrents of water against the walls, against the windows, died away, replaced by a silence that was curiously oppressive to the ears.

“They’ve created a bubble,” Madame said quietly, hardly wishing to disturb the silence. “A bubble surrounding the villa, protecting us from the raging waters and the harm they could do.”

“But how long can they keep it up?” Jenny asked. They both looked at the pair of merpeople. They were locked together in concentration, their faces frozen, eyes burning into each other.

“I don’t know, and I don’t intend to wait to find out. Come along, my dear. They have bought us time. We’re stepping out into the garden.”

“We are?” Jenny was more than a little surprised by that idea, but she went along with it. Madame held her hand as they stepped out of the front door, avoiding shards of roof tiles and broken flower pots in a ruined garden.

Outside, the ‘bubble’ was clear to see. The raging storm carried on above and around the house, but as long as Gullah and Savara kept their concentration nothing touched them, not even the sound.

Madame stopped and looked into the storm beyond the bubble. She could see figures standing there, arms raised to create the devastation.

“I am addressing the Elders of the tribe of the Merran!” Madame called out. “Step forward in truce and speak to me. There will be no resolution of this matter unless you do so. Step forward, now.”

Jenny held her breath, not only in anticipation of the proposal being accepted, but also in case Gullah and Savara failed in their attempt to maintain the bubble. In that case they would be engulfed in a torrent of water and a lungful of air might be needed.

A figure moved close and passed through the ‘skin’ of the bubble. He was a tall, elderly man with a long white beard and no clothes at all. He walked right up to Madame and Jenny and bowed his head slightly as if in recognition of an equal.

Madame recognised nothing of the sort.

“You wish to kill all of us for giving help and succour to two of your people.”

“I want my daughter back,” Elder Churro replied. “I do not care how many others get in my way. I will have her back.”

“That’s entirely possible,” Madame remarked coolly. “At least, you may kill us all, and you may take the girl. We are powerless to stop you.”

Churro smiled thinly. It looked as if he was going to have his way.

“You may take the girl,” Madame related. “But you will never have your DAUGHTER back, only a prisoner who will never acknowledge you as her father again. Is that really what you want?”

Churro’s smile faded. The truth of Madame’s words hit home. But he was a proud and a stubborn man. He could not climb down from his position.

“She is mine. She is promised as wife to our high priest. She will be married as planned. Her husband may then have the control of her. If she continues to disobey she will suffer for it.”

“Is that what you call being a father where you come from?” Jenny asked before Madame spoke again. “Your daughter is just a… a…. What’s the posh word for it… for something passed around like a parcel.”

“A commodity,” Madame supplied.

“Yes, that. Is that really what your daughter is to you? Can’t you see… she loves Gullah so much she risked her life to come after him. Why can’t you just leave them alone together?”

“She is mine,” Churro ‘insisted once more, though perhaps there was just a faint hint that his certainty was wavering. Just a trace of doubt in his eyes.

Then he turned and looked around anxiously. Madame and Jenny did, too.

The bubble was failing. Water was starting to pour in on them.

“They’re tiring,” Madame said quietly. “Two of them against so many. They can’t last much longer. It’s over… for us all.”

Jenny felt Madame’s hand clutch hers tightly. She had done that many times when they had been in a tight spot and all seemed lost.

When Churro raised his hands above his head as if summoning the torrent, Jenny clung even more tightly in return. Surely this was it. They were going to drown here in the garden.

But that was t what happened. Instead, the bubble stabilised and then began to expand outwards. The shadowy figures outside of it were closer. Soon two, three, four of them stood on webbed feet in the dry air within the bubble. Nobody said, but Jenny thought they were Sahara’s four brothers, Churro’s sons.

They looked at their father. He said nothing aloud, but as Madame had suspected and Jenny was starting to guess, they didn’t need words. The four brothers raised their arms as if they were supporting the bubble with their father.

Then the bubble disappeared altogether. There was no need for it. The storm was over. Churro and his sons stood within a semi-circle of their fellow merman, all still and silent as statues, neither threatening nor offering any suggestion of friendship.

“Let her stay,” Churro said, the last words he had to say to the land dwellers who used speech for communication. There was a note of resignation in his voice, as if something had made him realise that his anger had been misplaced. It might have been Madame’s uncompromising words or Jenny’s impassioned plea. Perhaps it was some kind of telepathic message from his daughter herself. They didn’t know and they certainly weren’t going to ask what it was. It was enough that he had relented.

Churro turned and walked away. His sons turned with him. When they had passed through the semi-circle of his tribesmen they, too, followed him. Soon the whole party of vengeful mermen had vanished into the night. The sounds of gentle waves on the shore were all that could be heard.

“But… look at the trees.” Jenny half ran down to the orange grove. In the moonlight she looked around in despair. Every tree was stripped. Leaves, branches, fruits lay on the ground, sodden and ruined by salt water. She picked up an orange and felt it squash messily beneath her fingers. She threw it down again. Tears pricked her eyes as Madame put a reassuring arm around her shoulders.

“They will grow again, next year,” Madame assured her. “Come, now. Let us return to the house.”

They returned to find Gullah and Savara exhausted by their ordeal, but elated that it was all over.

“He gave me my freedom,” Savara said happily. “Father… I felt him. I felt his blessing on me… and his goodbye. I will never see him again. I will never live in the sea again. But Gullah and I can be together. We have our life to live… together.”

“I’m glad for you,” Jenny said, though she didn’t sound as if she was. Of course, their lives, their future happiness was more important than some damaged fruit, but Jenny was finding it hard to remember that.

“They WILL grow back,” Madame whispered to her.

“Yes,” she admitted at last. “Yes, they will. But we won’t be here to see them grow. We’ll be in London.”

“We’ll come back,” Madame promised. “We’ll come back next year to see the oranges growing again. We can come every year just to pick oranges off the trees. WE have our life to live together, too, and if orange trees are important to you, then so be it.”

Strax had been absent from the drawing room. He had been examining the damage to the house and garden. When he returned he found four people – two merpeople, a human and a Silurian - all lost in passionate kissing. He made a disgusted sound and slouched out of the room again declaring loudly that exchange of bodily fluid by the pressing together of mouths was against Sontaran custom.