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This is dedicated to Aria,who was dissatisfied with the fate of the vampires of Venice as well.
I have an almost complete disregard of precedent and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things always have been done....I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind. I go for anything new that might improve the past. - Clara Barton (1821-1912), American nurse, teacher, federal worker, activist for women's suffrage, black civil rights and abolition of slavery, and founder and organizer of the Red Cross.
Signora Rosanna Calvierri--to use the human name she had adopted when the city was still safe for her and her fellow Saturnynians--did not die when she flung herself into the waters of Venice. She was gratified that the Doctor thought that she would commit suicide; indeed, she had counted on his arrogance causing him to believe that she would do so. If he believed her dead, he would likely leave. And then she could save the remainder of her children.
"Remember us," she had told him, her perception filter still clutched tight in one hand. "Remember the second race whose death you caused. Remember us in your dreams."
And then she had fallen into the canals of Venice, letting the perception filter fall from her hand as she slipped below the surface of the water.
Her sons were young, after all, and always hungry. It wouldn't do to confuse them.
She knew that she should half-leap from the canal, screeching and howling in agony as if her sons were devouring her flesh. It was foolish to refuse to play into the Doctor's beliefs. But she could not do it. She could not give him an excuse to slaughter her remaining children. And, yes, it was even more foolish simply to swim away, as the Doctor knew perfectly well that she was an aquatic being. But it had been so long since she had felt water rippling over her scales and flowing through her gills. She would simply have to trust that his arrogance to blind him.
Which it did.
She gazed up through the water as--gloriously, impossibly--the Doctor gazed at the dying bubbles in the canals and, judging from his bearing, concluded that she was either drowning or being devoured.
Hardly daring to believe her luck, she swam back to the canal adjacent to the street on which the Doctor's vessel stood. Then, barely poking her head above water, she focused her attention on the voices of the Doctor, the girl Amelia and the scruffy young man who, reddish-brown hair or not, was clearly not her brother.
They were laughing. Laughing over the death of another race, as if genocide were no more than a job well done.
It took all of her strength not to fling herself from the water and tear each of them to shreds. If she had been younger and more impetuous, she might have done so.
But a wiser part of her mind urged caution. Survival would be a far better revenge.
It took time to leave Venice.
Hiring a ship, of course, was out of the question. Even if the perception filter had remained functional after its plunge into the brackish canals of Venice, even if someone had been willing to deal with the ichythoid version of Signora Calvierri, there was no money to hire such a ship. And her sons were as yet too young emerge from the water; Saturnynians only became amphibious later in life. Francesco had been the first to reach maturity on this strange new planet. So many of her sons had not.
And none of her daughters had.
The only alternative, therefore, was to swim from Venice into the sea known as the Mediterranean (arrogant humans, did they truly believe that this comparatively small body of water was the hub of their world?) and from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic. She had no goal beyond that, save uncovering a fertile land filled with marshes and wetlands and rivers that ran to the sea.
And humans, of course. They would need them.
The notion of converting more humans was repellent, and it would be far more difficult and dangerous without the technology that they'd used to speed the process. But there was no alternative. She was too old now to lay eggs; it bordered on the miraculous that her last two batches of offspring had hatched at all. If they had been back on Saturnyne, she would have been the matriarch of her clan by now, bearing the racial memory and the knowledge that her children would need to survive, while her sons and daughters found mates among other clans of high esteem.
She mourned for the "special students" at the Calvierri school; she had genuinely liked most of them, and had found traits in each that she had wanted to survive in their children. In her grandchildren.
Agneta Premarin had had artistry and imagination, and a knack for understanding the world around her. Donata Zancani had been gifted at crafting things with her hands. Isabella--not Guido the gondolier's treacherous daughter, Isabella da Canal, but Isabella Sartore, the tailor's niece; Venetians seemed to love the name "Isabella," for she'd schooled at least twenty of them--had been highly adaptable, noting her own transformation with almost scientific interest. Giovanna Chodeschino had had a remarkable memory. Maria Lucia Favri had been patient and good at calming the others down. And they had been strong and healthy and intelligent--a valuable combination. So many humans were none of the three.
All gone now. Wherever she and her sons made landfall, she would need to find suitable humans. Willing volunteers, this time, rather than unwitting ones. Willing volunteers would be harder to find, but they were essential.
The Doctor might come back.
Exiting the Mediterranean was difficult. There were so many sea lanes that needed to be dodged or avoided altogether. But that was nothing to the peril of the Atlantic.
It was cold--far colder than the waters of Saturnyne or of Venice had ever been--and far more saline. Some of her sons adapted to this. Most could not.
She swam the intricate seven-day dance of mourning for them...the only ritual she could perform for the peace and survival of their spirits. For there was no fresh stream or fountain in which she could place their bodies, cutting their gills that their blood would mingle with the spring or brook, allowing their spirits to swim away as free and as clean as the water itself. There was only the dark icy saline that had choked and poisoned her sons, and the ravenous Terran sea creatures, tearing and rending her children's bodies. Even worse, her living sons were all but maddened by their brothers' blood, and fought the fish for scraps of their flesh.
She longed to attack her sons for this infamy. It was natural, of course, for Saturnynian bodies to be consumed by fish and mammals after death. But not by their own kind.
She did not. She dared not. They were, after all, the only bit of her race left. Like it or not, they were what she had to work with.
But neither did she allow herself to forget.
If her people survived, she would find a way to preserve the memories of their journey across the ocean in their very cells. None would ever forget the struggle, the desperation to find a new home. Or the cost.
The journey dragged on. Some of her sons fell ill, their infected bodies becoming oddly buoyant and bobbing to the ocean's surface where the ultraviolet rays of the sun seared them, annihilating first their memories and then their lives.
She grieved, and swam the dance of mourning for her sun-devoured children.
Afterward, one of her sons scuttled up to her, the collar of spikes around his neck flexing in agitation. "Mother," he said in the language that was partly signed with webbed fingers and partly chemicals exuded through Saturnynian skin, "what were you doing?"
"The dance of mourning." And if her signed reply was harsh and clipped rather than the graceful and elaborate gesture tradition demanded that she make, so be it. "I have had cause to perform it much of late. You may have noticed."
Her son spread his fingers wide in assent, his scent changing from the sharp reek of fear and agitation to the less noticeable smell of bewilderment. "Yes. We all have. We do not understand why you bother."
She drew back in rage, baring her teeth just prior to striking. How dare he! How dare he suggest that his dead brothers were not worth mourning!
Her son remained before her, treading water. "We're all dying," he said softly, his scent so muted as to be all but indiscernible, his gestures small and placating. "We cannot have you mourning for seven days each time one of us perishes. We know you grieve--but we must press on. There must be somewhere in this world where the water is not like swimming in salt. Somewhere with fresh water and food. We can mourn for my brothers there. But not here. Please."
She stared at him, for it had simply never occurred to her that she was endangering her remaining children. She had simply done what little she could to ensure that her lost sons' spirits survived to emerge in a peaceful, joyous cove far from the turbulent oceans of the afterlife.
This was not fair.
No mother should have to choose between her surviving sons' lives and her dead sons' souls.
He didn't grasp what he was asking her to do. Her surviving sons knew little of Saturnyne and its customs; she had had to spend so much of her time preserving their species and finding a way for their race to continue that there had been little opportunity to teach ten thousand or so hatchlings the ways of their lost planet.
It had not occurred to her until now how little they knew.
"Gather your brothers," she said at last. "You are right--we must go. There must be no more delay. But there must also be no more deaths until we reach a harbor where the water is not deadly and where there's shelter from the sun. And you all need to understand why."
They turned south after that, hoping to find warmer and sweeter waters elsewhere. The water did become warmer--but it remained as unpleasantly saline as ever. She wondered how life had ever evolved in these oceans. Some salt was tolerable, of course...but so much of it?
She found other sentient races in the ocean's depths--giant turtles hibernating in eerily beautiful cities crafted by reptilian beaks and flippers rather than human hands, and genetically altered amphibians harvesting plankton around a sunken volcanic island.
If she could have, she would have warned them about the Doctor. But this was not Saturnyne, and she did not speak their languages.
They stayed in both areas for a while, resting, gathering food, doing their best to heal. she supposed that technically they were stealing from the turtles...but the turtles were sound asleep, after all, and not even the most persistent of her sons could wake them. When they came to the sunken island, it was a bit easier, for even though they didn't know the native tongues of either the Fish People (ridiculously, that really was what the harvesters of plankton called themselves) or their more humanoid masters, they could trade labor for food, for healing and--most important--repair of the perception filter. It was hard to speak to humans intelligibly without it. And Rosanna had no desire to approach potential brides for her sons and be slain before she could make herself understood.
Repairing that filter took a long, long time. Neither the Fish People nor the humanoids of the sunken island had never seen Saturnynian technology before, after all, and the perception filter was not something that could be described in mere gestures. Fortunately, one of her sons hit on the idea of using a binary code to communicate with both. Once they could be made to understand that yes, this is a code, and yes, we are trying to talk to you, it grew easier.
Once it was repaired, she and her sons left the sunken island, swimming south-southwest. The Fish People and the humanoids, who called themselves "the survivors of Atlantis," had both said something in code about tales of a large land mass in that direction.
It amounted to exploration based on a rumor. But it was all they had.
Three years and three months after they had first set out, they arrived in an area where salt water met fresh.
The mouth of a river, she realized. And a large river. If it leads to land...
There might be people. Possibly humans, possibly something else, but people. Because land-going people needed fresh water. And if there was a species living on land and that species had females--for after all, single-sex species did exist--well, if she could find one fertile female of any species who would willingly choose to be transformed into a Saturnynian and who could survive the transformation, then her race, her family, might well have a chance.
Wild dreams. She didn't even know if the land existed yet. And after more than three years of struggle, hoping this much was almost physically painful.
"Follow that current," she said, emitting the releaser pheromones that would transform what she was saying into an imperative that must be obeyed, and adding sweeping, expansive gestures that meant immediately. "We have no time to lose."
They eventually found themselves in a deep river within a thriving freshwater swamp. The river's tides brought salt water into the swamp daily, they soon discovered, but it was nothing like the saline of the ocean. This was more like the waters of Venice. The climate was warm and food was plentiful. There was only one problem. There were no people, at least not where they were living.
Reading the anxiety in her sons' eyes, she sighed. "Build up our colony," she told them. "I will try to find you some willing brides."
If such could be found. It would take a great deal of strength for a woman to give up all she had ever known, even her own species, to save someone wholly alien. The chances of this happening were slim to none.
After three days, she found a city of huts on stilts standing in a lake, connected by boardwalks. Venice again. There seemed to be no way of escaping the place.
She could only hope that the Doctor did not have a counterpart here.
She watched the humans for a few days. They appeared to be strong and healthy and intelligent, and if they didn't possess the science of the Saturnynians, the Venetians hadn't either.
But there were no young women among them.
Which made no sense. There were girl children, wives and mothers, middle-aged women and elderly crones. But there were no young women of marriageable age. The village bore no signs no signs of plague or war or famine, any of which could have killed a generation of girls...but nevertheless, there were no young women.
After searching the river and the surrounding swamp for bodies and finding nothing, she decided that it was time to use the perception filter.
The woman who entered the stilt village that evening bore no resemblance to Signora Rosanna Calvierri. She was taller, leaner and dark-skinned, and was dressed in a tunic and split skirt for traveling rather than in the ornate garb of a Venetian aristocrat. Her black hair was braided into a figure eight at the back of her head and then pinned back. And the collar of spikes around her neck that had been a stiff and formal ruff in Venice was now an assortment of necklaces crafted with black beads--not nearly as accurate a representation, but it was what these humans expected to see.
She followed some of the older women to a spring near the village, introduced herself--the perception filter translated her name into a word which sounded nothing like "Rosanna" and which apparently meant either "Fresh Stream"or "Stream of Life" in their language--and began talking to them. Luckily, the perception filter eliminated much of the problem with other languages. It was limited to its interpretation of what people were saying, of course, but that was still better than trying to fumble along with hand gestures.
"Where are the girls?" she asked, drinking gratefully from a jug of fresh cold water which one of the women had provided. "I came here seeking brides for my sons, but all I see are children and married women."
"Oh, they're far from the village," said one woman, sounding surprised. "They have much to learn about being women--weaving and dancing and the preservation of memory--and it's better if they learn to do this without distractions."
So women were the keepers and preservers of memory here as well. For the first time, she felt as if she'd truly come home.
"The women of my people have a similar task," she said quietly, ignoring their surprised looks, for she looked no different than any other woman in this city on stilts. "So I understand the need for teaching and for privacy. Still...I had hoped that I'd see one or two girls, and judge for myself if they are strong and hearty enough for the life that my sons and I must live. For our homeland"--she closed her eyes and forced herself to say it aloud--"our homeland was destroyed by a disaster. Nothing was left. My sons and I are the only ones left. My daughters...none of my daughters survived. And three-quarters of my boys died as well--including my oldest."
It did not matter that Francesco had not died on the journey here, or that he had suffered death from the Companions of a Time Lord rather than sun-death or saline poisoning. He had died young, and that was more than enough.
The other women gazed at her sympathetically. "You have had more than your share of ill luck," said the oldest. "Are you sure it is over?"
A fair question. She would not want any of her children to suffer half this amount of bad luck, if it could be avoided.
"We're here," she said quietly. "We've found a place to live with good food and good water. So yes, I do think the ill luck is over. But...my people will be dead in a generation if my sons can't find brides and have children. And I won't allow that." She gazed at the human women with a granite eye. "I did not come this far to fail."
The women nodded as similar expressions swept across their own faces, and she knew that they'd understood. This wasn't about war or conquest or anything similarly unimportant. This was about family.
"Perhaps we could allow you to see some of the girls," the oldest woman said. "While we're there, of course."
And so they took her to the huts where the girls lived. She watched them from a distance, listening to them talk and laugh, and decided that there were three that might survive the transformation with their sanity intact.
Now the only thing she had to do was talk them into voluntarily giving up their humanity.
The girls were named Gati, Ummia, and Adartún. Over time, Stream, as she began calling herself, learned enough to translate the first two names as "begging for mercy" and "wise artisan." Adartún 's name was untranslatable, even by the perception filter; the best that Stream could manage was "bright-dart-catch," which made no sense at all.
They were likable. Better yet, they liked each other. Gati was the best of the three at crafting things with her hands; Ummia, the tenderest and most loving toward children; Adartún, the best dancer and storyteller. They were of varying skills when it came to cookery and weaving, but neither would be of much importance in their future lives, anyway.
If they agreed. She had to remember that.
She had met with the parents of the three; this had been difficult, because while the mothers arranged the matches, the fathers were supposed to meet with the grooms and see if each was a fit husband who could support a family. She had gotten around this by strapping the perception filter to the inside of her right leg and sticking close to three sons who, like Francesco, had reached maturity and become amphibious and who were fairly good at acting human. No one raised an eyebrow about the grizzled male hunter accompanying his sons--or were they his nephews?--to their bridal negotiations...even though she'd already said that she and her sons had been the only survivors. The men of the village wanted to believe that an older man had survived and was in charge, because that fit the way they saw the world. It didn't matter that it wasn't true.
At her insistence, her sons tried to court the girls...which, being typical young males, they were incredibly bad at. Complicating matters was the fact that they weren't actually allowed to speak to their brides before the wedding day, so the courting took the form of looking impatiently at their brides from a distance and looking horribly embarrassed when they were caught. They also gave to the girls, or rather to the parents of the girls, gifts--usually of large, colorful and tasty fish. Since the people of the village already believed that she and her sons were from a fishing village three days away by boat, the gifts were seen as an acceptable form of boasting. Indeed, it seemed to reassure their parents. The girls might tire of fish, eventually, but they would never starve.
The weddings--which were all held on the evening of the same day--were beautiful, intricate and almost wholly incomprehensible to Stream...and, she suspected, glancing at her sons' bewildered faces, to her boys at well. And the feast following the weddings lasted a long, long time, so that it was well into the wee small hours of the night before the brides, grooms and new mother-in-law departed.
He sons worked hard, rowing one large canoe upstream toward their mangrove swamp, knowing, as Stream did, that they could not reach home before dawn arrived. Before the first fiery ray of sunrise touched the sky, they anchored the boat beneath a large and shady tree overlooking the river.
"We're nowhere near a village," Gati objected in a sleepy voice. "Why have we stopped?" And that seemed to rouse the other girls as well, for they too made protesting noises.
"We will see you again at sundown," said one of her sons. "At least...I hope we will. Mother--"
Stream had been watching the sky anxiously. "Go. Now. I will talk to them, and then I'll join you...before the sun grows too strong."
They nodded and--ignoring their wives' increasing agitation--slipped into the murky water.
The girls screamed, wailed, pleaded and plunged their hands into the river, searching for men who had to be drowning. But their husbands did not return.
Adartún was the first to calm down and reach for the anchor rope. "I suppose we should go home and tell them that our husbands drowned themselves...though we don't know why."
Stream placed a strong hand upon the girl's. "Not yet. First we have to talk. There are some things you need to know...and once you know them, you'll need to make a choice. Now, listen."
She explained--as best she could--that everything she had said about their home being destroyed was true. It simply wasn't a village or even a country. It was a world.
"Picture a star falling from the night sky," she said. "I'm sure you've seen that. That's not what happened to our home world--not at all--but it might help you envision a planet dying."
The girls eyed her skeptically.
"You don't believe it, do you?" Then she sighed. "Very well. I'll show you." And with that, she turned the visual portion of the perception filter off.
Gati screeched and shrank back. Ummia stared in what might have been shock or simply wide-eyed curiosity. Adartún reached out tentatively and touched Stream's hand.
"It's real," she whispered. "It's not a waking dream or a trick. This is real."
"Are--are you going to eat us?" That was Gati.
"If they wanted to kill and eat us, they could have done that at the wedding feast," said Ummia, resting her chin in one hand. "I don't know why they went through the marriage ceremonies, though."
Stream switched the perception filter back on. "Because my sons need wives. We are all that is left of our people...and I am too old to lay eggs."
"We don't lay eggs," Gati said, sounding relieved.
"They could have guessed that," Ummia retorted. "Our people and theirs look nothing alike."
"Except when they do," Adartún added. "How are you changing back and forth like that?"
Stream considered trying to explain the perception filter in terms these girls could understand, and gave up. "I have an artifact that makes me and my sons appear human," she said at last. "It helps us talk to humans without them panicking. I can't explain to you how it works, and I can't show you how to craft one yourselves. It's--"
She was going to say "too complicated," but Gati interrupted her with two awestruck words. "It's magic?"
After mulling this over for a minute, Stream nodded. "Call it magic. That's a good word for it." Not an accurate word, if you understood the science behind the device. But a good and all-encompassing word, nevertheless.
"If you can do that," Adartún asked, "why don't you change into human beings? Your sons wouldn't have any trouble finding brides then."
Stream paused for a moment to marvel over the human mind. A few minutes before, the girls had been confused, shocked and scared. Now they had filed away her true appearance and her "magical artifact" away as just another aspect of the world that they hadn't known about. They might be terrified later when they thought about this--indeed, they probably would be--but for now she wasn't a dangerous monster. She was just a very odd-looking woman.
It was amazing what humans could consider normal.
"We can't transform ourselves," she said quietly. "It might solve many problems"--and it would, though she detested the idea--"but we possess no magic that can help us do that."
"We aren't going to be of much use to you, then," said Ummia.
Stream paused, wondering which girl would ask the obvious question.
"You can't transform yourselves," she said slowly. "Does that mean that you can transform us?"
Gati scrambled backwards so fast that the canoe almost tipped over. Ummia froze, gazing at Stream in shock.
It seemed superfluous to answer, but Stream did anyway. "Yes. We can." The memory of the Doctor compelled her to add, "But we won't...unless you agree to the change."
"No one will ever agree to that," said Gati.
And Ummia's response was no more encouraging. "Is it...forever?"
There was really no way to make this sound any better than it was. "Yes. If we transform you, you'll look like me for the rest of your lives."
Gati shuddered, and Stream could see dazed horror in Ummia's eyes. No hope there.
"It isn't that we want to be cruel," she said desperately. "We want--I want--my family to live. That's all. If there was even one other female of my kind on this world, I'd swim every ocean to find her. But there isn't."
"Aren't there any spirits in the river that your sons could wed?"
Stream sighed. "Not in this river. In deeper waters, far away, yes, there are people. But one sort is too unlike my kind to shift into anything approaching our form, and the others have already been...altered...by their own people. Or by those who once were their own people. That alteration would turn them into something quite different from my kind."
And the Atlanteans, or the humanoids who said that they were the descendents of survivors of Atlantis, were too inclined to view the Fish People as menial labor and no more than that. She had seen during their visit that they were rather ridiculously proud, and that some considered themselves more truly human than those who dwelt on the land. Clever people, yes. Scientifically brilliant, definitely. But not, perhaps, the most compassionate civilization.
"So"--and Adartún made an odd gulping sound in her throat--"ordinary people are your only chance?"
"Yes." Stream tried not to sound as if she hated this. She failed.
"But...why us?" Gati demanded in what was very nearly a wail. "There are lots of girls back home--why us?"
It was the last question Stream wanted to answer, but she did so anyway. "Because you three have a good chance of surviving the...enchantment. Most would just die."
"It kills people?" Ummia whispered.
"It can. It doesn't always."
There was a dreadful pause.
"This isn't something that we enjoy," she added. "If we had fertile females of our own, we wouldn't be troubling you."
"So you wouldn't be transforming girls from our village for the rest of time," Ummia said, poking at the idea. "There wouldn't be...sacrifices...every generation."
"Just us," Gati said, giving her a withering glance. "That doesn't make things any better."
Stop it, Stream thought-growled at Gati. I know you don't want to be transformed, but you're talking them out of it as well. Keep silent.
She glanced at Adartún for a moment, but the girl was keeping her face averted. No help there.
"Can't you do something else?" Ummia said in a quiet voice that nevertheless trembled like a jellyfish. "Turn trees into women, perhaps? There are a lot of trees around here."
"We tried that when we first arrived," Stream said, sounding bitter. " Not trees--there aren't many trees in Venice, and trees don't move about or swim in any case. The local animals"--dogs and stray cats, mostly, for Venice had not been noted for its wildlife--"just died. We could transform birds, but changing them didn't give them the power to think like my kind."
Thinking hadn't truly been the problem. Viciousness had. The transformation process had changed pigeons, seagulls and cormorants from stupid creatures fighting over scraps of food found on walkways or in canals to half-Saturnynian, half-avian monsters. They hadn't lived long; for one thing, they hadn't lost their wings, which meant that, despite their new gills, they weren't ideally adapted for life underwater, and for another, the former birds simply hadn't known enough to shun the sky and its sun. Instead, they'd flown about by daylight, attacking and mortally wounding countless old people and children in a desperate hunger for blood. The former birds all had died within a few hours of their daylight flight, which she considered to be a mercy.
After that, she had confined the transformations to Venetians. You could explain to a human-turned-Saturnynian that the sun was death now and needed to be shunned. You could make them understand that they had to feast on raw fish and on rare and bloody meat that wasn't human, because killing humans attracted unwanted attention. But an animal remained an animal in mind even when it had been physically transformed.
Adartún looked her in the eye then. "What happens if you--if we--"
"Besides the physical change?" She thought about how best to put this. "You would become creatures of the water. You would be able to go on land again, eventually, but not at first; that is a skill that comes with age and time. After you became used to life underwater, you would probably swim to another part of the river with your new husband." Or husbands, rather. Saturnynians were not monogamous, either instinctively or culturally. But she had seen enough of the girls' tribe to know that the notion of females with multiple spouses would shock them horribly. She decided not to mention that not only had she had a thousand husbands on Saturnyne, but nearly as many wives.
"After you reached your new home, you would probably have a great many children within the first two to four months--including, I would hope, a fair number of daughters." She gazed at their stunned faces and laughed. "I say 'have children' but what I mean is 'lay eggs that would hatch in that period of time.' Your sons and daughters won't grow up nearly as fast as they hatch, I'm sorry to say--it takes about as long for us to reach adulthood as it does for humans.
"Fundamentally, you'll be doing exactly what you would have done anyway---creating a home and raising a family." She spread her hands wide in a gesture of helplessness. "Does this truly sound so strange?"
"What if we wanted to see our families again?" Gati demanded. "What if we told them--or showed them--what we were?"
"I'd bring you to your village," Stream replied, "as befits a mother-in-law." The perception filter could not be loaned out casually. They would need it for too long, and it would take generation upon generation for the Earth-born Saturnynians to reach that level of technology again. "You could tell your parents about the transformation"--if you even remember having been human--"but I wouldn't advise showing them. Unless you think that they'd react better to the sight of a Saturnynian face than you did."
"And if we say no?" That was Ummia again.
"Then we bring you back to your village--with your dowries." It was not a choice she liked, as the villagers would probably see this as a terrible insult, but she suspected that it was the solution the Doctor would be happiest with. "As to why the marriage didn't work out--you may tell your families whatever you like...including the truth."
And she would lie through her sharp curved teeth and say that the girl was undoubtedly feverish or dreaming. Not that she wanted to label Ummia or the other two liars. She simply couldn't support such a story and keep her family safe. Humans tended to fear what they didn't understand.
"No," she said honestly. "There's a sharp pinch when the process starts. After that, it's rather like going to sleep in your mother's arms."
She decided not to mention that the process involved the human blood being drained from them multiple times and replaced by Saturnynian blood. Or that now she and her sons would have to exsanguinate humans by using their fangs rather than Saturnynian technology. Or that many humans couldn't survive the draining process. Or that, even if the patient survived this, replacing human blood with Saturnynian could cause the heart and brain to stop working within a minute or two. Transformation was anything but an exact science.
Then she squirmed. The shadow of the tree was beginning to vanish. She had just run out of time.
"I must return to the water now," she said quietly. "I'll be gone until sundown. You can tell me your decisions then."
She plunged into the river without further ceremony.
There was no point in returning, and she knew it. She could not even truly hate them for their unwillingness to transform. She would not want to give up her Saturnynian body for a human one, even if doing so would make living on this planet easier.
But she would come back, just the same.
Someone would have to bring the girls home.
She surfaced again a little after sunset. The girls were waiting.
"Well?" Churlish of her, perhaps, but she saw no point in making small talk.
"We've decided." Gati again, and just from the tone, Stream knew that the answer was no.
"We are sorry for you," said Ummia. "But--
But not enough. Not nearly enough. Stream stared at the bark of the tree the canoe was anchored beneath, and wished that her people could cry. Weeping seemed to be such a relief to humans.
"I see," she said, making her voice as flat and colorless as she could. "Well, I can't blame you. I couldn't make that decision either." And she pulled herself into the boat, untied the rope mooring the canoe beneath the mangrove tree, and began rowing it back to the Anse-ka village.
The trip seemed to take forever. Gati and Ummia swore over and over that they would say nothing, but Stream doubted this. Being wed to water demons and narrowly escaping transformation was too good a story not to tell. This was the kind of thing that spawned not only legends but religions.
As their canoe drew close to the village, Adartún burst into tears.
In exasperation,Stream paused in her rowing and glared at the young woman. " You're almost home. Your parents will see you soon enough. What in the name of tides and time are you weeping about now?"
"Because," said Adartún in a low voice, "this is the last time I'll ever see it as a human."
Stream stared at her. She knew she couldn't possibly have heard Adartún correctly.
So Ummia, not Stream, was the first to speak "You can't mean it. You can't want to be one of those things!"
"Did I say I wanted to?" Adartún said, dashing the tears from her eyes.
"Then why?" Ummia demanded, looking as if she thought her friend had gone quite out of her mind.
"Because..." Adartún took a deep breath. "Because it's fair."
"Fair?" Ummia echoed, her voice escalating to a high-pitched squeak. "How can you possibly say--"
"There are stories about our ancestors coming to this land after a mountain of fire devoured their homeland. Just a handful of people–young boys and old women and children so shocked and sickened that they never spoke again. But they settled here, just the same. And when another tribe made war on them, they allied themselves with a third tribe through friendship and marriage, and drove the invaders out. Remember?"
When the other girls nodded, Adartún drew a long and shuddering breath. "I won't be part of the warring tribe. Stream's people are here. They are not like us–but they are here. Our people accepted the friendship of their people; our parents accepted her sons' presents and bride-gifts; we accepted our husbands' courtship and marriage. We can't–I can't–go on taking. They're not asking that we become slaves and help them conquer. They want a home. One small village to call home
"It's not the fate I wanted. But it's the fate the gods have given me. And if I walk away from it–you know the proverb."
He who scorns the plight of the orphaned, the widowed, the homeless or the stranger has no honor, and the gods themselves turn their faces from him. Stream had heard it a thousand times or so; it was the moral code of the entire village. That few could live up to such high standards was irrelevant; people believed it.
Adartún, it appeared, truly believed it.
It was a gloriously, spectacularly irrational reason for turning one's life inside out. Stream knew that she never would have thought of it as an argument in her people's favor–not here, not in Signora Calvierri's Venice, and certainly not back home.
Gati stared at Stream with an accusing expression. "You're doing this somehow. You're making her want this--"
"Don't be stupid!" Stream snapped. "She doesn't want to. Wanting isn't the point. And if I could overwhelm anyone's will that way–which none of my people can do–why only persuade one girl? Why not all three?"
"Or the world?" Ummia said quietly. For a moment, she sounded remarkably like the Doctor. Stream wondered which had come first, the human fear of that which was other or the Gallifreyan's need to protect and preserve some world as he had not been able to preserve his own.
"Why would I be interested in taking over the world? What would I do with it?" She shook her head. "I only want a home for myself and my family, and a future for my children."
Adartún shivered. "Please. Can't we get started? Every minute that we delay makes it harder."
Stream wondered if she even should return Gati and Ummia at this point. She did not believe for a second that they would keep silent and allow Adartún to be transformed; they would tell the entire village. And every warrior would fling aside Adartún's sense of honor and duty and "rescue" her from the "monsters."
And, looking into their eyes, she knew that they knew it.
There was only one thing to do.
Carefully, she turned the canoe around.
Gati, naturally, noticed this. "Wait! What are you doing? Stop!"
Though Stream had demonstrated how the perception filter worked, she was sure the girls had forgotten that she had not physically taken on human form; she was merely cloaked in the illusion of humanity. And while she usually made a considerable effort to blend in and behave as a human would have, she had just about had enough.
As Gati began screaming for help, Stream lashed out with her scorpion-like tail, simultaneously stinging her and knocking her into the water. Ummia opened her mouth–whether to cry out in protest or shout for help from the all-too-close villagers, Stream never knew–and promptly received a sharp blow to the throat that silenced her and knocked her out. She crumpled to the bottom of the canoe without a sound.
Stream glanced at Adartún. "Hurry! Help me pull this other idiot back onto the canoe before she drowns!"
It didn't take long for the two women to save Gati–though, as Adartún pointed out, this didn't solve the problem. "They're only going to be more convinced that you're a threat now."
"They aren't going to even remember this," Stream said, stinging Ummia as well. "They'll be asleep and unable to move for three days, and when they wake up, they won't recall what happened for some time before I stung them."
"Then...they won't remember what they were told."
"Probably not. Even if they do, it will be more like a half-forgotten dream than anything." Stream shrugged. "That is the way humans respond to unconsciousness; I have no say in the matter."
"Three days doesn't sound like much time to...to do what needs to be done."
Stream wondered if she should say anything. It might only frighten the girl. After a brief struggle, however, she admitted the truth. "It isn't much time. Normally this takes a few seven-nights. We don't even have one seven-night. So we'll have to act fast. And that's dangerous." She forced out the words she didn't want to say. "You could die."
Adartún shook her head. "I won't."
"You don't know that."
Adartún lifted her chin, and for a moment looked as regal as Rosanna Calvierri ever had. "I do not believe that the gods who brought you so far intend for you to fail now."
There was nothing that Stream could say to that, so she kept on rowing.
After a few minutes, Adartún spoke once more. "Am I to receive my new name before the...the Change, or after?"
Stream, who was making for a shortcut through the waterways of the swamp rather than remaining on the river, paused for a minute. "What do you mean?"
Adartún's eyes widened. "It's customary for women who marry into different tribes–which is nearly all of us–to receive new names upon their marriage. Sometimes their husbands name them; sometimes their mothers-in-law; sometimes the entire clan. I...wondered how it was done among your people."
"It isn't," Stream replied. "We keep our names–male or female, in marriage and out of it."
The next words were spoken in almost a whisper. "May I ask yours?"
Stream shook her head. "It's a mixture of sound and motion and scent. You couldn't pronounce it. Not yet, anyway." Seeing the girl's disappointment, she asked a question she hoped would be sufficiently distracting. "What does yours mean?"
Adartún laughed bitterly. " 'Brightly darting through the water.'"
Stream mulled this over for a minute or two, and then her mouth dropped open. "Your name means 'fish'?"
A somewhat shamefaced nod.
Not certain how to proceed, Stream rowed harder for a bit while she gathered her thoughts. "Were you hoping for a new one?"
"I thought about it," Adartún said. "I've never liked it much; people do tease. But--" She glanced at the sleeping and paralyzed girls, and a stubbornly defiant look swept across her face. "I wanted to keep it, too. Because it's part of who I am. Not who I soon will be."
"I think," Stream said, "that you should keep it."
"It isn't even a name in your language."
"No. But it should be." And if you live, it will be.
The Doctor dropped by the Saturnynian colony in Venezuela some four hundred years later.
Stream (who had gone back to using the name Rosanna once more, at least on paper) was a healthy if elderly matriarch of five sizable clans, all descendants of Adartún, but she was nevertheless relieved that this was not her Doctor, the skinny, dark-haired veteran of the Time War in a young body. This one was a bit more filled out, blond and bore an expression of near-terminal good nature. He was accompanied by a rather loud young woman who kept using "Rabbits!" as a curse word and a redheaded young man who was attempting to pass himself off as an human schoolboy...not very convincingly, in Rosanna's opinion.
The Doctor was not looking for trouble that day and–for a change--he didn't find any. He simply relaxed and savored the local scenery as if he were an ordinary tourist. It was the young woman who, one evening, spotted Rosanna wheeling herself beside her great-granddaughter, who was walking hand in hand with Rosanna's great-great-granddaughter. Unluckily, the little girl chose precisely that moment to start laughing. It was now the fashion–and how Rosanna had railed against this impracticality!--to give modern perception filters (with heavy anti-UV shielding) to children who were too young to understand things like "Don't smile or laugh while you're out in public. Humans are unnerved by humanoids with sharp pointy teeth."
And of course, that was the first thing that the girl noticed. "Those teeth! Doctor, what are they?"
"Saturnynians, I expect," said the Doctor, advancing toward Rosanna and her family and peering at them with curiosity. "They rarely leave their home planet. I don't know what they're doing here on Earth."
"We were born here," Rosanna's great-granddaughter said indignantly. "I'm certainly not a Saturnynian; I've never even seen the place. None of us remember it, except for Great-Grandmother. " And she nodded toward Rosanna. "Our grandfathers were barely hatchlings when they left."
"Which was more than four hundred years ago, as humans measure time," Rosanna said, picking up the thread of the narrative. "Though there isn't much to tell. Our world was devoured by"--the Silence--"a temporal anomaly caused by...an extremely pointless war. A few of us washed up on Earth. We've lived here ever since."
"I'm sorry," the Doctor whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Rosanna bowed her head in acknowledgment. She did not tell him that it was all right, because it wasn't. She hadn't forgiven the Time Lords or the Daleks for causing the Time War, and she never would. And in any case, gaining the Doctor's sympathy wasn't remotely the same as gaining his trust.
And unfortunately, he was still thinking of ways to fix things. "I could take all of you off planet and find you an aquatic world with no humans. How would you like that?"
Rosanna thought of the sheer raw effort it had taken to build a colony twice, and shuddered. She didn't have the energy for this anymore.
Her great-granddaughter was more vocal in her protests. "Why would we want to leave our home world? And why would we want to go somewhere that there are no humans? We get on fine with humans. Well, some of them get weird about what we look like and where we come from–but some humans do that about other humans, so that's nothing special. I'm a freshwater biologist, and my boss's only reaction when she found out that I was an ichythoid was to ask me if I could talk to fish the way that I talk to humans or Atlanteans or Aquatestudians--"
"I believe you call them 'Sea Devils,'" Rosanna interrupted, seeing the blank look on his face.
"Which is very rude," her great-granddaughter said with a sniff. "How would you like it if someone called you a...a Time Devil?"
That made the Doctor laugh."Forgive me. You do seem to be blending into human society quite well."
Rosanna could have told him that this wasn't true. They made an effort to live side by side with humans and to disguise themselves as humans, but studying the water that was home to Saturnynians and getting on with alien species didn't equal trying to be imitation humans. They were themselves, not humans–but they loved their home. What was so strange about that?
She thought of saying this, but a quick glance at the bright smile on the Doctor's face told her that he thought he had it all figured out. Unfortunate.
But that didn't mean that she couldn't smuggle him a message. It wouldn't make any sense to him now–or to his future self in Venice, who had been far more concerned with reacting than thinking–but he might understand it afterwards.
"But where are my manners?" she asked, turning in her wheelchair to smile graciously at the Doctor and each of his companions in turn. "Permit me to make the proper introductions. I am Rosanna Náufrago. My great-granddaughter, Dr. Juana Adartún-Alejandra. And this is her daughter...Isabella."
End Notes: The names of the five "vampire girls" who appeared in "The Vampires of Venice" are NOT canon. I could not find names for them anywhere, so I made up names based on common period Venetian first names for girls and actual Venetian surnames of the era from censuses and tax records. "Da Canal" was a frequent surname for gondoliers, which was why I gave it to the "Vampires of Venice" characters Guido the gondolier and his ill-fated daughter Isabella.
"Isabella" and its variants "Isabelle," "Isabel" and "Isabeau" were almost ridiculously common from the 1300s to the 1500s, not only in Venice but also throughout the rest of the Italian states, France, Burgundy, Brittany, Spain and England. To compare it to more modern names, it was like being named "Jennifer" or "Melissa" in the 1980s, or "Lisa" in the 1960s. I think it is entirely possible that when Eleven thought that Rosanna's failure to recognize Isabella's first name meant "does not care about people and therefore deserves to die," Rosanna simply did not know which pupil at the Calvierri School named Isabella that the Doctor was referring to. The odds are that there would have been more than one. Hence, one of the completely converted vampire girls is also named Isabella.
The "giant turtles" that Rosanna mentions are the Sea Devils--canonically described as "the aquatic cousins of the Silurians." Prior to their meeting the Third Doctor in the 20th century, they were in hibernation beneath the sea. What they call themselves is not known; a human, driven to madness by their existence and appearance, nicknamed them "Sea Devils."
The stilt villages described in the story exist in various places in Venezuela, most notably Lake Maracaibo. They're called palafitos, and were invented by the Wayuu people, who still live along the main rivers of Venezuela. They reminded Amerigo Vespucci of Venice when he first saw them, which is the most common explanation of how Venezuela--literally "little Venice"--got its name.
The people that Rosanna meets are not Wayuu, as I do not know enough about the Wayuu to depict them or their customs accurately. The unnamed tribe is the product of my imagination, and shouldn't be taken as anything else.
The words "ga-ti," "um-mi-a" and "a-dar-tún" are Sumerian words. "Ga-ti" and "um-mi-a" mean exactly what they're stated to mean in the story; "a-dar-tún" literally means "water + to slice + to smash," but, according to the site indicated, that adds up to "fish."
"ANSE-ka" (yes, the first syllable is supposed to be capitalized) is also Sumerian--this for "one of the best groups of people."
I didn't have a true name in mind for the transliteration of Rosanna's tribal name. I knew I wanted her true name to be about water, and since the language of the name was that of people dwelling in a river delta, I thought that the transliteration would likely have something to do either with the river and its offshoots or with rain. I opted for "Stream" because there's already a canonical character named River. Also, "Stream of Life" not only suggests her status as a mother...it's also a euphemism in English for blood flowing through a person's veins. This seemed appropriate for an alien quasi-vampire.