Mary Harries gazed out across the sparkling blue ocean at the departing ship. From her position on the cliff she was looking down upon its deck - freshly scrubbed and glistening in the hot summer sunlight. Its sails were swollen with the breeze, and it listed slightly to one side as it began its long tack out of the harbour and its longer journey home. Gulls swooped low around its bows and, higher in the sky, the black squiggles of larger birds were wheeling and soaring. She couldn't tell what sort of birds they were, but there was a lot about New Albion that she couldn't recognize.
Turning her attention back to the ship, she could see sailors scurry across the rigging like spiders on a cobweb. One of them turned around and gazed back toward the coast, shielding his eyes with his hand. His chest was bare, and he wore a bandana around his head. Seeing her, he waved in big, sweeping gestures. She waved too, choking back a sob. It was Jim: even at that distance she recognised his sun-bleached hair, drawn back in a tarred pig-tail and bouncing against his back as his powerful arms moved. Those arms, which had pulled her close and held her, tight. Those arms, in whose embrace she had slept on many a night. Those powerful, tender arms.
She blinked, and the ship was blotted out by tears as if by a sudden squall. They spilled, hot and salty, down her cheeks and across her lips, and it was like tasting the salt on Jim's skin again as her mouth explored his body. A sudden sob made her shoulders convulse. Grief and loss twisted her stomach, and she hugged herself despite the heat that made her dress stick to her body, wishing that her arms were Jim's arms and her tears were his lips. But it would never be so again.
That's how long she and Jim had been given together. That was how long it had been since the ship docked and the colonists had emerged, blinking and unsteady, into the heavy heat and the ever-present humidity. The voyage from England had taken three months, and of the seven score and ten colonists who had started the journey, the inspirational words of Sir Walter Ralegh still ringing in their ears, almost two score were now held in the bosom of Jesus. The rest had followed Governor White onto the soil of New Albion. While he sketched the strange new plants and the strange, rust-skinned primitives, they had built their cabins and planted their crops. The sailors - who, on the ship, had laughed at them and called them 'puke-stockings' - watched at first, amused, but after a few days some had joined in, lending their expertise and their strength. Mary had been cooking one night when Jim had walked over and told her that she was beautiful. He had a sailor's directness and a sailor's weatherbeaten face, but he had the eyes of an angel, and nobody had ever told her that before.
She had been happy, for a while. So happy that she hadn't minded rising at dawn and working until long after the sun had set, trying to put the colony on a firm footing. Then the fever came, and the crops showed no sign of growing, and some of the sheep that they had brought with them from England sickened and died, and Governor White had decided to return to England when the ship left and ask advice. And the perfect idyll of hard days working and long nights spent in Jim's arms were at an end.
The ship was smaller now, and Mary's eyes were half-blinded by the sparkle of the sun on the water, but she could still see Jim's arm waving. It would be six months at least before Governor White returned, and it might not even be on the same ship. Perhaps the colony would survive, or Good Queen Bess might decide that it was not worth sustaining. Wherever she ended up, Mary knew that it would not be with Jim.
A movement in the sky caught Mary's attention. Glancing up, she noticed that the large birds were swooping lower, almost as if they had been waiting for the ship to leave. She dismissed the notion as fanciful: even in the New World, birds were just birds. Casting one last glance at the departing ship - just a piece of flotsam, dark against the blue of the waves - she turned away toward the trees that hid the settlement. No doubt there would be half a hundred things to do when she got back. There always were. Governor White's daughter was almost seven months with child now, her belly stretched like the canvas of the ship's sails, and she was almost unable to work. That meant more for the rest of the women to do. More to do and nothing to show for it, not even a pair of strong arms in the night.
The birds were plunging down behind the treeline now, and it occurred to Mary that they were larger than any birds that she had ever seen before. Their bodies looked more like the shells of crabs, and their wings were the red of fresh blood. Perhaps the tears gumming her eyelashes together were magnifying things, or perhaps her grief at losing Jim was unhinging her reason, but surely no bird that ever flew looked likethat .
Mary began to move faster through the underbrush towards the trees, and the path that led to the settlement. Bushes whipped at her legs, scratching her as she broke into a stumbling run. Someone in the settlement had started to scream like a pig about to be slaughtered, and behind the screams Mary could hear the flapping of huge wings. What was happening? What in God's good name was happening?
She was barely ten feet from the trees when the demon settled to the ground in front of her, furling its wings across its hard, red back. Eyes on the end of stalks, like those of a snail, regarded her curiously.
And as its claws reached out for her, she screamed. And screamed.
And for all the years following that moment, after everything that was done to her, in her head she still screamed.
Matt Jobswortham pulled back on the horse's reins, slowing his dray down by just a jot. The streets of Deptford were crowded with people going about their business - some in fine clothes, some in sailors' garb, some in rags - and he didn't want any of them going under his wheels. The barrels of cider on the back of the dray were so heavy that the wheels were already cutting great ruts in the road. They would cut through a limb with equal ease and what would happen to him then, eh? He'd be finished for sure, banged up in prison for months until someone bothered to determine whether or not there was a case to answer.
He glanced around, impressed as ever with the bustle of the place. Deptford was near London, and the houses reflected that proximity. Why, some of them were three storeys or more! All these people, living above each other in small rooms, day in and day out. It wasn't natural. He liked coming to London, but he wouldn't like to live there. Give him his farmhouse any day.
It was a hot day, and he could smell something thick and cloying on the back of the wind, like an animal that had been dead for weeks. It was the river of course. He'd crossed it a good half hour before, but he could still smell it. Raw with sewage it was, raw and stinking, like a festering wound running through the centre of the city. He didn't know how people here could stand it.
Matt had been on the road since dawn, bringing the barrels up from Sussex. He'd been dreaming of the cider: imagining the sharp, bitter taste of it as it cut through the dirt in his mouth and the sewer smell at the back of his throat. Surely the landlord of the inn couldn't begrudge him a drop, not after he'd come all this way. It was a long way back, after all. Just a flagon, that's all he asked.
"Mary! Mary Harries!"
Preoccupied with thoughts of drink, he jumped when the voice cut across the rumble of the wheels. It was a cultured voice, foil of surprise, and he looked around for its owner. The man wasn't hard to find: he was ten yards or so ahead of the dray, young and fine-featured, and he wore a black velvet jacket slashed to show a red silk lining. He was of the nobility, that much was certain, and yet he was standing outside a Deptford drinking house with a flagon in his hand. "Mary!" he called again. "I thought you weredead !"
Matt followed the young man's gaze. He was calling to a woman wearing plain black clothes on the same side of the road but nearer to the dray. She gazed at the man with a puzzled expression on her face, as if she recognized him from somewhere, but wasn't sure where.
The young man started to run toward her. "I thought youall died at Roanoake," he cried, "and I was the only one left. What happened?"
A spasm of alarm crossed the woman's face. She took a step backward, one hand raised to her head. "Mary!" the man called. "Itis you."
She turned and ran stiff-legged out into the road, oblivious of the traffic. Her odd gait took her straight in front of Matt's dray. He cried out incoherently but she didn't seem to hear him. He caught one last glimpse of her face - calm and expressionless - before she fell beneath the horse's hooves. By a miracle, the horse managed to step over her as she tried to get to her feet. Matt heaved desperately on the reins to pull the horse in, but the momentum of the heavy barrels pushed the dray forward, carrying the horse with it. Matt glanced down as he passed the woman's body. She looked up at him, and there was nothing in her eyes at all: no concern, no fear, nothing.
And then a sound cut through the air, stopping conversations and making heads turn. It sounded like a sapling, bent to breaking point, suddenly snapping. It was a wet, final sound, and it occurred just as the dray's front right wheel passed over the woman's leg.
The young man stopped, his face ashen with horror. Matt hauled on the reins, trying urgently to stop the dray before its second set of wheels compounded the damage. He kept waiting for her to scream, but there was nothing but silence from beneath the dray. Everything seemed to have stopped in the street: faces were frozen, voices stilled. Time itself had paused.
The horse neighed loudly, jerking back onto its hind legs as the reins bit home. The dray lurched to a halt. Matt quickly scrambled down to the rutted, dusty road, dreading what he would find, but the sight that met his eyes was so bizarre, so unbelievable, that he just stared uncomprehendingly for a moment, unable to take it in and make sense of it.
The woman was getting to her feet. She frowned slightly, as one might when bothered by a mosquito. Her left leg was crushed to half its width beneath the knee, and her calf slanted at a crazy angle to her thigh. Shards of bone projected from the wound, startlingly white against the red-raw flesh. She started to walk, lurching wildly like an upside-down pendulum, and she was across the road and into a side alley before anybody could think to stop her.
The first thing that Vicki saw when she walked into the TARDIS's control room was Steven Taylor's hand hovering over the central, mushroom-shaped console.
"Don't touch those controls!" she snapped, her voice echoing around the room.
Steven's shoulders hunched defensively, and he glanced towards her. Gradually the echoes of her voice faded away, leaving only the deep hum that meant the TARDIS was still in flight.
"Why not?" he asked truculently, brows heavy, jaw thrust forward. "I'm a qualified space pilot, aren't I? These switches and levers may look complicated, but I'm sure I can figure them out. And the Doctor's been gone for hours. He may never come back. We need to be able to fly this thing." His fingers closed around a large red switch on one facet of the control console. His fingers caressed it hesitantly. It was obvious to Vicki that he hadn't got a clue what he was doing, but didn't want to admit it. "This thing must make us materialize," he added. "Once we've landed, we can take a look around, find out where we are." He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself as much as her.
"I think that's the door control," she said quietly.
He hesitated, his indecisive frown quickly replaced by one of exasperation. "Look, if you've got any better ideas, let me know: Otherwise, trust me for once."
"Why can't we just wait?" she said, already knowing the answer. Because Steven was incapable of waiting for anything, that was why. Because he'd spent so long impotently pacing around his prison cell on Mechanus before the Doctor had rescued him that his patience had been used up. Not that he would ever admit it, of course. Not even to himself. It was odd, Vicki thought as she gazed at Steven's older yet somehow more innocent face, that her time spent stranded had been perhaps the most idyllic of her life. She'd only had Bennett and Sandy the Sand Monster for company on Dido, but she'd been content. Now, although she was learning so much by travelling with the Doctor, that contentment had been lost. Every moment of her life, every person that she met, demanded something of her.
"We can't just wait," Steven explained, breaking her chain of introspection, "because the Doctor might be in trouble. The way he just… just vanished, right in front of us… " He hesitated, and rubbed a hand across his face. He was tired. Tired and scared, Vicki realized. He'd been alone for so long that he found the prospect of taking responsibility terrifying. 'It was like the Doc had been kidnapped.'
"But we haven't explored the TARDIS completely yet," she said, trying to inject a note of calmness into her voice. Getting angry with Steven didn't work - he just grew more stubborn and defensive. "The Doctor could still be here."
"Where?" Steven challenged, hand still on the switch. The door control switch, Vicki reminded herself. She didn't know what would happen if he pulled it while the TARDIS was in flight, but she suspected the results wouldn't be pleasant. "We've checked the bedrooms, the food machine alcove, the lounge -"
"What about the locked doors?" she interrupted. "The Doctor won't tell us what's behind them. There might be more rooms, rooms that the Doctor didn't want us to see."
Steven slammed his fist against the console. "Look, we have to do something! And I still think that if we can just materialize somewhere, we can find a trail, or a clue,"
"And what are you young people doing to my TARDIS?" a peremptory voice demanded from the other side of the console. Steven and Vicki whirled around and gaped at the blurred, fractured bubble of darkness that had appeared - apparently inside the wall - and at the elderly figure within it. "Doctor!" they cried together.
He appeared to be sitting in a triangular framework, and he was frowning at them. Standing, not without some effort, he walked forward. Behind him, both the frame and the dark bubble were pulled apart into a coruscating web of lines which retreated into the far distance until they were lost from sight, leaving only the solid walls of the TARDIS behind the old man's figure.
"Doctor, we were -" Vicki began.
"Where have you been?" Steven demanded.
The Doctor fixed the space pilot with an imperious gaze. "Never mind where I've been," he snapped, "you were about to meddle with the ship's controls, weren't you?"
"No!" Steven protested. "I… I was just trying to -"
"Steven was trying to help," Vicki said calmingly. "You vanished without telling us where you were going. We were worried about you: we thought… Oh, I don't know what we thought. What happened?"
The Doctor's stern expression softened, as she had known it would. The one thing he couldn't resist was wide-eyed concern. "My dear child," he said, "of course you were worried, and I have no right to scold you, hmm? If you must know, I've been… " He frowned. "Well, that's most extraordinary. I can't rememberwhere I've been. The memory has gone. All I can remember is a dandy and a clown. A dandy and a clown." Ignoring the puzzled looks that Vicki and Steven exchanged, he raised a hand to caress his lapel, and appeared surprised to find that he was holding a small white envelope. "Hmm. Perhaps this will tell us something."
As Vicki and Steven watched, he opened the envelope and took out a slip of cardboard. He peered at it for a few moments, then took his pince-nez out of his waistcoat pocket and slipped them on. "Most extraordinary," he repeated, and proffered the card to Steven, who took it warily. Vicki had to pull his arm down to see.
The card was small and white. On it, in very small letters, were the words:
Formal dress required.
"An invitation to what?" Steven asked.
"An invitation to a mystery," the Doctor replied, frowning and looking away.
Vicki took the card from Steven. "Who gave it to you?" she asked the Doctor.
"I don't… I don't remember," the old man admitted.
"It's a trap," Steven said firmly. Vicki watched with some amusement as he narrowed his eyes, squared his shoulders and generally tried to look heroic.
"Don't be stupid, Steven," she said, and placed the card carefully upon the top of the translucent cylinder in the centre of the control console. "How can it be a trap if it doesn't even tell us where to go?"
With a low hum, the collection of fragile objects in the centre of the translucent column, the things that had always reminded Vicki of a cross between a child's mobile and a butterfly collection, began to revolve around their central axis. The column itself began to rise and fall rhythmically, whilst lights flashed on the console and the deep vibration of the TARDIS in flight slowly spiralled down towards the grinding, clashing noise of landing.
"Well," the Doctor said, "it would appear thatsomeone knows where we are going."
There was a rat on the stairs again.
Carlo Zeno came face to face with it as he rounded the corner. He was standing on the tiny landing that lay between his own rooms on the second floor and his tenant's rooms on the third. The rat was seven steps higher than he was, on a level with his face. Bright afternoon sunlight streamed through the holes in the rotted window shutters, illuminating it: fat and fearless, its black hair matted and its tail coiled like a pink worm. Zeno could even see the avaricious, calculating gleam in its eye.
"Back to the Devil, you garbage-eating fiend," he snarled, and started up the stairs towards it, stamping his boots on the wood. The rat watched for a moment, then calmly turned and scuttled towards a hole in the plaster-covered laths of the wall. As Zeno advanced past the stair, he thought he saw its whiskers twitching in the darkness. God and the Doge alone knew how many rats infested his house. Hundreds perhaps. The scrabbling of their claws kept him awake at night as they ran across the floor, scuttled behind the walls and scrabbled between the joists of the ceiling. Rats were the bane of Venice. Rats and Turks.
The door to the top floor of the house was closed, and Carlo pounded on it. "I've come for the rent!" he shouted, but there was no sound from within. Perhaps his tenant had gone out for a walk, or to buy some food, although Carlo hadn't heard him on the stairs. Perhaps he was asleep. Grimani the barkeeper said that the man drank until he could hardly stand up some nights, and the widow Carpaccio across the alley said she often saw his lamp shining until sunrise. Carlo hadn't asked what the widow Carpaccio was doing awake at that time: it was well known in the district of San Polo that she entertained gentlemen in order to pay her bills. Carlo, on the other hand, was forced to depend on those temporary visitors to Venice who wanted more freedom than that offered by a hotel.
"The rent!" he shouted again, slamming the heel of his hand against the wood. "Do you hear, you lazy slugabed?"
The door was suddenly pulled open. The room was dark, and smelled of sour wine, old fruit and unwashed bedding. The scant light from the window down on the landing barely illuminated the sullen figure of Carlo's tenant. His shirt was undone, and his breeches were creased as if he had been sleeping in them.
"You fat oaf," he said in his haughty Florentine accent. "Unless you've come to tell me that the Doge has finally granted me an audience, or that the lagoon is flooding, I'll have your tongue for a garter."
Carlo stared blankly at his tenant's plump, bearded face for a few moments. He could barely stop himself from picking the man up and throwing him bodily down the stairs. What incredible arrogance! He'd been occupying Carlo's top floor and the roof platform for two weeks now, and Carlo had yet to receive a pleasant word from him. Or any money.
"You think you frighten me with your talk of the Doge?" Carlo snapped. "If you think I'm going to waive the rent you owe me just to curry favour then your brain is addled and your wits have run away."
"You'll get your money when I've got mine," the man said, running a hand through his tousled hair. "The Doge will reward me well for what I can give him."
"If I could spend your promises then I'd be eating peacock tonight. If I don't get the money owing to me by sundown, I'll throw you and your belongings into the canal!"
Carlo turned to go, but a hand descended on his shoulder, stopping him. He turned, ready for an attack, but his tenant had twisted his mouth into what he probably hoped was an ingratiating smile. The expression didn't look at home on his face: the fleshy lips beneath that beard were more suited to a sneer.
"I… please, I apologize for my manner," the man said. "I find myself embarrassed by a temporary shortage of funds, not a position that a gentleman of noble birth and breeding, such as myself, is used to -"
"Not too embarrassed to drink your weight in wine every night," Carlo grumbled, slightly mollified by the man's tone. "Or do you pay Grimani in stories too?"
"- but, as I was about to say, I have just enough left to pay you what I owe." He turned away and disappeared into the gloom of his rooms. He was muttering something beneath his breath: elaborate Florentine curses, no doubt. Carlo heard him rummage among his possessions for a moment, then he was back, appearing suddenly in the slice of light from the landing like a demon on stage. "Here," he said, handing over a small leather bag with obvious reluctance. "It should -" he winced slightly "- suffice, until the Doge pays me for my services."
Carlo weighed the bag in his hand. The coins chinked comfortingly, and he ran through all the things he could do with the money. He'd go and pay his own bill at Grimani's tavern, then perhaps the widow Carpaccio might be willing to accept a few coins in exchange for an hour or two of pleasure.
"That'll do," he said gruffly. "For now. But mind you pay me promptly next week, otherwise I'll have the police call round! He spat to one side, making sure that his tenant knew he didn't believe these stories about audiences with the ruling authority of Venice, then turned and clattered down the stairs. Turning at the landing, he saw the man's eyes gleaming in the dark gap between door and jamb. The thought put him in mind of the rat he had seen earlier. Shivering, he crossed himself and continued round the corner and down, past his own rooms, to the door.
As he walked out into the narrow alley that separated his house from the widow Carpaccio's, he glanced upwards. The lip of the roof platform jutted over the edge of the roof towards a similar platform on the widow's house. He could still remember the way she used to sit up there for hours bleaching her hair in the bright sunlight. That was when she had been young and beautiful, and Carlo had been younger and full of life. He used to watch her from his bedroom window, waiting for the wind off the Adriatic to skim the roofs of the houses and lift her skirts a few inches. Ah, the follies of youth.
He squinted for a moment. Was there something on the platform? Something long and tubular, shrouded in a velvet cloth?
He shook his head. He had coins and Grimani had a new consignment of Bardolino wine from the mainland. By the end of the evening, he hoped that their respective positions would be a little more equitable.
Steven Taylor stood in the TARDIS doorway and looked around. They had landed on a beach of mixed sand and pebbles that fell steeply to a blue sea. A few hundred yards away, a mist hovered over the waves, hiding the horizon and turning the low sun into a dull circle. The mist thinned overhead to reveal a purple sky. Steven couldn't tell whether it was naturally that colour or whether it was a temporary meteorological condition.
He took a cautious sniff of air. It smelt… well, it melt like nothing else he had ever smelt. That was one of the problems about being a space pilot. He'd gone from living in a cramped apartment in the middle of an Earth Hiveblock to living in a cockpit in the middle of deep space, with only the occasional night in a space station to relieve the monotony. Even his time imprisoned on Mechanus had been spent in a small, sterile metal room. The first new thing he had smelt since childhood had been the burning forests during the Dalek attack, and since then he had been plunged from new world to new world, each one of which didn't smell like anything he had ever smelt before. Things always looked like other things he'd seen, things even sounded like things he'd heard, but smells were unique. Individual. Incomparable.
"What can you see?" Vicki asked from behind him. "Oh, get out of the way Steven."
He stepped out of the TARDIS, feeling the sand crunch beneath his boots. It was hot and humid, and he could feel sweat prickle beneath his tunic and across his scalp.
Vicki pushed past him and walked a couple of steps towards the water. "I love oceans," she said cheerfully. "There weren't any on Dido - not within walking distance, anyway, and I used to dream about them."
"Don't touch that liquid, my dear," the Doctor fussed as he left the TARDIS and carefully locked the door behind him. "It might be acid, or… or all manner of things." He slipped the key into his waistcoat pocket, and cast a quick glance at Steven. That key had been the source of several arguments between them. Steven felt that he should have his own key, just in case anything ever happened to the Doctor. The Doctor dismissed the idea, claiming that Steven was just scaremongering. The truth was, of course, that he didn't trust Steven an inch.
The one thing they were both agreed on was that Vicki shouldn't have one.
"What a wonderful place," the Doctor said, gazing around. He sniffed the air in the same way that Steven had seen him sniff fine wines. "Salt marshes, I think you'll find. Ah, yes, and wood smoke. There must be a settlement of some sort nearby." He walked a few steps down the beach and bent down to pick up a dried out strand of seaweed. "No sign of tides," he said, examining it carefully. He moved towards the water's edge. Taking a small strip of paper from a pocket, he bent forward and dipped it in the water. "And the neutral pH indicates that this liquid is safe. You may go paddling if you wish." He turned to find Vicki already standing ankle-deep in the water. She smiled apologetically. He frowned and wagged a finger at her. "Foolish child," he chided. "You might have got yourself into all sorts of trouble, and then where would you be, hmm?"
"Sorry, Doctor." Vicki looked genuinely crestfallen. The Doctor turned to Steven. "Salt water but no tides. What does that suggest to you, my boy?"
The Doctor nodded judiciously. "Yes, or… ?"
Steven shrugged. "Or a lagoon. Is it important?"
"Most instructive, hmm? A lagoon. Yes." A breeze ruffled the Doctor's long, white hair. Steven stared at him, wondering what the old man was getting at. Sometimes, just sometimes, it occurred to him that the Doctor possessed a laser-sharp intelligence that he chose to hide in vague mutterings and abrupt changes in mood and conversation, but most of the time he just thought that the Doctor was a senile old fool.
"Doctor! Steven!" Vicki's voice cut through his thoughts. He turned, crouching, ready to protect her from whatever threat had sprung from hiding, fight any monster that was lurking in the vicinity, but the beach was empty apart from the three of them and the TARDIS. Vicki was pointing out to sea, into the mist. Or, rather, into where the mist had been. The breeze had thinned it out and shredded it, revealing sketchy details of the waterscape beyond. Near at hand there were islands, some barely more than sandbanks with sparse vegetation, some rocky and covered with bushes. Beyond them, scarcely more than a darker grey shadow against the grey mist, there was a city: a fabulous city of towers and minarets, steeples and domes, all seeming to float upon the water like a mirage.
"Ah," the Doctor said, "just as I thought - we've arrived at Venice."
"Venice?" Steven and Vicki chorused together.
"A city built on sandbanks and wooden pilings, just off the Italian coast. It sank beneath the waves centuries before either of you were born. Well, I rather think I know where we're meant to go, hmm? Vicki, my dear, why don't you go back inside the TARDIS and retrieve the dinghy from the store cupboard by the food machine?"
Vicki nodded and, taking the key which the Doctor proffered, vanished inside the time and space machine. As soon as she was out of earshot, Steven turned to the Doctor. "I don't like this. It smells like a trap to me."
"And to me, dear boy." The Doctor nodded. "A trap, indeed. I am in complete agreement."
"And you're just going to walk into it?" Steven said, aghast.
"Whoever gave me that invitation had me in their power, and let me go," the Doctor mused. "If thisis a trap, and it has all of the classic signs, then perhaps we aren't the intended victims."
"No?" Steven frowned. "But if we're not the victims, then what are we?"
The Doctor's bright blue eyes twinkled. "Perhaps we're the bait!"
Galileo Galilei, ex-tutor to Prince Cosimo of Tuscany, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Padua, equal of scholars and natural philosophers and heir to the mantle of Bruno and Brahe, burped and took another swig of wine from the bottle.
Light trickled between the curtains, casting a bruised purple illumination across the strewn clothes, piles of manuscripts and half-eaten plates of food that filled the space in the room. Nearly sunset, then. Nearly time to start work.
That damned landlord had irritated him to the point where he had almost struck the man down. Venice should be paying him to be there, not the other way around. Things would change soon. Oh yes, things would change. All he needed was five minutes with the Doge on top of the bell tower in St Mark's Square, and his fortune would be made. All of Italy - no, all of Europe - would defer to him. The name of Galileo Galilei would resound through the ages.
He staggered across the rotting, creaking floorboards towards the tiny stairway that led upwards, towards the platform on the roof. This place was a death-trap, what with the galloping rot and the rats both competing to see who could gnaw their way through the timbers fastest. One good sneeze could bring the place down around his ears.
Things had been different on his previous visits. He was used to whoring and drinking with Gianfrancesco Sagredo in his palace on the Grand Canal, or debating natural philosophy with Friar Paulo Sarpi in the Doge's Palace. Sagredo was in Syria now, drawing a diplomat's salary and, no doubt, raking commissions off crooked merchants and rapacious pirates. Sarpi, by contrast, was still recovering from the fifteen stab wounds he had suffered during the attempt on his life by agents of the Pope. Galileo had seen the wounds, and was amazed at his old friend's survival. One of the stilettos had entered Sarpi's right ear, passed through his temple, shattered his jaw and exited through his right cheek. Sarpi had claimed that God was smiling on him that day. Galileo couldn't help thinking that if that was God smiling, what must his wrath be like?
He hauled himself up the ladder and on to the platform. The air was cold, and the platform gave slightly beneath his bulk. Just his luck if a strut snapped, sending the greatest philosophical mind in Christendom tumbling into the alley below. Thus did God check the excess pride of man.
He walked to the edge of the platform, past the velvet-shrouded object in the centre and the chair beside it, and gazed out across the city. The sky was the deep purple of grapes, and tinged with fire along one edge where the sun had descended beneath the line of houses. Soon it would be night. The moon had already risen like a plate of burnished pewter sent spinning across the sky.His moon. The object given to him by God for his own personal glory. The flambeaux that burned across the city, illuminating the distant campanile tower with fitful light, mirrored the searing ambition in his heart.
He reached out and tugged the velvet cloth off the shrouded object, throwing it carelessly across the chair. The spyglass beneath - brass half-covered with scarlet cloth - shone in the last few glimmerings of sunlight. About the length of his arm, it sat on a tripod inscribed with calibrations, symbols and Latin inscriptions. He had constructed it in his own workshop in Padua, based on what his friends and his spies had heard of Hans Lipper-shey's work in Germany, but he wouldn't be telling the Doge that. No, as far as the Venetian nobles were concerned, he had invented the whole thing himself. What to look at? He could turn it North, towards the Italian coast, and onwards towards Padua and beautiful Marina. Or he could turn it South, gazing out into the Adriatic Sea and the incoming fishing boats.
He smiled to himself. Marina would be asleep and the fishing boats would wait. No, there was only one choice. He swivelled the spyglass upwards and aligned it roughly towards the silvery disc of the moon. By eye he could make out the mysterious shapes that lay across its surface like veils, but with the spyglass he could make out rough circles and lines that changed their appearance as the sun moved in relation to them and its rays struck them at different angles. Nobody else had seen what he was seeing! The knowledge almost made him drunk with delight.
He removed the leather cap from the glass lens and sat down in the chair. Leaning forward, he gazed through the glass. Perhaps tonight God would inspire him to discover what these shapes were, and why they changed.
The moon's surface was startlingly white - bone white - with fuzzy grey shapes marring its perfection. Galileo forgot the cold, and forgot the uncomfortable position that he had to adopt, as his eye scanned the surface, looking for -
He jerked back suddenly, almost upsetting his chair. That couldn't be right. Surely not. He bent down and gazed through the lens again, then blinked a couple of times. Perhaps what he had seen was a mote in his eye, or a bird passing across his field of view. He looked again. It was still there: an object, too small to recognize but too large to ignore. Its shape was circular, like a discus, and it spun rapidly while moving in a straight line. It was moving at an angle, but there was no doubt that it was heading away from the surface of the moon and towards him.
"Would you like me to row for a while?" Vicki asked. "Or are you just resting for a moment?" Steven tried to detect some note of sarcasm in her voice, but she was too good for that. He tried to mutter a sarcastic rejoinder, but he was panting too hard to get the words out.
"Yes, put your back into it, my boy,' the Doctor said. 'I want to make landfall before breakfast, you know."
Steven had been rowing the inflatable dinghy for what seemed like hours, and he was tired. No, he was worse than tired: he was exhausted. Bone-wearingly, mind-achingly exhausted. His arms had progressed from fatigue through burning pain to a distant numbness, and his mind had become fixated on details like the texture of the material that the dinghy was made out of, and the way the Doctor's ring glowed in the darkness.
The sun had set some time ago, and the moon hung overhead like a tossed coin frozen at its apogee. The distant lights of Venice glimmering on the water had seemed to Steven to be receding just as fast as he rowed, but now, as he looked over his shoulder he saw a long stone embankment with low wooden piers projecting from it into the water. Flaming torches on poles lit up a large square, thronged with people. He was too tired to care.
"What is this place, Doctor?" Vicki asked. "A strange little republic," the Doctor replied, "that lasted for several thousand years with little more than superficial change. The city was originally founded by refugees from the Roman mainland who were fleeing the various and frequent invasions by Goths, Huns, Avars, Herulians and Lombards -"
"I didn't know that there were any attempted alien invasions this early in Earth's history," Vicki said, frowning.
"They weren't aliens, child," the Doctor said reprovingly, "they were tribes. Dear, dear; your knowledge of your own history is sadly lacking! They were savage, rapacious tribes. The refugees fled their depredations and settled here in the lagoon, on the many islands and sandbanks. They built houses on wooden piles driven deep into the mud of the lagoon. Gradually they linked those houses by paths and by bridges. That was over a thousand years ago. Now they have a city built on wood and mud. Just wood and mud. Imagine that!" he cackled.
Steven found that he could. Only too well, in fact. He had just spent a chunk of his life imprisoned in one city on stilts, and the last thing he wanted to do was visit another. He still had nightmares about the Mechanoid city crashing in flames to the jungle floor, the sound of its supporting struts snapping echoing like cannon fire through the night air. And what had the Doctor said earlier on about Venice sinking some time in the future? Just how far in the future? he wondered.
He glanced again over his shoulder, half-expecting to see the entire city slide beneath the waters of the lagoon, then he shrugged. If it happened, it happened. There was nothing he could do about it. Turning his back on the city, he continued rowing.
The Doctor was still telling Vicki about the history of Venice, and how the city had made itself into the most important trading centre in Europe, but Steven found his attention slipping. The island behind them had long since vanished into the mist and the darkness, and the moon glittered on their wake like a thousand watching eyes. The noise of shouting and laughter from Venice itself, somewhere just over Steven's shoulder, blended into a hypnotic murmur, and Steven realized that for several minutes his eyes had been fixed on a log, drifting along behind the dinghy. It was just a darker spot against the waves, but it was the only point of interest in the ever-changing, ever-similar backdrop of the waves. In his half-hypnotized state, he could almost imagine that it was the head of something swimming behind them, following them from island to island.
And then it vanished abruptly beneath the waves, almost as if it had realized Steven had seen it.
The hubbub in the Tavern of St Theodore and of the Crocodile almost deafened Galileo as he carried his flagon of Bardolino wine away from the bar and towards an unoccupied bench. The place was large and sprawled over several rooms connected by low doorways. It was popular with the local gondoliers, and he had to detour around large groups of them as they argued raucously, scuffled affably, fell over drunkenly and generally comported themselves in the ebullient Venetian manner that he had come to know well.
Venice, city of opposites: mystery and misery; excess and penury; hard marble and soft water. No matter how often he visited, he was never sure whether he loved it or hated it.
Galileo took a long swig from the flagon, and almost choked. The wine was sour and left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth; he kept forgetting how bad the wine was here compared to home. It was evidence of God's wit that when he was in Padua he wished he was in Venice, and when he was in Venice he wished he was in Padua. When he was in Rome, of course, he couldn't decide where he wanted to be, so long, of course, as he didn't have to be in Rome.
His thoughts turned to Marina. Fiery, lusty Marina. Although they had been together for ten years, and she had borne his children, they had never married. Even the notoriously easygoing Venetian authorities would have drawn the line at the Professor of Mathematics at Padua University marrying a common strumpet, and his mother would have died of shame! He hadn't been faithful to Marina - she had never expected him to be - but he loved her none the less. Most of the time. Wine could slake one kind of thirst, women another, but Marina satisfied some spiritual yearning in him to which he couldn't put a name. They argued - did they argue! - but he always returned to her. Eventually.
He spat on the tavern's sawdust-covered floor and wiped his sleeve across his mouth. Enough of this puerile thinking. He had a problem to solve. That bizarre apparition that he had seen through his spyglass still occupied his thoughts, crowding out all rational argument with its incontrovertible presence. He could formulate no theory to account for it. It had a man-made look, and it had moved in an unnaturally direct manner, like a cart on a road, but he had never before seen or heard about phenomena that travelled between the Moon and the Earth. And ithad made that journey: he had observed its progress, swivelling his spyglass to track it as it moved and grew larger in his sight, until he lost it somewhere over the rooftops of Venice. It seemed to him that it had come to rest somewhere in the Adriatic, just off the Lido. Was it a delusion of celestial vapours, like the one Johannes Kepler had written to warn him of five years before, or was it some messenger of God - an Angel sent to walk the Earth?
He took another mouthful of wine and swallowed it before the taste could make him retch. Natural science was full of such puzzles, and God had set him the task of unravelling them. It was his curse and misfortune to be the greatest genius in Europe, if not the world.
As he was about to set his flagon down, a passing figure jogged his elbow. The base of the flagon hit the edge of the bench, spilling most of its contents in a crimson tide over the sawdust-strewn boards. To tell the truth, he wasn't sorry to see it go, but the figure looming over him said, in English-accented Italian, "My pardon, good sir. Please allow a clumsy foreigner to refill your flagon."
Before Galileo could argue, the man had gone. He watched the man shoulder his way through the crowd. Fine clothes, if old - a lace-collared shirt beneath a scuffed leather jerkin. An English noble, down on his luck perhaps? There were a thousand stories in the city. Nobody came to Venice without the baggage of their past.
As his thoughts drifted, he became aware that there were a lot of foreign voices in the Tavern of St Theodore and of the Crocodile that night. Most of them seemed to be speaking English. Venice attracted visitors from East and West, of course, but, as he thought about it, it seemed to him that there had been more Englishmen than usual since his arrival. Perhaps it had something to do with the accession of the Scottish King, James, to the English throne.
The crowd parted again as the Englishman returned, and Galileo was struck both by the width of his shoulders and the way he moved, cat-like and sure-footed, through the thronging mass. They seemed to part for him, as a shoal of fish would part for a shark, then seal up again behind him. "Your drink, kind sir," the man said, placing a fresh flagon before Galileo. "And my renewed apologies."
Galileo stared up into his weather-beaten face and his grey eyes, the same shade as his profusion of prematurely grey hair, and felt a chill of unease. A scar ran from the man's forehead across one eye and down his cheek, like a fissure in baked earth.
"My thanks," he said gruffly, but the man had gone, pushing past a group of young noblemen who were clad in silks and satins. The noblemen, disturbed and angered at his careless effrontery, gazed after him, then turned their attention to Galileo.
Galileo was about to take a swig of wine, hoping that it was of better quality than the last lot, when a voice said, "By my lights, it is the Florentine Galileo Galilei, is it not? The man who denies God pre-eminence in the heavens."
He sighed. "I am Galileo," he confirmed, glancing up. "What of it?"
The group of noble ruffians had moved to stand before him. One of them, a youth with long black hair and a sparse beard, was smiling cruelly. "Do you not repeat at Padua," he sneered, "the heresy taught by Giordano Bruno that our world revolves around the sun?"
"It is no heresy, but simple fact," Galileo growled. The youths were obviously spoiling for a fight, but he couldn't help himself. He had to respond. "God has arranged his heavens such that the sun provides light and warmth to all its children and, like a hearth fire, it is the centre around which everything is arranged."
"But that is plainly foolish," the young man replied, gazing around at his companions, who nodded their heads in agreement, "as everyone knows that all celestial bodies circleus . No other star is pre-eminent."
"Foolishness," Galileo snapped, "lies in denying the evidence of one's senses. If you saw a tortoise would you call it a rabbit? If you saw a ship, would you call it a cart? Why then should I see what I plainly see and call it something else?"
Some part of him noticed that the smiles on the faces of the youths had soured somewhat, and that their hands were hovering around the hilts of their swords, but he felt a wave of black anger pass across his thoughts, clouding him to all but the fact that he had been publicly doubted. "And are you an astronomer then," he continued, "that you can question my observations? If so you disguise your experience well under the mantle of a callow youth. Or better yet, are you a bishop that you can talk to me of heresy? Where are your robes and your cross?"
"Do you know who I am?" the youth snapped, his face suffused with blood.
"But that you are arrogant beyond good sense, I neither know nor care who you are," Galileo rejoined.
"I am Baldassarre Nicolotti!"
He said the name as if he expected Galileo to recognize it, and unfortunately Galileo did. He gritted his teeth. The Nicolottis were one of the more illustrious and widespread families in Venice. Their name appeared in the Golden Book - the list of Venetian aristocracy who were eligible for election to the various councils that ran the Serene Republic. He seemed to remember that they were involved in a long-running feud with the Castellani family. If the Doge got to hear that he was brawling in a tavern with one of them, Galileo's chances of gaining an audience would be about the same as his ever becoming Pope. He couldn't back down, though. Not once his professional expertise had been questioned. "Strange," he growled, "you look more to me like the arse of a horse, and your words match its excrement for consistency and usefulness." It wasn't elegant, but then again neither was cannon fire against a fortification, and that worked well enough.
"I'll have your liver on a plate!" Baldassarre hissed through clenched teeth. He pulled his sword from its scabbard. His friends cleared a space for the fight, pushing back the other patrons and knocking benches away to form a rough circle. The noise in the tavern dimmed slightly, then rose again to its previous level. Fights were nothing if not frequent in Venice.
Galileo stood slowly, tankard clenched in his hand. He'd been in situations like this too often not to know what the best course of action was. "Did your mother never wean you from her milk?' he said. 'You don't appear to be able to handle your drink like a man."
The tip of Baldassarre's sword waved back and forth in front of Galileo's nose. "I can handle any drink you throw at me," he sneered.
"Then let's put that to the test." Galileo suddenly threw the contents of his tankard at Baldassarre. The crimson liquid caught the youth full in the face. Spluttering, he tried to wipe his eyes with his sleeve, almost skewering one of his companions with his sword as he did so. The rest of the youths rushed forward to help.
Galileo took advantage of the distraction to take a couple of steps backwards, out of the nominal circle of the fight. Time to make his excuses and leave. He turned towards the door, but a choking noise from behind stopped him.
Baldassarre's body was twitching like a man in the grip of St Virus's Dance. Foam frothed from his lips and splattered the floor around his contused head. His eyes were starting from their sockets. One hand rose up, clenched as if to grasp something that only he could see, and then he slumped back lifelessly to the floor. It was all over in a handful of seconds.
Instinct took over, and Galileo was out of the door and halfway down the alley before anybody thought to turn around and look for him.
"Keep going. Only a few moments more," the Doctor encouraged. "Perhaps those people on the embankment are waiting to meet us." As Steven turned to glance at the approaching fire-lit scene he noticed the way the flames emphasized the cruel smile on the Doctor's face.
There was a sudden jar as the dinghy hit wood, and the Doctor and Vicki were scrambling past him and onto the nearest jetty.
"Don't mention it," he muttered as he levered himself up on paralysed arms. "Glad I could help."
Stone steps led up the side of the embankment to the promenade on top. Even Steven, tired as he was, felt something stir in his chest at the scene that greeted him. The travellers were standing between two stone pillars. Before them, the light from the flaming torches illuminated a square that was halfway between a market and a carnival. Women in long dresses and men in elaborately brocaded costumes paraded between stalls that sold food, clothes, animals, statues and all manner of other objects. The smells of wood smoke, cooked meat, overripe fruit and rotting vegetables made Steven's stomach rumble. The people and the stalls were set against a backdrop of elaborately arched and colonnaded stone buildings, each a masterpiece of architecture jostling with its neighbours for attention. To their left was a small building attached to a tall tower of red brick. Shouts and laughter echoed back and forth between the buildings, the individual words blending together to form amŽlange of sound.
"St Mark's Square," the Doctor proclaimed. "Birthplace of my old friend Marco Polo, and the gateway for trade and travel between Europe and the mysterious Orient."
Vicki nudged Steven's arm. "Somebody's seen us," she whispered, pointing towards a knot of men who were approaching them.
"Don't worry," the Doctor said, "I'm sure they mean us no harm." He stepped forward as the men approached. "I am the Doctor," he proclaimed. "Perhaps you are expecting me."
One of the men stepped forward. He was small but broad-shouldered, and he was bald. His face held a cynical expression. "By the power invested in me by the Doge of Venice and by the Council of Ten," he growled, "I arrest you as Turkish spies."
"Wait!" the Doctor cried imperiously. He raised one hand in admonition. Behind his back he was making urgent gestures to his companions. "Is this how you treat visitors to this great city? Well, is it? I mean, what's the world coming to when travellers cannot come and go freely, as and when they wish?"
What did those gesticulations mean? Steven wondered. Run? Hide? Attack the guards? Perhaps the Doctor's earlier companions, Ian and Barbara, would have understood instantly, but Steven hadn't known the Doctor for long enough to be able to interpret him.
The bald guard frowned. "Step forward," he said, "into the light."
The Doctor did as he was instructed, and the frown on the guard's face was replaced by an expression of confusion, and embarrassment.
"Cardinal Bellarmine!" he cried, kneeling on the stone esplanade. "We didn't… I mean, we weren't… "
The Doctor's face froze for a moment. "Expecting us?" he said finally, smiling. "No, that is perfectly apparent, isn't it? Well, the journey from… the journey went quicker than we had expected. And this is how you greet us!"
"Who's Cardinal Bellarmine?" Vicki hissed from beside Steven.
"I've got no idea," he whispered. "And I don't think the Doctor has either. I just hope he knows what he's doing."
"And do you know why I'm here?" the Doctor continued, waving the guard to his feet. "What is your name, by the way?"
"Speroni, your eminence. Speroni Speroni. I am the Lord of the Night watch for St Mark's Square and the local area."
"Of course you are, of course you are." The Doctor turned and waved Steven and Vicki closer. At least, Steven reflected, that gesture was unambiguous. "And these are my travelling companions, Steven Taylor and Vicki… ah, yes… Vicki. Now, you were about to tell me what you were told about my mission."
"Indeed." Speroni looked dazed, like a man who had been suddenly overtaken by events and couldn't catch up. "I was informed that you would be arriving as representative of the Vatican to question Galileo Galilei on the invention he claims to have made, but I wasn't… I mean, I assumed - we all did - that you would be travelling in your robes and accompanied by a full retinue of guards -"
The Doctor gazed questioningly at him. "Galileo's invention?"
"The spyglass," Speroni prompted, frowning. "The device with which distant objects might be made closer."
"Vatican? Galileo? Spyglass?" A smile crossed his face, and he turned briefly to Steven and Vicki. "Ah, then this must be the year of our Lord, 1609," he said for their benefit, nodding as if he had known this all the time. He turned back to Speroni. "Perhaps you could escort us to our rooms. I presume that they are ready?"
Speroni caught the eye of one of his men, and jerked his head. The man ran off, his boots clattering on the stone. "They are," he confirmed, flushing slightly. "Perhaps we could aid you with your baggage, your eminence?"
"My… Oh. Ah, yes. We don't have any baggage. Lost at sea, dear chap, along with my robes and the rest of my retinue. Lost at sea." He smiled paternally at Speroni, who was scratching his head in puzzlement at these strangers and their antics.
"Aren't we all," Steven muttered.
Carlo Zeno tottered out of the Tavern of St Theodore and of the Crocodile and into the narrow alleyway. Turning left, he staggered towards his house. What an evening! Young Baldassarre, struck down in front of his eyes. Poison, they were saying. Judging by the way his eyeballs had protruded and the colour of his tongue, Zeno wasn't about to contradict them.
The alley was bisected after a few feet by a narrow canal. A stone bridge arced across to the other side, where the alley carried on. Zeno staggered up the steps to the top of the bridge, trying not to lose his balance and fall into the silted, foul-smelling liquid that flowed sluggishly beneath. Too often before he had arrived back at his lodgings soaking wet and covered in excrement. He couldn't afford to ruin any more clothes.
He paused for a moment at the top of the bridge, thinking. They were saying in the tavern that it was Galileo Galilei who had thrown the poisoned wine into Baldassarre's face. Zeno wasn't so sure. He didn't like his lodger, that much was certain, but Galileo's burly form was more suited to a bludgeon than to poison. And he wasn't Venetian, either. Poison came naturally to Venetians. When the Pope's agents had struck down Friar Sarpi and left a dagger sticking out of his cheekbone, the doctors had plunged it into a dog to test what type of poison had been used. So surprised were they when the dog showed no sign of poisoning that they plunged it into a chicken as well. When the chicken didn't die, they knew it couldn't have been a Venetian that carried out the attack. And what about that writer - the one who was fed a poisoned communion wafer by the priest of the church of the Misericordia? Poison was a Venetian weapon, for sure.
A sudden, urgent pressure in his bladder interrupted his thoughts. Damn that Grimani: his wine went through a man's guts faster than a stream down a hill, and probably didn't taste much worse going out than it had done going in. He wasn't sure that he could wait until he got home.
Taking a quick look either way along the canal for moving boats, he quickly tugged at the lacing on his breeches and began to urinate over the edge of the bridge and into the canal beneath. Within seconds a feeling of blessed relief spread through his body.
Something made a wet choking sound beneath the bridge. Zeno cursed to himself. Just his luck if a pair of lovers had parked their gondola beneath the bridge for privacy. "Your pardon!" he called out. "I didn't see you there!"
His hands fumbled with the laces of his breeches as he stumbled to the far side of the canal. He thought he could hear noises from the water line. Perhaps whoever had been on the receiving end of his emissions had taken offence, and wished to inflict punishment. Turning, he saw a dark shape rising from the water and onto the side of the canal. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said, extending his hands in supplication. "I didn't mean to give offence." His drink-befuddled brain wondered why the figure was so silent. And so thin. "Whatever is within my power to do to make amends, I will -"
The words died in his throat as the figure stepped forward into the pool of moonlight. As slender as a branch, its skin was blue and rough, and its head, no bigger than a knot of wood, tapered into a single horn that erupted from the centre of its forehead and swept up and back to a sharp point. It turned its knob-like head and gazed at Zeno from a tiny red eye.
"What manner of demonare you?' gasped Zeno. The demon said nothing. Zeno took a step backwards as its head lowered until the point of its horn was pointed directly at his chest. "Begone, spawn of the Devil!" he shouted, more in desperation than in hope, but the demon sprang forward. Zeno tried to dive to one side, but he was too slow. The demon's twig-like claws were grasping his shoulders, pushing him back against the brickwork of the nearest house. There was a terrible grinding, tearing sensation in his chest, and he felt the jar as its horn ground against the brick behind him. He was still trying to work out what had happened, where his life had suddenly turned off the path he thought it had been following and into the shadows, when he felt a pressure on his shoulders as the demon's claws pressed him back. The thin horn, slicked red with his blood, pulled free from his flesh, and the pain was sudden and terrible.
He fell to his knees, his life-blood splattering and steaming on the cobbles in front of him. As he looked up imploringly at the demon that stood before him, it shimmered for a moment, as if he was seeing it in a puddle of water, and then he was looking at a man, an ordinary man, of medium height and unremarkable appearance. And he died happy, knowing that his soul had not been taken by a demon, and that he had somehow mistaken an ordinary murderer for a monster.