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

It was the evening of the day before Christmas Eve. Strax was at one of his ballroom dancing sessions. Madam Vastra was out… somewhere. Jenny didn’t ask. It was probably something quite out of keeping with the spirit of Christmas, perhaps involving the permanent removal of some miscreant from the streets of East London. Jenny approved of that. There were too many dark deeds done in those streets where she was born and raised. All the same, she preferred not to know anything about the methods Madam used to deal with these evil individuals.

Anyway, Jenny was free for the evening. She had dressed carefully in her usual black but trimmed with feminine lace at the collar and cuffs. She had a new hat with silk flowers and wax cherries that added just a splash of colour.

She approved her look in the bedroom mirror then went downstairs. She was met there by young Joe in a second-hand suit that he more or less fitted now that he had a few square meals filling out his flesh and Millie the scullery maid in her best Sunday going out dress.

“Coats on,” Jenny said to them in the parental tone she had adopted with them both even though she was only a few years older than Millie. “It’s cold out there.” The two young servants ran to find their outerwear. Jenny donned her cloak and fur-lined gloves and waited for them to rejoin her.

They left by the front door, something Joe and Millie rarely did. Jenny always used the front door, even if she had been raised to use back doors and servant’s entries. After all, she was married to the lady of the house even if the concept was so shocking to Victorian London that most people’s minds simply could not process it.

Though they hadn’t far to go, they needed the coats and gloves. It was bitterly cold outside. The snow underfoot was hard packed and more was coming down from the cloud-hung sky.

Through the snow, they could see warm lights at their destination, Saint Paul’s Cathedral. They could also see many others heading in the same direction.

There was a feeling of excitement and expectation in the very air as they passed through the Cathedral Gardens and into the warm, welcoming vestibule where they took off their coats and received the little printed booklet with the order of the Christmas Carol service. Joe was thrilled to be given such a thing. He had only just learnt to read and here were lots of words given to him without asking.

“Millie can take you to the free library in the New Year,” Jenny suggested. “Then you’ll have plenty of words.”

Joe was pleased by that idea, but the service booklet would do for now. He studied it carefully as they sat in a pew halfway down the centre aisle and listened to the carols played on the organ.

The service began presently with a procession of red robed choir boys singing Once In Royal David's City followed by the Dean and the rest of the clergy. The music swelled and filled the magnificent space, quickening the hearts of all within hearing.

Jenny liked the Christmas carol service at Saint Paul’s, the magnificent creation of Sir Christopher Wren that had risen from the ashes of the Great Fire of London. She liked being in the Cathedral that rose so majestically above Paternoster Row. She loved the organ’s deep throb and the high voices of the choir boys. She loved singing along with the rest of the congregation. She especially loved the feeling of joy and hope that the carols evinced.

And yet, she wasn’t entirely sure she believed in the events the service commemorated. It was something that gave her trouble from time to time. She had grown up with an ordinary, working class Londoner’s relationship with Christianity. Her mother had taken the whole family to church on Sundays and she had learnt the stories of the bible in Sunday School from a lady called Miss Hampton whose vowels were beautifully rounded and who never dropped her ‘haitches’. She had learnt the Lord’s Prayer and said it along with the others on a Sunday, though she tended to forget to say it during the week when the ordinary world kept her busy.

Later in her still young life Jenny heard something about the theologians such as Bishop Usher of Armagh and scientists such as Johannes Kepler and Sir Isaac Newton who all concluded that the Earth was created about four thousand years before the birth of the baby they were praising on this night.

And young Jenny, who left what formal schooling was available to her at the age of fourteen, and needless to say, had never come across the works of Charles Darwin in her studies, didn’t even think about arguing with people like Isaac Newton. The world was nearly six thousand years old. That was a fact.

But then she met Madam Vastra, a member of a race that had lived on Earth before humans. The Eocene period when her people had been dominant over everything that crawled upon the ground or swam on the sea or flew in the air, was between fifty-six and thirty-three million years ago.

Clearly, there was a gap between the reality Jenny accepted now and the history of the world according to the Bible. Clearly, the Earth was not built in six days and Man was not placed upon it by God. Madam, who had been there, after all, was quite firm in her insistence that humanity was an upstart descendent of the puny ape mammals that were only just hanging on to existence when her people went into deep hibernation to sleep out the coming ice age.

Jenny reread her Bible and found no mention of an ice age.

Sunday School theology and life as the wife of an Eocene period lizard lady were never going to agree.

But Jenny still loved Christmas. As a working-class girl, she loved the idea of a baby being born in a stable to be King of the World. She loved to sing the carols and hear the familiar gospel readings telling of how it all came to pass. A spark of faith in what logic told her was unlikely kept it from feeling hypocritical to be there in the Cathedral among all those believers who had never been troubled by doubts about the age of the world or man’s ‘evolution’.

The only dull point in it all was the sermon. The Very Reverend Robert Gregory, the esteemed Dean of St. Paul’s, was a devout and dedicated man, but in Jenny’s East End vernacular, ‘he didn’t ‘alf go on a bit’.

Her thoughts drifted from his treatise on the divinity of the Holy Child. She reflected for a little while more on her intellectual dichotomy of science and reason versus faith, despite never using the phrase ‘intellectual dichotomy’ in her entire life.

Then her eyes as well as her mind wandered, up and around all of the magnificent carvings and frescoes that decorated this High Anglican cathedral and into the equally magnificent heights of the famous whispering gallery.

There were no lights up there. In the daytime it was illuminated by the natural light through the lantern windows. The chandeliers that lit the nave were positioned well below the cupola on a complicated system of ropes and pulleys, making the vast space above a black void that her eyesight could not penetrate.

Even so, she was sure she saw movement up there in the gallery that circled the dome and afforded such magnificent views to visitors.

Surely nobody ought to be up there, now?

She blinked and looked again. Was it her imagination running wild? Maybe a pigeon that had flown into the building? Maybe it was a choir boy playing truant from the proceedings?

Maybe it was something far more sinister.

She looked around at the nave of the great cathedral. It was crowded. Every seat in every pew was full.

She couldn’t get out of her place without disturbing four other people who had sat next to Joe and Millie. She would draw too much attention to herself.

And all just because she thought she saw something in the dark.

No, there really was nothing she could do but sit there and listen to the rather dull sermon like everyone else.

Madam Vastra was annoyed. It was a bitterly cold night which was not the ideal environment for a cold blooded reptilian woman. She had hoped to deal with the alien murderer quickly and return home to Paternoster Row to a warm fire and a quiet evening with Jenny. Instead, she had been chasing the creature who called himself Orin Fewgate all over the slums of inner London.

She had been on his trail for weeks, alerted by reports of people going missing without trace - something that really was unusual even in the East End where a body of some sort usually turned up sooner or later. Tonight, she had finally tracked him down in Shoreditch, where he had been posing as a second-hand clothes seller. In reality he was a flesh pirate from the planet Exorious who preyed on the most gullible of humans – those who couldn’t stay away from drink. His usual tactic was to lure those with such a weakness with the promise of gin. Once down in the cellar of his foul establishment they were all too easy to subdue. In the dismemberment chamber he had installed there the bodies were reduced to constituent parts and sold on the intergalactic black market.

Vastra had managed to saved his latest victim, a forty year old laundry woman who was too drunk to notice she was in danger, let alone that she was being rescued by a lizard woman, but Fewgate had used the semi-conscious woman as a distraction to make his getaway.

Fuming at the way she had been fooled, Vastra had run to catch up with the fleeing felon. Emerging from the dark, narrow alley behind the shop, she gave chase. The flesh pirate’s feet echoed along a maze of badly lit lanes and cobbled courts. But for the sound of his feet she may well have lost him.

Then they both emerged onto Shoreditch High Street. The wide main road was better lit and there were pedestrians who called out in alarm as Fewgate ran past. They called out again as Vastra followed him. Whether any of them saw that she was a lizard woman she didn’t know or care. Catching up with Fewgate was all that mattered.

“Where are the wretched police?” she asked herself. When she didn’t need them getting underfoot there would be a ‘bobby’ blowing his whistle and bringing his colleagues running, but today when she really needed a bit of brawn without much brain to worry about there wasn’t a blue uniform in sight.

At the wide part where Commercial Street crossed the High Street and became Great Eastern Street, there was a horse trough and cab rank. One hansom stood ready with a driver. The other had a horse in the traces but no driver in sight. Lights inside the cabmans shelter nearby suggested his likely location.

Fewgate leapt into the waiting hansom. Vastra groaned in despair until she spotted a man coming from the shelter to put his own cab back into service. Vastra immediately swung herself up into the seat and gave the driver a surprising instruction.

“Follow that cab.”

The driver hesitated. The vehicle that had set off ahead was going at a cracking pace. Madam reached up to him with a gold sovereign.

“There’s another when we catch up with him,” she said. The driver pocketed the coin and cracked the whip. The horse broke into a fast trot.

As the chase continued along the High Street and into Bishopsgate, Vastra wondered if there was actually some sort of conspiracy to keep the police off the streets. She was sure there ought to be at least one either directing traffic at the junction just past the church of Saint Botolph without Bishopsgate. It was a busy intersection of two wide roads and needed police attention.

At Threadneedle street, where the imposing headquarters of the National Provincial Bank rose above all the other business premises she saw the hansom in front slow down briefly, but it did so only long enough for Fewgate to throw the cabbie off his seat and then whip the poor horse into a gallop. She heard her own cabbie swear and he started to slow down to rescue his colleague.

“No!” she ordered him. “Catching that miscreant is my priority. Besides, it is quite all right. Others are attending to your friend.”

That was true. Several people, including a constable, finally, had run to attend to the cabbie. As her driver turned into Threadneedle Street she saw the stricken man begin to sit up, rubbing his head painfully. He was alive, small mercies.

But now Fewgate was pushing the horse far more than any cabbie would ever push the horse who gave them his livelihood. Vastra knew she couldn’t ask her driver to do the same. She would think twice about that even if she was in her own carriage with Strax at the reins.

And there was something else that disturbed her about this journey.

It seemed to be taking her home. Threadneedle Street, apart from being the home of the Bank of England, the financial centre of the British Empire, led to Cheapside, which in turn ended at St. Paul’s Cathedral, within sight of Paternoster Row. Was that a coincidence? Was Fewgate bolting blindly, or was he deliberately going where the people she cared for might be put in danger?

How could Fewgate know that she lived in a street that led directly to the Cathedral, named for the prayers the clergy said as they walked to their services? It had to be coincidence.

But it was a coincidence that gave her no comfort. There was nobody at home who could help turn the tables. Strax and Jenny were both out of the house tonight. So were the pair of urchins who served as kitchen staff, small use they would be.

“Madam!” the Cabbie called out urgently. Just by the Cathedral Gardens the stolen Hanson had overturned. The horse was struggling in the tangled traces. Fewgate had jumped clear and was running again.

“Yes, go and help that poor beast,” Vastra said. She gave her driver another sovereign as promised and jumped clear of the cab even before it had completely stopped. The chase was on again.

The Very Reverend Gregory was very lengthy. He was just getting into his stride as he talked about the condition of London’s poor and how the humble birth of Jesus was a reminder to be kind to the less fortunate. Jenny again let her thoughts wander as she looked up into the dark shape of the dome.

Somebody WAS up there. Even with her night vision spoiled by the chandeliers she knew that a dark clad figure had just run halfway around the Whispering Gallery.

She stood up, surprising Millie and Joe as well as the other worshippers beside her. She swooned dramatically. A gentleman reached out to steady her.

“Come along, my dear, you need some fresh air,” he said, leading her out of the pew and towards a side door by the south transept.

The very door she needed. The steps up to the gallery were right there.

“I’m all right now, thank you,” she said to the concerned gentleman.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Quite sure. In fact, I think I might just run up this long winding staircase for the fun of it.”

She had mounted the steps before he had time to take in her words. In the dark she was already out of his sight by the time she had turned two or three times. She ignored his shout of consternation.

Running around winding stairs in the dark took the sort of stamina women were not supposed to have in Victoria’s England. If she had been wearing the ordinary sort of corsets her peers wore she would have had no chance. As it was, Madam had long ago given her some garments that came from another time and place and which gave her the shape she desired without the inability to breathe in. Jenny suspected that The Doctor was involved in the provision of the garments, though she doubted he had bought them personally. Perhaps somebody like Professor Song did the actual shopping.

Whoever it was, she was grateful as she breathed in enough air to keep her climbing the two hundred and fifty-seven steps to the Whispering Gallery.

She could still hear the Very Reverend Gregory preaching to his captive audience as she climbed. The walls were thick, but the acoustics inside the Cathedral were phenomenal.

When she reached the Whispering Gallery she paused just a moment to draw a deeper breath. The sermon was clearly audible here. So was the sound of a door opening and closing on the opposite side of the gallery. She just saw the movement in the gloom as she gave chase.

Fewgate must have visited Saint Paul’s before. Vastra realised that as she ran through the Cathedral gardens. Only somebody who knew the architecture well would have known about the little door into the thick wall of the South Transept.

The door led into a small, rough stairway that was lower than the main floor of the cathedral, but it soon gave way to the better spiral stairway of dressed steps and a handrail for safety. Vastra ignored the rail and ran quickly and sure-footed but Fewgate was still ahead of her. He reached the Whispering Gallery before she did.

The Cathedral was full of people. Vastra looked down upon the congregation as the Reverend’s sermon continued unabated. She knew that Jenny had been planning to go to the service. She was down there somewhere amongst the crowd.

Fewgate was a danger to everyone down there, as he was a danger to any human being. She put aside her personal feelings as she ran around the gallery after the murderous alien fugitive.

Jenny reached the other door from the Whispering gallery in time to hear footsteps running up the next set of winding stairs. These were plain stone and she knew exactly where they led.

She also knew it was three hundred and seventy-six steps. They felt steeper than the first lot, though that might just have been a matter of perspective. They were dark and, as agile as she was, having been trained in martial arts by Madam, she worried about missing a step and falling.

But she kept going until she could smell and feel fresh air up ahead. She could see a doorway beyond which the darkness was a little less dark.

She shivered as she stepped out onto the stone gallery that ran around the base of the Dome of Saint Paul’s on the outside.

From the ground, if anyone noticed the gallery at all, it looked like a narrow ornamental detail.

In fact, the top of the stone balustrade was at least a foot and a half above Jenny’s head and she could have fitted between the carved pilasters if jumping off had taken her fancy. The walkway was wide enough to drive a hansom cab around – if the horse and cab could get up the steps.

And the running footsteps were retreating from her.

Well, she knew one thing. There was nowhere to go except back around to here. There was no other door.

There was no point in this chase. She had time to get her breath back. She had time to look through the balustrade and see how beautiful London was from this height, looking high across the nave and between the two towers at the great west entrance to the Cathedral.

Even taking a moment to admire the view she was ready when the footsteps began to get louder again. She stood her ground, barring the way to the door. There were more steps, another five hundred and twenty eight of them, up to the Golden Gallery. She was not going to let the troublemaker get away up there.

Vastra was gaining on Fewgate as he ran around the wide outside gallery of Saint Paul’s Cathedral dome. The floor was slippery with half melted snow and several times she had seen him falter. She wondered if he was starting to lose hold of his human body. He had been using a shimmer cloak to disguise his peculiar Exorion body for months, but now he was under extreme duress. He could easily revert, and if he did that, he was finished.

As she neared a whole circuit of the stone gallery Vastra saw another figure standing in the way. Fewgate saw her, too. He tried to dodge past her, but Vastra was right. He was starting to lose cohesion. His feet had turned into stubs of something like flexible glass. He slithered to an ungainly halt in front of Jenny and stood there, literally rooted to the spot.

“What…..” Jenny looked down at the alien murderer’s feet in astonishment. The glass-like feet were solidifying, frozen to the sleet-covered floor of the stone gallery. Her eyes moved slowly up as Fewgate’s legs turned to transparent but solid material inch by inch. His trunk, arms, neck quickly followed. He managed one hollow scream before his head turned to glass.

“What…” Jenny repeated.

“He’s an Exorion,” Vastra explained. “Their bodies are ninety percent silicon and they are far more susceptible to extreme cold than my own race. He was all right as long as he kept moving. He could have run around here all night, but when you made him stop his body started to seize up.”

“I… see….” Jenny was still not certain what was happening. She stared at the literally frozen figure in front of her in bewilderment that turned into horror as Vastra tapped Orin Fewgate sharply on his frozen shoulder. There was a cold cracking noise and the transparent body crazed all over before shattering into thousands of tiny fragments that scattered across the ground.

“Well, that’s one less murderer in the East End of London,” Vastra said in a calm, cool tone as her feet crunched on the scattered pieces of what had been Orin Fewgate. She embraced Jenny and they shared a brief kiss. “Come, my dear. It is far too cold out here for either of our species’.”

Jenny was happy to get inside. She walked behind Vastra because the stairs were too narrow for walking hand in hand. They came down, more leisurely than either had gone up the stairs, to the doorway that led into the Whispering Gallery. As they did so the congregation below were standing to sing another Christmas Carol at the end of the Dean’s long sermon. Jenny stopped to listen. Vastra looked at her impatiently, but then her face softened. She came to stand beside Jenny, her arm around her waist. They stood together and watched the rest of the carol service carrying on below.

As the last carol was sung and the Dean and clergy led the procession back up the aisle, they continued down the spiral stairway to the ground floor. They were waiting in the Cathedral garden when Millie and Joe came out with the rest of the congregation.

“This Christmas nonsense is a nuisance,” Vastra said in a severe tone. “My staff away, the house dark. It really won’t do.”

Millie looked worried. Then her unusual mistress laughed. “It’s all right. Let’s all go home. Quickly, before it gets any colder. Joe is going to need a jug of hot cocoa to thaw him out as it is, and I know I could use a large brandy.”

That was Vastra’s way of telling the staff they could take it easy in the kitchen. Jenny thought she would prefer cocoa, too. But she was married to the lady of the house. Brandy in the drawing room was what she did, now.

“Merry Christmas,” she whispered to her lover, even though she was unlikely to say it back.