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

Jenny Flint walked along Cheapside in the pouring rain. A large umbrella kept the worst of the wet off her, but it was still a miserable walk.

It was late afternoon of January 1st. The first day of 1896, and it was so depressingly grey and dull not only in the rained out colours of the London street, but somewhere deeper than that, in her very soul.

Jenny actually felt weary and depressed about the coming year. It had been a joyful Christmas, a busy one for an extended household. Young Millie's policeman boyfriend had been a guest for the holiday, and many other friends had visited, including The Doctor and her travelling companions. Christmas and the New Year's Eve had been filled with music and laughter, fun and celebration.

But now it was the start of the new year, a drab, miserable year. True, there was talk of another trip to France later in the summer, but that was so vague and distant.

There was nothing to look forward to at all.

Except the meeting she was going to, now, of course. The one downside of the festivities at Paternoster Row was that she had missed three of the meetings.

She only hoped she hadn’t fallen too far behind. Though, of course, others might have taken time off for family obligations, as well.

Obligations that kept each and every one of them from the place where they were happy and fulfilled.

Madame Vastra sat by the window in her drawing room sipping a tea that was sold by the quarter ounce, weighed on silver scales, seperate from the ordinary blends from India and the Orient that most of the tea vendor’s customers were satisfied with.

It was a unique taste, appreciated by the true tea connoisseur. Usually nothing gave Madame more pleasure than a pot of the special blend in a quiet time of the day when none of the humans or other creatures of the household would disturb her.

But today she was not at peace within herself and the special taste was flat.

There was a peculiarly timorous knock at the drawing room door – peculiar because it was Strax who opened the door to her invitation, and timorous was not a word that usually described him.

“Well?” she asked as the hulking grey faced Sontaran servant stood before her.

“She didn’t go far... only to the corner of Cheapside and Bread street. She entered a side door that led to the upper floor. There was a sign next to the door...”

“Was?” Madame queried, knowing that tenses weren’t Strax's strongest point, but sensing something more to that word in this instance.

And she was right. Strax produced two halves of a sign painted on thin wood and attached to a brick wall with masonry nails. One of the nails was still attached to one half. The other and a chunk of the sign must have been left behind.

Most people would have simply read the sign. But there were words on it that would have puzzled somebody like Strax.

For all that she had improved herself under Madame’s influence, there were some words Jenny probably didn’t fully comprehend.

“Sorority of Brumal Theosophists.”

Strax tended to look blank about anything not related to military tactics, but it was possible that trying to understand any word other than ‘of' on that sign actually left him a little less intelligent than before.

Sorority was no trouble to Madame. Her own all female battalion of hive warriors was often referred to as a Sorista, the equivalent word in her own language for a ‘sisterhood’ or ‘sorority’. Indeed, as most of them were bred from the same mother, the word was more true for them than the groups of female humans who applied the term to themselves.

Madame dismissed the pang of grief for her dead sisters and the dead society they had all served. Even their language was gone except in rare moments like this when she recalled it.

But there were more immediate concerns.

Theosophy was a wholly human concept. It was something of an umbrella term covering any number of ways humans believed they could reach an understanding of their god or gods through ‘spiritual’ exercises such as meditation either individually or in a group.

A group of women practicing meditation wasn’t especially sinister. It wasn’t even unusual. Those sort of ‘self-awareness’ groups were common in this Victorian England. So much so that the established churches were starting to worry if they might lose their own influence over their congregations to this new found spiritualism.

The really puzzling word, even for Madame was ‘Brumal'. That is to say that she understood it was a Latin derived word for anything pertaining to the winter season, and that the founders of this society were just being obtuse by selecting such an obscure word instead of just using ‘winter'.

But what really puzzled her was why Jenny should be interested in a group of women who wished to achieve a closer understanding of winter gods.

Jenny hated winter as one who was raised in a home where winter meant being cold all the time would hate it. In other words, as much as Madame, a cold-blooded reptilian raised in a blissfully tropical climate hated it.

And nor was she especially religious. Like most English people Jenny had a Christian background. She went to services at St Paul’s, though not regularly, just at special times like Christmas. She was aware that the Christian teachings frowned upon relationships such as theirs, even between two humans, let alone interspecies. Now and again, that worried Jenny just a little. She didn’t want to reject her religious beliefs, but nor did she even contemplate giving up her love for Madame.

It was possible that this oddly named society offered a philosophy that could reconcile those concerns for Jenny, but Madame was not at all sure that was likely.

She was worried.

Admittedly less worried than when she first noticed the pattern of Jenny’s long absences from home. She had been concerned that her lover was being lured away by another woman - or man!

But if it wasn’t that, if Jenny had just found an interesting diversion on two or three afternoons a week, why had she kept it a secret?

That was what now concerned her. Why was Jenny hiding her activities from her. After all, it wasn’t something embarrassing like Strax's ballroom dancing.

That reminded her that Strax was still standing there, his huge feet supporting his short but heavy body were actually leaving imprints in the Turkish rug.

“You did well,” she told him genuinely. Covert surveillance was not something Strax was either built for or mentally attuned to, but he had managed it all the same. “You can go back to your kitchen duties, now.”

Strax nodded and turned away. Madame sipped her tea and looked out at the darkening street, with the freezing fog starting to obscure all but the dome of St Paul’s in a way many artists seemed to find romantic.

Though the room was warm with a good fire blazing in the hearth, she shivered involuntarily.

Something more than just the hateful cold of a London winter chilled her.

Jenny returned home before supper time. She said very little about her activities, but what she did say – that she was ‘out walking’ - was a terribly obvious lie. Nobody, least of all Jenny, went out walking in London in the dark and the rain. Quite apart from the risk to health, even for somebody with warm rooms to return to, it was not a safe place for a young woman to walk alone. Granted, the would-be ripper who stalked Jenny Flint would soon regret it, but even so, ‘walking' was no activity for this time of year.

Madame said nothing. Sooner or later she would have to confront Jenny. She would have to challenge the many lies and excuses. She would have to tell Jenny that she knew about the Sorority of Brumal Theosophists.

That was where it would get awkward. That was where she would have to admit that she had mistrusted Jenny and had her followed.

Mistrust between lovers was a terrible thing.

Madame let it go for now. She did her best to make the supper a pleasant one. The fact that their conversation was completely one-sided was obvious only to her.

“You don’t look well,” Madame said. “It is never easy to tell with apes, but all the same you look very pale, my dear. Are you cold?”

“No,” Jenny answered. “In fact, this room is too warm and stuffy.”

That was the longest sentence Jenny had managed. Madame decided to call it progress.

When Jenny went to bed early Madame thought it was a good idea. Perhaps a full night’s rest would help.

When she came to her own room just after midnight, Madame noticed that the connecting door was closed. That was unusual in itself. Like many married couples they maintained two bedrooms, but in practice usually only used one bed.

But tonight Madame was shut out of Jenny’s room.

She opened the door and looked in. She was struck by how cold the room was with the fire out and the window wide open.

And yet Jenny was sleeping on top of her blankets in nothing but a cotton shift.

Madame was puzzled and worried. She closed the window and tried to draw a cover over Jenny, but even in her sleep she shrugged it off.

“I'll get to the bottom of this,” Madame decided before retuning to her own much warmer room.

In the morning things seemed a little more normal. Jenny took charge of the weekly laundry, preparing the hamper of used linen to exchange for the fresh, clean one that was delivered. Jenny always took charge of these proceedings. The little booklet where each item going and coming was listed and the prices for special items was kept up to date in her neat handwriting. Millie, who had learnt about laundry lists in her summer course, was anxious to be allowed to take charge of the book, but for now it was Jenny’s preserve.

Millie helped, of course, bringing her own tally for kitchen laundry to the final list.

Millie noticed that something wasn’t quite right about her employer. She watched her carefully for a while, then sought out the lady of the house in her drawing room.

Not so long ago Millie would never have dared talk to Madame about anything at all. Even laundry lists and vegetable deliveries went to Miss Jenny rather than the elegant but distant and unapproachable Vastra.

But Millie had cone back from Brighton a whole new girl and her confidence in herself was greater than it had ever been.

Even so, as she stood there in the drawing room her courage almost failed her.

“Please, ma'am, forgive the im... the impropriety....” Millie was proud to have used a word like ‘impropriety’ in the correct context, and with only one stumble. “Ma’am, there’s something not right about Miss Jenny. I think she needs help. “

“I think so, too,” Madame answered in a worried tone. “But what is it that gave you cause for concern?”

“Her footsteps, ma’am,” Millie answered. “You should look at her footsteps.”

Millie couldn’t explain any better than that, but Madame seemed grateful for the cryptic clue, even if she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

They both heard Jenny pass along the hallway towards the front door. Madame quietly and slowly went to the drawing room door and looked at Jenny as she put her coat and hat on.

“Ma’am!” Millie pointed to the carpet. Madame looked and drew a sharp breath.

Jenny’s footprints had been left on the carpet in slowly melting ice crystals.

“I've been mopping up wet prints in the kitchen all morning and scolding Joe for it. But it wasn’t him....”

“Help me with her,” Madame said. She approached Jenny cautiously and got between her and the front door. Jenny seemed to be in a trance as she reached out for the door latch and touched Madame’s shoulder instead.

Vastra gasped in shock as she felt Jenny's touch like ice even through her clothes.

“No!” she warned as Millie approached. “No, don’t touch her. The shock might kill you. Run ahead up to the bathroom and draw a hot bath. Then find every towel and spare blanket we have. Tell Strax to stoke the fires... Every fire we have. I need the house as warm as possible. “

Millie hurried to do her mistress's bidding, pausing only to pass the message to Strax.

Madame carefully turned Jenny around and pushed her gently so that she walked back towards the stairs. She still seemed oblivious to her situation, but put one foot in front of the other without thinking.

Millie was already drawing the bath. The room was warm with hot steam. On Madame’s instructions she put a little cold into the tub as well. Quite apart from the risk of scalding Madame was a little worried about the shock of such immediate temperature change.

She gently undressed Jenny down to her foundations, noting that her skin was marble white and uncomfortably icy to the touch. Madame’s instinct as a cold-blooded species who needed external heat to survive was to recoil from this deadly cold, but it was Jenny, after all, and she loved her. She would endure more than a little discomfort for her.

Her superior strength came into use now as she lifted Jenny off her feet and lowered her into the hot water. There was a disconcerting hiss as her cold body made contact with the hot water, which almost immediately turned lukewarm. Vastra reached for the hot tap to replenish the heat.

“Run and tell Joe to take over the fire lighting,” she said to Millie. “I need Strax to stoke the boiler and keep the hot water going. If we don’t have enough hot water we could lose her.”

Millie hurried to do her bidding and hurried back afterwards to help. Neither Strax nor Joe could be of service here. It was work for women.

“There was a boy in our street who had a fever one winter,” Millie said as she let out the tepid bathwater and replenished it from the tap. Madame, her sleeves rolled up on a fine silk dress was holding Jenny’s head up out of the water. “They put the bath tub in the yard and filled it with snow and put him in it. This is sort of the same but backwards?”

“Yes, exactly so,” Madame answered, grateful that the young maid had a little more intelligence than most domestic staff.

“Is it something alien, then?” the girl asked. “Because fevers are one thing. And I've seen beggars freeze to death in the cold. But none of them walked about leaving icy footprints.”

“Maybe not alien,” Madame answered. “But not natural to your species. I can only hope....”

She lifted Jenny out of the bath onto a blanket laid on the floor and rubbed her vigorously with towels while Millie emptied the bath and filled it again. The water was piping hot through the tap. Strax was doing his work as diligently as ever.

“We have no hot taps at home,” Millie observed. “Nor a bath like this. It would have to be water boiled in the copper and poured into the tin bath.”

“We are fortunate in that respect,” Madame admitted. She thought briefly of the natural hot springs where she had bathed as a young girl. Another memory resurfacing lately that didn’t hurt as much as she thought it would.

Losing Jenny would hurt more.

Her body still felt cold after being thoroughly rubbed and massaged, but perhaps not so icy as before. Madame lifted her back into the hot bath again. The hiss wasn’t as intense and it took longer for the water to cool.

It WAS working. But there was a way to go, yet.

It took three more times dipping Jenny into hot water and then rubbing her dry before Madame was satisfied that this part of the cure had gone as far as it could. Now she carried Jenny into her bedroom and laid her between blankets already warmed with a bedpan.

“That may not be enough,” Madame said. She thought about many cold nights when Jenny's warm body beside her had been a comfort.

But she couldn’t return that favour. Her cold blood was no use to Jenny.

“Millie....” she said, choosing her words carefully. “I need you to do something now that may not be understood outside this house.”

Millie looked at her mistress curiously.

“I need you to get into the bed beside Jenny. Get as close as possible to her and keep her warm.”

It was a bizzare thing to ask a domestic servant to do. There were almost certainly societies dedicated to protecting the health and welfare of girls like Millie who would raise a howl of protest.

But it was an emergency.

Millie nodded.

“It’s just like me and my sisters and my cousin, Jane, all in the bed together in winter.”

Madame was relieved. There was a working class understanding of what was needed. Millie undressed to her cotton underclothes and slipped into the bed.

“Getting into a warm bed in the afternoon was never mentioned on my housekeeping course,” she said with a little giggle at the idea.

“Nevertheless, it is a great service to me and to Jenny. Thank you, my dear Millie.”

Madame left the two young women together in the bed. They were both safe there. She went down to the kitchen where Joe was doing his chores quietly and diligently.

“If Miss Jenny or Miss Millicent need anything at all, see to it as quickly as possible,” she told him. Joe was so surprised at hearing Millie referred to as ‘Miss Millicent’ that he forgot to wonder where she was and what she might be doing.

Next, Madame summoned Strax. She would need the carriage, of course. But she had another requirement that mightily pleased the Sontaran Warrior.

It took only a few minutes to reach the corner of Cheapside and Bread Street. The entrance with the missing sign was unlocked and there was a light on the upper landing.

Strax took the lead up the stairs. At the landing he stood squarely in front of the frosted glass door with another sign advertising the mysterious sorority fixed to it.

“Go ahead,” Madame told him. She wasn’t interested in being either covert or subtle, this time.

And Strax was neither as he shoulder-barged the door, turning the frosted glass to fragments and the wooden frame to matchwood.

Madame stepped over the debris and looked at the assembly of women inside the wide room. She was only slightly surprised that none of them looked around at their less than subtle entrance. She had already seen the kind of trance that Jenny had been under, even at home. These dozen women, standing in a half circle, hands raised in praise of the Brumal gods – or whatever – were much further gone than that.

Madame looked past them at what she immediately recognised as an interstitial portal. The whole wall of the room was shimmering white and blue and the sense of something infinitely deep beyond the threshold was palpable.

The women were chanting in a trancelike monotony. The words were not any human language. Madame could make out a single word from the gibberish.

“Bearroa!” It was similar to the Gaelic ‘Beira' and the Greek ‘Boreas', both of which were deities of winter believed in by primitive humans.

But the being that was slowly resolving at the portal was no such thing. It looked like a woman, but with icicles for hair and skin that glittered with a film of ice crystals. Her long gown was a sheet of ice, and the fingers of her hands when she raised them were – for want of another word – ice.

But she was no goddess. Madame was sure of that. Goddesses didn’t lure women into their presence in order to draw off the warmth of their mammalian bodies and replace it with a cold that no human should have been able to live with.

Which was what she was doing. Those long fingers pointed and a blue-white energy reached out to each of the women in turn. Their already pale faces turned wintery as a film of frost covered them. If something supernatural wasn’t happening it seemed scarcely possible that the women were still alive. Humans couldn’t get that cold without dangerous consequences.

‘My acolytes,” the ‘ice goddess’ said in a voice that crackled like ice falling from the eaves in a thaw. “Soon your blood will be as cold as mine. Then you will cross over to my frozen world and do my bidding.”

The women murmured in reply, something in praise of this frozen demon. It was an automatic response. They could not have known what they were saying.

“Strax... You know what to do,” Madame said. “Try not to enjoy it too much.”

A Sontaran grin is a startling sight, though not quite as startling as a Sontaran grinning as he powers up a weapon from light years away from Earth. It was, loosely speaking, a fire cannon, shooting a stream of white hot flame directly at the ‘goddess’.

She shrieked in horror, dreadful horror. Being burnt is a nasty thing for any species, but one made of living ice must suffer terribly.

Which is why Madame didn’t want Strax to enjoy getting to use one of his array of alien weapons just this once.

And it was why she told him to cease firing before it actually killed the creature from another dimension.

Madame stepped towards her aa she cried frozen tears.

“Release these humans from your thrall and begone from this world of warm-blooded creatures,” Madame said with the authority of one who was older than any mammal on this planet.

The goddess looked at Madame for a long moment. At first it seemed as if she would resist, but Strax moved forward with his fire-bearing weapon in hand.

“l surrender,” she answered. “What chance have I in a world where heat and fire are summoned at will?”

“None at all,” Madame answered coldly. “So do as I say. Release these humans from your thrall.”

The goddess stood and extended her arm. She sent her rays out to the women, but this time it was obvious that the process was being reversed. Slowly the women began to look less pale and frozen. After a short time they moved voluntarily, gasping for air that was warmer than that which was in their lungs.

“Now, go back where you came from and don’t ever try to come to this world again. You know what to expect if you do.”

Strax fired up his weapon momentarily in demonstration. The ‘goddess' stepped back into the portal and diminished rapidly. Madame nodded to Strax and he turned the heat ray full on. He aimed it at the centre of the portal and kept it there until the glow of a portal into other dimensions became the glow of a wall that was becoming rapidly charred.

“Enough now,” Madame said. “Tempting as it might be, we should not set the building alight.”

She turned to the group of young women, all of whom were confused about where they were and how they got there. Madame noted that they were mostly of the same background as Jenny, girls in service or shop workers.

Girls who might be lured by the promise of improving their station in life.

Then why did Jenny get lured in? She wasn’t discontent with her station in life.

At least she had never said so.

Madame had many disturbing thoughts, but she pushed them away for now.

The girls were all cold, shivering and worried. They were her immediate priority.

She ushered them all out of the dreadful room and down the stairs. A few doors up was an ABC restaurant. Tea and crumpets in a warm room very much helped their recovery before Strax was despatched to take them all home in the carriage.

Madame walked home to Paternoster Row, thinking deep and worrying thoughts about her relationship with Jenny. Was that really why she had strayed to this deadly place – because their relationship was somehow stale and unsatisfying to her?

Was she tired of the not exactly equal nature of their partnership? Vastra reflected on the too many times she had exerted her superiority over humans within Jenny’s hearing. Then there were the times when Jenny had acted as a maid in order to disguise their marital arrangement from visitors who would be shocked by it. And the times she had expected her to act that role even when they were alone.

Jenny might even be wondering if her life was as secure as it ought to be. The real maids and housekeepers of her acquaintance all had wages to spend or save as they chose. Jenny didn’t have any such income. She was free to draw money from the household account when she needed anything, but that wasn’t her money.

Nor was Paternoster Row her home in any legal sense. Should anything happen to her, Jenny had no right to stay in the house. The legal system of this time didn’t recognise their marriage. She would be left homeless and penniless.

Yes, there were many things that had to be made right...

Providing that Jenny was recovered from her experience, of course. At the back of all those thoughts was the aching fear that Jenny would not be well. She hadn’t been released by the ice goddess. Was their home remedy good enough?

As she entered Paternoster Row her footsteps slowed almost as if she dreaded to reach her own front door. Then she looked up and noted that the lights were on in the master bedroom.

She started to run. The lights could mean that all was well or that Jenny had taken a turn for the worse.

In which case, as capable as Millie was proving to be lately, and with Joe as the only other person in the house....

Her pulse raced as she opened the front door and rushed upstairs.

She burst into the bedroom then stopped dead. For a moment she barely took in what she was seeing.

Millie was redressed in her pinafore, sitting in the big wicker chair by the fire. She was drinking tea.

In the bed, Jenny was sitting up, also drinking tea. Her hair was a little awry but her skin was a natural colour and she managed a surprisingly bright smile as Madame reached to kiss her.

“I’m not quite sure about anything,” Jenny admitted as Millie quietly left the mistresses alone in their bedroom. “I woke a little while ago feeling warm and comfortable for... It seemed like the first time in ages. I felt as if I had been so very cold.”

“It is winter,” Madame pointed out. “Cold is an execrable part of life at this time of year.”

“I know. But... That's what’s so odd. The one thing that feels clear in my mind... Just a few weeks ago... Before Christmas... It was raining so miserably and I was thinking about Menton and the orange trees and I suppose I was moping a bit. Then I felt... an urge... a compulsion... Is that the right word?”

“Yes, it is.” Vastra smiled. Yes, that was it. That was how the creature had pulled in Jenny. She had been dissatisfied with London rain, that was all. Everything else was all right. Just the weather.

Though those other things needed talking about, sometime soon.

In the meantime....

“Its all over now, nothing to worry about. You stay warm in bed for now. It’s all quite all right.”

“Yes,” Jenny agreed. “Yes, it is just fine, now.”

She laid her head down on the pillow and closed her eyes. She was warm and comfortable and even her lover's slightly cold lips on hers didn’t affect her feeling of absolute contentment.

Madame left her in peace. There were things to be done. She needed to find a way to properly thank Millie for all her help. Then she needed to think about things she had never thought about before, things like a Will, like a joint bank account, like joint ownership of this house. It was time for their marriage to be truly an equal partnership.

That was certainly a New Years Resolution to keep.