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

Jenny Flint sighed as she concluded that the only person in England having a worse time than her was poor Oscar Wilde who had just been sent to jail for the crime that dare not speak its name.

Any moment now, barring something sudden and daring happening quite soon, she was going to be sharing Oscar’s fate. She grasped a leather handle to keep upright on the bench as the police van hurtled around a corner. How long until they reached Scotland Yard? What would happen then? Was there any possibility that Madame would be able to get her out of this predicament?

Considering SHE got her into the predicament in the first place.

The evening had started well. Dressed in a silk-satin dress and fashionable wide-brimmed hat comparable to any minor aristocrat’s apparel, Jenny had accompanied Madame to dinner at the Mansion House, the two of them seated next to the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Walter Henry Wilkin, VD, JP, DL and his wife, Lady Margot. It was a higher position at table than the previous year’s Lord Mayor and the High Sherrif with their respective wives, though Lord Wilkin might have found it difficult to say why he thought Madame Vastra and her ‘companion’ deserved such favour. It was just something he and his wife FELT was correct.

Much of the gossip over the dining table had been about Oscar Wilde’s fate, and all of it had been unkind about ‘his sort’. Both Jenny and Madame, adopting the feminine fallback of saying nothing until the topic swung back to something less contentious wondered if the gentlemen around the table realised that they were dining with the female versions of Oscar’s ‘sort’.

What ‘sort’ did they think either of them were, anyway? A lizard lady from the dawn of time, as Madame called herself when she knew nobody was paying attention, and a one-time slum girl with some interesting house-breaking skills,, then housemaid, then Madame’s lover. Did it puzzle them, was there some pheromone Madame exuded that fogged up that part of their imaginations, or did they, like most upper-class men, simply ignore that for which they had no framework of understanding.

Lady Margot dropped a bar over that line of discussion by mentioning that she had long been involved in several charities that brought comfort to unfortunates in Her Majesty’s prisons and would see that Mr Wilde was allowed some such relief from his trouble. She also reminded them all to think kindly of Mrs Wilde and the children. Constance could no longer be invited to occasions such as tonight’s dinner, but she would surely appreciate a kind note from old friends.

Madame had vowed quietly to have a note, a fruit basket, and any other possible comforts sent to Constance Wilde as soon as possible.

If she got out of this situation, Jenny thought as the prison van rattled onwards, she vowed to make it a repeat order.

After dinner, as per custom, the ladies withdrew, leaving the men to brandy and cigars, to talk politics and deplore the apparent rise in men of the Oscar Wilde persuasion, despite such stringent laws against that kind of behaviour.

“Ladies,” Lady Margot said brightly as the dining room doors were closed behind them. “Would any of you like to see the Lord Mayor’s regalia? We keep it in the strong room. It’s not quite the crown jewels…” Margot chuckled self-deprecatingly. “But they are quite fine pieces.”

It was a change from sipping sherry and talking about hats in the drawing room, and though the keys to the strong room were among those on the silver chatelaine Lady Margot wore at her waist, and therefore part of her domestic domain, there was a slight naughty sensation of doing something behind his Lordship’s back.

The strong room was aptly named. The window was shuttered with modern steel panels and the two locks on the only door the very latest Chubb devices as recommended by the Bank of England itself.

The regalia deserved such security. The gold chain of office, heavy with symbolic importance as well as its precious metal, was lifted from its silk lined case inside a drawer opened by two silver keys. It was held briefly by each of the ladies in turn, though Madame was the only one with the audacity to try it on. Lady Margot gave a very slight gasp then resumed her calm and collected hostess expression.

“London will never have a Lord Mayor who is a lady,” said Lady Mary Renals, wife of Sir Joseph Renals, who had been Lord Mayor last year and was still wondering why Madame and her companion had been seated higher up the dinner table.

“Well, no,” giggled the Honourable Alice Hawter, daughter of Lord Hawter, who despite completing her debutante year was yet to be betrothed and had a sense of humour that worried her mother and father a little. “After all, we couldn’t call a Lady Lord Mayor’s husband Lord Lady Mayoress, could we?”

There was a very slight smattering of rather embarrassed laughter. Jenny didn’t join in. She couldn't help thinking that she could happily accept being Lady Mayoress if Madame accepted the Lord Mayorship.

But, as Lady Mary Renals had pointed out, a lady as Lord Mayor was quite unlikely.

There was a very fine gilded sword, worn only on ceremonial occasions – the most important being the crowning of a new monarch, so that had been a while ago, to say the least.

“And may it be some time yet to come before it is again worn on such an occasion,” Lady Hawter, mother of the Honourable Alice said emphatically - because anything else was as unthinkable as a Lady Lord Mayor to Victorian society ladies.

Then Lady Margot opened another drawer to reveal the crowning glory of the Lord Mayor’s regalia.

“I’ve read all about this so I can get it right,” she said as she displayed a slender mace known as the Crystal Sceptre. It glittered in myriad colours on a bed of blue silk, and she warned all her friends that it must not be lifted from its box.

She took a breath before reciting the sceptre’s history.

“It was probably made in Paris around 1410 and was presented to the City of London between 1415 and 1421 as a reward for the City gifting Henry V with money to fight the battles that ended in his victory at Agincourt. It was depicted being held by the Lord Mayor of London in a painting of the coronation of Queen Catherine of Valois in February 1421. It is a rare object of medieval gold to have survived to our modern age. It was hidden during the Commonwealth and kept safe by the Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Bloodworth during the Great Fire of London in 1666.”

All that was impressive enough to give the sceptre a second round of admiring looks, even from ladies for whom the history of battles had not been encouraged in their genteel education.

“The sceptre is a rock crystal shaft incised with helical grooves, in two parts, mounted with gold and pearls. At the top is a gold crown with alternating fleur-de-lys and cross embellishments, mounted with jewels including Afghan red spinel, Ceylon blue sapphires, and pearls from the Persian Gulf. Within the circlet of the crown is a painting on parchment of the Royal Arms of England adopted in 1406, quartering three fleurs-de-lys for France with three lions for England.”

Gold, sapphires and pearls, if not the semi-precious spinel, were much more understandable to ladies who owned at least some of those precious materials themselves, but the antiquity and history of the sceptre placed it far above their budgets.

With avaricious sighs most of the ladies turned to leave the strong room before the men noticed they were absent from the drawing room. Just before Lady Margot locked the cupboards, though, Madame Vastra turned once and stroked the sceptre with one long-fingered but scaly hand. Only Jenny noticed her action, and only she noticed the worried look on Madame’s face as she turned back away from it.

The evening dragged after the men rejoined their wives and daughters, all the more so because Jenny was sure Madame had something grave on her mind and they couldn’t talk about it until they had left the Mansion House.

At last, the party broke up. Strax was waiting with the carriage. He hastily shoved the wrappings from several large bars of chocolate into his pocket. Sontarans could metabolise chocolate, unlike most human food, and he did so with enjoyment when he was waiting for anything, though never when anyone was watching.

Paternoster Row was a little less than four miles from where the Mansion House stood on Walbrook, a street named for the covered over river whose course it followed. The journey by lamp lit streets at a little after eleven o’clock was not onerous, though Jenny failed to stifle a yawn.

“Oh, my dear, you are tired,” Madame observed. “That is troublesome. I really need you to break into the Mansion House strong room later tonight.”

Jenny forgot about yawning.

“What… I mean… why?”

How never came into question. If it had, Jenny would have pointed out several things she had observed looking around the strong room.

Madame didn’t ask. For one thing, she was perfectly confident about Jenny’s larcenous skillset. For another, the ‘why’ was a little more important just now.

“There is a malignant alien essence within the sceptre. I recognised it as soon as Lady Margot opened the door. When I brushed my hand along the shaft I was certain. It is a Sya’dha-n Animus.”

“An animal?” Jenny queried.

“No, my dear,” explained Madame gently but with just a touch of superiority. “Animus, from the ancient Greek means ‘life force’, the mere intelligence or sense of being without a physical body. Though the word ‘animal’ for that body does stem from the original word, as does animosity. In the case of the Sya’dha-n Animus, we have a life force which has a definite animosity towards any other lifeform.”

“So, it is dangerous.” A statement, not a question, from Jenny.

“Indeed, yes. It is fortunate that the sceptre is only occasionally used. If Lord Wilkern was carrying it daily, he might easily be taken over and used as an instrument of murder. His own family and then goodness knows how many more would die before he could be stopped. And then his Lordship himself would doubtless hang without fully knowing what had used him in such a way.”

Jenny thought of the perfectly nice Lady Margot unhappily.

“We’d best deal with it, then,” she decided.

“Later,” Madame Vastra said. “We must prepare.”

Jenny assumed that preparation would involve her changing into dark clothing, including practical trousers and the collecting together of ropes and grappling hooks.

But first, Madame brought Jenny to the drawing room. She told her to lie down on the comfortable chaise longue and gave her a cup of herbal tea to drink.

What herbs exactly Jenny didn’t ask. Some of them were grown in the herb garden at the back of the house. Others came from a Chinese man in Limehouse.

It was better not to speculate.

“You will sleep for one hour exactly but wake as if you had a whole night’s rest,” Madame explained. “At the same time, you will have a lucid dream about my last encounter with a Sya’dha-n Animus. It will save a lot of questions.”

Jenny was already drowsy after a few sips of the tea. Madame put a silk shawl over her and sat in an armchair recalling to herself the incident of which Jenny was now dreaming. It was some years ago, when The Doctor had picked her up in his TARDIS and brought her to London in 1780. The two of them had fought a Sya’dha-n Animus which was affecting the mind of King George III. They located the Animus hiding in a thick bolster pillow on the mad monarch’s bed. The fight to subdue it resulted in a room full of pillow feathers and an Animus trapped in a test tube which The Doctor subsequently dropped in a supernova.

“Where will we find a supernova?” Jenny asked the moment she woke.

“So much for saving questions,” Madame Vastra sighed. “The Doctor was being over cautious. An ordinary drawing room fire will do if it is kept hot enough. Are you ready?”

“Five minutes to change,” Jenny answered. “I can’t go out house-breaking in a silk gown.”

“A surprising time frame for young women of the reign of Victoria,” Madame remarked dryly as Jenny ran upstairs and Strax announced that the ropes and other burglary accoutrements were aboard the carriage.

Except he said ‘tools’ not accoutrements, and Madame had to decline his offer of thermo-ballistic weapons and made a mental note to check that he did not, in fact, have any such weapon in his room.

Madame herself prepared by putting on her long black cloak and attaching an extra-large perfume atomiser containing something green or orange depending on the facet to her own chatelaine.

Then they were out again, travelling quiet streets with few other carriages and even fewer pedestrians.

“Two small questions,” Jenny said. “Arising from the dream.” Madame nodded her acquiescence. “The Doctor… the last few times we saw her… she was a she. That time – in the dream - he was a man. And… a coloured man at that. When was that… in The Doctor’s lives, I mean.”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Madame answered. “I’m not certain that I’ve ever met him or, indeed, her, in the actual chronological order of his or her lives. He… or she… is an enigma in that regard. Your other question?”

“King George III… was it the Animus that made him mad? And did it help when you and The Doctor got rid of it?”

“Again, I’m not quite sure. The poor man did have a mania that the foul creature played upon. We made sure he wasn’t mad enough to murder his wife and family, changing the course of history rather dreadfully. The rest, I suspect owes much to the ridiculous ideas his doctors had about treating him. He would have benefitted greatly from my people’s far advanced medicine.”

Jenny thought that answered both her questions. She noted that Madame didn’t ask her anything about how she planned to break into the Mansion House. She trusted her to have a plan.

Strax reined in the horses in a shadowy spot near the east wing of the Lord Mayor’s grand residence. Jenny and Madame alighted, bringing the ropes and grapples with them.

Not that Jenny planned to scale the high outer walls of the elegant Palladian building. She found a side door that was relatively easy to open using her lockpicks. It brought the pair into a corridor near the kitchen and from there up three flights of narrow ‘back stairs’.

This brought them to the clerestory roof extension known as the Mayor’s Nest by those who thought it an eccentric part of George Dance the Elder’s otherwise elegant design.

Jenny had earlier noted that the strong room had a square hatch in the ceiling that led up to the ‘Nest’ and it took only twenty minutes or so to find the unused room above with the trapdoor in the middle of the floor.

Jenny attached the rope by the grapple to the edge and used it to lower herself down into the strong room, congratulating herself on finding that weak spot in the security so very easily. She made her way over the windowless room and turned on the electric light that would not be seen outside and then set to work on the cabinet.

Again, she made short work of the locks. She had never explained to anyone what part of her slum upbringing had made her so skilled. Madame merely took it for granted that she could unfasten any lock in Christendom.

The box that held the sceptre was perfectly easy. A child with a pin could have opened it. She lifted the treasure in gloved hands, not only because Scotland Yard had a phenomenal fingerprint department, but also to prevent the Animus from affecting her.

She closed the box and then the drawer and climbed part way up the rope again to hand the Sceptre to Madame. Before she could scramble all the way up, though, the strong room door burst open. Lord Wilkern in a dressing gown and two of his footmen still in their livery rushed in. Lord Wilkern was brandishing a gun while one footman pulled at the rope until the grapnel gave way and Jenny fell headlong into the room. Winded, and her shoulder bruised from the fall she no chance to fight and was seized upon by the footmen and held at gunpoint while the night butler was sent running to fetch a policeman.

“Where the devil did you put the sceptre, boy?” Lord Wilkern demanded after checking the cupboard and finding the box empty. He looked up and saw that the hatch had been closed. “You’ve an accomplice? Quick, Perkbeck, rouse the bootboy and get on up there.”

Jenny had two preoccupations as she waited for the police – first, how was it that, despite her hair being in a tight bun beneath a flat cap, giving her a boyish look at first glance, Lord Wilkern couldn’t recognise the woman who had sat at his own dinner table a few hours ago in a silk-satin gown. The upper classes really DIDN’T look at the lower orders.

And second, she was really hoping Madame had made her escape with the sceptre and was planning with Strax how to spring her from the law.

She was partially relieved to hear from Perkbeck and the bootboy that the accomplice had escaped by rope out of an open window. That was hardly likely. The other rope was only about fifteen feet long. It would barely reach past the covered strong room window. It was clearly a trick to send his Lordship’s men haring off outside to look for an escapee.

But her satisfaction that Madame was clear away didn’t make her own immediate situation any less grim. Two policemen quickly arrived, their boots loud on the stairs, and Lord Wilkern handed her over to them.

“Young fool won’t talk,” he said. “Been left behind to take the consequences while the rest of the gang get away with the treasure.”

“He’ll talk down Scotland Yard,” one of the policemen said. “As for the goods, no fence in London’s going to touch something as famous as the Crystal Sceptre. It’ll be recovered in no time, your Lordship. You’ll see.”

With that, Jenny was frogmarched out of the not so strong room and downstairs. Lady Margot and her maid were watching at the master bedroom door, but neither of them recognised Jenny, either.

Actually, mistress and servant both looked too dazed to recognise Queen Victoria herself, and Jenny thought she knew why. It was further proof that Madame had made a clean getaway, but no help just now to Jenny.

There was a van waiting, and she was pushed roughly into it. The door was locked and without any further ado the policemen jumped up and spurred on the horse.

She was not alone in the van. There was a woman whose clothes and cosmetics singled her out for a certain night time profession and a man dressed for the burglary trade just as she was. The woman didn’t say anything, but the man asked her if she had any smokes on her.

“No,” she answered in as masculine a tone as she could manage. She might as well keep up the disguise for a bit longer. The lady of the night gave her a quizzical look. Well, she ought to know the difference after all.

This did, at least, exhaust the conversation and they rattled along in discomforted silence. Jenny was, perhaps, the most worried of the three. Unless she was rescued soon, her real identity would be discovered and if Madame wasn’t implicated in the theft by association, she would be humiliated in the eyes of friends like Lord Wilkern and Lady Margot. It had taken her a long time to rise from a veiled recluse to somebody who held her own in respectful society. It would hurt her.

And that mattered just as much to Jenny as being tried and imprisoned herself.

Then the van came to a sudden halt. Both of her companions looked puzzled. The abruptly cut off shouts outside didn’t sound like they had arrived at Scotland Yard.

The van doors flew open. Strax held his three-fingered hand out to Jenny, who took it and leapt down onto the cobbles of a side-street.

She looked around to see the two policemen swooning against each other and Madame putting the atomiser back on the chatelaine like a wild West cowboy holstering his guns.

“Distillation of memory worm secretions,” she explained. “Same effect, less revolting. They will wake in a minute or so with no memory of having you as a prisoner.” Madame looked at the two other occupants of the van and reached for the atomiser again.

“No,” Jenny said. “Just let them disappear.” She turned to the two miscreants and nodded meaningfully. They took the hint and jumped down. In moments they had faded into the dark alleyways.

“What kept you?” Jenny asked as she sat next to Madame in their own carriage, heading back to Paternoster Row. “I thought I was going down the pokey.”

“I encountered two footmen, a butler and a bootboy, as well as Lady Margot and her maid, just getting out of the house. Then a policeman who was questioning Strax about why he was parked on Walbrook in the middle of the night. THEN I had to wait for Strax to wake up because he had got in the way of the spray. By the time I’d explained the situation to him again the van was well ahead of us.”

Jenny pursed her lips. As explanations went it was quite a long-winded one and parts of it a little unlikely.

“I was terribly worried about you, my dear,” Madame added, folding her cold hand over Jenny’s. “You mean more to me than any other ape-descendent on this planet.”

For Madame that was a declaration of undying love. Jenny forgave her tardiness.

Before they left, Madame had told Millie to stoke the drawing room fire. The young housekeeper did as she was instructed. The coal was blazing hotly when they returned, making the room uncomfortably stuffy for a warm-blooded human, or even a Sontaran, but about right for Madame.

The mistress of the house brought a glass retort from her chemistry laboratory. She laid the precious sceptre on the rug in front of the fireplace and held the retort over it while chanting something in a language Jenny could not make out. That was surprising, since having been a TARDIS traveller more than once she had acquired the gift of tongues from its benign artron radiation. This was an occult language beyond even Time Lord technology.

She didn’t disturb Madame with questions, but watched carefully as a purple-green smoke with sparkles and crackles of energy within its ephemeral existence was extruded from the sceptre and funnelled into the retort.

It took a few minutes. When it was done, Madame put a rubber bung into the aperture and threw the retort into the back of the fire. It shattered and for a few seconds the flames were green and purple with crackles of alien energy within them. Jenny half expected a dying scream, but there was only the sound of the flames drawn up the flue.

“It wasn’t as violent as the other one,” Jenny noted afterwards. “You could almost say it came quietly.”

“It hadn’t absorbed as much Human contact as the one in King George’s bed,” Madame explained. “The Sceptre is so rarely handled, or even touched. But that is that. A good night’s work. Strax, please warn young Joe to watch out for glass fragments when he makes up the fire, tomorrow morning. I would not want him hurt. Meanwhile, let us all be in our beds.”

She brought the Sceptre and locked it in the sideboard where she kept the best silverware.

“Tomorrow, I will contact Millie’s young man from Scotland Yard and tell him I found the Crystal Sceptre, abandoned in St. Paul’s Churchyard. He need say no more than that to his superiors. I am sure they will be too busy taking credit for recovering the Sceptre without any further questions.”

Jenny laughed at the Scotland Yard arrogance that Mr Conan Doyle had also noted in his Sherlock Holmes stories. But she didn’t care, much. The promise of her own comfortable bed, instead of a cold cell, was enough for now.