Luke examined the note to him from The Doctor. It was a strange one. Even more puzzling than the crossword.
“Hello, Luke, Merry Christmas. To find your present,
Luke looked at the list of numbers carefully. Clyde and Maria looked too. It meant nothing to any of them.
“Co-ordinates? Map references,” Maria suggested. “But that wouldn’t be right. The presents are all hidden within the house somewhere.”
“Is there a library in the house?” Sarah Jane wondered.
“Yes,” Clyde answered. “I saw it on the way to the kitchen, it’s the other door opposite the dining room.”
Everyone at once made a dash for the library. It was a very pleasant room, as a private library ought to be. It had lots of leather bound books on oak shelves, some with glass in front of them. there was a big oak desk with a leather chair for sitting to do some studying, and armchairs set around a low glass table for more relaxing reading. There was a lamp in the shape of a globe between the chairs as a really nice touch.
There was a book on the glass table. But nobody was interested in books, yet.
“Let me see that code again,” Sarah Jane said. Luke gave her the paper. “Oh… maybe I’m wrong. I think it is a book cipher. But there would need to be a clue to where the book is first. It could be any of these, here.”
“Maybe not,” Maria answered. She picked up the book that was left out on the table. “Maybe this isn’t here by coincidence. ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. I mean… if we’re looking for clues to a Christmas present in a book, then there’s no better choice of book.”
“Clever girl!” Sarah Jane said. Maria passed her the book. She opened it and was surprised.
“It’s one of the original copies published in 1843. He’s done it again. This book looks brand new.” She turned to the title page. “And it’s autographed. ‘To my friend, The Doctor, Charles Dickens.’”
“Ok, major name dropping,” Clyde said. “But how does it help us find Luke’s Christmas present?”
“It’s a book cipher!” Luke exclaimed as he worked out what Sarah Jane was suggesting. “It’s a special way to send messages. This is a short version. Usually there are four numbers in each sequence. This only has three.” He put his finger on the first set of numbers. “Sixteen means page sixteen. Six is the line down from the top. Twenty-one is the position of the word in the line. In really complicated and secret codes the next number would be the position of a letter in the word. But The Doctor’s not making us work quite so hard as that.”
“Clever!” Clyde said appreciatively.
“Very clever,” Maria agred. “So…page sixteen….”
Sarah Jane turned the pages. The youngsters all looked too excited about it, and this book was very valuable. She would have to see that The Doctor got it back, later.
“Line six…” she counted down carefully. Word twenty-one.” That was actually a little trickier. She lost count once and double checked carefully. But eventually the word ‘look’ was settled on as a perfectly sensible word to begin the sentence they were looking for.
The second word was on the same page but on line twelve and six words in.
The third word was ‘the’.
“‘Look in the…’” Maria read. “Well, that makes sense. Carry on. We must have it right.”
But the next word turned out to be a bit puzzling
“‘Ward.’ ‘Look in the ward.’ Should I call my mum at the hospital?” Clyde asked.
“No, it’s all right,” Sarah Jane told him. “The next word is ‘robe’. Look in the wardrobe… That’s making sense.”
She carefully flicked through pages and got ‘in the master…’
And then, finally…
“Look in the wardrobe in the master bedroom!” Luke said with glee and triumph in his voice. Again there was a mad dash up the stairs to the room directly above the drawing room. Everyone followed, curious to find out what The Doctor might have got Luke as a present. He didn’t have a favourite childhood toy. He didn’t have a childhood.
The master bedroom was a very nice room with a big bed made up with crisp linen and soft carpets. There was a dressing table and curtains, and of course, a wardrobe. Luke approached it hesitantly. What could The Doctor have hidden in there for him?
He opened the door. There was a parcel inside, wrapped up. The biggest so far. He lifted it carefully and put it down again on the floor. It was quite heavy. Nothing else about the parcel gave a clue to what it was.
He carefully undid the wrapping to reveal a large cardboard box. It was faintly vibrating.
“Err….” Luke managed to say as he backed away and the box lifted off the carpet and hovered towards him. It set down again on the floor and a red line appeared around the end of the box. A laser cutter from inside was opening it up. Soon the side of the box fell off, faintly smelling of scorched paper. Something emerged from the hole it had made for itself.
“It’s a K9!” Luke gasped.
“A K9 puppy,” Maria corrected him. “It’s only half as big as the real one.”
“I am perfectly real,” the robot puppy answered her in a voice slightly higher pitched than K9. “I am K9 Mk 4.5. I am a gift for Luke with best wishes from The Doctor. I have all the latest artificial intelligence software and extensive memory storage. I also have hover mode for stairs and uneven ground.
To prove it he hovered a few inches from the floor.
“Oh dear, K9 will be jealous,” Maria said.
“Robot dogs do not get jealous,” the puppy answered her.
“Want to bet?”
“Well, we can’t call him K9,” Sarah Jane said. “Or there WILL be trouble.”
“KP,” Clyde suggested. “For K9 Puppy and also because The Doctor must be nuts if he thinks there won’t be trouble in the attic!”
“I am a very sociable robot dog,” KP pointed out. “I will not cause any trouble.”
“Of course you won’t, KP,” Luke told him, patting him behind the ears. “I wonder where the last clue is, though? For your present, mum.”
“The last clue is in my side panel,” KP said, immediately. Sarah Jane bent down and opened up the panel and took out the envelope before replacing the panel. She opened the envelope.
“Hello, Sarah Jane. The last of the clues should be no trouble to a lady who knows her way around a typewriter. See you very soon.
And below was the coded message.
<U D [RVOS: HOGY GPT DSTST KSMR OD OM YJR FOMOMH TPPL IMFRT YJR <OD:RYPR.
Sarah Jane looked at the code then smiled. She understood.
“Typewriter. Is there a typewriter in the house?”
“In the little office next to the library,” Maria told her. And they were all off again, KP hovered down the stairs at Luke’s heels like a good dog with his new master. They all traipsed into the office. Sarah Jane sat down at the desk. She noticed that there was a sheet of paper already on the drum for typing. She put the note by her side and began to type.
“My special gift for Sarah Jane…” Luke read on the paper. “Mum, how did you know what to type?”
“Oh! I know,” Maria exclaimed. “It’s the letters on the keys. You’re typing the letter to the left of the one in the code. < is M. U is Y. My….”
“…is in the dining room….”
“…under the mistletoe.”
“It’s The Doctor,” Clyde joked. “He’s going to give you a snog under the mistletoe.”
“I doubt that very much,” Sarah Jane responded with a blush and a laugh at the same time. Anyway, let’s go and see, shall we. It’s half past six, anyway. The Doctor said we’d meet for drinks before dinner at seven. We’ll be done in time.”
“Is The Doctor bringing dinner, by the way?” Maria asked. “Because nothing was cooking in the kitchen.”
“I suppose he must be,” Sarah Jane answered. She stepped into the dining room and looked around. She actually felt quite excited.
“Under the mistletoe?” she looked up at the ceiling, the usual place to find mistletoe. Then her eyes fell on the floral centrepiece of the long table that had been set for as many as thirty people to eat. It was a wreath of mistletoe with candles in the middle of it.
She lifted it carefully and found a package underneath. She picked it up and replaced the centrepiece carefully before opening the package. It was about the size and shape of a slim book. And about the same weight.
“A book?” Clyde said as she held the gift in her hands.
“A DVD?” Marie ventured.
“It’s….” Sarah Jane looked at it carefully. She wasn’t quite sure what it was. It might have been either of those two guesses. The cover felt like leather, and had a leathery texture. It had letters inlaid in gold leaf.
“The Autobiography of Me, by The Doctor.”
“He wrote an autobiography?”
“It’s a bit thin, isn’t it?” Clyde commented. “I thought he’d been around a bit.”
“There’s a little note,” Maria noted as she picked up the wrapping. “I thought you’d like the very first copy of my very first book. Don’t get too engrossed before dinner, but you can look at the end of Chapter Forty if you like.”
Sarah Jane opened it. It was like a book except the pages were like ultra thin pieces of sturdy clear plastic. There were about sixty of them altogether. At first glance they seemed to be blank.
She looked at the inside cover. It was like a holographic picture. The same title appeared – Autobiography of Me, by The Doctor. At the very bottom of the page was a publication date – 8775. Above that was a dedication.
“To Sarah Jane, the best companion I ever had.”
She looked from that to the first ‘page’ and was surprised to see text appear on it just like the page of a book. “Chapter One – I Was Born.” Below that, the first paragraph began, like the first paragraph of David Copperfield.
“To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born…. in the Rassilon Era, year S?35O7 under the sign of Orion.”
She was barely aware of Maria quietly ushering Luke and Clyde away out of the room, and KP whirring along beside them as she read to the end of the page, an account of The Doctor’s birth and early babyhood. She went to turn the page and found she didn’t have to. The page resolved into a new one. Page two of chapter two. It continued on the same page.
Out of curiosity she turned the page and found that Chapter Two began on the next plastic leaf. Then remembering what he had said in the note she thumbed through and found “Chapter Forty - Sarah Jane and Me.”
It was an account of his adventures with her, of course. She scanned quickly through the pages and felt a lump in her throat as she remembered Sontarans, Zygons, Krinoids, Daleks and all. Then she got to the last page.
“Sarah Jane was the most exasperating woman who ever stepped aboard my TARDIS. She nagged me to distraction. But I know I deserved it, because I was the most exasperating man she has ever known. And I never seemed grateful for her companionship through so many trials and dangers. And to add insult to injury I didn’t even get her home properly at the end of it all. But she faced it all with a strength of purpose I have rarely seen and which took my breath away. Only Sarah Jane could have introduced the concept of Women’s Rights into a medieval castle or the Court of Peladon. Only Sarah Jane could have been there for me when I faced some of my darkest enemies.
I bless her for it.
My Sarah Jane.”
“Oh, Doctor!” she whispered as a bittersweet tear squeezed from her eye.
“Mum!” Luke’s voice penetrated her thoughts. “Mum, there’s somebody at the door.
She looked up and around, feeling as if she was surfacing from under water.
“Is it him?” she asked. “The Doctor?”