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he TARDIS materialized once again outside 13 Paternoster Row. According to the scanner, it was a foggy night with only the gas lamps serving as a usable light source. The Doctor preferred it that way. He did not want to attract unwanted attention while visiting his friends. But the scanner also showed a temporal anomaly in the area. It did not indicate whether there was any danger, so the Doctor decided he would deal with it later. He looked down at the gifts he had made and hoped Vastra, Jenny and Strax would appreciate them. After gathering up the packages he had so carefully wrapped, he stepped out of the TARDIS and made his way to the front door. He knocked and Strax answered.

‘Doctor!’ the Sontaran exclaimed. ‘What brings you here?’

‘The need to say thank you,’ the Doctor replied as he entered the foyer. He looked around. ‘Where are Vastra and Jenny?’

‘In here, Doctor,’ Vastra called from the sunroom. The Doctor followed her voice and found the two of them sitting in their wicker chairs. Jenny was embroidering and Vastra was reading the latest issue of the Strand magazine.

‘Keeping up with Sherlock Holmes, are we?’ the Doctor inquired.

‘Indeed,’ Vastra said. ‘I’d very much like to meet Mr. Conan Doyle and have a word with him as to the depiction of crime-solving in his stories. He should know that it is impossible to tell a person’s gait from their footprint.’

‘Well, that’s why crime-solving should be left to the professionals,’ the Doctor said. ‘I’ve brought you all some gifts that I think should you help you in that regard.’ He held them up.

‘Gifts?’ Vastra said, intrigued. ‘What’s the occasion?’

‘I want to thank you for all the times you’ve helped me. I think it’s long past time I did so. Come on. You can open them in the drawing room.’ He entered the drawing room and laid the gifts on a table. Vastra, Jenny and Strax joined him.

‘I must say, Doctor, we were all very concerned we might not see you again after last time,’ Jenny remarked. The Doctor thought back to his last encounter with them, how he had emerged from his own time stream carrying the unconscious Clara.

‘She’ll be all right,’ he had told them. After silently making their way back to his TARDIS, he had simply taken them home with no questions asked.

‘It was your grave we were standing in, wasn’t it?’ Jenny continued.

‘Yes but that’s all in my future,’ the Doctor replied. ‘Let’s just focus on the here and now, shall we? Time to open your presents. Strax, you first.’ Strax tore away the wrapping paper and found he was holding a long object with three lenses attached to it.

‘What is this device?’ he asked.

‘It’s a sonic lorgnette,’ the Doctor answered. ‘Since you’re a nurse, I figured you could use something like that. Each of the three lenses has a specific function. The blue one allows you to x-ray people, the yellow one is for diagnosing illnesses and the red is for thermal imaging. And there’s an on-off switch.’

‘I believe I am supposed to express something humanoids refer to as ‘gratitude’ but I cannot remember precisely how I am supposed to do so.’

‘The phrase is ‘thank you’, Strax,’ Vastra said firmly.

‘Ah yes, that’s it,’ Strax said. ‘I can remember that.’ A few moments of awkward silence passed during which it become apparent that no “thank you” was forthcoming so the Doctor continued.

‘Jenny, you’re next.’ Jenny opened her present, which turned out to be a sonic gauntlet. There were numerous wires and gadgets attached to it.

‘Thank you, Doctor,’ Jenny said. ‘But what are all these things for?’

‘Well, since you saved my life by picking a lock, I figured you’d appreciate something that would allow you to pick locks faster and more efficiently than before.’

‘How does it work?’

‘You slip it on your arm and you use all these bells and whistles to help you break through locks. There’s a frequency modulator, you can measure the conductivity of metals in a lock and most importantly there’s a mechanism that makes locks fall apart.’

‘I guess I can get rid of my old lock pick kit now that I’ve got this.’

‘Absolutely! Now it’s your turn, Vastra.’ Vastra’s present was a sonic hatpin.

‘Oh, thanks,’ she said. ‘What does it do, exactly?’

‘It’s a remote control for your carriage. I’ve encoded it with special software so that you can summon the carriage whenever you need it. Just yours, of course, not anyone else’s.’

‘I see. But how do I…’

‘You just take it out of your hat and your carriage automatically travels to wherever you are.’

‘Won’t it arouse suspicion since there won’t be any horses pulling it?’

‘People will probably just assume it’s a prototype for what will come to be known as the ‘horseless carriage’. The pin also expands into a sword, by the way, but that’s only to be used in an emergency. You understand?’

‘Of course, Doctor,’ Vastra replied. ‘I shouldn’t think I’d have occasion to use it that much. But it’s good to know I have an extra sword on hand. And the dinosaur feather is a nice touch.’

Suddenly, there was a knock at the front door. Strax left the room to answer it. ‘You’d better hide the presents,’ the Doctor said. ‘I don’t think the people of Victorian London are quite ready for sonic technology.’ Jenny nodded and took the sonic devices out of the drawing room. Strax returned, followed closely by a mustachioed man in a bowler hat.

‘Inspector Gregson!’ Vastra exclaimed. ‘So good to see you. What brings you here?’

‘Some nefarious business, Madame Vastra,’ Gregson replied. ‘Oh, I see you have company.’ He indicated the Doctor. ‘I could come back later.’

‘It’s quite all right. The Doctor is a friend. I’m sure he can be of assistance.’

‘Very well. Is your, er, companion at home, madam?’

‘Yes, she is,’ Jenny said, reentering the drawing room. ‘And the word you want is ‘wife’, not companion, inspector.’

‘Right,’ Gregson said begrudgingly. ‘Anyway, Scotland Yard have heard from a number of our contacts that a secret society have been holding meetings throughout London recently.’

‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?’ the Doctor asked. ‘I mean, that’s what secret societies do. They hold meetings in secret.’

‘Yes, Doctor,’ Gregson replied. ‘However, our contacts have reason to believe that this particular society are planning something, shall we say, sinister. One of its members was overheard saying that London, and indeed all of Britain, needs to be ‘improved’ and that ‘drastic measures’ must be taken in order to do so.’

‘I think that even you would agree there many things about this world that need improving, inspector,’ the Doctor said. ‘How do we know their intentions are hostile?’

‘We don’t but we can’t afford to take any chances.’ Gregson turned to Vastra. ‘Given your success in dealing with London’s criminal underworld, I felt it was best to come to you.’

 

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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