The Doctor had his head comfortably jammed under the TARDIS console. Nearby, just outside the open TARDIS doors, the transistor radio that Jo had left behind crackled and sputtered as the bass of the music went too low, and then it continued its tinny rendition of "Once in Royal David's City."
He had not been working especially hard. There was really nothing wrong with the old girl. Everything registered positive for power delivery and signal clarity. Everything was tightened down or neatly wrapped and tied off. Not even any loose ends or sprawling cables. Funny, he thought, as he looked up at the underside of the tidy array of boards, three dimensional circuits, and their leads, he had never been so neat before. The LED's twinkled above him, like Christmas lights. He thought again of Jo, last Christmas, walking out of Harrod's wearing that necklace, which she'd forgotten was still around her neck. The store detective had been very understanding. One look at the enormous pile of packages and Jo's assorted lists (fluttering from every pocket), and the kind hearted man had let her off.
He let out a sigh. He cast one fleeting thought to the Amazon: an unexpected visit, perhaps. But he squelched it. There was not room for him. And he knew it. It was odd how sometimes physics was more able to bear the past and the present coming together than the human heart could. He was in her past now. There was no TARDIS, not even at Christmas, that could pull him into her present.
He laced his fingers together behind his head and stared up at the underside of the console.
"Doctor?" a familiar voice called. "Oh! There you are! Are you napping?" The radio was clicked off. Indignant, the Doctor slipped out from under the TARDIS console.
"Sarah Jane, do you mind?" He stood up to meet the small, pert, indignant Sarah Jane.
"Not at all," she said. She fixed her bright eyes on him. Typical of her, she was wearing a tweed blazer over a soft, cowled sweater. She looked very pretty but very business-like. An instant memory of Jo, wearing a reindeer pin that had a flashing nose powered by a battery that was carried in her pocket, raced across his vision for a moment. No, not Sarah Jane. Never.
"Why in the world are you, a rational man, listening to that sentimental nonsense about Christmas?" she demanded. "I mean, it's not like you believe any of it! Don't you find it rather hypocritical?"
He walked past her, out of the TARDIS, and switched on the radio. "I like Christmas music!" he exclaimed. "And I will listen to whatever I choose to listen to, young lady."
"Oh, you're a perfect humbug!" She strode after him. He became thoughtful. Sarah Jane Smith covered up for a lot of things by scolding. Whenever she was acutely afraid, she would run to him just about as quickly as Jo had done, but afterward there was always a scolding in store, as she reinstated herself as his equal. And sometimes if she were nervous about something she would scold to cover for herself.
He had actually come to like it. There was something engaging about her lower lip shooting out and her eyes locking onto his with all that youthful earnestness. She had already proved herself as true as steel in her friendship, and quick witted. She was bright, cheerful, and optimistic about their chances against anything that they should find. And he knew that underneath it all, it was important to her that he like her and respect her. She was not nearly as sure of herself as she wanted to be.
He turned and glanced at her, still thoughtful.
"I mean, it doesn't even stand to reason that you should like Christmas!" she exclaimed, standing and declaiming at the radio, her back to him. In spite of the impressive tweed blazer, she suddenly seemed small and vulnerable. "I mean it's for humans, and it's about humans, and that's all there is to it! And there's better music than this. It's too singsong!"
"That's because it is a song."
She turned and shot an exasperated look at him. "You know what I mean."
Sarah,. he also realized, scolded him when what she really wanted was his assurance and sympathy. She was so caught up in this equality notion that sometimes it was difficult for her to lay down her defenses. Again, the image of Jo flashed before his eyes. If she were stuck here at Christmas, there would be no hesitation. There never had been. She would be pulling at his hand or sidling up to him with that mischievous smile, determined to talk him into shopping or dinner or visits or telling her stories over brandy and cake.
"Stuck here at Christmas," he whispered to himself, and he glanced at the calendar on the wall. So that was it. He did not dare ask, for if Sarah were very sensitive about it, she would cry, and then she would never forgive him. She was not yet ready to be that vulnerable with him. Sarah wanted him to consider her very adult and capable, and she was still too young to realize that one part of adulthood was the ability to cry without self consciousness.
"I mean, there's Pavarotti singing Cantique Noel! Now that's great music!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, and what could be better than Christmas Carols from a man who is as round as a tree ornament?" he asked back. He smiled at her naughtily.
"Well it fits with the spirit of the holiday."
"You're not taking me seriously!"
He suddenly rested his hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye, his own eyes gentle and quiet. She was checked by this for a moment.
"I've missed you these last few weeks. I thought you would come around to the lab," he said gently.
His gentleness took her off guard and disarmed her. Her eyes got bigger. Yes, he thought, she was unhappy. "I had a lot to do," she faltered.
"Then I should have called you. There must have been three or four things I needed your help with," he said. "But I kept telling myself you would pop in."
The big eyes became a tad more hopeful. "Do you need my help now?"
He crooked a finger under her chin, lifting her eyes to his, and she allowed it. "I would certainly like your company," he said. "Everything is on hold until after the holidays. But I'm lonely and bored and I feel all cooped up."
She stepped back, calmed by his careful attention but more judicious. "Well why not just take off in that TARDIS of yours and go where you like?"
He became more breezy and casual. "Because fighting Irongron with you was fun," he told her. "Bit serious at the time, but it gets more fun the longer I think about it, and now if I went off by myself I would be bored." He made his eyes hopeful. "But it wouldn't be boring if you came along."
"Go with you?" she asked. "On purpose?" She looked at the TARDIS. "In that thing?"
He glanced at her haughtily and said the magic words. "You're not afraid, are you?"
She stepped up to him, and the lower lip came out a bit. "Of course not! I did it before, and I'll do it again---if I like!" And then she was uncertain.
"Afraid you'll miss Christmas?" he asked.
She grimaced. "I've already missed Christmas," she said quietly. "So there's no point in worrying about that. But where did you want to go?"
He thought for a moment and then snapped his fingers. "Floriana!"
She crinkled her eyebrows. "Where?"
"Splendid place. Summer all year long. Effervescent lakes---"
"At Christmas?" She sounded uncertain.
"I thought you said it was all a humbug?" he asked.
"No, I said you're a humbug. A great big humbug."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Victorian England then? Roast goose? Chestnut stuffing? Mulled wine?"
"We don't know anybody in Victorian England," she said. "And to get in at a dinner party, we would have to be invited!"
"Sarah Jane, you are a perfect innocent. I can get us into any one of a dozen parties. Would you like to meet Dickens?"
"You mean you can get us thrown out of any of a dozen parties!" But she looked tempted.
He held out an arm to the open doors of the TARDIS. "Come on with you!" he exclaimed. "A quick dash, and I can have us back here with no time passing."
"But I'm not packed or anything!" She still looked tempted.
He inclined his head towards her. "Oh, I see. And just how would you pack for three days in Victoria's England? Tote along your great grandmother's old chest of clothes?" He jerked his head towards the open doors. "In with you! I've got plenty of things back in the TARDIS wardrobes to get you through. Plenty of everything. You won't even miss your toothbrush."
"Well all right, then, I may as well. There's nothing going on here." And she went past him into the TARDIS.
He came in after her, went to the console, and closed the doors. As they swung shut, she glanced up at him, slightly apprehensive. She had traveled in the TARDIS before, not knowing what it was, but this was her first deliberate venture.
"I suppose it is all right," she said, her voice nervous.
He would have been breezy and offhand with Jo, but he was aware of still proving himself with Sarah. "Of course it's all right," he said gently. "I've done this thousands of times, and it's not like we're going to interrupt a Draconian war or explore the Planet of Fire or trespass in the Dark Empire. We're going to go have a nice Pickwickian Christmas!"
The rotor in the center of the console engaged. It rose and fell, rose and fell, and the sounds of the TARDIS coming to life filled the control room. The throbbing under the floor told them that they were moving. He felt her fingers suddenly slip around his, but she had her eyes, now very large, fixed on the rotor and was unaware of taking his hand.
"Perhaps you'd like to see about clothes," he said, looking down at her.
The big eyes looked up at his. "Will you show me the way?"
"Certainly! And you can pick out something festive for me as well!" He led her to the corridor.
She recovered herself. "Would you like a hoopskirt or would you prefer to do without?" She looked up at him with a mischievous smile.
"Oh, you're very funny!" He made his voice high pitched and proper. "Something proper and in good taste young woman! Not too many bows or baubles! They are a vanity!"
Happy and optimistic again, she laughed at him. They would have walked together into the corridor, but suddenly they both flew forward as though pushed by strong hands. Sarah went the furthest. She sailed a few feet in the air and hit the floor on her stomach, then slid into the wall. He tried to catch himself, but he also went down. The throbbing underfoot stopped.
He sat up and listened. The TARDIS was stopped. Then he quickly turned to find her. She was flung further up the hall, dazed. Perhaps hurt.
"Sarah?" He ran to her and knelt by her.
"Oh---" Face contorted with pain, she got onto her side and tried to lift her head. "Oh---" She fell back, breathless with pain.
"Stay down," he said. She had belly-flopped to the floor. It was a case of having the wind knocked out of her. He quickly examined her for broken ankles, wrists, or ribs. But she was not seriously harmed. He rested his big hand on her forehead. She was frightened. And her dignity was slightly injured. Before she could scold, he said quickly, "The TARDIS has stopped; I don't know why. But we're safe. I've just got to get us moving again."
She looked up at him and surprised him with reciprocal concern. "You all right?"
"Yes. Just took a tumble." He stroked her forehead. "You really went sailing. Don't try to move quickly yet, my dear."
"I think I'm all right."
She wanted to get up, and so he carefully assisted her to her feet. "Any twinges?" he asked.
"No, I'm all right." Though she was reassuring, he knew that at any moment he would take a mis-step and be too solicitous, and then she would have to make sure he knew that she was as tough and hardy as he was. It was unavoidable. So he stroked the back of her head, and she suddenly became indignant with him. "I thought you said you've done this thousands of times!"
"I have," he told her. "But things occasionally go wrong. Let's see what the trouble is."
They returned to the control room.
He went to the console. "That's odd." He skimmed his hands over the controls, but the readings were dead. "Looks like an engagement failure." He stripped off the panel and peered into the wiring. "Yes. Neat as you like. Burnout of the circuits. That's very odd. There was nothing wrong with those circuits. I'd just checked them."
"Doctor, look at this," Sarah exclaimed. "This wasn't here when we walked in, was it?"
He turned in time to see her stooping over a small pasteboard box.
"Sarah, no!" he shouted, but she already had the lid up.
A great liquid shadow flew up from the box. It jetted like a fountain to a height greater than Sarah Jane and then seemed to latch onto her. She screamed and tried to back away. He sprang forward.
She screamed again, her hands up to defend herself, and cried out with pain as this phantom solidified. It bit into her hand in a missed attempt to get at her throat.
The Doctor pushed into them, seized it, and gave it a great blow with his fist. It instantly fell away from her and seemed to become smaller. Now it was almost exactly her size.
Sarah Jane ducked away and fled to the wall across the room, holding her injured hand to herself.
The Doctor punched again, and the shadowy thing, which was now clearly a creature with no hair, no fur, and no clothing, shrank further, about a foot smaller than it had been It was trying to get away from him. It tried to retreat into the box, but he savagely kicked the box across the floor, grabbed the creature by the back of its neck, and punched it again with his other hand.
It yelped in pain and shrank again. It looked like a very large monkey, except it had no tail. Terrified and in pain from the bite, Sarah watched in frightened fascination. It scuttled towards the corridor, no longer heeding her at all, and the Doctor exclaimed, "Oh no you don't!" And he kicked it as savagely as he had kicked the box. The creature, now the size of a small monkey but far more flexible, flew through the air and hit one wall, and then the Doctor seized it and punched it again.
"Doctor!" Sarah exclaimed, now frightened of him. She had never seen him so intent on hitting anything.
The creature itself at last flung up two withered arms. "Surrender!" it exclaimed. "Surrender! Mercy! Mercy, Master!"
The Doctor seized it by its throat, held it in the air, and gave it a terrific shake. "I am not your Master!" he shouted. "Down, you!" And he flung it to the floor, where it lay flat and cowered. He put one foot on its head and extended his hand to Sarah Jane. "Come here, Sarah."
She was afraid of it and of the change that had come over him. She mutely looked at him, her eyes large from the pain of the bite she had received. He quickly gentled his eyes and voice. "This is the only way to make it leave you alone," he said gently. "This creature is very durable and very tough. He's not hurt like you would be if you were to be struck. Come here. I must make it recognize you as its master."
She was shaking, and she had one hand in the other. It was bleeding She came to him, but he saw that her knees were trembling.
"It bit you," he said gently, but he glowered down at it for an instant. He pulled out his handkerchief and wrapped it around her hand. He looked at her, his eyes quiet and kind. "I'll see to you directly." He put his arm around her and drew her in, under his shoulder. "You all right? No, don't look down at it yet."
"Was it going to kill me?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. They prefer to bully and frighten creatures that they think will fear them. They don't usually kill outright. It won't hurt you if you aren't afraid of it."
This time she didn't scold him as he stroked her head. She caught her breath and looked up at him, obeying his directive not to look at it.
"All right?" he asked.
He looked down at it, and she followed his example. "Listen you!" he exclaimed.
It tried to say something, but its words were unintelligible through his shoe.
"You shut up and listen," he snapped at it. "She is your master now. If she spares you, I spare you. If she says I kill you, then I kill you!"
The creature writhed at this information, and the Doctor lifted his foot. It was roughly similar to a human in form, though very baggy and flabby, as though it had too much skin. It did not rise when freed but instead went to its spindly knees before Sarah Jane and knelt at her feet, its face to the floor.
"Yes, that's right!" the Doctor said. "Beg for your life from her." He still had his arm protectively around her. He looked down at her. "You should let me kill it, O wise Sarah Jane Smith!" But his eyes were gentle, lit with a faint light of good natured teasing.
"No," she said instantly. And then she rose to the bit of play acting. She became solemn and stern. "I--I do not wish it to be killed. Yet," she added. "It---it may amuse me."
"You won't find this ugly and wretched bag of bones amusing!" he said solemnly, his voice still loud. "It is ill natured, mean spirited, and cowardly. I beseech you, good lady, let me kill it for you as I would dispatch a rude insect in your path."
It spoke again. "Mercy, mercy great lady!" it squeaked, bowing to the floor several times.
"Be quiet, you!" the Doctor ordered. "Or I'll step on your head again!"
"I will give it a chance," she said. "But please promise to kill it if I should say so."
"Of course, wise lady"
The creature was still bowing to her. The Doctor slipped the toe of his shoe under its head and neatly flipped it over onto its back. "Stop groveling, you wretched buffoon," he snapped. "Why have you come here?"
"How did it get in here?" Sarah asked.
"Which of you shall I answer?" it asked piteously. It had a piping, though whining voice.
"You shall answer her first because she is your master," the Doctor snapped.
"I was cruelly set adrift through space by the most vile and violent of pirates, wise mistress," the creature said. "My poor carcass has floated all these many eons in search of rest. I hid away in this great ship in the hopes that you would soon launch, with the prayer ready at my lips to plead with you to return me to my home."
"Yes, I think I can translate that for you, Sarah Jane," the Doctor said, indignant. "What this wretched creature most likely means is that he incited decent space voyaging creatures to do the things they normally abhorred the most. And that, after he'd turned them to piracy and murder and every act of depravity, the survivors among them realized they had been hoodwinked and made miserable by this monstrosity, and so they launched him into space, marooning him. By some great misfortune he came to earth and discovered my TARDIS, and he has stowed away aboard her and burnt out her circuits to give him time to cause me endless trouble. For some reason, he adjudged this to be the best time to make his appearance, but I assume that he intended for me to open the box. And so when you did, he attacked you. And bit you!"
The creature instantly groveled again before Sarah Jane. "Mercy! Mercy! I thought I was being attacked! She was not the creature I expected! How did I know she would not eat me or tear me limb from limb?"
"Shut up and get into your box!" the Doctor shouted. "I must see to her. If I catch you outside that box without permission, I'll make soup out of you and feed you to Draconian guard dogs!"
It peered up at Sarah Jane, seeking reprieve, but Sarah Jane went along with the Doctor. "Do as he says," she told it.
It scuttled to the box. In spite of having been so dramatically reduced in size by the Doctor's punches, it was still too big to fit into the box, which was just the right size to hold a thick sweater. But it seemed to shrink up into a coil as it climbed in. The last that she saw of it was its too long and withered arms, which reached over, took the lid, and settled it over itself.
The Doctor strode over to it, picked up the box and tucked it under one arm, ands came back to her. He put his other arm around her. "Come on, let's see to that hand."
He led her to one of the back rooms. It was cluttered with all kinds of electronic gadgetry that she did not recognize. The Doctor carelessly threw the box onto the floor and slid it across the room with his foot.
"Steady on, Doctor," she said gently, still a little frightened of him.
He went to a cabinet built into the wall and started looking for something. "It won't hurt him, and I'm afraid that he understands only the language of disdain, my dear. There's just a slight chance that if we make it perfectly clear to him that we don't like him, and don't trust him, he'll keep to himself. And then we can get rid of him. Aha!" He withdrew an instrument that she did not recognize. It looked a little like an auroscope but had a bulbous tube on the back.
"I say, how much is this going to hurt?" she asked. There was a long, sturdy table in the room, and she sat on it.
"Hurt? Not at all," he told her. "We're not on earth, you know. My medical equipment is much better than what you're used to."
He came back to her, making adjustments on the medical device. "All right." Carefully, he unwrapped his handkerchief from her hand. "Not so bad," he observed as the blood welled out."
"What about infection?"
"Yes, he would be just mean enough to give you a mild bite that carries a severe infection. The antiseptic in this will kill anything." The medical tool had two prongs that he fitted over the back of her hand. They held the gently tapered nozzle over the front of her hand. He pressed a button on the handle, and something cool filled up the burning where she had been bitten.
"Oh, that's jolly good!" she exclaimed with relief.
"I told you it would be! Won't even need a bandage. This will act as second skin for you until it heals."
He suddenly smiled at her and tweaked her nose. "See? I take care of you!"
"But what is it?" she asked.
"It's a Jynx!" he exclaimed. "And yes, that's what it is called. It shows up as a present or a treasure. It usually plots out who should discover it, and then it attaches itself to that person and makes him or her completely miserable!"
"By biting them?" she asked.
He shook his head. "It bit you because it was furiously angry. I was its intended victim. You spoiled its plans when you opened the box."
"So now it will make me miserable?"
"I'm not sure what it will try to do. We set it back a good bit by talking about killing it right off. Jynxes are incredibly good at being subtle. They like to bring catastrophe by getting intelligent creatures to destroy each other. But starting the game by agreeing to kill it if necessary is a blow against it. A Jynx usually starts out by having its victims think of it as a good thing, a treasure-getter, a genie from the lamp, so to speak. Now it at least knows that we don't trust it."
She turned her eyes to the box on the floor. Then she looked up at him. "Will it bite me again?"
"No, my dear. If it tries to inflate itself, just hit it. A great whack. They're terrible cowards. But I don't think it will try to attack you." He put his hand under her chin and looked at her soberly. "The danger is that it will tempt you to do something that will make you miserable in the long run. And it will seem like perfectly good sense at the time."
"Well let's keep it in its box!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, that won't last long. Listen." And he cocked his head towards the box. From the inside, a gentle and piteous sobbing had begun.
"It's crying!" And her eyes instantly showed sympathy.
"I want to come out," a piteous voice said from the box. "Sarah Jane, great lady, I promise to be good. I promise. I won't fight. I'll be good." And then the soft weeping began again.
"How long do you think you can endure that?" the Doctor asked quietly.
She made her eyes take a harder look and she spoke sternly to the box. "If you hadn't bitten me right off, we would never have put you back in the box!" she exclaimed.
In reply, the lid came up about a half-inch on one side and something small and white was flicked onto the floor. The creature gave a soft sound of pain and something else was flicked out, and then another, and then another, each punctuated by the sound of pain. And then the lid was lowered and the weeping continued.
"It's pulled its fangs out!" she exclaimed.
"They'll grow back in a day or two," he told her, but he could see that she was weakening. And he did not blame her. No rational creature with any instincts towards mercy could endure the weeping. And even if you locked it away somewhere, that sound would be on your mind. You'd know it was in a dark room alone, weeping. Besides, he would not feel safe locking it away out of sight. He wanted it, even in its box, where he could see it.
"All right, listen you!" she exclaimed. The weeping hesitated.
"You stay in there and be quiet for exactly three hours, and then we'll let you out for one hour and see how you behave!" She cast her eyes up at the Doctor, and he nodded. It was the best they could do with a Jynx.
The weeping stopped.
"Answer me!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, great Sarah Jane Smith. I'll be good. I promise I'll be good---"
"Then be good and quiet!" the Doctor shouted. The box became silent.
He strode over, took up the box, and put it under his arm. He looked down at her.
"Now what?" she asked.
"I've got to repair the engagement circuits," he told her. "It will take rather a long time. Probably a couple days, going by earth time."
"Well, where are we?" she asked.
"In the vortex," he told her. "I'm afraid we're going to miss that Pickwickian Christmas."
"So you can't open the doors?"
He shook his head. "The safety interlocks won't let me open any form of egress or ingress to the TARDIS while we're in the vortex."
"So we're locked in," she said.
"You, and me, and a Jynx." His eyes were sober.
"And at Christmas, too!" she exclaimed. "What happens next?"