Spoilers for the current and previous seasons of Doctor Who. For Doctor Who this is set between The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang, and/or shortly before A Good Man Goes To War. Think wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey…
Marcus L. Rowland
The National Museum, London, 1886
At eleven fifteen on a winter’s night, dressed in dark workman’s clothing with a false moustache and a cap that concealed her hair, Amanda Darieux lowered herself from a skylight, wondering what defences the museum had added since her last visit. Already she’d bypassed new-fangled electric switches on the skylight window, and she knew that there were more guarding the most valuable exhibits. It was the sort of challenge she lived for.
She paused three feet above the floor and rotated on the end of her climbing rope, to get a closer look at the floor. Parquet and covered with layers of varnish. It wasn’t likely that the wood concealed anything electrical; she’d seen no signs of anything like that when she’d visited the museum the day before. Older mechanical traps were still a possibility, of course, but weren’t likely in a building that had hundreds of visitors every day. She’d stay alert but take her chances.
Silently, she rotated until her rubber-soled shoes were under her, and cautiously transferred her weight from the rope to the floor. There were no clicks, no bells, nothing to indicate that anyone was aware of her presence. She listened, but couldn’t hear anything apart from the faint noise of her own breath. There was a little light from the gas lamps outside the building, just enough to make out her surroundings and the shapes of the statues and exhibits that stood between her and her goal. This wing was rarely inspected at night; few thieves are interested in stuffed animals or dinosaur skeletons, or exhibits of dubious provenance that weigh tens of tons, the real security was concentrated on the art gallery and jewels exhibited at the other end of the building. But there was always a chance that a zealous guard would check the wing, or a lazy one pick that side of the building to rest and smoke a quiet cigarette.
Nothing, just silence. She looked around again, checking her orientation, and began to walk cautiously towards her goal. She crept past the mammoth, past the rounded conical obelisks, past the Nile penguins and into one of the inner halls, where she could finally risk showing a little light from her dark lantern. Ahead was the enigmatic bulk of her goal. Carefully avoiding the notices describing its dimensions and enigmatic history, the peculiar stories that had accreted to it over the centuries, and its legendary guardian, Amanda ducked under the rope barrier, put the dark lantern on a convenient stanchion, and ran her fingers over one of the faces of the Pandorica, feeling in the concentric circular patterns for anything that might be a concealed catch.
Ten minutes passed… twenty… but she found nothing. No catch, nothing that might slide or turn or pull out to reveal a hidden lock. Just slick… something… that looked like stone but absorbed warmth like metal, and weighed twice as much as a real stone block that size. Her guess was a hollow interior, packed with ancient gold, but for all she knew it might just be natural rock with a core of lead or iron. But her instinct told her otherwise.
She turned her attention to the next face, hanging the lamp on the hand of a mannequin dressed as the Pandorica’s legendary guardian, the Last Centurion, and started to prod at the pattern again. Outside a clock chimed and she checked her watch; eleven forty-five. There was still plenty of time if she was careful.
An hour later she was back at the first face again, with nothing gained. As she moved the lamp back to its original position she thought she saw a faint line along the edge between the first and second faces. There was something that might be a seam, or possibly a crack between the faces. She dug into one of the pockets of her coat, found a thin flat flexible blade, useful for forcing window catches, and tried to run it along the edge. She thought it went in a tiny fraction of an inch, if it wasn’t just her imagination. Another pocket produced a chisel and a hammer with leather pads glued to its head, to muffle some noise. In a few minutes the clock outside would chime the hour, and she’d risk a couple of taps.
As she made her preparations she realised that she was working in her own shadow, and went to hang the lantern back on the mannequin’s hand. As she hung it there was a soft ‘click’ and the hand dropped down on a hinge, revealing a short metal tube. She swore and hung the lantern on that instead.
As the first of the preliminary chimes sounded she raised the hammer, with the second she began to tap the chisel, cursing the shifting shadows that made it difficult to focus on her work. She was just beginning to realise that there was something wrong when she heard the familiar rasp of a sword being drawn, and spun round to see the mannequin, impossibly moving into a guard position, its other hand still dangling down.
“Merde!” She drew her own sword and parried the first blow, and tried for a quick kill. The sword sank into her opponents heart and stuck there. There was no blood, just the mannequin raising its sword for another blow. She was still trying to pull her sword out when the clock struck one, and a bullet hit her in the heart. As she fell, in the seconds before she died, she saw wisps of smoke from the stub of the mannequin’s missing hand.
Amanda woke on her back and tried to play dead. She was lying on damp cobbles, and could hear the ‘clop’ of hooves and the rumble of a carriage’s wheels. It stopped a few yards away, and a woman wearing a hooded cloak climbed down, saying “What have you got for me, Centurion?” Amanda couldn’t see her face, but there was something long and thin under the cloak, a sheathed sword. Amanda wondered for a second if she was another Immortal, but there was no sensation of a Quickening.
A man’s voice said “Another burglar, Madame Vastra. He tried to pry the Pandorica open. I thought you might like his sword... and his body.” Through slitted eyelids Amanda saw the Centurion, still impaled, its hands now complete again. It reached down and pulled out her sword, the holes in its clothing vanishing as it did so, and handed it to the woman.
“Well, it’s good of you to think of me, Centurion.” She examined Amanda’s sword. “Very nice; very nice indeed.”
“You’ll get rid of the body?”
“Of course. Parker, lend a hand please.”
“Yus, me lady.” The driver climbed down, put his hand under Amanda’s armpits, and began to heave her into the carriage, while the Centurion lifted her feet.
“Still warm,” said Parker.
“All the better,” said Madame Vastra, climbing in once Amanda had been loaded.
Amanda wondered if she was some insane scientist who planned to dissect her.
“Good night, Centurion.”
“Good night, Madame Vastra.”
She shut the carriage door and said “Drive on, Parker.”
The driver cracked his reins and the carriage rolled forward. Amanda prepared to try for her sword. There was the soft snicker of metal on leather and a katana appeared in Madame Vastra’s gloved hand, impossibly fast, its edge against Amanda’s neck. “You can stop pretending,” said Madame Vastra. “I can hear the blood coursing through your veins, and smell the sparks as you heal… Mademoiselle Darieux.”
“Can I sit up?”
“Slowly, please. Don’t be alarmed, if I wanted your head I would have already taken it. However, I am not a fool. No sudden moves please.”
“What do you want of me?”
“Your word that you will never bother the Centurion or go near the Pandorica again.”
Amanda shivered. “What was that thing?”
“He was once a man, or so I’m led to believe. He guards the secrets of the Pandorica, something so terrible that it needs a true immortal to keep it safe. If you took his head I think he would simply fight on without it. Please be seated.”
Amanda shuddered and climbed into the seat facing Madame Vastra, the katana still at her throat.
“The world is even stranger than you think,” said Madame Vastra, “and I owe a great debt to another who wishes to keep the Pandorica safe.”
“Don’t worry,” said Amanda, “I’m not going near that thing again.”
To Amanda’s horror something flicked out from under Madame Vastra’s hood, a long thin forked tongue. “That tastes of the truth. Excellent.”
“What are you?”
“A relic of the past, a survivor of a race that walked the Earth millennia before Man.” She reached her free hand to her hood and pulled it back to reveal a green scaly reptilian head, its eyes the only thing that resembled a human. “Do I frighten you?”
Somehow her face was less frightening than the unknown, but even so... “Yes.”
“Good. My people were mighty warriors, terrible in their anger. Some still sleep in their hidden places; unfortunately I had an early awakening. One day, perhaps, we will take our rightful place in the sun again. If you’re very lucky you might still be around to see that glorious day. Meanwhile, I help to protect this world, and even your human race, from things far more dangerous than the Pandorica.”
“You must be… lonely,” said Amanda.
“Fortunately I have my friends and a faithful companion, and there’s plenty of work for someone with my talents. I might even be able to offer a gifted thief an occasional commission, if you are at all interested.”
“I might be,” said Amanda, “depending on the terms, of course.”
“Let’s discuss it over supper.” The coach rattled to a halt outside a house a mile or so from the museum. “After you.” She raised the hood of her cloak, hiding her face again.
Amanda climbed out, and Madame Vastra sheathed the katana and followed her, holding Amanda’s sword. “You can have this back when you leave.”
Amanda pouted, and Madame Vastra laughed. “I do believe, my dear, that we’re going to be friends. Now come inside, dear Jenny will draw you a bath and find some clothing more fitting for a lady, and I’m sure you’re famished after all your exertions. There may be a cold collation waiting.”
“And if I don’t want to come in?”
“Then you may take your sword and leave.”
Amanda hesitated then followed her into the house. She had a feeling that the rest of the night might be interesting. And when she woke with Madame Vastra and Jenny the following afternoon, and thought of the many uses of a long forked tongue she’d learned overnight, she was sure of it…
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