Teaser: “The Atlantean”
BENEATH THE sign for Baker Street, the street vendor was busy ladling out her modest fare from a battered tin pot perched over a crackling fire. A bevy of weary men, women, and children crowded around her, haggling. Some were handing over coins for portions food, others simply wanted to edge their way nearer the fire. In spite of the lively crowd, Ori never once lost sight of the Doctor.
More than a head taller than everyone else and crisply defined against the flickering light from the fire, the alien traveller had never looked more at home. He was buttoned up in his usual ensemble: heavy greatcoat, quilted cape, and a jaunty ribbon tie. On this occasion he had also donned a most formidable top hat. His face was as ashen as the snow falling all around him and his grey-streaked mane was as dark as the cloud-streaked night sky above. Shivering and pulling her cloak tight, Ori watched him joke and laugh with the people. She was miserably cold, but she couldn’t help but smile at the scene.
Soon, the towering top hat bobbed its way back to her, and she could hear that he was singing in a low voice: “I’ll be so blue… just thinking… about you. Decorations of red… on a green Christmas tree… won’t be the same, dear…”
He stopped just before her and, grinning, held up a dark, doughy cake wrapped in a bit of grease-stained paper. “Fresh plum duff!” he crowed triumphantly. “What more could you ask for at Christmastime? Well, some brandy sauce to go with it, but you know what they say: beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Plum duff?!” Ori raised a purple eyebrow beneath the hood of her cloak.
“Christmas pudding, of a sort,” the Doctor explained, though it was no clearer to Ori.
“These people eat here? Out on the street?”
The Doctor glanced over his shoulder. “Yes, well, this is the nineteenth century. Many of them have no means of cooking fresh, hot food at home. People tend to think that fast food came in with the automobile and, oh, I don’t know… MP3s. But you can’t walk two blocks in Victorian London without being offered some hot eels or a sheep’s trotter. Now, if only we could find ourselves some hot elder wine. That’d put you in the Christmas spirit!”
He breathed deeply of the crisp, cold air and held his head a little higher—until, from somewhere under his greatcoat, there came the muffled bleep of an electronic alert. His brow furrowed.
“Your sonic screwdriver,” Ori reminded him. “Remember? That energy signal of yours? The very reason we’re out here in this miserable weather? Do we really have time for all this?”
The Doctor snorted. “By Jove, we’re going to make the time. Come now, Ori! The Master’s recursive navigational program has brought the TARDIS to Baker Street—Baker Street, of all places!—just in time for a Victorian Christmas. This is a gift from the old girl! She always knows just what to get me.” He turned and began to stroll jauntily down the street, talking as he walked. “This is a special time of year. I know you’re not used to the ice and the snow, but take it all in. It’s cold outside, but in each of these men and women there is warmth and good cheer. Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men. And women. And aliens, probably. And they’re selling plum duff on street corners!”
The Doctor looked at the sticky titbit in his hand.
Given how unappetizing it appeared, Ori couldn’t help but be sceptical. “And you’re going to eat that? I don’t believe it. This from the same man who sent back priceless Adrilian caviar aboard the Dionysus because it was harvested during the wrong season! I have to say, Doctor, that doesn’t look as if it’s up to your usual standard.”
The Doctor wasn’t having it. “Nonsense. I am a Time Lord. I am a connoisseur of all times and places. On a cold winter’s eve, yuletide cheer in the air, as we bustle through the street on a festive errand, there could be no more satisfying repast than this humble treat.”
He brought the thick lump of pudding to his lips and eagerly bit in. At once, a whisp of steam rose out of the dark dough. Ori caught a whiff of overpowering spice. The Doctor’s jaw bobbed heavily once, twice, three times. He then stopped in mid chew, the expression on his pallid face suddenly ominous.
Ori stifled a laugh. “That good, eh?”
With a wretched cough, the Doctor spat his mouthful of pudding into the gutter. “Bah! This duff is not as advertised. It’s muck, all treacle and suet. And I’m not convinced that those are actual raisins!”
Ori sighed and shook her head while the Doctor caught the arm of a passing street urchin. “Here, my boy. I’ll give you a shiny Andromedan grotzit if you dispose of this so-called plum duff for me. Right? Merry Christmas.”
In the young lad’s grubby left hand the Doctor placed a gleaming silver coin, and in his filthy right hand he smacked the sickly lump of plum pudding. The boy beamed at the stranger and, in an instant, the surprise sweet treat was being shoved into his mouth. “Mevvy Chriffmaf, fir!” the boy called out through a mouthful of pudding as he dashed off through the snow.
The Doctor looked to Ori. “We’ll just stop in at a restaurant and take in some dinner before we reach Portman Square. That’s what you’d rather have. Turkey! Punch! Fancy cakes! Not some slapdash street pudding. That’s what Christmas is all about.”
He resumed his stroll down Baker Street, taking in the sights and sounds. He soon picked up his carol, too, crooning in that low voice. “And when those blue… snowflakes… start falling… That’s when those blue… memories… start calling… You’ll be doin’ all right… with your Christmas of white… But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue…”
“Oi!” shouted a man smoking a pipe in front of a darkened storefront. “Shut your tater trap and quit your julkin’! Witless tommyrot.”
“Witless?” the Doctor gasped, appalled by this treatment. “Tommyrot?! It’s anachronistic, I’ll give you that…”
Another lout from the other side of the street joined in. “Yeah. That’s enough of that! All we need around ’ere, some whooperup goin’ around ’alf-rats, moaning like a sick hound dog.”
Ori and the Doctor stood silently in the snow until the men had moved on.
“Peace on Earth?” Ori then asked cautiously.
The Doctor swallowed his pride and, frowning, retrieved his sonic screwdriver from inside his greatcoat. “Yes. Well. Nevermind all that. Portman Square. Strange energy signals and so forth. Let’s get this over and done with.”
The sonic came to life with an eager trill, its spherical tip glowing a brilliant green. The Doctor pointed it toward the south end of the street and marched on, doing his very best to ignore the snow and the lively masses and all the trappings of a Victorian Christmas.