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On the Rights of Woman

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“It's so nice to see you during the day,” Florence Bascom observes, a bit bitingly. Jenny and Vastra look at her, a touch uncomfortable, until she begins to laugh.

“We only had to wake you a few times,” Jenny points out. “Just the missing diamonds. And the flying piranhas trying to use the Cliffs of Dover as a nesting ground. And that lost Pyrovile trying to set off a volcanic eruption as a distress beacon.”

“You forgot the sentient sandstone formation,” Florence reminds them.

“True enough,” Vastra says. “At any rate, this is why we are offering to buy you lunch.”

Florence inclines her head. “I humbly accept.”

*** 

“So, how is life in the land of the free?” Jenny asks once they have finished their meal.

“Very well if you happen to be white, straight, male, and well-to-do,” Florence replies. Jenny and Vastra nod knowingly. “Somewhat less if otherwise, though I'd like to change that.” She grins wolfishly. “After all, Wyoming and Utah have extended the franchise to women, and they have yet to combust into riot and ruin.”

Vastra nods. “I have heard reports that bills have advanced in New Zealand and South Australia which would grant all women there the right to vote. And yet the empire soldiers on.”

Florence laughs. “It is odd to think of the British Empire as a democracy, particularly as an American.”

Vastra smiles. “I suppose that is so, but then I am an Englishwoman by adoption only.”

Florence winks. “Ah, yes, the most famous daughter of Siluria.” She tilts her head. “The only daughter of Siluria, so far as I know. Why, the only other Silurian I know is the Silurian epoch...but that was over four hundred million years ago.” Vastra coughs uncomfortably; usually their guests are less knowledgeable and more discreet. “But that's not possible...”

“Strictly speaking, it is not,” Vastra reveals, leaning in. Jenny smiles reassuringly. “But Cretacean doesn't have the same ring, and makes us sound like crabs. And, indeed, one of our largest tribes was centered in Wales, home of the Silures tribe of early humans, which gave their name to the Silurian epoch.”

“Well, what's a...” Florence's voice trails off as she does the math, “...third of a billion years between friends? That's still impossible, mind you.”

“Our science was very advanced,” Vastra replies dismissively, partially to cover the fact that she herself, as a member of the warrior caste, does not fully understand the hibernation chambers. “And here I am.”

“Indeed,” Florence agrees helplessly. “So you are from England, then, in a manner of speaking.”

“I suppose so,” Vastra admits. “Back when it was hot and tropical and lizards roamed the world.”

“Madame was from England before it was cool,” Jenny slips in.

“Jenny!” Vastra cannot help but giggle at her wife's awful pun, though Florence simply looks bemused.

“My goodness, we have gotten a bit far afield,” Florence observes. “But I must be off—there is a suffragist rally I should like to attend, though you are welcome to join me. Millicent Fawcett is going to speak, and I've heard she's brilliant.”

Jenny and Vastra exchange a measured look. “We would be honored,” Vastra tells her as they join hands beneath the table. “Certain recent events have conspired to bring us even more in tune with society.” Indeed, since they had married, they could not help but feel themselves to be more strongly part of the social fabric of propriety and cooperation.

“Would we have time to fetch a few friends?” Jenny asks.

“Yes, I should think so—it shan't start for a little while yet, and I wanted to leave myself enough time to get cleaned up and to find it, though with my native guides I shall have fewer worries in that respect.” Florence smiles. “Shall we?”

***

A quick series of detours brings their company to full strength. Anaya and Mirabelle had been planning to attend anyway, and had just closed up shop. Nellie and Allison are intrigued by the idea, and come along quite happily. Henry takes a bit of cajoling, but even he and Doyle follow along. And finally, on a hunch, Jenny fetches Strax. “Might be trouble,” she says simply. “You make enough noise about something important enough, and someone's liable to get in your face.”

“I do not understand the importance of the subject matter,” Strax begins.

Jenny shakes her head angrily. “I thought we had explained gender often enough that it'd sink into your thick skull.” She raps Strax's brown, domed head playfully.

“On the contrary, boy! It is the concept of voting which I do not understand. A Sontaran obeys his superior officers, who in turn obey their commanders, and so on through the ranks, up to the Emperor himself. While initiative on the battlefield is commendable, there is no suggestion that the troops and lesser officers should select their own leaders, or offer input into the battle plan.”

“Why not? You're all the same, ain't you?”

“Precisely!” Strax's reply leaves her uncertain as to whether or not he is being serious until he continues. “Sontarans are all identical in their base capacities: strength, durability, intelligence.” Jenny decides that the first two must go a long way towards covering the deficiency in the last. “However, each is trained according to his role. I would not presume to draw up strategy, but neither would a general insist on setting medical standards. We would instead trust the other to function in accordance with his training.”

Jenny shrugs. “When you put it like that, I suppose it makes sense for your people. But if we're going to pick our leaders, I bloody well want a say in it.”

***

“I'm a little surprised you're coming along,” Nellie admits to Henry.

He shrugs. “I suppose I can't really tell you that you'd just vote in lockstep with your husband,” he begins with a chuckle. “And telling you that you'd just be ruled by your emotions seems a bit silly, given the number of men in politics who seem to be ruled by emotions like fear, hatred, anger, and greed.”

“That's...surprisingly sensible,” Nellie says with a blink. He might be buttering me up, but it's working, she thinks.

He shrugs. “Don't know if it'll work, but it's worth a try.”

“Are you sure you don't want to ask him to dinner some night?” Allison whispers, drawing her away.

“Stop it!” Nellie hisses in reply. “Well, maybe,” she admits with a blush.

Allison punches her sister's shoulder. “Your first date at a suffragist rally; how romantic!”

“Hush,” Nellie tells her firmly. “Or I shall never watch Jim for you again. Speaking of which, how is your romantic life going?”

“So-so,” Allison admits. “Don't worry, your lad is a bit young for me.” She winks, and Nellie just shakes her head.

***

“Sure about this?” Anaya asks Mirabelle as they reach the meeting hall.

Mirabelle shrugs. “We might lose a few clients. But we might gain some, too.”

“I expect it will go the same for me,” Doyle interjects with a macabre laugh. “Though at least people can hardly choose whether or not they will be sick or injure themselves.”

“What do you think, Doctor?” Anaya asks. “Will I be able to vote in my lifetime?”

“I rather expect so, my dear,” Doyle replies. “As long as the dangers of this lifestyle don't catch up to you too quickly, I feel quite confident that you shall find yourself in a ballot box someday soon.”

“What about your wife?” Anaya asks.

“Watching the children, I'm afraid.” He shrugs. Louisa is also feeling a bit under the weather, but no need to cause a panic. “I suppose you could say that I'm attending on her behalf. She wants to vote, of course—only a few madwomen think otherwise—but she also likes being a housewife and raising our children.”

“Fair enough,” Mirabelle allows.

“Besides, I'm hardly the only man here,” Doyle says as they enter the meeting hall, which is already packed, chiefly with women, but there are a handful of gentlemen scattered throughout.

“Come on,” Mirabelle says, taking Anaya by the hand, “Let's meet our fellow women.” She grins at Anaya, which invariably makes the younger woman go a bit weak in the knees. “Gaining customers, remember?” She offers her hand to a fair-skinned, dark-haired young woman. “Pleased to meet you.”

“And I you,” she replies with a bit of a brogue. “Edith Somerville.” She glances at Anaya and Mirabelle briefly, then grins. “You two are together, aren't you? Beyond being friends or business partners or what-have-you.” Anaya's skin reddens. “Don't worry; it takes one to know one. Shame Violet couldn't make it, but she hasn't been feeling well. Come, let's talk, and I'll show you around.”

***

Doyle and Henry find themselves standing with another man, very nervous looking. “I haven't been to one of these before either,” Doyle says, trying to break the ice. “I suppose it gets better as you start to know people, and they to know you.”

“Yeah, sure,” the other man says, shifting his weight and looking around at the crowd, which has packed into the hall and the balconies above, to the very edge of the stage.

“Amazing how many people they can fit in here,” Henry offers, trying gallantly to strike up the other man's interest. “But I suppose it is for a good cause.”

There is no mistaking the flash of hatred which crosses the strangers face before it reverts to its blank nervousness. “Whatever,” he says, and turns away to knife through the crowd.

“Odd chap,” Doyle says. “I might tell Jenny and Vastra about him.”That reminds him: there is something else important he wants to tell them, though he can't quite remember what it is. “Keep an eye on him, would you?” Henry nods at once; he didn't think there would be anything stranger than a man at a suffragist meeting, but apparently there is. He ducks away to follow the strange man.

***

“Very exciting, isn't it, madame?” Jenny asks.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” she thrills. “It's quite pleasant to see your society advancing by leaps and bounds now. Why, who knows what the coming century will bring?”

“Indeed,” interjects a third voice.

“Mrs. Beer!” Jenny exclaims. “Are you here to report, then?”

“Officially, yes, I'm here for the Observer, covering Ms. Fawcett's speech and the rally generally,” she begins nodding towards the stage. “Unofficially...” she grins and pulls out a ribbon with violet, white and green stripes, pinning it to her dress. “And what about you? Are you here to support the cause, or to investigate some dreadful crime?”

“Hopefully just here to listen,” Jenny states, then pauses. “Should we be on the lookout for something?”

“Nothing specific,” Rachel replies, shaking her head. “But one never knows.” She leans in more closely to Jenny and Vastra so she can whisper despite the excited hustle and bustle. “After all, I have heard rumors that Millie is going to propose that all of the regional suffrage groups should unite into one national organization. If you were going to try to disrupt the movement, now would be a good time.”

Vastra nods gravely. “I am aware of the fact that the members of the movement do face regular threats.” She turns to Jenny. “Perhaps we could tutor them in self-defense?”

“Not a bad a idea, madame,” Jenny acknowledges, and adds, with a cheeky grin, “If nothing else, it'll make us look less conspicuous, having a whole city of young women carrying swords and knives and looking dangerous.”

Vastra nods. “I should happily lose the fraction of our business where women are the victims of violent crime. I expect Doyle would agree, insofar as he treats their wounds.”

“I should, of course, prefer to live in a society whose members did not attack each other to begin with,” Rachel observes. “But as that is unlikely to happen, I defer to your wisdom and experience.”

Their reverie of hosts of knife-wielding lady-ninjas is interrupted by Doyle. “Excuse me,” he begins, “but Henry and I saw something we thought you should know about.” He recounts their conversation with the strange man, concluding, “The last I saw of him, he was heading that way.”

The side of Vastra's brain which deals with tactics immediately whirs into action. “Jenny and I will follow him. See if you can find and warn Anaya and Strax. Tell them to keep an eye on things in the rest of the hall; after all, there could be more than one troublemaker.”

***

Anaya is easier to find than Doyle might have hoped; she is next to a woman shouting rather loudly (and drunkenly, he would suspect had he not learned to mistrust his more obvious prejudices) about Irish independence, analogizing rather broadly yet effectively about the equivalent lack of self-determination between the women of England and of all those citizens of the empire who were also unable to vote.

“Meet Edith,” Anaya says in between harangues. “She's a writer, too,” she adds brightly.

“So charming to meet you, Dr. Doyle,” Edith remarks, and her opponents take full advantage off the pause to get a few choice lines in. “I would say that we must talk at some more peaceful time, but when one is a proponent of both Irish independence and women's suffrage, there is no such thing as a peaceful time.” She laughs as Doyle, himself the child of Irish Catholic parents, nods knowingly. “Perhaps at our mutual friend's salon? Or you could visit my cousin and I in Ireland. Anaya and Mirabelle have been telling me of your friends, the detectives; I should like to meet them as well.”

“That can likely be arranged,” Doyle says, quite truthfully. Even with the blow to their reputation from the gem heist, business takes his muses far and wide. The bigger surprise would be if a client from Ireland didn't approach them over the next few months. “Speaking of troubled times, do keep your eyes open for anything unusual.”

“Always,” Edith replies.

***

Henry signals to Jenny and Vastra at the back of the hall. “He just went up to the balcony,” he reveals. “I was about to go after him when I turned and saw you.”

Jenny nods. “Stay with us,” she tells him. “We may need you to run for help.”

They climb the steps, and Henry subtly points out his target, still trying to move inconspicuously through the crowd. Jenny and Vastra nod, and stalk implacably after him. The chase progresses at a snail's pace; even the balcony is packed with excited women of all ages. A murmur goes through the spectators—Millicent Fawcett, this afternoon's main speaker, is about to take the stage. Jenny and Vastra exchange worried looks and press on as fast as they can.

They finally catch up to the strange man as he produces a rifle from some prepared hiding spot. “My dear sisters,” begins Millicent below. Jenny tries to keep the rifle's barrel away from any of the women below as Vastra, Henry, and a handful of other women grapple with the would-be assassin in the tight quarters. Once, twice the gun discharges into the ceiling, triggering the expected screams and gasps.

One sound they did not expect was maniacal laughter, followed by more gunshots. They see Millicent collapse, bleeding from one arm, and the crowd move, genuinely panicked, away from the second shooter, who flees, firing as he goes. “Coward,” Vastra curses him, snatching up the rifle and aiming it. But the chickenhearted gunman is already gone, and Vastra swears again, but flips the safety back on. “Who in blazes are you?” she asks the one they managed to stop.

“My name wouldn't mean anything to you,” he tells them. “I'm from the future.” He spits at them. “Far enough from the future that society is willing to accept man and woman, queer and straight, cis and trans, human and Silurian, and all races and creeds of humanity as equals.” Jenny presses a kiss to Vastra's veiled cheek simply to spite him, and if she grinds her heel into his shoulder as she does so, no-one else is any the wiser. “I've come back to stop that travesty, to restore the natural, traditional hierarchy of things. It isn't right—It isn't just! I just hope I've done enough to stop the acceptance of filth like you.” Incensed, Vastra draws back the hammer on the rifle and aims at the man's forehead. She never liked the taste of brains anyway, she muses as a flash of terror passes over the man's eyes, and he vanishes. “Damn,” she mutters, and unloads the rifle.

***

Strax curses when he hears the gunshots and reaches into an empty pocket. The Flint boy had called him on this errand without any notice and so he was regrettably without a single grenade. Time to assess casualties, he thinks as the panic dies down. “Please remain still,” he informs one woman, bleeding profusely from a head wound and thrashing about on the ground. “Madame, please, I am trying to treat you!” Her arm lashes out and catches him on the shoulder, burning through the last of his small stock of patience. “Madame, if you strike me again, I shall consider your non-combatant status to be forfeit and destroy you for the glory of Sontar!”

His unusual bellow catches the woman off-guard, and she freezes. “Sontar? Where's that?”

“Turkey,” he mutters, tearing a long strip from the edge of her tattered gown. “You were very lucky,” he informs her, voice cheery. “The bullet only grazed your head, instead of splattering your inferior human cerebrum over the floor.” At that news, his reluctant patient passes out. Strax sighs with relief. She'll be much easier to treat unconscious, he thinks as he winds the cloth around her head, partially obscuring her hideous features.

***

Below, Doyle rushes to the side of one of the most badly-wounded women. “I'm a doctor,” he cries, and he can hear Strax bellowing similar things—and, surprisingly, a female voice. He wishes he had brought his tools and supplies, but he'd hardly thought he'd need them, he thinks as he tears the victim's petticoats into bandages. “What's your name?” he asks the woman.

“Hetty,” she replies, wincing.

“Hold that tight,” he tells a volunteer. “Press down. Now, Hetty, you stand a very good chance of recovering from this wound, but I'm afraid your corset is ruined” he informs her as he tears off the constricting garment and knots the makeshift dressing into place. “Anaya,” he calls, “hire a carriage to my office; tell whoever is there what has happened, and they should be able to point you towards the right equipment.” She nods and is off like lightning. “Now, just keep applying pressure to that wound,” he tells her, and moves on to the next patient. He is, in fact, able to use one of the stays from Hetty's corset to splint her arm. He allows himself a tiny smile from the clever trick, then looks up.

The once busy hall is less crowded, but those who remain wear faces stamped with determination. Millicent stands at the head of the hall, on the stage, her bandaged arm the only sign of the past chaos. “We will hold the rally tomorrow,” she tells her assembled listeners. “And if we are attacked tomorrow, we will hold the rally two days from now.” A cheer goes up, tempered only by the sight of so many bleeding and sobbing, and of one unlikely to move again. Most of the wounded have been tended as well as he can do for now, and he moves over to the motionless figure to confirm that she has, in fact, passed on. He meets a middle-aged woman there.

“Thank you,” she says, offering her hand. “You and your...Turkish friend...didn't have to help.”

“Yes, I did,” Doyle says, “I'm a doctor.”

“As am I,” the woman replies. “Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, at your service.”

“Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle at yours,” he replies, and instantly dreads the look of recognition.

“I am quite the fan of your stories,” she tells him. “Though it is good to see that your medical skill is praiseworthy as well.”

“Thank you,” he says, and means it. “I've heard of you as well. Congratulations on making dean.”

“Thank you; perhaps I will soon have some company in the British Medical Association from my students.”

“I can only hope so, if they are as talented as you.” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Jenny and Vastra approach. “Excuse me.” Dr. Anderson nods, and he greets the two detectives. “I've been meaning to tell you,” he begins, “but it slipped my mind. A lead came in on that missing gemstone. The guard's description matched that of a reported fugitive: Clarence DeMarco. Further, I was reminded because I saw a man answering to the same description here...as he fled here today, firing his gun as if at random.”

Jenny blanches. “No...” she manages before trailing off. “It couldn't be him.” Slowly it dawns on Doyle as well.

“I thought that name sounded familiar,” he says. “But how?..”

Vastra merely shakes her head. “The laws of time are beyond my knowledge,” she admits. “Perhaps we were afforded a perverted glimpse of our future.”

“But why?” Jenny asks. “I mean, I'm sure we've made our fair share of enemies, but some random bloke?”

“It is possible that Mr. DeMarco is simply mad, and has chosen us for the subject of his mania,” Vastra offers. “Certainly it is a thin reed on which to hang a theory, but each time we have seen Mr. DeMarco, he has not seemed entirely well.” Doyle shrugs; he is a doctor of the body, not the mind.

“I suppose the alternative is that there's some other connection between the Serrano Diamond and Millicent Fawcett or the suffragist movement,” Jenny admits. “Not likely, but possible. Shouldn't take too long to follow up on, at any rate.”

At that moment, Anaya returns, and Doyle dragoons her into assisting him. Rachel takes advantage of the pause to approach Jenny and Vastra. “I just want to apologize in advance,” she begins, posture humble.

“Oh?” Vastra asks. “For what?”

“For the article I'm about to write,” she explains. “I shall have to write about the bloodshed, and the fact that you and your associates were here.”

“If we hadn't been here, there'd be more dead,” Jenny points out.

“I know that, and I believe you when you say that there was a second gunman who mysteriously vanished. You've earned my trust at least that far. But I cannot print that without being made a laughingstock. Indeed, you should count your blessings that every woman in the hall is willing to swear that you didn't fire any shots yourself, and that the fact of a detective possessing a firearm is unremarkable enough as to not merit mention.” Vastra gasps; she had not considered the fact that suspicion might fall upon her. “Still, even without naming either of you as a potential suspect, the mere fact of your presence at such a tragedy will drag down your star, especially given that you were unable to apprehend the killer.”

“Thank you for the notice,” Vastra says, and they make their goodbyes.

“Bloody hell,” Jenny curses as Rachel leaves. “Never thought I'd have made it far enough in the world to be the victim of a smear campaign.”

“Caution, my dear,” Vastra restrains her, “two instances do not a pattern make. But I agree: we must be on our guard. Especially given how strongly we trade upon our reputation.”

Jenny nods agreeably as Nellie and Allison approach them. “Glad to see you two are unhurt, at least.”

Nellie bobs her head. “We were blessed, I suppose.” She sighs. “I can't help but be reminded of my time in the laundry.” Vastra makes a quizzical sound, and Nellie continues. “Just the desperate need to keep girls in their places, to punish and control beyond the point of reason.” She shudders. “I almost feel sorry for people who feel that way. But only almost.”

Vastra nods. “Fear of change, of lost status or power, can drive one to do much.” She pauses to take in the once bright and bustling scene; now the only activity is the treatment of the wounded. “But it does not justify, nor does it excuse such actions as this.”

“Can you imagine, though,” Jenny offers. “If you built yourself up in opposition to those you thought weren't as good as you, and then to suspect that it might all be a lie? You might never recover.” She thinks about the accidents that led her into Vastra's arms and employ, how those roles have come to help define her—quite gladly, too. If they had come out differently...she banishes the thought with a shake of her head. At least as a time traveler, she supposes, she will always be able to remember Vastra. Which reminds her... “Do you suppose we changed the future? Or just preserved it?”

Nellie snorts. “I should hope we at least helped it come out the same way. Bit of blood never scared a woman.” Vastra has a moment of bafflement about this statement, then nods with understanding. Her cloaca is hardly perfectly designed, but she also doesn't have to spend a few days in bleeding agony each month, either.

“I wouldn't be surprised if that madman helped the cause along,” Edith observes as she walks over. “A martyr can be a rallying point for a movement, and lend legitimacy to claims of oppression. Lord knows the Irish haven't won many battles—but that hasn't stopped them from fighting.”

“A very good point,” Vastra acknowledges, then draws Jenny aside privately. “I must admit, I had not given the idea much thought, as I was rather distracted by what the assassin said about human-Silurian equality. And, for that matter, equality for queer and straight persons alike.” She inhales with pride. “To imagine, a society where we could live openly!”

“We got to live in one for a day—give-or-take,” Jenny reminds her. “That was one of the nicer bits of that crazy day,” she reminisces. “Do you suppose it will happen, then?”

Vastra shrugs. “Provided we keep working towards it, and against the twisted ideas of justice that our man from the future seemed to have.” She pauses. “I do note that he said nothing of the equality of rich and poor, or of master and servant. We have not discussed that facet of our relationship since we have married, and while it was necessary that you serve as my employee at first, I have since learned how to manage perfectly well on my own.” She smiles with faint embarrassment. “Though I must admit that I could never keep the house or the business running nearly so smoothly without your capable assistance.”

“We have been rather busy, madame,” Jenny points out, in part to give herself a few seconds to ponder the facts of the matter. “I suppose I shall have to keep the pretense up in public.”

“I am afraid so; certainly we kept the charade up for so long that its absence would be noted. I suppose if it pleased you we could relocate to someplace where we were not known, and make a fresh start of it there.”

“Not likely, with all the things we've got in the vault,” Jenny says, shaking her head. “And I've just gotten to start enjoying being famous.” She smiles impishly. “Besides, I thought you liked having a sexy maid around the house that you can ravish while she feather-dusts. I do rather like that bit.”

“I should like ravishing you regardless of your costume,” Vastra tells her frankly. “But I cannot help but feel a certain level of impropriety in keeping my wife as a servant.”

Jenny shrugs. “Truth be told, madame, I've rather grown used to it. And I have noticed you helping with this and that, and of course Strax is a great help. But even when I was a girl, I liked to do things around the house. Made me feel useful. And it's what family does: they do things for each other.”

“All the same, you have grown—quite admirably—into an equal partner in our detective enterprise. I shall endeavor to keep up my end of things domestically.” She pauses, hopefully. “We are a family, then?” Vastra asks, beaming.

“Of course, madame.” Jenny tells her. “Shouldn't like to meet someone who says otherwise, neither,” she concludes, cracking her knuckles meaningfully.

“Speaking of which, come, let us see who we should talk to to arrange self-defense lessons for those who wish them.”

Jenny nods agreeably, and as they stroll off, arm in arm, a voice whispers in their ears. “You are being watched; be careful,” it says. Even with their honed reflexes, there is no-one behind them when they spin around.

“Sounded a bit like that girl from Torchwood, madame,” Jenny observes. “Nice of her to warn us, even if it was a bit cryptic.”

“I suppose so,” Vastra agrees. “But by Torchwood? By this DeMarco fellow? That psychic field the Rani was talking about? Or something altogether different?”

“I expect we'll have to be ready for anything, madame. Same as always.” Jenny notes cheekily, and tucks her head against Vastra's shoulder.