Photocopy by agapi42 [Reviews - 3] |
This is set during the PDA ‘The Time Travellers’. Ian, about to be shot by a soldier, is saved when a duplicate of his turns up and strangles the soldier. Unfortunately, the other Ian, who comes from a different branch of the timeline where he married Barbara, is shot by the soldier.
The bits headed with dates are the other Ian’s memories from the alternate timeline.
“Ian Chesterton, you can be rather heartfelt and poetic if you put your mind to it, you look quite silly kneeling like that, and of course, of course I’ll marry you.”
Ian passed her a clean cloth, which she used to scrub at the stain on her skirt. One of the hazards of a science laboratory, that.
“Don’t worry,” she said dryly. “It hasn’t burnt through.”
“I’ll pay for the cleaning, of course.”
“That’s very kind, but, really, there’s no need.” She hesitated for the barest moment before continuing, “You could take me out to dinner, though.”
He was momentarily stunned. Of course, the rational, realistic part of his brain argued, she was asking him as a friend. They were friends: friends could have dinner together and this was a bit of a light-hearted joke.
But something in how she looked straight at him, bravely, as her teeth caught at her bottom lip, made him think it might be a bit more than that.
“I’d like that. Are you doing anything tomorrow night?”
He wondered if that might sound a bit over-eager, but it was all right, she smiled.
“I’m not doing anything, no.”
There are voices; his own voice.
There was a knock at the classroom door.
“Come in,” he called without looking up from his marking of 4C’s homework.
Barbara Wright opened the door. “Do you mind if I join you? Only something’s wrong with my radiator and I can’t find the caretaker anywhere.”
“Of course not. I’ll be glad of the company.”
“Thanks,” she said, returning with her books. “It’s freezing in there.”
“You’re welcome, anytime,” he said and was secretly thrilled when she continued bringing her marking to his classroom long after her radiator was fixed.
The soldier swings round. His eyes widen in surprise then he pulls the trigger.
“You can stand out there for as long as you like, but I’m locking up.” The window slammed shut above their heads.
“I don’t think your landlady likes me,” Ian said ruefully.
“Oh, she’s lovely, really. Terribly curious, though, she asks all about you.”
“A good dose of curiosity can be healthy sometimes, don’t you think?”
“Provided you’re not a cat.”
“Yes, provided you’re not a cat,” he laughed.
Barbara’s landlady peered out at them and made a great show of pulling the curtains together again.
“Well, Ian, thank you very much for a lovely evening,” Barbara smiled and made to enter the house, as she had done many times.
This scene played out over and over again and every time, he lost his nerve. His friend, his colleague and what if he messed it all up? What if he lost her? What if he ended up tormented by what ifs?
“Barbara,” he said and as she turned back to face him, he kissed her.
“Might as well give you something to tell her.”
“Remind me, what was it?” she said and kissed him again.
His life suddenly shortened, his only aim is to save the other. His hands lock round the soldier’s throat.
February 1964 (would-have-been)
“I do love you, you know. Ow.”
“I know,” she said, gently tending to his latest head wound. “I love you too. I just wish you’d be more careful out there.”
The boy stops struggling and the memories fade alongside the anger he had felt towards the boy: this boy he has killed, this boy who has killed him, this boy who has ensured he will never see Barbara again. This boy young enough to be his grandson, if they’d got home, if they’d had children.
He will never get home now.
He lets the body drop, for he no longer has the strength to hold it up, and faces his other self. His reflection wears the same clothes, but his polo neck is intact, doesn’t have a bloody bullet hole in it, unlike his own. He has saved this other Ian at the expense of his own life.
He hopes it’s worth it.
Nothing else to do. He made the choice.
He’s lost control, falling forward into the Doctor’s arms as a dull roaring fills his head.
“She writes very well,” he said, handing Susan Foreman’s essay back across the table.
“Yes, she writes well, she writes engagingly. As a piece of writing, it’s wonderful. She just doesn’t happen to be writing about anything I spoke about in class.”
“I get the feeling she should be the one teaching me science.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh, the idea of a class made up of yous. All looking identically sulky. Yes, just like that, darling.”
He will never see her smile or hear her laugh again.
His last act has been to kill. He hopes she never knows that.
He hopes, he hopes. The Doctor staggers under his weight and he can’t relieve the load. He’s helpless to act, lying in his duplicate’s arms, being gently lowered to the floor. He’s no longer strong; his strength leaving his body with his blood, staining the other’s fingers. He’s no longer young, for that word carries a promise of life left to live. He has none.
“My tale was heard, and yet it was not told, my fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green; my youth is spent, and yet I am not old, I saw the world, and yet I was not seen. My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun; and now I live, and now my life is done.”
“Charles Tichborne was in the Tower and knew he was to be executed the next day. I doubt he was in the mood for writing poems about daffodils.”
“Left that to Wordsworth.”
He was wrong before. This other Ian isn’t a reflection, he’s more like a photocopy. Not identical to the original, wherever that Ian might be, whether he exists or not, and not identical to other copies.
Photocopiers, another technology that he’s seen, so advanced, in the future; a future that suddenly lies way beyond his lifetime.
The difference between him and this photocopy is a wedding ring; a smear of ink; a crease in the paper.
It’s an effort to lift his hand and lay it on top on the other’s; he knows that the other notices his ring.
“Ian, I would marry you and wear a brass curtain ring if-.”
“It wouldn’t fit very well.”
“Yes, well, I would prefer gold.”
“A gold curtain ring?” he said, all innocence, and pretended to be surprised at the poke she gave him.
How much difference does that smear of ink make? Is this other Ian travelling with another Barbara? Are they friends, or more?
“T…t…tell,” he manages to gasp; he’s got so much he wants to say and so, so little time and the pain is fading now and he’s frightened…
What if he’s never known her at all?
His last thought is for her.