A Teaspoon And An Open Mind: A Doctor Who Fan Fiction Archive
Tenth Doctor
The Slow Path, or Two and a Half Centuries in Two and a Half Days by Amy Wolf [Reviews - 39] Printer Chapter or Story


He goes to Australia in 1860, when the money’s starting to run out. There’s a gold rush on, and fortunes to be picked up off the ground.

That’s not why he goes.

It’s near the end of the penal colony era, when convicts can be sent for transport. The British have been phasing it out for decades. There’s voluntary migrants now, millions of them, and it’s creating an absolute jumble where no one much cares who anyone was before they got off the boat, or what they’re doing there.

A handy situation for a time traveler, but also not why he goes.

He’s in Pennsylvania one day, trying to buy a horse, when he sees a pack of young men come streaming out of a tavern. They’re laughing and slapping hands, swapping stories over some girl (apparently as milkmaid), and he recognizes one.

Just barely. He couldn’t tell you the man’s name. The boy’s name, really, judging by the skinny adolescent frame. But the face, a few years older, under a uniform cap, is one he’s seen several centuries ago, on an alien world, in a fictitious war.

There’s a war coming to America, and that teenage farm boy who just passed him on the street, telling a stunningly dirty joke about goats, is going to be kidnapped by aliens for a warped and incessant war game, and he can’t interfere, because he already did.

Wars are particularly delicate points in history; a small action can tip the scale. Pulling a single thread in this war would unravel much of American history from here on out, and by extension, much of the world. And in the middle of a war, he can’t stay still. He never could. It might be a result of calling himself the Doctor, but when someone’s hurt, someone’s bleeding, he has to help things heal.

He quits horse-shopping, and books passage to Australia inside of a week. There’s not going to be any wars in Australia for quite a while, and relatively little history to wreck.

-----------

Rose is stalling, she knows. She went back to sleep twice, and lounged around in bed afterwards, until she was wide awake, and bored. Instead of her usual shower, she took the longest, steamiest, most luxuriant bath of her life. She used foam, bath oils, mineral salts, and the special tap with the odd pink water that smells so nice. Afterwards, she needed a shower to rinse all that off. And now she’s poking around her closet, rummaging around the back, and contemplating a quick trip to the wardrobe room for a different outfit.

She’s being deliberately slow. Not just being lazy, in the ordinary Sunday-morning way of having nothing in particular to do, but trying to put the day off. Because it’s morning, it’s been morning for hours, and as soon as she’s finished all the waking up-getting dressed business, she’ll have to talk to Mickey about going home.

She grabs a stretched-out old t-shirt, and a pair of workout pants, and makes herself get dressed. Then she heads out to the kitchen where she knows Mickey will be waiting.

He cooked. Just a fry-up, but he cooked. It’s all laid out on the table, with fruit juice (orange-colored, but if it’s from the TARDIS cupboards, she won’t presume) and toast soldiers. He’s already eaten half of his, but he stands up and pulls out a chair for her, smiling apologetically.

Which is really unfair, because if anyone needs to apologize, it’s her. She didn’t treat him right yesterday, she knows. Letting him think they’re stranded. Sulking, and not even letting him talk about going home.

But he’d want to go home; that’s the problem. Given half a chance, Mickey would throw the switch, and go back to the Powell Estates and fixing cars for a living and taking her down the pub every Friday night. He’d write losing the Doctor off as bad luck.

And she can’t leave the Doctor behind.

She stabs her fork into the bacon disconsolately. Mickey and the Doctor. And she can never do right by both.

--------------

He doesn’t want to impact history, or at least do as little as he can. At first, teaching seems ideal.

He’s a terrible teacher, he knows. No talent for the job. Something about the human learning process doesn’t work how he thinks. He’s only found one way of teaching humans, and he doesn’t even have any alien monsters to threaten his pupils with.

He’s terrible at teaching, but tremendously good at lecturing. He can hold forth, in detail, on everything under the sun. He can conjure up enough worlds in a grain of sand to give William Blake night sweats.

That, along with a nice suit, a respectable accent (by Australian standards), and a good knowledge of Latin, is enough to land him a situation as a private tutor to two boys; the sons of a newly-respectable family that made their fortune in gold. The father wants the boys to have a proper education, now that he has money to send them to university in England.

It doesn’t go too badly, but there’s one thing he’s forgotten to take into account; humans may be genetically incapable of learning what you tell them, but children listen.

-------------

“So,” says Mickey.

“Yeah,” Rose replies. That buys her nearly five minutes.

“Look.” He starts, and break off. She’s clearing the dishes, dropping them in the Doctor’s special dishwasher. It looks like a metal bin, but dishes dropped in there, no matter how dirty, will turn up clean and stacked in the appropriate cupboard, in a matter of minutes.

She has no idea how it works, but it’s her favorite TARDIS gadget. She’s been doing the washing-up for her mum since she was nine, and she hates it every time.

As she’s shoving the frying pan in, Mickey finally completes a sentence. “We can’t stay here forever.”

“We could, actually.” Rose shoves the glasses aside, and sets the pan down. “The rest of out lives, at least. There’s food to last for centuries, and we’d be quite safe in the TARDIS.”

“Rose.” Mickey puts his hand on her arm.

Rose pulls away. “I know.”

She closes the lid on the dishwasher. “It’s his ship, you know. We can’t just take it.”

“He told you about the emergency switch, didn’t he. He’d have wanted you to get back safe.”

Rose turns to Mickey. “He’s not dead. Don’t talk about him like he’s dead!” A tear drips down her nose. Embarrassed, she wipes roughly at her eyes and turns away.

Mickey puts a hand on her shoulder. “Are you gonna spend the rest of your life waiting for the Doctor to turn up, then?”

Rose shrugs, and takes a deep breath. “I don’t know. Maybe…a week?”

“Rose, he’s a time traveler. If he’d found a way back, even if it took him a week, or a year, then he’d have come back by now. Face it, he’s stuck. The Doctor isn’t coming back.”

Rose turns to face Mickey. “You don’t know how it is with the Doctor. Not really. You haven’t been traveling with him. When you think it’s hopeless, when you’re ready to give up, he does what you though no one could. Give him a few days.”

It takes a relationship to spot the you’re-being-completely-unreasonable sigh, but Rose has known Mickey for years. He sighs, with the tiniest trace of an eye roll, and digs the toe of his shoe against the floor. “If we waited a day or two, would that make you feel better?”

Rose nods. “Yeah. It would.”

“Fine. Today and tomorrow. If the Doctor hasn’t turned up tomorrow, we go home.”

Rose bites her lip, and nods in agreement.

Mickey and the Doctor. And she can never do right by both.

-------------

“Have you really met the Aborigines?” Eva leans forward, biting her lip in fascination.

“Funny,” says the Doctor, “I could have sworn the assignment was French, not being generally inquisitive.”

“Come on, Professor, please?”

It’s unnerving when she calls him Professor, but it’s far more plausible than ‘Doctor’ for a teacher. He sets the book down.

“I’ve met a few, yes. Some of the locals. Why?”

“It’s just so fascinating. They’re out there, all those people, and you never hear anything about them. I’ve seen a few blacks on the street, but you can’t really tell anything from that. They have their own language?”

“Languages,” he says. “Hundreds. If I indulge this, will you get back to work on irregular verbs?”

“Can you speak them?”

“A few,” he shrugs. “Maybe a dozen.” Eva’s eyes are bright with enthusiasm. It would be downright cruel to inflict irregular French verbs on her right now.

“Can you teach me?” She sits up straight at her desk for the first time he’s ever seen. “Just a bit? Please?”

“Your parents hired me to teach you French, not Warlpiri.”

“Warlpiri?” She mangles the pronunciation. “Is that what they speak?”

“Not here. I’ve traveled a bit. It’s mostly Kurnai dialects around here.”

“Kurnai,” she breathes.

He’s never had an enthusiastic student before. He’s not sure if he’s ever met an enthusiastic student. He’s been one though, just like Eva right now, bright with energy over all the wrong things, and bored stiff by what it’s good for him to know.

He used to hang about the Academy after class, long ago, and harass Azmael about artron energy. Looking how that turned out, he really shouldn’t be doing this.

“Irregular verbs are really memorization work. You don’t need a teacher for that. If you can manage that on your own in the evenings, we can spend the days doing something more interesting.”

Eva nods energetically. “Thank you, Professor. You’re the best!” She folds up the French grammar, and glances around the room. “Can we start now?”

-------------

“I told you not to play with that! You’ll electrocute yourself!”

Mickey jerks his head up defensively from the ship’s console. “I’ll be careful. I’m not stupid, you know.”

Rose sighs, “I never said you were. There’s a big difference between being clever with computers, and able to work a spaceship from three thousand years in the future.”

“I know,” Mickey pouts. “I’m not touching the engines, or anything. But this is just the control unit. Mostly electrical. I can manage electrical.”

“Why do you need to? I don’t want to see you touch the wrong thing and turn into a pile of dust.”

“I think I can get it working.”

Rose stares at him. “Why would you want to do that? I told you, if the Doctor doesn’t turn up, I throw the switch, we’re home.”

“I know.” He turns back to the console.

“What is it then? Don’t tell me you have some daft idea like inventing the spaceship.”

Mickey shakes his head. “No, I just wanted to see….”

“See what?”

“If I could send a message or something. A distress signal. Let people know the ship is here.” His hands trace over the console nervously.

“But why? Everyone here’s dead, and this ship is lost…” Rose breaks off. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” he nods. “I figure the people on here, they had families or something. And they’d want to know.” He stares at a screen. “Stupid idea, I know.”

“It’s not stupid!”

“No, it is.” He taps a button. “I mean me, Mickey bloody Smith, auto mechanic, trying to work a spaceship. I can change a muffler, I can set up a blog, so of course I can work anything. I can’t even figure out that thing.” He waves a hand at the TARDIS.

“The TARDIS is way more advanced than this. Really, if you want to keep trying…”

“Maybe.” He shrugs. “Nothing better to do. Course, it was easier, before.”

“It was?” Rose asks.

“Yeah. Everything was labeled in English. Now look at it. It’s gone all weird.”

Rose looks down, at the broken-lettered writing. Then she looks away.

“What?” Mickey asks.

“Nothing.” She turns back to the TARDIS. “I’ll fetch tea.”

It’s nothing, really. She should have expected it. But she hadn’t noticed, with just her and Mickey.

The translation system’s not working. The Doctor’s gone.

----------

This is a really bad idea. A spectacularly bad idea. If he’s lucky, he’ll be dismissed for this. If he’s not, he’ll be lynched.

“Ready?” He turns to Eva. She’s dressed relatively practically, in the faded cotton and sturdy boots she wears when going for a nature hike.

She stares out at the encampment. “It’s safe? You’re sure? They’re…friendly?”

“Quite friendly.” He smiles. “I’ve visited before. Don’t worry. I’ll just let them know you’re a friend of mine.” He holds out his hand.

Eva takes his hand and walks into the Aboriginal encampment.

----------

“Communication.” Mickey’s leaning through the TARDIS doorway, breathless with excitement. “Rose, come on!” He beckons her, and dashes off, shoes squeaking on the metal grill.

Rose drops her phone, and follows him. When she gets to the controls, he’s vibrating with excitement, pointing to a speaker grill that’s spouting gibberish. “Look, Rose,” he says, “I did it!”

Rose grins hugely. “Mickey Smith, starship engineer. Look at you.” She turns to face the speaker. “So, who is it?”

“Not a clue. Sounds like Germans with an American accent. Maybe it’s English after three thousand years.” He taps a toggle switch. “When I do this, they can hear me. Hello?”

The box spouts incomprehensible syllables.

“Look mate, I don’t have a bloody clue what you’re talking about, but I am glad to hear your voice. There’s a ship here, stranded. About two-and-a-half galaxies from Earth, I think. The whole crew’s dead.” He flicked the switch down.

The voices on the other end are shouting, frantic.

“Rose?” Mickey asks, “What’s the ship called? Is there a name, or a number on it anywhere?”

Rose looks around the console room. “I don’t see one. Let me look.” She steps around the TARDIS, and pauses. “Mickey?” she says, “I think we’ve got a name.”

“What is it then?” He flips the switch up.

“You’re not gonna believe this…”

----------

The letter arrives when he’s in New Zealand. It’s grubby and worn, and at least ten years old. It’s addressed rather hesitantly to Professor Chemin, and it takes him a while to realize that’s supposed to be him.

He opens the envelope without check the return address, to find a letter from Eva inside.

She’s well, it seems, and happy. It must be fifteen years since she saw him; when he was promptly sacked for taking a respectable white English girl to an Aboriginal camp.

She’s married now, to a cattle rancher called Sam, who’s not entirely respectable, or English. He lets her visit the local encampments, and she’s compiling a book on languages and customs. A small thing, for friends and relatives, and if he’ll write her with a permanent address, she’ll send him a copy.

He has an unpleasant suspicion about this, but he can’t think of any great nineteenth-century linguists called Eva, so he puts it aside.

The letter ends with the assurance that she’s happy, and he’s welcome to visit anytime he likes. There’s an assurance that he was a good teacher, and a slightly unsettling appeal for reassurance that he’d be proud of her.

He smiles, and tucks the letter away in his pocket, then pulls the envelope out to check the name. And laughs. Laughs ‘til the innkeeper stares at him.

Eva’s husband was definitely not English, and he suspects she’ll keep the language studies up. The letter is signed Mrs. Eva Jovanka.
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