Scenic Route

by lurking_latinist [Reviews - 1]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Character Study, Fluff, General

Author's Notes:
Written for FalseQueenOfDust in Space Swap 2022. Originally posted to AO3.

"Doctor," says Evelyn over breakfast, taking a last sip of her tea, "I want you to take me somewhere."

"I have every intention of doing so," says the Doctor, nose still in Murder Must Advertise. She asked him once whether he hadn't run out of Golden Age mystery novels over the centuries he'd apparently been a fan of Earth culture. He confessed to rereading them frequently, and claimed to forget 'who done it' regularly every fifty years, although—he confided—he always guessed the baronet, if there was one. Given that she'd seen him struggle to place the identity of real-life genocidal maniacs he'd apparently ticked off in a previous incarnation, she finds this surprisingly believable.

"Anywhere in particular, or were you just feeling the craving for a fixed space-time location?" he goes on.

She sighs theatrically and pokes him with her empty mug. "Don't be flippant."

"You wouldn't have me any other way," he says, looking up from his book. Then he flashes that disarming, naughty-choirboy grin.

"No, I wouldn't," she admits. "But I do want you to take me to the Interplanetary Historical Symposium of 2763."

"All of time and space, and you want to visit an academic conference?"

"Some of us have careers," she says with dignity. "Besides, it's in my field."

"Ah, well, in that case," says the Doctor. He gets up, carrying his unfinished mug of coffee to the console room, and Evelyn follows close behind him. "I don't suppose you would have the coordinates for this noble enterprise?"

"I do," she says, fishing in the pocket of her cardigan for a bit of paper with her small, slanted writing on it. "It was in the call for papers. I found it in a book," she added. "It must have been in there for ages, but, well, you know—time machine!"

The Doctor sets his coffee on the upper rim of the console, next to the currently quiescent time rotor. "Now who's being flippant?" he says, squinting at her bit of paper as he types in the coordinates. "Don't disrespect her; she's sensitive."

Evelyn laughs, not entirely at the idea that the TARDIS would be sensitive but because it seems to be what he's expecting from her. But she stops laughing when the Doctor pulls the lever and, rather than the usual smooth grinding noise, the TARDIS begins pitching and rolling with a noisy shriek. His coffee goes flying, spilling hot liquid all over the console. That's going to be sticky to clean up, she thinks, and then the time rotor speeds up, the lights blink twice and then become much brighter, and the buttons begin to flash in patterns that she's pretty sure don't actually indicate an exciting disco night.

"Doctor?" she asks.

"It's fine! Probably," he says, mopping at the console with his coat-tails and sleeve. (Later he'll complain about this sacrifice and tell her the coat is irreparably stained, and she'll say "how could you tell?") "Look, we've landed."

"Oh good," she says dubiously. He opens the TARDIS door and gestures her grandly out, half chivalrous knight and half hotel doorman.

The view is spectacular: a vivid lilac sky, tall graceful trees draped in a riot of color, a still shimmering lake. But the only sign of life is the winged shapes—birds, she thinks, but you never can tell—that chase each other through the clouds with musical cries.

"The conference was on a space station," she says.

"Oh," says the Doctor. He turns slowly back toward the TARDIS door, looking back on the strange planet as he goes. What the heck, she thinks, and says: "There's no hurry. After all, we have a time machine. Let's take a walk."

He smiles and rushes forward instead, for all the world like a kid who's just been turned loose to play in a park. Even he can't get into too much trouble here, she thinks as she follows at a more sedate pace.

When they arrive back at the TARDIS, with wet feet and twigs in their hair, they're hungry for lunch. The console is still making alarming noises at odd intervals and the Doctor seems concerned that the kitchen might be affected as well, so it's cold sandwiches—ham, cheese and mustard for Evelyn; cheese and tomato for the Doctor, who's recently remembered (again) that he's a vegetarian—and the Doctor eats his standing up while he fusses over the console.

"I really don't think that's a good idea," Evelyn tells him. "Suppose you dropped your sandwich into the workings. That wouldn't help, would it?"

"I wouldn't do that," says the Doctor. "Besides, maybe she's hungry."

Evelyn decides there's nothing she can say to that.

"Fixed!" announces the Doctor proudly, and pulls the lever.

The time rotor moves with a slightly more normal noise, but Evelyn's still alarmed by the number of lights that are on. But before she can mention this, it seems they've already landed. The Doctor opens the door with slightly less flair this time, presumably to avoid embarrassment, but the waft of musty, cold air through the open door suggests that at the very least they've managed to land indoors.

Evelyn steps cautiously out, looking around herself. It looks and smells rather like an old castle: not the dungeons, but not the banqueting hall either. (And given their luck, which one of those was she more likely to get as a point of comparison?)

Around the corner comes a very young woman in a long, loose-sleeved gown, hair hanging in two plaits around a white, startled face. She crosses herself and exclaims, "Strangers! Spies for the usurper against my lady the Empress!"

"Look at her dress—twelfth century," Evelyn whispers to the Doctor as the waiting-woman runs off in a panic. "Empress Maud, I'll bet you."

"Well, at least it's historical," the Doctor says defensively. But Evelyn's not cross—she's already taking notes.

She ends up with notes on the dungeons of course, but also on the banqueting hall, as it turns out, thanks to the Doctor's silver tongue (he certainly could turn on the charm when he bothered) and Evelyn's own cool head. By the time they make it back to the TARDIS, it's subjectively quite late in the evening, and they're sleepy with torchlight and mead.

"Well, there's no sense going to the conference now," says Evelyn, when they've kicked off their shoes in the TARDIS library. "I need to revise my whole argument—this will revolutionize our understanding of the Anarchy! I don't suppose we could wait a week or two?"

"As long as you like," says the Doctor, already stretched out in an armchair. "I can guarantee our navigation will be in tip-top shape by then."

"As much as it ever is," she mutters, and he sniffs dismissively. "But what I want to know," she goes on, "is why did it happen in the first place?"

"The coffee upset her systems, poor old girl," he says, patting the wall affectionately.

"But she was malfunctioning before the coffee was spilt," Evelyn persists.

"Well, yes," says the Doctor. "Inversion of cause and effect—that's the first thing you notice when a time machine is malfunctioning."

Evelyn looks at him skeptically, trying to work out if that makes sense. "But then what caused—"

"Shh," says the Doctor, adopting what passes for a whisper with him. "I shouldn't bring it up if I were you. She's terribly embarrassed."

"That's right," said Evelyn, smiling. "She's sensitive."