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A Fragment of the Timestream

Title: A Fragment of the Timestream
Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Fourth Doctor, Leela
Pairing(s): None
Rating: G
Genre: Sci-fi
Word Count: 3524

Summary: When the Doctor attempts to educate Leela about her human ancestry, they discover an anomaly in the oddest of places: Norwich in 1913.


Chafing at the restriction the long dress and wool coat placed on her movements, Leela fidgeted as she walked down the street with the Doctor, trying to loosen the cloth that was hampering her. Even her chestnut hair, which normally hung loose past her shoulders, was tied with a ribbon at the nape of her neck. She would never admit to the Doctor, though, that this was an improvement: she need no longer worry about stray locks in her face during the chaos of battle. Not that there was any chance of such glory here, in this large village of unarmed humans who barely noticed things that were going on around them as they rushed on to who knows where.

"You don't need to keep adjusting your clothes, Leela," the Doctor remarked, his tone as condescending as ever. "You appear very convincing as a native of this time and place."

"This garb is impractical. I cannot move well in it. And with so many layers of cloth, it will take me too much time to get to my dagger." She lifted her coat a bit to reveal the dress and petticoat beneath it.

"There's nothing to threaten us here, Leela. This is Norwich, a civilized city in England on Earth." He gestured at the people and vehicles passing by. "It's quite safe."

The warrior girl looked around her, but she would never allow herself to let down her guard. "From what I have seen, the places you claim are 'quite safe' rarely are. The last time you had me wear such strange clothing, we were attacked the moment we stepped out of the TARDIS."

"Ah." He nodded, tacitly acknowledging her point. "But if you remember, the city itself wasn't a threat. The danger was brought to it by a stranger, a time traveller from the future."

"And you are both a stranger and a time traveller."

Inclining his head to the side, he wagged a finger at her. "Don't get philosophical, Leela. It doesn't suit you."

"What is 'philoso...' er, 'philos...'? What is that word?"

Amused, the Doctor ignored her question. "This is the history of your people, Leela. These humans are learning to make science work for them. They don't constantly have enemies at their gate. They don't have to work every day simply to feed themselves, so they have time now for other pursuits. Art, literature, and look there, a street musician."

Vigilant as she always was for hidden threats and assessing the tactical layout of her surroundings, the savage girl cared little for observing culture, and she had to force herself to attend to what the Doctor was telling her and to look at the city and its people themselves. She immediately dismissed the street musician as irrelevant. The buildings were unremarkable: they were similar to what she had seen in London when the Doctor had taken her there at a time twenty years before this one, though this time there were strange black vines strung high on tall, straight poles, all down the street. Horse-drawn carriages of many types crawled in both directions, with individual people walking on the sidewalks dashing among the slow-moving vehicles. She did notice one interesting difference between this city and the one she had seen earlier: the occasional black metal box rattling by on wheels without horses, with people sitting inside it. They made a horrible rumbling noise and belched black smoke from their tail ends.

"The air smells of poison." Leela wrinkled her nose in a sneer.

"That it does. It comes from the engines of those cars there. It'll get much worse in the future, and humans won't learn to clean up after themselves for quite some time." Leela could see his disappointment in this facet of humanity.

"If this is what my ancestors were like, the Sevateem have evolved far past them." Unconsciously, she straightened with pride. "We discarded this evil magic long ago."

The Doctor stopped walking to turn toward her, and followed suit, looking up at him questioningly. "Technology, Leela, not magic. And it's not evil. There's good and bad. These humans are making technology work for them, to provide comfort and leisure that your people do not have, and their world is safer and less violent than yours. These people don't need to carry a weapon to survive every day. And they will learn to apply their science to preserve the natural world, too. It just takes time. Come, you must be hungry. Let me introduce you to some of their culinary arts. There are wondrous meals that can be prepared when you've more than just fire to work with."

As they strolled, the Doctor continued to point out interesting sights and explain to Leela the culture of these strange humans. She knew that the Doctor was trying to educate her (though she truly didn't know what he meant by that) and so she tried hard to understand, but she still found these worlds he took her to bewildering. All her life had been spent fighting the war against the Tesh, and to see men - of all shapes and sizes, obviously not trained warriors - walking down the street without worry, without watching their surroundings for surprise attacks was still completely alien to her. Their nonchalance caused her to be vigilant, nervous, and defensive on their behalf, and though she could not hold her weapon at the ready, her eyes continuously scanned the area for danger.

Thus, when the Doctor suddenly stopped both his stride and his sentence and stared across the street, Leela responded by hunkering into a cat-like stance, ready to spring. She followed his stare to pedestrians strolling past shops. "What is it, Doctor? What is wrong?"

"I'm sure I don't know," he murmured. His tone was both absent and intrigued. His eyes flicked to his companion. "Oh, Leela, it's nothing dangerous. Stand like a lady."

She straightened, but remained cautious. Continuing to watch both the Doctor and the other side of the street, she deduced that the Doctor was concerned with two men in long gray wool coats and black fedoras who were standing in front of a shop, gesturing at the items in the shop window and conversing; all of the other people had moved off, but he still stared in their direction. "Are those two men a threat? I shall need my knife." She began to pull her dress up to get at the scabbard on her thigh, but the Doctor stopped her with a hand on her arm.

"No, leave your knife where it is. They're not a threat, but the one on the left is rather interesting. I should…" As his words trailed off, he strode purposefully out into the street, oblivious to the horses that were pulled up short before they trampled him. Hiking up her skirts, Leela glanced at the carriage to make sure it was still stationary, then ran after him. She ignored the not-so-polite shouts that followed her.

Gaining the opposite sidewalk, the Doctor immediately addressed the men. "Excuse me. Would you happen to know if this haberdashery does good work? I find myself in need of some new trousers." He stepped between them to stare at the items in the window.

Both men turned to the man who just interrupted their conversation, and Leela watched them closely as she approached. The one on the right, a short, rotund man with closely cropped peppered hair and a jovial air about him, looked the stranger up and down, a bit put off by his odd manner of dress. The one on the left, a taller man, though not quite as tall as the Doctor, with russet hair and a narrow face, had a friendly countenance that immediately changed to shock as he spied the newcomer. His mouth dropped open for a moment, then closed as he frowned. Leela's eyes narrowed and she kept a close watch on him as his friend replied to the Doctor.

"I'm sorry but we're wondering the same as you. We're from out of town, shopping for some shirts for John here," he said, indicating his friend. Stepping back, the Doctor nodded in greeting to the taller man, who had, by this time, schooled his expression to be carefully neutral.

"A pity. It's always so difficult to find good workmanship and value, don't you think? Oh, where are my manners? I'm John Smith. Pleased to meet you." Flashing a wide smile with lots of teeth, the Doctor offered his hand to the gray-haired man.

"What an odd coincidence!" the man replied as he glanced at his friend. "You both have the same name! I'm George Andrews." George shook the proffered hand.

John offered his hand also, though his words were for his friend. "It's a very common name. I'm bound to meet someone with it rather often. A pleasure, Mr. Smith."

The Doctor glanced at John's hand. "That's probably not a good idea." Oblivious to John's affronted confusion, he turned to indicate Leela. "And let me introduce my fair companion. This is Leela." Still warily watching the thin man, she saw his tongue flick behind his teeth as he silently pronounced her name at the same time the Doctor spoke it. He seemed just as surprised as she was that he knew it.

"A very unusual name. And a very pretty one." George gave her a slight bow, and John followed suit, still discomfited.

"I am named after the greatest warrior in the history of my people," Leela replied, squaring her shoulders. She was proud of her heritage.

"A woman?" John asked. "She must have been most remarkable."

Leela bristled. "A woman may be as strong a warrior as any man. It is not brute strength that makes a warrior. It is courage and cunning and skill."

"And you have all three in spades." The Doctor continued on to the two men, ignoring her. "If you're not from here, where are you from? If I may ask."

"We're teachers at the Farringham School for Boys, about ten miles northeast of here." John glanced around at the buildings to get his bearings, then pointed in the general direction.

"Ah, locals, at least, then."

"I am," replied George. "Grew up in Cromer. John's from somewhere west, I believe."

"Nottingham, though last I was working in Birmingham. There's a city I don't miss." Leela noticed that he had recovered well. If he was still confused, he was no longer showing it.

"Nottingham?" The Doctor peered at him. "I'd have pegged you for being from much farther away."

John laughed. "Really? Not I. Grew up there, then university and teaching in Birmingham, then here. I'm not much of a traveller. I haven't even been to London, ever." He glanced over the Doctor's outfit, from the felt hat, to the puffy cravat, and down the trailing scarf. "Now you, I'd guess you were from there, but possibly having spent some time in Paris?"

"Leela and I, we're both explorers of a sort, from a long way away and going wherever the wind takes us. Always looking for the new and unusual." Both time travellers watched John carefully.

"It must be a strange wind that brings you to Norwich," remarked George.

The Doctor smiled again, his grin almost manic. "No stranger than any other. There's always something to see, anywhere you go."

John seemed to make up his mind and blurted out before he could change it, "Pray, have you been to Nottingham, or Birmingham, in your travels?"

The Doctor frowned. "Not Birmingham that I can recall. I have been to Nottingham once, quite a long time ago, when I was young. Charming town. Why do you ask?"

"You seem familiar, and I'm simply trying to place you. Though," he laughed, "I think I should remember your name quite well."

The Doctor pursed his lips in thought. "Well, I can't truthfully claim to recognise you."

"No, I suppose not." John shook his head. "I must be thinking of someone else."

"Well." The Doctor clapped his hands together. "Leela and I must be off. I wish you great fortune in your sartorial pursuits, gentlemen."

"'Sartorial'?" mused Leela. "What does this word mean, Doctor?"

"'Doctor'?" Choking on the word, John stared at the tall man in alarm.

The Doctor smiled. "I am a doctor of the sciences."

"He is a man of great wisdom," Leela averred.

"And here we were, thinking so well of ourselves as teachers, with a real man of learning in our midst." George extended his hand to the Doctor, who shook it cordially. "It was an honour to meet you, Dr. Smith."

"And you, Mr. Andrews." The Doctor nodded to the younger man. "Mr. Smith. Come along, Leela." The two travellers took their leave and crossed to the other side of the street.

Once they gained the sidewalk, the Doctor began talking as they walked. "What did you think of them, Leela?"

Leela stated immediately, "The one called George was friendly, but he lacked the focus that a warrior needs to be effective."

The Doctor's mouth curved into a smile. "You don't need to evaluate everyone against the model of a good warrior."

"That is the standard that all of the Sevateem are measured against."

He peered at her as he asked his next question. "And what about John?"

"There is something wrong with him," Leela declared.

"How so?"

"He feels wrong. He feels... he feels like he stands beside himself, that when I look at him, I should look off to the side to really see him." She stopped walking, and the Doctor also stopped and turned to listen to her. "He recognised you. When he first saw you. But he did not know you. And he knew my name, before you told him."

Nodding, the Doctor stared absently as he thought. "You are right. Something is wrong with him. The timestream makes eddies around him, but they are broken."

"More magic."

He looked at her, catching her gaze before continuing. "Science, Leela. Time Lord science. The timestream of the universe encompasses everyone, but..." His eyes wandered as he thought. "He seems to exist in a fragment of the timestream, stretching back about a month and forward about a month, but broken off beyond that, like a vine chopped by a machete."

Leela glanced back toward the haberdashery. "He is dangerous, then. Shouldn't you do something about him?"

The Doctor shook his head. "He's not dangerous. He's an anomaly, but nothing more. He's not a threat to the universe or the vortex. Just a strange human anomaly."

"But how could he know you? How could he know my name?"

"There are any number of explanations for that." He waved dismissively. "For one, he might have some latent psychic ability. It's very rare in humans, but not unheard of."

Leela stepped toward him. "You know, don't you, Doctor? You know what's wrong with him."

"I do not know, Leela, but I have my suspicions. And if I am right, it is best that I leave well enough alone."

. _ . _ . _ . _ .


The delicate moments before he realised he was awake were always the most enjoyable for John. He was no longer immersed in his vivid dreams in which he was the mad explorer flying from one adventure to the next, yet he wasn't quite John Smith the schoolteacher, but instead some delicious mix of the two. To be someone else and yet yourself, to explore the world without stepping foot out of your bedroom: that was just enough of a taste of an exciting life for him. He was content with his life at this school, in this tiny village - a bland life, some might say - but with just a touch of spice added by his dreams.

Half a minute more, and he was staring up at the ceiling, the dream slowly retreating back into the night. Eager to catch what was left of it, he sprang up from the bed and threw on his dressing gown, then pulled his journal from his desk drawer. Riffling through it to find a blank page, he spotted something among the scribbles and drawings, and he flipped back a few leaves. His breath caught as he saw the impossible: the face of the man he had met yesterday among the sketches of the ten men that haunted his dreams. John's own face was there, too, but he'd always assumed that these sketches, made hastily as he tried to capture the fleeting images upon awakening every morning, were of the different characters he'd dreamed he'd been, all called "the Doctor."

John collapsed back in his chair and clapped his hand to his mouth as his mind whirled. How could this be? How could this "Doctor" in my dreams be walking down the streets of Norwich? I thought I was the "Doctor" in the dreams. Who was that man?

Doctor. The woman, Leela, had called the man "Doctor". Of course she would, he chided himself. He's a doctor. What else would she call him? He couldn't admit to himself that as a friend and travelling companion, and not a student, colleague or patient, she shouldn't be addressing him by a title. And the woman herself, she'd been in his dreams, too, though only a handful of times.

Propping his elbows on the desk, he buried his face in his hands. That encounter had disturbed him, and he realised now that he'd tried very hard to forget it, to ignore the puzzles it created. Though it always seemed to him that having such dreams was unusual, they didn't bother him, but now they were walking in broad daylight. It was impossible. I must be remembering Dr. Smith incorrectly. The man in my dreams couldn't possibly look that much like him. I think. Am I going mad?

A knock on the door jolted him back to the present, and he called, "Enter." He looked up to see his maid, Martha, entering with his breakfast and the morning newspaper. She saw the confusion in his eyes and that he had been leaning on the desk, and she stopped short.

"Are you all right, Mr. Smith? What's wrong?"

He straightened and smiled at her before answering. "Oh, nothing really, Martha. Just worrying about nothing." His attempt to be cheerful and flippant fell flat.

"I can always tell when you're hiding something, sir." She approached and set the tray on the corner of his desk. "Something's happened."

He leaned back and bit his lip. "It was nothing. I met a man in town yesterday, and he looked just like one of the people I see in my dreams. A bit startling, to be honest, but no great matter."

Martha stared at him, mouth agape. "You met a man from your dreams, sir?"

Coming from her, the idea sounded completely absurd. "Well, of course not, not really. He just looked uncannily like him." He reached his long arm out to tap the sketch in the journal. "This one here."

Martha glanced over at it. "Who is that?"

"The Doctor."

The maid frowned, confused. "But, sir, in your dreams, you're the Doctor."

"Yes."

She pointed at the sketch of himself. "That one's you, sir. Not the other one."

"Right, Martha. But he's also the Doctor."

She cocked an eyebrow at him. "You're him in your dreams, sir?"

"Sometimes. In different dreams, I'm all of these." John waved his hand over the ten sketches on the page.

Martha opened her mouth to say something, then closed it, then stared at the page again. "Oh, sir, I don't pretend to understand any of it. But never you mind about it. Look at all these pictures, sir. They're all so different. You're bound to meet people who look like one or two of them sometime. My mum had a word for it, when you see things you thought you saw before…"

"Deja vu? Perhaps that's it. Perhaps I saw this drawing today and it reminded me of the man I met. Well, whatever the cause, there's no use dwelling on it, is there?" He stood up to slide his breakfast to himself.

"Just what I say, sir." Glancing one last time at the journal page, Martha turned to start making up the bed.

John was not quite satisfied with the explanation, but as he could not provide one of his own, he tried his best to ignore the incident and its implications. If something like it happened again, he would consider it further, but for now, he had his work to get on with, and he thought about it no more.

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