Carrying Coals to Newcastle|
by Rebecca Dowgiert
The man in the green velvet jacket was listening to Figis avidly. "You say he travels space and time, manipulating events to his fancy? How extraordinary!"
The graduate student nodded. "Most people think it's just an urban legend, but it's true. A friend of mine knows someone who said they saw him passing through Helus Junction once. Two years back -- saw him walk right into a big blue box, and when he looked back a minute later, it had disappeared!
The man in front of him was muttering, frowning as if deep in thought. Feeling Figis's bemused regard, he looked up, piercing blue gaze catching Figis's brown eyes. "Sorry. Just trying to figure out which me..." His voice trailed off.
Figis blinked. "Anyways, he calls himself the Doctor, and wherever he shows up, weird stuff happens."
"Really? What sort of 'stuff'?"
"Oh, alien invasions, rebellions, wars. That sort of thing."
"Oh, dear... It sounds terribly exciting." A quick smile. "Rather too hectic for the likes of me." The strange man jumped up from his seat, reached out to grasp Figis's hand, then shook it vigorously. "Good-bye, Figis! Do take care. I never did believe all those things they said about you, you know."
Figis blinked gain. "What?"
The stranger smiled, clapped Figis on the shoulder, and said: 'Don't worry; if all goes well, you won't find out!" He disappeared into the crowd and was gone.
Figis stared after the man, then scratched his head. He was just lifting his drink to his mouth when he froze, his attention caught by the sight of an older, greying man in a nubby wool jacket and short pants who was rapidly approaching his table. Figis lowered the cup as the man slid into the chair that the other stranger had just vacated.
"Excuse me," Figis said, perturbed.
"Hullo again, Figis!" the man said, smiling. He suddenly shivered, glancing off in the direction in which the younger, brown-haired man had departed. "Cut it close," he muttered. "I was just here..."
"Look, what's going on here?" Figis complained, annoyed. "People I don't know keep coming up to me and babbling to me--"
The man opposite turned his keen attention to him, and he stared back at the grey, grey eyes...
"Just something I forgot to mention last time," the man said. He leaned forward, one hand emerging from a tweed jacket cuff to point a stern index finger at him. "Very important. Don't forget to shut the iron off," the man told him. "Can you remember that?"
Figis stared, unnerved. "Shut the iron off... But I--"
"It's very important. You must remember that."
The man's expression softened somewhat at Figis's confusion. "You must be sure to always shut it off when leaving the house. Can you remember to do that?"
Figis glared. "Of course -- I'm not a five-year old, for heaven's sake! What's this all about?!"
The man opposite smiled. "Of course you're not. I just had to be sure to remind you." He got up and reached forward to shake Figis's hand, then turned and departed the way he had come.
Figis stared after him, then glanced at his hand. "It must be a full moon or something," he muttered, reaching to lift his cup again. He took one swig and then angrily put it down again on the table with a thump. Yet another stranger was approaching his table!
The man, tall with short cropped dark hair, light blue eyes in an angular face, and a baggy dark sack suit, was carrying a small package. Figis slumped in resignation as the man sat down opposite him.
"Let me guess," Figis sighed. "You know me, but I don't know you."
The man gave him an odd look, then smiled. "Never mind about that now -- here. I've found the perfect solution." He held out the box, and a bemused Figis took it.
"A cordless iron w-with an automatic shut-off?" he said, peering at the box, then easing open one end and peeking inside. "But -- I -- but why?"
The man looked at him soberly. "Let's just say that...accidents happen. You -- and many other people -- will be much happier if you use this iron, rather than one of the older styles. Go on, take it -- it's yours."
Figis's eyes narrowed. "Look, people I don't know keep coming up to me, then you give me an iron! I'm not taking this anywhere until someone tells me what's going on!"
The stranger's shoulders slumped. "You couldn't just take the iron...?" he asked hopefully.
"Who are you?! Is this some sort of practical joke?!"
The man bowed his head, then looked up again, a rueful smile on his face. "Figis," he said. Something in the word distracted the younger man from his incipient tirade; made him sit up and Pay Attention.
And then the stranger told him exactly why he should take this iron home and use it instead of the older model he and his wife had.
Figis sat back, stunned. Incredible as the information was, it had the ring of truth. "M-My baby boy? He'd die?" he almost whispered. He didn't think it was a practical joke any more, but how could this man sit here and say these things? "Who are you?" Figis asked, almost pleading.
The man met his gaze steadily. "I'm the Doctor."
Figis stared. "You're the-- That guy?"
The man nodded.
"I don't believe it -- no, maybe I do-- I--" Figis's voice trailed off. "Why are you doing this?"
doesn't have to happen. Because it will take so very little to prevent it."
"But why me?"
"You will use this now, won't you?" the Doctor asked, instead of answering his question.
"W-Well, yes, I guess... Yes. Yes, I will," Figis said, a new decisiveness entering his voice. "You know, it's funny; Jean was saying that maybe it was time we should get a new iron. She'll really like this one."
The Doctor smiled. "Good; I'm glad... Now, I must be going." He held out his hand and Figis took it. "Well...thank you, Doctor," the student said. "I'll just use this, and..."
The man opposite nodded encourangingly. "Good-bye, Figis." He walked away and was gone.
Figis sat, staring at the box sitting in front of him. He shook his head several times, still bemused, then grabbed his cup and tossed back the rest of his drink. Putting the cup back down, he continued to stare at the iron.
Not far away, two figures stood, watching the lone man who was staring at the box.
"You didn't tell him about what he was going to become, did you?" a woman's voice asked.
"No, of course not," a man's voice said, sounding scandalized. "Besides, if all goes well, it never will happen. Have happened."
"It really takes so very little to push a life in a certain direction..." the woman mused. "How will you know it worked?"
True to his word, Figis took the iron home. His wife was delighted, and immediately switched it with the old one.
"Hon, what'd you do with the old iron?" Figis called, looking around for it a short time later.
"It's in the hallway. I thought I'd give it to the next door neighbors. Their son is going off to school; he could probably use it."
"Uh, hon... I think we should just throw it out. It's really old."
"Oh... Well, if you really think so..."
"Yes, I really think so," he muttered, walking into the front hall and grabbing the offending appliance, glaring at it as if it were poisonous. Marching over to the wastebasket, he dropped it in with satisfaction.
"Doctor?" Marylin's voice came faintly to his ears. "You okay?
The Time Lord stirred. "Oh, I'm fine." he smiled serenely. "It's happened."
"What -- you mean the future's been changed? Figis's future?"
"And that of many other people's as well. For the better."
"Oh. Good." She paused, then inquired neutrally, "What made you decide to make this change? I mean, it's obvious that it'll help a lot of people, but..."
"Won't I get in trouble? With my own people? Not very likely -- if the change is far enough back along the person's time-line, as this one was, the corresponding ripple is small enough to be well-nigh undetectable."
"Oh. Okay." She smiled and wandered away from his chair. He watched her go. It was obvious that his new companion was still a bit unsure of him.
Terent Gabol was wandering down Broad street when he saw a perfectly good-looking iron sitting on top of one of the trash bins standing at attention on the curb, waiting for pick-up.
He picked it up, examining it closely. No frayed wire that he could see, no gunk cemented to the bottom plate. Might as well take it home and see if it worked.
Marylin's head jerked around from where she was sitting in the wing-backed chair before the crackling fireplace set in one wall of the warm and graceful Federal-style Console Room.
The Doctor was leaning forward, arms braced before him on the wooden Console, transfixed by something he had just seen on one of the monitors.
What had most caught her attention was the fact that the interesting string of vehementally-expelled syllabels had been incomprehensible to her. Odd. "Doctor? Something the matter?"
He ignored her query. "That most definitely was not there before!" he muttered fiercely, glaring at the offending read-out. Sighing, he re-ran the data query.
There could be no doubt. There was a new Dictator in the TARDIS's History Data Banks, one 'Terent Gabol', listed next to a string of atrocities that almost exactly matched the historic profile of... He frowned and rubbed the bridge of his nose, where a dull ache of realization was settling in.
He must be losing it -- he'd seldom so badly misjudged a 'changeable' vesus an 'immutable' event before...
"Doctor?" someone said tentatively at his side.
"Yes!" he snapped. An instant later, his eyes flew open. Marilyn Archer was by no means used to his ways yet, and here he'd just frightened her...
Again he'd misjudged. As he turned to her, her eyes were narrowing in anger. "Well, excuse me!" she snapped back. "I was just wondering if anything was wrong!" She turned on her heel, prepared to march off in a huff.
If the Doctor had learned anything over the centuries, it was first aid for bruised human egos.
"Marylin." His voice stopped her, caused her to peek over her shoulder. "Sorry. It's not you - I just saw something very disturbing in the Data Banks, that's all."
Mollified, she turned back. "Oh. Was it something very bad?"
He rubbed his brow again. "In the grand scheme of things? Not
the worst. Mostly... a feeling... of futility."