(This story was first published in Issue #2 of Dreamtime, the e-zine of the PMEB.)
Sam Jones stood in her room amidst her belongings,sorting though them.
They were overdue for a good reorganization. It was amazing how much stuff you could collect, just from a quick jaunt through the seven galaxies.
Actually, most of this wasn't hers, it was the Doctor's. On temporary loan. Books, clothing, data and music disks -- the trick was hunting down the appropriate style of player, no simple task in an interdimensional time travelling craft which, she was increasingly convinced, was not above switching a few corridors and rooms around just to amuse itself.
At least the TARDIS hadn't ever hidden her room. Yet.
She stacked the thirty-five tomes of Ancient Knowledge (the complete Family Collection of the most esoteric humor from the Frang system, each volume age-geared from either preschool up through second senescence) neatly up against the wall, where they sat and looked smug.
The sizable collection of music disks, she piled into the Inuit infant carrier she'd found in a distant storage room. Lifting it up, she hung it on a wall hook.
Shoving a few parasteel boxes aside with her bare foot, she waded on into the breach -- the mound of clothing lurking at the foot of her bed. Putting hands on hips, Sam sighed. The detritus of a marathon "dress-up" session after she'd discovered the wardrobe room, the pile truly daunted.
She sighed again. Her mess. Time to clean it up.
Leaning forward, she yanked silk dresses, the red wool army coat, monks' robes and a toga she'd had no party to wear to off the floor. The fancies she lay gently on her bed; the simple homespun garments she tossed on near the pillows.
Another armful went on the counterpane, then ...
Sam's hand froze where it had just snagged a simple patch of white fabric, then finished pulling the garment free.
Her white Amnesty International T-shirt.
She shook it out, held it up by the shoulders, and stared at it. This shirt had been through the wars -- literally. The originally white fabric was strewn with stains: mud, grass, a couple of faded blood stains, scrubbed but never completely removed.
The blue silk-screened logo was still there, though, the barbed wire-wrapped candle, the flame that burned on through all the oppression. Her favorite shirt for a long time, though it had been a while since she'd last worn it. It was quite tatty. She could get another one easily, of course, but that wasn't the point. Tucking it under her chin, she smoothed out the wrinkles and began to fold it, then froze.
That jagged edged hole, since mended, clumsily sewn up with thread. Sam ran her fingers over the meandering raised seam, remembering...
Helus Junction, through which more than a million sentients passed every day.
Well, it sure beat Heathrow.
Samantha Jones strolled though the myriad throngs of humans, humanoids and more varied aliens, trusty Time Lord sidekick at her side. Handy, that -- he came with his own time and Space-travelling craft, a tropism for the nearest threat to the universe, and the occasional paternal affectation, which she indulged more often than not. After all, he was more than a thousand years old -- some allowances had to be made. She grinned.
The Doctor, natty and rather Raphelian in Fancy Victorian Dress and chestnut locks, turned his head to look at her and raised an eyebrow.
Sam looked back at him with answering tilted brow. Dueling brows again -- she never should've let him watch those Star Trek tapes.
"Yes?" she inquired.
He merely smiled, and turned his attention back to the paper bag he was holding in one hand as he rooted around in it with the other.
Sam snorted inwardly. Trying to psych her out again, as if he could read her mind or something. Sheyeaaah, right ...
The Doctor's smile widened slightly. The next instant, he froze, fleeting panic washing over his face as he stared into the crinkled white bag.
"Oh, no," he moaned. "Sam," he said briskly, his head snapping up as he reverted to competency, "I've an errand to run. I'll be just a few minutes."
"Sure; take your time. I'll be right over here at the news-stand ..." She pointed over at the bustling vendor island of hard and soft copies of periodicals from throughout the system as the Doctor trotted off into the crowd with a wave of acknowledgment.
Sam spent some time browsing, examining the many different printed journals and wishing that the TARDIS's "language gift" extended to the written word, too, not just speech. After a little fumbling, she pulled the appropriate money card out of a jeans pocket, logged onto a computer and cruised the local version of the internet, idly perusing the big news events of the day.
Growing restive, she wandered back out along the spiraling curve of the stand's outer wall, there to lean, hands in pockets, looking for the Doctor. He wasn't off getting into some trouble without her, was he?
She glanced around, a little suspicious, taking note of the beings around her. A couple of humans, a Jarg in camouflage (which for them meant bright gold lame), and a humanoid with three-fingered hands and a much squatter nose than the human norm.
Sam glanced away, then back at the man. Businessman, probably, in a muted suit. They seldom seemed to change their look, no matter what planet or time they came from.
This one was a sad-sack if she'd ever seen one. He was picking up periodical after periodical, glancing at them without really seeming to look at them, then putting them back. Using up time, like her.
There was a quality of resigned weariness to his movements, she noted. Reach, lift, open, flip. Replace. Not paying much attention to his immediate surroundings, he was drawing close to her where she leaned. She considered holding her ground, then decided to move over.
He glanced up, startled, as she shifted her position, re-alighting several meters further down.
"Oh! Pardon," he said.
Sam smiled just a little. "Don't worry about it."
He smiled back cautiously, his gaze flicking over her in an attempt to see all of her without being impolite and staring.
Sam looked back, unperturbed. Let him look; didn't bother her. She'd stared at and been stared at by so many different beings it had become positively routine.
"Beg pardon," he began, "I don't mean to offend, but your shirt ..."
Sam glanced down at her shirt and suppressed a grin. Her T-shirts -- her armor; a bit of home she could take anywhere. She loved explaining what they stood for to beings from the farthest reaches of the universe.
So, she tugged at the shirt's hem to straighten out the front, and proudly explained Amnesty International's principles. Looking up as she completed her litany, she caught the being's eyes.
He was staring at her, wide-eyed, and she knew with an instinctive shiver that he didn't see her at that moment.
"So, err..." she ventured.
His eyes snapped back to focus on her. "They remember the disappeared, you say? They do not let them be forgotten?"
Sam hesitated at the intensity in his words. "Right ... They don't let the governments just get away with it. They keep telling them they know what they did, that those people who weren't terrorists and just disagreed politically should be set free."
"And this works?"
"Sometimes ... Yes. People've been set free. Or at least they treat them better. In the end, they usually care enough about world opinion to let some political prisoners go."
The blue man closed his eyes, and stood there, swaying.
"Mister?" Sam asked, low voiced, "You all right?"
He opened eyes that glistened. "Never," he said, "have I heard such a thing ..."
He began to weep unashamedly, large droplets running down his cheeks. Leaning forward, startled, Sam put a tentative arm on his shoulder, and he turned blindly towards her.
She felt awkward and uncertain for about one second, then enfolded him in her arms while he shook in an ague of emotion, hot tears soaking into her shirt front.
When the worst of his fit had passed, he looked up and told her about the persecutions and disappearances, about his family, gone in the night.
"I'm sorry," Sam told him fiercely, hugging him hard again. "I'm sorry they took them away, and so many others, and that there was no one there to help ..."
She stopped, her eyes flicking back and forth over the swirling crowd of passers-by before her. Looking for the Doctor.
No sign of him. She pulled away a bit, and said: "Look; I know someone who can help. If you tell me your family's name, and when this happened ..."
He stared at her, bemused. "How can you help what is long past? But we have shared sorrow. For that I thank you." Touching his forehead with his three fingers, he then reached out to delicately touch Sam's.
"I can help you," she whispered to him.
He leaned back. "I must go -- my transport is leaving." He softened his declaration with a quick smile, turned away.
"No -- I mean I can fix it! Undo it!" Sam started to follow. The blue man glanced over his shoulder, moved a little more quickly.
"Listen; I'm not kidding! Come with me, and we'll talk to the Doctor ..." She laid a hand on his shoulder, and he turned.
She stood frozen then, watching as he backed away a few steps, turned away, then hurried away across the concourse.
It had been the look on his face. He'd been afraid of her.
Even so, she was about to start after him again, before he was lost amidst the scudding groups of travelers.
Sam jumped, then whirled to pin the Doctor with an accusing glare. He looked back at her, eyebrows raised, frozen in the act of proffering a sweet.
"He's getting away!" When she swung back again to look, the blue man was long gone. She took a few frustrated steps forward before the futility of it ground her to a halt.
"He's 'getting away?'"
The tone was mild, the question reasonable enough. Sam turned a Look on him and he blinked.
"Sam, what happened?"
"Oh, nothing!" Her tone was bitter. "I just tried to help someone!"
The rejected candy he'd been about to pop in his mouth disappeared into the crumpled white bag, the sack itself vanishing into one of his voluminous coat pockets.
"Samanthaaa," he wheedled, trying to coax her out. "What. Happened?" Usually this tone of voice worked.
She rubbed her hands over her face, stared out into the crowded concourse. The front of her T-shirt had several small new holes on it where drops of something had corroded.
"He wouldn't tell me his name -- he must've thought I was out to get him, or something. Makes sense, I guess, considering where he came from."
"And that was ...?"
"He never said! He practically ran away. But it was horrible; all the things he went through. He lost his family."
"Ah," he replied sadly.
She glared at him. "Ah? Is that all you can say?"
The Doctor looked mournfully at her, blue eyes muted.
She might've felt like a heel for snapping, but not today. "I'm going to try to find him. Maybe I can get him paged. How many blue men can there be in this station?"
She ignored him, muttering quietly to herself. "Info desk. Info desk ..." She suddenly slumped. "Oh, it's no good -- he won't come."
"Sam, what exactly happened?"
So she told him. "If I'd only said the right thing..."
"But you did."
Sam looked up at him, eyes narrowed, daring him to be joking. He was serious. Sympathetic. Oh bloody hell; she didn't want to hear this.
"You let him express his grief, didn't turn away. Many wouldn't even do that much for a stranger."
"But we could've gone back. Fixed it. Saved his family."
His eyes went even more remote. "Sam," he said gently, "That's not how it works."
She really didn't want to hear this.
"Then how does it work?" she demanded. "You help people, right? Well, I just saw someone whom needs helping. He didn't deserve what happened to him and his family!"
"Sam, the Web of Time ..." Even as he said it, he had a look of muted despair in his eyes.
"What about it?" she growled, feeling her anger rise, welcoming it. "Helping one poor guy is going to mess that up?"
He shut his eyes as he motioned placatingly, heedless of the travelers passing by them who were glancing at the arguing pair.
"Sam, it's all very complicated; I'm not sure I can explain it; it's something I sense."
"Like an instinct, you mean?" Despite her anger, she was intrigued.
His eyes opened. "Yes, very much like that." Hopeful again.
"So you can feel when it's 'okay' to help someone?" Her tone was a curious mixture of sarcasm and real interest.
"That's over-simplifying it, but basically, yes. And sometimes the universe itself seems to encourage certain events, bring certain parties into contact ..."
"Oh, I see," she said pettishly. "So some things are just 'meant to be,' eh? How delightfully fatalistic. And I thought you made a difference."
Sam stared down at the shirt, at the little sewn ridges.
She hadn't really wanted to be mad at the Doctor that day, either.
But, short of holding a grudge against the universe itself, what else could she do?
The Doctor had endured with good grace her black mood as they'd returned to the TARDIS. At least he hadn't scolded her, or told her she shouldn't feel that way ...
She'd gotten over the incident with time. Yeah, she understood better now what he'd meant. They stumbled across enough people in real danger that needed helping. They didn't need to go looking for trouble. She should be satisfied with what they were able to accomplish.
She sighed and finished folding the worn T-shirt, put it away in her box of keepsakes.
"Hullo -- anybody home?"
The Doctor looked up from where he was fiddling with the console controls. "And what have you been up to all morning?"
Sam drew herself up with a martyred air. "Cleaning."
The Doctor looked perplexed. "But the TARDIS ..."
"I mean sorting. Stuff." Memories, too.
"Ah." He sent an absent smile her way. "Well, we've landed. Care to see?"
Sam ambled over to peruse the hanging monitor to the outside world as the Doctor pulled it down by its chain. The TARDIS appeared to have landed in an alley-way. Quel surprise.
She squinted to see the city street that stood beyond. Very busy -- streams of people were passing by the alley's entrance. Like a glimpse of an alien Manhattan.
Sam stared at the distant figures. They were blue. Humanoids.
As she watched, one of the distant pedestrians slipped into the alley-way, glancing without undue interest at the TARDIS as he passed.
Sam felt her stomach clench.
He had three-fingered hands and a flat nose.
She took a deep breath.
"Well? Shall we have a look?" the Doctor wondered aloud. "I've never been here before."
No, but I have. "Yeah. Sure."
Sam thought of the shirt, hidden away in her room, and surreptitiously crossed her fingers.