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Retracing the Steps

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In theory, baking and eating the results of a baking project were social affairs.

At least, that’s how it had been for Evelyn Smythe when she was growing up. Her mother had taught her how to cook and there had been plenty of instructive hours spent in the kitchen learning how to both feed and nourish herself and others.

Baking had been a whole other matter. Her Aunt Beatrice had been the one to show her how to bake. Beatrice had always run small bake stands at church functions and at charity events ever since Evelyn had been a girl.

A couple of times a month, Beatrice spent a Saturday afternoon leisurely guiding Evelyn through another one of her delectable recipes, including the chocolate cake recipe that she still used to this day. Once the baking was done, they would eat the results together while having long talks about life.

Consequently, Evelyn rarely thought of the acts of preparing and eating food as solitary activities, even when she was by herself. However, the heavy silence that hung in the kitchen right now and her own studious efforts to focus on the ingredients in front of her were reminders of how she was using baking to avoid someone.

Specifically, the figure with curly blond hair who was standing in the doorway, his arms crossed indignantly over his chest.

“Evelyn, you’re being completely unreasonable.”

Evelyn raised an eyebrow and finally looked over at him. “I’m unreasonable?”

“Well…yes. I can’t help it if you can’t remember the details of our conversation. Whereas I have a perfect memory. I’ll never understand why humans are so obstinate about everything.”

Evelyn held her tongue with difficulty. She noted that he had, once again, switched his usual rainbow colored suit for the one he was currently wearing which had the same cut and design, but in various shades of blue. It was a good look for him and appeared to be a permanent change these days.

She knew a large part of why he had made the change was because she had admired this version of his suit. It was one of the subtle ways he tried to win her approval. Still, that compliment to her was not going to distract her this time.

“Perhaps you should ask yourself why are so stubborn, Doctor.”

“Stubborn? Stubborn! Preposterous.  I’m the least stubborn person in the universe. I remember every word of our conversation and I can prove it.”

Evelyn raised an eyebrow as she watched a grin appear on the Doctor’s face. A satisfied, crafty smile that she knew meant that he had already hatched a plan somewhere in that complex, vastly intelligent mind of his.

“In fact, as Peri would have said, I’ll do you one better,” he said, raising an index finger. “I’ll show you.”


 

A few minutes later, the TARDIS materialized in a bare landscape of silken gold sand that rippled beneath a red sun in the sky. The only signs of life were the green spires of pea-green vines that grew in tightly knit columns and the buildings carved from faded ivory-colored stone.

It was the time of day where all the local inhabitants took their afternoon rest, choosing to stay out of the hot sun and stay in the cool of their homes. Thus, there was no one in the streets and thus, no one there to witness the two travelers emerge from behind the TARDIS door.

“And here we are again,” the Doctor said, sweeping an arm out in front of him. “Tranevev. One of the colony planets of Trion that was settled long before the civil wars that dismantled the Imperial government.”

“Yes, I remember this,” Evelyn nodded as she followed him outside. “You said that you used to travel with someone from Trion, didn’t you?”

“Yes, yes, I did,” the Doctor said, putting his hands into his pockets. “I often wondered what he was thinking during our travels together. Then again, that’s to be expected from a member from the Imperial families of Trion. They were known for their political intrigue and an unfortunate tendency to rely on treachery to gain an advantage. But he, he was different. I wonder sometimes if he….”

The Doctor’s words suddenly trailed off. Evelyn noted the faraway look in his eyes and decided it was time to change the subject.

“It sounds very much like the histories of Britain’s royal families. There was plenty of treachery surrounding Queen Elizabeth I’s eventual ascension to the throne.”

“And if you recall, that’s precisely why I brought you here,” the Doctor replied with a smirk. “So you could meet the current monarch of Tranevev, Jasline DeFay. She reminds me quite a bit of Elizabeth in many ways. As you know, I’ve met her more than once.”

“Yes, as you’ve mentioned many times, Doctor.” “And I agreed with you after we attended Queen DeFay’s annual feast. A feast we almost didn’t attend due to your getting our heads nearly chopped off.”

“How was I to know that the rival royal family would send an assassin just then?” the Doctor said with a pout. “Besides, stopping him played a major part in our being able to sit at the queen’s table.”

“I understood that. What I hadn’t understood was why her cousin had collaborated with her assassin simply because of the music she had chosen for her last feast.”

“And I had mentioned to you that disagreements over music have led to numerous frenzied conflicts throughout space and time. Even in your Earth history, as I showed you in our next destination.”


 

In an isolated corner of Comiskey Park, the TARDIS appeared. Just like on Tranevev, no one appeared to notice its arrival. Although, this time, it was for an entirely different reason.

The date was July 12th, 1979 and chaos had overtaken the stadium. People were running all over the field. Police in helmets were chasing the fans down. Meanwhile, a bonfire raged, sending black, noxious smoke into the air.

“Chicago, Illinois in the United States,” the Doctor shouted over the din all around him as he opened the door. “The people who operated this stadium were trying to find a new way to promote their games and got more than they bargained for with their ill-advised Disco Demolition Night. An appalling lack of creativity on their parts, despite the use of alliteration.”

“Yes, I can’t understand why there was such a fuss over it,” Evelyn responded, her voice raised as well. “One of my graduate students back in the day was quite fond of this music and the records he played for me were certainly catchy.”

“I believe there was likely far more at work here than a petulant display over differences in music tastes,” the Doctor boomed back.

“Oh I have no doubt of that,” Evelyn said. “Destructive rowdiness like this is almost never just about one thing.”

“Indeed it isn’t,” the Doctor mused. “Still, an excellent example of the passions that can be fired up by music.”

A harried stadium employee rushed by them, a stack of albums in his arms. Several of the records slid off the top, but the employee didn’t bother to stop. Another loud cheer came from the crowds in the stands, causing Evelyn to put her hands over her ears.

“Can we go now, Doctor? I had plenty of this the last time we visited.”

The Doctor opened his mouth to speak, but then his gaze went down to the records on the ground. He crouched down, inspecting the discarded vinyl.

“Doctor?” Evelyn yelled. “What is it?”

The Doctor picked up a pair of albums, a triumphant grin on his face.

“I’ve been meaning to add these to the TARDIS’ music library,” he replied. “Jamie always did like anything by Donna Summer or the Bee Gees. At the very least, it distracted him from his other much more execrable music interests.”


 

The next destination was far quieter.

A cool, lilac sky hung over grey marble buildings. There were people milling about on the streets, but with slow, nearly silent steps accompanied with little conversation. Every one of the figures held either a gold-colored disc in their hands or a metal tube that was curled into a circle with a large bell opening on one end and a much narrower mouthpiece on the other.

When the TARDIS appeared down one of the side alleyways, there was indifference from the locals who were too focused on completing the task they all shared.

However, this time, it was the Doctor who appeared to be concerned about being noticed. He stuck his head out, slowly looking back and forth before taking a single step outside. Once he was out, he still held a hand up at Evelyn to stop her from venturing forth until he could look around some more.

“Doctor, are you sure this is a good idea?” Evelyn finally asked after a minute of waiting.

“Of course it is,” he replied, stepping aside so she could exit the TARDIS. “But we have to exercise the utmost caution. Maintaining our time lines as they are now is absolutely vital. Of course, I’ve taken the precaution of landing the TARDIS at the opposite end of the city from where we arrived the first time.”

“Oh I don’t doubt your calculations or your navigation skills,” Evelyn said. “I just wonder if it’s wise to risk crossing our own time lines just so you can say ‘I told you so’. It’s all very childish, isn’t it?”

“Childish? Childish! Evelyn, time travel is never childish. Besides, I am a man of my word and I intend to reassure you of that. Now, put these on and let’s go. Cautiously, mind you. Very cautiously.”

The Doctor produced a pair of plum colored robes which they were able to drape over their clothes with hoods that concealed their faces without impeding their vision. Their robes were simplistic-looking compared to the attire of most of the people there, but not out of place either.

“Doctor, what did you say the name of this planet was again?” Evelyn asked as they weaved their way through the crowd.

“N5-62,” the Doctor replied. “Not a very imaginative name, but it suits the purposes of the people living here. This was originally a terra-forming project, and these people are the descendants of the original colonists who never saw a need to come up with a fancier name for their new home.”

The Doctor paused and took in the sight of a dark pink moon beginning to rise in the sky. “It’s actually a wonderful place for a holiday. Ideal for quiet and contemplation. And the people here are friendly enough, if rather uninterested in the rest of the universe.”

Evelyn nodded. She had noticed the first time they came here that no one seemed especially curious about where they had come from although they were polite enough to invite them to explore their museums and to join in a banquet later that evening.

“A-ha, over here,” the Doctor said, motioning to her.

Evelyn followed him and then hesitated when she caught sight of herself standing next to an earlier version of the Doctor.

“We’ll wait here for a moment until the city consul advisor starts his speech,” the Doctor added. “Then we should be able to sneak up behind us unnoticed.”

“Doctor, you said that this music they had here, Blanczal or something like that, nearly caused an uprising within the central government,” she said.

“Yes, Blanczal, and, yes, it almost did,” the Doctor nodded. “There’ve been many theories as to where it came from. The most popular one is that a rival trade federation snuck it in on a trade convoy as a way to drive the manufacturing centers here on N5-62 to distraction.”

“Have you ever heard it? I mean, was it really that terrible?”

The Doctor shuddered. “It’s not the worst thing I’ve heard in my centuries of travel, but it certainly is one of the most retched music fads to become popular on such a large scale. The only way I could describe it to you was that it was a sort of combination of the so-called glam rock that was popular in Britain in the 1970s and traditional country western music. With some yodeling thrown in for good measure. And all of it was performed with stringed instruments and trumpets.”

“Oh dear, that does sound dreadful,” Evelyn replied although she wasn’t sure how such incongruent music styles could be anything more than a jumbled mess.

“Dreadful, my dear Evelyn, does not begin to describe it,” the Doctor said. “This ceremony was the one that got rid of every last vestige of the genre. As far as I know, it was never allowed again in this part of the universe.”

A muffled cheer suddenly rose up from the crowd, and a tall, sallow man stepped up to the podium.

“Fellow citizens. Today marks the end of a scourge that had afflicted our cities for far too long. Today, we rid ourselves of the accursed Blanczal. A blight which will never be allowed to infest our society again.”

Another cheer rippled through the crowd, and the Doctor silently gestured for Evelyn to follow him. They circled around until they were directly behind their earlier selves who were watching this speech.

Once the speech was over, one by one, the people walked up to a large bin that was set up in the middle of the city square. There were computer controls on every side of the bin and a large opening at the top of it. Each person threw the object into their hands into the bin. When the discs were thrown in, there was a popping sound followed by a brief cloud of golden dust.

The metal tubes got a much more robust response. The machine would groan and shudder which sometimes resulted in palm-sized pieces of mangled metal getting spat up onto the ground around the device.

The Doctor held a finger to his mouth while the two of them listened to their earlier selves discuss the spectacle in front of them.

“…and this was the last time Blanczal was allowed on this planet,” the earlier Doctor said. “The people unanimously voted to destroy every recording and every instrument used to perform it.”

“They don’t look all that happy about it,” the previous Evelyn replied. “Even with those cheers earlier.”

“That is because they would normally be celebrating their harvest festival right now. The natives here are extraordinary creatures of habit. They loathe any disruption to their routines. And the harvest festival is one of the merriest times of the year in their culture.”

“Such a pity, I would have liked to have seen it.”

“Yes,” the earlier Doctor mused. “I tell you what. How about I take you to something just as festive? Like the holiday lighting ceremony on New Earth?”

“That sounds lovely. I could make a cake for us to share while we enjoy it.”

Current Evelyn looked over at the current version of the Doctor, trying her best not to look smug. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s brow was furrowed.

“Odd,” he whispered. “I don’t see how I could have….”

Suddenly, there was a clatter on the ground. A large piece of metal fell next to their feet. The Doctor snatched it up and pulled on Evelyn’s sleeve.

“Come on,” he urged. “We can’t let our earlier selves see us.”


 

Several minutes later, they were back on the TARDIS and back in the time vortex.

“Well, Doctor?”

The Doctor stared down at the console, fidgeting with the controls. “Yes…well, it seems I did make an error. We were supposed to go see that lighting ceremony instead of stopping by Oritium Five.”

Evelyn nodded. She supposed she was entitled to having an “I-told-you-so” moment of her own, but seeing how contrite the Doctor made that victory seem hollow.

The Doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out the metal scrap he had picked up on N5-62. “Unless….”


 

A short time later, the TARDIS materialized again. This time on their original destination, New Earth at the height of the planet’s prosperity.

The Doctor marched out at a swift clip with Evelyn following him, carrying a picnic basket with bemusement on her face.

“Doctor, I thought you said that we couldn’t….”

Her words were cut off by the appearance of a pair of soldiers and a short, self-important looking man in a green suit.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, holding up a hand. “But I’m afraid only privileged guests are allowed to see the lighting ceremony from the….”

The Doctor held up the scrap of metal in front of the man’s face. “I believe this will allow us that very privilege.”

The man snatched the metal from the Doctor’s hand and inspected it, his eyes growing wide.

“This…this is…no, it can’t be. Not in a sample this size.”

“Indeed it is,” the Doctor replied, beaming. “An exceedingly rare ore on your planet. I believe this entitles us to your best balcony seats.”

“Yes, yes of course,” the man stammered. “Right this way, both of you.”

The Doctor grinned and waved at Evelyn to follow him. The two of them were led to a glass balcony which gave them a panoramic view of the capital city. They were sat at an expansive table and assured that wait staff would cater to their every need for the rest of the night.

After he was gone, the Doctor chuckled and leaned back in his chair.

“Doctor, did you know that that metal from N5-62 was so precious?” Evelyn asked him.

“In a sense,” the Doctor answered. “On N5-62, it’s as common as dust. But on this planet during this time period, it’s as valuable as the finest diamonds used to be on Earth. It took seeing it again for me to remember that. So, retracing our steps turned out to be a useful journey after all.”

Evelyn laughed and opened her basket. She pulled out her chocolate cake and a set of plates and cutlery. After serving each of them a generous portion, she turned her gaze to the cascade of rainbow lights that were slowly filling the sky.

“It is beautiful, Doctor,” she said. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

“It’s I who should be thanking you,” the Doctor said. “And…I am sorry. For doubting your memory.”

“It’s all right, Doctor. We all have those days, whether we are sixty or six hundred years old or more.”

The Doctor smiled and helped himself to a large bite of cake. As the glow of more lights surrounded them, Evelyn contemplated how winning an argument would never compare to the sights she would see tonight.