The wind tugged at the Doctor's hair as he surveyed the valley.
'Would you like to try?' he asked, peeling the brass telescope from his eye and offering it to me. I shook my head and wrapped my arms more tightly about myself. This affair left a bitter taste in my mouth.
My travelling companion and I had arrived the previous evening and the Doctor had wasted no time ingratiating himself into Lord Cardigan's party. We had spent the night as honoured guests aboard Cardigan's yacht, which was moored in the harbour. I suspect that, under normal circumstances, I would have considered both the food and the accommodations to be excellent, but, as I dined, I could not help but think of what the soldiers in the valley would receive and I found it difficult to sleep as I pictured them camped under the stars waiting for the inevitable order to charge.
I also, I must confess, found the company distasteful. I do try not to form judgements of individuals based solely on first meetings, but I found Cardigan to be arrogant and something of a bore, hardly the hero legend would have one believe. Unlike his superior officer, Lord Lucan, who was camped with his men and sharing the same conditions, Cardigan retired each night to his yacht where he could relax in relative luxury. It disgusted me, I am not ashamed to admit, to know that Cardigan would be hailed as a hero on his return whereas Lucan would return in disgrace.
I believe that, at this stage, the Doctor remained under the impression that I did not realise when and where we had arrived. Of course, the Doctor could not know that I had an uncle, on my mother's side, who had fought against the Russians in Crimea, though fortunately not in the battle we were shortly to witness. I had rather more familiarity with the events in question that that with which the Doctor credited me and it was that knowledge that kept me awake throughout the night. We had arrived in Balaclava to see the charge that would forever be known to history as The Charge of the Light Brigade.
So it was that the following morning we took up our positions on a hill overlooking the valley just so that the Doctor could watch a massacre.
'Why are we here, Doctor?' I asked. I was tired and had no desire to be there, so my question sounded petulant. The Doctor, as usual, failed to pick up on this.
'This is a famous historical event on your planet,' he explained without taking his eyes from the cavalry. 'How many other people get the chance to witness something like this first hand?'
'How many people would want to?' I retorted.
This time he did notice my mood and he regarded me quizzically. I met his gaze defiantly.
'How many people are going to die today, Doctor?'
'Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.'
'Don't quote Tennyson to me, Doctor,' I snapped. 'This isn't funny.'
'I never said it was.' Did the Doctor sound hurt. I find myself imagining that he did, but at the time I was blinded by my anger.
'People are dying down there, Doctor, and you seem to view it all as some spectacle for your own amusement.'
'That's not true.'
'Than why are we here?' I did not give the Doctor the opportunity to respond. 'You could have stopped this. You were friendly enough with Cardigan last night. You could have said something. He would have listened to you.'
'Or we could have gone to see Lucan,' I pressed, 'or even all the way to Raglan'
'No,' the Doctor said, 'we could not.'
I blinked, though whether in shock at the Doctor's reply or to fight back my tears I could not say.
'What do you mean?' My voice was softer now. The Doctor's simple response had drained all the heat from it.
'This is your history, Mina,' he explained, 'and we cannot change history. Not one line.'
'No,' I said, 'I won't accept that. Where you come from, I suspect that most of what has yet to happen on the Earth is history to you, but that's not prevented you from interfering before. What about the Yeti? Or Vaughan?'
'That was different.'
The sound of gunfire echoed up towards us, carried aloft by the chill wind.
'Don't you care about the loss of life, Doctor,' I asked, 'about the soldiers perforated by rifle shots. The lucky ones will be dead before they fall from their horses, but so many others are just going to be left to bleed to death or to be trampled beneath the hooves of their comrades' steeds. Doesn't that mean anything to you, Doctor, or are these feelings a human failing that an alien such as yourself is too advanced to possess?'
I had gone too far. I knew that the Doctor cared. I had seen him offer his own life in exchange for an end to another's suffering. But that knowledge only served to complicate the matter. How could the Doctor I thought I knew be so cold in the face of so much death? In my confusion, I had lashed out angrily and my words had cut deeper than any knife.
'Come with me.'
The Doctor's voice was hollow as he grabbed my arm and proceeded to drag me away. His grip was not so tight that it hurt, but it was firm and, struggle as I might, I could not break it. The Doctor strode swiftly away from the battle and I was forced to run to keep up, lest I end up being dragged.
'Where are we going?' I demanded.
'The TARDIS.' The Doctor would say no more during our journey no matter how hard I pressed him.
* * *
Once we arrived inside the ship, the Doctor practically threw me into an armchair before busying himself about the console. Usually when my travelling companion piloted his craft, there was a carefree abandon to the way he flicked switches and pulled levers, as if he had little care as to whether we arrived at the correct destination or not. Now, despite his haste, there was a diligence and care to his actions, not to mention - though perhaps I imagined this last - a barely contained fury.
'Doctor...' I rose cautiously from the chair.
'You don't understand,' the Doctor replied. 'None of you ever understand.'
He flicked the final switch and the central column began to rise and fall, indicating that we were in flight.
'What don't I understand, Doctor?' I asked slowly. 'Perhaps if you explained it to me I might be able to help.'
'Help me? How can you help me? How can you understand what it's like to know as much as I do?' He thumped his temple with the heel of his hand. 'To know so much and yet to know nothing at all.'
I opened my mouth to say something, but was cut off by the central column's cessation of movement. We had landed.
'You'll need a coat,' the Doctor informed me without consulting his instruments. 'It's raining outside.'
* * *
It was raining, but none too heavily. It was insufficient cause, in my opinion, to warrant an umbrella, though the Doctor unfurled one in any case.
'Where are we?' I asked.
The Doctor turned and offered me a smile devoid of warmth. 'Don't you know?'
I stepped away from the TARDIS and peered out through the fog, taking in the coastline and the small boats bobbing in the harbour down below. I fought to hide my surprise the truth of our location dawned on me, a truth that was confirmed by a glance inland at the abbey ruins.
'Whitby,' I said.
I shivered. I had many bad memories of this place, but the good memories more than outweighed the bad. I would have preferred, however, to make my return in more clement weather.
'We want to get down to the beach,' the Doctor said, casting about for a way down the cliff.
'We do? Why?'
'It's a surprise.'
As the Doctor marched off, I was more than a little tempted to remain with the TARDIS. If the Doctor was not prepared to be more forthcoming then a failed to see why I should play his games, particularly in light of the way the day had so far developed. However, my curiosity won out over my principles and, gathering my coat about me, I hurried down the narrow trail after him.
The sand on the beach was sodden and it sucked at my feet with every step, dragging me downwards. I gladly followed the Doctor's example and climbed up onto the rocks at the base of the cliff, though I had to hitch up my skirts before bounding from one to another. The rocks were made treacherous by both the rain and the spray sent up where the waves crashed down on the beach and more than once I lost my footing. The Doctor did not pause to come to my aid and, while I would have spurned his help, it galled me that he did not ask. My concentration was so focussed on maintaining by balance that I did not notice that the Doctor had stopped until I walked into him.
'There she is,' he said, nodding towards a little girl sitting on a rock. The girl was chewing her lower lip while she poked at crabs in a rock pool with a stick.
'Hello,' the Doctor said, sticking out a hand. 'I'm the Doctor and this is my...' - he hesitated - '...friend, Mina.'
'Hello,' I said, crouching down so that I could look the child in the eye. The hem of her dress was filthy from playing in the sand. 'What's your name?'
'I'm Lucy,' the girl replied proudly.
'Lucy is it?' the Doctor said. 'Tell me, you wouldn't, by chance, be Mr and Mrs Westenra's little girl?'
I think that, at this point, Lucy protested at the perceived slight on her height, for which the Doctor apologised profusely, but my attention was elsewhere. Lucy Westenra was the name of my best friend, a friend who had died in... horrible circumstances. I paused to study the girl. Her body still had some way to go before it matured into womanhood, but there was no mistaking the mischievous glint in her eye. This was my Lucy.
'Would you like a jelly baby?' the Doctor was saying, offering a paper bag. Lucy looked sceptical so the Doctor offered the bag to me and I removed a green one and popped it in my mouth. Not wanting to be left out, Lucy leaned forward and stuffed her hand into the bag.
'Doctor,' I said, 'could I have a word?'
The Doctor beamed at Lucy. 'Excuse us.'
We walked down the beach towards the sea.
'That's Lucy, isn't it?'
'So she said.' The Doctor took a red jelly baby from the bag, looked at it and then dropped it back in.
'You know what I mean, Doctor,' I continued, careful not to raise my voice because I did not want Lucy to overhear. 'That's Lucy Westenra, the girl who will grow up to be my best friend.'
I closed my eyes. 'Why are we here?'
'Do you remember what happened here - sorry, what will happen here - in 1890?' the Doctor asked.
'How could I forget?'
'Then I don't have to remind you what will happen to your friend over there.'
'She will die a senseless death,' I said, 'simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.'
'She doesn't have to, you know,' the Doctor said. 'You have the opportunity to change things. You could save your friend.'
'And you would let me?' I said. 'Didn't you tell me that we can't change history?'
'And didn't you point out the holes in that argument? I won't interfere, Mina, whatever you choose to do.'
I was turning to go back to Lucy when he began speaking again.
'However, you should bear in mind that changing Lucy's future will change the future for many, many others as well. Without Lucy, would you have met Jonathan Harker? Would the two of you have married? Would you have had a son? I think it's safe to say that he wouldn't have been called Quincey since the events that prompted you to choose that name will no longer come to pass. And what about Vlad Dracul? Thanks to the efforts of yourself and your comrades, he won't be preying on anybody ever again. But without Lucy's tragic involvement, would things have turned out the same way. It seems a bit unlikely, don't you think? Perhaps in the timeline in which Lucy survives, Count Dracula gets to live to and goes on to murder countless more young women.'
'You don't know that,' I snapped. 'Things could be better if Lucy gets to live.'
'Yes,' the Doctor said. 'They might. I'll be waiting for you in the TARDIS.'
He began walking away, then stopped. He threw the bag of jelly babies back to me.
'Don't eat them all at once,' he advised and then he was gone.
I sat with Lucy and we shared the confectionary while she continued to torture the crabs. She told me a little of her life, how she hated her studies, but relished any opportunity to dance. I asked her if there was a young man she had an eye on and she pulled a face. She did not have a terribly high opinion of the male gender and hoped that she had to marry. I had to cover my face with my hand to hide my smile as I recalled the last time my Lucy had been truly happy, surrounded by suitors.
In return I told Lucy about my best friend and how she had a carefree, rebellious spirit that complemented my more staid nature wonderfully. I told her how she was forever leading me into trouble, but never afraid to take full responsibility herself. And I told Lucy that I loved my friend very much and that I missed her more than I could say.
It seemed as if hardly any time at all had passed before the bag was empty. I jumped when I heard loud barking suddenly fill the air, but Lucy just laughed. The dog was hers. Her parents followed the pet into view and I rose and smoothed out my dress as best I could. I introduced myself and the Westenras thanked me for keeping an eye on my daughter. It was time for me to take my leave.
'Will I see you again, Mina?' Lucy asked me as her parents led her way.
I smiled. 'Maybe one day.'
* * *
The Doctor grinned at me as I stepped though the TARDIS doors.
'So, where to next?' he asked. 'Somewhere a bit warmer?'
'Aren't you going to ask me what I decided?'
'You chose not to interfere,' he said. 'I knew you would.'
'Doctor!' Did he have any idea how infuriating his attitude could be? 'Do you know how much Lucy meant to me? You can't keep playing with people's lives!'
'I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry, Mina.' He raised his hands. 'I didn't mean it like that, but that's still no excuse for being insensitive. I only meant that I had every confidence that you would make the right decision.'
'And is sentencing my best friend to death the 'right decision', Doctor?'
He crossed the console and put his hands on my shoulders, giving them a comforting squeeze.
'No,' he said, 'but it was the best of an awful set of options.'
I hung my head for a moment then looked up into the Doctor's grey-blue eyes.
'I owe you an apology as well, Doctor,' I confessed. 'I understand something of what you are going through.'
'I knew you would,' he replied. 'That's why I wanted to show you.'
'That's why you don't interfere, isn't it,' I said, 'because there's no way to know that any change you make won't make the situation worse.'
'It's so much easier when I don't know the outcome,' the Doctor explained. 'Then I can just do what I think is right in the here and now, but how can I - how can anyone - take into account all the variables when I know how things have already turned out. So many interactions, so many ripples. It's like mapping the path of a pinball in four dimensions. So I leave people, innocent people, to die because it' safer that way. I know that, as long as I don't change anything, things will work out eventually.'
'I understand,' I said. 'It can't be easy for you, but...'
'I don't understand why, if these events cause you pain, you seek them out?' I said. 'Why go to Balaclava if you know you going to have to watch men die.'
'Because, Mina,' the Doctor said, 'one day I hope I will have the courage to interfere. And damn the consequences.'