Author's Note: Written for lost_spook in the tardis_gen ficathon on LiveJournal. Thanks to persiflage_1 and elliptic_eye for the beta!
Planes, Trains and Horseless Carriages (Among Other Conveyances)
As joy rides go, this was a tame one, the car puttering around the town square, never topping twenty miles an hour. But Vicki saw the Doctor was taking delight in the drive all the same, inexpertly manipulating the tiller -- not even a steering wheel for this car -- to maneuver around horses, carts, carriages and curious pedestrians. Vicki was glad she had impulsively hopped into the car just as Mr. Williams, its owner, was cranking it to life for the Doctor.
"Henry Williams won't let anyone touch that thing," a shopkeeper had said when the Doctor had shown an interest in the buggy-like vehicle parked in the square. "He damn near screams at you if you dare to walk within ten feet of it."
But the Doctor had dared, and Vicki had marveled at how Mr. Williams, a portly, finely dressed man with an enormous mustache and a top hat, had been won over by the Doctor's careful flattery, genuine interest in the car — and, apparently, the way the Doctor spoke. Mr. Williams took him to be English, and enthusiastically disdained his own hometown in favor of boasting about a trip to London from which he had recently returned.
So Mr. Williams name-dropped like mad, the Doctor pretended to know these important people of turn-of-the-century England, and before long, Mr. Williams offered to let the Doctor take his sparkling new 1903 curved-dash Oldsmobile for a spin around the square.
Vicki laughed at the Doctor's audacity as he climbed into the seat and Mr. Williams began pointing out the controls, such as they were. It seemed a very simple sort of machine, but still, she wondered aloud, "Does the Doctor know how to drive?"
But Steven's mind was on other possibilities for this excursion from the TARDIS. He ignored her question and impatiently checked the clock tower of city hall. "We've got to get back to the train station," he said.
"Never mind the train, maybe Mr. Williams will let us drive there," she teased.
"In that thing? We could walk faster."
"Don't worry. We've got four days, plenty of time."
"If we're even going."
"We're going. I'll talk to him." And with that, Vicki had left Steven standing there as she scampered over to the Oldsmobile, and -- Mr. Williams looked a bit put out -- she hopped up next to the Doctor when he patted the seat next to him.
"It's a good thing we can't go any faster," Vicki said, wrapping her cloak closer against the December chill. "Not much protection from the elements in this, is there?"
The Doctor smiled and seemed perfectly unaffected by the weather. "No more so than if this were a horse and carriage, true, true."
Vicki seized the frame of the automobile as the Doctor swerved to avoid a small terrier that dashed up to bark furiously at them. "Also, are you sure you could handle this if you drove any faster?"
The Doctor straightened up in the seat, and Vicki was sure he would have held his lapels if he weren't occupied with steering. "Of course I can, my child! Simple, primitive machinery..."
"Speaking of which," Vicki jumped in, "can't we take Steven's suggestion? We've got the time, it's not far by train--"
"As I told you and Steven, I do not want to leave the TARDIS unattended."
"Oh, what nonsense. You've left the TARDIS behind before."
"In life-or-death situations, which this is not!"
"And Rome was?"
"We left it in the care of Barbara and Ian."
"Oh yes, and they were at the villa the whole time, carefully watching the TARDIS for you. And it all turned out fine." She nudged him. "I'm sure this is not the only car in North Carolina."
The Doctor only harrumphed, apparently offended at the notion that driving an old-fashioned automobile could possibly be his motivation for staying in this small town. But she thought she saw him beginning to relent.
And an idea struck her as they completed their circuit of the square and the Doctor jolted the Oldsmobile to a stop in front of City Hall.
"Doctor," Vicki asked, "can the TARDIS travel on a train?"
The TARDIS had, in fact, materialized into an untrafficked corner of this train station, so it hadn't far to go to get loaded into a freight car when they set off the next morning.
Steven hadn't been happy with the departure time. "Cutting it a little close, aren't we?" he muttered, when the Doctor handed him his ticket after watching the TARDIS be safely stowed.
"Nonsense, my boy. It's only six hours away; we'll arrive before nightfall and take a boat in the morning. Ah, Vicki! Decided to dress a little less conspicuously, hmm?"
Vicki turned round to show off the ankle-length dress and coat she had dug out of the TARDIS wardrobe. "Looks close enough to the natives, doesn't it?"
"With a hat like that one, maybe," Steven said, nodding toward a woman passing by. "An enormous hat."
"I'd need the enormous hairdo to go with it. And where's your top hat, Steven?"
He laughed. "All right, all right, fair enough."
Imitating the locals, Vicki took the Doctor's arm as they walked along the platform towards the passenger cars, quickening their pace when the whistle began to blow.
"Trains are such a lovely form of transportation," Vicki said wistfully.
Their rail journey had been wonderfully relaxing, watching the North Carolina countryside rolling by, visiting the dining car. Wearing her old-fashioned finery, it was like playing dress-up as a little girl.
That was the train, so pleasant, so civilized, and, above all, so warm and dry and clean.
She sat next to Steven, the two of them wrapped in musty old blankets as they shivered on the deck of a fishing schooner. In the faint beginnings of morning light, Vicki saw the Doctor a few yards away; he was apparently sleeping, leaning back against a wooden storage box.
The schooner had looked dubiously sea-worthy, but it was out to sea nevertheless, plying choppy waves and making slow headway. The TARDIS had been left behind in the woods outside the port of Elizabeth City. Thinking of her own cozy bedroom, and then thinking of those rats she had glimpsed below decks here, Vicki added, "TARDISes are nice too."
Steven snorted. "You can't steer a TARDIS. Think how short this trip could have been if the Doctor knew how to do that."
"I'll believe Captain Perry can steer this boat when we see land."
"The Doctor doesn't seem worried. He's even getting some sleep." Steven studied Vicki for a moment, and his next words, delivered with a slightly apologetic tone, told her she must look as miserable as she felt. "You're regretting talking the Doctor into this trip."
She reassured him (she hoped) with a weak smile. "No. It'll be worth it. And traveling with the Doctor, you can go through a lot worse."
"Usually because you're being attacked by aliens or something, not following the whims of your stowaway."
"Steven, you're not a stowaway. Not anymore. And if this is important to you, it's worth it." After a brief silence between them, listening to the rushing waves, Vicki ventured, "Can I ask you? Why is this so important to you?"
"I was a pilot..."
He paused, but that was not the full explanation, Vicki knew, so she waited until he spoke again.
"Being held prisoner on Mechanus all that time, it was easy to forget. Then being on the TARDIS, it's not like I've had the chance to take up my old career. I'm not even sure I'd want to if I could. Because even before Mechanus, there was the war, and that's what being a pilot was about -- war. But when we showed up in that railway station, and I learned where and when we were ... I had this flash of memory, back to when I was a boy. I wanted to be a pilot -- I imagined flying, and thought it had to be magical."
"Was it, when you grew up and got to do it?"
"At the beginning. And even later, sometimes." He shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe I'll never be a pilot again. But I want to see this -- just to feel like that kid again."
They were interrupted by the appearance of the captain, a weathered, suspicious character who, though confused as to why the three of them wouldn't wait for the regular ferry, had been willing to take three dollars from the Doctor to provide passage as soon as they could depart.
Almost twenty-four hours had passed on his creaky old schooner, and now the morning of December 17th, 1903, had dawned as they approached the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The Doctor, supposedly asleep, opened one eye to spy the captain, who grunted, in a rather disappointingly undramatic manner, "Land," and stomped off to do whatever it was captains did when land was near -- Vicki didn't know. She was scrambling to her feet with Steven, catching the full force of the bone-chilling wind without the shelter of the hull and the equipment on deck.
With less alacrity, the Doctor rose to join them, and pulled from his pocket a small pair of binoculars -- plainly anachronistic for this time -- and he handed them to Steven, who was peering at the hazy coastline in the distance.
"There you are, my boy," he said, sounding for all the world like this excursion had been his own idea, "a first glimpse of human history in the making."
The last leg of this journey took them trudging across dunes in breathtakingly cold winds. Imagining crossing this expanse of blowing sand in long skirts and heeled boots, Vicki was immensely grateful she had changed out of her turn-of-the-century clothes and shoes and into practical wear before they had left the TARDIS behind. The good people on the streets of Elizabeth City might have looked a little shocked at the girl wearing trousers, but Captain Perry had not given her a second glance. She was glad for that.
And he had got them ashore, and set them off with rudimentary directions to Kill Devil Hills.
"That's where they've been fooling around with those machines. All the locals know about it. Crazy business, if you ask me."
"Just tell us how long it takes get to there," Steven said.
"It'll take you about a half hour, I figure."
The Doctor checked his fobwatch. "More than enough time. Come!" And he set off at a brisk pace.
He was right -- with twenty minutes to spare, they found a spot with a view a discreet distance away. It was farther than they would have liked, but this desolate, treeless place offered little in the way of concealment, which the Doctor declared necessary.
"Strangers popping up out of nowhere would not be welcomed. The brothers were rather secretive about their work, if I remember correctly. But the locals did know, yes, and helped. Ah, here they come." He pointed out the group of men who had arrived at the camp.
"It's too bad you can't join the helpers," Vicki said to Steven. "Pretend to be a local?"
"That's all right. If those people are meant to be there, I couldn't take their place. It belongs to them."
They took turns with the Doctor's binoculars, watching the preparations. But by some unspoken understanding, by 10:30 a.m., they were Steven's -- neither the Doctor nor Vicki asked for them.
One man held a wing, balancing the machine as his brother situated himself, prone at the pilot's controls. The engine was started, its motor sounding puny across the sands, to the hills where three time travelers looked on.
Vicki glanced at the Doctor and wondered if perhaps this seemed a small event in the grand scheme of time and space, but he seemed terribly interested now that they were here. As for Steven, she could see the tension in his hands on the binoculars. She found herself holding her breath as she gave her full attention to the field below.
The machine was now moving along its launch track, the brother alongside running with it and then ...
"Do you see it?" Steven cried. "Do you see it?"
"Yes!" Vicki exclaimed, and the Doctor himself laughed and clasped his hands together for joy.
The airplane -- for that is what it was now -- defied the grip of gravity, wobbling in the air for perhaps a hundred feet before it coasted heavily, but safely, into the sands of Kitty Hawk. No more than fifteen seconds had gone by, but Steven's grin echoed Vicki's own feeling. It was magical to see: humanity taking flight.