four conversations Martha Jones never had in nineteen thirteen, and one that she did
"So the TARDIS found a safe place to hide you."
The Doctor nodded, looking distracted. They'd been in a mad rush ever since the Family had spotted them.
"And it chose nineteen-thirteen." Martha emphasized the number.
"Right, well, I don't think any of my past selves were in this part of England then. Though I'll have to make a note to my future selves--"
"Doctor!" she interrupted.
"Do you know how many black people were in the UK in nineteen-thirteen?"
"No, how many?"
She fumbled for an answer. "I don't know--like, five?" She was thinking, less than fifty thousand. More than five thousand? Martha didn't know; a bad question to use, really, considering how distractible the Doctor was. "My own family wasn't here yet, they were still in West Africa."
Deciding to abandon the numbers discussion and get to the point, she added, "You can't do this. We can't do this." She gestured to include the TARDIS as part of the group. "In nineteen thirteen I'm a nobody. Worse than a nobody. It's not going to work."
That was always the place where Martha stopped imagining the conversation. She didn't want to think of the Doctor obliviously stating his confidence in her and ignoring the reality of her situation.
What had actually happened was painful enough.
* * *
Three weeks after their arrival, she found it: evidence that the Doctor, John Smith rather, was dreaming of his true self. Flipping quickly through the pages of the journal, she caught glimpses of monsters, the TARDIS, a woman in shadows. (Was this the woman he'd mentioned, Rose?) That's when Martha's own vivid nightmares suddenly made sense.
"Martha!" Jenny gasped. "You'll get in trouble, see if you don't."
"I was just looking," she replied. She carefully placed it back in the spot where she'd found it. "See? No one will know."
Returning to dusting the tables and brick-a-brack, she distracted Jenny with a question about Queen Mary. They finished tidying his room and went on to the headmaster's.
That evening, instead of a drink outside the pub with Jenny, she slipped away to the TARDIS. "Hello," she whispered upon entering. "Er. Listen. You've got to stop sending us those dreams. It's doing no good."
Martha paused to collect her thoughts. "I'm sure you want him back. I know I do. But you'll just have to wait." She finished with a lump in her throat. "It's only three months in all. That's not so long."
He'd never left his Journal of Impossible Things out where she would see it during their time in nineteen thirteen. Even if he had, would she have recognized the TARDIS as part of the problem? It wasn't until later that she understood his ship was somehow sentient, could communicate even beyond translating languages.
She didn't think the TARDIS would have listened to her anyway.
* * *
The headmaster referred to her as "the negro servant". He didn't use her name. His voice was completely impersonal; she felt like a thing. When he did it for the fourth time, she reached back, then swung her hand forward, connecting to his face with a resounding slap.
It was extremely satisfying.
Okay, so it wasn't actually a conversation, but Martha certainly wished she'd been able to do something like that every time she choked down yet another insult aimed at her skin colour or station without making a cutting reply.
A slap wouldn't have done anything to advance racial relations in Edwardian England but it certainly would have felt good for that moment.
* * *
She was wearing her familiar clothes, though they hadn't left nineteen thirteen just yet. They were standing in an empty field with the TARDIS. The Doctor gave Tim his pocketwatch and Tim said something about not hearing its voice anymore.
Martha hugged him--he was almost as tall as she was, even with her heels on--and said, "Look after yourself," giving him a peck on the cheek. Before turning to go back inside the TARDIS, she touched his shoulder. "It gets better. Just so you know--the world gets better for people like us. People who are different."
"Really?" His voice cracked--she'd thought he must be past that part of adolescence. He looked at her; she knew that haunted expression. She'd seen it in the mirror often enough lately.
"Really. You'll see."
After they left, she asked the Doctor to take her to see Tim again; they looked up his obituary to get the date right. He lived to be an old man. Martha's eyes filled with tears, watching him sitting up so straight and proper in his wheelchair.
Telling him to look after himself as she'd done back then had probably been enough. She knew what he'd see during his lifetime: as a youth he still had four years of war in his future. They would end his adolescence. He would see another five years of it when in his forties. He'd see an empire fade into oblivion.
He would only catch a glimpse of the changes that made her life bearable. (Not perfect, but bearable.)
* * *
They'd been discussing places they wanted to visit. Martha couldn't tell Jenny most of the places she'd actually seen, of course. Jenny barely even believed half the stories Martha told her anyway.
Jenny wanted to go to Canada--that admission had taken much prodding from Martha. It was a book--Anne of Green Gables, in fact--that brought this small aspiration to Jenny's mind. As soon as she'd said the title, Martha laughed in recognition. The summer her parents had really started to argue, she'd read the whole series. A safe haven, they'd been. To think that Martha was living now while L.M. Montgomery was still writing her novels.
Don't tell her how they end, Martha reminded herself. She wasn't sure how many of the books were already published.
Jenny interrupted her train of thoughts. "I may never even get to London, you know. You get these ideas, but I know how it is." She spoke quietly, without her usual optimism.
Martha felt her own smile fade. All well and good to encourage Jenny to work for something better, but when the Doctor was himself again, they'd be leaving Jenny and nineteen-thirteen behind. No more pining for things like women's suffrage and a decent cup of coffee.
Jenny said, "If I ever did go to London, will the other Negroes there be like you?"
"How do you mean?" Martha braced herself for... she wasn't sure what this time. Too many conversations gone awry with people she thought would know better. Jenny had the excuse of everything connected to nineteen-thirteen, but that didn't make the topic any less personal for Martha.
"It's like you're from a different world, the way you act and talk sometimes."
She tried to remember her history, recalling that most of the black people in the UK back then were men working in the shipping industry. "Mostly there's men working the docks."
"Well, how'd you get here, then?"
Staring at the ceiling overhead, Martha answered, "That's a long story."
After a moment of silence she said, "Jenny, can I ask you a favour?"
"Can you not call me negro or coloured? Just say that... I'm a Londoner."
A laugh came back to her from the dark. "A Londoner?"
"Alright, then." Jenny didn't ask her why. Maybe she didn't have to--they'd both been treated poorly by some of the boys and the teachers. Jenny knew about the power of names used by others.
Jenny worked as a servant; those around her automatically assumed she wasn't too bright. But Jenny never made the same mistake twice; she'd never used those words again with Martha.
Martha missed those late-night chats. Jenny had been a real friend, though the time they'd known each other was short. It had been easy to tell when Jenny's body was taken over by a member of the Family.
Of all the things she wished for, this hurt the most. She didn't have to change any of the conversations they'd had, but what happened to Jenny... If the Doctor and she hadn't tried to hide in nineteen-thirteen, Jenny would probably have lived a long, ordinary, happy life. Instead she was gone.
Martha couldn't imagine that away.