Ramona and the Blue Box
A/N: This entire story stemmed from a slip of the tongue while my family was driving and discussing the varying relationships the Doctor had had with his companions, in which an attempt at saying "Four and Romana" came out as "Four and Ramona." The reaction in the car was to immediately demand a fic. For those unfamiliar with them, Ramona is a character from a series of well-known classic children's books by Beverly Cleary, set on Klickitat Street and it's immediate area in Portland, Oregon in the 1950s.
"That jump was slightly longer than it should have been," Romana said.
"No, no, probably fine," the Doctor mumbled. He was still sucking on a singed finger from the recent sparking one of the console controls had given him, so the mumbling might have been forgiven, but Romana had other concerns regarding his answer.
She reached over and flipped a toggle then turned to peer at the scanner as it opened. "What does that sign there say?"
"Klickitat," he read.
"That long car over there…"
"A station wagon. Love those, bit like a private bus. They had these clever seats that popped right up in the back, though I expect you had to practically be a double-amputee to be comfortable for leg room, conceptually the entire world could be seen going backwards..."
"Doctor. We are not discussing the merits of going backwards. It's an American style car, isn't it?"
"Well, I suppose, but…"
She pointed accusingly at a portion of the gauge on the console. "It's off. See? I told you; we're clear on the opposite side of the planet!"
"No need to jump to conclusions. Klickitat could be a British name. I mean, if they can have names like Droitwich and Wrecclesham, you have to admit it's possible."
"Now you're just trying to rationalize."
"Biggleswade," he continued, "And Piddington do give it a run, don't you think? Why, it's a natural mistake," he said, patting the console. "Anyone could make it."
"This is not Britain; this is the North American continent," Romana said firmly. "Western America, judging by the plant life."
"Oh, I don't know about that," he said, looking at the scanner again. "Well, all right. It looks a bit like it. A little. But for all we know, Picadilly could be practically down the street."
Romana rolled her eyes. "Just admit you're half a planet off. And what about the date? What does that gauge you were tinkering with read? The one you're now hiding under your fingers?"
He looked mildly offended. "I wasn't."
"What does it say?" she persisted.
"All right, I admit it's not working properly either. Yet. But don't worry, I've learned how to scientifically pinpoint the date on Earth by a completely natural means. No batteries required."
"I mean more specifically than whether or not it's snowing."
He grinned and hit the door control. "And so do I. Go fetch us a newspaper, will you?"
"I'll go, but only because I think we'll be more quickly on our way that way," she said with slight annoyance.
"Capital idea. I'll go down and run a few tests on her chronometrical connections while you do that. Blow off the dust."
After a careful look around to check for any observers, Romana stepped out into what appeared to be a small graveled alleyway that ran between two sets of houses, lined partially with wooden fencing and neatly clipped boxwood and rhododendron bushes. The main road being just to the right, she quickly walked down to the sidewalk and then along it, glancing up and down for anything that might resemble an Earth-styled rectangular newspaper dispenser or kiosk.
The houses were all fronted with small lawns, each sporting a metal postal box on a post at the end of their driveways but there were no newspaper dispensers, not even any local shops anywhere to be seen, just more houses. Settling her hat more firmly on her head, she sighed and chose the direction with slightly more traffic noise in the distance for lack of any other defining characteristic.
A spotted dog gamboled the opposite way, running past her with its tongue hanging out as it panted. She watched it warily, but it paid little attention to her, its tags jingling around its neck. Somewhere nearby children could be heard squabbling over something, a baby cried, something with a very squeaky wheel rolled along. For a quiet residential street, it was really quite noisy. She reached the intersection and crossed to the next block.
Behind her, the panting dog slowed to a trot, then a walk, then to a wandering snuffle as he nosed around a telephone pole, some tree trunks and flowerbeds and white-painted fencing. Reaching the alleyway, he stopped for a moment then trotted forward to sniff curiously and suspiciously about a tall blue box. He circled it quickly, and was just settling into a longer, deeper investigation of the interesting and unusual scents when someone grabbed his collar.
"Ribsy!" A small girl with short brown hair exclaimed as she wrapped an arm about the dog's neck. "What are you doing here? Where's Henry?" she asked. Ribsy whacked a tail hopefully at the sound of his young master's name and sat, waiting for the girl to let go. Long experience with her had taught him patience was the only way to deal with this particular girl; Ramona Quimby was a very determined five-year old.
She was looking up at the blue box now with wide eyes. "A fort!" she said in great admiration. It looked like it had been made from one of those big wooden crates, like Mr. and Mrs. Kemp had their new furnace come in the previous summer, and it was even painted blue which was one of her very favorite colours after brown and pink and yellow and orange. The door was cracked open. She looked down at the spotted mutt that was still waiting for her to release his neck. "You want to see what's in there, Ribsy? You do, don't you. You want to go in. You don't have to be 'fraid, I'll go with you," she declared.
Pushing the door a little further open, she went in, dragging the reluctant dog with her by his collar. His toenails squeaked and clicked as he tried to back up, sliding across the smooth floor inside with a small anxious whine.
"Oooo!" Ramona said in wonder. What a fort! Why, it was bigger than Grandpa's camper he used for fishing trips, and it smelled nicer too. She lifted her nose and sniffed, encouraging the dog to do likewise. After a snootful of the unusual air, even Ribsy apparently thought it worth a few moments of investigation; a moment of indecision was quickly passed and soon his nose was sniffing busily all around the edges of the big room with its swiss-cheese walls, though he still kept one eye on Ramona.
She was looking up curiously at the strange table in the center of the room, a round one with knobs and buttons all over it. Politely folding her fingers behind her back as she'd so often been told by Beezus, her parents, her teachers and well, everybody, Ramona stood on tip-toe to see it better. They were all kinds of colours and shapes and some of them had little symbols and numbers and words on them. She looked around. There wasn't anyone watching, so she slowly unfolded her fingers. Why did so much of the world want her to always keep her fingers behind her back anyway? Grown-ups didn't. In a small defiance, she lifted her hands up but couldn't quite work up the courage to actually touch any of the bright and interesting controls. Well, maybe just one. She gently poked one with a pinky finger, just because she could. Nothing happened.
Growing slightly bolder, she poked another one, not noticing that Ribsy's head went up, his ears cocking at the sight of the door swinging the rest of the way shut.
Ramona circled the console table once more then, noticing the hallway leading off to one side, went to stick her head in it. More swiss-cheese walls. "This is a really big fort," she told the dog. "Come on, Ribsy!"
Ribsy gave a small wag at the sound of his name and agreeably headed off down the hallway, toenails clicking. Ramona followed.
It was only a few minutes later that the Doctor, reemerged from his lower-level repairs, coming back out into the hallway with a small part in his hand that he fiddled with as he walked. "Romana?" he called as he came back into the console room. "I think I've a good temporary patch for the…" He stopped. There was no sign of her and no answer. While he was sure he'd heard someone down the hallway, there was no sign of a newspaper, though she'd closed the door. He prodded the coat rack just to be sure she wasn't hiding and then with a shrug, screwed the piece he'd brought into place and tapped in a few coordinates to send his ship back into the waiting Vortex.