'Do No Harm'
by John Seavey
The last time she'd seen the Doctor, he'd died saving her life, but Martha didn't let herself think about that right now.
She studiously didn't let herself think about the last moments in the alleyway, about the desperate flight from the Astratoth's pet Hunter, made from an assemblage of rats, cats, and stray dogs all tossed into a genetic stew and rendered down to a hulking mass of slithery predator. She studiously avoided remembering the way the Doctor had shoved her into an open doorway, shouting to keep the Hunter's attention on him as it charged. She deliberately didn't dwell on the stupid, clumsy, incompetent way that she'd sprawled through the door and cracked her head on the wall instead of finding some way to help him, and she certainly didn't think about the blurred, semi-conscious memory of the creature rushing past her graying vision, about the terrible screams she heard, about the way that everything went dark for a long while after that.
She just walked down the streets, back towards the TARDIS, holding the precious key tightly in one hand and rubbing the knot on her head gingerly with the other. Thinking about all this meant that she'd have to admit she had no idea what to do without the Doctor around. She didn't know where the Astratoths had moved their lair to. She wasn't a Time Lord who could puzzle out how the Astratoths had managed to travel back in time to 1833 to assassinate Charles Babbage before he could publish his ideas for an "analytical engine". She was just a girl who'd tagged along with the Doctor to meet a historical person. She wasn't up to saving the Web of Time.
She rounded the corner, and found a distinctive set of drag marks where the TARDIS should have been. Typical. Well, probably typical. She hadn't been traveling with the Doctor that long, but this seemed to happen a lot. She'd lost the Doctor. She'd lost the TARDIS. She was alone, in 1833, with nothing to her name but a leather jacket, a key to nowhere, a wodge of currency that wouldn't be issued for another 175 years, and a lump on her skull the size of a grape.
She probably would have sat down and had a good cry, if someone hadn't called out to her from the street.
"Oi! You! Girl!" The voice was rough, perhaps a little rude, but there was warmth behind the shout. Martha looked over at the street. "You alright?" asked a large man, wearing cheap-but-well-kept clothes, his curly brown hair making a spirited bid for escape from his cloth cap.
"Me? Oh, I..." She tried to keep it together. The last thing Martha wanted to do was to start blubbering in front of a total stranger. "I, um..."
The man gave her a closer look. "That's a nasty bump, that is. Come here, I'll bring you along with me. The missus can have a look at that, and you can have a bite to eat. Not seen a girl as skinny as you in a long spell!" He chuckled. "My name's Marcus. You needn't worry, lass. I don't bite."
He looked surprised at the way she started blubbering, right in front of him.
* * * * *
An hour later, and "the missus" (whose name turned out to be Hannah, and who said, with no malice whatsoever, that she'd "never seen a blackamoor up close before") was offering her a bowl of thin soup, which Martha took gratefully. She could tell just by looking around the tiny apartment that the couple didn't have much, which made their decision to take in a stranger that much nicer. Martha was absolutely determined to show some manners. It didn't hurt that the soup tasted good.
"So," Hannah said, "how did you wind up in such a right state?" She'd cleaned off the bump on Martha's head, and although Martha was sincerely wishing she was in an era where they had aspirin, she was more or less functional again.
"My friend and I, we were being chased. By..." She rubbed at her head a little, hoping she seemed convincingly confused. She didn't want these people knowing about the Astratoths, getting involved in the Doctor's struggles. People who did that tended to die a lot. She remembered terrible screams for a moment, and the Doctor shouting, but she kept her face composed in confusion. "I don't remember exactly what. But I hit my head. My friend and I, we got separated." And the Hunter chased him down. And then...she must have given away something of her thoughts, because Hannah enfolded her in a warm hug. "I'm sorry," she said, "I'm just...I'm worried about him."
"That's alright, dearie," Marcus said from across the room, sopping up his own soup with a chunk of bread. "There've been odd doings about, lately...you're not the only one who's had friends go missing. There's been a right ruckus down at Scotland Yard, they've been hearing from us about it all. Hearing it loud and clear. There'll be something done about it all, soon enough. For now, you just rest a night here, and perhaps in the morning you can talk to the police about finding your friend."
"Thank you," she said. "I just--" Her voice was interrupted by the opening of the door that led into the apartment's other room, where the couple slept. A little blonde-haired girl of six or seven stood framed in the entryway, her expression a mixture of shame, fear, and sleepy-eyed confusion. Martha could see that her nightgown was heavily stained, and she could imagine what it was stained with. Poor girl. It was always embarrassing to have something like that happen, but during a stranger's visit? Too bad they hadn't invented therapy yet, this girl was going to need it.
"Father?" the girl asked, her voice muzzy. "I don't feel so good..." Martha politely looked away from the little girl, but when she saw the expression on Marcus and Hannah's faces, she felt a cold chill of fear. It wasn't the expression of an angry parent who'd have to spend hours washing the sheets, it was terror. Cold, gut-stricken terror, an expression like Martha had never seen on anyone's faces before. Like...like they were watching their child die before their eyes.
It took Martha a moment to find her voice. "Is...is she ill?" she asked, the question feeling stupid and inconsiderate on her lips.
Hannah just burst into tears, but Marcus set his lips grimly and answered. "Cholera," he said. "Dan and Nancy Whitmore's little boy died of it, a week ago, but that was half a mile away. I thought..." He trailed off, unable to speak. His daughter whimpered, already voiding her bowels again, uncontrollably. It was mostly water, though. Martha knew that, even if this was the first case she'd ever seen in person.
"That doesn't mean much," she said, almost without thinking. "If you both drank from the same--" She stopped herself. Memories of the Doctor flashed through her mind, unbidden.
'The Astratoths,' he'd said, 'were a race of marauders, fairly vicious stuff. They preyed on cargo transports, passenger ships, really anything they could find that traveled through space and wasn't too heavily guarded. But when they started preying on the Earth Empire, well...they'd never seen anything like the computer-controlled battlefleets the Empress put up against them. Made mince-meat of them. I suppose that's why they've come back here, however they managed it. To slow down the human race's development of computers.' He'd paused, getting that grim look on his face, and sighed that determined sigh of his. 'And I have to stop them.
'All of human history is at stake, Martha. It's one of my most sacred duties as a time traveler, if you don't mind my being pretentious for a moment.'
'A moment?' She'd laughed. Looking back, she felt stupid and arrogant for laughing. Like she wasn't taking the threat to human history seriously enough.
'A specific moment, actually. 1833, Ada Lovelace meets Charles Babbage. One of the pivots on which history turns, Martha. It's the one thing we can't do, no matter what the temptation. A word, a decision, a single moment set wrong, and history changes. We mustn't ever let it happen. No matter how hard it gets.'
Now the temptation was in front of her. Marcus looked at her, surprised by her outburst, but said nothing. What was there to say? Nobody knew how cholera was spread, how it was transmitted, not in this time period. Their little girl had just received a death sentence. How could they know that Martha held medical knowledge that could save their daughter's life?
They couldn't. But Martha knew. She'd have to leave, now. Leave, or look them in the eye and do nothing, lie and mutter false sympathies and watch their daughter die. Because the other alternative was to risk shredding the Web of Time, to trample on one of the few things she'd ever heard the Doctor use the word "sacred" about, to break the covenant of a time traveler and...and...
...and she couldn't do it. Heaven help her, she couldn't do it. She'd never signed onto any sacred covenants, and she wasn't the kind of person who could let a child die. She wasn't the Doctor. She was a doctor. Or she would be, once she'd passed her exams.
She stood up. "Hannah, start boiling water. As much as you can get, just dump out the soup and--" She paused, her mind rattling on at a mile a minute as she remembered hours of medical textbooks, the pressure bringing the knowledge to mind more surely than any exam ever could. "No, wait. Don't dump out the soup. She'll need nutrients and electrolytes, too. Just water down the soup. Keep it on the boil, though. We need to get the water nice and hot. Where did you get it from?"
"Broad Street Well," Hannah said, her voice thick with bewilderment. "But--"
"We'll need to go to a different well. Tell everyone you meet, don't drink from the Broad Street Well, not without boiling the water first. Marcus, go to a different well, get as much water as you can carry, we've got to boil it. Is there--" She suddenly cursed her inadequate historical knowledge. The Doctor would know. But the Doctor wouldn't do this. "Is there such a thing as bleach?"
Marcus gaped at her with the same bewildered look as Hannah. It must seem like Martha had gone insane. "Bleaching powder? Yes, miss, but--"
"Alright. As soon as the shops open, we're going to get some bleaching powder, we're going to spread it over everything your daughter...um..."
"Elizabeth, ma'am," Hannah filled in automatically.
"We're going to spread it over everything Elizabeth has touched. Especially over everything that's got feces on it. For now, though, the important thing is keeping her hydrated. Boil that water, Hannah, dip out a bowl and as soon as it's cooled, give it to Elizabeth. As soon as she's finished, give her another. She needs to replace all the water she's losing." Martha's eyes hardened. "I am not going to let your daughter die."
* * * * *
That had been a week ago. A week of changing sheets, washing clothes, the acrid stench of bleaching powder in Martha's nostrils, shifts of water boiling, hourly bowls of lukewarm water poured down a weakly-protesting throat, and not a small amount of worry that one of the three of them would develop symptoms as well. She'd been insisting that Marcus and Hannah drink all their water with a dollop of gin in it; Martha wasn't a big drinker, but gin and water sounded a lot better than vibrio cholerae and water. It had been a near-run thing at points, but this morning, Elizabeth actually stood up for the first time in days.
"I think we've beaten it," she said.
"Beaten what?" the Doctor said from the doorway.
Martha had never felt like this in her life. The most profound relief she'd ever felt (mingled with just a traitorous bit of affection) mixed freely with absolute terror (with just a dash of shame.) The Doctor had survived, had come back for her...and she'd just finished betraying everything he held dear. She had visions of him dumping her back in 2007, of him returning her to a world she no longer recognized, of him leaving her stranded in the past, of him forcing her to kill Elizabeth to preserve the course of history... "Nothing," she said weakly. "I thought you..."
"The Astratoths?" He waved a hand dismissively. "They weren't all that. Just took me a bit to sort them out, was all. And then a bit more to find you, that was a bit tricky, actually took me longer than it did to sort out the Astratoths, but finally I heard about this mad woman who was buying up all the bleach at the chemists, and I thought, 'Now who do I know that would want bleach?' And I struck it lucky." He turned to a speechless Hannah and Marcus. (The Doctor tended to have that effect on people, even in small doses.) "I'm the Doctor, by the way. Thank you for taking care of my friend, I'd have come sooner, but I was being held captive by a rampaging mob of rats and cats and dogs. I finally triggered their instincts, and they chased each other to death, but it took some doing." He looked at their faces, and evidently decided to simplify. "Thank you for taking care of Martha while I was away."
"Us, sir?" Hannah enfolded Martha in a vast hug. "It's us who should thank you for delivering this blackamoor angel to us in our time of need! Your Martha has delivered our daughter from Death itself, sir, and we'll never forget her for it!"
"Really?" the Doctor said mildly, giving her a sidelong look.
Martha gulped. "This is my ride," she said weakly to Hannah and Marcus, before making some more proper farewells. Then the two of them headed down the stairs in silence, walked out onto the street in silence, until Martha couldn't take it anymore and she told him everything.
The Doctor listened, still in silence. "So you cured cholera."
"And saved the life of a little girl who would surely have died without your interference?"
"Yes." Every word stuck in her throat. She was glad she didn't have to use more than three.
The Doctor broke into a smile. "Well done, Martha Jones. Well done!"
Martha blinked. "But I...I mean, the Astratoths...and the Web of Time...and sacred oaths! You said so, 'sacred oaths'!"
The Doctor gave a snort. "Well, yes, sacred oaths and all, but that doesn't mean you have to be heartless! I wouldn't want a friend who could watch a little girl die, would you?"
"But I cured cholera! Those two, they saw it work? They're going to tell everyone? Isn't that going to damage history?" Martha didn't know why she was arguing so hard that she'd done something stupid. She should be happy that the Doctor wasn't upset with her. But she just couldn't let it go at 'well done'.
"Ah. Well." The Doctor's face fell a little, as he walked over to a nearby newsstand. He plunked down a coin on the counter, and took a paper in exchange. "Here you go," he said, flipping it open to a page near the back. "Little souvenir of June 11th, 1833."
Martha looked at the paper. 'Patent Medicine!' one block of text shrieked. 'Guaranteed preventative against the effects of cholera! Made from the root of the juniper bush!' Another talked about 'Kola Nut Cholera Preventative!', still another made mention of a filter that would block out the miasmic effects of cholera, yet another talked about bleeding as a treatment, further down there was a mention of an 'anti-choleric enema'... "They've all got it wrong!"
"And Elizabeth's story will be lost in the din," he said softly, as they headed back towards the TARDIS. "The problem isn't that there was no cure for cholera in 1833, it's that there were too many, and nobody was testing them to sort out the good ones from bad. Believe me, if it were that easy to change history, we'd do it every time we stepped out of the TARDIS. You didn't change history, Martha Jones." He paused. "Which is a good thing, as it probably would have resulted in a temporal embolism and the destruction of half the universe. But you didn't do it. You just saved a life."
"And I'm not sorry," Martha said, as the Doctor unlocked the TARDIS doors.
"And you don't have to be," the Doctor said, as they stepped inside.