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Hope for the Future

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Ian watched the sullen boy. If there was one thing that he hated, it was hosting detention. It hadn't been near so popular at Coal Hill, but these upper crust schools had a disturbing preoccupation with corporal punishment. The wall clock ticked loudly, and Ian caught himself checking it over and over, urging the little second hand to move a bit faster. But of course, time didn’t work like that.

There was only the one boy in the class, sitting with his arms crossed and his head down on his desktop. He was eleven, twelve in a few months. He had huge glasses and hair cut in a style that would have been fine on a fifty year old business man, but looked wrong with the boy’s youthful features. He looked like the studious type, but he was in for not doing his homework.

Ian sighed, tapping his fingers against his trouser leg. He had his wife, dinner, and a good book waiting. He walked over to the boy.

“Rupert,” he said, taking the boy’s first name. The school’s decorum, and maybe the boy’s own preference, would have been Master Giles, but in Ian’s opinion something of childhood had to be salvaged.

The boy nodded, but didn’t answer. Up close, Ian could see the dark bags under his eyes. The thick glasses did a good job of hiding them from a distance. Like the haircut, the bags belonged to a much older man.

“This is the third time this week; the tenth time this month.”

“Sorry.”

“I know that you’re smarter than you’re letting on,” said Ian. “That doesn’t mean you’re exempt from homework.”

“Sorry.”

“Now Rupert, I know you’re capable of doing the work, and I know that you aren’t lazy, which leads me to wonder if something else might be interfering with your studies?”

He didn’t wonder, he knew, but that was the game wasn’t it? He continued to act:

“Science is a very useful thing to know, and I’m concerned that you might be missing out.”

“Not really,” Rupert said.

“What do you mean?” asked Ian.

“Science, it’s not really that useful. At least, not too me…”

“And why’s that?”

“You wouldn’t understand."

“I understand more than you think maybe. I am your teacher, after all.”

“No, you couldn’t, because…” Rupert trailed off. He swallowed.

“Because you’re defending the great and ancient secrets?” Ian queried with a raised eyebrow.

The remark made Rupert stiffen and jerk upright in his chair. Ian laughed.

“Oh, don’t act so surprised, you had to have known you had people watching you. A Watcher’s up-bringing is very important; can’t be letting experiences pile up on him willy-nilly.”

“Are you a Watcher too then?”

“I was, or might have been. Then I went away for a bit, and thought that maybe I’d do something different once I was back, but you never really get away from it. In any case I was never part of such a noble bloodline as yours.”

“That’s what everyone says; that I can’t be anything different. That I don’t have a choice.”

“Don’t believe that for an instant,” said Ian firmly, “there’s always a choice, to go or to stay. I’m making a choice right now, the Council will probably fire me once they hear that I’ve gone and revealed the plot to you, but I think you can handle it, and they aren’t half so frightening as they think they are. You’re stronger than you think, even if I’ll probably be long gone by the time you realise it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“No, I suppose not,” Ian said, waxing suddenly nostalgic. “There was a girl you see, that was my last assignment, and it was just convenient really, since I was already working at the school. She might have been a Potential, or at least that’s what I thought at first, but she turned out to be something quite different…”

“A demon?” Rupert asked.

“No. Not everything is divided up neatly into good and evil.” Ian thought of the Daleks rolling across the burnt out shell of London and wondered if he was telling the boy the truth, but then, he already knew about dichotomies, and he’d learn more over time. There were other important lessons to be given. “You can’t classify the entire universe based on magic.”

Again, Ian’s mind wandered, to bigger on the inside boxes, and time travel, and stars. Again, he wondered if he was lying.

“What then.”

“Something different. Something the Council would never understand, or accept once I made my report, and they weren’t happy about my going out of their sight for two years either.”

“For two whole years?” said Rupert, with something like awe. Ian smiled, he’d have awe too, except he knew the truth.

“Where were you?” Rupert asked

“The moon,” said Ian, “and other places.”

“Oh,” said Rupert, with the cynical disappointment of a child too-hard worked and too-often teased.

“I’m not lying,” said Ian. “I used to think that time couldn’t go around in circles, and now I realise how ignorant I was every time I look at a clock. I used to think that I’d never find happiness, and now I have a beautiful wife. I used to think that half of the bogey-men and vampires the Council guarded against were made up to scare the rank and file into behaving; now I know that they and worse exist, and I also know that better exists. I’ve always been rather cynical of the Council you know, thought they were just some old fuddy-duddy club that my father tagged after on weekends. I’ve never actually met a vampire. I did the rituals and read the books, but honestly, until a few years ago, I thought it was all made up.”

“I wish it was,” said Rupert.

“A wise man once told me,” Ian started, and then paused. “Oh, how did it go? I’ve been hit on the head one time too many since then. A wise man fears death, a coward fears life, or something like that in any case.”

Rupert looked confused, and Ian felt for him. There was nothing left for it but to plough ahead, and whether he was believed or not… well, time would tell.

“I’ve met you in the future,” said Ian, “and you’ll be a great man one day. You’ll rebel, and then you’ll obey, but once you stop trying to be someone else you’ll succeed. You’ll also be a far better hand fighter than me, though you confessed over a pint that you get hit in the head quite a bit.” Ian stopped and rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. “That must be inherent with being a Watcher I guess, or with knowing my wife.”

“Try to be a good man,” Ian concluded, gathering his papers. He considered emptying his desk, but didn’t on the off chance that he’d be allowed to keep his job. Not that he particularly cared. He and Barbara had discovered several pieces of antique jewellery tucked into their pockets on their return, a parting gift from the Doctor, the sly old coot. The market price was beyond anything either of them had ever expected. They were thinking of travelling again.

“Be honourable,” Ian said, “and when life takes you strange places try to make the most of it. In the end, that’s all we can do. All anyone can do.”

“You can go home, Rupert. Questions #4-15 in your workbook, and please try to get some sleep.”

 

fin


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