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By Brad Schmidt

The wind ruffled Sam's hair, and she slowly raised a hand to smooth it back down. It wasn't that she was intentionally moving slowly, but the garden was one of those places that commanded lethargy through its sheer peace. She could almost feel nature subduing her.

Sam wasn't sure where she was exactly. The Doctor had bustled her out of the TARDIS, thrusting a picnic basket into her arms. All he carried were two tattered books. One was a first edition of The Secret Garden and the other was an unnamed, red leather-bound tome that had an aura of importance about it.

The picnic basket was one of those cane affairs, with a chequered red and white blanket folded across the top. One of those baskets you saw in old films and in black-and-white illustrations in Enid Blyton books. Sam was certain that if she lifted the corner of the blanket she would see ceramic bottles filled with ginger pop and a large, circular cake of indistinguishable flavour, with pink icing.

“So I gather we're going to have a picnic,” Sam had said. The Doctor had turned to her and grinned.

[Eighth Doctor]

“Very perceptive,” he'd beamed, and placed his hands on her shoulders, in that firm-but-gentle manner only the Doctor could achieve without really trying. Then he had rushed back inside the TARDIS and several moments later emerged again with a long pole, at the tip of which dangled a large black net. Sam had opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it, knowing he would give her an ambiguous answer that could be applied to any number of unrelated situations. With the energy of a child of five, the thousand-and-thirteen-year-old bounded out onto a lush field filled with daffodils, tulips and other white flowers Sam knew she would have to keep away from before they attacked her sinuses.

It struck Sam then that it was fairly odd the Doctor would kidnap butterflies for his own personal interest. With anyone else, she could have chided them briefly or not even bother to think about it. But not the Doctor. It went against everything he fought for - freedom. Sam often went into the butterfly collection in the TARDIS. The first time she had gone in by herself, she had freaked. A hundred of them had flocked towards her in a myriad of shimmering colour and descended. It was all Sam could do to stop screaming from the feel of their tiny feet itching on her bare skin, just in case one flew into her open mouth. But gradually she had gotten used to the feeling, their feather-tickling motion as they observed this new arrival to their world.

Sam smoothed the blanket down at the edge of the almost infinite flower field. It was odd the way the flowers grew - a straight line suddenly began, then blended into a copse of trees, marking its width. Pretty trees, with plenty of light filtering through. Sam imagined if evil walked in there it would re-examine its moral orientation and emerge with a flower tucked into its lapel. Or just melt in the beams of sunlight. Out of the corner of her eye Sam saw movement in the trees, and glanced up - slowly, though, for she knew it could only be something good. Like a deer frolicking. She felt like laughing giddily when it actually was that. So she did.

Sam set out the plates around the picnic cloth, making sure the three-layered pink cake was at the centre, and tucked a bottle of ginger pop under her arm. Then she picked up the leather tome and shuffled backwards a few metres until she felt the reassuring trunk of the oak tree behind her. The book fell open at a page, revealing a black and white sketch of a butterfly; a palm-sized butterfly with swirling designs on its outstretched wings.

Surprisingly, Sam didn't jump when the Doctor spoke behind her. And when she saw the very same butterfly, in living colour, perched on his hand, wings moving slightly back and forth as if it were breathing. The net was tucked under his arm.

“The jewel of China,” he murmured gently. His voice compelled Sam, like the sound of a bubbling stream. The Doctor admired its purple and white wings with rapt attention. Sam turned to the butterfly book again. A gentle breeze flew through the flowers, and Sam smoothed her hair back again, wondering why her sinuses weren't constricting malevolently. It was as if the harmony of the garden had tamed them.

The page had turned, the wind running its fingers through the thin leaves. Another butterfly sketch had been revealed, and Sam realized that she had seen this species before, and as she flicked through the book, she identified many more - all of which she had danced among in the TARDIS. Below each sketch someone had handwritten in sloping finery the species name and a date - the date of its extinction. That was when Sam realized why there were butterflies in the TARDIS. Realized that she was wrong. Realized again how much the Doctor meant to her, in that quiet way that no-one else could ever mean. Realized how much she loved him, not because he saved the Universe and saved her life and fought injustice. But because he rescued butterflies.

“It dies out in a few years time. I couldn't let it happen,” said the Doctor.

Sam smiled. A sudden thought struck her. In the melancholy, it felt like she had run headlong into a brick wall. “What if the butterfly was supposed to flap its wings tomorrow and cause a cyclone that would kill a young girl who would otherwise grow up to lead a revolution that would change history?” The words rushed out in a torrent of indifference.

“What if?” The Doctor said. Sam shivered at the way he used the tone that sounded desperately confused but ultimately knowing simultaneously, in a symphony of impossibility. “What if it never flies again? What if we had already caused the breath of wind its wings would otherwise cause? What if the moon was made of cheese? What if I hadn't made another cake to replace the one which is now being eaten by that army of ants?” The Doctor grinned suddenly, and Sam relaxed even further. Of course it would be eaten by ants. They had a red and white picnic blanket and were in a field of daffodils. She half expected Yogi Bear to creep up in full view and steal the basket and they would not even notice.

“Saving the world is endlessly important. But saving a butterfly, or a tree, or any single life, is infinitely so. Never forget to flap your wings, Sam.”

Sam closed the book and before the cover swung shut she noticed, underneath the author's name, Professor John Smith, a simple quote:

“We all make a difference. And for that contribution, lest we forget.”

And as Sam leapt among the flowers after the Doctor, laughing with abandon, she thought dreamily, we're all butterflies, and she flapped her wings, wondering what consequence it would have in the cyclone of her life.

This item appeared in TSV 55 (October 1998).

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