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Story of O

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The vicarage sitting-room was a great deal more spacious than he remembered. Inattention, perhaps: he had been quite preoccupied at the time. Or maybe it just looked bigger than a German cell. He sighed, and brought his mind back to the matter at hand:

“I’m only asking to borrow the wretched thing.”

“No.”

“It’s my TARDIS, too.”

“But not, at least by your account, just yet.”

“You can say that again.” He smiled winningly. “Pretty please?”

“Absolutely not. You must appreciate that my plan here rests on a knife’s edge. That interfering witch from the W. I. already knows too much.”

“Jam and Jerusalem. I can’t even. You have no idea how long it’s been since I thought that the Master of all matter was best served by being the Master of all Ambridge.”

“The name of this village is Devil’s End.”

“Pop culture reference. You’ll get better at those.” He sighed. “Look: the plan goes pear-shaped, OK? Azal meets cute with a tiny bimbo and explodes. During this period, the failures come thick and fast. They average out at a little under one per month.”

“I see. And why, exactly, can’t you use your own TARDIS?”

“I lost it. Mislaid it, I mean. In World War Two. I was being a Nazi, and things got out of hand. The details aren’t important. I have an appointment, and I mean to keep it.”

“When?”

“In 2020.”

“So, in my golden years, I fail at a more geriatric pace.”

“You always did substitute smugness for achievement.”

“What a blessing that’s a vice I shall outgrow. No. Some roly-poly for the road?”

***

“I think we got off on the wrong foot. Let me explain.” He leaned forward, as far as the bonds allowed. “I am The Master, and you will obey m…”

She punched him hard and deftly in the throat.

“You need some new material.” She inspected her finger-nails while he choked. “Respiratory bypass should kick in at three, two, one… And you’re back.”

“How… how did you know about my physiology?” He coughed, as a dark suspicion blossomed. “Are you my future? I must seriously lose my knack for regeneration, if I ever let myself get Welsh, with teeth like that.”

“I’m not your future, Harold. You won’t remember much of this bag and tag, but that’ll be down to drugs, not your dominant time-stream calling dibs.”

“Hmm. You surely know that I’ve gone by ‘O’ more recently…”

“I do. That must have put a spoke in your trademark anagrams.”

“… yet you think of me as Saxon, even looking like this. It must have been my last face but one that screwed you. Could it be… No – that’s not possible. I know for a fact that Torchwood’s dead.”

“Do you? You couldn’t find Martha Jones when you ran the world. You barely found Donna Noble when you were the world.” The Welshwoman rose, and moved out of his line of sight. “Attention to detail isn’t your strong suit, Harold.”

“You’re aware of ‘O’.” Behind his back, he heard her rummaging in a drawer. “But you went after this new me, not the one who’s playing burnt spy in the Outback now. So you know the difference. Which means… Ah. The Doctor left you a note, didn’t she?”

“Yes. The S.O.E. forwarded a time-locked package to my outfit during World War Two. That package opened for me last week.”

He slouched back, and grinned. “This isn’t a tag and bag. It’s a tag and release. She wants me to make our appointment in 2020; probably has one of her sticky Hallmark redemption plays in mind. So you can’t touch me, because Handsome Jack’s girl dances to The Doctor’s tune. It’s good, isn’t it? I’m in the chair, but you’re the one whose hands are tied.”

“For the sake of the time-line, and against my better judgment, I’m obliged to release you.” The drawer snapped shut. “Mostly intact.”

“Torchwood loses from beyond the grave. This is better than Netflix; it really is.” He paused, and frowned. “‘Mostly intact’?”

“You tortured my friend to death, Harold. A lot.” Her breath was warm beside his ear. “Say your name. I love it when you say your name.”

He relaxed a little. “That’s more like it. Mas…”

“Not that name.” In the Welshwoman’s hand, a pair of pliers glinted. “The new one.”

***

“… and then I woke up on a bumpy ’bus between Lampeter and Aberystwyth. Still don’t know what happened. Probably a future self gate-crashing my life for the lulz; you can’t imagine how annoying that is. Actually, at the moment, I suppose you don’t have to.”

The pianist continued to stroke a nocturne from the keys.

“There’ll come a time when this Quantum Fold Chamber will seem to have been palatial, by the way. I’d tell you to get ahead with acquiring a taste for rat tartare, but I know you didn’t.”

Rubato teased the stolid air.

“I look at you, and all that goes through my mind is ‘What was I thinking?’ One slender stretch of odious self-doubt, set between two seas of glorious rage. The Miss-thmus.” A pause, to see whether that had struck home, was filled only with brimming Chopin. “Why aren’t you saying anything?”

“Because I’m you, dear.” Her fingers had not stopped moving. “You enough to know that we don’t stage meetings for someone else to do the talking. Music arises from silence, every bit as much as the gaudy notes; my gift to you, obnoxious little future-me, is silence. What’s on your mind?”

“I am The Master. I do not have anything on my mind.”

“But you do. It’s burning you up. You can’t tell our old friend, for some reason. I imagine that would ruin a big reveal. You can’t tell the apes, because their tiny brains would melt. You need someone who’ll apprehend, but not remember.” The piece complete, the piano-lid snapped shut. His stomach clenched, and he did not know why. “You need me.”

He scowled. “Smart-arse.”

“That’s a constant, dear.”

“Very well. I don’t care if you’re sitting comfortably, because soon you won’t.” He took a deep breath. “This concerns the Timeless Child…”

FINIS