Her name hasn’t always been Alice. It used to be Melissa, Melissa Moretti, but she has no memory of either of her parents ever calling her Melissa. She is only two when her mother stops being Lucia Moretti, and her mother is very thorough. There are no slip-ups, no mistakes. Even the drawing books she scrawls in, the ones her mother insists are her only ones, havecheerful red inscriptions saying “Alice’s book” long before she can actually decipher them.
Alice wouldn’t know about Melissa at all if she hadn’t seen a photo of her mother with a baby one day, with “Lucia and Melissa” written on the back. Not at home, never there; her mother wouldn’t have slipped up this way. No, she sees it in one of the flats her father uses during the 80s, in his desk, during one of the few times he brings her there. At first, she wonders whether her parents have had another child, and feels a pang mixed with jealousy for that unknown sister.
“That’s you, sweetheart,” her father says when she asks. She feels simultaneously reassured and regretful, because on second thoughts, she would have liked to have a sister. She is eight then, and keenly aware that her parents are even odder around each other than other people’s divorced parents. She also feels sorry for her father, who isn’t allowed to stay with them very often and even less often allowed to take her away on an adventure. He must be lonely, she thinks, looking at that photo; another child could have remained with him, and maybe sometimes they could have changed places.
Years later, Alice figures out that her father isn’t sloppy enough to leave photos lying around on desks for children to find, either. Not by accident. He had wanted her to tell her mother, which she did; it got him an entire week with both of them, which ends with her mother cursing in Italian and rubbing sore spots on her neck while Alice’s father leaves again.
Alice never sees that photo again. Sometimes she wonders whether she has imagined it, along with her other name.
Spotting the best hiding places anywhere she goes, checking for the exits in the rooms she enters, using a knife without cutting herself: those are the games her mother teaches her. Her father, when present, teaches her how to dance, how to cheat at cards, and how to shop.
The last causes another argument between her parents.
“She’s supposed to blend in,” says her mother. “Not to draw attention to herself. If she gets your dress sense, she might as well wear a sign around her neck saying ‘I AM THE DAUGHTER OF JACK HARKNESS’.”
“But she is my daughter,” her father returns, sounding playfully insulted. “And drabness just doesn’t suit her.”
Alice’s mother switches to Italian, which she won’t teach Alice.
Alice is twelve and wakes up on a Monday having absolutely no memory of the weekend. None at all. She does recall that her father promised her some time together over the weekend and was supposed to pick her up at school on Friday. She hadn’t seen him in half a year, so she had really been looking forward to this. But now the time has passed and gone, and she can’t recall a single moment. Her best friend at school asks her whether she has taken any photos, and this is how Alice finds out the polaroid camera she got for Christmas from her mother is gone, too.
At this point, she stops believing that her mind is playing a stupid trick on her and starts to get very worried indeed. She is old enough and has seen enough spy movies to know that the games her mother taught her weren’t really games, and that her mother is always, always afraid that one day, someone is going to catch up with them. Someone dangerous. So Alice gets into a telephone booth, like she was taught, rings her mother, and doesn’t tell her anything on the phone, just that she misses the teddy bear she last played with when she was four, which is what Alice is supposed to say when she has a story she can’t tell over the phone.
That evening, Mary Sangster who looks not very much like a Mary and very much like an enraged Lucia is at Alice’s boarding school. So is her father. Alice sits in the car her mother was planning to take her home in while her parents yell at each other in Italian, standing at the side of a country road not far from her school. They still think Italian means Alice can’t understand them, because her mother never taught her, but Alice has secretly done a do it yourself class by the time she was ten, all courtesy of tapes and vocabulary books. If you move a lot and don’t make friends that easily, you have a lot of time to kill.
“You bastard,” her mother says. “You retconned her, didn’t you?”
Her father says it was necessary, that Alice saw him kill two creatures whose primary sustenance was human skin, creatures that must have somehow managed to trace him “from work”, that Alice herself killed a third and just was too young to have to deal with this kind of crap.
“She shouldn’t deal with it at all,” her mother says. “That’s why I left you. That’s why I changed my freaking name. I should have left the bloody country, that’s what I should have done. Stay the hell away from us, Jack.”
It’s not the first time her mother ends an argument this way, nor will it be the last, because in the end, her mother never does leave the country, and sooner or later, she permits Alice’s father to visit again. What makes this time different is the lesson Alice takes away from it, which is this: her father can change or take away her memories if he wants to. She has no way of knowing whether the lost weekend was the first time he had done so.
This is when Alice starts to be afraid of her father. She never really stops.
When Alice is fifteen, all raging hormones and wild mood swings, she falls in love with a boy in her class. (That year she’s in a local school again. No more boarding schools.) She draws their initials together in her school books, she is miserable because she imagines he’ll never ever love her back, and when he tells her, through a friend of his who talks to someone else who knows the girl sitting next to her who is not quite a friend but close, that he likes her too, she is ecstatic. It’s all as normal as can be, right up to the point where they start to date and he visits her at home. Because his first visit coincides with one of her father’s.
Her father, who still looks the same way he's always done for as long as Alice can remember, while her mother does not. Tim can’t disguise his surprised expression fast enough when Alice introduces her father. Who has brought a present for Alice. It’s a necklace with a truly beautiful jewel that looks like it captures starlight, and under other circumstances, she’d admire it and risk the question whether it actually is a bit of captured starlight, because it’s the kind of question one can ask her father without feeling stupid. But not right now. Right now, her attention is on Tim.
“It’s not your birthday, is it?” Tim says worriedly.
“No,” her father says languidly. “Don’t tell me you haven’t found out her birthday yet. Looks don’t get you everywhere, you know. I should know.” Then he leans towards Tim. “Though you do look stunning.”
It dawns on Alice that her father is flirting with her boyfriend, and it’s an absolute nightmare.
Tim reacts by being mostly freaked out and just a tiny bit intrigued, and leaves as soon as he can.
“Now,” her father says briskly, “it just happens that I have tickets for the ball at…”
“I don’t care,” Alice yells and runs upstairs to her room, utterly convinced that Tim will hate her now and that she’ll never love anyone else in her entire, doomed-to-celibacy life. She has no idea whether her father was just being himself, or whether he deliberately got rid of Tim because this was his idea of showing fatherly concern, or whether he just wanted her attention for himself and his plans. All three explanations are possible, and right now, all three make her equally furious.
Anger demands satisfaction, and so Alice does something she's never done before. After her father has left again, she takes the bus to Cardiff. She stalks him, she lurks as she was taught, and sure enough, she sees him with some people he works with. One of them, a woman, stands a bit closer to him than the others do, and when she mock-chases him at one point, Alice is sure that this must be her father’s current girlfriend. So she follows her. To her considerable embarrassment, the woman notices; but then, Mum’s lessons were more on the defensive side of things. Also, it’s probably good that she got noticed before she loses her nerve.
“Mind telling me why you’re stalking me, kid?” the woman asks, not unfriendly, but her left hand isn’t far from her gun; Alice can tell. Her heart pounds, and she’s simultaneously terrified and excited. And still very angry. So she wets her lips, gives her best imitation of her father’s “come on, you know I’m charming” smile and says: “Because I fancy you.”
The plan, inasmuch as she had one, had just been to show her father how awful and humiliating it is to see a family member make a pass at one’s significant other. Except that her father isn’t here, and the woman looks mostly amused. She has red hair and obviously knows how to do her mascara and lipstick way better than Alice can manage, and she carries herself so self-assuredly in her tight jeans; a Bond girl come to life.
“Really?” the woman asks, still full of amusement and a bit of indulgence too, and suddenly Alice thinks: just you wait. She steps forward and kisses the red-head. It’s only her third kiss altogether, after two clumsy but exhilarating snogs with Tim, but right now, she’s not worried about lack of technique because it doesn’t matter. To her utter surprise, the woman, after a second of stillness, doesn’t push her back but opens her mouth and lets the kiss happen. Alice at age 15 isn’t really good at systematic thought in situations such as these, not that just such a situation has occurred before, and so she can’t sort out the four very different thoughts she has, which are:
a) This feels way better than I thought it would.
b) This is Dad’s girlfriend.
c) Mum will kill me when I get back.
d) I’m a worse freak than Dad.
Eventually, they all lead to the same conclusion. Alice breaks away and runs, that taste of someone else’s lipstick and tongue still in her mouth. The woman calls after her, but Alice doesn’t stop running until she’s back at the bus station. She’s both relieved and disappointed nobody followed her.
Alice never tells her father about her attempted grand revenge, at first because she’s too embarrassed, and later because she’s pretty sure he’d just find it funny.
It’s the first day of the year 2000, Alice is hung over as hell and would have slept well until noon in normal circumstances. It’s a holiday, after all, and she and Joe are spending it in Paris. This has been Joe’s idea, something about greeting the new millennium in the city for lovers which, being Joe, he has managed to make sound sweet instead of trite, and she has laughed and agreed. She is quite swept away by Joe, loves everything about him from his American accent to his sense of humour, and he has proposed to her. She’ll marry him the next year.
Right now, though, Joe is groaning in disbelief as the phone in their room rings. And rings. And keeps ringing, until Alice answers it. It’s her father’s voice at the other end, telling her he’s in the lobby, and he needs to see her. It’s seven thirty in the morning, he’s supposed to be in Wales; she did call him last night to wish him a happy new year but got his voicemail, so she figured he had to be celebrating with his friends. His voice sounds utterly unlike himself, and she’s suddenly afraid something has happened to her mother. There is no other reason she can think of. Her head pounds, but she’s wide awake now, getting quickly dressed without switching on the light as Joe has gone back to sleep with a “slap him from me, will you?”. Joe doesn’t know about her father, though he has met him; he thinks Jack is her older brother.
When she sees her father in the hotel lobby, sitting slumped in a chair, her fear intensifies, because for the first time she can remember, he doesn’t greet her with a joke and a smile. There is an aura of defeat around him, and he just gets up and wordlessly embraces her, pulling her tight as if his life depended on it, and she thinks, no, no, no, it’s too soon, not Mum, no. Some sound must have escaped her she can’t recall making because he suddenly says: “Your mother is fine as far as I know, don’t worry.”
Then what? She thinks and asks out loud, and he actually does tell her without any attempt at obfuscation, which in itself says a lot about the state he’s in. His boss, someone named Alex, killed himself in front of him, right after killing everyone else. The entire team. Soon they’re walking outside because she doesn’t have the stomach for breakfast right now, and the cool January air clears her head a little though she still feels bleary. She listens to him talk about dead people she never met and realizes she never told him which hotel she was staying at in her phone call, just that she was in Paris, which means he must have traced her. In other circumstances, this might have irritated her a little but right now, she just wants to comfort him. She can’t imagine what this must feel like, seeing someone you care about murder your other friends.
She’ll be twenty-five next August, and strange as her life has sometimes been, she still, deep down, believes everyone she loves is immortal, just like her father.
He asks her to talk about herself, about Joe, about her job, and she thinks she understands why; they have nothing to do with Torchwood. He asks her about the sights of Paris she has already seen and wistfully exclaims he wished he could show her the Paris under Napoleon III. “They really knew how to party back then,” he says. “I always wanted to go back.”
“You could now,” Alice replies, and he looks at her, surprised. “Go back to Paris, I mean. Or anywhere else you want. You’re free.”
Neither of her parents has ever told her the complete story of how and why her father came to work for Torchwood, but after finding out he has done so for more than a century, Alice has concluded there had to be some kind of coercion involved. Her mother, out of fear that Alice would ever want to follow her parents’ footsteps and become an agent herself, has told her that Torchwood was poison for as long as Alice can remember. “Sweeps you away and breaks you,” her mother said all through her childhood, and even though Alice has long since realized her mother’s motive, the conditioning still holds, to a degree.
Her father shakes his head, but a shadow of his old smile has returned to his face.
“No,” he says. “I am Torchwood.”