27th March, 2016, 1:02pm
The world tilts sickeningly around her, and Kate is abruptly remembering the same events in two different ways.
Her dad’s funeral - Jo Grant collecting her from a rainy school hockey field and doing her best not to answer her questions until they had official word, but bursting into random floods of tears. And the day itself, mourners in blak and her mother forcing her into an overstretched dress that had itched.
And her dad guiding her through the shark tank that is Whitehall, being at her graduation, teaching her to shoot just after she turned twenty. His funeral, a state affair, filled with the great and good and interminable speeches, but she had grieved privately with her stepmother back at the house, and she had been gratified with the number of people who had come to her with quiet condolences and remembrances.
Her school friends not knowing what to say to her, they were only Third Years, it was the first time death had touched any of them. Sitting pale and silent in disused classrooms because silence alone was expected, silence in the company of others was painful.
But she had come into work the day after the funeral, a sombre suit and a pale face, but no one had known and no one had asked. She’d buried her mourning in the paperwork generated by minor skyfall events, and had made a point of completing the handful of tasks that her dad had still intended to wrap up.
She’d heard about UNIT and their work from Jo Grant and John Benton, who had been furious by how they perceived her mother’s lack of respect. She just kept repeating that he told her it was a desk job, and how could he possibly have been blown up by terrorists. She’d been young enough to not quite have finished looking at her dad with hero worship, she’d known he wouldn’t have lied to them without reason; known that it couldn’t have been a careless accident. She’d been seventeen when Jo had, once again, turned up at her school (and her heart sank just at the sight of her, the image of Jo waiting for her a deeply rooted memory of grief and tragedy) and taken her for food and told her everything. She’d brought Benton and proof. Kate had made the decision of the direction her life had taken that day.
So then...where does the canal boat in which she’d lived with Gordy fit? They’d been there for two years. An angry, stubborn, prideful expression of the rage she’d carried since her parents divorced when she was fifteen. Like her mother, she’d been hurt at the string of absences and broken promises, left in her father’s wake; but she hadn’t been willing to listen to the bile coming from her either. Dad put his work first, second and third, and they were lucky to make the list at all, but he wasn’t bad or cruel. She’d known that her mother would be furious at the unexpected pregnancy, so she’d stopped going home and she hadn’t spoken to her father in years. No one had known. She knows now that they would both have helped her, but at the time she had been equal parts afraid they wouldn’t and unwilling to accept help when they’d hurt her in the past. She’d finished her undergraduate degree, bullied the father into babysitting Gordy during her graduation - the last time she’d seen him - then started renting the canal boat, supporting them with freelance journalism for some science magazines.
UNIT was her life, the only thing that mattered. She’d been through and through the records, and they still didn’t know what had happened at the old Priory the day of the explosion, only that it had cost them a whole platoon of young soldiers and Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. She believes, as do her closest friends, Jo and John Benton, that it also cost them UNIT’s elusive scientific advisor. After all, in the years since, the Earth has been ravaged by alien attacks, the dalek wars, the Sycorraxian abductions…
UNIT was her life and she worries sometimes that she has become her father, putting work front and centre. Her boys say they understand, but she wonders if they ever can, really. They know she does something important in the government but don’t - officially - know exactly what. Every now and again, when something truly weird crops up that can’t be hidden by some memory altering drugs in the water supply: the ghosts, the spaceship crashing into Big Ben, the Christmas Star, that truly odd thing with the moon...They know that’s when her hours are longest. They ask pointed questions sometimes, and they have long since stopped berating her for the Christmasses missed. She has actively blocked Torchwood from recruiting both of them, and worries that it isn’t enough to keep them safe.
Kate forces air into a too tight chest. She’s on her knees gasping, Jo is next to her, unconscious, and Osgood some paces forward, She must have grabbed for the machine at the last minute. Her breath is worryingly unsteady, Kate rarely hears her wheezing so badly.
“What are you doing?” she demands furiously of the Master.
The Master turns to look at her, and raises an eyebrow. “Are you still here?”
“Oh, I’m not going anywhere,” Kate spits in fury. She needs to move, she needs to do something.
Step one, she needs to be nearer to the Master to stop whatever he’s doing with that machine. Waves of disjointed, sickening memory are still crashing over her: joy, outrage, grief, deaths, births, successes, wars. She doubts she can stand for any real length of time.
She crawls over to Jo first, taking her pulse, slow but steady, and then a pace further forward to Osgood’s side and runs a hand through her friend’s hair.
“Kate,” Osgood whimpers, “Hurts.”
Kate digs into her pocket and pulls out Osgood’s inhaler herself, putting it to her lips.
“Come on,” she says to Osgood, and then repeats herself, snarling up at the Master, “Come on, isn’t explaining why I’m going to lose the part you most enjoy?”
He hums and places the machine on the shelf where the box it used to be in stood. “Do you really think knowing what I’m going to do will help you? Will you even understand it?”
Kate staggers unsteadily to her feet. “If it won’t help me anyway, why deny yourself the pleasure?”
He looks her full in the face, malice in every part of his smile now. “Kate, my dear, you don’t look well.”
It’s the best chance she’s going to get, he’s facing her fully, distracted, and for the moment at least, she’s standing. She lunges. The Master steps back, neatly avoiding her, but he isn’t what she’s aiming for. Gracelessly, mind reeling, she staggers past him and crashes into the shelving unit.
“You idiot child!” the Master shouts.
Kate’s vision is blurring. The room appearing in two different ways simultaneously - she’d made this place her headquarters when she’d taken command to respect their fallen/she hasn’t been here in years, it’s an obsolete storage facility - but she doesn’t need precision. Desperately, she sweeps everything from the shelves to the floor. The delicate looking contraption of the Master’s falls and shatters into fragments.
The world snaps back into a shape that Kate recognises. She’s Kate Stewart, commander of UNIT and leading them in a more scientific direction, her dad didn’t die until a few years ago, the Doctor is still somewhere in the stars.
Osgood is still wheezing on the floor, but her breathing abruptly loses the sobbing panicked edge.
Before Kate can say or do anything else, the Master is on her. He pushes her back against the wall, murderous fury radiating from him. She gasps as she slams into the shelves.
“You stupid little girl,” he snarls at her.
Kate smirks up at him, refusing to allow herself to feel small. “My apologies Master, was that important?”
She is absolutely certain he’s about to rip her apart, but instead he lets go of her. “No, nothing but a minor delay, Miss Lethbridge-Stewart, you haven’t changed anything,” he says tightly, veneer of propriety back in place.
Not Kate anymore, she notes, even if he is getting her name wrong. She must have gotten under his skin. Kate decides to call that a victory. She doesn’t correct him and instead allows herself to look away from him for a moment to check in on Osgood. She’s rolled over onto her side, propping herself on one elbow and breathing deeply. She focuses her attention back on the Master. He’s between her and the door. “What have I delayed?”
“You still think you can stop me?”
“I think it would be sporting to let me try.”
Surprisingly, the Master smiles. “You’re very like your father, you know. He was always outraged when he felt I was being unfair. What neither of you seems to appreciate is that I don’t care at all about being fair.”
Osgood makes it back to her own feet. “You needed the teletropic scanner for something,” she says shakily. “I never knew what it was, but it obviously picks up some kind of control signal. It was always inconsistent in tests but...teletropic...does it pick up psionic energy?”
The Master glances over his shoulder at her, and gives her an appraising look. “Very good...for a human. Yes, the Doctor thought this would be able to pinpoint my location during our final fight.”
“But he was wrong,” Osgood gives her bright, if uncertain, smile, “All the files agree that you’re far more intelligent than the Doctor, he’s just...creative and unpredictable. I’ve always wanted to meet you, you could teach us so much, and I doubt you care much if we’re not ready. You’d be willing to let us make our own mistakes.” Osgood steps closer to him, smiling up admiringly at the Master’s bearded countenance.
Kate is absolutely flabbergasted, she’s never seen Osgood flirt before - unless whatever she and Josh have going on can be construed as flirting - and it’s frankly downright unsettling.
The Master however, doesn’t seem to sense anything, instead he is smiling back at her. “That’s very flattering, my dear. Usually, it’s the Doctor that Earth girls fawn over.” He gestures vaguely back at Jo’s unconscious form.
Pssshhhhh, him. No. Not at all. I mean he’s...the Doctor. But you. You’re…”
“I- Yes. The Master.” Unease flickers across Osgood’s face, and Kate wishes she could see the Master’s expression.
Her own dizziness has now passed so she launches herself at the Master once more. “Osgood, run!”
Osgood gives her a terrified half look and then spins for the door, which opens into her face, taking her to the floor as Josh comes in. He doesn’t have any tea. “Ma’am, something’s happening downstairs, some sort of-”
“Yes, Josh, we know. It’s-”
“Doctor, is that why you’re here?”
The Master is now holding a small silver device in his hand. Osgood freezes, and Kate’s teeth squeeze together. She isn’t near enough to stop him, and the Master has always had a dangerously ready trigger finger. She opens her mouth, though she isn’t exactly sure what she’s about to say.
Josh bounces forward, actually elbowing Osgood out of his way in his enthusiasm. The hero worship is shining back in his eyes. “Is that the sonic screwdriver, for real?” He reaches out as though he’s going to grab for it, the Master pulls back, but not far enough. Josh had been going for his wrist.
A second later, and the Master is quite firmly in an armlock, Osgood is holding the tissue compression eliminator, and examining it closely. “I’ve always wanted to do experiments with this,” she says cheerfully.
“Josh?” Kate gasps in shock.
He rolls his eyes, and manhandles the Master over to the chair in the corner of the room. “I do listen to the briefings you know. And Osgood talks about the Doctor often enough, I do actually know what he looks like. This isn’t him.”
“The Master,” Josh says with another roll of his eyes. “There’s no way you’d send me out to get tea unless it was someone that might take control of me.”
There’s a clattering on the stairs. “And that will be the backup I rallied.”
Kate composes herself, just in time for Benton and, pretty much everyone else that’s in the building, to come through the door. “Well done, Captain Carter.”
Josh still doesn’t look mollified. “I can’t believe you’d think I wouldn’t know the difference.”
“This is fascinating, but if you could either explain what you want from me, or let me go,” the Master begins. Josh jerks his arm higher and he falls silent with a hiss.
“Josh,” Kate admonishes.
“UNIT didn’t used to hire thugs,” the Master says silkily.
“Just...tie him up,” Kate says.
“Do you really think you can keep me here?” he sounds outraged.
Josh drags him to the chair, as, with a groan, Jo begins sitting up. Osgood and Benton hurry to her side.
“What...what happened? I remember-” suddenly she sits bolt upright, “Something was happening to time. He turned that machine on and time started to...go wrong.”
The Master laughs, a low rich sound that makes Kate’s skin crawl. “Not going wrong, Miss Grant-”
The Master inclines his head and courteously corrects himself, “Mrs Jones. I am a Timelord after all. I was in full control. Oh, no. That was your history changing.”
One of the soldiers brings in another chair, Kate smiles at him and sits in it, settling opposite the Master. “Well then, you’d better tell us how and why.”
The Master glares at her.