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The Accidental Ambassador

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Alison sleeps until her local clock tells her it’s dinner time. Feeling much more stable, although slightly muzzy, she ambles toward the kitchen in search of food. With a snap and a sizzle, the heavy, oily odor of chips floats out the door. Alison opens her nostrils and quickens her step, trying to remember if she has ever smelled the TARDIS cooking before.

Of course, it’s not the TARDIS, but the evil robot that won’t go away. He turns from the stove. “Eat with me.” He doesn’t do questions; even his invitations are commands, despite the fact that he promised to be polite.

Alison props herself on the door jamb, not interested in call him out on his lack of please. Directness. Disengagement. “Enough with the bullshit. I’m not dear; you’re angry as fuck at me. And you don’t eat -- you’re a robot.”

“So I am.” He removes a tray of toasty brown chips from the oven, along with two portabello caps in a broiler pan. Did he put cheese on them? Yes, he did -- it’s golden and glossy, crisping where it hits the broiler rack. Closing the oven door with a sideways shift of his hip, he turns to her. “You are right on both counts.” He arranges the food on a plate. “Would you prefer that I leave you to your meal so that we may speak afterward?”

“I’ll eat in my room and then meet you here.”

He gives her a tray, containing a plate with the portabellos and chips, a salad of spinach, basil, cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella, and a tall glass of fruit punch. “Your supper.”

“Thank you,” she says in clipped tones, removing to her room.

This is no good-for-you, character-building selection from the TARDIS, but pure comfort food. Chosen for smell [the lovely fat odor of cheese!], texture [the pop of miniature tomatoes!], and taste [the corrosive, buzzy sweetness of the punch!], all the food slides down her gullet. She soon feels good and full, even better than she did before. As much as she loves the TARDIS’ food, Alison has to admit that the robot seems to have her old familiar favorites down.

After brushing her teeth, Alison finds the robot in the kitchen, seated at the table with a book. It doesn’t seem to be the earlier one about movies. She offers a neutral question: “What are you reading?” Wordlessly, he holds up a copy of Frankenstein. “Wow -- isn’t everyone?”

“Not the Doctor.” The robot slides the book aside and nods at the seat across from him. “Sit, please. --They’re too busy trying to act it out.”

“How is the Doctor?”

“Mmmm…” The robot presses his lips together. “Two of their small rib fractures have healed completely, and the abdominal wall herniation is slowly repositioning back to normal. As for the pulmonary tubules -- the ones that they damaged were primary, so I’ve put them under assisted ventilation to ease some of the strain on their respiratory system as they recover. Such delicate structures -- “ The robot rubs his hand down his face as if he has been staring at the Doctor through the Zero Room window so long that his eyes have been strained. “I truly don’t know how long the Doctor needs to recover from their pulmonary compromise.”

“Oh… Well, I hope it’s soon.”

“As do I. The old fool…” Chin in hand, he strokes his beard, a slight smile on his face.

“Ahem.” Alison gives a warning cough. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”

“Yes?” The robot turns his attention to her.

“You’re angry at me. I don’t need psychic magic to figure that out. So tell me! Tell me I was foolish to take pity on a person running for her life, that I tangled us all into a mess by promising to help the Schuaschen instead of the Agricole, that it was a complete waste of time to show her the TARDIS cats, even though she loved them. List all the ways I ruined the Doctor’s mission ‘cause I’m just a lower creature that’s apparently only good for mind-fuck practice.”

“My dear Miss Cheney!” Like Magister Nkrumah, the robot doesn’t yell; he pronounces words with more force and precision. “Are you quite done feeling sorry for yourself?”

That’s like Magister Nkrumah’s question whenever her class got too rowdy: Do you plan on keeping up this immaturity all session? There is no possible way to answer such an inquiry while hanging on to your dignity. Alison stays quiet, sighs, and regards the robot with what she hopes is more composure.

“The reason for my anger,” he says, his voice becoming soft, “has nothing to do with your surprising pretenses to diplomacy and everything to do with what you called me when you introduced me to Ambassador Lilleschall.”

Alison winces. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

There’s a silence, and then he begins speaking again in that quiet, sharp, exact way that’s not yelling but worse: “I keep you safe; I heal you; I swear to deal with you truly and respectfully; and I will do anything you ask of me so that you might be whole and happy -- and yet you contemn me as the Doctor’s mechanical possession.”

“Oh no -- that’s not it -- I just -- “

“Do you truly consider me such a worthless object that you will not even deign to use my name? Is that it, Domina carissima Alison Cheney?” He has never used her first name before and never the superlative of cara, but now, suddenly, she is my dearest Miss Alison Cheney -- named specifically, respectfully, and directly in a way that she has never addressed the robot.

“No! You’re a person! But...I can’t -- I can’t say your name.”

“You can say everyone else’s.”

“But your name is like a title -- ”

“As is the Doctor’s.”

“Yes, but that’s different. My ancestors -- we’ve had masters; we’ve been treated like inanimate objects. Even today people still think we’re less than human. But I’m black, and I’m a woman, and I’m a human being, and I call no one master!”

That fucking eyebrow goes up again. Alison flattens her own eyebrows and glares. In reply, the robot acknowledges her with a direct glance for a split second. Then, having verified that she’s watching, he bends his attention to the cover of Frankenstein, wordlessly deferring. Audio atque cedo, she thinks. Maybe it was an understanding eyebrow after all.

“Hmmmm,” he says after a minute. “Then I have misjudged your motivations.”

“Yeah, you did.” Alison crosses her arms and adds in a tinder-dry voice, “And you could try admitting that you were acting like an impatient arsehole and not really doing the whole hearkening and yielding thing that you promised me you would. And apologize for once in your life. It wouldn’t kill you.”

Those were commands -- sharp and sarcastic ones at that -- but they make him stop. He cocks his head slightly, and she can see him mentally replaying her words with a meticulous consideration. “Yes,” he says after a moment, “you are right. I should not have interrupted you, but should have allowed you to explain yourself. I am sorry that I assumed that I knew what you were talking about, but I did not.”

“No, you didn’t,” agrees Alison, but with less snap than before. “And thank you for the apology.”

“When you talk about your ancestors, are you thinking of Homo sapiens and their endless cycles of colonialism and conquest?”

“This isn’t a species thing, Time Lord. This is a race thing. It’s more like the endless colonialism of white Homo sapiens -- you know, people who look like you and the Doctor -- against brown Homo sapiens like me.”

“May I ask you something? I believe that I understand better why you will not call me by name. Will you tell me if I assume correctly?”

Alison winces. Back when she was young and dauntless and personally determined to educate people out of racism all by herself, she heard a fair amount of bullshit in response. Much came from old white men, so she doesn’t have all that much confidence in race-related assumptions made by a particularly old [how many centuries?!], extremely non-human, male person. “Look -- you’ll do what I say, right?”

“Yes.”

“So don’t make me use your name. I’m sick of explaining everything to people, so just leave it. That’s all you need to understand.” Is he really going to shut up? So many blokes have a habit of thinking that Full stop means License to pester and justify.

The robot dislikes the curtailed discussion, flaring his nostrils in annoyance. He presses his lips between his teeth, presumably so the question, But why? can’t escape. “Yes,” he says, acknowledging her. And he shuts up!

“Good.”

“And yet,” he says, “I shall have another name from you.”

Isn’t this discussion over yet? She sighs. “Like what?”

“The idea must be yours. Name me what you will, but you must call me something.” Remembering his manners, he adds, “--Please.”

He has a point. Oi, you there! doesn’t really work as a moniker. “Well, I’ve slipped and called you it once already, so how about Magister?”

The robot smiles instantly. “Of course! But...you would call me Schoolmaster? Are you certain?”

“It’s what my Latin tutor had us call him. Magister Nkrumah was really strict and demanding, but I ended up loving Latin. I think of it more like Teacher.”

“Then I am the Magister.” The robot -- the Magister -- thinks. “But what shall I call you? Is it a violation to address you as Domina cara Casnetum?”

“No, because that’s just the Latin form of my dear Miss Cheney. You told me when we first met that you called everyone my dear, so whatever.”

“Forgive me for playing the grammarian for a moment, but you do know that the translation is not exact, right?”

“You sound like my Latin teacher!” She can’t believe she’s having a sort of joking conversation -- about her favorite language, no less! -- with him.

“I am well named, am I not?” This time it’s a humorous eyebrow.

“But I know what you mean -- Latin doesn’t really have a miss, so you have to go with something like domina mea, which is my lady. I’m okay with that. Just don’t make it dominula for little lady because that would be condescending.” Alison stifles a yawn.

“All that is true,” says Alison’s new Latin tutor [oh God, what has she gotten herself into?], “and yet dominus -- domina for the feminine -- also means master or owner. Is it a violation to name you Domina? If it is, tell me how I may otherwise speak to you.”

“No, it’s not a violation. It’s like queen or something.” She doesn’t want to say, I am the Domina in English; then she would be just be waiting for the inevitable sequel: And you will obey me. Lots of things sound better in Latin, though, so she takes that route: “Nomen mihi est Domina.” My name is the Domina.

“You are the Domina,” says the Magister with a nod.

“Yeah!” Alison could definitely get used to having a authoritative title-name like the Magister and the Doctor.

“My Domina.”

“I’m not yours!”

“Not my acquaintance? Not my fellow artifex, nor even my esteemed colleague in diplomatic endeavors?” He’s teasing her.

She smiles. “In that way, sure. That possessive just sounded...possessive.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that I have you. I meant to imply that you have me.”

He’s clearly putting some sort of significance on this beyond what she is, but she can’t quite comprehend it. However, if he wants to call it having, then he can do that, as long as he does what she asks. “Felix sum.” I’m happy with it.

“Tomorrow we shall continue with our mission, but now, before you sleep, please do something for me.”

“Sleep? --Oh, I guess it is my local bedtime.” Alison stands, stretching. “What were you asking?”

“Use my name.”

“Oh! Yes...Magister! --I’m s -- “

“Think no more of it. I know why you did not, and you have now given me a name acceptable to us both, so gratias tibi ago, Domina carissima.” Thank you, dearest Domina. His expression resembles that when Uscheschua asked him what he called himself: eyes slightly closed, mouth fully curved, content.

“Uhhh...I never learned the Latin for You’re welcome, so… You’re welcome.”