Something’s pinging – her alarm clock? “Go ‘way,” Alison mutters, throwing a pillow in the direction of the sound.
The pinging becomes a more urge chime. “Wake up, you miserable, malingering monster,” he whispers, his voice almost a lullaby croon. “I know intimately how your mind works, and I know that you are perfectly fine. So why don’t you wake up – liar?” Still delicately low in volume, the last word enters with a sharp stab.
Alison, drowsing after a spell of vertigo chased by a pulsing headache, launches upright in her bed. A crashing cacophony, as of several clocks chiming the hour, offset by the smallest fraction of a second, draws her attention to her closet wall. There’s the Magister, but on a TARDIS TV, not in Alison’s room and not even talking to her at all. Instead, he’s bending over the inert, supine Doctor in the Zero Room. Folded at the waist, he stands close enough to kiss them, but remains still for thirty seconds…one minute…then two. The Doctor lies loosely, as if sprawled among comfortable pillows, but the Magister is geometrical in his tenseness.
After several minutes, the Magister rises in a sweep. The shifting pastel rainbows about him swirl in equal agitation. Blowing a sigh out his nose, he glares at the Doctor. Presumably he then tries some sort of psychic reset, as the Doctor flies into a sitting position, eyes popping open, just about as rapidly as Alison did mere minutes before. They cough a bit, but without any asthmatic wheeze, and lock eyes with the Magister.
Stooping down again like a raptor, the Magister catches the Doctor around the throat with one hand, the black of his leather glove particularly stark against the Doctor’s pallor. “I knew you – “
The Doctor sucks in a partially obstructed chestful of air. One eyebrow goes up, the other down, as their eyes gleam. They say one syllable – “No!” – and then deflate, their eyes falling closed.
The Magister’s eyes go wide in surprise, and he pretty much flings the Doctor out of his grasp. The rainbow clouds, of course, catch them. They breathe regularly, no worse for their recent semi-asphyxiation. “Pathetic creature,” the Magister murmurs. It dawns on Alison that he’s deliberately using Frankenstein terms for the Doctor.
“Can you make it so I can talk to him, please?” she asks the TARDIS. “Like maybe through the loudspeaker by the monitors?”
The TARDIS must be sending a psychic message to the Magister that Alison’s on the line, for he moves out of frame of the in-room monitor. Another camera in front of the loudspeaker takes over, as he presses the loudspeaker button. “Yes, my dear?”
“I’m kind of figuring out the TARDIS TV around here,” says Alison, “and I saw you choking the Doctor.”
He backs up a step from the grille. “That – I – “ He retreats again from her another pace.
“Wait… Are you scared of me?”
He leans against the wall like he wants to be swallowed up by it. “Don’t – “
“But -- I need to talk to you...about that -- and other stuff.”
There’s a few seconds of silence during which they look at each other. He comes up from the wall he’s been trying to shrink into. Though more solidly aligned, he still stoops as if he expects an overhead blow. “Very well then -- to my study, please. The Doctor’s TARDIS does not record in Scintilla, and I would speak with you in true privacy.”
Alison follows the Doctor’s TARDIS’ directions to the grandfather clock and Scintilla, who greats her exuberantly, although with some chagrin. Noting the Magister’s bad mood, she sought to cheer him by adding miniature fireworks to the torches in the wall sconces, but she blew a few circuits instead. She advises Alison to take a battery-powered torch with her through the dark and vaulted halls.
Alison exits the control room and shines the torch down by her trainers; even though the flagging is worn to glassy evenness, she’s taking no chances. “That sounds awesome! Too bad I missed it. He better not have yelled at you. If he did -- “
“No. He said, Thank you -- and now the atmosphere matches my sepulchral mood. It wasn’t sarcasm, though. I believe him both exasperated and grieved.”
“That’s an understatement,” Alison says under her breath, knocking on his study door, though it’s ajar. “It’s me!” she calls inside.
“My lovely, ungrammatical Domina -- do come in,” he answers.
Alison enters his equally circuit-blown study, ducking around vague shapes that could be shadows or skulls. At the far end of the room, spheres of light bob like helium balloons against the chocolate-bar coffering of the ceiling; their warm amber glow seems the visual equivalent of the slight, sweet nicotine smell that lingers in the corners.
He sits on the wood-frame sofa where she heard his version of the story of Galatea, waiting for her. As soon as she sinks gratefully onto the cushions, though, he rises, turns so that he is directly in front of her, and sits, folding his legs underneath him. “Um...” says Alison. “Why are you on the floor?” It’s hard to read his expression in the dark.
“Because,” he says, “I would do this.” His voice is muted, but not ashamed. Of his own initiative, he holds out his hands to her, raising his arms with a tentative slowness.
“Oh.” Alison relaxes, reaches out, and catches him, settling her hands into his. “Okay. Just so long as you don’t feel like you have to or that I expect you to or something.”
She hears a smile enriching his voice. “Never. If you made me feel obligated, I would not obey you. With you, I am free to do as I wish.” He rubs his thumbs across the back of her hands.
“--As opposed to with the Doctor,” Alison says, “who’s literally slipping through your fingers and obviously up to no good. I saw that devious smirk.”
“The Doctor…” His voice sinks. “Would you condemn me for dealing them as you saw?”
Alison shakes her head. “Not at all.”
“Am I not in breach of our agreement? Surely insulting and assaulting someone constitutes evil action.”
“I don’t know. I had an ex once who kept yelling at me, and once I ended up launching doll parts at him, just to get him out of my room. I chipped one of his teeth with a glass eye, but he eventually fucked off.” She sighs. “I think sometimes you fight back with what you have.”
“I...never expected you to justify violence.” It’s a curious tone rather than a judgmental one.
“Yeah, well, I kind of like being alive, so I’ll do everything I can, including chipping evil exes’ teeth, to stay that way. Sure, in a perfect world, you could solve everything peacefully, but people take that option off the table when they attack you. --What the fuck is wrong with the Doctor anyway? They’re just pretending now, aren’t they?”
“Yes.” The word comes out from between clenched jaws. “I know from the monitors and my own investigation of their mind that they are completely healed from their earlier injuries. Yet I may only rouse them by psychic force and then only for a few seconds. Then they switch themselves off on me.”
Alison ponders. “What do you think they’re plotting?”
“Oh, I know exactly what it will be, my dear: some grand humiliation of their willfully disobedient robot to teach it who is truly master. What a pity for them, isn’t it, that I am no longer a simple toy?” he says, quoting the Shalka war leader.
“Fuck… Do you think they’d try to fuck up our mission?”
“They won’t. What they do always occurs in private, without witnesses. Or at least it always has until now. Others who have been aboard have suspected, but most have had eyes only for the Doctor. But you have seen, and you have seen me. You have let me be yours, and, in doing so, you have helped me to recall who I am. The Doctor can try all the humiliations they like, but I shall not be unmade.”
“Yeah.” Alison nods, clenching her fists inside his hands. “Good. And I’m going to help you and defend you and kick the Doctor’s arse as much as I can.”
“I never dreamed that you would be a warrior on my behalf, and I would much rather have you safe and happy, but,” he says, looking up at her and holding her hands more tightly, “I thank you.”
“You make me sound like Commander Effschischa. But all I do is talk – I don’t have a blow gun.”
“I come from a family in which words were considered the most refined tools for all purposes. We laid hands on each other rarely, ostensibly because we were all strong touch telepaths, but it would have taken little effort to shield. I assume that my parents felt greater comfort in language.” After a moment’s thoughtful pause, he says, “--So I know of the power of words, and yours are particularly potent weapons. You know spells of success, so we shall triumph.” His voice is harsh, his language of war, and they both know he’s not referring to diplomacy.