Chapter 1: Carol the Commander
Jo, preparing to catch up on her paperwork during an unusual dull month at HQ, gets distracted as usual by the awesomeness of coworker [and new flatmate] Carol. When Carol hears that it's been so quiet because the Doctor's locked in their lab and ignoring Jo's notes, she determines to make them open up.
“Good afternoon, Special Assignment Agent Grant.” Carol greeted Jo with a wide smile, as if she hadn’t been twirling around the kitchen this morning in her bathrobe, using a spatula as a microphone as she sang along with Queen’s Killer Queen on the radio.
Jo stopped short. For one thing, Carol was as striking as the multitalented person she was singing about earlier. Narrow, tall, and strong, she had a long face, with a bold triangular nose and a straight mouth that her shoulder-length blond flip barely softened. Man in a dress, said some of the junior secretaries. This puzzled Jo because Carol never looked like anything other than herself, with her efficient, hip-swaying stride, her smartly tailored uniforms, and her armfuls of files always alphabetized and cross-referenced at least two ways for quick access.
Anyone who called Carol a man, Jo reflected, probably thought that power could only belong to someone like the Brig, who was definitely a man, or the Master, who, being an alien, was not a man, but definitely male. And anyone who thought that power was for men only that had never seen the Doctor, whose gender seemed to be an occasional afterthought, experimenting, tinkering, and saving the universe. Nor had they witnessed cool and collected Carol run UNIT HQ in the Brig’s absence. Jo could only hope that someday she would be as powerful as they were, and they were definitely not men in dresses [although she had seen the Doctor in a frock on occasion].
So Carol always distracted Jo whenever she spoke on account of being simply amazing, but there was another reason too. Though she was a ranking officer over Jo at work, she and Jo had been living together for four months. Last year’s disastrous Christmas party, in which Jo and Carol debugged HQ of the Master’s cameras and bombs, had brought them closer together. With the new year, Carol’s miserable Aunt Etta, her guardian and the last obstacle between her and a minor inheritance from her dead parents, died. The witch has popped her clogs, Carol reported, and I’m free and rolling in dough – I mean sitting on three ten-pound notes.
Jo, an expert escapologist who always looked for openings, saw her chance. Now she could leave her childhood home and a mum who had been pestering her about grandbabies since her dad died three years ago. She proposed that Carol and she should move in with each other. So now they shared a two-bedroom flat over Tinsdale Street Vinyl with only two problems. First, Jo wanted to share more than just a flat, but wasn’t sure how to start. Second, after weekends of referring to each other as Carol and Jojo, Jo struggled to think of her best friend and flatmate as Captain Bell. They used each other’s titles more often than necessary as a reminder.
“Good afternoon, Captain Bell.” Jo nodded at Carol. After a moment too long of staring, she remembered why she had stopped by her desk. “Say, um, you don’t happen to have a copy of that expense report manual, do you?”
“Which version? I have ones going back ten years.” Opening one of her labeled drawers [everything on her desk was labeled], Carol whipped out a booklet with a snap. “Just kidding – here’s the latest. Oh, and if you’re going to do your expense reports, you’ll need this.” She extended a small carton to Jo.
Jo read the handwritten label – Carol wrote as neatly as a typewriter – on the lid: Grant’s Paperwork Supplies. Inside she discovered correction tape, scratch paper, a calculator, and some extra carbons. “Oh! That’s very swee – I mean helpful of you.” Jo felt herself blushing. “Thank you. Thank you very much. You know how many mistakes I make, don’t you?”
“Oh dear, I’m sorry!” Carol’s eyebrows launched upward. “I didn’t mean it that way. I just thought to make your job a little easier. By the way, thanks for being so prompt and meticulous with your forms and such this month. It makes my life much easier – fewer urgent messages from finance and all.”
“Uh, well, I couldn’t have done it without your help, Captain Bell. You know all the billing codes, and you’ve been nice enough to fix my sums when I get them wrong. So…thank you.”
“I usually can’t even double-check reports before they go in. With all the interstellar ruckus around here, paperwork sinks right to the bottom of the priority list. But there’s something very satisfying about having all the correct forms completely and accurately filled out.” Carol, folding her hands on her desk before her, nodded along with herself. “Well, there is for me at least, but, as you know, I’m an exceptionally boring person.”
“You’re not boring at all, Captain Bell! You always know what to say and what to do and where to find things, and you’re really, really...exceptional. –I mean it’s really exceptional,” Jo corrected, just in case any fellow officers were listening and wondering why Special Assignment Agent Grant was paying such enthusiastic compliments to Captain Bell.
“Yeah! All this recent peace and quiet around HQ – well, it’s a nice change. Unfortunately, while you’ve filled out everything, the Doctor hasn’t filed anything, from mission briefs to expense reports, for the past three weeks. What have they been doing?”
“Actually…I don’t really know. They said something about physical rehabilitation and then locked me out.”
“Special Assignment Agent Grant, since when has a lock ever kept you from doing anything?”
“Since three weeks ago! None of my usual picks work on it. I tried the windows, but they’re all sealed. I’ve been knocking every morning, even phoning and leaving notes under the door, but nothing has worked.”
“Are you sure they’re in there?”
“Well, I hear noises like someone’s pushing furniture, so they must be. They’re probably just in the middle of something that they consider important. You know how stubborn they can be.”
“Hmph! How very rude of them. Perhaps they need to hear from someone with more authority.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, the Doctor’s not that keen on authority, unless they’re using theirs to blow off UNIT rules and do what they want.”
Carol rose quickly from her chair, her eyebrows flattening out. “Yes, well, no one blows off the Brig – “
“The Doctor does – all the time.”
“—adier’s assistant. The Doctor may ignore the Brig, but nobody ignores Captain Bell.”
“I’ll say not. You’re very…unignorable,” said Jo, gazing up at Carol. She looked like a warrior, a commander, a victor. Jo hoped that it was the Master detaining the Doctor behind the door just so she could watch Carol give him a piece of her mind. Given the fact that the Master had all but acknowledged at Christmas that he regularly snuck into UNIT HQ to
dominate the Doctor, that’s probably what was happening. Nevertheless, Jo did not quite understand how they could go at it for practically a whole month without stopping.
“Well, I’m going to give the Doctor a talking-to about the necessity of meeting regularly with your assistant – especially when she’s scaling ladders in an attempt to get your attention! Want to come with me?”
“How are you going to get in? Do you have a master key? Magic lock picks? A sonic screwdriver?”
“No, I just have a very convincing personality.”
Chapter 2: Inappropriate Rehabilitation
Jo and Carol snark at the Master till he lets them in. Then Jo, Carol, and the Doctor snark at the Master until he apologizes for unduly worrying Jo and Carol. Then they snark at him some more for good measure. After they leave, Carol realizes that was totally not physical therapy equipment...
Carol marched briskly up to the Doctor’s door, rapped hard on it, and ordered them to open up.
“Go away, Miss Bell!” said the Master’s voice.
“I knew it,” muttered Jo. “So predictable!”
“That’s Captain Bell to you, sir.” Carol refused to call the Master by his name or put up with any of his patronizing remarks.
“Turn around then, Captain Bell. Head back to your desk, and – “
“Oh, do stop trying to order us about, Master!” interjected Jo. “We’re not leaving until we can get in and see the Doctor.”
“Ah, the indefatigable Miss Grant! Hello!” The Master’s voice went up with delight. “I should have known that, if Miss – if Captain Bell were here, then you would not be far behind. I understand that you wish to enter, but I regret to inform you that the Doctor is in no position to receive visitors.”
“You caught them up in tinsel, didn’t you, and trapped them in a snow globe?”
“There is no tinsel here, I assure you, or snow globes.”
“Sir, are you engaged in inappropriate activities on UNIT grounds -- again?” asked Carol.
“Confound it – are you still here?” His voice came closer to the door. “Hmph, you must have been taking lessons from Miss Grant on how to neutralize the effects of my psychic powers. The two of you are so frequently together. I daresay you’ve learned much from her.”
“I have. She brings invaluable expertise and experience to the team.” Carol lifted her chin.
“Indeed she does. I have sometimes thought that I should like an assistant as gifted, loyal, and clever as she, but alas – she has an unreasonable devotion to that old fool the Doctor.”
“Of course I do -- because they’re caring and good and everything that you aren’t!” Clenching her fists at her sides, Jo yelled through the door. “Also I have a devotion to doing the right thing, and I’d never work for you because you’re the old fool: an unreasonable, nasty, wicked old fool!”
The Master chuckled. He was probably shaking his head too. “Ah, Miss Grant, you are too kind – literally. You would rather die, I am certain, than work for me, and so I shall have to content myself with your compliments, for which I thank you dearly.”
“I’m onto you, sir,” said Carol in that sharp, serious voice that made blustering generals suddenly realize that they should apologize for their rudeness and chronically tardy Level I agents shrivel up as they realized that there was no hope of a late pass.
“Oh!” The Master’s voice swooped in surprise. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I’ve read enough mission logs, and I know your techniques. If you can’t psychically manipulate people or intimidate them, then you start talking, hoping that you can distract them either with flattery or insults. I know what you’re trying to pull, sir, and Special Assignment Agent Grant and I will not be manipulated like that. Let us in – now.”
There was a murmur in the background. “What’s that?” said the Master. “You know how much I dislike people talking with their mouths full.”
“That was the Doctor,” said Jo, who had been through this sort of thing enough to know what was what, “saying to open up for us.”
“Very well.” The Master unbarred the door. “But do make it quick. We’re very busy here.”
Jo and Carol entered. To Jo, the Doctor’s lab reminded her of the attic where her maternal grandmother had hoarded enough Grant family history to make the ceiling in the living room sag dangerously. To Carol, whose sense of humor was racy at best and positively perverted at worst, the lab looked like the result of a three-way between a charity shop, the British Museum, and my brother’s chemistry set. Over here the Doctor was trying to crystallize a teddy bear in amber. Over there they were using silver forks, a half-dissected gramophone, and three sprouted potatoes to compile a Tuber-to-English dictionary. And all across the back wall, several adding machines were harnessed to a pipe organ and a magnifying glass to analyze alien messages encoded in medieval alchemy texts.
The Doctor did more than their work in this spacious, but somehow warm and cozy, room. A threadbare wingback chair, with tasseled slippers and a suspiciously fuzzy sandwich on the floor below it, suggested that the Doctor spent quite a few meals – and even nights – within these walls. A close, heady, but not unpleasant, smell combined fertile mud and old books, with just a tang of hydrogen peroxide. It was a mess, but not a dirty one. Instead, it was a pleasant, homey, active mess, with machines humming, potted herbs flourishing on the windowsill, and a kettle steaming over a kerosene burner. It was a mess of experimentation, of discovery, of life itself, and Jo always felt a little thrill go through her center when she went in.
Jo and Carol glanced around to see if anything was out of place. Two lab benches, pushed against the wall, made room for a mat of thick, springy green foam, upon which stood a frame of tubular metal. It looked like a piece of gymnastics equipment – parallel bars, perhaps – but with a harness for a very large dog attached. Vaguely familiar things – belts, rings, maybe a fencing vest? – lay in neat clusters at the edge of the mat. Besides this set-up – and the Master’s TARDIS, masquerading as a horse box, tucked in a corner – everything seemed usual.
The Doctor, cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling, asked what was so urgent. Both they and the Master had been monitoring UNIT radio frequencies, which were unusually quiet, so had something happened that they didn’t know about? Jo, as she always did when she became nervous, began to babble about trying all her lock picks – not able to make a telephone connection or even break a window – messages under the door going unanswered… The Doctor, turning on the Master, glared and asked if it was true that they had cut them off from the world for nearly an entire month. The Master didn’t understand why the Doctor was so concerned. Nothing had hap –
“Something most certainly has!” said the Doctor, and everyone startled, including the Master, for the Doctor rarely spoke sharply. “You’ve lost track of time and needlessly distressed my dear girl Jo and her dear girl Carol. Apologize to them at once, or I shall turn you out immediately.”
“Her dear girl Carol?” Carol whispered to Jo, her eyes wide. The two tried their hardest to maintain strictly professional boundaries in the workplace. What had the Doctor seen? What did they know?
Jo shrugged. “They probably know more than we do,” she whispered back, “and less at the same time. But they don’t care what we are to each other. They just care that we’re safe and happy.”
“Excuse me!” said the Master. “This is a momentous occasion here. I’m tendering a rare apology – under extreme duress, I might add – and I’d appreciate your undivided attention.”
“Do get on with it, old chap.” The Doctor rolled their eyes.
Jo, much more accustomed to the Master ordering the Doctor about than vice versa, merely stared between both of them. The Master clasped his hands before him. “Miss Grant – Captain Bell – I am sorry for any undue anxiety that I caused you this past month. My enthusiasm got the better of me, and I was…rather…overexcited.”
“That’s an understatement,” muttered the Doctor, a smile twitching around their lips.
“I assure you that such an oversight will not happen again. Are you satisfied?” He narrowed his eyes at the Doctor.
“Not really,” the Doctor said. “You’re dreadfully bad at being good. You’ll need some rehabilitation, won’t you?”
“I’d pay good money to see that,” Jo put in. “I’d even travel through space and time.”
“You will not,” said the Master, “because that’s never going to happen. Do I need to remind you all of the definition of evil?”
“Don’t start on semantics, Master.” The Doctor sighed. “We’ll all fall asleep, and we’ll never get back to anything fun.”
“Grudging apologies don’t count, sir,” said Carol to the Master, folding her arms.
“No?” The Master’s eyebrows went up toward his widow’s peak. “What more do you want?”
“Well, since you’re asking,” said Jo, “I’ll take a replacement for the flat on my moped, the latest Bowie album, an apology for all the times you tried to kill me, and world peace.”
None of these items seemed to be immediately forthcoming, so Jo let the subject drop. Besides, the Doctor, winking and making faces at the Master, was most anxious to return to their inappropriate activities – physical conditioning – whatever. No one appeared to be any peril, and, after a swift kick in the ankle from the Doctor, the Master again apologized. Lowering his voice [as well as his eyes momentarily], he promised that he would not be carried away again. Still disconcerted by the Master doing something at the Doctor’s behest, Jo and Carol exchanged confused looks, then excused themselves. The apology was rather interesting, but the whole visit felt rather anticlimactic.
“I kind of thought we’d find something inappropriate going on in there.” Jo closed the door behind her. “I guess it really was just physical therapy.”
“Wait.” Stopping stock still, Carol blinked a few times. “Physical therapy? Look – I had to wear some lace-up straitjacket brace thing when I was little for my back, so I know about rehab equipment. I really don’t think there’s any sort of rehab that requires you to use a ball gag.”
“It was that floppy thing with all the straps on it and a ball threaded through one of them.”
“To…make someone gag?”
“No, you’re supposed to put the ball in their mouth and then fasten up all the straps around their head so they can’t get it off. And then they shut up when you do inappropriate things to them.”
“Yeah, but can’t they still undo the straps?”
“Not if you’ve made it so they can’t move their arms – or anything else really.”
“I thought that was gym equipment.”
“I highly doubt it, Special Assignment Agent Grant.”
Chapter 3: Certain Merchandise
Jo and Carol discuss how to procure some of those interesting devices that they saw in the Doctor's lab. Because they totally need some. For research purposes. Advice comes from an unexpected quarter.
“Where do you even get things like that for people…or Time Lords…or whatever?” Jo wondered. Now that she thought about it, most of it was more familiar to her than first glance would suggest. Belts, hitches, cuffs, bars – she’d gotten into and out of all sorts of restraints and fixes in her time with the Doctor; it’s just that she’d never seen those particular configurations before. Of course she began to wonder if she could release, spring, and undo them. Her fingers started tingling, as they always did when she wanted to play with things.
“Well…” Carol paused, obviously thinking about how to answer. “I’ve heard from certain people who know about these things that there are adverts in certain magazines – you know, the ones in plain wrappers that you have to ask specially for – and you can mail away for catalogues that are full of certain merchandise.”
“And would these certain magazines be available at, say, the news agent’s around the corner from the canteen?” asked Jo, getting an idea.
“Actually, the one on Clapham Row is better. Bigger selection, no pervy old proprietor breathing over your shoulder. Um…That’s what certain people have told me anyway.”
“Okay then. Today after work I’m going to Clapham Row to get some of these catalogues.”
“Hah! I mean… However would you explain that to your superiors if anyone saw you, Special Assignment Agent Grant?”
“I’d tell him the truth, Captain Bell. I’d say that the Doctor and the Master are using freaky stuff on each other, and we need to know what it is and how to unlock it just in case.”
“No…no…even better.” Carol’s eyes lit up, and she assumed her lower official voice: “ Ahem, yes, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, you see – the explanation for these devices is really quite simple. It is necessary for Special Assignment Agent Grant and myself to thoroughly examine them, to practice using them, and to attain proficiency in all their functions for confidential reasons vital to both the security of the nation and the planet.”
“You always know how to make things sound more scientific and impressive. But we should mention the Doctor too, though. You know the Doctor basically gets a free pass to do whatever – even questionable things with their supposed enemy.”
“—Vital to the safety of the Doctor, the deterrence of the Master, and the security of UNIT, the nation, and the planet. Hah!”
“What are you laughing about?”
“Just thinking about the expense reports. Would that go under Client Entertainment, do you think?”
“Miscellaneous Scientific Instruments?”
“Employee Appreciation and Bonuses!” said Carol with a snort.
“That’s only if it’s being given to us, though,” pointed out Jo.
“Well, we are purchasing it for testing,” said Carol. “I’m quite certain the Brig would rather have it out of sight and out of mind. I mean – we don’t want to make the poor dear’s eye twitch, now do we? So it might just be better for all involved if we took the initiative to remove it to a more private location, like, say, our flat.”
“Captain Bell! I’m shocked, I tell you! Shocked! I think that’s called misuse of government property, subject to – I don’t know what, but something bad.”
“In the event that a UNIT employee is found to be misusing or misappropriating UNIT property, he, she, or they may be subject to consequences, including, but not limited to, verbal warning, written warning, public chastisement, suspension without pay, probationary employment status, termination of employment without possibility of appeal, reinstatement, or pension, and/or other corrective measures deemed appropriate by a ranking officer. Cross-reference Chapter 10, Section A-1, Disciplinary Action.”
“You memorized that? Wow, I’m impressed. You have such a head for facts and figures and details; you never miss a thing, and me -- I’ve never been good with rules.”
“I know the whole handbook. Someday, someone should really put that on a computer, but, for right now, it’s in my head.”
“I don’t even know where my handbook went. Oh yeah… When that Visherine locked me and the Doctor in their office, I made a sort of hook thingamabob out of paper clips and twisted-up handbook pages to get the spare key out from the grate.”
“That’s why you and the Doctor do so well together. They don’t care about rules so much as they care about doing the right thing… Even if it gives me a ton of paperwork to fill out, retroactively justifying whatever protocol the Doctor decided to ignore this time.”
“I’m sorry. I know we make your life harder than it has to be.”
“You make it more exciting than it has to be! I sit behind a desk all the time, phoning people, taking memos, and telling people that no, I can’t bend the rules for them just this once. But you and the Doctor – We have time to travel through, Autons to defeat, the Master to keep from escaping. We’ll worry about your petty requirements later. To me, the handbook is basically the UNIT Bible, but you look at it as…like…tools. I’d never think to invent half the things you do. You’re so quick and clever, and you get to have all the adventures.”
“Um, thanks.” Feeling like she was turning so red that she might explode, Jo quickly changed the subject. “So, um, speaking of adventures, we have one right here.”
“Really? Because I’m pretty sure that’s the Doctor and the Master being, uh, adventurous on the other side of the door, not us.”
“And we have lots of…ah…hands-on research… that we need to do at a secure location…or whatever.”
“Let’s go to the news agent now. We can mark it as Administrative Duties and Paperwork. The magazines are paper.”
“Or, you know, Captain Bell, we could just save UNIT time and money by asking the Master himself what he’s using. Isn’t the Brig always on us about efficiency and economizing?”
“Well, yes, Special Assignment Agent Grant, he is, but I’m not certain that your idea is a good one. First of all, I think he,” said Carol, with an emphatic nod toward the Doctor’s door to indicate the Master, “is a little preoccupied. Second of all, what makes you think he’s a reliable source of any information?”
“He likes to give me advice.”
“He likes to brainwash you, kidnap you, imprison you, sacrifice you to Daemons and Lord knows what else, and string you up in a ball of weaponized tinsel!”
“I know. But he doesn’t lie to me. I think he’d tell us exactly where he got his certain merchandise.”
“Are you serious? Wow. You are. All right, all right. I’m trusting your intuition, Special Assignment Agent Grant. But I’m also accompanying you when you ask him, just to make sure you stay safe.”
“Oh, definitely, Captain Bell. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere without you. I mean…uh…”
Thirty seconds of silence passed on both sides of the door. “So…do you think they’re done in there? It’s rather quiet.” Carol pressed her ear to the metal.
“Either they’re done, or they used their merchandise to shut each other up. Maybe we should wait a bit longer before knocking.”
“And while we’re here, we can figure out how we mark this on our timesheets. Meeting with Subcontractors?” suggested Carol.
“Encounter with Hostile Alien Forces,” said Jo, who used that one often enough.
“Maybe Review of Safety Protocols.”
“Or Other Disciplinary Action?” said Jo, who had marked that on the Doctor’s timesheet on occasion.
“Miscellaneous Recreational Activities,” the Master suggested, opening the door.
“Were you listening in?” Jo cried.
“It’s worked for the Doctor previously; no one in finance has questioned it.” He pushed the door open wider. “If you like, we can discuss the subject of my equipment suppliers now. You won’t be talking to the Doctor, however. They’re tied up at the moment.”
“Hah hah.” Jo narrowed her eyes. “That wasn’t funny when you used it at the Christmas party.”
“You, sir, are a hypocrite,” Carol informed him. “I have it on good authority that you think all the Doctor’s wordplay is horrible and here you are, recycling puns.”
“I am the Master of Homonymy; therefore, all of my witticisms are ipso facto brilliant, while attempts at humor by anyone else, particularly the Doctor, are of necessity pathetic. Do come in, won’t you?”
“Wait a minute,” said Jo. “Are we going to have to actually see the Doctor all hung up in your puns? Because you know how I get when I’m around things like that.”
The Master glared at her. “Yes, you always have to open them up and see how they work and then get out of them. It’s most irritating.”
“You’re just bitter that she outwits all of your little traps,” said Carol.
“Very well, I’ll stow the Doctor in my TARDIS, Miss Grant, so that your distractible mind doesn’t get any ideas.” He closed the door on them. There were some dragging and shoving noises; then he reappeared. “The rehabilitation space has now been repurposed for an informational meeting. You are welcome to inspect to ensure that it meets your needs.”
“Thank you ever so much,” said Jo, going into the Doctor’s lab with Carol.
Chapter 4: What a Weirdo
Jo gets mail from the Master. Okay, that's weird.
“Jojo!” Carol called about two weeks after a most edifying consultation with the Master. “The post is here, and you got a huge package.” Despite being twice as strong as Jo, Carol couldn’t even lift the massive carton, so she knocked it across the lino floor in their flat with her shins.
Jo jumped up from the sofa where she was working with the wall clock. It was supposed to chime on the hour and then every fifteen minutes, but it did the hour and every twenty. Jo didn’t really mind, but Carol, as usual, had very precise ideas about how everything in her house should be, so Jo promised to fix it for her. That was three hours ago. Now Jo could disassemble any sort of clock in five minutes flat. Diagnosing the problem, fixing it, and then reassembling the whole thing was taking much longer, but Jo always enjoyed a mechanical challenge.
“Who’s it from? If it’s Intriguing Enterprises, then that’s our equipment for miscellaneous recreational activities. Yay, research time! I’ll go get my lockpicks.” Jo headed for her room.
“No, it’s not that. There’s no return address.”
“Huh?” Wheeling back around, Jo used a screwdriver from the couch to stab open the carton. It was full of records, some of which were very familiar. “Ooooh! Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World – it’s all Bowie.”
“That doesn’t make sense. He only has seven studio albums out.” Carol flipped quickly through the records, of which there were many more than seven. “Earthling, Reality, The Next Day – none of the clippings in my scrapbooks mention any of these.” She spread out a few albums from the back of the box and considered them.
“But the cover on this Hours thing...” Jo held it up. “Don’t you think that’s what he could look when he’s older?”
“This says copyright 1999.” Carol squinted at the rear corner of the cover. “How can it be copyright 1999? 1999 doesn’t even exist yet!”
“Maybe it’s from the Doctor.”
“I doubt it, Jojo.” Carol laughed. “I don’t think the Doctor even knows who David Bowie is. I tried telling them about Ziggy Stardust once, and they thought that there were actual, real spiders coming from Mars to invade Earth.”
“Oh, then it must be from the Master!” Jo exclaimed.
“Yeah, he loves pop culture. For someone who supposedly doesn’t think much of humans, he’s real keen on the BBC. Defenders of Earth is his favorite. Anyhow, remember how I told him the other day that I wanted a new tire for my moped, the latest Bowie album, and world peace or something?”
“You’re right. It’s him, and he sent a letter.” Unfolding a paper from the bottom of the box with a shake and a snap, Carol read: “Ahem. Dear Miss Grant, As regards your request dated the 12 th inst., please find fulfillment of the first criterion – a new tire for your moped – on the vehicle itself. Fulfillment of the second criterion is herewith enclosed. In the matter of the third criterion – Wait. What was that?”
“An apology for trying to kill me, I think. And number four was world peace.”
“In the matter of the third criterion,” Carol resumed reading, “I must beg your patience. After all, your dear Captain Bell would neither countenance an apology under duress nor a grudging one, so do grant me some time to compose myself. Hah!” She peeked at Jo over the page. “An apology for all that? What a liar!”
“No, really,” said Jo, “he actually doesn’t lie. He’s dreadfully bad at being good, but he doesn’t lie. That doesn’t really make anything any better. It just means – oh, never mind.” She didn’t really know what that paragraph meant actually, only that he was preparing something, and it was probably going to be unexpected.
“As for the final criterion,” read Carol, “I will gladly lead this miserable planet into a new age of peace and plenty. However, for some reason, your wretched species continually denies me the absolute obedience and utter submission that I require for success. Huh!” she exclaimed in her own voice. “I wonder why! – Therefore I regret to inform you that I cannot grant your final desire. I hope that the complete discography of David Bowie may alleviate some of your disappointment. If there are further subjects that I can elucidate for you and your dear Captain Bell, do let me know.” Carol set down the page. “Wow. What a weirdo.”
Picking up the letter, Jo noticed that he had signed it, in fine narrow copperplate, so exact that it appeared to have been stenciled:
“I’ll say…” Murmuring a response to Carol’s comment, Jo wondered what was coming next.