If Missy had to pick one word to describe the vault, that word would be quiet.
Her previous body had suffered the drums but those were long gone. Her particular affliction was less invasive but still pervasive, her driving force in its own way. Since she was just minutes old and first looked in a mirror, saw the high cheekbones and dark hair and blue eyes, something had nagged at the back of her mind. A feeling, an unevidenced certainty. Time was slipping through her fingers, time was out of her control, time was short.
The Doctor. Time was running out. It was very important the Doctor be at her side, as her friend. She tried gifts: Clara Oswald, a Cyberman army, the co-ordinates for Gallifrey, even a bouquet of fantastically perfumed, extremely ugly and disappointingly non-fatal flowers. Look, I understand you, do you understand me? You’re alone but for me, that’s how we started. Be my friend.
He sent her his confession dial. It sent ice through her hearts and she ran to save him.
She sent him hers and he did the same. She hadn’t known for sure, though. On one hand was the Doctor and everything she thought she knew about him and them. On the other, the slow dissolution of mountains, the rush of sand through an hourglass filling her head; such certainty of an end, cruel and premature. Too late, too late and she begged for more time (anything, anything) while trying desperately, such a short breath of time left, to make her words count where her actions had failed.
Then the vault: a quantum fold chamber. All the time in the world. She woke as they carried her from the boat, watched silently as the dawn sky gave way to the dim vault. It muffles her awareness, stops time’s relentless river in her head. It becomes slow-moving and nebulous, small eddies in the current. It’s quiet.
The vault is quiet. Sometimes it’s silent. This is not the same thing. Sometimes the silence is thick, deafening, suffocating. It presses in on her from all sides, the silence of the grave, of her tomb. So silent it screams, forcing her to follow suit. She throws everything and anything just to hear the crash and the bang and the boom and if she has nothing left, she throws herself, running, jumping, falling, anything to puncture the silence. It rarely gets that far, not if the Doctor comes. It’s never ever bad enough that she considers leaving, either way. Missy don’t quit, she thinks, says, sings, wrapping her mind and her tongue around the ungrammatical alien bluntness of the sentiment.
Sometimes, more and more as the years pass, it’s an easy quiet. Spacious. It allows her to pay attention to the small noises, to just exist. Read a book, pages rustling, while the Doctor marks essays. Bat around the questions of morality and four-dimensional physics he’d posed to his students. Think, examine herself. Wake up to find him curved round her like a question mark (she’d been dreaming again) and listen to his steady breathing, time passing slowly, regulated. It feels like it might not be too late.
The scratch of his pen
She picks up an essay from the pile, skims it, scoffs and drops it back.
“You’re far too generous with your marking.”
“They’re children, Missy. Human children. They’ve not even gone into space yet.”
“What was your last lecture on?”
“Ethics,” he says. “Morality. Philosophical conundrums.”
She kicks her legs up over the arm of her chair in a flurry of skirts and reclines. “Go on.” He looks blankly at her; she waves a hand. “Lecture me.”
“Well.” The Doctor frowns. “Say there was a little girl trapped in a burning building and a psychopath holding her mother hostage at gunpoint outside and if you went to rescue the girl, her mother would be killed.”
“This is an absolutely ludicrous scenario. How did it come about?”
The Doctor frowns more. “That doesn’t matter.”
“Did the psychopath set the fire? What do they gain from this? What’s their motivation?” she asks, throwing her arm out in a dramatic gesture.
“What would you do?”
“Lacking further information, shoot the psychopath, rescue the girl. Easy.” Missy sighs. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s a tranquilizer gun, happy?”
“What if you hit the mother? What if they shoot the mother before you get your shot off?”
Missy purses her lips. “Unlikely. I’m a quick draw and an excellent shot.” She sings a brief snatch of song, “Missy’s got a gun. Anyway, this way at least the child survives. I’ve definitely saved one as opposed to none. The mother’s safety wasn’t at all assured once rescuing the girl became moot, was it?” She leans forward, fixes the Doctor with an intent stare. “And now you have an unconscious arsonist-murderer psychopath at your mercy. Tell me, Doctor, what would you do?”
The scrape of their cutlery
“Pea. Pea pea pea,” she intones, her mouth stretching around the word, popping it quickly.
“Yes, peas. Peas that are getting cold, along with everything else on the plate. You need to eat, Missy.”
Missy plucks a single pea from the plate, pops it in her mouth and tilts her head back, spitting it out through pursed lips and letting it fall back in her open mouth.
“Respiratory bypass, dear. I'm not one of your fragile little humans.” She swallows the pea and regards the rest of the food on the plate with undisguised contempt. “Rassilon, the canteen food is boring.”
“They’re still under rationing.”
“Why do we have to be here? A thousand years, starting in this dump?” The Doctor doesn’t respond. She glowers at the plate. “When do they invent curry?”
“Probably a few hundred years ago, depending on what you mean.”
“Then be a dear and pop off to get me some.”
“You know I can’t do that, Missy.”
“Won’t isn’t the same as can’t.” She reminds herself of that every day. This is her choice. She won’t leave, doesn’t mean she can’t.
Missy props her face on her hand, elbow on the table, and takes the fork in her other hand. Scoops up mashed potato, swallows it.
“All joints of meat on the table will be carved and served.”
“Just trying to give you the authentic canteen dining experience. One of the dinner ladies always says that to me.”
“Must be delirious with hunger. There’s no meat on you.”
The words behind the words
It’s the shift in behaviour patterns she notices. She doesn’t object to the Doctor spending time with her, far from it, but it’s been about two decades (she thinks) and his pattern is well set. He brings her dinner. Sometimes he spends the night. A few hours, almost every day and much of it spent in companionable quiet. He spends more time with her at the weekends, brings in the papers and they trace the shape of history outward from its stories. She likes doing that, particularly if the silence is getting to her. It makes her feel more stable, connected, a tree rooted firmly reaching a multitude of branches into the sky.
Suddenly every day is a weekend: he’s only leaving her to give his lectures, returning straight away, and he talks incessantly, even when she gives up trying to contribute, like he’s trying to drown out his own thoughts. She lasts just over a week (she thinks, the weekends no longer distinguishable) and three hours into a lecture on the evolution of British parliamentary politics, liberally scattered with anecdotes about encounters with various Prime Ministers (not Saxon, they both know that story).
She’s lasted remarkably well. Part of her is amazed at her forbearance. Part of her recognises this is, to a certain extent, because she fears he’ll disappear once she challenges him. Why has she? Why not just let him get on with it, get over it, fall back to their usual pattern? Because part of her is concerned for her friend; that’s what’s won out.
“If you insist on hiding in here, will you at least tell me why? Are they hunting owls?” she adds. Wouldn’t do to appear too concerned.
His brows draw down in that thunderous frown, exacerbating the resemblance. He stares at the floor for a long minute before his gaze flicks to her and then to a spot on the wall behind her.
“I’m in London. My first self. With Susan. 76 Totters Lane.”
Just over a hundred miles away. Only a few hours travel, even without the TARDIS. She imagines the roads between here and there; imagines the Doctor poring over a railway timetable. She can see the possible routes bright in his mind, not one that can circumvent the dozen lifetimes between Susan and this version of him. Now they’re both shutting themselves away from temptation. She reaches out and takes his hand, draws his gaze back to her and now.
The shuffle of cards
“What did you say this was called?”
“Happy Families,” the Doctor answers, eyes on his cards.
“How utterly saccharine. It’s hideous. Not even humans could be this dull.”
“It’s not a realistic social portrait. Miss Dose, the Doctor’s daughter?”
“Not at home. I could draw some new cards. Doctor Who, the lecturer. Missy Who, the lecturer’s friend. Narked Who, the lecturer’s servant. Or does he prefer ‘gentleman’s personal gentleman’?”
“We’re not playing Snap.”
“Snap was more fun.”
“You got over-enthusiastic.” Nardole had removed himself from the game, muttering about the potential difficulty of replacing his hand again, after beating Missy to the call of snap a couple of times.
“I thought I was supposed to slap my hand on the pile. Mr Chalk the teacher.”
“Not if Nardole’s hand got there first,” the Doctor corrects and hands over the card.
It’s quite a familiar noise by now. Same rackety old tea trolley with the squeaky wheel. She scribbles a bar of its not-music at the bottom of the page, below the shopping list she’s been annotating with suggestions and sardonic comments.
“What are the humans doing this time?”
She looks up as the Doctor finishes positioning the tea trolley in front of the armchairs. The appearance of the primitive television balanced atop it means something is happening in the outside world that the Doctor is excited about. There was ‘Spaceflight’, ‘Our World’, ‘The March on Washington’.
“Moon landing!” the Doctor exclaims.
There are hours of coverage of nothing happening, just humans talking to each other about it. Missy composes a sontina based on the tea trolley. Nothing to play it on, though, probably for the best.
“I’m looking,” she says and watches as the human steps off the ladder onto the surface of the moon.
“That’s one small step for man...”
“You should kill us all on sight. You should kill us all on sight. You should kill us all on sight. ”
She doesn’t know what or why but something hits her like a hammer blow. Her mind’s stunned, numb, for a moment then it revolts, every synapse screaming pain and outrage. She retches, falls off her chair. The Doctor scrambles to her side with a shout of alarm, holds her as she shakes, clutches, curling her fingers in his shirt front, her mind overflowing with the primal victory of murder, with death and blood as art, functionally useless but so, so much fun to create.
“I’ve forgotten... something,” he says, hours later, a noise in the air and vibrations in his chest beneath her cheek.
The humans are still wittering on. Her mind and body both feel like a damp rag, wrung out, but she won’t sleep for a long time yet.
“Wish I had,” she mutters. And yet... she’d made it through. Hadn’t acted upon it. She doesn’t underestimate herself, knows there might be worse horrors ahead but still, that’s one small step.
The Doctor paces. Wonders how to broach the subject. Wonders if this is an absolutely terrible idea. It has occurred to him, while he’s worked, planning and arranging, map spread out across his desk, telephone directory in front of him.
“Oh, spit it out, man.” Missy doesn’t raise her eyes from her book.
The Doctor stops pacing, takes a breath, looks at her. Now.
“I thought,” he begins. “I thought we might...” Last chance to change his mind. Might play chess tomorrow? “...go on a trip.”
Missy looks up then, her eyes alight.
“Not in time,” the Doctor adds hurriedly. “Not far in space either. Just a day out.”
“Out of the vault?” Missy asks, as if the words are strange in her mouth.
“I was thinking Weston-super-Mare.”
She frowns. “Really big horses?”
“No,” the Doctor says and decides not to explain the etymology. “Maybe some seaside donkeys. I’d still have to restrain you, though.”
Missy dismisses that with a wave of her hand, leans forward eagerly. “When?”
“Tomorrow? It’s supposed to be good weather.”
“I'd like that,” Missy says softly, stops, frowns. “What about your egg man?”
“I’ll distract Nardole.”
The light through the false windows in the vault suggests early morning when he arrives, matching the light outside. Missy’s dressed up specially, hat pinned on her curls.
"Are we still going?"
"Of course," the Doctor says, all injured dignity that she could possibly doubt him. "Everything's ready."
"I told Nardole that I might have dropped my sonic screwdriver in Bath. He didn't like the idea of that kind of tech just lying around. Sadly, the homing beacon's on the blink so he has to be on the spot while I work at remotely locating it." The Doctor pats his pocket.
Missy smirks. "He won't be pleased."
"Nardole is never pleased."
"Oh," Missy says, and pouts. "I thought he just didn't like me. I thought I was special."
The Doctor fumbles in another pocket. "Hold out your arm, Missy."
"If I don't?"
"We're not going anywhere. You agreed to this."
"Yes, Doctor," she sing-songs, holds out her arm.
He slips a silver bracelet on her arm, twin to his. "Stay close to me or it'll activate." He’s fiddled with them and the consequences won't be fatal but painful, possibly enough to knock her out. Enough to stop any mischief in its tracks, he hopes, and keep the innocent citizens of Weston-super-Mare specifically and Earth overall safe from her.
"Works for me," she purrs and takes his hand.
Earth should be safe. There's no hope for him.
The rustle of wind in the trees
It was strange, stepping out of the vault. It wasn’t an exact analogue of when she entered: she was carried in and here there was no sky to see, just a dingy cellar, but still, things felt familiar. She hadn't realised just how much was missing until it returned. A hundred different scents in the air, damp and stone and human, human, human, plant, plant, plant. The multitudinous humming of the minds of the native fauna; faint vibrations in the air from distant sounds.
Time, that damnable sense of linear time: that was back too. It didn't scare her quite as it did before, not with the Doctor's hand in hers. She wasn’t wasting time; she was making progress.
They climbed the stairs to ground level. Stairs, she missed stairs: the measly steps of the dias weren’t the same. And there was the sky, again a dawn sky, just on a different planet. Earth's sun was a weak and pitiful thing as suns went but it was still real sunlight, genuine cosmic radiation bathing her face. She tugged the Doctor off the path into the grass as they walked along, ignoring the Keep off the grass signs. Under her feet there was grass and soil and rock and magma, textures she hadn't felt in so long.
They arrived in a car park and Missy looked around. "Where's the TARDIS?"
"We're not going in the TARDIS. Your chariot awaits," the Doctor said, and gestured to a small rounded car.
"Oh yes," the Doctor said gleefully. "Morris Minor 1959. Not quite as much character as old Bessie but still a classic."
"The colour's less objectionable," Missy allowed. It wouldn't have been her choice but it was a rather muted green. It might have been worse.
"It should only take an hour or so. I thought you might enjoy the journey."
It took two, the Doctor somehow contriving to drive in circles through the back roads. Missy watched the landscape, stuck her head out of the window to feel the wind in her face and shouted just to hear her voice roll away from her, not echoing back from walls. She didn't mind at all.
The seaside was bright and gaudy and quickly filled with humans, enjoying the weekend. Missy and the Doctor strolled hand in hand along the promenade, salt breeze in their faces. Gradually, the Doctor noticed something odd.
“Why is everyone smiling at us?”
“Because we’re beautiful? Or maybe because I’m smiling at them,” Missy said, beamed and waved for good measure at a young family passing by. The child waved back enthusiastically; his parents smiled.
Missy huffed. “I’m being friendly, Doctor, I thought you’d like that. Or maybe,” she lowered her voice, “I’m secretly hypnotising each and every one of them to attack you upon my secret signal, allowing me to make good my escape and...” She trailed off, inviting his imagination to fill in subsequent events.
“That does sound like one of your plans,” the Doctor said, refraining from using the unflattering adjectives he could have used to describe most of the Master’s plans. “But if you do that, you won’t get any lunch.”
“I’ll wait till after lunch, I’m not daft.”
“Then my demise is surely close at hand,” he said, stopping in front of a fish and chip shop.
They ate fish and chips out of newspaper wrappings with wooden forks, sitting on the beach. The Doctor had expected Missy to be more fastidious, insist on a bench, but she seemed to be relishing every contact with the natural world. She took off her shoes and stockings, wriggled her toes in the sand. Hopeful seagulls hopped closer then took flight to join what seemed to be dozens of their brethren in tearing apart a spilt portion of chips twenty feet away.
“Just imagine what I could do with a few dozen of those,” Missy mused. “Quite a simple control mechanism, I think; they’re hardly sapient. I could probably knock it up from some odds and ends you’ve got lying around.”
The Doctor took a forkful of fish, chewed and swallowed. “Flying monkeys are more your style, aren’t they?”
Missy gave him a blank look, which lapsed into speculative. The Doctor made a mental note to ensure The Wonderful Wizard of Oz didn’t end up in her library.
After lunch, they wandered round the Grand Pier, crowded, colourful, packed with wares and entertainments. Missy didn’t seem to pay them much attention, more intent on watching the waves far below through the gaps in the boards. The Doctor bought her a cloud of bright pink candy floss wrapped round a stick and laughed as she awkwardly tried to take a bite without burying her nose in it. She bopped his nose with it, smiled wickedly as he pulled out his handkerchief to rub his face.
Then they paddled in the sea, the Doctor reluctantly. Missy decided to and somehow the fact that she had to stay close to him had become a leash to lead him by. Whatever would the humans think if she fell down and had some kind of fit? Just think of all the attention they’d draw. He found it hard to resent, watching as she lifted on tiptoe, pulling her gathered skirts higher in the face of a slightly stronger remnant of wave.
The swish of the tide
She finished the day building sandcastles with the bucket and spade he’d gifted her, sprawling fortresses that put the efforts of the human children to shame. Looked it over, her empire, patted and smoothed, crumbling sides shored up.
“I’d like to go now, Doctor.”
The Doctor tore his gaze from the horizon, turned to face her. “Are you sure? We could stay till sunset.”
“I’m sure.” She didn’t want to see her work destroyed by the inevitable tide. She was trying to build something to last.
The whisper of sand
Nardole finds out, of course he does. The amount of sand tracked into the vault alone should be enough to tip him off. They’d tried to dust it off before they got in the car but she’s finding grains between folds of fabric and under her bare feet for weeks.
She sits against the door, leans her head back and listens to them argue about it.
“...reckless, you put them all at risk. You made an oath—”
“I was guarding. No-one said dead and no-one said vault!”
She’s grateful to the egg. The Doctor wouldn’t have lasted five years without him. They would’ve run off to the stars, ‘on-the-job therapy’ he would have called it, and sooner or later she’d have broken, and broken them permanently.
They had one good day out. Anything more would spoil it. This way she doesn’t have to turn down further trips or risk ruining the Doctor’s pretty fantasies enacting her own.
A conflagration engulfing the pier, just for the spectacle, the perfect dissonance of fire over water.
The pretty patterns she could draw on the sand in blood.
The dust of vaporised humans swirling in the salt breeze.
The viciousness of the gulls, turned from fried potatoes onto anyone she wanted, for fun rather than function.
She lasted one day. That’s enough for now. She has another nine hundred and seventy odd years to go. She has time. They’ll get there.