Missy held her head in her hands as the young reporter made her case. She’d had a raging headache since five past ten this morning because someone broke the bloody coffee machine, and this whole pleading for better stories thing wasn’t helping. When she found out who’d deprived her of her morning caffeine, there’d be hell to pay. Could be the girl in front of her. The thought made her cruel, not that she’d ever really needed an excuse before.
“Jasmine, was it, pet?” She interrupted the flow of the girl’s speech.
The young woman bristled in displeasure, Missy could tell, but she hid it quite quickly. “It’s Yasmin.” Of course Missy knew that, but it was good to put people in their place.
She waved her hand. ‘Fine, Yasmin, who are you exactly?’ Case in point.
Yasmin faltered, which was exactly what Missy had been going for. To Missy’s surprise, Yaz jutted her chin out and stepped forward.
“Yasmin Khan, in Entertainment. That’s what I’m trying to say, though. I want stories that aren’t about which actor is shagging which model, or who’s divorcing who. I want real stories! Stories that matter.”
She massaged her temples. Yasmin was exactly what she didn’t need right now. She had so much on her plate, between terrorizing the city and feeding it the information she needed to remain on top. This little nothing of a girl annoyed her.
That’s probably why she did what she did.
“My, you’re brave, aren’t you? I can appreciate that you’ve come all the way up to my office to plead your case. So—” Missy paused for effect “—I’ve had a tip that the Watchmaker will be causing trouble on the South Bank this evening. I was going to send my top reporter on the case, but if you think you can handle it…”
“I can handle it!” Yasmin squeaked, and Missy raised her eyebrow. She knew it had a devastating effect on the people who worked for her.
Yasmin seemed to contain her glee, but Missy could tell she was vibrating, and if she reached her mind out—there, she could feel the excitement simmering under the surface, as well as insecurity and was that fear? How delicious.
‘If you muck this up, being stuck in Entertainment is the least of your troubles. It will be dangerous. The Watchmaker doesn’t often extend clemency.”
“I’ll be fine,” Yasmin brushed her off, and Missy grinned.
“If you say so. I’ll email you the address.”
“Thank you for the opportunity, Marissa. I won’t let you down.
As soon as the door closed behind her, Yaz deflated. All her bottled up emotions—all the adrenaline pumping through her veins and the nerves zapping at the back of her neck—left her. She clutched the articles she'd used to back up her point to her chest and stepped away from Marissa's office. The front walls were made of glass, so she knew her boss could see every action and stray flicker of emotion, and there was no way Marissa could see the nervous wreck she'd reduced Yaz to.
Yaz crossed the room as quickly as her high heels would let her and made her way back to the open-plan office on the other side of the building. Her shoulders sagged as she passed by her desk and found Ryan's. She relaxed and leaned against the wall.
"I did it," Yaz said breathlessly, her heart finally starting to come down from its erratic staccato rhythm.
"Hmm?" Ryan tapped something on his computer and looked up. When he looked at Yaz's face he immediately smiled. "What, really?" Ryan asked.
"Yeah, who would'a thought the Dragon Lady would give me a bone?" Yaz laughed, "she wants me at the South Bank this evening to report on the Watchmaker."
Ryan's face dropped. "The Watchmaker?"
"Isn't he, like, super evil?"
"Yup." Yaz bit her lip.
"Yeesh," Ryan said as he folded his arms across his chest. "Sounds like she's setting you up a bit there, mate."
Yaz shrugged her shoulders. It was obvious Marissa thought she would fail, but Yaz was determined to prove her wrong. She was a good journalist and she'd make a great reporter if only she was given a chance. Dangerous as a story on the Watchmaker might be, it was her chance. Yaz was going to take it, consequences be damned.
Ryan sighed. "Do you want to get a coffee? I'm due for a break."
Yaz nodded and they headed over to the little break room next door. Calling it a break room might have been optimistic—it was made of a small kitchen area, a bulk box of tea and a raggedy yellow couch with suspicious brown stain painted across the middle. Sat on a stool at the back was one of the senior reporters, Jo Smith.
"Morning, gang," Jo waved as they entered.
Yaz nodded and began to make the tea. She hummed as she worked, channeling her leftover nervous energy into bouncing along to the music that leaked out from the radio on the side. Behind her, Ryan and Jo struck up a conversation. Yaz didn't know Jo that well, but Ryan had been friends with her for a few years before they worked together.
Yaz stirred the sugar into Ryan's tea and put the milk back in the fridge. As she turned around, Yaz caught Jo's eyes glance at her and stick like a critic's eye to a particularly good painting, and then she forcefully tore herself away. Yaz rolled her eyes. Couldn’t she just dance without people making a big deal out of it? She handed Ryan his cup of tea and sat down beside them.
"So, what's got you in the partying mood, then?" Jo asked. Her face, rarely without a smile even on a gloomy day, seemed particularly bright.
"The boss lady got me in on a proper story," Yaz said. She didn't bother to hide the pride in her voice.
Ryan raised an eyebrow. "Got her reporting on the Watchmaker, though, so it's a bit of a moot point if it gets her killed.
Yaz swatted at Ryan's arm. "I'm not gonna get killed. Just gotta be careful."
She turned to look at Jo, but paused when she saw her expression. Jo's face was the picture of horror; her lips were parted, her eyes were wide and there was a stiffness to her posture that hadn't been there before.
"You're reporting on the Watchmaker? You’re actually gonna be there when it all goes down?" It was less of a question than an accusation.
"Yes?" Yaz couldn't tell why Jo was so taken aback by the news.
"That's... that's not good, Yaz. The Watchmaker is dangerous, and he doesn't play fair. If you know there's gonna be trouble, you should keep well out of it."
Yaz bristled. This was good news—it was her big chance, her dream, the gateway to everything she wanted out of a career—and there was nothing either of them could say to ruin that. Not even the worried scrunch of Jo's face had any sway over her.
"Well, someone's gotta report on it," said Yaz, "and I'm willing to. Hopefully, it'll impress Marissa and I can finally move on from ranking celebrity weddings."
Jo hummed and they lapsed into silence. Yaz took a sip of her tea.
"Well, good luck," said Jo, "stay safe."
Chapter by ActuallyMe
thanks for all the interest in chapter one! hope this chapter doesn't disappoint.
“Do y’think she’s mad at me?” Jo asked Ryan. Yaz had left early to get ready, and Jo was nervous for her. God, there were reasons no reporter even touched the supers except Jo. She felt sick at the thought of Yaz out there with no powers to think of, facing the Watchmaker of all things! He was dangerous even among Jo’s people. What a dumb—what was Marissa thinking? Jo knew she didn’t really know her reclusive boss too well, Yaz was lucky to have gotten a meeting with her, but honestly! What was that woman doing sending Yaz into the field like that with no preparation or warning?
“It’s her big chance, and she won’t appreciate being told what she can and can’t do, y’know. But yeah, I hope she’s alright. I’m worried about the same thing if I’m honest. Though maybe she’d be a bit less annoyed if she knew why you’re always staring at her.” Ryan grinned, nudging his shoulder against Jo’s.
“Oi! I do not always stare.” She furrowed her eyebrows in incredulity. The eyebrows were an act, of course. She was smitten with Yasmin Khan, and Yaz barely knew she existed. It did hurt a bit, but Jo couldn’t blame her. Yaz was in her twenties, Jo was nearing forty, and Yaz was beautiful. Stunning. Kind, and focused and dedicated to her job. Straight. Yaz could have probably any guy she wanted. Jo was just Jo. Well, a bit more than that, but as far as Yaz was concerned, she was a nobody.
“Mate, your heart-eyes for Yaz can be seen from fucking space!”
“Language,” Jo swatted his arm. “Besides, I don’t make heart-eyes at her! She’s just… I dunno, have you seen her?”
“She and I have been mates since we were in secondary. Please don’t ask me if I think she’s fit.”
“That’s not what I were gonna ask! I just—she has kind eyes.” Jo sighed and turned red at Ryan’s hearty laughter.
“You’ve got it bad.” He sobered. “D’ya think she’ll be alright, then?”
Jo nodded. “She’s tougher than you and me together.” She looked down at her watch and jumped up. “Oops, gotta go, need to take K-9 to the vets today. See ya tomorrow, Ry.”
She felt a stab of guilt, as always, when she used K-9 as a red herring for her vigilantism. Her co-workers were under the impression she had a very sick dog. Still, it was a handy excuse.
“Hope he’s alright,” was the last thing she heard from Ryan before she headed out the doors.
Yaz was at the address, but she wasn’t sure what to make of it. It looked like much of the South Bank, concrete and art, and interesting displays. There were people about, which made her nervous. She didn’t mind putting herself in harm’s way, but knowing all of these other people were in danger, too was something else entirely.
She’d changed into jeans and boots, much more comfortable than her pencil skirt and heels, but somehow she felt more vulnerable without her corporate armor.
There was a shout. People started to move away with minimal fuss. London had been ravaged by the supers for almost seventy years now, and people had learned to mind their own business when this sort of thing happened. It made Yaz feel a certain kind of way. Sad maybe, or angry. Definitely angry.
She pushed her way through the throng of tourists and locals amassing near the Wagamama’s and slipped inside the building, where the screams had emanated from.
She detected light from underneath one of the doors and hesitated only for a moment before she laid flat on the floor and looked under the door to see what she could see.
The Watchmaker: his white-streaked goatee, ridiculous cape, and fob watch held in a delicate hand. She’d seen only blurry pictures of him, but he was instantly recognizable. He was speaking to a person, someone in a lab coat whose body language was defiance personified. If she could only hear!
She put her ear to the small space and caught glimpses of the conversation.
“... the Doctor, not you!”
“She will never get her hands on…” the conversation shifted, but not before Yaz’s heart rate spiked. Something to do with the elusive super, the Doctor. That was a start.
The voices stopped, replaced by a loud choking noise, and Yaz returned her eye to the space between the floor and the door. What she saw grew fear inside her heart and made her hold her breath. The Watchmaker’s fingers bruised their throat as their hair grew and turned white, and their skin turned sallow and wrinkled. The person was aging, and they bent around the Watchmaker’s hand, shriveling into a husk before disintegrating and turning to dust.
Yaz wanted to retch. She wanted to turn her gaze away; she wanted to run. Instead, she started to piece things together. All the break-ins at scientific institutions. All the disappearances and the throwaway mentions of particularly dusty rooms, it made sense now.
The next thing that popped into her head, Yaz would never admit to. This is the story of a lifetime. She was instantly ashamed, recoiling from the self-serving nature of the thought. That wasn’t the type of person she was. She’d become a journalist for maybe not completely altruistic reasons, but certainly, she had wanted to help.
She didn’t have much time to reflect. Footsteps came toward the door and she scrambled behind one of the desks. Her ribs ached where they’d been pressed against the floor.
Polished black shoes slid into view from the crack between the bottom of the desk and the grey carpet. The Watchmaker chuckled. Yaz held her breath and carefully slid her phone from her pocket; she pressed record and laid it on the ground, praying that she wouldn't make a sound.
"I know you're here," said the Watchmaker. His words were crisp and well-spoken, but there was a leer to his playful tone. "You might as well come out now."
Yaz willed herself to be still.
"Who is it, I wonder? Perhaps the Mistress, old friend, but she wouldn't hide... no, you must be an enemy, I imagine, to hide like this..."
The shoes stopped right in front of the desk Yaz hid behind.
"Yes, an enemy. Well, that simply won't do." He kicked the side of the desk with more force than humanly possible and it crashed into the wall, taking Yaz with it.
Her body slammed into the plaster and the desk banged against her head. Yaz cried out as her vision went blurry and something hot and wet dripped from her forehead. Her arm, which was crushed between the desk and the floor, was bent at an odd angle.
"My, my," the Watchmaker crooned, "who are you?"
Yaz didn't answer. Her head throbbed too hard for her to think straight, not that she did much of that anyway. Out of the corner of her eye, Yaz could just about see her phone, which had skidded over to one of the other desks and was still recording. She looked away quickly so the Watchmaker wouldn't follow her gaze.
"I said—” the Watchmaker knelt down and grabbed Yaz's chin "—who are you?"
"John Smith," Yaz spat. Blood flew from her lip and landed on his shiny shoe.
The Watchmaker wrinkled his mouth up in disgust. He tightened his grip on Yaz's jaw and pushed her further up against the wall, his face only an inch away from hers. "Give me a real answer, please," he said, no room in his voice for the civilities he used.
Yaz scrambled for an answer. The cut across her head stung and her brain felt more like scrambled eggs than the biological supercomputer the human brain was meant to be. She muttered something under her breath, but the Watchmaker ignored it.
"Umbreen," Yaz gasped. Her grandmother's name would have to do.
"And what are you doing here, Umbreen?"
"Heard... a noise..." Yaz lied.
The Watchmaker paused. He stroked his chin, and a cruel, crooked smile spread across his face. "Curiosity? Well, you know what they say about curiosity..."
Yaz tried to shake her head, but the Watchmaker's grip on her jaw was too tight.
"Curiosity killed the cat."
Something in the Watchmaker's hand glowed, and then Yaz's vision went blank.
Yaz stood in the middle of nowhere. The dusty road stretched on further than she could see, and the sky was an endless, unbearable blue. There was nothing and no one but herself.
Yaz shuddered. She hurt, but when she looked down, all she could see was the hoodie and jeans she'd run away in all those years ago. Where was she? No, she knew exactly where she was. The question was when.
The image shimmered and rippled around her, but Yaz was steady. She was a fly caught in gum paper; her feet were buried in cement. She clawed at the hair around her ears and cried out. How was she here again? How was this happening?
The grass swayed one way and then the other. A loop—a moment in time that repeated and wrapped around her and pulled until she suffocated.
The blood that came away on Yaz's hand turned her stomach. She was so full of agony, so consumed by it that she didn't know where the physical pain ended and the mental anguish began. What was wrong with her? Her ankles were weak and there was no one to hold her up. She was alone, imprisoned in a time that she’d never really left.
She collapsed by the side of the road, lost.
Chapter by ActuallyMe
We are so sorry for the delay and cannot promise that it won't happen again. Life just kept coming at us! Anyway, we hope you enjoy this chapter.
Jo sometimes resented having to wear a disguise. Spandex wasn’t for her, so she resorted to a black suit, crisp white shirt, and simple black mask. She didn’t usually need to do a lot of running or physical labour; the telekinesis saw to that. So, when she heard a scream emanating from the address she had memorised from the scrap of paper on Yaz’s desk, she wasn’t quite prepared. Maybe she should’ve been. Nonetheless, she turned on her perception filter and sprinted toward the building.
Her hearts dropped into her stomach. She could smell blood, and there was someone groaning in the corner of the room. As she approached, she realised it was Yaz.
“Oh, Yasmin,” she gasped. She knelt beside Yaz’s unconscious body to assess the situation. Arm crushed under the desk, but the blood hadn’t coagulated too much, so it was unlikely removing it would hurt Yaz. She was unconscious, though.
Jo moved the desk with her finger, lifting it an inch above Yaz and a few feet back. Then she let it drop. The wall kept Yaz mostly upright, and in the fading light, Jo could see that there was a gash on Yaz’s head. It wasn’t until she went to pull Yaz forward to examine the wound that she sensed it. A timelock. No wonder Yaz was unconscious. Her body was here, but her mind was somewhere else entirely.
Jo grimaced. She would usually ask for permission, but Yaz wasn't exactly in any position to consent, and there was the little matter of the Watchmaker, who was still loose somewhere. Knowing him, there was more trouble to come. His plans were full of too many moving parts to be made sense of in the moment, and, like clockwork, you had to step away to see the way it all fitted together.
The expression on Yaz's face was not something Jo had ever wanted to see—stiff, with her eyebrows pinched together and a worryingly hard set to her mouth, like stone, or the frozen face of a corpse. Timelocks were never pretty, but this was something else. Jo touched her fingers to either side of Yaz's clammy forehead and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she was stood on a road somewhere, far away from any cities or people. The sun glared overhead, but Jo didn't feel it. She couldn't feel anything, not really—it was all faint and murky, as though she experienced everything through a second skin, a thick membrane that kept sensation separate from the usual sensitivity of her nerves.
Jo was inside Yaz's mind.
Knee-length grass bowed in one direction and then another, though no wind blew it. The road stretched as far as the eye could see, dusty and rendered obsolete by the lack of cars, and the sky was clear and unobscured. Jo stepped forwards, her feet silent against the tarmac. The scene was heightened and unreal in the way only memories can be.
At the side of the road was a girl. She sat cross-legged, the grass itching her ears, and her face thrown into her hands like she was crying. No noise escaped her, but her chest heaved with sobs. Jo stepped towards her, her hand outstretched, and tried to catch a glimpse of the girl.
Who was this? Some relative, or a friend of Yaz? Her face was hidden, but the long black hair suggested a genetic connection. A pair of jeans and a dark hoodie swamped the girl despite the heat, and she didn't look up as Jo approached. She remembered Yaz once mentioning a sister—Sonya, she thought the name was—but then where was Yaz?
Jo crouched down by the girl and reached out to her. Her fingers appeared to touch the girl's shoulder, but Jo could barely feel it. Despite this, the girl looked up.
Jo started back in shock. She was younger than when Jo knew her—much younger, she looked maybe fourteen or fifteen, at most—but this girl was definitely Yaz. Strong, capable, resilient Yaz, reduced to tears on the side of the road. Jo suddenly understood why the timelock had taken her there.
"Hello there," said Jo. She would've used Yaz's name, but there was no reason some random superhero would know a detail like that. "I'm the Doctor, I'm here to help."
Yaz looked up through bleary eyes and a curtain of her own hair.
Part of her was relieved. Another part of her, the one locked away on that blistering hot Sheffield morning wanted to scream and shout and make this stranger go away. How could she help? What did she know of Yaz’s pain? The pain in her arm, in her head, in her heart.
The stranger stayed where she was, and it took Yaz a moment to realise that she was wearing a mask. Then the stranger’s words finally processed. She gasped and wiped her eyes. “
“The Doctor? But shouldn’t you be in London? Nothing ever happens in Sheffield.” Except bullies and bad grades and family drama. Yaz shook her head, which made it throb harder. Why did her head hurt so much? She knew, once upon a time, before she got stuck on the side of the road.
“Ah, yeah, quick update, you’re in London too, this is a timelock, and you aren’t really here. This is all in your mind. What’s your name?”
Yaz peered at the Doctor.
Another revelation. She remembered a life lived beyond this moment in time; she remembered ambition and drive and the laboratory! But thinking about that made her head ache too much.
“My name is Yaz. There was a man,” Yaz said, furrowing her brows and trying to reconcile her reality with the other life. “The Watchmaker? My head hurts.”
“That’d be the concussion. We need to get you out of here before I can take you to hospital.”
“If this is all in my head, how are you here?”
“Touch telepath. I’m going to need to do some things to release the timelock, but I need your permission. It’ll probably hurt.” The woman’s eyes crinkled with sympathy.
“Please just get me out of here,” Yaz begged. It came out as a whine, desperate and tinged with pain. If she were in less distress, she would have been embarrassed.
The Doctor started miming as if there were walls around her. “What are you doing?” Yaz asked, confusion settling in once more.
“I’m looking for the door. You sit tight, it should be around here somewhe—there we go. That were easy.” The Doctor smiled and took a deep breath. “You’re lucky. He doesn’t think much of you, otherwise, he would’ve used a better lock.”
The Doctor closed her eyes and concentrated on the air in front of her. A click reverberated around the world, and Yaz’s head exploded in pain. She cried out as she came to. A woman was knelt before her, the same woman, the Doctor.
“There you go, Yaz. Time to get you to A&E.”
Yaz couldn’t protest as unconsciousness, deep and dark and quiet, finally claimed her.