Tervisan awoke to a concerningly loud beeping that sent a significant part of his brain immediately into panic mode.
His eyes shot open and he bolted upright – or tried to, as his wrists jarred painfully and refused to move from where they were bound behind him.
He uttered an oath that cannot be written here, partly because of the severity of its rudeness but mostly because it is part of a long dead language that cannot be accurately converted into the Roman alphabet.
“Did you say sponge-biscuit?” a voice asked, and he groaned.
“You’re totally mangling the pronunciation.”
He was in a shed of some description – light shining in thin rays through cracks in the wooden walls, the floor around him heaped with rudimentary tools. He seemed to be tied to a supporting post that ran from the floor to the roof, his wrists bound with thick, rough rope. Reclining on the arm of what looked like a plough of some kind was the woman in the fedora. In her hands, she held the source of the beeping - Tervisan’s watch.
“What’s the noise mean?” she asked, flicking the watch-face with a dainty finger.
“Something truly god-awful,” Tervisan sighed. “Quite possibly the end of the space-time continuum as we know it, depending on what happens now.”
“Sounds fun,” the woman said humourlessly. “Care to be more specific?”
“I mean I’ve arrived.”
“Oh!” the woman said, beaming suddenly. “You mean the other you. The one who healed baby Shakespeare.”
“You mean I’ve already done that?” Tervisan asked, straining at his bonds. “How long has that alarm been going?”
“Half an hour or so?” The woman waved a hand vaguely. “You disappeared off as soon as you dropped Bill back at his house. I watched, and came back here – figured you were due to wake up, and I was right.”
“But…” Tervisan stammered. “That meant there were two versions of me present within, what a mile of each other at once? Do you have any idea of the potential paradox that could have caused? If anything that’s happened with me here now changes what my past self does in the slightest?”
“Not really!” she laughed. “But relax, seriously. The space-time continuum is clearly fine.”
“You stupid, stupid idiot,” the Librarian moaned. “You haven’t a clue, and neither have I. You could have done any amount of damage with your recklessness.”
“My recklessness?” She raised a hand to her mouth in mock surprise. “I think you’ll find it’s you who decided to travel back so close to your last visit.”
“I’m only here for you!” Tervisan cried. “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t decided to go around murdering baby playwrights!”
“Oh come on,” she replied, waving the watch in the air. “You lot weren’t going to let that happen.”
“You… people! Time Lords, History Monks, whatever you are.”
Tervisan looked at her levelly. “Those are terrible names.”
“Well, what are you called then?” She dropped down off the plough and walked over to where he was tied. “Are you even human?”
Tervisan shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you any of that.”
“Because knowing is dangerous! We can’t just start handing out cosmic secrets to every infanticidal nut-job who happens to hit one of us with a tranquiliser, can we?”
The woman frowned at him. “The baby was always going to be fine.”
“It died!” Tervisan shouted. “I brought it back to life, sure, but first it was hit by a bloody cart! You can’t undo that – no one can.”
The woman raised a hand for a moment like she was going to hit him, and turned suddenly away. Tervisan wondered if he’d managed to get through to her.
“How do you know about us, anyhow?” he asked after a moment’s silence.
“By looking,” she replied quietly, not turning around. “You’re all over history for anyone who pays attention. You try to cover it up, but the signs are there. The organisation I work for noticed. They sent me to find out what the deal was with you, and attacking a figure like Shakespeare was the only way to get your attention.”
“I suppose that makes sense…” Tervisan muttered begrudgingly. “Still, it’s pretty callous, isn’t it?”
She sighed. “I was only following orders.”
She shook her head and turned back to face him. “Nuh-uh. If you’re keeping your secrets, I’m keeping mine.”
Tervisan shrugged as much as was possible with his hands bound behind him. “Well, since we seem to be chatting more or less amicably now, would you care to untie me?”
“Oh. That’s a pity. And we were getting along so well.”
“The thing is,” the woman explained, reaching for the hilt of the laser blade hanging at her belt, “I have more orders.”
Tervisan shuffled backwards nervously, flattening himself against the wooden support.
“I was told to use whatever means necessary to find out who you are and who you work for,” she continued, flicking a switch on the hilt, igniting the shimmering green blade. She walked slowly towards him, letting the watch fall to the floor.
“Is this really necessary?” Tervisan asked.
“You tell me,” the woman replied, and pointed the blade at his throat. “Who are you? What are you? How do you travel in time? Any of those questions will do.”
Tervisan gulped, and shook his head.
“Trust me, I can’t tell you. You’d understand if you knew.”
“I can’t accept that,” the woman replied sadly. “Tell me.”
“I hoped I wouldn’t have to do this,” she said, and sounded genuinely sorrowful. “But needs must.”
And the blade came down.