‘Thank you, thank you, babe!’ said Victoria Beckham, jumping into David’s arms, wrapping her legs around him and kissing him with wild abandon. He tried desperately to push her off him, partly because he was gay, partly because he hated her, but mostly because he saw where I was moving. She said, ‘Why are you always rejecting me, babe, I know you…’ He finally freed one of his hands, and slapped her face. She crumpled off him in shock and he leapt towards me, but he was too late. I was already standing by the pipe-door gaping into the quasi-black hole. I glanced through it only quickly, but this was long enough for me to be dizzied. It was black in a way that made me understand how little I understood how black black can be. I thought of the dead Teacher, and the dead Rollo, and my destiny. I put my foot on the door’s lip.
‘Wait!’ said David Beckham. He held out his hands, gathered himself and put on his easy smile. ‘We can’t stop you if this is really your decision. You know a tranquilliser will probably send you over the ledge, so we can’t do that. There is no point in diving in without thinking about it, is there?’ Behind him were the bright eyes of Victoria, who had realised her mistake, and of Johnny Depp, David Tennant and Billie Piper, who were shackled to the pipe-doors.
‘Don’t listen, Mary Sue!’ called the red-haired angel. ‘Jump in, Mary Sue! I get it now – Rollo died giving you this chance to save us all!’
‘Really?’ said David Beckham. ‘I thought he died trying to kill me, almost certainly because he thought I was the Master.’
‘Aren’t you?’ I asked, edging another fraction closer to oblivion.
‘If you jump,’ he said gently, ‘we don’t open the Gates, but the Master is still alive. Eventually, however long it takes, there will be another Chosen One. Eventually, we will get another chance. And the next Chosen One might be more easily persuaded of our cause. You, with your irrational hatred of us, might therefore be humanity’s best long-term hope. For us, you jumping might be a good thing, in the long term.’
‘No!’ said Johnny Depp. ‘Don’t do what he says! Everything he says is lies. Or,’ and he gulped through the obvious pain of his shattered arm, desperately thinking aloud, ‘most of everything. Don’t be hasty. Think how he might be lying to you!’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I can’t believe…’
‘Oh!’ gasped Billie Piper. ‘Oh!’ and she looked at me, and then shook her head.
‘What is it?’
‘No. I’m… It’s only that I don’t want you to jump, I’m sure. I can’t bear to lose you again.’
‘I thought, well, this must be wrong but I thought that… I don’t know, but if the Master is, well, we don’t know who he is, but we also don’t know how the Gates of Hell are opened. And Rollo, who only the Teacher knew about, and we only have his word for that, or don’t we? Please tell me if I’m wrong?’ No one said anything. ‘Well, Rollo just went into the void, and he gave you a chance to join him, and maybe THAT’s what the prophecy means by the Chosen One joining the Master?’ She was hanging from her shackles with barely any support from her feet, but she was forcing her head erect so she could look at me. ‘I’m sure it isn’t, but what if it is? Are you sure, do you know that he isn’t the Master? If you say he isn’t, if you KNOW he isn’t, then I believe you, and you must do what is right.’ The effort of speaking brought her next breath out in a sobbing choke, and then she said, ‘I’m very proud of you.’
‘What do you think of that?’ I said to Johnny Depp, and the angels in the cage.
The red-haired angel said, ‘I'm sorry. I don't know. The only thing you can control is going through the door. If you don’t do that, you’re in their hands. There’s nothing anyone of us can do to save you, or stop them. And you know what Victoria will do to you.’
‘That is true,’ said Johnny Depp. The prophecy says you join the Master of your own volition, but if you refuse… There have been many different interpretations of free will over the millennia. A surprising number of them say that if you do something while you are being tortured, you are still acting out of free will because you made the free decision not keep on being tortured.’
‘That’s not very comforting.’
‘I know, Mary Sue. But you asked us, and we are tied up. There’s nothing we can do to help you now except tell you the truth.’
‘I wouldn’t torture you,’ smiled Victoria Beckham, acting as badly as usual. ‘I’d never do that.’
‘You know what real torture is, Victoria,’ I said. ‘In love with a man who hates you, and who is gay.’
‘That’s just media lies!’ she hissed.
‘No it isn’t. I’ve seen him have sex with Matt Damon.’
‘He never did!’ she spat. ‘You’re a filthy liar with a dirty sick mind.’ Her face was contorted, half with anger and half with denial.
‘He loved having sex with Matt Damon. They had both kinds, oral and normal-for-gays.’ And now, at long last, she finally took three enraged steps towards me and away from the pipe doors. I had done it. This was the opening I had been trying to create by taunting her, and it was my last desperate throw of the dice, and I hoped I understood everything I’d seen. My heart started beating even faster, and Victoria took another step towards me, still ranting, ‘It makes me so crazy. If you only knew…’ And that was that for her. Her face froze into a rictus of absolute surprise as David Tennant’s magic glittery sword swept through her tiny neck.
A moment later, I had moved away from the door, and David Tennant had disarmed David Beckham. They pair stood face to face. David Beckham smiled. ‘Tranquillise them both!’ he shouted to the rafters. ‘Quick, do it now!’ But nothing happened.
David Tennant shrugged ruefully. ‘Rollo and I dealt with them a while ago,’ he said. 'Are you alright, Mary Sue?’ I was gasping with relief. When Rollo had told me to move forward rather than slumbering in the tents of my fathers, and held a knife to my neck, and I had STILL trusted him, I had finally understood why. When, under the guise of pummelling David Tennant in a gesture of futile fury against a traitor, I had noticed him surreptitiously loosing David Tennant’s shackles, I’d realised for certain that he was going to sacrifice himself for me, and what that meant. David Tennant turned to David Beckham and watched David Beckham struggling to catch up. Eventually he did so, and David Tennant nodded. ‘Yup,’ he said. ‘Rollo was Mary Sue’s father. He’s always watched over her.’
‘But you!’ he said. ‘You and her!’ he added, gesturing to Billie Piper.
‘Oh that!’ said David Tennant casually. ‘That was just acting.’
Billie Piper was sobbing with relief. ‘Oh my God! Thank God! Thank you, Mary Sue, thank you. Let me go and we can…’
‘I rather think not,’ said David Tennant, and let the silence build before adding, ‘Master.’
‘What?!’ said Billie Piper. ‘It’s not true! It’s not true, Mary Sue! He’s the Master. He’s trying to trick you!’
David Tennant looked her straight in the eyes and said, ‘When Billie Piper, the real Billie, Mary Sue’s mother, was sixteen, the Teacher took Rollo and me to meet with her.’
‘No!' said Billie. 'The Teacher never met me. She never let me see her. I never even knew she was a woman!’
‘We told Billie that the Master was desperate to find her. We had discovered that the Master wanted to take over her identity, however much surgery that required, as a way of getting close to the Teacher, to Mary Sue and to Mary Sue’s father. We told her we could keep her identity secret if she wanted. But, if she was prepared to sacrifice herself, to let herself be taken, then we would always know where the Master was. We could control what the Master knew. And so it came to pass. For a decade, I have played the part of your father while the Master has pretended to be your mother. Rollo has protected you many times, and then today he sacrificed himself for you, and for this world we love, just like your mother, your unbelievably brave, real mother, sacrificed herself a decade ago. And now, all you have to do is press the button and she goes into the vortex.’
‘No!’ said Billie desperately. ‘You can’t possibly believe this! I’m your mother! If anyone is the Master here, it’s David Tennant. He was a demon, and he seduced me! Who would the Master trust to do that? No one, so it must have been the Master himself!’
‘The Teacher was ahead of you,’ said David Tennant. ‘She always has been. Why did you think this would be any different?’
‘They’re trying to make you kill me for no reason!’ shrieked Billie Piper. ‘The Teacher was never ahead of the Master, she was a stupid suicidal lunatic, and here is the proof, me, your poor mother, strung up like a chicken!’ She wasn’t sagging any more. She was straining against the shackles. She saw me take this in and said, ‘No way! This is the strength that comes from being on the edge of death. You cannot be misled by this man. This evil man. If you do this, the world ends.’
Johnny Depp said, ‘If David Tennant is the Master, then where is David Beckham?’ He was gone. Miss Smallbone, and David Tennant, and Rollo and Victoria and probably all the rest of them, could make use of any distraction to appear or disappear. I suppose it’s a very useful skill you can pick up if you have millennia to practice it in. David Tennant instantly formed a human shield between me and the direction David Beckham had presumably vanished into. He said, ‘He won’t try anything, he'll just run. In the end, Beckham's the kind of wordy coward who calls it pragmatism.'
'Then why are you...'
'Better safe than sorry, Mary Sue.’
And I thought of Sir Conn, who said he trusted me. And of the poor, brave Teacher, who said she trusted me. And of Rollo, who said he trusted me. And they had all three also said I would have to trust myself in the end. And I thought of the things I had seen, of who was dead and how they died, and which ones had died to save me. I thought of funny Jeremy Clarkson and valorous Vanessa Paradis, and the others I didn’t have time to know. And I felt David Tennant, his back against my back, who wasn't my father any more, and I looked into the eyes of Billie Piper, and I didn’t see my mother, so I pressed the button, sent her into oblivion, and the world didn’t end.