The elderly man known to his neighbours in Liverpool’s Chinese quarter as Mai Li Tuo was pounding herbs and spices into fine powder in an old-fashioned mortar and pestle at the counter of his fragrant shop. The young woman he employed to help out was labelling jars beside him. She was humming a song as she worked. It was an old Chinese counting rhyme that somebody in her family must have taught her. The girl was born in Liverpool and had never set foot in the country her parents and grandparents left when the communists ran roughshod over thousands of years of tradition. Li remembered his last visit to imperial China. He had worked as a boatman, ferrying goods down the Huáng Hé from Púyáng to Dongyíng, the city at its estuary. He had married a woman who helped him in that work and was warm and soft by his side at night. She often sang as they worked. That little song known to his Liverpool-born shop assistant was one of the songs Su Xiao had sung a hundred and fifty years before this girl was born.

She stopped singing as the doorbell chimed and the winter sunlight was blocked by a customer coming into the shop. Li Tuo looked at him and then told the girl to take the mortar and pestle into the small back room behind a hand printed silk curtain. She did so dutifully.

“And what, I wonder, could a humble herbalist do for a man such as yourself?” Lu Tuo asked the handsome, square jawed man in a curiously old fashioned semi-military style of clothing. “Something to enhance your love life, perhaps?”

“Never needed it,” Captain Jack Harkness replied with absolute certainty in his voice. “Never expect to need it. What I do need… is a Time Lord.”

“And of course you ask knowing that sweet young woman is working within the sound of your voice. Unfortunately, I don’t have a herbal preparation that instils tact.” Li Tuo called out in Mandarin, telling the girl that he was stepping out to the garden. His visitor hesitated, making sure that the Chinaman’s body language was that of invitation, before following him.

It was late autumn in Liverpool, which meant that it was drizzling rain from a dull grey sky. Li Tuo’s Chinese meditation garden glistened in the wet. There were golden brown and orange leaves strewn around the paths and floating on the ornamental pond where the lily pads were dying away after their growing season. Li took no notice of the rain as he walked towards the open sided wooden pagoda that sheltered a table and two chairs.

There was a charcoal burning kettle on a side table and the accoutrements of Chinese tea in a lacquered cupboard. Li Tuo made the tea. The Captain said nothing as he sat listening to the rhythm of the rain on the wooden roof above him. He pulled up the right sleeve of his coat as if he was looking at a watch. Li had already noticed that he kept that on his left wrist. The leather strap on the right hid a Time Agent’s vortex manipulator that buzzed softly but well within a Time Lord’s hearing.

“I get the impression from my friends who know you rather better that you’re not often lost for words. Your silence suggests to me that your matter must be serious.”

“Yes, it is,” Jack Harkness answered. “That’s why I need… him. He helped me the last time. And… I helped him… we’re even. But I need to ask him another favour. If that means I’m beholden to him, then so be it.”

“You want to talk to my friend, Chrístõ Mian de Lœngbærrow?”


“That’s not possible.”

“You don’t have a way of contacting him?”

“I do, but I can’t.” Li prepared the tea as he considered whether to trust this man with the full truth. Yes, he had proven himself reliable on more than one occasion - reliable and not without courage. But the fact remained that he worked for Torchwood, an organisation Li Tuo had no reason to trust and every reason to fear.

“I’m… not here as a Torchwood operative,” Jack Harkness said, knowing full well why he wasn’t fully trusted, and why his host was watching him with such an inscrutable expression. “This is personal.”

“If this is anything to do with Marion, then I won’t help you… even if I could. Even if it was possible, I would not….”

“Why isn’t it possible?” Jack Harkness asked. “What’s wrong? Please tell me. If there’s anything I can do….”

“There is nothing you, nor I, nor anyone can do,” Li answered. He sighed and briefly related the events that had made Gallifrey even more remote and Li even more of an exile than he had been before. Jack Harkness was visibly shocked and concerned.

“Marion… she’s….”


“Will she recover?”

“I cannot say. Nobody can. Even Lords of Time must wait patiently in these times.”

“No, it can’t be true,” Jack Harkness said. “She can’t die. She’s his mother….”

“She’s pregnant.”

Jack was startled by that statement. He bit his lip as he realised what it might mean.

“Oh God,” he murmured. “Oh God, no.”

“I’m sorry. But it’s still possible that she could give birth to a boy child… the heir that my friend wants so very dearly… and yet never wake to see her son.”

“No,” Jack insisted. “No, that’s not how it’s meant to happen. She isn’t supposed to die. She’s his mother… she will be. He wasn’t an orphan. He had a mother. I’m sure he did. She… just can’t.”

“I shouldn’t have told you. Now there is one more person in the galaxy fretting about Marion and her child.”

“I’m supposed to be a hard man. I’m not supposed to care about anyone.”

“You’re Human. I always assumed there was something more than hedonism and promiscuity to you. Besides, I share your affection for Marion – and I understand what it is to know unrequited love. I also understand what it is to burn with injustice… to be wronged by those I thought I could trust, and know that you have no way of proving your case against them. I’ve also done some things I’m ashamed of, criminal things, using the injustice against me as an excuse, as justification for those criminal acts.”

“Yeah,” Jack Harkness admitted. “I’ve been there, done that. A good man set me right. That’s why I work for Torchwood, now. Yes, I know… according to our charter you’re the enemy, an alien living on Earth. And so are all of your people when they come here. But I know we’re doing some good, too, protecting this world from the truly dangerous aliens. I’m doing stuff now, through Torchwood, that he would approve of. I’m making up for what I did wrong…. And when I see him again, I think I’ll be able to stand there… man to man… and look him in the eyes… and… see….”

“See him look back at you without censure?” Li Tuo suggested.


“You think you’ll have redeemed yourself in his eyes… this good man whose approval you so badly want?”

“I hope so. I’ve tried for so long. I’ve waited… waited a very long time for him to tell me I am redeemed. But I think there’s something I have to do first… a truth I need to find out about my own past. And that’s why I need a Time Lord. It’s why I hoped to contact Marion’s husband. I hoped if I told him the whole story, even if it meant I had to earn my redemption from him, too, when he hears what sort of man I used to be, he might help me.”

“You need a TARDIS?”

“But I can’t contact him…”

“Yes,” Li Tuo responded in a long, slow, thoughtful syllable with his hands pressed together, the fingertips against his lips.

“Yes… what….” Jack asked when the suspense became too much even for him.

“Yes, I really should have gone with my first instinct… to wipe your short term memory and leave you somewhere a long way from home. The mountain region of Guang Xi province, perhaps. “

Jack Harkness put his tea cup down very suddenly and stared at the contents.

“I have more sophisticated methods of doing that than introducing chemicals into your body,” Li Tuo pointed out. “Retcon? A primitive notion.”

“It… works for me,” Jack answered, not even bothering to ask how his host knew that was the proprietary name of the drug he always carried a few capsules of when he went on field missions. “When it’s absolutely necessary… for the protection of a witness.”

“If I can resist using my method for much the same reason I might be able to recommend a natural herb that would prevent psychotic episodes later in the lives of people you wish to protect in that way. But tell me why you need a Time Lord’s technology?”

“I need to find out if I… might have murdered somebody… a friend from the future… in the past.”

“I’ve never met anyone who didn’t know if they had done a thing like that before. Did you use your own body to test the Retcon recipe on?”

Jack grimaced at the joke before continuing.

“A long time ago, when I was a Time Agent, I went on a field mission. I was with a friend. His name was Alden Fisher. Something went wrong. I woke up in the Agency medical centre unable to remember how I got back to my own time and place, or why Alden wasn’t with me. My memory was in such a mess I couldn’t even remember going on the mission, let alone what happened. And when the Agency checked their system the file on our mission had been erased. I didn’t even know where I’d been, and nor did anyone else. They couldn’t prove I did anything wrong… so after some R&R I was allowed back into the Agency, but I felt there was always a question about me… about whether I could be trusted. And I asked a lot of them of myself.”

Li Tuo nodded as if he understood what he was saying.

“Last week some artefacts were sent to Torchwood in Cardiff… Evidence that a man with future technology in his possession was killed in the 1960s in Bristol. The organic remains were tested, but the DNA profile didn’t fit anyone on the missing persons register. They didn’t know how to access the information within the artefacts. I did.”

Jack reached into the deep pocket of his coat and placed two items on the table. Both looked as if they had been buried for a long time - the broken remains of a Vortex Manipulator from which every bit of leather had rotted away and something very like a ‘dog tag’ but with a series of raised dots and indentations upon it.

“Biometric information.

“Your friend.”



“Look, this is far more than I intended to tell you,” Jack added. “I wanted to talk to Marion’s husband… because I know I can trust him. I’m not sure I can say the same about you… nor you me. I’ve got enough gaps in my memory. And I don’t need to wake up in Guang Xi with a hangover. I was in that area just after the revolution. The communists still have me on their list of western spies they’d like to interrogate with extreme prejudice.”

“I never said you’d be left there in the present, Captain Harkness,” Li told him. “Nor have I decided whether I’ll take that extreme measure or not. I have to consider the fact that nobody on this planet except you knows that I have a working TARDIS – which is information that I want to keep a secret for a great many important reasons.”

“I don’t know anything about you having a TARDIS,” Jack replied.

“Yes, you do. Your Vortex Manipulator picked up its signal when we stepped into the garden – if not before. You’ve been trying to work out exactly where it is all through our conversation, but the signal is deliberately dispersed to confuse primitive devices like that.”

Jack quickly dropped his right hand down under the table, which only made him look even more guilty of something surreptitious.

“You’ve told me the truth all along,” Li conceded. “Except for one small lie and one omission. The omission was your plan to pull a gun on me and force me to take you to my TARDIS if I didn’t agree to do it willingly.”

“The thought crossed my mind briefly, but I figured it would be suicidal.”

“Not quite. Marion’s fondness for you actually might prevent me from doing anything so drastic to you. But Guang Xi aside, there are lots of lonely places in Britain where a naked man who can’t remember how he got there would be in a fair amount of trouble.”

“I’ve been in that sort of trouble before without anyone having to mess with my mind,” Jack Harkness admitted with a sly grin. “What… was the white lie, just out of interest?”

“You said the missing man was a ‘friend’.”

“Ok, boyfriend,” Jack responded. “Serious boyfriend. I was… really crazy about him. Losing him hurt… a lot.”

“Yes, it did,” Li Tuo noted. “Captain Harkness, I’m willing to help you. Call it my own way of making us even for the times when you have looked after the lady we both love in an uncharacteristically platonic way. Drink another cup of tea, first, though.”


“Because this cup has the antidote to the herbal preparation that went into the first cup… an all natural version of your Retcon that I used just in case you weren’t prepared to be completely open about your motives for seeking a Time Lord’s assistance.”

Jack drank the tea, noting that there was no obvious taste of anything other than tea in the brew. Nor had there been anything in the first cup. It crossed his mind that Li Tuo might have been bluffing, but he wasn’t prepared to take that chance. It was too cold to wake up naked anywhere in Britain and he wasn’t kidding about his issues in the Guang Xi province.

When he was finished Li stood up and beckoned him to follow him across the ornamental bridge that spanned the pond. On the other side was a Buddha shrine that opened up when the Chinese Time Lord pressed the carving in a certain way.