(Red Dwarf X22397, M87, 1,000,200,043)
"So," the Master says.
"So," the Doctor echoes, checking the readings on the console. It's safe enough to have the Master in the control room now; it's keyed to his biodata and won't respond to the Master without some serious tampering.
"First planet we get to," the Master says, "I'm leaving. You can't watch me every moment, and you won't keep me locked up."
"Then we won't go to a planet," the Doctor murmurs; one of the screens tells him they're approaching the year one billion. Good millennium.
"You can't keep me here forever," the Master whispers.
"No," the Doctor agrees, "but I can for a very long time." He glances over at the Master, who glares back, elegantly disdainful, right hand manacled to one of the TARDIS's pillars, left hand tapping out an absent rhythm against his thigh. The Doctor watches his tapping fingers for a long moment, but doesn't offer to help the Master rid himself of the drumbeat, not today: that is compassion.
He sets them into stable orbit around a red dwarf near M87. He launders his spare suits and the Master's spare suits and forgets to tell the TARDIS to separate whites and colours, so all the Master's beautiful crisp white shirts come out pale grey or pale blue. The Master, if he notices, makes no comment. After they've gotten a quarter of the way around the red dwarf and the Master has made no trouble at all (and hardly spoken, save a few quiet inquiries as to their position in time and relative to the star) he unlocks the cuff on the Master's wrist, presses a cup of tea into his freed hand, and leaves him be: that is an empty gesture of trust.
After this, he keeps catching the Master tampering with the TARDIS in any way he can. On one memorable occasion (roughly halfway around the red dwarf), the Doctor is awoken by the techno thump of a horribly familiar song, and for a moment of blind panic thinks he's back on the Valiant. Here come the drums screams through the TARDIS, and the Doctor pulls on his tatty blue bathrobe and stumbles down the helix staircase to the control room to shut it off. The Master is conspicuously absent from the proceedings; when he turns up a few hours later with rumpled hair and the TARDIS provides them with beans and toast, the Doctor makes no mention of it: that is punishment enough.
"I can't tell what you're thinking," the Master says conversationally later that day. He's discovered a game cupboard on the level directly above the control room; to the best of the Doctor's knowledge, the game cupboard contains a Snakes and Ladders game from the 1950s, a chess set from the thirteenth century, a Judoon poker deck, a board game from the 2200s entitled So You Think You Know The Great Classics? Harry Potter Trivia Game! and the thing the Master has brought out, a sort of glittery half-transparent Rubik's Cube from the forty-second century. In the hands of a human it might take hours to figure out its intricacies, but the Master solves it and scrambles it over and over with each absent twirl of his fingers, click-click-click-click, click-click-click-click.
"Can't you?" the Doctor asks absently. He's trying to coax the TARDIS to play music that isn't from 1990 to 2015, but with minimal success. "Right now I'm thinking that if I can't get my Chopin files back soon, our next stop is Paris, 1840."
"Must we?" the Master murmurs. "France is dull, Doctor."
"Mm," the Doctor says. He's gotten the TARDIS' music records to go back to 1970, but there her database stubbornly freezes, so with a sense of resignation he lets her play David Bowie; at least it chases the other song from his head. He turns, the Master's words catching up with him. "What do you mean, you can't tell what I'm thinking?"
"I've been trying," the Master says, tapping his own temple with a forefinger in explanation. He goes back to fiddling with the Rubik's Cube from 4129. "But your head's just filled with static. White noise. I wonder how long it's been like that."
Wonder if he'll ever know, David Bowie sings musingly in the background. The Doctor touches the screen gently and the music cuts off. "I don't know," he murmurs. "A long time."
The Master laughs shortly, but doesn't say anything else until some hours later when the Doctor catches the Master upstairs in his wardrobe room, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a long striped scarf and mugging ridiculously into the mirror. "Hey!" he protests when the Doctor snatches the hat from his head.
"Not funny," the Doctor says.
"I think it's wonderfully funny," the Master returns, unwinding the scarf and throwing it over a nearby dummy. "In fact, I think everything about this whole situation is absolutely hilarious."
There's a note in the Master's voice like the edge of hysteria, and the Doctor goes tense. "Why do you say that?"
The Master stares blankly at his own reflection in the mirror. "How long will we be orbiting this star, Doctor?" he asks very quietly.
The Doctor watches the Master's reflection for a long moment: dark eyes, round face, clean-shaven, neat hair. His tie is dark grey paisley and worn with the absolute exacting straightness of the completely mad. The Doctor listens to his own heartsbeat and feels through the great distance between himself and the universe a faint thrill of terror. The Master's idea of cruelty is giving him the hope he might someday be let in.
"Where would you like to go?" he asks.
The Master turns from the mirror in surprise, and gives the Doctor an appraising look. "New Earth," he says, and smiles. "Don't look so shocked, Doctor." (The Doctor isn't aware he'd been looking anything of the sort.) "It's all useless white noise but you still think. I've been given to believe you take all your rebounds to New New York?" A grin. "No, sorry. New New New New New--"
"Shut up," the Doctor says.
That is compassion too: watching the brief flare of triumph in the Master's eyes. Hope is funny like that.
"New Earth," he says. "No weapons on you. Any tricks at all and you'll be locked up for as long as you need to be."
"I've got it, I've got it," the Master says, sneering faintly.
The Doctor goes downstairs to set a course.
The TARDIS is parked down a side alley in between glittering skyscrapers. The Master walks with a spring in his step and the Doctor walks with his shoulder brushing the Master's, knowing how dangerous this is and knowing that he can't possibly do otherwise.
"Ooh," the Master says, turning to the Doctor just outside a twenty-storey shopping complex. He gives the Doctor a little pout. "Can we pretty please go inside?" And, eyes suddenly wide, positively glowing with false sincerity, "I'd really, really like some nice new shirts. Your washing machine doesn't work very well, does it."
The Doctor clenches his teeth. "In, then," he says, and he doesn't need to, but he takes the Master's arm and steers him. Any excuse to touch the only other Time Lord in existence. Why the Master doesn't shake him off, though, the Doctor can't imagine. Maybe he feels the same way; sometimes he catches the Master looking at him with peculiar hunger.
An interactive map in the mall's ground-floor atrium directs them to the twelfth floor: Apparel for Human and Humanoid Males. The Doctor privately suspects that high fashion in the year five billion twenty-eight does not necessarily include well-tailored dress shirts suitable for twenty-first century Earth politicians. Funny of the Master to want to come here, of all places. The Doctor supposes that just now the Master wants to stay as far away from old Earth and the twenty-first century as possible. They get into the shining crystal lift, and the Doctor thinks, In just a year this all goes away. In a year-- But he becomes distracted by the amused, considering way the Master is eyeing the family of cats who have just gotten into the lift with them. "Behave yourself," the Doctor mutters, and the Master gives him a grin that lights his whole face and is in absolutely no way reassuring.
Nevertheless, behave himself the Master does, at least to the letter of the law. He wreaks absolutely no havoc upon the family of cats-- who exit on the eighth floor, Communications and Technology-- and neither does he do anything to the human woman and her humanoid tree companion who get in at floor six and stay on after the Doctor and the Master leave. In the shop itself, he never strays from the Doctor's line of sight, although he does elect to put on a falsetto and take the Doctor down the lingerie aisle, insisting earnestly that he must have treated all his other traveling companions by buying them pretty clothes. The Doctor doesn't bother disguising his annoyance. "Just find the shirts you want," he snaps.
The Master laughs. "New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York," he says. "Am I just the latest rebound, Doctor?" he says.
"You asked to come here," the Doctor says evenly.
"I did, didn't I," the Master says, feigning surprise. "Funny thing for me to do."
"Shirts," the Doctor says, pulling one out at random. It's brilliantly orange and reads I ♥ New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York in large white letters. A look of absolute disgust crosses the Master's face, but the Doctor's charmed, and replaces it with a sense of mild regret.
Ten minutes later, after several pointed quips regarding the Doctor's taste in clothing and a brief incident with a tutu, the Master has acquired dress shirts, although he seems as partial to pale green and pale pink as he is to white. "Wash these separately," he tells the Doctor as they head for the checkout queue.
"Do your own washing!" the Doctor returns, somewhat nettled.
The Master stares at him for a long moment and, inexplicably, giggles. The Doctor stares back at him, and in an instant is overwhelmed with the sudden horrifying absurdity of the whole situation: he is standing in tenuous balance with the only other Time Lord in existence, and here they are, in a checkout queue in a shopping centre in New New York holding dress shirts and arguing over the washing. There's a terrible moment in which he almost screams, and then he's laughing too, grinning like mad, and he feels, for an even briefer, confused moment, honestly breathlessly happy.
The friendly arachnid at the checkout gives them a pointy, good-natured, puzzled sort of grin and rings them up. The Doctor's about to take out his psychic paper when, to his astonishment, the Master pulls out a credit card apparently quite capable of paying a slightly absurd amount. "Here you are, Mr. Saxon," the arachnid says cheerfully, handing back the Master's card with one forearm, punching out his receipt with a second, and pushing the bag of clothing into the Doctor's astounded arms with a third. "Free with the purchase."
"But-- what--" the Doctor sputters. "Where did you get that?"
"Thank you," the Master says to the arachnid, and "Really, Doctor, there's a lot of time between the year 2007 and the end of the world. You don't think I went straight into politics, do you?"
"You stopped by New Earth?" the Doctor demands, and swallows hard, shoving the bag of clothing at the Master. "Is that why you wanted to stop here again? To finish a-- a project?"
"Oh, calm down," the Master says in annoyance, heading for the lift. The Doctor follows, still furious, and when the Master glances up at his face he sighs. "All right. I thought if you didn't show for the election, and I got bored, I might turn the paradox machine back into a normal TARDIS and go somewhere else." He shrugs. "I like this planet. I like cats."
The Doctor stares through the transparent doors of the lift, watching lavishly decorated department after lavishly decorated department flash by, and says nothing. Of course the Master wanted him there for the destruction of Earth. That's the real reason he can trust the Master-- inasmuch as he can trust the Master at all-- to be walking on this planet free, instead of in chains. Whatever he thinks to do, he'll want to do with an audience, and the Doctor is the best audience he could ever hope to have. Although it's funny he hasn't tried anything yet besides wave lacy purple underthings with pom-poms attached in the Doctor's face. In fact, all the Master's doing even now is rummaging through the clothing bag-- and he's--
"What are you doing?" the Doctor asks in honest puzzlement; the Master has emerged triumphant from the bag and is holding nothing at all-- nothing except--
A moment of sheer horror before the Master deftly slaps the patch to the side of the Doctor's neck, and then...
"What was that?" the Doctor asks, but he doesn't feel panicked about it, or even curious. Just... content. Bone-deep content, and all right, and better than all right, so much better that a smile breaks across his face and he nearly wants to laugh. The Master has been watching all of this with great interest, and smiles too when the Doctor does.
"Best I could do," he murmurs. "It's very popular right now. They're giving out free samples. Anyway, there's no Confuse on the market and you need a prescription for Sleep."
The Doctor hardly hears him. He hears the words, but they're unimportant. Whatever he's feeling, it's incredible; it's as though he's made of harmless light, his fingertips tingling nearly with anticipation. He's smiling so hard it hurts and that's wonderful. Nothing is wrong and nothing will ever be wrong again. He knows he's still fully cognizant, and he knows quite well that the Master has just slapped some sort of synthesized mood to his jugular, and he knows that he's feeling the way he's feeling because of said synthesized mood, but-- He takes a shuddering gasp and pulls the patch off and stares at it. It trembles transparently on his hand, a little square of plastic with a crescent moon, and next to it, in neat block letters, BLISS.
He remembers Novice Hame's words about the ravage following Bliss echoing in the empty senate chamber, and it's the first time the memory doesn't hurt. He looks up. "Tell me something," he whispers, and the look on the Master's face, expectant and hungry, doesn't alarm him at all. "Tell me something terrible," and the light behind the Master's eyes flares and it's all absolutely wonderful.
"You will always be alone," the Master says quietly. "Even if we both live for another thousand years, you will always be completely alone, and it's no one's fault but your own."
It's just words. "Something else," the Doctor whispers. "Please. Come on. More."
A grin spreads across the Master's face, comprehension like a wildfire. "That's sick," he says, soft and delighted. "It's good, isn't it? Not caring. Imagine if you could do it forever."
"I can't," the Doctor says. "It will wear off in a few minutes." But this doesn't bother him either; the future, in which he will not feel like this, is not connected with this moment. "--Where are we?"
This last is prompted by the opening of the lift doors; outside is a low concrete ceiling and a wide passage leading off to an intersection some twenty feet away.
"Lower level," the Master says. "Laboratories. Come on."
The Doctor follows him down the corridor, still needing nothing more out of the world than what is happening right now, still grinning until his face aches a little. "You could have given me something else," he comments. "Forget. Or-- oh, Grief. Do they sell Grief? For funerals and things?"
"Doctor," the Master says, laughing, "if I'd given you something like that, it wouldn't have made any difference at all."
Somehow this filters through.
The grin doesn't waver, but there's something reflexive in the way the Doctor says, as though completely unaware of the previous conversation, "So what are you doing down here?"
The Master does him one better and ignores the question entirely; he appears to have been counting doors, and now pushes open one at the end of the corridor. Inside, the Doctor sees, is a laboratory, hundreds of feet long, full of humans and humanoids in lab coats and goggles, working diligently away. The emblem of the synthesized moods' crescent moon is stamped into the concrete walls, and on the front end of each table is a small digital sign, each reading a different state: Sleep, Awake, Calm, Happy, Forget, Remember. Aids to the alleviation of exhaustion or grief or insomnia or nerves or failing mind. It's brilliantly clever and the Doctor knows intellectually that it's cheating, that it's wrong, that it will all come to a terrible tragic ending, but he doesn't care.
He laughs with elation and follows the Master down to the last table, marked Bliss, where the Master is talking with an official-looking woman in a lab coat. He knows in an instant he's missed something crucial, and he knows he shouldn't have left the Master alone for even one second, but he doesn't care and doesn't care and feeling this way forever would be the greatest possible blessing.
"Hmm," the official-looking woman in the lab coat says, giving him a once-over. "How do you feel, young man?"
"What? Me?" The Doctor gives her a grin. "I feel wonderful. Brilliant. Just great."
"I see," the woman says, and turns to the Master. "Thank you for your advice, Mr. Saxon, but I think I can see the results with my own eyes. We're continuing this line."
The Master smiles. "As you say," he murmurs, and turns. "All right, Doctor, I'm finished here."
"What did you do?" the Doctor asks as they exit the laboratory and set off back down the musty corridor. It's only to make conversation. It really doesn't matter what the Master did. If the Master said he'd poisoned every last mood patch, the Doctor might even laugh.
But all the Master says is, "We just talked."
They're quiet in the elevator; the Doctor finds himself wondering what the Master said to the woman in charge, and then wondering why he's bothering to wonder when it doesn't matter, and then thinking, But yes it does! Annoyance blossoms in his chest, followed by anger and the terrible weight of grief and a sudden blank horror. Through it, the Doctor keeps grinning in the perfect imitation of manufactured bliss, and when they exit into the atrium, he says with the perfect imitation of cheer, "Back to the TARDIS now, eh?"
The Master looks at him sideways and pauses by a fountain, the water of which changes colours every few seconds, insidiously, glowing from the neon lights behind. "Spare me, Doctor," he says, with a faint smile. "That bit of screaming in your head was the first break from the static I've had."
"Then," the Doctor says, in a low voice that shakes a very little, grin vanishing, "what did you say to that woman?"
"That Bliss will have to be produced on an absolutely massive scale to meet consumer demand," the Master says, staring past the Doctor's shoulder at a fixed point of nothing. "That they could become incredibly wealthy or lose everything, and that it probably isn't worth the risk. She hadn't thought of becoming incredibly wealthy before, you know."
The Doctor drags in a hissing breath between his teeth. "You mean you're the one responsible for the plague?"
The Master gives him a withering look. "I don't create viruses. I only used what was already there." He smiles. "In their minds."
"You had no right," the Doctor says, soft and furious.
"But Doctor," the Master says, shaking his head as though displeased with a slow pupil, "you'd already seen the aftermath. This always happened. That's the beauty of time travel, isn't it? You get to witness the ends of things before their beginnings. Jack, for instance."
"That doesn't give you the right!"
"Oh, but I think it does. Or did you forget that you had the right to prompt Queen Victoria to create Torchwood? And the right to take down Harriet Jones at the very beginning of her Golden Age, because she used the agency you had such a hand in creating? Say what you like, Doctor. Everything you touch changes; you just don't have the guts to take the responsibility."
The Doctor doesn't hit him, because there are far more subtle and effective ways of dealing with the Master and he would never, ever hit anyone, but it's still a near thing.
"But we can still stop it," he says, a little frantic now, "We can put in fail-safes, we can--"
A hand on his chest, gentle. "Doctor. We can't. You know what happens." He tsks softly. "Oh, those pesky paradoxes."
He looks into the Master's face and sees, with a thrill of fear, that the Master understands him. He's never going to get used to this.
"Take me back to your prison," the Master says. "I've had my fun. Tie me up and punish me just like you promised you would."
The Doctor clenches his teeth, takes the Master's elbow in a grip like a gentle vice, and starts walking.
Ten minutes see them back on the TARDIS; the Doctor manacles the Master back against the pillar in the control room, but it's an empty gesture without substance. A check in the clothing bag turns up no further mood patches, for which the Doctor is silently grateful. He goes upstairs and hangs the Master's purchases neatly next to his own suits with slightly trembling hands. He goes back down and sits silently next to the Master. The Master watches him and he stares at the floor and can feel the Master's gaze like a laser, and can't find the words. He aches, so many feelings crowding into his mind that they all register only as a horrible dragging pain.
"Why?" he asks finally. "That's not your style at all-- killing off the population." He looks up at the Master and sees the absolute horrible understanding in the Master's face and says savagely, "That gives you nothing to rule over! What were you trying to accomplish?"
The Master smiles and reaches out, touching the Doctor's jaw very gently. The Doctor barely avoids flinching. "Doctor," the Master breathes, "don't you see? If you will not let me conquer worlds, the only thing I have to best is you."
He surges to his feet, shaking. The Master stares up at him calmly, the barest hint of a triumphant smile at the corner of his mouth.
"Did you think keeping me was going to be easy, Doctor?" he asks softly. "Safe? Nice? Did you think having me with you would mend your poor, lonely, damaged hearts? It won't. Keeping me will be misery. It will be difficult, and trying, and it will always, Doctor, be difficult and trying."
"I know," the Doctor whispers. "I don't care."
"Liar," the Master says easily. "Round one to me."
"It's not a game!"
The Master laughs. "It's always a game."
The Doctor turns and goes to the console and stares unseeingly at all the buttons and levers and screens and knobs, and he wants to cry. He wants to crumple to his knees and howl with tears and he wants the Master to hold him and tell him it's all right--
And while he's at it he'd like Gallifrey back and everyone he's ever known to be safe and happy, he thinks savagely, and pulls the handbrake without setting a course. It doesn't matter where they go; he doesn't care.
Previous: 4x00: Prologue | Next: 4x02: The Illusive Ms. Ingram