The thing was, he hadn't actually meant to blow up the xenobiology lab.
"I hope you're proud of yourself," said Theta Sigma, though of course he got angry whenever Koschei called him that. Not that Koschei cared.
"Always," Koschei replied. He looked down at the prototype in his hand, which was still smoking.
Theta Sigma snorted at him. "Why couldn't you have blown up the stellar engineering lab instead? The Academy cares so little about life on other planets that they might not actually replace anything here."
"Just as well, it was stupid class," Koschei said. "They don't really know what they're talking about anyway."
"As if you can tell. You've never been off Gallifrey either."
Koschei flapped a hand. "It doesn't matter. Are you going to tell on me, or are you going to help me clean this stuff up?"
Theta Sigma peered at him. "I'm debating," he said severely, nudging exploded plant and animal matter with his toe and then making a disgusted face. "What were you trying to do, anyway?"
"...I just wanted to shrink them," Koschei explained. "See what would happen."
A tissue compressor...didn't seem to work very well. Was there another component he was missing? He'd assumed the tissue would grow more compact -- in effect, shrinking. Instead, his experiments had exploded.
"Well, you've seen what happened. You know some of these specimens were alive, right?"
"Yes, of course, but something like this was bound to happen to them sometime. Better for them that they went quickly by explosion, rather than slowly through dissection."
Theta Sigma rolled his eyes. "We don't dissect them until after they're dead."
"Pity, if you ask me. How else are we supposed to find out how they actually work?"
Maybe the tissue could only be compressed so much. Now that Koschei was trying to clean up, he did see tiny replicas of strange plants and animals, mixed in everything else.
"You sound like Ushas. Neither of you have any respect for other living things," Theta Sigma said, but he started helping sweep up exploded matter.
What was to respect? But Koschei just shook his head. They had to clean up the lab before the Academy found them and stuck them with calibrating the temporal sensors again. Horribly boring.
What he really needed was to find a way to eliminate the extra matter before it exploded. Plain tissue compression obviously wasn't enough.
"Oh. I should have known it was you."
The Master sniffed at the flat tone. "Yes, you should have. Now do you intend to help me with this, or let it destroy another of your UNIT platoons? Or how about more city blocks?"
"The Brigadier is very unhappy with you," the Doctor informed him, though he did come forward to examine the faulty vortex manipulator. "And I confess I am quite put out as well."
"This wasn't exactly my intention, you know," the Master said.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Oh? You were intending to destroy the entire planet instead of a few libraries and grocery stores and people?"
"You take everything that happens on Earth far too personally," the Master informed him. "I was intending to go after a much more valuable planet."
"It's hard not to take what happens on Earth personally when I'm stuck here," the Doctor said dryly. "And speaking of, I can't very well fix this blasted thing when I don't have the right equipment. I don't know where you managed to get the spare parts for it. Earth is centuries away from this sort of technology."
"You usually seem to manage," the Master said. He eyed the manipulator. "But I suppose I can try to get it somewhere else. It seems fairly well contained..."
"Don't be an idiot," the Doctor said. "You know very well what will happen if you take that thing into the Time Vortex, unstable as it is. I'm sure we can work something out, if you have the Brigadier send some of my equipment up. At least, assuming you're not going to just stand there."
"I wouldn't dream of it," the Master assured him, and went to call the Brigadier.
The Master always did know how to get the Doctor to do what he wanted. Well, at least some of the time. When it was in the Doctor's interests.
But of course, he was not actually going to say any of that to the Doctor. He'd be insufferable about it for centuries.
The Master coughed, and kept coughing.
He thought he could actually feel the tissues of his lungs burning away. Highly unpleasant.
Hands gently lifted his head and pillowed it on a strong thigh. One hand tried to give him water, but it caught in his throat and he exploded into another painful coughing fit.
"Go away," he rasped out, once he could breathe again. "There's nothing you can do. I'm about to regenerate."
"I can see that," the Doctor said, bending over him so that the ridiculous scarf hung over his face. He didn't even have the energy to bat it away, but thankfully the Doctor swung it over his shoulder.
The Master coughed again, this time with blood spattering against his chin and clothes. That was certainly the last time he tried holding an energy facility hostage with chemicals. It was far too easy for someone to shove his own chemicals in his face.
Finally he felt it begin, a depressingly familiar process by now. "Stand back, fool!" he gasped.
Still gently, the Doctor put his head back down on the floor and moved back to avoid getting caught in the regeneration energy. The Master tried to curl in on himself, but his body spasmed and he couldn't get that far. Then he felt the rush of painful energy through his body, his own cells dying, changing, reviving themselves.
He tried to blank his mind as much as possible. As happy as he was about having regenerations, he disliked the actual process.
"You seem to be running through them even more quickly than I am," the Doctor said, after the Master had been still for a few moments, getting the feel of his new body. "I wonder if it's some sort of record."
The Master grunted. Hmmm, his voice was lower this time. "Can you stand for me to beat you at yet another thing?"
"I think I'll let you have this one," the Doctor replied. "How many do you have left?"
"I'm not dead yet," the Master said. He turned his head to see the Doctor sitting back on his heels. "Don't you have adulation to accept, assistants to find?"
"They'll keep. I should probably give you to the authorities..."
"Yes, because that worked so well when you tried it on Earth," the Master scoffed. "I doubt even the High Council on Gallifrey and the Lord President himself could keep me imprisoned."
"I do imagine they'd underestimate you," the Doctor agreed. "But I'd never have any peace if I kept you with me."
"My dear Doctor, not even you could hold me for so long," the Master said, closing his eyes for a long moment. When he opened them again, the Doctor had a strange half-smile on his face.
"Perhaps I couldn't," the Doctor said. He stood up and put his hat on. "Well, I'm sure we'll see each other soon. Do try to stay out of trouble."
"I think that's my line," the Master said, and the Doctor laughed.
Several minutes after the Doctor left, the Master got up the energy to try to leave himself. The quarantine doors were closed and locked, but it didn't take him long to get them open. Once he stepped through, though, he was confronted with several armed security officers, and couldn't help a small smile.
He hadn't truly expected the Doctor to just let him escape.
Was it just him, or did the Doctor's assistants keep getting shriller and more annoying?
"I am the Master and you will obey me!" he commanded the latest one, who had short brown hair. He didn't really pay attention beyond that.
He sent her out to misdirect the Doctor and turned his attention back to the sphere for which he'd infiltrated this dirty, unsophisticated little village. The people here had come across some sort of advanced technology that enhanced mental powers, particularly hypnosis, and they were only using it to fulfill vision quests or some other quaint little concept like that.
It had been simplicity itself to pose as their new shaman and then take over the village with the power of the sphere.
It had then got complicated when the Doctor managed to stumble in before he could leave with it. Story of his life, really.
"Oh, it's you," the Doctor said loudly, almost theatrically. Even when he didn't want the Doctor to find him, the other Time Lord somehow managed it. All of time and space and they just kept running across each other. How did that happen?
"Yes, it's such a surprise, isn't it," the Master replied.
"No, not really," the Doctor said. "When Peri kept trying to lead me away from this tent, I knew there was something here. This explains everything."
Blasted girl obviously had no subtlety. He was tired of the Doctor's assistants ruining everything just by bumbling around.
"Well, you have your explanations, so now you can leave," the Master said, though without much hope of it actually happening.
The Doctor smiled. "My dear Master, as if I'm going to pass up the sight of you in such a primitive costume! What is that, leather?"
"I actually know how to blend in," the Master said. "As if you can talk about clothes! What are you supposed to be, an escapee from the circus?"
"It's the height of fashion," the Doctor said, pouting.
"Perhaps for clowns." The Master edged the sphere beneath his itchy fur cape, trying to shift his body so the Doctor wouldn't see it.
But of course the Doctor did, and tried to take it from him, and then his shrill assistant bumbled back in. By the end of it, Peri had broken the sphere and the Master had to escape quickly before the Doctor caught up to him.
Once back in his TARDIS, he shed the leather and fur with great relief. Redressing in his usual clothes, he consoled himself with the fact that at least the Doctor had looked even more ridiculous.
"Professor's not going to be very happy with you."
"Me? What about you? You're the one who decided to blow up the cave!"
The girl smirked, which the Master could only barely see from the light edging in around the tumbled rocks. "It's how he'll find me. He knows to look for the explosions."
Unbelievable, this girl. Not only were the Doctor's assistants getting younger, they were getting more violent.
"Now that you've got us locked in here, do you have any plans for getting us out?"
The girl -- what was her name, Ace? Silly name -- crossed her arms. "I don't mind waiting for the Professor, but you're welcome to try and find a way out. You do seem pretty good at getting out of tight spots."
"Yes, in fact I am. But it's not exactly easy when I'm trapped in a cave and you've taken all my tools."
The girl took out his tissue compression eliminator, which she'd taken off him in a tussle when they were first trapped here. Violent girl. "Yeah, I don't know what this is, but I'm not exactly gonna trust you with it, am I?"
Why couldn't she be stupid as well as violent? "You could use that on the rocks," he suggested. "It will shrink them."
But she shook her head. "Nope, not gonna trust you to tell me what to do with it either," she said. "For all I know this'll blow itself up and me with it. No, we'll wait for the Professor."
He couldn't exactly call that unfair, since in another situation he'd be perfectly happy to kill her and get her and her satisfaction out of the way. Unfortunately, this time he prioritized getting out ahead of killing the girl.
"So," she said conversationally, "you've got worse in a tussle. Missing the Cheetah Planet?"
The Master sighed. What did he do to deserve this?
Besides try to kill her and her friends, that was, because some people took that kind of thing so personally.
It was several hours of enduring her pointed references to the Cheetah People and stories about how wonderful the Doctor was before the Doctor himself finally showed up.
"Are you all right, Ace?" the Doctor asked when they were finally out, looking her over carefully before slashing a glance at the Master.
"Yeah, he's a pansy," Ace said cheerfully.
"I didn't hurt the girl," the Master grumbled. Not that he wouldn't have, given the chance, but this time he hadn't.
The Doctor looked at him, and the Master held his gaze for a moment. Finally the Doctor nodded and looked away, and for a brief moment, the Master was glad he hadn't hurt the girl.
But it was a very brief moment.
He wasn't a soldier. He had no objection to killing, but he wasn't a soldier.
And he certainly was not a soldier in a losing war. The Master had always preferred being on the winning side.
But the Dalek Emperor had taken the Cruciform, and considering the Daleks would be perfectly happy to see him executed -- again -- it was no use going to them.
And old Rassilon was crazy. He hadn't seemed too bad when the Master and all those Doctors encountered his remains in the Death Zone, but whether it was the process of resurrection or something else, Lord President Rassilon was not going to be winning the war either -- at least, not in a way the Master considered to be winning.
It was time to get out. But there was only one way to get out of a Time War, and that was to get away from being Time-sensitive.
He looked at the watch in his hand, presented to him on his graduation from the Academy, an old symbol of everything the Time Lords were. Could he bring himself to give it up, even knowing he'd get everything back once he opened the watch again?
Well, if the other option was dying, then yes. He could.
He clicked the watch into place in the Chameleon Arch, and wondered briefly what the Doctor was doing, apart from trying to win a losing battle. Would he understand the Master's decision?
They'd made such different choices, over the centuries. They'd grown into such different people. Still, somehow they could manage to understand each other. No one had ever understood the Master the way the Doctor did, and perhaps that was why the Master had never truly been able to kill him.
But would the Doctor understand this? He was no more a soldier than the Master was, yet he was fighting, and the Master knew he would go on fighting until the War was over, one way or another. The Doctor had spent much of his life running away, but he had never run away from himself.
Still, it made no difference. With his Time Lord bad luck charm distracted by the War, there should be no problems with this plan working. The Master was going to survive, and that was all that mattered.
He turned the Chameleon Arch on.