"You tried to hypnotize her."
With Alison safely asleep in her bright new bedroom after hours of breathless exploration of the TARDIS, the Doctor and the Master were finally alone in their sitting room, both unnaturally straight-backed in their plush red armchairs. The Doctor had poured out two glasses of Scotch, not brandy, which meant that, in the Master’s experience, Words were about to be exchanged. It was nice to be proven right.
Ah, that. “Did I, now?” He had honestly almost forgotten.
“Not five minutes, five minutes, on the TARDIS, and you were already pulling some cheap mind trick on her. Is that any way to welcome a guest?”
“For me? Yes.”
“Yes, yes, very amusing, I’m sure.”
“Come now, Doctor. Wouldn’t you be more concerned for my fragile mental state had I welcomed her with a smile and a cup of tea like a good, domesticated droid?”
“I hardly implied that.”
“And I hardly made any real effort to harm the girl. It was a half-hearted attempt that I promise has left her none the worse for the wear.”
“And if I hadn’t have come in at that moment?”
“I should not need to go to the rather embarrassing effort of explaining that it was an entirely token gesture, but since I am doing just that right now, there must be something else on your mind that you wish to bring up. Would you kindly stop being a coward and do so directly?”
The Doctor looked away and took a long sip of Scotch, as good an apology as the Master was likely to receive.
“You asked her to stay.”
“Because I felt like it.” Petulance suited the conversation.
“You’ve always hated my companions. Why hand me a new one?”
“Oh, they seem to do a good job of keeping you alive, all things considered,” the Master replied with an elaborate shrug. “And I can’t have you dying on me, for obvious reasons."
“I may have wasted lives to save companions as many times as they have saved mine. There’s something else.”
“My dear Doctor, don’t be dreary. Must I really spell it all out for you?”
The Master closed his eyes, focusing for a moment on the gentle pulses of electricity under his synthetic skin, the wary hum of the TARDIS enveloping his consciousness, the too-real pull of emotions that he could never again fully trust. Easier by far to attribute this newfound softness to the Doctor’s meddling in his mind than to take personal responsibility for it.
“We both know that you can’t just travel the Universe on your own. You need an audience, someone to whom you can show it all off, without which you are likely to do something stupid out of sheer boredom and consequently get yourself killed. You will not allow me to step outside the TARDIS to fulfill that role-”
“Will not and cannot.”
“-and Miss Cheney seemed as good an inquisitive young Earth girl as any, so there you have it. And her, and me. Satisfied?”
And that was a truly intolerable look that the Doctor was giving him, so he added, “Continue to mope about and prove this ill-advised little experiment in vain and I’ll be forced to kill her off and probably shut myself down out of sheer frustration.”
“I’ll keep it in mind. More Scotch, or could I offer you some brandy?”
“No need, my dear.”
The Doctor had always had problems explaining regeneration to his little tour groups before the occurrence itself, a fact that the Master found indescribably rude, and more than a bit cowardly. The one time he had tried to press the subject, the Doctor had made the grave mistake of resorting to the defense that he didn’t “wish to alienate them” by overemphasizing his “strangeness.” “You are an alien, you idiot,” the Master had wearily replied, deciding not to dignify the “strangeness” with a response.
The Master, of course, had no such compunctions, especially not when Alison broached the subject first.
“Yes, Miss Cheney?”
“I’ve been meaning to ask one of you something. Are you busy?”
“I’m sure I can spare the computational power for some conversation. Please, have a seat. There’s tea on the stove.”
“Thanks. I’ve been wondering if you could explain to me: I feel like my body’s…changed, somehow.”
The Master quirked an eyebrow. “Really, now? I’d have thought you were a bit old for all that.”
“Oh! Oh, God. Not like that! No!” She flushed and clutched at the braids framing her face. “No, it’s a question of my health. It’s been…too good. Like, I used to play football when I was younger, until I broke my ankle when I was sixteen, and it healed mostly, but I’ve had little twinges in it ever since then. But not any more. It feels fantastic. And the scar on my forearm from when Joe’s sister’s cat attacked me, I swear it’s faded. Is the TARDIS or the vortex or whatever doing something to me?”
“Indeed. All sorts of medical nanotechnology have been at work on you ever since you first stepped aboard.”
She looked up from where she was running her fingers over a remembered mark on her skin. “And no one ever thought to ask me?”
“It's not exactly a funtion that can be turned off, and you may have noticed that actually consulting his companions before altering their lives has never been one of the Doctor’s strengths. But you’re in better condition than you’ve ever been. I can’t imagine what the problem would be.”
“It’s my body! I’m all for having fewer aches, but my scars? That’s a part of me, part of my history, and I feel less, less me with that stupid cat bite gone.”
“I think you’ll find that your self is far more than the vessel it happens to be housed in, Miss Cheney.”
“Oh God. Oh no. That came out wrong. I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine. I’ll take my tea and my nice new skin and go now, yeah?”
“There’s no need to run away, my dear. This current form has been only one of many for me, and the same goes for the good Doctor, although I suppose he’s neglected to explain that little detail to you. Again.”
“Wait, what? Multiple bodies?”
“Indeed. This is his ninth.”
He supposed that look of terrified disorientation was why the Doctor tended to put off this conversation until it was too late. “Nine bodies!” But then she shook herself and laughed. “That’s incredible! Do you, I don’t know, clone or freeze yourselves or something, then switch off when you get old?”
“Nothing nearly so prosaic. The term you should know is ‘regeneration.’ When a Time Lord is dying, his body is able to renew itself – still as an adult with the same memories, but often with different physical and emotional traits. Most of us stay relatively constant across regenerations – myself for instance,” minus, of course, the decaying American, the ectoplasmic serpent, that unfortunate husk…but in the scheme of actual regenerations, those were neither here nor there “– while the Doctor, well, has been about as faithful to a single appearance or persona as you might imagine.”
“Different bodies with different personalities. But the same person. Who’s magically reborn when he dies. Right. You’re time travelers from outer space. You’re time travelers from outer space. You are immortal time travelers from outer space and I really need to do a better job of remembering this. Right.”
“Wait then. So how’d you end up in a robot, if your body can do the,” she wiggled her fingers, “thing?”
The Master sighed. “I think that’s hardly worth going into. The Doctor killed me, twice, and then my consciousness ended up tied to the sentience in his ship, so I bothered him until he let me out and –”
Alison jerked to her feet, hands clenching the edge of the table. “You died? The Doctor killed you? Twice? And you did not just say that the TARDIS is sentient.” She froze and looked at the walls in sudden horror. “Oh, hell. I didn’t mean to offend you! I didn’t know! Hello there, TARDIS! Thanks for the pyramids!”
The Master rose and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Come, Miss Cheney. The ship’s awareness doesn’t function on that level; it’s hardly going to come after you for a little misunderstanding.” Usually. “Now, how would you like to come to the library and meet some of the Doctor’s past selves?”
“You do mean metaphorically, right? Not some time travelers’ convention?”
“Not unless he’s done something truly idiotic in the last half-hour.”
She loosened. “Sure. That sounds fun, I think. He won’t mind?”
“Did you know,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “he used to be blonde and go around in cricket whites? And that before and after that, he had ridiculous curls that birds would regularly mistake for their nests? What a sight!”
She gaped. “Curls.”
“Curls and technicolor trousers, I’m sorry to say. And the body before this one dressed like a mad poet and, as best I can tell, tried to solve most problems by kissing them.”
“My pleasure, Miss Cheney.”