The Master is extremely bored.
He takes a holiday, more or less at random, to twenty-first-century Earth.
He discovers, not really with much surprise, that he's running for Prime Minister. It gives him a nice warm feeling inside, the delightful knowledge that one day soon he will be a young good-looking politician with --
Well, actually, the wife is a surprise.
His future self has a number of intriguing projects going on more or less underground at a place in London called LazLabs, complete with smug logo that reads, in Gallifreyan, something that in English would approximate up yours, Doctor. So his future self is slightly puerile and seems to have developed the Doctor's strange taste in Earth women, but -- rather magnanimously, he feels -- he's willing to forgive these shortcomings, since his future self has also acquired a viable new body and is a successful politician.
The Master doesn't make a particular effort to keep out of his own way -- after all if he'll meet himself he's already expecting himself, and they might have a good time -- but instead, at a posh scientific function that is unveiling some boring cover technology, while presumably his future self mucks about downstairs, the Master runs into the wife.
Blonde. Understated but very pretty cocktail dress. Vapid expression. He's not at all clear on what he sees in her.
"Lucy Saxon, I presume?" he asks; charming smile, lips brushing briefly across the back of her hand.
She smiles a pretty vapid smile at him. "You must be the Master," she says. "Harry mentioned you'd be at one of the parties. I'm to take you upstairs. Harry says it's very important."
His estimation of his future self goes up slightly. Forethought -- or backthought, in this case -- is something he appreciates in himself. He follows Lucy out of the reception hall and two floors up. From a locked drawer she fetches a small, wicked-looking piece of technology, about as businesslike as his TCE. She hands it to him, and he takes it very carefully.
"Harry says, put a bit of your DNA into it," Lucy tells him, "and whenever you're starting to feel worn out, zap yourself a bit. It's an age manipulator."
It's immortality in this strange nearly-useless Trakenite body. The Master likes his future self very much indeed now.
In fact he's so delighted by the whole prospect that he wraps his free hand firmly around Lucy Saxon's waist and kisses her, and then he forgives his future self everything else, too: the Master is all in favour of hedonistic pleasures, and kissing Lucy Saxon neatly redefines the entire category.
He's sure his future self won't mind.
Of all the things Owen Harper expected to do with his afterlife, 'probably die for real in a radiation chamber' is not one of them.
'Get rescued at the last possible fucking second by some bint with a magical cupboard' isn't one of them either, but at least it's a bit more in keeping with Owen's life.
Said bint is an alien, unsurprisingly, and immortal, also pretty unsurprisingly. She calls herself the Rani. She also calls herself a scientist; Owen tacks the word 'mad' in front of that after doing a cursory inspection of the really, really big inside of her crazy magical cupboard. On the other hand he doesn't have much room to judge; he dissected aliens last week, and so did she. Ho hum.
"I take it you didn't let save me out of the goodness of your heart," Owen drawls, once he's taken stock. He'd get over the shock but his body's way over the whole adrenal gland thing at this point and there's no shock to get over.
"Hearts," the Rani corrects absently.
"Cool," Owen says.
"And no, it was altruism," the Rani says. "You're the living dead, Owen Harper, and not in the boring shuffling zombie way. You don't decay. Your neurons are still functioning perfectly. Shame about the hand, of course."
"So, what," Owen says, "I'm your captive? Your experiment?"
"Exactly. Being dead is not inhibiting your ability to be quick on the uptake."
Owen considers this. The Rani is a mad scientist who also happens to be a snarky bitch, and reasonably hot. What the hell. He wants to know what's going on with him too.
"One condition," he says. "First thing we're doing, if we figure out how to make me react like a normal not-dead person, is finding a way for me to fucking sleep. You have no idea how boring it is being awake all the time. Second thing we're doing is figuring out if there's any way I can ever have sex again. Actually, maybe reverse the order there."
The Rani smirks. "Fine," she says. "You have a deal."
Given all the people in the universe to be trapped with, Owen Harper figures, he got the best one possible on the first go.
River Song is quite clever. Once she was the sort of girl who was dazzled by any old pretty time-traveling alien with a brilliant smile and ancient eyes, but now that she's a bit older, River is considering her relationship with the Doctor a bit more seriously.
She never shows the Doctor her travel log book -- they've both agreed to that -- but when River jokes about spoilers, she doesn't mean the careful notings-down of places they've been and things they've seen. It's mostly the Doctor's own desire for spontaneity that keeps her from showing him what more or less amounts to advance reservations for their next meet-up. What River doesn't show the Doctor are the back pages, all her thoughtful jottings on the topic of the man himself. When she was the sort of girl who was easily dazzled, the notes were mostly about how pretty the Doctor was, and how strangely sad. Now the notes cover in great detail exactly why the Doctor is so sad: Donna Noble has a page, the Time War several.
Emotional continuity is not something they've pinned down yet; sometimes, when she asks, the Doctor will be tight-lipped, or change the subject, and sometimes he answers readily, River his confessional. As of yet, there is still a blank page. The Master ?? it reads. He won't say anything beyond the one slip of the tongue that gave her the name.
But River is quite clever. She thinks she might love the Doctor, but she also thinks it's easier to love someone when you're on one consistent emotional page, easier to love when they're not centuries old. The Doctor's human appearance used to fool her. She's beginning to think he's a lot more alien than a lot that look it, and she wants to know who he is. Understand him.
She doesn't have a time machine of her own, though, and vortex manipulators are strictly regulated, so when the mysterious Master appears in her life, it's mere lucky chance.
He's a Time Lord, a temporal anomaly, existing in a slightly different plane of reference where the Time War hasn't happened yet; out of joint with the Doctor she knows. This man can't tell her what's happened recently between them, but anything at all is more than she already knows.
He talks to her because she's pretty, and because she's there. He has no idea she knows the Doctor. It's funny, in a painful sort of way. So she watches him, listens: the Master has neat hair, neat little beard, smooth black velvet clothing that conceals him almost entirely. She learns: he killed the Doctor, and reshaped him. They were at school together. He hates the Doctor. He hates the Doctor because quite recently the Doctor abandoned him to die. He hates the Doctor because the Doctor has done it before.
River listens. She thinks about the fragments of things she knows.
"One day he won't," she says, with conviction. One day you will, she thinks, and doesn't say. He'll work it out on his own.
When the Master leaves, River sits alone for a long time. She isn't sure what she feels. Maybe sorry for them. Maybe grateful.
Captain John Hart is not in the habit of using his vortex manipulator to go on wild jaunts through time and space. He doesn't hit up bars nor blow up bars, and he doesn't routinely seduce the bar's more attractive occupants. He's not looking for anything; he doesn't think of Jack and find everyone wanting.
So John Hart is very definitely not in a bar in E-Space, really weird by even his standards, trying and failing to chat up a pretty girl.
Probably the reason for the failure is at the bottom of his shot glass. He downs his drink and squints, but there doesn't seem to be anything there, so he does his best to resume the conversation. "See, no idea how I got here," he says. "Alternate dimensions. Too many of the buggers. Sod 'em." He focuses on the pretty girl, who has blonde hair and an intelligent face, although at the moment her intelligent face is fixed in the sort of expression that means she has to put up with people like John far too often. It annoys him. "So what's so bleeding great about E-Space?" he demands.
"It's a different universe," the girl says calmly. "It's away from N-Space and all the old baggage, which you might be able to appreciate if you were to stop downing alcohol indiscriminately. There's a nice bistro a few planets over."
John ponders the pros and cons of wine at a nice bistro a few planets over versus the stuff that may or may not be cleaning fluid which is in this bar right here. "So what are you doing in this bar!" he comes up with triumphantly.
The girl sighs and props her chin in her hands. "Advertising the bistro," she admits. "There was a little flaw in my plan to go to another universe and sort through the old baggage: it was a bit of a one-way ticket."
"Damn," John offers eloquently.
She tilts her head. "You're a Time Agent, aren't you?" Without waiting for an answer she hauls him to his feet. "We're going to sober you up and then you're taking me back to N-Space. Got it?"
She was doing very well until that last bit. The got it, though, the firmness in tone, the steadiness of her gaze, cuts through John Hart's vague misery. Suddenly she isn't an intelligent and pretty girl. Suddenly she's an ally in this stupid crazy universe -- well, several, all of them stupid and crazy -- all determination and half-mended heart.
"Yes ma'am," John Hart says, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and letting her steady him. Being lost seems a lot less horrible now that he's not going it alone.
He runs into her in nineteenth century France. She's keeping her nitro-9 in specially-made canisters tucked away in her bustle, which is how he knows it's her: racing down the Champs-Élysées, bug-eyed monsters in hot pursuit, he's confronted by an aristocratic vision that, yes, pulls canisters from bustle and hurls them at said monsters.
They're left both standing there amid the resulting smoke, the Doctor gasping for breath. One of his gasps becomes, "Ace?"
She's older, her hair piled elegantly and her skirts in disarray, but still Ace. Can't be more than twenty-five. Her chin tilts fiercely in exactly the way he remembers, and she says, her French perfect, "What's it to you?"
"Ace," he says again, and, in English, "Do you know how much damage you could do to the time-line here if you go around setting off nitro-9?"
Her eyes go wide. "Professor?"
How absurd, that title settling down over his lanky pinstriped shoulders and wild hair, ill-fitting; how comfortable, that familiar voice, that old word. Ace has changed her costume but not her self, and for a moment the Doctor feels the same must be true of him: he is a quietly merciless man (no second chances) and because he loves his friends dearly he nourishes them, shapes them, fashions them into weapons --
"No," he says thickly, French this time, "I'm sorry, mademoiselle, I am not a professor. You must be mistaken."
Ace's eyes narrow. She knows it's him, knows; she's been to Gallifrey and she knows what he is. She's a glittering fragment from a vanished world and the Doctor's breath snags in his throat with pain and love and longing. How he'd love to take her with him. What a man he would become.
"Doctor --" Ace says, in the gentle serious voice she uses only as a last resort, and the Doctor whispers (in any language at all; it might even be Gallifreyan) "I'm sorry."
He walks away. She doesn't follow him, but he can feel her eyes on his back, all that pain and love and longing in return. Maybe she understands.
He doesn't look back.
The Valeyard took the opportunity during trial recess to sneak along back corridors until he found the Doctor's TARDIS in the holding block. He touched it in fond remembrance, and it hummed uncertainly under his fingers. He sent soothing trendils of thought in its direction: It's only me. The TARDIS relented and the door swung gently open.
He wrinkled his nose at the decor. White. Sanctimonious and sterile and bland. He much preferred the coral theme, the organic contours and lurking shadows. This place laid him bare.
He strode to the console and brought up desktop theme options. Coral. Maybe that gothic cathedral look for old times' sake. Or the leopard print. None of his incarnations had liked that one. Then again, the horrible brash multicoloured incarnation out there sulking in the courtroom wouldn't be in here to not appreciate the leopard print, not if the Valeyard had his way, so really there was no point in --
The TARDIS heard his scheming thoughts. The TARDIS didn't like them.
The TARDIS unexpectedly opened a hatch right below his feet, and the Valeyard fell with a yell and splash into freezing water. He paddled desperately, trying to overcome the shock. After some great effort he managed to pull himself and his now-sopping official robes out. He'd always hated the damn regalia that went with this farce. Still, he had spares. No one at the trial would know. Only his dignity was hurt.
Anyway, the TARDIS's message was clear: Go soak your head.