‘Okay, why are we still here?’ Ace wanted to know with a sigh, letting her arms dangle beside her while reluctantly following the Doctor through the empty streets. ‘Seriously, Professor, it looks just like my home town, I can guarantee you, nothing ever happens here.’
The Doctor threw her a meaningful glance.
‘Okay, alright, I admit, something happened there, but that was just coincidence, wasn’t it?’
‘Coincidence?’ the Doctor murmured, coming to a halt for a second, heavily propping on his umbrella. ‘No, no, no, Ace. There is no such thing as coincidence.’
‘There isn’t?’ Ace smirked. ‘Then maybe it was luck?’
The Doctor turned around to face her, eyes gleaming in amusement.
‘Then maybe, the lucky folks we are, we’re in luck again, what do you think? Just a little further?’
‘I think, you better be right,’ Ace murmured grumpily.
The streets seemed deserted and peaceful at the same time, birds were singing, soft, warm summer wind was blowing. It was the most harmonic and endlessly boring place on this Earth. And she said that, coming from Perivale.
‘I have a feeling…’ the Doctor murmured while carrying on their journey and Ace simply snorted. She had heard that sentence several times and it always had initiated trouble.
Trouble wouldn’t let them wait for long.
They just crossed another road, were interrogating some extraordinary boring porches of some extraordinary unspectacular houses and Ace was just about to ask what exactly they were looking for, when they heard steps from behind them, walking on gravel.
With an almost smug grin, the Doctor turned around and Ace followed his example with supressed amusement. In front of them stood a man, a man who looked kind of timeless, despite his silver hair and the deep furrows underneath his eyes. He seemed to be both, young and old at the same time, and the look out of his stormy grey-blue eyes seemed incredibly sharp.
He had his hands in the pockets of his elegant, long, black coat, looking at them with a mild smirk.
The Doctor frowned.
‘And who might you be?’
The man smiled. ‘Now, Doctor, no need to be cruel. Surely you know who I am?’
‘I don’t, actually,’ the Doctor snapped back. ‘And if that is quite everything, we’re very busy…’
‘Oh, I’m sure you are,’ the man replied in a mocking tone.
When Ace looked up, she could see a gentle, bright smile on his face. Something about it made her shiver. Or maybe it was just the look out of these eyes, which never seemed to soften.
‘Now, what’s that supposed to mean?’ the Doctor asked with a slightly raised eyebrow.
The man’s smirk seemed to widen.
‘Nothing. Obviously, you’re very busy. I can see that. The whole street is in deep trouble. It can barely hold the pressure.’
Somewhere across the street, a wind blow made a forgotten paper dance through the air half-heartedly.
‘Who says we’re looking for trouble?’ Ace threw in with the tone of a woman who was clearly looking for trouble.
The man regarded her silently for a few seconds, then smiled coldly.
‘My dear Miss McShane, I can assure you, I know that for a fact.’
There was a silence, after that, a long, heavy silence, until the Doctor coughed intently and let it slip away.
The man turned back to him, only to find the Time Lord silently laughing.
‘How… how does he know my name?’ Ace wanted to know, her tone nearly hysteric – Which was something you could hardly ever hear from her.
The Doctor sighed and straightened his hat, his lips still displayed an amused smile.
‘You really researched her name, only to be able to use your usual phrases, didn’t you?’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about,’ the man smirked. ‘Was her name a secret?’
The Doctor snorted.
‘Oh, you would know. As I know Ace here, you had to truly dig in to find it.’
Ace stared at him, bitterly, while the man just shrugged with a grin. ‘I suppose so.’
‘Who is that, Professor?’
The Doctor sighed. ‘It’s the Master. Though I really don’t know how you can look like that,’ he added towards his frenemy. ‘It’s not like you had any regenerations left. Stole a body again?’
‘I can assure you, I’m a 100% Time Lord,’ the Master told him, supressing a grin, which for Ace, could only mean one thing:
Trouble had found them.
‘Then how come you have a new body?’ the Doctor asked with a frown. ‘The Time Lords hardly granted you of all people a new regeneration circle. And what are you doing here anyway?’
The Master seemed to have to think about his answers for a little while, standing in front of them with a frown on his face, until he finally seemed to settle with answering the second question.
‘Actually, nothing fundamentally. Just a little bomb, to pass my time, over at the market place. Thought it’d be fun, watching your face when it explodes.’
The Doctor and Ace stared at him, bewildered, but didn’t move.
‘Don’t you want to… run and prevent it?’ the Master asked with poorly cloaked confusion.
‘No?’ the Doctor offered.
‘Becauseeeee…,’ the Doctor said, ‘you wouldn’t have told us, unless you want us out of the way, which is usually the best reason to not even move an inch. What’s the point in a bomb for you, when I prevent it from exploding?’
‘I wouldn’t have?’ the Master asked with a furrowed forehead. ‘That’s weird.’
The Doctor and Ace shared a look.
‘Ehm… are you in regeneration sickness?’ the Doctor finally asked, a bit confused himself now.
The Master huffed. ‘It’s never been this difficult, you know? For a species with that high intelligence, it’s all incredibly jumbled up in here.’
‘What?’ the Doctor wanted to know tonelessly.
The Master sighed.
‘Well, I was pretty sure he wanted to kill you, when I first extracted his memories. But then it turned out, he really didn’t want to. I then tried to focus on his need to kill and this terrible urge to take over planets, but you see, it turned out, he doesn’t really want that either. Or at least, he likes it more when you’re there to prevent it.’
Open mouthed, Ace turned to the Doctor, who seemed to slowly realize what was happening in front of him, at least from what she could tell from that thinking, frowning face he always made while villains unfolded their plans in front of him.
Quickly, she looked back to the Master.
‘It’s funny, really, it’s all a mess. It’s a miracle he can even decide what he wants for lunch.’
The Doctor nodded thoughtfully, then pointed out, ‘You’re not him.’
‘Okay, so what is going on here?’ Ace wanted to know, hands stemmed into her side.
The Master – or rather not the Master? – shrugged.
‘We were trying to get this thing to fly. You know, his ship. But it just wouldn’t work. We don’t know much about Timelord technology, but we’ve heard of isomorphic controls. So I took his form. It still doesn’t work, Doctor!’
The Doctor hummed, amused. ‘No, it wouldn’t, would it? He’s far too brilliant to let some Zygons steal his TARDIS. You are a Zygon, I suspect?’
His tone was polite, as if chatting away with a stranger on the supermarket. Ace often admired that trait of him. Her temper gave her away far too easily.
But on the other hand – She quite liked her temper how it was, thank you very much.
Not-The-Master nodded lightly. ‘Yes, I am a Zygon. After nothing had seemed to work, I dug into his memories, trying to figure out what makes him tick, you know, to convince his ship I’m him. I’ve found out, it’s more of a sentient being than a machine, really.’
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. ‘So he is aware of that? That’s good to know, really, he’ll deny it later.’
Ace watched the both of them with a roll of her eyes.
‘So’ she asked, and she was just burning to know. ‘What makes him tick, then?’
The Zygon-Master frowned, as if the answer to that question was something people learned in school, along with “one and one makes two”.
The Time Lord showed her confused look an encouraging smile, then turned back to the Zygon, who seemed to be quite chatty now.
‘It’s funny, really. He can’t properly decide what it is, it’s all twisted into one, confusing vine of indecision, but it’s all about the Doctor. Anger, guilt, love, resentment, rejection, desperation…’
‘That is quite enough, thank you,’ the Doctor stepped in softly.
The Zygon smiled at him. ‘So, will you help me fly his ship?’
‘Oh, I’d rather not,’ the Doctor replied politely. ‘But seeing that my friend in question seemed to have, for once, done nothing wrong, would you mind terribly to tell me where he is?’
‘Not at all,’ the Zygon smirked.
And suddenly, there were hands at the Doctor’s back and before she could react, the world around Ace faded to black with a sharp pain on the back of her head.
Even before the Doctor had opened his eyes, he heard a faintly familiar voice.
‘Well, that does qualify for the worst rescue I’ve ever received, just in case you were wondering.’
He blinked, once, twice, then allowed the view in front of him to clear. He was chained to a wall, in some sort of cellar, directly opposite to the Master – This time hopefully the true one. Ace was lying next to him, still unconscious.
The Doctor groaned and grumpily looked for his hat, in vain.
‘There are three of them,’ the Master rambled on. ‘Three Zygons. That’s it. No army, no nothing, just three Zygons and you let them overpower you.’
The Doctor glared at him. ‘So did you.’
‘Yes,’ he admitted reluctantly. ‘But I counted on you. Now how are we going to get out of this?’
He clattered his chains with a dark look on his face.
‘How come you have a new body?’ the Doctor wanted to know curiously. ‘What happened to the last one?’
With a glare, the Master let his arms sink back to his sides again.
‘I wouldn’t tell you, even if I could.’
‘What do you mean, could? Why can’t you?’
The other Time Lord sighed. ‘There’s something coming, Doctor. Something bigger than us. Telling you would be crossing timelines, just… Remember to run, will you?’
‘Run?’ the Doctor asked with a frown.
In that exact moment, some door to the left of them opened and let in a narrow crack of light, followed up by an ugly, slimy Zygon in its true form, cautiously stepping forward.
‘Running,’ the Master continued, his gaze now stuck on the Zygon. ‘Isn’t that what you do best?’
They shared one last look and the Doctor could, to his surprise, see some underlying seriousness in the other’s eyes. Then the Zygon captured their attention.
‘Now Doctor,’ he grumbled when standing right in front of him. ‘Time to try this anew.’
‘Oh my,’ the Master muttered. ‘That’s your big plan? You think his mind is going to tell you more of what you need to know?’
The Zygon ignored him, the watery eyes still solely pinned at the Doctor. ‘Get up.’
With a sigh, the Time Lord did as ordered. The chains on his wrists pulled softly at them, but luckily he was very small in this regeneration and could just stand upright.
Slowly, the Zygon was beginning to take on his form and he could feel him rummaging through his mind, collecting his memories, thoughts and feelings.
Then, he gasped.
‘This is…,’ the brought out. ‘This is… the ultimate… chaos.’
The Doctor smirked. He would’ve loved to shrug his shoulders, but the chains wouldn’t let him, so instead he shared a grin with the Master.
‘Yes, sorry about that. I suppose I could’ve tidied up a bit.’
‘This… this…’ The Zygon shut his eyes firmly closed, clearly trying to concentrate and get some focus of his new received thoughts, but even with his face contorted to an expression of pure exertion, he didn’t seem to achieve anything.
He turned around to throw a glance at the Master.
‘How do you two ever get along, this is terrible!’ he shouted out with clear frustration. ‘He’s just as messed up in his feelings for you as you are for him, it’s not even… it doesn’t make any sense.’
Both, the Master and the Doctor tried to keep a serious face, both failed miserably the second they looked at each other and burst out into laughter.
The Zygon still stood in the middle of them, overwhelmed.
‘I can’t even reach any information about that ship of yours’ he groaned. ‘It’s all full… full with him.’
The Doctor smiled. ‘I know, I know. How do I ever achieve anything with an adversary like him occupying my mind? Now would be a good time, Ace.’
With a confident smile, the woman kicked out her free legs and threw the Zygon to the ground, who hit his head hard enough to lose consciousness.
‘That’s right’, the Doctor laughed while reaching for his sonic screwdriver with his feet. It had fallen out of the fake Doctor’s pocket and rolled over to the wrong side of the room. ‘I’ve got my friends for that.’
Just when he thought he had finally reached his screwdriver, using his hands as a support to stretch just far enough, the Master placed a shoe on it and rolled it towards himself.
The Doctor let his strained body fall to the ground, watching the other Time Lord cautiously while he freed himself.
When he was finished, the Master stepped in front of him, looking down with a cold, little smile.
‘Just let us go, already!’ Ace hissed. ‘He tried to save you, you could at least do the same. Besides, it’d be better to have us on your side to deal with the other two.’
The Doctor, however, stayed quiet, watching the Master from the floor, until finally, the Time Lord freed him of his chains, wordlessly.
While the Doctor got up and retrieved his Sonic Screwdriver to help Ace, the Master used the two remaining chains to tie up the unconsciousness Zygon.
‘What do you say?’ he finally smirked towards the Doctor. ‘Take the others down as a team?’
It was a strange little peace offer for something that hadn’t, not one second, been a battle. It made the Doctor think about what was to come for him.
‘Don’t forget to run,’ the Master had said, which was a weird advice in itself, considering how much the other Time Lord resented his cowardice.
But then again, it was rather difficult to worry about the future, with the Master standing in front of him, an inviting smile on his face, inciting him to cause trouble with him.
It was always difficult to think properly with the Master around.
He allowed himself to show an exact copy of that smile, grinning bright, then set into motion.
There was the ultimate chaos inside his mind, whenever it came to the Master, and it was true, most of the time he had no idea, what any of it was about, but one thing he knew for sure, was that the Master would.
So, when the Master said he’d have to run, he would run.
Because just as the Master understood his mess, the Doctor understood the Master’s and he knew, he just knew, the other Time Lord would run with him.