Graduation Day minus nine months
Drax and Ushas cornered Theta Sigma in the common area after they saw Koschei being summoned by a proctor to undergo another personal dressing-down from Flavia. They both knew Koschei had no chance of escape for quite some time. “He’s messed-up, Theta. Not right in the head,” Drax exclaimed, and tapped his own temple in emphasis. “How many times has he interrupted your studies? How many times has he discovered you were going off exploring, and found something else you absolutely had to do, together? How many times have you managed to sneak off, only to have him drag you back the minute he figured out where you went?”
They had Theta on a bench, towering over him like the mountains towered over the dome of the Citadel. Ushas took up where Drax left off. “And Rassilon help you if you show interest in someone else… You spent a week’s worth of nights calming him down that one time two years ago – we could hear the two of you all over the dorm. You groveled. And you didn’t dare leave his side for a month afterwards. He’s unnaturally possessive.”
“Don’t you just want some time to yourself? We’re Time Lords, Theta. Even though we live together in the Citadel, we’re a solitary race. My temporal dynamics teacher says some of the lab technicians don’t say a single word for years at a time, even when they work together. They come and go and get their work done, and they don’t bother each other. I’m to the point where I just want to skip class and work with my machines, by myself. I’m getting too old for this much interaction.” Drax shook his head in bemusement at how much the people he’d been dealing with since he was eight were really starting to annoy him.
“Maybe you’re right, Drax. I get so worn out; he’s a lot of work. Sometimes it feels like nothing I say is right. And I don’t get any time for just me. He talked me out of signing up for a couple of classes last term because he refused to take them and didn’t want me to go by myself. I’ve started looking for reasons to be alone. Professor Braxial would be astounded to find out how many times he’s supposedly had me up on the carpet lately. When I need to get away, I tell Kosch that Brax has called me in again, because I know Kosch hates him and won’t go near his office to check up on me…” Theta propped his elbows on his knees and rested his head in both hands, running his fingers through blond hair desperately in need of a trim, looking as tired as he sounded.
Ushas focused on the future. “What are you going to do when we get out of here? You can’t just be his shadow for your entire life. That’s of no use to anyone besides him, and a waste of your potential. Besides, there’re the things I’ve heard him talk about… He wants to control everything, not from scientific curiosity, not to make it more efficient, but just because he can. You, on the other hand, have a moral streak a galaxy wide, Thete. Sooner or later you’ll go against him. The damage the two of you will cause to space and time while tearing at each other… Get out now, for all our sakes.”
Lying in bed that night, Theta went over the conversation again in his head while Koschei slept next to him, spooned against his back. They’d slept together like that for years, starting well before they became lovers. Theta had trouble sleeping alone now, not that he had a chance to since the two had started taking their holiday breaks together. But before that, he’d spent the first few nights alone each break tossing and turning in bed until he was exhausted.
In his sleep, Koschei reached out and ran his fingers down the side of Theta’s face before slipping them under Theta’s elbow to wrap his arm around Theta’s waist. Somehow, although that possessive arm seemed to confirm everything Ushas and Drax had said, it relaxed Theta. He fell asleep holding Koschei’s hand.
“Theta-- Doctor, pay attention. I know who you’re looking for, and trust me, his people have taken him away just like I’m going to take you away for a while.” His father seemed quite annoyed by the entire situation. Not the graduation ceremony so much as the general confusion afterward, and the Doctor’s refusal to leave when his father was ready.
“But we didn’t get to decide where and when we’re meeting later.” The Doctor was still peering around one side and then the other of his father’s ceremonial collar at the crowd, trying to find the Master.
“You’re not, Doctor. You have obligations; decisions that should have been made well before today. You know that, but you’ve refused to do it. You have yet to choose a career despite the urging of your professors and myself. And there is the matter of your dynastic obligation to our House. I know you; none of these things will happen if he hauls you off. So I’m stepping in to make certain he doesn’t.” His father discreetly gripped the Doctor’s upper arm and started propelling him away from the Academy’s ceremonial hall. “This is quite likely my fault for not insisting that we have some time alone before now. After your mother died, the house seemed so empty. I thought if you brought him home with you over breaks, it’d make the place feel a little less lonely. Instead, it kept us from talking about the things we needed to. Things I felt we really should discuss privately, face-to-face.”
The Doctor, head still on the swivel, did his best to dig in his heels without actually doing so and embarrassing his father in public. “Dynastic obligations… But, but… I just thought the Master and I would…”
His father snorted. “I’ve read the reports, son. The consensus among the professors is that there is no way that man would share you with a houseplant, much less a child. Not even for the mere eight years before it was ready for the Academy. Besides, the other instabilities he’s displayed make him a risky candidate for a genetic donor, much less parenthood. Such a shame: good house; careful looming. Don’t know how it happened.” His father shook his head, dismayed that high House genetics could produce such a flawed individual.
The Doctor thought on his feet, something he’d learned to do long ago to keep his partner happy. “Fine, then I’ll donate genetic material – I’m certain you have a compatible donor picked out – and he or she can raise the child. I’ll live with the Master and see that he has nothing to do with it.”
His father stopped and stood face-to-face with him. The look on his face went from ‘Time Lord’ to ‘Dad.’ “Theta Sigma. Think. What would your childhood have been like without your mother? Or me? It’s hard enough now without her, and you’re grown. And holiday breaks -- how many of your friends spent them at the Academy, because neither of their genetic donors could be bothered to deal with them? You had a family, son; two loving parents, not just a couple of genetic donors and a House that would claim you once you’d graduated the Academy. Do you want to deny your child the advantage you had?”
“No, I just want the other parent to be Kosch.” The Doctor stared down at the ground, and just barely stopped himself from scuffing his foot like a child.
“He won’t want it, son.”
The Doctor glared at his father and replied sharply, “Have you asked him? I don’t think you have. He might be perfectly happy to be a parent! He has an obligation to his House too, I’m sure. And I know he won’t want to have a family with anyone else besides me. He’s planned for us… he wants us to have a life together.”
His father sighed and put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “I’ve read the reports, and I’ve watched the two of you over breaks. It’s obvious to everyone just from the way he treats you. You’re so bright, son; I’d hoped you’d see it for yourself before now. He won’t want you to have any life at all, other than to depend on him. You, my beautiful Theta Sigma, will disappear. You’re half gone already, and I want to see you back and whole again.
“Now, it’s time to be your own person, not the Master’s lesser half. Choose something useful to do that suits your interests and talents, and fulfill your House obligations with someone you respect and who will respect you. Give your child the same chance of happiness you had.” His father resumed walking and the Doctor followed him silently, still downcast.
The Doctor is dreaming. He knows it’s a dream even as he moves through it, because he’s been here before and he never gets to stay, no matter how hard he tries. But for now he’s here again, and that makes him happy. It’s the only thing that has made him happy for a long, long time.
It’s a cottage by the sea on Gallifrey. Deep inside, the same part of him that knows he’s dreaming knows Gallifrey is gone, but right now he’s standing in the doorway, looking down the front path, and it seems so real. The two suns are burning in the sky, the red grass waves in the wind, and he can hear the sound of the ocean that he knows is just over the rise at the end of the path.
Children’s laughter drifts to him on the breeze from an ancient grove at the side of the cottage, and a tow-haired, blue-eyed boy about six years old bursts from between the sliver trunks of the trees and runs toward him.
“Abba, Abba, did Auntie Rani come?”
“Yes, Dagr, she and your Papa are in the lab. Stay away from them, now. I know you think it would be wonderful to have frog flippers instead of feet, but I’m afraid she might do worse if she got particularly upset with you.” He ruffles the boy’s hair, so like his own as a child. “Now run go fetch your sister; it’s time for dinner.”
As the boy streaks back to the trees, the Doctor steps into the cottage, walks down the silver-planked floor of the cramped hall with walls that he knows he’s whitewashed himself so many times he’s lost count, and steps into the suns-lit kitchen. Blue and white checked curtains hanging in the window over the sink flutter in the ocean breeze coming through the open panes. Decades ago when the Doctor put the first pair up, the Master derided them as a Terran affectation, but did so while holding the Doctor from behind and finishing the statement with a smile against the Doctor’s nape, followed by a quick kiss.
Suddenly from the back of the house there’s the crash of glass and a muffled boom that rattles the cottage’s windows, followed by a woman’s cursing. “Dammit, Master, I told you not to improvise!”
“How was I to know you’d changed the formula so much we couldn’t use the standard substitutions?” a male voice snarls back. The Doctor just sighs, grabs a rubbish bin and a handful of kitchen towels, and heads back to see what needs cleaned up.
“Wait, no, not that!” the woman cries out, and there’s a bigger boom, knocking the Doctor off his feet. Instead of landing on his arse on the cottage floor, he awakens with a jerk in his bed in the TARDIS.
Graduation Day plus one month
“Thank Rassilon you came. I’ve been going mad without you.” The Master pulled the Doctor between two tall bushes in the public garden, spun him around and pushed him up against the gray brick garden wall hard enough to force a gust of air from the Doctor’s lungs, and proceeded to kiss him until both their respiratory-bypass systems threatened to kick in.
The two of them stood panting, foreheads together and eyes closed, their hands gripping each other’s upper arms. “I missed you too,” the Doctor murmured, when he had his breath back.
The Master took the Doctor’s face in his hands and gave him another quick kiss before staring at him intensely. “We’ve got to leave; we need to just go. My parents have been unbearable. My father keeps me practically chained in his study, going through the family finances and interests. My mother insists on dragging me to all the Capitoline House balls. Now they’re both talking about an extended trip away from the Citadel to tour our holdings and visit distant cousins who just happen to have unmarried children. Our parents are finding excuses to keep us apart and I won’t have it any longer. Every time I can get away I’ve been working out the best way to get a TARDIS and I’ve whittled my things down to the bare essentials. How soon can you be ready?”
There was a long, quiet pause, then, “I’m not going.” The Doctor broke free of the Master’s grip and took a step away, looking down at the ground.
“What?” the Master asked, amazed. “Of course you’re going. We’re going. We’ve been planning this for years – decades! Leave this dusty civilization behind; go where we want, when we want; see the universe!” He closed the gap the Doctor had created between them, his voice low and driving. “You want to see the universe, Thete. And I am going to be the one you see it with.”
The Doctor looked up and tried to explain, but it sounded more like pleading. “We’re adults now, Kosch-- Master. We have duties, obligations. We can’t just skive off life like we used to do our classes...”
“We won’t be ‘skiving off’ life, we’ll be living it. Which is more than anyone here ever does. They’ve gotten to you somehow, haven’t they? Where is my Theta, my dreamer? What is so important you won’t do what you’ve always wanted?” The Master gripped the Doctor’s arms and shook him slightly.
“A career.” The Doctor was staring down at the ground again, avoiding the Master’s gaze.
The Master made a sweeping gesture with one hand. “You’re going to change the universe! Right wrongs, save lives, make it all better. That’s more than a career, that’s an avocation. What else?”
The Master stopped, momentarily stunned. Then he chuckled, and raised the Doctor’s chin with one finger to look him in the eyes. “Ah. ‘House obligations.’ Oh, my dear Doctor. We’ll have children – as many as you want – but when we’re ready, not on anyone’s timetable but our own.”
The Doctor searched the Master’s eyes. He wanted to believe, but too many people had told him otherwise, too many times. “You’ll never be ready. You’ll always have one more place to go, one more thing to do, one more reason not to come back here.”
He raised one hand and rubbed the back of his neck, the way the Master had seen him do a million times before, the way the Master thought that he’d be watching for the rest of his days. “There’s this girl from my paternal grandmother’s House; the DNA match is good. She’s smart, and witty, and beautiful, probably – I never am certain about that… She’s willing to cohabitate; at least until the child goes to the Academy, and longer if we both think it’ll work.”
“So, you’re going to get married and make a child. With this person you barely know.” The scorn in the Master’s voice lashed out at his lover.
The Doctor laid a soothing hand on the Master’s arm. “No! Well, sort of… yeah, I guess. But it’s not like she and I are in love! And we could still be together, you and me, if you stayed here. She wouldn’t object. She knows about us. It seems like all of Gallifrey knows about us, somehow.” His voice lost its eagerness at the end, and he turned puppy-dog eyes on the Master.
The Master just snarled. “Yes, I’m sure all of Gallifrey is having a good laugh at our expense: how quickly we were separated, how easy it is to make you into just another stuffy Time Lord, how I have to just watch the life we planned disappear because it doesn’t follow the rules.”
“You mean the life you planned.” The Doctor forced his voice to be firm as he pushed the Master’s arm away. But he looked down at the ground again.
Grabbing both the Doctor’s hands, the Master shook them, trying to get him to raise his eyes. “What are you talking about? I’ve listened to you for decades – how you can’t stand most of these people, how you want to see the universe, how so many things need to be put right. And I figured out how to do it. For us, so we never have to be apart again.”
“There, that’s the problem.” The Doctor pulled both arms down hard, breaking the Master’s grip. He reached up and shoved the Master’s chest, forcing his partner to stumble back, before turning away. “Everybody else sees it, and if they’re laughing about anything, then it’s that. ‘The Master won’t leave the Doctor alone; it’s unnatural;’ ‘the Doctor’s been the Master’s shadow so long he wouldn’t know how to be a normal person, poor thing.’ Rassilon, Kosch – I feel like maybe they’re right.
“Back at school, I took the classes you wanted, I did the projects you picked, I went the places you chose. We spent our days, our nights, and our holidays together. I was never alone, and now I don’t know if I know how to be. I’m an adult, and I don’t even know if I can take care of myself. And I need to know that. I need to know what I want – for myself -- not just what you tell me that I want. I need time…” His voice trailing off, the Doctor scrubbed his face with his hands.
The Master’s face was a textbook study in bafflement. His constant companion of the last century, the one he planned on spending millennia with, had just rejected everything they’d both been working toward. This wasn’t right, and he was used to making things right by taking control of them and shaping them into what he thought they ought to be. The situation just required a bit of finessing. He laid a hand on his partner’s shoulder and in his best ‘listen to reason’ voice, said, “Theta…”
Shrugging his shoulder, the Doctor turned a bit farther way so that the Master’s hand was no longer touching him. “That’s not my name, Master. I’m not him. I don’t know who I am, really, but I can’t be him any more. I can’t be ‘Koschei’s Shadow,’ one of ‘that pair of troublemakers.’ It’s not right any more, and it’s childish and exhausting.
“For now, I’m staying on Gallifrey. I’m finding a research position somewhere. I’m entering into a marriage contract, and she and I will have a child. I want – well, I’d like, I think, I’m not sure what I want – you to stay, too. I love you; it seems like I’ve always loved you. But I’m not certain I’m the extraordinary person you seem to think I am. Who knows -- maybe I am disgustingly normal, just another stuffy Time Lord. Right now I’m so tired of always fighting against it, and I’m willing to give it a chance.”
“The only thing you’re tired of fighting, Doctor, is everyone else telling you that you and I don’t belong together, and that we shouldn’t be interfering with the universe. They got to you, Thete. And you let them.” Standing ramrod straight now, the Master’s face and voice were full of distain.
The Doctor whirled back around at his tone of accusation, and tried to explain. “No! I just need to know…”
“For nearly the last nine decades, you’ve told me you need to know what’s out there, and if you can make it better. And I planned and worked to make sure that we’d both be ready to do just that. Now you’re turning your back on all of that in a split second, but I can’t. I can’t just give up a century’s worth of plans just like that. I know what I want. I want to go, and I want to change things. And that’s what I’m going to do.” It was the Master’s turn to pull away from the Doctor now; he turned and stared off into the distance, contemplating a life he couldn’t even have imagined five minutes earlier.
Laying a tentative hand on the Master’s arm, the Doctor tried for the soothing, coaxing tone he’d always used to calm his lover before. “Stay. Just… for a decade? I just can’t leave… right now.”
“No.” The Master turned and stared at the Doctor, and there was something akin to hatred in his eyes for the first time in the Doctor’s memory. “You are extraordinary, and everyone is afraid of that, even you. With you by my side, I could have done anything in the universe, would have done anything you asked me to. Now you’re banishing me. Well, I’ll be more effective on my own, unburdened by the need to indulge your petty scruples. But I won’t stay here. I was never going to, and I certainly can’t now, can’t stay here and watch you do this to yourself. To us.”
He stepped right up against the Doctor and suddenly seemed to tower over his partner, as if attempting to convince the Doctor by his sheer physical presence. “We belong together. Come with me, Theta,” he commanded.
The Doctor’s voice was gentle but firm. “No. Stay with me, Kosch.”
“No.” The Master’s tone, in contrast, was harsh. He drew back, pulling himself up. “Good-bye, Doctor. I won’t wish you happy, because you won’t be. Perhaps I’ll just wish you a long life, so you spend a very, very long time regretting the mistake you’ve made today.”
Gazing at the hard expression of the man he felt like he’d loved forever, the Doctor knew this was the end of it. He tried to think of something conciliatory to say. “Well I can wish you happy, and I’m certain you’ll be quite successful on your own.” He tried reaching out to the Master, but was interrupted.
“Please don’t wish me anything,” the Master held up a hand, “because I won’t be happy. Don’t you understand? A life spent without you can only be interminable.” He whirled and walked off down the path toward the gate and out of the Doctor’s life.
The Doctor can hear the thumping of her small feet running on the wooden floor all the way down the cottage’s hall. He doesn’t even bother to look up from the schematic he is studying. “Not one toe in the lab, Zory.”
“But Abba, Papa says come right now!” The four-year-old girl catches herself with both hands on the door jam to halt her headlong progress, braces the toes of both shoes against the sill, and leans as far into the room as she can without falling. The letter but not the intent -- never any doubt about this one’s parents, the Doctor thinks to himself with a smile. As if the Master hadn’t been breathing down the tech’s neck the entire time she was setting up the loom, anyway: double-checking every setting, refusing to hand over the DNA sample and insisting on loading it into the loom himself.
“Papa always says ‘come right now,’ even if he just can’t find something that’s right in front of his rather aquiline nose. Tell him I need to finish this one bit of Dagr’s present, and I’ll be right there.” The Doctor pushes his blond fringe out of his eyes and makes another adjustment with the sonic to the tangle of pipes and wires in front of him. His peripheral vision catches a movement and the flash of blue eyes that means his daughter is bouncing on tiptoe, trying to see over the top of the bench. He stands up straight and stares at her over the tops of his gold-rimmed half-moon glasses. “Zorya Polunochnaya! If both you and Dagr aren’t broadcasting complete surprise when he receives this, I’ll know exactly why, hmm?”
She drops back to flat-footed, so all he can see is the top of her head of dark hair. “Yes, Abba.” She whirls and heads back up the hall, presumably to report back to her Papa. The Doctor is fairly certain that the chances of her actually getting back there depend entirely on the extent of the fascination she has with whatever the Master wants him for.
Worried that his husband might really need him immediately, and knowing that he’ll catch the usual sardonic, imminently-ignorable lecture about not coming when summoned, the Doctor sets down his screwdriver, pulls off his glasses, and follows his daughter, making certain to lock the lab door. Zory could hurt herself in there and Dagr… well, Dagr might blow them all clear to the Citadel.
The front door of the cottage is standing wide open because Zory never shuts a door; they’ve lost more pets that way. Stepping out onto the stoop, the Doctor can see the Master, Zory, and a strange man standing in front of a small, ruined, stone… abbey? As he walks over to the little group, the Doctor decides that the stranger is a new regeneration of Drax, and that there is definitely the shell of an Old Earth, sixteenth-century church in his side garden. Unless he’s terribly mistaken, it’s one he’d admired a few decades ago when they’d popped over to Earth one afternoon because he had a yen for a cream tea.
“It’s for you, Abba! Papa says I may play in it if you say I can. Do you like it? May I go inside?” Zory is bouncing up and down in front of him, but the Doctor doesn’t take his eyes off the Master.
Instead, the Doctor’s eyebrows go up as an interrogatory, seeking an explanation, or at least reassurance. “Did I forget some special occasion, or is this just a surprise?”
“You are terrible at remembering those things, but this is really just because I recalled that you liked it.” The Master’s tone is fond, even as he chides the Doctor.
The Doctor dips his head as though he still had his glasses on to peer over. “And how do we come to be in the possession of some Earth family’s private ruin?”
“The Terrans who owned it were about to lose their entire estate because they could not afford both to repair their domicile and pay taxes. They would either have had to sell their holdings outright or turn them over to the National Trust. I posed as an eccentric Middle-Easterner with far too much petroleum money and a whim to have a bit of England in his palace gardens. You’ve dragged me there often enough I know their stereotypes.”
The Doctor is not yet reassured. His lover has been known to be a little too persuasive with the species in question. “They sold it willingly, of their own accord?”
“I might have… privately reminded the woman that she was worried about how dangerous it was, and the man that such a sum as I was offering would pay the taxes and send his son to King’s College. But I forced no one into any action.”
The Doctor just nods slightly. He can feel the Master open, willing to let him review the memories. There’s no need.
“Well, do you like it?” the Master repeats his daughter’s earlier question, raising one eyebrow in inquiry. He’s standing with his arms crossed, slightly leaning back. It’s as close as he’ll ever get to looking uncertain, but the Doctor’s been with him long enough to know that’s exactly what that stance means. It never changes from regeneration to regeneration, and Rassilon knows the Master’s gone through them in a hurry.
He grins, even though he knows the Master thinks it makes him look rather unintelligent, if not unstable. “Of course! It’s beautiful. Thank you,” he replies and embraces his lover. Straightening, he turns to the other man. “Drax! New regeneration. Did you help with this?”
“Yeah, Theta. She didn’t come willingly; I had a wall fall over on me, and the next thing I knew I woke up half a foot shorter than I used to be, and ginger to boot. Whoops.” Drax shrugs and scratches the back of his now-red head.
“Terribly sorry about that. It is completely stable now?” Turning back to the Master, the Doctor inclines his head sideways toward their daughter.
The Master looks affronted. “Naturally. I’d never risk you or the children. It’s reinforced architecturally, and I ran a stasis field through all the walls.”
“Of course you did. Silly me.” The Doctor kisses the corner of his lover’s mouth as an apology. Turning to Zory he announces, “You may play in my ruin, as long as you promise never to climb on something taller than you are, unless Dagr or Papa or I are there and watching you.”
With a quick nod, Zory is off as fast as her short legs can sprint into the building. “That’ll never last,” remarks the Master.
“I haven’t forgotten that both of us grew up determined to do everything we were told not to. It’ll last about a year, which will improve her coordination quite a bit.” The Doctor spies a bench next to the door of the church. He nods toward it. “If you’ll excuse me…”
The Master smiles indulgently. “Of course.”
The Doctor sits down in the dappled sunlight and leans back against the warm, gray stones of the wall, closing his eyes. The wind is blowing off the water, insects are humming, and he can hear both the buzz of conversation between his husband and Drax, and the laughter of his daughter as she runs through the building at his back. He quickly drifts off.
“Oi, Martian-boy, are you asleep at the wheel again? Wakey-wakey!” Donna grabs his shoulder and shakes him awake.
The dreams are so real, but so not his life, and it’s driving him crazy. They’ve become an every-night occurrence since he left the Valiant. He’s afraid to go to sleep because he knows he’ll wake up again, and every time he does it breaks his hearts a little more. So he avoids going to bed at all, telling Donna that Time Lords don’t have to sleep very often. It has the advantage of being true – handy, because Donna has been known to hit up the TARDIS database on occasion when she thinks he’s trying to pull a fast one.
But of course even Time Lords need some sleep, and it catches up with him. He’s started dozing off from sheer exhaustion any time he isn’t on the move; Donna catches him napping everywhere. One day she finds him in the galley, sleeping standing upright, one hand on the handle of the lukewarm kettle, the other on the counter next to a teapot, bracing him up. At least he didn’t fall asleep while actually pouring the water and scald himself.
“Oi, Space-man, sit down before you fall over,” she quips. Although her words are sarcastic, her tone is kind. She maneuvers him gently into a chair at the table and sets the kettle to reheating.
When the tea is ready, she wakes him up again and shoves a mug in his hands. “Okay, this is getting to be ridiculous,” she announces, taking a drink from her own mug. “I don’t care how little sleep you need, you’re not getting it, and I can tell you’re doing it on purpose. You don’t fool me. This could be dangerous, y’know. What if your brain checks out while you’re stopped on the staircase, trying to remember whether you were headed up or down? What if you nod off while doing repairs under the console, and everything goes pear-shaped? More importantly – have you got a pack of Vashta Nerada in your bedroom cupboard, or what? Why the hell won’t you go to bed?”
Well, trouble shared is trouble halved, Dorothy Sayers once told him, so he drops his shoulders, stares into his tea, and mumbles, “I’m having strange dreams.”
“Wait – you told me your lot doesn’t dream.” Donna looks at him, puzzled, over the top of her mug.
He tilts his head to one side and looks puzzled right back at her. “When did I ever say that?”
“Right after we popped in on that house party with Agatha Christie. I was having nightmares about being chased by that giant wasp –“
“— what-ev-er, and you stuck your enormous nose in the air and announced all snooty-like that ‘Time Lords don’t dream,’ and that the only suggestion you had was to lay off the biscuits at bedtime.” She’s glaring at him, clearly displeased with the memory of the conversation.
The Doctor ignores the glare and instead goes cross-eyed trying to examine the disparaged organ. “My nose isn’t enormous.” He feels of it with one hand.
She just stares at him for a long moment. Breaking out in a big grin, she snickers, “Gotcha, Sunshine.”
Rolling his eyes, the Doctor switches back to the original topic, running a hand through his hair so that it stands up in all directions. “Yeah, well, anyway, that wasn’t exactly precise. What I meant was that our brains don’t make things up while we sleep. Instead, we remember things. Real things.”
“So these are your memories.” Donna takes a drink of her tea, trying to understand.
Shaking his head, he answers, “But they’re not. I’ve never done those things.”
She tries again. “Somebody else’s then, leaking into your brain.”
“No! I’m me, and… there’s another Time Lord, somebody I’ve known my whole life, and we’re on Gallifrey.” The way his gaze shifts to one side and he hesitates when he speaks of the other Time Lord sets off an alarm bell in Donna’s head.
Martha mentioned, in one of their “girls together” talks on the way back to Earth after Messaline, that she and the Doctor had been in that weird mess on the Valiant when the Prime Minister and the American president died. That things happened there that nobody but those on the ship knew about, and that the Prime Minister, of all people, had been an alien, the only other Time Lord to survive the Time War. The Doctor knew him well, and couldn’t save him when he’d been shot. “To find one other of your kind when you think they’re all gone, then to have him be completely mad, and you try your hardest to fix everything but it ends that way…” Martha shook her head and looked up sadly at Donna. “And now Jenny, too. If he gets a hard, distant look, that’s what he’s thinking about. But he won’t talk about it. Don’t try.”
So of course Donna has to check to see if it’s part of the problem. “The other Time Lord – is it the Prime Minister?”
The Doctor looks at her strangely, like she’s suddenly grown a second head, and she knows she’d better explain. “Martha. She said only that the Prime Minister who died was really a Time Lord, and someone you knew. Said the whole mess was hard on you. She was just trying to help.”
Scrubbing his face with the hand not wrapped around his mug, the Doctor nodded. “Yeah, the… Prime Minister. The Master, his name’s the Master, really. We’re on Gallifrey. It’s us, and our house, and our friends, and our kids…”
“Your house. Together? You and him and your wives and kids?”
“Just him and me, no wives. Alien, Donna. Biology’s different. Reproduction’s different. Don’t go thinking just because we look human…”
“He had a wife; the Prime Minister had a bloody wife! And I’m guessing since you don’t have her on board right this minute, she’s human. There still aren’t a lot of same-sex couples that have kids on Earth, either, and none of them without some help from the opposite sex. So don’t you get all high-and-mighty because I thought that way.”
The Doctor stares at her a moment, then his expression breaks. “Yeah. Sorry. You can’t know, how could you? Nobody does, any more.” He takes a long sip of tea.
“I’m sorry too. I do forget to think… And I’m supposed to be helping with this.” Donna says quietly. Moving on, she adds, “So, these kids aren’t the ones you meant when you said before on Messaline that you’d been a dad?” From the look on her face, it’s obvious Donna’s still trying to reconcile his fatherhood with what she knows of the person sitting across from her.
He’s just glad they got over their blow-up so easily. “Nope,” he pops the ‘p’. “Never set foot in that house, either. But I can tell you exactly where the floorboards creak, and why there’s a big chunk out of the kitchen doorframe. I can tell you what time of day the light from which sun comes through the kitchen window, and how hard they rattle when a storm comes off the ocean just over the hill. I can tell you what both of those children looked like every minute from the day they were born. And I love both of them, just like I loved the child and grandchild I know I really had.” His voice takes on a wistful tone.
“That sounds awfully real to me. Some days I can’t picture exactly what the all the rooms in my mum’s house look like any more, and I’m sure they’re real,” she replies, and sets down her mug. She starts ticking off points on her fingers. “Okay, so far we have: One – it has to be memories because sleeping Martian brains are too dumb to make things up…”
“…And Two – it’s your memories, but not the same you that goes dashing about the universe during the day…”
The Doctor’s face brightens like a light bulb. “Not the same me… Donna, you may have something! Not the same me!”
She leans back in her chair and rubs her eyes with the fingers and thumb of one hand. “The only thing I have, Sunshine, is a headache from listening to you babble nonsense. Please tell me there aren’t more of you…” Suddenly her face does a copy of his light bulb imitation. “Oh, wait – there’s this physics chap, on the telly all the time, says infinite universes live side-by-side. He says a new one splits off every time we make a decision; that a new one of us lives in another universe where we made a different choice. Is he right?”
The Doctor rubs the back of his head and screws up his face a little. “Whalllll, that’s kind of a simplification. But yeah, I guess that’s as good a way to put it as any.”
Waving a hand in his direction, Donna proclaims, “So these dreams, I mean memories, belong to a you that didn’t decide not to live with the Master, then?”
The Doctor just goggles at her. He’s amazed; she’s not only fit together the pieces of a puzzle that’s been with him for years and haunting him non-stop since the end of the Year that Wasn’t, she’s quite possibly discovered a nexus point. “Donna, you really are brilliant! But what makes you think I ever made that decision?”
She sighs. “A husband, two kids, and sun-lit kitchen in a cottage by the sea? That’s not just doing domestic, Space-man, that’s bloody well writing the book on it. I got a taste of it inside the computer in the Library. I’d murder for that, really I would, and it sounds like there’s a part of you that would, too. If we’re right about all this, then there was a time you made that decision. When did you tell him no?”
There’s a very long silence, during which his face goes from questioning to a flicker of understanding that is very quickly covered up with blankness. Quietly he answers, “A very, very, very long time ago.”
Donna does know from his tone to tread gently. “And is that when the dream started?” she asks softly.
“Oh. No.” He’s positive sounding, almost dismissive, not answering so delicately.
She decides it’s safe to push. “Well, when, then?”
“Oh, I dunno…”
She calls him on that one. “Surrrrre you don’t. ‘Time Lords never forget,’ you told me once. Now you’re remembering details of a life that hasn’t happened to you. ‘Fess up, Doctor.”
His shoulders sag. “It was after the Time War ended. I spent quite a long time in the Zero room, where it’s always quiet, trying to get used to the idea that… that I was the only one left, that there wouldn’t be anybody else, ever. No other Time Lords, I mean. It didn’t work. I thought I was prepared, but when I came back out, it was still just as horrible, just as… empty, in my head. And that’s when the dreams started.”
“When it got quiet inside your head.” Donna shakes hers at him. ‘There’s none so blind,’ her Gran used to say. She stands up and takes her mug to the counter. “Oh, Doctor – you’re like those people who keep the radio on all the time, volume on low, even when they sleep. They can’t understand what’s playing, but they think they need the noise in the background to keep them company. And when the radio breaks, they think they’ll go bonkers because it’s too quiet.”
She turns back to him, trying to be careful of his feelings, but still explain things so he gets it. “But that’s when they discover the birds singing in the yard, and the wind blowing through the trees, and the rain pattering on the roof. You -- you’ve discovered a whole other universe. The only thing is… you’re happier there than you are here. I know that means you hate to wake up, but Doctor, you must get some sleep.“
“Well done, Dagr! A definite fourer.” The Doctor watched his son set the bat on his shoulder and grin crookedly as his sister raced on short, skinny legs across the lawn after the ball.
Suddenly the muted sound of a time rotor cut the air. Zory skidded to a halt, head turning as she caught the noise, trying to find its location.
Dagr looked at his father, slightly amazed. “Abba! A TARDIS! But… is it in the house?”
“I hear it.” The Doctor took off at a lope toward the front door, his children following as quickly as they could, their game forgotten.
Striding down the hall, the Doctor peered in each room as he passed but could find nothing out of place. Finally he stopped in the lab door, staring at the large cupboard set at an awkward angle in one corner. He crossed the room to it just as he heard the children thunder to a stop behind him. “Stay back,” he ordered, hoping just for once he’d be obeyed.
The door opened at his touch. Turning to glare another warning at Dagr and Zory, he stepped inside. It was a newer model than any he’d even been in. The console room was huge and mostly dark except for a dim light coming from the rotor; a light such an ugly yellow-green colour that he felt something must be very wrong, even though he’d never seen this model. When he reached out to the craft with his mind, it skittered away from his mental touch, gibbering a bit in pain.
“Hello?” the Doctor called out tentatively.
“Theta,” the Master’s strained voice responded quietly from the shadows on the far side of the console.
Something was very wrong; his husband sounded terrible, and he hadn’t used that name out loud in centuries. “Yes, Koschei. I’m here,” he assured, started across the room.
“No. The… children – are they with you? Get them… away.” Every pause was filled with a labored rasp of breath.
Unwillingly, the Doctor came to a halt. “But Kosch, you need help.” Reaching out with his mind to check on the Master, he hit the mental equivalent of a steel door.
“Now, Thete. They shouldn’t… see this.”
Backing out of the dim TARDIS, the Doctor nearly ran into his children. “Right, you two, out you get. Dagr, go teach your sister to bat.” With one hand on each, he turned them and was pushing them out the lab door and down the hall even as they started to protest.
“Abba, that’s Papa!” “Why’s the TARDIS in the house?” “Where’s he been?” “I want to see!”
The Doctor stopped, sighed, and dropped into a crouch to talk to them face-to-face. “Your Papa is hurt, and I need to take care of him. Taking care of injuries is an adult’s job; we’ve talked about how when you’re hurt, you need to find an adult? Well, I need to help Papa, and I can’t do that if you’re there asking questions, or if I’m worried that you’re in the lab poking into my research, or Papa’s. I don’t know the answers to all your questions right now, but I will when I’m done taking care of him. Right now, I need to know you’re safe, and I need very badly,” the Doctor’s voice hitched, but did not crack, “to make sure Papa will be all right. Now please, go.” He rubbed his eyes with one hand.
Dagr stared solemnly at his father for a moment, then nodded in agreement, took his sister’s hand, and started dragging her down the hall. Sensing her Abba’s barely-suppressed panic, she dug in her heels. “But Dagr, I want to see!” she continued to protest. “What’s wrong with Papa? Abba, let me…”
“Shutit, Zory,” replied her brother, pulling her through the front door.
Standing, the Doctor turned and raced back into the TARDIS. The Master was sitting on the floor behind the console, one arm lying on a black jump seat, trying to leverage himself up. His suit was burned through in half a dozen places, the skin underneath scorched red and black, glistening in a way that made the Doctor’s stomach turn in sympathy. A black streak ran up the left side of his face, barely missing his eye, and disappeared into the gray at his temple. But was frightened the Doctor most was the horrible wheezing each time his husband drew breath, and the pain shining out of the eyes of a man who normally refused to show any weakness.
“Stop. Let me,” commanded the Doctor, bending over to slip an arm under the Master’s. It would be nearly impossible to find someplace to hold him that didn’t make him hurt, so the Doctor settled for getting the job over quickly and lifted the Master into the jump seat. The Master slumped over with a hiss to lie down, but managed not to lose consciousness.
The Doctor ran a now-sooty hand through his fringe and turned to the console. “Kosch, you’ll have to block the TARDIS from the pain and hand her to me, so I can get you to the med center. I’m sorry,” he said as he started a dematerialization sequence. “It’s hurting too much to just let me take control.”
Slowly the light on the rotor turned a bluer green. The Doctor mentally reached out for the TARDIS again and found it quite eager to grab onto someone who wasn’t hurting, now that it had been released from the pain. He calmed it a bit, and was just starting to program in the coordinates for the medical center in the Citadel when he felt it mentally acknowledge them. The time rotor jumped to life and they dematerialized.
Turning back to the Master, the Doctor brushed his fingers delicately across the streak on his husband’s face to discover it was the scorch mark from a barely-avoided blaster shot. “Oh, Master, what did you do?” he wondered aloud, not really expecting an answer.
“Wiped out… those… mutant… abominations. All… gone… now. Davros… too.” There was a wet gurgle with each inhalation, and each word took longer to complete.
“Oh, no. Oh, no – that can’t be right!” The Doctor sits bolt upright in bed, shouting out loudly enough that Donna appears in his doorway seconds later.
“What happened?” she wonders breathlessly. “You sound strange. Kind of… posh. And you’re shouting.”
He runs his hands through his hair, managing the impossible by making it even messier. “Yeah, yeah, um, sorry. I’m sorry. I was dreaming... The Master -- I think the Master just came back from Skaro. He says he just wiped out the Daleks. But he’s badly injured…” He looks up at Donna, almost panicked.
Yeah, like this isn’t real, she thinks, but instead says aloud, “So, find out. Go back to sleep.”
After a long pause, he gives a curt nod. She starts to move into the room, but he puts out a hand to stop her. “You don’t need to stay,” he announces almost defensively.
“Alright. Just… sleep, okay?” She sighs and leaves. Three doors down the corridor, she slips off her shoes and tiptoes back to just outside the Doctor’s room. When she hears his breathing settle into a slow, regular pattern, she peers around the doorframe. Satisfied he’s asleep, she slips inside and settles into a chair in the far corner of the room.
Why the Master is such a mess, and another day in the life with Ten and Donna.
This was written the same time as the previous chapters, but I never got around to getting it beta'd. I'm cleaning stuff up on my computer and decided it was safer here than elsewhere. It's still never going to get finished.
The Citadel Medical Facility
“You nearly frightened me to death.” Now that the medical personnel assured him that his husband was out of danger, the Doctor was relieved enough to fuss. He stood next to the Master’s bed looking down at the patient, trying very hard to keep his distress off his features.
The Master gazed back with the serene look that the Doctor knew he used to dismiss whatever trouble he found himself in. “Yes, well, I wasn’t very sanguine about remaining animate, myself.” The medical staff had been aghast; both at the thought of having to treat wounds so severe that normally the sufferer would just regenerate, and that someone on his last regeneration had risked such damage. Shifting his weight slightly, he grimaced. “They inform me that recovering from the burns will be distinctly unpleasant.”
Under the guise of fluffing a pillow, the Doctor moved in close and gave him a serious stare to let the Master know he wasn’t getting out of this discussion by pleading his wounds. It would have been one of his famous over-the-top-of-the-glasses stares, had he been wearing them. “I still don’t understand why you did it.”
His discomfort more mental than physical, the Master looked away, pretending to adjust a monitor feed. “Another ‘request’ from our friend in the black cowl.”
The Celestial Intervention Agency? The meddlesome secret agency of their supposedly non-interfering species had been the bane of their existence for centuries. The Doctor had thought that he and his partner had seen the last of that lot years ago. “When did they start asking you to do their ‘errands’ again?” he wondered, drawing back in shock.
The Master still wouldn’t meet the Doctor’s eyes, fussing instead with the sheets. “When did they start? Doctor, they never stopped. I simply made certain that they only came to me once we had Dagr.”
“We were free of them because we had Dagr!” The Doctor clasped his hands behind his back to keep from slamming them down on the bedrail. “We were supposed to be done performing their nasty little jobs when we came back to Gallifrey.” He admitted to himself that living and working away from the Citadel had been worth dealing with the secret agency a little longer. Sometimes he wondered just how the CIA had talked everyone into leaving the two of them alone to carry out research for the Academy in private. But once they’d also met their House dynastic obligations there shouldn’t have been anything keeping them tied to that lot. He shook his head in a mixture of puzzlement and disgust. “It’s supposed to be over, Master.”
“Oh, my dear Doctor, you are naïve.” The fond smile on the Master’s face as he finally looked up took the sting from the accusation. What was it about this regeneration? Although previous ones had been far more suspicious, this blond one was positively self-deluded on occasion. “It’s never over. You didn’t think the CIA would turn loose of their favorite fire fighters so easily, did you? There’s always one more job, one more little tweak to history to keep the great Time Lord race safe and happy and for the most part ignorant of what goes on in the rest of the galaxy. And there’s always one more thing to hold over our heads.”
“What? What can they possibly hold over you now?” Too agitated to stay still, the Doctor started pacing, at least as much as he could in the small room. “The jobs are always dangerous, and you don’t have any regenerations left. Those ‘lab accidents’ when you went into the Citadel by yourself to work at the Academy, the last two times you regenerated – those weren’t accidents at all, were they?” He peered over his shoulder to the bed while still pacing and the Master shook his head in the negative. Still moving, he asked, “Why don’t you just tell them to go find someone else to do their little errands? I’m certain the Academy must still turn out a renegade or two every few hundred years.”
“Why don’t I tell them to go find someone else? Because then they’d go to you.”
That stopped the Doctor in his tracks. Swiveling on one heel to face the bed he proclaimed proudly, “They wouldn’t dare. There’s nothing I’d like more than to publicly expose that sanctimonious lot. They have nothing on me.”
“You handed it to them on a platter when they dragged us back here to put an end to Borusa’s grab for immortality.” Watching the Doctor’s face, the Master waited for him to realize what had happened.
Former President Borusa, using the Time Scoop to grab their previous regenerations, throwing them into the Death Zone, hoping they’d get him into Rassilon’s Tomb… The CIA, hijacking the Doctor and Master’s TARDIS with their latest regenerations, bringing them to the chambers of the High Council so that they could be sent in to rescue everyone… The death of the Castellan, and Borusa’s rather permanent imprisonment, leaving empty seats on the High Council… “Oh. Rassilon, no.”
The Master’s chuckle ended in a wince as it pulled the blaster burn on his face. “Precisely. They have something on Flavia I suppose, something they use to keep her from coming after you and insisting you fulfill your duties, My Lord President.”
“We never should have done it; never should have agreed to that first job, even if they did promise us a new temporal stabilizer.” Stuffing his hands in his pockets, the Doctor stared unseeing into a corner of the room, musing out loud. “We already had the consent from both our Houses to our traveling, in exchange for enduring a formal wedding and a promise to return and add to our lines when we were a certain age.” Both House councils were quite surprised when the two suggested it. They’d expected the new graduates to just disappear one day --Koschei and his Shadow, gone renegade.
The Doctor looked over to the man he’d lived and traveled with for nearly a millennium. “There was nothing the CIA could have done to send us back to Gallifrey, really, if we’d have told them no. Was there?”
“They sent our TARDIS all over space and time to wherever they needed us without so much as a by-your-leave. They even managed to bypass the randomizer circuit to do so. Yes, they could have quite easily grounded us on Gallifrey, or someplace worse, until we agreed. We did what we had to, Doctor, and quite willingly in the beginning. I consider their assignments as slightly distasteful moments in an otherwise very happy existence; a necessary evil to insure that you and I continue to live as we please.” The Master held out a hand to his husband.
Walking over to the bed, the Doctor grasped it. Solemnly he declared, “And I’d very much like for you to continue that existence for as long as possible. From now on, I’m the one that goes on those little trips.”
Raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips, the Master announced, “You couldn’t have managed this one, Doctor.”
“Are you implying that I can’t handle a dangerous situation? I don’t remember having any problems before. In fact, I recall saving both of us once or twice when one of your over-complicated schemes went awry.” The Doctor managed to look quite smug.
Nodding once, the Master replied, “So you did. What I am stating, quite openly, is that you could not have perpetrated genocide.”
The smug look fell away, and the Doctor yanked his hand away quickly. “Was there nothing you could have done to keep from it?” he asked in disbelief.
“No.” The Master shook his head and reached up for the hand that had been taken away, a gesture as close to pleading as he ever came. His face, while not begging, was open and honest, staring up at the Doctor. “They’d stopped obeying their creator; they recognized no other race’s right to exist. They’re tireless and remorseless, Doctor, something I understand fairly well. They learned my species; if I had left a single one alive, sooner or later they’d have rebuilt and come after Gallifrey, intending to wipe us from the cosmos. I simply did unto them before they could do unto us.” What he didn’t tell his husband was that the thought of those murderous tin cans coming after his mate and children made him equally remorseless, a rather embarrassingly primitive emotion in one who prided himself on his sophistication. The Thals were lucky he hadn’t blown their war-torn, poisoned ball of rock into space debris, instead of merely turning the Kaled ‘civilization’ into a millimeters-thick layer of slime and dust in a very deep crater on the planet’s surface.
It was an old argument neither had ever brought the other around on. The Master was essentially utilitarian, preferring expediency and eschewing debate. The Doctor believed in explanations and second chances, and that even a species as old and powerful as the Time Lords didn’t have the right to decide if another lived or died. Making a sweeping gesture with both hands, the Doctor declared, “Still, there must have been something else you could have done. There’s always a way!”
“I disagree, Doctor. I personally will have a harder time living with my wounds than I will my conscience. Think about it – would you really want those soulless abominations coming to Gallifrey, destroying everything here, including Dagr and Zory?”
Suddenly images flooded the Doctor’s mind: the great dome over the Citadel cracked wide open; the sky filled with war TARDISes and spinning discs he somehow knew were Dalek ships; grim-faced, tense-bodied High Councilors that he didn’t know but still could name, stalking through the halls and shouting at each other across the chamber table; fire-blackened hills and charred silver stumps where their cottage should sit, by a now oil-slicked, dark and churning sea. His vision greyed out and he barely thought to back toward the chair next to the Master’s bed before his legs gave out from under him. He looked toward his husband, seeing a round face with short blond hair and goatee superimposed over the dark, wounded features there. “Are you doing this?” he gasped.
“No!” the Master replied in shock, caught in the mental backwash coming from his mate. The images were far more real and immediate than anything he had ever imagined in the part of a second when he’d thought about the possibility of not destroying the Kaleds and Davros’ creations. He watched the Doctor’s face turn white. “Doctor? Doctor!”
“Doctor!” Donna called anxiously, shaking the Time Lord awake. He’d been thrashing and shouting -- mostly wordlessly – in his sleep, but “Daleks!” had come through loud and clear, and she knew this was no cottage by the sea. “Come back now, please!” she begged.
He sat straight up, eyes wide open, and sucked in a deep breath. He turned to stare at Donna, his gaze a mix of wonder and puzzlement. “I think… I made contact,” he announced.
“The Master destroyed the Daleks…”
“Yup, paradise,” Donna muttered.
The Doctor glared and continued, “…and I – ‘There’ me, not ‘Here’ me – was yelling at him for it…”
“…but I – ‘Here’ me – started remembering the Time War. And he… I… ‘There’ me… remembered it too! It was quite a shock. I think I may have made me pass out.”
Donna shook her head fondly. “Oh, Doctor. Only you could manage to upset yourself in two different universes at the same time.”
A planet that was supposed to be Shan-Shen, but definitely isn’t
The Prime Minister of the Eastern Federation stood proudly in front of the viewing screens. The one on her left showed her western counterpart and the military leader of that continent in their command complex, and the one on the right displayed a red-haired woman with fury in her eyes and a tall, thin man with a shock of brown hair and a face holding sorrow and determination.
The center screen showed her own military commander, twenty floors under the ground beneath her feet, behind locked, impenetrable doors, dangling a pair of keys in front of the camera with a sneer on his face. One of those keys should have been with her, but now it was too late for regrets. Sacrifice was the only thing left to save her people and her planet. “We can’t stop him any other way, Doctor. Just do it,” she commanded.
“Last chance, General. We’ve shown you what weaponry the Western Federation has. Fire those missiles and you don’t win, you lose. The whole planet dies. I can’t let you do that.” The Doctor shook his head, speaking the last few words through clenched teeth.
The man with the keys snorted. “There is no honor in compromise. It is the same as defeat. We have fought too long, sacrificed too much, to simply walk away. We will have victory, or nothing. Besides, if she can’t get to me, then neither can you.”
“Bloody military blow-hard,” declared Donna, and threw the switch in front of her on the TARDIS console.
The Doctor stared at Donna’s hand on the console for a second, then at her face. She glared back defiantly. Looking back at the screen, he announced, “The jamming wave is down, Prime Minister. Your signals will reach the fail-safe now. I’m so sorry.”
Screens in three separate locations showed a dawning realization on the General’s face and his hurried scramble to shove the keys into their slots.
“I cannot fail my people a second time, Doctor. This is necessary,” the Eastern Prime Minister replied, reaching out to press a button on the control panel in front of her. After the slightest delay, both the Eastern Federation cameras cut out.
The Doctor scrubbed his face with both hands then ran them up through his hair. Turning his attention to the Western Federation officials, he asked simply, “Well?”
The military leader looked off-camera for a long second, then back. “Nothing in the air. Instruments show large seismic disturbance at approximately the location of their headquarters. She did it before he fired the missiles.”
“And your promise?” The Doctor’s eyes were suddenly very old.
The civilian spoke. “We will honor it. There will be no more fighting. We will help them to rebuild. You may count on us.”
The Doctor just stared at the pair on his screen. Finally Donna took pity on them. “Thank you. We’ll be going now.”
“No, thank you, Ms. Noble, Doctor. Safe travels.” The screen went blank.