It was, he reflected, a rather good trap, all things considered. No sonic screwdriver, no TARDIS, nobody on the outside to help. Even the restraints seemed to hold against all the tricks he'd learnt from his old friend Harry. (He'd always been better at escaping from chains while submerged underwater, anyway.) The Doctor wondered if they intended for him to die in here — not that it mattered, as the universe was about to be destroyed, anyway.
And wasn't it weird, all his old enemies managing to band together like that to lure him through time and space? He was pretty sure he'd seen Sontarans and Rutans out there, and, well, those were two species you couldn't exactly have in the same room, unless said room happened to be scheduled for demolition already. And the Daleks didn't like anybody, their own race included.
His thoughts turned to River — had she made it out in time? Universe exploding aside, River's death would cause irreparable damage to his own timeline, and that would be very, very bad. Besides, he was rather fond of River — not nearly as fond as he apparently would be in the future, but he still liked her, even if she did have an irritating penchant for scrawling Ancient Gallifreyan graffiti on everything in order to get his attention.
And Amy and Rory...oh, god, what would happen to them? How had Amy been chosen, for lack of a better word, in the first place? This was all looking entirely too coincidental, much in the same way that his meetings with Donna had been. Someone was manipulating him again — had been manipulating him since his regeneration, obviously. But working with timelines like that...
The grinding and clanking of the layers and layers of locks that enclosed him in his prison interrupted his thoughts. Had they changed their minds and decided to let him out? It didn't seem likely, not with that stubborn lot. They'd clearly intended to hold him in stasis under Stonehenge for all eternity to save the universe from destruction — not that he blamed them, really (all right, he did), but he'd tried to tell them that he wasn't the cause. That was the problem with age-old enemies, though, they never listened to what he had to say; nobody ever chose to take the easy way out. No, it all had to end in explosions and bloodshed, and that was really why he had so many species that hated him in the first place.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Pandorica began to open again. He struggled against the restraints impatiently, mentally cursing the size of his hands this time around. Next time he regenerated, he decided, he'd make sure to have nice, slender bones. And ginger hair. Definitely ginger hair.
"Bravo, Doctor," someone outside — presumably his saviour — drawled sarcastically, clapping slowly. If he'd had any hands free, he would have hit himself in the face; as it was, he was wondering if he could close the Pandorica back up around him like a giant cocoon. It all made sense now, of course — who else would toy with him just to lock him up in a bloody great box? The problem was, it just didn't seem quite like his style.
Well, actually, the problem was that he was meant to be dead.
"You can feel free to proceed with the 'aren't you supposed to be dead' bit now," the Master offered helpfully, turning to a set of controls. "Though I wasn't actually dead when you last saw me, but I can see where you'd probably get that impression, what with being trapped on a time-locked planet close to being destroyed and all, not to mention the countless horrendous creatures and a raving mad Lord President." He shrugged, flicking a few switches, and the Doctor's restraints receded back into the chair. "Bit young in this regeneration, aren't you? And the tweed and bow tie...well, it's less of a fashion disaster than most of your other outfits. Still not terribly stylish, though."
The Doctor scowled at the Master and opted for one of the other forty-six questions that had popped into his head. "Come to gloat, did you?"
"Gloat?" The Master arched an eyebrow at him. "Oh, you think this is mine. Don't be silly, I wouldn't lock you in a box — well, not one where I can't keep an eye on you. It'd be exceedingly dull. No, actually, I figured I'd lend a hand in saving the universe, as I've invested quite a bit of time into ensuring my continued existence, and I'd really be quite put out if it all exploded. Tell you what, though, the whole 'most dangerous thing in all the universe' bit was a good joke. Not saying there isn't some truth to it, mind —"
"Yeah, completely hilarious," the Doctor grumbled, rubbing his wrists as he stepped out of the Pandorica. The bodies of his foes were strewn about the floor haphazardly, no signs of injury on any of them. "What'd you do, then, gas them? This place isn't what you might call well-ventilated."
"Mm, hardly. They're just stunned — had to trigger an EMP, threw all their little circuits into overdrive." He stooped and picked the Doctor's sonic screwdriver up from the floor, examining it for a moment. "New model, eh? Not bad, I suppose, especially the little claw bits. Lot more dangerous-looking than before." The Master tossed him the screwdriver and pulled his own from the pouch of his hoodie. "I still like mine better, though."
The Doctor stopped and stared for a moment — besides the fact that the Master had actually rescued him, something else was wrong. Everything else was wrong. "An EMP should've just stopped the Romans, though. Unless..." Frowning, he soniced a few of the bodies, coming up with readings he hadn't expected. "Really?"
"Sorry, you didn't think for about five seconds when you got ambushed?" the Master scoffed, toeing a Silurian body. "The Daleks are the only species here that extensively use time travel — half of them haven't developed it yet, or they don't bother with it. The Silurians are still asleep under the crust of the Earth, you dolt. You couldn't get any of this lot in a room together for more than five minutes without them killing each other, and I'm fairly certain those aren't Telosian Cybermen." He shrugged. "They're accurate enough, but someone didn't exactly finish their homework."
"So what about you, then? How'd you find out about this?" He really wanted to ask how the Master had managed to survive. "And weren't you a little bit...sparky the last time we met?"
"Oh, you know how it is, people send mass invites out on Facebook, don't pay attention to who they invite. Or maybe they thought I'd like to lend a hand, I dunno." The Master smiled at the Doctor, the sort of smile that said he was lying through his teeth. It was the same smile that’d been plastered all over his Harold Saxon propaganda. "As for the other bit — I have my ways."
"You aren't another android sent to save me from the other androids in order to trick me, are you?" The Doctor regarded him with suspicion; he'd already been fooled enough for one day.
Stepping closer to him, the Master took the Doctor's hand, pressing his palm flat against his chest. The Doctor barely kept from shivering at the physical contact — proof in and of itself that this had to be the Master. The double heartbeats could be felt even through the layers of clothing — the Master's drumbeats, as steady as ever. The Master looked up at him, one corner of his lips quirking into an amused smile.
"Right!" The Doctor pulled away quickly, rubbing his hand against the rough tweed of his coat. "We've got a bit of work to do, then, haven't we? Best get going before these fellows wake up, because I, for one, do not want to be around when that happens.” He bounded up the stairs in long strides, hoping that when he arrived at the surface, River, Amy, and Rory would all be waiting for him, completely unscathed.
The Master followed sedately behind him, showing no inclination to leap about as he had the last time they’d met. Well, if he’d somehow managed to fix the increased energy expenditure that had resulted from a botched resurrection, then it would only make sense that the resulting abilities were gone, too. He only hoped his appetite had gone back to normal as well.
“D’you have any idea who is behind all this?” the Doctor called out over his shoulder, nearly running headlong into River. “River!” He pulled her into his arms, squeezing her tightly as a wave of relief washed over him. “You made it out!”
She grinned at him as she planted a kiss on his forehead — hopefully the sort that didn’t involve hallucinogenic lipstick. “Of course I did. I learnt my escape techniques from the best, after all.”
The Doctor reckoned that if the Master rolled his eyes any harder, he’d be able to hear them spinning in his head. He pointedly ignored the presence lurking behind his right shoulder and focused on River instead. “Where’s the TARDIS? We’ve got to stop the explosion from happening!” Though he didn’t yet have any idea how he would stop it.
“I-“ River looked uncomfortable for a moment. “I couldn’t get the doors to open, so I used my vortex manipulator to get back here — had to hop a bit, actually, since they don’t like large jumps.”
“Sorry,” the Master interrupted, closing the distance between them, “but did I just hear you say that you used a vortex manipulator inside a TARDIS?” From the tone of his voice, the Doctor insinuated that he was somewhat unhappy with this turn of events.
“Well, yes, I had to get out somehow - who is he, anyway?” River asked the Doctor, who had been trying to avoid making introductions.
“Right, right. Er, River, this is the Master. Hopefully I had the good sense to never introduce the two of you in some future timeline.” Assuming they were all still around in the future. “Master, this is River Song. She’s — well, I’m not actually sure what she is yet, because our timelines seem to be meeting up in the wrong order, but she’s definitely someone. Has been someone. Will be someone.” He scratched the back of his neck. “You know how English is, not nearly enough tenses.” And no language he knew had words that adequately described the situation.
“I’m so glad you manage to get involved with someone who’s even stupider than you are,” the Master growled, clearly frustrated.
“Is he always this rude, or did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” River whispered sotto voce.
The Master gave a long-suffering sigh — the sort the Doctor was more than familiar with from their days at the Academy. It was inevitably followed by a blistering lecture about how the recipient failed to grasp something even a child should have known. (He was pretty sure the Master had picked that style up from the Rani, actually; the Rani had spent far more time at school bossing him about than the Master had.)
“Look,” he began, in tones of greatly exaggerated patience. “I don’t know who the hell let you around a vortex manipulator without teaching you the basic principles of temporal physics first.”
The Doctor really hoped that River wouldn’t start shouting back at the Master — not only were they on a bit of a schedule, but it didn’t seem like something he wanted to be caught in the middle of.
“I’m fully aware of the principles of temporal physics,” she retorted frostily. “I do know how to pilot a TARDIS, after all.”
The Master scrubbed at his face with his palm. “You know, I’d ask what idiot taught you how to do that, but I’m afraid I already know the answer. The point is, vortex manipulators work by, for lack of a better analogy, folding the fabric of space and time and bringing the two points together. That’s why they aren’t very good for long jumps, unless you’re a crazy Time Lord trying to escape from the end of the universe.”
“It worked, though,” the Doctor felt obligated to point out.
“Only because you fed it a ridiculous amount of power with your sonic screwdriver. The point is, the manipulator warps the time field immediately surrounding you. A TARDIS, on the other hand, has a relative timestream separate from the rest of the space-time continuum, and it has to remain stable.”
“So I was just supposed to stay there while it exploded?” River demanded.
“Instead of causing an explosion that would-“ He stopped short, running a hand through his hair. “Look, engine failure probably would’ve been self-contained. It might look bad, and, yeah, it might kill you, but the rest of the universe would be fine. The TARDIS itself would be fine, assuming the organic infrastructure remained unharmed.” The Master began to pace back and forth - there was the manic energy that the Doctor was used to, though he seemed relatively stable thus far.
“Everything up to this was a carefully planned trap,” he continued. “They knew River would draw you here — so let’s assume that they figured that River would probably be the one in the TARDIS. Rig a bit of engine failure to scare her, she uses the vortex manipulator, and bang!, there goes your fabric of space and time, all shattered into little bitty pieces. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that all that manipulation and careful seeding included a touch of mind control on Miss Song here.”
“Why do evil geniuses come up with the most ridiculously convoluted plans?” the Doctor groaned.
“Because it’s fun!” The Master grinned brightly at both of them. “No point in being brilliant if you can’t show it off sometimes.”
River was casting worried glances around — probably looking for Amy, the Doctor thought. “But why blow the TARDIS up if you’ve already got the Doctor locked away?”
“Believe it or not, the universe doesn’t really revolve around the Doctor, he just thinks it does.”
“There’s the pot calling the kettle black,” the Doctor muttered, though he wasn’t quite paying attention to the Master anymore.
“So! Let’s assume that someone wants to blow the TARDIS up, and it’s easier to do so when you separate the Doctor from it.”
“Why blow the TARDIS up at all, though?”
“Shhshhshh, I’m getting there!” The Master laid his index finger against his lips to illustrate his point. “Are you connecting the dots properly yet, Doctor? The explosion causes cracks in the fabric of the universe — presumably our friend wants that result, and there aren’t many things capable of doing that. You need to have both power and something intrinsically connected to the flux of space and time. The heart of a TARDIS, the Eye of Harmony...”
The Doctor’s eyes widened suddenly. “The harnessed power of a black hole. What is this, some sort of reunion for the mad founders of Time Lord society? He figured that if Rassilon could break free, so could he?” He noticed that the Master flinched when he mentioned the Lord President’s name and wondered just what had happened when he’d pushed Rassilon back through the malfunctioning Gate.
“Sorry, I think I missed something here.” River frowned. “We went from cracks in the fabric of reality to Time Lords?”
“Rassilon is responsible for genetically engineering the native Gallifreyans into proper Time Lords, among other things,” the Doctor explained to her. “Omega anchored a black hole under the Panopticon in the Citadel to generate the power required for time travel. He eventually ended up in an antimatter universe, tried to come back a couple times, and ultimately — well, he couldn’t survive in a universe of matter, so he disintegrated.”
“Theoretically,” the Master spoke up.
“I saw it happen.”
“You saw my body burn, too.” There was a hint of darkness in his tone there, and although the Doctor couldn’t make out his eyes, he knew the old familiar madness was returning to them. “So next time you decide something is impossible, you might want to think again.” He caught a glint of the Master’s teeth in what little light there was. “Keeps you from being quite so surprised — though I’ve grown used to that dumbfounded look you get whenever something unexpected happens. It’s so na´ve!” He laughed coldly.
It was, he thought, probably best to keep the Master focused on the task at hand. “River, you go look for Amy and Rory. They’ve got to be out here somewhere. The Master and I will try to figure out...well, I’m not sure what we’re figuring out, but I’m sure we’ll make something work.”
The Master held out a hand to River. “Give that vortex manipulator here. We might need it to triangulate coordinates.”
“Speaking of coordinates,” the Doctor said lowly as River walked away, “can’t, er, they find you like they did last time?” The last thing they needed was Rassilon and his arsenal of eponymous artefacts.
The Master cringed again; it hadn’t been his imagination the previous time. “They have to have something to pull them through the time lock,” he said, though the confidence in his voice was faltering. “They used the white point star diamond as an anchor last time. I don’t think they could use me to get through — wouldn’t bet on it, but-“
“Davros used Caan,” he mused, “but he was physically there. I’ve never broken through a time lock, personally, so I’m not sure how it’s done.”
“Let’s worry about one problem at a time, shall we?” The Master straightened his shoulders. “It feels so weird to work with you. I’ll have to go kick puppies or something to atone for it after we’re done.” He turned the vortex manipulator over in his hands, prodding it experimentally. “Huh, this one’s been through the wringer. Doesn’t smell too great, either.”
“This from the bloke in hobo chic,” the Doctor observed.
“These are new clothes, thanks. And at least I’d have the common sense to let my vortex manipulator air out from time to time.” He scanned the device with his laser screwdriver. “Right, so explosion date is 26 June 2010. Closest to that you’ve noticed cracks is...?”
“Ohhhh.” The Doctor rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment, thinking. “Prisoner Zero came through, what, 1996? Closed that one up, actually. Silurians in 2020, I think, got a piece of shrapnel from that one. England and Wales, respectively.”
“Evil plans,” the Master mused. “The other thing about the complexity is that it takes you longer and longer to get through the layers — like how we need a bloody computer to plot these out correctly. A Gallifreyan computer, to boot — well, anything that can handle the proper number of dimensions, but you’d be most likely to find something like that on the TARDIS, which can’t exactly happen unless we go hunting up one of your other regenerations.”
“And that would be bad.”
“Roughly as bad as what we’re trying to prevent, yes. On the bright side, the universe won’t come to an end immediately after the explosion, if what you’ve been experiencing is any indication.”
“How comforting,” the Doctor murmured. “So assuming Omega’s made it through — where is he?”
“Obviously the cracks easiest to pass through are the two you noticed. He’s got to be somewhere geographically and temporally close. I’d give it, oh, ten, fifteen years on either side, most likely somewhere in Britain or western France.”
“Why wouldn’t he just come through the...hole created by the explosion?” the Doctor asked, intrigued in spite of himself. He had to admit, the Master was better at getting into the minds of crazed villains than he was. (He was not, however, going to admit that the other Time Lord knew more about temporal physics.)
“Aftershocks, basically. No sense in coming through and then getting wiped out straight afterwards. You’d want to be well clear of the initial event — Point Zero, for lack of a better term - so not within the first five years.”
The confusing thing about rewriting time was the way the timelines shifted about; massive events like this had a ripple effect that took much longer to change things than smaller ones did. If they’d had the TARDIS, the Doctor knew, they could’ve plotted and tracked the ‘ripples’. Without, they had as much chance of finding Omega — if it even was him — as they did of finding a needle in a haystack, assuming the haystack happened to be relatively proportionate to the multidimensional mass that represented all of time and space.
“Doctor!” River called tersely from the other side of the stones, waving a torch in one hand to signal him. “Over here!”
“I’ll be right back,” the Doctor told the Master. “Just...don’t move, okay?”
The Master snorted derisively; they both knew that he was hardly likely to obey any orders the Doctor gave him. “I’ve hardly got anywhere else to go,” he pointed out, settling down onto a rock to continue fiddling with the vortex manipulator.
From the sound of River’s voice, the Doctor expected the worst. He hurried over to her, only to be proven right. In the flickering torchlight, he saw two bodies on the ground — too still to be alive.
“Amy,” he cried around the lump in his throat, dropping to his knees in front of her. He ran a hand over her cheek as the familiar feeling of self-recrimination began to loom in the back of his mind. This was, after all, his fault, just like Donna, and Rose, and all the others before them. If he hadn’t met Amy, then she wouldn’t be here — she’d be at home, getting ready to be married in the morning.
And Rory — he’d already lost Rory once. He’d seen Amy afterwards, begged her to keep him in her memory so he couldn’t be truly erased from the universe, because that was the only thing he could do. No matter how many people he saved, he always lost the ones most important to him.
Through the thick fog of grief, he gradually realised that River was saying something. “What?” he asked thickly, looking up at her with tears in his eyes, still stroking Amy’s hair with one hand.
“This Rory,” she said slowly. “He wasn’t real.”
“But he’s Rory,” the Doctor replied. “I mean, weirder things have happened, River.” And then his gaze fell on Rory’s hand — the hand that had split open to reveal a gun.
River crouched down next to him, wrapping a comforting arm around his shoulders. “When I went to 2010, I was in Amy’s room — next to her bed, she had two books. One was about the myth of Pandora’s Box. The other was about the Romans, complete with a camp at the base of Stonehenge — and there was a picture of Rory in full Roman get-up stuck in the middle. He was Amy’s-“
“Fiancee,” the Doctor finished, hanging his head again. He noticed the small red velvet box, the colour vibrant against the muddy turf, and he picked it up, putting it back in his jacket pocket once more. “He was travelling with us, and a Silurian shot him — well, they were aiming for me, and Rory got in the way. One of the cracks opened up by his body...” He drew in a great, shuddering breath. Maybe he didn’t cry half as much in this new regeneration, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t feel emotions just as strongly. “He said he remembered dying, and then he was just...here. The others said that all this was created by Amy’s memories — I guess she never forgot him on some level.” He pulled a maroon-checked handkerchief from a pocket, swiping at his eyes.
“Maybe we can reverse what’s happened here?” River suggested gently, reaching over to brush his hair back from his forehead in an almost maternal gesture. “I promise you, Doctor, if there’s some way to bring them back-“
“I hate to interrupt the heartwarming moment you’re obviously having — well, I don’t, really,” the Master’s acerbic voice cut in, “but our allotted time for moping is growing short — so close your eyes and hang on, you two.”
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