Author's Notes:
A double bill, guys. Aiming to get this all up before the Regeneration.

Summary: Meanwhile, the Doctor...

Heading down the narrow street alone, the Doctor is concentrating more on finding her other self than on the suffering surrounding her. Her hearts ache with the knowledge that this plague must be allowed to run its course, but run its course it will. This ends, and the survivors are all the stronger for it. Deira Minar will go on to ensure that the galaxy is a place of plenty, that life sustaining sustenance can be grown even on otherwise barren asteroids. A young biologist from here, so touched by witnessing her family and friends and neighbours succumb to illness caused by a suppressed immune system from malnutrition, will discover the cure to xeno meningitis. It is not for her to take that away. If she did, she would be no better than the Trickster himself.

They must have landed at the very beginning of the crisis, she notes with a sigh. There are no signs of the destruction and violence of panicking and desperate people. Which means she will have to stand silent through the tragedies she knows are to come.

She chooses a house at random to visit and when the door is opened by a young boy in the ragged remnants of a school uniform, stick figure thin, she feels the breath knocked out of her. It is one thing to know that she must not interfere out of danger of further destabilising an already precarious moment, it is another to stand back and watch a child suffer.

“Hullo,” the boy says lowly.

“Hello, I’m the Doctor.”

He shakes his head. “‘M not sick, Miss. Are you with the food parcel people?”

“I’m not that kind of Doctor, it’s just my name.” She finds a slightly bruised apple in her pocket. “This is all I have.”

The boy snatches it and bites into the sweet flesh immediately.

“Can I come in?”

“I’m not supposed to invite people in when my parents aren’t here.”

She looks him over carefully, at his general unkemptness and the loss she sees in his eyes. The Doctor crouches down to be on eye level with him. “I expect,” she says quietly, “that they wouldn’t mind under the circumstances.”

He looks at her, still chewing ferociously on the apple.

She waits patiently for a moment. “Would you like me to give you some time to think and then come back?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t want to be alone.”

“Is there no one in town you can stay with?”

“I tried. But- The ration boxes. So I came home.”

“What about the ration boxes?”

“Well, the planetary government brings boxes to each house and they have the same for every person in the house. The same all over the planet so that it’s fair, but Giordi’s mum said having to give me food out the box was taking food out of the mouths of Giordi and his sisters and I didn’t want them to die too, so I came home. I get my own now.”

The Doctor shakes her head. Giordi’s mum probably isn’t even a bad person. Desperate people do terrible, cruel things. Still though, the child can’t be much more than nine.

He’s still talking. “That’s what happened to my mum. She gave me her food and she died. I took the food out of her mouth already.”

Nope, revise that thought. Who allows a child to believe he is responsible for the deaths of his parents in the middle of an agricultural plague? “That’s because she loved you very much,” she reassures softly. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Your mum just cared about you so much she wanted to give you everything she had.”

He nods, but his eyes retain their blankness.

The Doctor reaches out and squeezes his hand carefully. “You don’t believe me right now, and that’s ok. But I want you to remember what I just said because it’s true. You can believe it later.”

He nods again.

“Can you tell me what you meant about a planetary government? I thought Deira Minor was divided into city states, each with their own government.”

“Yeah, we did that at school. That’s the old way. Then this happened and there’s no food so everyone got together to make one government so that rules could be made worldwide to help everyone instead of some people having more than others.”

“And they’ve been good?” she asks carefully, with a sinking feeling.

He shrugs. “I don’t really understand a lot of what they say on the vid channel, but they bring ration boxes every week and everyone gets the same, even if you were rich before, even the planetary President. And people leave me alone. The first night I was here by myself I made traps. I thought people might come and try to steal my food since I’m just a kid, but the President says anyone looting will be cut off from the social support structures,” he sounds the words out carefully, “and that’s kept them away. That’s good, isn’t it? That it’s fair? And that at least people aren’t hurting each other?”

It is good, unnaturally so. And not what the history books say happened here. The Doctor knows that panic and violence spread across this world. That the survivors killed each other to take what they could find. Certainly someone is interfering here. What she can’t figure out is how even distribution of supplies and violence kept to a minimum helps spread chaos.

Maybe, she got through to her other and she’s rebelling? Although, that might not even be possible, depending on what exactly the compulsion in her mind is.

“That is good,” she smiles.

The boy has eaten the apple, core and all now and is licking his fingers for the juice, she wishes she had another one to give him.

“Any idea where the President lives?” she asks.

He points at a right angle from where the TARDIS is parked. “In the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies. Over there.”

“Thank you.” The Doctor stands and straightens. “You’re very brave, you know,” she says abruptly, “Your mum would be proud of you.”

He smiles very slightly. “Really?”

“Yeah. Yeah, she would.”

“Will you come back, Doctor?”

“I don’t know. But I will if I can think of a way to help, okay?”

He nods solemnly. An expression far older than his years on his face. “Yeah.”

She turns and waves at him and, in that moment, is grabbed at the elbow by a black clad guard.

“Hey!” the boy says.

The Doctor feels the fingers tighten near painfully over her arm, barely leashed violence. She turns, careful not to pull away and escalate the situation. “It’s ok. I’m fine. These gentlemen are just going to escort me to the Agricultural Centre, isn’t that right?”

The guard’s grip tightens another increment and the Doctor clenches her teeth against a sound of pain.

“The President wants to see you,” says a rasping voice behind her, and a presence on her left makes her realise with a sigh that these guards obviously operate in pairs.

“See,” she strives for a reassuring tone. “It’s fine.”

The boy nods hesitantly.

“Just go back inside,” the Doctor says and then turns to look up at the guard holding her. “The President asked for me personally?” She relaxes fractionally at the sound of the door closing gently behind the child, these guards are exactly the kind of intimidating and aggressive that lends itself to removal of the witnesses.

“You and your friends,” rasps the one holding her.

“Friends? I don’t have any friends. I’m on my own.”

The grip tightens again, unnatural, inhumanly tight, all the way to the bone, and this time the Doctor grunts with pain she can’t fully suppress. “That is some finger strength you have there. What are you? Android?”

The guard yanks her hard and she stumbles slightly on the uneven ground, “Where are your friends?”

“It’s rude not to answer a question,” the Doctor sing-songs.

The other guard grabs her shoulder and now she has two points of pain radiating from the steel-like grip. She hisses again and jerks herself forward, serving to loosen the second guard’s fingers, at least a little. “I’m by myself,” she insists again.

There is a pause while the two guards consider this information, giving the Doctor a chance to look them over. They’re identical, a foot taller than she is, black clad from head to toe, heads covered in bubble-like masks. Slabs, probably. She keeps talking, slabs aren’t known for their quick processing. She might be able to distract them.

“I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been waiting ages, shouldn’t really keep a President waiting.”

“The President said you would have friends,” one or both of them rasp.

The Doctor shrugs. “What can I say? My invitation only included a plus one and I didn’t want to offend them by choosing between them. They’re not here.”

There is another long pause while the slabs consider. It would be just the Doctor’s luck for the fam to turn up now, and until she knows more about what’s happening and this President, she’d rather that didn’t happen. “So, should we go?” she pulls forward again, ignoring the pain.

However, her movement towards the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies sparks something in the slabs programming and they start walking with her. “Tell me about the President?” she says.

There is no answer. Well, she always knew that was optimistic, slabs aren’t known for their chatty willingness to share information, either. Instead, she walks in silence between them, coat swishing in the gentle breeze, the hem just touching the top of the blackened grass. The Doctor looks out over the barren landscape, her misgivings growing with every step. There should be people, hunting for what they can, certain there must be something better if they walk far enough. If nothing else, there should be bodies. The tranquillity, coupled with the destroyed vegetation, makes the planet seem dead. If not for the boy she had spoken to, the Doctor might begin to wonder if her readings had been wrong.

As she and the slabs make it to the top of a rounded hillock, the Doctor gets her first glimpse of the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies. It’s huge, almost a town in its own right. There’s one centre building made of the same softly glowing pink mineral as the houses in the settlement she had just left. It’s impressive to look at, she has to give it that. It’s enormous, a long low building with a tower at each end; a gabled window in the centre, a floor or two above the large arched door. Then, like ripples emanating from a stone thrown into a pond, there are a variety of other buildings, all bordering a wide road perhaps half a mile in total: one tall, flat tower, a number of small houses in a terraced row, a circular building at one end.

“Where’s the President then? In the office with that big window? That’s one I’d want. I bet the view is beautiful. Or, would be, if the planet wasn’t dying.”

Unsurprisingly, there’s no answer.

As they reach the outskirts of the university, the Doctor’s uneasy feeling intensifies. A university campus like this should be teeming with life, with giggling students and harried lecturers. The silence is weighted and unnatural and it echoes in both her hearts. So many people must be dead to create this quiet; these pristine buildings are ruins, just waiting to be weathered by the ravages of time.

The slabs walk her up the empty road and the Doctor shivers slightly, the blank windows of the buildings feeling oppressively like eyes staring at her. The one with a grip on her arm steers her towards the vaulted doorway in the main building. The Doctor grins, “I was right about the office, wasn’t I?”

They march her up a single flight of narrow stairs made of the same smooth crystal, and the Doctor wishes she could stop to examine the tooling of it. She wants to know how this has been done. Deira Minar is somewhere she has always wanted to visit, an incredible repository of human ingenuity and skill.

When they reach the top, they stop outside a heavy wooden door. The hallway is dark, quiet like a library. The Doctor eyes the door. Long before this was the office of the Interim President, this was the office of someone important. Wood is rare here, the trees spindly, and mostly fruit bearing, not suited to this kind of use. This must have been brought in.

She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes for a second. Beyond that door, is her other, or possibly the Trickster. She needs to know what they are doing and why, and then she needs to stop it, get history back on track. All without getting her friends into any trouble. Easy.

The slab finally releases her arm and the Doctor flexes her fingers as feeling returns. She takes another breath and the slab on her right pushes the door open.

The Doctor steps confidently into the room and the President looks up from whatever he’s watching on a monitor in the corner with a bright smile. The Doctor blinks quickly. “You!” she gasps.

The Master gives her a smile which would be winning if it wasn’t edged with madness. “Hello, Doctor.”

How can this be you? She wants to blurt out, but refuses to give the Master the satisfaction of her obvious confusion, so instead she walks over to the desk he’s settled behind and helps herself to the comfortable looking armchair off to the side of it. Deciding that putting her feet on the small coffee table would be a little too affected, she settles for leaning forward, elbows on knees. “It was your TARDIS I tracked?”

He shrugs and walks out from behind the desk to join her, seating himself across from her. He’s wearing his customary purple suit, but has treated himself to some pins denoting some of the highest honours on Deira Minor. His cheekbones are sharper than she remembers, if anything he looks gaunt, an updated version of encouraging people to see what they expect to see she supposes, she can’t imagine the Master starving himself in order to rule over a planet already mostly dead. “How am I supposed to know what signal your antique pile of junk chose to follow?”

“And yours gives off far too much energy. You need to reinitialize the buffers, I thought you had a crew of about 15 from the output,” she retorts, sharply. For a moment there’s a tense silence and the Doctor is just steeling herself to ask what she must, even if it will require listening to his interminable gloating. When the Master abruptly volunteers-

“Do you know there’s another version of you running around?”

“Yes, actually,” the Doctor responds, nettled by his condescending tone. “She’s the one I was trying to follow. Why are you here anyway?”

His face pulls and then the smirk snaps back into place. “I’m not really bothered which version of you’s plans I ruin.”

The Doctor leans further forward, interest lighting her eyes. “You know her plans?”

The Master takes a moment to buff his nails on his lapel, examining them carefully. She doesn’t roll her eyes, mostly because she doesn’t have an audience to appreciate it. “Perhaps. What is it worth to you?”

Wariness steals over her features. “What do you want?”

“How about...one of your pets?”

The Doctor opens her mouth.

“And don’t tell me they’re not here. Yes, I saw you arguing with my slabs, they’re equipped with a full range of surveillance equipment, but I know you too well. There’s no way you’re here by yourself.”

“No,” the Doctor folds her arms and glares.

“Oh, go on. Just one. I haven’t got anyone to play with here if I want to keep my cover.”

She may as well be carved from granite for all the movement she makes.

“Whatever. Fine. Be like that. I tell you what: I’ll tell you what I know and then you can explain to me what is going on in that pretty little head of hers and then I can have the satisfaction of stopping you both.”

A bright smile lights up the Doctor’s face. “You haven’t got a clue what her plan is, you’re just reacting to whatever she’s done.”

A scowl briefly mars his expression, a cloud covering the sun, before he forces his face to relax and leans back in the chair, once more examining his nails. “Which is more than you know,” he reminds her archly.

The Doctor files her best sarcastic remarks for later, and forces herself to look contrite. “Yes, I’m sorry, Master.”

He snorts, not convinced for a second. Once upon a time he was familiar with that pseudo humility from the days when they’d age Baruso’s dinner to be inedible with portable time generators. “She showed up a few days before I did, set up on the south side of the continent.”

“And did what?”

He’s silent.

“Oh, come on. You’re not telling me you know her landing site and nothing else? You’re too good for that.”

He looks at her, half amused and half irritated.

She raises an eyebrow.

“She landed at the College of Virology.”

The Doctor’s stomach sinks.

“I arrived just as the plague spread over the continent. She was arranging an evacuation programme to the other parts of the planet. Sloppy, even by your standards, Doctor, all that did was spread the contaminant across the world.”

“And then?” The Doctor asks, her voice tight.

“She arranged for peacekeeping forces, but given the panic created by the virus and the need for more militant control, I took the opportunity to overhaul their government and became planetary President.”

“Wait,” the Doctor holds up a hand. “Firstly, a version of me was - almost certainly - involved in starting a plague, arranged to have it spread across the entire globe, tried to keep the peace with armed thugs and at at no point did you think ‘Well, that’s a bit out of character, maybe there’s something else going on here?’”

The Master splutters for a second before, “I thought you’d just grown a spine. Timeless Child.”

“And secondly, you - Mr Galactic-Domination-At-All-Costs-And-Damn-The-Bodycount - you then started arranging for support for everyone, minimising any looting and rioting, stopping people from moving around and generally, doing your best to stop people from suffering, simply because I was doing the opposite.”

“I-”

“Oh, and also, I’m not the Timeless Child. It was a clever lie and you were fooled.”

“But-”

“Now, do you want to help me or not?”

The Master looks at her, clearly swallowing both his first and second remarks before saying, “Tell me what is going on.”

She knows she can’t trust him, but the Master would be a formidable asset in her efforts to stop the Trickster. His intervention is probably the only reason her timeline hasn’t completely unravelled already. She hastily recaps her experience on Gallifrey.

“And actually, if you think about it, this is completely your fault. My younger self wouldn’t have had to make a deal with the Trickster if you weren’t the kind of idiot that went searching for that kind of monster to make deals with. Bit tacky really, taking advantage of someone’s younger regenerations.”

“I didn’t ask you to.”

“Well. Be that as it may. I am asking you: help me.”

There’s a long silence, but she can see that he’s weakening, almost feeling the sensation of crumbling in shields that she would never dream of pushing against, but is too attuned to to simply ignore.

“Look. If we’ve learned one thing today, it’s that when I’m the bad one you feel compelled to be good. You want to destroy her plans? I can help you with that. I’ll even let you take the credit for it.”

He sneers, but he’s about to agree, she can feel it. Then the door slams open.

“Doctor, are you okay?” It’s Yaz.

“Oh look,” the Master says brightly. “You did bring humans after all. I knew you were lying.”

Jack appears in the doorway next to her. His eyes sweep the Master and the familiar grin appears on his face. “Captain Jack Harkness, and you are?” he extends a hand.

“It’s Handsome Jack,” the Master crows. “This is like This is your life!”

Confusion appears on Jack’s face and he falters slightly.

“It’s the Master, Jack,” the Doctor says quietly.

Confusion blooms into shock, tempered with hatred, but Jack doesn’t ask questions. He swings an arm out behind him, blocking Ryan and Graham and glares.

“Is he-?” Yaz starts.

“He’s going to help us,” the Doctor states.

There’s an immediate clamour from everyone else in the room. The Doctor gives them a few seconds to get it out of their system, then she raises her hand to her mouth and uses two fingers to whistle sharply.

“Took me ages to learn how to do that,” she says once there’s quiet. “Yes, you are going to help us,” she addresses the Master first.

He makes a half dozen facial expressions and splutters a few syllables.

“No. Shut up. You know you are going to help, you know you need to stop the Trickster too because if he unravels everything I’ve ever done, that affects your life to an enormous degree. We’ve spent too many centuries together.”

That wins her a smile. “Oh, Doctor. I didn’t know you considered us exclusive.”

She glares at him and doesn’t respond.

“Jack, of course I don’t trust him. I’m going to be watching him at all times, but we are fighting against me and one of the most evil beings in our dimension, we need the manpower. Yaz, I know he destroyed my planet, but I don’t want to be responsible for destroying this one. Graham, I know he doesn’t care about helping people, he cares about ruining my plans and right now, that’s exactly what we want to do too. Ryan...I know he threatened to kill you, but we really need his help.”

“He did kill me,” Jack says, his smile has too many teeth now and the Doctor notices that he’s wound tight enough to snap.

The Master laughs. “How many times was it? 458, 789...I never did reach the end of my experiments.”

“Shut up,” the Doctor snaps again, rounding on the Master. “Leave them alone. And you, stop encouraging him. He’s horrible, we know he’s horrible. We still need his help.”

This time there’s complete silence when she stops talking.

“That’s better. Now, here’s what we’ll do. There’s six of us, so we’ll split into groups of three. Me, the Master and Yaz will go and find my other self and stop her. Jack, Graham and Ryan, you’re plan B. I need you to create a teleportation jamming field - prevent her from leaving. Make sure that if we fail we don’t have to find her again.”

“That’s ridiculous,” the Master points out. “You can’t send a group of humans, on their own, to fight a renegade Time Lord and a member of the Pantheon of Discord.”

“They won’t be-”

“And, even if they are able to avoid two incredibly powerful beings, which is, frankly, rather unlikely, you expect a few apes to be able to create a jamming field capable of preventing the Trickster himself moving as he pleases?”

“Jack knows what to do. And I have equipment.”

“Oh, yes? The Freak knows how to avoid leaks if he starts trying to build a multiphasic resonator? And you have equipment that can actually build something like that? It’s not second hand, mostly broken junk in the TARDIS storage bays?”

The Doctor meets Jack’s eyes and he grimaces. She really really really hates it when the Master is right. And she can’t send him off to create such a field on his own. Who knows what he’d get up to.

“Fine,” she says through gritted teeth. “Master, you help Jack with the jamming field. Fam, we’re going after a different version of me and a god from another dimension.”