Fiction: Memories

A Woman is the Sum of Her Memories

by Grant Goggans

An ugly black triangle rotated slowly in the sky.

The Doctor didn’t know how long it had been there. He’d just sped past some girl who looked oddly familiar and noticed the triangle in his rear view mirror. “Great balls of fire,” he muttered under his breath, and sped up. He had tinkered and toyed with his car so much over the years that he was pretty certain Bessie could outrun most ugly black triangles. The old car rocketed down the lane, and, at what should have been an incredibly unsafe speed, he turned into an old country road and roared out of sight.

The triangle was gone. He’d lost it. “Good old Bessie,” he said, patting the wheel, and then the triangle was back, and it grew, and it swallowed the Doctor and his car and, for twenty seconds, they no longer existed on this planet. The triangle even removed the smell of the car’s exhaust, and any echo that anybody might have heard of the roar of the car’s engine.

There were twenty silent seconds on that country road, and then the triangle returned and spun around and the car was back again. The Doctor’s eyes were closed and he held the wheel tightly. Bessie’s engine was off. He was repeating something to himself. “Time Lords, from my future,” he said, quietly, again and again, holding onto a memory, but it was vanishing, detaching itself like an iceberg. A melting iceberg.

He opened the glove box and grabbed a pencil and pad. He spoke loudly as he wrote, “Time Lords from my future. The Master only has one heart. Don’t ever trust Borusa, he’s behind it,” but it was gone now. He didn’t remember what Borusa was behind.

He hated this. He was sure this had happened many times before. He kept crossing his timeline and meeting himself from the future, wearing different bodies, and never once remembered it until he was himself from the future looking back at his younger self. This time, he demanded, it would be different. He’d know at least not to trust Borusa.

He remembered Borusa very well. A very strict and often utterly unreasonable man, a genius in many regards but passionately insistent on the Time Lords’ policy of non-intervention in the affairs of the rest of the universe, at least on the surface. Borusa made some very strong points and won countless arguments about the dangers of allowing lesser species access to technology ahead of their abilities, but he also, always, turned the other way when his people, with or without a TARDIS, stormed away and left Gallifrey. Maybe it was because everybody who ever left was a Prydonian. Something about Borusa’s passion and his immutability just drove people away.

He looked at his words. Why would he ever need to stop trusting Borusa? He didn’t understand it. He was lost in thought for more than a minute, and only noticed with a second to spare that the ugly black triangle had come back to swallow him again.

* * *

This time, the triangle brought him and his car to a massive room. It was probably an airport hangar, with offices along one wall and a long row of TARDISes, wearing their basic gray “factory floor” shape, along the other. As he climbed out of his car, the Doctor realized that a quiet hum was traveling across the floor. It was not an airport hangar, it was a TARDIS. All these other TARDISes – there had to be at least seventy – were inside another TARDIS.

This was incredibly dangerous. He touched one, feeling months but not years. That was no excuse. Nobody could be so reckless as to layer this many infinite dimensions inside each other. Not even – no, it didn’t bear thinking about it.

“You’re thinking about the Master, aren’t you?” said someone from one of those offices. The Doctor turned, furious. “Whoever you are, you’ve got to let these ships out. You don’t know what you’re doing.”

An older man, impeccably dressed, stepped out into the hangar, more interested in the Doctor’s car than with the TARDISes. Four other men followed him. They were also impeccably dressed, but in blue-green military uniforms. “We know what we’re doing,” he said, lazily. “We trap black holes in hourglasses. We freeze and fix constellations that can look the same from every point in the known universe. We have been prepared to handle seventy-two separate sets of infinite dimensions since there were only three galaxies.”

The Doctor didn’t relax, not one muscle, but he allowed that he was less close to annhilation than he had suspected. The man continued: “Your problem is that you have spent so many decades in the company of beings with such limited understanding of science that you forget where you came from.”

The Doctor’s eyes were cold. “I assure you, sir, I have never forgotten that.”

“I wonder,” said the man. “But you were thinking about the Master. That’s why we called you. Please come with me. He’s about to do something terrible.”

“He always is. You rarely seem to care.”

“He’s about to do something terrible to himself.”

* * *

They talked, and the Doctor understood only what they’d let him. This wasn’t the Master who’d been toying with Earth so recently. This was a Master from far in his own future. The Doctor probed, he asked, he demanded, he looked for chinks in this man’s armor, any clue, any morsel that would give him anything more than what the man would let him know. The man knew exactly what the Doctor was doing and didn’t give him that morsel.

He was blunt and direct with what little he allowed. Some months previously, the Master had failed at another scheme, and failed even more than he realized. Now the Master was trapped without immediate access to time travel in the year 115,313. He could travel in space, and he would probably find a way to move freely again eventually, but first he was going to blow himself up. He was about to make a very bad mistake and he would not be able to regenerate from what he was about to do.

“Well, that’s an unfortunate end. I’m sorry that he came to it. But if I’ve failed after all those years to make him see reason, isn’t it the ending he deserves?”

“Not there. Not in 115,313. We know when the Master dies. It isn’t there. You have to stop it.”

“Hmmm,” said the Doctor. “Then why me? Why this version of me? You’re letting me – you’re allowing me – to understand that he and I keep fighting, that however many future mes there are, they’re always fighting him. Why not send your little Timescoop triangle to pick up his Doctor, instead of me?”

“Sometimes you will stop believing in him. You’ll often try again; it is in your nature. It is in your history. But you – this you – you never once stopped trying. You remember him as he was so fondly. You never once lost sight of your friendship.”

“But one day I will, that’s what you mean,” said the Doctor quietly.

“Stop looking for words that are not there. You need to go. You’ll find your new TARDIS perfectly patched for a single pilot. I think you will remember what he is doing as you search for him. We’ve preset your coordinates for Hopperia Seven, a black market for surplus technology.”

* * *

Traveling within one time zone meant that what should have taken months took only five days. The Doctor started at that market on Hopperia Seven and made some acquaintances, bought some drinks, paid some bribes, and learned the difficulty in tracking down a man with just an alias and no description. On Dante’s World a few hours later, he got in a fight with two huge guards. He spent hours in a jail cell on a space station called Kurtzman’s Pulsar, bought more drinks on a planet that was uncomfortably close to a black hole, helped the local police at one crime scene, and said nothing to the local police on another planet’s very different crime scene, because the Master had started using his tissue compression eliminator again.

It wasn’t that he left a trail of bodies. Some people were all too happy to share stories – and descriptions – of the polite, calm man with the manic laugh, dark skin and beard, usually wearing purple. That helped. Some people were missing. Some were dead. Some were dead on the receiving end of the most barbaric technology he could imagine. He was starting to see how, some time from now, he would lose sight of that friendship. He genuinely couldn’t believe that he was using that thing again.

* * *

On day five, the Doctor found him. They were in a marine lot on the surface of a small planet where travellers parked their spaceships. The Master opened the door to the Paradise-class windsailer he had been using to navigate between planets, and dropped his case hard, stunned silent by the man from his past.

“A Mark Six-B Phonogram Glass Drive,” the Doctor said quietly. “I started recognizing the components after the third stop. Some of it’s ancient, some of it’s fairly new. That’s the trouble with a classical education outside of time. You learn about all these weapons that nobody would ever think to build, because they require parts that haven’t been manufactured for centuries.”

The Master, still silent, shook his head in disbelief. That’s not the jaw I remember, thought the Doctor. He’s holding himself so differently. He has two hearts. That’s good. That note I left myself had me concerned. It just doesn’t seem like him at all, except… yes. The eyes. That’s why the jaw is different. He used to manage that rage behind his eyes differently. He’s as angry today as he was on his worst day.

Several seconds had passed. “I’m sorry,” said the Master. “Where are my manners? Hello. It’s nice to see you. Why the hell are you here?”

“Because it won’t work. It will kill you.”

“No, no, no, no, no, you. Why are you here? You! I remembered you being tied down to Earth all the time when you were you. Where’s that – that pest of a girl? But no, no, no, not you! Where’s modern you? I don’t waste time with fossils!”

“You’ll be wasting your life if you plug that Glass Drive in with that rotten Von Grawbagger you got from that museum on Targel. I know, you enhanced it with the solar batteries you bought on that other planet, and with the–”

“This doesn’t make sense,” the Master bellowed.

“It doesn’t have to,” the Doctor said. “Please, please give me those parts. I don’t want you to die.”

And with a flourish, the Master pulled out that barbaric technology. “The feeling is not mutual.”

“I think you know that you can’t kill me here. Not with that.” The tissue compression eliminator was ugly and barbaric, and the Doctor knew that it really would kill him. It destroyed cells as it compressed them, leaving its victims crushed and compacted, organs forced within organs. There were not many weapons that would kill a Time Lord absolutely, but with every cell in a body imploding from the weight of other cells, there was nothing left to regenerate from.

“Oh, I can,” the Master said, the rage and the jealousy and the powerlessness and the fury lighting his eyes so brightly and so wrongly. “You have no idea what I change by killing you now. You have no idea what I prevent. There won’t even be a Time War if you’re not around to do our superiors’ dirty work for them on Skaro!”

Maybe his eyes were so bright he blinded himself, or maybe the Doctor really was that fast, but the tissue compression eliminator was on the floor and the Master’s left shoulder cracked as the Doctor chopped him. He put a hairline fracture into his clavicle, but more importantly, the blow came at the precise angle for the impact to shove his arm just a tiny fraction out of its joint. Given a few hours, the bone would correct and right itself, but the Master would feel stinging pain until then.

The Master moved, but the Doctor moved first, knowing where he was going. Both men were on the floor and the Master was certain that his left kneecap shattered as the Doctor drove him down, and now he was in a headlock and the Doctor had two fingers in his neck, and this body had not spent years learning akido like the Doctor had. And the tissue compression eliminator was out of reach, and then it was encased in diamond.

“That will do,” said the man that the Doctor had last seen five days ago. The Doctor rose, furious, and the four men in blue-green uniforms sprayed the Master with a gas that solidified and encased him, from his elbows to his feet, in the same diamond.

“I’m sorry,” said the man to the Master. “We had to stop you doing this, here. We’re going to take you someplace safe, and then we’re going to kill you. Then we’re going remove all traces of this weapon from your memory so you will never do anything so idiotic again. And then we’ll release you. All right?” One of the men had left the room and returned with a cart. With no grace or dignity at all, the men dropped the Master in it like groceries and wheeled him away.

“You used me,” the Doctor said to the man.

“We did,” he agreed.

“You knew that he’d be so furious at the sight of me – a past me from his perspective – that it would madden him.”

“That’s true,” said the man.

“He is so desperate to change his own past that he’d risk changing everything by killing me. I was bait,” the Doctor said.

“And you knew perfectly well that you were bait.”

“Yes, but what’s to stop him trying this again tomorrow? He could go back to old Gallifrey and kill me in my crib next.”

“We’re taking that idea from him, too, Doctor. The Master won’t even be tempted after today.”

“And my memories as well. That’s what you’re going to do, isn’t it?”

“Not in the way you think. It’s actually very, very important that you know what happens next, but not until today. May I please see your sonic screwdriver?”

“Why? What on Earth for?”

The man said, “Because you charge it by plugging it into your TARDIS’s console.”

* * *

Thousands of years later, a light on that TARDIS’s console switched on and a small alarm crackled quietly into life. The Doctor was traveling with a young woman called Yaz, who heard the alarm first. The Doctor was in a workshop several corridors away rebuidling an engine with a blowtorch.

Yaz said “There’s a noise I’ve never heard before and a blinking light on the console. Are we in trouble?”

The Doctor took off her goggles and said “Probably. It’s been such a quiet week.”

In the main room, the Doctor talked to her TARDIS, as she often did, sweetly prodding “What’s wrong with you today, eh?” She flicked levers and turned knobs and admitted to herself, but not Yaz, that she really didn’t know what circuit caused this light to turn on in the first place. “Are you trying to tell me something? You don’t want to go somewhere, do you? Bored out here while Yaz watches TV and I reinvent internal combustion?”

The Doctor took out her sonic, and then said “Wait, no, really?” She put away the sonic and said to Yaz “Different sonic. It’s a pulse! One of my old screwdrivers left us a program!”

“Why would a sonic do that?”

“For a beacon, homing in, a special circuit I must have put in here once. Wow! I have rebuilt this console three or four dozen times over the years, never mind all the times she’s done it to herself. Where’s this program been hiding? Oh. This must be really important. I wonder where we’re going?”

The TARDIS landed a few minutes later. The Doctor had found her favorite gray coat, went to the door, and said “Oooooh, that feeling.”

“Deja vu? How can you have deja vu when you don’t even know where we’ve landed? Is it because you don’t remember why you programmed that beacon?”

“That’s the trouble. I’m starting to remember.”

Yaz opened the door and saw a massive room. It was probably an airport hangar, with offices along one wall and a strange, old-fashioned yellow car in the middle of things. “Look at this old banger,” she said, and ran her hands along it.

“Oi! Less of the “old banger,” you! That’s Bessie!”

“Old banger indeed,” said a forgotten voice. The Doctor turned and there he was, in one of those offices, standing that way she always used to stand in doorways, forearm against the frame. “Well, well, well,” he said, because she used to always say that, too. “I suppose I knew that I’d change genders one day, but I expected that I’d have better dress sense.”

“Watch it, Wine and Cheese,” the Doctor said. “You’re one to talk! You’re meant to be a time traveler, you. The only time you look at home in is 1971.” And they shook hands, smiling. “How’ve you been, old man? This is Yaz. Yaz, this fellow used to be me.”

That Doctor put on the charm as he shook Yaz’s hand. “Hello, it’s a great pleasure.”

The current Doctor grinned and enjoyed telling her old self, “Not really, she’s a police officer,” with a conspiratorial chuckle. The old Doctor withdrew his hand with an “Oh.”

“And what’s wrong with police officers,” asked Yaz.

There was a beat before the Doctors replied “Traffic tickets.”

Yaz looked at them both, and then looked at the car. “In that? The old banger?”

“Oh,” the current Doctor said, “I have missed playing with Bessie.”

“Got her up to 140 last week on an airport runway,” the old Doctor said. He seemed to spend a lot of his time on Earth on disused airport runways.

That man who nobody had noticed was in another office. He let them talk.

* * *

Yaz was fascinated by her Doctor’s memory loss. “I don’t get it, you’re both here, so when we leave, he’s going to always remember that one day down his line, he’ll turn into you, and meet him here, and so this shouldn’t have been a surprise to you! In the TARDIS, you should have said, ‘Oh, that’s the little alarm that says we’re going to meet my old male self in the frilly shirt with the yellow car’.”

“We can’t remember things that way,” Yaz’s Doctor said. “It’s driving me mad,” the older-younger one added. “I could swear I just ran across some of my other selves just a few minutes before I was brought here and I don’t know a thing about it.”

“When was that?” asked Yaz’s Doctor. “Oh, right, yeah, the Death Zone. Yeah, big party, that was.”

“The Death Zone?! What in blazes was I doing in the Death Zone?”

“Being rude to the little me with the bow tie, mainly. But this is how it has to work, Yaz, it’s in our DNA. We’re engineered this way.”

“It’s the sort of thing they mention in a classroom and nobody expects to ever encounter it.”

Yaz figured it out: “Because they – the Time Lords – didn’t expect you to leave and run around the universe, crossing paths with yourself like you always do. So if the earlier you remembers this, then you could change it, keep it from happening.”

Yaz’s Doctor said “Yeah, I only remember little flashes even now that I’m here. It’s something to do with…”

“Yes,” said the man that nobody noticed. “It’s the Master.” The conversation dropped, stone dead. The Doctors weren’t even breathing as they fixed eyes with him.

“Do you remember now?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Yaz’s Doctor. “I leave the room with you. That way there’s no risk. No engineering failure. No possibility of time going wrong. I’ll never know until now what you’re going to show me.” The man nodded. Yaz’s Doctor said, “I think he will tell you campfire stories now, Yaz. Although I’d rather stay here and rewire a couple of really old carburetors with him.” She paused, and said “I’ll be back. I remember that,” and then they left.

* * *

“Campfire stories?”

“I’ve been thinking about campfires for several hours now. It was a very long time ago,” the older-younger Doctor told Yaz. “I spent many years not thinking about my home planet. Then when the Master turned up again, it’s like the locked door where all those memories were hiding just fell apart.”

“My Doctor said that you and the Master were at school together.”

“We were. We were friends, and some time after he left, I heard what he was doing, and I stopped thinking about the good times. Later, I left as well, and I suppose that’s when I put my memories on that shelf in that locked room.”

“You’re remembering something specifically, aren’t you?” asked Yaz. “Something painful.”

“It wasn’t. It is now.” And then the Doctor told Yaz about that night around the fire. It happened hundreds of years ago, and there, inside that TARDIS that looked like an airport hangar, it felt like every minute of those hundreds of years. The Doctor remembered earlier incidents with clarity and happiness, but this was so distant that he could barely touch it.

This was before the Doctor was the Doctor, and the Master was the Master, and the Corsair was the Corsair, and the Rani was the Rani, because none of them had chosen those names yet, although they were all Prydonians, and they were in something like their third “year,” only the year was far longer than that, and at the end of their week, which was far longer than a week, they had six or seven days to rest. Many of the students who lived in nearby Houses or cities would go home for their rest period, but there were several hundred students who lived too far away to make that practical, because the Academy wouldn’t let any of them have access to the technology of Time Lords yet.

Of these several hundred students, seventeen of them would spend some – but certainly not all – of their rest periods hiking and camping, and the students who would one day be the Doctor and the Master and the Corsair and the Rani were among them. In retrospect, it might seem remarkable that a full quarter of this number would get fed up and leave Gallifrey at very early ages, but Prydonians, as Borusa occasionally reflected to himself, did remarkable things.

During any given rest period, between six and ten of these students, never more than ten, would leave the Academy and visit one of the nearby mountains. There was one that the Doctor favored, because there was an old hermit who lived there and who the Doctor had been visiting for many decades. On those occasions, the rest of the party would not join him. They would, in his absence, sit around the campfire and, in the words of some poet, smoke pipes and discuss all the vast intricacies of life.

But on this one occasion that the Doctor was sadly remembering today, they were not on that mountain, and there were nine of them, among them all four of the future renegades, smoking pipes and playing blue guitars and discussing all the vast intricacies of life.

It would be very human, he explained to Yaz, to suggest that this was the night that Morag broke the Master’s heart, but Gallifreyans are not human. Sex and intimacy were academic concepts to them, because even if they never became Time Lords and were never granted the extended centuries of regeneration, Gallifreyans could expect to live for an extremely long time, far past the point that romantic love and devotion would fade away. There were many long-lived species in the universe, and almost all of them had a practice where one partner would pledge some sort of life-long commitment to another, but the longest that anybody had ever recorded fidelity and love actually lasting was right around three hundred years. Gallifreyans knew that this kind of love did not last forever, which would disappoint many poets on many planets, and so when they did choose to start a family or have children, the whole affair was comparatively bloodless, pragmatic, and somewhat sad. Gallifreyan marriages almost always ended long before death.

And neither Morag nor the Master were the sort of Gallifreyans to fall in love anyway.

It might also be very human to suggest that gender had something to do with this incident, but, again, Gallifreyans are not human. The overwhelming majority of them – by no means all, but most – didn’t think twice about gender, although it was true that of the seventeen Prydonians who made this occasional journey, fifteen of them were in male bodies. Morag and the Rani were the only women in this group at this stage in their lives. From what is known, every one of them changed genders at least once in their time, with the exception of the Rani, who did think twice about gender, insisted that she was female, and was thought by almost all of her colleagues and peers somewhat retrograde and intolerant for her opinion. The Rani once told another student that if she ever did regenerate incorrectly and woke in a male body, she would end the life immediately and pay more attention the next time. The anecdote followed her for decades.

So even though Morag was female and the Master was male, and they were students who camped next to each other, and even though Morag was impossibly beautiful and the Master was breathtakingly perfect, love and sex had nothing to do with that evening around the fire. But intimacy did. The Master left that mountain a far more dangerous person because of what Morag did to him.

She respected him. She gave a genuine, terrible moral authority to an idea so absurd that Borusa himself had said it was a foolish waste of resources to explore.

* * *

The older-younger Doctor was trying to explain to Yaz, but he found it difficult. “The problem with me explaining this scenario is that humanity – at least from your time – can’t really look at very many different avenues where technology could have gone in different ways,” and Yaz looked at him blankly. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” she said.

“Well, think of Earth’s history, and compare it to the TARDIS, and compare those to the planets that you and your Doctor have visited. You see some similarities, even when the technology is entirely different. Your Doctor still uses her hands to steer the TARDIS. It has buttons and switches and levers. It doesn’t have poems. It doesn’t use taste to travel.”

“She once mentioned people made of smoke and cities made of song, and they sound beautiful, but I can’t really picture them.”

“That’s on the right track, yes. You see, most of the places in our universe where the TARDIS will travel will have oxygen to support carbon-based life that requires lungs to breathe. And throughout all these galaxies, you can imagine that tangible sensation of building things, constructing them. Perhaps the creatures of one planet built their doomsday weapons from wood while your people built them from metal. The people of Earth split the atom in a laboratory while the people of Exarius did it between two volcanoes, but they still split atoms. Other cultures built their doomsday weapons in other ways.”

“From smoke, and song?” Yaz asked, and the Doctor quietly nodded.

“From smoke, and song,” the Master insisted, and Morag quietly nodded.

Yaz said, “So if I take two technologies that don’t have anything to do with each other and were made on entirely different planets, in different time zones, there’s actually a way to make those work together?”

And Borusa said, “Of course not. How could you possibly do that?”

And Morag said “Tell me more.”

The Master had a notebook with him and he showed everybody, and everybody reacted like Borusa did that day after class. The Doctor never remembered it very clearly because the Doctor never paid any attention to it. Even if you could fill a silent gas dirigible with something other than gas, something like nuclear waste or Bx photon energy or the life force of dying mammals or smoke or songs or sugar cubes, there wasn’t any practical way to test any of this. And everyone told him that anyway, the time to come up with wild and outlandish hypotheses about time travel was decades ago, when they were pestering their first tutor about whether they could murder their own grandfathers and marry their own grandmothers.

But Morag said “So what would be a practical way to test any of this?”

And seven of the nine students played their blue guitars, which became increasingly yellow as the night grew longer, and they smoked their pipes, and the Corsair tried to get the others to harmonize with him, and the Master and Morag just talked and talked. She took this very seriously, and she told him that she had studied a theoretical way to travel in time. The historian called it a Phonogram Glass Drive, but it could never be assembled without actually having time travel in the first place. The Glass Drive, theorized in one time zone, required the use of components that had been used by a nearby race about two thousand years previously. It was, therefore, utterly impractical to create something that only might succeed when you would have to use something that had already succeeded to get the parts.

Morag said “If that could work with a time machine, then I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with a weapon. You might have the same problem: why go to all that effort to assemble something esoteric and unlikely to kill someone when you can just use the weapons available to you? But Borusa is completely wrong. You can do it.”

The Master said “You think so? You really think so?”

“I think you can do anything if you put your mind to it,” Morag said. “You could build anything from explosives to biological gas. But more important than that, you’ve got a fascinating hypothesis and Borusa doesn’t want you to explore it. I’d keep quiet about that. I think that’s the sort of thing you’ll have to leave Gallifrey to develop. Let me know how it goes.”

That was then.

* * *

This is now.

Yaz’s Doctor was several corridors away. She had no idea what would happen anymore, just that she was in a cell with the Master. He paced, furious, impotent, breathing through his mouth. “You know what’s funny? Morag was right.”

It took the Doctor several heartsbeat to remember who Morag was. “Wow, I forgot all about her. She could really play. Good student. Why are you breathing through your mouth? Is this… wait a minute, this is about that blasted time she looked at you like a lovestruck teenager all night? Corsair and I were asking why didn’t you just snog. Stop with the breathing! Do you need a hankerchief? I’ve got a hankerchief somewh—”

And the Master vomitted. It was more repulsive than the Doctor would have expected from seeing someone vomit, because there was something badly wrong with the color. Then he was sliding something out of his jacket pocket – a small test tube, with something black and curling inside, and then he was down on the floor, the tube opened, using it like a small shovel to collect his vomit. He capped it again and shook the tube vigorously.

“Oh, I sweated for this,” the Master sneered. “Putting this in my stomach to react with the chemicals I’d taken already? I think my body temperature got up to about 130. I couldn’t keep this in my body, however, that would have killed me. Fortunately, when Time Lord policemen spray you with diamond, they can’t search you properly.”

The Doctor was absolutely frozen. She couldn’t move, trapped by memories, by repulsion at what the Master had done to himself, by concern that something terrible was going to happen. “Is this where we fight? What do we need, swords, bones, what?”

The Master just decked her. The Doctor saw stars as she fell backward. “Where’s your Venusian aikido now, Doctor?!” he taunted, and she said to herself that yes, okay, there had been years, decades, several centuries on Trenzalore as a matter of fact, where she could have kept up with her lessons and her training. But some things you don’t forget so easily, except that it seemed harder to concentrate because the puddle of the Master’s vomit on the floor seemed to be giving off steam, and now that test tube was glowing a bright and angry pink.

The Doctor slipped out of her coat and took a fighting stance and the Master just threw the tube over his shoulder, where it exploded against the far wall and he charged her. The Doctor saw him like he was moving in slow motion, and she remembered what she had done when they fought earlier, when he was captured. His shoulder.

All of her instincts said to throw him, but there was something better she could do. She rolled back, let him reach her, let his hands go for her throat, and she brought her right palm up, raising the larger man’s arm up and causing something to splinter. That hairline in his clavicle became a chasm; the arm left its joint entirely.

Her body might not be as large as some she had worn in the past, and her fist was the smallest she’d ever used, but she knew how to use it. Not even centuries on Trenzalore building toys for children could take that muscle memory away. The Master’s shoulder was not broken in the earlier fight, but it was broken now. He howled, and released his grip as the fingers of one hand stopped working, and then she threw him, straight past her and into the wall.

But then the door came down and the guards came in. The explosion ignited the fumes from the Master’s vomit as guards ran in. The air was changing color and there was something electrical, sparking, dancing. Two men fell back at once. Others used their spray guns. The Doctor had never seen anything like it. They were capturing the strips of the Master’s biological weapon. Each strip looked something like a cartoon lightning bolt, only smaller, with spherical pulses along its jagged length, frozen and locked inside instantly-hardening diamond.

That’s when all of this stopped unfolding in the way the Doctor expected it to. She’d been doing this for a very long time. She was used to the Master initiating some doomsday weapon and then they’d have their argument and he’d usually insist that she join him in ruling the castle or the planet or the galaxy or whatever, and there would be lots of running around, and often a countdown, and then she’d save the day. It didn’t even look like anybody died. The guards froze all of the weapon, and froze the Master again, and ushered her out while other guards came in with fire extinguishers. She picked up her coat, and tried to remember whether anything so, so, so anti-climactic had ever happened when the Master tried something like this.

That man, that official-looking person, was in the corridor. “This had to happen,” he said.

“I don’t think it did,” the Doctor said, quietly.

“We had to see whether he was going to use those ideas he worked out back on Gallifrey with Morag. Borusa told him that he couldn’t mix chemicals and technologies from different time periods and create weapons. It seems Borusa is wrong. Or was. Will be.” He allowed the Doctor to see him smile, and he walked in the room, and then he pulled out a gun, an ugly Earth gun, the kind that uses bullets, and shot the Master twice in the head before the Doctor could react.

* * *

Yaz and the older-younger Doctor had been waiting patiently and playing word games, mixing and matching ridiculous technologies. Hydroelectric smells. Memories that were as heavy as seaweed. Yaz couldn’t remember the last time she felt less self-conscious. She really enjoyed learning that the Doctor was once a silly middle-aged man.

Then her Doctor returned. She had been crying. She immediately saw the worry in Yaz’s eyes. “No, no, everything’s fine. I’m so happy. I think things are going to be okay.”

She touched her old self on the shoulder. “I understand now. They wanted me to know it was going to be worth it. You see, not long ago, the Master was a woman, and called herself Missy. I spent years. Really, I never spent so much time with the Master, talking and working and getting through to her. I didn’t know whether she really got it, but I think that she died, that she really died, and I hoped for, what was it, a year, maybe? I hoped she died with some peace, and that she understood in the end that we can be kind. And then he showed up. This one. Angrier than ever. And oh, did he have a lot to talk about.

“And I have spent all this time, ever since we met this Master, angry with myself. I tried so hard, harder than I ever tried. When I was you, when I was some of the others. I really tried, and I completely failed. But maybe I didn’t.

“They just killed him. Took out a big pistol and killed him. And he regenerated into Missy. I just assumed we were meeting in sequence. But no, all that work I put into Missy, that’s still to come. So I can hope again. I can hope she can die with some peace.”

And the Doctor smiled and then she frowned, because her older-younger self was writing all this down in a notepad. “Oh! That’s where that got to!” She read the first page aloud: “Time Lords from my future. The Master only has one heart.”

She rolled her eyes and pocketed the pad. “Cheating! That’s cheating, this, you can’t have it back.” Sheepishly, the old Doctor scratched the back of his neck, caught in exactly the way he had been caught by Borusa at least twice before.

* * *

They were in the hangar again. Both Doctors were obsessing over their car and chuckling about engines and helicopters and what they’d like to strap on the back of some experimental rocket the next time they got a chance to visit a disused military airport runway. The official-looking type couldn’t be bothered to send them away, so he sent some junior functionary to tell them it was time to leave.

Yaz couldn’t resist trying to tease the old fellow again. “You going to drive off into time and space in this old banger, are you?” The Doctor said “That’s precisely what I’m going to do. You there! Put your Timescoop triangle against the far wall! You can give me that at least. Goodbye, Yaz. Look after me.”

The junior functionary snorted with a grin, because unlike some of his co-workers, he had a sense of humor and imagination. He rolled a crystal around in the palm of his hand, and the ugly black triangle, flat and unreal, appeared, twisting and tumbling, and rolled to the far wall of the building.

The young Doctor turned to his much older self, and told her, quietly, “Those years you say you spent turning the Master’s heart. They weren’t wasted. I’m sure of it.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Goodbye. I think of you often.”

“Go build something for me,” he said, and hit the gas and turned a switch, and Bessie rocketed away so fast that the old banger left the smell of burned rubber in that hangar for what would be hours, speeding into the flat black triangle and back to Earth sometime in the 1970s. And there, on that lane, he barely slowed down to navigate a curve. He enjoyed the acceleration so much that he lost his temper when blue lights appeared in Bessie’s rear-view mirror, and brought his beloved car to a halt.

The police officer started to ask for the Doctor’s license and registration, but instead got an earful about how the sergeant at the local station should know perfectly well not to have any of his minions harass him while driving. When the unfortunate officer tried raising his voice to talk over the Doctor, he said, even louder, “Right, that’s it! I want your badge number and your sergeant’s name, I’ll take them down here.” He opened his glove box and could not find the pad he was looking for. Someone just walked over his grave. He remembered seeing two young women, and quietly said to himself “I’m absolutely certain that I had a notepad here.”

* * *

“Back to the Future,” Yaz said, because Bessie had accelerated so fast that its tire tracks were ablaze. Before the officers emerged with their extinguishers, Yaz’s Doctor knelt down with the notepad and set it on fire with the flames from Bessie’s acceleration. “Time we were going. This was ugly and painful and strange, but also nice and I’m happy. Do you like motorcycles? We should buy a couple of motorcycles. I’m sure I can make them even better.”

The Doctor didn’t look at the official-looking man and he didn’t leave his office. The door was open, but he didn’t look at her, either. The sign on the door read “Divisional Superintendent,” but the Doctor had motorcyles on her mind and did not seem to notice it.