The Mourning After
The Mourning After
It was a typically glorious morning in the heart of London. It was raining. Many people were struggling to work on foot – some vainly striving to use umbrellas that blew inside out and afforded no protection whatsoever, the remainder, resigned to being soaked, simply trudged through the downpour.
After being splashed by passing traffic for the fifth time, Helen Morgan threw her redundant umbrella into a nearby litterbin, and started to walk faster –oblivious to the people she walked past, or even bumped into. She could feel the water soaking into her clothing, and as it ran down her face she knew that the rain had obliterated any attempts she has made at crafting a hairstyle. Damn this! She cursed to her self. I’m going to be late!
Shielding her vision with her hand, Helen walked to a street corner and attempted to hail a cab. After several more car induced soakings, two of which she was certain were deliberate, a London Cab pulled up beside her. The driver wound down the window, and Helen told him her destination.
The driver nodded, another fare assured, and Helen clambered into the back of the taxi. As it pulled away from the curb, she could visibly see the stream slowly rise from her sodden clothing as her temperature met with that within the vehicle. Water that had been held in her hair trickled down her neck, saturating her back even further. Helen closed her eyes, sighing deeply.
“Miss, oh excuse me Miss?”
Helen groaned. Oh no, not one of those annoying drivers that’s going to insist on talking to me all the way. Not today, please. Just let me get to work.
Despite herself, Helen opened her eyes and met the driver’s gaze in the rear view mirror. Leaning forward, she asked, “What?”
“Have you heard? The daytime newsreader has disappeared. Not been seen for two days.”
Helen shrugged, “Probably just had enough and quit.”
The driver nodded, a sly smile playing on his lips, “Well, that’s what they are saying, but …”
Helen leant forward even further, intrigued, “Yes?”
“They are saying that a politician has vanished as well, a Lord and a pop star.”
Helen sat back in her seat, her mind racing, all conscious thought of her damp, soggy clothing forgotten.
In his garage, UNITS’ Scientific Advisor was partially hidden beneath an old yellow roadster called Bessie. The car looked amiable, even quaint, but appearances are often deceptive, and this particular car was a case in point. It had once been a standard model, but having been in its present owner’s hands for a good few years now, it had been augmented several times, and could reach speeds that could almost appear comical if seen by passers by.
A bizarre range of tools littered the floor near Bessie, ranging from standard spanners to devices that quite literally appeared to be talking to one and other. With a sudden rush, the trolley jack rolled from under the car, and the Doctor was fully exposed – a regal looking man, with a face that defied aging. His usually pristine white bouffant was smeared with oil and grease, but his velvet smoking jacket remained unblemished.
While he had been in this particular body, or incarnation, those he had met had often found him forthright, bombastic, even arrogant – but all would comment at some stage that no one could doubt the passion that drove him, his commitment to the given course of the moment. Some even went further, stating that thinking back, even when he had launched into one of his impassioned rails against authority, the army or whatever he chose to speak against, his eyes had contained a warmth after the fall out, and this multi-layered persona exuded an air that you could instinctively trust and that you felt safe with him around.
Anyone seeing the Doctor extracting himself from the floor, slowly rising to his feet would have been hard pressed to fit any of these observations to him. There was no focus in his gaze, and he was clearly distracted in whatever repairs he was undertaking. The light bulb had gone out.
“Jo?” He called, his distinctive intonation flat, almost whispered, “Where did I put my Spatio-egromic motion detector?”
There was no reply.
“Jo?” The silence persisted, and the Doctor closed his eyes, and his already ashen face visibly paled further.
Jo had gone. He knew she had. He’d been at the party at the Nut Hutch when the bombshell was dropped. She wasn’t the first companion to leave, and the Doctor knew that she would certainly not be the last, but her departure had hit him hard. In the time they had shared, he had seen her mature and grow, developing from that wide eyed, clumsy girl the Brigadier had insisted he work with, into the passionate, humane woman who had fallen in love with Clifford Jones. A younger version of himself, she had said. Bless her, as if that made it any easier … Yes, she was still clumsy. In words with him, and from what Clifford had said in action as well … she was still clumsy – or a giddy kipper, as someone had once described her. However, unlike the experiment she had ruined all those years ago, her accident-prone tendencies had actually saved the day for Clifford – and maybe the world.
For the first time in days, the Doctor smiled with some degree of warmth, but it soon faded, and to occupy his mind, he returned his attention to the pointless checks he was administering to Bessie.
From a window across the yard, a figure was watching the Doctor at work. Even from his vantage point several floors up, and many feet away, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart had seen the Doctor’s sudden emergence from beneath Bessie, and through the listening devise he had installed in the Doctor’s garage had heard him call out for Jo.
The Brigadier had been worried about the Doctor for several weeks now, ever since it became clear that Miss Grant’s departure had hit him harder than most. The listening device was not there for any militarist motive, simply concern. Even after all this time, there were some areas of conversation that were unbroachable between them, but the Brigadier was determined to be of whatever help he could, when the time arrived. He simply wanted to have as many facts to hand as possible for that eventuality.
As the Doctor limply lay back on the jack and vanished from view under Bessie, the Brigadier turned away from the window and sat down behind his unnecessarily large desk, absentmindedly toying with a pen. As he started to doodle on a folder, he found himself wondering if it was just him, or did the Doctor suddenly look so much older?
Helen had arrived at work with seconds to spare – but she got there. Ensuring everyone knew she had arrived, she excused herself and tried her best to make herself look presentable in the ladies’ toilets. She hardly ever wore make-up, but in this office if you didn’t you stood out like a sore thumb. Grunting at the half-decent visage before her, Helen made her way back to her desk and started looking though her in-tray for the day.
However, even as she rolled a sheet of A4 paper into the typewriter and started transcribing the patchy memo into a more professional looking letter, her mind was elsewhere, pondering on the alleged disappearances.
The Doctor was in the TARDIS console room, his mind ruminating. Why was he still here? Ever since the incident with Omega he could have gone … returned to the life he once had, the one he had always strived to get back to. And yet he was still here. Still UNIT’s Scientific Advisor. He had travelled the galaxies for eons, seen the most wonderful sights, met the most fascinating races … and here he was, settled, part of the establishment. He shuddered, recalling how he once promised himself never to become an establishment figure.
Jo. He had stayed for Jo. His paternal instincts had made him remain on Earth long after his exile had been rescinded. Of course, Jo could have travelled with him – as she had on several occasions, but somehow the Doctor always knew that Jo was so infinitely attached to Earth that to maintain their friendship, he had to make the sacrifice and return there, remain there.
Now she was gone, leaving him tearfully, but departing all the same … he no longer had any real reason to stay. UNIT could manage without him – it had before. Despite the playful goading that existed between them, the Doctor had the utmost faith in the Brigadier. Yes, the Doctor concluded, it was time to go … Leave before any real resentment built between him and his colleagues on Earth, before he said something he didn’t actually mean in his hearts, but which would be irrevocable to take back.
The Doctor left the TARDIS to collect a few odds and ends from his workbench. If he was quick he could make his departure without anyone noticing.
He would have to leave a note for the Brigadier to ask him to look after Bessie. Frantically, the Doctor searched for some paper, any paper … just as he located one of his clipboards and freed a sheet from the bulldog clip, the door to his laboratory swung noisily inwards and the Brigadier marched through.
“Ah, there you are, Doctor!” the Brigadier declared, his tone nearly successful in masking the concern he was feeling for his friend.
The Doctor whirled round, “Ah, Alistair my dear fellow, I was just about to leave you a note.”
The Brigadier raised an eye brow, “Really, Doctor? Why?”
The Doctor rubbed the nape of his neck, and attempted some sort of explanation, “Well, I’m going away, and I needed to ensure Bessie would be in safe hands.”
The Brigadier smiled, genuinely, “A holiday! Splendid idea, Doctor. Just what you need.”
The Doctor stared at his workbench, “I’m afraid it’s a bit more than a Holiday, Lethbridge-Stewart.” Looking up, and squaring his gaze to that of his friend’s, he concluded, “I’m leaving for good.”
The Brigadier’s expression underwent a rapid serious of changes, ranging from surprise, disappointment, sadness … before it finally settled on affected militaristic bluster, “Now look here, Doctor, you work for UNIT, and as your –“
“Friend, Brigadier, just be my friend, old chap. Otherwise I’ll just simply resign anyway. I will pop back now and then to check up on things, but … well, let’s just say my hearts are not in it anymore.”
The Brigadier’s shoulders slumped. There was so much he wanted to say, so many experiences he wanted to reminisce about … but he knew when he was beaten. “Very well, Doctor. You win.” So saying, he held out his hand, and the Doctor shook it warmly.
“Thank you, Alistair. You will –“
“Look after Bessie? Of course, Doctor … and this laboratory will be yours, if ever you change your mind.”
“I doubt I will. This is goodbye, Brigadier.”
Giving the Brigadier’s hand a final squeeze, the Doctor collected one of his scientific lash-ups from the bench, and entered the TARDIS. Shortly afterwards, the doors closed, and the light on top of the Police Box started flashing. Taking a few involuntary steps backwards, the Brigadier watched sadly as the solid, reassuring frame of the TARDIS grew feint, fainter … until finally it disappeared altogether, accompanied by the raucous sound of dematerialisation.
“Farewell, Doctor.” He intoned flatly, and then remembered why he had come to the Doctor’s laboratory in the first place. Under his arm was a manila folder. Laying it flat on the Doctor’s bench, he flipped it open, “So,” he said, looking at the reports of strange, apparently unconnected disappearances, “It’s just down to us now.”
Mr Higgins looked through the glass in his office door. His typing pool was busy, as always, but he had noticed that Helen had brought very few letters in for him to sign that morning. He was not a harsh boss, in fact some had been amazed he had climbed this far in the Estate Agent Industry claiming he was renown for being too soft, but putting aide the fact that he fully understood that the job they did out there was mind numbing tedious, he had to have some results, otherwise it was simply unfair on the others if someone was not pulling their weight.
He was going to have to address the issue of Helen’s low productivity. Oh, how he hated having to do this.
Taking a deep sigh, he opened his door and sought out Helen’s desk. He stood silently behind her for a good few minutes, but she did not notice. A few of her colleagues had noticed, and were surreptitiously gossiping among themselves.
Higgins turned to face the mutterers. “Er, anything you’d like to say, ladies?”
Faces blushing, the typists resumed their work, and Helen swivelled round, surprise in her eyes, “Oh, Mr Higgins. How long have you been there?”
Higgins smiled, “Long enough, Helen. You appear, err, shall we say, distracted today.”
Helen frowned, “What do you mean, Sir?”
“Well,” said, proffering a meagre handful of letters, “This is not your normal level of work, is it?”
Helen saw the few complete letters in his nail bitten hands, and pulled an “eek” face. Attempting a quick laugh, which she quickly abandoned, Helen decided the truth was her best option, “I know, Mr Higgins. I am sorry, it’s just those disappearances have been playing on my mind.”
“Disappearances, Miss Morgan? Clients vanishing from our view due to late letters, maybe?”
Helen looked suitably abashed, but continued anyway, “No, the news presenter. It just seems so strange.”
Despite himself, Higgins momentarily forgot about the reason he was in front of Helen in the first place, enraptured by the eagerness in Helen’s voice. “Strange? In what way?”
“Well, no-one has seen him for three days now. No phone calls, no letters. And then there’s that Lord, the M.P., that pin-up pop star, and this morning a family in Glasgow held a press conference to announce they had not seen their Grandfather for a week.”
Higgins sat on the edge of the desk behind him, “But Helen, people disappear all the time. It’s nothing unusual.”
Helen shook her head, conviction taking hold of her. “I know that, Mr Higgins, but so many, and all so publicised in such a short period of time. There’s something strange going on.”
Sensing that a few of the other typists were actually becoming alarmed, even scared, at what Helen was saying, Higgins attempted to lighten the tone, “Ah, is this more of that feminine mystique we mere men can never fully understand, or do you know something we don’t?”
Helen’s face flashed angrily, but seeing Higgins’ eyebrows raise in sharp alarm at the look she was giving him, she quickly checked herself, “No, no, Sir, nothing to do with ‘female intuition’. It’s simply clear that people are disappearing at a rapid rate, and there does not seem to be any pattern or motive.”
Patricia, the girl who sat next to Helen, piped up, “Are you saying there’s someone out there doing this?”
Helen included Patricia in the conversation, ”I don’t know. I mean, Mr Higgins could be right, it could just be the press are simply reporting missing people more, but it just feels … wrong.”
The pool lapsed into silence. Higgins looked at each of them in turn, and came to a conclusion. “Ok, ladies, I can see that this is worrying you. Take ten minutes to call who ever you want to to arrange safe transport home tonight, and then maybe we can get on with some actual work, yes?”
As familiar telephone numbers were being dialled, Helen faced Mr Higgins, “Do you think I’m over reacting?”
Lazily scratching the ankle that was crossed over his lap, Higgins slowly shook his head, “No, Helen, I think you could be right. Are you going to be ok getting home, I know you live alone.”
Helen was about to say something, but stopped herself just in time, “I think so, I could just get a cab.”
“What, on the wages we pay you? You’ve already caught one this week. I’ll give you a lift!”
“That’s not necessary – “
Placing both feet on the ground, Higgins rested his palms on his knees and leaned forward, “I insist.” He stated, “I mean, what kind of boss would I be if anything were to happen to you, any of you, following on from what we’ve been discussing?”
Helen smiled, seeing the genuine concern in Higgins, “Ok sir, a lift it is.”
Higgins rose, and made to move off. “Oh,” he said, as if a sudden thought had struck him.
“The lift does come with a condition.”
Helen’s brow creased, her eyes showing a slight air of suspicion, “And what would that be, Mr Higgins?”
“That you actually do some work today!” So saying, he displayed a large, wide smile, and Helen replied in kind.
“No problems, Mr Higgins.” Helen said cheerfully, and turned her attention to the large pile of memos she had been semi-oblivious to for most of that morning.
Higgins returned to his office, pleased that work had resumed, but aware that he was now sharing some of Helen’s concerns about the disappearances.
At UNIT HQ, it was a new day, with a fresh name to add to the list of the vanished.
“An author, Benton?”
Benton stood before the Brigadier’s desk, rigidly at attention, “Yes, sir, that’s what the report stated, sir.”
The Brigadier’s face was clouded with confusion, “So, a TV presenter, a pop star, an M.P., a Lord, a grandfather and an author… Where’s the pattern, Benton?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
The Brigadier looked up, a withering expression now on his face, “I know that, Benton, I was being rhetorical.”
“Oh. Sorry, sir.”
“Oh, that’s alright, Benton … and stop that.” He said, waving his hand in Benton’s general direction.
“Stop what, Sir?”
“Standing to attention. We’re not on parade at the moment.”
Benton smiled, and relaxed his posture, “Thank you sir. I wish the Doctor was here, Sir, he’d soon find out what was what.”
The Brigadier’s head snapped up, his eyes stern, “Well, the Doctor isn’t here, is he, Benton?” Sharply standing up, the Brigadier, “We’ll just have to figure this one out for ourselves.”
Benton nodded, looking slightly lost, almost crestfallen. First Jo, now the Doctor …
“Oh, and Benton?”
Snatched from his reverie, Benton stammered, “W-what, Sir?”
“In future, will you remember to stand to attention when in my office?”
Helen was attempting to get to work again, and while the going was slow (everyone seemed to be walking in pairs), at least it wasn’t raining.
Passing a news-vending stand, she stood stock-still. There, held behind wire mesh was a headline that sent a shiver down her spine, “3 School Teachers Believed to Have Disappeared!”
This was getting serious.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor was at the console, painfully aware of the silence surrounded him. In virtually all his travels, there had been someone to share the wonders with – from Susan, his beloved Granddaughter, through to Jo. In fact, in a strange twist of fate, he realised that the only excursion he could recall where he had been by himself prior to this had been when Jo had headed off to the Nut Hutch without him. Was that dramatic irony? A foreshadowing? The Doctor shook his head. No, it was just him being morbid again.
Where could he go to refocus his mind and shake off these feelings? Certainly not Metebilis Three … he hoped never to go there again.
Stop it, Doctor! You’re thinking of the Blue Crystal again. Of Jo. Jo with Clifford, exploring the Amazon in search of that fungus they are both so fired up about.
Wearily, the Doctor hit a random series of co-ordinates and waited to see where the TARDIS, his remaining companion, would actually take him.
In his office, Higgins was leafing through the letter that had been typed that morning. He was pleased to see that everyone’s output was high, despite the growing anxiety that was sweeping the office, and indeed the country.
His own wife, Marjory, had expressed her own fears about the increasing disappearances only the other night, and it had taken Higgins a long time to convince her that they would be fine. Maybe she had detected the lack of conviction in his tone.
Reading a particular letter aloud, Higgins suddenly spotted a glaring typographical error in one of the paragraphs. Who had typed it? Helen? It wasn’t like her to make such slip ups, especially ones that resulted in words like this. Leaning toward his phone, he lifted the receiver and opening the line to Helen’s was about to advise her she might like to insert the letter “r” into the word first in first time buyer, when his ear noticed that she was on a call already.
Politeness instinctively made Higgins move the phone away from his ear, but something in the exchange caught his attention.
“…. A scientist, now?”
Higgins frowned, that was Helen’s voice. Why was she whispering?
“Yes,” another voice was saying, “And I’ve been informed there maybe another one … Professor Hinchcliffe hasn’t been seen at the University of Sheffield since last evening, and you know what a hermit he is in that place.”
“Indeed, look, I think this is a Red Herring here anyway, I need to follow this up more closely.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
“Well, take care.”
And with that the line went dead.
Higgins replaced the receiver, and reclined in his chair, rocking it back and forth. Whatever thoughts were going through his head were soon dispelled when the phone rang. Brought back to the real world, he snatched the receiver, “Yes? What? What do you mean Marjory’s disappeared?”
The TARDIS had landed.
The Doctor stared deep into the heat of the central column. It was still, its work done. Once again, the TARDIS had crossed through the barriers of time and space. Once again, it had safely carried the Doctor on that journey; its outer shell taking the battering of the vortex, ensuring the interior was safe. However, for once the Doctor was not quickly fussing over the instruments, checking readings. He was not exuding the excitement that had drawn so many people to join him on his travels.
What was the point? There was no one there to see it.
Detached, and scientifically, the Doctor slowly ensured the atmosphere outside was breathable, the gravity strong enough to hold him to the surface of whichever planet lay out there, and then operated the door release mechanism.
As the large, heavy set double doors opened inwards to afford the Doctor his first look outside, he patted his pocked to ensure his Sonic Screwdriver was safely housed there, and left the empty safety of the TARDIS behind.
The planet outside was breathtaking. Opal, cloudless skies allowed three suns to bask the land in its life-giving rays, and in the far horizon a crystal clear ocean could clearly be seen.
The TARDIS had landed in a lush, purple-grassed field, and nearby a collection of curious mammal like creatures were summoning up the courage to approach the strange blue box and sniff it in exploration.
Some would call it paradise, but the Doctor’s face was expressionless. Locking the TARDIS door, he crossed to a gap in the hedge that circled the field, and started traversing the lane, heading no-where in particular.
After several minutes of this aimless wandering, the Doctor saw the first signs of civilization. A few dwellings could be seen not far away, and the Doctor headed in their direction. Drawing closer, he noticed that they were not too dissimilar to the houses humans built on Earth, and they were arranged in regular rows, forming streets. A handful of the inhabitants were there, going about their business, and upon seeing the Doctor each gave him a friendly nod. The atmosphere was so peaceful, that the Doctor found his mood and temperament shifting, and he was returning the gesture as he made his way further into the village.
It wasn’t long before the Doctor moved past the purely residential area, and shops and market stalls flanked him on either side.
Once of the stallholders saw the Doctor, and beckoned him over. The Doctor sauntered over to the stall, and nodded his head at the trader.
“Good day, to you,” the merchant said, his voice warm, “Would you care to try one of my Ungle Fruits?”
The Doctor’s gaze followed the six-fingered gesture to a row of pink, ripe looking spheres, and said, “I certainly would, Sir.”
The stall holder smiled with both mouths, and scooped up a particularly lush example, “Here, this one. It’s all home grown, sir. I hope it is to your liking.”
As the Doctor bit into the fruit, the juices immediately seeping down his chin, the tradesman ventured into conversation, “If I may be so bold, sir, I can tell you are not local, how long will you be with us?”
Quickly swallowing the peace of fruit he had bitten off, the Doctor shook his head, “I don’t know. This fruit, did you call it an Ungle Fruit, is absolutely sublime, sir.”
The trader’s smiles increased, “Oh, it’s always a pleasure when my produce gives satisfaction. My name is Tronjip, traveller, if I can be of any help while you are, you only need to ask.”
The Doctor wiped his hands with a frilly edged handkerchief, “Thank you, Tronjip. Can I purchase some of your Ungle Fruits, I’d hate for you to think I’m simply freeloading from your generosity.”
Tronjip nodded, and quickly bagged three Ungle Fruits for the Doctor. “Are you travelling alone, sir?”
The Doctor looked into the distance, murmured assent, and then said with more certainty and clarity said, “Yes, yes I am.”
Suddenly aware that he had no idea what the currency was on this planet, the Doctor asked, “Er, how much is that?”
Tronjip rippled his shoulders, “For you, fifty-eight pence.”
Sterling? The Doctor was amazed –what were the odds on that? Seeing Tronjip was holding the bag across to him, the Doctor ditched his mental arithmetic and took the bag, juice already soaking the brown paper, and handed over six ten pence pieces. “Keep the change.”
“Why thank you, err -?”
“Doctor, eh? That’s strange.”
“A title instead of a name.”
“Well, it’s –“
“Oh, no, no, no, Sir – don’t get me wrong, I probably wouldn’t even have picked up on it, but I had a customer earlier, a traveller like you, who just had a title, well of sorts, for a name. Must be a bit clinical, not having a more individual ident.”
Tronjip stopped talking, the look on the Doctor’s face arresting him. His lined face was fixed and stern, his jaw set determinedly. “What is it, Doctor? Have I been rude? If so, I do apologise, I –“
“This other traveller,” the Doctor snapped, harsher than he had intended, “What was his name?”
“Doctor, please, I didn’t mean to upset you…”
“Tronjip, what was his name?”
“Well, he called himself the Master. Didn’t care much for him, to be honest, he kept muttering about his ship being broken, and that he’d have to take up residence here in this ‘primitive place’ …and he didn’t like my fruit … Doctor?”
The Doctor had closed his eyes. Upon opening them, Tronjip could clearly see that the person in front of him was thinking, and thinking hard.
“Why did you react like that?”
The Doctor smiled, thinly, “Let’s just say I know the chap you met earlier.”
Tronjip’s skin turned a deep shade of silver, “Oh, if he is a friend, I didn’t mean to imply he was …”
The Doctor cut Tronjip short, “Oh but he is, sir. And much worse. I think I may need your help after all.”
“You say he complained that his ship was damaged.”
“And that he would have to stay here.”
“Indeed, sir, and most put out he seemed about it.”
“Hmm, that must mean he can’t access his TARDIS. I wonder why?”
Tronjip looked confused, “TARDIS?”
The Doctor waved the question away, “That doesn’t matter, Tronjip, you’re better off not knowing.”
“If you say so, Doctor.”
“Mind you, there is something I most certainly do need to know.”
“What’s that, Doctor?”
The Doctor’s face broke into a beaming grim, taking years from his appearance, “I need to know where the jackanapes may be staying.”
“You mean …”
“I mean I’m staying on your far from primitive world, dear chap. As long as the Master is here, I must stay and find out what he is up to. And where better to stay than right under his very nose.”
Tronjip was clearly delighted that the Doctor was going to stay; it was always nice to have someone visit who liked his Ungle Fruits. However, he did have a question. “Doctor, what is a nose?”
The Doctor saw for the first time that Tronjip didn’t have what most people would term a nose, more a series of gill like slits between his eyes. “A nose!” he proclaimed theatrically, “Is this my good man!” So saying, the Doctor gave his sizable nose a playful flick with his leather-gloved finger.
Tronjip chuckled, and started to tell the Doctor where the Master had appeared to be heading.
Tronjip had given the Doctor a comprehensive list of all the boarding houses and hostelries that offered accommodation to passing travellers, and the Doctor wasted no time in starting his investigation of them. He was fairly sure it would an easy task tracking the Master – after all if he had piqued the curiosity of a stall holder, his general demeanour could not have failed to go unnoticed elsewhere. The Master was not exactly known for his subtlety.
After visiting a handful of establishments, the ever-pleasant inhabitants stating they had not taken in anyone with that title, the Doctor was approaching a slightly ostentatious looking building, almost gothic in appearance. The Doctor ripped his list up, and rammed the pieces inside his velvet jacket’s side pockets. He knew his search was over – this place just proclaimed the Master.
With one of the planet’s suns setting behind him, the Doctor climbed the column-fluted stairs and entered the boarding house. The décor inside carried on the gothic feel, and the Doctor’s polished boots sank into the deep crimson carpet with each step. Reaching the reception desk, he was just about to announce his presence when the receptionist looked up.
“Ah, Doctor. The Master is upstairs awaiting you.”
The Doctor frowned. “He is?”
“Oh yes, he said you’d be along later.”
“How did he know –?“
“No idea, Doctor – and, between you and me, I didn’t like to ask. Apologies if you’re friends, but he doesn’t seem the type you can question that easily.”
“Indeed not.” Deciding it was time to get the answers for himself, the Doctor asked, “Which room is in?”
“666, Doctor. He said you’d find that amusing.”
As the Doctor started to ascend the stairs, his face clearly betraying the fact that he did not find it amusing, the receptionist commented, “Well, that joke seems to have backfired, Mr You’re Too Good For This World”, and returned to her work.
After a climb that would have exhausted most people, the Doctor stood facing room 666.
“Typically overblown, egotistical showmanship.”
From within the room, a smooth, velvety voice emanated, “And it’s a pleasure to see you, too, Doctor, please come in.”
The Doctor pressed lightly on the panelled door, and it swung open easily. As his eyes took in the view afforded to him, the Master said, “Well, hurry up, I don’t want the heat to escape.”
The room was everything the Master was: large, grand, over stated and yet undeniably serene and magnificent. The whole chamber was dominated by a gigantic fireplace, a log fire roaring away in its grate, with ample logs nearby to keep the flames alive for days.
In front of the fireplace were two high backed armchairs, in one of which reclined the figure of the Master. He was dressed in an elegant ruby coloured dressing gown, a cigar in one hand and a pair of comfortable slippers on his feet. His hair and beard were characteristically sculptured, the lines of grey adding a dignity a being like him maybe should not deserve.
As the Doctor closed the door, the Master reached across to the drinks trolley to the side of his chair, “Would you care to join me in a glass or two of port, Doctor? For such a primitive planet, they produce the most magnificent beverages.”
Without answering, the Doctor crossed over to the vacant armchair, and sat down in one smooth motion, crossing one leg over the other, resting his elbows on the arms of the chair, his hands clasped together under his chin.
The Master poured the Doctor a generous measure of port, and the Doctor leaned forward to take it before resettling into the chair.
“So –” both Time Lords said in unison. The Master laughed, and motioned for the Doctor to speak first.
The Doctor quaffed his port appreciatively, and said, “So, what brings you here?”
“Would you believe, my TARDIS, Doctor?”
The Doctor gestured for a refill, and the Master readily obliged. “I know that. But why here? I mean your TARDIS works, I can’t imagine what you hope to achieve on this –“
“Oh, I came here willingly, Doctor.”
“To see you.”
The Doctor rested his glass on the small table by his chair. “How did you know I’d come here?”
The Master chuckled, “Oh Doctor … You’re not the only one who can be used by Them, you know.”
“The Time Lords sent you here?”
“To see me?”
The Master nodded.
“But why didn’t they just send you to UNIT HQ.”
“Because they knew you’d, err, ‘fly the coup’, as it were.”
The Doctor fell silent.
“They’ve been concerned ever since the delightful Miss Grant left your side, Doctor.”
The Doctor took another swig of his port, “I find it difficult to believe that they’d care enough to arrange, and I assume my flight here was arranged, a nice cosy little chat. Especially with you.”
The Master chuckled, “As charming as ever, Doctor. I too found it hard to believe at first, and in fact I refused to play along for awhile.”
“What did they offer you to change your mind? A planet? Dominion over a solar system?”
The Master looked offended for a second, but then simply raised his eyebrows before continuing, “You know as well as I do that this body is my final legitimate incarnation.”
“You have tended to fritter them away.”
“Fritter? Fritter? Doctor, I cherished each and every one of my bodies, but I had to make sacrifices for my greater good.”
“Well, I’m delighted to hear you remembered to include the word ‘my’ in there.”
“Our paths are not too dissimilar, Doctor, you’d do well to remember that.”
“We’ll agree to differ, shall we? You had a story to tell. Tell it.”
“Well, they offered me a way to prolong it. They have even given me the equipment to use, it’s in my TARDIS, but I have to have this discussion with you first.”
“If it’s in your TARDIS, why don’t you – ah, you can’t get in can you?”
“Indeed not, Doctor … It seems they don’t trust me to comply with the deal.”
“Really?” the Doctor arched his eyebrows theatrically, “And you being such a trustworthy individual. I’d be hurt if I was you.”
“Very witty, Doctor. I’m not actually all bad, you know, I did want to come here once they told me the underlying reason behind them orchestrating it.”
“Really? And what pray is that underlying reason?”
“Concern that you’re giving up.”
As the Master poured yet another glass of port for the Doctor, he continued, “They’ve noticed that you’ve detached yourself from the universe, and they saw your journey here, and the lack lustre way you viewed the planet upon arrival.”
“What, can’t I have an ‘off day’ without Them getting their high arched collars in a twist.”
“Be reasonable, Doctor, this is more than a day. If Jo had been with you, you would have delighted in this planet, you would have spent time talking her through the flora an fauna.”
“But she’s not here.”
“Please, hear me out, Doctor. The first time you’ve shown any sign of life recently, so they told me, is when you met that over friendly fruit vendor. Face it, Doctor – you’re lonely.”
“Lonely? What on Earth are you going on about? I could have stayed at UNIT, had I so chosen.”
“What, to be reminded of others that remember Miss Grant? Their sadness compounding yours? No, you had to leave … for your own reasons, however selfish.”
“Yes, Doctor, selfish. Don’t you think that blustering fool, Lethbridge Stewart is missing her?”
“Well, of course…”
“And, do you know what he’s doing now?”
The Doctor shook his head.
“He’s missing you. He’s lost two of his friends in a very short space of time. He’s embroiling himself in some missing person intrigue just to have some focus.”
The Doctor stared at the liquid in his glass, and downed it in one.
“You really are the most, and I must use this word again, selfish, arrogant man I have ever met, Doctor. Myself, excepted, of course.”
The Doctor frowned, “In what way?”
“Do you never think of how lucky you have been?”
“This is the first time you’ve felt this loneliness, and yet it’s all I have ever known. I’ve never had an Ian, a Ben, a Victoria – a Jo, even, to accompany me on my travels. Do you know how insanely jealous I am of you from time to time. I must stress only from time to time, I don’t want you to think I’m that sentimental. I quite like the fact that, how did the President phrase it, oh yes, ‘the stench of death that accompanies you ensures you will travel alone, Master!’ ”
“I never gave it much thought.”
“Why should you, eh? You’ll have been too busy ensuring Zoe wasn’t killed by Quarks, or helping Jamie to learn basic science? Am I getting through, or shall I order more port? Oh, I’ll order some anyway.”
As the Master contacted reception, the Doctor’s mind mulled over what the Master had said. “So,” he began, once the Master had placed his order with room service, “I’m feeling like this because-“
“Because you have lost so, so much, Doctor. It’s not just Jo. It’s all of them. You’re alone or the first time since, err, leaving Gallifrey … It’s bound to hit home, and hit home hard.”
“For someone so fundamentally corrupt, you have a way of seeing things I sometimes envy.”
“Why, thank you, Doctor. I hope that was a complement.”
Without warning, the Doctor let out a huge yawn, stretched his arms forwards and upwards, and ran his hands over his face. The Master inhaled deeply on his cigar, waiting patiently. When the Doctor looked up again, his face was alive, and not just through the alcohol he had consumed.
“I’m a self-centred, pig-headed, introspective fool!”
The Master nodded, “Quite so, quite so. Which is probably why I’ve never quite managed to bring myself to kill you. More port?”
They talked long and hard, deep into the night. For a short period of time, the two archenemies reversed time and were friends again. They laughed about events that had happened in their childhood, and the Doctor even admitted to being jealous of the Master’s grades. Once the port had gone, they decided it was time to call the meeting to a halt. The job had been accomplished.
Once the Master was dressed, his hired dressing gown sent to the laundry, they walked through the village, back toward the track. After several minutes silent walking, the track split into two separate paths.
“Well, my dear, Doctor. It looks as though this is where we must part. For now.”
The Doctor nodded, “And how apt – we’re still going down the same route, just by a different path.”
The Master chuckled, “Well said, Doctor. Well, goodbye.”
The Doctor shook the Master’s hand, and immediately remembered the last time he had shaken somebody’s hand in this fashion.
“Yes, goodbye. I think it’s time I returned to the friends I have.” The Doctor’s face fell, “Oh, I’m sorry…”
The Master dismissed the apology.
A thought struck the Doctor, “Your TARDIS! You can’t –“
“Oh, I think it’s safe to say that They will allow me access now, don’t you?”
The Doctor smiled, and with him simply saying “Thank you” they parted, neither realising that neither would ever see the other again, at least not in these particular bodies.
The Master reached his TARDIS just as the third sun started to break the horizon. As he had suspected, his key worked again, and he slipped inside the time machine.
Wasting no time, he crossed to the bank of equipment the President of the Time Lords had given him. Switching it on, he called out, “Come and witness the –“
He broke off, the sentence never to be completed. What was the point? There was never any body there to hear it.
The Master left the console room, unaware that the machinery was building up power quickly – way, way too quickly.
The Brigadier was jubilant, but stressed. With the pattern of disappearances now evident, he had managed to arrange a mass evacuation of the most celebrated scientists to a remote, secure, and most importantly, secret location. The majority of non-scientists had re-appeared, leaving only a handful of disappearances unaccounted for – but these were in line with the seasonal average for people simply wandering out of their lives, and the Brigadier had been happy to hand these cases back to the relevant local police authorities. His own paper work was piling up enough with the relocation of UNIT HQ, and the phone lines were ringing incessantly … but he was coping. Of course he was. He thrived under pressure, it gave him focus, and stopped him thinking about … the Doctor.
“Oh, Doctor, you’d have loved this little mystery. Right up your particular line of expertise.” The Brigadier fell silent, and decided to indulge himself. Leaving his office, he strolled down the corridors of UNIT HQ, heading for the Doctor’s laboratory. Once inside, he seated himself on one of the lab stools, and played with one of the circuits the Doctor had left behind. They had been through so much since that first, mistrustful encounter on the London underground. And while he was aware that friends could change, the Brigadier doubted that many people’s friends had changed as completely as his. After the skirmish with the Cybermen, the playful, yet evidently deep thinking Doctor had gone, seemingly forever, replaced by the Doctor he now knew …. And missed. Of course, the first Doctor he encountered had re-appeared, together with a view of yet another one …How many of you are there, Doctor? He wondered. And how many will I have the pleasure to meet?
Deep in thought, it took the Brigadier a while to acknowledge the noise that was slowly starting to fill the room. As the slight sound of an engine revving started to increase, he dropped the circuit and leapt from the stool, staring in amazement at where the Doctor’s TARDIS had once stood … and was attempting to stand again.
“Well, bless my soul!” he exclaimed, as the words “Police Public Call Box” became solid in the air before him. Involuntarily, the Brigadier’s face shone with delight.
As the TARDIS finally materialised, the Brigadier pulled his countenance into check. It wouldn’t do to let the Doctor see that he had missed him that much. That would be too Un-British.
After a few fleeting seconds that lasted an eternity for the Brigadier, the door to the TARDIS cracked open, and the Doctor stood there, beaming at him. Framed in the doorway was the Doctor as he had been when Jo was still around – upright, dignified, his eyes keen and alive. Somehow, somewhere, someone had found the light switch – the light bulb was back, flickering for all to see.
“Well, Doctor, it seems you just can’t keep away.”
The Doctor appeared to be considering some tart reply, but he saw the look in the Brigadier’s eyes and responded to the emotion he saw there rather than the words that had been spoken.
“I just thought that too many friends have drifted away for now, Alistair. I’m here to help in anyway that I can.”
“Well, Doctor, it just so happens that … “
And as the Brigadier debriefed the Doctor on the current situation, the mass disappearances that initially seemed so vague, but eventually seemed to settle on scientists and academics, the two colleagues, or rather friends, made their way to the former’s office to view the papers, examine the reports … and share at glass of first-rate malt.
Mr Higgins had arrived at work early that day, the house was depressingly empty without Marjory, and was busy sifting through his morning post. Invoices, inquires from clients lost in the chain, a letter of resignation, surveyors reports –
A letter of resignation?
Higgins’ fingers lifted the blatantly hurried letter from the pile. The type was all over the place, but the meaning was clear. Helen had handed in her notice:
“Dear Mr Higgins,
This is to notify you that I would like to tender my resignation, effective immediately. I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you, but something has cropped up regarding my aunty, and you always knew that I had to be there for here if ever she needed me.
“I have enjoyed my time with your company, however short, and I wish you continued success in the future.
Mr Higgins stared at the letter. She had been a good secretary, but it had been part of the terms of her employment that she may have to leave at very short notice to look after her sick aunt. He was just about to call through to one of his other secretaries to arrange a job advertisement when something in the letter caught his eye again.
There, so blatantly obvious that he was amazed he had missed it, was a large patch of scribbled out writing just below the “Yours sincerely.” Lifting the letter to the light, and squinting hard, he was just about able to decipher the original biro inscription. In that annoying way that some people do, he read what he saw aloud:
“Sarah Jane Smith.”
The phone rang, and upon answering Higgins’s face became a vision of delight, “Marjory! Where on Earth have you been?”
As Higgins listened to his wife stumble through a vague, clueless account of her disappearance, he casually screwed up the letter of resignation and let it fall to the floor.