The two boys, propped up on elbows, lay sprawled in the pasture of tall, red grass at the foot of Mount Perdition. Just beyond the pasture stood a dwelling, not large by Gallifreyan standards, but quite comfortable, with a garden, hedges, and flowering trees. Well beyond the dwelling, in the distance, was the Citadel, its dome catching the rays of the setting sun. It was warm, the heat baking their faces and arms, and it was one of their rare days off from lessons at the Academy.
"Do you ever wish we could just run away?" asked the Master.
The Doctor smiled. "It's crossed my mind," he said.
He almost ended the sentence with "Master", but didn't. Neither of them called each other by their new names very often, whether due to shyness or for some other reason. He looked at his friend. The Master. That name suited him, determined as he was to remain the master of his own destiny. That independence of thought had brought him rather a lot of unwelcome attention, but the Master remained undeterred.
The Doctor thought back to Name Day, nearly a year ago, the day when students at the Academy would either keep their birth name or replace it with one of their own choosing.
Most of his classmates chose to retain their birth names. But when their instructor, Borusa, nodded at his friend, there was a pause, and then he replied, "Master."
Interesting. But now it was his turn, and without hesitation he answered, "Doctor."
When the ceremony was over, Borusa indicated with a gesture for the Doctor to stay behind. He seemed troubled, seating himself next to the Doctor.
"I wonder," said Borusa, "why you chose that name."
Because I've met myself 900 years in the future, and that's the name that I went by.
"It seemed right, that's all," said the Doctor. "The name of someone who's going to help people."
Borusa nodded. "And can you tell me, has anyone spoken to you about… the prophecy?"
Puzzled, the Doctor said, "What prophecy, sir? I don't understand."
"I see," said Barusa, standing. "Nevermind then, it's nothing. You're free for the rest of the day… Doctor."
In subsequent days, he'd researched everything he could retrieve about prophecies, but found nothing to explain his instructor's reaction. He had come across an interesting quote in the database, he wasn't sure from which world, that a rose by any other name… Lost in thought, the sound of a flock of birds overhead brought the Doctor back to the present, and he turned his attention once again to the Master.
"All those Time Lords, la-di-da, sitting on their fat behinds, observing. Not doing anything except politicking and gossiping like nattering old hens." The Master looked closely at the Doctor.
"What?" said the Doctor.
"We should do it," said the Master. "Go out there and make an actual difference."
"One of these days."
"No," said the Master. "Now. Tonight. Let's just go."
The Doctor, brows furrowed, sat up and examined the bright face and wide eyes of the Master. "You're serious," he said.
"Couldn't be more serious."
"And how would we do this? One does not simply walk into Mensa, or any other galaxy."
The Master grinned. "Not walk. We have to steal a TARDIS."
"Steal a… you are joking," said the Doctor.
"Never been more serious," said the Master. But then he grimaced and clutched his head with both hands.
"Another headache?" asked the Doctor.
After a moment, the Master lowered his hands and shook his head. "Not a headache," he whispered. "Don't you hear it? I told you before. Ever since the Untempered Schism."
"Remind me to tell you someday what happened to me," the Doctor said in an almost whisper.
"Anyway," said the Master, after blinking a few times, "where should we go? We'll have all of time and space. Just think of it."
The Doctor considered. Where would he go? Then it came to him. Of course. "Earth, I think," he said. "20th century Earth."
"Earth? Of all the planets in the Universe, why there?"
"Dunno. Something about it. Primitive, self-destructive, but so full of potential."
"Hmm, when you put it like that, why not?" The Master said. "And with us there, there's no danger of them not reaching that potential. Once we're in charge, we'll set them on the right path."
The Doctor jolted upright. "What? We won't be in charge. We'd be going there to help them."
"Sure," the Master replied smoothly. "But what better way to do that then by ruling over them? Keeping them from making all those stupid mistakes."
The Doctor kept his face even, or hoped he did, but he was crestfallen. Maybe this wasn't going to work after all.
"Master, nobody said we were going out there to rule. A primitive race needs to learn from their own mistakes or they'll never grow up. We'll be there to lend a hand once in a while, that's all. Then we can go to some other planet, you choose the next one, and we'll help them out as well. Before we're done, we'll have visited every planet, seen every constellation, seen the universe."
"Well, we'll work out the details when we get there," said the Master. "But perhaps not tonight after all. It's nearly meal time. Will you join us?"
The Master and Doctor got to their feet and set off through the pasture towards the dwelling.
"No, not this time, thanks," said the Doctor. "I'm going to head back to the Academy. There's some research I need to do."
It was dark, and once again the Doctor had managed to sneak into the TARDIS maintenance yard. He wasn't supposed to be there of course, unescorted students were forbidden, but, well, he was the Doctor wasn't he, and pretty clever when it came to that.
The last time he was here, three years ago, it had been a rather memorable day. He'd sneaked into the maintenance yard and made off with a piece of TARDIS coral. Later, he'd stepped in front of the Untempered Schism, part of his initiation into the Academy, and had promptly found himself on a TARDIS with a Time Lord and two humans. He'd assumed that this was part of the initiation. It was quite a shock to learn that the Time Lord was him, some 900 years later. The coral he'd taken was part of that same TARDIS. It had served as a conduit, transporting him from the Untempered Schism, through a space-time rift on Earth, to the TARDIS. After they'd reasoned this out, his older self had been able to return him the same way that he came.
Looking about him now, the Doctor saw that the last of the repair personnel had left for the evening. Cautiously, he crept from TARDIS to TARDIS, checking the doors. Surely one of them would be open. But what then? Would he really go through with it?
His older self had been in a Type 40. Why would anyone travel the universe in something so obsolete? And, his older self hadn't been willing to just bring him back to Gallifrey. Maybe he was on the run. And maybe that was because he'd stolen the TARDIS in the first place. When the Master first floated the idea of stealing a TARDIS, the Doctor had laughed. But after thinking about it, perhaps this was something he was meant to do. If he stole one now, he might simply be fulfilling his destiny.
After trying for several minutes, the Doctor's eyes widened. At last. He could scarcely believe his luck. The door of this one didn't resist his gentle push. He fully opened the door, and with a gulp, entered and closed the door behind him.
The control room wasn't at all what he expected. It was poorly lit, with wood paneling on the floor and walls, wooden beams on the ceiling, and some sort of netting, some seven feet long by three feet wide, suspended three feet above the floor, supported by a couple of thick ropes attached to the ceiling beams. And the console looked like something from a primitive, pre-technology planet. It was still a familiar octagon shape with a central column, but the instruments... He'd never seen the like. Instead of holographic representations of temporal mathematical concepts, there were switches, round and gear-shaped dials, and levers of various sizes protruding at seemingly random locations. The only display was small and thick with a couple of knobs at the bottom. He'd known that a TARDIS was almost infinitely customizable, but he despaired of making any sense of this.
Still, customized though it was, it had to perform the same functions. He perused the controls, making multiple passes around the console, until he started to get a glimmer of how it might work. He could probably enter the space-time coordinates over here, on this large keypad. Yes, that was it! And stabilizers, they had to be over... here. Got it.
The Doctor continued to work, until he stepped back finally with a satisfied smile. That was it. Then his smile disappeared. He might get into a lot of trouble for this. Was it worth it? Definitely. All of space and time, it was his now to explore.
"Those who can't, teach," he said out loud. "And those who can..."
He grabbed the largest lever, presumably the dematerialization switch, and pulled.
Sparks flew and the TARDIS shuddered. The central column rose once, then fell back to its original position. The Doctor, knocked off his feet, sat on the floor rubbing his head. What had gone wrong?
Just then, the Doctor felt something furry rub against his leg. He started, but saw that it was just a small animal. It looked him square in the eyes and made a sound like, "Meow."
"Hello, furry quadruped," said the Doctor. "What are you doing here?"
Then the sound of a squawk made him look up. "And a colourful avian creature. What is this, a TARDIS or a menagerie?" The creature fluttered about the room then came to rest on the netting.
"Can't it be both?"
The Doctor jumped to his feet. A man had entered the control room. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with long, fair hair tied into a ponytail. His shirt was sufficiently unbuttoned as to reveal a hairy, muscular chest, and the sleeves were rolled up, revealing a tattoo on his arm. It was a snake devouring its own tail, an Ouroboros. The man wore brown trousers tied at the waist with rope, and tall, leather boots. With a short whistle and a click of his tongue, the avian creature left its perch and flew to him, coming to rest on his shoulder.
"Who are you?" the Doctor asked, willing his hearts to calm down.
"I'm called the Corsair. I see you've already met my cat and parrot. And you would be..."
He swallowed and said, "I'm the Doctor."
"The Doctor." The Corsair nodded. "I've heard of you. Friend to that other miscreant who calls himself the Master. Troublemakers in the Academy, both of you."
"Well I don't know about that. We're just curious about things, that's all."
"Curious," the Corsair repeated. "And now that you've had some lessons in piloting a TARDIS, you fancy that you're an expert. Thought you'd set right off to see the Universe, seeing as how you're particularly clever and all.
"Not clever enough it seems."
"Well here's a nugget of wisdom: Before you next try to steal a TARDIS, you should disengage the parking brake. You might also want to ensure that it's unoccupied. But now for the important question: What am I going to do with you?"
"I have a suggestion," said the Doctor.
"Oh? And that would be…"
"Take me with you."
The Corsair chuckled. "And why would I do that?"
"Because I'm clever. Resourceful. I made it this far, didn't I?"
"Yes," said the Corsair. He rubbed his chin, then continued. "Yes you did. You not only made into the maintenance yard, bypassing the security protocols, in short order you worked out how to operate my somewhat unique console."
The Doctor stopped breathing. Did this mean the Corsair would take him? His hopes were soon dashed.
"Still, I'm not about to reward you for trying to steal my TARDIS. I've something else altogether in mind. On the planet where my cat and parrot are from, corsairs sailed the seas on wooden ships, and miscreants such as yourselves were made to walk the plank."
"Of course, this is a TARDIS, not a wooden ship, and while I don't have a plank, I do have a transmat."
"Oh, no." The Doctor backed away. "You wouldn't."
"Oh yes, I would. In a moment you'll find yourself in the chambers of your Academy advisors. I'm sure they'll come up with some creative reward for your initiative." The Corsair stepped up to the control console and made an adjustment. "Until we meet again."
With a sigh, the Doctor said, "The Master will never let me live this down."
"There, there, Doctor," the Corsair said with a small smile. "Never's a long time."
And with that, he activated the transmat and the Doctor vanished.
The Corsair was still chuckling when a young girl, roughly the same age as the Doctor, entered the control room.
"Something funny?" she asked.
"That boy. He reminds me of me, truth be told. I wouldn't have told him, but there's a reason I'm called the Corsair. It might have something to do with having attempted to board a TARDIS when I was near his age."
"Why was the door unlocked in the first place? Wasn't that just asking for trouble?"
"Ah. Well, I detected him creeping about the yard and was curious as to what he would do. So I unlocked the door and made myself scarce."
"I notice you didn't mention that the position of assistant was taken."
The Corsair glanced at her, then set about entering space time coordinates and otherwise readying his TARDIS for his next destination.
"No, I didn't. Don't mistake my agreeing to take you on this voyage for a long-term commitment. One voyage, then it's back to the Academy for you."
The Rani sighed. "Well, we better get on with it, then. Lessons resume tomorrow, after all."
With a broad grin, the Corsair said, "Don't forget, this is a time machine. We can travel the universe and still have you back in time for tea. You'll have all the time you need to complete your research and astound your instructors. And when we get back, I think I'll keep an eye on that young man. He strikes me as someone who won't be content to sit back and accept the status quo. Someone after my own hearts. I've a feeling we could become friends one day."
And with that, the Corsair's TARDIS slipped quietly into the time vortex.