It wasn't such a bad thing that the Doctor had promised senator Pompous to visit again in the early afternoon. Although it was only late April, outside, it was at least a whopping 30 degrees in the shade and the pavement was cracking. Dogs lay panting in the shaded porches much like their human masters, while the rest of the streets were deserted. Even in the mainstreets of Ephesus, business had ground to a hold in the mad midday sun, and would only proceed again after the worst of the scorching was over.
Arriving at the villa, the Doctor and his companions were once again received by Pompous's servants and were brought to a room at the far back, a large aula where the senator would normally entertain his guests. They found Pompous sitting with his daughter, calmly overlooking the garden while a black slave waved a big fan made of white ostrich feathers over their heads.
"My dear Doctor. Wilf. Come on in, and sit down." He waved at another slave who brought two cups of grape juice to the guests. "You've met my daughter Dea?"
"Oh yes." The Doctor said enthusiastically. "I've never introduced myself properly though. Hello I'm the Doctor."
"I'm Wilf…um Mottus." Wilf said, and old-fashioned as he was, he took the girl's hand and kissed it.
"Oh Wilf. You cheeky old goat." The Master muttered with an amused grin, loud enough for Wilf to hear. "I didn't know you still have a taste for fresh young leaves."
Leaving Wilf slightly embarrassed, the Master joined the house slaves at the back of the room. It was far too hot to stir up trouble as far as he was concerned. He could always annoy the senator another time.
"I was just telling Dea that you're a travelling physician from Britannia." Pompous informed.
"So you're the doctor who's going to examine me?" Dea asked, gazing up from her needlework.
"Um yes." The Doctor replied. He caught a bit of a hostile tone in her voice. "Your father told me that you were losing weight."
"I'm not ill." She said, fixing her cold blue eyes firmly on him. "I don't need a doctor."
"Oh don't be like that, my child. You know that I'm worried about you." Pompous said, patting on her shoulders. He turned to the Doctor. "She's not herself lately."
"Oh no-one wants to be ill, it's quite understandable. All that blood-letting and cutting and probing with scalpels and spatulas would scare any sane person healthy again, just thinking about. Still." The held out his hand and gave her a boyish grin. "Better safe than sorry."
Dea glanced at her father who nodded encouragingly. She sighed, and let the Doctor take her hand and feel her pulse.
To be honest, the Doctor hadn't been practicing medicine for a quite a while now. Last time he tried to cure anyone, he was travelling with Martha and his patient had been a half-man, half-pig like creature created by the Daleks. He had no trouble to diagnose him correctly. A typical case of third-rate genetic blending that resulted in the almost fatal weakening of the heart muscles. However, this time around it proved to be far more difficult. Holding her delicate wrist and judging by her protruding cheekbones, the Roman girl was obviously on the skinny side of the scale, and closely tipping on being malnourished, but the most irritating thing was that the Doctor could not find a clue of what had caused her condition. When the Doctor felt her stomach and lower abdomen, he could not detect any lumps that pointed to parasites or bowel diseases. She wasn't feverish and her pulse was normal. Except for her being very thin, she was actually in relatively good health.
Told you. She is this millennium's first fashion victim. The Master murmured in the back of the Doctor's mind. Ever considered that her problems could be a bit more psychological in nature?
"Found anything Doctor?" Pompous inquired.
The Doctor scratched the back of his head. He feared that the Master was perhaps right. "Um. Could I have a word with you in private?"
"Of course." Pompous's face showed great concern as he guided the Doctor out of the room and into the garden.
"It's not serious, is it?" The senator asked.
"Oh no, your daughter is in good health for the time being. In fact, I can't really find anything wrong with her that explains her condition."
"But there has to be something wrong with her. In the last two months she must have lost one third of her weight. And then these strange, sudden changes in her personality. My daughter was never quite a little chatterbox Doctor, but she hardly speaks a word to me anymore, and if she does, she acts very hostile, as if she's constantly with angry with me for no good reason." His poised manner faltered for a moment. "Oh merciful Diana." He muttered, fixing his eyes on the sky. "I've already lost her beloved mother three years before to an affliction of the lungs. I don't want to lose her too. Please Doctor, there has to be an explanation!"
"Well, it might not be an affliction of the corporal kind." The Doctor muttered.
"I'm sorry Doctor, you were saying?"
The Doctor shook his head, whatever he thought about the senator's daughter's mental health, he shouldn't inform Pompous before he was absolutely sure.
"Senator, would you mind if I take a blood sample from Dea to rule out any disease of the blood?"
Of course Pompous gave his permission. He would do anything to cure his daughter, and moments later the Doctor collected a tiny drop of blood into a glass phial from a needle prick on the top of the girl's finger.
"Bona Dea." The Doctor smiled, slipping the phial in his pouch. "This should be enough to give us a clue."
"I'm glad that I could of service." Dea said in an icy voice. "Next time you need me to bleed for you again, just ask my father for permission."
"Thank you Doctor." Pompous said, sighing apolitically for his daughter's behaviour. "Come let me take you and your uncle to see the rest of the house. I remember from last night's dinner that you told me that you were particularly interested in seeing the work that's done in my workshop. Let me be a good host to you and show you around."
The Doctor and Wilf followed the senator to the corridor.
You two head along with Pompous senior. The Master murmured into the Doctor head. I'll try to have a chat with the lovely young lady.
The Doctor glanced over his shoulder as he left the room, giving the Master a look of warning.
"I promise I won't hypnotise her." The Master sighed.
"Are you speaking to me?" Dea asked, she had turned in her chair and was gazing up at the slave. Except for the black slave, they were alone. The Master grinned at her.
"Something about hypnotisation." Dea continued. "Can you really do that?"
"I must say that's a keen sense of hearing." The Master replied, and to the amazement of the black slave and the Roman girl, he hopped over the back of the couch and settled down next to her.
"What are you doing?" Dea uttered, her eyes wide in shock. "My father would have you flogged for this!"
"My oh my, with that amount of flogging allegedly handed out in this household, it's a miracle that anything gets done around here." His grin widened, and he draped himself over the couch like a lazy cat with his head resting on his hands. "I myself wouldn't be able to get out of bed at all, certainly not when there are also leather cuffs and playful maidens around."
"You're sick." Dea whispered, but she didn't walk away or made any attempt to warn her father. In fact, for the first time since these strangers had come into her home, a faint smile played at the corners of her lips.
"And you are ill." He tapped his finger on his forehead. "In here."
"Is that what your master thinks. That man who calls himself the Doctor?" Dea replied in an amused voice.
"He's idiot sometimes. If I didn't give him a clue he would still be groping you trying to find out if you had worms or an exotic form of stomach tumour."
"That's no way to speak of your master." Dea smiled and stared at him. "What kind of slave are you?"
The Master glared at her. "Yesterday, when we were outside the villa before we left, you stood next to that ugly looking woman from the kitchen and told her that your father was a fat, thick-headed dimwit who should stop inviting people in for dinner. Now, call me old-fashioned, but that's no way to speak of your own father either." He grinned, observing not without amusement how the girl's mouth dropped open. "Now tell me, what kind of daughter are you?"
"H-how?" Dea breathed.
"You're not the only one with a keen sense of hearing." The Master shrugged, and winked at her. "Not happy with dear papa, are we? Why? What has he done that upsets you so much?"
"And you expect me to pour my heart out to a slave, just like that?"
The Master spread out his hands. "Didn't you hear the Doctor? I'm supposedly not entirely right in my head. As far as the others are concerned, I'm as mad as you are." He chuckled.
She fell silent for a moment. Surely she didn't have to oblige, but she was curious about this insolent slave and the strange Doctor. Perhaps, if she gave him a little information, she would gain something useful in return.
"My father's too worried about me. He treats me like a fragile bird ever since my mother died. And like a precious bird, he has me locked up in this gilded cage. I'm not even allowed to go out in the streets without a chaperon." She sighed. "I suppose my harsh words are just a reflection of how frustrated I feel of not being able to get out of the house."
"And you just what? Stopped eating to punish him for doing this to you? Is that the reason why you're starving yourself?"
Dea fluttered her eyelids, and showed him her most innocent face.
"I'm sorry, but that doesn't sound convincing at all." The Master snorted.
Irritated, Dea fixed her dark blue eyes on him. "And who are you? I mean really. Don't tell that you're a slave. I've never met a slave who acts so carelessly." Although she kept her poise, her voice carried a hint of fear, which the Master found absolutely delicious.
"The Doctor and you, you are not from around here, are you?"
He leaned in on her. "I can't tell you." I whispered in her face. "Since you keep feeding me nonsense, it would be a bad bargain for me to tell you the truth." She tensed when the Master reached out and brushed a lock of hair back to reveal a silver earring dangling from her ear.
"I'm not lying." She tried.
"Of course you're not." He muttered, studying her earring. It was a flat silver disc with a spiral pattern radiating from a white pearl in the centre. It was difficult to see, but the pearl's shiny surface was covered in a web of tiny cracks.
"If you're not answering my questions I will tell my father to arrest you and the others." She threatened.
"Really?" The Master scoffed. "On what ground?"
"On grounds of insolence!" Pompous roared, taking the Master by such surprise that he actually fell off the bloody couch when he jumped up. "What are you doing with my daughter!" He yelled as he strode angrily towards the Master and for a moment, it looked as if the senator was going to slap him. He stabbed a trembling finger at him instead. "Arrest him!" The senator ordered, and immediately, his more bulky servants came forward and grabbed the Master, pulling him up from the floor.
"What's going on in here?" The Doctor just returned to the room with Wilf when he saw Pompous's men dragged the Master away.
"Oh, no. This must be a misunderstanding. A big, big misunderstanding!" The Doctor said.
"He was sitting with my daughter!" Pompous raged, so angry that he was coming short on words. "How…how dare he! I will have him castrated before I sent him down into the mines! I'll let him be ripped apart by hungry beasts in the arena!"
"Oh let's not rush into hasty conclusion, shall we? You can only kill a man once, and blimey, will your face be red when you find out later that you've got it wrong. I'm sure Marcellus did not lay a finger on lady Dea. Right? Marcellus!"
Please, please, please, tell me you didn't. The Doctor begged.
"Well, I must admit…" The Master mused, making the Doctor wince.
"I wouldn't trust a word coming from that filthy little creep." Pompous said firmly.
"Would you trust me then, father?" Dea spoke, fixing all eyes on her.
"Yes." Pompous answered, taken aback. "But of course, my dear."
"I asked Marcellus to sit with me and tell me about the Doctor's travels. Since you told me that he's a travelling physician and he surely knows so much, I thought that the Doctor's llife would be an amazing adventure." She gazed at the Master. "He has done nothing to offend me. You should release him, father."
Pompous gazed at his daughter for a moment, his anger still boiling inside his guts. He finally turned, and waved at his servants to let go of the Master.
The Doctor wisely decided that they shouldn't be hanging around too long and risk the senator to change his mind.
"That was rather fun." The Master commented when they left Pompous's residence in a hurry a few moments later. "You're right Doctor, we should get out more often. Go get involved with the petty little lives of these humans. It certainly makes travelling with you less dull."
"You think so?" The Doctor replied in a stern voice. "You've almost got yourself killed. Again."
"Wasn't going to happen." The Master laughed. "Not with you around as my guardian angel. Besides, I was supposedly immortal, remember?" He took in a deep breath of air and rolled his head over his shoulder, extracting a most satisfying crack. "Really, I haven't felt so invigorated since I came back to my full senses."
"Tss, needs to get himself in mortal danger to feel a bit alive. How typical." The Doctor replied. "What are you, addicted to misery? Does your life only lighten up when you feel the adrenaline of jeopardy rush through your veins?"
"I'll go pet a puppy and stick my nose in the flowers and try to be lyrically happy about that, shall I?" The Master replied dryly.
"Did you at least find out anything?" The Doctor asked, irritated by how blasé the Master reacted.
"More than I expected actually." The Master grinned.
They were back in the Tardis by nightfall. The Doctor was in the tiny but cosy kitchen, trying to fix dinner for the three of them. He wanted something simple that didn't involved butchering an entire zoo of exotic animals. He only had one Roman meal in this place, and that was enough to last him for the next decade. Wilf was sitting at the table with his head resting on his hands, while the Master rocked lazily on the hind legs of his chair.
"So Pompous has a workshop filled with alien technology." The Master mused, leaning so far back that the Doctor half-expected that he was going to crack his skull again sooner or later. "The man is quite a collector then."
"He salvaged most of it from the same field where the star was found." The Doctor answered. He was trying to scrape the pitiful remains of what was once a fried egg from the pan. "You should have seen the place. He had all sorts of interesting things, a broken milometer, pieces of a blackhole converter, even a large part of the defunct engine. They all seem to belong to that 53rd century Naskular spaceship."
"And he lets his workmen play with that space junk in the hope they would turn it into something useful?"
"As far as the senator is concerned, the pieces of strange metal he collected came from the machines of the Gods, which makes them highly priced artefacts. If he can make them work, it's even better."
He slid a blacked morsel down on Wilf's plate with a content smile.
"Here you go, two fried eggs on the order."
"Um, thanks." Wilf muttered.
"What? He thinks those bits came off Apollo's golden chariot?" The Master scoffed.
"A bit like that. Yeah. In the senator's mind, Zeus's thunderbolts do come with a long range target scope." The Doctor flipped the pan, and the second serving of eggs dropped like a brink on the Master's plate.
The Master wrinkled up his nose. "I believe I've asked for sunny-side up, not scorched to a cinder."
"Eat up." The Doctor sighed, and sat down with a plate in front of him. "Blimey, all the effort I've put in to have a nice meal together, and what do I get?"
"Sorry Doctor. I'm not that hungry." Wilf said, and shoved his portion aside.
"I'm pretty sure that we will get bowel cancer if we try to consume this." The Master murmured, eying down on whatever was on his plate with suspicion.
"Fine, you don't know what you're missing." The Doctor said with slight irritation. He was chewing on the crispy blackened bits and tried very hard to swallow the morsel. After a short while, he gave up. "No, nope, wait. You're not missing out on anything. This is really nasty, even for my cooking standards." He spat it out again, rubbing his tongue over his sleeves to get rid of the horrible taste. "Right." He grinned, ready for a second course. "Pizza anyone?"
"Since I do not wish to expose myself again to your amazing cooking skills, and by the sight of it, I am speaking for granddad here as well, can we just go to a tavern?" The Master asked with mild amusement.
Of course the Doctor wouldn't give up that easily. While he waited for the pizza that he had popped into the oven to be ready, he questioned the Master about what he and Wilf found out in the Artemis temple. Wilf did most of the talking while the Master kept silent, rocking back and forth in his chair, looking not the least interested. He did show a bit of a panic though when the Doctor fished out the pizza out of the oven, and offered him a large slice.
"It's an art, isn't it? Cooking." The Master lifted the black, dry triangle from his plate and buried it unceremoniously in the bin. "You're obviously not an artist."
"It's not that bad. Scrape off the burnt bits." Wilf tried.
"There won't be anything left." The Master scoffed.
"If you're not eating, that's the last pizza we had in the freezer. Maybe I should ask Pompous again to invite us for dinner." The Doctor remarked.
"Oh no you don't." The Master replied, dryly.
Wilf looked at the Doctor. "Just to clear things up. The senator's daughter's strange illness, that has nothing to do with that spaceship and those relics in the temple. Those two things, they're not connected, am I right?" Wilf said. He had also given up on the pizza. Even the Doctor wouldn't be able to bring it back to life now.
"Funny you should mention it. I don't really recognize those small pea-sized eggs you were talking about." The Doctor mused, hopping on the table and swinging his legs over the side. "Naskuls are humanoids, they pretty much look like you and me, only with tentacles instead of arms and legs and mandibles instead of a nose. They get their offspring by cellular division. I mean, they literally split into two and walk off as two whole individuals, only then half in size. I've never heard that they could hatch out of eggs." The Doctor turned to the Master. "What do you reckon? You saw them too. What do you think they were?"
The Master put his hands up in the air and pulled a how the heck should I know face. "I've never seen those things before." He lied.
Later that night, the Doctor found Wilf sitting outside on a large boulder, staring up at the dark sky. The lights in the houses and the harbour of Ephesus shimmered in the distance. He sat down next to him.
"It looks like a fairytale town. It really does." Wilf muttered, still struck by the strange beauty of this place. He pointed up at the sky. "Even the stars are different. I've never seen some of them before."
"The solar system makes its turn around the centre of the Milkyway." The Doctor explained. "Our direct neighbouring stars move along with us, and keep their position in the sky. Others shift in and out of view as time moves on. It's like every generation on Earth can take a peek out of a window and see the intergalactic view change as we travel among the stars."
The Doctor wrapped his arms around his knees and gazed up at the twinkling lights. The air was clear and a cool breeze brushed over his face, cooling the sweat on his skin. He took in a deep breath. The scent of the sea and the fragrant pine trees up in the hills filled his nose. He had not felt this happy for a long, long time.
"If you think this is amazing, you should see it in the Jurassic period." He mused, a boyish smile spreading across his lips. "Mars burnt like an enormous red star in the sky, and you just wouldn't believe the size of the moon. It even looked bigger than the sun."
They sat together for while, the Doctor telling his tales of wonderful prehistoric skies, while Wilf listened quietly in amazement.
"It must be fantastic. Seeing all that." Wilf muttered.
"I could take you to see it for yourself." The Doctor offered. "When the Tardis is fixed. A second trip to the age of the dinosaurs."
"Really?" Wilf's face lit up for a moment, but the excitement quickly faded. "Maybe I shouldn't, though."
"Why not? I'll have you back umm, let's say a second after you left. Maybe a minute."
"I know. I know you can do all that. Still." Wilf sighed and gazed at the Doctor in silence.
"You miss them." The Doctor said softly, knowing the frown on Wilf's face and the sound of hesitation in his voice all too well.
"It's just…We just went off. Without a word. There was no time to check if Donna was alright. I'm mostly worried about her. Seeing her granddad being dragged off. Arrested by those strange policemen. It wouldn't be easy for her. And Sylvia. I'm sure that she is going to have a fit." Wilf sighed. "She promised to call when she gets to the hotel. If I am not home, she'll be worried sick." Wilf looked back at the Doctor. "I'm sorry Doctor. Seeing the senator with his daughter today...It just reminds me of them."
"No need to say sorry." The Doctor smiled. "I understand. To miss the ones you love. It's only human. I'll bring you back home as soon as the Tardis is repaired."
"What about you Doctor? Are you going to travel with him now?" Wilf asked.
"Seems like it. Yes." The Doctor answered, rubbing in his eyes, it has been a long day. "At least, as long as he wants to tag along."
"You better be careful. I'm not saying he's evil. I'm just not sure. That crazy sound inside his head. You think he's completely cured from that?"
"I'll keep an eye on him." The Doctor gave Wilf a reassuring wink.
Wilf nodded. "Guess travelling around and seeing all those wonderful things you talked about. It's just not that wonderful when you have no-one to show it to." Wilf said wisely.
"No. It isn't." The Doctor answered, struck by the honesty of the old man. "But now I've finally found someone to share it with." The Doctor beamed back a smile at Wilf that said it all. "Which is much-much better, even if he is a crazy megalomaniac psychopath."
After a while, the Doctor stood up and went back inside, leaving Wilf to enjoy the view.
"Master." The Doctor took out the phial with Dea Pompous's blood. "Master, fancy to do a late-night bio-analysis with the old chemistry set before bedtime? The first one who gets the protein profiling done gets to pick out our next destination!"
There was no reply.
The Doctor went to look for him in the library and in his bedroom. The Master wasn't there. He went down into the cellar, and looked in the kitchen and the library, but he couldn't find him. After he had searched frantically through the entire Tardis, the Doctor could only draw one conclusion.
The Master was gone.
The lights in all of the rooms in the villa were out, and most of the inhabitants, slaves and master alike, had already gone to bed. The courtyard next to the kitchen was covered in darkness when the Master arrived. He had climbed over the garden walls and had been following the strong sense of garum to find this place in the labyrinth of corridors. It was a small miracle that he didn't have the guard dogs on his heels. For all he knew, those pills he found in the Doctor's nightstand could just have been vitamin supplements. It turned out they weren't, and the entire pack of mutts was now sleeping off their drug-induced sleep, leaving the Master to sneak around undisturbed.
He studied the yard, and saw in the pale moonlight that shone down over the rooftops that there were 13 huge pots, each of them large enough to have a fully grown man huddled up inside. They were buried to the rim in the sand. He was about to come closer to investigate, when a dark figure crossed the yard. The Master hid behind a column, and waited. A pale hand appeared out of the cloak and pulled the hood down, revealing the pale, delicate features of the senator's daughter.
Dea glanced over the courtyard. She was visibly nervous. A second figure appeared from the kitchen, followed by a third. They were carrying a bucket in each hand. When they stepped out into the moonlight, the Master recognized Balcuba, the loud maid who he had met in the kitchen, and who had all the charm and looks of a kitchen-harpy. The third woman wasn't exactly a beauty either. She had a crow's nest of red hair and was at least a head shorter than Dea or Balcuba, but she did share the other women's thin frame.
"Are they sleeping?" Balcuba asked.
"Pompous went to bed early, and the light in the sleeping quarters of the servants went out a good hour ago." Dea answered in a whisper.
"And did you lock up the slaves for the night Corda?"
The red-haired woman just nodded.
"Let's start feeding them then." Balcuba carried the buckets to the side of one of the pots and lifted the wooden lid. A strange sound, like something wet and slimy was blowing out airbubbles, rose up from inside.
"Keep them quiet." Dea hushed, keeping an eye out at the corridor leading to the bedchamber of her father.
"You heard our little princess." Balcuba muttered as she emptied the pail into the pot. "Keep your mouths shut and gobble up your supper like good little boys and girls."
The Master heard whatever was inside the pot slurp down the soup hungrily, making a sound as if a thick liquid was sucked through a straw. When her buckets were empty, Bulcuba went back inside, while the woman, who apparently was called Corda, poured her load into the second pot. The Master watched with growing curiosity how the two women returned multiple times from the kitchen, and emptied their buckets into each one of the 13 pots till they had covered them all.
"You know, it wouldn't hurt if you came off your high horse for once and helped us out around feeding time. Or are you too afraid to soil your pretty well-manicured hands?" The woman scoffed as she wiped the sweat from her forehead.
"That's a real good idea. And what would Pompous make of it if he sees me carrying buckets full of brew into the courtyard? He's already suspicious of the whole situation as it is. Do you want him to find out what we are trying to do here?" Dea snapped back.
"The man is as dumb as the backside of a mule. You said so yourself. Now that Doctor-fellow. That's an entire different story. One look at him and I knew he meant trouble. You sure he didn't find out anything?"
"He doesn't have a clue what's going on. Don't you worry." Dea reassured her. It wasn't the Doctor she was worried about.
Patience was not one of his stronger traits, and the Master found it hard to keep himself in hiding till the women left. As soon as they disappeared back into the house, he headed out into the courtyard and removed the lid from one of the pots. He squatted down beside it, and looked down into a foul smelling liquid.
In the scarce moonlight, he saw something stir inside the brown murky soup. It was reaching out to him with a weak, tentacle like arm.
It wasn't difficult to trace down the Master. The Doctor just had to follow his scent that brought him right to the doorsteps of Magnus Pompous's villa.
The Doctor furrowed his brows. It was odd that the Master would choose to go back to senator's house by his own. What was he up to? He was still busy puzzling it out when he ran into the Master, heading for the other direction. A pack of angry dogs barked madly behind him, but luckily they were at the other side of the wall.
"Where were you?" The Doctor demanded.
"Out. Taking a stroll." The Master answered with a smug grin. "Did you miss me?"
"What were you in doing in the senator's house?"
"I didn't go inside. Like I said, I only went out for some fresh air."
"Oh I wish I could believe you." The Doctor laughed with incredulity. "But I don't. What were you doing in there?" The Doctor repeated, more sternly now. Then a thought hit him. "Don't tell me you were trying to steal something from the workshop."
"Please. As if that those bits of space junk would ever interest me." The Master scoffed. He did sneak into the senator's workshop to take a look at what he could find. He was trying to make a new laserscrewdriver, but the Doctor didn't need to know this.
Loosing his patience, the Doctor grabbed him by the front of his tunic and shoved him against the wall. "What did you do?"
The light went on in one of the rooms, and someone started shouting at the dogs in an irritated voice. The Master gazed back at the Doctor.
"Maybe we should continue this conversation somewhere else before they set the dogs on us." He said with a stony grin.
The following morning, the Doctor went to visit the senator on his own.
"You would like to have my daughter's what?" The senator asked in astonishment.
"Your daughter's earring." The Doctor repeated. Dea put her plate of pea stew that her father was forcing her to have for breakfast aside on the small table and sat up from the recliner. She stared back at the Doctor with alarm.
"Well actually, I don't both of them. I just need the one dangling from her left ear."
"But…why? I'm sorry Doctor, I'm not a physician, but what does it have to do with her illness?"
"It's an allergy thing." The Doctor nodded. "It's like when some people cannot wear copper bracelets without getting a rash. Only now, it's affecting her general health." He explained, trying his best to sound convincing, but Magnus was still looking puzzled.
"But why only her earrings? Why not her necklace or her bracelets, or her rings?"
"Ah." The Doctor took a deep breath. This would need some clarification indeed. "I still need to proof it of course, but by the look of her left ear, it seems to me that the skin is slightly more red than the right ear, which to the trained eye, is an early sign of inflammation. I'll take that most of Dea's jewels that she's wearing are made of gold or silver?"
"Oh yes. I've purchased every single one of them for her from a highly respectable jeweller who also supplies the emperor's court. He only uses the purest materials. Besides, if he ever tries to cheat on me with inferior quality work, I would ruin his reputation and he would never be able to sell anything to anyone in this town again." The senator boasted.
"Well, the thing with precious metal is, whether it is gold or silver, if you want to make anything out of it, you have to dilute it. Pure gold is as soft as butter and you would just ruin the beautiful patterns in your sealring the first thing you give a hand to someone with a bit of a strong grip. Not a lot of people know this, but pure gold doesn't even have the colour of…well gold. It's more like silver, whitish gray of colour. Boring really. Now if you mix in a good helping of copper, then you'll get that yellow golden shine that's so incredible fashionable these days."
"So, you're telling me that I've been fooled, and that the copper traces in my daughter's golden earring is making her ill?" The senator took in a deep breath. "Oh I will give orders to arrest that jeweller immediately! How dare he to sell fake jewellery to the senator of Ephesus!"
"Oh no, no no senator!" The Doctor said hurriedly. Blimey, had he actually been listening to anything he said? "They might keep it a secret, but everyone does it. If you want to arrest him, you have to arrest everyone in the trade."
"But he compromised my daughter's health!"
"It's copper in the earring is making your daughter ill, at least, that's what we're going to try to find out. The merchant can't help it that your daughter might have an allergy."
The Doctor turned to Dea. "Now, if I may?" He held out his hand.
"What are you going to do with it?" Dea asked.
"Oh the usual stuff, drop it in a mortar, grind it into tiny little pieces before I melt it down. That sort of thing." He replied with an enthusiastic smile. It was actually not that far from what he had in mind.
"But there won't be anything left!" Dea objected, and shot a glance at the senator. "You bought this for me father. It was a gift for my 16th birthday. I don't want it destroyed."
"I could also just scrape a bit off." The Doctor tried.
"Or damaged." Dea huffed.
"My sweet child, you shouldn't care that much about that earring. If you desire, I could buy you a dozen new ones next time I visit Rome. Your good health is far more important for me." The senator nodded at the Doctor. "She will give you the earring. As long as you find out what's happening to her."
"Right." The Doctor smiled, when Dea finally, but reluctantly handed it over to him. "Don't you worry, I'll return it as soon as I've finished analysing it. You'll be fit as a fiddle within a week!"
"No doubt I will." Dea said with a stony face. She deeply regretted that she had pleaded with Pompous to let the Master go. He must have noticed the little white pearl set in her earring while he was talking to her. When her father said goodbye to the Doctor, Corda appeared from the kitchen. she came to stand next to her mistress and studied the long stranger with his peculiar manners, who seemed to know and suspect much more about them than met the eye. Dea glanced over at her. Both women were sharing the same thought. The Doctor and his company were getting too dangerous.
"Follow him, but don't let him see you." Dea whispered. "Find out where they are staying. I'll tell Pompous that I have sent you out for a choir."
Corda, the most silent one of the three sisters, gave a slight nod. When the Doctor headed off, she went after him, walking at least 20 steps behind.
"And here it is! I've got the earring!" The Doctor exclaimed as he strode back into the Tardis. He dislodged the white sphere out of the golden disk. "And I've got the egg. If it is an egg." He sniffed, and held it against the light, making the tiny cracks visible. "You're right." He muttered as he studied it closely. "The surface is definitely fractured."
"I'm always right." The Master said. He was sitting at the Tardis console with his feet up on the dashboard with his hands behind his head. "By the way, would you not ask your pet-human to babysit me again? It's humiliating." He added with a sardonic grin, but he didn't seem genuinely irritated.
Why, what's wrong with a little humiliation? It builds up character." The Doctor teased. "And Wilf? Did he behave himself?"
Wilf jumped from his chair and gave the Doctor a mock salute. "Yes Doctor sir. He didn't leave or tamper with the Tardis, as you've instructed. He was annoying like hell, thought."
"Wouldn't have expected anything else." The Doctor muttered, and he tossed the egg over to the Master who caught it with one hand. "This thing is nothing but an empty shell. Whatever was inside came out already. The question is, what was in it?"
"It's called a Stergeg, that what's hatched out of this. They are a gas-based species. A parasitic lifeform that wrecks havoc in its host." The Master explained. After he was caught during his midnight stroll, he had to give the Doctor some information on what was happening in casa Pompous to get him off his back. He had told him about the earring, but he was still keeping some vital information behind.
"Stergegs? I've never heard of them." The Doctor furrowed his brows in suspicion.
"That's because they're rare, as in almost extinct. I've tried to lay my hands on one of them when I was still in charge of dr. Lazarus's laboratory. I knew about their ability to hijack their victim's central nervous system without killing them. I figured that if I could extract the genetic code of one of these creatures, I could create a recombinant virus that could be used to enslave the entire human population."
"As if the Archangel network wasn't enough mind control." The Doctor remarked disapprovingly.
"You know me Doctor." The Master grinned. "There always should be a backup plan. Anyway, the project didn't work out, mainly because my top-scientist met his demise in a very unfortunate accident before we got the whole sequence cloned, so I had to stick with the Archangel network in the end." The Master gave the Doctor a meaningful look. If the righteous Doctor wanted to play his favourite blame game again, he also had a couple of aces up his sleeves.
"Is that what happened? The senator's daughter has one of those parasite things? Inside her head? Tunnelling through her brains like a worm in an apple?" Wilf asked. He was getting rather upset.
"We don't know that for sure yet." The Doctor said. He turned to the Master. "Are you sure that you've identified the right species? How can you be so confident by looking at an empty eggshell?"
"We could try to extract some DNA for sequencing." The Master opted. "I'm sure I can still recognize a part of the genetic code. I've a very good memory for that sort of things."
The goodwill of the Master rather surprised the Doctor. "If you're right, then we should be able to pick up trace amounts of the same genetic code in Dea's blood sample. That would definitely proof that she is infected." He went over to the console and searched the cupboards below the dashboard. He brought out a cardboard box and blew off the dust to reveal a junior chemistry set. It had two cartoon children characters on it, screaming the message "science is FUN!" into the big text balloon floating above their heads.
"Oh you're going to let me play with your chemistry set?" The Master clapped in his hands. "Oh joy, I can hardly wait." He grinned, faking to be delighted.
"You'll be amazed how much they put in these kits." The Doctor said, ignoring the Master's sarcastic response, and took the phial with blood sample out of his leather pouch.
"Let's get started."
The two Timelords retreated to the lab to crack the genetic code of the samples, while Wilf went off to bed early. When Doctor waited for the green solution of chemicals to bubble away on the burner, he glanced over at his labpartner, and saw how the Master was scribbling down a formula on the bench-top. He also noticed how the Master chewed on his pencil when he was in thought, and stuck it behind his ear every time he had to use his hands to mix components together. Suddenly, the Doctor found himself quite incapable to stop looking at him. It reminded him too much of how things used to be, when they were still children and friends at the academy. To be in the same room with the Master, tampering away with glass vials and tubes in silence, just completely erased the distance that had been between them in all those long, horrible, lonely years, and filled the Doctor with a feeling of familiarly and warm intimacy.
"What are you looking at?" The Master, noticing that he was being watched, he gazed up from his experiment.
The Doctor averted his eyes and quickly turned back to whatever strange brew he was concocting. "Nothing. Nothing. Just checking if you're still doing your job and was not lazying around."
"I'm not working for you." The Master replied quietly, a hint of a smile playing on his lips. If he sensed anything, felt the same about the whole absurd situation, he wasn't going to show. "I'm doing this for my own interest. I'm actually curious to find out if this really is a Stergeg egg. I hate to be proven wrong."
"Do you have the extraction buffer ready?" The Doctor removed the glass Erlenmeyer flask containing the bubbling brew with pliers from the burner and placed it on the bench.
"Almost." The Master picked up his flask with a colourless buffer and took a sniff. He then added two drops of bright pink liquid to the formula. "That should do it." He said, giving it a good swirl.
"Right." The Doctor held the empty eggshell between his thumb and indexfinger. "Ready?" He asked, drawing up his eyebrows in anticipation.
"Get on with it." The Master murmured, slightly irritated.
The Doctor dropped the pearly sphere into the green brew. It hissed when it hit the surface and dissolved completely. "Your turn." The Doctor said with a smile of accomplishment.
The Master poured his entire flask into the Doctor's brew. It turned from green to bright pink immediately, and started to smoke.
"What did you do? That's not supposed to do that." The Doctor muttered. The smoke hit his lungs, and he coughed violently before glancing up at the Master. "This stuff is poisonous. We have to get out." He breathed with alarm. His lungs stung like he had inhaled a swarm of angry bees. He had a light and dizzy feeling in his head while the strength in his limbs was leaving him. A minute longer in the lab and he was ready to pass out. The Master, in contrast, appeared to be not affected at all, and gazed back at him with a sly smile that reminded him too much of Harold Saxon for comfort.
"Oh don't you worry about me Doctor." He grabbed the Doctor by the back of his neck and held his face right above the smoking toxic brew. "Take a deep breath of this. It will calm you down. Help you unwind. You've been way too strung up lately."
The Doctor struggled to get up, but he couldn't. The toxin in his blood was turning his muscles into soft butter, and soon the Master didn't need to hold him down any longer. He was dangling above the brew like a limp string puppet.
"That's it. Breathe Doctor. Breathe it all in."
The Master's voice faded, and slowly the world turned black in front of the Doctor's eyes.
TBC. As always, please review and comment.