Tegan and Nyssa guided Adric back through the labyrinth of caves to where they had left the TARDIS. Nyssa's mouth was a thin line, and she stared ahead of her at nothing as they ran. She seemed to be in pain; but as soon as the doors of the TARDIS closed behind them, she relaxed, slumped back against the wall, and put a hand to her head.
The TARDIS was exactly as Adric remembered it. The white walls, the whirring noises, the soft hum of the engines, even the lemony smell of the cleaning agent the Doctor occasionally splashed on the floors to get the adventure off of them.
"Oh my God," someone said behind him. He turned around and saw Nyssa staring at him as though he were some kind of prodigal son, returned from the dead. "Oh my God, Adric."
"Hi." said Adric. "Um . . . I'm not dead?"
"How?" she asked.
"I was . . . rescued."
"Who rescued you?" Tegan interrupted. Adric didn't even hear her. He had eyes for Nyssa alone, and she, only for him.
"I told the Doctor to go back."
"I know you did. It's all right, though. I'm here now."
"And as soon as the Doctor gets back, we can get out of this place." Tegan said, miffed that the two were ignoring her.
"Yes," Nyssa said, "as soon as the Doctor gets back. It's the Master, you see."
"I know." said Adric, and the darkness came out of his eyes and spread across his face. "I know all about the Master."
"Adric, where have you been? What happened to you?" Tegan demanded, grabbing him by the shoulder.
"The Master rescued me." he said. "Or . . . his assistant."
"The Master has an assistant?"
"Yes. Tiffany. She rescued me."
"Why in the world would the Master rescue you?" Nyssa asked, getting slowly to her feet.
"He wanted to turn me into a computer chip. I've been running his TARDIS for weeks now."
"And he let you go? This is a trap." Tegan said, instantly on alert.
"No, he didn't. And it's probably not a trap. Tiffany let me go. I just had to promise. . . ."
"Well, you're safe here, now. You got away! That's two times you've got away from the Master." Tegan said, and gave up on getting through to Adric. He wasn't even looking at Nyssa anymore. He was just staring at nothing.
Nyssa walked up to him and, quite suddenly, hugged him very tightly. Adric started as though he'd gotten an electrical shock.
"Nyssa-" he began, not quite sure what he was going to say to her.
"Just don't go away again." she said to him, face buried in his shoulder. "Promise me you won't go away again."
Adric sighed and held her tightly, because it was all he could do.
"Where is he?"
Tiffany looked up from her nails. The Master had just strode in the door, looking like a thunderstorm. Tiffany rolled her eyes and went back to filing her nails.
"Where is who?"
"The boy!" the Master raged, indicated the Hadron web. "Where is he?"
He seized her by the throat, lifting her from the ground. She dropped her nail file, but not her composure.
"Don't you play stupid with me, girl. Tell me where the boy is, or I'll find him myself."
"He has a name." Tiffany croaked. The Master shook her violently, like a wolf shaking a bird to snap its neck.
"Where is he?"
Tiffany smiled, although her neck hurt like hell and her head was beginning to swell up with blood. "Gone." she said. "He's probably a hundred million miles and ten thousand years away by now. You'll never find him."
The Master flung her to the ground with a cry of disgust, and delivered a sharp kick to her ribs. She cried out, and then laughed.
"He's gone, you old fool!" she spat. "And you'll be stuck here forever."
"Insolent brat!" the Master cried. "You will die for this treason!"
Then something hit him over the head, hard. His eyes glazed over and he crumpled, disabled but not unconscious.
Behind him stood Adric.
The Doctor had rushed in, out of breath and grinning. "I traded him a faulty time circuit. Bartered it for the freedom of the prisoners. Turns out, one of them got into the power source and broke it! Whatever was in there is gone now. Dead as a doornail. Anyway, I-" He had caught sight of Adric, who had let go of Nyssa. "My God." The Doctor had rushed over and put both hands on Adric's face. "My God, you're alive. How did you escape?"
Adric brushed the Doctor's hands away with more force than necessary.
"Where were you?" he demanded.
"What?" said the Doctor.
"I said, where the hell were you?"
"You abandoned me! You left me there to die! You could have saved me. Any time, you could have just gone back and saved me, and you didn't because you forgot about me!"
"Adric, no, it wasn't like that. Please, let me explain."
"No." said Adric, the darkness seething in his eyes. "I don't want your explanations. I don't want to see you ever again. And most of all, I don't want to be like you."
"What?" said the Doctor.
"What?" said Tegan and Nyssa.
"There's someone I have to go back for. Someone I have to save. And I'm not going to forget about her like you forgot about me." Adric turned to Nyssa, some of the anger vanishing from his face, but none of the determination. "I'm sorry, Nyssa. I can't stay."
He hadn't waited for a rebuttal, for an argument. If he let them talk, they would convince him not to go. It was the hardest thing he ever did, walking out that TARDIS door, but he did it, and he didn't look back.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Tiffany demanded, picking herself up off the floor.
"You're welcome." said Adric.
"You were supposed to be gone, you idiot! You were supposed to fly away with the Doctor and never come back! Why did you come back here? What were you thinking?"
"You were supposed to lie!"
Adric stood, stunned and immobile, just staring at Tiffany for a few moments. It was possibly the angriest he had ever seen her.
"I'm . . . sorry?" he said, and then something stabbed him right between the ribs. He screamed and crumpled to the floor, curling in on himself as the air sputtered out of his left lung and the void began to fill with blood. The Master dragged himself to his feet, holding the wicked, bloodstained dagger in his black-gloved hand. He turned his calculating eyes on Tiffany and smiled at her.
"Provided I kill you in the next six minutes," he said, "I can still have my new computer mainframe."
"Go to hell." Tiffany spat, and leapt upon him. She scratched at his eyes with one hand while fending off his dagger with the other. She kicked and bit him, struggling to gain the upper hand. In six minutes Adric would be dead.
And then the Master's hand slipped free of her iron grip, and the dagger stabbed into her stomach, once, twice, three times. She huddled on the floor, crying out in agony, as the Master pulled himself back up. He stomped on her head as hard as he could, and she went still, her life leaking through her fingers where she still clutched her stomach.
The TARDIS lurched.
The Master looked up to see Adric, suspended in the web, his blood hissing as it dripped from his side and encountered the super-charged strands. He appeared to be unconscious, but when the Master took a step towards him, his head snapped up. His eyes were bright and cruel.
"This time," he choked, fluid gurgling in his lungs, "this time you don't get to come back."
The pressure seal around the TARDIS's doors hissed. The look of panic on the Master's face would have been funny on any other day.
"You'll kill her, too!" the Master cried, pointing to Tiffany. "If you do this, you'll kill her too!"
Adric chuckled humorlessly. "She's already dead." he said, and opened the doors to the vacuum of space. He closed his eyes, so he wouldn't have to see Tiffany's lifeless body sucked like rag-doll into that terrible blackness. He could hear the Master scrabbling at his control panels, trying to get a grip on something, anything- he could hear him crying out, but couldn't make out the words over the roar of the air rushing out of the TARDIS. Finally there was a long scream, and then no sound but the rushing of the air. Adric opened his eyes. He was alone in the control room. He closed the TARDIS doors, and the vacuum gave up its hold on the control room. Adric sagged in the web, letting his head hang.
"I tried," he murmured, every breath an agony as he drowned in his own blood. "I'm sorry . . . I couldn't . . . save you. . . ."
And all was darkness.
And then there was a light. It seemed very far away, and yet somehow, very close. Something touched his face, gently. He opened his eyes, saw a blurry face staring down into his own.
"Tiffany?" he croaked.
"Hi." said Tiffany.
"You're dead." he said. "And so am I."
Tiffany sighed. "Would that it were so. But we're not. We've been saved thanks to my infinite cleverness."
Adric sat up. He was in the TARDIS's medical bay, lying on one of the cold, flat tables that passed for beds. "What happened?" he demanded. "He stabbed you. Three times. I saw."
"Yes, and it bloody well hurt, too. As you should well know. You got stabbed, too."
"But you should've died! You got sucked out the airlock!"
"Obviously I didn't."
Adric stared at her. One side of her face was a single, massive, mottled bruise, but otherwise she looked fine- a little pale, perhaps, but certainly alive.
"How did you survive?"
"Finally, a coherent question. First, I didn't get 'sucked out the airlock,' as you so delicately put it, because there happened to be a console between me and it. Secondly, while stab wounds to the belly hurt like hell, they generally take several hours to actually kill you, unlike, say, stab wounds to the lungs. I dragged myself down here and had the computer patch me up as best it could, and then I went back for you. Turns out the Hadron web had you in some kind of stasis. You were almost dead, but not quite. So I brought you here, pumped the blood out of your lungs, and waited. For about a day."
"That doesn't make sense." said Adric.
"No," Tiffany admitted, "it doesn't. But it was the best explanation I could come up with." She grinned at him. "I actually have no idea what happened."
Adric thought hard. He could vaguely remember the Hadron web letting him down, and then, perhaps, dragging something very heavy across the floors. . . .
"Are you sure I didn't save you?"
"That's ridiculous." said Tiffany. "The only way out of that web is the manual shut-off."
"Right." said Adric. "Of course."
"But, I suppose, in a way, you did save me." she said, staring at something in the far corner of the room. Adric felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth.
"Even though I wasn't supposed to."
"No, you weren't." She faced him, completely serious. "Why did you come back for me?"
Adric thought. "Because . . . I just had to."
"You're ridiculous." she said, but then she smiled at him.
"So!" she said, rising and stretching. "Here we are, out in the middle of the universe, with a faulty time-circuit, an inadequate power source, and an outdated computer mainframe. What shall we do?"
Adric hefted himself off the medical bay table, pressing two fingers to the healed wound in his side where the Master had stabbed him. He took a deep breath, and was pleased to find that it didn't gurgle at all.
"I don't know." Adric replied. "But the universe is a big place."
"It certainly is. And the Doctor is only one person."
"The Master wasn't the only threat to the universe." Adric agreed.
"And there's always N-Space." Tiffany pointed out. They looked at each other for a long moment.
"Adric?" said Tiffany.
"Get in the web?" said Adric.
Tiffany sighed. "Please get in the web."
Adric grinned at her. "Tiffany," he said, strolling towards the exit, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship."
"Yeah." said Tiffany. "Just remember which one of us holds the nerve disruptor."
The planet loomed ahead, the beautiful and sapphire blue. They rushed towards it through a tunnel of numbers, coming to rest on a level spot somewhere on the surface. The TARDIS dinged, and Tiffany leapt up from her spot, running towards the doors.
"This is it!" she cried. "The furthest reaches of time and space! I almost don't blame the Doctor for that faulty time-circuit trick. It's made the trip much more interesting."
"Open the door, Tiffany." Adric prompted.
"All right, I'm getting there. It doesn't do to rush these things." Tiffany cleared her throat, and then, flinging the doors wide open, cried, "I present to you-!" And then a cry of dismay.
"What?" said Adric, craning his neck to see out the door. All he could see was red dirt. "Where are we?"
"Adric," said Tiffany miserably, "may I present to you the farthest reaches of time and space: Melbourne, Australia. Earth."
Adric laughed harder than he had in months, and the TARDIS chuckled, too.
It was a big universe, but it also had a sense of humor.