Not far away a group of uniformed soldiers was proceeding carefully but determinedly through a landscape not quite as desolate; there were bits of green sticking up through the rocks. The soldiers were searching the ground for tracking signs, and suddenly one of them called out, bringing his sargeant to him.
"Look, Sargeant Gruble," said the soldier, pointing to a particular spot on the ground.
There was a drop of orange fluid.
"He's making for the Zone of Death," said the soldier. "Just like all the others."
"He's headed for Death in more ways than one," snorted Gruble. "Well, he's in Stage Three now - we'll catch him before he gets to the Zone. The Administrator will be pleased."
The TARDIS time rotor ground to a halt. Grace was just experienced enough with its workings to know this meant it had landed somewhere new. "Where are we?" she asked the Doctor. "Somewhere safe?"
The Doctor flashed a smile at her. "I don't know!" He flipped the door switch and sailed out. Grace followed him.
They emerged from the TARDIS exterior immediately to confront the dying man. He was staring at them bug-eyed, perhaps in reaction to the sight of a Police Box appearing out of thin air a moment before.
"Hello!" said the Doctor.
The dying man stared at him, fell forward onto the ground, and lay still.
"What a charming fellow," said the Doctor.
"Doctor," cried Grace, "who is he?"
"Just off the top of my head," said the Doctor as he and Grace knelt to examine him, "I'd say he's a dying man."
"Eww!" Grace had been checking the dying man for a pulse. He had one, just; but when she'd taken her hand away, it was dripping orange. "What's this stuff?"
"Just off the top of my head," said the Doctor, "I'd say it's what this man is dying of."
"Doctor, what's going on?"
"Hold it right there!" Grace looked up to find about a dozen men in unrecognized uniforms holding some sort of energy rifles on her, the Doctor, and the dying man.
"Hello," said the Doctor, rising, "I'm the Doctor." He stuck out his hand and moved toward the soldiers, and was cut down by a dozen ray blasts at once.
"No!" shouted Grace, jumping to her feet. "What have you done?"
"He's not dead," said the soldier with the most elaborate insignia. He noticed the orange spot on her hand. "You are, though."
After several shots from a rifle set on "stim" the Doctor was awakened. He and Grace were marched off the way the soldiers had come, two of them donning protective gear in order to carry the dying man.
"What exactly is wrong with that dying man?" asked Grace.
"It's the shortening," said Gruble, with the How can you be so ignorant of what's going on all over this planet tone that the Doctor's companions quickly became used to.
"Grace and I are travelers," said the Doctor.
"How can you be so ignorant of what's going on all over this planet?" said Gruble.
"Well, I'm sort of a recluse," said the Doctor.
"A traveling recluse," said Gruble. "Of course. Obviously. I should have known."
"The next time you go home to your family," the Doctor said to him, "bring your wife anything but a heart-shaped box of candy."
"What exactly is this 'shortening'?" asked Grace.
"If you really don't know," grunted Gruble, "you're headed for the best place there is for finding out."
"Why don't I find this encouraging?" asked Grace.
Not very far away, behind a door with lettering that read ADMINISTRATOR, a man in expensive black civilian clothing was supervising the installation of a multi-screened planetary monitoring system.
"Where do you want it, fella?" asked the delivery robot.
"Against the north wall," said the Administrator. Then, "No no, you stupid robot, that north!"
"Pretty fancy equipment here for a government agency," observed the robot as it extended its twenty-three installation arms toward the wall that the Administrator had indicated. "Don't usually get any call for this model except from megalomaniacs."
"If I were to go, 'bwahaha,' would you be happier?" said the Administrator crossly.
Despite its simple arm-socket joints the robot managed to convey a shrug. "Suit yourself." With twenty-three simultaneous mechanical whirrs blending into one, it screwed all twenty-three monitors and attendant receivers into the wall at once. "Sign here please. Thank you. Have a nice day."
Smiling, the Administrator watched the robot leave. The last pieces were falling into place. They made rather a lot of noise behind the monitors.
"'Bwahaha'," murmured the Administrator.
"The stiff is a Phase Three," said Gruble to the desk attendant.
The soldiers had brought the Doctor, Grace and the dying man into a city, to what the Doctor, once inside, had identified as a former university hospital upon sniffing the air.
"The girl is infected, pre-Phase One," Gruble continued. "The man is a blithering idiot."
"Never forget," said the Doctor to the desk attendant, "that you can't put out an electrical fire with water."
More soldiers took the dying man from the search squad, placed him on a gurney, and wheeled him through a set of double swinging doors. Since he had been unconscious, and not moving, the orange fluid he was somehow generating had collected in a film on all the exposed portions of his skin - presumably the rest of his skin as well.
"Where's he going?" the Doctor asked.
"That would be too technical to explain," said the desk attendant.
"I'm a doctor," said Grace. "Why don't you let me help?"
"A doctor?" asked the desk attendant with interest.
"We both are, actually," said the Doctor.
"We're short of doctors," said the desk attendant. "Pun. Ha ha!"
"What should we do with'em?" asked Gruble.
"Take them to see the Administrator."
"This way, you two." Gruble bustled the time travelers toward a lift. It wasn't until they were inside that Grace noticed that the Doctor had gone quite pale.
"It's too horrible to think about," he was murmuring. "This time he was gone. Totally, utterly, completely, finally, irrevocably, certainly gone."
"Doctor," asked Grace, "what's wrong?"
The Doctor looked at Grace with astonishment and dread in his eyes. "'Administrator'," he said, "is Bureaucratese for 'Master'."
The dying man was wheeled to a laboratory and up to a device that looked much like a CAT-scan. Its attendants shooed the soldiers out and went about attending to the control console of the machine. After a moment one of them flicked what must have been the power switch, for a purple light began growing in the room. The attendants covered their eyes as the light played over the dying man - not because the purple light was bright, which it wasn't, but because of the way it clashed with the orange of the dying man.
Grace was watching the Doctor as they were ushered through the door that read ADMINISTRATOR, and she saw the worried expression on his face forcefully wiped away and replaced with his customary cheerfulness.
The man inside was watching twenty three televisions at once. He was wearing an exquisitely tailored black suit. He had jet black hair and a jet black goatee. He was a head shorter than the Doctor and twice as wide at the waist.
"So you survived the Eye of Harmony," said the Doctor to him as they entered. He followed the Master's gaze. "Nice monitor set. But I thought you liked your monitors on the north wall?" he added, pointing to the wall the robot had selected first.
The attendants watched the treatment they were giving to the dying man through the fingers of their hands. After a few minutes, there was a scream from the gurney.
"Didn't work," said one of the attendants.
"Again," said another.
"Funny," said the third. "The Administrator said that this treatment was sure to cure them. But that always happens."
"I'll fill out the death certificate," said the first attendant. "You two ship him off to the labor camps."
The other two attendants wheeled the dead man out, conversing casually about their plans for the evening over his whimpering.
"Sargeant," said the Doctor, "your 'Administrator' is the most evil man in the galaxy. He is undoubtedly the being behind this 'shortening', and any other ills your planet is experiencing right now, down to and including minor viruses and rashes."
"He's fully accredited by the Government Scientist Correspondence School," said Gruble, pointing a thumb to a dot-matrix document posted on the wall of the office. "Have you any identification?"
"Never carry it," said the Doctor proudly. "I require that I be judged on the basis of my own actions."
"Shall I take'im out and shoot'im, sir?" Gruble asked the Master.
"In good time, sargeant," said the Master. "Just leave us to speak privately a moment. Wait outside the door."
"Yes, sir." Gruble left, closing the door behind him.
"How pleasant to see you again, Dr. Holloway," said the Master. "Though somehow I didn't take you for one of the Doctor's adopted strays."
"You know, my memory's a little fuzzy," said Grace to the Doctor - "when did I change my mind about coming with you?"
The Doctor spoke to the Master. "I suppose it's too much to expect a straight answer from you, but what is this 'shortening'?"
"Shortening is an ingredient for baking bread, isn't it?" the Master grinned.
"On Earth it is," said the Doctor. "Here?"
"Here," said the Master, "it is an ingredient in my scheme to rise to the sovereign rulership all across the crust of this planet, whence I shall conquer the universe slice by slice."
"But what is it?" asked Grace, not in the mood for joking.
"Well, I think you can see the answer to that on monitor 17," said the Doctor, and when Grace and the Master turned to look, he grabbed Grace's arm and threw her and himself out of the office window in a shower of beaded safety glass.
Grace barely had time to decide that she wasn't going to die of the shortening - as opposed to a multi-storey fall - before she discovered that she might after all. Just outside the window directly below the Master's office on the next floor down was a platform, hanging by a pulley system mounted at the roof of the building, cluttered with the accoutrements of window cleaning. The Doctor and Grace landed uncomfortably hard on the platform, but not fatally, not even injuriously. And the force of their landing jarred loose the lock on the pulley system, whose safety governor lowered them slowly to the ground, completing their escape from the building.
"How did you know that scaffolding was there," Grace asked as they began running away, "when we came into the building from the other side?"
"Had to be," answered the Doctor, "that or something like it."
"Why did it have to be?"
"Elementary dimensional transcendentalism," said the Doctor. "He should have installed the monitors on the north wall. This way!"
They ran for approximately a mile in the direction they had come from, until they had left all signs of pursuit by the Master's soldiers well behind.
"Doctor," asked Grace, "why did you have to get us out of the Master's office just when he was about to explain what the shortening is?"
"If I had allowed him to finish his explanation, his gloating, his recitation of how clever he is," said the Doctor, "then his reason for not having us killed instantly would have vanished. He's an incomparable egotist, you see. Unlike some," the Doctor added modestly.
"How are we going to find a cure if we won't talk to the only person who's been willing to tell us what the disease is?"
"I want to check out this Zone of Death that the dying man is supposed to have been making for," said the Doctor. "We can stop in the TARDIS on the way and pick up the porta-CDC."
"But won't the Master expect that you'd head straight for the TARDIS?"
"Yes, it's exactly what he'd expect of me. But he knows I know that, so he won't expect it at all."
"But if he knows you expect it ..." started Gruble.
"But I know he knows," said the Master. "And he knows I know he knows. The odds are one out of two that he will carry this reasoning only so far as an interation that suggests I won't believe he's there. Check it out."
While the Doctor searched through the TARDIS for the equipment he wanted, Grace asked, "How can the Master have survived falling into the Eye of Harmony in your TARDIS?"
"Well," said the Doctor, "I suppose it's possible that, having been in contact once before with the Eye of Harmony while wearing the Sash of Rassilon, the Master may have acheived the Desensitivity of Omega and been able to survive the journey through my TARDIS' Link of Dingasol back to the actual Eye of Harmony in the Citadel of the Time Lords, there to escape the terrible Radiation of Ingning therein by means of the Ventilation Shafts of Gurthe; meanwhile absorbing enough energy from the Eye of Harmony to experience a Remission of Korin that would give him a new regenerative cycle.
"But that," he said, pulling from a cabinet a rectangular electronic device about the size of a VCR, "is only a guess."
The Doctor put Grace's hand inside the porta-CDC. "There," he said, "just let that hang from your hand until it beeps, and we'll get a diagnosis."
Grace hefted her arm a few times. "Wow! How do you make such a complex device so lightweight?"
"It isn't," said the Doctor, "it's got powered anti-gravity. If it starts to buzz, that's the batteries running down. Set it down quickly or it'll pull your arm out at the root so quickly you won't feel it. Now let's get going."
They stepped out of the TARDIS. The Doctor turned back to lock the door. They turned to leave, and found that they were surrounded by Gruble and his squad.
"Put your hands over your heads," said Gruble, "and keep them there until we get back to the Administrator, or we'll shoot to kill."
Just as the Doctor and Grace put their hands over their heads, the porta-CDC began making a buzzing noise.
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