The Master smiled darkly down at the man behind the desk. He'd been led through endless corridors and into a section of the building with walls made of milky white steel. The constant trembling of a reality straining not to fall apart he'd been feeling for days had stopped here. This place was safe, unaffected. From here they could manipulate history without being manipulated themselves.
The Master had thought about what he'd say once he'd meet the people in charge. He liked having a plan, an alternative for every possible development of events. This situation didn't give him much chance for planning and he hated to use the Doctor-method: Go and see what happens.
So he'd thought about what he'd say, what his opposite would answer, where and when he'd kill him should he get the opportunity, how to find the Doctor, how to get out. When he met the tall, slightly barbaric looking man behind the desk he changed his plan.
"You haven't left this building in weeks, have you?" he said. The man raised his eyebrows.
"How can you tell?" he asked. "And more important: How did you get in here?"
It was indeed Hexaha – the Master recognized him from the pictures in the streets and was not impressed. Except that man could tear him in half without much effort, which would be an unfortunate turn of events. He decided to avoid it.
"You stay in here", he went on, ignoring the second question, "because you're playing with reality and only in here you can be sure you'll be safe from the changes, since the reality you created is unstable, always on the brink of collapse. The fact that you change it every so often doesn't help."
Hexaha exchanged a look with a woman standing beside his desk.
"How do you know that?" he asked, his interest sparked.
"The question should be: How can I help you? Because if you keep this up, your reality will break down. And this whole world will be destroyed."
"We're working on it," Hexaha said. "Soon we'll find a way to stabilize it."
The Master raised his head.
The machine was larger than the Master had anticipated. It filled more than half of the large room. And inside it, surrounded by wires and cables and monitors, was the Doctor, dwarfed by the sheer size of it all.
The Master moved closer, not caring for the protests of the others. The Doctor was utterly still. Motionless and pale he showed no sign of knowing of the Master's presence. He was naked safe a few bandages but the Master couldn't get close enough to tell if the injuries they covered had been caused during the fire fight or if they had been inflicted later. His eyes where covered by a heavy blindfold and he was hooked on life-support. Tubes where running into every part of his body.
The Master had to close his eyes for a moment, trying to control the wave of hatred that washed over him and made his hands tremble. He cursed himself for his weakness.
One of the monitors told him of the Doctor's weak life-signs. One heart having stopped beating and the other already failing. Time was running out.
"You've had no way of controlling the energies you're playing with and so you used him," he said, his voice calm and uncaring. "He is a Time Lord with a special affinity to time and space, and through him you have access to the vortex and all its possibilities."
"You know of the Time Lords?" a woman, a scientist by the look of it, asked surprised. The Master snorted and refused to grace that with an answer.
"Only," he continued, "the machine is draining his strength. He is about to die and since he is the one component that keeps it all stable, you're brave new world will cease to exist."
"As I said," Hexaha commented. "We're working on that. Soon we'll be able to stabilize what we did and then we won't need him anymore. He'll only have to last a little longer."
"He won't." The Master's voice was harder than intended. Then he smiled at the large man who wanted to be god. "And you're arrogance in breathtaking."
The people around gasped and Hexaha's face darkened. The Master refused to feel threatened. Insects.
"He is the one who keeps this going. It will never, ever work without him. You're trying to manipulate the vortex, the fabric of time, with this crude technique? Don't make me laugh!"
"It will work even better without him", Hexaha protested. "He keeps fighting us, causing the instability."
"The instability in caused because you have neither the means nor the knowledge for games of this kind. You didn't even erase the old realities when you created new ones, just painted one over another. He," He pointed at the corpse-like figure trapped in that horrible mechanism. "uses all his strength to keep the whole construct from collapsing. And he has very little strength left. You've doomed the universe." His voice was hard now, and everyone was silent, intimidated, even Hexaha, that useless fool. The Master's cold hatred filled the room and everyone felt it. Whatever he did, this world was lost anyway. He did not care for the universe, but the universe he might be able to save. For the Doctor it could already be too late.
He could get him out there, restore normality for all the other stars to live on, unaffected, and still have the Doctor die in his arms moments later, for already the machine was feeding on his very life-force. It was probably only the knowledge of the consequences his death would have that kept him going. The Master couldn't imagine the strain.
"I don't understand," the scientist dared to speak. "Who are you?"
He gave her an icy cold smile.
"I am the Master," he explained. "And you will obey me." He gestured to the machine. "Get him out of there."
The woman moved without hesitation, but Hexaha's voice made her stop.
"Wait! If you remove him now, we'll be powerless to change anything. There is still so much to be done!"
"And you might return to being a mere human", the Master sneered. "A scary thought, isn't it?"
He began moving himself, over to the controls, but now Hexaha had recovered his wits and pointed a gun at him.
"No," he said simply. "I will make this world a better place. You won't stop me."
"Oh, you poor fool," a new voice sounded – tired, exhausted, barely audible. "This world is lost."
The Master whirled around to see the Doctor standing beside the mechanism, naked as pale, trembling. Barely able to stand upright, but in his eyes the Master saw the same fire he'd always found himself searching for between the stars. He also saw anger and sadness.
"Maybe once upon a time you really wanted to help this world. But you've lost that goal long ago. All you do now you do for your own gain."
"I ended the war!" Hexaha pointed out, defiance in his voice. He could break the Doctor in half with one hand, and still he looked like a little boy caught stealing cookies.
"But did you stop there?" the Doctor asked, his voice raspy, hard. "Maybe this world could have been saved then, but you had to keep changing and changing it, until you controlled everything and everyone loved you!" There was no forgiveness in his eyes. It occurred to the Master that he was very lucky.
Hexaha, who was not lucky, finally got his brain to keep up with the situation.
"How did you get out of there?" The woman beside him seemed to know the answer. The Master saw all colour drain from her face.
Somewhere deep below them, the earth seemed to tremble.
"I was never in there," the Doctor explained. Now he only looked tired.
"Of course you were!"
"I created a reality in which I wasn't. And so none of the changes ever happened."
Hexaha actually laughed.
"That's impossible," he said. "I know how this works: if you've never been in there, you can't have changed reality so that you weren't and thus you were. It's a paradox. It doesn't work."
"You know nothing," the Master spat, losing his patience. "It works, because as the one who caused the paradox it doesn't affect him. That way you could even negate the existence of your own species and live on." He wasn't deliberately cruel, just curious. The Doctor showed no reaction to his words, didn't even acknowledge his presence.
"The timelines you created are fading one after another, restoring the broken wasteland you tried to leave behind," he said. "The energies released in the process will tear this planet apart within days."
The others stared at him, realisation kicking in. The Earth shook again, harder. Something inside the building cracked.
"You killed us all!" one of the scientists gasped in horror. "Everyone in the world!"
"You did it!" the Doctor said, a shadow of grief and rage running over his face before he added with a thin, cold smile: "This building was destroyed in the war."
His words had the desired effect: After the initial second of confusion everyone dropped whatever they held in their hands and made their way to the door, trying to get out of the building before it collapsed around them. Their survival instincts were too strong, the Master supposed, even though the Doctor had just told them that their world was doomed anyway. Their species had known space travel, but their few ships had been lost in the war. There was no escape. They wouldn't even make it out of the building, he realised. Already cracks where showing in the walls and ceiling, all around them.
They were standing alone in the large room, everyone else having run away, and the Master realised that they wouldn't make it either. The Doctor had sacrificed them along with this planet. It had all been in vain.
A part of the ceiling came down. The Master waited for the anger to kick in but it didn't come. He looked at the Doctor, standing mere meters away, naked and hurt but standing still, and the Doctor looked back at him, finally looked at him now that everyone else was gone and the world was ending, and raised his arms, an invitation.
The Master didn't hesitate and didn't think and only felt something like faint appreciation as he walked over to wrap his arms around that thin, shivering body. The Doctor leaned against him and closed his eyes, his hands resting on the Master's back, and the Master tightened his grip and held him a little closer as the ground beneath their feet disappeared and they started to fall.
A man made his way though the ruins of fallen buildings. It was quiet here. The sounds of fighting were far away and barely audible, and there was no wind. The dust had not yet settled.
He stopped for a second, trying to make out anything useful in the rubble. It was strange – he felt like he'd searched these ruins a hundred times before and yet he'd just seen the buildings fall.
After a minute he walked on. Every so often he would stop to have a closer look. Until suddenly he spotted something.
In between all the destruction he saw two bodies, half covered by rubble. A large man in a black suit and another man, thin and naked as far as he could tell, locked in an embrace, almost like lovers. The larger man had the other pressed against his own body, as if he'd wanted to protect him from the impact and the falling concrete. The searcher shook his head sadly – even if he had managed to protect the other's head and shoulders, the building had collapsed on them and the pieces of concrete that covered them had without any doubt shattered everything from the chest down. He didn't even try to remove the pile of rubble from their bodies or check if they were still alive. He knew they couldn't be.
Until suddenly the larger man grabbed his wrist.
The dust settled slowly, on the debris and the rubble and the dead body of a large man in a black suit, lying crushed and alone beneath a pile of concrete and steel. On the destroyed street a man in dirty clothes made his way through the remains of the crumbled city, slowly, carefully, because the body he carried in his arms was so very broken. The Master walked a mile, then had to sit down and rest. This body wasn't as strong as the last one but he had to take was he could get, and the Doctor weighed next to nothing. He didn't move.
After a few minutes the Master got up and walked on.
The TARDIS was still very far away.
August 29, 2007