Three months had passed since that dark day that Donna escaped the ambush in unit 451. The Master's teleportation device had faithfully brought her back in the Resistance's headquarters with Martha, but without her beloved Timelord. With ample time to grief, she and Martha were forced to mobilize everyone to leave the island before they will be discovered by Saxon's army. Within hours of the Master's capture, the deception filter that had shielded them from Saxon's global security system was finally breached, and enemy forces soon emerged on the Resistance's radar screens like deadly swarms. At the breaking of dawn they had appeared at the horizon. The gleaming killer spheres descended from the sky and attacked the boats with refugees who desperately tried to escape the city center by the waterways. The humans fought back bravely with the weapons given to them by the Resistance, but they were heavily outnumbered, and soon the Seine stained dark with blood.
Donna and Martha were amongst the last to leave the doomed sanctuary. They fought their way out of the cathedral, and had to flee into the sewage systems underneath to escape the massacre. Cut off from the rest of the group, they had no idea how many of them had actually survived.
Desperate and without a better plan, they were forced to stay in the tunnels. At first it would just be for a couple of days to let the worst of it pass, but as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, the small group of survivors found themselves sinking deeper and deeper into a state of apathy and fear, in which every possible action to further secure their lives seemed unimaginable. It didn't help that their leader was but a shadow of her old self. Donna hardly spoke to the others, and it was actually Martha who kept her head clear in these difficult times, and organized the men to go out to the surface to scavenge for rations in the abandoned houses at night. Donna participated, but as they searched hastily through the cupboards in musty kitchens that smelled of mildew and rotting wood, a little voice in the back of her mind kept reminding her that if the Master had still been with them, he would have ridiculed her that they lived like rats.
Finally, it was Martha who opted to Donna that they should go back to the cathedral and look for weapons and munitions left behind in the attic. The girls left after midnight, venturing back to the island while the others were still asleep. Saxon's army had set fire to the great cathedral at the day of the attack, and they found the ancient building in ruins, with the east wing of the great church entirely burnt down. The inner walls were blackened like the inside of a chimney, the roof had collapsed under the immense heat, and the marble pillars lay on their sides in a row with many of them broken in two. Amidst the rubble, blackened corpses, twisted in the agony during the moment of their deaths, stared back at them judgingly.
Donna turned her eyes away from them.
The west bell tower was still standing. They climbed the familiar staircase in silence. The wooden beams in the attic of the great cathedral were black, and resembled the tall shadows of trees in the wood, with only little oases of eerie light falling in from the gaps in the roof. The floorboards, dry and brittle, complained with each step that the two of them took to reach the platform in the middle. Donna breathed deeply, and let the soot tickle her throat and lungs. Shining her searchlight on the heaps of wreckage in the abandoned workshop, she was struck by a grief that she had forced to neglect for a long time.
Everywhere she looked, there were these things, these small objects that had remained. Now that he was gone, they reminded her cruelly of what she had lost.
She recognized a strange tool in the shape of a remote control that he had designed to aid him in reprogramming the Toclefanes. A pair of glasses with microscope lenses. A laptop converted into a hacking station to break into the Archangel network. Here they all were, still whole and untouched, covered by a thick layer of dust and soot, but still lying on their proper places on his workbench or on top of the stack of wooden crates in the corner, as if silently awaiting for his return.
Donna stopped and picked up a small device from a dusty crate. It was a thin, rectangular shaped box with a small television screen. She glided her fingers over the buttons almost lovingly.
"What have you got there?" Martha came up to her. "Can we use it to hack into Archangel?"
"Oh no." Donna shook her head, feeling a bit embarrassed that she was wasting any time on this. "No, it's just a portable device that shows pictures and short video clips."
"What sort of pictures?"
"Just ordinary stuff. You know. The London skyline. The riverbank on a misty day. A blue sky above the field on a hot summer's day. The Master gave it to me. I told him that I was afraid that I would stop remembering how the world used to look like… with all that had happened, all that death and destruction and so much of it gone, I thought that I would forget." She bowed her head, and a little smile dawned on her lips. "So he made me this silly little thing. Filled it up with pictures of Christmas and sunny skies. He said…he said that he didn't want me to forget about how good things used to be, because he still wants me to be able to live in that world once it was all over." She paused, and stared blankly into the darkness ahead of her.
"Are you all right?" Martha asked.
"Yeah. I'm all right. In a Timelord way of speaking." Donna answered.
"Why don't you take a rest and let me sort this out." Martha took her hand with the device and put it inside Donna's pocket. "And keep this."
Donna shook her head. "It's broken. Can't even switch it on anymore. It's useless."
Martha closed Donna fingers around it and stared her knowingly in the eyes. "It's of use to you. Trust me. You'll feel better if you keep it."
Donna finally nodded, and slipped the device back into her pocket. She gazed back at her. "Did you keep something from the Doctor?"
"Yes." Martha answered with a sad little smile. "I did. I kept his words in my mind and close to my heart. That's all I've got. But it's enough to keep me going. You should have something too. To keep faith."
Donna smiled, and knew that Martha was right. The present had become unbearable without the past. All that kept her going were her recollections of him, and she held on to them desperately, for she dreaded that one day, she would wake up in the miserable cold of the sewage tunnels and discover that she had forgotten the sound of his voice or the look of his face. To forget about the Master, her Master, would be like going through the grief of losing him all over again.
"Donna! Donna can you hear me?"
Donna closed her eyes. She knew that sometimes her mind would play cruel tricks on her, and she would hear him calling out to her as if he was just waiting around the corner of an abandoned street or behind the door in an empty hallway of a deserted house. She had learned to ignore it, and let the moment pass without causing her too much grief.
"Donna! Please. I need your help!"
"Donna!" It was Martha, pulling on the sleeve of her coat.
"I'm sorry." Donna opened her eyes again and shook her head. "I've been miles away. Do we need to go?"
"Sshh!" Martha put her finger on her lips. "Listen! Do you hear that?"
Donna held her breath. Pleads from her lost friend came to her from the small storage room at the back of the attic. She gazed back at Martha with a bewildered expression on her face. "You hear it too? So I'm not hallucinating?"
Martha shook her head. "It's there all right. You're not making it up."
They entered the storage room. Martha swept with her torchlight over the stacks of boxes filled with electronics piled up in the corners and found a small monitor standing on a cluttered desk. It cast an eerie glow of light into the darkness. Donna picked it up and held it in front of her. The TV screen was only showing static snow, but a familiar voice called out to her through the background noise.
"Donna, can you hear me? I'm trying to reach you. Donna?"
"Master?!" She blurted out. Her heart washed over with joy and relief. "I'm here! I'm here, and I can hear you! God! You're still alive!"
"No!" Martha grabbed hold of the monitor. "Don't respond to that! It could be a trap!"
"But it is the Master! My Master! I know it's him!"
"How can you be so sure?" Martha snapped. "Think Donna! The future Master has been captured by Saxon and has no means to access the Archangel network!"
"But…maybe he has escaped! Maybe he's found a clever way to get into the control rooms to contact us!"
"Donna? Is that you? I can hear you. Is Martha still with you? Listen, I need your help. I found a way get out of my cell, but now…I'm trapped Donna. Please. Help me."
Donna shot Martha a look of determination, but Martha shook her head.
"If there's anybody left in the world who can still do this then it's certainly Harold Saxon. I'm sorry, but I can't just stand here and watch you fall for this." She snatched the monitor out of Donna's hands and smashed it on the floor. Three bolts of electricity sparked from the device, sending the girls backwards. Then the screen darkened and they were left with only silence.
Donna resolve finally broke. She turned away with her hand on her mouth and let the tears run free. Martha approached her carefully and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Donna. Please. I know how much you want it to be him. But if you think logically, you know that it can't. It can't be him."
Donna turned back to her, her face flushed as she jerked Martha's hand from her shoulder. "Don't! I know that I'm not as clever as you are! I know that I'm an emotional wreck and that there's only one chance in a million that I will ever see him again, but it's a chance that I'm willing to take. You have no right to take that from me!"
Martha averted her eyes to the floor and remained silent, not knowing what to say to her to soften her grief.
"Donna? Are you still there?"
Martha gazed back up at Donna, whose eyes drew wide. Quickly, she took out the portable device from her pocket. It had suddenly switched on and was showing static snow on the tiny screen. The Master's voice was calling out to her from the pinhole-like speakers on the side.
"Yes! Yes! I'm here!" She yelled and turned away from Martha. "I'm here. I can hear you!"
"Oh no, don't do this!" Martha pleaded. But Donna kept the device firmly in her hands, and was determined to keep in contact with him this time.
"I'm still here." She spoke into the microphone. "I won't leave you."
The blizzard of static cleared to reveal the Master's face on the screen.
"Donna! Can you see me?"
Donna's breath caught for a moment. "Yes! Yes! I can!" She gazed happily at him. At first he didn't look any different from how she remembered him to be, but then, as she studied him more closely, she couldn't suppress the feeling that he had somehow changed. For didn't his eyes look a bit younger than they used to, and didn't they seem more bold? And didn't the stern angle of his mouth carry a touch of cruelty? She tore her gaze from the tiny screen and looked at Martha, who begged her in silence to make a better judgment.
"It's not him." Martha whispered. "Please listen to me."
An icy feeling crept inside her bones. Donna stared back at the man in the small screen, and realized with a pain in her heart, that Martha was right.
"You're not him." She stated, her voice dead. "You're Harold Saxon."
A wolf's grin appeared on the Timelord's face. "Little Red Ridinghood finally draws the right conclusion." He chuckled cruelly. "Oh come on then, tell me. What was it that gave it away? Did my ears look too pointy to you?"
"He can track us! Switch it off, now!" Martha yelled. Donna tried, but the buttons were useless.
"Oh it's too late for that I am afraid. I've already got your coordinates. Let me see. You're back in the abandoned hideout of the Resistance in what is left of the Notre Dame, in the west wing bell tower. Am I right?" He burst into laughter. "I can pinpoint your location with a deadly precision, so there's really no need for more mindless destruction, miss Jones." He raised a finger at Martha who had picked up a tool to smash the device. "I just want to have a little chat with you two. If you don't mind."
"What have you done to him?" Donna asked fearfully.
The smile swiftly disappeared from his face. "Nothing that I wouldn't do to myself if I ever fell victim to such insanity." He put his hands on top of the camera, steadying it so that he faced her directly. "Donna Noble, isn't it?" He sneered. "You are the one to blame for this. You've poisoned him. I've never seen myself so weak. Did you know he even tried to kill me?" He raised his voice in a sudden burst of anger. "Me! He tried to kill me! Doesn't that prove the sheer extend of your corruption? You have driven a man…no, not a man…a Timelord, a living God, into such madness that he wanted to kill his past-self. If it wasn't for the drums, he would have yielded to your madness. Luckily, I was able to punch some common sense into him." He turned the camera, and showed her the Master, who was kneeling down on the floor with his head down. Saxon walked over to him, and pulled his hair back to raise his head up to the camera. "And here he is! You're beloved Master. I'm happy to inform you that he's no longer infected by your sickness and lies. His head is clear now, with only the sound of drums to remind him of the only truth in existence."
Donna covered her mouth with her hand.
"Tell them what you've learned." Saxon petted his cheeks as if he was a dog. The Master stared at the camera with eyes filled with darkness and devoid of hope.
"I've learned…that this existence has no importance."
"And once a man realizes that, he finally wins his freedom." Saxon added and smiled at him lovingly like a forgiving father. He turned back to camera. "Oh don't look so sad now miss Noble! There's no need for me to treat him badly anymore. He's no longer siding with you and the Doctor. And since we're talking about the old nag, I bet miss Jones can't wait to see a glimpse of him. Wait, let me turn this thing around." He aimed the camera at the Doctor, who was sitting in his wheelchair in front of the defeated Master. "There he is! Hey gramps, say hello to your ex-companion." He picked up the Doctor's hand and waved it at the screen like a puppeteer moving his marionette. "You see, he's just like the day you left him in my care. Didn't even touch a patch of fluff on his bald and wrinkled little head. I swear!" Saxon smiled cheekily while crossing his fingers.
"However…" He rose slowly, and the smile disappeared from his face. "Instead of being grateful for letting him live to witness the magnificence and glory of my rule, he tried to assassinate me. Isn't that right, Doctor?"
"I didn't want to kill you. I only want to stop you." The Doctor replied.
"Oh don't be so modest! Isn't that the same thing?" Saxon took his laserscrewdriver from his pockets, and studied it. "It's time that I showed you and your stunted little ape-friends a less merciful side of your Lord and Master." He beamed a smile at the Doctor.
"That's when you come to play." He shot a determined look at his future-self, and twisted the lasercrewdriver two times before he threw it at his feet.
"Pick it up." Saxon ordered.
The Master stared at it with hollow eyes, then looked up at the Doctor.
"I said, pick it up!"
"No!" Donna mumbled.
The Master obeyed.
"Now, execute him."
"No! You can't force him to do that!" Donna screamed at the tiny screen.
The grin on Saxon's lips widened. "Remember. Remember who you are. You don't have a choice. You never had."
His prisoner aimed the weapon at the Doctor, who stared back at him calmly. "I forgive you." He whispered, and closed his eyes.
"Master! Don't!" Donna yelled.
The Master fired. The beam hit the Doctor in the chest, sending him down on the floor while convulsing in agony. It should be over in seconds, but it wasn't. The pain lasted longer and longer, and Doctor felt how the fluid in every cell of his body evaporated, and how his muscles contracted violently. His spine crew crooked, and the flesh around his skeleton shrunk till it was only a thin parchment-like layer covering bone.
"You don't think I'll let it be over so easy for you. Now do you Doctor?" Saxon crossed his arms as he watched how he suffered. "900 years of a life on the run. Let its true burden show on you, with a little help of the genius of late professor Lazarus." He turned to his future-self, who held the weapon in one hand that trembled ever so slightly. "Don't." Saxon hissed. "Keep firing." He took hold of the prisoner's hand and steadied his aim. "There you go. And older and older and older…"
Martha watched in horror. For the sake of herself, she should have turned away from the screen, but she needed to know. She needed to see for herself that the Doctor would survive.
"Down you go Doctor. Down, down, down you go."
The Doctor's body started to shrink. His twisting limbs disappeared inside his clothes. His cries became muffled, than stopped. Saxon let go and the prisoner was finally allowed to lower the weapon. As soon as Saxon took the laserscrewdriver out of his hand, he collapsed as if only the weight of the tiny device had kept him standing, and stared guiltily at the pile of clothes left behind by the Doctor. Saxon stepped forwards and bent down to take a look. A large head peeked warily through the neckline of the shirt. The Doctor, now reduced to a small emaciated, ancient creature with a stunted, infant-like form, blinked and cast his huge eyes up at him.
Saxon couldn't repress a sigh of relief, and stepped up to the camera.
"Ladies." He opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated. "There's nothing more to be said really." And smiling, he looked at his watch. "You've got exactly three minutes before the Toclefanes descend. May I advise you to make good use of it." And with that said, he switched off the camera, ending the transmission.
6 months later
At the stormy coast on one of the rocky beaches near Dover, under the dark cover of night, two wooden boots came to shore. One of them had disembarked from an old cargo-ship that had just arrived after a long journey from the east coast of Africa, while the other had left the mainland of Europe from France. Two women set foot on the English soil. They thanked their helpers, men of the Resistance, who had risked their own lives to bring them back home. As one of them gazed around at the surrounding beach, her eyes caught sight of the red-haired woman standing in the breakers as she helped the others to push their boat back into the sea. She rushed over to her, while a genuine smile spread broadly over her face.
Donna and Martha hugged each-other, cheerful and relieved to find that they had both survived these long dark months.
"How many did you reach?" Martha asked, while they crossed the beach to reach the truck that was waiting for them at the other side.
"Thousands, if not more. But it still feels like it's not enough." Donna sighed.
"We don't always need to tell it ourselves for it to work. The message will spread. Hope always does."
"I hope you're right." Donna gazed at the figure standing next to the truck. A scruffy looking young man was waiting for them with his hands tucked deep inside his pockets, and the collar of his coat pulled up high to shield him against the vindictive wind. "What about this bloke? Can we really trust him?"
Martha gave Donna a knowing look. "We've checked him thoroughly before we gave him this assignment. He's clean, but he doesn't know about professor Docherty, so don't mention any of it to him."
Donna nodded. "Do you still carry the gun?"
"It's in my backpack. There was a man in Singapore who used to make old-fashioned handmade toys. He added a few bits and pieces to it. It actually looks impressive now." Martha said, and smiled before she walked up to the young man.
"So what's your name then?"
"Tom Milligan. No need to ask who you are. The famous Martha Jones and Donna Noble. How long has it been since you were last in Britain?"
"365 days." Martha answered. "It's been a long year."
"And you?" Tom smiled and looked at Donna.
"Just…too long." She answered truthfully.
He had trouble concentrating. He always had when he tried it on humans. He knew that it shouldn't be like this. He should be able to penetrate their minds and initiate any kind of thought that he would like with a snap of the finger without a single drop of sweat landing on his brow. But somehow his capacity of controlling the human mind had dwindled. It wasn't gone, but he just had to try extra hard to make it work. It didn't dawn on him that his lack of success might have something to do with his own reluctance to harm his human subjects.
The old man lying in front of him was secured to the operation table with metal cuffs. His head was inside a metal cage, with wires attached to his clean-shaven skull. The old man's eyes, clouded with cataracts, stared back at him in fear. It reminded him of what he himself was forced to endure in the Unit bunker before Donna came to rescue him.
"Please sir. I don't know you. I've never done you any wrong." The man pleaded in small voice. "I've never done anything bad to anyone. I swear to God."
"That's not the point." He wished that the old man would just stop talking to him. "Actually, there is no point. Not in any of this."
"But why sir? Why are you doing this? I've children and grandchildren!"
"Would you just stop talking to me? I'm trying to concentrate!"
"I have a wife. I don't want to go and leave them on their own. Not now. Not like this."
The Master turned away with his hands covering his eyes to block out the headache that started to rise. "I can't do this. I just can't."
"Then let me go!" The old man cried out. "Please sir, I want to see my family again!"
The Master mumbled something inaudible in return, and paced hastily through his laboratory in search of his medical tools. When he found what he was looking for he came back to the table. In his hand he held up a glass syringe filled with a liquid tranquilizer. "I meant that I cannot do this without shutting you up!" He grabbed the old man's arm and started looking for a vein.
A sliver sphere materialized in the middle of room and flew towards the operation table where the Master was struggling to keep the arm of the old man still.
"What are you doing? That's not what our Lord and Master ordered!" The Toclefane exclaimed with a childlike indignation. The Master let out a deep sigh and rolled his eyes. He turned back to his human subject.
"Hold still." He ordered and stuck the needle in a spot where he thought the vein ran close to the surface of the skin. The old man cried pitifully as he stuck the needle inside the sensitive muscle tissue. The Master immediately removed it again before any of the tranquilizer could be injected. "I told you to hold still." With a guilty expression on his face, he dropped the syringe in a tray.
The Toclefane spun in front of him.
"Why did you try to sedate him?" It inquired in a stern voice.
"He's distracting me from my work. What do you think?"
"You shouldn't sedate your subjects. The humans will be conscious on the day when our Lord and Master rises."
"Yes well, you know how it goes. You don't build space-rockets without testing them first with experimentation models made of Chinese crackers and toilet rolls."
"We want you to test the device on humans who are fully awake."
"And I want the Earth's moon wrapped up in giftpaper and tied with a red gay bow. But nobody is going to give me that." The Master answered with a sarcastic grin.
"Our Lord and Master demands it."
The Master shook his head and gazed at the man lying on the table, whose wrinkled face was now covered by tears. He was tired of seeing so much human grief and fear. He wished it all to be over.
"Tell your master that he shall have what he demands." He spoke to the Toclefane without looking at it. "The machine will be ready on time."
He turned back to the old man. "Tell me.' He said in a soft voice. "If I would set you free. Where would you go?"
"I don't understand sir. Are you really letting me go?" Hope dawned in the old man's eyes.
The Master stared back at him. "Tell me, and I promise to let you go."
"I would go home sir. I would go home to see my wife."
"Where is your home, old man?"
"It's in the East of the Netherlands. Near a small town close to the German borders." The man's voice trailed off and his eyes glazed over as he was swept away by his memories. The Master closed his eyes and entered his mind. A white landscape of frozen fields appeared in front of him. His boots were sinking away in the deep layer of snow and the old sledge that he was pulling behind him got caught in the fallen branches scattered over the road. His ears and cheeks stung with the cold while he breathed out white dense clouds. In the distance an old farmhouse appeared with smoke rising from a crooked chimney. A warm light burnt in the kitchen window, and a woman in her early twenties waited at the door. He waved at her, his hands frozen from pulling the sledge and digging in the fields for potatoes. She came up at him and planted a kiss on his cheek, wrapping her arms around him. When she noticed how cold his hands were, she took them into her own, and breathed her hot breath on them.
The Master opened his eyes. The old man was still captured in his blissful memory of long ago, his mind trapped in a sub-consciousness that the Master had brought to the surface. The wires of the metal cage suddenly sparked alive, and an energy surge was registered on the monitors. The Master glanced over his shoulder at the Toclefane, than gazed back at the old man, who seemed to be at peace. He closed the old man's eyes before he pulled over the lever.
A bright blue and purple energy field was extracted from the old man, who jerked his head in convulsions before he finally came to lie perfectly still.
What was left of the old man bounced wildly inside the metal cage in which it was trapped, burning brightly like a miniature star. The Master looked into the blazing cloud, and recalling the old man's memories of his home, wondered which part of the dust-like particles had made up the smoke in the cold freezing air, the smell of his wife's hair, or the warm touch of her soft hands.
The brilliant particles swirled around the cage for a couple of seconds more, than vanished.
The Toclefane flew closer to observe. "Where did it go?" It asked, while rotating it's lower half in excitement.
"Into the machine." The Master answered in flat voice. "With the rest of them." He turned to the huge antenna-like structure in the back of the laboratory. A sudden surge of electrical discharge caused a lighting-like display that blinded them for a moment before the energy settled down between the coils in the form of a violet spark that slithered over the wires.
"It has worked then!" The Toclefane exclaimed. "The machine is finally ready!"
"Of course it works." The Master responded, and eyed angrily at the demented silver ball. This last experiment had left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. "I knew it would work." He added in a voice that sounded more disappointed than thrilled.
"Oh you must tell my Lord and Master. He will be so happy to hear the good news."
"Why don't you go and tell him? Maybe he will reward you with a new set of razorblades." He said sarcastically.
"I understand." The Toclefane buzzed. "You're so excited that you want to continue working. I don't blame you. It's such great fun to see them wriggle and shudder before their brains shut down! Go on then!" It exclaimed and performed a little pirouette in the air. "Let's do another one! I'll let you stay in the laboratory a little longer."
The Master gazed back at the Toclefane in silence. Who would have thought in the past that this repulsive creature, one of his own creation, would grown more alien to him in thought and action then any other creature he had ever encountered in his long and ruthless life.
"No." He sighed. "You're right. We should inform him. So let's go see your Lord and Master, and have a nice long chat with him, shall we?"
Finally, I got time to sit down with a cup of thee and write this story! I'm going to continue this week, so there should be a new chapter up soon. For those who are interested, I've made a blogsite dedicated to John Simm. Please drop by to say hi! Go to my profile page (by clicking on my penname) for the link. As always, reviews are much appreciated!