Chapter 18

1.

They materialized in a hot, noisy room, the two of them tumbling over each-other on a steel grate platform while steam rose up around them from the levels below. The vertigo hit them hard, but as soon as the Master felt solid ground underneath him he struck back at his past-self by kicking him in the ribs. The blow flung his attacker backwards, smashing him against a hard metal surface. Although surprised by this sudden act of resistance, Saxon rose back up quickly, only to bump his head on a railing. He looked up, and suddenly realized where they were.

"Oh hell!" He hissed, cursing under his breath. "We're still on board of the bleeding ship!!"

The Master gazed around. Saxon was right. They must be in one of the engine rooms below the control deck. There were turbines and generators and rusty pipelines everywhere, and the massive kerosene containers were all marked with the symbol of the great warship. A gleeful smile dawned on his lips.

"Oh yes! Miss Martha Jones, well done you clever, clever girl!" He laughed.

Saxon had to punch him in the face to shut him up.

2.

The Doctor stared wide-eyed at the empty spot where both Masters had disappeared. "Oh no!" He muttered. "No, no, no, no, no!" He swirled around, and faced an anguished Donna.

"He's gone!" She uttered in shock. "Doctor, he took him!"

"I promise you, we're getting him back." He said, placing his hands on her shoulders to calm her down.

Donna nodded eagerly before she furrowed her brows. "But, how?"

The Doctor didn't answer her, but ran down the stairs instead.

"Doctor! How are we going to do that?" Donna shouted after him, and rushed down the steps. "They can be anywhere!"

"No, they're still onboard of the Valliant."

The Doctor and Donna both halted their steps in front of Martha.

"What did you say?" The Doctor asked.

"I preprogrammed the teleporter in case the plan didn't work. It's set to transport them to one of the engine rooms below deck, just a couple of corridors away from where the Tardis is being kept."

"Oh, Martha, you're fantastic!" The Doctor exclaimed, grinning widely. "Donna, we're going down there. Martha, you better stay with your family and get them ready." He flashed a worried look at the great windowpanes surrounding the control deck. Up in the blue sky in the far distance, the dark swarms of Toclefanes that the Master had sent down on his flagship already started to appear.

"Go!" Martha said. "We'll hold as long as it takes." She waited till the Doctor disappeared with Donna through the sliding doors before addressing the rest of the people in the room.

"Listen everyone, the Toclefanes are here any minute! We must defend ourselves! Any volunteers?"

There was a short silence. Then the men who had formerly served Saxon stepped forward.

"The Valliant has a protection shield against missile attacks." The most senior of the officers opted. He had been in charge of Saxon's personal security. It seemed that the closer they have worked with him, the more eager they were to dessert their old master. Martha didn't blame them. "We can raise up the protection level to the max and activate the laser-cannons to blast those bastards out of the sky." He added.

Martha nodded before casting a glance at her family. They had joined the rest of the volunteers, and were given laser rifles and stun-guns to defend themselves. When they noticed the worried look on her face they smiled at her, as if to say that they were proud, and to reassure her that they were ready. It was exactly what Martha needed. She took in a deep breath and continued.

"Well then." She told everyone in the room in a voice that was loud and full of confidence. "Let's get this shield up and running. We're not going down without a fight!"

3.

Saxon stared at his knuckles and his ring with an expression that could only be described as morbid fascination.

They were completely covered in blood.

Trashing his future-counterpart had exhausted him, but the Master didn't seem to know when to stop, and kept sniggering even now that he had blood gushing down his face. Saxon rolled his eyes, and gave him another punch on his broken nose, which send the Master howling in pain for just a couple of seconds, before returning to his mad hysteric laughter. Saxon was mystified, and observed this strange behavior with much discontent.

"By Gallifrey, you are mad." He muttered, and booted the Master full in his stomach. As his victim rolled over the floor in agony, he took the teleporter and starting feeding in new coordinates. The Master, realizing what he was doing, crawled back up while leaning heavily against a fire-extinguisher positioned against the railing.

"You're not going to get far with that." The Master slurred, as warm blood trickled into his mouth.

"How about 500 meter that way down the corridor." Saxon replied without looking up at him. "Right into the Tardis control room." He turned a switch and after an impatient slap on the back of the black box, the device turned back on again. Saxon was just enjoying a short moment of triumph, when the Master picked up the fire-extinguisher and hit him full in the back of the head. The teleported dropped on the platform, and with one well-aimed kick from the Master it was sent sailing over the edge. It tumbled down into the cellar, many many decks below.

Saxon became absolutely furious. "You fucking idiot!" He screamed. "You two-faced bastard! I swear if they are not going to kill you, I bloody am!! That's the last chance we had to get out of here alive!"

"They're not going to kill us." The Master replied, calmly. "The Doctor won't allow that. As for you." He added, and the mad smile was back again; "You don't have the guts."

Saxon wanted to give him another punch on the nose, but hesitated at the very last moment, popping his knuckles as he halted his fist just in front of the Master's face. "I don't know what you're still smiling about." Saxon sneered. "As soon as they destroy the paradox machine there is a good chance that you'll just disappear into thin air. For as far as I know that could be the only thing that had kept you here for so long."

The Master shook his head. "As long as getting rid of that travesty that you've created means that every bit of your vile, disgusting reign gets to be undone I won't bloody care! In fact, I'll cheer it on!" He turned away from him, and shouted down the corridors as if Jack was waiting there behind the closed doors. "Oh captain Jack!" He sing-songed mockingly. "Do me a favor will you, and blast that wretched thing into bleeding atoms!"

Saxon slapped him hard in the face, but the Master continued laughing as if his wits had finally deserted him.

"Shut up!" Saxon spat. "You're driving me insane!"

"Then let me go! What do you need me for? You can burn in hell on your own!"

Saxon lifted the Master from the floor and pinned him with his back against the railing.

"Is that what you want? You want to see me imprisoned by those miserable Earthlings? Hmm? Sent to some secret high security prison to be guarded by those goons from UNIT? Or worse, make me spend the rest of my life locked up in a cage in Torchwood? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT THEN?!"

"I was going to say that the Doctor might keep an eye on you. Maybe get your head examined? I'm sure it wouldn't hurt." The Master mocked, knowing very well which strings to pull to get him raging.

For a short moment Saxon seriously considered throwing him over the railing to watch with glee how his infuriating counter-part's brains would splatter all over the cellar floor. He somehow managed to calm his murderous urges, but nonetheless satisfied his call for retribution by beating him up till his victim sank through his knees, and crawled into tight ball in a pathetic attempt to dodge his malicious blows and kicks.

4.

Jack had gun-fired his way into the Tardis with the murderous silver balls close on his heels. He slammed the doors shut behind him and locked it to prevent the swarm from getting in. Right, he thought, as he reloaded his gun and aimed it at the much-hated paradox machine, hope I know which part to blow up, and which part not.

He fired, and sent pieces of metal and smoke high into the air.

5.

"You know what your mental problem is?" Saxon grabbed the bludgeoned Master by his collar and yanked him back up from the floor to face him. "You truly believe that this is going to end well, don't you? All that talk about not caring if you would live or die, it's all sodding bluff! I've seen how you looked at her. There's no way that you want to give up on her."

He let go of him, and watched with disgust how the Master collapsed on the floor like a weak bag of bruised skin and bones. Saxon was quickly running out of options, and with every odd now turning against him, he realized that it was time to put his anger on the second place and move on to apply some of his more sophisticated diplomatic skills. Emotional blackmail seemed like a good one to use right now.

"You think that you're so clever." Saxon remarked. "Double-crossing me by overriding the telepathic vault. it seemed all so easy. But I know what you had to do to save the wretched lives of those Earthlings and restore the Doctor. I know what you have sacrificed. You, my friend, have so much to lose right now."

The Master remained silent. A deep loathing for his past-self burned fiercely in his eyes. Saxon answered his hostility with a wide grin that was malicious and cold. He tapped mockingly on the side of the Master's head.

"You've got so much knowledge stored inside that thick skull of yours. Why can't you still not remember what truly happened?"

He leaned closer to him. The grin on his face froze. "I saw what the Doctor did to you after you were defeated." He whispered into his ear with a voice that was full of malice, but also carried a trace of genuine fear. "He let them kill you. I saw it in your mind. Just like I knew that Martha Jones was going to restore the Doctor. He will let those beasts execute you!"

"You're lying. I can't remember any of this."

"Oh come on!" Saxon yelled. "Who are you trying to fool here? Sure you must know, somewhere deep down, you had always known that it would end like this. A pistol fired, a sharp, burning pain in the chest. The swelling of the drums while the world falls apart."

The Master let out a ragged breath as the words that Saxon had spoken awakened a strong sense of anxiety in him. It frightened him so much, because he knew that what he said was true. Ever since the Doctor had restored his memory, this tainted knowledge which was one of the final pieces of the puzzle of his past, had been there, lingering in the back of his mind. He had ignored it, perhaps even consciously denied its existence, but now he couldn't deny it any longer.

"So why wouldn't you just regenerate?" He asked, dreading to hear the answer that he already knew in his hearts.

Saxon watched with a sick sense of malicious delight how the doubt brought turmoil and fear to the Master's eyes. "Do you really think that given the choice to escape from a miserable life of imprisonment by the Doctor I wouldn't prefer the comfortable fires of my own funeral pyre over eternal humiliation and degradation by his hands?" He smiled cynically. "Besides, if I had regenerated, you wouldn't still be in this form." He furrowed his brows and studied his future-self. "It's still a mystery though. If I was supposed to die, how on earth did I become you? And what if I would die now, would that mean that the man who's now in front of me, the "righteous" Timelord that you've become, will seize to exist?"

The Master shook his head. "Time is not fixed. You know that, as well as I do. It can be altered and changed, for the better or worse. It doesn't have to repeat itself." He added, but there was doubt in his voice.

"Perhaps." Saxon replied with a sly smile. "But the question is, would you bet on it with your own life?"

The Master remained silent for a moment before he replied weakly. "What do you want?"

"I want a chance to get away from here. If I can't get to the Tardis on time, there are escape pods on C deck, ready to carry me down to Earth." Saxon removed the silver ring from his finger. The greasy politician smile had returned to his face as he realized that he had swayed him. "I promise I won't be a nuisance." He added almost amiably. "I'll keep my head down for a while so they won't find me." He offered his ring to the Master. "So, it's my freedom, in exchange for a chance at a happy ending with the lovable miss Noble. What do you say? Do we have a deal?"

6.

Martha didn't know what happened. One moment, the protection shield that was supposed to hold back the Toclefanes was breached, and she was staring right at a dark cloud of raging spheres that was heading towards her, ready to smash into window panel and shred her to pieces. The next moment, they disappeared in a blink of an eye, and the whole ship started to shake and tremble. She really got worried when she saw what was happening to the sun and the moon. They were rising and setting at such incredible speed that they seemed but lines of light in the sky.

"Everybody down!" Martha yelled. "Hold on tight!" Just as she had said it the ship tilted to one side, and sent everyone sliding over the floor. Martha slipped, fell over and rolled away from the control panel. She was just in time to grab hold of the railing to prevent herself from plunging down to the level below. A sudden wind swept through the room, ripping a year worth of paperwork out of the file-cabinets and scattered them into the air. Everywhere around her, people were screaming. She heard Tish cry out for her as she tried to hold on to her mum and dad, but she couldn't do anything. All that she could do was hold on tight, and close her eyes, while she kept on praying that all would turn out all right.

And then it was over almost as abruptly as it had started. The turbulence seized, and the wind lay down. Martha opened her eyes. Everyone was still there. Her family wasn't hurt. Through the massive window panels she could see the sun in a beautiful blue sky, while down below, white clouds were drifting over a landscape of green patches of meadows and fields.

"What's going on?" She muttered. A voice came over the intercom. She put it on speaker and listened with a throbbing heart.

"Valliant? Calling Valliant? This is Unit central. What's happening up there? We just saw the president assassinated!"

Martha rushed over to the control panel and read the time and date displayed on the monitors. It was July the 24th 2007, exactly one year and one day ago, just after president Winters was murdered.

"We're back." Martha said, stunned. "We're back in time, just before everything happened."

"What do you mean?" Tish asked in a confused state.

"Everything is undone. All that terror, death and hardship, all of it hasn't happened yet." She then realized something. "Of course!" She exclaimed. "It must the paradox machine! The Doctor said that we must dismantle it. Once it is destroyed, everything returns to how it was before it was switched on!"

But…I can still remember everything." Francine muttered.

"Where are the Toclefanes, and what happened to the Master?" Tish asked, still with a haunted look in her eyes.

"I don't know." Martha said, astonished herself, but with a big smile of relief dawning on her face. "Seriously I don't. Bet I bet the Doctor can explain."

"I sure hope he can, because I just saw a whole swarm of killer spheres disappear into thin air just before they were about to slice me up into doggy chow. Not that I complain of course. But I've still got a couple of question marks floating above my head." Martha looked up at and saw the good captain enter the control room with two armed soldiers. "Jack!" She said, but her smile stiffened when she saw who they dragged in.

Jack threw the handcuffed prisoner down on his knees. "Look what we found in the cargo bay! The little rat was about to leave his sinking ship, ready to make a run for it in one of the escape pods. Unlucky for him that he got caught." He removed the safety panel from his gun. Rather than to offer any resistance or provoke them with a defiant response, Saxon kept himself very quiet. He didn't even look up at them, but kept his eyes cast down on the floor instead. Drops of blood dripped from his nose and splashed on his trousers.

"So." Jack cheered and eyed at him with ill-concealed loathing. "What do we do with this one?"

There was little doubt in the minds of these humans who Saxon had so cruelly tormented, what they should do to the fallen tyrant.

"We kill him." Clive said in a cold voice.

"We execute him." Tish uttered, without a trace of compassion.

'No!" Martha interrupted. "That's not the right thing to do! Besides, we don't even know what happened to the other Master. He still saved us remember?"

"Maybe he stopped existing because the paradox machine was destroyed. The Toclefanes have also vanished, so why not the future Master?" Jack opted.

"Right!" Tish agreed, although she had only understood half of what Jack had just explained. "Anyway, he's still the same person, and if it wasn't for him, nothing would have happened in the first place!"

"Look." Martha tried, getting desperate. "Let's just wait for the Doctor and let him decide what to do. Killing him is not the solution!"

"Oh, I think so." Francine had picked up a gun from the floor, and aimed it at Saxon. Her hands were trembling. "Because all those…things…They still happened because of him." She whispered with a disturbed look on her face. "I saw them."

Saxon finally raised his head to look at his tormentors. There was a glint of raw fear visible in his eyes.

"Please…Don't…" He whispered, but his voice was too small to be heard.

"No mum! Don't do this!" Martha rushed over to her mother. 'You're better than him. Don't lower yourself to his level!" She reached out. Slowly and carefully, she removed the gun from Francine's hand. It dropped on the floor only a few meters away from Lucy Saxon.

"Oh God!" Her mum cried as she fell into Martha's arms, shivering like a leaf. Martha wrapped her arms around her and hugged her tightly.

"It's okay." She whispered, finally allowing herself to spill the tears that she held back for so long during that long horrible year. "It's over now, and we're all together again."

"Oh no miss, don't!" Jack suddenly yelled. They were all startled by the gunshot that followed. Martha turned and looked over her shoulder, and saw how Saxon fell backwards with a crimson spot blooming on his shirt. The doors slid open, and the Doctor appeared. When he saw what happened, he rushed over and caught him, just before he hit the floor.

Lucy held on to the gun and stood perfectly still and pale like a statue, with the barrel still smoking from the last shot. Jack came to her and carefully took the weapon away.

"Madam. God knows we all hate that bastard, but you shouldn't have done that." He said while he cuffed her hands behind her back. He was surprised to find her blank stare to be broken by a glint of hope in the eyes and a trace of a smile on her lips.

"It's all right." She said, in a frail voice. "I didn't shoot Harry. He's quite safe."

Lucy's words alarmed Jack. "Doctor, did you just heard what she said?"

But the Doctor didn't need to listen to her to realize that something had gone horribly wrong here.

"I've got you." He told him while he gently lowered him down. "I'm sorry. I didn't see her."

"Didn't think that it would still be her. I thought you said she liked me." The Master's lips curled into a cynical smile, but his white-rimmed eyes betrayed how frightened he actually was.

"Why did you do this? Why did you pretend to be the other Master?"

"I…I cannot let him die….or Donna and I would never have met…I'm sorry. Tell her I'm sorry…I didn't think that it would end like this."

Donna just entered the room. She approached the Doctor, who was holding the Master in his arms. One look at his face, and she immediately realized who he was. Her blood ran cold when she saw the blood on his shirt.

"Master! What happened? Who did this?!"

The Doctor shook his head, and Donna gazed down at the Master with tears stinging in her eyes.

"Donna." The Master whispered. "I'm sorry."

"No don't. There's no need to say sorry." She smiled through her tears. "You silly spaceman, you've saved us."

"I'm not sorry for that." He grimaced. "I'm sorry that I can't stay...I can't stay here with you."

But Donna refused to accept what he's trying to tell her. "Don't try to scare me now, please." She inspected the wound. Her fingers became drenched with his blood. "It's just…a tiny little bullet." She said in a trembling voice. "I've seen you pull through much worse than that. Remember those UNIT guys? They shot you, but you just expelled those bullets and was up and running in no time! All you need is some rest." She added, weakly.

"Donna, please…don't be sad."

"Oh stop talking like that! Come on! Don't be so daft! You're a Timelord! If you can't heal yourself, than you can still regenerate, right Doctor?" She glanced hopefully at the Doctor, but her heart sank when she saw the expression on his face.

"I said, isn't that right Doctor?! Please tell me he can?"

"I'm sorry Donna." The Doctor whispered, sorrow breaking through his voice.

Donna shook her head, and took the Master in her arms. "Please, just regenerate! I don't care how you're gonna turn out, you can be short or skinny or bald or fat, I don't care. As long as you don't leave me! Please!"

"Donna calm down! Listen! He can't! He just can't. He used all of his future regenerations to restore me. He only had one life left…One chance to set things right …But now…" The Doctor stopped, choking on tears that threatened to come.

"I would have spend it with you." The Master gazed at Donna, his eyes unblinking. He didn't dare to blink. There was so little time left. His whole life, he had wasted so much time in his relentless pursuit of power, only to realize how futile it was when it was too late. Now these last precious seconds were all he had left, but he was grateful that he could share it with her and the Doctor.

"My faithful companion." His voice had become so weak that it was reduced to a mere whisper. "Oh, how would I have loved to spend that one life with you."

Donna sobbed and finally kissed him, his tenderness and devotion tasting bittersweet in her mouth while the tears spilled down her cheeks. "And I'm sure that I would have loved every second of it." She smiled bravely, but her heart was breaking.

The Doctor stared at the Master, his lips pressed together as the grief struck him in his hearts.

"Doctor." The Master whispered. "I can still hear it. Why won't it stop?" He gasped, his words no longer a question, but a desperate plead for the Doctor, his oldest friend and enemy, to save him from the relentless drums that were still hunting him, even now his the world was falling apart. He doesn't understand this, and felt terribly cheated. For didn't he do the right thing this time? Didn't he save the Earthlings and the Doctor? Why should that awful sound continue to haunt him, even in his death?

"Doctor, will it ever stop?"

His eyes grew wide for a moment as he saw the timevortex unfold, the whole of time and space, appearing right in front of him, as sinister and threatening as he remembered from when he was still a child. It swelled as it gained in power till it raged like a dangerous cyclone at sea. In the eye of the storm was a darkness that was eternal and complete. The Master watched how that darkness came for him while the Doctor and Donna faded away, leaving him all by himself, so very frightened and alone. Finally, the air stalled in his lungs, he closed his eyes and let the vortex swallow him whole.

Lucy watched how Donna held the Master close to her, rocking back and forth as she cried bitter tears. The Doctor sat next to her, spilling a river over his loss, while the rest remained silent, their need for retribution forgotten. She knew that she shouldn't feel bad about the future Master's demise, but couldn't help her heart from being touched by sadness and feeling the sting of remorse. There is no reason to be sad. She kept reminding herself. She had saved Harry. Because of her, the Master will be given a second chance, and perhaps this time, he will do the right thing.

Maybe this time, he wouldn't have to die.

Still, as she kept these hopeful thoughts in her mind, she couldn't stop staring at the blood that was soaked into the man's shirt.

TBC

Hi there. Sorry for the dreadful cliffhanger, but the fic is soon coming to an end, and I'm sure that it won't disappoint you. Meanwhile, I'm planning to write a new (short) story, but I need to know if there's any interest in it before I get started. Please click on my authorname to get to my profile page and participate in the poll. It just takes a minute!