Like a public scaffold that was about to be put to use, the Tardis had been carefully prepared in advance. The core had been switched over to standby function the previous night to save power, for the energy drain that would follow once the bioconverter was activated could cause the whole system to crash and render the conversion incomplete. A helmet was connected to the chameleon arch and dangled like a noose from the gallows. A chair was especially prepared, bolted to the floor right underneath it. It was the same procedure that the Doctor had to carry out the last time that he was forced to use the chameleon device. Then, he had used this device in an attempt to save the lives of his enemies. Now, ironically, it was prepared for ruining another. When the Doctor switched on the power-generator, Donna couldn't suppress a feeling of unease as the threatening sound of the built-up from the electrical charge reminded her of the torturous electrical currents that the UNIT soldiers had used on the Master. She shivered ever so slightly.
The Doctor glanced at her, his eyes questioning her intentions and his own, but she composed herself, turned and stared firmly back at him, giving him a small nod. After a long moment of hesitation, the Doctor proceeded with the protocol.
When the time came, the Master was brought in by Jack with his hands cuffed at the back. Although he didn't want to show his enemies his distress, the sight of the helmet connected to the glowing Tardis core unnerved him, and he stepped away, only to be pushed back forward by the captain.
"What's the matter big boy?" Jack mocked. "Never seen the inside of the Tardis before?"
"No!" The Master exclaimed, quickly realizing what they were planning to do. "No you can't do this to me!"
When the Master continued to resist, Jack grabbed him by his cuffed wrists, twisted them till he let out a cry of pain, and dragged the condemned man back inside where he came face to face with the Doctor.
"It's not what you think." The Doctor pleaded.
"Oh it's exactly what I think it is!" The Master spat as he continued to struggle against the captain who pushed him down into the chair.
"Red!" Jack shouted over his shoulders. "A little help please with the restrainers!"
Donna wandered over like a ghost, and watched with hollow eyes how Jack removed the cuffs from their prisoner, then took hold of the Master's wrists and forced it through two open metal rings bolted to the arms of the chair. The Master's eyes flashed wide in fear, and stared up at her accusingly.
"Donna!" Jack urged.
She suddenly snapped out of her inertness and went over to the control panel where she switched over the handles. The metal rings immediately sprung shut with a loud metal clang, startling the Master who took in a deep ragged breath. Both his hearts beat like mad and the drums drone out any possible rational thoughts that were left inside his tortured mind. He cast an enraged look at the others.
"So, my would be executioners." He tried to appear calm, but the slight tremor in voice betrayed him.
"Doctor, I never thought you had it in you. But then again, you were the one who let Gallifrey burn."
"Oh please. Don't start that." Jack rolled his eyes at him. "Spare your breath. You're not gonna let us feel guilty about this. It's not even a real execution." He snorted. "Be grateful. The Doctor wants you to keep you alive, that's more than I had in mind for you –"
"That's enough!" The Doctor told the captain. He didn't want to upset him, but the Master laughed back sarcastically, his head thrown back, he answered with a wide maddened grin. "How about that." He mocked. "I'm about to get murdered and this cock of a time-agent here thinks it's only for show. Seriously Doctor, where is your fucking compassion."
"Who needs to be compassionate when dealing with you!" Jack sneered.
"I said, that's enough!" The Doctor ordered, and shot him an angry look.
"Okay I shut up." The former timeagent said in a bitter voice and raised his hands up as he stepped away from both timelords. "If anyone needs me. I'll be over there, counting down the seconds."
The Doctor ignored Jack's last snide remark and turned back to their prisoner. "Master." He said in soft voice as he lowered himself till he stared him right into his eyes. "You know why we have to do this."
The Master glared back at him. It had been a long while since he had shown any of his true emotions to the Doctor, but now, in the last hours of his existence, he could no longer hide his most darkest inner fears. "If you hate me this much, why don't you just kill me?" His voice rasped, and trembled. "I've been human once before." He paused and swallowed as he felt the icy grip tighten around his hearts. "It's a fate worse than death."
The Doctor grievingly shook his head. "Forgive me." He whispered, and bowed his head.
The Master kept looking into the Doctor's eyes as he rose. Until now he had been reluctant to accept that this was his final defeat. His pride and stubbornness had kept him going with the naïve hope that somehow his fortune could still turn, that eventually, his cunning and wit would save him from the awful fate that was installed for him. But now he finally realized that there was no way to reverse all this. He was going be trapped by the Doctor in this horrible paradox in which he was condemned to repeat his past and future mistakes for the rest of eternity.
"Murderer!" He stared around the room, the horror of his fate reaping the last straws of reason from his mind. "You are all murderers!" He screamed and looked straight at Donna. It is all that woman's fault, he thought. If it wasn't for her…
"I will remember this. I swear. This won't be repeated." He screamed. His eyes followed the Doctor who adjusted the final controls and then rested his hand on the lever that would activate the bioconverter. He once again broke out in nervous laughter, while angry tears pricked behind his eyes.
Yet again, killed by a girl. Will I then never learn.
"Next time, I'll kill you before you have the chance to ruin everything! You hear me, Donna Noble?! I won't forget this! I won't!"
The Doctor pushed down the lever, and with a violent surge of energy that illuminated the console room in a blinding light, the Chameleon Arch awoke violently from its slumber and ended the Master's life.
Everything was darkness.
He knew he had to wake up. His body was cold, freezing. Every fiber of his being told him that he should not continue to sleep, that he should regain consciousness, or else he might never be able to wake up again. But he struggled. It was like he was trapped in a bog where he had to wade his way through the dark stinking mess to get to the surface while he was still sinking down fast. His eyes fluttered, opened occasionally, registered light, but the world outside his dreams was packed in a thick sticky membrane while the people around him were mere ghostly appearances. And then there was the pain, greeting him as the state of consciousness came closer and closer. A sharpness that cut right through his skull with every heartbeat, as if something had been violently taken from him. Something vital. Something important. He swallowed, and felt how his throat burned. His nose picked up the sweet, sickening odor of scarred flesh and burnt hair.
Someone raised his head up and stroked over his face, his touch was comforting and cool against his burning aching skin. He swallowed hard and tried to speak. Tell him about the pain in his head. Somehow, it seemed important to let the other know. But his tongue and mouth were useless.
"It's all right. The man said. He gently placed a glass of water against his lips. He drank the cool water that quenched the burning sensation in the back of his throat, and was grateful.
"It's okay. I've got you now. I've got you." The man whispered, just before the light faded and he sank away again, deep into the darkness.
The days that followed were strange to him, although he realized that he had no recollection of the past as a reference to what was supposed to be normal. His world consisted of the small chamber where he was put in, the comfort of his warm bed and the man who cared for him and who came to visit often. A woman with a pale face framed by flaming red hair accompanied him. She sat down by his bed-side, took his hand into hers and stayed like this for hours while she hardly ever talked. She had such sadness in her eyes that it made him feel sorry for her. On one occasion, he was so careless to ask why she so often cried. She had quickly turned away from him to rush out of the room, her face hidden behind her hands while her shoulders shook. When she returned, she just pretended that nothing had happened. When she came to visit him again, she did try to carry a smile on her lips, but it never reached her eyes.
He didn't dare to ask about the cause of her grief again.
Although it seemed to have no meaning in this place, time must have passed, for he quickly found that had he grown strong again, and he could eat and walk without aid. He felt like he had almost fully recovered although the pain in his head remained. At night, when both his caretakers were away, and the lights went out inside his chamber, he would stay awake a little longer, just to listen. He would try to breathe very slowly and quietly, and pick up the sound of distant drums, hidden under the constant pulse of his own heartbeat.
To him these monotonous, carefree days of sanctuary seemed all that there was to life, and he had expected it to go on like this for ever, but of course, it did not.
When they appeared in his chamber one day, the man who called himself the Doctor did not speak for a long while, nor did the woman with the sad eyes. Their faces showed the burden of guilt.
He sat right-up in his bed. A strong sense of unease suddenly washed over him. Something was going to happen.
"It's time." The Doctor whispered, finally breaking the awkward silence, and looked at Donna. She nodded pensively, than took something out of her pocket. It appeared to be a small glittering object dangling from a cord. She turned to him, her lips curled into a bittersweet smile, and with great gentleness and care, she fastened it around his neck.
"What is this?" He asked, and took the pendant in his hand to take a better look at it. It was a silver ring with a green gemstone. He slowly traced his fingers over the strange symbols engraved in the gem.
"It belongs to you." She explained, her voice breaking. "Make sure that you keep it with you. Don't lose it. It will keep you safe."
"Safe? Safe from what?" He couldn't help himself from staring at it. His mind was fully occupied with the small silver object. Somehow it seemed indeed to be important, but he couldn't remember why.
She didn't answer him, but started crying as she kissed him softly on his forehead.
The Tardis appeared in a corner of a backstreet alleyway in the middle of a whirlwind of plastic and paper. A long forgotten campaign-poster, announcing to the British public that they should all vote for Harold Saxon, was ripped off from the wall and landed at the Doctor's feet. He stared down at it for a short moment. The very irony of the message on this little piece of paper didn't escape him. Then Donna appeared from the Tardis, blinking her eyes against the watery sun. She cast one look around at where they had landed before shaking her head firmly.
"Oh, no. No, not here. We can't leave him here." She said with sternness in her voice.
"You told me that he was living in the streets when you found him." The Doctor turned to her with his hands in his pockets. He stared back her grimly.
"Yes, I did. But…it's dirty and…and it's cold." She wrapped her arms around herself as the wind swept through the narrow passageway. "Which month is it?"
"It's January. The 20th of January 2008 to be precise, roughly six months before you met him."
"But that's in the middle of the bloody winter! What if it freezes? What if he gets sick? We can't leave him here."
"He will survive this. You know that."
"Why can't we drop him somewhere closer in time? He doesn't have to go through all of this again. How about somewhere in spring? Or July the 19th, just one day before we meet. Only one day of this. Doctor, Please."
"We can't do that." The Doctor stated. "The Master you knew had been living in the streets for months before you ran into him. Change this, and you two might never meet. This is as close as we can get without taking any risks."
Donna's resolve broke. She let out a sigh, and with a heavy heart she went back inside to get the Master, who was patiently waiting for her in the control-room. The Doctor had given him one of his long coats to wear, together with a strong pair of shoes, a warm sweater, and a sturdy pair of jeans. Everything had been selected most carefully, for they had to help him through all the long months of hardship that were yet to come.
When she saw him she quickly composed herself, and keeping her voice as normal as possible she told him that he should follow her.
Two steps out into the dark alleyway and the Master turned and halted his pace, his eyes large in wonder as he inspected the strange structure from which he had just emerged. Although his mind can no longer understand any complex ideas, the dimensions of the small blue box completely baffled him. Then he turned around to take in his surroundings. He felt the cold wind sting his eyes and cheeks. There were strange smells of pollution, and smoke, of garbage and hot food in the air, and when he breathed out deeply his breath became visible in dense white clouds. The walls were covered with advertisement and graffiti. Hesitantly, he took a few steps forward. His new shoes accidentally kicked an empty soda can. It rolled away from him and came to a halt against an overflowing mount of garbage bags. A fat brown rat emerged, and startled the Master as it skittered away down into the sewer.
His heartbeat quickened when he suddenly heard the sound of the Tardis engine. It was a sound he had learned to recognize in the days he had spend with his caring companions, and had associated with comfort and safety. A blue light swept over the otherwise darkened alley, throwing quickly shifting shadows on the walls. Caught in a panic, he spun around, only to find that the blue box was slowly disappearing into thin air while a violent wind swept the Vote Saxon leaflet high into sky. It swirled four-five times around the spot where the blue box stood, until the Tardis was complete vanished. Then the leaflet gently drifted down, like a black-and white bird with broken wings, and finally settled on the ground, right in front of the Master's feet.
He stayed in the alley for a long time in a state that could only be described as shock. He was frightened, with his safe-heaven vanished, and with his kind companions lost, he felt utterly deserted. The noisy and dirty world outside the alley seemed as alien to him as life on another planet. Everything was strange, and hostile. So he kept himself in the shadows, waiting and hoping for the Doctor and Donna to return. He waited till the sun set down over the rooftops and the streets lights lit up, turning from a weak orange glow into a cold sterile white blaze. He waited till the main-streets filled with the noise of heavy traffic and with the hustle and bustle of people rushing home from work. He waited till the sky was black and the air became so much colder that he had to put his hands inside his pockets to prevent them from turning into lumps of ice. The backdoor of an Indian restaurant opened and a man came out. He carried a full garbage bag from the kitchen, and dumped it on the pile against the wall while yelling an order back into the kitchen to his staff. When he spotted the Master, he eyed at him suspiciously and cursed something inaudible in his mother tongue. He was just about to go back inside when the Master stopped him.
The man turned half around, his face hostile. "What do you want? I don't give money to junkies."
"No…" The young man answered, feeling awkward and suddenly lost for words. The hostility of the other man baffled him. He doesn't even know what a junkie was and what money was for.
"No not that…" He rambled.
"Then what?" The man barked.
"Uhm…It's cold and…it's dark." The young man licked his dry lips, desperation and fear settling in while his heart rattled like mad. Why was this man so unkind to him? He did nothing wrong. And where were his guardians? Why did they abandon him?
The man did not know what to make of this. "Are you drunk or something? Are you looking for shelter?"
"I'm afraid." He said truthfully, and hoped he would understand. "Please sir. Help me."
"There's one from the Salvation Army, just across the road. I can't help you. But they can. Now get away from my backdoor." He waived his hand to make him step aside and let him pass. "If you're not gone in an hour I'll call the police." And with that said, he slammed the door close behind him.
He eventually found the shelter, and was taken in by a kind elderly woman in a black uniform who gave him a hot meal, and a cot to sleep on in a noisy hall. There were others there, men dressed in rags who smelled of the back alley where he had first ventured into this strange place. Some of them were ill and couched continuously but remained otherwise quiet, others seemed angry with the world and with themselves, and cursed loudly, even in their sleep. Although the shelter was relatively comfortable and warm, he could not find peace in that place. At night he suffered from terrible nightmares. He was haunted by men and women with distorted faces covered in blood, by murderous spinning sliver spheres, and by an army of monsters, who were all grins of shining sharp teeth but no faces, that lurked in the dark while the horrific sound of pounding drums rang in his ears. It woke him in the middle of night. Lying in his sweat-drenched cot, he was often unable to catch sleep again.
After three days he could no longer bear it and left the shelter. He wandered the streets day and night, but was still unable to find peace of mind. He slept in porches and under bridges, enduring the cold while the damp crept through his clothes into his flesh and bones. When he became hungry, he tried to beg others for help, only to be turned away or ignored. When hunger made him take an apple from a stand, he was chased away from the market. Finally, he was forced to search for something edible in the garbage bins. He licked clean the wrappers from burgers and candy bars, and ate the leftovers from sandwiches discarded at lunchtime to still the worst of his hunger, but was not enough to sustain him. As the winter progressed he grew weak and thin, his cheeks became hollow and his eyes sunken, while his clothes smelled of sour sweat and the filth he slept in. eventually, the people in the street started to avoid him, but he no longer mind.
He was no longer in need of comfort from others, for the very memory of his time in the Tardis and the kindness of his caretakers had slowly been lost to him. All he knew was the present, and the present meant only constant hunger, the miserable cold and loneliness.
Near the end of the winter months he had become too weak to wander around all day. He would rather stay put at one place at a time, until the more respectable citizens became aware of him again because he was causing them inconvenience and the police would tell him to leave. He would then walk around in the city for a while, without purpose or direction, till he found a relatively warm and quiet place to settle down again. One day, he wandered into a place that he had never been before. It was a small park, just at the back of grand building, that wasn't often visited by others. Exhausted and numb from the cold, he sat down on a wooden bench beneath the still barren three branches, and stared at a small group of stringy pigeons fighting about some crumbs of bread.
A slow trickle of rain came down, keeping his dirty clothes wet and uncomfortable. He hung his head while his misery clung onto him like an illness, draining him from any hope to a better life. Indeed, on a day like this, he sometimes wished he could sleep and never wake up again.
A group of young women approached the entrance of the park. They just had lunch in the restaurant nearby, and were heading back to office. One of them, a red-haired woman with a loud voice and pleasant face kissed the others goodbye on the cheeks and took the shortcut through the park to the back entrance of the museum where she worked.
"Bye Sam! Bye Rachel! Oy! And don't forget to call me tonight to tell me about him. Remember, I want to know everything! Any weird looks or horrid smells, hair or no hair, the whole enchilada! So take down notes!"
Her friends smiled and waved at her. She waved back. Just another 4 hours, she told herself, just four hours of typing down complete mind-numbing gibberish, and she could go home and start celebrating her Friday night. She and Samantha had already made plans to drink themselves into oblivion while waiting for Rachel to report back on her date. Being in a reasonably good mood, she rummaged through her handbag to fish out the package of jelly-babies that she had not touched since she had convinced herself that she was on a diet last Monday. In the high spirit of the moment, she decided that she could treat herself.
It wasn't on purpose. After all, this was London, and Donna had seen homeless people wandering around the city before, but as she passed by the entrance, she glanced at the miserable figure sitting on the bench and saw his face, only for a short moment. He looked back at her, his blue-gray eyes devoid of any emotions than that of misery and numb acceptance. To her own astonishment, she slowed down her pace.
"Here." She said, and she handed the bag of sweets to him. "You need it more than I do." The young man took the bag from her hands, but kept his eyes fixed on her. Something stirred inside his memories. He suddenly felt the cold sting from his keep-safe, the sliver ring with the green gem that dangled from the coarse cord close to his heart, and he grabbed hold of it instinctively.
There was something about this woman with pale fair features and flaming red locks that he seemed to remember.
Embarrassed, Donna returned an awkward smile and, feeling mightily stupid for what she had done, quickly turned and headed back to her office. By five o'clock, when she was finished at work and went to meet her friend at the main entrance, she had already forgotten her encounter with the strange young man, and she would not notice his presence again till many months later, when they will meet again face to face on that one ill-fated summer day.
He, however, could not forget her, although he had no idea who she was and why she was so important. He lingered in the park, waiting to see her again. That night he slept beneath the wooden bench, and dreamt that she came and gave him the ring that he wore around his neck, while kissing him gently on his cheek. He dreamt about wandering with her through a landscape of silver sands, of traveling together in a golden sphere, and shielding her from the monsters that lurked in the dark and rose with the drums. He dreamt that he had once kept her safe, and that she had saved him. When he woke the next morning, he had the ring clutched tightly between his fingers, and a small smile of hope cracked his dry lips. Fragments of the dream remained, and he would cherish it during the long cold hours of the day.
When the sun came up, he sat down on the bench where he had first met her, and like a faithful companion, he stayed outside in that park, and waited.
Days passed by. Eventually, the snow would melt and spring and summer would come, bringing with it what was fate, and what was to be history. The Master of old would have dreaded it, and would have seen it as a curse, an eternal damnation of his existence. But for the lonely young man who was sitting underneath the trees, patiently waiting for her to return, this must have seemed a perfect way to start anew.