When Donna opened her eyes again, she finally remembered.
She remembered the Doctor.
She placed her hand carefully underneath her chest. They sank away in fine grains of silver sand. She raised herself up, and studied her surroundings.
A black sky, an infinity of space spread above her, with galaxies drifting over like peaceful glittering clouds. She hugged her herself when a wind swept up the sand at her feet and sent it drifting into the air. It turned into a delicate stream of silver, caught in an slow, graceful dance.
"Where am I?" She muttered, exhaling white clouds of vapor from her lungs. She looked to her left and saw nothing but a shiny desert made of stardust, with sand dunes shifting in the wind, and stars stretching out all the way as far as the horizon. She turned the other way, and saw the Master standing there, holding the small metallic sphere that had closed itself up again in his hands.
"Where have you taken me?" Donna asked.
The Master smiled, and let go of the sphere, the Toclefane, last of its kind, hovered in the air, then spun around and flew in a wide circle around Donna and the Master, before it returned to the spot next to its lord.
"I said, where have you taken me?" She demanded to know.
"Oh do stop screaming like that." The Master teased. "No need for that kind of hysteria. If you must know, we're nowhere. We are still in the Unit headquarters."
"Oh no! I don't know what you've done spaceman, but we are not! I'm not stupid. This is some kind of desert on a remote planet."
The Master kicked the sand away in front of his feet.
"I guess it does look a bit like the silver devastation." He muttered, cocking his head to one side. "But I can assure you that we have not transported ourselves in space. Not even one millionth of an inch. That's not what the Valiant disk does."
The Toclefane spun around and hovered next to its master's ear.
-The Donna lady is not very smart, is she, Master? She doesn't even understand the purpose of a time converter. –
"Oy, watch it! I'm not letting myself insulted by a metal football! Besides, your "master" didn't know it either and needed me to point it out to him."
The Toclefane flew in her direction, exposing a set of rotating blades.
Shall I kill her Master, for being this insolent?- It asked, eagerly.
"No. No one gave you such orders." The Master stated, grinning amused.
The Toclefane retracted the blades.
-Such pity – It declared in a sulky voice.
Donna, was shocked by the mad hostility of the metallic sphere.
"Didn't that thing just say that it wanted to kill me?" She exclaimed. "And it listens to you, calling you Master?" She cringed her face. "What kind of a sick person creates such a monster!"
"That "monster" got you out of Unit." The Master stated, calmly, with an amused look that played in his eyes. "It helped me to convert time into this space, and it's going to help us escape."
"What do you mean, it converted time into this? How can time be a place?"
"Donna, this entire place is fake."
He crouched down, picked up a handful of silver grains, and let it slip pass his fingers in a gentle flow.
"It's something that I've programmed, an interface to use while the real purpose of the machine is to travel back and forth in time. Oh hell, I guess you could call it a desktop theme, if you want." He marked an X in the sand with his foot. "We are here. And on this spot exactly, it's July the 15th 2008. When we move to the east, there where the galaxy of the Octanian is setting at the horizon, you will go into the future. Each step brings you one day further away from this date in 2008. Now if you head west, you will end up in the past." He got up and snapped his finger. The Toclefane came rushing to tend him.
"Just to summarize it for you, I've stretched time out into a 2 dimensional plane, and therefore time travel equals traveling in distance. Once we reach the desired place..."
A hidden compartment in the belly of the Toclefane slid open and a small object, shaped like an oversized pen dropped into the Master's hand. When he held it up, the end of the device glowed with an orange hue.
"When we reach our destination, I simple convert space back into time."
"And we'll end up at the location of the Unit headquarters, long before or after we've escaped." Donna remarked.
"Exactly." His smile became wider. "Well well, such a surprise! Donna Noble, you actually seem more clever than I expect you to be, certainly for an earthling."
"They told me you are a Timelord. If that's so, you are not the first one that I have met. I was traveling with the Doctor."
The Master furrowed his brows and snorted. "Doctor what?"
"He is just called the Doctor. He is a Timelord, just like you. Only he has this spaceship, shaped like a blue police box, instead of that Valiant disk of yours. He called it the Tardis." She grew a little melancholic as she recalled her lost friend, but she tried to hide her grief. "Are you sure you don't know him?"
The Master shrugged, and seemed almost indifferent.
"I can't recall such a name from my memories, which is, I admit, a bit hazy at its best. But still, "Doctor" doesn't exactly ring a bell." He peered at the sand dunes in the west. "We should be moving, no point in standing around here and wasting time, metaphorically speaking then. We have to get to a porthole before the entire structure becomes instable."
He turned away from her and headed west, closely followed by the flying murderous silver ball. She hesitated for a moment, but decided that she didn't really have another option, so she followed her strange companions into the desert.
They ventured over the vast plains of shifting silver sand, speaking very little to each other despite Donna's efforts to get him to talk. How different he seemed from the Doctor, she thought, she remembered how the other Timelord had often astounded her with his ability to stampede on and on with his passionate monologues till her head spun. It hurt her heart as she remembered him and how they had parted, and she swore to herself that if she got out of this great kitty litter of a wasteland alive, she would go and find him again. To travel with the Doctor was the best thing she had ever experienced in her life. To return to her old life of before, was a fate worse than death.
"He wiped your mind in order to keep you from destroying yourself, you do realize that don't you?" The Master suddenly said, breaching a long silence.
Donna looked at him, surprised. "How did you know what I was thinking?"
The Master threw her another one of his slick smiles. "It seems that I'm mildly telepathic as well as brilliant. Your thoughts are so loud, it's almost as irritating as your tireless tongue."
"Are you always that charming, or is it only because you're trying to chat me up?" She sneered. "My thoughts are private, thank you very much. I didn't invite you to snoop around and have a good listen."
"Really, so you don't want me to tell you why you don't succumb to a Timelord metacrisis now you remember him so well?"
Donna stared back at him, annoyed. The Master snickered.
"Just say please."
Donna sighed, and rolled her eyes.
"Okay, please, do tell me."
The Master took a deep breath of air, for this was going to be one long narcissistic monologue to demonstrate his intellectual superiority. "You didn't succumb because most of the Timelord energy has shifted into me. I drained the overflow from you to restore my own Timelord essence. In a way, whatever you have received from that Doctor-fellow, it's now part of me." He paused as he pulled his leg out of the sinking sand to find a more solid step. "You are only left what is rightfully yours, which are the memories that he took from you, for your own protection." He raised his chin and grinned. "In a way, you're only alive because of me."
"And you are no longer an ignorant half-wit of a Timelord because of me." Donna responded cheekily.
The Master turned to grant her one very nasty look, while the Toclefane zoomed threateningly above her head.
But Donna wouldn't allow herself to be intimidated. She ignored him, passing him by without even acknowledging the fact that he was offended. It worked, for the Master stopped sulking and followed her up the dunes.
"What do you actually remember, if you don't even know who you really are?" Donna asked half an hour of silence later, when she discovered that the Master wasn't exactly the silent type that she saw him for after all, but was rather restraining himself from talking to her because he found her extremely annoying. But the Master started to yield to the overwhelming boredom of their journey over a featureless wasteland, and was itching to have a conversation to stimulate his mind. He was already half talking to the Toclefane and half talking to himself, when she made an effort to engage him again in a conversation. He looked back at her, reconsidered shortly if this was worth the aggravation, and decided that, what the heck, at least it would keep him entertained.
"I don't remember anything." He answered truthfully. "My past is a blank sheet of paper with nothing written on it except for the words "Timelord" in large yellow crayon letters. But I do know what I am, and I'm fully aware of what I can do." He raised his chin and looked down at her with a certain air of haughtiness that he seemed to have reserved for all earthlings. "And I know my name, because you and those silly Unit soldiers called me the Master. You know, I'm just realizing that I actually like to be called the Master. It has a certain ring to it…" He closed his eyes as if tasting it, relishing the sound of a name that conjured associations to power. "I believe that it suits me rather well."
Donna stared at him, astounded by such vanity, and shook her head. "When I get back, I'm going to look for the Doctor. You should meet him, I'm sure he can help you out."
"Help me out with what?" The Master chuckled.
"Just remembering, you know, things about your past. Don't you want to know?"
"And how would that benefit my current state of mind?" He asked, raising an amused eyebrow.
"You can't live without knowing your past. It's part of you. It has shaped you into who you are. A part of me died when the Doctor had to erase my mind. I know, it sounds like its nothing, those short six months traveling with him, but he made me a stronger person by letting me experience everything that he had shared with me, all the terrifying, wonderful, brilliant moments. I lost them all when I was set back to who I was before."
"And now you're a better woman for having regained them." The Master added, wearing a bored expression on his face. "Really, you sound like a dusty old lecturer who nods off at candle light reading sessions and sets his beard on fire. Does that doctor-boyfriend of yours brainwash you with all that cuddly talk?" He said, only for the sake of insulting her, but actually he was intrigued. He did want to remember why he was who those earthlings thought he was. If they considered him such an evil malice, than certainly these conclusions were drawn based on his actions in the past. He wanted to know what had happened to him. Why he woke up in a state of mind that had the intelligence equivalence of a breadtoaster, but in a body of a full-blooded Timelord. Did he lose his memory in an accident, or did his enemies wipe his mind like the Doctor did to Donna? And who were his enemies? Well, the Unit soldier guys, obviously, but he couldn't imagine them to be responsible for his downfall in the past. They didn't seem to know that he existed till they recaptured him, and besides, he considered them too stupid to have ever posed for a real threat. To all of his questions, this Doctor fellow might indeed provide the answer. Being the owner of a functional Tardis, he must have encountered him during his time travels on this mud ball of a planet, and he should be able to tell him more about the man he should be.
"Oy! I said are we there yet! Are you deaf or something?" Donna sneered, after having tried to make contact with him for the last two minutes or so. She was still irritated by the fact that he had called the Doctor her boyfriend. As if she would fancy a stringy, rubber-faced alien. As far as she was concerned, dating a spaceman was out of the question.
The Master, irritated himself that she had disrupted his chain of thoughts, considered shortly to let the Toclefane shut her up permanently by ripping out her flippin tongue.
"It's over that hill. I believe." He told her instead. He didn't know a good reason for sparing her, but he did. He couldn't really get himself to harm her. It was some sort of sick cosmic joke. Him being thrown together with what was possibly the most annoying woman in the whole of existence, but unable to shut her up because he was the victim of a fixed mindset that was most likely an artifact of the energy transfer that had happened between him and her. He must think of a way to breach this, but in the meantime, he had to be content with just insulting her. "Move your stubby little legs, and step it up if you want to get there sooner, but stop moaning about it already. It's like I am dragging along a ginger jackass."
The look that Donna gave him was enough to send any man fleeing into the opposite direction, but it didn't work on the Master, who actually found it amusing that he could wind her up so much.
"Hang on." Donna suddenly stopped at the foot of the dune, and the anger quickly disappeared from her expression. "But that's…that's the Tardis!" She pointed excitedly at the blue police box, standing at the top of the dune. "The Doctor! He's here!"
The happiness that glowed on her face instantly unnerved the Master.
"Donna, whatever you think that blue box is, it's not real."
"How do you mean, not real?" She shook her head and started to run up the hill. The Master and the Toclefane trailed closely behind her.
"You don't know the Doctor!" She shouted over her shoulder. "He's wonderful and resourceful and clever! He could find me anywhere!"
She took large impatient steps up, slipping back and stumbling on her hands and feet frequently. When she reached the top, she rushed over to the Tardis, her cheeks flushed with excitement, and her eyes glistening with hope.
"Hey! I said, don't go near that thing! Can't you just listen to me for a change you bloody bint!" The Master warned. He also made it at the top and ran after her. Something bothered him greatly. There was something inside that blue box that frightened him, and the closer he got, the more he detested its presence. It was as if he was about to enter a haunted tomb, or was going to dig up a fresh grave.
"Now listen to me Donna Noble, I told you before that this place is only an operating interface. Nothing really exists here except for the two of us, and the Toclefane. Everything else you see, the sand, the sky, and this bloody police box are made up. Your precious Doctor is not here, so don't go inside the Tardis, it's dangerous!"
"Oh no! You can't have made up the Doctor. You said you didn't even know him! Why are you so upset, you're scared to meet him? Is that it? Are you suddenly less certain about yourself now that there's another, more clever Timelord around?"
She pushed against the Tardis doors. They weren't locked and slowly swung open. Inside, it was dark and quiet.
"Doctor? Doctor, are you in there? It's me Donna!"
Nothing. Donna stepped inside, gazing around in the darkness. By the little light that entered through the doorway, she could see that the Tardis core was dark, the familiar light that she had expected to glow in the heart of the great timemachine was extinguished, and not even a tiny glow had remained. The Tardis seemed cold, and dead, the control room was the cavernous inside of a cadaver.
Donna's footsteps echoed in the vast space. She swallowed, her heart felt heavier with each step.
"Doctor, are you here?"
"Please, please be here…"
There was no one. The Tardis was deserted. She stepped around, lost, and felt the tears well up.
The Master rolled his eyes. "You stupid earth woman, are you done yet or are you only satisfied when you get me killed?!" He ranted. He stood in the doorway and stared angrily at her, but was too frightened to come inside to drag her out himself.
"Oh piss off!!" Donna screamed, turning around to face him. At that moment, she really, really detested him for being right. "You're so full of yourself, if your head was any bigger it could have been stamped by a post office official and float off as flippin airmail!"
The Master swallowed hard, and gritted his teeth so hard that he could actually hear it. He was about to send his Toclefane minion in to drag her out in the most painful way imaginable, when a short shadow appeared behind her.
"Watch out, behind you!"
Donna swirled around, and was just in time to see a little boy standing there. His eyes were the clearest blue that she had ever seen, the color of crystal lakes on icy mountains. His face was stained in blood. His clothes were dirty, and the skin on his left arm was covered by hideous scars. He looked up at her, his mouth opened as if he wanted to speak, but before he had the chance to utter a single word, he was hit in the chest by a red laser beam.
"No!" Donna turned to the Master, who aimed his pen shaped weapon on the small defenseless boy. "Stop it! It's just a kid! Stop it I said!"
The Master lowered his lasercrewdriver, and watched how Donna rushed over to tend the boy who was now lying on the floor, eyes closed. She took him in her arms and cradled his head, gently brushing the damp hair from his face.
"Don't do this." The Master said, horrified. "Leave that brat alone."
Donna couldn't believe her ears. "You just shot him you bastard!"
He shook his head. "Doesn't matter. It doesn't really change anything in time." He took a step back. "Now let go of him. He's not right. Didn't you see his eyes? There's something wrong with his eyes."
"There is something wrong with you!" She spat, and lifted the boy up from the floor.
"What the bloody hell are you doing?! Leave him! I order you!"
"You're not ordering me around, you space Nazi commander! Now get out of my bloody way!" She carried the boy through the doorway, pushing the Master aside, and gently put the child down outside in the silver sand. In the light of the stars, she noticed that the boy seemed much older than she first thought he would be. When she caressed his face, his eyes flew open.
"Thank God. You're all right?" She asked with great concern.
The boy didn't speak, only stared back at her with a haunted expression on his face.
"Tell me, are you hurt? Where did that beam hit you?"
"He's not going to say anything. He's in shock, isn't that obvious, even to such a pigheaded woman like you?" The Master snorted. He sank down his knees and sat down with his back leaning against the Tardis. His fear for the blue box had completely vanished. There was nothing left inside that could frighten him. Anything that could was now outside, lying in Donna's arms a few feet away from him. He swept his head back and closed his eyes, trying to calm the double drumming of his hearts that was becoming louder and louder. "You can't do anything for that brat. He's gone."
"What would you know? What do you mean he's in shock? Is that what your laserpencil does? Scare the shit out of little children?"
"It's called a laserscrewdriver! Anyway, it wasn't the laser. That kid saw something. Something awful…" The Master pushed his hands on his eyes to make himself stop seeing what was inside the little boy's head, while cursing his telepathic senses under his breath. "Death and war, and extinction, the lights going out in the sky, those things he saw, they murdered his soul. Ripped it apart into shreds." He shook his head violently, but the drumming in his ears seemed to spread like a malignant parasitic worm that crawled into his brains till the noise vibrated through his skull, hitting it repeatedly with an invisible mallet. "It drove him mad. He's a dangerous little monster. We must leave…"
He was stopped mid sentence when Donna slapped him hard in the face.
"Stop it! I don't want to hear any more of your nonsense! Timelord or no Timelord, you're not worth to be one! You're nothing compared to the Doctor!"
The Toclefane flew into action and flung its blades out before it charged at Donna. She didn't flinch, not even when the rotating knives swept so close to her face that it brushed against the locks of her hair and shortened it with considerable length.
"No! Don't!" The furious Master eyed maliciously at her, but shook his head at his fateful minion. "Just don't."
The Toclefane retracted its blades again, and flew away from Donna. She looked the Master in the eyes, her chin raised high in defiance, and without uttering another word she went back to the injured boy.
"I guess there is no rush anymore then!" The Master yelled after her, the corners of his lips curled into a dark sarcastic grin.
They didn't travel any further. When the largest star in the sky disappeared behind the horizon, they slept out in the open under the light of the remaining stars. Donna and the boy were huddled closely together, while the Master kept himself to his site of the camp and stayed awake, listening to the continuous assault of drums that didn't want to leave him in peace.
The next morning, the boy had vanished.
The Master, who had finally closed his eyes after a long night devoid of any sleep after the drums had vanished too with the boy, was roughly awakened by Donna.
"Wake up!" Her voice was high pitched of panic and her eyes were stinging with tears. "What have you done to him? Where is he?!" She wanted to slap him again but the Master grabbed hold of her wrist and twisted it backwards till it was close to snapping. Donna screamed.
"For the last time, that brat is not real!" He hissed in her ear. "I didn't do anything to him, and if you try to slap me again, I swear I'm gonna break your arm on so many locations that your bones are going to be nothing but dust inside a bag of saggy skin, Capisci quelle che sto dicendo?"
Donna was crying of anger and humiliation, but managed to calm down. Slowly, she nodded her head.
"Right." The Master twisted her arm back into the rightful position, but kept holding on to her wrist. "Now I would like you to come with me. Miss Noble."
He dragged her inside the Tardis. Although the Tardis core was still dead, something had changed. The chair next to the console was lying with its back on the floor. Above it hung a helmet shaped device that was connected to the Tardis main control unit by thick cables. Although the machines were now silent, the smell of heated wires indicated that they had been active, not long ago. Someone had used that strange device while they were sleeping.
"What is this?" Donna asked, hesitantly.
"This, my dear ginger airhead, is the Tardis bioconverter. Every Tardis has one for emergencies. It enables a Timelord to change his own DNA structure into that of any alien race known in existence."
"Why was it switched on?"
"I guess that brat didn't want to be a Timelord anymore." The Master let go of her. Donna was closest to the door and could have fled, but she remained where she was, standing next to his side.
"Because, he was scared." The Master's face darkened, he turned around and walked out of the Tardis. Donna followed him.
They were standing outside. The Master pointed at a trail of footprints in the sand that vanished into the east. "There he went, he made himself human and fled. I didn't hurt him. There's no point. What happened to him is a fixed event in time that no one can change, not even a Timelord. However worthless he must seem compared to your precious omnipotent Doctor."
Donna stared silently at the markings in the silver sand while the realization of what had truly happened slowly sank into her. "I'm sorry." She finally said ruefully, without looking at the Master.
"Sorry for what?" The Master snorted sarcastically, his eyes fixed at the horizon where the boy had disappeared.
"I'm sorry that you have to be reminded of this." She gazed up at the Master, her cheeks flushed with guilt. "That little boy, that was you, wasn't he? This has once happened to you. And now you remember it."
The Master didn't turn to look at her. He kept his eyes at the horizon where the galaxy of Medusa was slowly sinking away under the hills.
"We have to keep going." He finally stated after a long silence, his voice devoid of any emotions. "This structure is not going to keep stable forever." He nodded to the west. "The first porthole should be over that second dune. If we keep pace, we'll be there before Medusa has disappeared out of the sky."
They continued their journey in silence, with the Master walking up front, followed closely by the Toclefane. Donna kept herself a few feet away from the two. She didn't want to upset him anymore than she had done already. Besides that murderous minion of his was playing with its blades every time she came anywhere closer to the Master, as if to send out a warning. It was becoming obvious that she and the silver football weren't exactly going to be the best of friends.
When the last ring of stars of the Medusa galaxy touched the silhouettes of the hills on the horizon in the west, the Master suddenly halted.
Donna took a few hesitant steps towards him, keeping a watchful eye on the Toclefane zooming over his head.
"Why did we stop?"
"We're here." The Master held his arms up, pointing out the surrounding area.
"But there is nothing here except for that dead tree."
The Master snapped off a large branch from the shriveled tree, and took his laserscrewdriver from the pockets of his labcoat.
"The porthole is buried underneath the sand, all I have to do is to find it."
He scanned the ground with a red laser light coming from his screwdriver. Where ever the beam hit the sand the ground became transparent, and a structure of green fluorescent lines appeared on a black background. They drew out the landscape around them. When Donna looked more carefully, she realized that the lines were made up of ones and zeros, the language of a computer program. When the Master scanned the ground under her feet, she was suddenly staring down into a black pit of seemingly nothingness. Frightened, she quickly stepped out of the beam.
"I told you this was all fake." For the first time since they had encountered the Tardis, the Master allowed himself to smile. "Mind you, you were exactly standing on the porthole. You didn't need to move at all."
Donna quickly composed herself. "Okay, so you found it, now what?"
The Master's smile became wider till it became a smug grin. He cocked his head and beckoned with his finger for Donna to come closer. She came over till she was standing on the edge of the black porthole. When she looked down, she could actually see a bright whirlpool of blinding light, swirling into the dark abyss below. The Master switched off the laserscrewdriver, and the silver sand returned at their feet.
Donna gazed up at the Master, her white rimmed eyes betrayed her fear. He answered it with a confident grin.
"And now?" She dared to ask.
"Now." The Master answered, and plunged the tree branch into the sand like a spear. "I recommend you hold your breath."
"What?" Donna felt her feet sink into the sand at a speed that was absolutely frightening. Before she could cry out for help, the upper half of her body had already disappeared into the sandpit. The sand grains poured into her clothes, the weight of it squeezed the air out of her lungs. She took a last large breath of air in blind panic before she vanished underneath the surface and sank further into the darkness.