Title: Shattered Worlds
Spoilers: post The End of Time, non-canon
Part of Series: Shattered Worlds is part of a series called "A Timelord and his Madman", but can be read as a stand-alone. The series include: (1) His Silent Mind, starting from the events of the End of Time, but with an alternative twist that the 10th Doctor was not forced to regenerate. (2) Judoon Justice. (3) A Murderous Feast. The links to these stories can be found on my author's page, or go to my author's page to find the link to my website for more information.
Characters: The 10th Doctor, The Master (John Simm), Martha Jones
Synopsis: A mysterious portal on an abandoned spaceship brings the 10th Doctor and the Master back to their common past. One small act, and the Master set things in motions that alter the course of their lives entirely. Will it be the dawn of a golden age, or will this lead to the destruction of creation itself?
AND: Many thanks to Koschei the Pianist and Edzel2 for beta-reading support
Rachel Boekbinder was an eight years old girl with large blue eyes that questioned everything. She wore red shoes, and a new coat for summer that was two sizes too big for her. It was really uncomfortable, and when she complained about it to her mother, Mrs Boekbinder just smiled kindly at her and told her that she would soon grow into it. Young as she was, Rachel was always asking important questions, like why is the sky blue? Is there a reason why the leaves on the trees are green, and where do the swans in the lake go in the winter? Her parents patiently answered all of her questions as well as they can, as loving parents often do. One day, little Rachel was standing in the hallway, ready to head out for school. As she was studying her oversized coat, she noticed the yellow shape that her mother had stitched onto her sleeve last evening. Another question popped up in her head.
"Mummy, why do I need to wear a star?" She asked, looking up at her mother who just came out of the kitchen with a brown paper bag containing her lunch. Mrs Boekbinder looked at Rachel for a moment, her eyes wide like two perfect pools of still liquid.
"Because…because you're a very special girl." She finally managed to tell her little daughter. "That's why. All the other children should be jealous of you." She added, and lovingly, she ran her fingers through Rachel's hair.
Back at school, Rachel told the other children in her class what her mother told her about her new star. Most of her friends believed her, and stood in line in the schoolyard during the midday break to admire the pretty yellow star stitched on Rachel's sleeve. Rachel was disappointed when she showed the star to Mark Huizinga, a boy she secretly liked, and who was a little older. Instead of telling her how beautiful it looked, he just nodded and pressed his lips tightly together till they disappeared into a thin white line. And then there was Diekerik, a very nasty little boy who lived around the corner of her street and whose father owned a butcher's shop. When she showed him the star, he just laughed at her, and told her that her mother was a stupid Jew. Rachel was very upset, but she didn't cry. She wasn't one for crying. Instead, she got angry and pushed the boy so hard that he fell on the ground and scraped his knees. It ended with the butcher coming to their house to complain, and Rachel's mom telling her not to play with Diekerik again. Rachel was glad. She hated the butcher's boy for what he had said about her mother.
Rachel lived with her parents and her little baby sister in Amsterdam, in a tall, lofty old merchant house in the Rijnstraat in a small apartment on the second floor. Her father was a journalist and worked for a local newspaper. When Rachel grew up, she wanted to become a journalist too, just like him. In the late evening, after dinner, she would hop on the window sill and sitting with her back pressed against the glass panes, she would watch her father quietly. Mr Boekbinder would sit behind his desk, smoke his pipe, drink half a glass of Whiskey, and read through his notes for half an hour before he would even touch a single key on the typewriter. But when he started to write, he wouldn't stop till it was finished. His fingers flew over the keys like the wings of a large flapping bird, and the continuous rattle of the type bars hitting the ribbon would go on till late at night. After Rachel was sent to bed, she would listen to that most comforting, familiar sound, letting it guide her to her dreams.
On one particularly hot summer night, the little girl had much trouble sleeping, and she was still awake around midnight, listening to the metal clunks of her father's old typewriter in the dark. Her bedroom windows were left open to let a soft evening breeze enter the humid space. Outside, the sky was full of static tension. A storm was brewing, which soon would bring soothing rain and much needed refreshment, but for now, it was still hot and she was drowning in the sweat of her thin nightgown.
She turned on her side and stared at her stuffed toy animals, who were all sitting neatly in a row on the shelf, looking back at her with their friendly button eyes. She wondered if they felt as uncomfortable and hot as she did.
The rattle of her father's typewriter suddenly stopped. She heard him pacing to the other side of the room. Then the radio was turned on. The sounds from the speaker reached her right through the thin walls of the apartment. A heated crowd was shouting through the static, followed by the fierce words of a very angry sounding man, far away in Germany, whose voice droned through the radio speaker, spreading a message of paranoia and hate, while his audience clapped and cheering him on by the thousands.
Rachel didn't understand a word of German. Still she was very frightened by it.
Luckily, her father quickly changed the channel. An another voice, a calm and strong, more civilized voice, came up from the static, and although the man in the broadcast spoke in English, which she also didn't understand, his words comforted and calmed her as much as the German voice had instilled fear into her young heart. Her family was listening to a BBC broadcast, reporting on the evacuation of Dunkirk. She didn't know who that man was, who was speaking about how wars were not won by retreat, nor did operation Dynamo meant anything to her, but from the burdened silence that came from her parents in the livingroom, she realized that the message must be very important.
"No! They can't! They can't just leave!" She heard father shout at the radio. His voice was a strange mix of anger and despair. Her mother tried to calm him, and shushed her baby sister who had woken up and was crying. To make things worse, the friendly English voice faded back into static, and the angry man returned, spreading his mindless hatred out into the world. Her father cursed loudly. He slapped on the radio and the hostile German voice melted with the ongoing static into a mad diabolical gabble.
Then the loud crack of thunder split the air, making Rachel sit upright in her bed.
She gazed out of her bedroom window. The houses in her street lit up for a moment when a clash of lightening brightened the sky, as if God had suddenly switched on the sun. Rachel coiled her fingers around her blanket and sucked in a deep breath. She knew about lightening and thunder. Her father had explained it to her. So she tried to be brave and kept reminding herself that it was nothing to be afraid of.
But wasn't the lightening supposed to strike before you heard the thunder?
A strong wind swept up, making her pink bedroom curtains dance like phantoms, blowing back her hair and cooling the sweat on her brow. Her hart started to race. An eerie sound came to her. Not from outside, for it wasn't a natural sound that was created by the upcoming storm, nor did it come from the radio in the living room. No. It seemed come from inside her bedroom.
She heard four beats, rhythmic and repetitive. It surround her, growing louder and louder, till she could no longer hear the demonic static from her father's radio, nor the noise of crackling thunder and the violent downpour of rain that had started clattering on the roof and swamping the streets below. All she could hear was those four beats.
"Daddy!" She yelled, truly frightened now, she pressed her hands on her ears to block out the noise, but it seemed that the source of that most evil sound was now inside her, joining in with the mad drumbeats of her own frightened little heart.
Mr. Boekbinder had heard his child blood-chilling scream, and rushed to her aid. "Rachel!" He yelled, and turned the door handle, but found that the room was locked. His blood ran cold when he saw the eerie blue strips of light shining through the gaps of the closed door. "Rachel! What's happening? Who's in there?"
Rachel sat huddled in a corner when a blue light erupted and flooded through her window with all the violence of a midday dessert sun. Her bedroom began to dissolve in the strange bright light.
The little girl screamed in terror.
"Rachel!" Mr. Boekbinder slammed his shoulder against the door. The sheer force of the impact dislodged the lock and the door flew open, letting Mr Boekbinder crashed inside.
His daughter's name caught in his throat. She was no longer here. In fact, the room seemed not to be occupied by anyone. Rachel's bed, her wardrobe, her toy chest and the shelves with stuffed animals had all disappeared. Instead of a little girl's bedroom, the small square space now looked more like a storage room, occupied with boxes filled with old documents, books piled high in the corners, and the old furniture of Rachel's grandma gathering dust under yellowing sheets.
Rachel's father blinked his eyes as if he was awakening from a dream. The name he wanted to call out only a second ago was quickly vanishing from his mind. For a moment he was lost, and he gazed purposelessly around in the dark room.
Why did he come in here again?
"Why did you run away love?"
He turned around and saw his wife staring at him with her loving but worried eyes. She was cradling their 6 months old baby daughter in her arms.
"I know that you are upset about the British." She said to him. "I'm sorry for arguing with you, but you shouldn't shout like that. You know that our neighbors don't like us. Anything we do to attract their attention will have them send in the Germans to get us out. And then what will be become of us?"
Their little girl was still crying. She petted her back and kissed her baby tenderly to comfort her, while looking at her husband, begging him to understand.
"Oh…I'm sorry." Mr. Boekbinder took his wife and child in his arms. "Darling. I'm so sorry for yelling at you. I promise I won't do it again." He brushed his cheek against his wife's soft skin and breathed in her warm sweet scent of sweat and lavender soap. How could he ever be angry with her? He loved her. "No more shouting in this house." He said and looked her in the eyes, smiling foolishly, and not believing his luck to have her. "I will keep our little family safe. My two beautiful girls." And kissed them both on the cheeks.
After his wife and child went back to the livingroom, Mr Boekbinder turned and gazed back into the spare room in silence. A strange feeling crept up on him, as if something was missing, something important, but he couldn't recall what it was. When the moment finally passed, he went back to the BBC broadcast and left, locking the empty room behind him.
"Right." The Master uttered, restraining himself and keeping his voice as calm and civilized as possible. They were inside the Tardis console room, whirling through the Timevortex towards their new destination.
"As soon as this thing lands, I'm gone." He stated boldly. It wasn't the first time that he had threatened to leave. The atmosphere had been quite tense between the two Timelords ever since they left Wilf and Wessick's lane behind.
"No you're not." Doctor glared at him from the other side of the consoles. From the Tardis core, a green glow was cast over the Doctor's face, making him look all too unforgiving.
"You can't keep me here. I won't allow myself to be chained up to you forever like some mongrel dog." The Master replied, disgusted by the very prospect.
"You lost the right to leave when you took a life."
The Master gazed away. "She wasn't exactly mother Theresa."
"She was harmless." The Doctor replied, finding it unacceptable that the Master was still trying to make up excuses for himself.
"Oh come on, as if you have never killed before! What's one life in a thousand? I saved a whole population of your pet humans from an alien invasion."
"The way you think, that's exactly why I should keep you here with me." The Doctor said, glaring up at him with determination burning in his eyes. "I wasn't there to correct you when you started out on Gallifrey. But I'm here now. And I will do all that I can, just to keep you from making the same horrible mistakes again."
"Oh the glorious righteous Doctor." The Master laughed harshly, leaning towards him over the consoles. "You know what. You make me sick." He said, hissing like a spiteful serpent that had been grabbed by the tail.
The Doctor wasn't impressed. "Sometimes you have to get a little worse before you can get any better." He whispered.
The Master leaned further forward on the console and slowly, slowly, counted back to ten.
"Tell me, where exactly are we going?" He finally managed to ask without screaming at the Doctor.
"Somewhere where we can help." The Doctor replied softly. It was a last minute chance of plans. At first, he wanted to bring the Master to some place safe and isolated. An old, out of service satellite, or an abandoned space colony orbiting some God-forsaken planet would have done perfectly as long as the two of them were left on their own. He realized that it was perhaps wrong to wish for something so horrible, but he actually longed for those peaceful days, when he had nurtured the unconscious Master back to health in the Tardis while it was circling around the remains of their dying home planet. His relationship with him was so much simpler back then. Now when he looked at him, he didn't know whether he should protect him, or treat him as a potential threat.
So the Doctor was actually relieved when the Tardis received the distress call. It gave him something to do and kept his mind from worrying too much. By the look of the fast-shifting coordinates of the source, the call was most likely coming from a ship. Maybe the vessel was set adrift after an engine failure, or the crew was being hunted down by rampaging alien monsters. It didn't matter. The Doctor just wanted to save a life. Anyone's life. He couldn't save senator Pompous and his daughter Dea, and after the strange, ominous message he had received, he wasn't so sure that he could save the Master from himself either.
The Doctor needed to make himself useful. What he needed was a big juicy catastrophe, a terrible imminent disaster that he could control, outwit and reverse. Anything that could prove to him that not everything was lost.
Reaching their destination, the Tardis landed with the usual series of bumps and shakes. Then the movement stopped and the green glow from the core slowly dimmed, casting a shadow over the console room.
"Right then." The Master said with a broad, fake grin, he waved carelessly. "Tah!"
The Master bolted for the Tardis doors, as long as he got rid of the Doctor, he wasn't giving a toss about what or whoever was out there. Surprisingly, the Doctor didn't come after him, but remained standing next to the Tardis console. Calmly, he crossed his arms over his chest and waited.
As soon as the Master put his hand on the door handle, an electric spark came off that made him recoil as if he had burned himself on a hot stove. His hand hurt, stung by hundreds of tiny little needles, and when he checked his palm, he noticed that it had been marked with the symbol of the Timelords. Horrified, he turned back to the Doctor.
Instead of saying a word, the Doctor just held up his right hand. A similar symbol marked his palm. He waved at the Master while a cheeky smile dawning on his lips.
The Master shot him a very foul look.
"I know, I know." The Doctor shushed, getting ahead of the Master's anger. "The Gallifreyian mind trap is a bit overdone, a bit of a cheap trick. But I got them lying around, so I thought, why not give them a try?"
"You vicious bastard." The Master hissed angrily. "You've set up a trap on the doors!"
"Yes, clever isn't it? Now we're psychologically linked." The Doctor replied calmly, ignoring the Master's outrage. "I can get inside your mind and stop you without so much as touching you with a finger."
"You're a bloody sadist." He accused him. "I've never done anything this cruel."
"Oh don't flatter yourself. You know you've done worse. Funny really how selective your memory can be sometimes. Still, no time to dwell on the past." The Doctor strolled towards the doors and with a gentle push, opened them wide for the Master.
"After you." The Doctor said, holding the door politely. He waited till the Master had strolled out of the console room in angry paces before heading out himself.
The Tardis stood in the middle of a large cavernous cabin with white curved walls. White beams, about a whale-bone thick, arched towards a focal point in the high ceiling, creating the illusion that the Tardis had been swallowed by a synthetic version of Moby Dick. The floor was black as space itself, and shattered all over its shiny, reflective surface were trillions of pinpoint lights, which gave the resemblance of a constellation of stars.
"Where are we?" The Master asked. His voice sounded small and lost in the vast empty space that surrounded the visitors.
"I've absolutely no idea." The Doctor muttered with the beginning of a smile. He noticed that there were rows of tiny portholes on each side of the chamber and headed out for one of them. His lips curled into a little boy's grin when he noticed that the glittering dots in the ink-black surface pooling underneath his sneakers, making him leave a diamond trail of footsteps behind. It was like walking in a snowy landscape of stardust and it was absolutely beautiful.
"We're in space all right." The Doctor noted as he glanced through the fortified windowpane. "That's the icy constellation of Tood Pazarr over there." He pointed out and turned around. "Hello? Anyone on this ship? Anyone who needs my help?" He asked cheerfully.
"Is that what you do with all that time you've got when you're not making my life miserable? You go rush into strange places and shout like an idiot, begging people to please allow you to help?" The Master snorted.
"Yep, that's what I do." The Doctor replied, ignoring the Master's sarcasm, he strolled around with his hands inside his pockets like he owned the place. "Anyone here?"
"You know, I'm so thrilled that I'm now stuck with you for the rest of my life. I've always wanted to experience the exciting life of a deranged social worker." The Master ridiculed while following the Doctor around.
"I've received your distress call!" The Doctor shouted to anyone who wanted to hear. "You've asked for help, so I'm here to help. Anyone?" The Doctor halted, looking puzzled. They had reached a row of doors. There were three of them, and unlike the rest of the room, which had no other colors than black or white, the doors were painted in vivid red.
"Anyone here?" The Doctor continued, feeling a bit left out in the cold. "By the way, did I mention that I was really rather good at helping people out?"
"Oh please, don't be pathetic." The Master muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Was worth a try." The Doctor muttered, turning his attention back to the blood-red doors. They were marked from 1 to 3 and a green light was lit above the first two, while above the third door, a red light was burning. Next to them, a fancy glass plaque was mounted on the wall. It was etched with a strange symbol, consisting of a triangle with in the middle the combined Greek letters alpha and omega.
"Welcome to Infinity Corporation, where the future is now." The Doctor read, cocking his eyebrows. "Funny tagline. Wonder what they're selling."
"I could do with some extra time." The Master remarked. "I've surely wasted enough by following you around."
"Oh don't be clever." The Doctor commented. He moved over to the console station that was also white, and fashionably shiny and curvy, with very buttons.
"Oh look at that!" The Doctor exclaimed. "Design technology. I love that." He said with a silly little grin. "It's not as good as tinkering with the real bolts and pieces but I do appreciate that someone spent a great deal of thought on making a lever in the shape of a swan's neck."
"How truly elegant. I'm impressed." The Master deadpanned.
"This whole thing only has four controls." The Doctor continued enthusiastically. "Can you imagine that on the Tardis? My crash rates would hit the roof!"
"As opposed to the current experience, in which every trip is like a peaceful stroll down the park." The Master muttered, finding it continuously harder to bring up more patience for the Doctor's foolishness. "Look, if you can't find anyone around to save, can we just bugger off before we start to gather dust here?"
The Doctor sighed. "Oh I do miss Wilf. He was always asking the right questions. He would have loved this. A great new adventure. A grand new horizon to explore. People to rescue. You just sulk and moan all the time."
"To be honest, I miss Wilf too, he might be a demented old fool, but at least what he said sort of made sense, unlike your incessant drivels. Now please, can we get the hell out of this place?" The Master hissed through clenched teeth.
The Doctor opened his mouth to respond, but suddenly fell silent. Slowly, he turned around, casting his eyes over the line of blood-red doors before returning back to the console. He left a strange motion brush pass him, a shiver of a passing train. Something that was not visible to the naked eye.
The Doctor put his finger on his lips and shushed. "There is someone here in the room with us."
Rachel Boekbinder stared at the blue luminous being in front of her, her young face showing much puzzlement.
"What do you mean, there is someone here?" She asked, glancing over her shoulder nervously. "I can't see anybody here. We are the only ones in the cabin."
Alpha-Omega slowly shook her head. At least Rachel thought of the strange alien creature as a she. She found it difficult to tell. Alpha-Omega had a head, arms, and legs and a torso, and from a distance, her shape would resemble that of a human. However, instead of solid flesh, her whole body seemed to be made out of a dazzling blue ocean of light that shifted and changed every time that Rachel looked at her. The light creature had large eyes that were as black as sin, and although she was capable of speech, Alpha-Omega seemed to have no mouth. If anyone from Rachel's world and time had encountered her, it would have certainly startled them a great deal. But Rachel was not afraid of Alpha-Omega. She had been in this quiet and strange white place for quite a while now, and after all this time, she had learned to trust her.
Alpha-Omega pointed at the console. "There are three of us." She said in a gentle voice. "There used to be one."
"You mean there are two others except for me?" Rachel noted cleverly. "Why are you always not counting yourself in? I hate it when you pretend that there is no-one else in this place but me."
"There are three of us now." She repeated.
Rachel shook her head, getting more worried. "That's not true."
"You should hide."
"What do you mean? I don't want to hide."
"Choose one of the doors."
The little girl's mood lightened up a little. "You let me choose? Are you sure?"
"Choose one of the doors."
"I pick number three." Rachel said without a moment of hesitation. She studied Alpha-Omega's face closely. As always, she couldn't detect a trace of emotion visible on her alien face.
"Choose again." Alpha-Omega said, after a short pause.
"That's not fair! You said I could choose for myself. I want to go into room number three!"
"Door number three is locked. You may not enter room number three. Choose again."
"I want to know what's inside! Look, you've kept me in this floating room for a very long time now. I want to go home!"
"The Infinity has kept you safe."
"You keep saying that. I don't even know what that means." Rachel blurted, getting close to tears. "I want to go home. I want to see mom and dad."
"You can see them by going through door 1 or 2."
"Yes, but that's not the same, is it?" Rachel replied with tears running down her cheeks. "Is that what's behind door number three? A way to get back home? Is that why I'm not allowed to go in there?"
"You can choose between door number 1 and 2." Alpha-Omega replied in a gentle, but persistent voice.
"You can choose between door number 1 and 2." Her blue guardian pressed on.
Rachel gazed at those strange dark eyes. Realizing that she couldn't convince her, she brushed the tears from her face with the back of her sleeves and took in a deep, ragged breath.
"I want to go back to how it was." She replied softly.
The first red door from the right suddenly slid open, and a bright blue light burst into the white chamber.
"What did you do?" The Master asked, furrowing his brows.
"Nothing!" The Doctor held up both his hands. "Didn't touch any of it."
"Must have been that invisible ghost you've been moaning about." The Master scoffed. He walked towards the doorway. A soft, cool breeze entered the room and he could pick up the distinctive scent of wet pavement and freshly mown grass.
"What is this?" He muttered. 'Where does this come from?"
A massive magnetic field of energy was rapidly building up inside the chamber, creating a giant sphere of heat and light that crackled with powerful bolts. Mesmerized by the raw beauty of it, The Master stretched out his hand, reaching out for that strange blue light.
A shiver ran over his skin when he felt something rush by him, heading straight into the portal. When it bumped into the energy field it distorted the light, creating the rippling shape of a child, before it was engulfed by the chaotic mass and disappeared.
The Master turned to the Doctor. "Did you…" But before he could finish his sentence, the red door closed again, hiding its secrets behind it. The Master stared at the security light above the door and noticed that how the signal flashed from green into red.
"Now you believe me?" The Doctor said. "There was someone or something in this room, and it went right in there." He pointed at door number 1. "We have to find out who or what it is." He started immediately tinkering with the controls.
"What? Why would you want to do that?"
"Distress call, remember. We're here because someone wanted us to be here."
"This could be just a trap to lure innocent travellers." The Master muttered.
"Oh ye of little faith." The Doctor sighed under his breath. He kept pushing the few buttons that were available to him until a holovid screen suddenly flashed on.
"There! Now that we have visual, let see if we can get the sound working." The Doctor hit a button cleverly designed like a water molecule twice and the sound of static switched on. Then a dramatic tune blasted through invisible speakers, and the logo of Infinite Corp. came up on the 3D screen.
"Could you at least skip the intro?" The Master asked impatiently. "What's next? Commercials for painkillers and fabric softeners?"
Alpha-Omega's face appeared on screen. Her large, black eyes studied the two Timelords with calculative serenity.
"Welcome on board of the Infinity." She said in a friendly voice. "How may we serve?"
"That's the most delightful thing I've heard since I started travelling with you." The Master murmured, looking pleasantly surprised.
"We're looking for someone onboard of this ship. Someone who could have possibly send out a distress call." The Doctor explained. "Can you give me more information about the crew?"
"Crew number onboard of the Infinity. Zero. Checking ship's log….Distress calls made since the beginning of voyage 1377…Zero."
"But there was someone inside this cabin. Someone small, possibly a child, who ran right into that room over there! Can't that be the one who sent out the call?"
"There are no crewmembers. There were no distress calls made."
"Oh that's just absolute nonsense!" The Doctor objected, wrinkling up his nose.
"Are you finished arguing with the onboard computer?" The Master asked in a sarcastic voice. But the Doctor wasn't finished.
"You know, if you can't do your job right, they should replace you with a more up to the standard model." The Doctor huffed. "I asked two questions, and you have answered them both wrong. That's a 100% fail. Hardly acceptable for a very expensive piece of designer equipment, won't you agree?"
The Master sighed and slipped his hand inside the Doctor's pocket to fish out the sonic.
"It wouldn't be so bad if you would say something worth listening to once in a while." The Master muttered, shaking his head slowly. "Even if it's only once or twice a year, at the Eve of Lamentation, or at Midsummer Consolations. But you don't. You just drivel endlessly."
Before the Doctor could take back his sonic screwdriver, the Master had already aimed it on the holovid, scrambling the visual display back into its bare coding. He immediately started to decipher them once they appeared on the screen.
"Hey! Stop that!" The Doctor urged, sternly.
But the Master didn't listen. He was most confident that he was close to getting the doors unlocked.
"I said stop it!"
A sharp pain blasted through the Master's head, blinding him for a moment. He dropped the sonic and backed away from the screen before shooting a vindictive glance at the Doctor.
The Doctor picked up the sonic and put it back inside his breast pocket.
"Are you all right?" He asked, truly shaken by what had happened to him. He knew what the mind trap could do. It was the very reason why he had used it to keep the Master in check in the first place. But seeing it actually hurting him was something else entirely.
"You shouldn't have taken my sonic screwdriver. It's one of the first things I've secured against you." He noticed the furious look on the Master's face.
"I didn't do this on purpose…It was the mind trap. It just went off."
The Master needed a deep breath to push back the pain and calm down. "Oh that serves me just right." He grinned sarcastically. "For trying to help!" He sneered back at him.
He recoiled when a second blast struck him, but this time, it wasn't the short sting that he associated with the fire-back mechanism of the mind trap. It was something far more violent.
The blue mass of formless energy that he had seen inside the first chamber was now inside his head, creating a mind storm, and the savage power of it was tearing his neurons apart. Shielding his head with his arms, he uttered a scream and sunk to his knees.
"Master!" The Doctor rushed over, but the Master couldn't see him. In his mind's eye, he was no longer inside the white washed room onboard of the Infinity. He was somewhere on Earth, in a street, an ordinary street, with trees, and cars, and people. He looked around. He was standing on wet pavement, looking at a group of young children who were playing catch on a long stretch of lawn. The grass was so impossibly green that it hurt his eyes, just to look at it. A little girl in a white dress with a head full of bouncy curls spotted him.
"I don't remember you." She said, coming over to him while furrowing her little brows. "Who are you and what are you doing here?" She asked strictly.
"I…" He looked into that bright young face, those big, questioning eyes, and he just forgot what he was about to say.
"Don't you have a name?" She asked.
The Master opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn't even recall his own name.
The little girl shook her head in pity. "Did you get so scared of the bombing that you forgot?"
"No…No…." The Master licked his lips nervously. "I do know my name. It's….I'm sorry, it's right there….on the tip of my tongue."
"It's all right. It happens sometimes." The girl took his hand. "You shouldn't be here. These are the Jewish quarters." She pointed at the yellow star of David that was sewn on her sleeve. "If the German soldiers see you talking to a Jew, they will hurt you or take you away."
"Where should I go?" He asked, confused.
"I know the way out." She smiled kindly at him, and took his hand. "Come then, I will show you the way back."
"Master? Master, are you all right?"
He opened his eyes and stared right into the Doctor's concerned face.
"Yeah. I guess so." He muttered, struggling back up. He glanced around. He was back inside the white cabin again, and the little girl's world was quickly fading from his memories. "What happened?"
"The energy overflow that you created while you were trying to unlock the system hit you. Kicked back like an angry mule. If it wasn't for Rassilon's little gift, you would have regenerated on the spot." The Doctor answered while helping him up.
"Stop reminding me of that bastard." The Master murmured. He had trouble trying to keep standing. The Doctor took his arm to steady him, but the Master brushed his hand away. He had not yet forgiven him for tricking him with the vicious mind-trap.
They returned to the console. The holovid was no longer scrambled, but now showed the 3D version of the company's logo, rotating against a blue background. When the Master moved closer to the console, his hand accidentally brushed over the side of the screen, causing it to flicker.
To the Master's astonishment, the blue computer host reappeared, and started to address him personally.
"Welcome onboard of the Infinity, lord Master."
"Hang on. Did you call me…lord Master?" He asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Yes lord Master. How may we serve you?"
A moment of realization, then a wide grin appeared on the Master's face. "Oh, I love to hear someone saying that."
"You cracked it." The Doctor said, perplexed. "You've cracked the system." The Doctor checked the parameters that scrolled over the screen. "It must have been the energy surge. Somehow your DNA profile got transferred to the computer's software by accident, and for some reason it has accepted it as a part of its own coding. But this is absolutely fascinating…It has not only used your DNA sequence as a login password, it has also just used it to rewrite its own program within a couple of seconds. Oh that's amazingly clever!"
"For pity's sake, please shut up." The Master sighed. He turned to their virtual host. "Computer, I want you to inform me what is behind those doors."
"Choose one of the doors." Alpha-Omega answered.
The Master smirked, and crossed his arms over his chest. This could be interesting. "What about number one?"
"It contains all that you were."
"What?" The Master laughed. "Could you please be more specific?"
"It contains all that you were."
"Well, that's hardly helpful." The Master scoffed.
"You may have unlocked it, but it isn't exactly thinking for itself." The Doctor mumbled, still checking the vital numbers. "If anything, the interaction matrix seems to be rather restrictive for such an advanced-looking spaceship."
"Let me try something else." The Master turned back to address her. "Tell me, what's behind door number two?"
"It contains all that you could have been."
"It contains….all…that I could have been?" The Master repeated sceptically.
The Master pulled a face. "That's rather pretentiously philosophical, isn't? And what about door number three?"
"Door number three is locked. You may not choose door number three."
"Well, can't I unlock it?"
"No. Door number three is locked and will remain so. You may not choose door number three."
The Master grinned, finding it all too weird. "Right, so your company took the effort of placing three doorways onboard of this otherwise empty spaceship, and you're offering me the choice to select one of them, but you're keeping one locked under all circumstances. What kind of logic is that? Why not build only two chambers instead of three and save yourself the effort? What is this, some psychological test for trust and obedience?"
"In which case you will fail, miserably." The Doctor muttered, and leaned closer him "Ask the computer to open door number 1. We need to find out who went in there."
"Ask it yourself." The Master huffed.
"I would if it listened it me, but it doesn't." The Doctor said, giving the Master a look.
"Computer." The Master sighed. "We want to enter room number 1."
"Room number one is occupied." Alpha-Omega answered calmly.
"Well we don't want to overcrowd the place of course, The Master replied sarcastically. "Shall we say we pick number two? It sounds more promising anyway."
"Don't be silly. She didn't say that we couldn't enter. It just said that it was occupied. Try again."
"I'm not your servant you know." The Master grumbled with a disdainful look on his face, but still he turned to computer. At least he could order her around successfully.
"Open door number 1."
"The room is occupied." Alpha-Omega repeated.
"I don't care. Open it." He said sternly.
There was a short pause as the computer ran through her database to calculate the other options she had left to enable her to refuse the Master's order. She eventually came to the conclusion that she could not disobey, and door number one slid open, letting the dazzling blue light stream into the chamber once more.
The two Timelords stood before the swirling blue ocean of violent energy and waited. Neither of them had any idea what to expect of this.
"After you." The Doctor finally said.
The Master glanced over his shoulder at the holovid. The description of Alpha-Omega for room number one was still puzzling his mind. After a short moment of hesitation, he turned around and stepped bravely through the doorway.
The doorway opened into a long, cavernous hallway corridor with dark stone walls. Cut out in the niches were statues of men dressed in long ceremonial robes. The strange headwear and shoulder armor looked very familiar to both Timelords.
However impossible it may be, these statues were of Gallifreyan origin.
They made their way further down the corridor, and as the Master and the Doctor took up more and more of their surroundings, they soon started to recognize the marble faces on the statues. There was Rowana, the first Lady Chancellor in her most beautiful incarnation, and Maxillius the Castellan, the fierce commander of the chancellery guard, whose merciless gaze marked him throughout all of his 13 incarnations. And behind them, standing as tall and dignified as both of them remembered, were the statues of the founding fathers of the six Chapters of the Academy. The statues of their elders lined the entire corridor till up the east wing buildings.
"I remember this. This is the grand hallway." The Doctor muttered. "We're in the Academy on Gallifrey."
"But…that's impossible." The Master responded. "That place is gone. How could a portal on a spaceship bring us to a place that no longer exists?"
"Remember what our host said. Door number one contains all that you were." The Doctor pointed out. "In your case that must be all of this, the Academy on Gallifrey, back when we were both still children. The door has opened up a portal into your past." The Doctor furrowed his brows, starting to look rather worried as the possible consequences hit him. He swirled around. "Actually, we have to go back before anyone sees us!"
"Well, aren't you fickle, just a minute ago you were ordering me around to pick out the right door for you. Aren't you happy with your choice?" The Master mocked, not without delight.
"Oh this is no times for jokes. Being here is dangerous!" The Doctor snapped. "You know that well enough! One look of our younger selves at what we have become and history can be completely rewritten. Not to mention the whole time-paradox-crisis we'll be creating."
"Please let Pyronius forbid, of course we never had that before." The Master replied dryly.
"I can't find the portal! It's vanished!" Doctor took out his sonic, and aimed it at the spot in front of the statue of the Rector Magnificus where the doorway had been. He whizzed it around nervously. "A little help?" He urged.
"Oh look at you, acting like a rabbit trapped in a fox hole." Master said in an amused voice while folding his arms over his chest. Of course he was not even thinking about lending him a hand.
The Doctor stopped scanning when he picked up the sound of footsteps and the chime of little bells, heading for their direction.
"We have to hide!" The Doctor whispered urgently, and pulled the rather reluctant Master behind a column.
A progression of Timelord elders was on its way to the west wing chambers. Luckily, they didn't need to pass their section of the hallway, and the Doctor and the Master remained unnoticed. The Doctor studied the cardinals as they passed by. They were all dressed in bright ceremonial robes, each in the color of their Chapters. The two cardinals of the Prydonian Chapter were leading the way, wearing their scarlet robes with great pride and dignity. They walked by the side of a young boy, who was also dressed in a scarlet robe, signifying that he was a novice from the same Chapter.
"An initiation ceremony." The Doctor whispered. "They must be heading to the dark vaults of Cold Lamentation." He caught sight of the young novice's face, and immediately froze, unable to take his eyes off him. A surge of panic struck his hearts.
The Master gazed at the eight year old who looked both incredibly proud and absolutely terrified at the same time. His breath caught when he realized who the little boy was.
"That's me." The Master whispered, stunned. "This is my initiation day."
"Master." The Doctor gently laid a hand on his shoulder. "Let's just leave. You shouldn't be here watching this."
The Doctor grabbed his arm but the Master pulled away without looking at him. He kept staring at his younger self.
"I still remember it." He said softly. "I was so looking forward to that moment, couldn't even sleep of excitement the night before because I had all those mad stories of old master Azmael in my head. I kept imagining what I would see in the Untempered Schism, all those wonderful things that would inspire me to greatness." The melancholic smile on his lips turned to stone. "How stupid have I been to believe in those lies." He added bitterly.
"You don't have to do this." The Doctor tried.
A boy raced through the corridor. Tall for his age, and with his legs moving like elastic strings, he approached the ceremonial group with worry written all over his young face. The Doctor shot one look at him, and immediately turned and dived further behind the column. The young version of the Doctor ran pass him, seemingly unaware of his presence. But unlike the Doctor, the Master didn't budge, not only because he had less time to react, but also because he simply didn't give a toss about being seen by the others.
"Master! Watch out!" The Doctor yelled, fearing the worst, but instead of crashing into him, the Doctor saw his younger-self run right through the Master without so much as reducing speed. He passed through the other Timelords as if he was but thin air.
"Koschei, wait!" Theta shouted, waving frantically at his young friend.
That was rather unexpected.
"He doesn't…Well you don't seem to notice me, it's like I'm not even here." The Master realized.
"We…we might not be real for them." The Doctor said, slightly relieved.
"Not real? That's an understatement. We're like ghosts to them. And ghosts is what we are indeed." The Master added scornfully.
Ignoring the other Timelord's objections, he followed the young Doctor, who had stopped the procession dead in its tracks, a bold act that earned him much disapproving looks from the Timelord elders.
"That's right." The Master said, remembering the confusion of that moment. "You went after me after the elders took me from the dorm. It was absolutely against protocol to speak to the novice during the ceremony, but you didn't care."
"I was worried." The Doctor recalled the panic that he had felt, and experiencing the sheer horror of it as he was forced to watch it all unfold again, knowing what he knew now. "Master, we should really go." He repeated. He was deadly serious.
But the Master put his finger on his lips to tell the Doctor to keep his silence.
"Theta, what are you doing here?" Koschei asked, wondering if his friend had gone completely bonkers.
"I've been thinking….Maybe…Maybe you shouldn't…" Young Theta managed to utter while he was still trying to catch his breath like a fish stuck on dry land.
Koschei rolled his eyes. "I told you. It's all right. You just had a strange nightmare. That's all. Go back to the dorm. It's your turn soon enough."
"Young master Theta. You are holding up the procession!" One of the Prydonian elders said sternly.
"Please Koschei. Don't go in there. I have a very bad feeling about this." Theta pleaded.
"Oh don't be daft now. Almost everyone we know from our Chapter has already gone through it. Nothing happened to anyone of them." His friend replied.
"Young master Theta! I insist that you stop interrupting!" The elder ordered in a disdainful voice.
"It's okay." Koschei said as he tried to reassure him. "Go back to our room before the elders get angry with you."
The young novice was quickly led away, and the whole procession started to move again towards the initiation chamber, the vault of Cold Lamentation, where the mirror that looked into the Untempered schism was waiting. Theta followed Koschei, trying desperately to get to talk to him again, but the elders prevented that and pushed him out of their way.
Koschei glanced fleetingly over his shoulder, mouthing Go back! to his worried friend before he too turned away.
"You knew." The Master muttered, realizing what he just had witnessed. "You tried to warn me about the Untempered schism. I thought you were mad when you tried to stop me from going into the initiation chamber. All this time…You knew…but…how?" The Master stared at the Doctor accusingly.
"How did you know about those cursed drums?"
The Doctor shook his head, confused by his own recollections of these events. "I had a hunch, just an awkward feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if something bad was going to happen. And right before your initiation, I had that nightmare, which didn't make any sense to me." The Doctor wet his lip. His eyes went wide in as he remembered.
"Oh but it didn't make any sense at that time, but it does, it does now." He rambled, swallowing hard and staring at the Master while he pulled his hair back nervously. "I saw you. Acting all insane and screaming, standing on that garbage mount in the outskirts of London, your body flashing back and forth from skeleton mode after you came back wrong. I remember it now. I saw your future and I was terrified. That's why I went after you."
The Master turned away, disgusted and shaken to the core by the revelation that his life could taken a different turn, if only he had listened to him.
"I'm sorry that I didn't try harder to stop them." The Doctor said with genuine regret. "If I had know how it would change you, what it would do to you, I would have tried. I would have tried everything."
"Well, why the hell didn't you?" The Master snapped back, his voice trembling with anger.
The Doctor was baffled by his open hostility. "Master. This, all of this, has already happened. It has passed, water under the bridge. Please let's head back. The longer we stay here, the more you'll hurt yourself by opening those old wounds again."
"He passed right through me." The Master noted, staying deceptively calm. But underneath, he was screaming.
"Yes he did. Which means that if you want to change anything, it's likely that it wouldn't even be possible." There. The Doctor said it. The first awful thing he could think of that could happen if he didn't get the Master out of here quick enough, and it actually worried him sick that he had to mention it to him while he was still visible shaken by the whole situation.
"Is that so?" The Master finally turned to look at him. The hurt was evident in his eyes, burning like two dark flames in his wounded soul. "Then there is obviously no risk in staying a little longer."
"Please, don't do this to yourself."
"Oh come on. We're like the audience to a bloody play here, and the actors don't seem to notice us, let alone that we would be able to rewrite the damned script, if that's your major concern."
"That's not the point." The Doctor lied.
A brief, burdened silence followed.
"I want to see my initiation." The Master finally said.
The Doctor shook his head. "You don't know what you're asking."
"I want to see, Doctor. Just once, without the madness clouding my judgment. I want to know how it happened."
He didn't say another word about it, but the Doctor knew that it was his way of pleading with him. The Master needed this to put the ghosts of his past behind, and the Doctor simply couldn't refuse. Not if he wanted to appease his own guilty conscience.
"We stay for the initiation." The Doctor agreed. "But we'll leave as soon it's over." He added strictly.
"That way." Master pointed out. As they made their way and followed the procession into the initiation chamber, the Doctor glanced behind and saw his 8 year old self staying behind. Defeated, kicking pebbles with his feet and hanging his head low, he shuffled back to the dorm. He suddenly realized that his own mood wasn't that much different from that of the young boy.
Inside the Vaults of Cold Lamentation, darkness had ruled for such a long time that it had soaked deep into the thick ancient walls. A row of black marble pillars disappeared high in the darkness above, while a path lined by candles, guided the novice towards the ominous mirror, waiting for him at the end. The young Master glanced behind, visibly nervous. The elders returned a slight nod, encouraging him to move on.
The Master watched how the novice stopped in front of the large circular mirror. The seven Chapter elders were standing behind him, arranged in a triangular formation with the Prydonian elders up front.
"It is time." Spoke one of them. The front men raised their staffs high in the air, and slammed it hard on the flagstone floor. The others swiftly followed this ceremonial act. The ground beneath their feet started trembling, and distortions appeared in the center of the mirror, as if it was a liquid pool in which someone had thrown a pebble. They rippled outwards over the reflective surface and soon, the Master and his younger self could see past their own reflection and that of the chamber, and look into the open, bleeding wound of time itself.
The elders ceased, and the line of candles that flanked the path to circular mirror extinguished all at once.
Suddenly, there was nothing but darkness.
The young Master sucked in a deep breath. His hearts were racing, but he still found some courage left in him to keep standing where he was, ready to face his destiny. The old Master, who was almost as anxious as his younger self, also took in a deep breath of air, and waited for what he knew, was the inevitable.
The time vortex appeared. It started just as a tiny light, swirling in the liquid pool of darkness inside the mirror, but quickly it turned into the familiar spiral form, displaying an elegant dance of electrons and photons. It grew stronger and stronger…
The Master, who up until now, had been standing next to the Doctor at the back of the group, now slowly strolled forward towards the mirror. Like his younger self, he was mesmerized by the beautiful, frightening motion, that dazzling dream of light that beckoned him to come further and look.
"Don't go too near." The Doctor whispered.
The Master kept standing behind his younger self, the vortex first capturing his mind like a tender lover before it devoured him whole. He remembered how it felt, the first precious moments, before the drums. Such wonders he had seen. The delicate, secret workings of time, of creation itself. So much he had come to understand. Such wisdom he had received. It should have inspired him to do good. It should have ignited a new light in his hearts that would burn like a beacon of hope in dark, dark times. His whole life should have turned out differently. It should have been worthwhile…
Instead, he was cursed by the drums.
He knew that they had arrived by the change on the child's face. It was as if the sun was suddenly blocked out. Standing with his back to the others, the elders didn't notice that something was going wrong with the boy. The Master looked into the circular mirror, and saw, except for the haunted reflection of his younger self, no change in the time vortex itself.
So this is how it happened. Without a warning. Without a sound. A slow, merciless poisoning of the heart and mind. In that one small and insignificant moment, his entire life, which should have been wonderful and meaningful, was destroyed, and replaced by one of loneliness, suffering, madness and regrets.
There had been so many regrets.
An unwanted tear dripped down his chin. If only he had listened to the Doctor's warnings. If only he had not been chosen to stand in front of that cursed mirror on that one disastrous day. If only the elders, who were supposed to protect him, had intervened in time. Then none of this would have happened to him.
He wouldn't be him. He wouldn't be the Master.
He stared into the mirror, and saw his own reflection slowly appearing behind his younger self. He looked like a bitter old man, imprisoned in an immortal body that was bestowed on him like a curse. His ancient eyes burnt cold with anger and doubt.
And then it struck him.
The eyes of his younger self grew wide in shock when he caught sight of the ominous dark figure standing behind him. He could not turn to see who it was, as he was chained to the vortex by the merciless drums. The little boy could do nothing to stop their assaults. He was helpless.
Unlike the Master.
He realized that he had only one chance. One try before the Doctor would stop him, but knowing what it would mean, what difference it would make in the young boy's life, he was ready to try everything, and risk the possible consequences.
One fair chance to set things right. That was all the Master asked.
He moved as fast as lightening. His hand reached out to one of the Prydorian elder's gilded staff, and he let a sigh of relief when his fingers actually touched the metal and wrapped around it. His presumptions turned out to be right. Their presence here was suffering a delay, which meant that their corporeal forms needed more time to take their proper places in this past timeframe. That's why the young Doctor could pass right through him. That's why the elders and his younger self could not see him.
But now, the transition was almost complete, and his and the Doctor's bodies were slowly, but definitely solidifying, which meant that he could manipulate all that was around him according the natural laws.
Including the hated mirror.
"Who are you? How did you get in here?" The elder from whom he had just stolen the rod, gazed with much bafflement at the hazy figure that had suddenly materialized before him. The Master realized that he was quickly becoming visible for the others. There was no time left to waste. He turned back to the mirror and raised the staff if it was a javelin, and with it, he rushed towards the Untempered Schism.
"Master!" The Doctor yelled, realizing all too well what he was about to do.
He launched the staff at the mirror. His hands lost contact with the smoothness of the metal at the exact moment when a hot bolt of agony hit him as the mind trap was activated by the Doctor in an attempt to stop him.
The rod hit the mirror surface, and the point of impact bloomed into a white spider web of cracks, seeping blinding light into the dark room. The window into the time vortex shattered, falling apart into a thousand shimmering pieces that burst into the chamber like a cloud of stardust.
And after that…everything changed.
Next chapter will be posted August the 14th. As always, comments and reviews are most welcome!