Note: Once again, many thanks to Koscheithepianist and Edzel2 for beta-ing!
Waking up somewhere and not knowing where you are is not a good way to start your day. The Doctor hated it, and it actually happened to him quite a lot. The mornings after frivolous Friday nights on his own used to be notorious. It didn't matter which regeneration he was in, he never held his liquor very well. But there were worse things than not knowing where you are, as the Doctor experienced right now as he opened his eyes and woke up to a black sky of shattered stars. He rose up slowly, his hands sinking away in the soft sand, that itself resembled silver grains of stardust. He brushed the sand from his cheeks, looked around, and wondered where the heck he had ended up. A landscape of silver dunes stretched out before him till the far horizon. Above him, a dome of distant stars, circulating around a strange and unfamiliar sun. The thin atmosphere of the planet made the sky appear purple.
So far nothing remarkable. But then it hit him.
He couldn't remember how he got here.
Something was not quite right. Alarmed, the Doctor tried to focus on what he could remember, but it was as if someone, in his absence, had punched holes into his memories and erased parts of it at random, just for the fun of it. He could remember that he was the Doctor, and that he was a Timelord, the last of his kind. He could recall the Time war and Gallifrey, his numerous companions, all clever, faithful and wonderful, each a shining beacon in his existence that was otherwise bleak and miserable and frightening. Rose…
He could remember Rose. His hearts ached for a moment. He shook his head and pushed the painful memory of her as far inside him as possible.
Martha, Donna, Wilf….He met Wilf last Christmas. He had asked him for help. Something to do with that prophecy, revealed to him by Carmen after they had safely returned from the planet of the Tritovors. He will knock four times, she had said. It is returning. Returning through the dark.
"What? What is returning through the dark?" The Doctor muttered in frustration and clutched his head. Although there was of course the possibility that he simply couldn't recall the meaning of the prophecy because it had not happened to him yet, there was also this strange feeling of déjà vu, that told him that it wasn't so. He was missing information, suffering from some form of selective amnesia, however cliché and pathetic it may sound, and it irritated and worried the hell out of him.
"This is ridiculous." He muttered to himself, kicking the sand around. "I can't remember where I parked the Tardis. I can't even remember what I had for breakfast this morning." He started pacing around, hands waving frantically in the air. He had the God-awful feeling that he was missing something important.
"Think brains, think!" He ordered, tapping his fingers repeatedly at the side of his head. "What am I missing here? Is it a companion?" His hearts froze at the very idea. He didn't leave Wilf behind, did he? The image of Wilf standing at the door of his daughter's house in Wessex Lane came up and the Doctor breathed out a sigh of relief. No, it wasn't Wilf.
"Then could it be Donna?" He asked out-loud, but as soon as he questioned this possibility, his failing memory coughed up the image of his fiery red-head companion, being carried away from danger in a train carriage leaving a London station. No Donna was safe too. "Well then, if it isn't her. Who is it?" The Doctor yelled, getting angry with himself. "Who did you forget and why?"
It was of course, a rhetorical question, but others had heard the Doctor. They had been waiting, buried underneath the sand during the heat of the day when the sun was ruling mercilessly over the surface of the silver planet, but now that sun was setting, they stirred easily from their sleep. An eyestalk slowly rose up from the sand. Blinking twice, it zoomed in on the lonely figure marching from left to right, and studied with growing interest how the stranger vented out his frustrations up to the sky.
Somewhere, deep inside the tangled mess of wires and nerves, an alarm signal went off.
The Doctor stopped dead in his tracks. That metal voice, cold and monotonous, devoid of any human emotion, it brought a cold shiver down his spine. A metal object, dome-shaped and gilded, its metal armor glittering in the sun, rose slowly out of the sand.
"WHO ARE YOU?" It asked. No, ordered. "IDENTIFY YOURSELF!"
The Doctor stared at the Dalek with an expression of horror washing over his face. "What? What are you doing here?"
"SILENCE! WE ASK THE QUESTIONS!" The Doctor took a few steps back when two other Daleks emerged from the sand. Their eyesockets widened as they observed the Timelord.
"Oh I should have known! Dalek Caan had it wrong. There's never going to be such a thing as the end of everything Dalek." The Doctor hissed. "You guys just keep coming back like a very bad ulcer on the back of your feet."
"WHO ARE YOU? HOW DO YOU KNOW ABOUT DALEK CAAN?"
"Who am I?" The Doctor blurted. "Why, don't you know? Don't you recognize me? Tell me, how long has it been since I fought you and your creator Davros? How long ago was it that me and my brave companions burnt down your entire Armada fleet at the Medusa Cascade and destroyed your dreams of a Dalek empire?" The Doctor said, standing tall and furious.
"DO YOU RECOGNIZE THIS INFORMATION?" The superior Dalek asked the Dalek soldier next to him.
"NEGATIVE. NO DATA ON THESE EVENTS HAVE BEEN STORED INSIDE OUR COMMUNAL DATABASE."
"What? You didn't remember any of that?" The Doctor responded with real disappointment. "What about the Dalek emperor?" He tried, less certain now. "Can you remember me fighting him on satellite five? And the war between the Daleks and the Cybermen? The Genesis Ark? And you lot showing up in Manhattan turning everybody into pigslaves? Does any of that ring a bell?"
"THERE ARE NO RECORDS OF ANY OF THOSE EVENTS THAT HE DESCRIBES." The Dalek soldier reported to the others.
"Blimey, and here I was, thinking that I was making quite an impression. This seriously teaches me to be humble." The Doctor muttered, rubbing his eyes in slight embarrassment.
"CONDUCT BODY SCAN!" One of the Daleks ordered. The Doctor shielded his face when the purple beam hit him. He narrowed his eyes against the harsh light, while the laser kept scanning him from his spiky hair to the very tips of his sneakers.
"Hey! Stop that." The Doctor chuckled, and wriggled his body in weird angles. "That really tickles!"
But the Dalek soldier didn't stop till he had extracted all the necessary information from the stranger. "BODY SCAN COMPLETE." He finally stated.
"REPORT!" Ordered his superior.
"INTRUDER IS CATALOGUED AS A CARBON-BASED DEOXYTIBONUCLEIC ACID IMPRINTED LIFEFORM, RACE RECOGNIZED AND INDENTIFIED AS TIMELORD."
The Dalek superior widened his telescopic eye in alarm.
"Finally." Mumbled the Doctor, interpreting the uber-Dalek's reaction as fear. And rightfully so.
"He's right you know." He nodded. "I am a Timelord. Not just any, but the last. I am a survivor. And although my people have scarified everything but have not succeeded, and I am but on my own, mark on my word ….Just me, is enough to stop you. All of you." He said threateningly.
"YOU'RE NOT THE LAST."
"No matter how big your army is, or how stupendously large your fleet, I'll…" The Doctor halted and stared at the murderous pepper pots with raised brows. "Hang on…Excuse me…but…what?"
"YOU ARE NOT ALONE."
"Ah.. a friend said that to me once, turned out to be a total disaster. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of prophecies. I mean, it's never something nice, is it? It's never gonna be a prediction about how you'll end up living happily ever after, that sort of thing. No, it's always something nasty, the death of someone you love, or the destruction of one thing or the other." He looked worriedly at the Dalek. "You're not one of those mad, seeing into the future tin cans, are you?"
"YOUR WORDS DO NOT MAKE ANY SENSE. YOUR INFORMATION IS NOT RATIONAL."
"Ha! Is there anything rational about the Dalek mind then?" The Doctor sneered, getting impatient. "Tell me. Why am I not alone?"
"YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY TIMELORD IN EXISTENCE."
"I'm not?" The expression Doctor's face was one of incredulity. "And why would I believe you?"
"IF YOU WERE TRULY THE LAST, WE WOULD EXTERMINATE YOU IMMEDIATELY, AND THEN AT LAST, THE DALEKS WILL FINALLY RULE SUPREME!" Exclaimed the superior Dalek.
"THE DALEKS RULE SUPREME! THE DALEKS RULE SUPREME!" The other two cheered in repetition.
"Dalek logic, no way in beating that." The Doctor sighed, keeping a worried eye on their guns.
"WHAT IS HIS RANK?" The superior Dalek inquired.
"HE HAS NO RANK. THERE IS NO INFORMATION ABOUT HIM IN THE DATABASE. MUST BE A CIVILIAN." Answered the first Dalek soldier.
"HE IS OUTSIDE OF THE PROTECTION ZONE." Reported the second.
The superior Dalek turned towards the Doctor. "THEN YOU HAVE VIOLATED THE TREATY OBLIGATION OF NON-COLONIZATION IN ALL INTERGALICTIC GRAY ZONES."
"Come again…I've violated what?" The Doctor muttered, his eyes wide in astonishment.
"YOU ARE TEREFORE NO LONGER PROTECTED BY THE SAXON COVENANT AS ENTERED BETWEEN THE TIMELORD AND DALEK NATIONS." The superior Dalek continued relentlessly.
"I'm sorry, but why does the world suddenly stop making sense to me? In other words, why can't I understand a word you're saying?"
"YOU SHALL BE REMOVED FROM THE GRAY ZONE IMMEDIATELY. YOU SHALL BE EXTERMINATED."
"Ah…that last bit I did pick up." The Doctor backed away as the Daleks lined up and aimed their guns at him. They fired without a warning, and a laser blast hit the ground, only an inch away from his white sneakers. Realizing that this was not the time for more chitchat with his archenemies, the Doctor turned around and ran.
He ran over the sliver planes of shifting sand, followed on his heels by the troop of murderous Daleks flying right after him. Reaching the foot of a 12 meter high dune, the Doctor struggled to climb up, but kept slipping back as the crumbly steps disintegrated beneath his feet. The Daleks fired, and blasts of heated silver dust exploded in his face. He lost his balance and slipped all the way down on his side to the bottom of the dune where the three Daleks were waiting, their minds set on murder.
The superior Dalek moved forward, his eyepiece narrowed as he took one last look at the stranger. "EXTERMINATE HIM!"
The guns began to power up and glowed threateningly. The Doctor shielded his face with his arms and was waiting for the inevitable, when a crossfire of green lasers ambushed the Daleks.
Sparks flew around when one of the Dalek soldier's laser beam was diverted form course, and shattered the Dalek Superior's eyepiece.
"WHAT'S HAPPENING? I'VE LOST MY VISUAL INPUT!" The Dalek Superior spun around, waving his lasergun in horror and confusion.
Humanoids appeared. They had been hiding, their bodies covered underneath the capes of their desert robes at the foot of the dunes. Scarves covered their mouth and noses. They had ink-black skin and a bald scalp that shone in the starlight, and their eyes burnt bright like cateyes, two dark eclipses shimmering in amber. As soon as they appeared out of the sand they draw their swords, with blades curved like the crescent moon and so incredibly thin that they were almost translucent, and with one swift swoop the Dalek lasergun flew in the air, sliced off clean from the metal stalk with the same ease as slicing through an apple.
"EXERMINATE THEM! THEY ARE THE ENEMIES OF THE DALEKS AND MUST BE DESTROYED!" The superior Dalek ordered blindly.
The Doctor stared at the deadly chaos, and witnessed how the Dalek superior spun around in panic, firing at random and hitting very little. He saw how the humanoids surrounded the disarmed Dalek and cut with their laser swords through the metal casing, while inside the true Dalek creature screamed before it was finally stopped by a slash of the blade. The second, unharmed Dalek soldier kept firing. His laser hit a humanoid in the chest, and he dropped on his knees, his skeleton flashing as he fell. Another warrior, hit in the skull, who spun around by the impact before dropping in the sand dead. Still they kept coming. Finally, the last Dalek Dalek left standing found itself surrounded, and the group of angry aliens raised their swords and hacked down, cutting into the Dalek armor, and didn't stop when their blades reached Dalek flesh.
The Doctor saw this all happen, and was absolutely horrified.
"WHAT"S HAPPENING? REPORT! REPORT!" Shouted the superior Dalek. A humanoid warrior cut off its lasergun. Blind and unable to defend itself, it kept spinning around in panic as the humanoids closed in.
"No! Stop! Don't kill him!" The Doctor scrambled up but a hand pushed him back. A humanoid removed his scarf from his head, and gazed him right in the eyes while he pointed his sword at him.
"Who are you?" The warrior enquired, watching him carefully.
"I am the Doctor." The Doctor answered, keeping an eye at the threatening glowing edge.
The warrior studied him. "I'm Dashan from the Nomad tribe. Be careful how you answer me, but tell me the truth. Are you a friend of the Daleks?"
The Doctor stared back at humanoid. "No, I'm not." He finally said.
For a moment the humanoid warrior didn't react, but kept watching the stranger with his cateyes flashing with a mad kind of intelligence. Just when the Doctor began to expect the worse, a smile split his black face and he lowered his sword. He stuck out his large callous hand. "Then you are a friend of mine." He said and pulled the Doctor back on his feet before turning to his troops while raising his sword in the sky. "This man is a friend of the Nomads!" He proclaimed. His followers cheered and punched the air with their crescent weapons. The Doctor sighed, realizing that he was safe.
At least for now.
"Wait a minute. The Nomads. Oh I've read about you." The Doctor said, recalling his vast knowledge of his universe. "You are the inhabitants of the silver desert planet people can survive on one of the driest and most hostile planets in the whole galaxy."
"We are survivors. Rebels against the hated Dalek invasion." Dashan replied. "We've survived everything, including the destruction of our home planet by these metal devils." He stared hatefully at their Dalek prisoner.
"What are you going to do to him?" The Doctor asked.
"The same what he would do to us, if he had the chance." Dashan signaled to his men, and the Nomad soldiers pierced the armor of the Dalek superior, cutting away the metal casing. The Dalek inside screamed in horror.
"Wait! Don't! Don't kill him!" The Doctor said, equally horrified, but the men weren't listening, intoxicated by the violence and the prospect of taking revenge, they wrecked the Dalek shield and exposed the screaming Dalek inside. A pink, weak little creature with its nerve endings melted into the now useless wirings of its metal armor, looked at the Doctor with his single eye white rimmed with fear.
The Nomad rebels tore with brute force the wriggling creature out of its metal coffin, separating flesh and muscle from metal. Their victim uttered a blood-chilling scream when the enraged crowd literally tore his body into pieces.
The Doctor turned away from the savage scene, trying to shut out what was happening around him.
Afterwards, the Nomads took the mutilated Dalek corpses and pierced them on top of high poles to be paraded in front of the troop. They collected their fallen comrades from the sandplanes, and wrapped them in their desert capes. After their eyes were ceremonially closed by Dashan, they were hoisted on the backs of the men and were carried away.
"Are you coming with us Doctor?" Dashan asked. He sat on a rock facing the large bonfire that the men had made, and was polished his blade on a piece of Dalek shield. "These planes are treacherous. Filled with Dalek scorpions in hiding. You won't last another day on your own."
The Doctor fixed a firm look on the black-faced warrior and said nothing.
"You're disgusted by our ways." Dashan grinned. "I can see it on your face. Only you are too polite to say a word about it." He rose up and placed his sword back in its shaft. "I appreciate that." He glanced over his shoulders at his men, who were celebrating their bloody victory by throwing whatever was left of their Dalek enemy's armor into the bonfire.
"The Daleks have pushed our race to the brink of extinction." Dashan said. "There is nothing left of our once great civilization. The cities of Keanu, Bishua, and Mordon, once jewels of the silver dessert, have been reduced to dust. The great northern oasis, vaporized by the Dalek devils nuclear attacks. What's left of us is merely trying to survive."
"I'm sorry." The Doctor told him quietly.
"We're not monsters Doctor." Dashan replied. "Although the circumstances have forced us to act like the very beasts that we're trying to fight, I still remember the wisdom of my forefathers. And in my culture, it is very impolite to leave a friend behind." He gazed at the Doctor and smiled expectantly.
They reached the Nomad's base-camp at midnight. It was no more than a small huddle of tents, half buried underneath the shifting sands. A small group of women and children were waiting for them. As soon as they saw the men approach, they rushed towards them and welcomed them back with tears and kisses. The bodies of the four fallen comrades were taken away by their family, who mourned their passing with a quiet dignity. Dashan told the Doctor that they were going to be buried in sacred ground the following morning. The hated Dalek devils weren't that lucky. The children spat on their corpses. The women lit up a great fire in the middle of their primitive camp, and to the Doctor's disgust, they started to roast the Dalek remains above the flames like they were roasting a couple of chickens for Sunday lunch.
"Our recourses are limited. We're not wasting anything or else we'll starve." Dashan explained noticing the look on the Doctor's face. He invited his guest to sit down by the fire. "Killing the Daleks is not only a matter of taking revenge, or protecting our families. It's a way of providing for them as well." One of the women handed Dahsan a stick with a well-cooked piece of Dalek romp. A group of children had gathered around the warrior. They were all staring with anticipation at the blackened cadaver like a nest of hungry chicks. Dashan tore the meat in pieces and handed it out to children.
"You're hunting them." The Doctor remarked. "You're feeding on them like they're wild game."
"There is nothing else left to eat. One of the Dalek's most feared tactics was that of the incinerated earth. Devoid the enemy of food and water, and they would become so weak that they will surrender to you or starve. It's ironic that they end up being hunted down by the very people they try to eliminate. Some would call it justice."
"What would you call it?" Doctor asked, staring at a small boy who is nibbling the fat from the dead Dalek's skin.
"A way to survive." Dashan said sternly, and handed the Doctor a roasted Dalek tentacle.
The Doctor hurriedly shook his head.
Dashan shrugged and dug his teeth in the chewy meat.
"But you can't live like this forever. Sooner or later, this planet is going to run out of Daleks for you to eat. Or worse, they send for backup and finish what they have started. You need help."
"We have received help. Many generations ago, a hundred years perhaps before the Daleks discovered our world and invaded our planet, our ancestors received a strange extraterrestrial signal. It came from all the way across the galaxy. They were able to decipher it. To their horror they discovered that it predicted the invasion of the metal devils who would descend like a plaque upon us and trigger the destruction of our race. 100 years, later, that horrible prophecy indeed came true."
"So you were warned about the Daleks. Why didn't you prepare yourself?"
"We did. There was more information in that signal than only an ominous warning. The blueprint of a machine was hidden as a second layer in its coding, a machine that would save us from destruction. The elders called it the Pharos Receptor. In their wisdom, they had it built. It took a hundred years to construct, and was only finished the very day the Daleks came from the sky and stained the silver sand of our planet black with our blood." The Nomad paused, gazing into the fire as the sheer horror of his race's destruction took over his mind. "That first day, half of Judea's population was slaughtered, and fires roamed over the entire northern continent. The elders who built the Pharos device died in the flames, but their creation was spared and remained protected, deep underneath the earth. It has remained there ever since, protected by the last of the Nomads."
"But what does it do? How does it work?" The Doctor asked, getting captured by the story.
"No one truly knows, but it is our only salvation." Dashan said, tossing the inedible fibrous sinews that was all that was left of his Dalek dinner into the flames. Behind them, a group of Nomad children cheered playfully and kickied a Dalek skull around in a most macabre version of a football-game. The skull was entirely picked clean of any meat.
"But how would you know that it will help?"
Dashan stared at the Doctor. "Because we have faith in the wisdom of our ancestors. And," He picked up a stick and drew lines in the sand. "Because every night I check the stars. I memorize their positions. I have done this ever since I was a child." He pointed at the set of triangles. "This is how the stars were arranged only yesterday. Look at them now."
The Doctor arched back his head and stared up at the sky. He couldn't recognize any of the patterns that Dashan had drawn, which made him either very bad in drawing, or…
"But that's impossible. Judea should rotate as any other planet in the galaxy in an ecliptic course around the centre star following the simple laws of gravity. You can't just have such a large change in the night's sky in one day, unless your planet has moved out of its course."
"Exactly." Dashan said, fixing his cat-eyes on the Doctor. "And for as long as I can remember, the planet has been moving every night." He rose on his feet, wiping his hands clean on his robe.
"Come, I'll show you." He told the Doctor.
He guided him away from the base camp to a rock face that stuck out of the sandy planes like an island in the sea. A narrow crack at the base of the cliff lay half hiding between the shattered rocks, and slithered between the jagged stones that stood up on the rocky floor like rows of broken teeth. Inside, there was darkness. Dashan took his sword out and blew over the blade as tenderly as one would over a lover's skin, and the metal started to glow, providing the necessary light. He beckoned the Doctor to follow as he descended into the cave.
"Here. Look at this." He waved the glowing sword over the cave walls, revealing a map of the night's sky with all the stars arranged into geometrical patterns.
"My great grandfather made this. He was an engineer who worked for the elders during the endfase of the construction the Paros Receptor. He was the first to notice the changes in the stars. Look." Dashan pointed on a circle surrounded by two rings painted with sooth on the rocks.
"That is the planet Ganea that was once visible to the naked eye. It used to appear almost as large as our sun. And those." Dashan pointed further out, moving his glowing sword over the rocky surface. " - were our planet's moons. Demeter and Delelia. They have all disappeared."
The Doctor studied the rock paintings. "But all this would mean that your planet has moved out of your solar system." The Doctor said.
"That's what my great grandfather believed. He drew Ganea and Demeter and Delelia from his memories and recorded his observations on these walls, drawing the positions of the stars each night. By comparing them, he could calculate that our planet was moving into the direction of the great constellation of Hydra with an average speed of what he called 160 light years per solar turn. It started right after the engineers switched on the Pharos Receptor."
"But that's 1600 trillion kilometers a day!" Blurted the Doctor. "That's almost as fast as a 40th century space liner could go if you're really pushing down the peddle. A civilization would need at least 40 thousand years of relentless scientific progression and political stability before they can invent a ship that could travel that fast, let alone build a machine that could move entire planets." The Doctor fixed his eyes on Dashan, his face turning serious. "Actually, what in the devil's name is this Pharos Receptor?" He asked, wrinkling up his nose.
Dashan turned and beckoned the Doctor to follow him further into the cave.
The path that they took followed a natural course that went deeper down into the damp cavernous innards of the underground. The way cleared out into slippery stone steps, carved out of the rocks only recently, till at some point they reached a narrow bridge that was suspended above an abyss from metal cables. The metal deck was severely rusted, and when the Doctor made one wrong step, his sneaker punched a hole right through the rotten bottom.
"Careful. This bridge was built in the time of the elders. It won't hold much."
"Good to know that." The Doctor said, pulling his feet out of the big gaping hole as careful as a surgeon performing brain surgery. "Ever thought of replacing some parts before it collapses?" He added, while the bridge swept dangerously and squeaked like a frightened mouse under his weight.
Nomad ignored him, and ventured calmly over the metal bridge as if he was taking a stroll down a park. They finally reached the other end with the Doctor still swaying on his legs. They then descended a flight of equally flimsy stairs, and came in a vast space with a giant hole in the bedrock, cut out to house a silo with in the middle a huge antenna with coils winding around it. Cracks of electric charges slivered upwards to the tip.
"Oh that's HUGE!" The Doctor said, peering over the railing and staring down. "It goes on forever, upward and downwards. Hang on." He took out his sonic. As soon as he switched it on, it reacted with the static in the surrounding air, and gave off angry blue sparks.
"The amount of energy that is running through it is enough to blow this planet a dozen times out of the sky." The Doctor said, studying the read outs on the sonic with growing amazement.
"My grandfather told me that it drains all the energy that it needs directly from the heated heart of the planet."
"Of course, if you want to move a planet, sending it out to fly across the universe on a decent speed, you'll need a huge amount of sustainable energy, and tapping into the internal thermal heat of the planet's core would be the best solution. But how does it exactly work?" The Doctor mumbled, putting his glasses on and checking the dusty panels.
"Doctor, you better not touch that. The Pharos Receptor has been activated since the invasion of the Daleks, but the knowledge how to operate it has died with my grandparent's generation. To be honest, I don't believe that even they would have fully understood the workings of this great alien machine."
"That's not strange, is it? The Nomad elders were clever enough to build this thing from a blueprint, but someone else has designed this. Someone who is beyond clever." The Doctor's slender fingers flew over the taps of the keyboard, typing happily away through the thick layer of cobwebs till a blue screen switched on, fully illuminating the cavernous space for the first time since a hundred years. Numbers started flowing over the screen, telling the Doctor all he needed to know about the workings of the machine.
"Oh this is unbelievable." The Doctor exclaimed, and turned back to Dashan. "I can't believe it! This thing is a wonder, an engineering marvel! Who ever designed this thing was a bloody genius." The Doctor punched in a key and the screen blew out into a 3D projection, showing the silver planet and it's sun Collista.
"You know, when you told me about the shifting stars and how the neighboring planets have disappeared out of sight, one thing kept bugging me. Why did the sun not vanish too?" The Doctor asked, gazing at the projection while he kept typing away on the keyboard.
"The elders have asked the same question. None of them knew the answer." Dashan replied.
"Oh but I know the answer!" The Doctor exclaimed, suddenly jumping on his feet like an excited schoolboy. "The Pharos receptor works like a gigantic magnet. It pulls not only the planet, but also the sun forward. It's only logical really, if you want to move the planet and keep its inhabitants alive, you either move them very quickly or, move them together with the sun to prevent whatever sun-based biosystem that they got from collapsing. But that's of course not the answer to the really important question. The really important question is not the why, and the how, but where. If we're moving, then where exactly are we heading?"
"The prophecy spoke of a sanctuary where we will be protected by the very architects of the great machine from the destructive forces of the Daleks." Dashan answered.
"Right, an asylum, I can work with that. Now imagine that somewhere, far-far away form here, all the way at the other end of the universe, there is this beacon, a shining light that beams out this signal of hope into the vastness of space. And imagine that we're here at the other side. How do we get from here to there?"
"We travel at the speed of light." Dashan answered after a short moment of consideration.
"Right! And we follow the signal, back to base." The Doctor nodded. "Like a ship lost at sea, heading for the safely of the harbor lights." The Doctor added, a broad smile dawning on his face. "Your elders choose the right name for this great machine Dashan. It truly is a receptor, and as with each receptor, it must have a ligand to which it is attracted." The Doctor highlighted a coordinate on the 3D projection. "There it is, your guiding light in the hour of darkness, located in the heart of the Agora cloud, the birthplace of stars."
"But who are these wise and noble men Doctor? Who has provided us with the blue print of the Pharos receptor and have sent out the signal?"
"I…I don't know." The Doctor removed his glasses. "I really don't." He stared at the flashing red light in the middle of the scattered cloud of glowing pinpricks with a look of melancholy in his eyes. "Some even say that this cloud of starlight might be the cradle of creation itself, the very centre of the universe where the big bang has originated."
"Is it safe?" Dashan asked.
"Oh, yes. Relatively. At least it's not any denser in black holes and supernovas as the average spot in the universe, and as for the view, you cannot wish for a better location, I promise, your night's sky is going to lit up like Oxford street at Christmas time."
"And that's a good thing?" Asked Dashan, most confused.
"Well if you happened to like a bright cheery sky at midnight. Yeah it is. It's a bummer if you want to sleep with that lightshow going on. Still, nothing a pair of good dark curtains wouldn't fix."
"How long does it take before we get there?"
"Let me see, um, stuck with the current speed we're currently travelling at, we'll be reaching the Agora cloud anywhere near to 187623 days, which is in your solar years, judging by the distance from your planet to the sun, in around 445 years time."
"Another 445 years? But we won't last that long!" The Nomad answered with sheer disappointment sounding through his voice.
"well I mentioned before that you would be soon running low on Daleks."
"Not only that. We've been surviving on recycled water for the last decade. Even the corpses of our dead family members are dehydrated before they are buried to save precious water. Still, the supply is dwindling fast. We can't survive like this for another 100 years, let alone 400."
"That's why it's a good thing that you've bumped into me. I can help." The Doctor said quietly.
"How can you help? The only thing that could save us now is if we would arrive at least 300 years earlier at our destination."
"Exactly." The Doctor said, and whizzed his sonic over the screen.
"But we're already travelling as fast as we can. The machine has not been switched off since it was first activated. We can't go any faster."
"Oh but we can. You see, you're giving the guy who created this little marvel far to little credit. He knew that not every planet would be lying just around the corner of the Agora Nebula. So he designed his creation in such a way that it could travel great distances without breaking into a sweat." The Doctor pointed down into the dark abyss below in which the base of the Receptor was located. "Down there are five time warp engines. It's all here in the blueprint. Activate those, and we'll be off like a photon shot out of a lasergun."
"But if it's there, if it's built, why didn't they turn it on?"
"Probably didn't have the time." The Doctor opted. "Some of the wirings are still unfinished. Mind you, it's not something a bit of tinkering and a quick mind couldn't have fixed. Still, if you only got seconds before the Daleks arrive, the first of your ancestor's concerns might not have been to get the finishing touches done on some strange machine that they didn't fully understand."
The Doctor slipped the sonic back in his pockets and started feeding in numbers into the program.
"But how is that gonna help? There's no one left alive who knows how to operate it. Unless…" Dashan stared at the Doctor who kept him himself busy like an hyperactive bee on a honey rush.
"You have me and that's enough. You should thank your ancestors for so accurately following the blueprint to the last letter. They might not know what it was what they have built, but at least it's there, down there in the cellar and waiting. Waiting for someone like me to juggle with the switches to finally, with one push of a button-" The Doctor smiled dorkishly and punched in a red key in the corner of the dashboard. "- bring it back to life!"
A massive boom followed, coming from beneath and echoing over the vast silo, rattling its delicate construction to the core. The Doctor stared at Dashan, eyes wide and still smiling. The Nomad simply thought the stranger had lost his mind.
"Better to get out of here before the rust that keeps the staircase and the bridge together starts to disintegrate!" The Doctor yelled, straining his voice to rise above the explosions.
"What about the machine?" Dashan asked, dodging a hail of rocks that started to fall down from the instable cave ceiling.
"Oh leave it. It will survive. It's doing exactly what is it designed to do." The Doctor pulled his friend by the arm and dragged him to the staircase.
The narrow tunnel was caving in. They crossed the metal bridge just in time before a whole section of the ceiling came down, crushed the deck and took it down into the abyss in a tangle of cables and rust. The Doctor and Dashan kept running for their lives until finally a bright light appeared in front of them that marked the entrance of the cave. They both dived out of the narrow crack, rolling over the soft silver sand as they landed, while the entrance collapsed behind them with a loud, thunderous noise.
The Doctor rolled on his back. Still gasping for air, he looked up at the sky.
What he saw made his eyes large in wonder.
The sky was illuminated with stars that passed by so fast that they draw lines of light, like endless bursts of horizontal rain. Within a blink of an eye, entire galaxies, in all different sizes and shapes, rushed by like a series of restless cloud formations during a storm. The atmosphere crackled with energy, and flashes of lightening split the air.
"What's going on? Why does the sky look like this?" Dashan asked with panic rising in his voice.
"It's the Pharos Receptor. It's finally working as it should. We are travelling to the birthplace of the stars, literally flying across the universe, at time-warp speed." The Doctor mused, still gazing at the spectacular sight with the starlight glistening in his eyes. "Ha! Look at that! An entire planet, moved across the universe by bending both space and time around it, protecting it, till it's delivered safely at the doorstep of the Agora Nebula. It's hard to imagine, and still, it's happening right now."
"How long before we reach our destination. Doctor?" Dashan asked after a short silence.
"An hour. Two hours max." The Doctor fixed him a serious look.
"I better head back to the others and tell them." Dashan said.
The Doctor nodded. "You should prepare."
At three in the morning, the rays of a new, more dazzling sun greeted the Nomads. Their own sun was apparently left behind after the time-warp was initiated, but no one mourned its loss. They were too occupied with dealing with the strange new universe in front of them to dwell on the past. The entire tribe was awake, staring at the sky with a mixture of wonder and fear, as they saw how the new sun paled out the stars. Judging by the speed that it was growing, they had slowed down considerably, travelling almost at the same pace before the Doctor had activated the time-warp engines. This meant that they were nearing their destination, and they were inching closer to the endpoint at docking speed.
The Doctor squinted his eyes against the sunlight, shielding them with his hand. Slowly, he saw planets appearing in the sky. Small, large, blue, red, black or yellow, made out of gas, water, ice, fire or rock, there were at least a thousand of them, all orbiting in close proximity of each other, clouding around a single sun.
"Where are we?" One of the rebel Nomads asked as he took in the marvelous sight that slowly unfolded before his very eyes.
"We're at the sanctuary." The Doctor replied. "The haven that is promised to you." The sky flashed from purple to white a dozen times as they passed by other planets, some of them getting so close that it occupied one third of the sky, sending the women and children and some of the less brave Nomad men running back to their tents in fright.
A harsh wind swept up when the close encounter with the other planets wrecked havoc on Judea's otherwise stable weather system. Those who stayed outside were sandblasted and the Doctor felt the vicious sting of the dessert slap across his face. At first, he thought his eyes were deceiving him, creating shapes out of the wind and sand that weren't really there. But then the shapes moved closer, and their armor caught the sunlight in the hazy dust, while their unmistakable pepper pot shapes draw long shadows over the plane.
"Daleks! They've found us!" The Doctor yelled.
"Get back to basecamp and arm yourself!" Dashan ordered his men.
The Dalek troops began to attack, firing at the settlement, causing explosions and starting fires. The women screamed, and ran out of the burning tents with their children in their arms. Nomad rebels rushed out, armed with their crescent swords, ready to defend their kin to the death. The Daleks fired again, killing dozens of them during their charge.
"Stop this!" The Doctor confronted the Daleks. "Stop this massacre!"
"WE WILL NOT STOP TILL ALL ARE EXTERMINATED!" The front Dalek ordered. "FINISH THE TIMELORD."
The Doctor backed down when two Dalek soldier's fixed their eyepieces on him and lined their guns in his direction.
"Why are you still doing this? Have you looked up at the sky? There is an entire new universe out there. A place especially created to protect innocent people from mad space dustbins like you lot. Shouldn't you be packing up your stuff and leave instead of trying to incriminate yourself further by slaughtering the last inhabitants of this planet?" The Doctor spat, more furious than afraid.
"WE ARE NOT AFRAID OF YOUR KIND. WE WILL EXTERMINATE ALL THE ENEMIES OF THE DALEKS. THE DALEKS SHALL BE VICTORIOUS!" Answered one of them.
"THE DALEKS SHALL BE VICTORIOUS!" Echoed the others till it became a mad monotonous mantra.
"AND NOW, I SHALL TAKE GREAT PRIDE IN KILLING YOU. TIMELORD." The Dalek soldier said, and fired his gun.
"Doctor!" Dashan screamed, cutting his way through an army of Daleks, he came rushing over to his aid, but was too far away to stop the Dalek soldier in time.
The Doctor shut his eyes, but instead of the piercing pain that he had expected, something exploded close to his right ear and shattered his eardrum. For a moment he heard nothing but a loud ring. He struggled back up. Hot blood trickled into his right eye and blurred his vision, but he could still clearly see a group of human figures appearing through the sandstorm that was ravaging the planet. Their steel shoulder armor and helmet flashed dangerously in the sunlight, and their eyes burnt behind their red visors like two lumps of amber. They raised their laserguns and fired, a flash like lightening shot out and paralyzed the two Daleks that kept him under shot. The Daleks machinery shivered and rattled inside the armor plates like an old lawnmower, before breaking down completely, rendering the tank-like life-support system that sustained the Dalek warrior inside, useless.
"Are you all right sir?" The soldier who had just saved his skin asked, lifting the visor from his face.
The Doctor said nothing. He was lost for words.
"Stay where you are. We have the situation fully under control." The soldier said. "You're in the Lord Chancellor's territory now. You'll be safe." He lowered his visor again and went back into battle, leaving a stunned Doctor behind.
"Doctor? Are you all right?" Dashan asked, giving him a hand and pulling him up from the ground.
"No. I mean. Yes. Yes I am." He mumbled, still shaken to the core.
"They look like you. Do you know them?"
"Yes I do." The Doctor whispered.
"Who are they?"
"They're Timelords. Like me."
He kept staring at the soldiers while they were battling the Daleks as if each and single one them had just risen from the sands of time to return to him from their graves.
After the last Dalek soldiers were disarmed and taken prisoner, the surviving Nomads were rounded up at the camp, and after a quick headcount, they were escorted by the armed Timelord soldiers to their ship. It was little more than a space cruiser, obviously designed to fit no more than two people inside, but as the cabin door opened, they found a spacious hangar that was large enough to house a dozen of spitfire spacecrafts with room left to spare for both the asylum seekers, the Dalek prisoners, and the returning troops. If the Doctor had his reservation about the descent of these soldiers, he could doubt no more. The space cruiser was created with Timelord technology, and these soldiers were truly Timelords. While the Nomads marveled at the impossible size, the Doctor finally found an opportunity to speak to one of them.
"So, where are we heading then?" He asked, as casual as possible, but his both his hearts were rattling like mad.
"We're bringing you to the quarantine ward." The soldier informed him in a polite but stern manner. "It's standard protocol sir. The Agora safety zone is densely populated. We don't want an outbreak of diseases that we cannot control. You and the leader of the tribe, the Nomad called Dashan, will be escorted to our Lord Chancellor after going through an accelerated quarantine procedure. Everybody else has to stay in the ward for a month before further naturalization."
The accelerated quarantine procedure turned out to be a series of showers with malodorous disinfectants that stung in various degrees and left the Doctor feeling like a washed out piece of dry cloth, smelling of insect spray and cheap dishwashing liquids.
The only comfort to him was that he wouldn't be alone in meeting the man who had saved his life in a wrinkled, smelly suit. Dashan didn't look or smelled any better than he did after he had gone through the same.
The soldiers transferred them to another ship that left the quarantine ward, a small stony planet orbiting on the rim of the supersized solar system, and headed towards the sun.
"Eh, sir. Where are we exactly heading?" Dashan asked, a little nervous, as it seemed that they were set for a head-on collision course with the scorching yellow surface of the burning star.
"The Crystal Palace sir. Now please sit back and relax, we will arrive within minutes." The Timelord soldier informed him, and went back to staring ahead of him with a stern look on his face while he kept his riffle resting by his side.
"What kind of mad world is this? If we're getting too close, this ship is going to burn." Whispered Dashan.
The Doctor, who had been wondering for a while now why the star in the middle of this refugee solarsystem appeared to be far less bright when you came closer, peered through the special UV and gamma rays protection windows next to his passenger's seat. "Oh I wouldn't worry, the Timelords should know what they're doing. Besides, our soldier friend here is right, there is absolutely no reason to panic. Nothing is going to happen to this ship, because, if you look really carefully into the sun….There, right there in its heart." He pointed it out for him. "Is your shining beacon that has saved your people's lives."
Dashan followed his gaze and saw what the Doctor had noticed, a vast colony of steel and glass, built on a small rocky planet the size of a large meteoroid, with two tower-like structures sticking out of the largest building, while the whole construction itself sat comfortably in the core of the brightly burning sun. The tallest of the two towers was built like a lighthouse, and massive currents of electricity spiraled up into the top and combusted into a bright blue light every 2 seconds or so.
"The Pharos beacon and a whole colony hiding inside an artificial sun. Another impossibility that appears to be possible." The Doctor mumbled. "Oh this is getting more interesting by the minute." He said excitedly, rubbing in his hands. "I'm really looking forward to get to know who runs this place."
As they approached, the Doctor couldn't stop himself from constantly peering out with his nose pressed flat on the pane. He quickly found out why the colony inside the sun was not destroyed. The answer was simple really. It wasn't a real sun. It was a projection that originated from the tip of the crystal tower structure, which delivered a vast amount of cold energy that was pressed into the shape of averaged size star. The resulting synthetic sun burnt and warmed the orbiting planets, just like a real one would. However inside, it was a hollow sphere, with a shell of yellow energy that crackled with disturbances in magnetism when the spaceship passed through. The tiny spaceship docked at one of the ramps close to the centre building, and the guests were escorted into the vast complex.
The corridor leading to the centre building was like a cathedral of glass, providing spectacular views of the solar flares that rippled the surface of the fake sun. It was as if they were inside a gigantic glowing orange, staring at the burning peel from the core. The whole idea was crazy and marvelous at the same time, and it fired the Doctor's excitement in finally meeting their brilliant host.
They reached the dome-shaped centre, which was also constructed of glass, but the walls were covered by large ornamented slates of marble and were supported by massive white columns. The whole design reminded the Doctor of the senate in ancient Rome, or the reception room of Mussolini in fascist Italy. The walls were lined with statues, most of them he could recognize as great men and women out of Timelord history, while some of the stony faces failed to ring a bell. In the middle of the huge chamber was a throne like seat, flanked by two vicious looking azurite lions. A man, dressed in a Roman style toga awaited them. He was seated on the platform with his hand resting on the manes of one of the large stone predators.
The Doctor's breath stuck in his throat. He remembered that man. He remembered holding him in his arms and weeping over his death. He remembered setting fire to his funeral pyre and watching his remains turn to ash. The Master should be dead, but here he was. Just like all the others. He had returned to him. Like a phoenix, he had risen from the ashes.
And suddenly, the Doctor was terrified.
"As the Lord Chancellor of the Agora safety zone, I welcome you both." The Master said to them, spreading his arms while remaining seated, he studied the Nomad chief for a moment before he fixed his eyes on the Doctor. He knows, the Doctor thought. He has recognized me the moment I walked in here. Why is he alive? And how on Pyronian's name did he become Lord Chancellor of an intergalactic refugee protection zone?
Dashan bowed his head deeply. "My kin and I are most grateful to you. You have saved us from the Dalek invaders."
The Master smiled, a politician smile with as much sincerity as a polecat grinning at a songbird, as far as the Doctor was concerned. He remembered Harold Saxon far too well. "Oh you don't need to thank me. It is the plight of the Timelords to protect the less advanced civilizations from the black Dalek curse. You and your kin are welcome to become citizen of the Agorian community, and your home planet will be given a rightful place in our solar system. We will accept you as our own."
If he knows it's me, why does he keep pretending? Why keep up this act of friendliness? What is he up to? The Doctor's mind rambled, studying the Master's every move with suspicion.
"Thank you my Lord! We're forever in your dept for your kindness and your generosity."
"And I vow to you that I will grant you our protection and help." The Master answered, keeping his sterile smile up. "All that I ask for in exchange, is your people's knowledge."
Dashan blinked his eyes in amazement. "Knowledge, sir?"
The Master's smile widened, and stroked the manes of the stone lion absentmindedly. "It's a proposal that you must agree to. Every race that has entered the Agorian zone has shared with us their science on the fields of informatics, engineering, and mathematics, to aid in the good common cause to fight the Dalek empire. You see, without new knowledge, our engineers cannot improve the weapons that we have to keep the Daleks at bay. We do not tolerate any race that comes to the safety zone empty handed." He added in a serious, businesslike tone. "So if you and your people want to stay, you have to give me something in return."
"I'm afraid the Nomads are not a technologically advanced race, my Lord." Dashan explained, nervously. "Although our civilization has its own remarkable achievement at its highdays, it's nothing compared to what I've seen so far from your civilization. It absolutely pales in comparison."
"Oh, but anything you have may be enough." The Master continued, sensing the man's dread, but acting very little on it. "Just show us what your achievements are, and we will judge if your people are worthy of our protection, or not."
"Oh this is nonsense!" The Doctor exclaimed, finally unable to hold it in any longer. "These people are refugees, they have endured enough from the Daleks already. Now they are knocking at your door for help and all you can think of is to pick them clean like some rapturous vulture! Honestly, from all the things I've seen from you, this must be lowest thing you've ever done Master!" The Doctor fumed.
A deadly silence followed that was only breached by a Timelord guard who had dropped his javelin in shock.
The Master kept his eyes on the Doctor, narrowing them dangerously and pouting his lips in dismay.
"Doctor, you shouldn't have spoken like that. The future of the Nomads does rest in my hands. I cannot afford to jeopardize it." Dashan whispered worriedly.
The Master beckoned one of the guards and whispered something to him before he dismissed him. He then turned back to the visitors.
"And you shouldn't be grovelling at his feet." The Doctor replied, determinedly. "I know this man. I tell you. It won't help a bit."
"Lord Chancellor." Dashan said, hurriedly. "Please, forgive my friend. Although he has only spoken from the heart and wanted to help, he does not represent my people. I represent my people. And I offer you my hand in agreement of your proposal. The Nomads shall surrender all their knowledge to you for your examination."
"Well, then I shall extend my hand in acceptance and offer you and your people peace." The Master answered, switching his polite 100 watt smile back on. He rose from his chair and walked down a few steps of the platform before offering the Nomad chief his hand.
"I trust that I can expect from the Nomads that they'll behave within the protection zone according to the rules determined by the Timelord government." The Master added.
Dashan went down on his knees, took the Master's hand and kissed his seal ring. "We will obey your rules and serve you my Lord. You have my word."
"Excellent." The Master turned and ordered one of the Timelord counselors who had been waiting behind the throne to approach. "This is Lord Valkony. He's in charge of all of the scientific investigations conducted on newly arrived refugees. He will guide you through the rest of the procedure. Valkony."
"Yes milord." The older Timelord bowed to his superior before turning to the Nomad. "Sir Dashan. Now if you could follow me to the archive chambers, we have a lot to discuss."
Dashan bowed deeply before he was escorted out by the Timelord counselor and the guards. The Doctor was about to follow him when two other guards appeared out of nowhere and blocked his way to the doors.
"What is this?" The Doctor turned around. The Master was still standing on the platform, arms crossed over his chest, he made a slight gesture with his head, and the two guards picked up the Doctor under the arms till his tips of his sneakers no longer touched the ground.
"Hey! Let go of me! Gosh that tickles!"
He was dragged in front of the Master, who gazed down at him with an amused look in his eyes.
"That's no way to treat a guest." The Doctor remarked dryly.
The Master's lips curled at the corners, displaying a ghost of a smile. He snapped his finger and the two guards dropped the Doctor like a sack of heavy potatoes. The Doctor straightened his collar and gazed into the Master's eyes. If he wanted to get back on him, if he wanted to take his revenge for all that he had done to him, for all that they had done to each other, this would be the time, but he shouldn't expect him to yield.
"Doctor." The Master spoke his name without malice, if anything his voice carried a hint of apprehension, and curiosity.
"Master." The Doctor replied, keeping his chin up. Whatever he had in mind this time, he knew he would be able to stop him. He always did. He had half-expected to get hurt by now. Although occasionally charming and maddeningly polite at times, the Master was keen on brutalities, especially if there were people around who could do the dirty work for him. Last time he messed with his affairs, he was bruised and battered the minute he made himself visible on board of the Valliant. He was preparing himself to at least to get a punch from one of the guards, when instead, completely by surprise, the Master went over and draped his arms around his shoulders, hugging him so tightly that for a moment, he couldn't even breathe.
"I knew it!" The Master said, bursting with joy. "I thought it was you the minute you walked through that door, but I wasn't sure till you opened your mouth and started to talk. Oh, the righteous, merciful Doctor! My dear, dear friend! I have not seen you in 900 years and for countless regenerations, and still you have changed so little." The Master beamed a wide smile at him, a kind, honest smile that could cheer up the Doctor's soul on a lonely winter's day.
But for now, the Doctor, except for awkwardness, could only feel the beginning of a headache coming on as confusion continued to slap him silly.
"What do you mean? 900 years?" In the Doctor's recollection, the last time they bumped into each other was in 2007, with the Master being far less friendly to him as the mad prime minister Harold Saxon.
"You don't recognize me?" The Master asked, looking at the Doctor with furrowed brows. "It's me, Koschei! You must remember me though, you called me Master."
He shook his head in disappointment and sat down on the marble steps. He seemed really upset by the lack of a reaction from the Doctor's side.
"Right then." The Master clapped in his hands. "Memory lane! Remember graduation-day at the Academy? You were supposed to wait for me till my graduation ceremony was over, but you took off in the Tardis that we had found together in the Graveyard fields. You didn't leave a word about where you were going. Didn't even have the decency to say goodbye to any of us. Your mother, the poor woman, she cried endlessly when she found out. And as for myself…to be honest, I thought I was going mad without you."
"Did you." The Doctor muttered. Remembering his, much worse, version of the story, and feeling very guilty indeed.
"We really thought you were dead." The Master said, a faint smile of genuine relief playing on his lips. He seemed so different from the man he was before. If he didn't knew any better, the Doctor would even say that he reminded him of an adult version of the wonderful eight year old friend that he had lost, so very long ago.
"Doctor, What has happened to you?" The Master asked.
The Doctor wanted to cease this crazy conversation. He wanted to scream at the weird version of the Master that he should stop being so nice to him. He was convinced that it couldn't be real, and he surely was just dreaming all this stuff up. He would wake up in the Tardis, in his own bed, alone in the dark with the bitter lingering taste of alcohol in his mouth, and cry his eyes out because he had lost him and everybody else all over again.
"I really, really don't know." He told him instead, and it was all painfully true.
Next chapter will be up next week 21th of August. Meanwhile, please review and comment if the story pleases you. Your reviews keep my writing.