Note: Once again, big thanks to Koscheithepianist for beta-reading the chapter.
It was the Master's idea of showing the Doctor his hospitality by assigning him living quarters within the palace complex. This was an exceptional honor according to the Vinvocci servant who showed him to his apartment, since the Lord Chancellor would hardly invited any guests to stay. Oh the place was nice enough. There was a tele-hologram with at least a thousand channels, a large comfy bed, a minibar stuffed with all types of exotic snacks, and a great solar panel that acted as wall-sized window that granted the Doctor an amazing view over the remarkable colony jammed with refugee planets. Before he left, the Vinvocci kindly reminded him that the Master had invited him for diner and that he really shouldn't be late. The Doctor decided to freshen up before the meal. He had sand coming out of his ears and stuffed in every imaginable fold of his clothes, which was starting to get rather irritating. After he took a long hot bath, shaved, brushed his teeth, and had spend a good quarter of an hour pulling silly faces at himself, he stood in front of a mirror in his ridiculously large bathroom the size of someone's living-room, and stared silently at his reflection.
"I know. I know it's hard." He muttered. "You saw him standing there, alive, relatively kind-mannered, and quite possibly even sane, and you think maybe…maybe it's better this way." The Doctor paused. "But you'll only be kidding yourself if you believe that." He told the man in the mirror.
"Something is horrible wrong here, and you should find out what it is that has caused this. No more excuses. The longer this pantomime goes on, the more difficult it would be to get things back as they were. Just…be brave." He nodded, and ran his fingers through his wet hair for the last time before switching off the lights and going out.
He was expected in the banquet hall at the 243rd floor of the crystal tower. The elevator doors slid open with a polite little ring, and revealed an impressive room with a six storey high domed ceiling. The colored glass tiles in the dome, depicting various star signs taken from the mythology of at least a dozen different cultures, captured the starlight and threw wonderful reflections on the marble floor beneath. In the middle of the large hall, a table for three was set up. There, the Master was impatiently waiting for the Doctor. By his side stood a beautiful young lady dressed in a purple silk robe.
"Doctor!" The Master exclaimed and took him again in his arms. The Doctor was still adjusting to the fact that the Master could be capable of warm human contact, and stood as still and stiff as a pole in the mud, but his unease was hardly noticed. "This." The Master continued cheerfully. "Is my most enchanting wife Anne Bullen, who I love with whole my heart."
He gave her such an adoring sweet look that the Doctor actually felt a severe case of toothache coming up. "Nice to meet you." He said. His friendly smile was a little forced when he felt a strange knot tightening in his stomach. "I'm the Doctor."
"It's wonderful to finally meet you, Doctor." The raven-haired woman answered, pouting a little smile at him. She had the most dazzling green eyes he had ever seen. "My husband has told me so many stories about you. The adventures you had when you both were boys. You amaze me, sir."
They took seat at the table where they were served sparkling white wine in long crystal flutes. The taste of the wine was amazing, like liquid drops of spring sunshine gliding down the Doctor's throat. It was accompanied by canopies of smoked green tuna served with a mouse of moonfish caviar. The Master always had an expensive taste, but it seemed that he now finally had the time and the peace of mind to fully indulge in it.
"Now Doctor." The Master said, leaning forward expectantly. "Tell me."
"Tell you what?" The Doctor asked with his mouth stuffed with nibbles.
"Everything of course! I want to know everything. What the hell have you been up to all this time? I had always believed that since you've never thought of coming back to Gallifrey, you must have had an amazing life out there."
"Well, maybe I wouldn't say it was amazing, it was interesting, I suppose." The Doctor told him, quickly swallowing the food, and flushing it away with a good swig of fine wine. Heaven's knows he needed a few drinks to face this new version of the Master. "I ran into a couple of hostile aliens, and there were quite a few times that I barely made it out of a tricky situation alive, and I visited a lot of places, all across history, and seen many things, met so many amazing people, and had so many, wonderful friends…"
The Doctor stopped for a moment as he contemplated.
"You know, you're right." He said softly. "I had an amazing life after I left Gallifrey, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world." He finished his sparkling wine in one gulp and then started to tell the Master and Anne about all the remarkable things he had done. He was careful not to give away too much detail, unsure as he was about which of his experiences were still in line with the Master's version of history, but he thought that there could be no harm in telling his dear friend about Earth, and the very people that had stolen his heart. That small blue planet, which had offered him, in a sense, a refuse, in a time when there was no home for him to return to. And as the evening went on, and the wine flowed freely during dinner, the Doctor slowly opened up and told the Master about all the wonderful companions he had gained and lost over the years. Sweet Susan, and bright-shining Sarah Jane, fearless Ace and beautiful Romana. Brave Martha, who had wanted more than he could have given her. Noble Donna, the most important person in the world, who had saved the universe, but whose life he couldn't save. And finally…Rose.
He told him about Rose.
His hearts broke all over again.
At the end of the evening, most of the wine bottles were emptied out, and the Doctor was lying face down on the table cloth, his head felt like it had invited in a thousand rhinos for a stampede, and although he had the slight notion that he had made a complete dick of himself, he couldn't help to feel a million times more relieved in hearts.
"You know, you really should stop drinking." The Master mused, calmly examining his drink and tactfully moving the half-filled wine-glass away from the Doctor.
"Where is Anne?" The Doctor asked, raising his head and looking dazed. He had an imprint of his napkin on his cheek.
"She went to bed half an hour ago. You might have missed it. You were snoring like a horde of Judoons, but she did excuse herself."
"Blimey, I'm really sorry, I must look like an ill-mannered dork." The Doctor said, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
"It's good, isn't it, to pour your hearts out once in a while?" The Master smiled, while tapping his wedding ring on his wineglass. "It clears the head like a good night's sleep. Helps you to deal with your troubles and allows you to move on."
"Now that I've cleared mine. How about yours?" The Doctor stared at him with drooping eyelids. "Does the great Lord Chancellor of the Agora territories, who has all the power, and riches and respect he could ever desire, and a beautiful, loving wife to the boot, still have a troubled mind?"
The Master didn't answer him, but kept staring at the dark honey-colored liquid swirling inside his wineglass.
"Master, I've told you what was important in my life. Now it's your turn."
"Nothing remarkable happened to me that wasn't already arranged to happen." The Master finally said. "After you left Gallifrey, I went into apprenticeship in the house of Lords. You remember how much my father wanted that? I climbed the political ladder faster than a snow lynx shooting up the mountain cliffs." He grinned joylessly. "Daddy's golden boy they called me. As if I didn't have to fight for every inch to get up there with the rest of the high and mighty council." He snorted.
"Oh but look at what you have achieved. People were just jealous." The Doctor remarked, leaning his chin on his palm as he listened.
"I worked harder than any of those self-satisfied, dusty office clerks. I became appointed ambassador at 57 and received a seat in the Lord council, the youngest Timelord in history to rise so early to such a respectable station. It was all that my father had ever wanted for me. In his eyes, I had fulfilled my destiny." The Master said, curling his lips a little, and emptying his glass in one swig.
"But then, along came the war." He muttered, with a sudden bitterness in his voice.
He slammed the glass on the table and gazed back at Doctor.
"The horrible Timewar."
The Master got up, grabbing the opened bottle of Bordassus Brut 45996 out of the icebucket and left the table.
"Oh come on now. You must have heard of it, even if you've been living like a hermit under a rock for all this time." He told the Doctor.
"What happened to you?" The Doctor asked quietly.
The Master beckoned the Doctor to follow him.
He took the Doctor to a smaller chamber where the walls were decorated with numerous portraits. Some of them showed familiar faces out of Timelord history, mostly important members of the Lord council. It surprised the Doctor to see that the most prominent spot on the walls was taken by a detailed portrait of the Lord president Rassilon. When he saw it, a strange feeling of unease crept over the Doctor's spine. He didn't understand why, but the idea that the Master, in his adoration, had actually choosing to showcase Rassilon's portrait as a focal point, like Wilf might place a picture of the Queen on a bit of lace on top of the telly, particularly made his stomach turn.
The other portraits showed the 14 faces of the man he had fought and cherished as his best enemy and friend.
"Oh look at that." The Doctor went over to the portrait showing one of the more familiar regenerations of the Master, complete with dark beard and mustache, looking calm and dignified in the high council ceremonial robe, "I remember you like that. I always thought it was quite remarkable that you could keep that little mustache of yours in such a good shape." The Doctor rambled cheerfully.
"What do you mean?" The Master said, raising his eyebrows at him. "You never saw me in that regeneration. We've never met." He said, taking a good swig out of the bottle.
"Ah." The Doctor bit on his tongue, maybe he had indeed too much wine. "I mean I like the mustache. I've never tried to grow one myself though. Well, I had a beard made of Sontarian bees once, but that was more something of an accident, and it itched like crazy."
"Right." The Master studied the Doctor's reddening face. It seemed only good manners to ignore that last bit about the bees.
"That's me indeed, in my 13th regeneration." The Master told him. "I was sent out to fight the Dalek emperor's fleet. Ever since the Timewar started during my 4th regeneration, I've gradually abandoned my diplomatic duties and have led our armies to war against the Dalek abominations. By the time I reached my 13th life, I was field marshal of the Gallifreyian army and was considered by the Lord council to be the perfect military conductor to ensure their victory over the Daleks. I thought so the same of course, but then, the unimaginable happened, and we started to lose. Our fleet was ambushed near nebula 1002, with our squadron damaged and outnumbered, I requested an immediate retreat, but was ordered by the council and our lord president to hold on to our posts and keep them back. The Daleks eventually took over my flagship, My officers, the bravest men I've ever had the honor to serve with, fought at my side until the very last man."
He paused. His expression grew dark.
"I remembered that moment when the Daleks rounded us up for execution. I knew that I had fulfilled my duty and that I should be proud, but all that I could think of when those soulless little eyepieces focused on me, right before they fired, was that I really, really wanted to live…." He took another swig out of the bottle, looking bitter.
"And did they…let you live?" The Doctor asked.
"No of course not." The Master snorted. "I died, just like the rest of my men. Lady Fortuna has always been kind to me, but I guess that was a bit too much to ask, Dalek mercy is an absolute contradiction in terms."
"But that wasn't the end for you. You came back." The Doctor responded.
"Death." The Master grunted. "It was supposed to last forever. I had run out of my 13 regenerations. It was only fair that I was allowed to stay dead. Instead, I was resurrected by the Lord council. You see, they needed me to continue to fight their war. I woke up in the vault of Cold Lamentation, naked as the day I was born, scared and confused, unable to even stammer out a single comprehensive word. Let alone that I would be capable to lead the troops back to battle. The elders thought I came back wrong, and kept me locked up and under supervision for more than a month. I was kept in the dark, hidden for the others, and if I had stayed like that for any longer they would have disposed of me because I would have been a reliability and pretty much useless for their cause. Fortunately for me, I came to my senses in time and after convincing them that I would still do my duty for Gallifrey, they released me and put me back in charge of the army. And just like that, I went on fighting, and never looked back."
"This is wrong." The Doctor shook his head compassionately. "They shouldn't have brought you back to fight their war."
"I suppose so." The master shrugged, clearing the bottle and sitting down on the marble steps in front of the entrance. He didn't want to show it, but the wine was also starting to affect him. "You know, I used to be so afraid of dying when I was younger. But when they brought me back…I have to tell you this Doctor, I had that one clear moment, right before I came back to life, in which I was aware of how peaceful it was to be on the other side. Compared to that, life is noisy, and bright, a constant struggle. Sometimes I wish I had stayed in the darkness and had kept my peace."
"But you pulled through in the end. This place is a sanctuary for those threatened by the Dalek forces, and you're in charge of it." The Doctor said, genuinely impressed.
"About hundred years ago, we and our allies were finally able to force the Daleks on their knees and sign a treaty that would divide the known galaxies into Dalek and Timelord territories. It became known as the Treaty of Saxony. The rest of the universe was to become a gray zone, a so-called no-mans-land where Timelords and Daleks are allowed to venture, but are not allowed to settle." The Master sighed and stated up at the ceiling, listening to the blood rushing into his head. "Of course it didn't stop those little monsters from entering the unprotected planets and plundering them for all that they were worth."
"So what happened to those who are not part of the happy few and happened to be living outside of the protection of the mighty Timelord race?" The Doctor asked sternly.
"Well, initially, they were left to fend for themselves. It's all very much in the good old fashioned Timelord tradition, isn't it?" He snorted, knowing very well that it would upset the Doctor. "You know how allergic our people are for possible interference in the natural courses of time. Besides, if you look past the varnish, the thin layer of decency stripped bare, right into our hearts and excavate the fossilized truth, we are only keen on protecting our own interest." The Master grinned sarcastically.
"But I found a way to help them. As I believe we should." He added, gazing sincerely at the Doctor. "It's our duty as a higher species. Or so my father told me."
"It was you." The Doctor muttered, stunned by the realization. "You designed the Pharos receptor. You sent out the blueprint signal across the universe to summon all the threatened races."
"I've built Agora 1 as a satellite station in the hope to offer a safe haven for those who were fleeing from the Daleks. It's an island of Gallifrey territory in the middle of the hostile, unclaimed lands. I've only expected a handful of refugee races to answer the call, but when they finally came, they came in their thousands."
"That device is pure brilliance." The Doctor said with wide-eyed admiration. "All those planets circling around this one artificial sun, all those wonderful worlds with millions of lives, you've saved every single one of them." The Doctor whispered.
"But hang on, why did you demand them to hand over their knowledge to you? What are you going to do, if they can't pay their way into your Dalek-free community, are you going to demand that they pack up their planet and leave?" The Doctor asked, frowning his way back to skepticism.
"You don't really understand politics do you, Doctor?" The Master laughed. "My father taught me that a good diplomat should always say one thing and mean the other. Of course I would never send them back. But you would never believe how many of those refugee races try to use their own technological advantage to suppress the others, or are just itching to do some religious ethnic cleansing within Agora territory. It's better to disarm them before they start a civil war. I've never rejected a race and sent them back to die. If this was only about satisfying the greed for knowledge, and we would only admit the select races that deliver something worthwhile, I could have counted the number of planets we're then left with on one single hand."
The Doctor gazed at the Master whose eyes burnt with a righteous sort of anger that could only be coming from a man who believed in his cause and wouldn't tollerate any false acquisitions, not even from an old friend. The Doctor actually wanted to believe him, but found it extremely hard. Perhaps his doubt was caused by the strange circumstances, the utterly bonkers idea that the Timelords in this, what of the Doctor now conceived as a bended version of reality, were all still there, fighting the Daleks for every inch of time-space in the universe. Or perhaps, it was because it was late, and his brains were partly pickled in expensive alcohol, and he had a very long day with his favorite space dustbins trying to murder him on several occasions and, oh yes, let's not forget, the fact that he had known the Master to be a complete and utter selfish bastard for the last 900 years or so. So there were, he concluded, reasons enough.
"And the drums?" The Doctor finally dared to ask. He had been itching to drop the question the entire night, but needed some courage borrowed from the bottle to do so. He didn't drink so much for nothing.
"What about them?" The Master asked, with a sudden hostility in his voice.
"Do you still hear them?"
Two heartbeats of silence followed in which the Master slowly turned to him, his eyes narrowing.
"No. Do you?"
Doctor held his silence and pressed his lips together till they almost disappeared, knowing by the change on the Master's face that he had already asked too much.
It didn't take long for sleep to claim him. The Doctor was already snoring even before his head hit the cushions. He was having the weirdest dreams. The Master had invited him for diner, and he was introduced at the door to his wife, a green-eyed beauty with a pouty smile. Next thing he knew he was sitting at the table, with the Master, wearing a bloodstained apron, carving a massive ostrich the size of a cow with a knife, and looking more like a deranged butcher than a vision of domestic bliss, and telling him how couples dinner parties were absolutely a great way to break the midweek malaise, if only the Doctor would be do good to show up next time with an actual date. For some ridiculous reason, the dream version of the Doctor couldn't keep his mouth shut and kept rambling about how he thought the Master wasn't precisely the marrying type, and how it was really misfortunate that the current regeneration of the Master was so keen on going through the ladies by the dozen. Soon they both were bickering like old crones, and heated arguments and accusations were flying over the table when the doorbell suddenly rang. The Master jumped out of his seat and announced that it was probably the third couple he had invited for dinner, and would the Doctor be so kind to open the door to receive them while he rushed back to the kitchen and checked on his soufflé. The Doctor opened the door and found lord president Rassilon, standing there with a big wolf's grin, holding a bottle of cheap wine with the price label still attached and shoving a bundle of cheery yellow flowers in his hands. The Doctor was too stunned to say anything but the Master stuck his head around the corner and asked him to please remember to wipe his feet. Surprisingly, Rassilon did as he was told, while a dark hooded figure in a long black robe, followed him into the hall. It was DEATH, and after he was properly introduced by Rassilon as his date and better half, the Master took the lord persident's robe and DEATH's scythe and carefully put them away in the hall closet. I'm very sorry that we're late. DEATH apologized. I rather have you late than early. The Master responded, Actually, the evening would have turned out even better if both of you haven't showed up at all! And then they all started to laugh, including the Doctor, like they were a bunch of bad actors in a corny scene in some horrible third-rate sitcom, and everything started to swirl, and swirl, and swirl…..
The four knocks on the door resonating in the Doctor's head were actually a welcome interruption. He opened his eyes and looked into a brightly lit bedroom. The remnants of the weird dream were drifting away, only to be replaced by a reality that could easily be described as equally mad, to say the least.
"Coming!" He jumped out of bed. Not a good idea. The backslash of his headache was enough to floor a horde of elephants. "Eh…Just a minute!" The Doctor added. He really needed more time to pick up his brains from the floor.
"Lord Doctor?" The Vinvocci servant who had showed him his quarters yesterday was standing in the hallway, his green spikes twitching nervously. "I hope I have not disturbed you sir. But it's almost noon, you see, and my master has ordered me to make sure to serve you breakfast. Only, if I would wait a little longer, I would have failed in my task, because technically, it would be noon, and therefore anything eaten at that time would be lunch, so I thought…"
"Right, great, wonderful. I get it." The Doctor said, finding the servant's rambling insufferably loud for his poor hurting head. "Just leave it at the door and I'll tuck in a little later."
"Breakfast should be served in your room sir." The Vinvocci servant answered with a relieved little smile. "May I?"
The Doctor stepped aside and the servant brought in a huge trolly and rolled it to the table. He removed the cloth.
"What's all this?" The Doctor asked. "We're not having another dinner party, are we?" He added, alarmed and getting a weak feeling in his stomach.
"It's only breakfast sir." The servant replied cheerfully. "My Master told me to serve you an Earth breakfast, preferably from the European region, but he didn't specify from which timeframe. So I made a little bit of everything, just to be sure."
He started serving the plates of food on the table. The Doctor recognized bowls with cold spelt, cheese and honey porridge, a favorite of Roman times, an elaborate Victorian breakfast with pan-seared lams cutlets, devil's curry eggs, toast with marmalade and a good English cuppa, and something in a colorful carton box that seemed to be coming from a fastfood restaurant containing a burger with bacon and eggs, and many, many more dishes that were once invented to get you going after a long night of fasting, but wasn't exactly cheering up the Doctor right now.
"You've made a breakfast dish out of every time period of human history?" He said, astounded and utterly horrified by the sheer amount of food.
"I hope it will taste alright, I had to go to the Agora library to look up the recipes. And last but not least, this is the rehydrated fermented cowsmilk with grainbiscuits." The Vinvocci said, placing a plate with white and grey bricks in front of the Doctor's nose.
"Blimey, are you sure this is everything?" He asked in shock, while rubbing the back of his neck.
"I'm afraid so." The Vinocci rubbed in his hands nervously. "I still have 15 minutes left. Should I make more sir?"
After breakfast was finally over, the rest of the afternoon took a more benevolent turn.
"My Master instructed me to act as your guide for today. Where would you like to go sir?"
The Doctor didn't need to think too long about it. "Where did you say you've found all those Earth's recipes again?"
"The great Agora library." The Vinvocci answered politely. "It contains all the knowledge of the inhabiting races, and is updated every month."
"Then that's where we're heading. A big juicy library filled with knowledge is exactly what my brains need right now." The Doctor answered.
The great Agora library was in the public section of the crystal palace, and consisted of two dome-shaped halls, connected by a see-through tunnel. The Vinvocci servant, who was called Vinnie, bought him to the largest of the two. The Doctor found himself standing on a platform that circled around a great atrium. Behind him, the entire wall was lined by shelves stacked with datafiles, Two floors below, the floor was packed with similar shelves that stood in series of semi circles that dwindled in size as they came close to the center, which was kept open as a reading area. The same endless silver rows of datafiles filled the shelves. The Doctor leaned on the railing, admiring the view.
"Really, this is stunning." He said in awe. "Mind you, it is not as big as the Library, but that was a whole planet filled with books, nothing can compare with that. Also, they had a pretty large antique paper collection that took in a lot of space." He turned and examined the silver spines on the cassettes. "This is what? Datafiles with each 1 to 2 yottabites worth of information? That equals a warehouse of paper documents. A street full of warehouses actually, and this place is filled up to the roof with it. I can spend days in here and not getting bored for a second." He told Vinnie, hopping on the tip of his shoes in excitement. "Or getting to find what I'll be looking for as a matter of fact." He added thoughtfully. "Must be hard to find that one specific copy of molecular imaging for dummies in here."
"It looks more daunting than it really is." Vinnie pointed out. "The entire library is linked to the Agora 1 mainframe computer. There are information consoles placed everywhere in the facility. It's all very easy and convenient. It was designed by our Lord Chancellor in such a way so it could serve the citizens of Agora most optimally. The great library holds all the knowledge of the thousands of different races that have joined our colony over the last 50 years. It's one of our greatest prides and we are very grateful that our lord Chancellor has granted us such a jewel."
"And everybody has access to the information?" The Doctor asked, cocking one eyebrow.
"Everyone who is colony member has certainly the right to do so. The Lord Chancellor believes that knowledge should be shared."
"Right." The Doctor said, giving it the benefit of the doubt for the moment. He still found it very hard to hear all the wonderful things this merciful and kind version of the Master had done without getting suspicious or bursting out in laughter of incredulity. "I think I've found my spot. You can leave me here for the rest of the afternoon, and I will be as happy as mouse who has fallen in a bucket of thick cream and swam into a piece floating cheese."
"I would if I could sir, but the Lord Chancellor has instructed me to take you out for lunch." Vinnie said, his spikes were twitching again. "We're running behind schedule."
It took the Doctor once again some time to convince Vinnie that he wasn't keen on stuffing himself every two hours, but eventually, the Vinvocci servant gave in and handed the Doctor a silver card.
"The Lord Chancellor thought you would probably like to roam through the archives. So he told me to give you this."
"What is this, his Lordship's library card?"
"Better than that. It's his personal holographic library assistant. Whatever information you would desire to look into, All you have to do is activate her by voice and she will find it for you."
"Activate by voice?" The Doctor asked, and was surprised to find a blue humanoid form materialize in front of him.
"Welcome to the great Agora archive. How may I serve you, lord Doctor?" Alpha Omega asked with a serene politeness.
The Doctor cocked another eyebrow and pointed at her.
"The Lord Chancellor has included your voice in the vocal password, and you just said the password…activate." Vinnie explained with a politely little grin.
The Doctor waited till the Vinnocci servant had left before he started addressing the blue assistant.
"How may I serve you, lord Doctor?" Alpha Omega repeated.
"I want to know everything about the Timewar." The Doctor whispered urgently. He didn't recognize Alpha Omega, which wasn't too strange since he had absolutely no recollection of her at all, and she was certainly not going to remind him of what he had forgotten. "I want to know when it started, important dates and events. Point me to those datafiles."
"No need. I can upload them and share them with you directly." And as she spoke, a beam of blue light hit the Doctor's forehead, bombarding his brains with all the facts of the history of the Timewar.
What the Doctor came to know shocked him profoundly.
There had been massive landslide alterations in Timewar history compared to what he remembered, which had taken place at crucial timepoints, changes in events that he had believed to be unchangeable, and had considered to be un-mutable facts. The length of the war was extended by more than four hundreds years, for it had not ended with the destruction of the Dalek empire and Gallifrey after the Doctor had used the Momentum to destroy them both and seal the war within a Timelock. In this version of reality, the Doctor had never been involved in the Timewar. In fact, he couldn't find a single reference to himself throughout the entire Timewar history. It was as if he had never existed, or had never made a difference. The Master, on the other hand, was so often mentioned in every single important event that defined the outcome of the war, that it was difficult for the Doctor to miss the bloody obvious. This version of the Timewar had lasted so much longer because the Master had meddled with it. He was the decisive factor that had changed the entire history and the way he had acted had helped to shape this new and mad world that Doctor had experienced for the last two days. A world in which the Daleks and the Timelords have signed an truce, paving way for a most uncomfortable peace between the two ancient enemies, which left the vital parts of the universe divided in two and the rest ravaged and exploited. Hence the creation of the Agora safety zone, a moral invention by the Timelords who saw it as their duty to offer protection to the other races who were so unfortunate to end up on the wrong site of the line.
"What about the truce? Tell me, why did the Daleks give up their bloody war and gave in?" The Doctor asked, unable to comprehend that those bloodless creatures would ever submit to something that was so weak and unforgivable in their eyes.
"You've requested information on the Saxon Treaty." Alpha Omega obliged. "The very foundation of the current status quo."
The blue holograph immediately started sharing the information with the Doctor, showing him the reason why the Daleks had banished their bloodthirsty war and had partially surrendered to their greatest enemies.
"They felt threatened." The Doctor muttered as the megabites were translated into knowledge by his grey matter. "We had something they didn't, and it scared the living daylight out of their stalky eyepieces. But what…what was it?"
His blue assistant showed him an image of a massive underground silo, much like the one he had encountered in the Nomad's cave that housed the Pharos receptor, only this one was much, much bigger. Incomprehensively large. And there was something stored inside, a construction made out of miles of steel tubes that came together in the massive chamber, and in the middle of that network of metal cylinders, sitting there like a fat content spider in it's own web, was something that made the Daleks and their bloodthirsty emperor quiver in their armor shields. Something horribly destructive, equivalent to the A-bomb during Earth's cold war period, only on a massive scale…The Timelord's secret weapon, that they had vowed, amongst themselves, never to use because activating it would simply mean the end of the universe itself…
"The Spear of Vela Pulsa?" The Doctor muttered, shooting an anxious look at Alpha-Omega. "What's that? I get the name and the political purpose, but the rest of the information is not really getting through here. It's all garbled. You've got to fill in the gaps for me."
"Information on the Spear of Vela Pulsa is restricted."
"What do you mean restricted?"
"You may not access information related to the design of the Spear of Vela Pulsa."
"What? And I thought that the Lord Chancellor has made everything accessible?"
"That's what they want you to believe."
The Doctor turned in the direction of that very familiar voice and stared right into the face of Martha Jones.
"Meanwhile, half of the information is kept under protection of the Timelord government. What are you looking for? I can tell you already that weapon design and molecular science is a no go." Martha said, as if she was addressing a stranger in need of help. "Just like engineering, meta physics, and practical mathematics. Actually, anything that's even remotely worth knowing is impossible to get your hands on."
The Doctor's jaw dropped. "M-Martha? Martha what are you doing here?"
Surprise flashed over her face. "I'm sorry but…Have we ever met?"
"You don't know me?" The Doctor asked.
"No mister. At least not that I can recall. I don't know your name."
The Doctor had to push his sense of panic and surprise all the way back to be able to speak to her.
"It's the Doctor." He said, forcing a smile and shaking her hand. "I'm sorry, you look like someone I know." He noticed the skeptical look on her face. "Actually, now that I take a better look at you, you don't look anything like her at all. It's those information transfers, they turn your brains into scrambled eggs."
"Right." She said, furrowing her brows. "Martha. Martha Jones. What I was trying to say is, you shouldn't waste your time on her." She nodded at Alpha-Omega. "She won't tell you anything worth knowing, she's just like the other consoles in this place. Only shows you the Timelord Chancellor's version of the truth. If you want to find some real information, you'll need to go look somewhere else." She pointed to a flyer that was taped on a nearby shelf. Strange, the Doctor hadn't notice it before. He grabbed it and read:
To those of you who can no longer keep their eyes shut:
Tomorrow at midday, meet us at the Agora forum
It was signed RS. The Doctor suddenly experienced a flashback. He saw himself standing in the Tardis console room, staring down at the monitor that displayed an ominous message to him.
Beware of the nightmare child.
He blinked his eyes, confused by the strange memory he had regained. He didn't know what to make of it. He stared down at the piece of paper in his hand. "Hang on." He muttered, and gazed up at Martha. "What is this all about?" But Martha Jones was already halfway down the platform, heading for the stairs.
"Wait!" The Doctor yelled, and ran after her. "Martha! Martha Jones!"
Martha shot an anxious look at him while she readjusted her bag over her shoulder.
A couple of men in security uniforms stared at her as she passed by. One of them had a flyer in his hand that was similar to that of the Doctor's. Martha quickened her pace and rushed down the stairs with two steps at the time.
"Why are you running away?" The Doctor asked, granting her a dorky smile. "We've just met!" He suddenly slowed down his pace.
"Wait a minute…If you're here, and if this is some sort of expatriation camp for all the races who were so unfortunate to run into the Daleks. Then Earth must be…" He paused. Martha looked back at him with sadness in her eyes. "Oh…I'm sorry. Martha I am so, so sorry."
"It's no-ones fault, except for the Daleks." She said, bravely. "Besides, everybody here in this refugee solarsystem has a similar story to tell. What happens to me is nothing special. Look. You seem like a smart enough guy. I really have to go now, but if you agree with what was written on that pamphlet, go the meeting tomorrow afternoon. We can talk there." She shot a glance at the two security guards who were starting to head down the stairs in their direction.
"Miss! Can we see your bag please?" One of the guards ordered. Martha swirled around and started to run.
"Miss! Miss! Stop!"
But Martha wasn't planning to. She headed down into the maze of datashelves and turned the corner where she bumped right into a young Curby alien, tripping over one of his many slippery tentacles. Her bag flew open, spilling the paper content all over the floor.
The Doctor picked up a couple of them. They were flyers with rebellious messages that were very similar to that what he had just read before. They were all signed RS.
Martha scrambled back up, grabbed her bag, and dashed out of the library, leaving a very stunned Doctor to deal with the guards.
The Master's conference room at the 431st floor of the crystal tower had a grand floor to ceiling window that looked out over the palace complex and the nearby orbiting planets. He had personally selected and placed the most colorful and beautiful of them closest to the artificial sun to obtain the stunning view. The Master was a perfectionist, some people might even call it pathologic, the way he could be so obsessed by the smallest of details, but for the Master, the many wheels that turned the system must be designed, checked and oiled by its creator, if it was to function without flaw. So many decisions concerning the everyday life of the colony was made in the chamber while the Master was holding his closed audience with his advisors. But today was not a day for small decisions. Today, there were guests.
The Doctor didn't know that the glass wall that divided the hallway from the conference room was specially created to shield off holographic signals, very much like a 20th century office room was made soundproof to prevent eavesdropping. He didn't see the seven figures that were projected in 3D inside, and he didn't know that the Master was in the middle of addressing them in defense of his cause. All he knew, was that he really wanted to know what the message on the flyer was about, and that a whole army of people, ranging from mousy secretaries to buffed up security guards had tried to stop him from coming up to his office. He had shut down the elevators with a whirr of the sonic screwdriver, which should give him ample time before the guards arrive.
"For the last time sir, the Lord Chancellor is in the middle of a very important meeting, you shouldn't disturb him!" The Master's secretary said while tip-toeing backwards on her high heels as the Doctor continued to push through.
"Nah. He doesn't look too busy to me." Indeed, from his point of view, all he saw was the Master, standing there with two of his advisors, while leaning idly with both hands on the table.
"Besides, he wouldn't mind me busting in to have a little chat." The Doctor pushed open the glass doors with both hands. The advisors turned their heads, looking utterly shocked. The Master stopped talking in midsentence and gazed at his old friend as if he had just grown an extra head.
"Sorry. Really sorry. I know you're busy and all, but I need to borrow him for a sec." The Doctor grabbed hold of the Master and literally pulled him out of the conference room by his sleeve, much to the outrace of the two lord advisors.
"Should we call security sir?" One on them asked, with his finger already on the intercom button.
The Master immediately shook his head. "I know this man. It wouldn't help. Continue the briefing on the ration conditions. I'm sure the Doctor wouldn't need more than a minute of my precious time." He added sourly, and looked accusingly at him.
"What were you thinking?" The Master hissed after he made sure that the doors behind him were closed and those inside could not follow their conversation. "You can't just march in there and drag me out of an important meeting!"
"I need to ask you something." The Doctor reacted equally sternly.
"Well whatever it is, it can wait." The Master was about to head back inside when the Doctor pushed the crumbled flyer in his hands.
"What is this?" The Master said, unfolding the piece of paper.
"You tell me. You're the lord Chancellor."
The Master quickly read it through. "It's an pamphlet handed out by some bothersome activists." He sneered. " This is hardly worth my time."
"They're accusing the Timelord government, and in this place I suppose it automatically means you, of herding up information. Information that you have claimed, would be made publically available to everybody."
"They want the information on how to build weapons. I don't need to explain you, of all Timelords, what a really bad idea it would be to allow those idiots to get their hands on a couple of blueprints for nuclear missiles, now do I?" The Master replied.
"Now why do they need to act like that?" The Doctor pressed on. "They're refugees. They shouldn't be rebelling against the very people who have saved their lives, unless there is a good reason of course."
"They're a bunch of unthankful terrorists, that's why." The Master angrily crumbled up the flyer into a ball before throwing it back at the Doctor. Although very different from the Master the Doctor had known, he still easily lost his temper. "And I would advise you to stay out it, Doctor!" He pointed out.
"That's really for me to decide, isn't it?" The Doctor said defiantly, and stared the Master right in the eyes.
The Master silently stared back at him, and slowly, very slowly, counted back from 10. Then he turned and went back to the meeting.
The Doctor faced the Master's secretary, who was backed-up by two beefcake security guards with a really pissed off look on their faces for having to climb up an epic 431 floors worth of stairs.
He threw them one of his oddball smiles and held up his hands in surrender. "Alright then! Now you can throw me out now!"
The Master stepped back inside the boardroom with a troubled expression lingering on his face and with his mind caught up in thoughts when a voice, dark and sinister, came from the other side of the room.
"Lord Master. I trust your friend the Doctor won't meddle in our affairs."
The Master gazed up at the head figure sitting in the middle of the group of high Timelord counselors. The gilded neck-armor and the dark crimson robe that he wore with great poise and arrogance accentuated his already impressive tall frame. His metal gauntlet sheeted hand rested on the table and tapped impatiently on the desktop. The group of seven simmered as the solar flares of the artificial sun caused disturbances in the holovid broadcast.
"No Lord President. The Doctor doesn't know anything." The Master replied, glancing sideways through the glass wall and suppressing a sigh of relief when he saw that his friend was taken away by the security guards who had proven, in his opinion, to be completely useless.
"Let him remain so. Let me remind you that the true utilization of the Beacon of Pharos should remain a secret for Agora's general population. Only the few good men inside this chamber are fully informed. And I trust every one of them to keep this to themselves." He glared at the Master. "Don't lose my trust, Lord Master, or you will find it a very hard thing to regain."
"You have my word sir." The Master replied as calmly as possible.
"What about the rebels, won't they cause trouble? I've heard reports that their numbers were growing rapidly and that they were recruiting new members in broad day light in the forum by deluding the new arrivals."
"I won't let that happen again. Tomorrow at noon, they have planned a gathering, but everyone who dares to speak in favor of the Rebel Squadron will be arrested for public disturbances. I won't give them any excuses to organize a riot, not when we are getting so close to our goal. Lord president."
Rassilon nodded firmly. "Tell me, is the signal still intact?"
"Yes. It has maintained relative stable for the last two days. According to our calculations, the blue planet should arrive with the refugees within 3 days."
"Most excellent!" The Lord president beamed. "We have been searching the skies for decades! Now, finally, the ancient secrets of the Phenicians are within our grasp. Soon this enforced, most uncomfortable truce with the Dalek abomination shall be over, and the Timelord's era of peace and enlightenment can finally begin." Rassilon gazed over the table at the Master, his eyes burning with glorified delusions. "You and your trusted advisors, Lord Master, can be assured that soon, all of your tireless efforts and sacrifices will be rewarded." He said in a soothing voice that never failed to remove the worries from the Master's mind.
"You are our redeemer Lord Master. The savior of Gallifrey, and we shall not forget what you've done for us on the most glorious day in which we will achieve the Final Solution."
The Master, standing a little taller, and fully aware of every heartbeat that rattled inside his chest while his hearts filled with pride, bowed to his superior. "I promise my lord president. Your most loyal servant will not disappoint."
The thin smile that appeared on the Rassilon's face was cold and calculative.
My most loyal indeed." He said, and leaned back into the shadows.
When the angry knocks came at his door, he didn't exactly need to guess who was waiting for him outside in the corridor.
"Did you only come back to make me look like a complete fool?" The Master sneered when he finally answered the door.
"Did I?" The Doctor asked, pulling an innocent face. "It wasn't so bad, was it? Those two guys in those funny robes were working for you. They look clever enough not to laugh and point at their superior."
"And why didn't you show up for diner? I invited you. I sent out a servant to get you. Twice. It's only good manners to oblige me." The Master said, clearly offended.
"Nah, I really have my belly full of diner parties. After last night, I wouldn't go to one even if I'm dragged by a four-span of horses. Not that it has anything to do with you." The Doctor added, suddenly having a vivid mental picture of the dream version of the Master, wearing a flowery apron and yielding a spatula. "Actually, it's got everything to do with you, but I guess I better not mention why."
The Master grinned sourly. "Why is it that every time you open your mouth, there is some piece of garbage information dumped on me that I find impossible to understand." He grunted.
"It's called random brilliance, which is easily misunderstood for madness." The Doctor grinned. "Or garbage, if you're really that ignorant."
The Doctor let the Master inside and closed the door behind him.
"Doctor." The Master said, pacing around like a troubled lion at the zoo. "I don't know what's going on in that mind of yours, but I can assure you. I am still your friend."
"I know." The Doctor said quietly, looking sharply at him, realizing that it was his clumsy way of offering an apology.
"What I meant this afternoon, when I was shouting at you, was that I don't want you to get into trouble. Don't go meddle with those rebels, it's dangerous."
"They signed the flyer with the letters R and S. Now what does that mean?" The Doctor asked strictly, without giving in.
"RS, the Rebel Squadron, that's what they call themselves." The Master explained reluctantly, getting irritated by the Doctor's persistence. "That and the Vaudevillian Veterans of Vigilance and Virtuousness, vowed and vexed on vanquishing the Violent Vicious Vermin vice that is the Timelord race. Personally, I though the last name was more catching, but I suppose it would have given them trouble to get it all fitted on a bottom of an average sized pamphlet." He noticed the strange look the Doctor was giving him. The Master sighed. "It was a little joke." He added dryly. "Although I suddenly remember that I shouldn't bother. You and I, we never shared a similar sense of humor, did we?"
"I remember receiving a message from them. At least I think it's from them. It it was signed with RS. They tried to warn me."
"Where did you get this?"
"Inside the Tardis, when I was traveling through the timevortex."
"Then you can forget about it being them. They're nowhere near being this sophisticated to be able to transmit a signal that far." The Master replied, waving dismissively.
"Well they can't because you and the other Timelords keep all the technology under lock and key." The Doctor criticized.
"Is there any point in your accusations? Doctor? Or do you find it hard to get my attention otherwise?"
"I accessed the mainframe database using the library connections today. I tried to find out more about the truce between the Daleks and the Timelords, but stumbled by accident on something that seemed far more important to know about, because it was so heavily censored. What is the Spear of Vela Pulsa and what does it exactly do? Why are the Daleks so afraid of it?"
An angry sort of hopelessness washed over the Master.
"You just can't let it go, can you? Ever since we were children, you're always asking these bothersome questions. Really, why can't you just accept things as they are?"
"You were asking questions too when you were younger." The Doctor objected. "I was not the only one who was driving the teachers mad."
"Yes, and I stopped doing that. You know why? Because I've learned something important. Life has taught me that it was better to accept the status quo than to swim against the tide. I stayed behind on Gallifrey and accepted my responsibilities, instead of you Doctor, who was so very brave to ran away from it!"
"Oh give me a second chance and I will do exactly the same again." The Doctor sneered back.
"You're absolutely impossible!" The Master yelled, finally losing his calm. "Why do you keep picking on the details, these insignificant little imperfections? Can't you see the bigger picture, all the good that we have done? Didn't the Timelords take in those races that were threatened by the Daleks? Didn't we offer them protection and shelter in times of need?" He leaned to the Doctor, their faces so close that they were almost touching. "Let me remind you Doctor, only me and the Timelord army is what is still left standing between those lucky fools and their destruction."
"There is something more to this." The Doctor replied, shaking his head determinedly. "I know the Timelords, and I know you. It doesn't matter which version of reality we're in. No matter how twisted the course of our lives have become, you wouldn't do something unless it benefits you. Even if the drums have never poisoned your mind, you're still an egocentric, overambitious idiot."
"It's got nothing to do with the drums!" The Master said firmly, trembling with anger. "It was just once." He waved a single finger in front of the Doctor's nose. "Once I heard it, and never ever again!"
The Doctor studied the Master closely. Mentioning the drums had certainly further upset him.
The Master ran his hands over his face. He sat down on the bed, forcing himself to calm down. "I can't understand you, all of this mistrust and resentment. Where does it all come from? We've just run into eathother again after hundreds of years." He paused for a moment. "I thought we were still friends."
Suddenly the Doctor recalled how he had spoken to him on Martha's mobile, back on Earth in that year of the Saxon elections, He remembered how relieved he was to once again hear his voice and sense his presence again. He wouldn't be able to forget that, even if the current version of the Master would turn out to betray him.
The Master looked up at the ceiling, avoiding the Doctor's gaze."Perhaps, too much has happened in these long years for us to remain so."
"You don't know how right you are about that." The Doctor muttered.
The Agora forum was a busy place, packed with merchants who jealously guarded every inch of their stands, and tried to grab the attention of everyone who passed by and looked remotely like a potential customer. Combine this with the noise, the pollution and all the traffic that hardly moved any quicker than two mating snails, added up with a thousand or so newcomers who stood in line in front of the naturalization hall waiting for get their new ID cards, and you have a recipe for disaster for anyone who tried to track down a friend in the crowd.
The Doctor found it especially difficult to find someone who was hanging around long enough to allow him to finish giving him the directions he needed before the friendly local was swept away by the massive tide of people.
"Excuse me!" He yelled, trying again for the third time. "Could you please tell me where to find the meeting for the Rebel Squadron? They're supposed to meet here!"
Someone who had caught at least two of his three sentences of his question stuck a hand up and pointed at the north-side of the forum, mouthing that way!, before he was pushed out of sight.
Thanks! The Doctor mouthed back, waving frantically to thank him, and tried to swim his way through the tangle of arms and torsos. He passed by the promenade and noticed that the columns were covered with flyers, each of them signed with the rebel's symbol. When he came close, he saw a large crowd gathered around a group of men and women, all dressed in black army suits. Six of them were humans, four others were not. They didn't carry any weapons, but were handing out the flyers fervently. Raised above the others, on a small wooden stand that served as a platform, stood Martha Jones. She was addressing a Vispanian alien in the audience.
"What about food?" The alien asked. "If we take part in any protests against the Timelords, they will cut short on our rations."
Coinciding murmurs arose from the others. "Yeah, and we're starving already as it is. There are too many new refugees. There is not enough food for everyone."
"I say we should protest, and make those stuck-up Timelords close the borders! We certainly don't want any more new immigrants to cramp up the place and drain our resources!" Someone yelled at the back.
"Blimey, someone stepped out at the selfish side of the bed this morning." The Doctor muttered to himself, half turning to see who that crazy idiot was.
"Yeah. That's it!" The Vispanian argued. "I don't mind sticking my head out, but it better be for a good cause!"
"People please!" Martha shouted, trying to raise her voice above the crowd's. "We're not here to discuss the shortage of food, and we are certainly not going to plead to the Timelords to shut down the borders for new refugees! Don't any of you remember why we are here? We were driven out by the Daleks, our people hunted down to near extinction! Don't you remember how desperate we were? And how lucky we are to have this place? How could you possible want this only hope to be taken away from others?"
Martha looked the Vispanian right in the eyes, and although the man was at least two heads taller than her, her determination forced him to bow his head in shame.
"And if you ask for a good cause, what better cause to serve than freedom?" Martha continued. "Freedom to have access to knowledge that all of us have contributed to and actually belongs to our ancestors. Freedom to think for ourselves and to find out the truth."
The Doctor stared at her, his eyes wide and his chest almost bursting with pride. "Oh bravo!" He clapped, grinned at the others. "Bravo! Bravo Martha Jones, I've been worried about you, what you would become if I weren't around, but you…you have turned out to be absolutely magnificent!" The Doctor said, beaming a proud smile at her.
"Who the hell are you?" The Vispanian asked, eying the Doctor as if he was something that he had just found stuck underneath his shoe.
"Me? Oh, I'm the Doctor and I happen to be a Timelord." He jumped on top of the platform and stood next to Martha, wrapping an arm around her shoulder like they were the best of buddies. The rebels and the gathered crowd, who didn't exactly have expected anyone who they considered to be their oppressive lord and master to show up at the meeting, looked up uneasily at him. Some of the people were already starting to back down, trying to avoid trouble.
"Oh don't go!" The Doctor said disappointedly, totally oblivious of what kind of effect he had. "She's not finished yet! We got tons to discuss. Hey! Come back!"
"What are you doing here?" Martha hissed.
"Well you invited me. You told me to come if I wanted to find out more about the information that was missing in the library. So…Here I am!" The Doctor replied, waving hello at her.
"I didn't know that you were a Timelord." Martha furrowed her brows. "You guys look too much like us when you're not strutting about in your robes."
"Does it matter?"
"Of course it matters. Look at them." She gestured at the crowd around the platform that was getting thinner by the minute. "They're scared of you."
"Me?" The Doctor said, astonished. "But I was just being nice!"
"I've to ask you to leave. You're disrupting our meeting." Martha said sternly.
The Doctor was about to protest, when a commotion started at the back. Martha's eyes went wide in alert when she saw a troop of Timelord soldiers wading through the sea of people, heading in their direction. Unlike the rebels, they were armed to the teeth.
"Ah, that's also something I wanted to tell you about." The Doctor said, dreading the panic it would cause.
"You brought them here?" Martha wiped his arm from her shoulder. "You have no right to arrest us!" She told him furiously. "I went through the regulations and we are fully entitled to gather at the forum for meetings!"
"Listen Martha." He said, getting more worried by the minute. "I've got nothing to do with this, but I probably know the man who sent out those guys, and let me tell you, he's not too keen on you lot." He nodded at the other rebels. "You should get out of here. All of you!"
A Timelord soldier in front of the troops, who was halfway through the crow and had a clear range, aimed his lasergun at Martha.
The Doctor took Martha's hand, pulling her down the platform. A blast exploded right above their heads, sending the Doctor's eardrums ringing.
Martha peered up and saw the black smoke bellowing from the wreckage above them. Her mouth dropped open. "I can't believe they just did that!"
"Oh I think they are pretty capable of about anything, but that's a long story, a good one though, I might tell you one day, when we make it out of here alive." He winked at her and told her to run.
The entire forum was now in a state of panic, people shooting away in every direction as the Timelords troops made their way across the forum, parting the crowd as if it was the red sea. One of them started to address the frightened public with an amplifier.
"Citizens of Agora I. Stay calm! We're here to restore order and capture the terrorist leaders of the Rebel Squadron! We expect your full cooperation. Anyone who has anything to do with the Rebels will be arrested on grounds of high treason on orders of our Lord Chancellor!"
"Oh Master…" The Doctor hissed angrily under his breath. "What have you done now." He kept running away from the burning platform as fast as possible, dragging Martha in his wake.
"Everyone who offers a threat to public order and resist arrest shall be shot." The Timelord commander added.
"They can't be serious." Martha panted. "They just can't!"
Gunshots ripped through the air, and the people around her started to scream.
The Doctor didn't turn around but kept pushing forward with his head bowed below the crowd. They reached an abandoned apartment block at the edge of the forum. "In here." He finally told her, and they both slipped through a narrow crack in a doorway that was barred with wooden beams. Behind them, the entire world just went mad.
Next chapter will be posted the 28th of august, and as always, reviews and comments are most welcome.