Dear readers, thank you for your patience. Here is without further ado:
The Doctor had a revulsion against needles. He didn't particularly like the idea of someone sticking a hollow metal tube in him, however small and delicate the pointy tip. It was even worse when the orderlies forced him down on the bed, tied his hands on his back, and by the lack of an easy accessible vein or artery, plunged the needle in his backside and emptied the entire content of the syringe right into his muscles. He struggled, breathing into the bed linen, sucking in the smell of bleach and soap. Hot blood, carrying the narcotics, rushed into his head, and soon he felt all of his strength leave him. The men strapped him down, fastened the buckles around his wrists, ankles and chest. When they left, his body was senseless, as if it didn't belong to him but to someone else, and he himself was floating above it, like a bird in the sky looking down on those who lived below and crawled like tiny insects over the land.
His eyelids, heavy and tired, soon closed.
The capital of the Phenicians was located on the equator of Ankhasmodea in the middle of the single large continent of the planet. Surrounded by a desert of golden sand stood the magnificent silver city at the shores of an equally magnificent blue lake. The surface of the lake was like a flawless mirror. The high mineral content in the water made it too gluey and heavy to be rippled by the wind. Grass and scrubs grew at the waterside. They had leaves of purple, orange and deep yellow, and branches with rinds that were black as sealskin. They dipped into the water without breaking the surface.
The Master marched his troops towards the lake, closely followed by a group of hesitant locals. The Phenicians were a most curious race, with an extremely slender, elongated body form, and huge, night owl eyes. They were anxious about the arrival of their new allies, who acted, as hours passed, less like their benevolent saviors, and more like their new masters who were here to inspect their conquered realm. It made them wonder if they hadn't been better off with the Daleks.
"Milord. Forgive me, but what are you exactly looking for?" One of the Phenecian elders finally dared to ask. They had reached the edge of the swamp. From here on, the water went deeper. A couple of step more into the lake, and the bottom would disappear completely from sight. The Phenicians didn't want to venture any further. They knew that the lake was ancient, and hungry creatures with large mouths and razor-sharp teeth stirred in the darkness beneath the deceptively calm surface.
The Master stepped on the remains of a Dalek soldier, a charred piece of armor shield that had split down the middle by the intense heat to which it had been exposed. He kicked it away into a muddy pool without much thought, and gazed back at his host. Calmly, he pointed at a tree that stood in the distance, and grew in the middle of the mirror lake. Unlike the flora in the surrounding area, this tree was bare. The branches had a dull white color, like bleached shells that were washed up on the beach, and it looked brittle and dry, as if it was dying of thirst in the middle of a sea of water. A flock of black and white bird-like creatures nested in the crown. There were so many of them that their wings looked like a canopy of leaves.
"I was looking for that." The Master simply stated. "At least, if it is what I think it is." He waited, studying the Phenician's face any indications. The alien elder hesitated, his pupils narrowing into golden slits as he contemplated what he should tell him. If he would speak the truth, there could be severe consequences if these strange and forceful creatures turned out to be malignant. The Phenecians were a spiritual race. They didn't understand the drive of ambition, or the motives of greed. But they knew that the Tree was sacred and possessed great powers. For the sake of the universe, they cannot let it fall into the wrong hands. However, the Master didn't fight his way through an entire Dalek fleet to end up empty handed. He signaled his soldiers to take aim at the Tree, and noticed, not without satisfaction, that his alien hosts reacted most worriedly to the threat.
"The Tree of Transcendence." He spoke expectantly. "Now would that happen to be…that particular tree, right over there?"
This time, the elder reluctantly responded with a small, uneasy nod.
The Master's lips curled into a smile. He took a deep breath, sucking in his cheeks as he savored the sweet taste of accomplishment. "Satonius." He called, without taking his eyes from his price.
"Tell the men to go back to the ship and return with shovels and a large wheelbarrow. I mean, a really HUGE one. And hurry, we have some serious digging to do."
That night, both Timelords slept soundly. One was driven into deep unconsciousness by the chemical cocktail coursing through his blood, the other, drunk on the most-satisfying sensation of achievement and success.
Both of them had dreams.
The Doctor was walking in a garden that was green and lush, with white flowers and sunlight shining through the rustling canopy. The smell of sweet summer filled his senses. At the far back, underneath an old oak tree with a wide crown that spread like an umbrella over the lawn, sat the girl in the white dress. She was holding a tea party, with a plate of cookies and a collection of small cups and saucers spread out over a picnic blanket with a red and white checkerboard pattern. When she saw the Doctor, she beckoned for him to come closer.
"Oh hello. Rachel, wasn't it? You're alone?" The Doctor asked, beaming a friendly smile at her.
Rachel nodded. "Want to join me?"
"I'll be delighted to. Are those almond cookies? Oh I love those." The Doctor sat down cross-legged next to her and watched expectantly how she poured him tea from a cute little teapot.
"I was expecting someone-else, but he rarely shows up. It's better to have a tea party with a guest. It's quite boring otherwise." Rachel said wisely.
"Good cookies." The Doctor mumbled with his mouth stuffed and covered with crumbs. There was something peculiar about the little girl, something that nagged him, but his dream wouldn't allow him to recall the exact details.
"Who are you waiting for?" He asked, more to chat than that he really cared to know.
"Your friend of course." Rachel replied with a little sigh. "He spoils everything. His world is so large and noisy, there is hardly any room left for my world. I've only got my best friend's Johanna's back garden left." She glanced around, her young face wrinkled up with worries. "I used to love to come here when I was smaller. Her mother held tea parties for us under this tree. We sat here for hours."
"She bakes excellent cookies." The Doctor said, stuffing the last one in his mouth.
"She didn't make them. She just bought them at the bakers."
"Well then, she has excellent taste in cookies."
Rachel studied him for a moment, blowing a stand of hair out of her eyes.
"You're strange." She finally told him.
"And you're out of cookies." The Doctor replied, finishing his tea in one swig and holding out the empty cup for her to fill. "Can I have another one please?"
Meanwhile, the Master was in another garden. One that was created on the lifeless soil of a hostile planet, with the plants growing under the protection of the glass roof of a hothouse. Although they had been kept alive by artificial light and technology, and had never been kissed by the nurturing light of a natural sun, the plants had grown huge, with their leaves as large as a grown man's head, and their roots were a snakelike tangle that broke the surface of the earth. He wandered through this jungle aimlessly till he reached the edge and encountered a meadow. The grass was thick, and golden, swaying softly with their heavy heads. The yellow waves rolled up a small hill, on which a tree stood rooted to the ground. The sight of that tree made his hearts jolt with joy. He ran towards it, cutting a straight line through the field. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw his wife sitting in the shadows, her white dress spread out over the grass with her back resting against the treetrunk. When she looked up at him with her green eyes, his hearts quickly filled with the same deep love he had felt for her on the day that they first met.
"Koschei." She whispered. In all these years after leaving the Academy, he had never told anyone-else but her his real name, and no-one-else would ever know. He truly loved her, and trusted her with his life.
"You've made it." She smiled, so incredibly proud of his achievement. She glanced up at the branches that were alive with birds. "You've saved everyone. The Tree. The Tree is the answer."
The flock of green birds that made up the canopy of the Tree rustled their wings, and the feathered leaves on the white branches shivered as if caught by a light breeze.
"The others will be here soon. We can finally leave together." Anne said. He couldn't help himself to touch her. He traced his fingertips over her soft, red lips. A gentle lover's touch.
Out of the field came an aged figure. His features hollowed out by time and relying on his cane for every step, his appearance was still noble and dignified.
"I'm so proud of you." Lord Oakdown took his son in his arms. "My brilliant, golden boy." His father's gray eyes were shining as he looked at him.
"Dad." He whispered, captured like a little stone bird in his embrace and feeling very awkward, his father's seal ring caught his eye. A cold sting grasped his hearts, a memory stirred, and he saw himself taking that same seal ring from his father's fingers while lord Oakdown lay silently on the floor. His eyes, vacant and lifeless, stared at the wood panel ceiling of his beloved library. The horrific picture in his mind's eye didn't make any sense to him. He loved his father. He would never, never hurt him.
Frightened and bewildered, he turned and found Rassilon standing right in front of him. Dressed in a fine robe that was scarlet and gold, his lord and master spread his arms to receive him.
"Lord Master." Rassilon beamed, his face without a trace of the usual discontent. "You've accomplished your task. The Tree will finally provide us the solution to the Dalek curse. You've saved us. You've saved the universe."
"Thank you my lord." He replied, baffled by him complements.
"You will be justly rewarded. From this day on, you'll be known as the savior of Gallifrey. I want you to rule by my side, lord Master. Together we will bring upon a new era of harmony and great prosperity under Timelord rule, a golden time that we will share with every race in the universe. The Timelords will be silent no more. Our voice of peace and justice will be heard by everyone."
"Milord. You're too gracious." The Master replied. Of course he should be extremely pleased, but the exceptional honors that the Lord president bestowed on him did not bring him the expected joy. He didn't understand this. He had worked so hard, and now that the moment had finally come, his hearts remained strangely empty. And then he saw her, standing behind the Lord president. After all of Alpha-Omega's efforts to conceal the truth, he shouldn't remember the Timelady counsel, but he did.
"What are you doing here?" He asked his guardian angel.
"I came back to warn you. I'm here to protect you from yourself."
"I don't need any protection." He replied, shaking his head ferociously. This was the same merciful woman who had saved him from the destruction of Gallifrey by sealing him within the Ark, and who had once shed tears for his suffering when he didn't deserve the compassion of anyone. Still he couldn't help himself from treating her with hostility and resentment. He wanted to forget about her again as quickly as possible, for if she was truly real, then what should he make of that most frightful recollection of his father's fate?
"You are a phantom." He told her, pointing at her with an unsteady hand. "You've never existed. I wasn't in that…prison." He trembled as he remembered the searing pain. That foul scent of his own burning flesh when he was stuck inside that cage, a prison that his revered lord Rassilon had constructed for him as a cruel mean to vengeful torture. "There was no prison. No tower. No Ark! I am the Lord Chancellor of the Agora colony. In my previous regenerations, I fought the Daleks as a respected commander of the Timelord fleet. I remember my past clearly, and you…you weren't part of it."
"My poor confused boy." She said kindly. "It's hard to face the truth. Especially when it is so much more painful than the lie. But even from the most wonderful, most lively dreams, one has to wake up someday."
"This isn't a dream. It's my life." His voice broke down. "Everything that I've worked so hard to build up. It's what I am."
He looked back at Anne who still rested under the tree, her face radiant like the most precious star. She was his world. A world that he had created and come to love.
His guardian angel approached him, her eyes shining softly with pity.
"I understand. When you think that you're in an everlasting summer, but then see it fading before your eyes, you would want to grab on to a piece of it, something precious that you believe, would last. But see Timelord, be brave and cruel to yourself. Open your eyes and really see. Because even though you might think you're holding on to a diamond, it's but ashes in your hand."
When he unfolded his fists, a stream of gray ash slipped away between his fingers. He turned and saw his beloved wife, crumbling down like a pillar of sand. Horrified, he ran over to her and called her name, but she disappeared in a cloud that was quickly swept away by the wind.
"Oh wicked woman! What have you done!" He yelled back. His guardian remained perfectly still and calm, watching him with honest eyes.
"I've done nothing. I just helped you to look beyond the lie."
The green birds on the tree shivered and shed their feathers, revealing black, fishlike scales underneath. Their beaks turned into hooked noses, their little heads became more humanlike till they resembled withered old crones. The moment they took to the sky they turned into a screeching flock of furies that circled the now barren tree like hungry vultures that had been lured by the scent of decay. The tree itself had turned from bone-white into real bone, a cathedral of death under which he now tried to shelter against the avenging flock. He stumbled over the roots that stuck out of the earth, and fell down in the grass that was no longer golden, but had turned into brittle stalks that had long since withered and died of disease. There, on the black earth, lay his father. His eyes were still open, staring at the barren treetop with an eerie stillness.
He crawled over to him, his breath caught when he saw his face. His father tried to speak, but the strength had left his body and his voice was but a whisper.
And in that one horrible moment, he finally remembered.
"Where is your Tardis, father?" He had asked, right after he shot him. He had wanted it desperately. He needed it to escape from Gallifrey, because for him, there was no redemption. No second chance. The blood of too many had tainted his hands.
And his father, struggling for his last breath, who realized that his son wouldn't let him regenerate and knew that he was staring his would-be murderer in his face, only said one thing to him, because the love for his child was stronger than the fear of death.
"I forgive you."
"I murdered him." The Master said, his voice failing him. He struggled back up. In his muddy hand he held his father's seal ring.
"The Doctor was right. This is a strange world you've created, one that could have been, but never was." She spoke in a sad voice.
"I fled Gallifrey when I was 16. A disgrace. A murderer." He grimace, and fought back his tears. "Oh the things – the things that I've done..." He whispered, covering his face.
"Now you remember this you can reverse everything. Call on the blue host who has created this imaginary world on your command, and tell her to stop."
After a long, burdened silence, the Master shook his head.
She gazed at him, her hearts filled with compassion, but was unable to offer him more comfort.
"Now why would I do that?" The Master replied as hot tears finally spilled down his cheeks. "Why would I want to return to a world in which I'm some sort of mindless, moral-less monster? Where the best thing I had going for me was that I didn't actually have managed to kill myself permanently in one of my stupid plans? Now tell me?" He asked resentfully.
"This isn't real. You know that now."
"Oh you sound just like him." He wiped the hateful tears from his face. All around him, his world was dying. Darkness was swiftly vanquishing the light. Still, he was clinging on to it like man who was about to fall into a bottomless pit.
"But why do I have to listen to you? I'm not even sure that I'm that grateful for what you've done to me. No. I want to stay here. I want to live in this world, where my father passed away peacefully as an old man in his own bed with his beloved son by side. Here, where I'm needed and respected. Where I'm loved and can actually love someone in return. You hear me, my self-appointed guardian angel? I don't want to go back!"
The lights went out as if a candle was blown out in one breath, casting all in darkness. In that darkness, the Master screamed out his sorrow.
"Did you hear something?" The Doctor asked. He thought he heard a cry, primal and heartfelt, coming somewhere from behind the protective green walls of the garden.
"Nope." Rachel said, still gazing at the strange tall man with large, questioning eyes. "And there is no more tea. You've finished everything, even the sugarlumps."
"Well I had to, you didn't have any real sweets." The Doctor said as he kept sucking on the last one. "There should be sweets on a proper tea party, remember that for the next time."
Rachel bowed her little head and started cleaning up in silence, piling the cups and little saucers in her rickety basket.
"Hey, it was just a silly little joke. It was great. I loved your tea party. Next time you invite me, I'll certainly come and bring you some hot scones and marmalade."
"I don't think there's ever gonna be another tea party." Rachel muttered, keeping her eyes down.
"She told me that she couldn't manage, keeping up both worlds. She said it drains too much of her energy. I don't think she's going to keep mine for long."
"What do you mean? Who is she?"
Rachel sighed deeply. Even now that one of them could finally hear her, he wasn't really paying attention. "Alpha-Omega of course. Who else? She opened the door to the first room for you guys, but I was already in it. And your friend, he did something. He changed it. I saw it happen. I was suddenly inside that dark scary room with him although I really didn't want to be there and had wished very hard to return to the garden, but I couldn't leave. He was angry, and sad and he broke the mirror. It mixed everything up. All the rooms are the same now, and I can't get out so long as he doesn't order her to stop." She gazed at the Doctor. Her eyes quickly welled up with tears.
"I just want to go home. I haven't seen my mom and dad for such a long time now. Sometimes I can't even remember how they look like anymore." She said in a frail voice.
The Doctor wrapped his arms around her. "It's okay. Don't cry. I'll help you." He whispered. "Tell me where I can find your parents, and I'll bring you back with the Tardis. I swear."
Rachel swallowed her tears. "I…I think she might not let me leave."
"Oh she can't stop you. Not now I'm here." The Doctor reassured her.
You don't get it. There is something inside that third room, the one she wouldn't let me go into. It keeps me here."
"The third room…" A light bulb switched on inside the Doctor's head. He was standing in the white cavernous cabin facing the three doors. The Master was by his side while Alpha-Omega, in her polite but persistent voice told them that;
"Door number three is locked. You may not choose door number three."
"Well, can't I unlock it?"
"No. Door number three is locked and will remain so. You may not choose door number three."
"What's…behind door number three?" The Doctor muttered.
A shadow fell over the garden. It blocked out the sun and was followed by a strong wind that stripped the leaves from the branches, turning them bare as if it was the middle of winter.
"What's happening?" The Doctor yelled.
"I think she doesn't want you to remember it."
"But you knew about the third room. You remembered it too."
"She isn't worried about me. She doesn't mind that I know."
"But she does mind that I do." The Doctor muttered, and then a thought hit him. "Oh of course she does. I'm the one who can actually do something about it. Bullying a little girl is easy, but try to keep out a Timelord. Ha! That's a whole different ballgame."
"Doctor!" Rachel screamed. She was starting to disappear. Her small frame was swept into tiny golden particles that were carried away by the wind.
"Rachel! Don't be afraid! I'll remember you! I'll remember everything you've told me, and I'll get you out of here! I will!"
I have to remember this. The Doctor told himself, as the last traces of Rachel's world were wiped from his dreams. The third door, I have to find out what's behind that third door…
"Oh dear, I hope this works. I'm not a qualified medical doctor or anything, and there were so many bottles in the cabinet, it's easy to get them mixed up…Sir? Sir? Can you hear me sir?"
The Doctor opened a crusted eye and blinked at the tall green man with the mad spiky features.
"Who-wha-what?" He muttered and tried to get up. The world spun like mad and he quickly decided that it was better to lie down again.
"It's me sir. Vinnie, the Vinvocci servant. I served you breakfast?" He added with a trying smile.
"Ah, breakfast…yes yes…the most important meal of the day." The Doctor rambled, his brains were still garbled, the potion that Vinnie had given him needed time to straighten out his neurons, but it was slowly getting the first kinks out of the system. "You know what else is important…a door….I mean…not just any door. Oh no, it's a red door with a number painted on it…what number was it again? Let me think."
"I'm sorry sir. But there isn't much time. I must get you out of here before the orderlies return with doctor Fendman. Although our lord master has passed the order to his men not to harm you, you'll find that most of the medical treatments offered here in the medical ward are unfortunately, quite harmful."
Vinnie removed the loosened leather straps from his arms and legs, and dragged the bedazzled Doctor out of the bed before pushing him into a wheelchair.
"Now, just keep your head down, and act like a normal patient." Vinnie whispered urgently, while peeping his head around the door to check the corridors.
When he thought the coast was clear, he wheeled the Doctor outside and headed down the east wing. When an orderly walked up to them, Vinnie gulped down his fear, straightened his back, and greeted him with a polite little nod. The orderly passed by without giving the drooling young man sitting in the chair much notice.
"You know, I was really worried, but maybe this could work." Vinnie whimpered. The Doctor glanced up at him. His head was clearing up and he finally noticed the familiar green face. "Vinnie? Are you're rescuing me?" He asked, a little perplexed.
"Indeed sir. In fact, you're in the good hands of a secret member of the Rebel Squadron. And I'm taking you directly to miss Jones."
His throat was still carrying that scream when he woke up in bed, bathing in his own sweat. His sweet wife was lying next to him and quickly took his face in her cool soothing hands.
"Calm down my love! Calm down. You're had one of those nightmares again." She caressed his face. He looked at her, his breath rasping, a pair of green cat-eyes gazed back worriedly at him.
"Anne." The Master said hoarsely, and took her in her arms. "Oh Anne. I thought…I thought you were gone. I thought she took you away."
"Who did?" She asked hesitantly.
This was how it worked.
The Master's mind was like a house with many floors and many, many rooms. He only lived in one room at the time, and the most recent chamber that he occupied was packed with the artifacts of current affairs. The rules and regulations that he had invented for the Agora district was archived neatly, stacked side by side in large volumes on packed shelves, while the love he had for Anne was stored away with great care inside a vault. His achievements of his successful career were displayed on the mantelpiece like well-polished awards, and his flawless reputation was proudly presented as a focus point on his desk, while the precious, most loving memory of his late father were framed artworks on the wall. He loved living inside this room.
He didn't like to venture outside.
The rest of the house was in a derelict state. The corridors were damp with mould patches spreading everywhere like a disease over the skin, and behind many of the closed doors, skeletons were buried under the floorboard. Sometimes he was forced to open one of the sealed rooms, because however efficient Alpha-Omega may be, she could never fully control the mind of a Timelord. As the door swung open, and the stench of his sins hit him in his face, he would rather not look while shoving whatever had spilled out into the corridor back into the dark chamber before shutting it away again.
"She is…" He started, but then the loud bang resonated in his head as the more stubborn and frightened version of himself slammed shut the door behind him. "She is…" He paused. The dream was quickly fading and his guardian angel was disappearing from his existence. The locked rooms with the shrieking floorboards and the bloody handprints on the walls did not exist, had never existed. He was back inside his neat and tidy study, dreaming how his life should have been.
"She was no-one." He finally replied, and felt great relief that the truth was once again, forgotten.
Vinnie turned the corner and they left the bright airy spaces of the hospital ward behind them. They took a flight of stairs down into the raw innards of the complex, where lightbulbs were sparsely distributed and tresspassers were greeted by a wall of ancient cobwebs that wrapped itself around the Doctor's face like a dusty blanket of silk.
"Could you just let me out?" The Doctor asked, slightly irritated, and spitting a long thread with bits of insects out of his mouth. It was worse than driving in a convertible on a country road on a sunny summer day. "I can walk you know."
Vinnie shook his head, and kept pushing the wheelchair down the stairs, making the Doctor feel every bone inside his body ache at least once by the time they reached the bottom.
"I can't sir. It would look too suspicious."
"And wheeling a patient around in the basement isn't such a weird sight?"
"Not if we're quick." Vinnie replied and with a good shove, drove the chair right into the doors in front of them. He was afraid that the entrance to the underground passage way might be blocked since the last time he came down, but to his relief, the doors flung wide open while the impact of fragile knee bones with stubborn wooden panels extracted a cry from the Doctor.
"Oh, I'm so terribly sorry sir." Vinnie muttered, and quickly wheeled the Timelord inside before they alarmed anyone.
"I have just about enough of this! Let me out. Let me out right now!" The Doctor shouted. Vinnie stopped dead in his track and the Timelord immediately jumped out of the wheelchair as if he was bitten by insects. "That-" The Doctor pointed out, getting a strange feeling of déjà vu as he said it. "-was the worst rescue, ever!"
"That's a bit harsh. He just did his job. I though he was brilliant."
The Doctor turned around. He was surrounded by five bulky members of the Rebel Squadron, and this time, all of them were armed to the teeth. Martha Jones stood in front, her arms crossed over her chest and smiling.
"Martha! I thought they got you!" He rushed over and gave her a tight hug.
"They had. They also took my friends a day earlier, and they had been very busy digging their way out ever since the Timelord soldiers locked them up in the dungeon. You could say that I was just arrested in time to escape." She explained.
"Oh you clever lot! Still, what's with the guns?"
"We're not going to be taken prisoner so easily the second time around." One of the rebels replied sharply.
"Right." The Doctor said, staring disapprovingly at Martha.
"It's only for protection. We've got them from supplies when nobody was looking. No-one was hurt." Martha told him in their defense.
"Well someone is bound to get hurt with these around. Please, get them out of my face. How did you know where to find me?"
"My lord and Master was worried and ordered me to check on you in the psychiatry ward." Vinnie said. "I went to contact miss Martha right away."
"Vinnie here has been working for us for months now. He's the perfect man to help us find out what's being kept secret at the top." Martha explained.
"And rescuing you was not too hard." Vinnie continued. "There should be hundreds of guards around, but with the whole crazy situation with the Daleks, that weird planet showing up too early, and that giant tree that needed to be moved around, they were all ordered away from their posts. Getting you out unnoticed was just easy." The Vinvocci smiled.
"Hang on. What's the Master doing with a giant tree?" The Doctor asked furrowing his brows.
"It's just a tree, nothing special." Vinnie shrugged. "Perhaps it's a little bigger than average."
"There is no time for this." Martha interrupted. "Doctor, you have to come with me. I have to show you something important."
He couldn't sleep. Not after such a horrible nightmare, so he decided to work. At the top of the Pharos Beacon, he had converting the upper floor into something that very much resembled a giant greenhouse. Even at 3 am in the morning, his engineers were toiling in sweat and oil to turn his ingenious blueprint designs into reality. It was a machine that was connected to the living, breathing Tree, which had been transported and replanted in the middle of the great circular chamber. Its snakelike roots were connected to wires that slithered like silver snakes to the semi circle of consoles, where a continuous string of cryptic messages were sent across time and space back to Gallifrey. Between the consoles, 12 steel platforms were built, arranged around the ancient Tree like a fairy ring of mushrooms. Projected on the large windows facing the south of the colony was the giant face of the Lord President. His eyes, although bloodshot and tired, were still burning with alertness, demanding nothing less than total obedience.
"Lord Master, how long will it take to activate your marvelous machine?" He inquired.
"Not long milord. Another 4-6 hours perhaps." The Master replied. He checked the execution files that he had written for the control program immaculately. There was no place for errors.
"The Tree of Transcendence will become our salvation." Rassilon mused. "The Dalek Menace will no longer endanger our universe. The Timelords will finally win this war with an uncompromised victory. Tomorrow, the Saxon Treaty will cease, we will destroy the Daleks and a new time of peace and prosperity will begin." Rassilon paused, and looked down at him.
"Have you reserved a place for yourself, lord Master?"
"Yes Milord. I have, as you've instructed."
"I granted you a position by my side together with the 10 selected counsel members. You must realize that this is a great honor."
"And I feel honored sir. I truly do."
"Don't forget this, my lord Master. Remember what you soon will gain. Don't be tempted to look back. I cannot use a warrior with doubt in his hearts."
The Master bowed deeply. He knew that Rassilon was a man who could look into another man's soul, and rip the heart right out of him if it pleased him. The trick was to avoid such a horror scenario from ever happening to yourself, even if it meant that you had to conceal your true colors behind rows of grinning teeth.
Vinnie was right. Everywhere the Rebels went they found that the palace was pretty much deserted. Even the dungeons were poorly staffed. The hundreds of prisoners were left under watch of two Timelord soldiers who were not exactly the pick of the crop. It was easy enough for the Doctor to find a way to put his sonic screwdriver to good use. One well-aimed shot at the complicated security system, and the two were locked inside a mid section emergency shaft with the doors sealed for at least till two hours before anyone would find out.
Without being troubled, the Rebels and the Doctor entered the dungeon vaults, a miserable place, with the classic setup of rows and rows of barred cages. "So this is where he keeps his prisoners of war." The Doctor mumbled with disgust.
"Are those…Daleks in there?" Vinnie asked. His spikes twitched nervously. Behind the bars, lurking in the shadows in a tangle of chains, was what remained of the fearsome Dalek army that was captured on the planet of the Nomads. Their weapons have been brutally taken from them, both arm stalks literally cut off, so they could no longer do any harm. Even though the real creatures were sealed inside, and the Doctor knew that he was looking at nothing more than their armored shells, he thought that they looked pitiful. And there were hundreds, if not thousands of them. Rows of cages, all filled with Daleks, all mutilated and left in the underground vaults to rot.
"What are they keeping them alive for?" One of the Rebels, the tall man who liked to yield a gun, asked.
"It was stated clearly in the Treaty of Saxony, no-one of the signing party, may kill captured soldiers of Dalek or Timelord origin. That's why the Master has kept them locked up in here. Only he was sure to make them harmless first." The Doctor explained.
"Don't tell me we're wasting any of our limited resources on these monsters!" The Rebel snorted with a vindictive malice.
"A Dalek feeds on anger. He has not much use for a good bowl of stew or anything that you might consider food. But now that they are defeated…" The Doctor calmed stepped closer. "Look at them…they're starving."
"You're not pitying them, Doctor?" Martha asked, her own voice turning into stone.
He stared at her for a moment. In her eyes he saw a flash of anger that he could not remember ever seeing in the old Martha's eyes. The brutality of this world had chanced her, twisted her soul, and it grieved him.
"Why did you bring me here?" He asked.
"I was here when one of the high ranking Daleks was brought in. He was screaming when the guards cut off his metal limbs and accused the Timelords for tricking them into this Treaty. He claimed that he knew about the real purpose of the Spear of Vela Pulsa, and that the Dalek Emperor was not going to let you guys destroy everything that was Dalek."
"Let you guys destroy everything…" The Doctor noted sourly.
"Sorry, I meant Timelords, present company excluded." Martha replied hastily.
The Doctor strolled along the cages. "Which one said this?" He asked.
Martha led him to him.
The cage was dark. The sole Dalek warrior who was kept inside hid in the shadows, his eyepiece glowing dimly when he noticed that the humans approached. The Doctor crouched in front of the cage, seeing the beastly creature eye to eye.
"Tell me, what is wrong with the Saxon Treaty?"
The clunk of metal as the beaten figure shifted, and the light in the eyepiece lit up.
"WHO DEMANDS TO KNOW?" The creature stated.
"Me." The Doctor stated.
A heartbeat of silence, then; "ARE YOU A TIMELORD?"
"Yes. I am."
"WHY WOULD I INFORM THE ENEMY?"
"Because, my metal nemesis. At the very moment, it looks like we're fighting at the same side."
"YOU TIMELORDS ARE FULL OF TRICKS. NO HONESTY CAN BE EXPECTED FROM SUCH A FOUL, IMPURE RACE."
"Oh come on. We didn't trick you! How could we? Your soldiers stormed into the protected refugee zone and broke the treaty. You can't blame the lord chancellor for locking you up, although his treatment was unusually cruel."
"HIS LORD CHANCELLOR'S CRUELTY IS NOTHING COMPARED TO THE TORTURE YOUR ENTIRE LOWLY RACE WOULD ENDURE IN OUR HANDS IF WE HAD BEEN ABLE TO TAKE OVER AGORA I. WE WOULD NOT HAVE TAKEN ANY PRISONERS OF WAR. THE WEAK FLESH OF THE VANQUISHED WOULD PILE UP IN THE GUTTERS WHILE THEIR BLOOD RAN COLD IN SHALLOW STREAMS. WE WOULD DRAG YOUR LORD CHANCELLOR THROUGH THE STREETS OF HIS PRAISED COLONY BEFORE WE TEAR HIM APART FORM LIMB TO LIMB!"
"But why? I know your race. You don't do anything on your own initiative. Rules are set in stone for you bunch, and if the Dalek Emperor has decided to honor a Timelord treaty, the rest of you are pretty much stuck with it. After all these long years, why breach the truce now? Why do you harbor such a specific hatred against the lord chancellor? What has he done to evoke your wrath?"
"IT IS WHAT HE DESERVES. HE FOOLED US INTO BELIEVING THAT WE CAN CO-EXIST WITH THE TIMELORDS, WHILE ALL THIS TIME, HE WAS DESIGNING THE INSTRUMENT OF OUR DESTRUCTION."
"You mean the Spear of Vela Pulsa? But you knew about the Spear, it's why you were prompted to sign the treaty. Without it, you wouldn't have agreed to stop fighting."
"THE TREATY WAS SIGNED BY THE DALEKS BECAUSE WE DID NOT WANT THE TIMELORDS TO USE THEIR DEADLY WEAPON."
"And we won't! The Spear is a just a means to an end, we weren't really going to use it. Deploying it would mean the end of creation, which means the end of everything Dalek and Timelord alike. No rational man would ever consider such an option. It's suicide."
"NOT IF THE TIMELORDS NO LONGER FEAR DEATH."
"What do you mean? Why would the Timelord stop fearing death?" The Doctor asked anxiously.
"THE TREE OF TRANSCENDENCE THAT GREW ON THE PLANET ANKHASMODEA. WE DALEKS HAVE SEARCHED IT FOR DECADES, ONLY TO WATCH IT FALL IN THE HANDS OF THE GREATEST ENEMIES."
"The Tree of Transcendence." The Doctor's face suddenly turned a shade of unnaturally white. "But that's just a myth. You mean it really exists?"
"What is the Tree of Transcendence?" Martha asked, noticing the chance in his expression. "Is it important?"
"Legend has that a single tree grows on the planet Ankhasmodea." The Doctor explained to her. "A tree that is so ancient that it has grown there since the beginning of time. Its roots are bound to the material world, while it's branches transcend into the immaterial universe. It exists between those two and can act like a bridge for anyone who wants to move on into a higher plane of existence."
"AN EXISTENCE THAT HAS NO NEED FOR THE MATTER FROM WHICH WE ARE ALL CREATED."
"The final sanction." The Doctor whispered. "The destruction of creation itself, because it's no longer needed by the higher beings that the Timelords aim to become."
"Oh my god, they are going to activate the Spear." Martha gasped.
"THAT'S WHY THE DALEKS ARE FIGHTING TO THE DEATH TO DESTROY AGORA I. IF WE DON'T STOP THE TIMELORDS, THIS WOULD BE THE END OF EVERYTHING DA-LEK."
"Vinnie!" The Doctor shouted, and jumped up with a crazy-eyed expression on his face. He rushed over to the Vinvocci servant and shook him till his spikes trembled. "Where did the Master took that large tree that you were rambling about?"
The Tree was ready.
The machine was singing.
It was time.
On 11 of the 12 platforms, the holovids representations of the Timelord counsel select and the Lord president himself were standing like solemn statues on their pedestals, impatiently waiting for the transcendence to begin. The Master glanced over the panel of winking lights, levers, buttons and dials and counted his heartbeats. If he failed, the entire Timelord government would be wiped out, but if he succeeded…they would become Gods.
He noticed that his fingers were trembling as it hovered just above the buttons. Anne took his other hand, and wrapped her soft hand around it. He glanced at her, his beautiful wife, standing proudly by his side, and he smiled.
He pulled the lever and the machine was switched on. Blue sparks of violent energy was sucked out of the Tree, traveled down the root system and from the wire extensions into the consoles which sent it all the way back to the home planet of the Timelords. The 11 Timelord elders became engulfed in a bright glorious glow.
"It works!" Rassilon roared, raising his staff in the air. "I can feel the raw power coursing through my body, breaking down the molecules in every cell, freeing my spirit from its suffocating dusty shell."
"Master! Stop this. Stop this immediately!"
He turned, and saw the Doctor rushing in with a small company of armed Rebels. The Timelord soldiers who guarded the Tree immediately took their aim, but so did the members of the Rebel Squadron, and they cleverly found a much better target by aiming directly at the lord chancellor's head.
"No don't. Don't! Nobody is going to shoot anyone, do you hear me!" The Doctor said sternly, while he placed himself in front the line of guns .
"What are you doing here?" The Master hissed.
"Master, you have to stop this madness. You can't let the Timelords transcend!"
"And let the opportunity pass us by to become Gods? Are you serious?"
"Oh could you just for once not act like a complete selfish twat? Please think! Think of the others, the refugees, your wife!"
"I am thinking about them, that's why this operation has to succeed. You know very well that the Truce with the Daleks won't last forever. Sooner or later, the war will continue, and it won't end till everything in this universe is drawn into its destructive path. But if we would become the most powerful beings of creation, creatures that could control the world around us with our minds alone, the Daleks would no longer pose a threat. Think about this, Doctor! We could destroy their entire abdominal race and scatter their ashes over time and space with as little as a blink of an eye."
A feeling of relief washed over the Doctor as he realized what the Master wasn't part of this. "You're not the one who wants to activate the Spear. They haven't told you..."
"What? What didn't they tell me?" The Master furrowed his brows. He turned and fixed his eyes on Rassilon.
The lord president gazed back at the Master, his blue eyes ablaze with a voracious type of insanity. "Initiate the second part of the final sanction." He ordered.
"But...There is no second part."
"Not for you. But I bet someone got the connection with the control of the Spear up and working while you were busy." The Doctor muttered. The ground shook violently, and a loud rumble was heard, coming from many floors below, as if a dangerous beast had been awakened from its slumber.
"Lord chancellor!" One of the engineers shouted from behind the console. "The Spear! It's activating!"
The Master rushed over and stared with wide-eyed shock at the flashing warning signs that lit up all over the screens. "Shut it down manually! Shut it down now!"
"Can't sir. It's locked. Everything is locked." The man reported. "We've lost control over the entire system."
The Master turned back to Rassilon with a look of total bewilderment. "My lord president!"
"I told you, lord Master, don't look back to what is already passed its time." Rassilon answered coldly.
"But… …what about Agora. The colony was my creation I'm responsible for its people. The refugees…what's going to happen to all of them?"
"Like our enemies, they will perish."
The Master kept shaking his head in incredulity, and slowly backed away.
"Don't you get it?" The Doctor interrupted. "Rassilon is playing you like a pawn! It was never his intention to use the Tree of Transcendence to save anyone but himself. In the mind of this powersick tyrant, there is no place for others."
"To achieve victory in war, one has to be prepared to make sacrifices." The Lord President justified. "The pestilence that is the Dalek race will threaten us no more."
"But you're sacrificing our entire universe! We have shed blood and tears fighting this war! Good men have died to defend our cause!" The Master spat.
"It was their duty to pay the ultimate sacrifice for Gallifrey. Like it was yours to bring us to glory. Lord Master, now it is time to reap your reward. The moment has come for you to rise with me and ascend to the light." Rassilon gestured to the empty platform that was waiting for him. "Take your place amongst the future Gods. Fulfill your destiny. Don't look back." Rassilon warned.
"Don't listen to him!" The Doctor said. "We can still stop them."
"Oh but you know you cannot." The lord president answered slyly. "You've designed this contraption yourself. You know that once the process has started, it cannot be stopped. That's why I admire your work my lord Master. Your engineering genius ensures that the both the Spear and the Transcendence are absolutely infallible."
"What about Anne?" The Master asked. "Can she come?"
"Your wife is not one of us. Where we go, she cannot follow." Rassilon answered coldheartedly.
"You're telling me to leave her behind to die?"
"I'm offering you the gift of eternity. Either live forever, free of pain, suffering and disease, or die like the miserable worm you prefer to be."
The Master shook his head, but a warm hand wrapped around his. He turned to Anne, who looked at him with teary eyes.
"Love, listen to me." Anne shivered when she held his hand. "Go with them." She begged him. "Don't stay here."
"Master…" The Doctor shook his head slowly, holding in his breath.
"What is your answer, lord Master?" Rassilon asked.
His throat was dry like parchment. He turned and gazed at the last platform that was still bathing in the raw energy that was released from the Tree. His whole life, he had been dreaming to be in possession of such power. To be able to shape time and space to your own liking with a single thought. To be finally liberated from the fear of death, of grief, and regrets, and of a past that he wished had never been, but what she, his guardian angel, had so cruelly reminded him of.
"I came back to warn you." She had told him, opening the doors to the sealed chambers of his mind, letting the other world, the tainted memory of the other him, enter like a nightmare after the last beams of sun had been cast over the hills at twilight.
"It's hard to face the truth. Especially when it is so much more painful than the lie. But even from the most wonderful, most lively dreams, one has to wake up someday."
But even if his entire life, this world that had built was just a dream, he wouldn't allow it to be destroyed.
"My lord president." He said, his voice hoarse but forced to remain polite. You offer is most generous, but I am afraid I cannot accept it."
"You are a fool, lord Master." Rassilon laughed. He raised his sheeted hand, and with one well-aimed strike with his gauntlet he destroyed the platform, setting it ablaze with a bolt of lightening.
"Perish with the others as you wish, but we will ascend to become Gods!" He roared.
"I am afraid I cannot let that happen either." The Master replied sharply.
"You are even a bigger fool if you believe you can go up against me." Rassilon reacted, still basking in confidence.
"You're right lord president. The transfer cannot be stopped. However…" The Master moved slowly to the back.
"It can still be reversed." The Doctor murmured, realizing what his old friend had in mind.
The Master pulled down a seemingly random group of levels.
The effect on the power-hungry Timelords was almost instant as the mystical energy was immediately retrieved by the ancient Tree. Martha watched with growing horror how the faces of the men of the Timelord counsel aged in seconds. Spines grew crooked, cheeks caved in, and eyes withdrew into their sockets while noses shriveled away, leaving only grinning skulls covered by brittle layer of skins. And all the while, these most unfortunate, greedy men were screaming in agony.
"You shall die with me, Master!" Rassilon raged while the last of his flesh peeled off from his skull. "The Spear will rip this universe apart! Everything shall perish!"
Not if I can stop it. The Master thought. There must be a way to stop it. The Doctor had always found a way to thwart him. If he could rely on only one thing that had not changed in this reality, it should be the simple fact that he could count on that fateful flaw in his design that would bring down his own destructive plans.
As the lord president's bones and skin turned brittle and mummy-like the ancient Tree began to miraculously transform. For where there had been bare knots of branches covered in layers of bird guano, new green sprouts began to grow. They reached for the sky where the buds burst open into blossoms of vibrant green leaves.
It didn't take long, or the last bits and pieces of the late lord president were sucked dry and crumbled into a pile of shapeless dust, joining in form the 10 other high counsel members.
And that, in a nutshell, was the end of the whole horrible lot.
"Well that's about the first time the sour bastard had done anything that benefited anyone but himself…or in this case…anything." The Master remarked dryly.
The Pharos tower shook dangerously, rattling the large windows with a brutal force.
"I don't want to be rude sir." Vinnie noted with alarm. "But there is still the matter of the Spear that really needs your attention right now!"
"We have to shut it down!" The Doctor rushed over to the consoles while taking out his sonic and whirring it over the screens. The program flashed for a short moment, but then continued to perform its deadly task.
"No use. The controls are dead." The Master pulling Anne to the transportation shafts. "It has to be shut it down manually. Someone has to go down into the underground silo and try to inactivate it."
"We know the way back." Martha opted, shining with bravery. "We can help."
"Nobody knows the Spear better than me. I designed the bloody thing. I will be the one who shuts it down. Satonius!"
The general of his personal guards stepped forward. "Yes sir?"
"Prepare our entire fleet for evacuation. Order the men to bring the refugees to safety. Use every spacecraft that we have. And you, rebel girl." He beckoned to Martha. "Make yourself useful for once, take your friends down into the streets and help my men to get everybody on board. We have to leave before the core destabilizes."
Martha nodded firmly and left with the Rebel Squadron, following by the general and his troops.
"But that's just madness. Even if we did get away from Agora in time, if the Spear is launched, nowhere will be save." Anna said, staring back at her husband with wide frightened eyes. An awful feeling tightened her stomach. "My love, please tell me. Don't lie. Tell me you can shut it down. Tell me you will leave with us."
"I can't." The Master said in a soft voice, and with pain in his hearts he tore his gaze from her and turned to the Doctor. "I want you to keep her safe." He told him. "Here, take this." He removed his father's seal ring from his finger and tossed it over to the Doctor.
"The key to my Tardis." The Master replied. "It's hidden inside the Agora library. Take her there. If I fail, and this universe is destined for destruction, use the Tardis to escape through the cracks of the timevortex to another dimension."
"I won't take this. I know that look on your face. You're going to sacrifice yourself in order to stop the Spear." The Doctor said sternly.
"Someone has to stay behind to destroy it."
"Then I'll stay. We both stay. We'll shut it down together!"
"This cursed thing is my creation Doctor! So I should be the one who does this, for everyone's sake."
"Don't do this." The Doctor urged. "You don't have to sacrifice yourself. None of us does."
"There is no other way."
"No one has to die. Just stop panicking and start thinking. I told you that this world never should have existed. You and I, we came from another world, another reality. That little girl Rachel who haunted you day and night, she came to me in my dream. You never listen to what she has to tell you. Let her come to you. You've got a bloody brilliant mind in that thick skull of yours, for once in your life, use it, and you should be able to figure out what she means and undo all this before the Spear is launched."
"No, I won't." The Master replied, defeated.
The Doctor gazed back at him. "You knew, didn't you?" He murmured softly. "I thought I was just wasting my breath, but you're way too clever to fall for this. You knew it, all the time, you knew that this wasn't real."
"Don't say it isn't real!" The Master burst out in anger. "My love for my wife is real. Anne is real! And so are the millions of people out there for whom I am responsible and whose death will be on my conscience if I don't stop the Spear!"
"Master." The Doctor tried, holding up his hands. "Calm down. This was never supposed to happen. We were stranded on an abandoned spaceship. Rachel was there. This computer host in blue humanoid form offered us the choice of three doors -"
"Stop it!" The Master spat back at him.
"Rachel was haunting you for a reason! You have to reverse this and undo this dangerous alternative universe that you've created before it's too late!"
"And then what? If this, all of this is turned back. What then? Will I go back to the man I once was? The monster of my nightmares? A coward and a murderer?"
"I know you're afraid. But you're not that man. Not anymore. Trust me. You've changed."
"But I'll still be able to remember." The Master replied, swallowing hard. "My father, Doctor, I've seen what I've done to him. And I cannot imagine that I would ever be able to sleep again, knowing that it was me who had murdered him. I don't want to carry that burden for the rest of my life."
The Doctor was about to say something when the tower shook again, this time so violently that cracks started to appear on the walls and cobweb fractures bloomed on the windows while the frames creaked and splintered.
"There no time." The Master told the Doctor. "Please. Take Anne to the Tardis."
Anne grabbed his hand. "No." She cried. "I don't want to leave you."
"Anne, listen to me. I love you, more than anything else in this world. More than I could ever imagine myself to be capable of such love. If we survive this, I promise you, I'll find you." He caressed her cheeks, wiping the tears from her face. "I'll find you, but you've to keep yourself safe for now. Go with the Doctor." Gently, he pushed her away. "Go!" As Anne parted with him, she glanced back over her shoulder, and her heart was breaking with sorrow.
"Promise to keep her safe."
The Doctor's eyes lingered on his friend for a moment. "Cross my hearts." He finally promised, then he turned away. "Anne, Vinnie, follow me!"
He took the others to the transportation shaft and left with them for to the library, leaving the Master on his own. He was about to head down to the Spear when a massive explosion lit up the sky outside the windows. In their desperation, the Dalek fleet had resumed to attack the colony's protection shield. Their squadrons were flying into the heavily armed barriers, and crashed and burned in their suicidal attempts, while the explosions that they caused rippled the energy field like a stormy wind would swell the restless waves at sea. For now, the shield prevailed and kept them out of the colony, but there was no doubt that the Daleks knew about the Spear, and had launched their entire fleet in a last attempt to destroy Agora I to undo the Timelord's deadly weapon. There was not much time left. With the hardened mind of a man who was about to plunge the dagger into his own heart, he hit the button to transport himself down into the underground chambers.
The final chapter will be up next week, the 6th of November. Meanwhile, please comment and review.