Disclaimer: Wants... 0_0
BB - yup, I do indeed love hearing from readers - many thanks for letting me know you're around and enjoying the fic! :D
Also thanks to the usual suspects - x-Avarice-x, MaxRide05, Ilssii-Koschei, ShirouHokuto, TheMasterOfTime, Brownbug and utahraptor - you've been such a great bunch of reviewers to have along for this fic! :D
The Doctor was beginning to wonder if he had perhaps taken the sonic screwdriver for granted all these years. With their backs to the wall, he and Wilf were skirting around the edge of a courtyard, which was as silent and empty as the rest of the estate grounds that they had passed through. Various side doors and back doors opened into the courtyard, but so far they all seemed to be locked, and the Doctor was growing increasingly frustrated. He probably could have picked a lock the old-fashioned way, but whether it was impatience or an increasing sense of urgency the closer they got to the Master, he kept moving, tugging at every doorhandle they came to.
One wary eye on their surroundings, Wilf trailed along after. They reached a gap in the wall and cautiously peered around the corner, but there was no sign of movement, so they furtively scuttled across the gap and ducked into the shadows of a brick archway.
"Doctor, there's something I've been meaning to ask you," Wilf whispered, stepping to one side of a low, wooden door recessed into the wall. "That man, your friend – is he…was he…oh." The door had opened easily when the Doctor turned the handle.
"Either someone knew I'd be coming this way…or we're in luck." Throwing a confident grin over his shoulder, the Time Lord stooped to enter, Wilf following close behind.
Descending a short flight of stairs, they found themselves in a long, narrow basement, dimly lit by the glow of several computer screens and a faint blue luminescence emitting from the far end. Wires trailed along the floor and up the walls to meet in a tangle above their heads, giving the impression of vines and creepers in a jungle of technology.
"Ooh. Well, this isn't Earth technology," said the Doctor, stopping short and raising his eyebrows. "Not the Daleks either, though. So what is it?" Scientific curiosity apparently aroused, the Doctor rummaged fruitlessly in his pocket for his spectacles, bending over a screen. Lost for words, Wilf simply stared around the room, marvelling. "This bit's a teleport – that's easy enough," the Doctor was saying, more to himself than the awestruck Wilf. "No co-ordinates plotted – not unless you want to end up somewhere in orbit. I wonder if the Master would know wh-"
"You must be the Doctor." Startled, they whirled around, Wilf nearly knocking his head on another screen mounted on the wall. From out of a stairwell in another wall, a rectangle of light appeared as a door was opened, and a figure stepped into view – a young woman with dishevelled hair and weary, dark eyes, who stood out in the gloom in her fuchsia-pink dress and cardigan.
"Yes – yes, I'm the Doctor. Hello." The Doctor quickly recovered his composure and took a step towards the young woman, but Wilf narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Do you know where the Master is? Is he all right?" The woman drew herself upright, pride bringing a glow to her cheeks as she answered.
"Harold Saxon is Master of this house."
"Yes, but where is he?" the Doctor insisted, not unkindly but with a hint of desperation creeping into his voice. "What about the Daleks?"
"They don't know I'm here," the woman replied, leaning back with one hand on a desk and raising her head. Her voice had taken on an almost childlike quality. "It's our secret. Harold Saxon wants you to help him, Doctor."
"Ah." The Doctor's eyes widened with what Wilf thought could have been surprise, and he lowered his voice, moving closer to the woman and speaking in the hushed tones of conspiracy. "Tell me everything he said." Perplexed but relieved that she didn't intend to give them away, Wilf strained his ears to make out her voice.
"He is the only one keeping time." The Doctor took in the words with a contemplative nod, eyes distantly pensive, and for some seconds, there was silence.
"What? What's that mean – the only one keeping time?" Wilf demanded, baffled – it sounded like it could have been a riddle, or it could have been the nonsense of a madman, and having encountered the Master in person, Wilf wasn't sure which was more likely.
"Did he say anything else? What about this?" the Doctor persisted as if he hadn't heard Wilf, gesturing to the screens.
"This is the Immortality Gate. He's repairing it – he says it copies over populations."
"Copies over populations?" the Doctor repeated, turning his head to study the alien technology once again with a puzzled frown. The screens displayed several rows of symbols like spiked wheels, nearly filling the screen except for the bottom row. "That's not good. That's very, very not good – not in the hands of Daleks. And I'm no expert…well, I am, but I've never seen this before in my life…but if I'm not mistaken, I'd say…" As they watched, another symbol whirled into focus in the bottom row, and the Doctor suddenly leaped back as if he had been electrocuted, drawing in his breath sharply. "It's nearly finished!" The last word was almost shouted over his shoulder – he darted past the woman and made a dive for the door she had entered through, hurdling the steps two at a time, and Wilf followed without a moment's hesitation. Breathless, he struggled to keep up with the Doctor, who raced ahead, tan coat flapping behind him as he practically leaped around corners and they hurtled down plush-carpeted corridors, walls lined with portraits and vases on pedestals.
Wilf barely noticed the finery. He was puffing for breath by the time he rounded the second corner – and skidded to an abrupt halt to avoid colliding with the Doctor. The Time Lord was standing tall and defiant, facing square-on the solid shape of a navy green Dalek that blocked the corridor. It didn't even occur to Wilf to turn and flee – he stepped up beside the Doctor, feet automatically coming together in stalwart military precision.
"The Doctor and his human companion will witness our victory," the Dalek announced.
"That sounds like pride to me," said the Doctor coldly. "You know what they say about pr-"
"Silence!" the Dalek barked. "We cannot fail, once our existence in this time stream has been ensured. You will witness, Doctor, enemy of the Daleks – and then you will be exterminated." It slid back several feet and the Doctor strode forwards and down an adjoining corridor, eyes trained ahead. Behind, he heard Wilf's footsteps moving steadily and firmly, and the faint hum of the Dalek gliding after them.
"What's going on, Doctor, sir?" There was barely a hint of trepidation in Wilf's voice, despite his confusion, and the Doctor felt a twinge of admiration for the old soldier.
"There's a paradox," the Doctor explained quietly as they walked. "There's a temporally transcendent telepathic transm-" Wilf blinked, and the Doctor quickly backtracked. "Those dreams you've been having – they're a signal, broadcast through time and space. That's why the Daleks are here – they found out about it and traced it. It's still possible for it to be sent, so the Daleks are still here. If it couldn't be sent – if it became impossible – they would never have known and couldn't have come here to this point in time."
"And Har- Your friend, the Master?"
"He's the only one who can send it, apparently." The Doctor's voice became brooding again as he sank into thought. "He's the only thing holding the paradox in place…"
"…he is the only one keeping time…" – there had to be something else behind the words, though, something that still eluded the Doctor, but was hovering tantalisingly out of his reach. Something else the curious wording could signify…
"So if something happened to-" Wilf broke off as it dawned on him with a lurch of guilt where his train of thought was headed. The Doctor registered the words and nodded expressionlessly. That couldn't have been the Master's intent – although it meant, he realized, that the Daleks couldn't risk killing him. Yes, that was more like the Master – self-preservation first and foremost. Look after number one.
As they passed through high, oak doors into the foyer of a grand hall, bright in the midday sun that shone through a domed glass ceiling, Wilf was alarmed to notice the corner of the Doctor's mouth twitching in a suppressed smile.
Now they were proceeding straight down the middle of the hall, the Dalek gliding past to join another at the far end, where they positioned themselves either side of a towering electrical archway – the Gate, they guessed. At the sight of the device that had been placed inside the tunnel of shimmering panels, the Doctor's hearts grew cold – he recognized the Progenitor instantly, a capsule containing pure Dalek DNA – and nearly stopped short when another piece of the puzzle clicked into place.
"…it copies over populations."
"It's a template…" he breathed. "But they can't…"
"Can't what?" Wilf turned to the Doctor, fear finally breaking into his voice when he caught sight of the horror on the Doctor's face.
"They're going to rewrite the DNA of the entire human race… Amplify the power of that Gate and they'll have six billion Daleks…just like that…"
"Affirmative," the lead Dalek confirmed. The Doctor and Wilf stopped beside a desk, which Wilf found himself leaning against as he reeled in shock, shaking his head in disbelief. The Doctor was silent, and it occurred to Wilf with a stab of despair that perhaps he had finally admitted defeat.
The Doctor's eyes, however, were sweeping the hall. He took in a glass booth against one wall – a nuclear bolt power source, by the looks of it – the two screens, one behind Wilf on the desk and the other across the hall; and the slouched, white-haired figure sat behind the other screen, head turned away as though he hadn't even noticed the Doctor's presence. As the Doctor's attention fell on him, the tapping of the Master's fingers on the computer keyboard accelerated slightly and the Daleks' eyestalks swivelled to fix on him.
The Doctor's mind was still racing when with a final, almost triumphant, keystroke, the final symbol on the screen swelled into focus, filling the screen. A rippling in the air like a thick, roiling heat haze inside the Gate was accompanied by a humming from the wires, announcing without a doubt that the technology was now fully functional.
"You will now ensure our existence in this time stream, Time Lord," the lead Dalek commanded, and there was a visible change in the Master's posture as he raised his head, a clear gaze meeting their glassy blue one. Wilf only just caught a brief glance that passed almost imperceptibly between the two Time Lords as they turned their heads slightly, simultaneously.
"You really should have used my name, you know," he said calmly, pushing himself to his feet. "See, there's two Time Lords in this room now – how do you know it won't be the other who answers?"
"Oh – you want me to try and work this Gate of yours?" the Doctor spoke up, the picture of wide-eyed, innocent surprise. The Daleks' eyestalks swung to face him in alarm as he continued. "Well, that's probably not a very good idea – see, I've never seen this technology before." His forehead creased and he raised one finger to his mouth, nibbling at the edge of his fingernail thoughtfully – and then reached out and pressed several keys, apparently at random, on the keyboard behind Wilf. "I've no idea what it does – you never know what I might- Wilf, get down!"
"The Doctor will not interfere!" the Daleks screeched. "Exterminate!" Sizzling beams missed Wilf and the Doctor by inches as they threw themselves behind the desk.
"Ooh, close – better luck next time," came the Master's voice, laced with mirth – peering from behind the desk, shaken, Wilf was incredulous to see the other Time Lord with laughter in his eyes, watching with folded arms as the Daleks advanced on the desk where Wilf and the Doctor sheltered. Breathing hard, the Doctor raised his head cautiously, squinting to make out a flashing, red-bordered rectangle on the screen on the desk.
INVALID COMMAND. ASSIGN MASTER OPERATING CONSOLE
It would be, wouldn't it? the Doctor thought to himself with a wry smile as his hand crept over the top of the desk and deftly tapped out a basic sequence of keys – transferring control of the entire Gate to a single computer, the one which the Master stood behind. Then, wordlessly, he rose into full view of the two Daleks.
"You cannot prevent our victory," said the golden-bronze one, its ray gun pointed straight towards the unflinching Doctor's hearts.
"Doctor – what are you-" Below the desk, the Doctor's hand gestured sharply and Wilf clamped his mouth shut, scooting back from the desk at another hasty sign.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," the Master called from across the hall. Once again, his fingers began expertly darting across the keyboard, and the green Dalek spun around, aiming its ray gun in his direction.
"Do not touch the machine," it ordered, and then when the Master paid no heed, its voice rose in volume and urgency. "Stop! The Master is sabotaging the Gate!"
"Who, me?" the Master grinned. Both Daleks aimed their ray guns. "We go back a long way, the Doctor and me…"
"Ex-" they began in unison.
"…and he'll always..."
"…use my name…"
"…but you never know when I might…" He depressed several keys at once and the Doctor tore his eyes away from the shining metal of the gold Dalek's ray gun to glance at the screen on the desk before him.
"…delegate." A fraction of a second before the Daleks fired, something flashed up on the Doctor's screen; a surge of adrenaline seemed to jumpstart his reflexes and he moved almost before his brain had had a chance to connect the final pieces of the puzzle.
100% COMMAND TRANSFERRED
Unable to kill the Master, the green Dalek shot at his computer; he leaped back in the nick of time, shielding his face as the machine exploded.
NO BACKUP AVAILABLE
The Doctor's hands reached out and snatched up his own computer off the desk, extending his arms and ducking to one side. It was already too late for the Dalek to adjust its aim – it had fired, and the white-hot laser beam struck the computer, shattering the light plastic and incinerating the circuits inside.
Down in the basement, Abigail huddled on the bottom step with her knees hugged tightly to her chest. Her father's voice echoed in her mind,
"…you just leave it to Daddy…"
…and she had – her whole, unwavering, undivided trust had been placed in the hands of…a face was swimming before her memory – a gaunt, pallid face, cheeks rough with stubble, exactly how she remembered it…but there was still something missing, and other fragments were beginning to echo from the most distant confines of her memory as if shouting from behind a locked door…
"…it seems help is at hand…"
"…we call it the Immortality Gate…"
"…it's all Abigail's idea." She remembered a beam of unearthly energy, the outline of bare bones in an electric blue glow…
A red light pulsed at the periphery of her vision and she raised her head. The screens, whose wires coiled into a fat rope that snaked through a hole in the wall to connect with the two computers in the main hall, were now illuminating the darkened basement in blinking red – the pale green symbols had vanished and an alert now flashed on an opaque background:
CONNECTIONS TERMINATED. NO DATA AVAILABLE
Hands cut and bleeding, the Doctor staggered back from the sparking remains of the computer. The faint hum that the Gate had been giving off was escalating as power surged unregulated through its systems. Along the length of the wires that had connected it to the computers, fuses blew with a series of sharp pops, and in the glass containment booth, the nuclear bolt began to emit a high-pitched whine as it accelerated. Tendrils of electricity crackled across the panels of the Gate, melting through the delicate connections as the intricate circuitry quickly overloaded – until a shower of orange-white sparks burst from several points in the gaps between the panels. Fizzing where they landed, they quickly ignited the already overheated insulation around the attachments to the Progenitor. In a matter of seconds, it was over and the blue-green glow of the Gate died, damaged beyond repair.
Time itself quaked. The two Time Lords felt it like a physical blow – the Doctor stumbled, gripping the edge of the desk; the Master, still somewhat dizzy from the sedation and relentless hunger that ached in the pit of his stomach, was knocked to his hands and knees. Around him, the winds of time began to build until they were felt by everyone in the room, sweeping outwards as the broken paradox began to unravel the loosely knitted-together timelines of those mortal enemies, the Time Lords and the Daleks – a pale imitation of the furthest edges of the colossal war that had once entangled them.
Watching the panic of the two Daleks as they grasped their defeat, the Master felt a warm glow of satisfaction. Pity it wouldn't last, he thought – this time, there would be no-one at the eye of the storm; no-one to remember. Still, no harm in enjoying his victory while it did last… Clinging to a marble column at his back for support, he let out a shout of triumphant laughter – and as they were pulled irreversibly back into their own timeline, he made sure the last thing the two Daleks saw before they shimmered and flickered to nothing was his eyes glinting with manic delight.
Steadily, the rushing filled his ears – never drowning out the drums, though…nothing could, he knew that now, least of all time itself… But another sound was fighting to be heard, and he became aware that the Doctor was shouting his name and had forced his way across the mosaic floor to reach the desk just metres away from him. Behind them, Wilf and the soldiers in the glass booth blinked out like deactivated holograms.
"It was the drums, wasn't it – keeping time?" The Doctor's voice was barely audible over the howling wind. "It's some sort of temporally transcendent psychic marker – if you'd stood in that Gate, it wouldn't just have sent your impression across Earth, it would have sent it through time."
"And right across the universe – wherever the human race spread itself." The Master could already feel the inexorable pull of time tugging at him. "It's real, Doctor…took you how long to figure that out?"
"I wouldn't know," the Doctor replied, and there was a gleam in his eyes. "I wasn't the one keeping time." He grinned, and for just a few moments, all the centuries of bitter hatred meant nothing as the Master returned the infectious smile, before the Doctor faded into the swirling currents of time.
The Master hung on for a little longer, struggling for breath as he resisted the unwinding and reversing of the causal nexus. Alone in a blurring, failing timeline, he began to feel apprehension creeping over him. His past was more uncertain than the Doctor's – he had been brought forth from death this time, and logically, he knew his resurrection was in no way connected to the arrival of the Daleks…but time was such a fragile web and the threads were so easily snapped.
Even if he could be certain of his eventual return to life, the very thought of letting go sent a cold chill of fear through him. The idea of just vanishing into nothing – like the Daleks and the Doctor – it was oblivion, it was a kind of death in itself, and it terrified him.
But as the wave finally broke over him and he felt himself ripped away from the last threads of the timeline, he was glad he had allowed himself that brief sense of unity with his ages-old nemesis, the mutual connection that still bound them together after all these years – because there was one small consolation.
At least the Doctor would never remember.
And there we go. All done and dusted.
Well, it's been an interesting ride, this one. It started out as a bit of an experimental fanfiction which I wasn't sure I'd even upload. Had some fun with points-of-view, retelling "End of Time", trying new characters, writing Daleks, twisting canon into timey-wimey knots... Well, I'm glad I stuck with it - it was immensely satisfying to write and share - and I hope you've found it worthwhile to read, even if it did turn out to be...well, another "Fanfic That Never Was", a PBDC - Potentially But Dubiously Canon...
Concrit is always welcome - as are comments about what you enjoyed, of course - or anything you want to say, really. And while I'm at it, a bit of shameless self-promotion never hurt - I've got plenty of other fics to keep you entertained until my next major project! Said next major project will be a long sci-fi mystery called "A Matter of Time", featuring Eleven, Rory and Amy. Might be a while off, but keep an eye out for me...
A big thanks to everyone who's read to the end! May you never be exterminated! :D