For the first time since he had regenerated, the Master experienced a profound sense of loss and loneliness that was so overwhelming that it cut into his hearts like two daggers of ice. The awareness that the Doctor's words could still affect him so deeply also puzzled and infuriated him, for he regarded any feelings he might have for the Doctor to be a relic of the old Master. This was not him. These foolish sentiments belonged to the man with an obvious flaw.
The man who cared about the Doctor.
The man who was supposed to be dead.
"Why?" He questioned himself as he stalked the dark empty streets. "Why the hell did I let him get away?"
He shouldn't have. He had run through every possible scenario, considered what would happen to his carefully constructed plans and painstaking efforts if the Doctor would intervene. Based on their previous conflicts, and calculating and extrapolating on the Doctor's earlier behavior, character and intellect, he would have to at least expect him to greatly compromise his affaires, if not completely ruin plans.
"There is no logic in this!" He screamed, frustration getting a hold on his temper. "He refused to accept truce. It's more than obvious that he will now become a nuisance. I should have eradicated him. There is no other rational conclusion possible."
When he finally broke this compulsive chain of thoughts, he found himself to have wandered into an unknown part of town, miles away from Cathy's flat. Behind a fenced off alleyway, a dog was barking at him, and at the other end of the street a yellow garbage truck turned the corner. The Master looked up over the roofs. A pink hue was glowing at the horizon. Dawn was breaking. Unnoted, he had been out all night after his encounter with the Doctor.
Tired of walking he got on a city bus. As the vehicle pulled up and drove away back to the city center, his mind continued to turn.
The Doctor had chosen to become my enemy.
I should have killed him.
I should remove the Doctor out of the equation before he becomes my Achilles heel.
"Excuse me sir."
Distracted, he glanced up. The bus had already past a couple of stations, and had picked up a large number of passengers. Almost all of the seats were now occupied except for the window seat next to him.
"Would you mind if I sit there?" The woman asked politely. Somewhere in her mid-twenties, she had short blond hair and was attractive in a plain sort of way. The bump she tried to hide under a lose summer dress revealed that she was going to become a young mother soon. The Master didn't respond. The problem with talking to these humans nowadays was that it took him longer to figure out what was thought and what was actually said than ever before. He had always been psychic, but reading people's minds used to be such hard work. Now, it came to him as easy as eavesdropping into a loud conversation, and he actually had to try to block out most of these background thoughts when he was in company of others or the noise would drive him completely mental.
"Hey grandpa, she's talking to you!" A cocky young man sitting in the next row barked at him.
"Don't mind him gorgeous." The young man told the girl, giving her a wink. "He's probably a bit soft in the noggins. He's been talking to himself ever since he got on the bus. Hey!" He gave the Master a mean shove. "Didn't you hear me? She wants to sit down. Move out of her way weirdo!"
His mate sitting next to him thought that this was hilarious, and hollered with laughter. "Freak!" He called the Master, and threw an empty soda can at him, which he dodged easily without even caring to turn around to look.
Deeply embarrassed by the two men's behavior, the girl glanced at the other passengers for help, but they all turned a blind eye on the unpleasantries.
"Please, let me sit down or they will never shut up." She begged him. The Master finally responded and folded his long legs to let her pass. If he was angered by the thugs' insolence, his face didn't show it.
"Thanks." The girl exhaled a soft sigh of relief.
"Of course." The Master muttered as she took the seat next to him, seemingly ignoring her and everyone else on the bus. "It's not like I am weak."
"I don't think you are." She hesitantly replied, not sure that he was actually talking to her.
"I am not that man anymore. I do things differently."
"Look, if it's still about those idiots, just ignore them." She told him, being kind.
He turned to her and looked right through her as if she was just air.
"Let's do an experiment." He spoke with a strange resolution, and deliberately tapped the cocky youngster on the shoulder to catch his attention.
"No." The girl muttered, fearing trouble, but the Master calmly raised his hand as the young thug spun around. A red blast him in the face and he tumbled down into the aisle like a sack of heavy potatoes. There was a large smoking hole where his mouth and nose used to be.
For a moment, the Master contemplated what consequence this act of violence might have on him. He studied the vacant stare on the blackened face and recalled his victim's final expression of shock and horror…and then realized, not without relief, that it didn't even stir up an echo of guilt inside him.
A frantic choir of mad screams erupted as passengers dashed and climbed out of their seats to scramble over each other in the narrow lane to get away from the Master. The panicking bus driver hit the brakes hard and everyone lurched or fell forward. He tried to open the mechanic doors to let everybody out, but the Master simply blocked the electronical signal, trapping the horrified passengers inside.
"Nothing." He slowly rose from his seat, the dark conductor of this symphony of chaos and death. "Just like I told him, I feel absolutely nothing!" He proclaimed to the world, and a cold monstrous grin appeared on his face.
He was not done with these humans yet.
"No, please don't! Please! I am sorry. I am sorry!" The remaining thug crawled away as the Master approached him with his hand raised, raw energy crackling between his fingers. His frantic tears had no effect on him. After the charcoaled body hit the ground, the Master turned on the rest of the passengers.
Excluding himself, there were 24 people on the bus that morning. He massacred 23 of them in cold blood. Young office workers, teens on their way to school, an elderly couple, it didn't matter who they were, or how they pleaded…And with every single one he murdered, he felt absolutely nothing.
Finally, he was left with only the pregnant girl.
"Please, don't!" She crawled away under her seat and cradled her belly as if she was instinctively shielding the unborn infant inside. "Don't kill me!" She wept, desperate tears rolling down her face. "Please!"
The morbid red glow in the Master's hand dimmed slightly.
The girl's words should not affect him. They were not any different than those uttered by his other victims. She was not more distressed, or frightened. It didn't matter to him that she was a woman or that she was young, or even that she was with child, still…
He couldn't do it.
He just couldn't kill her.
"You are a problem to me." He crouched down beside her and looked at her face. For the first time since she had talked to him on the bus, she actually had the idea that he really saw her. Considering the horrible circumstances, it was hard to figure out whether this was a good or bad thing for her chance of survival.
"Why are you a problem?" He mumbled, obsessively staring her in the eyes.
"I…I don't." She stuttered, too traumatized to say anything coherently.
"It seems that I cannot kill you." He told her in a calm, matter of fact voice. "Why is that? What makes you so different from the others?" He furrowed and continued to study her, convinced that if he could find out why, he would be able to find a way to deal with the Doctor.
"Please…I am 4 months pregnant." She hiccupped. "I've done nothing to you..."
"Oh but that is not entirely true, is it? You were kind to me. I mean proper kind. When those bullies started causing a scene you really felt sorry for me. I even heard you think that you would rather have not asked for that seat if you knew that it would put me in so much trouble."
"I am sorry." She wept. "Please I am sorry for everything."
"You don't have to be. You've done nothing wrong. And I feel sympathy for you." He contemplated this for a moment. "That is strange, don't you think? We barely know each other. Your life means absolutely nothing to me. I should be able to end it as easily as putting out the tiny life-light in a fly…And yet…I don't want to harm you, because…I actually feel grateful that you cared."
"Then don't…please let me go!" The girl continued to beg, unable to follow much of his mad logic in her shocked state.
"Is that what's happening with me and the Doctor?" The Master asked himself by vocalizing the question to the girl. "I can't kill him even now I know that I am gaining a dangerous enemy, because I still care?" He snorted disapprovingly, and then grimaced, disgusted with the conclusion. "It can't be that." He muttered, rising back up and pacing up and down in front of the terrified woman. "You don't understand! This is absolutely not who I am. Caring is a disadvantage, a weakness. I am no longer weak and flawed. I've evolved beyond feelings, beyond compassion."
He raised his hand, confident that now he had cracked it, he would be able to regain control.
"I am sorry, but your life means nothing to me." He told the girl, but in his mind, he was speaking to the Doctor.
"Please…Please..." She wept, mad now with fear. "Please don't."
For a moment it looked like he had made up his mind. He will kill her, just to make a point to himself. But then the doubt crept in, weakening his will, crumbling his resolve.
"Get out." He just said, turning away from her. Even in her traumatized state, the girl did not need to be told twice. After he watched her dash out of the bus and out into the street, he aimed his focus at the CCTV cameras in the vehicle. With his mind, he wiped any evidence of his crimes from digital memory. Like the murder of professor Duinkerk, the man responsible for this bloody massacre shall never be found. When the first police sirens finally burst into the neighborhood, the Master had long since disappeared.
Donna was startled by the sound of the Tardis doors closing. "Where have you been all night?" She fumed, going straight after the Doctor. "One minute you're going on and on about Timelord DNA. Next thing I know, you run out like you got your pants on fire without telling me where you go or when you will show up again. I am not here to babysit your Tardis you know."
"Of course not. Don't be silly. There is no need. No one can get in without a key." The Doctor rambled on like usual, but the grave expression on his face stopped her being harsh on him.
"What's going on?" Donna asked, fearing the worst.
"I've met the Master."
"The Master?" Of course she had expected him to show up, but now that the Doctor had finally found him, she could not help herself from feeling badly prepared for this. "How is he? Is he all right?"
The Doctor shook his head. A great sorrow lingered in his eyes. The encounter with the Master had left him worn and disheartened.
"He has regenerated and has gone completely insane. He believes he can turn himself into a Timelord god if he finds Rassilon and steals his essence." It only occurred to him now how angry and embittered he was about this. "He has gained some of Omega's powers, he can now bend space and possibly even time. He just popped me on a fake planet and back again without so much as breaking out in a sweat."
"So…he's dangerous." Donna muttered.
The Doctor slammed his hand on the console. "We need to stop him, and we need to stop Grant. We have to keep both of them away from each other as far as possible!"
"I can't believe we're fighting the Master now. Didn't he say anything? Didn't he listen to you?"
"I talked, but he didn't care. Not anymore." He paused, recalling the encounter. "There was like this massive wall inside his head. I tried to get through to him. I tried to dig so deep. Didn't know what I wanted to find…some traces of the old Master…Nothing. My old friend is gone." He said, heartbroken.
"What are we going to do?"
The Doctor sucked in a deep breath of air and wiped his hand over his face. "Time is running out. He's playing a game with us, knowing him I am sure he won't play fair." He removed a grid from the platform in the control room and climbed down in the narrow space below.
"A game? What sort of game?" Donna asked worriedly, peering down the hole.
"A deadly one. He's obsessed with revenge and has been planning this for quite some time so our side certainly does not have the lead in this. We have to find out more about what he's up to." He switched on the sonic and swept the blue light over the hidden corners.
"What are you looking for down there?"
"Pigeons." The Doctor said, as if that would explain everything. "Aha! Here they are!" He pulled out a metallic cage from underneath a pile of strange nick-nacks, causing the whole instable structure to collapse. "Cyber-mechanical birds!" He cheered, coughing his lungs out as the cloud of dust settled on him like a grey snowstorm. "Got them for an apple and an egg at a carboot sale on the planet Nara. I love carboot sales, used to buy loads of stuff there. Never thought that any of it would actually come in handy." He handed the cage over to Donna as he climbed out of the hole.
"What do we do with these rust-buckets then?" Donna asked, examining the three corroded robots rattling inside the cage. "Do they even work?"
"Of course they work." The Doctor rambled on. "At this moment, we need every bit of information that we can lay our hands on. Remember how the cold war was won?"
"What are you talking about? The cold war wasn't won by anyone. They just tore down the Berlin wall and everyone had a big party."
"Is that what they teach you at school nowadays?" The Doctor complained as he took one of the metal birds out of the cage and turned it on its back. Tucked away under a rusty wing was a clock key. "Information warfare. That's my kind of battle. No guns, no bullets, and generally as harmless as a game of snakes and ladders." He kept winding the key as he rushed over to the Tardis door, grabbing a forgotten leather jacket from the clothes stand as he flounced past.
"Hang on, I know what you're up to. You're going to spy on the Master." Donna uttered, finally getting where this was heading. "Sounds like a bonkers idea. Do you even know where he is?"
"Nope...but the birds can figure it out." As soon as he stopped turning the key, the mechanical creature opened its eyes and came to life. It shook the rust from its back, revealing a shiny silvery coat of feathers underneath. "Hello there." The Doctor greeted him. "Sorry to wake you up, but I need your help." He folded the jacket under its beak. The bird immediately started to pluck at it.
"Oh my God, you got sniffer pigeons." Donna commented. "Now I really have seen everything."
"The Master's old coat. She's picking out traces of his DNA." The Doctor explained. "It's like a bio-molecular footprint. She will use this to track him down. Here, give me a hand with the others." He handed the other two over to Donna while he opened the Tardis doors and stepped outside with his spybot.
"Find him." He whispered into the mechanical creature's sensors before he released it. He watched it flap her silver wings in the sun and followed its ascend till the bot had disappeared out of sight.
"There is something else I want you to take a look at." Donna told the Doctor after they had released the two other birds. She turned to a computer screen and scrolled down a page till she found the news item that she wanted to show him.
"I did a bit of old-fashioned detective work while you were away. The Tardis archive came in real handy." She noticed the look the Doctor was giving her. "What? I got bored and you left all this switched on. Anyway, I figured that if Rassilon is messing with time, then obviously there will be stuff happening around here that doesn't seem normal. So I started scanning the news of the last couple of weeks, looking for any weird stuff, and I found this." She pointed out a short article from only a couple of days before. The headline read: Brutal murder of medical biology professor shocks Erasmus university staff.
"Everything was caught on CCTV camera, but the odd thing was that they could not identify who had done it." She commented, while the Doctor read through it rapidly. "The police commented that they believed that someone had tinkered with the footage, but couldn't prove anything." She waited for the Doctor to reply.
"What do you think, a tad suspicious or what?"
"I think you're a bit magnificent, that's what I think!" The Doctor told her with a radiant, admiring smile. "This is absolutely brilliant Donna!"
"Oh stop it!" Donna uttered. "You're gonna make me blush."
"This could be linked to Felix Grant or the Master." The Doctor rambled, his mind speeding into working mode. "This has happened within the same institute where Grant is working. Doesn't necessary mean anything, could be a coincidence, but then again it could also be a lead!"
"What do we do now? Should we go find out more about this murder? Or do we follow Grant?"
"Both, plus we're going after the Master when the birds return." The Doctor replied, and gave her another one of his catchy smiles. "Multi-tasking Donna, hope you're any good at it, because I am absolutely horrible!"
The apartment was shrouded in darkness when Cathy returned from visiting Grace late in the evening. When she left earlier that morning, the Master had not been there, so she had not expected him to be home. She got the most awful fright when she switched the lights on in the kitchen and found him sitting on his usual spot at the table behind the microscope. He wasn't working or anything, just gazing in the distance with his hands folded under his chin. Even now with the lights on he hardly noticed that she was there.
"Jesus! What are you doing sitting there in the dark on your own?"
"Thinking." He didn't look at her, just kept staring ahead. "I need to think."
"Where were you last night? I thought something horrible had happened to you."
"I met an old acquaintance. We talked. It took much longer and it was far less enjoyable than I had anticipated." There was tendency to sulk as he explained this to her.
Cathy studied his face. "Are you all right?"
"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well…nothing." She gave up and turned away to take a cold coke out of the fridge. "I left you dinner last night." She noticed the plate of food covered in foil on the top shelf. "You didn't even touch it."
"I found your little note telling me how to heat it up in the microwave."
"I can't cook with the microwave." The Master grudgingly admitted. "I didn't want to blow up the flat while you were away, so I decided to leave it."
"You're kidding me, right?" Cathy took the plate out and closed the fridge door. "So instead of popping this in, and pushing a few buttons you rather not eat anything at all?"
"That's correct." He watched her taking the cold plate over to the other side of the kitchen. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like? I am heating it up for you so you don't have to starve." She slammed the microwave shut and switched it on. Then she turned to him and leaned against the counter with her arms crossed over her chest.
The Master just stared at her with a look of bafflement while his dinner wheeled around inside the kitchen appliance.
Finally he said; "Why do you care?"
"Have you seen yourself in the mirror? You look like a stick-insect in a suit."
"No, that's not what I mean…" Blinking his eyes, not understanding why she was so thick sometimes. "Why do people care?"
"What?" Cathy replied, not sure where this was going. "You mean in general? About other people?"
"You're asking me?" She snorted.
"Yes." He sighed.
"Well…because it's what people do." She replied, making a real effort now to explain after realizing that he was actually serious about this. "It's human to care. We love, we feel the joy and sadness and pain of others, and we are touched by it. If we didn't, we're just no better than beasts. It will make a horrible world."
"But there is no benefit in it! It complicates decisions and cripples the mind." The Master replied sternly, throwing back arguments at her and so very convinced that she must be wrong.
"Oh come on, you can't mean that. Even you, whatever the hell you are, should know how important it is to connect with other human beings."
"No." He stubbornly shook his head. "I don't see the reason why I should. Take you for example. You feel guilty about what happened to your parents, blaming yourself for their deaths, and thus you will not rest till you have found some kind of miracle cure that will enable to you to bring your sister back. How far has that led you? Now let's see, let's analyse this shall we? You're 33 years old. You have a dead-end job that you absolutely loathe. You're on your own, but you're not even trying to find anyone because you think you don't have the time to do anything else besides your research. So you're lonely and deeply unhappy with your life, but despite all of your hard work and sacrifices, before I you met me, you were as close to saving your sister as the Earth's sun is distant from the nearest star. So basically, you have wasted everything, you have thrown away your life, just because you motives were driven by sentiment. Now tell me, where exactly was the benefit for you in all of that?!" He paused his cerebral vomiting for a moment when he realized what it had done to his companion. "You're upset?" He concluded, reading her face and becoming somewhat puzzled.
"I have not wasted my life." Cathy mumbled, close to tears. "You said so yourself, you needed my findings."
He furrowed his brows. "Why are you upset?"
"You said that without it you won't even be able to help Anne!"
"I didn't say that your contributions were useless. Look I was just pointing out that you have drawn the shortest straw in life because you have allowed yourself to give in to your feelings." The Master rambled, infuriated that he was facing yet another teary-eyed woman who was shaking his resolve. "Even you have to admit that it is better to not be bothered with anyone than to allow your life to be dictated by something so futile, am I not right?!" He asked her sternly. He desperately wanted to be right.
Cathy glared up at him. "You know what?" She whispered. "I feel sorry for you. Because if you really don't understand this, you must the most loneliest man in the world."
The alarm of the microwave went off, and Cathy went over to take the food out. She put the plate in front of him, turned away and was about to leave.
"Wait." The Master said quite unexpectedly. "Sorry. I was upset. There was no reason for me to take it out on you." There was a honesty in his voice that she had not heard before.
"Care to talk about it?" She asked, realizing how hard it must be for someone like him to apologize.
"I doubt you would understand."
"Of course not." She muttered with a small smile. "Silly little me." She put her coat back on. "The fridge is still very much empty. I am going out to the shops." She stopped before she went out of the kitchen. "You're wrong you know."
The Master looked up at her, lifting his eyebrows.
"I've seen you with my sister. You didn't come into my life because you wanted to help me. You do the things you do, because for some reason, you care about Anne."
She expected him to contradict her with some witty reply, but the Master remained silent, stunned that she had made such an insightful observation.
"So maybe you don't realize it, but you and I are not so different after all. You've also drawn the shortest straw. Maybe you're more human than you want yourself to believe." She broke her gaze. "I will be back in an hour."
Cathy left the apartment. Alone, the Master stared ahead of himself, lost and bewildered by her statement.
He suddenly turned his head to the window. There was a warning from his Tardis. "What is it my old girl?" He muttered, communicating with her through the mind-link. "What did you find?"
Two blocks away, in the middle of a busy two-lane road that was jammed packed with traffic, stood the Master's Tardis. She had not completely lost the reptilian form that she had obtained on Saltsea, and was disguised as a statue of a great scaly dragon, black as night, her paws resting on a square granite base. Although she blended poorly with the surrounding modern high-rises, no one had noticed her so far, or rather, the Tardis had not attracted anyone's attention, courtesy to the distraction filter that the Master had set up in order to hide her presence from the Doctor. But now the stone dragon was awakened, with her almond-shaped eyes glowing like brimstone. It had picked up the presence of something alien, circling the sky high above the city. Something that carried the Doctor's genetic signature.
"Did he now." The Master mumbled with a devious smile after he had quickly analyzed the information that the Tardis had given him. "That horrible old cheat. Well, maybe you should get rid of these pests before they fly back to tell on us."
The dragon's eyes shone brightly as if to acknowledge the Master's command. Stone paws began to move, lifting themselves from the rock as the large bat-like wings unfolded, scaring a flock of pigeons that had been sleeping on his back into taking flight. She then pulled herself free from the granite base and followed them, taking to the sky with smoke curling out of her nostrils.
Gliding above the city like a great bird of prey, the black dragon immediately tracked down one of the Doctor's mechanical spies. She dived down and pounced into the robot bird, tearing off a silver wing with her great sharp talons. As the spybird's flight tumbled out of control, she sucked in a deep breath into her heated lungs and breathed out a bolt of fire that incinerated the Doctor's spybot, leaving nothing but ashes to rain down over the city below. The second spybot was quickly spotted as well, and was relentlessly hunted till it was driven into a conjunction of three office blocks. There it was snatched in mid air and devoured, the tiny body crushed between the dragon's powerful jaws. Still huffing metal feathers out of her nostrils, she found the last spybot, perched on the ledge of a building's 20th floor, hiding between real pigeons. As soon as it was spotted the little robot bird took to the sky. The dragon struck it down with her tail, sending the poor spybot crashing down like a hit tennis ball. It plummeted into a busy high street with speeding traffic, and rolled over the asphalt, losing bits and pieces till it came to a hold in the middle of the road where it was immediately ran over by a car. The head separated from the squashed torso and rolled into the nearby gutter. Hovering above the scene, the dragon reported the results of the hunt back to the Master. After sensing his approval, she swooped around and headed back to her base in the east of the city.
It was not long after the dragon was gone that a woman in high heel boots picked op the loose head of the ruined spybot from the side of the road. She studied the springs and wires inside, and took out something from her purse that looked very similar to the Doctor's sonic screwdriver, only a bit smaller of size. "Hang in there little fellow." She said. "Don't die on me yet." She whirred the sonic over the exposed mad coil of wiring, creating sparks inside the tiny bird head. A pair of mechanic eyes opened, blue lights gleaming as the system went back online.
River Song smiled, and pulled the microphone of her headset closer.
"Professor Song to all units. I have found him. I repeat. I have found the Doctor." She paused as her smile became one of anticipation. "Guess what, he left us a little guide."
TBC, meanwhile please review and comment.