Gallifrey, the final day of the Timewar.
It shouldn't be long now.
Oh please, don't let it take any longer.
As a punishment for aiding the Doctor in putting an end to his destructive plans, Rassilon had locked the Master in a cage in the top of the tower. A great fire was lit underneath, heating the iron grid platform till it was scorching hot. He couldn't get away from the heat. They had chained him down like a dog, and where ever he came in contact with the hellish metal, blisters ballooned up. Horrific burns covered every bare spot on his knees, his feet, his legs, his arms and hands. Writhing in pain, he kept rolling from one side of the cage to the other like a demented lab rat to keep from setting himself ablaze.
The agony he was going through was unbearable, maddening.
The sickening smell of his own burning flesh filled his nostrils.
He caught Rassilon in his peripheral vision, overseeing his sadistic punishment through the iron bars that were scalded black. His expression remained cold and merciless. Lips unmoving, he could still hear Rassilon's thoughts loud and clear.
Justice, Lord Master.
His grey, unblinking eyes burned in the shadows. It was that last image of the Rassilon, his brutal creator, which would remain locked inside the Master's mind forever.
With the Master's vision severely compromised by the intense heat, the hated Timelord drifted out of focus as if he was swallowed by the dark.
Left alone, the torment continued.
He screamed till his vocal-cords were ripped to shreds. He should have died from his horrific injuries, but his flesh kept healing itself. It was Rassilon's immortality turned into a curse, the most vicious, beastly kind of torture. He wished that the Doctor would just do what he was supposed to do and end it. Blast Gallifrey from the sky, and turn his tormented body into atoms to be dispatched over the cold void of space. He didn't care what he would become, as long as that awful burning, that searing, scalding agony would cease.
He was unsure how long he had suffered, but at the end there was a voice, a woman's voice, wise and kind, that called to him.
Vision blurred and with his senses dazed by the pain, he could see no more than a figure dressed in red. Five other figures were standing at the back. Then the cage moved.
He was removed from the fire.
Someone cut lose his chains, then opened the door and dragged him out. He collapsed on the floor, the touch of the damp stones was like merciful rain on his scorched and blistered skin, and calmed down the agony of his horrific wounds.
The voice struck him with familiarity. Drifting back into consciousness, his fluttering eyes revealed the blurry vision of an elderly Timelady. To the Master, who had suffered so much, she had the face of the most gracious of angels.
He opened and closed his mouth in an effort to speak, but his cracked lips split painfully, and his voice was hoarse, inaudible.
The woman kneeled by his side. Her grey-green eyes looked down at him, kind and compassionate. He moaned softly when she touched his forehead. "It's all right." She whispered, and listened to his mind.
He had only one thought. One hateful, crimson-red name that flashed through his mind.
She gazed at him. "The Lord president has sealed himself inside his mausoleum, awaiting his doom. The rest of the Lord counsels are no more. Frightened of what is to come, most of them have taken their own lives. The citadel is abandoned, except for a few of us."
He blinked his eyes. The surroundings were slowly falling back into focus, and he noticed the small group of Timelords standing in the back. Their faces hidden in the shadow, the adorned bright crimson robes they wore identified them as high counsel members. He gazed back at her. There was something about his gracious angel. He thought he knew her. He knew her from long ago.
"I'm sorry we've let this happen to you, but we were powerless, until now. "
Although overcome by the pain, he forced himself to concentrate to communicate with her.
He said that I was to share his fate. That I will burn for eternity, and that my mind will be trapped in ashes. The Master gazed at her with large, frightened eyes.
"Gallifrey has a cruel master. Rassilon has locked you away in this tower, because he wants you to burn and suffer. His last vindictive act of revenge towards the man who he believed had robbed him of everything."
The woman gently stroked the Master's hair, comforting him as she sensed the dread in his hearts.
"I know what you think. I know how frightened you are. But you must not despair. This shall be our ending, not yours. Rassilon was wrong about you. You're not just his victim, nor his pawn in his perverted game of trying to regain control over his doomed fate. My lord Master, your destiny does not lie in the four beats of maddening drums, nor in the glowing heart of a shattered white point star."
Gently, she took his burnt hand and held it. Images flashed through the Master's mind, fragile but strong like the flapping wings of a butterfly caught in a storm. He saw a lonely prisoner, locked away in a dark tower that was buried in a sea of diamonds, followed by a black planet with a crimson sky, disappearing into a black hole. He saw the old man who was with the Doctor in Naismith mansion, and a woman with flaming red hair and an attitude to match, an army of Judoon soldiers, a man dressed in a grey suit with cobalt eyes that looked right into your soul. A Roman feast with three sisters, bickering with each other as they stirred in a huge cauldron filled with human bones, a woman with bright green eyes, handing him a scythe, its curved blade so thin that it was almost translucent. And through all of this, he was running.
He was running with the Doctor.
Her hand pulled away, and the glimpses into his future stopped. He gazed back at her, bewildered by the revelation.
She smiled at him. "You see lord Master. There is good reason to keep faith. Your story does not end here. The good Doctor, he won't allow it."
She glanced back at the others. "It is foretold that we will die today, but we will not die as cowards, and perish in shame like our Lord president or the high Lords of the counsel. Enough suffering had been caused by Rassilon's arrogance and selfishness."
She rose up slowly. "We cannot set you free." She said ruefully. "Nor can we stop the Doctor from ending the Timewar with the annihilation of our race. But we can still save you, lord Master. We can transform Rassilon's prison into an a sanctuary that would protect you from the destruction of our world."
She turned to the other remaining high counsel members. "The crystals are placed, and the Ark is singing its final song." She raised her staff in the air, and the others followed swiftly.
"On this last day of the Timewar, this relentless war that had been filled with madness and greed, in which we have done so much wrong to so many, let our final act be one of redemption. Let our deaths be a sacrifice that saves rather than destroys."
She looked down at the Master with a resolved look in her eyes. The white point star at the tip of her staff started to glow a golden light.
"We will give our life force to raise the Ark and seal you within, so that you might live."
A bright white light erupted, bathing her and her companions in swirling clouds of golden stardust. Six lonely figures, standing tall with their crimson robes flapping in the air, proud and dignified, like the Timelords of old. Faint blue streams of plasma beams poured from their chests, and joined the unnatural golden cloud, which grew bigger and stronger till it swept up into a vortex of pure and furious light. She glanced down at him one last time, eyes shining with sorrow, but still so very determined.
"Farewell my lord Master, remember us few. Don't let our existence and that of the Timelord race been but a futile dream."
Wait… He raised himself to catch a glimpse of her. Beneath him, the ground began to shake violently.
Who are you?
"I was the Doctor's guarding angel." A sad smile curled the corners of her lips. "And now I shall be yours." A single tear glided down her cheek. "One day, when he finally comes, please tell him…tell him that…" She paused for a moment. The others had disappeared, and only her face, beautiful and serene, was still visible against the sea of white.
Tell him what? He asked, devoted to do something back for her.
She shook head. There were no words that needed to be spoken.
"He will see. He knows."
And then the blinding light swallowed her completely.
The Master had set up an operation theatre in the middle of the kitchen. On the kitchen table was a creature covered underneath a bed-sheet with a square hole cut out in the fabric. It gave access to the opening in the cranium that he had drilled in the skull. A colorful bundle of electrodes was placed on the brain surface seemingly at random. Next to him, on a little trolley, was some sort of supercomputer of the most impossible design, consisting of wires connected to a small flatscreen tv that he had taken from Cathy's bedroom. It was hooked up to her laptop, which he had partially dismantled, and replaced with parts of a printer, a cell phone, a vacuum cleaner and a pink hairdryer. Every time the electrodes picked up the signal of firing neurons, the vacuum cleaner turned on, sucking up clean air and blowing up a cloud of dust.
On screen, a map of white dots was displayed in 3D, each representing a single brain cell. There were perhaps as many dots as there were stars in the galaxy, and together they formed the outline of a complete brain structure. Every time he probed inside the skull, the white dots fired and flashed red.
The Master was busy mapping the activity of certain regions of the frontal lobe when something broke his concentration. Sensing a familiar presence in the room, he turned around, and found a woman in white standing behind him.
For a moment he was speechless. He furrowed his brows and pinched his nose-bridge, doubtful if he was awake or dreaming.
"Something wrong lord Master?" His guardian angel spoke.
He gazed with incredulity at the Timelady, the same wise and merciful woman who had conserved his life during the destruction of Gallifrey. The woman who only existed in his sub-consciousness, but was now standing in front of him, dressed in ghostly white. "No…It's just…I've never expected to see you again." He blurted out.
"I am not merely confined to your delusions, although I must admit that I was there, the last time that we've met."
"The last time…" He paused. Memories of that illusional world that he had created on the Infinity flooded back to him. "Yes…yes, I remember, you came to warn me." He replied thoughtfully. "You came to shake me out of my dreams together with little Rachel."
"I am here now to do the same." Her expression became struck by grief. "Why did you betray him?"
A sad smile flickered across the Master's face. "I've never promised you anything, did I?" He turned his back on her in the hope that she would disappear again. "Besides, the decision to save this unredeemable sinner was your own, I've never asked for it." He reminded her almost reproachfully.
"I didn't mean the Doctor. Why did you betray him?"
His past regeneration flashed in front of his mind's eye. It was Harold Saxon, the Master who was the Doctor's companion and friend for the last 20 years.
"What are you playing at? I am not betraying myself!" He answered, angered by her accusation. "Can't you understand that I actually want all this? I do want to bring Anne back, and I want nothing more in the world than to take revenge on the man who has destroyed my life. That's my only goal. It has never been anything else!"
"You think you're so different from the man you've left behind at Saltsea." She told him wisely. "You try so hard to make yourself belief that he's dead and buried in Dagon's tomb, but is it really that easy to forget about those innocent people on that bus? When you're alone, can you shut your eyes, and not think about those horrified faces and dying whispers?"
"Shut up!" He snapped, and threw a socket wrench at her. It passed right through her body and knocked a stack of cups from the shelves. "Why are you here?! Why do you torment me?!" He raged.
The Timelady remained a vision of serenity. "The day of reckoning is coming." She warned him. "For you and the Doctor this is the end of the line. You can no longer run away from this. Both of you have to stand up and fight or let all of this world end in the destruction that Rassilon's resurrection shall bring."
"Is that it? You want us to work together?" The Master remarked sarcastically. "I am afraid that you're talking to the wrong Timelord my lady. The Doctor and I are no longer on the same side. Our journey has already ended. We've reverted back to being enemies."
"You couldn't harm the Doctor."
"No…I couldn't." He grudgingly admitted, clutching his head in misery. Why can't she stop? There was no use in any of this. "But that doesn't mean that-"
"Remember on which side you're fighting, lord Master." She told him, her face moved by emotions. "Remember the man you want to be."
"I know who I want to be, and it's not-" He blinked his eyes. The woman was gone. Slowly, he leaned forward on the kitchen table, badly shaken by her forbidding message.
"Excuse me miss, but do you work here?"
Donna stopped and felt her heart flutter inside her chest, although it was only to be expected that she would eventually be noticed sneaking around the research department. Luckily, on her way to the university, she had prepared herself how to react. Se swiftly swirled around, and gave Rob a wide toothy smile. Just do what the Doctor always does. She reminded herself. Just act confident.
"Because I am pretty sure I've never seen you on this floor before." Rob walked up to her, curious. "Are you from a different department?"
"Oh I am sorry. Couldn't find anyone to introduce myself to. I am agent Noble." She flipped the psychic paper that she had borrowed from the Doctor open for him to see, hoping that it would still work without the Doctor around. "I am here for the murder-case of professor Duinkerk." She added, offering him a hand.
"Oh. Oh right. I am Robert. Robert Finkel." He quickly shook her hand, a bit awe struck that he was actually talking to a real police agent. "Didn't know that it was still going on."
"Well it's not solved yet, is it? We still don't know who the murderer is."
"No you don't? I though the police said they were getting very close?"
"Oh no we absolutely have no clue whatsoever." Donna laughed nervously, realizing a bit too late how bad that actually sounded. "Uhm, that's why they sent me here to take a second look on the crime scene and talk to people. People like you for example! So who's in charge of this place?"
"Well, no one actually." Robert replied, slightly surprised by the question. "You see, professor Duinkerk was sort of running our department, but the big guys up in the academic food-chain have not found anyone suitable to replace him yet. Meanwhile we kinda run the place on our own. Everyone knows what they're doing so it's fine."
"Can you show me?"
"What?" Rob asked, confused.
"The place where he was found."
"Oh you mean the crime-scene?" Rob opted, getting excited that he could use some of the lines of his favorite detective series. "Yes of course. I thought you guys must have collected everything by now. That spot around the service elevator and the vending-machine was closed off for an entire week. I had to go two floors down to get my snacks."
"It always helps to take a second look at things." Donna said, trying to sound convincing.
He showed her the rather dull space between the elevator and the storage room.
"Why are these pipes broken?" Donna asked after observing the damage the Master had done to the walls and plumbing.
"Seriously, you don't know? The murderer broke the liquid nitrogen pipeline and turned professor Duinkerk's head into an icicle before he chopped it off. Didn't you read the police report? It was even on tape. They showed it to me in the police station. It was like a horror scene in one of those Saw-movies."
"Did the professor have any contact with people outside the lab that you know of? Someone suspicious that you care to mention." She almost wanted to describe the Master to him till she realized that it would be useless, because he wouldn't look like that anymore. It's quite confusing, dealing with regenerating Timelords. You never get that problem with anyone normal.
"I can't tell. He wasn't exactly a "people" person." Rob shrugged. "The point is, he didn't want to know much about us, and we didn't much care about him."
"Did he ever have any arguments with the people in your lab? Or maybe people from another department?' She was thinking of Felix Grant.
"Why would you say that?" Robert asked, getting slightly nervous.
"Well you mentioned he wasn't exactly well-liked. In my experience, when the work-floor gossips like that about their boss, they usually hate his guts." She explained, remembering clearly how it like was when she had her desk job at HC Clements.
"Oh no." Rob hastily replied, shaking his head and not knowing where to look or where to put his hands. "No absolutely not. Everyone got along just fine."
"Is anyone missing?" Donna asked, noticing that he was lying rather badly.
"Who? What? What do you mean?" Rob blurted, thinking of Cathy.
"From the staff. Did anyone not show up at work after professor Duinkerk died?"
"No." This time the lie was so obvious that she actually started to feel sorry for him. "Everyone is here. Why would someone not show up? It's not like we have anything to hide."
"Okay then." Donna crossed her arms over her chest. "Introduce me to everyone."
"Excuse me? What?"
"I want you to introduce me to everyone of this department." Donna repeated, looking very strict and authoritative.
It was no use trying to think up an excuse, when Donna had her mind on something, you better not try to contradict her. So Rob took her to meet all of his coworkers, and she shook hands with everyone, or so it appeared.
"Right. 31." She muttered, keeping the score in a notebook. "So just remind me, you said everyone was working today?"
"Yes. I did." He was getting very frustrated by her insistence. "And now you've met every single one of them. The whole bloody floor."
"So there are 31 people working in this department, including you, that would make 32 in total."
That is correct." Rob replied, hoping that she was now finally done with him. "Can I go back to work now?" He half-pleaded.
"But that's not right, is it?" Donna noted, flipping over the page where she had kept a different type of score. "You are not telling me the truth."
"What? No, that's absolutely not true!" Robert started to sweat underneath his T-shirt. "Seriously, I am shocked! I've been nothing but honest with you! Lying to the police? I wouldn't dare!"
"Because there are 33 desks occupied. I counted each and single one of them while you were showing me around. There are 33 people working in this department, and one is certainly missing." She concluded smartly and gave him a cheeky look, before she reverted back to strict agent-mode. "Why did you lie?"
Robert looked at her with a shell-shocked expression on his face.
"Okay, I admit it, I am so sorry! I just panicked." Robert confessed. "I swear I didn't want to lie to you! Oh God I am not going to jail now am I?"
"Not if you cooperate, starting now. Who are you trying to protect? And remember, you're speaking to a police officer here."
"I didn't want to mention her, because she's got nothing to do with this." Robert rambled on in pure panic. "You don't know Cathy. She's a sweet girl. She would never do something to harm anyone."
"All right, all right, I get it." Donna said, trying to make sense out of this. "Tell me…Who's Cathy?"
He knew that she was coming a full minute before Cathy actually wandered into the room.
"Don't." He ordered, lifting a finger to shush her before she could start asking stupid questions again. "I will explain what I have done. Let me finish this first. It's rather delicate."
A moment later, he pulled the sheet off the table, presenting to her with a grand gesture what was hidden underneath.
Cathy just looked at it. She should be horrified really, but one does get used to this kind of stuff when you lived with the Master long enough. "What are you?" She commented cynically. "The animal serial killer of the neighborhood? Another bloody pet?!"
"It was this or misses Lauren." The Master replied with a grin. Cathy was not even entirely sure that he was joking. She inspected the poor creature, noticing that the life support system was switched off.
"You've been operating the whole day on a dead dog?"
"It's not dead." The Master replied, rolling his eyes. "Take a better look."
"It's not breathing." She put her hand on the animal to check for a pulse. "And there is no heart beat." She sighed. "Where did you get this from? Whose dog is this?"
"Oh don't ask stupid questions. You know that's irrelevant, and it's not dead, not as long as I've got this." He waved a microdisk in front of her nose, only to get her frowning back at him without a clue of what he was rambling about.
"Still no big lights up there then." He complained. "Honestly, I am getting so sick of talking to myself."
He inserted the disk into the supercomputer and typed in a few codes to start up the program.
"Hey!" Cathy shouted, recognizing the code. "That's the program that I've written to map brain-cell activities. What have you done to it? I can't even recognize the display."
"I improved it." He had worked hard to get this done as fast as possible. He was still in doubt if the reappearance of the Timelady was a figment of his unraveling mind or a real premonition of his impending doom, but either way, he better try to complete his plans before he ran out of time. "It desperately needed to be rewritten to manage the megatons of calculations that these experiments require. Your laptop also needed a bit more umpf. I had to upgrade that as well to let everything run smoothly."
"What is my hairdryer doing there?" Cathy studied the bizarre machine with growing puzzlement, and picked up the dryer out of curiosity.
"Don't touch that!" The Master barked. "One wrong movement and you can compress this entire place into a singularity, creating a black hole that will suck up your entire solar system! If you want to kill yourself and all of your fellow biped apes, go ahead and play with it, otherwise – Leave it!"
"What with what?" Cathy blurted. Frightened to death after his warning, she put her hairdryer back as carefully as if she was handling a ticking timebomb. She didn't notice the little smirk on his face, not knowing that the Master was only messing with her head.
"I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of your work." The Master told her, still smirking. "Your notes actually did make a contribution, and gave me the correct insight into how to complete Rachel Boekbinder's work on mapping the human brain…Clever little Rachel." He muttered, remembering that one small shining moment, in which he had actually done something good in his life, before swiftly dismissing it again as a horrible mistake.
"She discovered that there were 11 possible types of bio-electrical signals that could trigger brain cells to form new connections. You've narrowed that number down to 6 by the process of elimination. Now, if you can somehow map these 6 signals, feed them into a computer program, and extrapolate that data to design an algorithm to predict their path to every external stimuli, it would be possible to simulate precisely how someone would react to anything, from the traffic lights turning red to how one would behave under social stress. You would, in fact, have recreated a man's personality."
"Yes I know that." Cathy answered, irritated by his lecturing. "I know that it can be done theoretically, but that's like wishing for the moon. It's science fiction! I did this research only on a few isolated brain cells. You're talking about a complete brain here. Even if it's only a rodent's brain it would be far too complicated to chart. You will need like a supercomputer, and millions and millions of hours of complex calculations..." She finally shut up and stared at the image that he had summoned on the screen.
"That is a rather pessimistic estimate. It didn't take me nearly that long." He punched in the final code to start the sequence. "There you are." He told her, as the screen now showed a turning 3D image of a brain, the white dots that represented every working neuron were firing, forming different patterns as the Master went through a pulldown screen of simulations. "The process of thought. The secret of memory. All compressed and stored in one gigabite of virtual space. All that this creature loves, hates and knows, all that it once was, is in here, in this single file."
He let go of the mouse and leaned back, leaving the program to run by itself. "The great mystery of the mind finally revealed. Dr. Cathy Summers, remember this moment, for today, we have created a map of the soul."
There was a dramatic pause as the Master contemplated. "Well, at least that would be if a dog has a soul." He shrugged, completely ruining the moment. He turned to her. "What do you think?"
"That's…amazing." She responded, completely baffled and getting quite emotional. "I am sorry…It's just…I have worked so hard to only figure out what was happening in a handful of neurons, and you did this for an entire brain, in like what? Three days?"
"Two days." The Master answered smugly. "Two and a half, I didn't exactly start until lunchtime on Monday."
"Yeah." Cathy sucked in a deep breath to calm herself, still in awe of what she had witnessed. "What now?"
"Now we need to test it of course."
The Master gave her a knowing smile. "Fetch Tommy out of the fridge and I will show you."
TBC, meanwhile please review and comment.