Title: After the Fire
Genre: Dr Who
Summary: The Master didn’t get pulled back into the time lock with Rassilon... and an ailing Doctor has been mistaken for a regenerated Master by a would-be UNIT medic....
After The Fire (1/?)
For long moments it’s all the Master can do to continue breathing as sudden white-hot pain lacerates every nerve-ending and blinds his vision. He’s in what feels like free-fall and has no idea where or when he might be or if he’s even corporeal any more. When at last the pain eases to a more bearable level (or at least to a point where he doesn’t feel like screaming with the sheer agony of it) and he can order his thoughts a little, he supposes that he must still be alive in some sense of the word – he’s still sentient, at least. But what of his body...? He must have one; where else would the pain be coming from? Unless it’s a phantom, perhaps – a whole body destroyed but somehow the mind continues to feel nerve endings where there are none... the process of thought continuing without corporeal form... interesting. So... the Final Sanction, then? Which means the Doctor must have failed...
His thoughts drift for a while, swirling gently to and fro as if washed by a lazy tide. Wherever he is, it’s very peaceful, he realises dreamily. No light, no sound, no – wait! There’s something about that thought he should hold onto, but what? Light... or the lack thereof... if he doesn’t have eyes then that would explain the absence of visible light. So why does he feel as if he’s surrounded by the white nothingness of a zero room? Impossible, and yet... no, that’s not it. What else? Sound – there’s no sound. Yes, that’s it, isn’t it... but what about that thought is so important? Sound; come on, come on... think! Which sound is he missing?
And then it hits him, at exactly the same moment that the sudden agony of returning sensation sets fresh fire to nerve endings which now he knows still exist; he feels the unyielding hardness of a marble floor under his body and the pain of it sets him gasping for breath and he would scream if he had the strength but he feels so weak now and everything is fading again to blackness... and it’s quiet, so quiet; only the sound of his own tortured breathing and his hearts beating; dum-dum-dum-dum, dum-dum-dum-dum.... His lips try to form the words to but it’s impossible and he slides into the blessedness of darkness without pain and welcomes it.
‘...Through here... I thought I heard someone cry out...’
The voice brings the Master back to full consciousness and he opens his eyes to a scene of utter devastation; shards of glass all over the black and white marble floor, the bitter acrid smell of burned out circuitry and the spitting sound of electrical instruments shorting out. Dust and grit scurry across the floor, governed by the movement of air from the gaping hole in the shattered glass roof of Naismith’s Gate Room.
I’m alive! He’s lying face down on the marble floor but recognises the black and white pattern immediately, and realises as he turns his face to the side and looks up that he’s lying under the partially collapsed Immortality Gate mechanism itself. This no doubt accounts for the fact that he hasn’t yet been discovered, but judging by the crunch of footsteps on glass and the sounds of human conversation he’s unlikely to remain that way for much longer.
‘Oh, thank gawd – here, here...’
The Master’s ears prick up at the sound of the old man’s voice; the Doctor’s aged companion...what was his name? Wilfred. He sounds to be in considerable distress, and the Master can’t help feeling a spark of pleasure at the thought. That the Doctor would choose the fragile old human as a companion only serves to demonstrate how feeble he himself has become... the Master’s thoughts stumble to a halt as he hears the old man’s next words;
‘It’s my friend here, the Doctor, he’s collapsed. Can you help him? He’s been in that thing, it glowed red and he collapsed but then he seemed alright until ... oh dear.’
In spite of himself, the Master is alarmed. What in Omega’s grave has the stupid fool got himself into now? He suppresses a snort of irritation; he hadn’t given the Doctor an option to step aside only for him to go and get himself killed some other way; typical. He refuses to be frightened by the little voice in his head which whispers to him; on your own, now. Because he’s always been on his own, hasn’t he? But he needs to move, to get out of Naismith’s mansion before he’s discovered and no doubt arrested for the crimes ‘Harold Saxon’ committed. He needs to regenerate, damn it! He grits his teeth as a fresh wave of pain washes over him.
‘What’s his name, sir?’
‘Uh... I only know him as The Doctor...’ Wilf stammers. ‘I know he doesn’t look as if he’s hurt but he... he was in that booth there, he said there was radiation...’
The rest of the old man’s words fade into the background as the meaning of what he’s saying slowly penetrates the agony flowing around the Master’s mind. The nuclear bolt – The Doctor had exposed himself to that? The damn fool... The Master’s heart sinks and he drops his forehead back onto the marble floor, barely noticing one more pain as a shard of glass breaks the skin. That’s it, then. No-one - not even a Time Lord in the peak of physical fitness- can survive that kind of dosage. And the Doctor had been very far from in the best of health, either mental or physical, in spite of his lean physique; the Master had seen the weariness in his eyes, seen the drag in his footsteps. Something significant has happened to the Doctor since events on the Valiant; something which has taken the fire from his belly and rendered him lost and fearful. His cry to the Master that first time in the Wastelands hadn’t been so much an offer of help as a cry for it; ‘I need to help you to help myself,’ would have been more honest in the Master’s opinion. It had been the main reason that he’d kept running – wanting the Doctor, yes, but not this impotent version of the Oncoming Storm he’d found so thrilling –and yes, terrifying, for just one short moment - last time around.
‘Can you hear me? What’s your name, sir?’ There is the sound of medical bags being opened and the soft murmurs of one professional to another as – the Master assumes, since he can’t actually see anything from his restricted vantage point- the humans use their primitive equipment to find out what is wrong with their patient. He counts down the seconds before they discover –
‘Wait, what’s this? Blimey... Alan, would you check that for me? I’m getting an echo here...’
‘What sort of – ah. Sounds like another .... Bloody hell. I know what –or who- this is!’
‘What d’ you mean?’
‘It’s that bloke, isn’t it – I heard about him – he’s an alien. Used to be Prime Minister, what was his name...’
‘Prime Minister? I don’t recognise him...’
‘No, you wouldn’t, that’s just it, see? He can change his appearance. I had a mate who was at Canary Wharf when it went up; he worked for Torchwood. They know all about his kind - he comes from some planet where people don’t die, they just swap their bodies for a new one.’
‘Now hang on a minute... the Doctor’s never been Prime Minister...’ The Master is trying hard to contain his glee when Wilf’s worried tones threaten to spoil his mood.
‘Well, that’s what he wants us to think, doesn’t he? Now look, he’s not responding, he’s got two hearts and he’s not even human. We need to call in the experts.’
The Master lifts his forehead from the floor, wincing as the pain of the flesh wound bites.
‘What, Torchwood?’ The second medic says.
‘No, don’t be daft – they don’t exist anymore; UNIT, mate. I applied for a job with them last month, still waiting to hear. This could be my way in... Let’s get him stretchered up and out of here, and I’ll get in touch with them.’
‘Hey, hey, what’re you talking about? You can’t just whisk him off like that to God knows where!’ Wilf’s tone is indignant.
‘I’m afraid we can, sir – national security, see.’
‘But – he’s just saved all our lives! You can’t go arresting him like he was some... some criminal!’
‘We’re not ‘arresting’ him, sir – we’re just handing him over to the people who’ll know how best to look after him. We sure as hell don’t.’
There’s a sudden moan from a voice the Master knows – the Doctor. He’s coming around. The Master tells himself that he could leave now, should get away while he can; but with all the broken glass around him to give away his retreat, he’s probably far safer where he is, at least for now... but the reality is that he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The irony of the Doctor being mistaken for him is not lost on the Master and he grins at the floor – then shivers as another spasm of pain pushes through him. It’s all he can do not to cry out. He knows that he’s not phasing in and out like last time; somehow the energy had folded back on itself and back into him and as far as he can tell, he’s time/space stable now; but he isn’t totally healed, that much is obvious. He’s lost too much of his life force. He needs the Doctor’s Tardis, and more specifically the Zero Room, to try to repair the damage Lucy had caused....
To be continued...