Title: ‘You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy’
Spoilers: Dalek, Parting of the Ways, Utopia
Summary: It is the Master who presses the button. It is the Master who ends the Time War. It is the Master who destroys the Daleks and tears Gallifrey from the Universe.
Disclaimer: Not mine, unfortunately.
Word count: 3394
Author’s Note: This fic has been gestating for approximately three years. It started life as a detailed plan for the Master surviving while the Doctor is killed when he ends the Time War. It was projected to be about 35,000 words. Three years on I sat down and started writing and it became a one-shot that, in essence, flips them around entirely. I’m not sure I’m entirely happy, particularly with some of the characterisation and structure, but editing has been done and I think I’ve knocked it into some semblance of shape, though it’s unbeta-ed I’m afraid (any takers?). Title is a line from T.S. Eliot’s East Coker (his Four Quartets provide a wealth of DW inspiration). Also a fill to doctorwho_100 prompt 082: If. Hope you enjoy, comments and criticism very welcome :)
'You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy'
The Master lands on an uninhabited planet, the sound of his TARDIS mourning a low keen in the back of his head. He leaves, and sits on the grass outside (blue, not red like Gallifrey or green like Earth). He sits for a very long time and thinks of nothing at all.
Eventually he gets up and goes back to the TARDIS, who greets him gladly, and he pilots them away. He does not know the name of the planet he landed on.
He goes to another planet, a marketplace, and tries on clothes. This is a new regeneration, sandy hair streaked with white, and clothes make the man. He finds a waistcoat and a white, billow-sleeved shirt, and he does not think of velvet or Byron-esque wavy hair or sad blue eyes.
He wonders where this stillness has come from, where the drive that always pushes him on has gone. He has not celebrated the destruction he wrought, his winning and ending of the Time War. There is no one he can tell who would understand that now he really is the Master, Master of Everything simply because everyone who might have fought him is gone. He killed them all.
He sits in the library on his TARDIS and reads books that only he can read, about things only he can understand, and wonders what to do. The TARDIS, obliging as ever, presents him with a small selection of planets ripe for take-over. He selects one at random, lands at a point of civil revolution, the Emperor desperate for direction, advice, and quickly gains the man’s ear. For once, with no one around to stop him, he takes his time, allows the Emperor to remain on the throne, directing from behind the scenes.
The Emperor, grateful of his support, names him heir, and when he dies a few years later the Master takes his place with no difficulty, opposition almost non-existent. And then he rules, and he is loved, and his hypnotism and intimidation are scarcely necessary. The planet, in less than a decade, becomes the most prosperous in the solar system.
The Master is bored. There is something missing.
A few years later he fakes his death, gets in the TARDIS again and leaves. He takes them into orbit around a supernova, opens the doors and sits to watch a star die. It takes a very long time.
He allies himself with the Nargos, a grey-fleshed people who communicate through a series of clicks made in the back of the throat. He takes over the neighbouring planet with their help, and when they turn against him he is not surprised. Intensely frustrated, yes, but somewhere in the back of his mind, the depths at which he never looks, it is comforting for its familiarity. He barely escapes with his life, and the TARDIS takes him to the next planet on the list.
Here he does not bother with subtlety or fairness or ruling well. He destroys it, takes it to pieces, breaks the will of the people and turns his gaze outwards, to the stars. Was that not what he wanted? To rule the Universe? Why bother with a single planet when he can have them all.
But of course the people hate him (he had, at one time, wanted to be loved by those he rules, but it seems a strange dream now, childish). They not do their best, and eventually he pushes one too far, drives one too mad, and she stabs him. He bleeds out and regenerates in his TARDIS, though not before he has killed her in revenge.
There is no satisfaction or glee or disappointment. He travels to the Medusa Cascade, but leaves again without looking. He takes them instead to the coordinates where Gallifrey used to be. The empty yaw of space and the badly healed edges of time make his stomach churn, and he swallows back the need to vomit.
He travels to Earth, early 21st century, and spends days at a time watching the humans the Doctor had loved so much, had cared for and nurtured and protected. The humans the Master had tried to control or kill or manipulate, and not because they were so utterly fascinating or some sort of threat. Humanity, as a rule, is quite dull and of little interest to him.
He thinks of none of this when he builds himself a false identity. He works his way through the political ranks, no cheating or manipulating beyond that which a human might use. He stands for election and wins. As Prime Minister Harold Saxon he reforms education and leads Britain into a Golden Age of technological development, though the economic problems continue. He stands down gracefully when his term ends and he is not re-elected.
He leaves. He has hated every moment he has spent on Earth without the Doctor to play with, but he still finds himself bringing a woman named Lucy with him. She is pretty and bland but the travelling excites her and he thinks he can see the appeal of a companion.
She leaves him a year or two later, when the King of High Varetis proposes to her and she accepts. She had enjoyed the Universe, he thinks, but she loves her luxuries and attentions more. She had hoped to be his world, but that is something that no one can. He is glad when she goes. He does not find a new companion.
He is not the Doctor.
He drifts for a long time and invents a cure for the common cold, because even over the course of trillions of years this is something no one has ever succeeded in. He does it, and then he places the vial into a fridge in the laboratory, tucks the formula into a notebook, and forgets about it. He has done it, cured something no one else can, and simply the knowledge of that is enough. There is no one to tell and he cannot introduce it into circulation, even considering the admiration he would receive, because the common cold is an immutable strand of time and it is more trouble than it is worth to try and change that.
When his TARDIS detects a signal, it is a signal that makes the Master’s hearts grow cold, stutter with fear and hatred and something deep and dark and nameless. He follows it, lands on Earth, 2012, deep beneath the ground, and when he steps out and sees the place for what it is, his lip curls. Stupid. Stupid, foolish humans, playing with things they do not understand, will never understand. It is all he can do not to kill the idiotic man behind it all, this ‘Van Statten’, with his crass American accent and useless ignorance. It is easy enough to hypnotise him, and then he is shown to ‘Metaltron’, such a ridiculous name for such a terrible thing.
‘Dalek.’ He spits the name, the foul, filthy word that he would obliterate from the all the languages of the Universe if he could. And then, ‘Do you know who I am?’
‘RECORDS INDICATE YOU ARE THE TIME LORD KNOWN AS ‘THE MASTER’. YOU WILL BE EXTERIMATED. YOU WILL ALL BE EXTERMINATED!’
But the Dalek can do nothing, broken and helpless and alone. The Master grins, wild and vicious. ‘I am the Master. I am your Master. I destroyed you all. I ripped you from space-time, I won the War, and there is only you left.’
‘I WILL AWAIT ORDERS.’
‘There are no orders. There never will be. The War is done. The Daleks are done. You are nothing. And I am going to destroy you. I am going to hurt you and then I am going to kill you. No more Daleks! Ever.’
‘I burned you all. I burned everything. I tore you from the Web of Time and into non-existence. And do you know why? How? Because I. Am. The. Master.’
‘BUT YOU ARE ALONE.’
‘Yes. Unfortunate side-effect, really, destroying Gallifrey. But do you know what that means? I won. Last of the Time Lords.’ He glances to the lever in the wall and thinks, this Dalek, it deserves more pain, deserves to hurt before it dies. He had destroyed them, Time Lords and Daleks, but somehow, one had survived. Not the one he wants. Poor thing. It will have to pay for his disappointment.
So he flips the lever and watches, unsmiling, as the thousands of volts course through the Dalek, and he listens as it screams. So familiar, the screams of a Dalek.
He watches and listens for a very, very long time, until finally it goes silent, croaks into nothingness, the outer shell blackened. He can feel its death. He flips the lever again and for a moment he just breathes, inhales the smell of ozone and burnt metal and the harsh tang of electrical current still lingering on the air. And then he walks past the people, past the dreadful Van Statten and his minions, walks back to his TARDIS and for a moment just presses a hand to the console and lets her song fill his mind and wash away the screams.
Before they fully dematerialise, still outside the Vortex, he presses a button and watches as the complex, Van Statten’s museum and morgue, are thrust into non-being. He swallows back the nausea and time-sickness that always go along with that particular weapon and returns to the Vortex, and from there he goes to his bed and lies down in the darkness and for a very long time he does not think or speak or do anything at all.
Then he gets up and carries on, because he must.
A year spent on Julnoss, tinkering with the robotics developments there. Then five months infiltrating the Shadow Proclamation just because he can. Weeks back in the TARDIS, doing nothing at all, and he stumbles upon them quite purely by accident, or perhaps the TARDIS senses it and takes him there deliberately. She has as much reason to hate them as he does, after all.
He stares out at the hundreds of Dalek ships, all his work undone, all the loss and the lack for nothing, because somehow the Daleks survived. One genocide successful, it seems, but not the one that should have been.
‘Enough.’ He drops the word into the silence and the stillness of the TARDIS. And then he goes down to beneath the console and pulls away a panel. He has weapons, left over from the Time War or made by himself out of whimsy or caution, but nothing that will do quite what he needs it to.
So he spends an hour, stripping and rewiring and cannibalising, and when he is finished his hands and shirt are grease-stained and sweaty. He doesn’t bother hailing them, or revealing himself, or doing anything at all except setting the parameters and firing. He watches as they burn, as they fall into blackness and nothingness, as they are destroyed.
No one knows that they were ever there. No one knows that they are now gone. For the rest of the Universe, nothing has changed. Only he knows how close the Earth came to destruction, and from there the Galaxy, the Universe. Without the Time Lords to stop them it would have been easy. The thought that he is now ‘protector’ is a strange one, twists at something inside him he cannot examine too closely. He did not do it to save the humans, he did it to destroy the Daleks, as he thought he already had.
He takes them far away and lands, back on that first planet he materialised on, long ago. He still does not know its name. He does not think it has one.
The grass is still blue, and it is only now that he realises it is police box blue. He frowns at it and decides not to think about what that means.
He spends an hour tracing Gallifreyan symbols into the earth, and then another using a small laser cutter to etch the marks into the rocks and trees around him. This, he decides, will be his planet, undiscovered and unknown, completely and utterly his. In a fit of nostalgia that utterly sickens him, he decides to call it Thetas, but only in his head.
Over the next decade he returns sporadically to Thetas, never for long, always alone. Each time he visits he marks further evidence of his presence, of Gallifrey’s once-being, into the rocks and the ground and the air.
He travels, and occasionally he finds a planet, to overthrow or takeover, just to show that he can, that he still wants to (though really he just know what else to do). And then it changes. Then, finally, something happens.
It begins, as many things in his life have done, with an experiment gone wrong. He is tinkering, not really sure what he is aiming for, with time fields and the possibility of building a paradox, which is problem he has returned to on and off ever since he was in the Academy. He is not sure what exactly causes the explosion, but one moment everything is fine, and the next the TARDIS is pelting, desperate, through the Vortex, and he is quite unable to stop her, staring in growing horror at the dates flashing past on the monitor.
They land with a jolt and a judder and the TARDIS moans a little in his mind. He pets her absently and frowns at the console. The end of the Universe. How terribly cliché.
He opens the door and steps outside, and it is a cold, barren, desolate land, with dark skies and death on the air. He walks further, dust under his feet. There are no stars. How long does this tiny planet have? This dead rock, clinging at the edges of Time, awaiting extinction? Will it crumble, fail? Fade into nothing? Will it burn?
He makes his way down the dune, towards what appears to be some sort of man-made structure (humans are like cockroaches). The gates are locked, chained, well-guarded. How very typical, that even at the end of all things the humans have their enemies, their wars. Nevertheless, after he shows them his teeth, baring them in a tight grin, they let him through without trouble.
He introduces himself as the Master, and when they ask him of what, exactly, he tells them ‘oh, all sorts of things’, because ‘everything’, while true, would probably only rile them.
They have no plan. Someone once worked at developing a space ship to take them away, far away, but they died before it could be finished, and there is no one else left able to continue.
‘And anyway,’ says the lead soldier, dry and cynical, ‘where would we go? It’s all gone now. We’re the only ones left.’
The Master suppresses a flinch at the words and wonders how soon he can leave. He has been warned about the Futurekind, dark and ravenous and cruel, and he shall have to be careful making his way back to the TARDIS. He does not want to stay here, not even for a day, on this cold, empty planet with despairing people. They are refugees of the end of everything and there is nowhere for them to go. They are going to die here, alone and hopeless.
‘Show me this ship,’ he says.
The soldier waves another man forward. He is tall, his head shaved, big ears and a big nose. The Master blinks at him, so strangely familiar, like someone he met a long time ago and can’t quite remember. Like meeting a Time Lord with a new regeneration, except of course that is impossible. There is no sense of another of his kind.
‘Name’s Smith. Follow me.’ Northern voice, round vowels – he would have thought that accent dead and gone, by now, but apparently it, too, has clung on to existence.
The corridors are long, lined by people, children too. Eventually, he asks, ‘So what is it you do here?’
‘I’m a guard, mostly. And sometimes I teach a bit, because, well.’ He gestures vaguely at a group of children. ‘And an engineer, I’ve always had a knack for that. I was apprenticed to the Professor, just before he died, but I couldn’t carry on his work after.’ He looks sad at this. He knows, of course, that they are doomed out here. The Master wonders whether it would be a kindness to tell him that even if they had got the ship built and working, there would be nowhere for them to go. It would not have saved them.
‘You seem familiar,’ Smith says after a moment, looking at him sideways with pale blue eyes that have seen too much.
‘I’m afraid not, I only just arrived.’ But he can’t deny that he feels the same way – moreso, even. Like a magnet, or a charged particle, or – No. He is being fanciful. This is not a fairytale. This is life, and cold reality. Imaginings have no place in it.
The ship – or rather, the engine, or its boosters, or its controls; the entire thing is nearly unrecognisable – is dark and obviously disused, except for one corner. A small stack of paperback books, old and worn, a notepad almost in pieces, a mug, a kettle, a blanket. He looks at Smith, one eyebrow raised.
‘Sometimes I stay down here. It’s out of the way.’
Not very talkative, this man, but that’s alright. He wanders, flipping switches and peering at darkened screens and tangled cables. The entire thing is hopeless. When he turns back, it’s obvious that Smith knows this too, or has guessed.
‘Tea?’ the man offers, after a moment. And the Master thinks, why not, and nods, perching on the edge of one of the consoles. Funny, that tea has survived too.
So a few minutes later he is sipping dark, strong tea: just a drop of milk and no sugar; that is something that has never changed across his regeneration. He likes his tea bitter.
It is just a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, a flash of silver. He turns, and then he sees it. A pocket watch. His hearts lurch and it is all he can do not to gasp. There could, of course, be some perfectly mundane explanation for its presence, but somehow he knows that there isn’t. This is a Time Lord’s watch. This is a Chameleon Arch. There is, somewhere around here, a Time Lord, hiding as a human, and it could very easily be the man drinking tea in front of him.
‘Would you escort me to my ship?’ he asks, quietly, a short while later. ‘I’m afraid I crashed, outside the compound.’
And Smith nods. Unquestioning, he offers to risk himself to take a stranger back to his ship.
They leave again without trouble; the base is unregulated but for the checking of teeth before entry. The Master supposes they no longer see the point in anything more stringent.
It is, in fact, surprisingly easy to return to the TARDIS; the Futurekind avoid them, and the Master thinks, good, they know I am the Master.
And when Smith shows no surprise at being able to enter a large rock formation, the Master knows he is right. Smith’s eyes are dreamy, like he is seeing something of the past, of another life, unfolding before him. And the Master, who had easily slipped the pocket watch away before leaving, now dangles it in front of his eyes.
‘Do you recognise this?’
A pause. Then, faint and uncertain, ‘Yes … I – I think that’s mine.’
The Master smiles. ‘Why don’t you open it?’
And of course Smith does, and the light unfolds and the Master – the Master prays. He prays to gods he knows don’t exist, he prays to the Universe, he orders Time: let this be him. Let this be him.
He can feel it now, another Time Lord in the world, and it feels good, after so long alone with the empty recesses of his mind
The gold dissipates and Smith is left staring at him, wide-eyed and in shock. ‘Master?’
- Current Mood: chipper
- Current Music:BSG Soundtrack