"Doctor, what in the Hell is going on?!"
Russell was practically chasing the Doctor all around the TARDIS as the strange man was preparing. He was stuffing his pockets with seemingly anything that came to hand: biscuits, teacups, a handkerchief, a small figurine of a donkey, three sonic screwdrivers, two pairs of Pince-nez spectacles, an icepick. a handful of hazelnuts, and so on.
"Your pants are going to fall off if you keep jamming stuff into them…"
"Please don’t distract me, Mr. Garamond!" the Doctor pleaded angrily, tugging on his tan jacket, "I’m having trouble keeping everything straight as it is."
The Doctor adjusted his lapels and gave a shrug, feeling the camelhair fit right about his shoulders. He looked directly at Russell, his eyes clear and blue, his voice frank and unadorned.
"Because the Master has never spoken like this in the centuries I have known him. He has always been a master of destruction, of chaos, of murder and death and discord. To hear him speak of philanthropy is…"
"And yet fascinating," the Doctor tapped an index finger to his pursed lips.
"You really hope he’s changed, don’t you?" Russell said, marveling. He could still remember the horrors he’d seen at the hands of the Master, and the countless atrocities he’d either read or heard about in their travels. The Master had not been idle since his return: stealing, murdering, cheating, and so on, renewing his trail of infamy across the galaxies. They had been to several planets, space stations, and interstellar colonies, and everywhere people spoke of the Master with dark and frightened tones. And here, the man who has known him the longest, who has seen the majority of his wrongdoings first hand…
"I must know," the Doctor nodded, almost distractedly, "I can’t trust him, not after everything… but if he can truly help the universe, if he truly wishes to do good…"
The Doctor’s voice trailed off as he bolted from one of the many antechambers, all conversation forgotten. Russell hot on his heels, remarking to himself how the Doctor seemed more scatterbrained than ever. He began to marvel at the Time Lord mind and its capacity for knowledge and capabilities, and yet he felt a great amount of pity for the Doctor as he sped around, his hands seeming to move of their own accord to approve or reject nearly every item in every room of the TARDIS. All those minds, all those memories, all that history locked away in his head… how did it all not consume him? Throughout all the adventures, he’d never really seen this. sure, the Doctor had his… quirks, but so did everyone. This, however… this was bad. Something about the Master always put the Doctor ill at ease, made him grumpier even than usual. Russell noticed, with a hard laugh, that he often acted the same way around his ex-wife.
"Something funny, Mr. Garamond?"
"I’m just glad you’re wearing suspenders, with all you’re stuffing in those pockets."
The Doctor pulled his braces out from under his vest and gave them a tug. His voice was still businesslike and tense.
"One of the benefits of subspace trouser pockets, Mr. Garamond. Almost completely weightless. Is Colleen ready?"
"We both are."
"Good," he said, brushing past the gangly surgeon back to the main console room, "because I’m not."
They met up with Colleen in the console room, and the Doctor fiddled with a few devices until one of the integrated flatscreens buzzed into life. The three stood in front of the screen as the Master’s face came into view, much smaller but no less intimidating.
"Have you turned off all the lights, Doctor?" the Master called with a mocking tone, "I promise nothing will happen to your TARDIS while you’ve got it parked. At its age, I’d be surprised if anything else CAN happen to that ship."
"Spare us the meager witticisms," the Doctor stuffed both hands into his jacket pockets, "bring us on board if you want so much to show us your magnum opus."
"Why don’t you come on in, then?" the Master grinned.
"I’d rather you send a cab," the Doctor sniffed, "I’m afraid you might scratch my paint job."
"As you wish," the Master nodded, and the screen went blank. Colleen and Russell exchanged a look.
"Doctor, why don’t we…?" Russell made a motion with his hand as if to simulate flying into the ship.
"TARDISes are dimensionally transcendent constructs," the Doctor explained with a level voice, "placing one inside another can wreak havoc on the fabric between dimensions."
"Of course," Colleen nodded, "You can’t transcend a transcender, it’d be like turning a box in on itself ad infinitum."
"Quite right, my dear. A tear in subspace is something I don’t want to deal with on top of everything else."
Russell remembered the Doctor’s claim of subspace trousers, and was inclined to agree.
"So how are we going to get there?"
"A transmat beam, more than likely. Which reminds me…"
He spent a good time digging into his inside jacket pocket, searching for something beyond the confines of camelhair and thread. Finally, his arm returned, clutching three sonic screwdrivers in his fist. He kept one for himself and tossed the other two to Russell and Colleen.
"What are these for?" Russell asked, a little worried."
"Always be prepared, Mr. Garamond."
"Makes you sound like a boy scout."
The Doctor fiddled nervously with the screwdriver in his hand.
"Believe me, Mr. Garamond, this will prove far more handy than a simple pocketknife. Ah!" he said with relief as a low hum began to echo around the TARDIS, "our cab is here!"
There was a blinding flash of light, a sizzling sound of electricity, and suddenly they were all three standing in a towering, white room. As the Doctor began to look around, his vision seemed to be only in black and white, overcome with memories. This was how his TARDIS had looked when he first rescued it from that rubbish heap… he and Susan, so long ago… and all the life and the death and the danger and the thrill of it all had changed his ship in an unalterable way. It would never look like this again, all white and stark, with the roundels on the walls contrasting with the sharp, geometric console. How long had it been, he thought, since Ian, since Barbara… since he was thin, even? Sadly, the color started to leech back into his vision as the nostalgia faded, and a few items of the Master’s tenure began to show themselves: a black coat draped over a chair, a sideboard with several dark liquors prominently displayed in elegant bottles, and a massive laboratory that took up the entire back wall, full of bubbling beakers, flasks, and pipets all moving in perfect harmony towards test tubes, centrifuges, and Petri dishes. At the lab, he could see the broad, muscular back of the Master, working away in a black vest and voluminous white sleeves. He turned to greet them, opening his arms in welcome. The Doctor, wishing to dispense with pleasantries, made to take a step forward, but Colleen’s scream stopped him where he stood.
"Doctor, look out!"
The Doctor finally became aware of the buzzing electronic barriers that were keeping Russell and Colleen rooted to their spots. The barriers left very little room for movement, and crackled dangerously which what was nothing less than a lethal dose. The Doctor, rather than seem worried or frightened by the experience, merely heaved a sigh.
"Honestly, Master. This is the best you can do?"
"Wonderful thing about a Chameleon circuit," the Master chuckled, stepping forward until he was nearly face to face with the Doctor at the barrier, "If I input the information for a Dalek mothership, it comes with all the fun little bells & whistles."
"Please," the Doctor sniffed contemptuously, "Do you really think this can hold me?"
He casually produced the sonic screwdriver from his breast pocket. Before the Master could make a comment, the Doctor placed the device on the floor and drove the hard sole of his two-tone spectator shoe down onto the screwdriver, breaking it to pieces. An ear-splitting shriek issued from the broken device, causing Russell, Colleen, and the Master to cover their ears and causing the electrified barrier around the Doctor to flicker and fade. The Doctor stepped out from the barrier as if nothing was wrong, and as quickly as it had shrieked, the screwdriver fell silent. The Doctor coolly approached the Master, who was still clutching at his ears.
"I learned that trick after the fall of the Panopticon, though I feel as I’ve just lost a friend… Master, can you hear me?"
The Master slowly lowered his hands from his ears and drew himself back to his full, impressive height. The Doctor looked up to him with a playful sort of scorn and gave him a shove to the chest. The Master, still disoriented, stumbled backwards against the console.
"It appears, my old adversary, that there’s not a trick you can prestidigitate that I cannot find a way out of. Perhaps this conflict of ours has finally ended, with me the victor? Are we no longer evenly matched? Could it be that the power of my cold, calculating mind has finally defeated your hot, raging emotions, Master?"
He turned to his two companions.
"Colleen, dear… Mr. Garamond. Do as I did and relieve yourself of your imprisonment."
Colleen immediately did as she was told, and Russell barely had time to block his ears as a second shriek pierced the air. Still, the Doctor did not even flinch. Finally, Russell steeled his nerve and stomped down as hard as he could on the screwdriver the Doctor had given him. Nothing happened.
"That is why you should wear more sensible shoes, Mr. Garamond. Give me a moment, and I’ll free you…"
He turned back to the console to see, to his aggravation, that the Master had Colleen held fast, a shattered piece of the sonic screwdriver held to her throat. He regarded his enemy with an icy glare.
"You know I can kill, Doctor, and you know I will to accomplish my goals," he began circling around the console of his TARDIS.
"Well," the Doctor stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, "That certainly destroys any idea of your possible philanthropy."
"Doctor!" Russell shouted from behind the barrier, still unable to break the sonic screwdriver with his rubber-soled shoes, "Don’t just stand there!"
The Doctor dismissed him with a wave.
"It’s all right, Mr. Garamond, it’s all right. I know what this is about, and it’s certainly not about Colleen. It’s about recognition. You see, the Master is absolutely furious that I have been able to best him time and again, over and over. All he wants is for me to consider him dastardly and evil, no doubt. It’s a peculiar thing, the relation between people. Without evil, there can be no good, so therefore someone must be lower than someone else. The knowledge of just where people stand gives them a sense of permanence, a sense of purpose, and it makes them feel… good. To the Master, feeling bad makes him feel good, and my… unwillingness to give him what he so desperately wants makes him so very, very angry… but I’m tired of it."
He turned back to the Master, who was still holding the makeshift weapon to the girl’s throat.
"What’s the point, Master? We fight, we don’t fight, what’s the difference in the end? You’ve never been able to defeat me, to kill me, to harm me, really. I always come back, you always come back, and it never ends! Why do you do it?"
The Master reached behind himself on the console and flipped a number of switches.
"Oh Doctor, you have been naive," he said with a venomous smile, "It’s true, there is a certain…piquancy to the conflict that you and I have shared for so long, and it’s true that I hunger and thirst for the opportunity to finally best you once and for all… but I came to a conclusion after what seemed like an eternity, locked inside your ship. I now know how I can truly beat you, and to beat you is to break you."
‘How very poetic," the Doctor raised an eyebrow, "I suppose you’re going to tell me your grandiose plan now, building to a bombastic, villainous crescendo?"
The Master flipped one more switch on his console, and in a flash of light the Doctor was gone, beamed back to his TARDIS via the transmat device. Before he could know what had occurred, the Master’s voice seemed to come from everywhere inside the TARDIS. The Doctor scrambled to the flatscreen, where the Master was broadcasting. Russell and Colleen were both back in the containment field, and the Master had put his black jacket back on, leaning over the console and chuckling softly to himself.
"You seem to forget, my dear Doctor, that for a long, long time I was part of your ship. I was absorbed into your TARDIS through the Eye of Harmony. I clung to your ship, and clung to my sanity, all the time plotting my revenge. I know your ship as I do the functions of my own body. When I move my arm…"
He flipped a switch, and part of the Doctor’s TARDIS began to grow dim. The Time Rotor suddenly went dark and immobile, and nothing the Doctor attempted in a feverish few seconds could bring it back online. The Master let his chuckles grow into that full, mocking laugh that crashed around the console room like breakers on the surf.
"It’s no use, Doctor! Your TARDIS is disabled, you’re dead in the water. It took me decades to access that code. I’ll never be able to process it again, and for that… I thank you. Thank you, Doctor, for bringing about my greatest plan. With you stranded, and with the help of your two little… friends… the new genesis of Gallifrey will begin! Catch me, Doctor, if you can!"
There was a great groaning in space, and the Dalek mothership slowly dematerialized out of time, off for parts unknown. The Doctor was left in a scuttled ship, in silence, and alone.
"Doctor, what in the Hell is going on?!"