Soul's Shadow by TardisGhost
Nothing made sense anymore. While I quietly followed the Master outside, my hands were wrapped around the small egg. It didn't drain me… yet. The small pulse warmed my hands in the beginning night. My eyes kept glued to the ground so I wouldn't have to see the horrendous machines around me. It didn't spare me from hearing the crackling of electricity, seeing the sparks of lights in my peripheral vision.
Quickly we reached the town's center where a round sigil immediately caught my eye. It was drawn… no, not drawn. The closer I came the better I saw that it was dug out from the ground, had been buried there under nothing but a thin layer of sand and dirt, barely a hand's width below the ground. A perfect circle, decorated by what looked like circuits and diagrams, nothing about it organic.
The more I saw and the more weird things happened, the more I slowly got the feeling of having stumbled into something… "Artificial."
The word tumbled out of my mouth and I raised my eyes to the cracked sky and the moon that was now barely more than a corpse, all of its surface flaked away to leave nothing but black metal and blue lights from various openings.
The Master laughed and stopped to face me. "Yeah. Exactly." Obviously my utterance had reached him. "Look at that, you might be smarter than the Doctor, for once."
I let out a huff and shook my head, still determined to keep the machines out of my sight, despite knowing they were all around me.
"I've watched so much Sci-fi, it's not even… Yeah, sure, it is surprising. Wouldn't have expected to see anything like it, once. But still…"
"Aaaw, come on, don't do that to me," the Master mocked. "It was a surprise."
"You succeeded, then."
That made him smile widely and he gestured around, practically forcing me to finally look at his work. It was the same sight as before, still shocking, disgusting, making my insides crawl with revulsion. But at that moment I understood… some pieces of this puzzle fell together, so obvious that I wondered how I could have missed it before.
"They… they aren't real people?"
The Master's grin grew proud and made my heart do a weird little jump. He seemed to wait for more, so I did my best to put everything together, given the new light of the situation.
"We're… in a simulation?" I wondered. "The TARDIS can't get into this place, but from within it the Vortex manipulator can travel…"
"Oh, that's a good theory, but wrong."
"Then… it's shielded, this place." One idea was chasing the next, almost tuning out the crackling and the lights from nearby. "The black metal maybe? The Doctor suggested it might have spread, but… has it?" There was no answer despite an anticipating smile. "No, it didn't grow. Not literally. It's modular… like a holo-deck. Takes on the form you want it to have, populates it with illusions… but some you can touch and interact with…?"
"Splendid!" The Master barked out a laugh and beamed at me. "Oh, what a fantastic mind!" He clapped his hands together, then stretched out his arms, glaring up at the moon. "And there you're only human. What a nice gift from the stars, aren't you?"
"G… gift?" Surprised, I took a tiny step backwards, feeling completely undeserving of any compliment. "I… I only watched tons of Netflix. That's hardly smart or… whatever."
His arms dropped to his sides and the Master stepped to me, bending down to look me in the eyes. "I've spent enough time on earth, I've met enough humans. Most would not be able to come up with this on their own." Two of his fingers pushed against my chin to make me look up. "Don't make yourself smaller than you are. I don't accept stupid people. So put two and two together, will you?" He tapped against my head. "That's what you're good at, after all."
Again my heart jumped at the compliment. It happened seldom, if at all, that people made me feel something other than inadequate and useless. And now this man, who despised every strand of my human DNA, was acting giddy and childishly excited because I managed to solve this scenario. Or parts of it. On top of that, he wanted me to acknowledge the achievement and I was happy to oblige.
"Yes, Master," I mumbled, smiling at his stupidly pleased expression.
"For the star's sake, please think about this!" a voice called out from behind us, making me jump.
We both hurled around to see the Doctor run and almost stumble towards us. Without his coat and also alone.
"Please, Master. Just stop."
"And how exactly do you plan to make me?" drawled the Master. "Try anything and a bunch of those primates here will die. Do I need more? No? Then stop bugging me."
"They are androids!" panted the Doctor. "They're automatically created in underground facilities to match a set scenario and whenever they get too old they get replaced by new models."
"Yeah… I know that already. It wasn't hard to figure out. Do keep up, Doctor. Even the human got it faster than you."
The Doctor's eyes snapped towards me, filled anew with doubt and insecurity. The whole situation certainly didn't help painting me in a good light, though I had barely anything to do with all of it.
"Just for the record," I grumbled, "I never agreed to help with any of this."
"But you do want to hatch the egg." The Master chuckled and trod in front of me.
"Not like that!" I called out. "I can't… I don't… how even? This makes no sense at all."
"Hatch the egg?" the Doctor asked, appalled. "You'll kill Lucy! I didn't show you her scans to use them against her!"
Scans? What scans? Had he soniced me after I had told him how exhausted I had felt? Had he really shown those data to the Master?
He let out an exasperated sigh and rolled his eyes at the Doctor. "Not killing her is the entire, fucking point of this! I only needed an energy source that's strong enough to feed the egg…" He looked at me, smiling and spreading his arms. "And what better thing to use than a whole bunch of androids? They won't feel it, they won't care."
I swallowed a lump of sudden threat as I realized what this was about.
"Batteries. You plan to use them as an energy source and bundle it all through… me."
"Oh, don't look so horrified. It won't hurt you, I promise."
The Doctor stepped from one foot to the next, obviously holding himself back from just jumping the other man to the ground and wrestling the laser out of his hand. He didn't, though, and tried it with more reasoning instead.
"You don't know if it will harm her!"
"It won't. My calculations are pretty accurate. And you know I'm good at this."
"But you will kill all those people! They won't survive the energy surge!" The Doctor now shouted, maybe angry, maybe just startled by how unyielding the other Time Lord was. "And you don't even know if it's enough energy to hatch the egg! That's not worth sacrificing so many lives! Master! Just stop for one second and think, I beg you!"
Only electric humming and a bit of wind stayed behind after that speech. To my surprise it looked like the Master was actually pondering about something. But in the end he only let out a snort.
"They are still only machines. That's hardly killing."
"But aren't they sentient?" I asked, barely daring to raise my voice. "They interacted normally with us."
"Just a programmed script." He smiled bitterly. "It's nothing real. Only AI adapting to something new."
"But… they reacted to your hypnotism," I countered, the thought having appeared just now. "I don't think that would work on a mere machine… would it?"
The Master's eyes widened for the tiniest bit, but enough to be noticeable. His tongue darted out and over his lips, his look wandering towards the Doctor for a moment.
"Yeah… that they have," he admitted, eventually. His features turned stubborn then. "But it doesn't change anything. I checked. Each renewed model also gets a software update, a tiny refinement, so that they are more complex than before. But they still… they are still not real."
I gnawed on my bottom lip, unsure what to respond. The Doctor said something that I didn't quite hear, too busy trying to make a decision. Because the thing was, the Master was right. No matter how one viewed it, those people were not real in the same sense we were. And this might be the only chance to get the egg to hatch without it draining me.
"Oh no, you don't!" shouted the Master all of a sudden and in the same moment the Doctor started to sprint towards him.
I watched in shock as the Doctor got hit by a ray of light, a beam from the laser screwdriver. It hit him right in the chest and made him fall to his hands and knees, panting and sweating. Red dust swirled from the ground around him, disturbed some more by the Master, who ran over to drop down in front of the other man.
"I told you I'm not letting you. Why do you always have to be such a fool?" His voice was almost soft, as if he were speaking to a child.
"Just now… you hesitated," panted the Doctor, his face contorted from pain. "You know this is wrong."
The Master clicked his tongue and sighed. "You're hurt. Why do you still care about the androids? They don't matter."
Carefully I stepped closer, if only to make sure the Doctor was somewhat alright. The beam obviously hadn't been lethal, but it seemed as if it had hurt him quite badly. The Doctor pressed a hand against the spot where his right heart sat, teeth gritted, and still he managed to press out a humourless laugh and somehow drag himself to his knees.
"Everyone matters, Master."
He snorted in response, grabbing the Doctor's face. "Everyone? Is that so? Then why, Doctor…" He leaned closer, almost pressing his forehead against the other's. "Why don't you ever listen? Why is it that you always run from me? Even when you lock me away you only run and run and run! But if anyone is calling… even those metal constructs… then you come. Then you listen."
With a slight tremble, the other man reached up and cupped the Master's hands. It was visible how much effort it cost him, the damage the laser had caused seemed to be not at all trivial.
"I did. I… listened. I listened so… many times, but nothing was ever there."
"It wasn't as loud when we were young," the Master muttered. "It never hurt, never overwhelmed my thinking like it does now…"
His hands dropped to his sides, clawed into the red sand. Only a moment later, though, the Master shot back to his feet, not waiting for a response.
"Just watch, then! Watch how I claim it all! And if you do as much as get up, I will use a setting that really hurts. And we both don't want that, right?" He chuckled and clapped his hands together, spinning around. "So, any more silly objections, little one?"
"And if I have some, I will end up half dead on the ground?" I grumbled, tossing a concerned glance to the Doctor, who sacked together and seemed barely able to move at all.
The Master gave me a mock pout. "He's okay. Just a bit weak and useless for a bit." A glance followed mine, turning satisfied at the sight of the other Time Lord. "No vital organs damaged… not much."
I glared at him and might have protested some more if it weren't for the egg. A strange sensation emanated from it, a tug at my essence, an urging to do something. As if the tiny creature could sense what was about to happen. Everything about this was still majorly wrong, but somehow in a way I could actually… live with?
I growled frustrated. "No objections. What do I have to do?"
"Wonderful!" the Master called out. "Stand right there, inside this circle." He pointed at the dug-out symbol on the ground. "It's the center point of this place. Everything runs together at this exact spot."
"Don't… do that," came a weak protest from the Doctor, who struggled to get to his feet, only to fail miserably. "Lucy, they're… they'll die. Break. I don't know… The children…"
Right… I almost forgot about them.
"Ah, yes. The little rats," the Master commented. "Don't worry about them. We'll have time for them later."
"You thought this through, didn't you?" I wanted to know.
A weirdly soft smile crept over the Master's face at the question and he nodded. Then he waved me to the circle once more and when I stood in its middle he produced a small device from his vest pocket that shared the eerie blue glow of the moon.
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