The Future

by hangingfire [Reviews - 2]

  • Teen
  • None
  • Character Study, Horror, Introspection, Standalone

Author's Notes:
I've borrowed elements from the summary of the novel Legacy of the Daleks, but haven't specifically drawn from that book. Quotes are from the song "The Future" by Leonard Cohen. Warning for some fairly grotesque imagery. As ever, many thanks to my friends innocentsmith and use_theforce_em for their encouragement and support, which is especially valued when I go into the scary.

Give me back my broken night
My mirrored room, my secret life
It's lonely here
There's no one left to torture
–Leonard Cohen

Sometimes when the Master wakes from another fitful sleep that never quite drops below theta level, he imagines that he is whole again. Bearded, dapper, elegant. He imagines that if he opens his eyes, he will find himself inside his TARDIS, and that soon it will be time to saunter out and face the day and a tall, white-haired figure in a satin-lined cloak...

When the pain rushes back in, surging over every nerve, he is never sure whether these moments of imagination are a brief mercy or yet another kind of brutal punishment. Most lesser intelligences would have gone mad under the circumstances, he reflects, and relishing this fact is one of the things that keeps him going. Even so, it's addled his sense of time, being locked in this crumbling body; he's not sure how many days he's been like this. And he has no plan, not really. He's making it all up as he goes along. And for one whose plans and schemes are reknowned for their extraordinary, baroque quality, that is quite possibly the deepest insult laid over injury of all.

For the time being, his plans consist simply of dragging himself to the weed-rimmed pool, there to drink a few mouthfuls of water and to catch insects or other little animals that he can barely chew, but which provide some measure of sustenance. Then he lies back to wait, to reflect on the indignity of it all. Occasionally the notion forms in his head that he brought this all upon himself, one way or the other, but he shies violently from the thought. Eventually he dozes, or at the very least his consciousness becomes so abstracted the body doesn't seem to hurt quite so much anymore. Sometimes he dreams.

And when he wakes, the cycle begins all over again.

* * *

It's a basic part of a Time Lord's education: you get twelve regenerations, thirteen bodies. By the thirteenth body, the genetic material is nearing obsolescence; an attempt to regenerate past that will result in catastrophe. Death comes to us all, Borusa said, even Time Lords. And they were supposed to accept it; they were fortunate, after all, to elude it as often as they did. Oh, perhaps in very special cases, a new body might be loomed for someone, with a whole new regeneration cycle, but such cases were exceptional indeed. In all the millennia of Gallifreyan history, you could count re-loomings on one hand and still have fingers left over.

The Master was enough of a realist to admit that, barring a very serious change of heart on the part of the High Council, he'd never have that option. But from the minute he regenerated into his thirteenth body, the one that spent so much time on Earth with the Doctor, he began to think about how he might avoid death one more time. Preferably several more times, as many more times as he had the power and skill to arrange. There were methods, he knew, of transferring one's consciousness into another sentient body, but the business required enormous amounts of energy. To say nothing of a suitable host.

So he bided his time, waited, worked in secret. Moved other plans along, a piece here, a plot there, a little scheme on one planet, another on Earth.

He should have known, when he took the girl hostage. Should have recognised her psychic imprint; indeed, should have recognised her, but she'd been a mere child the last time he'd seen even an image of her. And somehow she'd managed to shield her own mind from him, no mean feat. It was a credit to his old adversary, really. He'd clearly taught her well.

Which only made the resulting fiasco all the more bitter, of course: that he could be thwarted by the Doctor when he wasn't even there. In the end Susan Foreman stole his TARDIS and left him there, marooned on Terserus. But not before nearly turning his own tissue compression eliminator on him.

She'd hit the matter transmuter instead. Which, as such things do when hit by a pulse of high-intensity energy, exploded. It was his bad luck that he happened to be standing so nearby.

He burned. Body broken, coughing up blood that sizzled as the flames consumed him. The smell of his own charred flesh and hair that was soon mercifully lost as even his sense of smell was destroyed. When the flames died away and he lay curled and ruined on the ground, crazed with pain and rage, he did the only thing that he could. He regenerated.

Well. Tried to. And that was when he learned exactly what kind of catastrophe an attempt at a thirteenth regeneration would be.

Moments might have elapsed, or a day, or a week, before he finally regained consciousness. And it simply wasn't fair; he couldn't even savour the victory of having lived. There was sight–clouded, too sensitive to light. Hearing–fortunately still keen. Smell and taste had been burned out. Sloughed off, perhaps, like the skin that continued to blacken and crumble away, exposing raw flesh to the air which in turn would grow dry before it too, in turn, peeled away, locking him into an endless cycle of pain. And his throat was so ravaged that he couldn't afford himself the luxury of screaming.

* * *

Terserus isn't much of a planet, which is why he selected it as one of his refuges in the first place; none of the life forms have evolved to proper sentience, and the landscape is still volatile, providing handy gaps in the lithosphere into which evidence and failed experiments could be tossed as needed. Unfortunately, the lack of sentient life and the changing landscape make it a bad place to be marooned. Especially when your body is nearly destroyed and the sole remaining piece of your own technological genius is your tissue compression eliminator, chucked aside by your former captive as she fled. It took him three days to drag himself to it, but it was worth every second. He now amuses himself by compressing the odd six-legged lizard or carrion fowl that comes to inspect him. It's the little things, after all.

Only once has he considered ending it all and chucking himself into the nearest volcano. For one thing, actually getting to the crater would have been an enormous trial. And for another, the Master always lives in hope. It's a strange thing to say about someone who's made a life's work out of destroying and brutalising hope in others, but it's true. Only an optimist would continue to go toe-to-toe with the Doctor, certain that this is the time he's going to win. Only the most cockeyed of dreamers would continue to drag that horrific carcass to the nearest source of fresh water, there to bide his time and wait for the turn in his fortunes that would most assuredly come.

And come it does, at first in the form of a sound that he's at first quite certain is only a dream, or perhaps a hallucination, a sign that he's finally really and truly lost it beyond all hope. Because it couldn't possibly be a TARDIS materialising there, and that's certainly not Goth–Goth, of all people, that unimaginative, ambitious, hidebound little bureaucrat–emerging from it and staring at him with pure unalloyed horror.

But it is, and somehow, after the Time Lord has had a chance to be sick, the story comes out: Goth's been sent to investigate the presence of a rogue TARDIS. The Celestial Intervention Agency recently started monitoring temporal activity on Terserus, it being just a little too close to Gallifrey and too unformed for the Council's comfort. A Chancellor, sent on an errand-boy's misson? Yes indeed, and that's a sign of just how thwarted Goth's ambitions have been. He's fallen from favour; the Lord President has pushed him aside; the Presidency will never be his, alas.

Help me, the Master says to him. You know who I am. You know what I am capable of. Help me. Bring me back to Gallifrey and I shall ensure that you have all the power you desire. All the power you deserve.

It shouldn't be so easy to suborn a Time Lord of the High Council. The Master takes this as a sign that he hasn't lost his touch.

Secure in the Zero Room on Goth's TARDIS, the Master finally smiles, though it hurts immeasurably to do so and flakes of gangrenous skin fall away as he does. He laughs quietly to himself, and plans for the future.

There'll be the breaking of the ancient Western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms
There'll be fires on the road
and the white man dancing
–Leonard Cohen