by TardisGhost [Reviews - 78]Chapter or Story
I couldn't remember a single moment where I had witnessed the Master being so utterly dumbfounded and at a loss for words. He appeared to be genuinely shocked, terrified even.
The newly created young woman stepped out of the tube, looking the Master up and down, smiling brightly. "Hello Dad," she greeted.
That's what snapped him back to reality. He gritted his teeth, practically snarling at the girl. "Don't call me that. Not ever."
The older man, who had brought us, stepped forward, observing the newcomer. "You primed to take orders?" he asked. "Ready to fight?"
The girl smiled again. Someone pushed a rifle into her hands while she answered, "Instant mental download of all strategic and military protocols, Sir. Generation five thousand soldier primed and in peak physical health." She stopped observing the weapon and looked back up, determined and in a good mood. "Oh, I'm ready."
And she had to be. Almost immediately a loud alarm blared all around us. It was so loud and sudden I had to fight the urge to put my hands over my ears. People started to run. The old man waved us away and led us to a niche where we could wait out the attack. I couldn't see what was going on, but there was gunfire. Thousands of rapid shots reverberated through the tunnels, each accompanied by a flash of light from the hot muzzles. The only louder sounds were screams, some of them pained, others shouted commands.
"Lets get them out of here," grumbled the older man. He nodded to a few soldiers so they would escort us.
I was quite happy about being led away. The thought of them creating one of those clones out of me was a bit terrifying, if I had to be honest. The Master was uncharacteristically quiet. Since he had snapped at the girl he hadn't said anything, was only glaring. Glaring at the newly born girl that bounced about, ready to throw herself into battle with her comrades.
Martha and Donna stared too, mostly at the Master, though.
Eventually the soldiers led us down another set of corridors. More metal walls enclosed us there, smoke rose from a broken pipe nearby. The place, despite the obvious traces of battles, seemed weirdly sterile. I nudged the Master, nodding to the black haired girl nearby.
"Did you say daughter?"
He gave me a true death glare, but nodded. "In a sense… technically…"
"Technically how?" asked Martha. She seemed not happy at all about the situation. Or maybe only about the Master being without supervision.
"None of your business, Jones."
Donna also stepped closer, her voice that special kind of a whisper that's almost louder than speaking normally. "Is she a proper clone?"
"Don't be dumber than you are," grunted the Master. "A clone would be a perfect genetic copy of me. That…" He angrily stuffed both hands into his pockets. "Progenation, most likely. Reproduction from a single organism."
"Oh right, yes, that makes total sense." The sarcasm in her tone was almost palpable, eliciting an exasperated sigh from the Master.
"It means one parent is biological mother and father. You take a sample of diploid cells, split them into haploids, then recombine them in a different arrangement and grow. Fast, in this case."
Now it was obvious he was determined to confuse her even further. It was also interesting to see that he completely ignored and dismissed Martha, while he was willing to answer Donna's questions. As much as those two clashed, sometimes I had a feeling that he didn't particularly hate her.
"Something's coming," warned the girl and the soldiers around us readied their guns.
Shadows rushed into view, creeping along the walls, their feet attached to humanoid creatures. They wore helmets with… No. I blinked and realised those were their faces. They had no hair and wrinkled, grey skin, big eyes and a sort of water tank instead of a mouth. A liquid was bubbling with the green tubes, replacing speech. I saw how they ran into covers, before the Master drew me back behind the wall.
Gunshots filled the air for several seconds again, occasionally there was a scream. Human screams. I couldn't hear the other species. The Master held his arm over my chest to prevent me from peeking, but I wouldn't have dared anyway. The shots were too loud for my sensitive ears and I had never before witnessed a real fight like that. It made me anxious to think about it and I already regretted having come along.
The older man returned, dirt and dust covering his face, maybe even some blood. He pointed at a crate behind Martha. "We have to blow the tunnel. Get the detonator."
"What? I'm not detonating anything," she protested. "There are still people-"
A scream made her stop and we all turned. The tube creatures had managed to get through the barricades and were now swarming towards us. The black haired girl appeared in my line of sight, shooting two of them. Another one got knocked out by a blunt hit from her gun against its head.
Martha cried out. Two of the creatures dragged her away, too strong for her struggles. A human soldier blocked Donna from sprinting to help. And I… I was too frozen to react in time.
As if I could have done anything anyway.
The Master didn't react at all, he only leaned against the wall, arms folded in front of his chest, watching. He was observant, but didn't seem to be even remotely interested otherwise. Even for him that seemed harsh, cold, but there was something else too. I just couldn't put my finger on it.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the girl rush to the crate and grab the detonator.
"Blow the thing! Blow the thing!" shouted the older man.
Donna tried to rip the detonator away, but wasn't successful. "They have Martha! No. Don't!"
The girl didn't listen, however. She gave the Master a curt nod and pushed the button.
Everything went too fast for me, then. Everyone ran. The Master grabbed my hand and tore me along, away from the broken barricade. Moments later I knew why, heard the explosion behind me and felt the ground shake. The whole corridor vibrated, stones fell from the roof, burying people from both sides equally.
It was so loud I had to cover my ears, my eyes tearing up from the dust. Donna's voice was the only thing that made me move again, curiosity winning over the shock.
"You've sealed off the tunnel!" She sounded so desperate. "Why did you do that?"
The hurt tone, however, didn't disturb the girl at all. She simply shrugged. "They were trying to kill us."
It was a fact. Nothing more, and not less.
"But they've got Martha."
"Collateral damage." Again, the girl didn't seem to be bothered. She tried her best smile and nodded at the Master and me. "At least you've still got them. The enemy lost more men. I'd say you came out ahead."
I exchanged a quick look with the Master, but he only listened, still weirdly quiet. It made me wonder why he was still here in the first place. Surely not to help; maybe just to see something else than the TARDIS, maybe to check if anything here might be of use to him. I couldn't imagine him really being interested in playing the role of protector for Donna and me.
She was still arguing with the clone girl. "Her name's Martha. And she's not collateral damage, not for anyone. Have you got that, GI Jane?"
I snorted at the reference, but paid more attention to where we were going now. The soldiers led us through still more tunnels, a seemingly never ending labyrinth underground.
"Where are you bringing us?" asked the Master, eventually, his voice neutral, almost pleasant. Was he trying to charm his way through this?
"All of you. You don't make sense." The old soldier shook his head. "No guns, no marks, no fight in you. I'm taking you to General Cobb. Now, move."
"Careful," said the Master, cold and calculated. "I'm only not breaking your neck because I'm curious what this is all about. Don't think you can threaten me. Or order me around."
Well, so much for the charming tactic. His coldly spoken words still had the desired effect, rendering the soldier speechless and making him back away, despite him being the one with a weapon.
Donna sped up her pace for a moment, catching up with the girl that was walking before us and behind the Master. She hadn't said much the entire time and it seemed as if Donna was about to change exactly that. Maybe in the hopes to find a way to bring Martha back, maybe it was just curiosity.
"Hey there. I'm Donna. What's your name?"
At that the girl seemed to think for a moment, tilting her head a little. "Don't know. It's not been assigned."
Donna hummed thoughtfully. "Well, if you don't know that, what do you know?"
"How to fight." This obviously made her proud, judging by the smile.
To my surprise, the Master tossed something in, although it sounded definitely pissed and not at all happy. "The machine must embed military history and tactics, but no name. She's a generated anomaly. An abomination that's not supposed to exist."
"Oh, don't start." Donna rolled her eyes, then kept talking to herself, mostly. "Generated anomaly. Generated. Well, what about that? Jenny."
"Jenny. Yeah, I like that." The girl smiled to herself, repeating the name a few times, as if to test how it rolled off her tongue.
It felt strange, however, to witness this process of name giving. If one was born already an adult then surely they would want to choose a name themselves instead of having one forced upon them. I never quite understood why humans weren't allowed to just change their name. In some countries it wasn't legal at all, others let you pay a fee so high it was almost impossible for a common person.
In any case, Jenny seemed to be pleased with the name and Donna seemed happy about that fact. Her gaze focused on the Master next, her words spoken teasing.
"What do you think, Dad?"
I could literally feel how much of his composure it took him not to hurl around and smash Donna against the next wall. His hands clenched into tight fists before he turned his head.
"Don't call me that," he snarled and wrinkled his nose in angry disgust.
"Not what you'd call a natural parent, are you?" Donna continued, completely unfazed.
I briefly wondered if she had become suicidal all of a sudden, or if she didn't notice how much the topic affected him. Each time he looked at Jenny there was disgust on his face and he avoided her at all cost.
"That… thing is nothing but a stolen tissue sample. It's not my responsibility. You can't extrapolate a relationship from a biological accident."
Donna shrugged. "Er, Child Support Agency can."
I snorted at that, earning myself an angry glare.
"I'm not an accident," mumbled Jenny indignantly. "Nor a child."
Tha arguing stopped when we finally reached a large room filled with people and equipment. There were weapons and machines that I had no idea what they were for. People all around us armed themselves, others seemed to be training their various skills.
"Where is this?" asked the Master. "What planet are we on?"
"Planet?" a younger soldier with stubbles asked. "Have you gotten your head hit? Well… This is Messaline. At least what's left of it."
In the distance there was a computer voice, counting down numbers. No, not numbers, generations. And all of them… dead?
"But this is a theatre," remarked Donna. "It's like a town or a city underground. But why?"
A man with a neatly trimmed white beard approached. He had an aura of authority to him. Not that that would impress the Master, who was practically staring the man down.
"General Cobb, I presume." He really didn't seem happy, straightening to a stiff posture. "Your men don't know how to treat visitors."
The general looked us up and down, ignoring the remark. "Found in the western tunnels, I'm told, with no marks. There was an outbreak of pacifism in the eastern zone three generations back, before we lost contact. Is that where you came from?"
I shot a glance up at the Master. Would he tell the truth, damned be all consequences, or would he craft a lie to keep up the cover. Both could have advantages, and both could bring dangers.
He grunted, a nasty smile forming on his face. "Eastern zone, yes. But I'm certainly not here to stay peaceful."
"Good, good." General Cobb nodded to himself, unaware of the threat. "We're committed to the fight, to the very end."
"How noble." Anyone who wouldn't know better would hear those words as praise, but I knew they were dripping with concealed scorn. "We… err… were cut off from the rest for some generations." The Master waved a hand towards the room. "We were never told what this war is truly about. Care to enlighten us?"
Cobb nodded, "That's the problem with those pacifists. They lose their will to fight. And then even their past. Listen up." The general straightened and his eyes twinkled with pride when he began to tell the story. "Back at the dawn of this planet, these ancient halls were carved from the earth. Our ancestors dreamt of a new beginning. A colony where humans and hath would work and live together."
"Now, that worked well." The Master snickered to himself. "Hath… I presume those are the fish people from before?"
"Yes, they are. And they broke their promises. They wanted it all for themselves." Cobb let out a tired sigh. "But those early pioneers, they fought back. They used the machines to produce soldiers instead of colonists, and began this battle for survival."
Why was everyone always so focused on grabbing everything for only themselves? The planet must be big enough to offer space for everyone.
"There's nothing but earth outside, why's that?" asked Donna. She just turned back from a window that showed the surface. Grey and dry and empty. "Why build everything underground?"
A younger soldier gave the answer. "The surface is too dangerous."
Donna hummed, unpleased. "Well, then why build windows in the first place? And-" she turned to a doorway, pointing at a metal plaque with numbers on it- "what does this mean?"
The general trod closer to her, letting his eyes wander over the plaque. "The rites and symbols of our ancestors. The meaning's lost in time."
"Something's fishy here," muttered the Master towards me. "And I don't mean the Hath."
I had to bite my lower lip to stifle a giggle and stabbed him with my elbow. "And you want to play detective now?"
He shrugged, grinning. "Maybe there's something of value here. And they sure have lots of weapons." He trod towards the general, waving at one of the windows. "How long's this war gone on for?"
"Longer than anyone can remember. Countless generations marked only by the dead."
Donna glared at him with wide eyes. "What, fighting all this time?"
"Humans sure enjoy all the killing," remarked the Master, ignoring the angry look he got for that.
But then he stiffened when the girl from before, Jenny, returned. Her face showed determination and pride.
"Not out of joy. Because we must. Every child of the machine is born with this knowledge. It's our inheritance. It's all we know. How to fight, and how to die."
The Master scoffed, not deigning the girl a look. Instead he turned to the general and the few younger soldiers that stood around him. "What bullshit. If you want to die, at least know what for. And if you want to fight, then do it with your whole heart." And suddenly it was him, who was the general. For a moment I could picture it so clearly that it almost frightened me. "Death is for those who are too weak to fight, for those who give up. You live to fight? What idiot taught you that nonsense? No one lives to fight a war." He practically oozed contempt for everyone. But there was also something else I couldn't name. His whole posture, the way he spoke. Like he had spoken those and his next words a thousand times already.
"You fight a war to win."