Everyone stared at the Master and the rifle in his hands. One of the armed men turned his head in puzzlement, wondering how he had been stolen from so easily.
"Oh, good!" The Master beamed from ear to ear. "I have your attention. Finally." The smile spread to a full blown grin.
"Master, stop it!" the Doctor called out, trying to step closer. He halted immediately when the other Time Lord raised the gun a little.
"Are you telling me you want to be stranded here?" he snarled. "Without even trying to get the TARDIS back? You're so pathetic."
"Not like this," the Doctor implored. "We surely can get back with more resources and get-"
"Yes, yes!" one of the women seconded. "We're drilling for an artificial power source that's below. That..." Her eyes darted to the Master and she swallowed. "I... think that should get us enough money and resources to send another mission here and retrieve your ship."
"No," the Master simply said, his voice cold, the grin dropping. His eyes locked with the Captain's. "You're going to get it back, right now."
Zach visibly tensed, but then, to everyone's surprise, he nodded. "Yes, of course. We'll relocate the drill immediately. Ida, calculate what we'll need for it to happen."
"What?" the woman from before responded dumbfounded. "Zach, we can't!"
"Yeah! What's gotten into you?" Jefferson asked. "That's not normal!"
"Stop it, Master," the Doctor implored once more. "You can't hypnotize every single one here."
"No... guess I can't." He tilted his head a little and patted the rifle. "That's why got this neat little thing. Now, Captain... obey!"
I could have warned the Master. I saw the man sneaking up on him way beforehand. And maybe it would have been the better choice, since being stuck here for who knows how long really wasn't in my own interest. But, as much as I wanted, I just couldn't get my conscience to cooperate. So I squeezed my eyes shut when the man lunged out with another rifle and smacked it over the Master's head with a truly sickeningly sound.
"Good job, Stevenson," Jefferson praised. "Now get him cuffed. And you two," He hurled around to me and the Doctor, his eyes dark from anger and suspicion. "Do we have to secure you as well?"
"No!" the Doctor hastily said defiantly. "He's just... Well... How would you react if someone stole your only home? But we'll cooperated. Nothing to gain from doing harm."
I only nodded, not in the mood to talk me into trouble.
"Alright, but I'll keep an eye on all of you."
A groan came from the ground. "You bastard," the Master ground out, lifting himself to his knees, but not further, as his hands were bound with metal.
"Quiet!" the Captain ordered, finally coming back to his senses. "First you kill one of our Ood, then you attack me. Manipulate me!"
"Not going to apologize," the Master spat.
"Leave him to me," Jefferson said, "I'll find a spare room to lock him away for now. Danny, make sure he gets everything he needs."
"Heh, I will," the guy with the long, dark hair said with a smile. "Finally something to do for me, here."
"You really think you can lock me away?" the Master sneered. "Sweet."
"Oh, shut up," Jefferson retorted. "Or do we have to gag you?"
The only answer was a truly murderous glare, but the Master stayed silent, having understood he wasn't in any position right now to really get the upper hand.
Zach cast a glance at everyone, expecting anything to happen. The silence weighed heavy on the room for a good while.
One of the women spoke up. "Well, as sorry as I am for your situation, it's probably best to get to know each other, right? I'm Ida Scott, science officer." She waved to the Captain. "You know Zachary Cross Flane, acting Captain, sir. You've met Mister Jefferson, he's Head of Security." Another wave to the dark haired one, "Danny Bartock, Ethics committee."
"Yep, I'll make sure you're treated after all the current standards of human rights."
It seemed as if no one heard the snort coming from the Master, who had gotten to his feet again, but was held by two armed men.
Ida continued, "The man who just left was Toby Zed, Archaeology, and this", she smiled at the younger woman next to her, "is Scooti Manista, Trainee maintenance."
"Hi!" She wriggled her fingers towards us.
"And where exactly are we stranded?" the Doctor asked. "You're all making a great mystery out of this place, you know."
"You really have no clue. You're not joking," Ida answered baffled. "Well, then... You should probably know before settling in." She pulled a lever and the roof started to open. "Here it comes. This... is home."
"Brace yourselves." Zach told. "The sight of it sends some people mad."
Curiously I watched as the round metal plates receded, leaving nothing but glass between us and the outside. And there, in the darkness of space, blacker than anything I'd ever seen, hung a hole, surrounded by what seemed to be flames, or just tons of matter being dragged inside? Vaguely I got aware of my mouth dropping open. From all those movies and games I knew them, but none of those could have ever prepared me for this. As if an ancient giant had ripped a hole through reality itself, leaving nothing but the purest of darkness. It was as if even my gaze was swallowed by it, as if the mere sight would suck out my very soul and...
"Look away, idiot!"
The voice tore me away from the black hole and I turned to find the Master staring at me with dark eyes.
"Didn't you just listen?" he grumbled.
"B... but..." I stuttered, having to fight the urge to glance back. "I've never seen anything like it. It's so..."
To my surprise he smiled knowingly.
"That's completely impossible!" the Doctor let out.
Ida sounded sort of proud when she elaborated, "This lump of rock is suspended in perpetual geostationary orbit around that black hole without falling in."
Curiosity got the better of me and the bouts of social anxiety had finally faded enough to let my learning-eager mind take the upper hand.
"How don't we get sucked in?" I dared to ask, still a little uncomfortable when all eyes landed on me. "I...'m not sure how far away one has to be... but that looks pretty close."
"We should be dead!" the Doctor exclaimed.
"And yet here we are." Ida practically beamed at him. "Beyond the laws of physics. Welcome on board."
Something slightly shook the base again, particles and dark clouds moved over our heads and towards the blackness. It was so hard to look away.
"But why does this rock has an atmosphere? There are clouds." I felt a little stupid asking this, but I just had to. It looked so weird.
Ida didn't seem to mind, however. "There's no atmosphere. What you see there is stars breaking up. Gas clouds. We have whole solar systems being ripped apart above our heads, before falling into that thing."
I gulped, staring dumbfounded at her and fighting the urge to get lost in the hole again. "Wow," I just said, unable to clad my amazement into words. I wasn't even sure if there were any in the human language, or any language at all, that could even closely describe what I felt in that moment.
"So," Danny clapped his hands together, "Let's bring our rebel to a safe space and then we'll see if we can find anything to do for you two. Come along."
The Master was escorted by two men, one of them Jefferson. I simply followed the Doctor, trying to stay as close as possible to not get lost anywhere.
The base was interesting enough, leading partly underground, alongside rough stone walls. Never had I seen anything like it and had trouble keeping pace here and there. So many things to see, even though they probably weren't that exciting on closer inspection. And everywhere were those Ood, these strange creatures that all looked the same and just mindlessly did all sorts of work.
Danny showed us some laboratories, the drilling shaft, a few parts that were only for storage. On our way back to the control room he showed us a set of quarters.
"We've got more rooms than we have people, in case a part of the base gets lost," he explained. "Just pick one, each, the Ood will bring you everything you need."
We picked rooms that were next to one another, mostly because there was no reason at all not to. They all looked the same. Only big enough for a bed, a small wardrobe and a desk, and a small, round window that let one look outside, but still at an angle that didn't allow a view on the black hole.
The Master, however, was brought a few rooms further down the corridor. From outside one could only enter via handprint. Inside one could only leave by passing through a small corridor, maybe a meter in width, in front of the door that read one's biological signature, as Jefferson explained. Only when it was registered as valid did the door open. So, even if the prisoner would kidnap a valid person, the door would not open, as long as he was inside the corridor. Simple, but extremely effective.
Like this they also were able to free the Master of his cuffs and let him at least roam around a bit, although there wasn't much room for it. In opposite to our quarters, he had his own tiny bathroom, though. I could also spot the same furniture in here that we had. Only an additional book shelve was mounted to one of the walls, to keep a prisoner occupied. The Master trod towards that one and studied its contents as if it was the most normal thing to do. He also ignored the warning to behave and everything else that was spoken towards him.
For a brief moment I felt strange when looking at him. There was such a sense of calm at the way he carried himself, the posture with folded hands behind his back, head now slightly turned to the side to glance through the window. In this short second he simply felt... ancient.
Before I could put any proper words to the perception I was already gently pushed from the door.
"You'll treat him well, right," the Doctor enquired with slight concern in his voice. "I know he can be complicated, but..."
"Yes, of course!" Danny blurted almost indignantly. "We just have to figure out how we can get him to... you know... not attack us and play along. And I really hope you two will help with that, because it will greatly speed the process up."
I couldn't see how that would work. The Master didn't appear to me as someone who would simply accept being stranded here. And I could understand him so well. It took me every ounce of thought control not to let this fact run me over. I didn't want to be trapped, had no idea who these people were, character-wise, had no idea how long we would stay.
"Here's the cantina." Danny waved into another room. "How about you have a quick snack and I or Ida will see what tasks we can assign to you? I'll get a list of things we could need another set of hands. The Ood will serve you."
With that he left us and the Doctor nudged me in the side with a reassuring smile.
"Not really," I mumbled, sitting at one of the tables. "I just ate before we left the TARDIS, in case you forgot."
"No, haven't. Hm... all of this looks really weird." He studied the contents of the food on display. One of the Ood was standing behind with a scoop in one hand. "I'll take some of the blue stuff. I like blue."
"As you wish, Sir," the Ood answered obediently.
"And give me some of the orange for Lucy, will ya? It looks nourishing."
"I recommend the red and purple for the most nourishing effects, Sir. Those combined provide a human body with the exact dosage of the most vital vitamins and minerals."
"Alright. Let's go with those, then."
Smiling all over his face, he carried first mine, then his own tablet to our table. The stuff smelled weird, although not bad, so I forked a little into my mouth. Somehow it reminded me of mashed potatoes, only with some other undertones to it. The plate was barely touched, however, since I felt not hungry at all.
Thinking about it... including the tour through the base, it only had been a maximum of three hours or so since I had awoken in the med bay. Even less since the tiny spark of hope for a better life had sparked within me. I pushed the plate away, suddenly feeling sick to the stomach.
"I'm sorry. I really am," came the Doctor's mumbling. I looked up and met his sorrowful gaze. "That's probably not the kind of thing to..."
"Just forget it," I murmured. "Doesn't matter."
"Of course it does! I have a responsibility for you after all!"
"No, you don't." I rolled my eyes. "And if anyone at all is responsible for me being here, it's your damn prisoner." The Doctor looked so guilt stricken that I almost had the urge to take my words back. Almost. "What did he even think?!" I went on, letting my anger bubble up for a bit. "Why preserving my stupid life, when he hates all humans so much? I'm not a damn plaything!"
"No, no... you're not. He's away now. Can't do you harm. Don't worry about him."
I grunted out my exasperation and gave the Time Lord a dark scowl. "Is that all you are doing? If someone's not the way you like them, just lock them away and be done?"
"What?! No!" he protested. "Like hell, no! I've tried so many things, believe me." His eyes went wide and a little desperate. "Since the year..." The Doctor slightly shook his head and sunk together. "At first I tried my best, yes. He struggled so much to be even brought aboard the TARDIS. Then he was completely out of control, tried to demolish everything and to kill me at every opportunity."
Okay, I hadn't expected that. Not to this extend. But still...
"He came to terms after some time," the Doctor continued, eyeing his fidgeting fingers instead of me. "Well... had to. And I tried it. Took him to a few nice planets, some, where no life existed. Later... He seemed calm enough to try livelier places. That... only worked after a while."
"Did... he kill people?" I wanted to know, but then sighed. "Why do I even ask?"
The Doctor gave me a week smile that made me feel uncomfortable. How many had to die before the Doctor had gotten him under control? And what in the universe had he done to the Master to ensure he wouldn't do harm? He didn't seem like a person you could simply argument with. The brief mentioning of the collar came to mind and I gulped.
Why did I even feel bad for the Master? Didn't he deserve every last bit of bad treatment after what he had done to so many? But then there was this strange way in which the Doctor behaved towards him. The way he acted right now. As if it were no deal at all that the other man sat alone and in figurative chains.
Quite as if the Doctor had long since given up on the Master.