"So, what are we gonna do with the two of you?" Ida thought out loud as she visited us in the canteen. "The Ood do most of the nasty tasks around, and the rest is handled by us, obviously." She sat next to me and eyed the untouched food, then gave me a smile. "You'll get used to the taste."
"'m just not hungry," I mumbled.
"No? Well, maybe you should eat anyway, you're pale as a ghost." Ida chuckled. She had no clue.
I gave her a small smile, but still didn't touch the food, only drank the cup of water that sat nearby.
"Doctor, I'll put you in the laundry. We need tall people there, the racks are quite high. And you, Lucy... mhm... not quite sure. What have you learned?"
"Uh..." I startled a little and straightened in my chair. Not this again. "N... nothing. I mean... nothing helpful."
"Well... time to change that, huh?"
Perplex I blinked at the woman in front of me, the reassuring wide smile on her face, as if my incapability was no problem at all.
"You could become a trainee, too. No problem at all. And when we get back to the colony, you have a certificate and all that. Sounds good?"
For a second I was about to ask what colony she was talking about, but then decided this could wait, and I simply nodded. Was that my chance to finally become useful to the world?
"Okay, great!" Ida smiled even wider. "What are you good at?"
Shit... maybe not my chance at all, then. "Oof, I don't know," I confessed. "I'm really not good with people... that rules out almost every..."
"I asked what you're good at." The blond chuckled amused. "Come on. Don't be shy. Everyone has some talents."
But what where mine? I cast a puzzled glance in the Doctor's direction, but he only shrugged and smiled. "I can't answer that for you."
"Guess... I'm good with my hands." I glanced at them, once more stunned at how pale my skin was right now. "I used to help my Dad repair all kinds of stuff. Small stuff likes watches and our household items. And..." A reassuring nod from Ida made me continue, although I wasn't sure this was even important, but I wanted to mention it anyway. "I'm really good at detecting patterns. In general, I mean. Probably not helpful..."
"Oh, of course it is! That can help quite a lot with finding errors in the systems." She contemplated for a few moments. "I'll bring you to Danny. He has not much to do here, and before his job as ethic committee, he was an electronic engineer. I bet he'll be happy to show you the basics. Guess we can schedule some maths and physics lessons in, every few days... hm... Well, yeah, let's start with that, okay? Sounds good?"
"It does!" A weird spark of excitement went through me all of a sudden. "When do we start?"
Ida laughed at that. "Not today. It's late already."
"Ah, you set up an artificial clock to keep your biorhythms intact," the Doctor concluded. "Well, must have. There's no real days around." He stood up and waved at us. "Alright then, see you tomorrow!"
With that he left the two of us alone. Well, almost alone. As he exited, Danny came in, tossing a quick hello at us. In an instant I felt my chest tighten slightly. Being among strangers was stressing enough, being all alone with two at once, though, spiked my anxiety quite a bit. Luckily only for a moment. It had gotten easier to calm myself down over the past years.
"Hey Danny," Ida called out and stood too. "Lucy will train with you from tomorrow on."
"Me? A trainee? Are you sure?" he asked as he got himself food.
"Absolutely. Teach her everything you know about electronics, yeah? Might come in handy to have another set of hands for that sort of stuff around." She strode to the door and gave us a last smile. "Good night, then."
"Good night," I mumbled, uncertain what to do now. Should I leave, too? Would I even find my way back to the quarters?
"Oh, hey," Danny interrupted my thoughts. "Before you go, could you... mhmm..." He seemed a little uncomfortable. "Well, this Master guy. He gives me the creeps. And I'm supposed to bring him the evening ration, so..."
"Uh, I could bring it," I offered, almost certain it was what the other man would have requested anyway.
His features relaxed, then he called out to the Ood in the kitchen, "Hey, ready some food for our prisoner. There should be a box somewhere around."
"As you wish, Sir," the creature answered and strode away.
"What are those anyway?" I wanted to know. "Those Ood, I mean. Are they androids? They seem so cold."
"Wow, you lot must really come from who knows where. No, they are a slave race."
"Slaves?" I raised an eyebrow. "So they are alive, huh..."
"It sounds worse than it is. They live for this, it's their way of finding joy in life. Serving others... We don't force them to anything, treat them well." He shrugged and forked some food into his mouth. "Quite handy. Almost everyone back home has one."
The Ood brought a small plastic box with food and sat it on the table, before returning to his place.
"There," Danny pointed his fork at a button. "It's self heating. But should stay warm for the short way. And..." He got out a small device that looked like a tablet and typed something in, then let it hover over me for a second. "Now the security gate lets you in."
I nodded and picked up the box, then left for the door, but turned back again. "Uhm... do you get me, tomorrow, or shall I come somewhere? I... don't think I have an alarm clock, or..."
"Oh, don't worry. The station wakes us automatically. And sure, I'll get you. Half an hour after waking time." He gave me a thumbs up and grinned. "Right! Almost forgot. If you ever get lost, the cables in the base are colour-coded. And they have small arrows on them. Blue goes to the quarters, yellow to the canteen and red to the control room. Those are the three important ones, anyway."
My eyes lit up at that information. Finally something that was designed for people without a sense for orientation!
"Then see you tomorrow." I smiled and carried the box away.
Outside I looked out for the cables and found them quickly, following the blue ones. This wasn't so bad, in the end. Being stranded here might have given me some chances the world at home had never granted me.
Home... earth... My steps slowed slightly as I pondered about it. Since when were we able to fly out so far? How had we developed the technique to built bases and live on them? When had we discovered the Ood? And what about the aforementioned colonies? Was all of this some kind of secret government stuff, where they sent people to train and live, far from earth, leaving the rest of us believing we hadn't even left our own solar system, yet?
I stopped in front of the Master's cell and looked for any kind of door handle. There was none, but I found a small scanner-like apparatus on the side and held my hand over it. That seemed to do the trick. The door opened to let me in.
"It's me," I greeted and passed the gate. "And I've brought some rather disgusting looking food."
There was no response and for a moment I thought he might be in the bathroom , but then, to my surprise, I found the Master sitting on the floor, between the bed and the table. His knees were bent and drawn up to his chest, both arms draped over his head as if it was hurting.
"You're alright?" I carefully asked and placed the food box on the table. "Shall I ask them for painkillers?"
His fingers twitched lightly, but there was no verbal answer. Did he even recognize that I was there? Maybe he was asleep. The position sure looked uncomfortable, but who knew how his species preferred their downtime, after all.
Some instinct, however, told me, that he was awake and so I dropped to my haunches and touched his shoulder. "Master?"
"Piss off," he grumbled, without budging. His voice sounded weirdly strained. Something clearly wasn't right with him.
"Hey, listen," I tried, "just because you messed up a little doesn't mean you have to be in pain."
Finally his head raised and my eyes met his. The sight made me startle, made me hold my breath for a moment. He held me captive with his stare, within those hazel depths I fell, torn out of my own existence and into a swathing mass of... madness.
"It's too quiet in here," he whispered, pupils wide and dark. "The hole. It doesn't swallow them. Why can't it just eat them like everything else?"
"I... don't know." What was he talking about?
"Can't you hear them?" he asked, leaning his head back against the wall, eyes staring into nothingness, as is there was something... something he searched for.
I closed my eyes and listened. "There is humming," I quietly told. "From the machines. And I hear the drill."
"No! No, no, no, no!" the Master called out and drove his fingers into his hair, clutching at his head as if he suffered immense pain. "It's the drumming! This never ending, constant... it's always there, in the silence. Never... it's never quiet!"
I remembered. The day in the TARDIS kitchen, when he had suddenly and seemingly lost his mind, when he had tapped this rhythm over and over again.
Tap – tap – tap – tap.
"Like... a heartbeat?" I asked and his head snapped up, his gaze almost fearful, longing, desperate even. "I... I'm not sure it's what you mean, but... when I was unconscious... I heard a beat, like drums, I guess. Four beats, always the same. Like..."
The Master scowled, let out a frustrated growl, bent over... sobbed? No, it was more a muffled cry. It hurt to see him like that, no matter what an arsehole he was. I reached out to touch his arm, to somehow comfort him, even though I had no idea how. He slapped my hand away, shot forward and grabbed me by the collar, suddenly was on his knees, dragged me against him.
"Listen," he demanded and pointed at his chest. "Is that what you heard?"
I wasn't sure what he meant? Was I supposed to listen to his heartbeat? The look in his dark eyes made me gulp and so I obeyed, plugged down my glasses and placed an ear against his chest. A weird thing to do, and somehow also not. He didn't move, waited.
And there it was.
Du – du – du – du!
Du – du – du – du!
Du – du – du – du!
Four beats, repeating in an endless rhythm, soothing, in a weird and incomprehensible way.
"Do... you have two hearts?" I wondered, although the sound made it quite obvious. He nodded and I blinked perplex. "Huh, okay, then that must be what I heard."
"Thought so," he mumbled in a disappointed tone and sunk together in front of me like a deflated balloon, hands reaching up again to claw their way back to his head.
Helplessly I looked at his sunken form, wanting nothing more but to help. At the same time I had the suspicion that he wouldn't let me, too stubborn and maybe even to afraid to let anyone near him. It reminded me so horribly of myself, of how no one was able to understand how I experience the world, because it is too different from what they know as real. So I had given up, had stopped reaching out and just buried all of it within the depths of my own self.
I'm not like them, I thought to myself. Maybe I would never be able to function like a normal human being, but maybe that also enabled me to see and understand what others couldn't. And the Master was no human.
A little hesitantly I reached out and carefully placed my hands above his, let my head sink.
"I'm willing to listen."