"What happened? What did you see?"
The Doctor fidgeted around in front of me, his face alternating between various states of concern and curiosity. He barely gave me the chance to properly find back to my senses and I found myself sitting underneath the hexagonal control table, my back leaned against the cool metal. Some wires hung next to my head, maybe the ones I had held.
When I turned my head back, there was a face in front of me and I winced in surprise. The Doctor had squatted down, looking worried.
"I… I think the ship spoke with me," I finally brought out. "I was… somewhere else."
"Certainly looked like it. You scared me there. Here, come up."
He reached a hand out and dragged me with a strong grip to my feet. The strange sense of having been here before grew stronger for a second, then vanished completely when my eyes wandered over all the knobs and buttons and other foreign controls on the table. So many were adapted from earthen material, others bore no resemblance at all. It was a truly alien sight.
"How about we have some tea and you tell me everything?"
The Doctor's words brought my awareness back to him and I nodded.
"I don't know where he is." The Doctor's sombre voice drowned in the clatter of a spoon stirring tea. "I don't even know how he managed to sabotage the TARDIS. But he did and then he vanished."
I glared at the ceiling, hands clutching the warm porcelain of my cup. After the experience with the ship's consciousness I felt uncomfortably cold, missing the comfort it had shown me. The phrase motherly warmth came to my mind, but I had no idea how that felt. My Dad had been warm, yeah, but this… it had been different.
"You think he is here, though," I numbly concluded. "You say you can't travel far, but you could go somewhere else."
The Doctor hummed. "He can't control the TARDIS. Can't get her to go anywhere. So this is the only place and time to find him." He sighed and sipped his tea - peppermint with raspberry. "But here still is an enormous place. Doesn't make it any easier. Well, a bit. All of time and space would be a little trickier."
After he had heard what I could recall of the conversation he had come to the conclusion that the TARDIS must mean the Master when she had spoken of the rogue. And the Doctor was convinced the Master might be the only one to reverse the damage. After that he had offered to bring me back home and get me for a trip or two after having solved the current problem.
I had plainly refused.
There was nothing I was eager to return to. No family, no real friends, my workplace was far from great and my financial situation… well, nothing to look forward to. And - due to being an outcast of humanity itself - there would be no chance for me to ever have a good life, anyway. Only one that was filled with loneliness and a sense of having wasted my entire existence.
What for, when I could, instead, travel all of time and space. Even if it meant to stay in the back while the Doctor would deal with his… friend? Enemy? Prisoner? I had no clue.
It turned out the Doctor did, indeed, have some suspicions as to where the Master could be. At least he had been able to track a string of data and news to a specific place. It was a tall building directly in the heart of London. And there, as he had found out, was a vault. One that was said to host alien technology.
An Organisation called UNUT had something to do with it, at least in the beginning. After an accident of unknown matter and also unknown cause, however, they had retreated, leaving the building and everything in it back as it had been. Until they had lost every contact with the security cameras and all access codes to the doors, that is.
From one moment to the next they weren't able to access anything and everyone they sent there in person… Well, at return, they only behaved as if everything was in perfect order.
"This screams 'hypnotism', if you ask me," the Doctor concluded and then proceeded to tell me his exact plan. "The Master doesn't know you. That's a huge advantage. Now we only have to get you in. Maybe as an employee. A technician maybe! You still have the clothes and all from your company."
"Yeah," I answered hesitantly, "but isn't that super risky? Won't they know immediately that they haven't hired anyone?"
"Doesn't matter. I have this." He handed me his wallet that held a white piece of paper. Written on its surface were the words: Hello! I'm the Doctor. "Psychic paper. Makes people see-"
"-whatever they expect," I mumbled.
The Doctor blinked at me, as perplexed as I felt. Why did I know this? Was it maybe just obvious if pointed out?
In the end we did exactly as the Doctor had planned. I still wore my working pants and the blue pullover with the logo of my company on it. He gave me a case with tools in it and the psychic paper and… off we went.
The TARDIS stayed in place, to save her energy and to keep her hidden. I was a nervous wreck by the time we arrived at the building. I had become a lot braver and more bold in the past months, but something like this was simply too unpredictable and therefore truly scary.
Empty corridors stretched in front of me for what seemed to be several hundred of meters. No windows, no stairways, only closed metal doors. The toolbox weighed heavily in my hand, sometimes clinking a little with my steps, disturbing the otherwise absolute silence.
Finally I reached the end of the corridor and was greeted by an ordinary looking door with no visible locks or anything. Only a plate was there. Office.
I knocked a few times, because there was no bell. The knot in my stomach seemed to grow with every passing second until finally the door was opened. Only a small slit, just enough to let a face peek out at me. It belonged to a man of average height, with blond, slightly tousled hair and a neatly trimmed goatee of the same colour. His eyes had a greenish hazel tone and a curious look to them.
"Uhm, h… hi," I stammered. "Sorry, if I'm bothering. My boss sent me because someone here has a broken device?" To underline my words I held up the tool box.
An eyebrow shot up on the man's face, then he opened the door fully, revealing he was wearing a pair of dark blue jeans and a black polo shirt. He couldn't be much older than me.
"I haven't ordered anyone," he said, thoughtfully. "Must have been one of the others. What device was reported anyway?"
I swallowed and put on an apologetic smile. "That wasn't mentioned, sadly. We only got told it's urgent and… uh…"
He grunted annoyed and ran a hand through his face. "That's so typical. The boss just goes about, doing whatever and the rest of us has to deal with it." A slight head shake later he looked back down at me and gave me an apologetic smile. "Sorry, but I have to ask for credentials. I'll get killed if I let the wrong people in."
"I hope you don't mean that literally," I gave back, trying to sound amused, while I fished the psychic paper out of my jacket. "I'm only the apprentice, though, they didn't have anyone else free to come over and told me to just get an overview."
"Eh, yeah, makes sense if no one told you what the problem even is." He took a quick look at the paper and, to my relief, nodded satisfied. "Alright. I'll have a look with you. There aren't that many things we could need an external technician for."
The man took a step back and waved me inside. To my surprise there was only an ordinary office waiting behind the door. No weird alien facility, no secret test laboratory. Just desks and computers. Almost no employees, however. I spotted maybe five people, typing away. One was wearing headphones and made the impression of spacing out to some music instead of working.
"Most people work from home," my guide explained, as if he sensed my curiosity. "Because of the virus, you know. The ones that are here are vaccinated already."
"Oh. I see," I mumbled. "Your boss is quite considerate, isn't he?"
I needed to find out more. Chances were high, if the Doctor's lead was correct, that this boss was actually the Master. So it was best to have as many clues as possible. The Doctor had given me a description, but, so far, no one matched it. Probably. The description hadn't been super clear.
'Short, dark hair, loves suits and has a wicked grin.' That had been it.
"It saves trouble," my guide replied. And we stopped at the desk of a woman in her forties. "Have you called a technician, Hanna?"
The woman's head shot up and her eyes darted back and forth between him and me. Her movements were hasty, nervous. "N… no. I didn't, Mr. Istrem. I was only doing my job here."
"Mhmm, I see. Continue then."
The woman nodded and quickly ducked her head down to resume her typing. The procedure repeated with the other few workers in the office. I noticed that two more were acting somewhat anxious, the fourth, however, seemed to be completely… lifeless. His answers were short, his eyes empty. I wondered if he might be depressed, or on drugs even.
When we came to the headphones guy, my guide snapped his fingers against the other one's head and gave him an amused grin.
"Oh, hey boss." He returned the grin and also nodded at me. "New one? No, doesn't seem like the regulars. What's up?"
"Did you order a technician?" This time the question sounded a little more annoyed. "And stop calling me boss."
"Eh, come on, Mr. Istrem." Headphones-guy scratched his neck. "You're so far above my pay grade, you probably wipe your arse with silk. No? Eh, whatever. Didn't order anyone. Could easily fix everything myself, Sir." He winked and boldly put back on the headphones.
"If he weren't so smart, I'd fire him on the spot," my guide grumbled. "Well… was none of them." He walked to the back of the office, before turning to me again. "What did you say you were here for?"
My heart did a jump and then started to beat a lot faster than normally. Why was I suddenly so nervous?
"To… get a look at whatever needs fixing."
"But no one called." His voice was calm and friendly, still, but something had changed. "Well, we'll figure it out."
A disquieting sensation ran through me I could not, for the life of me, put into any coherent words or even thoughts. Nervously I followed him inside another room and the sight made my fear evaporate into curiosity.
It was a spacious office. Everything in here was made from dark wood and there were shelves upon shelves with books and busts and lots of items that definitely did not belong to or stem from earth. In the middle of the room stood a long, dark table with only a single mug on one end.
I took in my surroundings, amazed and fascinated, eager to take a closer look at every single of the foreign objects. If only I were here for that. Hesitantly I Tore my gaze away and found my guide again. He stood leaned against the door through which we had entered, hands in his jeans pockets, eyes lowered to the floor.
"Uhm… maybe your boss called us?" I tried. "Or is there anything…"
"There is no boss." The voice came through a smug smile, without him moving otherwise.
A lump formed in my throat. Something was wrong. Incredibly so.
"I asked all of them to see if anyone works behind my back," he continued, raising his head to the ceiling as if something there was of great interest.
"Wh...why would they?" Nervously I licked my lips, my eyes searching for another door. "Maybe it was a mistake. My boss probably gave me the wrong address." This time I tried an apologetic smile, even though it was hard with that racing pulse.
"Yeah, he might." His eyes were still glued to the ceiling, while one of his fingers gently tapped against his thigh. "Can happen."
Bolder than I knew I could be, I took a step closer and waved at the door. "Well, I'll report back and won't bother you any longer. Sorry for the trouble, Sir."
"It is, " - he continued, his gaze now unnervingly resting on me - "very... likely to accidentally stumble into a building that is only known by the government."
"It is also-," he pushed himself away from the door, taking a single step over to me - "not unusual at all to be in possession of psychic paper."
There was a deliberate pause, placed to watch the blooming fear in my face, to let a grin slowly fade onto his lips. I tried to move towards the door, maybe… maybe… it wouldn't work. Of course it wouldn't work.
He slammed a hand against the wood, made me jump and press my back against the door. He wasn't that big, but the danger he suddenly emanated was almost choking me.
"I… d... didn't get your name," I mumbled, actually having forgotten what the people had called him. "I'd gladly forward your concerns." Oh my stupid tongue.
The grin grew wider, wicket, amused. He was way too close for my taste. There was a chance, wasn't it? This could still be a false lead. My mind screamed, my body froze. The sense of wrongness pressed itself into my awareness like a pungent smell. The all too familiar sense of… déjà vu. The devilish smile, the expression in those ancient eyes, savouring my fear, drinking it in like a good wine.
He didn't need to say it. I already knew and all of my hair seemed to stand on end as he moved. He bent down to me, his head almost brushing mine, his breath ghosting my ear as he muttered, "My name, little intruder… is the Master."