The Doctor strode away with wide, excited steps, making it almost hard for me to follow. It reminded me of how I tried to keep pace with my Dad as a child. When he had taught me how they had been marching during his military time. Fewer and wider steps. Quickly I got next to the Doctor and we arrived at the inn - or whatever they were calling it here - together. He opened the door for me, waving me into the warmly lit interior.
It was fantastic! The inside reminded of an old medieval tavern, be it only because of the use of dark wood and decorative ornaments everywhere. The resemblance stopped there, however, as parts of machines were being built into the walls and even into the floor. Everywhere I looked I could see light-grey metal gears of all sizes winding themselves to do or produce something who knows where. And if that wouldn't be fascinating enough, there were no lamps as we would use them on earth. Instead, hundreds of small paper squares were floating in the air, all seemingly filled with the same sentient particles we had encountered outside.
Only then did I finally pay attention to the inhabitants of the place. At first glance they looked rather human, as did the Doctor. But then I noticed the soft scales covering their skin, shimmering in the light when they moved. They also had rather flat noses and their ears tapered off to a set of two or three points.
"Don't worry." The Doctor nudged my side playfully. "They are used to travellers from other planets. No one will ask."
I only nodded, too mesmerized by all the wonderful weirdness around me.
I'm on an alien planet, in an alien inn, it shot through my head, sparking a giddiness I hadn't felt in ages. I scrambled through my pockets. No one would ever believe this! I needed to take some pictu-
I stilled, remembering that the Master still had my phone. This was so unfair!
"You don't happen to have a camera of sorts with you?" I asked the Doctor hopefully.
"Oh, a picture in your mind is worth a lot more than still images, don't you think?"
He guided us to an empty table and, as soon as we sat, a male looking person came to our table, wearing something that resembled a thin, almost translucent tunic in a soft purple colour. All the staff seemed to wear this kind of clothes.
"What may I serve you tonight?" he asked, his voice having a pleasant silky tone to it.
"Mhm... let's see... haven't been here in a while." The Doctor scratched his chin and eyed me curiously, then suddenly held up a finger and ordered grinning, "For me the Pecaranti and for my companion here a Gold Guaracanto, please."
The waiter nodded politely and then rushed towards the counter.
"Whatever you just ordered," I pondered, barely able to keep my eyes from wandering around, "I hope it's digestible for humans."
"Of course it is!" the Doctor protested. "I know what humans can eat and drink. Been around you lot for long enough."
"I see..." I muttered absently, observing two inhabitants cuddling with each other. They behaved a lot like humans, in general, and at first glance; it made me wonder how many species there might be in the universe that were so similar to us, yet so different.
"Huh?" I tore my eyes away from the couple, who now shared a tender kiss, "Yeah, yeah, I am. Probably. It's just... hard to wrap my head around. You could almost think they were... human, you know?"
"What, did you think all aliens were slimy, tentacly things, or have huge heads and black eyes?"
I snorted. "You watched earthen movies?"
"Sure did!" The Doctor beamed.
"Oh geeze," I grimaced. "Hope you don't want to wipe us all out, now. Bet I would, were I alien."
The Doctor giggled at that, rubbing his hands in anticipation as the waiter returned with our order. For him it was a beverage in a bubbly shaped glass that was green at the bottom, then turned to purple and lastly to yellow. A fruit that looked like a purple orange slice decorated the rim and there also was an actual straw - and ice cubes.
For me the waiter placed down a dark blue cup that looked like a hemisphere on three tiny porcelain stumps. The content emanated some steam and was crowned by a white substance that - as far as I was concerned - looked a lot like ordinary whipped cream, decorated with tiny golden crumbles. A spoon - an actual spoon - lay beside the cup and I took it to carefully taste a mouthful of the cream.
"Yep... cream," I uttered perplex. "And the gold stuff is chocolate? They really have chocolate here?"
"Not quite, but to you it tastes similar." The Doctor took the straw and swirled the liquids around until all the colours got mixed together and became a weird kind of glowing pink. But as soon as he stopped stirring, the liquids started to divide once again, sinking down to the pattern they had before.
"And this is... don't tell me that's actually coffee!" I dipped my spoon a little deeper, fishing out a substance that, indeed, was dark brown, although it had a strange metallic glint to it.
"Also not quite." He finally stopped playing with his drink and sucked a bit of it through the straw, his face lightening up with joy. "It's prickling on my tongue!" he announced happily, sticking said tongue out to show that it was glittering bluish.
What a childish behaviour! It made me laugh and also relax a little. Carefully I took the cup in both hands, astonished that it hadn't taken on the beverage's temperature, and took a sip. My eyes widened when the substance touched my tongue and I couldn't hold in a delighted groan.
"Oh my gosh! That's the best coffee I ever had! Is that cinnamon in there? Okay, probably not. Tastes like it, though. And a bit like the coffee I once had in France." I took another sip, careful not to burn my tongue.
"It has the same effect as coffee, if you wanna know. Probably a bit stronger, but it shouldn't knock you out."
I simply shrugged. "Guess I'm almost immune to it, anyway. But say... won't you tell me what this was all about?" Finally I sat down the cup, wanting to preserve its content a little while longer. "I mean... what exactly did I stumble into? How comes the Master was Prime Minister on earth? And when I bumped into you and your friends, a while back, where you about to find him?"
"Yeah, guess I owe you an explanation, eh? Mhm... they surely have the best juices in this galaxy," he mused while sucking on his straw. "Well... where to start..."
"Was there really a paradox?" I shot out. "Each time I try to remember what happened after Saxon... I mean the Master... was elected I keep seeing... probably just my tired mind, but... There were thousands of those spheres and I remember running and... ugh, it's all so foggy..."
"There was a whole year that, in fact, never happened." He tapped against his glass. "Peculiar that you remember any of it at all. Shouldn't be, can't be, actually. You can't have been so close to the centre to remember anything. Strange... not concerning, though."
"Some kind of... anomaly?" I pondered.
"Yeah, happens. Some people are more susceptible to these things. Especially when they are highly intuitive and stuff." He shrugged. "Anyway. The Master was trapped on earth. My fault, honestly. He stole my TARDIS and all I could do was to lock her functions. Not important. Took us too much of a delay to come back, though. So he had enough time to prepare some scheme to... well..."
"...hurt you?" I asked quietly. "Seems he really hates you and goes out of his way to have you in pain."
The Doctor flinched and looked to the side for a second. "He's not all bad. Just angry, so, so angry. And lost. And all alone. He's my responsibility. After we reverted the paradox I took him with me. Hoped I could help, hoped I could talk some sense into him, make him see that there is more to life than owning everything."
"Didn't work, huh?"
"No." The Doctor sighed and leaned back in his chair. "He used a moment of distraction and slipped away. Luckily he didn't went too far. Well... couldn't, without any means of transportation."
"So I only happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," I quietly concluded, taking a long sip from my coffee.
"Alas, yes. I'm sorry about that.... uh... what's your name, actually?"
"Lucy. The Master didn't like it, though." I smirked as I recalled what he had told me. "Did he really have a wife? Can't imagine one like him being married."
The Doctor snorted, but I couldn't tell if it was amused or derisive. "A political thing. He broke the poor girl with his hypnotism. Promised her power and the universe and whatnot. But when she saw how cruel he acted, what he did to people... She wanted to flee. But he held her back, broke her mind and made her a mere doll."
A small shiver went through me at the mere imagination. No wonder she had eventually tried to shoot him. It seemed the Master truly was a monster, worthy to be kept in a cage.
But then again...
There had been something about him, something I could only sense, but not put into actual words. And what had the Doctor just told? Angry and lost, and all alone.
Just like myself.
"What will happen now? Can you find him again and... lock him away for good?"
"Yeah, that will be easy." There was an almost sad smile tugging on the Doctor's lips, but then he beamed at me. "So, don't worry. He won't bother you ever again."
I simply nodded.
"What brings a man to act so cruel?" I uttered into my cup.
"He wasn't always like that." Thoughtfully the Doctor stirred the almost gone liquid. "I know there is still something good left in him. And with time... maybe..."
I nodded again and couldn't enjoy the coffee any longer. It would be just to lock him away. It would prevent him from doing harm to people. But I also couldn't get the image out of my head, of the Master being caged in, slowly going mad from the lack of freedom. He didn't seem like a man who could endure this.
And, after all, I knew too well how it felt to be a prisoner of another person.
"You don't seem too happy," the Doctor remarked, curiosity in his voice.
I wasn't, but letting this man roam freely would surely result in lots of people getting hurt. So, getting rid of a single person would save so many lives. So many... for the price of a single one. With a shiver I remembered the small gun in my shoulder bag.
I could still do it.
The weapon wasn't registered to me (probably to no one), I could go disguised and no one would await me to show up there, anyway. They all thought I was living way across the country, with no money to do the trip.
Slowly I glanced up and into the Doctor's eyes. It was almost the same experience as had before with the Master. It didn't feel uncomfortable, although it seemed the alien before me was just too eager to suck every little secret out of me. Not to do harm, not to judge me. Maybe that was the difference to human eyes...
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, go ahead." His joyful attitude was back in an instant, making it harder for me.
"Consider someone would be able to make the lives of two people a lot better, because they are... trapped, in a sense, because they are too weak to stand up for themselves, or even... too kind. But in order to do that... you would have to get rid of a third person. And in case you'd actually do that... would this make you a bad person?"
The Doctor fished out the straw from his glass and downed its remaining content. Eventually he looked back at me, his gaze thoughtful.
"Sometimes the results do justify the means. Sometimes it is the wiser thing to do. Sometimes it is actually the kinder thing to do. However," he held up a finger, "the act of getting rid of said person, no matter if by taking their life or locking them away, would still bare the same weight. It's never an easy choice, and it's never easy to live with whatever end you choose. Good, bad... It is both... and neither."
The weight would stay the same.
"I don't know what the Master wanted to make you do, Lucy," the Doctor spoke up again. "And you don't seem to be hypnotized. But you have to know he is extremely cunning and very capable of letting people think they are acting on their own free will, when in fact they are simply lulled in by his words and demeanour."
"Not surprising," I muttered, thinking back to the time he had been candidate for Prime Minister. And when we met, how charming and nice he seemed, how calm and almost friendly he had behaved towards me, aside from the choking part, of course. "Don't worry," I slightly shook my head and gave him a, what I hoped was, reassuring smile. "I'm not going to be his plaything."
The Doctor smiled back and stood. "Alright then. Let's get you home, shall we?"